Monday, November 13, 2017

A Heartrending Tale of Family, Poverty, and Persistence: Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer

Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer | Goodreads
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release: November 14, 2017
Source: Book Expo
ISBN: 9780763684426
Fishkill Carmel fends for herself, with her fists if need be — until a thwarted lunch theft introduces her to strange, sunny Duck-Duck and a chance for a new start.

Born in the backseat of a moving car, Carmel Fishkill was unceremoniously pushed into a world that refuses to offer her security, stability, love. At age thirteen, she begins to fight back. Carmel Fishkill becomes Fishkill Carmel, who deflects her tormenters with a strong left hook and conceals her secrets from teachers and social workers. But Fishkill’s fierce defenses falter when she meets eccentric optimist Duck-Duck Farina, and soon they, along with Duck-Duck’s mother, Molly, form a tentative family, even as Fishkill struggles to understand her place in it. This fragile new beginning is threatened by the reappearance of Fishkill’s unstable mother — and by unfathomable tragedy. Poet Ruth Lehrer’s young adult debut is a stunning, revelatory look at what defines and sustains “family.” And, just as it does for Fishkill, meeting Duck-Duck Farina and her mother will leave readers forever changed.
You know the kind of book that makes you feel like the weary weight of the world is resting on your chest, threatening to suffocate you—or at least send you into a spiral of tears? The kind that leaves you feeling shattered yet somehow comforted? The kind that reminds you why hope is a necessity, but not a foolish one?

Being Fishkill is that kind of book, and it’s one of the best. In her YA debut, Ruth Lehrer tackles the topics of poverty, family, bullying, abuse, and so much more, weaving several threads into one spellbinding, intense, heartrending, harrowing story. 

What gives Being Fishkill its emotional weight is its utter relentlessness. From the beginning of the book, which introduces us to 12-year-old Carmel Fishkill (or, as she prefers to be called, Fishkill Carmel), readers barely get a break to breathe. Whether we’re learning about the protagonist’s abusive (now-dead) grandfather, unraveling the story behind why her neglectful mother abandoned her, hearing about her family’s economic struggles, or watching her navigate painful social situations at school, the story never ceases to provide truly heartbreaking revelations and plot developments. I can barely pinpoint a traditional climax in this novel, as the trials seem incessant, each more difficult than the last. As a result, readers become immediately invested in Fishkill’s story, sometimes unable to stop reading and sometimes unable to keep reading. To top it all off, the fact that Fishkill faces such a series of challenges at such a young age (the story takes place when she’s 12 and 13) adds further emotional charge to the story. (I can’t remember the last YA novel I read with a 12-to-13-year-old main character, but if Being Fishkill is any indication, I want more.)

But as often as Being Fishkill threatens to bring readers to tears, it promises to put a smile on their faces almost as frequently. I absolutely loved watching Fishkill form an awkward-yet-loving makeshift family with Duck-Duck and Molly, and I loved seeing her grapple with the bittersweet reality that, for the first time in her life, she has people actively involved in her well-being. (Seeing Fishkill react with wonderment when Molly advocates for her at school or feeds her healthy food certainly reminded me to appreciate my own family.)

While I adored Fishkill’s relationship with Molly, a top-tier fictional mother on par with the likes of Molly Weasley, what fascinated me most was Fishkill’s relationship with Duck-Duck, an aspiring lawyer who’s always ready to solve logic puzzles and sue her adversaries. From the moment they meet, their relationship is an electrically-charged friendship-and-somewhat/maybe/sort of-first-love—whether they’re making blood vows, navigating damaged trust when Duck-Duck falls in with the school’s cruel popular crowd, or exploring their sexuality (maybe even without realizing that’s what they're doing) by sharing a first kiss. The latter part of their relationship constitutes only a minor part of the plot, since the characters involved are only 12 and 13, but if you’re looking for YA and middle grade stories with characters who maybe aren’t straight, I’d highly recommend Being Fishkill. (On a related note, heads-up that this story features some homophobic slurs, so be prepared if that sort of thing bothers you.)

And through it all, we get to see the world through the eyes of Fishkill Carmel, one of the toughest, most vibrant, most endearing characters I’ve ever encountered. As the novel’s title implies, this story is ultimately a tale about being Fishkill: in the past, in the present, and in the future. Perhaps my favorite part of this novel is simply the protagonist herself—and the phenomenal, vivid way she tells her story and compels readers to care.

