S.T.A.G.S. One Deadly Weekend by M.A. Bennett. Book Review.

S.T.A.G.S. stands for St. Aiden the Great School name for a Saint who made a stag invisible so the hunters couldn’t kill him. I couldn’t decide if it was ironic or deceptive that the school was called S.T.A.G.S. because the halls and rooms were filled with animal heads and the wealthy students participated heavily in a hunting for “sport” culture.

The protagonist, Greer, comes from a modest  background and is one of the targets of the Medievals, upperclass, traditional, anti-technology students who seem to run the school. Inexplicably, Greer receives and invitation, along with two other shunned students, to a weekend at the Medieval leader’s home for “Huntin’ Shootin’ and Fishin”. The wording struck me as odd since tyhese people prided themselves on being upper class and traditional but it may have been a touch of snide subtly directed at the three students being invited.

The three main characters, the bullied ones, we’re likable, understandable, brave and hopeful, the way real teens are. I especially liked Shafeen, an East Indian prince, who gave the villains their real challenge. Greer was well written, naive but smart, courageous but flawed, and mature enough to interest adult readers.

Although the plot was a little predictable, the author kept our suspense. Even though we had a pretty good idea of what the three teenagers would have to overcome, we did not know how this would unfold and whether they would all survive. The tension was built well but the ending went in the expected way. I would’ve preferred a less obvious twist.

While it seems believable and a small group of people could indeed engage in psychopathic behaviour it seems a little far-fetched that so many people were involved and so a large part of the community supported and covered for them. There seemed little purpose for it all.

In spite of my questions, if you’re looking for a suspenseful and scary book, this is a great read. I kept turning those pages long into the night.

Buy link http://a.co/ipBSzyi

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My Favorite Five Young Adult Books I’ve Read in 2017

These are my favorite five young adult books I reviewed this year. They are listed in no particular order. Click on the title to go to the review.

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth.

Both the major characters are engaging, complex, and selfless. I read this book in one night as I could not put it down. I loved both Justine and Perry. Both have big hearts, protective natures, a sense of humor, and courage.

 

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner.

Zentner understands survivor’s guilt at the deepest level. This is a story about the tragic deaths of three teenagers and the impact it has on the fourth friend and their families.

 

Trell by Dick Lehr.

This young adult book is told from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old girl named Van Trell Taylor whose father, Romero, is in prison. She was a baby when he was convicted of the murder of a 13-year-old girl in a gang/drug related crime where someone else was the target. Trell’s mother, Shey, is confident that, even though her husband was a drug dealer and petty criminal, he was not capable of murdering anyone. Trell enlists the aid of a new lawyer and burned out journalist to find the truth about her father.

 

Optimists Die First – Life Ahead: Proceed with Caution by Susin Nielsen.

17-year-old Petula De Wilde is plagued with guilt over her accidental contribution to her baby sister’s death. In addition, she has become obsessed with the idea that anything less than constant vigilance can result in tragedy, leaving her parents with no children at all. As a result, she will not shake hands, walk anywhere near construction sites, get in elevators, or do anything that remotely endangers her safety.

 

Avians by Timothy Gwyn.

Timothy Gwyn has built a fascinating and completely believable world in his first 416 page young adult science-fiction novel. His expertise with flying gives authenticity to the events without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon. Girls whose lives are miserable may be able to escape by joining the avians, an aeronautical group of young women fiercely loyal to each other and in love with flying glider planes used for commercial delivery and rescue missions.

THIS WEEK

Monday – Favorite adult book

Tuesday – Five Favorite Young Adult Books

Wednesday – Five Favorite Middle Grade Books

Thursday – Seven Favorite Nonfiction Picture Books

Friday – Fifteen Favorite Fiction Picture Books

Trell by Dick Lehr. Book Review.

