Book Review: Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

Brave Enough
Kati Gardner
Flux, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-020-0
Trade Paperback

Cason Martin is not a typical high-school student. She attends—half-days and classes only. Isolating, yet unavoidable. As prima ballerina in the Atlanta Ballet Conservatory properly preparing to audition for the American Ballet Theatre, she only has time to dance. This plan has been in place for as long as Cason can remember. No distractions allowed—certainly not this nagging pain in her knee.

Everything changes in an instant when Cason learns that she won’t be pampering a pulled muscle. The injury, in fact, is a much bigger deal.

Natalie Martin probably wouldn’t be a warm-and-fuzzy maternal figure even if she wasn’t Cason’s artistic director first, single-parent second. Nonetheless, her assessment of her daughter’s diagnosis as an inconvenient time-burglar is almost stunning. Cason isn’t necessarily surprised by her mom’s reaction, but she can’t help being disappointed and frustrated.

Maybe she can’t count on her mother, but no one should suffer sickness alone. It is often other adolescents that have dealt with disease who come together to create the strongest support system.

Davis Channing conquered cancer, but now he has a different fight on his hands—with the demon of addiction. Recovering while repaying his debt to society has Davis volunteering in the very hospital that treated him. He may not be just what Cason needs, but the dude knows everyone and is effortlessly the epitome of a kind soul. His sincere desire to be beneficial is evident. The fact that he could use a friend right now, is not.

I read a lot as a teen, but I can only recall one instance when a serious illness affected anyone my age. Now, we have non-fiction and realistic-fiction options for high-school and middle-grade readers that talk about kids being seriously sick. Ms. Gardner joins awe-inspiring authors such as Josh Sundquist, Sophia Bennett, Jordan Sonnenblick, and John Green to fill this void.

Compassionately composed, Brave Enough is an honest journey from heart-ache to hope that deftly demonstrates the strength, resilience and adaptability of our youth.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2018.

Book Review: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

drums-girls-dangerous-pieDrums, Girls + Dangerous Pie
Jordan Sonnenblick
Scholastic, Inc., May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-72286-5
Trade Paperback

Inexplicably unique, Steven’s story sucked me in, seeped into my soul and stole my heart.  Mr. Sonnenblick aptly captures and conveys the perplexities of a 13-year-old boy—the obvious, an abundant use of “like” in his dialogue, but also the subtle, self-sacrificing inner voice rarely credited to teens.  This outwardly awkward adolescent is more than a pounding prodigy on a drum kit and all-around funny guy; he’s an older brother.

Even at a blush, he is kind, tolerant and indulgent with the feisty five-year-old boy who gleefully dismisses his elder sibling’s ‘rules’.  When said spunky boy slips from the kitchen stool and is rushed to the emergency room, Steven simply sighs, “So Jeffrey was getting me in trouble again, as usual.”  How could he know then, that the tumble terminated ‘as usual’?   Steven’s little brother has cancer.

A terrifyingly tough topic, tackled brilliantly.  Financial strain, even with good insurance and steady income; parents putting life on hold, sick siblings sent away for safety….but also….life goes on.  That struggle seems insurmountable yet it’s unavoidable.  A viscous diagnosis, grim parade of prodding and poking, a family flung in different directions would wreak havoc on anyone; the impact it has on a teen is unimaginable.


Was unimaginable. Not now.  Mr. Sonnenblick wrote this book in 12 short weeks.  It wasn’t planned, hadn’t stewed somewhere in his head for years.  It was impulsive and imperative.  While teaching 8th grade, he discovered that one of his students was going through something even more challenging than middle school.  Her younger sibling had cancer.  Needing to help and knowing that a good book could; he searched for just the right one to share; did not find it.  There was no choice.  He wrote it.  And it is everything. All of the best things, defiantly in spite of almost-the-worst-thing, Steven and Jeffrey’s should be shared.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2016.

Book Review: Breaking Butterflies by M. Anjelais

Breaking ButterfliesBreaking Butterflies
M. Anjelais
Chicken House, August 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-66766-1

When we think of arranged marriages, what usually comes to mind are child brides in foreign countries or royalty in olden days. For Sphinx and Cadence, things were different, very much so, in fact. Their connection began when their mothers, Sarah and Leigh, met when they were seven. Leigh was the leader, Sarah the follower. As their friendship blossomed, Leigh began scripting everything that would happen to them, beginning with what they’d have as careers, that Sarah would have a girl, while she would have a boy and the two would bond, eventually marrying and provide another connected generation.

