When We Vanished: A Review

When We Vanished by Alanna PetersonAndi Lin and her mother are doing everything they can to keep anyone from finding out that her father’s new job is actually participating in a clinical trial at the food corporation Nutrexo.

After Andi hears executives whispering about a dangerous research study at a company party, she worries it might be the same study her dad is involved with–especially since she hasn’t heard from him in over a week. When Andi asks her neighbor Cyrus Mirzapour to help, they wind up in over their heads when a nonviolent protest ends with a bombing and both of them being held captive alongside Cyrus’s older brother, Naveed and younger sister, Roya.

Trapped and desperate to discover the truth and save themselves, Andi and Cyrus find themselves at the center of a conspiracy with consequences that are hard to imagine–and closer to home than either of them realize in When We Vanished (2020) by Alanna Peterson.

Find it on Bookshop.

When We Vanished is Peterson’s debut novel and the start of her Call of the Crow quartet. The book is published by Peterson’s newly created publishing company Rootcity Press which, as their website states, “operates on a not-for-profit model, and donates a portion of all proceeds to grassroots-based organizations focused on racial justice and food equity”

As such, this eco-thriller works to raise awareness about the dangers of fast/processed foods and genetically modified foods some of which can be seen on the book’s companion site Nutrexo Truth.

Unfortunately in sharing these timely messages Peterson’s novel highlights graphic scenes of animal cruelty with “EcoCows” kept in unsanitary and inhumane conditions at Nutrexo and scenes of torture when Naveed is sprayed with a noxious pesticide as part of the villain’s continued experiments leaving him with lasting nerve damage.

While these scenes viscerally showcase the dangers of modifying foods, particularly the increased spread of antibiotic resistant infections, the violence that will stay with readers far longer than the message.

When We Vanished is an unflinching eco-thriller best suited to readers comfortable with gore and grit.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Serious Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You have the chance to make different choices.”

Serious Moonlight by Jenn BennettBirdie Lindberg’s previously small life is in flux after her strict grandmother’s death. In a bid to gain some independence after finishing homeschooling and earning her high school equivalency, not to mention getting some work experience before college, Birdie convinces her grandfather to let her job hunt on the mainland.

Working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel won’t be interesting, but it should be easy. Plus, there’s the added bonus of giving Birdie plenty of opportunities to hone her observation skills as an aspiring detective.

At least until Birdie realizes that she’ll be working with Daniel Aoki–amateur magician, graveyard shift van driver, and the other half of an awkward one-afternoon fling that Birdie thought she could safely pretend never happened.

Ignoring Daniel to preserve what’s left of her dignity proves impossible when he asks for her help investigating a reclusive writer holding secret meetings at the hotel. Faced with Daniel’s smoking hotness, his genuine need, and her own curiosity, Birdie knows she has to help.

As Birdie and Daniel work on this real-life mystery together, she soon realizes that the bigger mystery might be what to do about her own feelings for Daniel in Serious Moonlight (2019) by Jenn Bennett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bennett’s latest standalone novel is filled with all of my favorite things including tons of references to classic detective stories. Birdie is a capable, smart heroine still learning how to come into her own with support from her grandfather and her nonconformist artist aunt, Mona. Daniel is charismatic, funny, and everything Birdie (and readers) could want in a male lead.

The hotel mystery and Birdie’s approach to life as she works to pursue her dream of becoming a private investigator add a lot of intrigue and fun to this contemporary romance.

On a personal level, it also felt like this book was written just for me. I identified so much with Birdie throughout the story as she struggles to come out of her shell and give herself the space and permission she needs to grow and thrive. This book is also the first time I have ever seen a story truly capture the weird blend of abject panic and genuine desire inherent to actually wanting to interact with someone.

Serious Moonlight is fantastic, filled with just enough tension to make the mystery aspect interesting while keeping the main focus on Birdie and her relationships. Birdie and Daniel are delightful lead characters complimented by an eccentric and entertaining cast of supporting characters. A new favorite for me, and maybe for you too. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore; Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson; Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus; Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee; The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe; Past Perfect by Leila Sales; Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

The Game of Love and Death: A Review

“Everybody dies. Everybody. That is the only ending for every true story.”

