A Creepy, Atmospheric Young Adult Story From Kevin Wignall

An interesting exploration of teenage relationships within a creepy ghost story.

Speaking of books by longtime friends. OK, maybe that is a slight exaggeration. I have never met Kevin Wignall, unlike Jim Geraghty, but I have been reading his books since 2004 and interacting with him via email and blogs nearly ever since. We are “friends” on Facebook so perhaps that counts nowadays.

Anywhoo… Mr. Wignall recently released a short horror story for young adults, This Place of Evil (he also has another book coming out soon, Those Who Disappeared, but more about that closer to publication).

It was an enjoyable and quick read but definitely not something I would have picked up or read if not for it being written by Kevin. It’s basically an exploration of teenage relationships set against the backdrop of a ghost story in an abandoned school (jock. popular kid, underachiever, girls, etc.).

The backstory, in the form of journal entries from their teacher when he was at the school, continues to provide more context/history interspersed with current events, but the creepiness is really just the perception of what it would be like to be trapped in an old, abandoned building with no way to reach anyone after your teacher just disappeared.

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When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

Here is another book I’m not sure how it ended up on my reading list.  I think When We Were Vikings was an Amazon recommendation; one of so, so many books I have on my Kindle thanks to a $1.99 impulse buy.

Anywho, it did have an interesting description which led to my buying it:

When We Were Vikings Book Cover
When We Were Vikings Fiction Gallery/Scout Press  Kindle 336 pages Amazon

Sometimes life isn’t as simple as heroes and villains.

For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules:

1. A smile means “thank you for doing something small that I liked.”

2. Fist bumps and dabs = respect.

3. Strange people are not appreciated in her home.

4. Tomatoes must go in the middle of the sandwich and not get the bread wet.

5. Sometimes the most important things don’t fit on lists.

But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.

When We Were Vikings is an uplifting debut about an unlikely heroine whose journey will leave you wanting to embark on a quest of your own, because after all…

We are all legends of our own making.


Looking for some light but engaging bedtime reading, I metaphorically pulled this from the Kindle pile.

I have mixed feelings about this book as well. First of all, the publishers description above might not give you a complete picture of the story line here.  Zelda has cognitive disabilities from fetal alcohol syndrome.  The story is told from her perspective and with that challenge in mind.

The positive side of the book is clear: Zelda is a great character and has a great voice.  She really drives the story and gives it depth and meaning.

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1/100 – The White Hare by Michael Fishwick

I am trying for the first time in my life to read 100 books in 2020. I plan to document all 100 here. Hence, the 1/100 above.

I saw The White Hare at the local library and was intrigued.

A lost boy. A dead girl, and one who is left behind.
A village full of whispers and secrets.
When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase.
But who is the hunter and who the hunted?

It turned out to be the first book of 2020 for me and it is a good one.

A tad too much teenage angst for me (I’m clearly not the target audience) but a wonderful mix of tension and mystery with just enough myth and otherworldly aspects. A definite page turner despite not being a thriller or action style plot.

Kirkus captures what makes it such an enjoyable read:

Finely tuned prose, a rich sense of place, magical folklore elements, multidimensional characters, and a well-paced plot create a suspenseful contemporary tale of grief, retribution, and healing.

Evening Standard gets at some of the awkwardness as to target audience:

Michael Fishwick, a publisher-turned-novelist, retells the white hare legend in this coming-of-age story which wavers uncertainly between young-adult fiction and a crossover modern folk tale.

Forward Reviews artfully describes both the subjects touched on and the writing style:

Fishwick wields strangeness rather than certainty, and specificity rather than answers, in this rare offering filled with mystery and emotional depth. A treatise on the brutality of love and the pain it frequently leaves behind, The White Hare looks to the wild places and feral people that grief creates. The beauty of its prose lingers, a grace note amidst the heartbreaking realization that, often, “it’s hard to know how guilty you are.”

Like I said, solid start to 2020. Outside of some ambiguity about the age or message, and that ambiguity can be a strength, The White Hare is a lyrical and engaging read for ambitious readers of varying ages.

