Book Review: All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

All About Mia
Lisa Williamson
David Fickling Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-16397-1
Hardcover

Mia-in-the-middle is not doing well. Something like loneliness lingers, an itch that can’t be scratched. It doesn’t make sense to her that someone who adores alone time (but is never actually alone) could feel lonely. Anyway, the small window of time that gave her a bit of breathing space has slammed shut.

It felt decadent, using Grace’s room while her elder sibling spent her gap-year in Greece (no doubt doing something amazing). But now, out of the blue, Grace is coming home early. And she’s bringing her “spoddy” boyfriend. An aggravating situation exacerbated by the overwhelming excitement of their parents. Already annoying, on their love-crazed-wedding-planning-cloud, they are absolutely insufferable with enthusiastic joy.

Her younger sister, Audrey, will never be an ally. Aside from training for swim meets, she only has time for Beyoncé, her beloved guinea pig. Mia’s three best friends, generally good-to-go with whatever floats her boat, seem a bit strange and stand-offish. Not so supportive, terribly frustrating.

Initially, I didn’t like Mia. But then it hit me. I was seeing Mia through her eyes. Neither one of us had figured out that she wasn’t feeling very fond of herself. Or that she felt invisible. Slowly, I began to understand her outrageous behavior and blatant disregard for everyone close to her. Unable to articulate the aching emptiness; Mia could only act out.

I’m excited to share All About Mia with students here in the U. S. because I think that, like me, they will delight in the English dialect and phrasing and they will definitely appreciate the cultural differences. Which reminds me—in the U.S., the legal drinking age is 21. The Campbell-Richardson family resides in Rushton, a small English hamlet. Although Mia does over-indulge, and it is under-age drinking; it is in a world where wine (albeit watered-down) is welcome with evening meals and the legal drinking age is 18.

Mostly, I’ll be recommending this because I believe that everyone who meets Mia will feel a little less lonely.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2018.

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Book Review: When They Came by Kody Boye

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Title: When They Came
Series: A When They Came Novel, Book 1
Author: Kody Boye
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Amazon

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When They Came
A When They Came Novel, Book 1
Kody Boye
CreateSpace, June 2017
ISBN 978-1545174210
Trade Paperback

From the author—

I was never afraid of monsters—at least, not until They came: the visitors from outer space.

Now They’re in our skies, on our streets, always watching, forever waiting.

At seventeen, I’m just about to graduate from the Juvenile Education System and declare my career of choice. The Midnight Guard—who protect our community from the vicious things that lie outside our walls—calls to me. 

It’s hard, dangerous work, with grueling hours that offer little sleep, but it’s the one thing I know will help make a difference in our ever-changing world.

I’m a pushover for science fiction of the alien invasion variety and I have equal fondness for the truly serious kind and high camp. When They Came falls somewhere in the middle and has both attractive elements as well as some that made me lift an eyebrow.

Ana Mia appealed to me quite a lot, as did her sister and mother, and I empathized with Ana’s desire to do something honorable with her life while being pretty unsure of herself. That lack of confidence rang true for a teenager but especially for one whose mere existence is a daily test. Jason and Asha also were believable characters and a real positive of the story was how much diversity there is.

There were several things that didn’t quite mesh for me. For one thing, I can’t imagine a military leader taking raw recruits—and I do mean raw—out on a mission that’s extremely dangerous and, in fact, ends badly. Also, that particular event occurred much too soon, before I had a chance to really get to know either the characters or the dire circumstances of their lives and, as a result, I was sympathetic towards Ana but didn’t care as much as I could have. Dialogue also left me underwhelmed at times.

On the whole, though, this story of humans versus aliens is based on an interesting concept and the author creates believable tension throughout with plenty of action and fear-inducing atmosphere. While I’m not entirely satisfied with this first book in the trilogy, that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to go on to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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An Excerpt from When They Came

We didn’t find a house by the time the sun set. With no other way to seek shelter, we angled ourselves beneath the trunk of a massive pine and covered up with a pair of blankets as we watched the sun fall.

“You okay?” Asha asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, scooting closer to her. “Are you?”

“I’m scared out of my mind, but yeah—I think I’ll be okay.”

