Book Review: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2019.

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Book Review: My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace

My Whole Truth
Mischa Thrace
Flux, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-024-8
Trade Paperback

I’ve struggled with this review for a few weeks, because I was stunned. Speechless. Now, I accept the fact that I will never find and assemble accurate words to aptly address my deep desire for everyone to read this book. But, I can’t keep not telling you about My Whole Truth by Mischa Thrace. So…

Starting this story is a bit like having a bucket of ice-cold water dumped over your head. From out of nowhere. That steal-your-breath, shocking feeling, fused with white-hot anger, stayed with me. Quite frankly, still simmers. Perhaps, because this Realistic Fiction plot is so current, it is almost creepy.

The scenario certainly sets me off, but there’s a brilliant balance with the sincere and effortless strength and support that Seelie receives from her friends. And because they are adolescents, situations can only stay serious for so long. Even from her hospital bed, merely moments after being attacked, Seelie stays true to teens everywhere by easily ignoring simple ‘stay still and quiet’ instructions. And she calls her friends, not a parent. Although, she is not wrong there.

If everyone had a best bud like Lyssa, there would be no more bullying. The ultimate antihero, I couldn’t help but cheer a little bit whenever she stepped out of line. From the minute she arrived in the emergency room, all the way to the end of the tortuous trial, Lyssa stuck by Seelie’s side.

Whereas, Seelie’s mother stayed busy with her restaurant, as usual. Since she wasn’t in the hayloft at the time, Mom couldn’t be expected to actually know what happened anyway. She does recall that Seelie has always been rude to Shane, while seemingly everyone else in the entire town adores the judge’s son. And maternal ambivalence is only the tip of the iceberg.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Reviews: Sparrow by Sarah Moon and Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher

Sparrow
Sarah Moon
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03258-1
Hardcover

I never imagined that anyone could capture, then convey the desperate isolation of an outsider-always-looking-in. Ms. Moon makes it so real that one evening while reading, my eyes were all leaky and my nose wouldn’t stop sniffling. My husband asked if it was the pollen or a really sad book. It was not the pollen.

Which is not to say that Sparrow is dreary or depressing. We just meet Sparrow at a tough time.

Accepting that she will never fit in with other students, staying under the radar of teachers and staff; Sparrow has developed her very own coping mechanism. It is a soul-soothing, secret escape. Private, because there’s no way anyone would ever understand. Or even believe.

So, when Sparrow was discovered on the roof of the school and all assumptions were grossly inaccurate, the wrong question being asked, it was no surprise. But it didn’t matter, she couldn’t answer anyway.

Sparrow’s mom is fiercely strong, capable and confident. And surprisingly willing to set aside her initial reservations about therapy. Even after meeting the not-as-pictured Dr. Katz and her interesting attire. In spite of the funky shoes, Sparrow could be cold and aloof towards Dr. Katz. It was much harder pretending to ignore the music that punctured the silence. Songs articulated her thoughts. Rough voices relayed her pain.

Sparrow felt her problems were solved, finding and embracing artists that understood. But listening to music was just the tip of the iceberg. With the enthusiastic support of her therapist, the determined, albeit a bit dubious, backing of her mother; Sparrow sets off for the Gertrude Nix Rock Camp for Girls.

Tackling a topic so commonly experienced, yet rarely addressed; Ms. Moon elicits empathy in an eloquent, engaging way.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2018.

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Young Man With Camera
A Novel with Photographs
Emil Sher
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-54131-2
Hardcover

I want to say that Young Man With Camera packs a powerful punch because my heart is heavily bruised; but that cliché is actually inaccurate. Instead, it is like a snake bite. A shocking, searing-hot flash of pain first, followed by a false sense of ease, into the stinging sensation of venom in your veins.  And I mean this as an unequivocally enthusiastic endorsement.

T— is clearly strong, resilient and courageous…yet I immediately experience an inexplicable urge to protect him.  Deftly dealing with diverse people, in completely different ways, displays his early-onset maturity and a kindness that cannot be contained.  His sincere interest in Ruby, the quiet little girl with the chalk drawings, is as genuine and open as his affection towards the homeless woman with the witty signs.

