Book Reviews: The Pros of Cons by Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar & Michelle Schusterman and Trapped in Room 217 by Thomas Kingsley Troupe

The Pros of Cons
Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar & Michelle Schusterman
Point, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-15172-5
Hardcover

This quintessential Young Adult read is quirky, cubed. A mad mash-up of three (and a half) conventions under one roof results in a delightfully amusing tale that is not without substance. And it has a pretty great title, you know I love it when something can mean two things.

It isn’t Phoebe’s first time. She’s come before with her high-school percussion ensemble, to participate in the Indoor Percussion Association Convention. Perhaps there is a bit more pressure this time, though.

Vanessa is very excited to finally meet her girl-friend, face-to-face, for the first time. Sweetly naïve, she really does not know what to expect from the We Treasure Fandom con.

Callie came as her dad’s assistant for the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championship, but she’s only here hoping he will see her as his daughter, instead.

The story starts properly, with a literal bang. A collision in the lobby leads to a shuffling and unnoticed exchanges of carrying cases. From that point forward, nothing goes as planned.

Phoebe finds that her mallet bag is actually filled with tools for Buchannan Taxidermy, definitely not the mallets she needs. But, she’s only thrown for a second. Since she has the xylophone solo, she has to improvise. She uses the scalpels.

Vanessa is feeling confused and out-of-place. People are different in real-life than online and she’s just beginning to figure that out.

Callie is bummed that her dad continues to treat her like a disappointing assistant, but when she realizes his cold-shoulder is just the tip of the ice-berg; she plots sweet, public revenge.

I learned a lot from The Pros of Cons. I hadn’t heard of half of the percussion instruments played, nor did I know that “critical listening” is different from “analytical listening. “Fan-fic” and “cons” were familiar terms, but I had no inkling of the depth. Or that it gave way to its own language. By the way, I also know what sock-puppeting means now. Oddly, I did know a bit about taxidermy.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.

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Trapped in Room 217
Haunted States of America Series
Thomas Kingsley Troupe
Jolly Fish Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-215-0
Hardcover

A father seldom has spare time when single-handedly raising a seventh-grade daughter and second-grade son. Jayla and Dion get that, and the late-night call did wake the whole house only hours ago. They won’t razz their dad, too much, just because the place they are staying during their impromptu Spring Break get-away doesn’t have a pool.

First sight of the historical hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, had them both second-guessing their generosity. Check-in was only slightly less than creepy. Jayla could not have imagined the murmurs when “Room 217” was spoken. But, The Stanley is beautiful and possibly interesting. Two bright and resourceful kids will find plenty to do. Although, assisting a spirit was not an item they would have imagined.

Seemingly strange occurrences compelled the siblings to research their current residence. After reviewing reading material spread throughout the common rooms, it was time to for a self-guided tour of the tantalizing tunnels below. There, Jayla and Dion may just be in over their heads.

I have always loved ghost-stories so, I was thrilled to hear about this historical-fiction series, The Haunted States of America by Thomas Kingsley Troupe. Trapped in Room 217 gave me exactly what I wanted. Cool characters (Dion packed his own suitcase, with books only, and he is my hero now) caught up in a mystery, moving at the perfect pace. Absolutely appropriate for younger readers, I will be introducing it to my favorite HS students because I believe they will dig it as much as I do.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2018.

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Book Reviews: Tinfoil Crowns by Erin Jones and Taking Chances by Kelsey Abrams

Tinfoil Crowns
Erin Jones
Flux, May 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-032-3
Trade Paperback

Fit is tearing me in two. Wounds from warring emotions: fury, disbelief and a deeply-buried desire to forgive, are palpable and painful. Part of me needs to give her a hug.

Vehement denial that horrific symptoms may manifest from a mental illness is easy to understand. Unless you’ve been through it or witnessed it, first-hand. With knowledge gleaned, I also easily imagine shaking this young lady by her shoulders.