This young adult book is told from the viewpoint of a 13-year-old girl named Van Trell Taylor whose father, Romero, is in prison. She was a baby when he was convicted of the murder of a 13-year-old girl in a gang/drug related crime where someone else was the target. Trell’s mother, Shey, is confident that, even though her husband was a drug dealer and petty criminal, he was not capable of murdering anyone. Trell enlists the aid of a new lawyer and burned out journalist to find the truth about her father.

Although the story is action-packed and suspenseful with a plot filled with twists and turns, it is also an insightful and empathetic study of Trell and Shey. The impact of having a father or husband in jail colors the family’s entire life. Trell and her mother visit Romero in prison every week. Trell’s bedroom mirror holds a picture of her with her father in prison on every birthday. She keeps her father’s history as private as she can from classmates and copes with overbearing and assuming teachers with no true understanding of her family or life.

As the story progresses, the reader becomes more and more invested in the lives of this trio. We suffer with Trell as she learns of her father’s shady past and the evidence against him. It becomes apparent that, while Romero made some bad choices in his past, he is now a mature, responsible adult and loving father. The reader shares Trell’s concerns and increasing hopefulness for her father’s release.

What blew me away was the author’s note. The story is closely based on a true incident in Boston and the writer was the investigating journalist who broke the case wide open! Whenever I read the story of this type, I wonder how many men have been imprisoned (or in some countries, executed) for crimes they did not commit. Dick Lehr gives us some insight into the repercussions of these terrible events.

Personal note: This is one of many reason why I will always be grateful there is no death sentence in Canada as improved DNA tests have shown the imprisonment of the innocent is not as unusual as we think.

This book would interest anyone 13 and up and would be a catalyst for important discussions. Highly recommended.

Buy link http://a.co/4VBsxVo

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Suess. Book Review.

 

I remember when this book first came out. Every principal and vice principal who had to MC a high school or elementary school graduation ceremony latched onto this book as a holy text. It was read to classes year after year and then continued to be spread by parents gifting it to their children. There is a reason it resonated so well.

Not only does this book contain sound advice for any young person heading out into the world but it serves as a reminder to us all of our possibilities and our challenges. It can be applied to the beginning of any new venture. I realized, because my granddaughter has a rather large vocabulary, that this book was suitable to read to her before beginning junior kindergarten. Although the message certainly wasn’t internalized on the first read through, the book launches well into discussion.

Everyone worries, whether they are beginning kindergarten, being promoted to the head CO, starting their own business, or leaving the nest, whether they will find their place and fulfill their potential. This book has a perfect combination of positive expectations and reality. “You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.” is followed with “except when you don’t. Because, sometimes you won’t.” Note the word sometimes. The door is wide open. The possibilities are there.

When children are inheriting a dying world with ecosystems being destroyed and pollution, including the dumping of nuclear waste, completely out of control. With wars on going and wars threatening. With obesity and heart attack hand-in-hand with poor diet and factory farming. With climate change bringing desertification, tornadoes and floods and who knows what else. With inner-city violence and the shadow of terrorism. On and on and on. Children need to have confidence and feel empowered but also realize that they will not be able to fulfill every dream or every goal.  Some things are beyond their control. What amazing discussions this book can trigger for any age.

I would say, don’t wait till university graduation or even high school graduation. Get this book into your child’s hands as soon they are able to comprehend it. Then again, you might want to save it for that moment of doubt when he’she faces difficult choices.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Avians by Timothy Gwyn. Book Review.

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Timothy Gwyn has built a fascinating and completely believable world in his first 416 page young adult science-fiction novel. His expertise with flying gives authenticity to the events without overwhelming the reader with technical jargon. Girls whose lives are miserable may be able to escape by joining the avians, an aeronautical group of young women fiercely loyal to each other and in love with flying glider planes used for commercial delivery and rescue missions.

The girls are as unique as their reasons for joining. However, not everyone will make it through training. So many girls are washed out or killed that the older flyers don’t bother to learn their names until the recruits have proven themselves. Even experienced aviators can fall victim to an accident. Then, they may be “converted”, a mysterious and frightening prospect.

