Journey to a Promised Land (I Am America)
A Story of the Exodusters
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
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.
Three Trees for the Campfire
CreateSpace, January 2013
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.
Fairest of All
Whatever After #1
Scholastic Press, April 2013
I am a fan of the fairy-tale re-tell.
It is always delightful when a familiar story gets a fresh twist. But, to take an already awesome creation to a totally new height—in the same way that Jimi Hendrix covered Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”—well, that really rocks my socks. So, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I absolutely adored Ms. Mlynowski’s Whatever After: Fairest of All.
And, you can well imagine my enthusiasm upon discovering that the author has already written an entire series of these treasures. I’m going to have to buy the whole set for some classroom library, but I should probably read them quickly, before turning them over.
In the meantime, I happen to have Special Edition: Whatever After: Abby in Wonderland in my hot little hands right now…
Reviewed by jv poore, February 2019.
Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Midnight Ink, April 2018
Semi-successful mystery writer, Charlee, has penned the perfect murder. At least according to her critique group, beta readers, boyfriend and agent. And yes, even if she does say so herself. But before it goes to print, her diabolical plan is implemented in the real-life murder of her agent.
Melinda Walters wasn’t well-liked. Maybe not even respected. Actually, not even an awesome agent. Few will weep when hearing of her untimely demise. The apparent automobile accident is instead, the result of a properly executed plan. Although there may be many with apparent motive, the suspect pool shrinks to only those who could have set the scene exactly as it was written.
Charlee has no reason to doubt the local law enforcement. Her father died in the line of duty. There was some speculation, but she assumed it must be normal and willfully blocked it out. Besides, her brother is a policeman and he is successful, trusted and well-liked. Probably.
Regardless, it’s clearly best if she conducts her own investigation. Charlee kicks relationships to the curb and treats everyone in her inner circle as a suspect. Turns out, even when not involved in criminal activity, there are a plethora of reasons to maintain privacy.
I found Ms. Clark’s Fiction Can Be Murder to be a very quick and (this must sound strange) but…light read. I quite enjoyed the moment that Charlee spent writing anything-but-murder-mysteries. Although this novel falls into the Fiction: Mystery genre, as opposed to my usual Young Adult, I’ll be passing it on to my favorite classroom library where I’m sure it will be well-received.
Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.
Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, October 2017
Existence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico requires a combination of courage, vigilance and restraint. The typical work-day commute equals exposure to potential harassment and harm. Truly dangerous, totally unavoidable. Students don’t have the luxury of focusing on academics or sports. Families need financial support.
Emiliano attends his high school classes and participates on his soccer team, but he focuses on family and ‘his’ Jiparis. Intelligent, innovative and driven, Emiliano creates a small business of collecting hand-made folk art from his pseudo-Mexican-Boy Scouts, which he sells to small shops. The Jiparis’ families receive the bulk of proceeds, of course, but Emiliano’s cut helps at home and his business has been noticed.
A journalist with El Sol, Emiliano’s sister writes a weekly column about the city’s missing girls. Sara had shared her own story of loss, writing of the day her best friend was kidnapped. Friends and family members of other missing girls responded to her article, and Sara was assigned a weekly column. After reporting progress, Sara was stunned when she was ordered to drop the investigation and the article.
Emiliano becomes acquainted with several of the city’s successful businessmen and his views seem to shift. Hard work is nothing without the willingness to get “a little dirty”. A person can only truly move up, in this world, when illegal activity is going down. Clearly, everyone is doing it; but it takes Emiliano time to realize how closely it is all connected.
Mr. Stork deftly displays the complexities of life in Mexico, even as he highlights the hope, strength, determination and compassion in the people that call it home. Disappeared is a fictional story about Mexico’s missing girls, but the fact is, hundreds of Mexican women do disappear in this border city every year.
Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.
Hearts & Other Body Parts
Scholastic Press, April 2017
Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Hearts & Other Body Parts is a freaky fusion of folklore that completely rocks my socks. Fantasy, science-fiction and a bit of magic combine to capture, then carry you along the remarkable ride. With the emphasis on “science”, some of this fiction feels frighteningly plausible.