“We could always keep walking, you know? See if we find anything else?”

“I’m too tired to walk anymore.”

I couldn’t blame her. Though I couldn’t tell time by the way the sun fell, I knew, based solely on the fact that we’d risen at dawn, we’d been walking for ten, if not eleven hours. My body ached, my feet throbbed, my bones screamed bloody murder. It felt like someone had tried to drive a nail into the base of my heel, such was the pain I endured.

Rather than think on it, I opened the pack at my feet and pulled out a pair of bottled waters.

“Thanks,” Asha said as I passed hers over.

“No problem,” I said, taking a sip of my water as she popped the cap on her own. “So… how are we going to do this?”

“You mean the watch?” Asha asked. She capped her water, settling it between her knees and taking hold of the gun across her lap. “I’ll go first, then you can go until you start feeling tired. We’ll keep alternating until the sun comes up.”

“You really think that’ll work?” I asked. She nodded. “But what if we both fall asleep?”

“Then just go as long as you can,” Asha offered. “All I know is that I’m ready to pass out, but I’ll force myself to stay awake if I have to.”

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for the two of us to fall asleep at the same time. I mean, we were hours away from civilization. Surely the Harvesters had no reason to land out in the middle of nowhere, much less a copse of trees. Regardless, I knew I couldn’t argue with Asha. As I settled back against the tree and closed my eyes, she sighed and adjusted her position against the trunk.

“This isn’t going to be an easy night,” she said.

No. It wasn’t.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Southeastern Idaho, Kody Boye began his writing career with the publication of his story “A Prom Queen’s Revenge” at the age of fourteen. Published nearly three-dozen times before going independent at eighteen, Boye has authored numerous works—including the short story collection Amorous Things, the novella The Diary of Dakota Hammell, the zombie novel Sunrise and the epic fantasy series The Brotherhood Saga.

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Amazon * Goodreads

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$10 Amazon gift card
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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: The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

The Girl and the Grove
Eric Smith
Flux, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-018-7
Trade Paperback

Once in a while, a book means so much to me that I need my metaphorical sandwich-board and bell to adequately express my adoration. It is entirely in that spirit that I introduce The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith. Immediately irresistible, the anomalous story of amateur arborist, Leila, branches out and grows faster than her rescued sapling, Major Willow.

Since Leila has basically bounced around Philadelphia, popping in and out of the group home, she and her best bud bonded by creating their own constant. After all, Leila’s connection with nature is certainly undeniable, somewhat surreal. It’s an interest she shares with Jon that may make this adopted-as-an-adolescent adjustment easier.

He is great, in an awkwardly adorable, always affable way. And Lisbeth, well, it would take a cold heart and hard head to ignore the quiet strength, patience and abundance of love within her. If it doesn’t work out, Leila will have only herself to blame. Being the perfect daughter will have to take a backseat though, something bigger is about to go down.

A gorgeous grove with a trio of trees that have, thus far, stood the test of time, is about to be destroyed. Leila’s new nature-loving friends will fight for the trees, the history and the elusive, endangered field mouse, but there is something more valuable—vital that must be saved, while being kept secret.

Social issues surrounding prejudices and racism are addressed alongside examples of ignorant questions that can be uncomfortable and awkward for an adoptee. A casual, conversational tone, dotted with diabolical dialogue and spot-on samples of sharp-tongued teens ensures an easy read. Laid out in a linear, fluid fashion; lean without being bare, the quest moves quickly. A splash of suspense, mixed with maybe a bit of magic and myth, makes a magnificent tale.

I dig The Girl and the Grove as a Not-So-Young-Adult; but teen-aged-me would have carried this book like a teddy bear and copied quotes all over my kicks.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

Book Review: The Clarity by Keith Thomas

The Clarity
Keith Thomas
Leopoldo & Co./Atria Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5693-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Dr. Matilda Deacon is a psychologist researching how memories are made and stored when she meets a strange eleven-year-old girl named Ashanique. Ashanique claims to harbor the memories of the last soldier killed in World War I and Matilda is at first very interested but skeptical. However, when Ashanique starts talking about being chased by the Night Doctors—a term also used by an unstable patient who was later found dead—Matilda can’t deny that the girl might be telling the truth.

