Saturday, July 20, 2019

Spirit Walk, by Richie Tankersley Cusick

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Miranda Barnes didn't expect life to magically return to normal after a hurricane destroyed her hometown in Florida and forced her and her mother to move to St. Yvette, Louisiana. And life definitely did not return to normal.

Ever since her first night in St. Yvette, Miranda has been hearing screams in the middle of the night. Her mother dismisses them as nightmares, but the screams are too vivid to be dreams. Too real. She hears other things. Voices, begging for help. She smells things others can't. She has visions of spirits.

To make matters worse, at school, she is thrust into a group history project with five other students she doesn't really know. There's Roo, a girl who likes cigarettes and the color black; Parker, who is the quarterback and likes beer; Gage, who is shy and the guy who all the girls think is cute; Ashley, a beautiful cheerleader, and also both Parker's girlfriend and Roo's stepsister; and Etienne, Gage's cousin, a tall boy who is working a job repairing appliances.

Their project is to investigate the past of their hometown.

One afternoon after school, Miranda and her new "friends" are at the Falls, an old cemetery for Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. Suddenly, an old man crashes through the brush, babbling like an insane person. 

It's Miranda's grandfather. 

Miranda is shocked. For some reason, her mother has never permitted her to meet her grandfather. But now, here he is. Her grandfather rambles on about some entity that has haunted him, until Etienne steps forward. "It's okay, Jonas. You know me." Etienne and Miranda's grandfather, Jonas, have known each other for a long time, it turns out. Long enough so that Jonas has trusted him enough to tell Etienne his deepest, darkest secret: Jonas can communicate with the dead, a trait he has passed on to Miranda. 

It is this ability, this power, that is causing Miranda to hear those screams and those voices. And one of these spirits, a Confederate soldier named Nathan, has been following Miranda around St. Yvette, asking her for help. He wants her to give a message to his love, to fulfill a promise he made long ago. 

Spirit Walk is a two book set; both Walk of the Spirits and Shadow Mirror in one. Spirit Walk is a tale of love lost, love found, and... well, other stuff about love. It also tells a tale of tragedy. I swear, I almost cried while reading this book. The book has some mature themes, so I would recommend this for readers 12+, because this book does mention sex at least once, and no parent wants their 9-year-old running up asking "What's sex?" 

Overall, an awesome book, in my opinion.

Friday, July 5, 2019

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

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Clary Fray is at the Pandemonium nightclub when she sees something unexpected: the murder of a teenage boy with unnaturally green eyes and electric blue hair by three other teens covered in weird tattoos. Shadowhunters.

Shadowhunters are demon killers, and aren't exactly human. They are covered in Marks, which allow them to perform magic, or handle weapons that ordinary people can't. They also have the Sight, allowing them to see demons. Also, ordinary people can't see them unless they want them to. The first teen is Isabelle. She's armed with a whip and her stunning beauty. The second one is named Alec. He's Isabelle's brother and he has an attitude problem. The third one is Jace. He's Alec's and Isabelle's friend. He also has the slightly annoying tendency to tell sarcastic jokes.

The next day, Clary is hanging around in her apartment when her mom and her mom's friend, Luke, walk in. Clary's mom announces that they'll be going on vacation for the rest of the summer. But Clary doesn't want to leave, and she storms out of the building. At a local coffee shop with her best friend Simon, she recognizes Jace. 

Jace begins to tell her about the Shadowhunters, but while Jace is talking, however, Clary gets a call from her mom, sounding panicked. Clary can hear the sound of things crashing around in the background: "Go to Simon's and call Luke... tell him that he's found me...!" That's the last thing Clary hears her mother say before the phone line cuts out.

Frightened, Clary runs home to find that the apartment has been ransacked: paintings off the wall and torn up, furniture destroyed. Clary begins to search the house, hoping to find her mother or at least some reassurance she is okay. Instead, when she goes into her mother's bedroom, she finds a snarling creature... a demon. The demon attacks viciously, stinging Clary and injecting poison into her veins. Clary is able to kill the demon, and she stumbles outside. 

There, she finds Jace.

Jace brings Clary to the Institute, a place where young Shadowhunters are trained and educated. Clary meets Hodge, a mentor to Jace, Alec, and Isabelle. She tells him about the phone call from her mother and how she has been attacked by a demon, a Ravener, according to Jace. Hodge is concerned. Not only because of that, but because, in addition,  there are rumors circulating about the return of a rogue Shadowhunter named Valentine, someone thought dead for sixteen years. Clary's mother gone missing, a demon attack, and the possible return of a powerful, evil being -- is it all connected somehow? Clary doesn't understand: Why does she seem to be at the center of this?

