Review: Days of Little Texas by R.A. Nelson

Book Reviews

“Days of Little Texas” by R.A. Nelson

Publication Date: September 14, 2010

Knopf Books for Children

Advance Review Copy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (****)

Ronald Earl, aka Little Texas, almost 16, has been on the road with his Aunt Wanda Joy, elderly Sugar Tom, and Certain Certain for nigh on six years, preaching the gospel and performing healings in a long succession of small Southern towns. Lately he feels a fraud, bedeviled by recurring dreams of being  with a beautiful blond girl, naked. Sincere in his faith, he’s nevertheless beginning to doubt his work, his worthiness. Exhausted after a night’s work, he performs one last healing on a girl, Lucy, that feels different. As the days pass, he can’t stop thinking about her as she melds with the girl of his dreams. When a large, boisterous crowd in Mississippi cows him, he leaves the stage, unable to preach. Wanda Joy hatches a plan to get him back on track that will  test his faith and may, if he’s able, defeat the evil that ruined her grandfather on the same site, years before. Are the women in Ronald’s life working for good, or ill? A substantial subtext about twisted souls ensnared by slavery leads to increasingly scary and disturbing events, culminating in a showdown with evil reminiscent of M. T. Anderson’s climactic battle in Thirsty (Candlewick, 1997). Chapters are brief, the pace is rapid, and the tension is high as Ronald wrestles with demons both temporal and spiritual to find his place in the world.

Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.com

I had a few trepidations about Days of Little Texas. It didn’t get a lot of publicity when it was first published in October of 2010, and the theme of a “paranormal romance” was already a worn out subject.

 Days of Little Texas surprised me in the best way.

First, Ronald Earl, a.k.a Little Texas, had such a unique and powerful voice that I hadn’t seen in YA fiction in quite a while. He was honest, innocent, and had the purest of intentions on what he did with his ministry. He was a truly heartfelt individual and took on quite a bit of a responsibility by using his gift for spreading the Gospel.

Second, the paranormal aspect wasn’t the usual “weepy heroine falls head-over-heels in love with a ghost/zombie/vampire” etc., and the love story between Little Texas and Lucy was genuine and strong. I only wished more was said about Lucy’s past and why she was chosen to free the souls in the end.

It was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise to read Days of Little Texas and I congratulate the author on such a unique YA novel that has been overlooked for far too long.

Interview: Pamela Keyes, Author of “The Jumbee”

Author Interviews, Book Reviews

After reading and then reviewing “The Jumbee” by Pamela Keyes, I knew that there were quite an extraordinary author behind this exceptional book and am excited to present an interview with Pamela Keyes! You can read the review for The Jumbee here.

Can you tell us a little about The
Jumbee?

I loved your review, which said
everything I might hope to say here. But maybe I can add a review
from Booklist, which summarizes The Jumbee on the amazon.com site.

A teenage actress falls for a
mysterious stranger in this haunting romance, reminiscent of The
Phantom of the Opera. High-school senior Esti Legard and her mother
have moved to the Caribbean after the death of Esti’s father, a
famous Shakespearean actor. While playing Juliet at her prestigious
performing-arts high school, Esti starts receiving acting instruction
from a disembodied voice in the theater. Frightened that she is being
courted by a jumbee, or ghost, Esti tries to switch her attention to
charming flesh-and-blood Rafe, but she continues to be seduced by the
velvety-voiced persona, which seems to read her mind. When Esti’s
real and imagined worlds collide in the climax of a tropical
hurricane, her secrets are revealed, along with those of her
conflicted island community, where descendants of slaves and slave
owners alike live in an uneasy peace. The lushly described exotic
setting breathes new life into the classic star-crossed story line.
Romance fans will enjoy the fascinating locale along with the
slow-building suspense and incidental acting lessons.

Some writers have daily routines
they stick to when working on a project. What is a day in your
writing life like?

I have two young children (ages 5 and
7) so my writing time is limited to when they are in school or with a
babysitter. Generally I’ll get them off to school, then race to my
computer and write until they come home. My muse is that ticking
clock.

What was the most difficult part of
the writing process for The Jumbee?

The revisions. For one thing, my
original manuscript had Alan — like The Phantom — considerably
older than Esti. But that dynamic didn’t feel right for a young adult
novel — I wanted it creepy, but that was much too creepy — so I
reworked the entire manuscript to make him younger, which instantly
worked so much better. I had a few other far-reaching changes like
that, and it seemed to drag on forever.

Since The Jumbee is based off of the
Phantom of the Opera, did one of the interpretations of the story in
film, book, or the Broadway show influence you to write this book?