Leigh’s plan worked until it didn’t. Both married and got pregnant two months apart. Leigh had a boy, Sarah a girl and they were raised together. Like their moms, one took the lead, the other became a follower. Cadence thought up the best games and Spinx was happy to follow. Happy until the day Cadence took out a knife and sliced her face open.

Sarah’s father was furious, more at not heeding his suspicions about Cadence, raised when at age five, the boy crushed a butterfly and showed neither emotion or remorse. Leigh was devastated and hauled her son off to her house in England where her marriage soon fell apart.

Fast forward to when the kids are sixteen. Spinx has a modest social life, but has never had a boyfriend. She’s mostly content playing soccer and spending time with her girlfriends. Every morning, however, she sees the thin scar on her cheek before applying concealer and it reminds her of Cadence and her still conflicted feelings about him and what he said the day it happened.

A phone call from Leigh, who has remained friends with Sarah, starts in motion a strange journey for Spinx, one that’s both physical and emotional. Cadence has an aggressive form of leukemia and wants her to come see him before he dies. Despite her fear, she realizes that something inside is telling her she has to do this, so she and Sarah agree to come to England for one week.

Despite Cadence’s abruptness and rudeness, Spinx comes to believe that coming was the right thing to do and when it’s time to go, she convinces her mother to let her stay until Cadence dies.

What transpires as she waits for his passing, particularly in terms of her growing insight and understanding make for a compelling read. I expected this to be more of a horror story, but it’s sad and Spinx’s growing awareness of how intertwined the two of them really are is quite insightful, particularly in terms of portraying Cadence and what’s really wrong with him.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.

Book Review: When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker—and a giveaway!

When I'm GoneWhen I’m Gone
Emily Bleeker
Lake Union Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1503953383

From the publisher—

Dear Luke,
First let me say—I love you…I didn’t want to leave you…

Luke Richardson has returned home after burying Natalie, his beloved wife of sixteen years, ready to face the hard job of raising their three children alone. But there’s something he’s not prepared for—a blue envelope with his name scrawled across the front in Natalie’s handwriting, waiting for him on the floor of their suburban Michigan home.

The letter inside, written on the first day of Natalie’s cancer treatment a year ago, turns out to be the first of many. Luke is convinced they’re genuine, but who is delivering them? As his obsession with the letters grows, Luke uncovers long-buried secrets that make him question everything he knew about his wife and their family. But the revelations also point the way toward a future where love goes on—in written words, in memories, and in the promises it’s never too late to keep.

This book has everything going for it: a heart-tugging widower, a mystery to be solved (actually, more than one although they’re not the kind you find in mystery novels, strictly speaking), family secrets to be revealed, a promise of hope for the future. There are surprises both good and not so much so and it’s clear that Natalie truly cared for her husband and children. It was—and still is—a loving family and the secrets that are revealed towards the end are maddening as well as sad. Why, then, didn’t I connect with this story as much as I should have?

When I’m Gone is beautifully written and the characters are vividly drawn but I think perhaps it was a wrong choice for me. Truthfully, there is nothing actually wrong with it and I think most other readers will really appreciate it whereas I just never was emotionally invested and that may be partially because I find the idea of these letters coming for such a long time kind of unhealthy for those who are left behind. It seems to me that the healing process is dragged out much longer than is natural and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. One heartfelt letter, yes; a string of them, maybe not.

When I think about the story Ms. Bleeker has given us, I’m quite sure my reaction isn’t fair but I also believe I understand it. I had five deaths to cope with in 2015 and, by the end of the year, I was continually on edge wondering what horrible thing would be happening next. Perhaps it’s too soon for me to read a tale like this one because my own emotions are still fragile. Because of that, I fully intend to read this again when I’m more receptive and I’m pretty darned sure I’m going to love it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.



Purchase Links:

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About the Author

Emily Bleeker 2Emily Bleeker is a former educator who discovered her passion for writing after introducing a writer’s workshop to her students. She soon found a whole world of characters and stories living inside of her mind. It took a battle with a rare form of cancer to give her the courage to share that amazing world with others. Emily lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and four kids. Between writing and being a mom, she attempts to learn guitar, sings along to the radio (loudly), and embraces her newfound addiction to running. Connect with her or request a Skype visit with your book club at

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of When I’m Gone by Emily
Bleeker, leave a comment below.
The winning name will be drawn
on Saturday evening, March 19th,
and the book will be sent out
after the end of the tour. This
giveaway is open to residents  of
the US and Canada.