2019 Books in Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

There has been a odd phenomenon of late with me (really going back years). I still read quite a bit but I rarely post reviews.  There are lots of reasons for this which I won’t go into because I have blogged about the subject enough around here. But one of the things I want to work on in 2020 is focus.  ANd figure forcing myself to commit to something and working on putting my energies toward that is a good place to build focus.  So I had the idea of going back through the books I read in 2019 and blogging about each of them in a simple format.  This would allow me to get back in the practice of blogging/writing regularly and find out if such regularly blogging would revive this near-dead blog.  So find below the first attempt.

Book: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Format: Kindle

Owned or Borrowed: Own

Publishers description:

Cover of The Girl Who Drank the MoonEvery year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

Why I read it…

I have a habit of picking up popular young adult/middle grade/children’s books because they are often creative and interesting in ways that “adult” books are not.  Or they just grab my attention for some reason.  This was one such book.  I marked it To Read in 2016, started reading it in fall 2018 and finished early 2019.  I believe it was the first book I marked as “Read” in Goodreads.  The book was something of a hit, which I am guessing sparked my interest:

  • Winner of the 2017 Newbery Award
  • The New York Times Bestseller
  • An Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Book of 2016
  • A New York Public Library Best Book of 2016
  • A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016
  • An Amazon Top 20 Best Book of 2016
  • A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
  • A School Library Journal Best Book of 2016
  • Named to Kirkus  Reviews’ Best Books of 2016
  • 2017 Booklist Youth Editors’ Choice

Why I liked it…

This is tricky when I don’t put down my thoughts at Goodread quickly.  The star system is not much help given how inconsistent I am in rating something 4 stars when I enjoyed it but it didn’t wow me but also when I really enjoyed it.

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When We Were Lost by Kevin Wignall

I’m a fan of Kevin Wignall. I believe I have read all of his books (even those under the KJ Wignall moniker). But as faithful readers will know, I haven’t been the most dedicated book blogger of late (heck, for a while). So gone are the days of offers of advanced reader copies and author interviews and instead I live in the world of request books from the library (Ok, with some exceptions).

All this is to say, after some procrastination, and failing to win the Goodreads giveaway, I finally got ahold of a copy of his latest novel When We Were Lost and read it. It is a young adult mystery/thriller put out under the James Patterson imprint:

Survival. It’s a concept these high school students never had to consider–until their plane crashes in a remote rainforest with no adults left alive. With many of them falling prey to threats from both the jungle and man, they soon realize that danger comes in many sinister forms.

Tom Calloway didn’t want to go on a field trip to Costa Rica, but circumstances had him ending up sitting in the back of the plane–which was the only part that was intact after the crash in the remote South American wilderness. Tom and a small group of his classmates are fortunate to be alive, but their luck quickly runs out when some of them fall prey to the unfamiliar threats of the jungle–animals, reptiles, insects, and even the unforgiving heat. Every decision they make could mean life or death.

As the days go by and the survivors’ desperation grows, things get even more perilous. Not everyone can cope with the trauma of seeing their friends die, and a struggle for leadership soon pits them against each other. And when they come across evidence of other people in the middle of the rainforest, does that mean they’re safe–or has their survival come to an even more vicious end?

Put aside any bias my relationship with the euphoniously named Mr. Wignall, this was another one where I struggled with the star rating (give us half stars Goodreads!).

I enjoyed this book and found its plot quite interesting but its simplicity almost seemed to undermine its power. In the end I went with four stars because it made me want to keep reading and the creative nature of the story. There isn’t a great deal of depth to the characters, although you learn about Tom by seeing the experience through his eyes and in backstory shared along the way. What powers the story is a very basic idea: what would I do if I was in this situation? Put in incredible circumstances practically every decision has real consequences. Watching this play out under the heightened tension of a teen leadership battle allows the reader to explore their reactions and instincts along with Tom and the other kids.

I wish I cold get my teenager daughter to read it and tell me what she thinks because as is often the case it is hard to judge sometimes when you are not the target audience.

All in all, it was an enjoyable read. Adventure, mystery, danger, and teenage angst and personalities all play a role. Wignall’s butterfly effect intro and outro even give it a philosophical spin. Very different from the early amoral contract killer stories that introduced me to his writing but different in a good way I think.

