July 22, 2016


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

So, this book was agonizing. Yeah, that's really the only word, agonizing. As the title suggests, the storyline features a lot of angst, and I read it with a rock in my stomach. I approached this novel with a healthy serving of caution. I've read novels with fat heroines before, and many, many times the fat-but-magically-goes-to-thin thing is used, and all of the character's triumphs and joys are found within their thinness, instead of accepting the joy to be found in their just-as-they-are-ness, which is what we really have to do to be truly happy. I was afraid that this was going to be that novel. Fortunately, it wasn't. In some ways, it was much better than that, but in other ways, it was much, much worse, and equally troubling...

Synopsis: Chelsea Duvay is a gifted singer with an amazing musical memory, an avid pedicure fan, and a peep-toe shoe lover. She's a bright student, and has gorgeous hair. She has amazing feet, with straight toes. She is articulate and intelligent, but ...she's in high school where none of that is visible because her stomach isn't flat and her hips are wide, and in high school, sometimes the cover is all that can be seen of the book. But, nice girls endure. They don't drop out of school, they don't scream at the world, they suck it up and go on, because... well, this is the drill, isn't it? It's high school, and it's what has to be done.

Chelsea sings with gusto - at home - with her Dad, while they watch musicals they've seen so often they can recite them. Chelsea paints her toenails. She eventually answers back to her Mom, who is naturally very thin and who drags Chelsea to weight loss clinics and tries to "organize" her. But, all the while, there's this little cartoon bubble over her head that seems to say, This isn't my real life. Which is unfortunate, but familiar; it's how a lot of us spent high school. Just... enduring. Chelsea's Film as Lit class is where it all begins to turn around. Melody, an intense young lady with a penchant for wearing a different "costume" every day, asks Chelsea the favor of filming her for their autobiographical films for Film as Lit. Gradually, their friendship grows and strengthens -- which is what Chelsea needs, because she is assaulted in a vicious and violent way. Her silence and her inability to feel like she is owed anything more than endurance allows the perpetrator to believe that he's got the right to the way he treats her, and he continues.

Chelsea endures - right up to the end. Eventually, endurance grows into something stronger, and the reader is left with hope for Chelsea's future strength and determination to give her all that she needs.

Observations: First of all, Chelsea isn't actually FAT; she's described as 5'6" and about a hundred and seventy pounds. My first reaction was, "So what?" which is the whole point of the novel, in some ways, and mostly, it's an artifact of Chelsea's exaggerated self-assessment, due to her anxiety. On the other hand, because of her weight, or with it, or in spite of it - however you want to put it - Chelsea likes herself. Wholly. And that was nice:

p. 35, from an uncorrected proof -
"These huge guys are hired because they are huge, athletic guys, and use their weight to their advantage. THey smash other players flat. They ambush them. They pulverize the other team. When the really big guys take out the quarterback, everyone groans because the QB might not get up again... Where is there an occupation for overweight women? Where is it okay for large women to be really good at, well, being large?"

And then, after she's listened to the painful-but-funny "I got stuck" stories at a Calorie Counters meeting, and the leader takes over:

p. 215-6 - uncorrected proof -
"We can do something about our inability to fit. And should. It is time for us to take control of our lives nad lose some weight. Not for the world, not to ride the roller coasters, but to be healthy and to feel good about ourselves."
The group nods.
I turn off my camera, stand up, and walk out the door.
It feels like giving in; like succumbing to the pressure of the half-anorexic world around us. Why can't people like me for who I am? I do not understand and I'm not sure I ever will.

Chelsea's anxiety made this very difficult to read. Especially as we share a lot of similarities, reading about how she was assaulted and bullied and developed dizzy spells and hives instead of speaking out brought out hives on me. So, this is your belated trigger warning: Please note this warning for an assault in the book which is never resolved by authorities, and because Chelsea is terrified, she never reports him, which is realistic, but not the best choice. For anyone who has suffered through bullying about body issues, this may bring on some really wrenching anxiety and a lot of emotion.

Chelsea feels she's judged a great deal, and has the automatic reflex to judge others first - to retreat, to withdraw, and to think that someone else will be thinking the worst of her. This is pretty common for anxiety, and readers who haven't experienced anxiety may feel she's unreasonably mean or unsympathetic. All of humanity, unfortunately, is pretty judgemental, and most of us have learned to strike first before we're struck - for people with anxiety, this can be exaggerated at times. Having a hugely inflated sense of the consequence of one's slightest error makes this a really accurate account of how a person struggling with social phobias might feel. That was very well characterized.

Dealing with that anxiety, however, I feel the author made a misstep. One thing which pulled me out of the story was that Chelsea took a pill and found immediate change in the way she felt. Full disclosure: I have never taken a drug for social anxiety, but my understanding of pharmaceuticals is that they take from four to six weeks to work, so despite commercials, they cannot be taken "as needed." The drug name is imaginary (actually, there's a drug with a name which is close to it, but is an antibiotic illegal in the US), so I couldn't check if there was really a drug which worked faster than others. As I used to tell my students who were on Ritalin, there is no such thing as a magic pill. I found it hard to accept when Chelsea medicated one morning and then was able to perform in school - raise her hand, engage, speak to people, not feel she was being stared at - with just a single dose of the drug. I REALLY would like that drug if it exists, but I fear that it doesn't, and that this sets up readers to believe that their problems with anxiety could be so easily solved. If other readers who have experiences with anxiety meds would like to chime in in the comments, I'd love to hear their take on this.