I fell in love with the plot and the
character of The Phantom when I saw the Broadway show. As I walked
out of the theater, I knew I had to somehow turn it into a YA story.
When I was writing it, however, Leroux’s novel influenced most of the
twists and turns in The Jumbee.

If The Jumbee were made into a
feature film, who would you cast as your leading characters and why?

What a fun question! I’ve always adored
the voice of Patrick Stewart, but he’s too old now for Alan. Robert
Pattinson has a great, sexy voice, and I think he would be awesome as
Alan. Darryl Stephens would make a very cute Rafe, and so would Shad
Moss. I think Drew Barrymore would be perfect as Esti’s mom. As for
Esti, If only Chloe Moretz were a couple years older…

What subjects would you like to see
more of in today’s Young Adult fiction market?

I’m fairly liberal, so I love books
that push the envelope of what is traditionally acceptable. I would
love to see more interracial relationships, more questioning of the
absolute “good vs bad” (because good and bad are always
more complex than that). The best books, imho, are the ones that open
the minds of teenagers and make them question the reality of right
and wrong.

Can you tell us about some of your
favorite books and authors?

Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson);
Trial of Tompa Lee (Ed Hoornaert); Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
(Chris Crutcher); Harry Potter (hmm, guess who?); Wrinkle in Time
(Madeleine L’Engle); Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; J.R.R.Tolkien; Anne
McCaffrey. I have so many favorites…. 🙂 And I haven’t even begun
with the classics. The Great Gatsby; Being There….

Do you have any interesting stories
about the writing of this book that you would like to share?

Mostly I treasure the time I spent
living in the Virgin Islands, which gave me such a wonderful insight
into life in the West Indies.

Did you listen to music a lot while
working on this project, and if so, what kind of soundtrack would The
Jumbee have?

I listened to the Phantom soundtrack,
of course. I also listened to a lot of Caribbean music – calypso,
soca, steel drum bands. There are a lot of great USVI bands. And then
I have my favorite old standbys, eclectic singers like Tori Amos;
Fisher; Bangguru; Bjork. What kind of soundtrack would The Jumbee
have? The Avatar soundtrack gives me goosebumps, with its blended
emotional & tribal nuances. When The Jumbee reaches that level,
I’ll have a talk with James Horner.

Why did you choose to veer away from
the musical theme in the original story to a more dramatic and
Shakespearean approach in The Jumbee?

I’ve always loved theater, and it
seemed like such a logical move – particularly for a high school
setting. I mean, how many high school kids can really relate to
opera?

Alan, like The Phantom, is an
intriguing, bittersweet and complex character, and not much is ever
said about what happens to him after the story ends. What kind of
journey do you see Alan taking when your story ends?

I have a lot of ideas, so I’ll be
thrilled if it goes in the direction of a sequel, so that I can find
out what does happen to him. Things would have to get a lot worse for
Alan before they got better, of course. That’s what the best writers
must do to their beloved characters, unfortunately.

Can you tell us a little about your
other writing projects and what you are working on right now?

I have two previous middle-grade novels
(The Rune of Zachary Zimbalist and its sequel) about a connecting
dimension linking the past to the future, and what happens if history
is altered by changing the past. I’m also three weeks from finishing
my next manuscript (yay!), which is a paranormal historical YA
fiction. In that one, my main teen characters (from three different
centuries) each struggle with the meaning of “being good.”
I also have a novel further down the line that addresses the question
of gender identity. Like I said, I love books that make teens think
and open their minds.

Do you ever see yourself writing a
sequel to The Jumbee?

I would love to write a sequel. The
Jumbee has gotten a lot of great reviews, so I think it’s a good
possibility. Danielle’s sister, Marielle, would likely develop into a
major character. As soon as I’m done with my next two projects….

What advice would you give to
potential writers that you wish you had been told?

First of all, write the story that you
are passionate about. If you try and fit into a trend, chances are
the trend will be over before you ever get published. On the other
hand, if your novel is outstanding, it may create its own trend.
Secondly, find a way to condense your story into an amazing
single-sentence summary. After you’ve done that, expand it into a
single-paragraph summary, and then into a one-page summary. The most
powerful marketing tool is a fabulous synopsis, and all three of the
above synopses are essential. It can be hard to do, but here’s a
great trick I got from a recent SCBWI writers’ retreat: 1) After
(inciting incident) a (character description) must (primary action)
in order to (goal), or risk (stakes) before (ticking clock).

