Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Italian American YA (yes, that is a thing)

The YA novel, Beyond the Wicked Willow, by M.J. Rocissono and illustrated by Joe Rocissono is a story that traverses modern day United States and historical Italy. Curses and witching are connecting the two. It brings together times from late BC, AD1200s, and 2012. The story is full of detailed Italian lore and appropriate for both adults and children from about age 10+.

I picture an Italian-American teen, who has had experience with great grandparents or grandparents mentioning some of the old superstitions or traditions from Italy, finding real joy in this book. That said, it is an ideal read for anyone who enjoys historical YA and a surprisingly good read for an independently published piece.


So much promise falls flat

To start with…I wanted to love Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. The amount of acclaim placed on this book implied that there was largely no way I wouldn’t. Moreover, I appreciate stories with some gimmicky elements. The gimmick in Asymmetry includes three ostensibly disparate stories connected at an unexpected moment in the storyline and in tone. It accomplishes this while also including the female anti-hero. That it manages to accomplish all this in a relatively stylistic fashion merits it four out of five stars. However, it is more of a “take it or leave it” read. Halliday’s style is too bare to entrance a reader and also at the detriment of drawing the Alice character fully as an anti-hero.

I finished this novel in March, but thought with time I would grow to appreciate its finer points. I did not and for that I’m forced to mark it as a worthy read, but not a necessary one.


Two children’s books for your consideration

Many apologies…I have been out of pocket for quite sometime and am just coming out of that lull. I have a slate of YA and adult fiction and non-fiction coming up in June and July. In the meantime, I offer you two children’s books I received for review and believe are worthy of an audience.

I’ll have to admit at the outset that I am pretty partial to Polly Diamond and the Magic Book. It is written in the same way my daughter talks. She is a bit younger than the target age for this, which I’d say is around 3rd grade. But it captures the energy of lower elementary graders.

As for the book itself, the story is delightful and just kooky enough to hold the attention of its key demographic. Adults will likely find it scattered though.

Length on books aimed at early elementary can often be tricky since that is the age that kids’ reading levels are most divergent. But this one works for a solid reader who is ready for their first longer books.

A book that covers all ages, though without the stories is Prayers for young children. By Martina Steinkuhler, it contains many beautifully written, touchingly warm prayers/poems. They are perfect to read to an infant and yet wonderfully fleshed out to share with an older child.

What makes this book one to keep out in the child’s room though are the wonderful illustrations by Nascimbeni. They are bright, clear, solid, block style colored prints and they adorn every page.

This is a wonderful keepsake printed on high quality, thick paper with a sturdy hardback book binding.

Both have been placed in a Little Free Library and reviewed on Amazon and LibraryThing.


A Feminist Love Story with Strong Roots

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastana Vikram is a fast-paced read with relevant characters for our contemporary moment here in 2018. The main character works on women’s empowerment while still struggling with the demons that led her to see how important that cause is. Vikram’s writing is a similar perfect balance. The novel has almost the fast past feel of a dialogue heavy book ready for a screenplay. Yet, is filled with the necessary detail to make the reading endeavor that much more worthwhile.

Beyond the quality of writing, the main reason I love this story is the strong character serving as a woman’s rights advocate on which the story is centered. Vikram doesn’t shy away from including the abusive or emotionally wasteful experiences of her past, but rather than exploiting them shows the day in, day out mental work that goes into rising above and learning from those experiences from her perspective.

The main character, Ahana, takes us through her life in New Delhi, New York, and New Orleans. She has strong relationships with her family, who’s characters are richly drawn through her lens. Ahana’s professional life is both inspired by and made vulnerable (at least in her own mind) by an abusive past. She, like many of us, tries to get away from this past and yet is still working to make different decisions, not always successfully. Striving toward a realty that understands what true partnership and support looks like.

This story could be one written about any woman with an extended family that keeps her grounded. Yet, the beautiful details of the Indian family that it centers on feel like your own. Vikram has written the exact woman centered novel needed in our current times. The movie style writing would translate into a screenplay easily, and I would love to see that movie.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also available on Goodreads and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been lent to a friend to read on my recommendation. She has agreed to place it in a little free library once she’s done to continue to spread this high quality novel.


Two Women-Centered Crime Novels, Two Approaches

Both Jane Haselidine and Heather Graham are three novels in when they reach Duplicity and A Dangerous Game, respectively. The stories and characters are entertaining and well-told.

The Jane Haseldine novel, “Duplicity,” centers on Julia Gooden whose life now and in the past is surrounded by crime stories. While the main character is fully drawn, the crime stories take center stage. The characters are used at the behest of telling the detailed and gripping story. This one takes about 30 pages to be drawn in but it is worth the ride.

On the other hand, Heather Graham’s A Dangerous Game grabs you from page one and keeps you following the story of Kieran Finnegan. The character of Kieran is palpable and she is what holds your attention throughout as you learn of the gripping story.

I received Duplicity through a LibraryThing Giveaway and A Dangerous Game through a Goodreads Giveaway. Both books have been placed or sent to little free libraries. These reviews are available on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing.


Amish series

I don’t usually read emotional novels set in Amish enclaves, but when I do it is by Kelly Irvin. Irvin’s “Beneath the Summer Sun” is the second in a seasonal series that includes “Upon a Spring Breeze” and “Through the Autumn Air.”

Irvin’s writing style builds several characters well enough to explain the story that is lavishly told here. The writing style is direct and details daily activities of the characters in the midst of complex relationship choices – both those made and missed. Irvin also includes a glossary for several pennsylvania Dutch terms used by those characters. Though, most if not all are easily discerned through context, so flipping back and forth isn’t necessarily required.

What is not detailed is the Amish cultural mindset, which is necessary context for getting engrossed in the story. If this is a context you are familiar with, then the characters’ choices will make sense with the limited character development used and you will quite likely enjoy this novel. However, if you are not familiar with this context, the characters will fall a bit flat and this probably isn’t a read you will thoroughly enjoy.

I received my copy through a Goodreads giveaway. This review is also on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been placed in a Little Free Library.


That story about your grandmother you wish you’d written

Do you remember when you thought “oh man, I should really write down stories from my older relatives so they aren’t forgotten?” Of course, most of us don’t. It’s an endeavor and we have our lives, the same way our grandmas and grandpas had there’s and didn’t exactly become biographic publishers themselves. Or maybe we don’t know how to write it or maybe we’re selfish, who knows. What I do know is that few people do record those stories and even fewer work to publish them.

Russel Lazega is one of those few and thank goodness he is. This self-published “Managing Bubbie” is written with an experienced author’s flair. Lazega moves seamlessly between gripping stories of his grandmother’s past escaping the holocaust to the familiar everyday of her interaction with family in the present day. The two sides feed off eachother so as to explain stubborn or off putting behavior. The fate of this tough as nails lady squarely in her own hands at both times.

The juxtaposition takes a chapter or two to adapt to, not for the fault of the writing but for the publication settings – moving between traditional prose to screenplay writing. But after the eyes adjust, the story is worth it.

I received a copy of this book through a LibraryThing Giveaway. This review is also on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The hard copy was placed in a Little Free Library.