Reading Rabble Review: The Scorch Trials, The Maze Runner Book II

Will the scorch overcome all? 4 Rabbles for an exciting and thrilling sequel.

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. 
 
Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch. 
 
There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.
 
The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them. 
 
Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off. 
 
There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

 

This second installment of the "Maze Runner" series by James Dashner is as thrilling as the first one. The teen Gladers are again up against the machinations of the shadow entity WICKED and their backers. This second book took up exactly where the first one left off. Even though it had been a couple of weeks since I had read the first installment, it felt like I had never left. Like Book I: "The Maze Runner", I could not put it down. I was constantly turning those pages in the hopes that I would get some satisfaction. In this, James Dashner is a complete master - I never felt good about 'stopping for the night'. I just knew that if I didn't sleep, I would be a complete bear the next day at work. All the while biting my nails to get back to the story. So, I didn't want to put it down and go to sleep!

In "The Scorch Trials" we again find Thomas and his friends, a group of teen boys called the "Gladers", up against the mysterious entity WICKED. They've escaped the huge maze they were inexplicably dropped into only to step into an even worse world of confusion and danger. 

At least in this book we are given a little more information as to what is happening to these kids. The why will have to wait for the next one in the series, I guess, as there is still very little explanation of the big picture - but there's comfort knowing that the characters are in the dark as much as the rest of us! Here we find Thomas, Minho, and the rest of the Gladers in for another challenge. They have to cross an absolutely devastated stretch of land in a specific time period. We are never given the reasons for this, and this is part of the thrill. I Just Don't Know Why?!?! Darn it, Dashner, You've got me hooked!!

Given the mystery that these boys find themselves in, I suppose it's understandable why there seems to be a lot of whining in the dialog. Of course, its easy for me to say that as I am not being fried by excruciating temperatures, lack of water, and deadly lightning storms. In "The Scorch Trials" we get hints of another group of Gladers that were also in a maze - a mirror group consisting of girls instead of boys. These Gladers are in competition with our beloved boys, entering the story late in the book and with extraordinary results.

Having not only to face a devastating landscape, but a nightmare city full of crazed people, it feels impossible that our heroes will make it to their goal. But given that this is only the second book of the series, it seems inevitable that Thomas and the others will get there eventually. This may be a weak point in the story. When you are dealing with a series, you have to know that the main characters will be triumphant. Yet ... that may be a strength, because even though some suspense may be taken out of the equation, the compelling mystery never is. And that is why this story is so good. Dashner never leaves out the mystery. I believe these teens will overcome any obstacle. I  believe in their determination to finish this mystery no matter what the cost. 

The ending to this great sequel to the first "Maze Runner" is not a complete disappointment. With most sequels, the author tends to leave out the 'hook' that is so essential to finishing the story. In this one I believe that Dashner continues to 'hook' the reader so that they are not left with unbelievable or weak characters. But at the end of "The Scorch Trails" we share Thomas's will to finish this mystery no matter what. When the characters all combine at the end to escape what may be death for all, you are left with a sense of wonder at their drive and determination to finish their journey in the face of terror and uncertainty! 

Once again, Dashner has left me with no choice but to finish out the series with his next book "The Death Cure: The Maze Runner, Book III". One can only hope that all of the mystery is solved with the next installment. I had hoped that more of the mystery could have been revealed in this one but that was not to be. Oh Well, on to the next one...!!!

I'm giving "The Scorch Trials, Maze Runner Book II" 4 Rabbles with an R for the reluctant reader. This exciting sequel is every bit as thrilling as the first book, plus the reading is easy and compelling even for that reluctant reader. This series could make a real reader out of practically anyone. The mystery and suspense has kept me hooked and it should do the same for all, including reluctant ones!

Your turn to Rabble back! Do you have a favorite mystery book, TV show, or movie past or present - one that leaves you guessing at every turn but has you totally hooked?

 

Oh, the Places ...

Author's life imitates the art of Dr. Seuss.