Gwyn juxtapositions two girls from the same household, Raisa, heiress to a rich and influential silk empire and Mel, a servant in her household who detests Raisa. Both girls wind up in the same squad. The opportunity to sabotage Raisa is not lost on Mel. It seems likely that only one of these girls will make it, but which one?

Girls and women are the heroes of this novel and, not for a moment, are they dependent on men to reach their true potential. The rivalries are genuine as is the sisterhood. Science fiction readers of all ages will enjoy this book but it will especially connect with those who are interested in flight or empowering young women.

Buy links

Barnes and Noble 

Amazon

Timothy Gwyn will be interviewed tomorrow on this blog.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Munro vs. the Coyote by Darren Groth. Book Review.

 

Munro Maddux has a serious problem. Since his little sister died, his inner voice has taken control of his life. He calls it the coyote since it tricks and torments him relentlessly. It undermines his confidence, shames him, and encourages him to make psychologically and socially unhealthy choices. Munro decides he needs a dramatic change in his familial and social landscape in order to subdue the coyote. So, he leaves Vancouver, Canada for a six month exchange student arrangement with a family in Australia.

His host family and his high school are not informed of Munro’s struggle with anger, guilt, and depression but it soon becomes apparent that something is wrong. Fortunately for Monro he has a supportive and compassionate host family, new friends, and school administration. But, it is his volunteer work with the inhabitants of “Fair Go Community Village” that get past his barriers and enable him to face the truth about the coyote.

At times, I felt frustrated by Monro’s behaviour. So many people were available to support and cheer-on his recovery that his self-sabotage was confusing until the true version of his sister’s death was revealed.

Although Monro is not as loveable as Justine and Perry, Groth’s major characters in Are You Seeing Me?, and the voice of the coyote tends to distance the reader at times, I was anxious to see how Monro would rid himself of the negative inner voice. I did feel that he bordered on schizophrenia and should have been under the direct care of a psychiatrist while in Australia. His treatment seemed a bit casual for someone with borderline hallucinations.

The characters from Far Go Community Village stole the show. Monro’s two families and friends were nice but these people were rich, unique, insightful, and sometimes hilarious.

The loss of a sibling impacts differently on people. Not only due to the nature of the relationship but also because of the circumstances of the death. Groth examines this with sensitivity and a light touch. Well recommended.

I was given an advanced ebook copy to review.

Click here or on the cover for more info on Munro vs. the Coyote (purchase link)

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Optimists Die First – Life Ahead: Proceed with Caution by Susin Nielsen.

 

This is a deeply engaging young adult book. 17-year-old Petula De Wilde is plagued with guilt over her accidental contribution to her baby sister’s death. In addition, she has become obsessed with the idea that anything less than constant vigilance can result in tragedy, leaving her parents with no children at all. As a result, she will not shake hands, walk anywhere near construction sites, get in elevators, or do anything that remotely endangers her safety.

The tragedy has damaged her parents’ marriage. Her mother has become a cat rescuer to the point where they are struggling to pay the bills. Her father is the absent workaholic.

Petula has intense, debilitating, physical reactions to stress. She has become socially isolated. Her conversations with the school counsellor are minimally successful so Petula is tossed into an art therapy group. Against her wishes, she connects with an odd collection of students each also coping with overwhelming tragedies in their personal lives. Every character is distinct and believable. The reader will root for each and every one to break free of the crushing experiences they have suffered.

Although this is a dark and disturbing topic, Nielsen gives Petula a winning sense of humor. The students in the arts therapy group are frank and often hilarious. Their progress, and Petula’s, proceeds with fits and starts but leaves the reader feeling hopeful.

Nielsen writes with finesse and insight. This highly readable book will be enjoyed by young adults and adults as well.

