Category Archives: Book Notes

Book reviews by you and me.

It’s not over til it’s over…


both die at the endA remarkable read not because of its brash title but because of its inherent humanity as expressed through two very different young men destined to die in the next 24. It is a crazy world so who knows how ‘Death Cast’ came about but Mateo and Rufus, complete strangers, get ‘the call’ that today is their last day on earth.  What DOES one do? A deftly woven story of strangers, friends, acquaintances, social media trolls and family that takes you along Mateo’s and Rufus’ last day as they meet up after finding each other on the app ‘Last Friend’. A vgr (verygoodread).  Compare it with Tuck Everlasting where your choice is to live forever – or not.




The Winter Place…on the page


winter placeAnother ghost story. Finland. Big sister. Little brother. Dead parents. Bear. Hiisi (Finnish troublesome devilish elemental). Grandparents. Lost souls. Choosing Life. Choosing Death. Family bonds. Cold. Winter. Kalevala.  Never give up. … I always was a sucker for books that take place in a desolate place that harbors warmth stubbornly.  Thriller of a ghost story.

The Shades of London….are freaky.


Maureen Johnson’s (…of 13 Little Blue Envelopes fame) is writing one of my favorite paranormal series, ‘The Shades of London’: Book 1 In the Name of the Star; Book 2 The Madness Beneath and now Book 3 The Shadow Cabinet.  What I like about these books: London, London, London and vivid storytelling.  In ‘The Shadow Cabinet’ the heart-rending ending (rhyming reviews now!) breathes into the next concern about death, ghosts and the living mingling.  The hunt is on for Jane Quaint – introduced in the previous book – as she was the one last seen with a missing roommate of Rory’s.  Rory is desperate to know if Stephen is alive or dead: she watched him die and yet with her acquaintance with being in touch with ‘the dead’, she is not sure whether Stephen really is dead. The frame of this story to me is not as well constructed as the other two titles.  There are two very vicious ‘dead’ nemesis – twins, Sadie and Syd – a little too over the top malevolent for me. But, it’s a good read.  Rory is still there, the team that works to rid London of  dead people not quite crossed over is still there, and the details about London and other cities being points of ‘crossing over’ for the dead is pretty darn interesting.  Old cities have tales and Maureen Johnson has built some good ones of her own on this old city of London. Recommend for paranormal readers and readers who enjoy ‘teamwork.’

Website & Books of Maureen Johnson

shadow cabinet

Starbird Murphy and the Outside World…the power of isolation and the power of who you are


Karen Finneyfrock’s Starbird Murphy and the Outside World is a read that takes you to the confines of a commune and the life of Starbird Murphy, an outspoken 16 year old who has never handled money or driven a car.  She lives on the Free Family Farm founded by Earth, kind of a prophet. There is no ownership, all is shared, everyone has their part. Starbird receives her ‘calling’ (something everyone gets at sometime in their life) to go work in the Free Family’s café in Seattle. The ‘calling’ is not to her liking but she goes to the ‘outside world’ to meet it.  While the story revolves around Starbird the other characters – mother, community members, potential boyfriends, friends – all have  unique positions in the book.  While I read it, I was reminded of all those communes of the 60s & 70s which began with such good intention.  So it is with the Free Family Farm. Things are changing, some to good some to  bad.  Starbird is the centerpoint in some ways.  She is a ‘holder of the true way’ in her mind and can be judgmental but is also questioning basic human behavior that supposedly doesn’t happen at The Farm… it’s how the Outside World lives with disrespect and greed. She learns a lot and is seemingly strong enough to handle it.  I enjoyed reading the book. I like Starbird and her questioning of everything.  Can life really be perfect? Can we always be fair, respectful and downsize our own needs for the good of all? Good questions.  The book is fun, too, and well written.  For those of us who lead a predictable life of accruing goods and making more money, life on The Farm would be anarchy, but to those members who choose to live their lives in Community that shuns More, is it wrong? Don’t know…

starbird murphy

Dragons Be Heard…





“Hahn writes with such beauty and persuasion that she could make me believe in anything. She writes the sort of prose you give yourself to willingly. This is a rare and special book, a magical book; I’ve been searching for it and didn’t even know it.”
—Kristin Cashore, New York Times best-selling author of Graceling and Bitterblue

“Rebecca Hahn captures that elusive sense of an experience just out of reach—a memory, a dream, a voice in the woods, a road not taken. I love the book and hope she dreams up many more.”
—Franny Billingsley, National Book Award finalist for Chime