Union, SC 76 degrees; packing for the North; am I nuts?; chilly sunset in Lexington, KY; FROZEN water--WHA?!; hello, Minnesnowta! -- all that in 52 hours!

Union, SC 76 degrees; packing for the North; am I nuts?; chilly sunset in Lexington, KY; FROZEN water--WHA?!; hello, Minnesnowta! -- all that in 52 hours!

In college, my group of friends had something called "the Gloatin' Rule". Basically, it worked like this: If you gloated too much about good fortune or any feeling of superiority based on circumstances, the Gloatin' Rule would get you. 

So, if you find yourself in South Carolina, enjoying 76-degree (above zero) weather, maybe don't post about it on Facebook right before you get in your car and drive 1,200 miles into the biting edge of this season's maniacal early winter weather pattern where it promises to be a hearty +5 degrees. The "Gloatin' Rule" is gonna get ya! 

CNN is calling it ... not a "Polar Vortex", but ... a Bomb Cyclone. That's right - because "Polar Vortex" wasn't terrifying enough! We weren't scared straight last year (even if we were frozen stiff) so they're taking it up a notch. And I walked right into it. 

Full disclosure: It's already been a great week - and I feel like the week is just beginning on Friday! At Sims Middle School in Union, SC, Wednesday I found piles of Stone Arch Books editions set out for the readers (not because librarian Ms. Taz knew I was coming - she has no need to butter me up) and was told that the kids LOVE our books. I'm still smiling about that. 

Sims Middle School readers love Stone Arch books (pictured: Michael Dahl's "Library of Doom", David Orme's & Peter Richardson's "Billy Blaster", and my "Recon Academy", and others).

Sims Middle School readers love Stone Arch books (pictured: Michael Dahl's "Library of Doom", David Orme's & Peter Richardson's "Billy Blaster", and my "Recon Academy", and others).

"Oh, the Places You'll Go -- in 52 hours."

Was the rest of the title? 

I zoomed to Minnesota for a weekend of books and family and friends -- and books. Saw my stepson, Sam, just a couple hours ago for the first time in months and am now holing up in the nicely appointed and homey spare bedroom at my friend Anthony's apartment in St. Paul. Get to see my family and friends for the weekend and cap it all off with a multi-book signing at my "home bookstore", Minneapolis' own indy mystery shop Once Upon a Crime!

You may think I'm crazy, but give me the benefit of the doubt. Let's say I'm being scientific in my choices: I have to leave the warm South and get to the arctic North every once in a while to prove to myself that I really don't miss winter. But the truth: I'm thrilled to be among my frost-bit peeps and excited for the big book signing on Tuesday. 

God bless - and stay warm - wherever you are! 

So, shout back, Rabble! What are you doing while I'm pounding hot chocolate in the Northland?

Reading Rabble Review - "Unwind" by Neal Shusterman

5 Rabbles for an Inventive and Shocking YA Thriller

"Will you be unwound by this one?"

 

Unwind (Unwind Dystology)
By Neal Shusterman

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them 

Connor's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed -- but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away. 

This was an absolutely incredible book to read! Full of twists, hardcore action, and very likable characters. It also had an overwhelmingly shocking and terrifying plot. 'Unwinding', which you very soon find out means harvesting every part of a person (teenager) and giving all of their body parts to other people. Just this idea alone makes it frightening . The thought that human nature could fall so far as to permit this type of activity gives me chills.

The plot evolves from the aftermath of a second Civil War in the heartland of the United States. A war over the emotional subject of Abortion. The sides being 'Pro-life' and 'Pro-choice' , armies were raised on both sides and battles were fought. Out of the bloodshed and chaos of this 'war', a compromise was reached in which a 'Bill of Life' was agreed upon. The result was that between the ages of 13 and 18 teenagers could be 'retroactively aborted', and their body parts 'harvested' so that others could live.

