Book Reviews: The Furies by Katie Lowe and Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci @fatgirlphd @stmartinspress @misscecil @Scholastic

The Furies
Katie Lowe
St. Martin’s Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-29789-1
Hardcover

Theoretically, it may be a bit easier to handle the aftermath of a tragedy if someone close suffers the same horror. Certainly, an adolescent girl could expect her mother to understand and to bear the burden with her. Vivian’s mom does know the shock, the overwhelming ache of emptiness. It’s almost as if she found a way to absorb it. Vivian no longer sees her mom, there is only a hollow shell where the warm, caring soul should still be.

Perhaps Vivian, too, would have just faded away, if not for the opportunity to attend the prestigious Elm Hollow. A curious campus—that, of course “has a history”—and the intriguing course-structures were appealing. But it was watching the girls making their way from class to class that truly began to stir something inside of Vivian. For the first time, in a long time, Vivian felt like learning again. Looking forward, making friends, maybe even dating: thoughts that had been gathering dust in the back of her brain tentatively slunk forward.

Young ladies gathered in pairs, loose groups and a few had chosen solo spots and were sprinkled throughout. One thing seemed the same, though. All seemed…content.

Ok, not “all”.

There are three…or to be more accurate, there is a trio standing out. Admittedly, the righteous red of Robin’s hair is impossible to miss, but Vivian is pretty sure there’s an undercurrent connecting the clearly-close friends. Inexplicably drawn to them, Vivian feels her heart beat again when she is welcomed into their fold.

Ms. Lowe doesn’t allow the uplifting illusion to linger.

As Vivian embraces all of Elm Hollow her mind happily gathers information, albeit by bits and pieces. She soon learns enough to put together a surprising, scary picture. Relationships are not new; backgrounds are tangled, gnarled roots and Vivian has been snagged. Entirely on her own, she will become eternally ensnared in Elm Hollow, or she will have to hack her way out.

I cannot wait to take this suck-you-in-and-spin-you-story to “my” students next month!

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.

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Don’t Cosplay With My Heart
Cecil Castellucci
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12549-8
Hardcover

This Young Adult novel begins with (what I hope is) an atypical teen scenario. Completely overcome by complicated, conflicting emotions…currently manifesting as mainly anger, Edan dons her Gargantua mask before sitting down to her final family dinner. For the foreseeable future.

She didn’t know much about her dad’s business, other than his firm handled payroll for several Hollywood productions. Lately, she’s heard whispers of misappropriated funds and missing money. Now, her father is being sequestered. But this is not a tale of white-collar crime. Although, that may be a bit more pertinent to the plot than I initially anticipated.

To me, the story is about Edan’s exponential growth as life forces her into self-discovery and independence at a wholly unanticipated time. Sort of like learning to swim by being thrown into the water, having never even contemplated swimming lessons. And Edan is truly alone.

Her best bud, Kasumi, is spending the summer in Japan. Their conversations are quick and Kasumi seems so happy that Edan cannot bear to burden her with what’s happening at home. Edan has to do something to get out of the house and more importantly, out of her own head. Attending her first Comic Con, solo, should do the trick.

Despite her admiration and adoration of all things Team Tomorrow, the best comic-book ever, Edan didn’t know much about the fan-filled conventions. And, aside from the recent addition of the Gargantua mask to her attire, she absolutely knew nothing of cosplaying. After attending only one con though, Edan was wholly hooked and, with a goal: “…learn how to make a costume so great that it pulls me right out of my misery and changes my life.”

I appreciate the realistic and relatable mistakes Edan made, as well as how she corrected them. And, I’m always particularly fond of friendships formed in the most unlikely of places. I found this to be fun and entertaining, without being cotton-candy fluffy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2018.

Book Review: Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn @AvaMorgyn @YABoundToursPR

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Check out my stop on the Resurrection Girls
and enter to win a copy below!
 
Resurrection Girls
by Ava Morgyn
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Release date: October 1st 2019

Summary:

Olivia Foster hasn’t felt alive since her little brother drowned in the backyard pool three years ago. Then Kara Hallas moves in across the street with her mother and grandmother, and Olivia is immediately drawn to these three generations of women. Kara is particularly intoxicating, so much so that Olivia not only comes to accept Kara’s morbid habit of writing to men on death row, she helps her do it. They sign their letters as the Resurrection Girls.

