Book Reviews: Colombiano by Rusty Young, Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski and Otherwise Known As Possum by Maria D. Laso @SarahMlynowski @Scholastic

Rusty Young
Havelock & Baker, August 2017
ISBN–AU 9780143781547
Havelock & Baker, February 2020
ISBN–US 978-0648445319
Trade Paperback

You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless mankiller—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.


Abby in Wonderland
Whatever After Special Edition #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic, Inc., October 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-74667-0
Trade Paperback

Sustaining a series is no simple task. Inserting a special edition story that is somehow as fresh and fun as the very first book seems insurmountable. Except to Ms. Mlynowski.

This fairy-tale-esque fantasy adds adventure and humor absolutely appropriate for younger readers, while maintaining a subtle, something-more; making it compelling and quirky enough for older audiences as well.

I enjoyed being the proverbial parrot-on-the-shoulder as four friends share a day off from school. Per usual, Penny’s parents are not around, but her house is huge and her nanny is happy to host. Penny has planned the entire day and she is not going to let a little cold air or a brisk breeze ruin the card game on the patio.

But when the wind whipped a card across the yard and into the neighboring golf-course, Abby abruptly abandoned the game to give chase. The other three follow until Frankie falls into a hole. Penny’s agenda is pushed aside. The girls have a real problem to solve.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.


Otherwise Known As Possum
Maria D. Laso
Scholastic Press, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-93196-0
Trade Paperback

Possum, to me, is kind of a country Pippi Longstocking. Both young girls are wise to the ways of the world, if not properly educated. Tough, fiercely independent with lasting loyalty and a heart bigger than her small body should be able to hold, Possum is another exemplary young lady.

Certainly a smile-through-tears kind of story combining spunk, mischief and intuitive, undeniable kindness, I thoroughly enjoyed the bitter-sweet reflections from the late 20th century in this captivating Juvenile Fiction from Ms. Laso.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Reviews: Carbon by Daniel Boyd, The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and The Equalizer by Midge Brubany

Daniel Boyd
Illustrated by Edi Guedes
Caliber Comics, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-9857493-3-0
Trade Paperback

There is a shared admiration for super-heroes. Respect, fondness, amazement, perhaps a twinge of jealousy; all are valid emotions upon consideration of caped crusaders. On the other side of the coin, genuine heroes tend to slip under the radar. Self-effacing members of society lead their lives without creating adverse effects for their community. These people seem to always be the first to react in a situation by lending a hand, even when putting themselves into precarious places. Why? It is not a cognizant decision; rather a natural inclination to do the right thing.

Carbon, like all good graphic novels, is packed with heroes and villains (and yes; a few hot, scantily clad females). Initially, coal-miners painted with a heroic brush may seem peculiar. On second thought though, living in coal counties means bearing witness to endless sepia tones created by coal dust coating every surface and embedding in each crevice. Social gatherings revolve around funerals for those ripped away far too soon and support for the families suddenly without a cherished loved one; robbed of the much needed income. Dismal, yes; but abominable because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Mr. Boyd would be the first to say that he writes to entertain and that Carbon is no exception. To that end, it is a masterpiece of action and adventure. This graphic novel provides unique perspectives on all things; beginning at the true beginning: creation. Compelling, genuine characters are relatable and unattainable. This cast includes a bad-ass baseball player; the gruff, grizzled, yet essentially kind mine workers, my personal favorite: the River Rat (aka as White Water River Guide), and The Man (He Who Gets Rich From The Fruit of Their Labors). His greed endangers the lives of his producers, yet he has no qualms. There aren’t many career opportunities in these areas. The Human Resources pool is large, rendering individuals expendable. For all of his brilliance in cutting corners to grotesquely increase his wealth, he makes an integral mistake.

He underestimates the miners. The Man, focused only on monetary values, is willfully oblivious to the reasons these men work under such dire conditions. Love, family, friendship and community create a strong, unbreakable bond, thus turning apparently ordinary folks into true, awe-inspiring heroes.

So much happens in this volume that I’ve carried it around with me for months now. There are some (who shall remain nameless) that only refer to me as “Comic-Con Girl”. I’m good with that. I want to be seen with this publication. I hope to generate curiosity, and I aspire to pique curiosity for what will be a fascinating trilogy. My fellow readers, if you seek something absolutely unlike anything you’ve read, this is it.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2014.


The Iron TrialThe Iron Trial
Magisterium #1
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Scholastic Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-52225-0

I am sure this series will be compared to Harry Potter and yes, there are similarities to that series as well as moments that made me remember the beginning of The Hunger Games and Divergent. But The Iron Trial really has its own story and Callum Hunt does not turn out to be the next Harry Potter.

The Iron Trial refers to the entrance exam into the Magisterium, a five-year school of magic: Iron, Copper, Bronze, Silver and Gold. First year students are in their Iron year. Callum does not want to attend the Magisterium and tries to fail. Still, he is selected and forced to go over the objections of his only living parent, his father.

Where The Iron Trial really excels, I think, is in its wonderful descriptions of the imaginative surroundings at the Magisterium. It’s exciting to picture the place and watch the characters discover its many delights. The Iron Trial drags a little, I think, when boring tedious tasks are assigned to be mastered by our group and it takes so long that this reader felt the tedium right along with the characters.

I hope that as the series develops, so will the main characters. There is little Callum knows about himself, about who he is and so we are kept in the dark as well, for most of the book. I knew it is the first book in a five-book series and I liked the twists and turnabouts sprinkled throughout the plot. I particularly enjoyed the ending. It’s satisfying as a novel on its own as well as an inviting set up for the series. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to keep reading, I strongly suggest that you do. People and things are not as they appear.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, September 2014.


The EqualizerThe Equalizer
Midge Bubany
North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-87839-737-2
Trade Paperback

Young County Deputy Sheriff Cal Sheehan is reveling in his recent ascension to the title of deputy investigator. Now he needs a serious crime to work on. Alas, his day does not begin well. While responding to the call to investigate the discovery of a body at a local park, he is rear-ended at a stoplight in town. The impact puts his small vehicle directly in the path of a heavier auto which proceeds to T-bone Cal, putting his transportation in wrecking candidacy. The acquisition of a new vehicle, plays a useful element in the novel.

This is Ms. Brubany’s debut novel and if it is successful, as this reviewer hopes it will be, this cast of small-town characters and mystery readers will be in for some fraught and enjoyable times.

Central to the story is Cal Sheehan, young, horny, attractive, bright and alert to nuances of mannerism during suspect and witness interviews. His efforts to find the truth and the necessary evidence to solve this interesting multiple-murder are worth watching. The writing is first rate and characters and settings are well developed. If a sojourn to Las Vegas seems a bit beyond the pale, well, those scenes are nicely handled and the conclusion of the tale is logical and satisfying.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.