A grotesque idea which at first glance was enough to make me pause! The story starts at this point with three main characters: Connor; Risa; and Lev, three teenagers being 'unwound' for different reasons. Each character has their own story and the author never leaves us in doubt as to which person is narrating the action. Each switch in chapter is headed by the character's name. A big 'Thank You!' to Neal Shusterman for this small (but large) feature of the story. I was never left in doubt as to who was speaking, and this was a huge difference from other novels with first-person narratives (see the Rabble Review of "The 5th Wave" for perspective)! 

The theme of this story was truly unique. As you know, I am fond of making references to books that I have read in the past that carry similar themes. After reading this book I have no knowledge of a story quite like it. That is not to say that there isn't one out there, but I've read A LOT of books and  I don't know of one like it. (Help me out, Rabble, if you know of something similar.) With that in mind I must admit that the whole idea sort of creeped me out at first. I wish other books I've read from before had given me that feeling. It grabbed my attention from the first word and wouldn't let me go. I absolutely HAD to know what was going to happen to these teens - and that's something I've never experienced before.

Due to this unique experience (for me) I made a complete connection to these characters. I felt like I was right there with Connor and Risa as they made their desperate bid for freedom. The dialog the author puts into the story was completely addictive. This book never felt like a YA novel, it had all the elements of any adult novel. There were some total surprises with this one too. At one point, Lev goes off into what would normally be a long side story. Shusterman completes this side story with succinctness and surprise. It could have been a long and boring sidebar to the overall story, but he managed to make it relevant and quick, never leaving the reader to wonder where the main characters had gone. This is important for later on in the series I am sure.

Both the setting and conflict of the characters seems to flow into one here. As all of these kids from different backgrounds and lives converge at one bone chilling setting, the conflict of the plot reveals itself with surprising speed. Not only do these children have the common threat of 'unwinding', but they are also under the mysterious protection of an older man known only as the 'Admiral', whose shocking motives are not revealed until near the end. (No spoilers here.) The longer explanation for the Admiral's story would give away too much. You will just have to read this book to find out why. Trust me, it is completely worth it!

Even though this book is the first in a series, it never left me with unresolved issues and that is a huge problem in this day of 'series' fiction. This is not to say that series are a bad thing. I love having more to read from a fascinating story, but a lot of books leave you with things that are not resolved making sure that you will buy the next book. Although I usually do buy the next book in any series, this one will be a pleasure because it didn't "leave me hangin'" without some resolution.

The ending is action-packed and full of twists I didn't see coming. The description of one kid's 'unwinding' is probably the most frightening and psychologically terrifying thing that I have ever read. But it didn't scare me the way some random horror novel would have. It shocked me but left me breathlessly waiting for the next page. Here the author doesn't disappoint, giving the reader just enough to want to read on, but not enough to see the entire plot. Masterful!!

Have you guessed why I am giving this one 5 Rabbles yet? A thrilling book to read and dwell over have left me itching to read the next one in this series. It was also very readable - there was never a point where I was left in confusion as to who, what , or where. Therefore, I am definitely giving 5 Rabbles with an "R" for Reluctant Readers. The book is easy to read and flows briskly from one chapter to the next without dumbing down the themes or the characters, or cheating the reader out of the strongest plot. Therefore it should be easy for all readers - even reluctant ones - to dive into the world of "Unwind" and be fascinated, terrified, and compelled by this great story.  

Time for you to rabble. I'm not one to give 5 Rabbles easily, but I was totally enthralled with "Unwind"! What book grabbed you and wouldn't let you go? 

 

Not Just Another Week on the Road

Or ... Watch an Author Scream Like it's 1964!

I spent the week in Virginia meeting with, and presenting to, some of the smartest and most patient people on Earth - school librarians. In case you don't know, I was an "F" student until 10th Grade and feel a debt of gratitude to the librarians and teachers who kept the doors open and didn't give up on me before the miracle happened.  

After a stop in Fairlawn, VA to visit with the Pulaski County school librarians (what a great bunch - special thanks to Rita and Lori) I headed to the beautiful, mountain-ringed city of Roanoke for the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL) annual conference.

