BY: BONNIE HEARN HILL

Is Aaron a dream or something much more deadly?

Livia Hinson has just begun a Seminar at Sea when a storm hits their yacht. Now, she is stranded with the other students on an island off the coast of California. Far away from her foster home and her heartbreak, Livia finds Aaron, the perfect love. But the only way they can be together is in her dreams.

The other students are having tempting dreams of their own, and Livia begins to realize that the storm has blown in more than rain. Is Aaron flesh or spirit? Can he come to her world, or will he pull her into his? Together, they explore the blurred territory between love and illusion on a dangerous journey that will force Livia to make the most important decision of her life.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Bonnie Hearn Hill has earned herself a dedicated new fan with her page turner Ghost Island. A fantastic read from start to finish, this YA novel defies genres and will hook in readers of all ages. Our heroine, Livia Hinson, is a normal teenager—well as normal as you can be when your Dad is serving a life sentence for the murder of your Mom. Sure, she has her baggage, like the fact she’s been able to see ghosts since she was a toddler, but for Livia, this all takes a back seat as she embarks on a dream vacation to Mexico, accompanied by a teacher she idolizes and a group of fellow teenagers she can take or leave, and she’d prefer to leave. A storm at sea, an island hiding more than a few mysteries, and the cunning exploitation of our deepest fears and desires catapult Livia into a desperate race against forces far greater than nature and the hurricane bearing down on the island. She’s joined in her fight by a core group of fellow travelers and Aaron, a young man whom seems as lost as Livia when it comes to finding a way home.

One of the strengths of Ghost Island is the rich color of the characters, all believable for their various ages, especially Livia and her teenage supporters, who tackle daunting challenges without appearing to be super human or mature beyond their years. The older supporting cast adds another layer of depth and provides a great foil for the younger protagonists. Bonnie Hearn Hill is to be commended for the fine balance struck between the generations. There is plenty of humor, action, and a hint of romance. Yeah, I like my romance and make no apologies. Hill’s descriptive scenes paint the right amount of detail to immerse you in the picture without clubbing you over the head with every finite detail. So much is achieved with a deft touch.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Ghost Island by Bonnie Hearn Hill is a fascinating book. Although it is intended for YA audiences, I found it enthralling. Livia Hinson is a delightful heroine. Genuine, clever, down on her luck, and exceptionally appealing, she tells the story in a unique and refreshing voice. From the moment the storm hits the yacht off the coast of California, you know this book is different. Ghost Island captured and held my interest from the opening paragraph to the last word. While I have never been to Catalina Island, after visiting there with Livia and Aaron, I feel like I have been. Hill’s scenes are descriptive without being intrusive to the story, and they pull you right in. I could see the hotel and casino with no trouble at all. Her characters are well-developed and completely believable. Not once throughout the whole book did I shake my head and say, “Oh, come on! A girl her age would never do that,” as I have with other YA books I’ve read. I did feel like screaming at Livia and the others, “No, don’t do that!” more than a few times throughout the story, however.  Of course, fictional teenagers never listen, do they? Kind of like teenagers in real life.

The storyline in Ghost Island was as fascinating as it was intriguing. Though I had no trouble following the plot or the characters’ actions, it took me a while to figure out what the spirits wanted, and why Emily had changed so drastically. And then when I was convinced I knew what was coming, Hill would throw me for a loop. I love stories and authors that can do that! As much as I read—and have to read for my day job—it’s a real treat to find a book I really can’t put down. Once I started reading it, I skipped meals, telephone calls, and emails until I got to the end. I had to know what happened next, but as soon as I found out, I had to discover what happened after that. When I got to the end, as satisfying as the ending was, I didn’t want the journey to be over. In fact, if there had been a sequel, I would have purchased it immediately. If you want a book that will fascinate you, intrigue you and make you lose a pound or two from the meals you forget to eat while reading it, Ghost Island is a sure bet.

CHAPTER 1

We had just left Los Angeles when the storm hit. Thunder and lightning didn’t scare me. Neither did ghosts. When Ms. Gates, my English teacher, said she was sponsoring me for the Seminar At Sea cruise to Mexico, my first thought was of my mother, and how my grandma Marie used to tell me that all spirits are attracted to the ocean. Maybe out there on the water, I’d have a chance to find my mom. My second thought was of Ms. Gates, and how one good teacher made up for all the others who saw me as only a footnote in a freak show murder case. At least on this cruise, no one would know that I, Livia Hinson, no longer had a family.

The flight from San Francisco with Ms. Gates this afternoon had gone as planned. So had meeting up with the eleven kids who had flown into Los Angeles later in the day. Tonight, this chartered catamaran would take our group just twenty miles out to Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, and we would spend our first two nights there before joining the other students on the cruise ship.

“An easy sail,” said Mr. Freeman, our other chaperone, after we’d boarded the catamaran.

Short and unsmiling, he had steel gray buzz-cut hair that almost camouflaged his bald spot, and he made it clear he lived by the values he’d learned in the military.

