Book Review: Dear Justyce by Nic Stone @getnicced @CrownPublishing

Dear Justyce
Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers, September 2020
ISBN ‎ 978-1-9848-2966-5
Hardcover

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone is the Young Adult, Realistic Fiction companion to Dear Martin. But, please do not pass it by if you’ve not yet met these characters. Dear Justyce does just fine on its own.

Quan is, once again, in Juvenile Detention. The difference: this time…he actually may not have committed the crime for which he is accused. Yeah, he panicked when the very officer that killed Manny swung his weapon toward Quan and his crew. He even pulled his nasty little .22. And brilliantly, he left it behind. Along with the cop’s body.

Hell, he even confessed…sort of.

Quan knew his rights and stated that he chose to remain silent. Several times. But the police had kept talking. And moving Quan from his holding cell to the tiny room with two-way mirror. And back.

Meanwhile, his friend from play-ground-days, Justyce, is working through his first year at Yale. They’re too tight for Quan to feel (much) bitterness. Plus, Justyce had given Quan his notebook filled with the letters he wrote to the late Dr. King, in lieu of a diary. The letters revealed issues that Quan hadn’t known his friend struggled with. Quan takes to writing to Justyce.

Turns out, the writing is therapeutic for Quan and intriguing to Justyce. He senses issues and injustices in Quan’s arrest and processing. The more he listens, the more Justyce believes that Quan’s case is not being taken seriously. Justyce makes it his personal goal to right this wrong.

While the story is as hopeful as it is heart-breaking, the hard truths are going to haunt me. I am so appreciative that Ms. Stone told Quan’s story and I’m pleased that I pre-ordered several copies. Now I can keep one for myself and still add this gem to some of my favorite high-school classroom libraries.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2020.

Book Review: They Stay by Claire Fraise @XpressoTours

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Title: They Stay
Series: They Stay #1
Author: Claire Fraise
Publisher: Sabertooth Press
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Genres: Dark Fantasy/Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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

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They Stay
They Stay #1
Claire Fraise
Sabertooth Press, October 2021
ISBN 978-1-7372253-0-0
Trade Paperback

From the author—

For fans of Stranger Things comes a suspenseful YA mystery about a missing kid, a girl who can see ghosts, and a horrifying crime only four outcasts have the power to stop.

What if the only person who could help you find your missing brother was dead?

Nothing is as important to sixteen-year-old Shiloh Oleson as her little brother Max. So when the six-year-old goes missing without a trace, a heartbroken Shiloh refuses to believe nothing can be done and sets out to find him.

When one of Shiloh’s classmates says she knows where Max is, Shiloh hesitates to believe her. Francesca is creepy. She says she can see ghosts, but everyone knows ghosts aren’t real … right?

But Francesca says that Max is going to be murdered.

And a ghost told her where he is.

As the line between the dead and living begins to blur, Shiloh starts to think Francesca might not be as crazy as she believed. One thing is becoming clear. Someone has gruesome plans for Max, and Shiloh must confront her worst nightmares to find him before it’s too late.

THEY STAY is the first book in the They Stay Series. Read on if you like ghost stories, plot twists, enemies-to-friends, creepy circuses, budding romance, and unlikely heroes.

Content Warnings: This book contains death, kidnapping, domestic abuse, references to suicide, bullying, and mild adult language.

There’s nothing really new about the premise of this story—after all, there are a limited number of plots out there—so it’s incumbent upon the author to make her specific tale interesting and appealing to readers. Ms. Fraise has done this quite nicely, particularly in her evocation of emotional attachments between the reader and various characters as well as emotional tension.

I think my favorite element of this book is that of Francesca being able to see ghosts and interpret their actions but the developing friendship, if that’s what it really is, between Francesca and Shiloh is truly intriguing and I’m interested to see where things go with this relationship.

Although I’m decidedly not a fan of first person present tense, especially in a mystery, I enjoyed They Stay and will look forward to the next installment of the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2021.