All moms make mistakes. And, at first, it seems as if Fit and Frankie’s mother messed up big-time. Even if she was suffering from postpartum problems, solo.

Frankie’s willingness to forgive should surprise no one. Fit’s younger brother is clearly a sweet kid, and the talented artist has never been one to hold a grudge.

Dubs, the dad that witnessed his daughter’s downfall, then took in her two tiny children, well, he’s somewhere in the middle. He may not want to wholly wrap his mind around the intricacies of psychosis, but he may have to, if he wants to hold onto his belief that his beloved off-spring was honestly unable to control her actions, or even ask for assistance.

When the day arrives for mom to move into the already crowded apartment, Frankie and Dubs are annoyingly overjoyed. Grim determination keeps Fit from feeling anything, aside from a simmering anger and overall sense of betrayal. Besides, she’s got no time for this, she is about to be big.

An agent in New York City saw his niece sporting jewelry she’d crafted from tinfoil, entranced by one of Fit’s You-Tube videos. He decided then and there that Fitted Sheet would be his next client. And it is here that our Fit manages to take self-absorption to a whole new level.

Even for a seventeen-year-old with sparkly stars in her eyes, who has happily left logic at the door. And, ok, it is not her role to be skeptical of the money man from the City, particularly since she’s seen him catapult a few of her favorite You-Tubers to fame; but, right now, this chick isn’t hearing anyone. And we don’t always know what is best at such a tender, impressionable, stubborn stage in life.

On the one hand, it may seem as if there’s nothing funny about psychiatric disorders. But, if we need to laugh at ourselves, then it would stand to reason that mental illness and humor are not mutually exclusive. Not an easy thought to convey. Ms. Jones broaches this brilliantly, in a Broad-City style that I found awesomely authentic. So happy that I’ll be able to share this with ‘my’ students before graduation!

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2019.

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Taking Chances: A Grace Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-149-8
Trade Paperback

This review demands to be written a bit differently. Perhaps by listing the things I love, from the very beginning. No. Before that, even. Let’s talk about the cover and title of the third book I’ve read from the Second Chance Ranch series. An atypical Juvenile Fiction front shows a disheveled and obviously distressed young girl clinging to a cat. The police car parked behind, perfectly pulls it together to pique my interest.

The title means two things, absolutely delightful! Chances, in this case, is an award-winning, purebred Persian. Grace Ramirez is the risk-taker. Sibling support from her twin and their two older sisters, sees that she stays somewhat unscathed. But, when Grace agrees to take over Miz Ida’s chores for two weeks…well, even the Ramirez girls may not be a match for all of that gardening, plus guarding the fancy feline.

Taking Chances: A Grace Story moves as quickly as the main character without feeling rushed or jumbled. It’s impossible not to love the impulsive little girl with the world’s biggest heart and it is quite a treat to watch her work so hard to be a better person.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Review: It’s Not Destiny by Kelsey Abrams

It’s Not Destiny: An Abby Story
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63163-145-0
Trade Paperback

Abby Ramirez does not like change, she craves consistency. So, she’s been struggling in her fifth-grade class. For the first time since first grade, she is not accompanied by her service dog. Amigo is transitioning from a working canine to a playful pet as Abby searches for his replacement.

She is the little girl that knows a whole lot about dogs. Being in charge of them at Second Chance Ranch comes naturally. Not just raising and training, but she is also the best match-maker any canine and human could hope to encounter.

When a disappointed owner brings in a gorgeous German shepherd that proved to be a poor guard-dog, it does not take Abby long to understand the importance of placing Destiny with the proper human. This pup has been through tough times, she will need an owner who understands that.

It isn’t often that a story centers around an autistic character, especially when autism spectrum disorder does not particularly pertain to the plot. And Abby absolutely does not allow it to define her. Rather, it is a part of who she is and we see that, not just while she is with Amigo, but even more clearly when she reaches for him, even in his absence.