And, so as not to include spoilers: The assault is filmed - and put up on social media. Instead of reacting to get the images removed, when Chelsea sees them, she thinks, "Huh. I'm not so bad after all." Um. This is problematic for me, on so many levels I ... couldn't... even. It is still reverberating with me, hours later, as I go back and forth. Can we be empowered by images of an assault? Can we turn that around to be positive about it? Yes... I guess. But, ...should we? That, I just do not know. I just don't. And I'm... yeah. Body positive is so great, but... my body pinned down and photographed and slapped up on Facebook without my consent? No. I'm sorry. There is nothing empowering about non-consent. Nothing.

Conclusion: A book with a lot of good, but with a lot of confusing messages, NICE GIRLS ENDURE contains a difficult but important look at loving yourself, how we view the weight of the expectation of others, and the importance of holding onto our souls' beauty with both hands. I remain VERY strongly convinced that had Chelsea's assault been dealt with outside of Chelsea's own head it would have been a better novel, but regardless of the author's choice, I hope this is a book which will generate a lot of positive conversation about the self-worth and dignity and determination which is owed to all of us, no matter our appearance, talents, or size.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Capstone Press. After August 1, you can find NICE GIRLS ENDURE by Chris Struyk-Bonn at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 19, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: CLOSE TO FAMOUS, by JOAN BAUER

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

When we talk about comfort reads, we have to mention the works of Joan Bauer. A little offbeat, a little unique, her books are always engaging and wise. Though quite a few are written for teens, many Bauer books skew to the older edge of MG like mine do, often featuring twelve or thirteen-year-olds with convoluted family issues that require the maturity and heart of an older person. Bauer's books also often include characters who have jobs - and whose families really need the money that they put toward the common pot. CLOSE TO FAMOUS was a recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School Book (2012), was a Buckeye Children's Book Award Nominee for 6-8 (2012), and The Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children's Literature Honor recipient (2012). I couldn't resist it, what with the cupcakes on the front cover...

Synopsis: Foster McFee has crazy-curly hair and green eyes, and a penchant for baking that is out of this world. She was taught by Marietta Morningstar to master muffins, but it was Sonny Kroll from the Food Network who gave her wings. Foster has an imaginary cooking show going on in her head as she makes her fabulous muffins and cupcakes. It's just Foster and her mother, Rayka, on their own now, since Foster's dad died in Iraq. At least, Foster hopes it stays just she and her Mom on their own. The guy her mother used to sing backup for, an Elvis impersonator at their old house in Memphis, turned out to be bad, bad news, and they had to leave Memphis fast. The McFees are in Culpepper, West Virginia right now - a run down, mostly boarded-up old town that's the home of an aging starlet, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, a mechanical tarantula, and a big, gray prison which was supposed to be the financial making of this former coal town, but has broken all of its promises to the people. A town with no preacher and a boarded-up church? A town with scary prisoners in uniform, working on the side of the road, and guards with aviator sunglasses and surly attitudes? That doesn't sound like a place anyone wants to move to, just away from. But, leave it to Foster to come reluctantly into a place and leave everyone a little sunnier, a little brighter -- and a little hungry for cupcakes. Though Foster, with her example of a strong survivor mother and a loving father, is a ray of straight talking sunshine and encouragement, what Culpepper gives to her is just as important -- new memories to cover up the old, and the strength to keep trying.

Observations: Though the cover doesn't really reflect this, Foster is biracial. Her father's people are Irish, but her mother's people are from Africa, Russia, Sweden, Germany, and the Dominican Republic. There is vague reference to her mother's skintone, mentioned when she meets another woman, Perseverance, who is darker. We talk a lot in reviewing books about how it matters to point out the race or ethnicity of a character, and how sometimes it's difficult to pin it down, but here Bauer has made it very easy: biracial main character. Unlike Bauer's books for older readers, we don't spend a lot of time on the complicated issues in Foster's life, mainly that she and her mother have escaped from a situation of abuse. Foster feels that all of her problems would go away if she could just read right - but the reading issues are an outgrowth of the subsequent anxiety about the issue, as well as anxieties and griefs about a whole host of other things. Foster's mother treats her like she's a ... child. Which she is, and so the reader doesn't get as much detail about how they got where they are, and what they're going to do about it -- but that's fine. This book really is very much a middle grade novel, best for young middle grade readers, and the immediate issues of bullying and embarrassment are much more important.

Foster is described as having a "memorable" personality. Most of the people in this novel - Angry Wayne, camera-less filmmaker Macon Dillard, scuttling Mr. Fish and his nemesis, a woman named Perseverance, and of course, the actress, Miss Charleena - all these could also be called memorable personalities. Even the prison, with its unearthly glow at night and gray, hulking size by day, is its own character. A Joan Bauer book is full of personalities - some of them quirkier than others, all of them with some truth to impart.

