DRC Review of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner

I received a DRC of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I Am Here Now is a novel-in-verse, taking place in 1960-1961. The main character Maisie lives with her parents, but her mom is terribly abusive. She finds friendship with the boy across the way whose father is terribly abusive. As Maisie enters high school, she becomes friend with a girl named Rachel whose mother is an artist. Maisie quickly finds refuge in spending time with Rachel and Rachel’s mother Kiki. However, that refuge always ends as soon as Maisie goes back home.

This book is brutal. The abuse that Maisie experiences is horrific, and her father and her grandmother often ignore how bad it gets at time. Throughout the book, Maisie attempts to find hope through art and through relationships, trying to find something that will love her back when no one else does.

After reading the author’s note, I found out that this is a semi-biographical work of fiction, and because of that, I find it especially hard to critique this as a novel, to separate the author’s own experiences from the work of fiction.

That said, I had two main issues with this book from the fiction standpoint:

-The book is set in 1960-1961. However, unlike some historical fiction works, there is not a great deal of historical world building. Had the book not explicitly told me the time period it was set in, I wouldn’t have known. After reading the author’s note, it makes sense why it was set in this time period: that was the time that the author was a teen. However, as a work of fiction, it was hard to remain in the 1960s throughout this.

-Lack of hope. Although Maisie finds refuge within art, for most of the book, hope is sorely lacking. As a memoir, lack of hope makes sense; after all, depending on how much of this is autobiographical, there likely realistically was not much hope. However, the book summary said the world Maisie catches a glimpse of is full of life, creativity, and love. However, Maisie frequently has issues with Rachel and Kiki as well as the two male relationships in this book. None of the love that she experiences in the book is actual love. From a memoir perspective, again, this makes sense. However, for being a YA fiction work, the lack of hope until the final 50 pages concerned me a great deal.

However, if you like novels-in-verse and can handle tough subject matter, I would still recommend checking this out. While brutal, it is a quicker read, and it will leave you thinking. If you come into it with the lens of “this is semi-autobiographical,” you will have a better experience as a reader.

I Am Here Now releases Tuesday, August 4.

ARC Review of When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cousins Mark and Talia used to spend summers together at the family cottage, but when a fight happened between their parents, those happy summer days ended, and they no longer talked with each other. When their grandpa dies, Mark and Talia are reunited for the funeral.

Although Mark is sad about his grandfather, he’s more interested in trying to go to Pride in Toronto while they are there for the funeral. He’s grown up in Halifax, and while they have a Pride event there, it’s nothing compared to what happens in Toronto.

And while Talia is sad about his grandfather, she’s more interested in trying to meet up with Erin, her partner, who recently left Victoria and moved to school early—which just happens to be in Toronto.

But their parents have other plans. Instead of either of them staying in Toronto, the families decide to go to the family cabin to begin to decide what to do with it because Mark and Talia’s grandmother’s health is also declining.

But when their grandmother’s health calls their parents away, they decide to unleash a plot to get them both what they want: Mark to Pride and Talia to Erin in Toronto. Can you say roadtrip time?

When You Get the Chance is a beautiful look at family secrets, dealing with the past, and the messiness of teen life. These are not perfect characters; they are not written to be that way! Their personalities are very nuanced, and it was honestly refreshing to see how messy they were at times. They are incredibly realistic and act like some people I know in real life. This very realistic messiness was dealt with in such a careful way by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson, and I loved how much the characters grew throughout the novel.

I absolutely loved this read, and it’s one that I definitely recommend!

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DRC Review of The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Auggie lives in Fulton Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. It’s a decaying suburb, and unfortunately, it’s known to be a hub for vampires. Yes, vampires. An average of three people die each year in Fulton Heights of vampire attacks, and public places in town are equipped with emergency kits to handle vampire attacks.

So why should Auggie care about Algebra when he lives in a vampire town? Why does he have to get tutored in Algebra so he can hopefully actually pass it this time around when there are bigger issues to worry about?

And then Auggie finds out from Jude, a vampire, that the world as he knows it is coming to an end—and he may be the only one to stop that from happening.

The Fell of Dark is Roehrig’s fifth novel, but it is fourth original novel. (He has an intellectual property work titled A Werewolf in Riverdale which releases April 7) . While Roehrig became known for his twisty whodunit thrillers, Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit, he has also expanded his range of thrillers to include Death Prefers Blondes and now The Fell of Dark which might best be called a paranormal thriller.

