Book Review: A Night Twice As Long by Andrew Simonet @andrewSimonet @fsgbooks @XpressoTours

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Title: A Night Twice as Long
Author: Andrew Simonet
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

 Amazon / Barnes & Noble 
iBooks / Kobo / Google Play

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What do you call the difference between what you should feel and what you do feel? Life?

The blackout has been going on for three weeks. But Alex feels like she’s been living in the dark for a year, ever since her brother, who has autism, was removed from the house, something Alex blames herself for. So when her best friend, Anthony, asks her to trek to another town to figure out the truth about the blackout, Alex says yes.

On a journey that ultimately takes all day and night, Alex’s relationships with Anthony, her brother, and herself will transform in ways that change them all forever.

In this honest and gripping young adult novel, Andrew Simonet spins a propulsive tale about what it means to turn on the lights and look at what’s real.

Many of us, if not most, have lived through a blackout and we know they’re no fun, for a lot of reasons, chief of which is the uncertainty of just how long it will last. In this case, the weeks-long outage has the feel of a post-apocalyptic scenario but without the tension I expect to find in such a story. That lack is detrimental to my way of thinking, creating a plot that’s a little too nebulous for me but the author has done a nice job with his characters, bringing them to life with significant issues that today’s teens face in real life.

Alex’s autistic brother, Georgie, was removed from her mother’s care a year earlier and Alex has become almost a shut-in because of how it happened. The truth is he may be in an environment that’s more suitable for his needs but her guilt interferes with her ability to see this; on the other hand, the blackout has given her a sort of new look at life and the journey she takes with Anthony opens her eyes even more.

Besides his depiction of severe autism and the effect it has on those around the disabled person, the author touches on racial animosity and parental issues and watching Alex learn to understand the world and herself is what makes this book tick.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2021.

About the Author

 

Andrew Simonet is a choreographer and writer in Philadelphia. His first novel, Wilder, published in 2018. He co-directed Headlong Dance Theater for twenty years and founded Artists U, an incubator for helping artists make sustainable lives. He lives in West Philadelphia with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two sons, Jesse Tiger and Nico Wolf.

Find the author:

Website / Goodreads / Twitter

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Giveaway

One print copy of
A Night Twice As Long

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Book Review: Runaway Train by Lee Matthew Goldberg @LeeMatthewG @WiseWolfBooks @YABoundToursPR

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Book Tour! 

Runaway Train
(Runaway Train #1)
by: Lee Matthew Goldberg
Release Date: April 29, 2021
Genre: YA

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // The Book Depository // Amazon
Books-A-Million // Alibris // Indiebound

At turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and
laugh out loud funny, Runaway Train is a wild journey of a bygone era and a
portrait of a one-of-a-kind teenage girl trying to find herself again the only
way she knows how.

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Runaway Train
Runaway Train #1
Lee Matthew Goldberg
Wise Wolf Books, April 2021
ISBN 978-1953944030
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They told me I was an out-of-control train about to crash…

Everything changed when the police officer knocked on the door to tell me – a 16-year-old – that my older sister Kristen had died of a brain aneurysm. Cue the start of my parents neglecting me and my whole life spiraling out of control.

I decided now was the perfect time to skip town. It’s the early 90’s, Kurt Cobain runs the grunge music scene and I just experienced some serious trauma. What’s a girl supposed to do? I didn’t want to end up like Kristen, so I grabbed my bucket list, turned up my mixtape of the greatest 90’s hits and fled L.A.. The goal was to end up at Kurt Cobain’s house in Seattle, but I never could have guessed what would happen along the way.

The 90’s are not my era, not by a long shot, but I think every teen at one time or another, has wanted to take that magic road trip that lets us escape from the hard days of life. Do you remember? My low point came in the 60’s when my best friend was diagnosed with a brain tumor but, being raised during the Leave It to Beaver generation, such was not really an option for the likes of me. A girl heading out alone like that would have garnered heavy frowns at the very least. All of which is to say I kind of envy Nico and her “throw caution to the winds” attitude.

What I don’t envy is the way Nico is treated by her own parents after Kristen’s sudden death. We’ve seen it before, the parents who are obsessed with the golden child who’s gone and who seem to forget that there’s another child (or more), one who is hurting just as badly as they are. No wonder she runs.

Nico’s journey does satisfy some of her most pressing needs but it’s no joyful lark and we’re given a raw look into this girl’s mental and emotional pain, not to mention how it all can be so exacerbated by substance abuse and the latter is even more poignant considering what eventually happened to her idol, Kurt Cobain. This story is tragic and filled with grief but there’s also a sense of redemption and, although I found it difficult to read at times, It’s a worthwhile coming of age tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2021.