Conclusion: Reading a Joan Bauer book is like coming into a room filled with people you already know. Though each story is different, there's a vivid ...Bauer-ness to each of them, which brings a comfort all its own. While my all-time favorite Bauer book remains HOPE WAS HERE, Foster is a sturdy, doughty young lady who reminded me a bit of much younger Lainey in A LA CARTE and made me both want cupcakes and to go out and take on the world.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my public library, on Overdrive. You can find CLOSE TO FAMOUS by Joan Bauer at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 18, 2016


A little while ago I had the privilege of reading Sarah Beth Durst's latest fantasy novel for middle grade readers, The Girl Who Could Not Dream--the tale of a girl whose parents distill, bottle, and sell dreams out of a secret room in their secondhand bookstore. In my review, I wrote:
Durst's books always charm me with their imaginativeness, and this one is no exception. How wonderful, to bring all sorts of dream monsters and fears and mythical beasts to life, from frighteningly surreal Dali-esque creatures to good old flying unicorns. But, hands down, Monster is the best monster. I'll leave it to you to read the book and find out why.
It's got such a fun premise, set in a world very like our own, and I was thrilled to get to ask the author some of my burning questions about the book. She always comes up with such quirky, unique, highly individual fantasy stories, whether writing for MG, YA, or even adult fiction, and here at Finding Wonderland we've been lucky to host multiple interviews to find out more about the story behind the story.

With no further ado, here it is! Thank you to Sarah Beth Durst for agreeing to stop by again and share this with us.

FW: The Girl Who Could Not Dream is so imaginative, set in a world where dreams can be distilled, bottled and sold. Where did the idea for this story start? With a character, a phrase, an idea?

It started with a wish, actually. "I wish I could remember my dreams."

Sometimes I have these dreams filled with dragons and aliens and telepathic dolphins, and in them I'm heroic and wise and witty and a lot more athletic... then I wake, and the dream slips away like a cloud dispersing in the wind. I often wish I could bottle up my best dreams and save them for later, to replace all the boring missed-the-train dreams.

So that's where this book started: with the wish to bottle dreams. That led to the idea of the dream shop -- a secret store where you can buy, bottle, and sell dreams. And to Sophie, whose parents own the shop and whose best friend is a cupcake-loving monster who came out of one of those bottled dreams.

FW: What were some of the challenges to writing this story? Was it difficult to strike a balance between fun/charming and scary? Did you worry at all about making it too scary or not scary enough?

One of the things I like best about writing for kids is that you can be silly and serious in the same story, even in the same moment. You can have a moment that makes you cry, and you can have a unicorn that poops rainbows.

Balancing those moments was very important to me, and it was something that I paid a lot of attention to as I was writing this book -- I wanted this book to have both, because I think life can often be funny and scary and silly and sad, all at the same time.

FW: With so many books out there that focus on dysfunctional families, it was refreshing to read a story with strong, loving family bonds, in which Sophie and her parents are a team. Was this a conscious choice?

Yes, it was. You see a lot of stories out there about characters who are strong because of pain in their past -- and I do think that's a very valid and powerful narrative structure -- but in The Girl Who Could Not Dream, I wanted to play with a character who came from a safe place... and see what would happen when she took her first step outside that familiar safe haven. I wanted to see what she'd do if everything she valued was threatened.

FW: Sophie and her friends (dream-world and real-world) seem to have a lot of potential for further adventures. Are you planning to write any other books set in this world, or with the same characters?

I don't have any immediate plans for sequels, but I have to admit that I miss Sophie and Monster and the others, so who knows what the future will bring...

Monster in particular was so much fun to write. Usually, for me, characters develop during the course of writing the story -- it takes me numerous pages to discover their voice and learn more about them -- but Monster appeared fully formed from chapter one. It felt like he plopped down on my desk and said, "Tell my story! And give me a cupcake."

FW: What are you working on right now—what's coming up next?

Right now, I'm working on an epic fantasy series for adults (and teens) entitled THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA, about bloodthirsty nature spirits and the women who can control them. They will be published by Harper Voyager, starting with THE QUEEN OF BLOOD on September 20th. I'm very, very excited about them!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

You can read more about Sarah Beth Durst and her work on her website--including a sneak peek at The Queen of Blood!

July 15, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT, by Kersten Hamilton

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Aquafortis got me thinking about comfort reads a few weeks ago. While I really started reading fiction mostly late in high school, I have some read-again books which resonate with me mostly because of their relative proximity to Narnia. One author with a key to the wardrobe is Kersten Hamilton, who was interviewed in 2008 at Cynsations, and whose book, TYGER, TYGER was a 2011 Cybils contender. A warmly written book about Teagan Wylltson, whose children's book illustrator mother and librarian father teach her to practice her Irish Catholic faith and care for those who need it - be they pets or people. The book goes unexpectedly sideways into the paranormal when a long lost "cousin" stays with the family, and Teagan finds out that the harrowing goblins from her mother's illustrations are... real. When myths are real and goblin nightmares come to life, only deep friendships, deep faith and strong hearts will get you through. Rereading TYGER, TYGER this week turned out to be exactly what I needed, and though I cried all the way through it - mostly at the poignant reminders of what stout-hearts do in times of trouble - I launched directly into the sequel. This might be a weird book to you for "comfort" but I grieve better with my boots on and a sword in hand, I think. And, so does Teagan.