Matilda learns that Ashanique and her mother have been on the run their whole lives from a monstrous assassin named Rade. Rade is after a secret contained solely in memories and has left a bloody trail throughout the world in search of it. Matilda soon realizes Ashanique is in unimaginable danger and that her unique ability comes with a deadly price.

Fast-paced, suspenseful, and a chilling blend of science and danger, The Clarity is a compelling take on the possibilities of reincarnation and life after death.

With splashes of science and history, The Clarity is, at its core, the stuff of a little girl’s nightmares but the nightmares are real. Certainly, past instances of experimentation on humans have turned out to be dark shadows on our psyches no matter what the initial, seemingly well-intended, idea was or where it took place. Then, throw in a good oldfashioned conspiracy and a villain who would frighten even the most unimaginative of us and you have a frantic race to find truth and survival.

For readers who tend to be a little squeamish, be forewarned—Rade is no mildmannered, polite assassin. He literally will kill anyone in his way and do so with a lot of gore and even more gore. At the same time, he’s the most fascinating character (to me, at least) because of his complete lack of morals or compassion. Ashanique is almost as mindgrabbing but its because of what’s happening to her rather than any aspect of her short, inexperienced life.

As thrillers go, this one has its pacing issues and, as mentioned earlier, an abundance of violence, but I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone interested in stories rooted in the past.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

A taut, riveting thriller, a perfect balance of scientific
speculation and storytelling.—
James Rollins

About the Author

Keith Thomas worked as a lead clinical researcher at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and National Jewish Health before writing for film and television. He has developed projects for studios and production companies and collaborated with writers like James Patterson and filmmakers like Paul Haggis. He lives in Denver and works in Los Angeles.

Website

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“Chilling speculative thriller. Tautly plotted and well researched,
this book is a riveting take on the possibility of afterlife
and reincarnation.”—Book Riot

Book Review: Girl Divided by Willow Rose

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Girl Divided is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel infused with magical
forces. If you like immersive worlds, strong characters, and a tale
that reads like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King combined, then
you’ll love Willow Rose’s provocative story.

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Purchase Link:

Amazon

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Girl Divided
Willow Rose
Buoy Media, January 2018
ISBN 978-1973279426
Trade Paperback

From the author—

They think she’s a monster, but she’s their only hope…

In a divided nation, 14-year-old Jetta belongs nowhere. Her face is split right down the middle: half-black and half-white. The non-white residents of her New Orleans camp call her a demon. The white oppressors who took over during the 2nd American Civil War have called her much worse…

After years as an outcast, Jetta uncovers her true heritage as the daughter of an African storm god and a Finnish death goddess. As she attempts to harness her terrible new abilities to turn the tide in the war, trouble comes to those she tries to help. Only Jetta has the power to heal her divided homeland… or destroy everything in her path…

It’s always nice to see diversity in fiction but Willow Rose has taken it to a new level by having a protagonist who is not only biracial but who also literally looks the part with a face that’s white on one side and black on the other. As you might anticipate, this makes life difficult for Jetta because, even in her future world, bigotry is still rampant. Whether the author’s choice to do this evidences her understanding of both white and black lives I’m not sure because I can only speak for the white side. To that end, I don’t think it quite works because, in this story, white people are almost universally bad.

I do think I might have connected better if I really understood the circumstances of this very different society (or is it so different?) Unfortunately, worldbuilding is a little weak so some answers are missing. What I did find especially interesting is the concept that two deities have created Jetta with the intent of causing vicious racial tension in America…and succeeding to the point of civil war. As a harbinger of what might come in reality if we don’t pay attention, Girl Divided is quite effective and thought-provoking.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

About the Author

The Queen of Scream aka Willow Rose is a #1 Amazon Best-selling Author and an Amazon ALL-star Author of more than 40 novels. She writes Mystery, Suspense, Horror, Supernatural thrillers, and Fantasy.

She lives on Florida’s Space Coast with her husband and two daughters. When she is not writing or reading, you will find her surfing and watch the dolphins play in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

Willow’s books are fast-paced, nail-biting pageturners. Several of her books have reached the Kindle top 20 of ALL books in the US, UK, and Canada. She has sold more than two million books.