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Book Review: A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks

A Cry from the DustA Cry from the Dust
A Gwen Marcey Novel
Carrie Stuart Parks
Thomas Nelson, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9043-4
Trade Paperback

You can read a story blurb about A Cry From the Dust anywhere, so I’m going to talk about other aspects of the book.

  • The writing is clear and sharp, with good flow.
  • The subject matter is extraordinary. Domestic terrorism; the Mormon Church; plural marriage.
  • Gwen Marcy, the point of view character, has a history too many of us can relate to; cancer (Gwen is bald), a messy divorce, single motherhood. All this, plus she’s kidnapped, branded a terrorist and murderer, and tasked with stopping a major terrorist attack. Whew!
  • I loved that, just like the author, Carrie Stuart Parks, Gwen is a forensic artist, so the story drips with authenticity. Be prepared to learn something along with being royally entertained.
  • The villains could be real people, with aspirations and desires outside the mainstream, but certainly imaginable. They could be going about their everyday business and we’d never know.
  • Beth, Gwen’s sidekick, is almost as interesting as Gwen herself.
  • Gwen has the constant worry of a teen heartbroken by her parents’ divorce, and we’re shown the girl’s emotions and exactly how she acts out.
  • The depth of the novel is astounding.
  • Best part, there are at least two more Gwen Marcy books in the pipeline.
  • There’s a dog.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Mourning Vivian


Vivian, December 2013

Vivian, December 2013


Yesterday, my daughter, Annie, and I took my four-footed sweet baby, Vivian, to the vet for her last visit. Those of us who are pet moms and dads dread having to do this but we owe it to take care of our “kids” to the very end.

Vivian was special. Yes, I know, everyone’s pets are special ;-). It’s true, though, that Vivian was different from most cats if only because she and her sister, Giselle, have openly loved us and have shown it over and over since they came home with me just before Christmas 2013.


Vivian, February 2014

Vivian, February 2014


We don’t know much about Vivian’s early life; she and Giselle were raised by an unknown woman in a motel for their first six years and then she disappeared one day. The motel owner called animal control and the Ginger Twins, as we called them, ended up at the SPCA. When we first saw them, they had been there four months and had limited prospects of being adopted. The biggest problems?

1. At seven years old, they were considered seniors.

2. There were two of them and the SPCA wouldn’t let them be separated.

3. Vivian was a mammary cancer survivor but her long-term outlook was not good.

Many of our local shelters, including the SPCA, are no-kill so Vivian and Giselle were not in danger but I couldn’t get them out of my mind. They were meant to come home with me so Annie and I went back to get them.

The twins were rarely far apart and were happiest when they snuggled together. Both loved looking out the windows and loved playing with the laser pointer and dangly ribbons, preferably the shiny kind. They loved to eat and they put on a few pounds but that was OK—they were a little on the lean side at the shelter.

Vivian & Giselle, February 2014

Vivian & Giselle, February 2014

The twins had not been spayed before arriving at the shelter and that’s when Vivian’s cancer was discovered. Mammary cancer is especially virulent and survival time is limited. When we took the girls to our vet for their first visit, he said it was not a matter of “if” it would recur but “when”. Two months later, the cancer was back and she had a second extensive surgery. That was in March and, a couple of months later, she was showing signs that something might be wrong again. At that time, I decided not to put her through all the diagnostic tests and possible surgery a third time.

A week ago, it became obvious that Vivian was in distress so we took her in on Friday. As it turns out, the mammary cancer was not evident again but it had metastasized to her lungs. There really is no coming back from that. Vivian came home for a last weekend and we had some really good quality time with her, knowing we’d have to take her back on Monday because, despite any rallies she might have, she was in pain and it was the right thing to do for her.

Giselle & Vivian, August 2014

Giselle & Vivian, August 2014

My heart hurts for Giselle. There’s no doubt she knows and she has been velcroed to my side for hours. She and everyone who knew Vivian will miss her terribly and I’m so very thankful she was in our lives for the past eight months.

Vivian has brought us all a lot of tears but also so MUCH joy. The rewards of rescuing seniors outweighs all of the heartache and I’ll do it again when the time is right.