Synopsis: Though she survived discovering how she and hers fit into the land of Mag Mell, that once mythical place of both the Green Man and the Dark Man, Teagan is far from resigned. She's had dreams and goals all of her life - she is going to Cornell. She is going to study animals. And no Dark Man nor his shadows, no Maggot Cats, no sluaghs and no gorgeous, heart-stealing saints are going to stand between this girl and her goals. But, it's not as easy to make the kinds of choices which keep Teagan on her path. She was born to be a Stormrider, born to shape the world to her liking, to bend to her will those inferior to her smarts. To stay on the path of rightness is a lot harder than she thought it would be -- and when things keep happening to her family and loved ones, it's almost impossible not to retaliate. Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and though Teagan is a Stormrider, she knows there's more to life than to just mindlessly ride the storm. If there's a way to heal Mag Mell, and to stop the rule of the Dark Man and to bring back peace and goodness, it needs to begin with her.

Observations: This isn't a good stand-alone novel, though there's a bit of backstory woven in to catch up those who haven't read the first book. But, oh, please do. It's all so much better then.

As always, I love the uses of literature in this book - having a librarian father means there's a lot of poetry read aloud and a lot of mythology and history; it's a treat. The prayers and the Irish blessings are also gorgeous and heartening. The writing is clear and the action is intense.

I suggested you read the first book, right? It's like reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time, mixed with Charles de Lint and set in a modern setting. I can't say enough good things. It's not a simple story, readers will have to read closely but this will do well with those accustomed to the ins and outs of old fairytales and Irish mythology, and those who like poetry -- and who have read Tolkien, of course. READ TOLKIEN, I said, not watched that trifling film.

Conclusion: While not as heart-stopping as the first in the series, this necessary second novel isn't just to impart information, but furthers Teagan's relationships and gives the side of Light a working team. The third book of the Goblin Wars was published in 2013 which means that yes, I am really late to the party on this, but I always prefer to read a series when it's finished - so I'm off...!

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my public library, on Overdrive. You can find IN THE FORESTS OF THE NIGHT by Kersten Hamilton at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 14, 2016

Thursday Review: SPARKERS by Eleanor Glewwe

Synopsis: With cover blurbs from the likes of Rachel Hartman, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Anne Ursu, and Ingrid Law, the MG fantasy Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe should have caught my eye earlier. I met Eleanor at a conference this summer and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it was the first time her book landed on my radar—in part because she lives in my home state but also because this book came out in 2014 and somehow didn't register. Better late than never! Not only do I get to plug a fellow diverse author, but I also get to spread the word about a promising, intriguing new fantasy series that will appeal to fans of books like The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas and—yep, I'll say it—fans of Harry Potter.

Unlike in the Harry Potter world, though, in this one, it's the magicians who are in charge. Of EVERYONE. Sparkers—the colloquial term for halani, or people without magic—are the oppressed lower class in the city-state of Ashara. Kasiri—those with magic—run the government, have the best jobs, go to the best schools, and have all the advantages. That is, until a mysterious disease called the dark eyes begins striking halani and kasiri alike.

Marah, the narrator, is a bright student, a talented musician, a budding linguist…and a halani, in a society that's been structured to keep her in her place. Then, a random encounter with a little kasiri girl in the marketplace leads to a new friendship with the girl's older brother, Azariah, who is Marah's age—fourteen. He, too, is interested in books and languages, even long-dead ones, and he has more books than Marah could ever imagine having. One evening, poring over one of those books, they find something amazing: something that might help them figure out how to combat the dark eyes. As the people they love begin to fall ill and die—including Marah's deaf brother Caleb and Azariah's little sister—Marah and Azariah pursue their secret cure and end up discovering shocking secrets about their magical society…

Observations: This book has such an intriguing setting. Even if I hadn't known from the jacket bio that the author herself is a linguistics student, I might have guessed from the loving attention given to the language and culture aspects of world building. Linguists and those familiar with the cultures of the Middle East will recognize Hebrew and Arabic names, and sense the echoes of the uneasy coexistence of Arabs and Jews in places like Jerusalem. There are also echoes of the long history of religious texts and music and rituals and mysticism that seem to imbue the spiritual life of the Old World.

At the same time, it didn't seem that the kasiri and halani were meant to represent specific ethnic or religious groups, which to me was a positive. The dynamics in the book didn't, in other words, seem like stand-ins for real-life sectarian conflicts. For me, rather, this type of recognition subconsciously informed my mental image of the setting and characters. And it also helped create a very rich and well-developed world with a clear identity and history.