About the Author

Claire Fraise earned her B.A. in English from Tufts University. She is also the author of YA dystopian novel Imperfect (winner of the San Francisco and Beverly Hills Book Festivals), which she published when she was 16. When Claire’s not writing, she likes crocheting amigurumi animals, reading, and hanging out with her dogs. Even though it goes against every introverted bone in her body, she is on social media. Connect with her on Instagram at @clairefraiseauthor, on YouTube at Write with Claire Fraise, or visit her website at clairefraise.com.

Author links:

Website // Instagram // Facebook // YouTube // Pinterest // Goodreads

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Book Review: Mercury Boys by Chandra Prasad @chandrabooks @soho_teen

Mercury Boys
Chandra Prasad
Soho Teen, August 2021
ISBN 978-1-64129-265-8
Hardcover

Saskia is angry about her abrupt exit from Arizona. It’s where she became the content, confident and not-too-terrible teenager her parents could trust. It is also where Mom openly hooked up with the (very young) man students had dubbed “the hot substitute”.

Moving with just Dad was depressing. As a suddenly-single parent and nurse with a bonkers schedule, he may not notice her mood. It’s fine. Saskia is making friends.

Lila certainly seems responsible. She’s a good student and holds a part-time job on the Western Connecticut State campus. To be fair, any work would be way better than baby-sitting her squad of younger siblings; but Lila genuinely enjoys the opportunity to study the origins of processing photographs.

When Saskia is assigned to study Robert Cornelius (chemist, considered pioneer of photography), Lila is quite happy to show Saskia the daguerreotypes so meticulously maintained in the school’s library. She’s less comfortable when her new friend is so fixated on the likeness of Cornelius that she insists on “borrowing” it.

Saskia meant to keep it overnight only, but she hadn’t realized it was a portal. Or, that when she closed her eyes to sleep, she would meet Cornelius. Face-to-face. In his time. Too real to be a dream, time-travel was the only explanation. Unless it was mercury poisoning. Probably should not have handled that.

In an enthusiastic effort to share her discovery and befriend the oh-so-popular Paige, Saskia loses sight of that-which-is-important. Including Lila.

Mercury Boys is the archetypal YA narrative. Actual issues that can, and often do, affect adolescents today, are addressed. The eye-on-the-prize type of tunnel-vision that can lead a typically reasonable teen astray, aptly portrayed. Ms. Prasad’s antagonist employs peer-pressure in its most passive-aggressive form and the girls’ summer “fun” has very real, adverse repercussions.

I’ll be excitedly introducing Mercury Boys to “my” students. I think the combination of fact and fantasy creates a captivating story.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with huge thanks for the Advance Review Copy to donate to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2021.

Book Review: Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater @mstiefvater @DCComics

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches
Maggie Stiefvater
Illustrated by Morgan Beem
DC Comics, October 2020
ISBN 978-1-401-29323-9
Trade Paperback

There have been innumerable iterations of DC Comics’ super-hero, the Swamp Thing. The monster that most resembles a mobile mound of plant matter first appeared in a comic book the summer of 1971. Inspiring films, television shows, an animated series and even participating in a Public Service Announcement; he generally fought to protect his Louisiana swamp lands, the environment as a whole, with hope for humanity.

Ms. Stiefvater’s graphic-novel, Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, illustrated by Morgan Beem, does feature an Alec Holland, albeit the youngest one I am aware of. Alec and his twin, Walker, are high-school students unexpectedly spending their summer in the dismal swamps of Virginia. While the two brothers seem to be as different as dark and light, collectively they are worlds away from their wilder, rambunctious cousins.

Walker will always be ready for more friends and tons of fun. Alec is entirely engrossed in his scientific experimentation of isolating plant memories and experiences from his beloved Boris and transferring them to a new seedling. Preoccupied and prickly generally, Alec was snarly about having to upend and move his fragile work. Transportation tumult adversely affected not only all of Alec’s hard work, but also the canine companions of his cousins.