Vivian, August 25, 2014

Vivian, August 25, 2014

Rest in peace, my sweet Vivian.

Book Reviews: The Look by Sophia Bennett and The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney

The LookThe Look
Sophia Bennett
Chicken House, M arch 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-46438-3

I love this book.  So much, in fact, that this review is surprisingly difficult for me to write.   I don’t want to just gush about how much I enjoyed it, and I most certainly don’t want to give away too much.

The Look is an outstanding tale of two sisters, each experiencing life-altering changes that no one could have predicted.  They turn to each other. Seeing the evolution of their relationship was tremendously satisfying. While the girls are completely different, they are both charismatic and loveable, making the whole story almost tangible.

Ted Trout is tall, lanky with constantly disheveled hair, and a uni-brow.  For most 15 year old girls, this would be a nightmare. She accepts it and goes about her business.  Immediately, I loved Ted.  Her matter-of-fact way of dealing with things is unique and intriguing.  She often cracked me up. I think everyone will admire this cheeky girl who tends to go with the flow, without being passive.  The reader almost feels proud as Ted begins to realize, then embrace, the fact that she is a strong and confident girl.

Ava is the older sister.  She is gorgeous, sweet and totally smitten with her simply awesome boyfriend.  All is right in her world until she learns that she has cancer.  But wait—this is not a “cancer” book.  Ava is intricate to the story, yes, but she is not the main character and her disease is not the central theme.  Ava won’t allow herself to be consumed by this, so she focuses all of her energy on Ted and the changes she is making.

To me, this book is about self-discovery.   Learning that you can hear peoples’ opinions, but you get to choose which advice to follow; most importantly, you get to determine the impact the words have on you.  Mistakes will be made, but acknowledgment and an effort to correct will go a long way.  Leaving your comfort zone is imperative for growth.  You can try something new, hate it, yet still garner valuable insight.  When you are honest with yourself and you follow your heart, you won’t be wrong.  We all have a confidence and strength inside of us, we just may need to work hard to find it.

Please, read The Look.  I like everything about it, and I bet you will too.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2013.


The Iron WitchThe Iron Witch
The Iron Witch Trilogy #1
Karen Mahoney
Flux, February 2011
ISBN 978-0-7387-2582-6
Trade Paperback

We’ve all heard “don’t judge a book by its cover”; although I can’t seem to help myself.  Apparently, you can’t judge a book by its title either.  Both the cover and the title of The Iron Witch intrigued me.  Of course, I adore all things witchy, from the cauldron stirrers to Wiccans and all things in between.  I expected some version of a “typical” witch in this book.  I was wrong.

Donna Underwood is a typical teen in many ways, but her peers are not interested in seeing that.  She stands out because she wears long gloves.  Always.  This small differentiation is enough to bring out the meanness in her class mates and she is taunted and teased relentlessly.  Luckily, she has her best bud, Navin.  He is really the only friend she needs.

As if the hell of being the brunt of jokes and pranks at school isn’t enough, Donna’s home-life is a mystery, even to Donna herself.  Technically, she lives with her aunt, but mostly she is alone.  She remembers very little about her father’s death, although she was there.  Her mother in an asylum and Donna can’t really understand why.

The largest peculiarity is that Donna is “in training”.  She is being groomed to be a full member of an incredibly secret Order.  So secret, in fact, that she knows almost nothing about the Order, which means she can’t really trust them.

Despite Navin, Donna is totally alone.  Oh, and she is being pursued.  By faeries.  Okay, nothing about the title (or cover) prepared me for the Fey.  What a pleasant surprise!

By chance, and because of Navin, Donna meets Alexander (Xan).  It is quickly apparent that the two share similar secrets, but can they build enough trust to share them in time to save themselves?  We shall see.

Ms. Mahoney has created an intriguing and quite original story.  Her characters are rich, with depth.  There is humour, strength, support, and unparalleled loyalty; the kind you see in teenagers that are still sweetly naive.  The book pulled this reader in abruptly, and held me until the very end.  Each chapter shares a bit more information, and because the characters are so compelling, I felt invested in their adventure.

This book is the first in a trilogy, and since it was released in 2011, I was able to promptly purchase the following books, The Wood Queen and The Stone Demon.  This luxury is one of the best things about discovering a book that has been out for awhile.  As Karen Mahoney is not necessarily a well-known YA author (in the US), I highly recommend this for the readers that say “I can’t find anything to read”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2013.