I am amazed by how many layers this tiny tome contained, while managing to be a quick, compelling read. I even learned the history of the Iditarod.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

Book Reviews: Journey to a Promised Land by Allison Lassieur and Three Twigs for the Campfire by Joseph Cognard

Journey to a Promised Land (I Am America)
A Story of the Exodusters
Allison Lassieur
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1631632761
Trade Paperback

Hattie has a dream. A far-reaching fantasy, some would say, but she knows she can find a way. She will become a teacher.

The spring of 1879 tried to bring a fresh start to a new world in Nashville, Tennessee. Although each of Hattie’s parents had been born into slavery, both obtained an education immediately following the Civil War. Her father works just as hard today, but for it is himself and his family and in his very own black-smith shop. Her mother happily runs the household and Hattie contributes, too. Not only a stand-out student, she also earns money for her family by mending for Miss Bradford.

It’s a good enough life for Hattie. She knows, of course, that recently, black folks have been joining together to make the journey to Kansas. Tales of towns with nothing but black faces tempt her parents and Mr. Singleton sure has been working hard to convince her family to make the move to Nicodemus, a small town being established and in need of a blacksmith.

It isn’t until her father leaves the house for a meeting about the potential move that it hits Hattie. She’s heard stories of what happens to black men who dare attend these gatherings. And suddenly, she is scared for her father. After seeing him on the receiving end of retaliation—Nat had the audacity to charge a white man for his work—Hattie understands the very real danger they are in.

Loathe to miss school, Hattie could not have imagined the education she would receive during her journey. Seeing the stark differences between the group of black travelers when compared to almost every clump of white men, was a shock. Whereas individual black people intuitively worked towards the greater good of their party, sharing the last crumbs and caring for those in need; the freakish faction of inexplicably angry, willfully ignorant and hella hateful white men appeared to unite solely to terrorize black citizens.

I wish I could put a copy of this heroic historical fiction in every single classroom. It is that good and unquestionably, that vital. Although Hattie’s family may be a figment of the author’s imagination, Benjamin “Pap” Singleton was very real and invaluably instrumental in helping hundreds of African Americans move from Tennessee to Kansas.

Ms. Lassieur shares this story of the Exodusters by popping the reader right into the mule-driven wagon to bear witness to the atrocious, senseless acts against black people. But she also demonstrates the intuitive kindness, generosity and strength of each and every black person, automatically reminding everyone to continue the good fight. Oh, and I can’t wait for you to find out why the emigrants were dubbed “Exodusters”.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

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Three Trees for the Campfire
Joseph Cognard
CreateSpace, January 2013
ISBN 978-1482320985
Trade Paperback

At first, I want to judge this book by its cover. The campfire calls to me, then captivates as I notice it’s not at simple as it seems. But before I know it, I’m completely caught up in the quintessential summer read.

Three siblings surround the glowing embers to swap stories and sleep under the stars. Billy, being the youngest, is participating (fully) for the first time, so being in his head at the beginning perfectly sets the scene.

“Billy began to worry that, like the fire, he might not make it through the night.”

The eldest, Jack, begins with a fantastic tale featuring a dragon. When Chelsea follows with her own natty narrative, she subtly weaves in bits and pieces from her brother’s story in a sweet (but not corny) kind of way. Billy may be bringing up the rear, but he can spin a yarn as well as his siblings. And he’s pretty slick about bringing in a real-life character.

Authentic and relatable, in a dreamy sort of way, I thoroughly enjoyed this tiny tome that probably fits best in the Juvenile Fiction genre, but I can easily imagine anyone enjoying it.

Huge thank-you to the author for sharing this with me!

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.

Book Review: Unwritten by Tara Gilboy

Unwritten
Tara Gilboy
Jolly Fish Press, October 2018
ISBN 978-1631631771
Trade Paperback

Gracie is basically a good girl. Inquisitive and tenacious, maybe she sometimes skirts the rules. Not so unique for a twelve-year-old, and really, it is only one of Mom’s orders that Gracie disagrees with. She believes that information is knowledge, knowledge is power and she has a burning need to know her own story, in its entirety.

