Review: Conversion by Katherine Howe

dd0188081c1c4d616421d117d5f437bbThe history nerd in me loves anything to do with the Salem witch trials. The book lover in me loves historical fiction combined with a bit of fantasy. This latest book by Katherine Howe fits the bill on both ends.

It’s the story of Colleen and her friends, seniors at a prestigious girls’ prep school. They’re already under immense pressure from AP courses, GPAs, and the college admission process. And then comes another level of stress as several of the girls become afflicted with some strange syndrome. Hair loss, twitching, rambling incohesive speech…it’s all there and nobody can seem to figure out what’s causing it. Is it environmental? Stress? Mental/emotional? Or is something more sinister at work?

Part of the appeal of this book for me was how the author shifted back and forth between the present day story and the early 1700s during the actual Salem witch trial period. We’re given a glimpse into the hysteria of that era and encouraged to make a connection to the current story. This is a good story that kept me guessing as to what was really happening. An afterword by the author provides some insight into what inspired her to write this book. Grab this one for a great read, just in time for Halloween!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Conversion

Review: How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

20140629-113045-41445247.jpgA teenage boy is gunned down in the middle of a bad neighborhood. Was he a gang member? Was he armed? Why was the shooter, who happens to be white, released without being charged? These are all questions brought to light in the first several chapters of this thought-provoking book by Kekla Magoon.

The story is told from multiple perspectives. We hear from almost everyone involved. There are the boys Tariq, the victim, grew up with. Most of them have given in to the allure of gang life. There’s Tariq’s family, including his little sister Tina. We have a well-known reverend who has come to town to help shed light on what really happened while at the same time advancing his political career. There’s the shopkeeper who spoke with Tariq right before his death. And there’s the shooter himself. The only person we don’t hear from is Tariq, but he’s dead. Sometimes when a story is told by so many different people it gets convoluted and loses my interest, but not in this case.

So this is the kind of book that’s sure to evoke deep emotion in some people, controversy among others. At first glance, it’s hard to find sympathy for many of the main characters. They are, after all, hardened gang members who deal in drugs and death. But if the reader takes the time to think a little deeper about the story, this is really a commentary on how our society views and treats members of certain racial and economic classes. And although the book certainly does bear some similarity to the fairly recent Trayvon Martin case, incidents like the one described in the book are sadly common enough that the author could have been writing about any one of them. A great read for those willing to go into the story with an open mind.

~Thalia

Buy It Now: How It Went Down

Review: Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah

Of-Scars-and-StardustHidden deep within the cornfields of of Ohio, the wolves are waiting for you. They’ll hunt you down with their eerie yellow eyes and tear you apart with their sharp, glistening fangs. If you look closely, you may be lucky (or unlucky) enough to catch a glimpse of gray fur streaking by in a blur. So stay inside at night and lock your doors. And whatever you do, don’t wear the color periwinkle or anything cherry-scented. These are the two things guaranteed to draw them to you in an instant.

This is the story that’s been passed down for years in rural Amble. It’s the story Claire and her friends have passed around, some believing in the legend more than others. But when a young girl goes missing and just traces of blood are left behind, what other explanation could there be? Surely it’s better to believe that wild beasts are responsible rather than the human kind. Now Claire begins to see the wolves everywhere. She’s sure they’re watching her. And when tragedy strikes her younger sister, Ella, Claire escapes to New York where she hopes to become lost in the crowd. Nightmares have a way of following us, however, and Claire finds herself returning to her hometown to confront her fears, both real and imaginary.

This debut YA novel from Andrea Hannah is creepy on so many different levels. It’s got that spooky campfire story feel to it, with a scary tale that will keep you up at night. There’s the psychologically thrilling fear that comes from so many twists and turns that keep you guessing from one page to the next. And then there’s the aftershock as you sit and reflect, trying to digest exactly what just happened. There isn’t a happy ending where everything is tied up in a neat little package with a pretty bow on top. But this is one story that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it!

~Thalia

Buy it Now: Of Scars and Stardust

Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Ann_MMartinWhenever I’m talking books with someone, there are a select few that I always feel the need to push. Wonder, Out of My Mind, Counting by 7s, The Book Thief…these are some of the ones I label as “Oh my gosh, you have got to read this one!” This newest book from Ann M. Martin makes that elite list.