About the Author

Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE ANCESTOR, THE MENTOR, THE DESIRE CARD and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the Prix du Polar. His first YA series RUNAWAY TRAIN is forthcoming in 2021 along with a sci-fi novel ORANGE CITY. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in The Millions, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, LitReactor, Monkeybicycle, Fiction Writers Review, Cagibi, Necessary Fiction, the anthology Dirty Boulevard, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, The New Plains Review, Underwood Press and others. He is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Fringe, dedicated to publishing fiction that’s outside-of-the-box. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City. Follow him at LeeMatthewGoldberg.com

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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Giveaway! 

Grand Prize: Signed paperback copy
of Runaway Train! (US only)

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Book Review: Back on Track by Kyle Jackson @JollyFishPress

Back on Track: Mac’s Sports Reports
Kyle Jackson
Jolly Fish Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-223-5
Hardcover

“Mac” McKenzie takes his sports-writing seriously, whether he is reporting for his Middle-School newspaper or posting on his own blog. As with any good reporter, his antenna goes up with the sense of an underlying secret.

Having written about most of the stand-outs on the girls’ track team in previous issues of The Coyote Courier, Mac is paying particular attention to the new 6th grader from El Paso, Texas. There’s no questioning her athletic ability and yet…something about her hurdle jumps seems off. He must interview Aleesha Ramos.

If only he could catch her to make the request. She was always disappearing. Undeterred, Mac finally managed to schedule a time. But she cancelled. Repeatedly. He begins to suspect that Aleesha really does have something to hide. When he discovers the truth, his actions show that, alongside his investigative mind, beats a heart of gold.

I absolutely adore the Mac’s Sports Reports Juvenile Fiction/Middle Grade sports series. Mac doesn’t only write about sports, he dominates in his wheel-chair basketball league, he’s a pretty cool big brother and an outstanding friend. He happily helps his peers to deal with issues that some young readers may face, such as social anxiety. Kyle Jackson’s Back on Track would be a welcome addition to any library.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2020.

Book Review: A Bend in the River by Libby Fischer Hellmann—and a Giveaway! @libbyhellmann

A Bend in the River
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herring Press, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-938733-67-3
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In 1968 two young Vietnamese sisters flee to Saigon after their village on the Mekong River is attacked by American forces and burned to the ground. The only survivors of the brutal massacre that killed their family, the sisters struggle to survive but become estranged, separated by sharply different choices and ideologies. Mai ekes out a living as a GI bar girl, but Tam’s anger festers, and she heads into jungle terrain to fight with the Viet Cong. For nearly ten years, neither sister knows if the other is alive. Do they both survive the war? And if they do, can they mend their fractured relationship? Or are the wounds from their journeys too deep to heal? In a stunning departure from her crime thrillers, Libby Fischer Hellmann delves into a universal story about survival, family, and the consequences of war.

I’ve been enjoying Libby Fischer Hellmann‘s books for a lot of years now and have never been disappointed but I think she’s gone a step further with A Bend in the River. Her strength has been largely in crime fiction of the suspense and/or thriller sort with series and standalones but, every now and then, Ms. Hellmann vectors off in a different direction to very good effect. This is one of those times.

The US finally left Vietnam in 1975 but the consequences, good and bad, of that war still linger today. This story focuses on a period of time before and after our exit and looks at what happened in one instance to innocent survivors of a deadly attack. These sisters, 17-year-old Tâm and Mai, three years younger, are suddenly ripped from a semi-normal life to one of vast uncertainty and choices that must be made. Those choices take the girls down separate paths, one on each side of the conflict that has affected their lives for far too many years and, now, they’re each estranged from the one remaining family member who knows her best.

To many of the younger generations, the Vietnam War is a distant memory, a section in the history books. To me and others of my generation, those of us who either fought there or waited at home, this story is a stark remembrance of physical and emotional pain, of choices made by individuals and governments—not just the US—and I thank Ms. Hellmann for reminding us that the devastations of war don’t just drift away when the troops move on.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2020.

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Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, three times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.

In 2005 Libby was the national president of Sisters In Crime, a 3500 member organization dedicated to the advancement of female crime fiction authors. She also hosts both an internet TV and radio interview show and conducts writing workshops at libraries and other venues.

Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.

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Videos of the author discussing
A Bend in the River

https://www.libbyhellmann.com/a-bend-in-the-river-video-1/
https://www.libbyhellmann.com/a-bend-in-the-river-video-2/
https://www.libbyhellmann.com/a-bend-in-the-river-video-3/

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Giveaway

You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a trade paperback copy of
A Bend in the River. Leave a comment
below and go back to yesterday’s post
for the first review and enter there also.
Two winning names will be pulled
on Friday evening, October 16th.