I attended last year as an author - just reaching out and getting to know librarians and introducing them to my books for young readers - and they were really nice to me. This week I returned in my day-job disguise: mild-mannered Perma-Bound Books Sales Representative. (How I got this alter-ego is a back-story for a special issue - but let's just say I love the work and the people I work with.) We had hundreds of visitors to our booth and talked kids books for two full days. Good times. 

Me with Neal's "Unwind" and Neal Shusterman with (gasp) "The League of Delphi."

Me with Neal's "Unwind" and Neal Shusterman with (gasp) "The League of Delphi."

But today was possibly the highlight of my year. I got to meet Neal Shusterman, best-selling, best-reviewed, YA author of dozens of inventive fiction books for youth and teens. He wrote one of my all-time favorite books of any genre, "Unwind" and its sequels. (I believe the Rabble Rouser is reviewing "Unwind" next week.) Neal is, of course, a gentleman and a generous guy. This is fortunate for me, because (you'll have to take my word that I hardly ever get star-struck for good reason, but ...) I GUSHED all over him, talking a hundred miles a minute like a caffeine-fueled robot with a bad processor. 

He was kind enough to take pictures with me (and all the librarians there, of course), sign books, AND accept a copy of "The League of Delphi: Book I of The Delphi Trilogy" AND - here's where the Beatlemania-like screaming starts - say "I look forward to reading your book." ! Let's back that up and replay it in slow-mo: "Iiiii ... looooook ... forrrrwarrrrd ... tooooooo ... reeeeeading ... yourrrrr ... booooook."  

Portrait of an over-caffeinated author geeking to a hero's kind words.

Portrait of an over-caffeinated author geeking to a hero's kind words.

(I swear, Rabble - I NEVER geek out this much - I promise that's not what this blog will be but ...) I can now die happy. 

Neal also said some things during his book talk that has helped break a logjam on a couple of other manuscripts I'm working on - turns out I've been a little stalled on these projects because I'm overthinking them. His observation on his process - outline the book but don't be a slave to the outline. It's an inside-out process during which the characters reveal their story. Good inspiration. 

 

A couple of other great things happened this week: 

I got a note from Bernadette, librarian at Delphi Middle School in Delphi, Indiana. She and Lauren from the Delphi Public Library had me visit their town and school last April for a day-long author visit. Turns out, the kids have been gobbling up the Delphi Trilogy books and demanding Book III: "The Delphi Revelation" (released just last month) and they're loving it. Warms my heart :)

Then tonight I heard that "Seti's Charm" the first book in the Max Carter Adventures series was given a very nice review by a reviewer who really gets the middle-grade reader. More smiles!

What else can I say? It's been a great week for the Reading Rabble! Now I'm going to eat a late supper, take a bubble bath, rest my feet, and sleep like there's no zombie apocalypse going on outside my bedroom window. If I may be so bold, I feel like I earned it this week. 

Rabble back! Have you met a literary hero this year? 

Reading Rabble Review: The 5h Wave

4 Rabbles for a fresh take on the ol' Alien Invasion theme?

"The alien is calling from inside the house!"

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother--or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

The 5th Wave
By Rick Yancey

"The 5th Wave" ... Wow, one of the most complex and interesting YA novels I have read to this point. 

First and foremost, this is an excellent book overall. The story itself is inventive and exciting. I was enthralled with the story from beginning to end. It never let up in its hook for the next page. I was always wanting to continue reading this one versus putting it down.

The theme of this story is an old and believable one for Sci-Fi fans - the 'Alien Invasion'. This theme has reverberated throughout Sci-Fi for ages now. In this case, the threat is more sinister than ever before - because it comes from inside us and we don't know who to trust - even ourselves!

The heroine Cassie and her counterpart "Zombie" are two teens who have survived the alien ex-vasion(?) to battle the very human-looking yet heartless and soulless invaders across a technology-depleted Earth. 

I was at one point reminded of Robert Heinlein's Classic "The Puppet Masters" in the chapters where 'The Silencer' and Cassie, two of the main characters, share an experience where Cassie is 'possessed' by an alien for a few moments. This experience was limited in scope, but left me with harkenings of the 'riding' of Heinlein's aliens.