Roehrig has carefully crafted a world where vampires are known to walk among us and carefully crafted two cults of vampires: the League of Dark Star and the Syndicates. The amount of careful world building Roehrig did was outstanding, but it never once feels like an info dump on the reader. As Auggie comes to know elements of the vampire world that he didn’t know prior, the reader learns along with him in ways that fully immerse the reader into the story.

As Roehrig is also known for, The Fell of Dark includes a multitude of queer characters including queer vampires. And within this, Roehrig also manages to sneak in a bit of mid-twentieth century queer history.

Roehrig’s The Fell of Dark is a novel that you can really sink your teeth into and rejoice in delight, and it’s an absolute must read.

The Fell of Dark releases July 14.

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ARC Review of Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dragon Hoops is a true story about Bishop O’Dowd High School’s 2014-2015 basketball season. Yang was a teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School, and upon being stuck about what story to tell next, he turned to the famed basketball team. While the basketball team had made state several times, the state title remained elusive. While Yang didn’t quite know what the outcome would be for that season, he decided that this story needed to be told.

Yang tells of current coach Lou Richie, Coach Mike Phelps (retired), and the teens on the team that season. He effortlessly weaves together basketball history along with the history of basketball at Bishop O’Dowd High School.

Essentially, Yang manages to tell a story through a graphic novel that can be fairly compared to Friday Night Lights.

This will appeal to all readers, especially those who love basketball.

Dragon Hoops releases March 17, 2020.

ARC Review of The Phantom Twin by Lisa Brown

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Isabel and Jane are the Extraordinary Peabody Sisters. Sold to a carnival shortly after they were born as conjoined twins, they are a part of the “Freak Show” in the carnival. When a doctor sees their act, he believes that he can successfully separate them, giving Jane what she’s always longed for: her own life separate from Isabel.

But then the surgery goes wrong, and Isabel is the one to survive. She’s then haunted by her twin Jane as she tries to navigate life no longer conjoined and now no longer an asset to the carnival.

Isabel finds allies along the way, but she also finds that she shouldn’t be so easy to trust people. She must find ways to navigate her new life successfully before she can no longer go with the carnival.

The Phantom Twin is a historical graphic novel that explores the idea of the old school freak shows in a new light. This is a quick read.

The Phantom Twin releases on March 3.

ARC Review of I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through the author/publisher’s early reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

We begin an interview room in a police station where Anna Cicconi confesses to the murder of Zoe Spanos. How we got to that point is the question.

Freshly graduated from high school, Anna gets a job as a nanny for a family who live in the Hamptons. She needs a clean break from her former reality in which she would get blackout drunk or high on various drugs, and what better way than to be put in a position where she is responsible for another human life besides her own.

As she arrives to the small village of Herron Mills, she receives many strange looks, and she eventually finds out that she bears a striking resemblance to Zoe Spanos who disappeared between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

For a reason that she cannot explain, she feels like she knows Zoe even though her friends convince her that Anna and Zoe have never met. But Anna knows things about Zoe that aren’t public information, and how else can she know these things?

Anna decides to investigate Zoe’s disappearance, getting close to Zoe’s (former?) boyfriend. And in the end (or in this case the beginning of the book), she decides that she knows Zoe so well because she killed Zoe.

But not everyone is buying it. After all, how can you kill someone that you never even met?

Told in “then” and “now” segments, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a twisting psychological thriller that will elevate your heart rate and leave you second-guessing everything down to the last page.

In I Killed Zoe Spanos, Kit Frick is able to carefully weave together her best book yet.

I Killed Zoe Spanos releases on June 2, 2020.

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ARC Review of Scammed by Kristen Simmons

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Further disclaimer: This review will continue some spoilers for the first book (The Deceivers) but no spoilers for Scammed.

Brynn Hilder had her life turned upside down when she was taken into Vale Hall, a boarding school for con artists. For the first time in her life, her skills that she learned in Devon Park, a poor neighborhood, had great value. She made friends that became almost like family, and she became really close with Caleb, a fellow student.

But things become a bit complicated in Scammed as Grayson, a person she used previously to find out who killed the sister of the Vale Hall director, has found safe harbor at Vale Hall until the director can gather enough dirt to put Grayson’s father, a U.S. Senator.