The Game of Love and Death by Martha BrockenbroughOver lifetimes Love and Death have carefully chosen their players, rolled the dice, and waited for any opportunity that might present itself for them to influence the Game in their favor. You probably already know some of the players: Antony and Cleopatra, Helen of Troy and Paris, even Romeo and Juliet.

Death has always won. Always.

But Love has a faith that Death can’t imagine–particularly when it comes to his latest player Henry Bishop.

A white boy adopted by a wealthy family, Henry’s life is easy even in the midst of the Depression that still grips the United States in 1937. His bright future is assured thanks to his adoptive family. All he has to do is claim it.

Even without the stakes of the Game and her role as Death’s player, Flora Saudade is an unlikely match for Henry. An African-American girl born just a few blocks from Henry, Flora supports herself as singer in Seattle’s nightclubs while she dreams of following in the footsteps of pilots like Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman.

With the players chosen and the dice rolled, Love and Death are prepared to watch this latest Game unfold. The odds, and the Game itself, are stacked against Henry and Flora. But with true love and free will at play maybe, just this once, anything is possible in The Game of Love and Death (2015) by Martha Brockenbrough.

The Game of Love and Death works on many levels, both as a work of fantasy and one of historical fiction, to create a story that is as nuanced and introspective as its vibrant cast of diverse characters.

While the main focus remains on Flora and Henry’s fledgling relationship, Brockenbrough sets this story against a backdrop peppered with real historical events and an evocative atmosphere. This novel touches upon the question of choice and taking risks as much as the matters of love and mortality readers might expect from the title.

The less likely aspect of this story is the compelling relationship between Love and Death. These two are, perhaps, the most unexpected characters in the novel. Love with his constant optimism and devil-may-care attitude is also surprisingly ruthless as his desperation to win the Game grows. Death, meanwhile, is much more than a villain as she struggles with the burden of her role in this story.

These very different stories–of Flora and Henry but also of Love and Death themselves–weave together in unexpected ways as The Game of Love and Death build to its remarkable conclusion.

The Game of Love and Death is a heady blend of fantasy and historical fiction that plays out on a grand scale. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages. Not to be missed.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Irong Cast by Destiny Soria, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood,  Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Pod: A (rapid fire) Review

Pod by Stephen Wallenfels (2010)

Pod by Stephen WallenfelsThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

Pod features dual story lines. One features Josh who is 15/16 in Washington state and one features Megs who is 12 in California. Both of them have to fave some MAJOR problems when aliens land. Or hover. Whatever.

I didn’t mind the dual story lines. I thought the contrast was interesting between the two locations and by the end I’m pretty sure there is some connection between the stories (as improbable and thin as it is).

The alien premise was interesting and not having any closure (why did they come? etc.) was annoying but ultimately realistic I guess.

My main problem with Pod is that I hated Josh. He is a complete jerk, totally self-absorbed and ultimately a bad caricature of just about every annoying teen stereotype I  can think of. I thought it was ridiculous how he second guessed his father at every turn with the water and food rationing. I was insanely annoyed by the ending of Josh’s storyline. It was, simply put, sloppy storytelling (and did I mention annoying?).

Megs’ storyline is less troubling because she wasn’t such an annoying character and it is clear she understands that survival was really important–unlike Josh. But she seemed a little flat (all of the characters did actually–it might have had to do with the sparse writing or maybe this one just really tried my patience). I also don’t think she sounds at all like a twelve year old.

Megs’ vocabulary includes a lot of expressions a twelve-year-old wouldn’t know. Similarly why does a child know about cracking open oysters? Why does she know about dehydration and how crying might not be the best thing when you’re already short on water? I get that her home life isn’t great but I don’t get how she would know those things or any number of other things.

I can see the appeal of the premise and the characters but for me Pod was ultimately really unsatisfying and deeply frustrating.