Sometimes – most of the time – other people write  better than me. Throwing in a couple of review snippets from authors you may have read, I will put in my own 2 cents for this title that I found pretty darn readable.  Three key words to describe this first-time author’s book: wild,  dragonly, sensory…but let’s add three more: allegory, choices, fantasy.  And there are more words that could pull out a sense of the book but this is the gist of the story.  Marni is a girl of 16 living in the near wilds with her ‘Gramps.’ She converses with the ‘wild things’ in the wood beyond the stonewall, the fairies, the woodland creatures, the ‘Lady’ upon occasion.  This dangerous roaming of the woods is kept secret from her Gramps.  Girls go missing in the woods, girls who want more than just a settled life in the village.  Marni is like that only more so.  As you read her story, Gramps is introduced as the former King of the land who gave up his kingdom so he could keep his granddaughter alive after her mother, his daughter, had been slaughtered by the now King, her brother. Sounds gruesome, it is, and the reason this Princess was slain is one of secrets in the story.  Marni goes to live in the castle once her Gramps has died and she becomes sole heir to the throne.  Strange things are happening (Remember, this is fantasy.) as the woods encroach on the farms and fields and strange creatures have been seen. Marni has her own journey to make as the strange calling of the woods brings her face to face with the father she has never known and whom all in the kingdom fear. Her choices make her life what it will become.  I found the characters to be unique.  There really is no huge climax to the story but like the large wave that hits you every so often on a beach, you can still feel the power of a good story told.  To me the story was part allegory; part fantasy.  This is a strong title for female readers.  Marni’s character may return in another book. I would welcome her. A good summer read or dark of the night winter tale. Really.


Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira


love lettersWriting a book review isn’t easy.  For one thing reading IS personal so there is a risk of revealing one’s self simply because you say, ‘I like this book.’ And it is not easy to reveal oneself to anyone.  Take the narrator in this book, Laurel, whose adored older sister, May, is dead at the beginning of the book.  And, when the English teacher’s first assignment of the year is to write a letter to a dead person, May is not the person who Laurel addresses the letter to…it’s Kurt Cobain. The other dead people who ‘receive’ letters from Laurel include Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, E.E. Cummings, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Elizabeth Bishop…you guessed it, besides being dead, let’s just say that some of the dead died tragically and we ask ‘why?’.  The memory of her sister, May, the beautiful and talented but flawed older sister who is no more,  is so vivid in Laurel’s life that she has stopped trying to find her own.  And one could say this is a book of tragedy only it isn’t.  Who of us hasn’t quietly uttered very important matters so silently no one else could hear but we needed to express them aloud somehow, some way.  In the beginning I cringed for the innocence of Laurel and her attachment to certain characters who were ‘not good choices.’ But there is a secret in this novel, the secret of Laurel’s inability to recognize how her sister’s death must be acknowledged in the open by herself and her parents who could not handle the death either.  This is an incredible piece of writing and the ‘letters to the dead’ ‘device’ is fascinating. Very strong themes run through this book: suicide, innocence, parental emotional abandonment, molestation, coming out but the author has blended and mixes characters bad, good and despicable in a realistic story.  Laurel has a very strong voice even when she is weak.  The complexity of our inner and outer worlds, self-expression, redemption are all explored here. This book to me was not a ‘downer’. It’s not Judy Moody either.  I highly recommend it for its literary quality, the voices of the characters, and the themes it explores so well.

Click for the author’s website 


PS: Stephen Chbosky suggested she write this book…how’s that for being a good friend!

The Language Inside….


languagelanguage2I guess I will start this review with a list, a list of things that encapsulate the majors of the book:

Longing, poetry, friendship, losing, gaining, friends here, friends there, tsunami, the Killing Fields, dance, migraines, poetry, becoming, new beginnings, bravery, helping, giving and taking, trust, attraction, love, Japan, parents, friends, language…so much in this book about Emma.  Emma, born in Massachusetts, has lived in Japan since young childhood.  This is where she belongs and feels at home…but Emma, her younger brother and her mother move back to Lowell Massachusetts when she is 16 so her mother can have the best care for her treatment of breast cancer.  Her father is here   then back to Japan but Emma must stay through the year to help her mother.  She is not happy.  But in this story of beginnings Emma meets people here who she comes to understand and feel closer to.  She is afraid of losing her Japanese identity and her friends back in Tokyo. She begins having migraines.  At her grandmother’s urging she begin volunteering at a long-term care center and meets Zena, a quadriplegic who must use a ‘board’ to make any contact.  They write poetry together.  They become friends. It is an eye-opening experience for Emma.  She also meets Samnung, a fellow student from her school, who works with two elderly survivors of the Cambodian killing fields, helping them write poetry to express their lives.  Samnung is also involved with the Cambodian dance troupe and even though it is not Japanese culture, it is an Asian culture that Emma longs for and she finds friendship there as well.  This is a beautifully written story done in ‘poetry prose.’  The realness of all the characters comes out sparingly and honestly in the author’s writing.  The author, Holly Thompson, is originally from Massachusetts but has been a longtime resident of Japan.  I liked her character voices.  So many times for teens (and adults) we are pulled between two places, two friends, two parents, two worlds and if you are lucky you realize that each has its place and time.  All can be appreciated.  Loved this book.

Lonely Is

when the language outside

is not the language inside

and words are made of just 26 letters

not parts that tell stories…


The book cover on the right is Thompson’s book,  Friendship through Fiction: An Anthology of Japanese Teen Stories.  Holly’s website is .