In "The 5th Wave" there seems to be at least four characters telling their story - two main characters and two minor ones - which is interesting but also causes a bit of a problem for the reader. I have to admit that I have never been a fan of the first-person narrative because it can easily confuse the reader if not presented well - and this story left me in a quandary. I finished the book with a supreme sense of liking it and wishing for more, while at the same time not liking the way in which it was told. The four-character, first-person narrative often left the reader in the dark as to which character was speaking. It sometimes would take a page or two to figure out whose narration I was following. This, however, is the only drawback to this story.

"The 5th Wave" took me on an incredible journey into the realm of the fantastic. The one advantage of the first-person narrative is the lasting impression of the scene. I really feel like I was there with Cassie as she went about the goal of rescuing her brother. These scenes made the story all the more likable and believable and left me with a breathless longing for the Heroes to succeed.  

This book will enthrall almost all YA readers. The action is heavy and completely believable. There might be a bit of confusion in dealing with the first-person narrative, but this is mostly overcome with the weight of the story.

The 5th Wave has been voted a YALSA 'Teens Top Ten' for 2014 by teen voters. I have to agree with this rating because the story is such a classic with a new angle to it.

If it wasn't for the confusion with the first-person narrative of the story, I would be tempted to give "The 5th Wave" 5 Rabbles because it was so good! Most reviews are giving it a 5 with a "high-low" rating, meaning that it has high-interest content with a low vocabulary level. While this may be true, I wouldn't really recommend it for reluctant readers. I believe that the difficulty in following the multi-character shifts in the first-person narrative without direction may frustrate and discourage a reluctant or struggling reader, so I'm leaving off the "R". But the Rouser is going to give this book a wholehearted four (4) Rabbles. 

What do you Think? Your turn to Rabble in the comments section below. How would you and the books you've read deal with an alien invasion from within?

Reading Rabble Review: The Maze Runner

4 Rabbles for a solid teen action-adventure!

No Teen Gets Out Alive ... or Do They?

The Maze Runner (Book 1)
By James Dashner

Thomas wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. He emerges into a world of about 60 teen boys who have learned to survive in a completely enclosed environment, subsisting on their own agriculture and supplies. A new boy arrives every 30 days. The original group has been in "The Glade" for two years, trying to find a way to escape through the Maze that surrounds their living space. They have begun to give up hope. Then a comatose girl arrives with a strange note, and their world begins to change. There are some great, fast-paced action scenes, particularly those involving the nightmarish Grievers who plague the boys.

This book started out like a 100 yard dash race at the olympics. Fast paced, mysterious, and likeable. It grips you right from the beginning and won't let you go. Right from the start the theme was familiar. (Here's a hat tip to Lord of the Flies)  But that's where the similarity ends. Up to date, modern, with creative language, this book has less in common with William Golding's 1954 classic novel than most reviewers have been claiming.

Although the theme may have started the same, the story itself takes on a new and fresh perspective on the dystopian genre. The writing is excellent with non - stop cliff hanging chapters that ensure that you won't stop at 'just one more chapter'. Seriously folks, I lost sleep on this one because I didn't want to stop reading. 

Lord of the Flies
By William Golding

The Characters could definitely have used a little more development, because they are very engaging. But, with the Young Adult (YA) target audience, this is less of a hinderence than would be in a more adult novel. YA's WANT you to get the point! They have not the time or the patience for long winded dialog and descriptions.

I was also pleased to see the creative language found in this book. Now we all know that teenagers (most of them) curse in their conversations with each other, however it was refreshing to see a YA novel that wasn't full of cursing. To be sure, replacement words are used, but at least this is literature without all the gratuitous filth found in a lot of books. They know the words but don't need to see a lot of them in their books.

With that in mind, I highly recommend this book to those who are fans of the genre. It was a very good book with a lot of action and lite on the drama. This will please those who are most likely to read this book, probably young teen boys.