As Alec focuses on resurrecting a year’s worth of work, he is surprised to meet like-minded folks in his new, communal, lab. Through his new acquaintances, he learns that these swamps have harbored their own secrets for quite some time.

I feel like this could be the introduction to a simply stellar Swamp Thing series. If so, I am all in.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2020.

Book Review: My Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih @MandelVilar

My Real Name Is Hanna
Tara Lynn Masih
Mandel Vilar Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-1942134510
Trade Paperback

Hanna’s daughter has found her dog-eared, marked-up copy of Joan of Arc. And, the girl has always admired the pysanky, lovingly displayed under glass. It is time to tell the story behind these truly treasured objects.

Hanna was a young girl in Ukraine, in the 1940s, when she considered herself to be Mrs. Petrovich’s assistant. Watching the competent, perpetually dyed hands create intricate designs on the fragile egg shells and listening to tales of her people who were once sun-worshippers, was one of Hanna’s favorite pastimes.

Her Jewish family was more reserved about the relationship. Parents were very specific about what Hanna could, and could not, do in the egg-coloring process. If the neighbor had not served as the family’s Shabbes goy, the partnership would not be permitted. As is, Mrs. Petrovich refuses payment for her duties such as lighting matches and locking the door on the Sabbat. Allowing Hanna to help her is fairest thing for the family to do.

For the first decade or so, Hanna lived a blessed life. Her Jewish family was a part of the community. That couldn’t be said everywhere. But things changed. Under Comrade Stalin, Hanna was disheartened to learn that Passover traditions would have to be hidden. The blow was somewhat softened by the knowledge that Catholics were forced to gift pysanky in secret as well.

As Hitler’s German troops began to conquer larger areas and draw closer, rules and revisions become more targeted. The butcher can no longer sell kosher meat. Ration cards are glaringly disproportionate, with Jewish families receiving ridiculously small portions.

Hanna’s family realizes that, if they are to survive the German invasion, they must literally run for their lives. With meager few possessions, extended family and some neighbors, they were able to remain undetected in a couple of abandoned shacks, deep in the woods.

The Germans learned that there were many Jewish people hiding in the forests, forcing the small group to take to the caves. With the only exceptions of men leaving, as needed, for provisions, life was spent entirely underground until, at long last, word reached them that Germany had finally been beaten. For the few remaining Jews, they may be free to show their faces and embrace their beliefs, but their lives were irrevocably damaged.

My Real Name is Hanna is a Historical Fiction account meant to mesmerize Young Adult readers. Ms. Masih more than succeeds by allowing Hanna’s calm, matter-of-fact, yet not unfeeling, voice tell the terribly true story of an inarguably horrific period.

The family featured in the book is fictious, but real survivor Esther Stermer’s family, along with four others, actually survived the invasion of the Wehrmacht by living in two underground caves. The women and children were underground for more than 500 days. I’m so stoked that their survival story is finally being shared. I cannot wait to introduce this humbly heroic historical tale to “my” students.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2021.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books,
with huge thanks for the Advance Review Copy
to donate to my favorite classroom library.

Book Review: Becoming Brooklyn by Amanda Deich @AmandaDeich @XpressoTours

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Title: Becoming Brooklyn
Author: Amanda Deich
Publisher: Park Bench Publishing
Publication date: January 5, 2021
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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

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Becoming Brooklyn
Amanda Deich
Park Bench Publishing, January 2021
ISBN 978-1-7361601-1-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Eighteen-year-old Brooklyn never knew her father. Rex Blackburn died in the 9/11 attacks four months before she was born.

And even though she never met him, she always dreamed about what he must have been like before he died. In her mind, he was a hero.

Little did she know.

After an attack at a 9/11 memorial gala, Brooklyn learns her father had been a member of an elite, anti-terrorism, military task force, made up of a very select group of people who had superhuman abilities. On the day the towers fell, he died using his power to save people.

The Army believes she inherited his gift, and Brooklyn is invited to train at West Point in order to hone her skills. Knowing deep down she is different than anyone else her age and wanting to learn more about a father she never knew, she readily agrees to become a cadet at the prestigious military academy.