When repugnant Ryan and his herd of hooligans antagonize T—, he tends to tolerate it; but the minute they set their sights on someone else, T— is quick to defend.  Already “damaged”, his scars speak of suffering, while simultaneously showing survival. He has a best bud, Sean, who comes with a faithful and friendly pooch; but it was photography that saved T—.  The very pictures he shares are worth way more than a thousand of the wisest words.

Although it is absolutely appropriate for the Middle Grade reader, I will be passing this copy on to “my” High School seniors, where I believe it will appeal to both ends of the reading spectrum. Reluctant readers will appreciate the photography as well as the short-not-so-sweet writing style and avid readers will dig the “something different”.  T—’s tale takes you where you definitely do not want to go, and you can’t even cover your eyes along the way.  Creating conflict by making you fully understand the why, even when it is so clearly wrong, in a real, raw and absolutely riveting way.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

Book Review: Frosted Kisses by Heather Hepler

Frosted Kisses
Cupcake Queen Series #2

Heather Hepler
Point, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-79055-0
Hardcover

Penny and her mom moved from Manhattan to a small town following her parents’ divorce. Hog’s Hollow is quite different than the big city, but some things don’t change. School bullies and cliques are everywhere, teens have secrets everywhere, and crushes happen everywhere.

Fortunately, Penny made friends with Tally who is a big time animal lover. She talked her new friend into helping raise money to restore/repair the animal shelter where she volunteers. On the opposite side of school society is Charity, daughter of the town banker and as mean as they come. For reasons unfathomable to Penny, Charity has it in for her at every opportunity. It’s gotten so bad Penny cringes in fearful anticipation every time Charity is in her vicinity.

When Esmeralda comes to stay with Charity, Tally’s immediately put off by her, but Penny’s conflicted. Remembering her own experience coming to a new school makes her want to give the extremely attractive Parisian girl the benefit of doubt, but when Esmeralda starts tutoring Marcus, who Penny likes big time, trusting either of them gets pretty difficult.

The plot gets much thicker, both literally and figuratively after aging surfer Dutch moves back to town, agitating Penny’s grandmother. Tally and Penny start to realize Gram’s upset has something to do with what happened between them years ago, just about the time they come up with a dazzling way to raise lots of money for the animal shelter during the winter festival. Add in the challenge of Penny trying to figure out whether Marcus reciprocates her feelings, helping Gram put up the county-wide famous Christmas light display at their house, having to accept that her father isn’t able to be reliable, Tally’s own secret anguish over her family mess, who really is the evil girl at school and how that person is outed in a very public way, and you have a very entertaining story.

I’ve read the author’s other books and enjoyed them a lot. This is both entertaining and meaty in terms of how the two best friends deal with bullying, trust and family dysfunction.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2018.

Book Review: Best Friends for Never by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

best-friends-for-neverBest Friends for Never
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-56149-5
Hardcover

YA readers will recognize the cast of charismatic characters who roam the middle school halls and the neighborhoods of small town Trepan Grove. Hattie moves to the town from Brooklyn, New York during the summer and becomes friends with a group of girls with whom she’s trying desperately to fit in. If that means repressing her love of reading fantasy and wearing cute cat T-shirts, it’s totally worth it. Almost totally. She misses her best friend in Brooklyn and their nerdy common interests.

After witnessing a classmate endure a public, humiliating defriending in the school cafeteria one day, Hattie wonders if her tenuous, new friendships are safe. She devises a loyalty pact designed to assure that the friends will never mistreat each other. The four girls sign.

Then, Hattie unwittingly breaks the pact. Consequences are immediate, and the next months become a nightmare journey down a rabbit hole, as she seeks a way to correct her mistake and regain her friendships. And, as does Alice in Wonderland, Hattie runs into obstacles that seem unbeatable and finds help from improbable sources.

This reviewer is on the far downside of being a YA reader, but I was enchanted by this story. I’d like to visit the little New England town of Trepan Grove, meet Hattie’s group of “middle popular” girls, and see the attic repository of the town’s historical society books and documents. I’m not too much of an old dog to appreciate being reminded of the lesson Hattie learned, either.