Grace, the redhead from Seattle, sighed heavily as he ordered us about the small craft. But I’d been the target of Mr. Freeman’s dirty look. Either he knew who I was, or he had taken an instant dislike to me.

The cabin was small but efficient with a table, a cook top and enough sitting room for all of us. Our luggage—only one bag each—was stashed in the back. On the aluminum sink of the tiny galley, sat a tubful of ice and bottled water. Grace took one, and I joined her.

“How soon will we arrive?” she asked and sat down on the padded ledge across from the table.

“The captain says we’ll be there in a few hours, depending on the weather,” Mr. Freeman replied. “On Sunday afternoon, the cruise ship will pick us up, and we’ll be off to Mexico with the rest of the students.” He glanced around. “Any other questions?”

No one spoke. Our adventure had begun. From across the table in the cabin, Ms. Gates shot me a smile as the boat moved through the water.

Then the rain hit. Lots of it, everywhere. Thick waves pounded the boat. We bundled up in jackets, scarves, and caps, and shared blankets as the water washed over the deck above us. Hours passed. Mr. Freeman went up to talk to the captain, then joined us again.

“We’re just outside Avalon.” He shook rain from his faded jacket and stood in the puddle. “We can’t get any closer, and the water taxi isn’t running because of the storm. We’ll need to stay here until morning.”

Grace groaned. “This boat’s not big enough. We’re supposed to spend tonight and Saturday at the hotel. My dad paid extra so that I could have a private room.”

“We didn’t foresee this delay,” Mr. Freeman told her. “There are only two berths on this boat, and they each sleep two people, max. You’ll be refunded for the hotel and have a private room throughout your time on the cruise.”

“That sucks.” The boat rocked in the water. “Shit.” She grabbed the arm of my sweater and almost fell off her seat.

“It’s okay,” I told her.

“Easy for you to say. I’m super claustrophobic. I’ll go nuts cooped up in here with a bunch of strangers for the rest of the night. I need to have one of the berths.”

“That’s not fair to the other students,” he said. “I think the chaperones should get those.”

“How so, Mr. Freeman?” Grace ran her fingers through her tangled rich-girl hair. “You’re being paid. The rest of us aren’t just your students. We’re your employers, in a way.”

“That’s ridiculous.” He glared at me, as if I had said it, and again I wondered what he knew about me.

“She has a point.” Speaking up seemed like the right thing, especially since Grace’s nails dug deeper into my arm each time the boat lurched.

“As you know, my dad paid extra too.” It was Johnny, a cute guy in a navy hoodie who I had been making eye-contact with since we met in Los Angeles.

Then a short blond guy in glasses raised his hand. “My parents also paid for a private.” He shot Freeman a superior smile. “But I don’t care where I sleep.”

“Well, I do,” Johnny said. “Let’s you and I take one berth. The girls over there can have the other one.”

“Works for me,” the short guy replied. I looked at his spiked blond hair and dark-framed glasses and knew he was one of them. One of the kids who always had the money for whatever they wanted.

“So be it.” Freeman shrugged in my direction, rose, and beckoned Ms. Gates. “Let’s make some coffee,” he told her without moving toward the galley. “It’s going to be a long night.”

“Come on.” Grace nudged me. “He said the girls. Let’s get the berth before someone else does.”

“I didn’t pay extra,” I whispered back to her.

“Who cares? At least you aren’t one of those token charity cases they usually put on these boring cruises.” She squeezed my arm again. “Hurry up. I don’t want to end up with one of them.”

Because I was exhausted, I followed her. The berth was like a triangle, with only a small point at the end for our feet. She got in first and turned onto her stomach.

“Nothing personal,” she said, “but I’m going to pretend you aren’t here.”

“Good idea.” I joined her and rested on my left side facing the curtained berth where the guys must have been. My entire body went soft. I didn’t care about this girl or how much money her parents had. I just liked being one of the chosen ones for a change—for the first time since my mom disappeared, since my dad went to prison, and since I ended up in an endless string of foster homes.

Just then, the boat rolled far to the right, and Grace cried out.

“You girls need any help over there?” I recognized Johnny’s voice and felt myself smile.

“Not tonight,” I replied.

From behind me, I heard Grace’s muffled giggle. “Winter break might be more fun than I thought,” she said. “I’ve never been to Cabo San Lucas. Have you?”

“No.” I turned deeper into my pillow and thought, if only you knew.

This girl had no idea how grateful I was to be on any boat, headed anywhere. It wasn’t just the going that excited me. It was the escape. Thanks to Ms. Gates, I was able to momentarily disregard the pressing pain of my mom’s disappearance and my dad’s conviction. I could focus on something other than the well-meaning sadness of my foster home and my older brother Drew’s anger in his own displaced existence. And out here on the sea, in the hammering rain, I could ignore the emptiness that the breakup with Chris had left.

Besides, I reminded myself, if my mom really were dead—and I could barely deal with that possibility—maybe out here, she would finally be able to tell me what had happened. Wouldn’t that be something? Pretty ironic, if my ability to see ghosts, a gift my mom had hated and refused to acknowledge, was what could lead me to the truth about what happened to her.