I received a hardcover copy of this book for review. Click on the cover to buy a copy.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Author Darren Groth Three Random Questions Interview

Darren Groth writes powerful and insightful young adult novels. His work has won several prestigious awards and has been a finalist for the coveted Governor General’s Literary Awards in Canada.

Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Darren. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to interview you.

Darren Groth: Thanks, Bonnie. Great to be with you.

Ferrante: You are originally from Australia and came to Canada in 2007. How does the literary landscape for young adult writers compare in Canada to Australia?

Groth: Writing-wise, both are at the cutting edge of YA. Fine work from any number of brilliant authors abounds in both countries. In terms of the industry, the category is robust and agile and leads the way in the quest to bring greater diversity to the shelves. One Aussie initiative that has been highly successful in spotlighting the category is ‘LoveOzYA’, which started as a humble hashtag and is now a vibrant movement attracting the attention of publishers and booksellers alike. It would be great to see ‘LoveCanYA’ or something similar put together here.

Ferrante: You have teenage twins, do they ever inspire your topics or approach to writing? Do you think they help you to reconnect with your teenage self?

Groth: As a writer who looks close to home for fictional fare, my twins have been very inspirational. My novels KINDLING and ARE YOU SEEING ME? are dedicated to my son and daughter respectively, and arose out of fundamental questions I grapple with as a father and parent. Do they help me reconnect with teen me? In some ways. More so, I think they give me a window on the young adult of today; the stuff that I never had to consider or deal with when I was their age, and the stuff that never changes and remains constant from generation to generation.

Ferrante: ARE YOU SEEING ME? was a powerful book about love, courage, and sacrifice, putting a sibling’s needs first. Although the protagonist was autistic, it was easy for the reader to relate to his inner landscape. You must have done a great deal of research to acquire such an intimate knowledge of this condition. What advice would you give my readers on interacting with people on the spectrum?

Reviewed on this blog April 15, 2017.

Groth: Thank you for those kind words – I’m thrilled you related so well to Perry. I did do quite a bit of research, but I’m also father to a fifteen year old son who is on the spectrum, so my intimate knowledge is also derived from lived experience. My advice for hanging out with ASD folks? Be open of mind, heart and spirit.

Ferrante: Justine cares for her autistic brother and is viewed with sympathy and admiration by others. She sees herself differently. What, if any, misconceptions would you like to see corrected about the family and support systems of people on the spectrum?

Groth: You nailed it with the sympathy and admiration associated with Justine. Viewing neurodiverse families primarily through such lenses is a symptom of ‘otherness’. We need to move beyond otherness and focus on the characteristics and the motivations and the joys and the challenges that are shared. We need to find and embrace ‘anotherness’.

Ferrante: Your newest release, MUNRO VS. THE COYOTE, is about grief and guilt manifesting as an inner critical voice Munro names the Coyote. Why did you choose this animal as the symbol of his psychological struggle?

Groth: Munro’s therapist, Ollie, names the voice ‘Coyote’ and it serves as a nod to First Nations folklore. Aboriginal tales often depict Coyote as a trickster and a deceiver – that was the perfect identity for the destructive presence plaguing Munro’s mind.

Ferrante: Munro goes to Australia, your previous home, on a student exchange. Do you often use Australia as the setting for your books? Does it feel more familiar for you than Vancouver, Canada?

Groth: I’ve largely used Aussie settings to this point in my career, but I’m gravitating more and more towards ‘home’ here in Canada. Interestingly, in MUNRO VS. THE COYOTE, Brisbane felt very foreign to me and I was much more comfortable writing the Vancouver references.

Ferrante: Several of your books feature protagonists who are a little different or have unusual characteristics such as autism and Down’s Syndrome. Could you tell us how and why you choose these particular subjects and what you do to ensure authenticity in your writing with regards to their abilities, challenges, and life experiences?