Book Review: A Bend in the River by Libby Fischer Hellmann—and a Giveaway! @libbyhellmann

A Bend in the River
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herring Press, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-938733-67-3
Trade Paperback

The author is known for her crime fiction award-winning stories at several levels. This enthralling story contains many mysteries, many still unanswered sixty years on. Why were American soldiers fighting in Viet Nam, being one of them. But this is not an academic examination of the politics of the 1960s, although international politics, brought down to an intensely personal level, is a thread that weaves throughout and informs this excellent novel.

This is an intimate look at the lives of two young Vietnamese sisters who see their family and their village near the shore of the Mekong River obliterated by American army action. But the novel is not an excoriation of the American expedition to Southeast Asia, nor is it an apologia for the actions of the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. The novel is, instead, a close examination of the diverging lives of two children who are both determined to persist and to attempt to live normal positive lives in the midst of war and constant turmoil. Throughout their personal and professional development along widely divergent paths, Mai and Tam must respond, however unwillingly at times, to the implacable forces that alter their circumstances, bringing love and despair and validation.

Carefully researched, thoughtfully organized and appealingly written by a master storyteller, A BEND IN THE RIVER will teach readers about the Viet Nam era in the world while illuminating and venerating the stubborn persistence and humanity of two sisters caught in the vicious tentacles of a wartime society. I fully endorse and recommend the novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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An Excerpt from
A Bend in the River

Is there a warning the moment before life shatters into pieces? A minute shift in the light? The chirr of a monkey? A heaviness in the air that tastes like disaster? For Tâm Trang and her sister, Mai Linh, washing their family’s clothes in the river, the warning might have been a barely perceptible scent wafting toward them. Perfumed soap mixed with sweat. Unfamiliar. Foreign.

Or perhaps there was no warning at all. Absorbed in their task, the sisters squatted on a narrow strip of shore, scrubbing shirts with their brushes. They slapped heavier items against the rocks, then rinsed everything in the waters of the Mekong. The clothes would dry quickly. The hottest part of the year was approaching, and the combination of summer heat and the monsoons would produce an indolent lethargy that made even washing clothes a burden. Though it was only March, the sisters lifted their hair off their necks to catch the breeze.

Tâm, at seventeen, used her nón lá as a hamper for the clean clothes. At the moment it held only two pairs of tiny pants belonging to her little brother. Hung Sang, an unplanned surprise five years earlier, was now the prince of the family. According to their parents, no boy was as handsome, as talented, as lucky. With his arrival the girls’ status declined. They had become afterthoughts, to be married off quickly. Sang should not be burdened with his sisters’ care. When he grew up, he would have enough to do for his own family and his parents.

Tâm wiped sweat from her brow. Mai, three years younger, nattered on, but Tâm only half listened. She was about to graduate from the Catholic school two villages away, and she was wondering how she would continue her studies. Where would she find the money to pay for university? What would her parents say when she confessed that was her goal?

“I’m sure you know him. Lanh Phuc. He’s handsome. His is the wealthiest family in their village,” Mai said. “Their home has a real roof. And windows. His father makes sampans…” Mai giggled. “I think he likes me, Chị Tâm. I hope Mama and Papa will agree to a match. I can already picture our wedding. Of course, we will honor the Rose Silk Thread God, but it will be modern too. We will have music to dance, and—”

Tâm cut in. “Mai, you can be a silly girl. Dreaming about weddings and dancing? This is a man you may live with the rest of your life. Have you ever shared a conversation? Talked to him about his future, his dreams?” She twisted water out her father’s shirt and dropped it into the conical hat. “All I hear is that he is the son of a wealthy man, and he is handsome.”

Mai was the beauty of the family, delicate and tiny, with large black eyes, silky black hair, and soft skin that glowed white, even in shadow. Tâm had seen the longing on village boys’ faces when she passed. Her parents would have no problem arranging a match for her. Tâm was taller, leaner, and while her face had the same classic features as Mai’s, they were arranged differently. Her eyes did not appear to be as large; her nose more pronounced, her skin darker. She was attractive in her own way, but she wasn’t a beauty. Although older, she wasn’t waiting for an arranged marriage. She wasn’t interested. She wanted to study plants: their growth, foliage, colors, blossoms, how they added to their environment or not. Her Catholic science teacher explained to her that what she wanted to study was “botany.”

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Giveaway

You have two chances to enter the
drawing for a trade paperback copy of
A Bend in the River. Leave a comment
below and come back tomorrow for a
second review and a second chance to
win. Two winning names will be pulled
on Friday evening, October 16th.