Grace began to snore in a soft in-and-out hum, like a lullaby.

Soon the boat’s rocking erased everything from my mind except the movement of the sea. Okay to relax and give into the rhythm, I told myself. Okay to finally sleep.

***

The large, round building looks familiar, its adobe-tile roof like a lid on a frosted-white cake. The tiles glint in the sun as I approach it. Ocean surrounds most of the structure. If I were up there on the second floor, I could look out any window and see only blue, as if the island and our lives go on forever, and as if that forever is the color of the sky.

On the ground floor, the red-and-gold carpets of the theater match the murals. People and parts of people float past me. I see a silhouette of what must have once been a beautiful girl with large, sparkling diamond hoops in her ears. Behind her, an illuminated outline of two muscular, male legs, and a pretty pinched-faced brunette wearing an old-fashioned white apron over a long dress of pale blue. She sneers at me, lifts her hands to her lips, and I see that her nails are bitten to the quick.

Some of the faces look almost human, except that the color and expression has bled from them. Others are only light sketches against the bright backdrop.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen what remains of the dead when they leave this life—or try to—but I’ve never experienced more than one spirit at a time, and never this distinctly.

I remember again what my grandma Marie told me about spirits being attracted to the sea, and then think of my mom and glance past them, the way I would page through a book, looking for the right photograph to match a memory. If only I could find my mom out here.

“What are you doing?” a deep voice behind me demands.

I whirl around and see a guy looking at me. He’s about my age, wearing a faded green sweater. As he closes the distance between us, I see his eyes, hazel and flecked with gold. His hair is golden as well, as if even in this dark place, the sun has found him.

“I got lost.”

He grins. “Me too.”

“You scared me,” I say.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that no one is supposed to come down here. Who are you anyway? What’s your name?”

“Livia.” I can barely speak.

“I’m Aaron.”

Aaron. The word wraps itself around me. “Why are you here then?” I ask.

“I took a wrong turn, I guess.”

“Maybe we both did.” For some reason, I find myself smiling then trying to suppress laughter.

He’s doing the same, looking at me as if we’ve just discovered something incredibly funny at exactly the same moment.

He moves closer and puts out his hand. “Well, then, why don’t we leave?”

Then the world shatters into rain and thunder. He is gone, and so am I, falling through pieces of sky.

© 2011 by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Kick Back & Review:

Thursday: July 12, 2012: Laura McQuillen calls Ghost Island a great late night read and gives it 5 Stars!

She says: “A great late night, spooky read – preferably with the lights out. Ghost Island starts out detailing a trip a bunch of students are about to embark on as they participate in a “Seminar at Sea” but end up on an island to wait out a storm. It reminds me a lot of the books I used to read as a teenager by Christopher Pike, where the lines of reality are blurred and you can never tell what is real and what isn’t… I loved the mystery and suspense of this story. It’s one of those delicious plots where nothing is what it seems and when you think you have figured out what or who is real, there is a twist that leaves you digging back in. The characters were typical teenagers and well portrayed. Livia was very likeable but most of the others left me realistically equally liking and disliking them.The only thing that left me a little perplexed, and was never really explained by the end, was the complete about face of one character’s behavior. The ending was left open enough with some of the characters that it leaves you with a few questions. A possible sequel? I’m not sure. There are enough questions left with the characters that it’s possible, but I’m not sure where the plot would go. It would be fun to find out though. Definitely worth checking out.” READ FULL REVIEW

Lynn Thompson:

Monday, April 30, 2012: Lynn Thompson calls Ghost Island a great read and gives it 5 Stars!

She says: “The goal was to set sail to Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, stay there for two nights, then take a cruise boat to Mexico. The sky grew dark, rain hit, and a storm warning was issued, leaving Livia and her friends stranded on the island and the others kids stranded on the yacht. Ghosts from the past invade Livia’s friends dreams, Aaron invades hers, promising them all of the things they want most in life.

Ghost Island is a great read! I felt like I was trying to solve a puzzle on who was real, who was a ghost, who could be trusted, and who might just be possessed! I am the type of reader that enjoys trying to figure out the ending of a book before I get there, so this book was lots of fun for me. I’m also very curious if Livia will ever find out who Aaron really is.” READ FULL REVIEW

Scriptor Familia:

Sunday, September 11, 2011: Kara of Scriptor Family Thinks Ghost Island Should be a Movie and calls it a great pick.

She says” “I read this book very quickly, it was very fast paced and creepy. It had a very eerie quality about it, and reminded me of those horror movies that were so popular in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, the whole time I read the book, I kept thinking that it would make a good movie.

The love interest Aaron is very romantic and left me wanting to know more about him. Ms. Hill leaves the ending somewhat open, so I’m thinking… sequel?

Ghost Island is a great pick for fall, especially if you like to read scary books around Halloween. Enjoy!” READ FULL REVIEW