The intellectual bent of the characters was very appealing here, too—music and language are an important part of character as well as plot in this book. This makes it doubly interesting that Marah's younger brother Caleb is deaf. Music is such a huge part of Marah's life, and so is language, but his deafness is not an impediment to her sharing those things with him. They communicate through signs, and together with their mother, they are a close and loving family.

Conclusion: This was a unique story set in a complex and vivid world, with intriguing magic and recognizable, thought-provoking themes of class conflict and social change. Glewwe's next book, Wildings, comes out in November and I will definitely be looking for it.

I purchased my copy of this book at the Mixed Remixed Fest. You can find SPARKERS by Eleanor Glewwe at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 12, 2016

WRITER'S RITES: Creatives in a Vicious World

Did you catch this year's Newbery winner on NPR the other day? Kwame Alexander was reflecting on the recent police violence in the U.S., and what that meant for him as a writer for children.

"...Does it mean I'm oblivious to what's going on in the world? No. I choose to write for children. I like to make this remark, the snide remark that I've given up on the adults. And it's a half-truth. But the real truth is I really want to focus on the children. I believe strongly that the mind of an adult begins in the imagination of a child."

I suspect various news organizations, etc., are seeking comment from writers of color, and I'm glad Kwame Alexander is a writer with words of intelligence ... because Lord knows, nobody should be asking me. I have totally given up on adults, a long time ago. I've been grateful to be taking a breather (the second or third one this year) from social media, because I feel like all my words have been used up and the prospect of shrieking until I collapse in hoarse sobs is very, very real. I've even been calling in... absent-and-pretty-sick-of-my-life on my novel, because in many ways, writing feels deeply trivial. Fictional little stories, deeply unimportant. Anything I have to say, utterly frivolous. And yet. There is Pokemon. There is the inner life of pets. The sun rises, and tweens and kids keep being kids and tweens, even when the world is crumbling, and they need appropriate behavior modeled. People still need lunch and shoes tied and to have clean laundry. People have to keep going - it's just a thing we do.

We talk a lot about the subject of self-care when national disasters come. Writers - who are at times introverted, sensitive and emotionally reliant on words-on-paper to express themselves - writers especially need to take a break, to move away from media and social media, to have those all-important offline, IRL conversations which do not come with autoplay video of atrocities. Please remember to do things like take a walk and drink water and eat something other than what you can eat with one hand while you're glued to the news -- possibly eat something raw or fresh, which has a sharp and brilliant flavor which reminds you that it is summer, a time you once dreamed of and longed for during all the months of school. Remembering who you were before this past month - that's important.

So, too, are the other things that support mental health -- things like candlelight, porch lights, and most of all, stories. What are the stories that you tell yourself to get through a difficult time? What are the flashlights you use to keep a light on the dark and scary business going on under the bed?

I've read more blog posts about baking and cooking these past couple of weeks - and it reminded me of how much Food Network I watched in September, 2001. People are sharing about favorite podcasts. Sarah blogged the other week about comfort reading - reading those old books that you utterly adored like LM Montgomery's The Blue Castle or Robin McKinley's Sunshine or Shadows or, if you need to know how to be armed to fight the goblins which have suddenly appeared Tyger, Tyger by Kerstan Hamilton, or all my Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett. Additionally, there's romance - stories with a guaranteed Happily Ever After can be comforting, if they let you into another world. I've been reading a lot of pointlessly amusing stories about weredragons. While I hate in-person shopping and want to kill it with fire, I'll go online and put a lot of shoes into a cart that I won't buy. It's oddly soothing, not spending money. Whatever you're doing, may it give you a font of ideas, and hope with wings.


When the world is not so beautiful
the flowers waste water

the women can no longer find their song,
the children refuse to play

there are no men to teach to love
the ground inside collapses

the coldest winter screams
the summer burns red
the sea is full of blues
and the sky opens up,

at least I'll have poetry
- a gathering of words,
a get-together of emotions,
a font of ideas,
hope with wings.

- Kwame Alexander

Central California Driving 13

Taken with the phone in the car through a bug-smeared window, but ...a reminder: the sky is bigger than we are; the world is bigger than this moment.
Peace and good word-counts to you.

x-posted, in some vague fashion, at fiction, instead of lies

July 11, 2016

Monday Review: NEVER MISSING NEVER FOUND by Amanda Panitch

Synopsis: Suspense stories that deal with kidnapping and imprisonment (consider that your trigger warning) don't always put an equally weighty focus on the aftermath of the trauma. This particular thriller suspensefully covers both the dramatic events and what comes after in alternating parallel storylines. And, of course, "what comes after" includes even more suspense and drama.

In Never Missing Never Found, we are introduced to narrator Scarlett, who was kidnapped and spent four years imprisoned in a basement with another girl before she was found wandering the side of the road. Her family moved to another city, far away, and tried to recover. Now a teenager, she is working at a local amusement park and finally feeling like her life is more or less on track. All except for her younger sister Melody, who just never managed to warm up to Scarlett after her return.

And then…a co-worker from the amusement park goes missing, a girl named Monica. Another co-worker seems to know too much about Scarlett, things she's never told anyone here. The alternating past and present viewpoints add tension to an already gripping story without giving away too much at once, and the reader can only watch as Scarlett's past, inevitably, catches up with her.