Book Review: Heart Sister by Michael F. Stewart @MichaelFStewart @orcabook @XpressoTours

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Title: Heart Sister
Author: Michael F. Stewart
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Publication Date: September 22, 2020
Genres: Contemporary/General Fiction, Young Adult

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

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Heart Sister
Michael F. Stewart
Orca Book Publishers, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-4598-2487-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

After his twin sister, Minnie, dies in an accident, Emmitt’s world goes sideways. He’s lost his best friend and it feels like the family is falling apart without her. But Minnie was an organ donor and Emmitt soon receives an anonymous thank you letter from one of the transplant recipients. Inspiration strikes, and he decides to try and put his sister back together, in spirit. He’s going to track down each organ recipient and film them to show his parents the results of Minnie’s selfless act and help them move on. But when each recipient falls short of his expectations and the star of his film, the girl who received his sister’s heart, refuses to meet him, Emmitt has to turn to extreme measures to find her. What he doesn’t know is that his “heart sister” is hiding an agonizing secret, one that could push Emmitt to the breaking point.

There’s very little one can do to ease the pain when a person you love passes away but how much harder must it be for a teen when that person is his twin. Emmitt is having a hard time dealing with this but he really worries that his mom can’t seem to recover even a bit. Perhaps finding and filming each person who received an organ from Minnie will help, maybe even make his dad speak Minnie’s name again.

Emmitt’s quest starts out well when he tracks down the man who got Minnie’s corneas and, as he continues on, I became more and more invested in what he was trying to do and the reactions of these lucky people, some not so positive as others. Can this bring Minnie back? No, of course not, but each “piece” he finds takes him closer to healing, to feeling as though it’s okay for him to still be living. That might be hard to do with a mother who wishes she’d  never had Minnie…and, by extension, him.

This story is full to the brim with seemingly endless pain and, yet, Emmitt shows us that there is always reason for hope that all is not lost when death crushes those left behind. This is a boy with strength and a dream that he might be able to help his parents through their grief while coping with his own and the people he meets are just what he needs to understand how his sister’s generosity keeps her alive. Despite the sorrow that is at the crux of the story, Emmitt finds healing for himself and a lasting memorial for Minnie, the girl who created her own notion of life from her love of taxidermy.

As for the ethics of finding organ recipients and the methods Emmitt uses to do so, that’s a question that won’t ever be completely reconciled and each reader will reach their own conclusion. Emmitt is not always the nicest guy and neither are some of the recipients but, in the end, we’re all just people with hopes and dreams.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2020.

About the Author

Michael F. Stewart is an award-winning author of many books for young people in various genres, including Ray Vs. the Meaning of Life, which earned a Kirkus Star and won the Publishers Weekly’s Booklife Grand Prize. and Heart Sister (Summer/Fall 2020, Orca Books). Michael lives in Ottawa.
Author links: 

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1 print copy of Heart Sister

10 ebook copies of
Ray Vs the Meaning of Life

Enter the drawing here.

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Book Review: Jackpot by Nic Stone @getnicced @penguinrandom

Jackpot
Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-9848-2962-7
Hardcover

Jackpot by Nic Stone is the YA jewel I didn’t know I needed. Rico is tough and serious, in her determinedly matter-of-fact way. She knows all she will ever need to know about each of her classmates. Without having an actual conversation, Rico knows what their home lives must be. She can tell what type of people they are. Rico is so grown, she even knows exactly how each of her peers sees her.

So, it’s not such a big deal for Rico to stay out of that basic, high-school drama; she’s truly got no time for it, anyway. Mama is hounding her to pick up extra shifts at the gas station. The purest person on the planet, her little brother, Jax, seems to stay sick. And she does still need to graduate.

Zan, rich-boy-because-of-daddy’s-toilet-paper, is not someone Rico ever envisioned approaching. Truth be told, she hid when he popped into her Gas ’n’ Go on Christmas Eve, just so she wouldn’t have to be polite to him. But now, his mad-hacker-skills may be exactly what Rico needs.

Something else happened that night-before-Christmas. Rico sold a winning lotto ticket, but the prize has not been claimed. Rico vividly recalls chatting with the sweet little lady who mentioned being forgetful. She will do everything possible to track this woman down in time to claim the jackpot.

While the sullen Rico is stuck with the inexplicably cheerful Zan, she grows annoyed by his habit of asking the questions that most folks would just mull over, silently. Replying to his sneaky, probing, seemingly-innocent queries got Rico thinking.

More time together meant more self-realization and Rico began to wonder if her earlier assumptions were not entirely accurate. Maybe, being part of a family that is financially well-off does not necessarily mean having whatever you want. Perhaps someone can be decked out in all-Nike-attire and still legitimately need food stamps. Maybe money is a blessing. Or, it could be a curse.

Ms. Stone’s characters are authentic enough to feel familiar, but fresh enough to be invigorating. Day-to-day life, even when infused with Something Different, is realistic and relatable. The occasional appearance of unexpected and unlikely narrators elevates the entire book in a way that I find intensely delightful.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2020.