Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘YA’

Running Into the Past

Life Happens On The Stairs by Amy J. Markstahler.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61yvbeR9oJL._SY346_Seventeen-year-old Elsie’s dad is dying, she’s falling for an amazing guy (Tyler), and the divide between rich and poor in Hardin County Tennessee has never been wider. Elsie’s mother (Claire) cleans the house of stuck up and wealthy Mrs. Vaughn, and Tyler is her smart-as-a-whip grandson. Life Happens On The Stairs has hints of the classic The Prince and the Pauper, with an intense love story in the contemporary south. Ms. Markstahler takes us into the mind, heart, and body, of this young teen whose father brought her and her family back from Illinois to his families land.

Here’s a little of what happens when Elsie fills in for her mother at Mrs. Vaughns and meets her in the hallway. “For the next few hours, I vacuumed, dusted, scoured the bathroom and polished the glass on the upper level. Mom always cleaned when she was mad or frustrated. Now I understood why. As the day moved on, I started feeling better. At one-thirty, I walked down the hallway towards Mrs. Vaughn’s bedroom. The passage seemed to narrow as apprehension overwhelmed me. I slowed my steps. Why did I feel like sprinting out of the house? A doorknob clicked. The hair stood up on my arms. That’s why.”

The tension and conflict between Elsie and her mother, and Elsie and her brother (Mark), are spot on and completely relatable. The growing bond between Tyler and Elsie is well developed, with each of them pushing the other to experiences, and memories, they may never have explored, or remembered, left to their own devices, family backgrounds and expectations. Ms. Markstahler also knows how to describe what it’s like when carrying for someone you love who is dying. Life Happens On The Stairs is an excellent story about love and family, for both young and older adults.

Sink Your Teeth Into This

51KySxGKVOLLiving in The Moment by Bea Cannon.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Did you know that there’s a little town near Charlotte North Carolina called Matthews, whose inhabitants include werewolves, vampires, ghouls, and witches? Well, now you know. Not everybody does. Cadence (Cady) and her husband (Sam) have never told his parents that they are werewolves, and there daughter (Annamae) knows to keep their secret quiet, as do most of their neighbors.

Living in The Moment gives Cady a chance to practice her southern hospitality with Sam’s stuck up parents, brother, and sister-in-law, when they unexpectedly show up for a visit one night. It’s been ten years since they spoke to them. When you read this succulent story, by Ms. Cannon, you’ll find out why they’ve been estranged for so long. Here’s an excerpt of what Cady was thinking when Sam’s parents suddenly arrived.

“Oooo… you’re in his domain, now Mr. Papa-man. Wit’ yo suitcases on his porch and nowheres else to go. Whatcha gonna do? Still dis his wife and kid? Hugh? I know I shouldn’t feel like this… so sue me. That’s the cleanest thing I could think at the moment. You don’t wanna hear what else I was thinking. I kind of figured though, that they’d whip out their cells, get that taxi to come back, and quit darkening our door.”

This story is a five star howl. The dialogue is first class, and the author almost makes one believe that there is such a town, and beings, living next to humans without our knowledge. It includes a crisis with ghouls and some bad vampires (there are good ones too). There’s also a sort of “coming out” party for some unexpected guests. Living in The Moment, by Bea Cannon, is a story you can really sink your teeth into.

Talking Behind Our Backs

Private Eye Cats: Book One: The Case of the Neighborhood Burglers
by S. N. Bronstein. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

517t6UgzCvL.jpgCatwoman has nothing on these cats. They may seem like your everyday, ordinary felines, but there is something quite different about sisters Nugget and Scooter in Private Eye Cats: The Case of The Neighborhood Burglers. They aren’t superheroes, but it becomes apparent that they speak English (when humans aren’t around). Turns out cats all over the world speak their native language, and they’ve kept is secret, until now. That’s the author’s premise, and for all I know, S. N. Bronstein may have the real skinny.

This story reminds me a little of the film The Secret Life of Pets. In addition to the cats conversing when their people (Tony and Misty) are gone, as the animals do in the movie, it also has sharp dialogue and humor. Nugget shares some of their secrets. “We play the games that most humans fall for such as waking them up on weekends at 6:00 in the morning by knocking something over, or crying over nothing so they come running to see if we are hurt or in some kind of trouble.

While figuring out a way to catch some local burglars in their neighborhood, Nugget and Scooter accidentally let slip a few words out loud to a local English teacher (Tyronne Williams). After recovering from shock, Mr. Williams says, “And if I did write this all down and turned it into a book, who would believe it? Would they say it was a funny story but none of it could ever really happen?” Read Mr. Bronstein’s Private Eye Cats and decide for yourself. Are your cats talking behind your back, or just meowing around?

YA At Its Best

41w-kjfxSrL._UY250_Charla Visits Earth by Dianne Astle
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Charla Visits Earth is a wonderful short story that is almost believable, if it weren’t for the dragon and mermaid, and for all we know maybe they’re real too. Just having returned from a trip to Vancouver, it was the perfect time to read this tale by Ms. Astle, as it takes place in the same region of Canada, and includes places I visited.

Ben is a student at Fairhaven boarding school, a private school whose principal, Miss Templeton, is also the Earth’s Watcher, though only a few students are aware of such. Ben is one of those who knows, because of a previous visit he made to another world where he met Charla, a mermaid. It is quite an adventure when Charla turns up on earth to see Ben and wants to explore the city and see what life is like on this planet.