Because, Gracie’s tale has already been told. Well, written.

Of course, neither Gracie, nor her maternal parental unit, had ever actually read the book by Gertrude Winters. At best, they know a fraction of the tale. Gracie was told only that they escaped the fictional Bondoff, ruled by cruel Queen Cassandra, so that Gracie could live a safe life. Here, in the real world.

Not good enough for this curious lass. When Gracie sees that Ms. Winters will be visiting a book-store nearby, she realizes her opportunity to obtain answers, but can’t show up empty-handed. The single parchment page torn from her story will be perfect. Despite specific instructions to the contrary, she unlocks the box.

Ms. Gilboy’s fresh, magical fantasy somehow feels like a cozy classic…but with a kick. Determinedly focused, Gracie can be a bit gruff. But Walter, her fictitious friend who is wholly unaware of their parallel lives, is more patient and pragmatic. His approach is practical, in a methodical, kind of way. Whereas Gracie knows just enough to be dangerous and in pursuing answers, she plunges back into the unraveling role written so long ago.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Reviews: Wake the Hollow by Gaby Triana and Two to Tango by Kelsey Abrams

Wake the Hollow
Gaby Triana
Entangled Teen, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-63375-351-8
Trade Paperback

A sudden death snatches Micaela out of her senior-year-state-of-mind in sunny Florida, to slap her down in the sleepy little hollow of her past. Never popular with the locals, the eerily empty station is exactly the homecoming she expected. Her mother’s beliefs had always deviated from popular opinion, ostracizing Micaela by association. Perhaps Mami could be a bit peculiar, but for the town’s people to be personally offended by her claim to be a direct descendant of Washington Irving is preposterous.

Counting on compassion from her childhood comrade, Bram, and hoping for help from family friend, Betty Anne; her plan is to quickly take care of business for a rapid return back to her real life. But Micaela was pulled here for a bigger purpose. Legends are coming alive, secrets stuffed into far away corners are seeping out and the myth of a historical treasure may be true.

Resolving to squelch suspicions, to solve the mystery once and for all, Micaela soon sees that someone else has the same goal, but for a greedy reason. After speaking with the few folks unable to maintain the collective stony silence, the only lesson learned was that essentially everyone has lied to her. With only herself to trust, self-doubt surfaces; she’s not sure of her own sanity right now.

One of the first stories that I fell in love with was Mr. Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and it remains a fond favorite. It’s fair to say that I may be a bit biased about any twist of that tale, but I reveled in the reimagination of not just the haunting headless horseman, but also of Washington Irving and another awesome author of the same time. Gripping and keeping me guessing, Wake the Hollow galloped out of the gate, tearing through the narrative to a heart-stopping halt.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

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Two to Tango
Second Chance Ranch
Kelsey Abrams
Jolly Fish Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1631631535
Trade Paperback

Natalie Ramirez loves her life on Second Chance Ranch. She handles the horses, but nothing about their upkeep feels like work to her. Besides, this is the best way to find Rockette’s replacement. Out-growing the pony that she had paired with to win so many junior barrel-racing prizes was inevitable, but still somewhat sad.

When a beautiful bay tobiano trotted onto the scene, Natalie saw the solution to all of her problems. In her enthusiasm, it was easy to over-look the atypical aspects of this rescue. He wore a quality halter with a nameplate. Tango appeared to have been well-cared-for and even trained, at some point. When he followed her commands, it was in a hesitating, confused manner.

For a twelve-and-a-half-year-old, Natalie has a lot on her mind and maybe she misses the obvious at first. But as she begins to see Tango as the horse that he is and not a rodeo-pony-in-the-making, she takes a closer look at herself and finds room to grow.

I cannot imagine a better book for the animal-loving-reader. Quickly captivating, Natalie’s story canters along with humor, action and an impressive equestrian vocabulary (I did not know that a horse has a frog). Two to Tango is one of four in the Second Chance Ranch juvenile-fiction series and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.