The Lifters by Dave Eggers

I will confess that my family and I are regular browsers at Barnes and Noble. My kids love to hang out in the kids area (although to be fair my son mostly looks at Lego’s) and of course I enjoy browsing the latest releases and even checking out the bargain shelves while drinking some Starbucks (shocking for a book addict, I know). Despite having a membership and frequently buying books and toys, sometimes we do browse and then look to find it at the local library. Such was the case with The Lifters by Dave Eggers. I first noticed it at the bookstore but then found a cheap used copy at Half Price Books or the local library sale.

I still regularly check out young adult fiction (middle grade in this case) and this seemed an intriguing story with nice illustrations. When my brain was overstuffed with work and other heavy things this turned out to be a good palette cleanser.

When Gran and his family move to Carousel, he has no idea that the town is built atop a secret. Little does he suspect, as he walks his sister to school or casually eats a banana, that mysterious forces lurk mere inches beneath his feet, tearing up the earth like mini-hurricanes and causing the town to slowly but surely sink.

When Gran’s friend, the difficult-to-impress Catalina Catalan, presses a silver handle into a hillside and opens a doorway to underground, he knows that she is extraordinary and brave, and that he will have no choice but to follow wherever she leads. With luck on their side, and some discarded hockey sticks for good measure, Gran and Catalina might just find a way to lift their town–and the known world–out of danger.

What I liked:

– I enjoyed the relationship between Gran and Catalina and the way it was awkward and full of conflict. This seemed realistically ambiguous and fraught with emotions.

– I liked the way Gran’s mother was a character that just happened to need a wheelchair rather than an obvious character with a disability added simply for the sake of diversity. It felt natural within the story.

– I liked the overall sense of mystery and the fantastical without all of the why’s and how’s neatly explained. It added tension and drove the story forward.

Not so much:

It did seem a little preachy or didactic in parts with an obvious moral or message. But given the audience and the dire need for society to understand the importance of family, friends and community, it didn’t bother me too much

bottom line:

I enjoyed it even if it was a little heavy-handed in spots. Still a fun story with a good message about community, friendship, etc.

A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken

We are big Star Wars fans in our family.  I enjoyed the films in my youth (they premiered on my seventh birthday) and my kids are, if anything, even bigger fans.  So when the classic trilogy were reimagined as young adult novels I was sorely tempted to read them. I even checked them out of the library a few times but never quite got around to read them.

But looking for something to listen to on a family car trip I picked up A New Hope: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken from Overdrive as an audiobook.  We ended up listening to it in the car on that trip and finished it driving around on various other trips. My 9yo son in particular loved it and asked to listen to it whenever he could.

I thought it was well done, if with the obvious draw back of already knowing what happens. The audiobook does a nice job of giving the characters a voice and offering an interesting take on their backgrounds, personalities and what they might have been thinking as this famous story unfolds. Sound effects add to the fun.

Solid entertainment for longer car trips for the young Star Wars fans.

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4) by Maggie Stiefvater

The_Raven_King_Cover_OfficialNothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.

For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.

Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

I think I had a bit of an emotional let down with The Raven King. After all, it is the fourth and final book of a hugely popular series and one that I have enjoyed and favorably reviewed.  I think I was looking for more of an impact; more “wow” or something.

I listened to this last book in the Raven Cycle series in the car. And frankly am not sure what to make of it. I enjoyed the prose and imagination of Stiefvater as always. In fact, as I was listening I would catch myself marveling at the wordplay and creativity.

And there were some interesting twists and turns. But perhaps because I was listening to it in 20-30 minutes spurts (the length of my commute usually) it didn’t seem to all come together for me in a satisfying way. It was like I enjoyed the parts but felt like the whole was somehow less than it should have been.

It would probably would work better if I read the whole series again so that I could put the book into context of the other books.  But I am not sure I am ready for that level of dedication.

Plus, lets be honest, this is a book for teens and much of the emotion and connections (romance, angst, etc.) don’t resonate with me in the same way they might readers of that age and perspective. So take that into account.

Add in the listening versus reading part and it just came off unfulfilled.  Not bad just not great or amazing or along those lines.

Still, I recommend the series as a whole for those who have not yet experienced it.