This book was a thrill to read. I am definitely looking forward to the movie made from this one. Hoping they don't slaughter it too bad. With the author involved in the making of the film though it should be good. As we all know though, BOOKS are always better!

The Rouser gives this book four Rabbles with an R for the reluctant readers. Reluctant readers will enjoy this one because the chapters are short and heavy on action. Plus the speed of the story moves fast so they won't bog down on details.

Your turn to Rabble in the comments section below. What's your favorite dystopian novel - past or present? 

That kinda week

Yeah, it’s been one of those weeks. 

This face ... and it ain't even Halloween yet.

This face ... and it ain't even Halloween yet.

I've visited a dozen schools, put 800 miles on Little Blue (aka: the Hyundai), been out of bed early every morning and back to bed late every night, skipped the gym, have too much blood in my caffeine supply, lived on candy bars and carrot sticks, ate a sandwich-shape block of grease for lunch today - now I just want a blankie and a nap. [insert thumb-sucking SFX]

In other words, a GREAT week! 

Several librarians got copies of either “The League of Delphi” or “Seti’s Charm” for their readers. One sent me a message today saying that 4 of her kids have already read “The League of Delphi” (she got the book Tuesday), loved it and are dying to read books II & III ASAP. That's more troops joining the Reading Rabble! If this mob every gets organized, we'll be a force to recon with. [insert demands here]

LIttle Blue - what a trooper!

LIttle Blue - what a trooper!

Also, librarians are generally cool and nice and smart and I love spending time with them. So even when my day job gets in the way of my writing (did I mention no creative writing this week? thumbs down! :b [insert raspberry SFX]) I’m still a pretty happy guy. 

Gotta get back to work now, because I have loads of ideas that need to be turned into books. 

If you want to see this dazed, crazed, and exhausted face smile, get some of my books, share this post, or just talk about how weird writers are (using above photo as Fig. 1A). 

It's Teen Read Week - Oct 12 -18!

Thank God for librarians! They've saved me again.

I'm so dumb that I didn't even realize it's Teen Read Week - until a librarian reminded me. Even now, as a writer for teens, I'm still relying on librarians to help me get things straight. 

Here are 3 books your teen readers might like. Each of them is the first in a series. For the Unwind 'dystology' and Maximum Ride, several books are available in the series. The 5th Wave has a second book available already. 

I'd be crazy not to add my own Delphi Trilogy here. Teens are telling me they're burning through these books All three books are available now. 

I give each of these books 5 Rousers! If your teen - or you - haven't read these, check them out. You'll keep the pages turning and want more when you get to the end. 

Join the Reading Rabble!

or: The blog formerly known as ...

What happens when you feed too many brain burgers to a restless crowd of word-heads? You get a rabble.

This is a rabble.

This is a rabble.

 

This is the official first blog post of "The Reading Rabble" - but not my official first ever blog post. I've waxed ancient and modern, archaeology and writerly for a couple of years now at my former blog "Brain Burgers". If you were a faithful reader - thanks. If not, worry not. We'll get those old posts moved over here soon enough.

But until the archives arrive (under high security and armed escort), let this introduction serve as "content." 

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What you can expect to find here among the "Reading Rabble": 

  • A lot of activity and info for young readers
  • Lots of book talk (reviews and special guests)
  • Focus on young people's reading issues
  • Library talk (not necessarily at a library tone)
  • Updates on my writing projects
  • Writing clinics (for young and older writers)
  • Tidbits of interesting stuff that pops up from my research
This is a Rabble Rouser - our book rater.

This is a Rabble Rouser - our book rater.

 

When we do book reviews, we'll post a rating system out of 5. Probably use a rabble rouser like this guy. 

Your interaction will be important. I'm dying to hear what you think of my books and of the stuff we post. We want your suggestions and input. So, keep coming back and JOIN THE RABBLE!

 

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Chris Everheart is author of 19 books for young readers, including the recently completed Delphi Trilogy, a teen thriller series described as "unputdownable," a page-turner that will keep even the most reluctant of readers engaged until the very end.