Groth: Between being an ASD parent and a former special education teacher, it’s no surprise that disability and neurodiversity feature prominently in my writing. It’s also important for me to tackle these subjects due to their poor levels of representation in YA and adult fiction. In this age of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices, it’s vital that those marginalized groups with little or no agency to tell their stories still have a place on the shelves. Regarding authenticity, it requires immersed experience and quality research. And even with both of these things, the decision to write in first-person POV requires very serious consideration and, in some cases, rejection.

Ferrante: Is there anything you would like to share with us about your work or upcoming projects?

Groth: I’m very proud to say that my next book is a novella I co-wrote with my younger brother, Simon. It’s called INFINITE BLUE and will be released Fall 2018. Simon and I also do a podcast called ‘Fireproof Garage’ where we rant, lie, crack up, and generally talk all sorts of bookish stuff. You can find it at simongroth.com.

Ferrante: Now, for a bit of fun.

(From a bit of banter.)

Ferrante: Of all the movies you’ve seen, which one made the strongest impression?

Groth: ‘The Usual Suspects’ is my all-time fave. Iconic bad guy, and the finest example of unreliable narrator you’re ever likely to see.

Ferrante: What proverb best sums you up?

Groth: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Ferrante: If you were a natural disaster, what would you be, and why?

CLICK ON THE COVERS TO BUY THE BOOK OR FOR MORE INFORMATION.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

Goodbye Days a Novel by Jeff Zentner. Book Review.

 
Goodbye Days buy link

Zentner understands survivor’s guilt at the deepest level. This is a story about the tragic deaths of three teenagers and the impact it has on the fourth friend and their families. Carver Briggs feels responsible for the death of his three best friends. He distracted the driver, Eli, with a text. Eli then crashed the vehicle and killed all the occupants. Each family responds differently to the deaths of their children and to Carver’s involvement.

But the story is really about Carver dealing with grief, death, fear and loneliness. Zentner describes a panic attack so vividly that you may catch yourself tensing in response. The only person who Carver can socialize with his the bereaved girlfriend of Eli, the driver. This raises complicated issues and feelings.

Blake’s grandmother, Betsy, asks Carver to spend the day reliving her special moments with her grandson, whom she has raised since four years of age. Carver, who is barely coping has mixed feelings about this event but agrees for the sake of the grandmother. This opens up a whole new can of worms with the other parents of the deceased teenagers.

The author stops the book from becoming a dirge by interspersing chapters of Carver’s silly, happy memories with his friends. But, the author also adds to the tension by raising the possibility that Carver will be sent to jail for his part in the deaths.

Zentner tells a story with great sensitivity and insight. The emotional depth portrayed by the protagonist and the other characters is realistic, insightful, and unforgettable. No matter whether you believe Carver contributed to the deaths or not, you will root for this young man in hopes that he can put his life back together. You will quickly become invested in the story and find yourself curling up in a corner and refusing to move until you are finished.

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Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages

My First Bundle and My Fav Series Reads

I seldom read a series of books until it is complete. I often don’t remember the first book by the time the last one comes out. I started R. R. Martin’s books a while back and realized I would never remember all the characters and complex plots by the time he ended the series. Now, though, we have the TV series to help, although the plot has varied from the books.

I love getting a whole series at once and binge reading. So, I decided to provide a bundle of my Dawn’s End trilogy for like-minded readers. “A bundle of the three Dawn’s End fantasy/adventure/romance/apocalypse novels. Two generations of women are called upon to save a fantastical land but, in the end, they may need saving themselves.”

Buy Link – Dawn’s End Trilogy: Nightfall – Poisoned – Outworld Apocalypse

For those unfamiliar with the series, I have book trailers on youtube. Click on the covers to watch.

     

It’s a steal at the price and I hope to reach a new audience. It will be interesting to see how bundled sales compare to individual.

Some of my favorite binge sets are: (Click on the covers if you want more info.)

What are your favorites?