Being Fishkill is a stunning combination of so many elements I want to see more of in YA—characters with economic struggles, younger characters, explorations of family dynamics, and so much more. It tackles an array of issues but gives proper attention and care to each one, creating a multifaceted emotional roller coaster of a story. This story will make you cry and it will make you laugh—and most of all, it will make you fiercely care about its characters. Being Fishkill is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I echo the promise in the last sentence of this book’s blurb; read this story, and you will, undeniably, be changed.  

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Fun, Feminist, Eccentric Romp: Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis

Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis | Goodreads

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release: October 3, 2017
Source: BEA 2017
Flora Goldwasser has fallen in love. She won't admit it to anyone, but something about Elijah Huck has pulled her under. When he tells her about the hippie Quaker school he attended in the Hudson Valley called Quare Academy, where he'll be teaching next year, Flora gives up her tony upper east side prep school for a life on a farm, hoping to woo him. A fish out of water, Flora stands out like a sore thumb in her vintage suits among the tattered tunics and ripped jeans of the rest of the student body. When Elijah doesn't show up, Flora must make the most of the situation and will ultimately learn more about herself than she ever thought possible.

Told in a series of letters, emails, journal entries and various ephemera, Flora's dramatic first year is laid out for all to see, embarrassing moments and all.
When I first heard about Everything Must Go—while frantically scouring publishers' ARC drop schedules at BookExpo—I knew I had to read it. The blurb promised a fun, frivolous story of failed first love, perfect for a summer read.

And that's exactly what I got. But I also got so much more.

Most importantly, I got an empowering feminist tale full of exponential character growth. Don't let this book's premise (girl uproots her life for the sake of a boy) lead you astray. Throughout the story, Flora truly comes into her own, growing as a character until the final chapter.

Once Flora arrives at Quare and realizes Elijah won't be joining her, the story veers in an unexpected direction—after a few months of moping, she slowly begins to integrate herself into her new school. She makes new friends, becomes nationally-known for a piece of performance art, and… well, you'll just have to read the book to hear more about her offbeat adventures. Meanwhile, she tries to strike the right balance between being the free-spirited, radically-socially-conscious artist Quare wants her to be and the high-achieving, vintage-shop-crawling girl she was in New York City.

This grappling between identities—quirky Quare artist, vintage city fashionista, girl with a major crush, independent woman—leads to several questions about how we portray ourselves in different social situations, how pieces of our personalities combine, and how we interact with others. These are questions that Flora grapples with through her art, and they're questions that are only complicated by the whirlwind of events that transpire during Flora's December and second semester. Most of all, they're questions that will have readers pondering right along with the protagonist.

Through it all, Flora's journal entries and letters—mixed with emails and notes submitted by secondary characters—sing with a deeply-endearing, full-of-heart voice. Flora can be a bit clueless at times, yes, but she's also funny, clever, and increasingly confident. Never afraid to bare her deepest, most messy emotions, she tells a true-to-life story that's sometimes a comedy of errors, sometimes a comedy of triumphs—and her words will make readers want to be her BFF. Flora is a (more socially- and self-aware) Georgia Nicolson for a new generation of YA readers, and I loved it.

What I loved by far the most about Everything Must Go, however, is its treatment of romance. Crushes—both requited and not—obviously play a major role in the story's plot, but romantic relationships are not treated as the endgame in any character's arc. Everyone, especially Flora, learns to be true to themselves before pairing off with a romantic partner, and plenty of characters end up happily single at the end of the story. Complete with impeccably-written friendships that remain entirely platonic, Everything Must Go is a refreshing reminder that not every YA character needs to have found a future spouse by the end of his or her novel.

From its unusual setting to its eccentric cast of characters, everything about Everything Must Go is vibrant, clever, and oh-so-memorable. I can't tell what I loved the most: Flora's character growth, her thought-provoking art, or her voice that captures the messy magic of growing up just as it captivates readers. Jenny Fran Davis's debut is a must-read for all fans of hilarious contemporaries, journal- and epistolary-style novels, or realistically fascinating teen characters. You need this fish-out-of-water book in your life—embarrassing moments, complicated relationships, creative art, and all. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Anne of Avonlea Audiobook Tour: Excerpt and Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today, I'm thrilled to be participating in a blog tour (organized by the lovely Jess from The Audiobookworm) to promote newly-released Anne of Green Gables series audiobooks. I'll be posting an audio excerpt from Anne of Avonlea, the second book in the series, and a giveaway—but first, here's a bit of information about the audiobook: 