 

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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Book Reviews: Girl in a Bad Place by Kaitlin Ward and Code Red by Janie Chodosh

Girl in a Bad Place
Kaitlin Ward
Point, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-10105-8
Hardcover

Commune. A calm word, calling forth images of folks immersed in wilderness; frolicking with forest creatures, blissfully coexisting with Mother Nature. Idyllic, sure; but Mailee certainly didn’t anticipate the sad-looking metal shacks she saw upon arriving at the Haven. No matter how odd and uncharacteristic the visit to this remote area may be; she is determined to be positive; after all, this peculiarity is the only thing Cara has shown interest in all summer.

Mailee never expected a super-celebratory Senior year. The ache of Cara’s loss lingers and her home is still shrouded by a palpable dark cloud of sorrow and anger, sucking up all hope of happiness. Moreover, Mailee has noticed changes in Cara that cause concern. So, even though “…nature is gross. And filled with spiders,” Mailee is willing to make the pilgrimage as pleasant as possible.

The founder, a man dubiously dubbed Firehorse, seems more like a shifty, misogynistic pig than a peace-loving-Earth-boy and everyone else emanates a surreal, suspicious, semi-aggressive vibe. Initially surprised that Cara is smitten; Mailee is soon stunned by her best friend’s frenzied fascination of the creepy cooperative.

Maybe Mailee was willing to—temporarily—omit meat and dairy from her diet as a show of support; but as Cara raves, Mailee researches. The line between commune and cult begins to blur. Against her better judgment, Mailee agrees to attend a celebration at the commune with Cara. Guessing that she will need to provide more than moral support; Mailee has no idea how dangerous and dire the circumstances will be.

A bad place can be literal, figurative, or even both at once. Sometimes, as in Cara’s case, a metaphorical bad place leads to an actual bad place. In the same way that a phrase can mean more than one thing, this keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, compelling conundrum is not just a suspense-filled mystery, but also a survival story. One about learning to live in spite of loss, loyalty, and the immeasurable value of friendship.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2017.

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Code Red
A Faith Flores Science Mystery, Book Two
Janie Chodosh
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-929345-28-1
Trade Paperback

Faith Flores is a bit of an atypical protagonist insofar as she’s somewhat rough around the edges. Of course, considering her circumstances, she’s a remarkably well-adjusted adolescent. Knowing the bare minimum about her father, really raising herself—while doing her best to take care of her addled, addicted mother—Faith’s occasional avoidance of silly social graces seems just about right. Above-average intelligence and a freaky-fast mind also, understandably, contribute to her curtness.

Having recently figured out ‘who-done-it’ when her mother was murdered (Janie Chodosh’s Death Spiral, A Faith Flores Science Mystery), Faith needs a change of scene as much as something to wholly occupy her inquisitive intellect. And so begins her internship in Santa Fe where she will be assisting in studies of genetically modified chiles. The fact that her always-absent-father supposedly inhabits this town certainly won’t distract her (she wishes) but the headline “A New Drug for Northern New Mexico” just might.

Smoothing the story with more than soul-soothing songs, we have violin virtuoso, Clem. Quite frankly, there is no going wrong with a dude named after Vassar Clements <bows deeply to Ms. Chodosh> and this young man is no exception. Aside from his evident awesomeness, for the first time ever, Faith feels a possible connection…perhaps he can identify with her “…own mixed race too-brown-to-be-white-too-white-to-be-brown ethnicity…”.

Santa Fe has several surprises in store for Faith and suddenly, her luxurious length of time here seems lacking. To focus on the inexplicably angry threats against her lab and GMO crops, grab a few minutes here and there with Clem, and attempt to take advantage of opportunities with new-found family; Faith definitively does not have time to delve into the intrigue of Liquid Gold, the latest in dangerous dope. Unless there’s a link that would render her choice irrelevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2017.

*Not to go full-out-nerd on you but when I began writing this review I realized that I still felt relatively ignorant about the term “GMO” & the arguments against it. This Mental Floss article saved the day: What is a GMO?