Observations: The author uses an interesting structural device to reinforce one of the story's major themes: that we are the sum of the choices we make in life, that the results of those choices end up defining us in some fundamental way. Scarlett relates her story in terms of five critical choices she made along the way, from the day she was taken, on forward to the story being told in the "present." It's a device that could seem artificial, possibly, but it isn't overused here. Instead, these carefully chosen critical moments are fleshed out and developed so that we understand the narrator more and more along the way. Ultimately it all seems to unfold mostly organically. I did have a couple of moments where I was surprised by Scarlett's actions, and became skeptical, but all was explained in a rather nifty twist at the end.

Also, kudos to the author for having Latina main characters but having it not be a "thing." It's a part of their identity, but the story isn't about that. 

Conclusion: This is a good fast page turner for fans of suspense. I'll admit I wasn't sure about the plausibility aspects of some parts of the story, but I was able to suspend my disbelief and just enjoy the action and the psychological twists. It reminded me of the Joan Lowery Nixon/Lois Duncan brand of thriller—which I devoured as a teen. I'm sure I would have enjoyed this one as a young adult reader.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find NEVER MISSING NEVER FOUND by Amanda Panitch at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 07, 2016

A. Fortis and TS Davis in Revisionland

To be honest, one or both of us is always ALWAYS in Revisionland in some form or another. And when we're lost in Revisionland I tend to go back and re-run old installments of Toon Thursday to cheer myself up. So, I have one of those for you, but lo and behold, as I scoured our archives I also found some useful advice which I posted and should probably follow.

I also need to give myself a little encouragement to keep going and keep the energy flowing. Anyone out there have useful tips for when you know you need to tackle the rewrite but your own mean brain is trying to sabotage you? Writers, what are some of the ways you're nice to yourself when the job gets frustrating? What are some of the carrots you turn to when the stick's not working? Food bribery? Affirmations? Distractions?

Chime in in the comments below, and please to enjoy this oldie but goodie pie chart.

July 06, 2016


Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

I tried very, very hard in high school English to read Dickens. I hated Dora. I loathed David. I wanted to smack Uriah Heep (but then, didn't everyone). I hated Our Mutual Friend. I had no luck with finding anything compatible in the voice, in the characterizations, nothing. And then I read A Tale of Two Cities.

It remains my favorite Dickens novel of all time; I was hooked, the moment I read those beautiful, lyrical words, was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I probably had to read that six times to get it. But then, I did. And I was in.

Suffice it to say, I was a little wary when I read that Sarah Rees Brennan did a modern version of my favorite Dickens novel... very wary indeed.

Synopsis: The Light part of the City is where the ones who practice Light magic live - it comes from the natural world. The Dark part of the City is walled - to keep the Dark magicians close, but not too close. The Light needs the Dark to survive - to drain the sediment of the Light from their blood, lest they die. But how disgusting, to take blood for a living, to drink it? There are too many of them, and their half of the city is squalid -- buried, is what they call living there. There's never enough food, and there is violence. But, they're a necessary evil, even the doppelgangers; the result of a Light spell to save the life of a Light magician. That illegal spell actually creates a Dark magician - one who wears the Light magician's face. They're hooded, collared, hidden. Another necessary evil -- hated, but needed.

Lucie Manette knows better than to say how she truly feels about the state of things in her world. She lives in the Light now, she's a Light magician, but she was born buried -- born in the Dark. Once, to save the life of one she loved, she made a spectacle of herself, a spectacle the Light was unable to ignore, and one that no one has ever forgotten. Lucie's a celebrity now, has a doting boyfriend of the ruling family, and knows that only her silent, smiling compliance saved her father's life, and keeps him - and the life she now lives - safe. Everything is in balance now; she can almost relax and believe in the loveliness that Ethan has brought to her world ... but one slip, one mistake, one wrong move, and suddenly, it's all up in smoke. Ethan has secrets, too -- secrets Lucie would never, ever have guessed. Heartbroken and in a rage, she sets before him the impossible task of making everything right again. But, nobody can. It seems that nothing can stop the revolution -- but Lucie has to stay one step ahead of the mob if she is to once again save her heart.

Observations: This was a hugely risky novel, but I feel like Sarah Rees Brennan was one of the few writers who could have pulled it off. As she says in her author's note, "Fantasy is a tool for talking about the real world," and this novel does indeed hold our gaze to a messed up, tragic world that is created and maintained by both hope and fear -- and cause us to ponder a better system that could make something of it.

A magical dystopia was the perfect setting for a novel the reader could view a little more dispassionately than something set in the now. And a dispassionate view is necessary, when reading both the Dickens and this modern retelling of A Tale of Two Cities. Knowing the history of the French Revolution you know -- spoiler alert - that blood will run in the streets. Some of the characters in the beginning of the novel will necessarily not be there by the end. Who, though? How can Lucie save anyone?

In the violent, angry, dark and breathtakingly cruel society which has spilled to both sides of this Dark/Light divided New York, what is WORTH saving? Like Dickens' classic, this book allows the reader to lose oneself in the story... and also in some pretty deep thinking.