Translating this to The Jumbee, we
have: Moving to a tropical island after the death of her famous
father, a high school theater student must come face-to-face with
local superstitions in order to escape from the shadow of her famous
father, or risk losing everyone she loves.

Is there anything you would like to
say to your fans and potential readers?

I love knowing that I’ve touched people
with my work. If my writing makes a true difference in the life of a
single person, then I can’t ask for much more. Although I wouldn’t
turn down a stint on the NYT bestsellers’ list. 🙂

About Pamela Keyes:

I spent most of my life trying to decide what to be when I grew up. I’ve
always been an avid reader and traveler, and I actually wrote my first book when
I was nine. My family and friends teased me through middle school and high
school about the endless stories I wrote, but somehow it never occurred to me
that writing could be a career.

So I studied science and English in high school, German and math and
psychology in college, and I traveled whenever I could. I settled into
architecture in graduate school, and eventually became a registered architect. I
drew building plans for years, but finally found myself writing stories again in
my spare time. And so, it came full-circle.

As a writer, I can be anything I want, anywhere in the universe I want to be.
I’ve lived in the lush tropical islands of the Caribbean, the remote
Texas-Mexican Border, the Bavarian Alps, and the thriving cities of Denver and
Seattle. Through all my adventures, my heart has always belonged to the Arizona
Sonoran desert. I now live in Tucson with my husband and two children.

Bio Courtesy of Author’s website.

Review: The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

Book Reviews

The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

Publication Date: October 4, 2010

Dial

Library Copy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (*****)

A teenage actress falls for a mysterious stranger in this haunting romance,
reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera. High-school senior Esti Legard and her
mother have moved to the Caribbean after the death of Esti’s father, a famous
Shakespearean actor. While playing Juliet at her prestigious performing-arts
high school, Esti starts receiving acting instruction from a disembodied voice
in the theater. Frightened that she is being courted by a jumbee, or ghost, Esti
tries to switch her attention to charming flesh-and-blood Rafe, but she
continues to be seduced by the velvety-voiced persona, which seems to read her
mind. When Esti’s real and imagined worlds collide in the climax of a tropical
hurricane, her secrets are revealed, along with those of her conflicted island
community, where descendants of slaves and slave owners alike live in an uneasy
peace. The lushly described exotic setting breathes new life into the classic
star-crossed story line. Romance fans will enjoy the fascinating locale along
with the slow-building suspense and incidental acting lessons.

—Synopsis Courtesy of Amazon.com

There is nothing that I like more than
a tropical setting. Well, and the Phantom of the Opera. When I came
across the Jumbee, I was entranced. The Caribbean and the Phantom of
the Opera—together? In the same book?!
I read it during the period of winter known as Indian Summer, a brief
respite from the bitter, bitter cold and snow. It was perfect. The color of the eyes on the cover was startling, and otherworldly. I was
hooked before I even read the first page.

Esti Legard is a likeable and relatable character, someone that finds it
hard to forgive, hard to forget, and hard not to fall in love in her
life. Her relationship with Rafe Solomon, who is modeled after Raoul,
in the original Phantom of the Opera story, was a little more
tumultuous than I remember, but his protective ways prove that he was
a strong player in the overall story arc and added a bit of a
playfulness to the book.

Alan. There is so much to say about him. It gave me chills to read the
dialogues he had with Esti regarding Shakespeare, speaking the words
of the Bard in conversation as easily as if it were breathing. Pamela
Keyes did a wonderful job with Alan’s character, and his bittersweet,
underlying tone made him the true star of this novel. The only thing
that I didn’t like was Alan’s name, as it did not seem as “right”
for him as an authentic Caribbean or English name might have been,
and having the same name as Esti’s father, regardless of his
influence over Alan, was a little bit unsettling. However, as the
book went on, it was easier to adjust.

I’m always leery about retellings of stories that I love. Phantom of the
Opera is one of them, along with Tuck Everlasting. The Jumbee did not
disappoint. Rather, it reestablished my love for the musical, the
original book by Gaston Leroux, the film and all of the interpreted
“sequels” available now.

The Jumbee is well worth the investment, which is more than I can say for
many Young Adult books on the market today. It is, by far, is one of
the best books I have read the past year, and I can’t wait to see
what Pamela Keyes has in store for us next time.