But as Kara’s friendship pulls Olivia out of the dark fog she’s been living in, Olivia realizes that a different kind of darkness taints the otherwise lively Hallas women—an impulse that is strange, magical, and possibly deadly.

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Purchase links:

Advance Praise:

“Ava Morgyn’s passion and tenderness shine like a candle,
guiding readers through the darkness of Olivia’s story. Her compelling
characters are made all the more real by the eerie undertow
of myth. A beautiful, deeply emotional debut!”
–Sarah Porter, author of VASSA IN THE NIGHT
 and NEVER-CONTENTED THINGS
“Resurrection Girls is a powerful examination of grief and loss,
captivatingly woven with magic and ultimately hope. A
compassionately rendered debut.”
–Emily Duncan,
NYT Bestselling author of WICKED SAINTS
“RESURRECTION GIRLS is a heartbreak of a book, where love and
loss writes letters to the strange things that lurk in the darkness.
It’s a stunning story that blends the inexplicable and the beautiful
with the bittersweet.”
–Rin Chupeco, author of THE BONE WITCH
and THE NEVER TILTING WORLD
 
“A raw, poignant, unflinching examination of grief and healing
wrapped up in a compelling story. Resurrection Girls is a brilliant debut.”
–CJ Redwine, NYT Bestselling author of
THE SHADOW QUEEN and the RAVENSPIRE series
“The lovely, assured prose draws on ancient archetypes and a
lingering sense of dread to pave the way for a strange but satisfying
conclusion … Morgyn’s supernaturally tinged debut is a
heartbreaking but hopeful exploration of death and grief.” 
Kirkus Reviews

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My Review

As we inch towards the time of witches and ghosties, Resurrection Girls gives off an appropriately creepy vibe with an attention to death and the still-living who are faced with death. Accident and suicide play a part in the dynamics along with a strange compulsion for two teenaged girls to become penpals with men who have no hope of long life.

This tale is far more than that, though, as it delves into a family and how each individual member copes with the nearly unbearable grief after a child dies. There’s no real coming together here; the loss of Olivia’s little brother has fractured this family and Olivia and each of her parents have spent the past few years growing further apart and more mired in their devastation. When Kara and her mother and grandmother move in across the street, Olivia finally has something else to think about with this new friend and the oddities that seem to swirl around the new family.

You might think that this is a very depressing book with its emphasis on grief and the inability to recover but, in fact, it’s really a look at the journey to find peace as well as Olivia’s personal redemption helped along by Kara and a dose of…could it be magic?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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Excerpt:

In the beginning, the dead are always with you. It’s almost as if they aren’t even gone, as though you could round any given corner and see them there, waiting. For months after Robby died, I heard his voice, his laughter catching in his throat, the sound of his footfalls down the long hall upstairs. I could feel his towheaded locks soft against the pads of my fingers still, and imagine his quiet breathing in the night. It was all there, floating around me, able to be summoned forward at any given moment. Like a balloon, I had Robby’s memory, his soul, on a string.

But that only lasts as long as the pain is fresh. You bleed memories for a while. And then one day you find you’ve bled them all out. And the sharp sting of loss has waned into a dull ache.

It’s the little things that go first. The way light would play across his face at a certain angle. The expression he made when he pouted. The smell of him in the morning. You go to summon some detail up from the depths and it’s no longer there. The dead drift away.

And then even the dull ache disappears, and only numbness holds in its place. You stop trying to recall details because the futility of it is worse than the grief. It’s no longer the loss of the person you mourn, but the loss of the haunt. And the absence is all that is left when you reach for your pain.

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About the Author

Ava Morgyn is a long-time avid reader and writer of young adult fiction. She studied English Writing & Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, and now lives in Houston—city with the most rain, best food, and worst traffic—with her family. When she isn’t at her laptop spinning darkly hypnotic tales, she can be found making fairy houses, talking to her crystals and plants, hunting for delicious new vegan recipes, or bothering her dog. She also blogs regularly about the devastating journey of child loss at ForLoveofEvelyn.com.
 

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Follow the tour here.

