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.

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

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

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Book Review: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio @IWGregorio @LittleBrownYR

This Is My Brain In Love
I. W. Gregorio
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-316-42382-3
Hardcover

Jocelyn isn’t truly bitter. She is just very busy. Like most teens, she’d rather be doing just about anything aside from spending every available moment working for the family restaurant, A Plus. Until she hears her father talk of moving back into the city.

She did love New York, of course. But she had just started to love living here. She found bubble tea and Priya. Jocelyn will not go without a fight. She will save the business. And she will get help.

William saw the Help Wanted sign. Spending a summer as an intern-manager of a restaurant was not at all what we wanted, but exactly what he needed. Life is tough enough simply breathing-while-Black; suffering from anxiety on top of that sometimes felt crippling. He’d heard a hard truth. To be the reporter he wanted to be, even if it was just for his private-school newspaper, Will is going to have to ‘get out there’ and get into things.

It would be almost easy to say This Is My Brain In Love is about mental illness, but it really is not. The story is about how, as an individual, we are so many things. Jocelyn is the responsible grandchild, offspring, elder sibling and master-of-every-task in the family’s Chinese restaurant. In her spare time, she works with Priya, creating short films. And she still manages to squeeze in time with William—who wears a few hats of his own.

And, yes, some characters may deal with mental illness—whether they acknowledge it or not. It is an invisible weight, but just like in real life, it is but a small part of a greater whole. I’m so pleased to see a story show that students’ stresses do not start and stop at school. Many high-schoolers have heavy responsibilities outside of classes and grades. So many families count on their contributions.

Ms. Gregorio marvelously manages to cover and convey so much in an engaging and oh-so-easy-to-read way. It will not surprise you to know that I’m looking forward to giving away many, many copies of this YA wonder.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2020.