The author’s delve into a bit of fantasy is a clever way to obviate her message without preaching. The inviting, realistic characters and relationships will have kids appreciating their own positions in their various micro societies. An intriguing plot and appealing ending will have them recommending the book to their own friends and classmates.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, July 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: The Society by Jodie Andrefski

The Society Tour Banner

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Title: The Society
Author: Jodie Andrefski
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

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The SocietyThe Society
Jodie Andrefski
Entangled Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-63375-318-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Welcome to Trinity Academy’s best-kept secret.

The Society.

You’ve been handpicked by the elite of the elite to become a member. But first you’ll have to prove your worth by making it through Hell Week.

Do you have what it takes?

It’s time to find out.

Samantha Evans knows she’d never get an invite to rush the Society―not after her dad went to jail for insider trading. But after years of relentless bullying at the hands of the Society’s queen bee, Jessica, she’s ready to take down Jessica and the Society one peg at a time from the inside out.

All it’ll take is a bit of computer hacking, a few fake invitations, some eager rushees…and Sam will get her revenge.

Let the games begin.

Teen bullying has become more widely talked about in the last few years than ever before, rightfully so, and many young adult novels have focused on the topic. This is a good thing because it helps shine a light on a serious problem but making such novels fresh and different has come to be more difficult as time goes by. It’s similar to some other book themes that seem to lose their punch as too many authors and publishers jump on the bandwagon,

Sam has suffered at the hands of a former friend, Jessica, and Jessica’s treatment of Sam can’t be justified in any way even though the reason behind it is understandable. Sam’s eventual decision to take revenge, on Jessica and on the school’s higher society, is at the core of the problem for me because, to my mind, Sam becomes every bit as mean-spirited and unlikeable as Jessica.

The Society is well-written, don’t get me wrong, but I had trouble empathizing with Sam once she set out on this path to get even although I fully understand the realities of human nature and the desire to get back at the people who’ve hurt us. Although I think this is a good book, I just didn’t quite connect with Sam or her story but I think many other readers will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

About the Author

Jodie AndrefskiJodie Andrefski lives in a tiny town in PA that no one has ever heard of with her teenage daughter. She received her BS in Secondary English Education from Penn State, then taught a few years before changing focus and going back to school for her Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling.

Andrefski always loved both reading and writing, and wrote for several websites and magazines before deciding to write novels. She writes YA Contemporary, most of which involves at least some kissing. The Society is her second novel with Entangled Teen.

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Book Review: A Fatal Family Secret by Samantha Marks

A Fatal Family SecretA Fatal Family Secret
The Morphosis.me Files Book One
Samantha Marks
Samantha Marks, May 2015
ISBN 978-1943406012
Trade Paperback

From the author—

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be? On the first day of high school, Kayleigh wishes she could be taller, curvier, and cooler. But when she discovers she’s a shape-shifter, she bites off more than she can chew. Overnight, she becomes a target, and surviving the school-year means defending herself against cyber-bullies, learning to control her new-found powers, and hiding from the ancient secret society that kidnapped her mother. Morphing has consequences, and Kayleigh begins to realize that being able to change into anything can mean losing herself in the process.

High school bullying is a fairly common topic these days, rightfully so, but we don’t often see it woven into a dark fantasy tale. At first, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but it didn’t take long for me to get invested.

Kayleigh is just starting high school, at a time in her life when she’s suffered more tragedy than most since her mother was abducted a couple of years earlier. All young teens go through major life changes during puberty and this girl is no different; she makes the perfect victim for bullies. Sometimes, she’s a little too much of a victim but I never felt her reactions were abnormal especially given her circumstances. If anything, she’s searching for comfort and security and it was a pleasure going on this journey with her.

A Fatal Family Secret is an entertaining jaunt through the fantasy world with a dose of mystery thrown in and those aspects of the story shine a much-needed light on how kids have to cope with the loss of a parent. In this case, there are causes and effects we’ll never have to confront but the whole shapeshifting thing really sort of emphasizes the normal challenges that life brings us. Ms. Marks has done a really nice job of presenting teen issues in a very readable way and I’m looking forward to the second book, A Treacherous Social Game, already available.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.