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GIVEAWAY:

One hard copy of Resurrection Girls

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Book Review: The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

The Wonder of Us  
Kim Culbertson
Point , April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-73151-5
Hardcover

If ever the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ applied, this is that book. Abby and Riya became best friends the day Abby picked up a spider, and after naming it Sam, carried it outside where she let it go free. That was when they were in second grade and despite Riya being an extrovert and Abby an introvert, that friendship has remained unbreakable. That is until last year when Riya’s family moved to Berlin temporarily so Mom could help her brother stabilize the family business.

Shortly after the move, Abby’s mother announced she needed space and change, moving out a couple days later, only to begin living with the family dentist. Abby, feeling doubly abandoned, had to suck it up and start being the adult because her dad lost his way, leaving her to make meals, buy groceries, not to mention having to remind him to take a shower and get to work almost daily. It was a time she needed Riya desperately, but their phone calls, texts and face time chats were all poor substitutes for having her best friend at hand when she was continually crashing and burning in silence.

When Riya’s grandmother sprung for a grand European vacation and urged her granddaughter to invite Abby, it might have, should have, been the perfect healing reunion, but it wasn’t. Both girls had let too many secrets and unsaid things build up during their year apart and as they visited Florence, Switzerland, Berlin, Scotland, Iceland and finally London, it was akin to having a severe burn, only every time the healing started, someone ripped off the protective gauze, setting the process back.

Abby’s love of history comes alive when they visit each new location as the author brings historical tidbits to life in a way that allows readers to imagine they’re seeing them as well. Abby’s observations about how seeing certain places adds even more because she takes her emotional responses and turns them into dialogue that’s extremely easy to relate to.

The negotiations (there’s no better way to describe them) between the two friends are often awkward, cloaked in the angst and hurt of what should have been shared in the year they spent apart and ownership belongs to both of them. There are times when you feel like continued friendship is a lost cause, but their history is too strong for that to happen. If you want to find out how they end both the trip and where they’re headed, read the book and discover how much depth and insight it has. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Then you can read Kim’s other books as I have and see what a satisfying storyteller she is.

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

Book Review: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen
Will Walton
Scholastic Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70954-5
Hardcover

It’s not every book that can convincingly cast a character with such seemingly unrelated skills. A closet dance fiend who can also (albeit a bit dubiously) aid in delivering a calf. Tretch keeps these truths hidden, right along with another fact he hasn’t figured out how to share.

He appreciates the perks of life in a tiny town while acknowledging the total lack of privacy. Also absent, is the population to properly support a funky, refurbished theatre. So, no matter how cool the 1976 King Kong movie is, Matt and his dads will probably be moving to a city soon. The time to come clean is now. Or never.

And it’s here that I could tell you Anything Could Happen is about absolutely true friendship, the strength and support of family and crushing on the wrong kid. Accurate, yet incomplete. To me, it simply shows how sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness.

Tretch is wise beyond his years, in a unique—not unrealistic—way. His uncanny ability to set his own feelings aside to focus on a friend isn’t instinctive, making it all the more admirable. He is incredibly aware of others’ feelings and hasn’t shared particular pieces of himself solely for the purpose of protecting his friends and family.

“…the insults that somehow fly right past me, but I fear would peg each of them smack in the gut.”

Secrets don’t stay hidden forever and often, they are spilled at once. How they come out matters as much as addressing the information, once it’s laid bare. A lot of pressure for an adolescent and while Tretch may not initially handle it smoothly, once he allows himself to be honest, his sincerity is unquestionable.

This was fun, without being frivolous and is appropriate for the Middle-Grade reader, but (I think) appealing to all.

Oh, and now I know who Ellie Goulding is.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2018.

Book Review: It’s All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick

It’s All Your Fault
Paul Rudnick
Scholastic Press, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-46428-4
Hardcover

You’ve all heard the expression ‘deer in the headlights.” Imagine a homeschooled teen who’s so sheltered and Christian, she comes with her own portable headlights because she’s constantly barraged by what-ifs. Meet Caitlin, one of a gaggle of siblings whose names all begin with C and are part of a gospel pop group known as the Singing Singleberrys. Life at home is so squeaky clean that she even worries about just thinking about impure thoughts. In addition, she’s obsessed with being perfect, a good Christian role model and suffers from serious anxiety attacks. She overcompensates for imagined sins and failures by doing things like applying to a dozen colleges for fear she’ll never get into any of them. In short, she’s a sweet mess, but with good reasons that unfold as the story progresses.