City of Bones is the thrilling first novel in a YA trilogy (actually, it has since been expanded to 6 books). Recommended for 11+ (some mild swear words).

The series seems kind of like The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Both stories go a little bit like this: Kid lives normal life. Kid suddenly loses mother to monster. Kid is attacked by same monster which leaves them sick for a few days. Kid discovers secret society of people who fight said monsters. Kid is trained to fight monsters. Kid goes on mission to save world and save mom. The end. But just because it's been done before does not mean that it's not done well! The basic plot is common enough, but the story weaves emotion alongside witty humor, making it a perfect read for adventurous younger readers, teenagers, or even adults.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Thing about Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin

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Suzy Swanson is invisible to her peers. Which is maybe for the best. She knows a lot of facts that would get her relentlessly teased and she would be dubbed "the nerd" for the rest of her school days. For example, she knows that there are 150 million jellyfish stings around the world each year.

Once, she hasn't always been invisible to everyone. Once, she had a friend: Franny Jackson. The two were like chocolate and peanut butter. But then Franny met some other girls in their school and slowly became one of those snobbish, stuck-up girls who are obsessed with make-up, clothes, and boys.

Gradually, Suzy and Franny began to drift apart.

Suzy watched in despair as her best friend transformed from the girl who had spent countless nights having sleepovers with her, who had run around with her as the sky grew dark, who had been entrusted with her secrets, into one of the girls who they had always despised. 

Then, one day in the summer, Suzy is out in her yard enjoying the nice weather, when her mom calls out to her, telling her to come inside. Suzy can tell that her mom is very upset. Then, her mom says three words that cause Suzy's world to fall apart: "Franny Jackson drowned."

It's the beginning of seventh grade. Suzy is with the rest of her class at an aquarium. She is nostalgic thinking about Franny, when she notices the entryway to the jellyfish section. She glances back at her class, knowing that, despite the neon t-shirts they had been instructed to wear, none of them would notice her disappearance. Social invisibility has its advantages.

In the "Jellies" section, she sees a photograph of a jellyfish in a glass jar. The jellyfish is an irukandji, the most dangerous species of jellyfish in the world. It is small, nearly invisible, a little less than the size of a human thumbnail. Irukandji stings are fatal if not treated, and symptoms can easily be mistaken for a common illness if the jellyfish is not noticed. These facts lead Suzy to formulate a hypothesis: Franny Jackson's death was caused by the sting of a jellyfish. And she decides that she will spend whatever time it takes researching, thinking, and even trying to reach out to jellyfish specialists around the world to prove her theory. 

The Thing About Jellyfish is about a middle-school aged girl who is trying to overcome the grief that one has when they lose their best friend. Before Suzy and Franny split, Suzy could talk for ages about anything. After they split, Suzy decided that it was best to just... disappear. become invisible. But now she has a mission, and she finds her bravery. She becomes determined to solve the mystery of Franny's death... but can she?

There are many people who can connect with Suzy, whether they have experienced the loss or death of a friend, or just appear to be invisible to the crowds. I would recommend this book for confident readers of chapter books 8+ (might be a bit challenging for younger readers, but it is a lovely story), or anybody 10+.




Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

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Lale Sokolov is a Slovak Jew, being transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Nazis. World War II is raging, and Jews all over Europe are paying the price. Lale is one of many Jews being loaded onto a cattle car to be transported like animals to the camp. Upon arriving, the prisoners have their heads shaven, and their clothes and belongings taken and replaced with a Russian soldier's uniform. They also have a number tattooed on their left arm. 

Lale's number is 32407.

German officials discover that Lale can speak many different languages -- German, Yiddish, Russian, and more. This skill earns Lale a job as the Tätowierer (the person who tattoos the other prisoners), because he can communicate easily with prisoners of multiple backgrounds.  

At first, Lale is an assistant to the previous  Tätowierer, Pepan. Later, when Pepan is taken away, Lale becomes the Tätowierer, eventually taking on his own assistant. One day, Lale is tasked with the job of tattooing a large group of young women who have just arrived. He has trained himself to not look up while working, because looking up at the people's faces just makes his job harder. He does not want to see the faces of the people he is marking. With one person, however, he can't help but look up. This young woman's name is Gita, and Lale can't help but fall in love with her on sight. At the very moment he looks into her eyes, he promises himself that they will survive the camps, get married, and be free together.