The three sisters that center the story are quintessential siblings in the best ways possible. Unique enough for interesting exchanges, their common ground allows them to create a formidable front when needed. Norman, the new kid (whose full name is spectacularly perfect) is a gentle giant—in the most literal sense—but, his size is the least shocking attribute of his appearance.
Generally, students in small town schools divide into two groups when a new kid arrives: instant fans seeking something different or rowdy ruffians refusing change. Not so when Norman enters the picture. All eyes focus on him, the same expression on every face. Mouths hang open in wonder, revulsion and fear. When Esme joins Norman at the lunch table on his first day, he knew things would be different here; but even his peculiar past could not have prepared him for what was coming.
Zack erases Norman’s new-kid status and creates a fandom in the student body. Girls surround Zack like fog, floating on his every word. Intelligent as well as wise, Norman is not captivated by Zack’s charms; instead he is suspicious. Reports of missing girls convince Norman that Esme and her sisters, who have absolutely abandoned him to hover around Zack, are in imminent danger. Norman can’t face Zack alone, but the bullies that once taunted him may not be much back-up…..even with the reluctant aid of a demon cat.
Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.
P.S. I Like You
Point, August 2016
This is such a sweet story—not so your teeth hurt–it’s perfectly sweet. First and foremost: I love the Abbott family. I want to dive into their home and be submersed in the fresh, awesome, oddness. Each quirky, yet quintessential, sibling provides poignant texture, interacting individually and collectively with Lily. Her competition-loving, compassionate parents are perfectly embarrassing and absolutely adorable. Also, there is a rescued “pet” rabbit.
I adore Lily. She’s who I wanted to be as a teenager. Her most awkward teen-aged moment is exponentially cooler than any of mine. It is effortless to relate to, empathize with and understand her. She is “learning lessons” that I learned, but sometimes forget. The reminders are welcome and appreciated.
There is also the something-different-that-I-totally-dig-aspect: putting a pencil to your desktop, jotting a note or song lyric to maintain sanity and/or a state of semi-awareness during class, only to be stunned when another student responds in kind. I remember trading notes via the top of my desk with an anonymous person in my 8th grade Literature class (sorry, Mr. Leach). So, no surprise, I’m stupidly delighted and charmed to find a book basing a pretty groovy relationship on such a simple start. Particularly impressive, Ms. West presents a spot-on, classic-yet-credible, way of communicating without feeling the need to mute or explain away today’s textmania.
This was a one-sitting-read that I really enjoyed. The mini-mystery to determine who Lily’s pen pal is warranted a close look and careful consideration of the characters. Although cute and quick, this isn’t the cotton candy of reading—there is a Mean Girl and her role is not gratuitous and the importance of being a good friend cannot be overstated. My copy is going to my 13-year-old niece and I’m sure I’ll donate another copy to my Middle Grader’s classroom library. I really like this book for the Middle-Grade reader looking for a love story.
Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.
Title: The Lost Eye of the Serpent
Series: The Rose Delacroix Files: Book One
Author: Jeremy Phillips
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Publication Date: August 6, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Historical, Young Adult
From the publisher—
It may sound crazy, but Jonathan Delacroix is certain his sister Rose really is Sherlock Holmes…
Girls are not detectives. But in the summer of 1893, in the small western town of Hope Springs, Rose Delacroix is bound and determined to prove them all wrong. When the famous Emerald Serpent Jewels are stolen from the Delacroix family hotel and the blame lands solely on her older brother Bill, Rose recruits Jonathan as her Watson-like counterpart to solve the case.
Proving your brother innocent is difficult when the evidence keeps stacking up against him…
Before Rose and Jonathan can properly start their investigation, another robbery is committed. The rusty revolver purported to have once belonged to Wild Bill Hickok has been stolen from the general store and found hidden amongst her brother’s belongings. With Bill in jail, and the owner of the Serpent Jewels planning to sue the Delacroix hotel, Rose knows she has to find a lead, and soon.
A witness comes forward claiming they saw Bill steal the jewels, but Rose isn’t about to be bullied into ignoring the facts…
Rose and Jonathan must put their sleuthing skills to the test or witness their family fall to ruin due to…
…the lost eye of the serpent.