One thing she hasn’t done is have any contact with her cousin Heller since an afternoon when Heller’s impulsive and selfish behavior almost killed Caitlin. Every time she remembers that afternoon, she has to fight off another wave of panic. Before the disaster, the girls were best friends, with Heller usually involved in something outlandish in an effort to help Caitlin break loose from her own head.

When Caitlin is summoned to the breakfast table by her mom, the last person she expects to see sitting there is her aunt Nancy, Heller’s mother. The sisters haven’t talked to each other since the tragedy, so Caitlin immediately suspects something’s up. It is, but in ways far beyond her wildest imagination.

Cousin Heller, fresh out of rehab, is in need of a chaperone for the weekend so she can be kept out of trouble during the events leading up to the premiere of Angel Wars a movie based on a trilogy that has most of the world buzzing. Heller plays the lead female, but unless she’s kept in check for three days, it could well be her last role ever, hence the desperate appeal by her aunt and Caitlin’s mother.

Armed with the imagined righteousness of God, Caitlin agrees, expecting that with the force of goodness behind her, she’ll be able to resist evil and make Heller see the error of her ways. Well, we all know how the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. This time it’s a brand new superhighway, with Heller driving a Ferrari.

The weekend involves Caitlin discovering hot guys, the impossibility of saying no, jail, body art, invading a cupcake factory, making a thirteen year old cancer survivor’s wishes come wildly true and a new way for both Caitlin and Heller to see each other’s inner workings.

Yes, Caitlin seems over the top goody goody at times and will annoy some readers, but stick around for the full story and you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. I liked it a lot.

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

Book Reviews: The Favourite by S. V. Berlin and Kyle Finds Her Way by Susie Salom

The Favourite
S. V. Berlin
Myriad Editions, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-9935633-8-6
Trade Paperback (UK)

The Favourite is an atypical read for me. Generally speaking, I seek out a sensational catalyst to kick off a story. I delightfully devour those, but the novels that nestle into my mind and reappear arbitrarily and often—even long after I’ve finished the book—are the quiet ones that sneak in.

A sad situation brings Isobel from her beloved New York City, back to her childhood home in England. Although the trip isn’t uncommon, the fact that she will see—and be required to speak with—Edward is unique. The siblings have been estranged for so long that she fears there won’t be the faintest familiarity.

Often, a rift occurs when two people simply cannot agree. Occasionally though, there is a third party involved. Perhaps not the problem, but absolutely invested in ensuring there’s no solution. This conflict comes from within the tiny, tightly-contained family and it is infinitesimally larger.

For Isobel, England had too little to offer and it was all spread too widely. A classic American film introduced New York and she knew that’s where she belonged. With the apparent support of her mum and brother, she set off and absolutely made her way. In that she was happy.

A job she enjoyed covered her rent. Absolutely anything she would ever want was found only a few steps or a subway ride away. And yet, in spite of her satisfaction, friends here furrowed their brows and worried about why she wasn’t climbing a corporate ladder.

Laughable, really. In England she was strange for following a dream; selfish to want more than a steady job and stable life. Isobel meant only to do her own thing and truly not be a bother to anyone. In doing just that, she instead seemed to frustrate and disappoint everyone. She seems sweet and confused.

Edward appears angry. Frustrated by an accident, furious with himself for not being where he truly should have been and freaked-out by the very fact that this whole mess means he’s forced to face his sister. It’s difficult to see why Isobel ever admired her brother and it is almost impossible to understand why Jules is his girlfriend. A bit mousy and oddly eager to please Edward, she could just about blend into the background, except that she’s clearly keeping a secret from both Isobel and Edward.

While not fast-paced in a frenzied way, finite time together and a fast-approaching departure date moves the narrative quicker than I’d expect. Even without being categorized as Young Adult, it is nevertheless perfect for me to share with ‘my’ students. The stark and the subtle differences between American English and English—both in speaking and in spelling will be something that will amuse and delight them. Most importantly, I want them to understand early in life that sometimes, when someone seems disappointed in you, they may actually be disappointed in themselves for not being more like you.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2018.