As Brynn goes undercover to find out about the disappearance of an intern who worked for Grayson’s father, she finds her found-family thrown into turmoil and finds that things are not as they seem.

Scammed is a thrilling sequel to The Deceivers. It’s an amazing read, and I absolutely loved it. The whole series is one that is a fantastic read. The end of book 2 sets up for an amazing concept for book 3.

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ARC Review of The Vinyl Underground by Rob Rufus

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

New Year’s Eve 1967. Ronnie’s brother is dead, killed in the Vietnam War. Ronnie’s dad is eager for Ronnie to register to serve as soon as he turns 18, even though Ronnie wants to do anything but follow in his brother’s footsteps.

He rereads his brother Bruce’s letters, tucked away in his brother’s record collection. Before Bruce got sent to Vietnam, they had plans to start a radio show together. Now, Ronnie doesn’t know what to do, but he finds comfort in music.

As 1968 starts, that tumultuous historical year, Ronnie is filled with dread. But then he meets Hana, a half-Japanese girl, and his life begins to change. Hana vehemently opposes the war in Vietnam, so much so that her parents temporarily moved her to Florida to get her away from the active violent protesting that she had been doing. With Hana, Bruce’s best friend Ramrod who’s been avoiding the draft by purposely failing at high school, and Ronnie’s best friend Milo, they form a Vinyl Underground club whose purpose at first is just listening to music.

But when they unleash a plot to make sure that Ronnie is disqualified for the draft, their plans may begin to go too far. And when Hana is a victim of a hate crime that police don’t care about, they decide to fight back with everything that they have.

The Vinyl Underground is a solid historical YA that solidly world builds for the time period, and the characters come to life. It’s easy to believe that this all really happened among the historical backdrop of 1968.

The Vinyl Underground releases on March 3, 2020.

ARC Review of Music From Another World by Robin Talley

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer 1977, and Tammy and Sharon have been paired up together for a pen pal project for their high schools. The purpose of the pen pal project is to strengthen students’ faith over the summer and into the first term of their junior year of high school.

Both are reluctant about this project, and both keep a journal outside of the letter writing project. Tammy writes to Harvey Milk, an elected supervisor for San Francisco Board of Supervisors (the first openly gay man to be elected in California). Tammy is a lesbian, but her family is very much anti-gay and is working with Anita Bryant’s campaign (another historical figure and real historical campaign) to repeal any gay rights laws as well as prevent any more from passing.

Sharon writes to her journal, keeping her brother’s secret: her brother is gay, but her mom doesn’t know this. Both are fearful for what could happen if their mom finds out.

As they begin to write to each other, an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two of them. As Sharon discovers Castro Street and punk music and Tammy tries to find ways to fight back against her aunt without outing herself, the two quickly find that it takes great bravery to be yourself when people are actively working against your very existence.

Running from 1977 to 1978, Talley’s Music From Another World is an atmospheric book, steeped in rich historical world building, putting these characters right there in real life events. Most of those who read this won’t know the history, but hopefully, this book will encourage them (like it did for me) to find out more.

Robin Talley’s book releases on March 31, 2020. Add to Goodreads here

ARC Review of A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

While choosing an invention for a class project, Silas decides to do his report on Glenn Burke, the first person to give a high five.

Silas very purposely chose Glenn Burke. Like Silas, Glenn Burke was a baseball player. Also like Silas, Glenn Burke was gay.

Silas has just figured this out for himself, and he hasn’t yet shared this with anyone. He decides to share it with his best friend Zoey, but when Zoey doesn’t respond quite as enthusiastically as Silas hoped, their friendship becomes strained.

Add to this homophobic remarks from some of his baseball teammates, and Silas feels more alone than ever before. In a moment of desperation, Silas lies to his teammates and tells him that he’s dating Zoey, and disastrous consequences follow.

Silas fears that what happened to Glenn Burke will happen to him too, and he becomes more and more withdrawn from the sport he loves and those he loves. It’ll take someone to get him out of this spiral.

A High Five for Glenn Burke is incredible. Silas is desperate for acceptance, and he seeks that out in any way that he can, even through a historical figure who died before he was born. Often times, I felt the desire to just hug Silas and tell him that things are going to eventually be okay. Bildner writes this story so well, and it’s one that everyone ages 9 and up should read.

A High Five for Glenn Burke releases on February 25, 2020.