She and five other 9/11 babies strengthen their superhuman abilities and spend weeks preparing themselves for their future in the army, fighting terrorists at home and abroad. And in the process of training, they identify with their deceased parents in a way they never knew they could.

Brooklyn knows she’ll go to war someday, but when terrorists find out about the group’s gifts, they don’t bother to wait.

They bring the war to West Point.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, a couple of good things came out of the pandemic and one, for me, was the cessation of the endless stream of superhero entertainment, especially movies but really all forms. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it all but, heavens, it seemed as though a new adventure was coming out every month. That’s what I call oversaturation of the market so, yes, I welcomed the break. Then came the second Wonder Woman and I was ready for more by that time but it was sadly disappointing.

Then I heard about Becoming Brooklyn and, once again, I was excited and hopeful and, lo and behold, the joy is back! This book is refreshing in its concept and execution and, while there are flaws, the storyline is as enjoyable as I could have hoped.

Imagine finding out that the dad you never knew was a real life superhero AND that you just might be one, too. Brooklyn is excited to find out more and get the training that’s offered at West Point and, when that venerable institution and the cadets become the focus of terrorists, well, she and her fellow students have to react much sooner than they anticipated. Mayhem ensues, as it always does in the world of superheroes and this reader had a high old time enjoying the adventure 😄.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

About the Author

Amanda Deich is an author out of Littleton, CO. In her non-writer life, she is a teacher and coach to hundreds of kids, and she is a mama to two. If you meet her, she’ll talk Jesus and identity like no one’s business.

Get in touch with Amanda:

Website / Facebook /

Twitter / Instagram

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Book Reviews: Last Call by Elon Green and Thirteen Chairs by Dave Shelton @elongreen @CeladonBooks @DaveShelton @DFB_storyhouse

Last Call
A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York
Elon Green
Celadon Books, March 2021
ISBN 978-1-250-22435-4
Hardcover

The world was not warm or welcoming for gay men in the 1980s. Discrimination, bias and inexplicable hate made for an uncomfortable existence, at best. Not only was homosexuality grossly misunderstood; but AIDS was becoming a familiar fear for everyone.

Repercussions could be very real for any openly-gay man. Life turned from unpleasant to terrifying with the discovery of a dismembered male body. And later, another grisly, heart-wrenching find. More would follow.

Law enforcement was not convinced that the scarily-similar manner of disposal connected the crimes. Faint lines leading to New York City piano bars— where gay men felt somewhat safe—seemed more than a stretch.  Prejudices towards the victims’ “life-styles” and the lack of a crime scene, coupled with “dump sites” in different jurisdictions, meant that these crimes were not priorities.

Family members, friends, Lesbian and Gay Advocate Groups would not allow these deaths to be ignored, though. Patrons, pianists, and bartenders all mentioned one man, in particular. The suspect was a nurse at a NYC hospital, but no one knew more than that.

In the same way that stellar wait-staff are inconspicuous when their service is spot-on, Mr. Green simply sets everything up, almost allowing each man to tell his own story.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with a huge “Thank You!” to Celadon Books for the Advance Review Copy, which I will donate to my favorite high-school classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2021.

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Thirteen Chairs
Dave Shelton
David Fickling Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-1-910-20044-5
Trade Paperback

Inside of a dilapidated, abandoned home— that is most assuredly haunted, per the neighborhood children—one room appears to be in use. A long table is set with flickering candles, casting strange rays on the oddly assembled group gathered around.

Jack had heard the wicked rumors; but standing outside and seeing a soft light within, his curiosity has passed piqued. Compelled, he enters the house and follows the glow. He is welcomed to the table, where there is, uncannily, one empty chair.

Each person has a story to share and every one of the scary shorts could stand alone. Some of the narrators appear to know one another quite well, while others seem less comfortable with the eclectic individuals sharing their space. Jack is clearly the freshest face to the table, and perhaps, he has the most to fear.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2019.