Review: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Book Reviews

 

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

 

Publication Date:

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Graphia Imprint

Complimentary  Review Copy

Overall Grade: 4 out of 5 stars (****)

 

Seventeen-year-old Lisabeth is fighting a series of demons the only way she knows how: by refusing to eat. Her cold, acerbic mother; distant father; and friends who disapprove of her and each other all trigger her inner Thin Voice, which derides food, confirms her fatness, and shames her into the control necessary to reject food. As she sinks deeper into anorexia, she summons Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who in turn assigns her a black steed and a scale and transforms her into Famine, another of the Four Horsemen. Kessler has written an unusual allegory about eating disorders, one that works on several levels. As Lisabeth gallops across the world, she witnesses examples of both gluttony and starvation. Using her newfound power, she combats famine, visits horror upon the privileged, and strives to bring balance to the world, all while ignoring the need for balance in her own life. Kessler offers a refreshingly new approach to the YA eating-disorder genre that reinforces the difficulty of conquering these diseases.

—Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.com

 

Hunger has an ominous cover, something in the Paranormal genre that I wouldn’t necessarily pick up at first. It’s a slim book, just under two hundred pages, and had a concept that was intriguing enough for me to finish it in two sittings.

The character of Lisabeth is gripping and surprisingly realistic, except for the part that she is a Horseman of the Apocolypse—Famine, to be precise. Lisa is also anorexic, and I haven’t seen many books portray anorexia in such detail as “Hunger” and it has a lot to do with the author having been anorexic herself. The “Thin Voice” and the body dismorphic disorder Lisa experienced added to the complexity of her story.

An entertaining part that was a bit unexpected was Death, the Pale Rider and the one seemingly in “charge” of the Horseman. The author cleverly described him with dirty-blonde hair, a striped sweater, grungy jeans and Converse shoes…singing “Come As You Are.” It’s nice to think that Death would look like Kurt Cobain, even if it was only in a book and every time he entered the scene he seemed to steal it. I would love to see more of him in future books in this series. 

Hunger was well worth the time invested, something rare and hidden in the Young Adult genre. The personal notes that Jackie Morse Kessler wrote in the back added to the esteem I had for her, as a friend of her’s—a victim of bulimia—died years ago and hoped that this book would help her heal. Because Ms. Kessler realized that it could have been her in her friend’s place if she hadn’t gotten help for her eating disorder.

 

 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a fantastic source. You can visit their website at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or call them toll-free at 1-800-931-2237.

  

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Reviews

 Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Original Publication Date: July 13, 2010 

Library Copy 

Scholastic Press

Overall Grade: 5 out of 5 stars (*****)

Under the barrage of werewolf/supernatural romance that is seen in the Young Adult genre today, The Wolves of Mercy Falls series is a refreshing new package on an old thing. In Shiver, I was intrigued by the aesthetics of the book—the midnight blue ink on the pages, and the cut paper silhouette cover where the the wolf in the foreground was barely discernible from the blue leaves. Inside, at the beginning of each chapter, the author listed the temperature for each character’s point of view. It was something I had never seen before, so Shiver had to be read. An interesting, scientific take on the “werewolfism” disease…

Linger continues Sam and Grace’s storyline, with the interesting addition of Cole and Isabel. I felt in Linger, that Sam and Grace fell a little flat, except toward the end. Cole however was an amazing character. He was just the kind of person that sucked you into his world, and shut you out of it again when it got difficult for him. He was lifelike, and enthralling. Maggie Stiefvater did a fantastic job of giving him a believable personality, and with the link he has to suicide and the music industry paints a fairly accurate picture of the life of a musician—minus the werewolf bit.

It has been quite a long time since a book like that has pulled me so desperately into its world, and wouldn’t let me go until I was on the other side of the story. Linger was definitely more interesting than Shiver, in spite of the presence of Sam and Grace’s uneasy romance.

Oz, Wonderland, Middle Earth, and Narnia.

Book Reviews

Oz, Wonderland, Middle Earth, and Narnia. 

These lands, fictional yet completely rich in history and culture, all have one thing in common. For as long as there have been writers of fantastic fiction, there have been readers who would give anything to escape into those worlds. Narnia would be my choice of those four.

 Hello, Prince Caspian!

 

However, even at the end of the Middle Earth conventions, and the Wizard of Oz reruns on television, most readers have to accept the fact that those aren’t real places that you can get to with the GPS in your car.

Today, I’m going to talk a little about my favorite fantasy world.

New York City.

 

The lights of Broadway, the green grass of Central Park, tea at the Plaza Hotel, the street musicians in Washington Square, a night at Radio City Music Hall…

 Eloise.

I miss a city I’ve never been to, a city full of life and mystery, wonderment and intrigue. So in honor of this fantastic city where we will eagerly anticipate ringing in the new year, here are a few titles that are set in New York City that might make me miss it a whole lot less. Or possibly more.