Gita's number is 34902.

For the next two years, Lale does whatever he can to keep himself and Gita alive; he smuggles food, medicine, and even makes off with jewels and currency from the coats of newly arrived prisoners (which he can exchange for valuable and important supplies). He takes care of Gita, and uses his special privileges and extra rations given to him as Tätowierer to help as many of his fellow prisoners as possible. All the while, he marks his own people. and he holds onto his hope that he and Gita will survive.

Lale and Gita were real people. Their story is a love story, wrapped inside a horror story. They witnessed many acts of pure hatred and violence. And yet, when Lale met Gita, despite all the horrors that surrounded them, in his own words: "I tattooed her number on her left hand, and she tattooed her number on my heart." 

This book is good for history lovers, but I would not recommend this book for anyone under 12 years old. In addition to talking about the war, it is a very violent book, and contains discussion of both mass murder and rape. 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a sentimental true story of love and hope trying to survive in a world of hate.

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Daddy's afterthoughts:  At B&N, Goodreads, Waterstones, and Amazon, this book consistently racks up extremely high reviews, averaging well over 4 stars out of 5 on all four sites. I will be stunned if this is not made into a movie within 2 years. This book is gripping and, I know it is a cliche, but you will not want to put it down. 

As Julia said, it is a true story, related to author Heather Morris by Lale Sokolov himself. Lale died in 2006. If you want to find out what happened to Gita, you'll have to read the book.


I can sum up everything I have to say about this devastating book in three lines from the book that effectively capture the swirl of emotions this book generates:
"I'm just a number. You should know that. You gave it to me."
"Yes, but that's just in here. Who are you outside of here?"
"Outside doesn't exist anymore. There's only here."





Sunday, January 27, 2019

Asylum, by Madeleine Roux

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Daniel (Dan) Crawford is a 16-year-old attending the New Hampshire College Prep summer program, a program designed to prepare students for college life by having them live in a dorm and take courses for 5 weeks. However, this year the regular dorms have been closed, and the students have to spend their 5 weeks in the old Brookline Asylum.

There he meets Abby and Jordan, two other teens attending the program. Abby has an artistic focus, while Jordan prefers math. One night they are exploring the basement of the old asylum, and they begin to unearth some dark secrets. They find horrific black and white pictures of patients and doctors performing "medical" experiments, creepy and disturbing images that disgust and horrify them. These would be the first of many disturbing discoveries at the old asylum.

A few days later, Dan finds an unread email in his Sent folder. How that even could happen, he is not sure. He clicks on it and is only able to read "RE: Your inquiry regarding patient 361" before an error message pops up. Upon closing it, Dan sees that the email is gone. 

As the days pass, more weird things happen. Dan finds notes on his desk that say odd things, his friends receive texts from him that he never sent, he has dreams of the asylum, he gets more emails about "patient 361," and he begins to experience hallucinations. One hallucination is of a room with an operating table, with bloody shackles on the wall. One day, while exploring the grounds, he, Jordan, and Abby find the room, the one from his hallucination. How is that possible?

It turns out that Brookline has dark secrets, and a haunting (and haunted!) past. As Dan and his new friends unearth more of the truth about what really went on in the asylum, they find information that connects them - personally - with the asylum's dark past...

Asylum is the first in a bone-chilling trilogy featuring actual photos from actual asylums, which really adds to the creepy atmosphere. Highly recommended for older readers with a high tolerance for books that rank high on the creep-out factor, as it also contains some mild profanity. But you'd swear too if you were stuck where they were. When I finished reading this book for the first time, I was mildly disturbed. Definitely not something I'd recommend for a late-night story.


Asylum is the first book of the trilogy. Find reviews for the next novel, Sanctum, here. Asylum, as described by New York Times bestselling author Heather Brewer: a
s "Dark, twisted magnificence. Brilliant!" I agree with Heather Brewer!


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Daddy's afterthoughts:  I will confess I did not read this book. There seem to be shades of The Shining, though, and IMO, nothing tops The Shining. Still, I would never recommend The Shining for the pre-high school age group, so maybe this series is a good scaffold up to that level of horror novel. I don't know when or where Julia mad a left turn from historical fiction and decided that horror was her bag (she's been bugging me to let her watch The Ring), but whatever keeps her reading :-) 

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