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Kyle Finds Her Way
Susie Salom
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85266-1
Hardcover

Kyle had no doubt that her first day of middle school would be somewhat daunting, especially without her twin brother by her side. Principal-issued-discipline or deliberately boarding the wrong bus at the end of the day had not made her worse-case-scenario list though, so there were some surprises. Initially charming, Kyle’s child-like creative imagination becomes just short of concerning quickly. For her sake, I want to watch her grow and mature; but for the good vibes, I hoped she wouldn’t change at all. Ms. Salom deftly dealt with my dilemma.

Georgia O’Keefe Middle is a bit more progressive than my middle school was. Instead of dodge-ball in a stinky gym, these students study t’ai chi. When Kyle’s punishment is issued, it isn’t so surprising to hear the head of the school tell her that he hopes it “…sparks your imagination…actually I hope it engages your crusading spirit.”

Obligatory grumbling about the forced placement on the school’s NAVS team is slowly replaced by a growing fascination with the competition’s challenge. Kyle finds herself fitting in with the team and feeling a desire to contribute. Of course, maturity isn’t an overnight accomplishment. Kyle allows herself accolades for making strides in one area as she attempts to convince herself that she isn’t actually lying to her parents or being dishonest with her best friend in other ‘opportunities for improvement’ parts of her life.

It seems to me that today, students are bombarded with ‘right or wrong’, ‘black or white’ when real life is generally just groovy shades of grey. Peppering “typical” teen dialect with profound statements such as “…some people bring out different sides of you that don’t exist when they’re not around,” Kyle Finds Her Way proves that all things are not crystal clear. This is an honest and hopeful story that I’m so excited to be sharing my favorite middle-grade readers.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2017

Book Review: A Very, Very Bad Thing by Jeffery Self

A Very, Very Bad Thing  
Jeffery Self
Push, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11840-7
Hardcover

Marley is one of a handful of gay teens in his North Carolina town. Things at home are mixed…Good in that his parents, aging semi-hippies, are okay with his gayness, not so good in that Dad blew money he couldn’t afford to and they’re being threatened with losing their house. And Mom and Dad are dealing with it by burning herbs and spouting New Age mumbo jumbo. Even so, Marley’s life is fairly even keel, due in large part to his best friend Audrey.

One look is all it takes when Marley first sees new student Christopher and he’s beyond smitten. It’s not long before he realizes the feeling is mutual, but there’s a huge problem. Christopher’s parents are big time TV evangelists and make their living on contributions to and merchandise sales through the ministry which thrives on anti-homosexual preaching. In fact, they moved from Missouri to North Carolina for a fresh start and new church, in large part due to their son’s coming out.

It takes Marley a while to wrap his head around what’s happened to Christopher…Parental denial about his sexuality, being sent to several ‘pray the gay away’ camps and implied blame for the necessity to move. However, the more time they spend together (and Christopher’s parents make it pretty near impossible for them to have a relationship), the more upset Marley becomes over his boyfriend’s treatment.

When they use Audrey as a beard to get Christopher ungrounded long enough for he and Marley to attend the Harvest Prom, it’s what both boys dream about, until a freshman boy won’t stop with homophobic slurs while everyone’s on the dance floor. Christopher loses his temper, decking the kid and the whole fake date deal blows up. Christopher’s not only super grounded, he’s going to be sent to yet another gay conversion camp. It’s the last straw. He smuggles a letter to Marley through his sympathetic aunt, asking him to meet him at the camp after dark. He’s leaving a suicide note, but his intention is to spend one last night with Marley before taking a bus as far away as possible.

However, an impulsive stop at the town water tower for some last moment romance goes horribly awry. What happens after that night needs to be discovered by you, the reader, but I can attest to its surprising twists, both immediately and over the next several months. Told in alternating parts from before and after the water tower incident, Marley must struggle not only with loss, but guilt. How he and other players deal with it makes for a stellar story, one LBGTQ and straight teens can both relate to equally well. A definite add for school and public libraries where issue rich fiction is in demand by teens.

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