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Narrator: Colleen Winton

Length: 9 hours, 5 minutes

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press

Series: Anne of Green Gables, book two



Following Anne of Green Gables (1908), this book covers the second chapter in the life of Anne Shirley. We learn of Anne's doings from the age of 16 to 18, during the two years that she teaches at Avonlea school. It includes many of the characters from Anne of Green Gables, as well as new ones: Mr. Harrison and his foul-mouthed parrot, Miss Lavendar Lewis, Paul Irving, and the twins Dora (sweet and well behaved) and Davy (mischievious and in constant trouble). Anne matures, slightly, but she gets into a number of her familiar pickles, as only Anne can: She accidentally sells her neighbor's cow (having mistaken it for her own), gets stuck in a broken duck house roof while peeping into a pantry window, and more.

buy links

AudiblePost Hypnotic Press
(Use the code Anne_VT17 to get 35% off downloads and CDs from Post Hypnotic Press)

author bio

Lucy Maud Montgomery OBE (November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942) was a Canadian author best known Anne of Green Gables and the series of novels that book begins. The "Anne" of the books is Anne Shirley, an orphaned girl who comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert on their farm, Green Gables. Published in 1908, the book was an immediate success in Canada, the United States and beyond. It has been adapted multiple times to screen, stage, radio, and TV.

Anne Shirley made Montgomery famous in her lifetime and gave her an international following. Anne of Green Gables was ranked number 41 in "The Big Read," a survey of the British public by BBC to determine the "nation's best-loved novel" (not children's novel!). And a survey conducted by School Library Journal (USA) in 2012 ranked Anne of Green Gables number nine among all-time children's novels.
Anne of Green Gables was followed by a series of sequels with Anne as the central character. Montgomery published 20 novels as well as 530 short stories, 500 poems, and 30 essays in her lifetime. Her work, diaries and letters have been read and studied by scholars and readers worldwide. Mostly set in Prince Edward Island and locations within Canada's smallest province, the books made PEI a literary landmark and popular tourist site. Montgomery was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

narrator bio

Colleen is a Vancouver actor, singer, dancer, director and choreographer...and now a narrator. Her career has taken her all over the country and includes the Stratford, Shaw and Charlottetown Festivals, the original Canadian companies of CATS and Show Boat, extensive film/TV credits, and numerous directing/choreographing credits. Her stage work has been honoured with numerous nominations and a Jessie and Ovation award and she received a cultural award given by her local Chamber of Commerce. She was especially pleased to have recorded the works of L.M. Montgomery for Post Hypnotic Press just before she embarked on a production of the musical Anne of Green Gables at Theatre Calgary in which she plays Marilla Cuthbert.

audio excerpt


Anne of Green Gables Giveaway: Three Winners
Thanks for stopping by, and happy listening! For more content (and giveaway entries), make sure to check out the rest of the stops here

Friday, July 14, 2017

15 Books to Read While You're Waiting for Orange is the New Black Season Six

I recently finished Orange is the New Black season five (I know, it took me long enough), and I am SHOOK. After crying nonstop through the last episode, I emerged with two goals: dismantle the prison industrial complex, and read and recommend OITNB-esque books. And while I can’t quite complete the former, I can certainly complete the latter.

Here are 15 books you should read if you can’t stand the thought of waiting another year for season six—or if you want some excellent reads about prison, morality, drama, revolutions, guilt, and innocence.

The Walls Around Us // Ghostly, haunting, suspenseful, and enchantingly immersive, this book about three (wrongfully?) incarcerated teenagers is one of my all-time favorites.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly // After escaping a fundamentalist religious cult—a cult that chopped off her hands after she rebelled—Minnow must question everything she once believed while locked in a juvenile detention facility.

Dangerous Girls // Nothing is what it seems in this obsession-worthy murder mystery about friendship, the power of persona, and guilt versus innocence.

Seven Ways We Lie // Seven distinct, equally-enthralling voices intertwine in this novel about small town scandal and the ways we lie to ourselves and others.

Salt to the Sea // This book features four unforgettable narratives that intertwine majestically—and it includes some of the best supporting characters I’ve ever encountered.

One of Us is Lying // Five students walk into detention. One of them, a notorious gossip posed to release dark secrets about four of his classmates, never walks out.

