Be wary of lidded teacups

Cover artwork for Vodník.Title: Vodník

Author: Bryce Moore

Publisher & Release Date: Tu Books, 2012

The Hook: We Need Diverse Books rec’d this book as a read-alike for Lish McBride’s excellent “Hold Me Close, Necromancer.” Naturally, I went looking for “Vodník.”

The Lowdown (from Library of Congress summary): “Sixteen-year-old Tomas and his Roma family left Slovakia because of mysterious attacks on his life when he was a child, but when they return, the same creatures of folklore begin to strike again and Tomas, aided by his cousin, will have to bargain with Death herself to set things right.”

Overall Impressions:  I zipped through this engaging story.

Moving back to his mother’s hometown in Slovakia after their house burns down was supposed to make things easier for Tomas’ financially-strapped family. This does not exactly work out. It’s a familiar story: Awkward teen, kind of a loner, gets caught up in something bigger than himself, in over his head, finds out he has some special abilities. And it works. It works in some interesting ways, partially because I enjoyed my introduction to Slovakian fairy tales, and a lot because Tomas is so far out of his depth but does not give up despite all his very believable fears. And he’s got a little bit of snark, which is always fun.

Tomas has to adjust to living in a country he barely remembers, making Slovakian his primary language, and realizing that his olive skin, mostly unremarkable in the United States, identifies him as a mostly unwanted Roma in Slovakia.

He also has to adjust to the fact that he can see creatures other people can’t, and they all seem to want something from him. Maybe his help. Maybe his death. It’s a tough call.

Knowing who to trust was bewildering, as Tomas received conflicting and/or oblique warnings and information from several supernatural creatures. “The vodník is trying to kill you.” “We were friends – the fire witch lies.” “Don’t mess with my deaths.” His cousin Katka is his one consistent ally, but she also has a brain tumor – one with a nearing expiration date, according to Death. I really felt all his frustration, confusion, fears and increasing desperation.

I expect at least one sequel – and I look forward to reading it.

The Highs: How the family really comes together as a team as the story goes on.

The descriptions of Trenčín Castle.

I really enjoyed the relationship Tomas developed with his uncle and how it complemented his relationship with his father.

Tomas first thinking “friendly attractive girl not repulsed by my burned arm” when he first meets Katka and then making the mental switch to “awesome cousin” and the friendship they develop.

The conversational tone of the excerpts from “Death in the Modern Day” at the beginning of each chapter. For example, from chapter 14: “Humans like to make deals with Death. It comes with the territory. And while you might be tempted, we discourage you from entering into such pacts. Unless they involve really good dark chocolate. Because some deals are just too good to pass up.”

Tomas’ dad is a librarian and his awesome librarian skillset plays an important role near the end of the book.

Buzzkills:  I wish Tomas’ mother played a more proactive role. She has a number of traumatic experiences in her life -particularly the mysterious disappearance/death of her mother- but her refusal to talk about (or let other adults do so) or even acknowledge various things proves dangerous for Tomas and Katka. She and Tomas love each other but her role sometimes seemed peripheral (other than silence) where Tomas’ father and uncle play larger roles in supporting him. Possibly I’m over-reacting?

The Source: Bought the e-book.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a trip to Slovakia was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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Summertime and the living is easy…

This One Summer. Art by Jillian Tamaki.

Art by Jillian Tamaki

Title: This One Summer

Author: Jillian Tamaki (art) and Mariko Tamaki (text)

Publisher & Release Date: First Second, May 2014

The Hook: Gorgeous, gorgeous artwork. Two friends spending summer at the beach.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Rose and her parents have been going to Awago Beach since she was a little girl. It’s her summer getaway, her refuge. Her friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had, completing her summer family.

“But this summer is different.

“Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and Rose and Windy have gotten tangled up in a tragedy-in-the-making in the small town of Awago Beach. It’s a summer of secrets and heartache, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.”

Overall Impressions:  I already mentioned the amazing artwork, right? Because I had to pause and just stare at some of the pages – walking through woods, racing into the ocean, Windy’s body movements as she’s showing off her new dance skills. It’s beautiful. I want to attach so many scans in this post.

This story made me remember family trips – weeks at my great-grandparents and family camping – spending time with cousins and the activities that become traditions.

Tamaki and Tamaki (cousins) capture that uneven transition between childhood and teen in Rose – the year and a half she has on Windy really shows in their reactions and interests. They giggle over words for breasts as they discuss their developing figures, watch local teens warily from the sidelines, and Rose develops a crush on one of the older boys who works at the local video/everything store. They spend practically every day together happily, but the two girls also fight and get touchy about various topics. At one point, Windy wants to dig a giant hole in the sand and Rose has to readjust her thinking and remember that can be fun too.