Meet Rose, a young girl who’s just a little bit different. On the high end of the autism scale, she’s also obsessed with many different things-prime numbers, following the rules, and above all else, homonyms. She even keeps an ongoing list of homonyms she discovers. Needless to say, these are things that don’t exactly endear her to her classmates. While the ostracizing never quite reaches the level found in some other books of this genre, it’s still enough to make her feel like an outcast. She’s also dealing with the disappearance of her mother as well as life with a dad who borders on being verbally abusive and neglectful. One of the few bright spots in Rose’s life is her Uncle Walden who tries to act as a buffer between Rose and her dad.

And then, of course, there’s Rain. She’s Rose’s constant companion, her confidant, the soft spot in an otherwise sharp-edged world. She provides comfort and much needed stability to Rose. No matter how loud-bright-harsh the outside world is, Rain is there to soothe her. But when Rain is lost during a storm and then miraculously found, Rose’s strict adherence to “the rules” force her to make a very tough decision.

Rose is a character who will break your heart while at the same time giving you hope. She’s honest and straight forward while at the same time seemingly immune to what others think of her. The story evokes such emotion from the reader. Sadness for Rose, concern for Rain, and finally admiration for Rose and the challenges and decisions she faces. Ann M. Martin has written a winner with this one. Likely most well-know for her Babysitter’s Club series from many years back, this one puts her into a whole new category for me. While fans of that series will definitely appreciate this story as well, it’s in an entirely different league, destined to go down as one of those books that most, if not all, young people are familiar with. Five plus stars for me!

~Thalia

Buy it Now: Rain Reign

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies-Cover-5-2014-198x300Being a child of the seventies, much of what I know about the Civil Rights Era comes from books that I’ve read. And there’s always an inherent risk that what I’m reading isn’t true to fact or is too preachy. This debut novel by Robin Talley avoids both of those pitfalls.

The year is 1959. The place, Virginia. After a lengthy court battle, public schools in the state have been ordered to integrate. Sarah Dunbar is among a select group of students chosen to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. From day one, Sarah and her friends are surrounded by hatred. In addition to being placed in remedial classes and banned from participating in extra curricular activities, they’re faced with a daily deluge of name calling, taunting, things being thrown at them, and outright violence. Still they persevere, conducting themselves with respect and dignity for the most part. When Sarah is forced into a school project with the daughter of a prominent townsperson, things begin to change in ways both good and bad.

This story is told from both perspectives, Sarah’s and Linda’s. We are given a glimpse into Sarah’s feelings about her role as a trailblazer, of course. But what’s more eye-opening to me is hearing Linda’s story. Yes, she’s full of intolerance. But her thoughts made me wonder how that came to be. Was she simply a product of her environment? She’s very unwavering in her belief that segregation is the right thing to do. Then she would have moments that made me think her heart was telling her something different.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the turmoil that both Sarah and Linda went through as they struggled with their feelings for each other. They find themselves attracted to each other which during that era was almost as taboo as interracial relationships. For me it wasn’t the main part of the story, and I don’t want it to detract from the author’s insight into the fear and intolerance of that time period. But how can we discuss one without the other? Aren’t we facing much of that same fear and intolerance today? It’s just an additional obstacle young Sarah had to overcome as do many young people in modern times.

This is a tough book to read. There were times I found myself doubting that people could be so cruel. It’s important, however, to remember these shameful parts of our history so that they are not repeated. Avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. And beyond that, my hope is that some day we will look back on society’s current views on homosexuality with the same disbelief we have towards the racial intolerance of our past. Difficult to comprehend but impossible to put down, this is one book you won’t soon forget!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Lies We Tell Ourselves (Harlequin Teen)

Review: Sweet Unrest by Lisa Maxwell

Sweet Unrest finalWhat a thrill it was to receive this as an ARC months before the release date. I’d been eyeing it for several weeks after I added it to my wish list, so of course I had to jump right in when I got it.

I have to start off by saying that the cover is one of the most beautiful introductions to a story I’ve seen in awhile. Simple and understated but so elegant and indicative of the story.

The story centers on Lucy, a teenager who has been dragged against her will to an old plantation outside of New Orleans when her dad takes on a new job. She’s determined to just ride out the summer until she can return to Chicago. Through a combination of dreams and encounters with a mysterious stranger, she begins to uncover secrets both old and new. Although parts of the story take place in the distant past, much of the danger is very much set in Lucy’s present day world.