Conclusion: A novel that has a lot in common with the Dickens it gives a hat tip to -- but will probably be a lot easier to read than the original novel for many teens. Difficult, complex and troubling, this is a story of lies and sacrifice, and when it's time to start lying about them.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my public library. You can find TELL THE WIND AND FIRE by Sarah Rees Brennan at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 04, 2016


It's July 4th! Maybe by now you're tired of sunshine, patriotic colors, smoke from the bbq or your neighbors, relatives, and friends, and would prefer to get back to your usual semi-monastic existence of reading and not speaking to people. At Wonderland, we are HERE for you.

Welcome to another edition of In Tandem, the read-and-review blog series where both A.F. and I give on-the-spot commentary as we read and blog a book together. (Feel free to guess which of us is the yellow owl and which of us is purple ...we're not telling!)

The School Library Journal says Beth Kephart's latest novel is a "beautifully written book [which] works on many levels and is rich in its characterization, emotion, language, and hint of mystery." Kirkus muses that it is "A masterful exploration of nature’s power to shake human foundations, literal and figurative." With plenty of stars and lots of kudos, Beth Kephart's books are well received by the literary community. However, as Tanita had never before read a Kephart novel (her primary preference for YA speculative fiction with ethnic/culturally diverse characters has caused her to miss Kephart's YA), it seemed a prime opportunity for an introduction. We read this book together, because too often blogging critique miss nuance and depth that we could gain from each other when discussing literature. As we explore Kephart's famously lyrical style, you're welcome to join our discussion. We are...

Two writers,
     & Two readers,
            Exploring one book...

In Tandem.

On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But when a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, when it strands Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland and upends all logic, nothing will ever be as it was. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing is gone. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future.

Gripping and poetic, This Is the Story of You is about the beauty of nature and the power of family, about finding hope in the wake of tragedy and recovery in the face of overwhelming loss.

We found copies of this book courtesy of the public library, and our personal bought-it-myself libraries. You can find THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU by Beth Kephart at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

AF: Like our own Sara (Author Sara Lewis Holmes, peerless poet and member of our writing group), Beth Kephart has a wonderful, lyrical way with words that transforms even the most everyday of situations into something mystical--even a sleepy island beach town in the off-season is a place of tiny magics. Friend magic, family magic, and a life that is somehow everything a person needs, even with its downsides: absent fathers, a brother with an incurable genetic disorder, a high school class that consists of the same 14 people you've known forever.

tanita: Having gone to a very small school for ten years with the same people, all that time, I could imagine this little town of Haven... and Kephart does make it sound nice. Safe. Familiar. Unchanging, unchallenging. Like, a good place to... start a heroine's journey. You know when we talked about the "I Wish" song which shows up in so many Disney films, where is really the moment wherein you find what the character wants most? It's a little weird that... we kind of hit the beginning of the book, and I don't know what this character wants.

AF: Something interesting that struck me when reading the beginning of this story: we don't find out our narrator Mira's name until a few chapters in. It gives the reader an impression of "WE-ness" if that makes sense, emphasizing the importance of the community identity, the year-round islanders who are bound together by that identity. It makes the surprise of a brand-new person even more startling: the boy Shift, who shows up in Mira's class one day and captures the heart of her friend Eva.

tanita: Yeah, it's all totally "eddieandbill" and " bettyandisbel" before then, just a recitation of the known, and then suddenly... Shift. Last name? First name? Kingdom? Phylum? What? Maybe that's why Mira is so hard to figure; she's an "us," a "we," and not a "me." But then, suddenly... a name. Shift. And, boom, just like that: the careful lines of the set scene are messed up, the gun is lifted, and it'll go off any second.

It interested me that this novel is described as a mystery. I guess a disaster story is kind of a mystery, because the first thing people ask is, "What happened!?" But, it seemed more obvious here, first -- we know. There's foreshadowing, the whole story through: the teachers who give their students these open-ended assignments called "flows." The science course that's all about conservation, and what is leaving, what is already lost and gone. The jars and jars of ...sand, an element which metaphorically is always slipping away through hourglasses. Oh, and don't forget the cryptic utterances by wise old Shift, mysteriously dark-complected with light hair, in the way that so many mysterious peoples have (he could have had eerily light eyes, that would also have fit the mold). In many ways, this novel seemed more like... a play we already know. A series of scenes acted out with not-quite-real characters, standing in for metaphors.

AF: Yes. This story almost had the feel of magical realism, even though there wasn't anything specifically magical about it--it was more in the way the narrator looks at her life and the way she describes it. Like you said, the not-quite-real characters--they feel like archetypes, almost. Old Carmen, Deni, Eva. Their classmates, who are kind of a collective entity even with their small distinguishing features. The people who make Mira who she is as an individual, who lend her specificity--her mother Mickey, her brother Jasper Lee--are out of the picture for most of the story, though not out of her thoughts.

tanita: Archetypes, stock characters, and a lot of reverie... all of this truly gives the book an almost "Our Town" kind of feel... we're all standing next to the Stage Hand and Mira, watching the story play out, somewhat distantly. I'm intrigued by this. I find that I need to read a few more Kepharts and see if this is a common device of hers, or if she writes fiction which is more immediately accessible. Not that this is inaccessible but that distance... it puts quite a spin on the whole novel, and in a way, its mysterious, enigmatic tone could be a little limiting to some readers... Limiting, and yet, I'm not sure we should be looking for the "perfect" book anyway. Sometimes, you read the story and it percolates further in your brain because something about it leaves you... unfinished. Not as close as you wanted. Maybe this makes it "Literature."