They also capture that painful feeling of knowing something is wrong in your family, something you don’t know, and not knowing how to respond to it. And how easy it is to lash out when you’re hurting

The Highs: Rose and Windy’s expressions as they watch horror films – at one point, they’re both hiding under a blanket and the reader can just make out the screen of the laptop through the fabric. The first one they rent kind of by accident, but after that, it’s deliberate.

The four pages (spreads?) showing the range of activities Rose and Windy have during the day, from the remains of a lazy breakfast to standing up in swings, mini-golf to racing bikes to shucking corn.

I love that Rose’s body is tall and tomboyish and Windy is shorter and rounder; both are very comfortable with their bodies and very active. Nobody is the book is a supermodel, not even the older teen girls or the young man Rose has a crush on.

The adult female friendships.

Buzzkills:  I understand why this happens -it’s effectively done and it makes sense- but it saddens me that watching the horror films and drama of the older teens, Rose decides the bad situations people are in are the fault of the females’ actions.

Also for possible trigger warnings (spoilers!), highlight the next bit: Miscarriage, potential drowning, 

The Source: Copy provided by publisher at library conference.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a summer cabin near the beach was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Antici…..pation: August 2014

Our apologies. We went absent without comment last month, but we’re re-focusing this month. And what better way to do so than to start with our August anticipation?

Cover artwork for I Love I Hate I Miss My SisterTitle: I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister

Author: Amelie Sarn, translated by Y. Maudet

Publisher & Release Date: Delacorte Press, Aug. 5

The Hook: “Eighteen-year-old Sohane loves no one more than her beautiful, carefree younger sister, Djelila. And she hates no one as much. The two have always shared everything. But now, Djelila is embracing her life as a secular teen, and Sohane is becoming more religious.

“Every choice has a price.

“When Sohane starts wearing a head scarf, her school insists that she remove it or she’ll be expelled. Meanwhile, Djelila is repeatedly harassed by neighborhood bullies for not following Muslim customs. Sohane can’t help thinking that Djelila deserves what she gets. She never could have imagined just how far things would go.

“I love I hate I miss my sister.

“In the year following Djelila’s tragic death, Sohane struggles with her feelings of loss and guilt, revealing a complex relationship between two sisters, each girl’s path to self-discovery, and the consequences they face for being true to themselves.”

Cover artwork for Some BoysTitle: Some Boys

Author: Patty Blount

Publisher & Release Date: Sourcebooks Fire, Aug. 5

The Hook: “When Grace meets Ian she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After accusing the town golden boy of rape, everyone turned against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But…Ian doesn’t. He’s funny and kind with secrets of his own.

“But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?”

Cover artwork for Of Metal and WishesTitle: Of Metal and Wishes

Author: Sarah Fine

Publisher & Release Date: Margaret K. McElderry Books, Aug, 5

The Hook: “Sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic, housed in a slaughterhouse staffed by the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor. Wen often hears the whisper of a ghost in the slaughterhouse, a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. And after one of the Noor humiliates Wen, the ghost grants an impulsive wish of hers—brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including the outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the ghost. As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen is torn between her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. Will she determine whom to trust before the factory explodes, taking her down with it?”

Cover artwork for The Unfinished Life of Addison StoneTitle: The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone: A Novel

Author: Adele Griffin

Publisher & Release Date: Soho Teen, Aug. 12

The Hook: “For fans of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Girl, Interrupted, and A.S. King, National Book Award-finalist Adele Griffin tells the fully illustrated story of a brilliant young artist, her mysterious death, and the fandom that won’t let her go.

“From the moment she stepped foot in NYC, Addison Stone’s subversive street art made her someone to watch, and her violent drowning left her fans and critics craving to know more. I conducted interviews with those who knew her best—including close friends, family, teachers, mentors, art dealers, boyfriends, and critics—and retraced the tumultuous path of Addison’s life. I hope I can shed new light on what really happened the night of July 28.
—Adele Griffin”

Cove artwork for Greenglass HouseTitle: Greenglass House

Author: Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars

Publisher & Release Date: Clarion Books, Aug. 26

The Hook: “A rambling old inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart middle grade mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books and The Westing Game.

“It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House-and themselves.”

Cover artwork for Six Feet Over ItTitle: Six Feet Over It

Author: Jennifer Longo

Publisher & Release Date: Random House Books for Young Readers, Aug. 26

The Hook:”Leigh sells graves for her family-owned cemetery because her father is too lazy to look farther than the dinner table when searching for employees. Working the literal graveyard shift, she meets two kinds of customers:

“Pre-Need: They know what’s up. They bought their graves a long time ago, before they needed them.

“At Need: They are in shock, mourning a loved one’s unexpected death. Leigh avoids sponging their agony by focusing on things like guessing the headstone choice (mostly granite).

“Sarcastic and smart, Leigh should be able to stand up to her family and quit. But her world’s been turned upside down by the sudden loss of her best friend and the appearance of Dario, the slightly-too-old-for-her grave digger. Surrounded by death, can Leigh move on, if moving on means it’s time to get a life?”