“Everywhere Charla looked there were things she never, in her wildest dreams, imagined, and humans came in so many different colors and shapes, and wore such a wild variety of clothes. It made her own world seem so plain and ordinary and drab. Mer all had the same color hair, the same dark eyes, and they dressed alike.”

This story is an off-shoot from the author’s novel Ben the Dragon. I haven’t yet read her other stories, but after reading Charla Visits Earth surely will. Her writing is to the point, descriptive, and endearing.

They Live in the Sea

CryOfTheSeaCry of the Sea by D. G. Driver
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

I don’t usually use personal pronouns in a review, but I love this book. With little preamble, I was running along the beach with Juniper Sawfeather, and her American Indian father, Peter, as they document an oil spill on there local beach. What they discover is surreal, and fighting for every breath. After making sure they aren’t seeing things, they try to save the mermaids.

One of the wonderful things about this tale is that it is completely believable. When 17-year-old June (Juniper) describes the mermaids, you can see them before your eyes. Unlike Disney versions, these creatures are silver-scaled, have gills, webbed hands, bald heads, and tails. Somewhat like a seal, but with human-like arms, hands, and eyes. It seems reasonable that they could have evolved without ever having been caught before, thus the countless stories, fables and history surrounding mermaids.

It turns out that June’s father is the head of an emergency environmental organization, and her mother, Natalie, is an environmental lawyer. Over the next few days, the mermaids existence becomes public, with resulting dismissals, and believers. A large oil company, Affron, hijacks the remaining mermaid from the marine mammal rescue center June and her father have taken it to. Over the next few days all hell breaks loose, within there family, community, internet, and national news.

Cry of the Sea never lags, or stops for a breather. It is a splendid ride exploring friendship, family dynamics, teen friendships, first romance, earth concerns, ethics, and public opinion. If either of the other two books in Ms. Driver’s series (Whisper of the Woods, Echoes of the Cliffs) are half as good as this one , they should be read immediately.

 

Coming Into Her Own

The Buddha of Lightning Peak: Cycle of the Sky
By Yudron Wangmo
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

A lot of authors, agents and publishers say their story is “unique”, but rarely does the tale turn out to be that different or “special”. The Buddha of Lightning Peak is an exception. The characters in the story are like many people I know, and experiences they have lived, but I’ve never read something that combined them all into one tight, believable and well-crafted novel such as this.

Denise “Dee” is a teenager who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also black, lesbian and part of a meditation group. She has a variety of friends, including Leslie and her BFF, Shanti, as well as her mentor/teacher, Sandy. She isn’t a strong environmental advocate, until she learns of a mining operation about to start up next to her beloved summer camp and mountain.

The author reveals life through Dee’s eyes and perspective, and reveals the thoughts, emotions and experiences that many teens go through, especially teenage girls. The Buddha of Lightning Peak is an insightful and entertaining story that reveals Dee coming into her own strength, realizations, and sense of connection and community. I rarely read stories twice, even good ones. This will be the exception.

(The author provided me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.)

BuddhaLightningPeak600x600

“Must Read” Indeed!

amazon-cover-with-mca-gold-seal-rsElizabeth’s Landing
By Katy Pye
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

Let’s get straight to the point. This is one hell of a good story for adults of all ages (young and old). It deserves all the awards it has received and then some. Superior to many traditionally published works, Elizabeth’s Landing combines complex characters, believable families and community and global environmental issues, with a seamless and engaging flare.

Uprooted mid-school year to the Texas coast town of Port Winston, Elizabeth escapes from her cantankerous grandfather, missing her absent reporter mother, and her seemingly submissive father, to explore the county’s last wild haven, called Wayward Landing Beach. It is there that she discovers nesting sea turtles and is faced with some local teens bent on harming her and the turtles. While trying to save the turtles, she meets Maria and Tom from the Science Center and is drawn to their work and mission.

It is obvious from the get go that Ms. Pye has extensively researched her subjects: turtles, shrimping, habitat, The Gulf Coast, The Horizon Oil Spill, and local politics; and integrated them into the story without any trace of regurgitating news or sounding like a lecturer at a science museum. Elizabeth, her family, friends, and those she meets at the Marine Science Center, are imbued with realistic doses of sadness, anger, frustration, determination, secrets, fear and hope.

What’s not to like about Elizabeth? She’s shy, concerned about how she is perceived by others, lonely, and out of step with other kids at school. She doesn’t think her father understands her or stands up to her grandfather, who is always putting them down. She’d rather die, than tell anyone how she feels and when she does, she’s afraid she’s revealed too much. If she doesn’t sound like other people her age, or yourself when you were a teen, then you must be perfect. Reader’s will identify with and root for, Elizabeth, as if she is your friend, daughter or sister.

If it’s not been stated clearly or often enough, Elizabeth’s Landing is a fantastic novel. “Must Read” is often used to advertise stories and get people’s attention, but in this case Ms. Pye has written a story that is truly a must read.

Gabriel Constans is a reviewer for The New York Journal of Books, a novelist, screenwriter, journalist and non-fiction writer. His latest work of fiction is The Last Conception.

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