AF: Hm. In the end I was left with so many questions, even though the final reveal dealt with a lot of the small mysteries that were raised throughout the story. I wanted more: and yet, real life doesn't always solve our mysteries for us, either. Things are left unknown, never-to-be-known, all the time. Life can be profoundly unsatisfactory in that way. We might find out the who, as in this story, but the how and the why are still up in the air. The puzzle might never be entirely put together; you might always be missing that one piece of the sky.

tanita: And on that deeply unsettling note, we conclude today's In Tandem. This was a really beautiful book, based loosely on the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a deeply unsettling event which irrevocably changed the coastlines and the lives of many on the Atlantic side of the country in 2012. With a certain stillness and fine nuance in the narrative, this book will best be appreciated by readers of poetry and plays, or those who have experienced something so big - like a natural disaster - that it's hard to articulate it.

Stay tuned for our next encounter with literature. Until then, have a splendid day doing exactly what makes you feel safest and happiest.

According to Wikipedia, Beth Kephart is an American author of non-fiction, poetry and young adult fiction for adults and teens. Kephart has written and published over ten books and has received several grants and awards for her writing. She is primarily known in adult fiction as a memoirist, and teaches workshops and classes for other adults - and teens - to learn to write non-fiction creatively. Kephart has created a detailed teacher's guide to go along with this book.

July 01, 2016

Turning Pages Reads: TWISTED by Hannah Jayne

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Every adult summer of my life, I look back with disgust on the summers I squandered, wishing school would start again. Adult Me wishes I had endless days off to read basically non-improving books. We call them "beach reads" because they're quick and light, but that doesn't mean they have to be dumb - they're just an afternoon's entertainment. While normally you might not go seeking a book about, say, the child of a serial killer, that might be the type of book that distracts you in an airport, doctor's office, or keeps you awake on a lazy afternoon outdoors. Without giving away any spoilers, this novel has misdirection, emotional confusion and multiple good guys to confuse its mystery narrative.

It starts with a girl who's keeping secrets.

Synopsis: She's starting over. Pixie cutting and lightening her long brown hair. Ditching her old wardrobe for Basic Teen, Generic. Changing her name. Abandoned daughter of an alleged murderer Beth Anne Reimer is now Bex Andrews, in a new city, with new foster parents and a whole new outlook on life. No longer tainted by history in the city of Raleigh, four hours away in the quirkily named Kill Devil Hills, there is nothing dark, nothing bad, and nothing tragic haunting her. If Bex could just sort of ...tune in, and make sure her new foster parents like her, make certain that she plays her part, she'll begin to believe that everything might be really all right now.

And, contrary to Bex's expectations, everything's... fine. She makes friends, immediately - with cheerleaders, no less. A boy claims her from the herd, paying her special attention she's never received before. This is what everyone wants, right? Bex is now living the American Teen, Generic dream. But, it still doesn't feel right. Every shadow makes her jump, every unexpected touch launches her out of her seat. And then, a friend she's just barely made is murdered --

-- and everything dark and bad and haunting and tragic that Bex fears is back in her face, larger than life.

All she wants - desperately - is for the past to stay gone. But, if she's not exactly clear about the truth of the past, maybe she owes it to herself to find out what really happened back then, for real. Maybe then, she can lay her ghosts to rest, once and for all.

Observations: I picked this book up because too often in YA lit, adults are used as set pieces to be moved around the stage at the convenience of the main character. My parents, bless them, were NEVER convenient, and I wanted to read a book which depicted realistic adults. While this book makes an attempt to do that, showing the painful and often confusing journey Bex takes in dealing with her past, the novel relies heavily on no one ever talking to an adult like they're a real person to make the plot work, which didn't work for me.

Several spooky things happen - a back porch gift, which turns out to be tainted, a postcard, and a few other exchanges - and there's no follow up. No one talks to a policeman, a teacher, a school counselor, or each other, ever again about the cumulative body of evidence that SOMETHING is wrong. I recognize that these books are meant to be depicting teens, but as I often grouse, young doesn't mean stupid. Bex isn't swanning around, trying to play Nancy Drew, and while eventually she doesn't know whom she can trust, her friends at least should have had some questions about what they discovered -- questions which they should have asked insistently, until they got answers.

Conclusion: For the most part, entertaining with a bit of a thrill, this twisty mystery isn't a Whodunnit so much as a Who Do I Trust, which is more nerve wracking, in many ways. The ending is a bit rushed, but those seeking a soupcon of danger with a reassuring Happily Ever After will find that here.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. And, after July 5, you can find TWISTED by Hannah Jayne at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!