Moxie // In this empowering novel, the protagonist sparks a series of nonviolent protests, fundraisers, and more to challenge her high school’s deeply sexist administration.

All American Boys // I know you’ve heard about this book, but seriously: if you haven’t read it yet, you need to change that ASAP.

Wildthorn // Imprisoned in an asylum and stripped of her identity, this book’s protagonist must grapple with horrifying treatment—all while holding on to her dream to become a doctor and wondering whether or not she is truly mad.

Tiny Pretty Things // Dance, diversity, and drama form the cornerstones of this story about ballerinas who will do whatever it takes to be the best.

The Female of the Species // This book asks a seemingly simple but deeply troubling question: how far is too far when it comes to standing up for people you love?

Conversion // An unusual ailment is sweeping the student body at St. Joan’s, a private academy in Danvers, MA. Could the cause be cutthroat academic competition? Or are more magical forces at work—the same forces that were instrumental in the Salem Witch trials centuries ago?

Dear Killer // This book spotlights a highly-trained moral nihilist whose after-school job is to assassinate by request. I’ll leave you with that.

The Devil You Know // One boy could be the protagonist’s next love; the other could be a murderer. The only problem? She’s on a road trip with both—and she doesn’t know which is which.

The Naturals series // In this brilliant series, four teenage protégés collaborate to solve FBI cold cases—but soon cold cases become active killers, and members of their own ranks may not be worthy of trust.

Do you watch Orange is the New Black? Are you as angry about the ending of season five as I am? And what books would you recommend to fans of the series? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Eight Under-the-Radar BookExpo Titles You May Have Missed

When I attended BookExpo earlier this month, I was lucky enough to grab a handful of highly-anticipated YA novels—There’s Someone Inside Your House and Genuine Fraud, for example.

However, I also procured several under-the-radar titles, some of which I wasn’t aware of before showing up at the convention. Here are eight quieter books that were promoted at BookExpo—books that haven’t gotten quite as much hype as the new Stephanie Perkins or E. Lockhart but that should be on you TBR anyway.

Spotlighting a group of five vigilante teens committed to righting local wrongs through small acts of heroism, this “join the team” story promises to be full of friendship, romance, and good deeds. // Out June 6, 2017 from Little, Brown and Company

This novel tells the story of an Indian American immigrant family—from the perspective of three generations of women. Alternating between three teenage POVs, it sounds like a beautiful, sweeping tale perfect for fans of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender// Out September 12, 2017 from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Privileged city girl Flora Goldwasser is sure she can woo her crush, Elijah Huck, by transferring to the farmlands Quaker school where he’ll be teaching next year. The only problem? Once the school year starts, he doesn’t show up. Told in a series of letters, emails, journal entries, and more, this novel is sure to be hilarious. // Out October 3, 2017 from Wednesday Books

This book is technically middle grade, but it looks like it will have plenty of crossover appeal for YA fans. Set in 1919, it tells the story of a girl named Henrietta, whose new estate is full of ghosts and surrounded by a mysterious forest. What lies within is up to her to discover. // Out October 31, 2017 from Chicken House

In this feminist, alt-history novel set in 2014 Nazi-controlled England, rule-follower Jessika faces a dilemma. How can she keep both her perfect life and her best friend and first love, Clementine, an outspoken radical who the regime has begun to notice? // Out November 14, 2017 from Candlewick Press

Set in a low-income rural area, this novel follows guarded, impenetrable Fishkill Carmel as she meets eccentric new girl Duck-Duck Farina. Fishkill has constructed protective emotional walls through years of abuse and hunger—but if she lets them down, Duck-Duck may be able to change her life forever. // Out November 14, 2017 from Candlewick Press

In Madison, a small town ensconced in the Mojave Desert, everyone gets one wish—and it always comes true. But wishes often result in heartbreak and chaos, so as Eldon’s turn to make his wish approaches, he begins to question what truly leads to a happy life. // Out January 2, 2018 from Sourcebooks

I have a feeling this meta fantasy book is going to be big, but I somehow hadn’t heard about it before BookExpo. It tells the story of Alice, who ventures into the world of her grandmother's favorite cult-classic dark fairy tales to rescue her kidnapped mother. // Out January 30, 2018 from Flatiron Books

What underrated upcoming releases—promoted at BookExpo or not—are you excited about?