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

Flappers in the roaring twenties…

The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties. Letty Larkspur and Cordelia Grey escaped their small Midwestern town for New York’s glittering metropolis. All Letty wants is to see her name in lights, but she quickly discovers Manhattan is filled with pretty girls who will do anything to be a star…

Cordelia is searching for the father she’s never known, a man as infamous for his wild parties as he is for his shadowy schemes. Overnight, she enters a world more thrilling and glamorous than she ever could have imagined—and more dangerous. It’s a life anyone would kill for . . . and someone will.

 The only person Cordelia can trust is Astrid Donal, a flapper who seems to have it all: money, looks, and the love of Cordelia’s brother, Charlie. But Astrid’s perfect veneer hides a score of family secrets.

Across the vast lawns of Long Island, in the illicit speakeasies of Manhattan, and on the blindingly lit stages of Broadway, the three girls’ fortunes will rise and fall—together and apart. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Luxe comes an epic new series set in the dizzying last summer of the Jazz Age.The year is 1929. New York is ruled by the Bright Young Things: flappers and socialites seeking thrills and chasing dreams in the anything-goes era of the Roaring Twenties.

Courtesy of Amazon.com

  

Misguided Angel by Melissa De La Cruz

Although, not mainly set in New York City in this particular novel, the entire series has all the New York high society intrigue you could ever ask for. Vampires included.

 After inheriting the dark Van Alen Legacy, Schuyler fled to Florence–with her forbidden love, Jack. Now the two of them must embark on the mission Schuyler was destined to complete: to find and protect the seven gates that guard earth from Lucifer, lord of the Silverbloods.
 
As the Blue Blood enclave weakens yet further, fate leads Schuyler closer to a terrifying crossroads–and a choice that will determine the destiny of all vampires.
 
Courtesy of Amazon.com
  

 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan 

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus. This first installment of Rick Riordan’s best-selling series is a non-stop thrill-ride and a classic of mythic proportions.

Courtesy of Amazon.com

 

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson


 

  The Hopewell Hotel, 75 years ago a stylish Upper East Side haunt, has fallen on hard times. Its proprietors, the Martin family, have let the last remaining employee go, and now it’s up to the four children, Spencer, Lola, Scarlett, and Marlene, to keep things afloat. Enter one Mrs. Amy Amberson, a flamboyant, mysterious guest, back in New York after a long absence, with some clandestine motives. Mrs. Amberson is to occupy the Empire Suite, just today entrusted to Scarlett as a “present” on her fifteenth birthday (a family tradition), for the entire summer, and keeping her happy will test Scarlett’s ingenious mettle. What follows is some utterly winning, madcap Manhattan farce, crafted with a winking, urbane narrative and tight, wry dialogue. Beneath the silvered surface, Johnson delivers a complex sibling relationship. Like the Hilary McKay’s Casson quartet, first introduced in Saffy’s Angel (2002), these siblings are bound by tender, poignant connections, all the more real for the absurdity of their circumstances. We can only hope that they, too, return for more intrepid adventures.

Courtesy of Amazon.com

———————————————————–

August Rush

Although not a book, this movie has changed so many lives affected by the power of music.

And the winners are…

Contests

The two contest giveaway winners of signed and personalized copies of “Jane” by April Lindner are…

Meg— of www.writemeg.com 

and Lorelai—of The Darcy Review!

 

Thank you to everyone for entering this contest giveaway and a special thank you to April Lindner and Little, Brown & Co. for participating!

Keep checking back for other upcoming giveaways on Shylock Books!

“Jane” by April Lindner Contest Giveaway!

Contests

“Jane” by April Lindner Contest Giveaway!

April Lindner, author of “Jane” has kindly partnered in a giveaway exclusively on Shylock Books!

The prizes up for grabs:

—Two (2) Advance Review Copies of “Jane” by April Lindner, signed and personalized by the author.

Note 10/29/2010 : The author has offered the winners the choice of an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) OR  a Finished Copy of “Jane”—just like what you would find in a bookstore or library!

 

How to win:

—Mention “Jane” by April Lindner on any social networking site: i.e. your blog, Twitter, MySpace, or Facebook page, along with a link back to this contest, and a picture of the book cover.

—Leave a comment in comment section of this post along with the url of where you mentioned “Jane.” Don’t forget to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win!

Contest Details:

—One (1) entry per person, per day.

—2 winners will be randomly selected in the drawing.

—The contest ends on Halloween night, Sunday, October 31st with the 2 winners announced shortly thereafter.