I have a weakness for stories set in Louisiana and New Orleans in particular so this one was right up my alley. It’s a ghost story and love story wrapped up in one but, have no fear about it being too scary or gruesome. And although the story centers on the dark and spiritual world of voodoo, much of the scary stuff is left to the reader’s imagination. It’s simply a beautiful tale, reminiscent of legends passed down over time. An excellent debut novel from an exciting new author!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Sweet Unrest

Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

18599754Young adult books are all the rage these days. Add to that stories of young adults facing physical or mental/emotional disabilities and you’ve covered at least half of the books I’ve read in the last year. So it takes a little bit of something extra to make a story stick with me, as did this book by Cammie McGovern.

Amy has lived with cerebral palsy for all her life. She doesn’t know anything different. It defines every part of her existence-her interactions with her family, how she navigates life outside of her house, and how she fits in with the rest of the world. When she meets Matthew, everything she’s come to believe is challenged. That works both ways, however. Matthew is dealing with issues of his own. A self-exiled outcast because of his obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as neurotic thoughts & tendencies, Amy forces him to confront his fears head on. They’re good for each other, while at the same time being not so good for each other.

So what makes this one stand out from the likes of Wonder, Out of My Mind, and Counting by 7s? First of all, it’s clearly meant for an older audience, in my opinion. While still suitable for the older teenage reader, it covers material not suitable for an older elementary student. Most importantly, the author writes about the issues faced by both Amy and Matthew with complete honesty. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything as the story evolves. Harsh realities are written about, and not everything ends on a happy note. Still, it’s an excellent story that came highly recommended from a friend as I’m now highly recommending it to you!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Say What You Will

Review: Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett

Words-and-Their-Meanings-5I really enjoyed this first book from Kate Bassett. The story centers on Anna, a teenager who is having trouble getting over the death of her beloved uncle a year earlier. She copes by doing daily “coffin yoga”, channeling her inner Patti Smith through both her dress and hairstyle, and writing favorite Patti quotes on her arm every day.

Her family is concerned, to put it mildly, but they have turmoil of their own to cope with. Little sis Bea likes to hide in random places, mom and dad are divorced and dad has a new wife/baby on the way, and Gramps is suddenly on the verge of death himself. Anna’s circle of friends is very small, basically her best friend since early childhood, Nat. Complicating things is the introduction of Mateo, who definitely catches Anna’s eye and rocks her world, almost to the point of being normal.

This is a difficult book to fully describe other than to say that it’s quite an unusual young adult/coming of age book. There’s a love story, but that’s not the central element. It’s more about friendship, family, love gained and lost, and moving on. Five stars for me!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Words and Their Meanings

Review: Amity by Michael Ostow

19141361Did you grow up scared sleepless after watching Amityville Horror? Did you watch it more than once just because you were fascinated yet slightly traumatized by it? Were you interested enough in the true story to do a little bit of research into what really happened in Amityville? If any of the above questions apply to you, this new book by Michael Ostow is definitely a must-read!

This creepy supernatural story plays off the events retold in Amityville Horror. Two horrific tragedies are at play here, separated by a span of ten years. Gwen and her family are the lucky inhabitants of the Amity house ten years after Connor and his family were in residence. And of course, things didn’t end happily ever after for the original inhabitants.

The chapters easily alternate between the two time periods with everything converging at the end. Demonic possession, ghosts, ancient burial grounds, and good old-fashioned human murder all have a starring role. Great for fans of scary good stories, and safe enough for young adult readers. As long as they don’t mind a few sleepless nights, that is!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Amity

Review: Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo

18769271So many reasons to love this book! The main character, Leigh, sells graves in the family-owned cemetery which earns points for plot originality. Leigh is a sympathetic teenager struggling through somewhat normal teen angst. There’s the tear-jerker factor in a sibling recovering from a potentially fatal disease. And there are Leigh’s parents who at first glance are not very likeable but kinda grow on you by the end of the story.

This is such a different kind of young adult novel. It has some of the common elements such as high school drama and bits of a love story. But the language of the story is so quirky and Leigh has such a deadpan sense of humor that the book stands out from many others that I’ve read lately. I also love that the story was inspired in part by events from the author’s life. A debut novel from Jennifer Longo that promises even better things to come in the future!

~Thalia

Buy It Now: Six Feet Over It