Posted in Preschool Reads

A mother’s last love letter: A Bubble, by Geneviève Castrée

A Bubble, by Geneviève Castrée, (June 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $12.95, ISBN: 9781770463219

Ages 4+

Artist and musician Geneviève Castrée passed away in 2016 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. This last project, a board book for her 2-year-old daughter, is at once a celebration of parental love and a comfort to anyone moving through grief and loss. Maman loves her daughter, but has been encased in a bubble since before the little girl can remember. She and her mother spend time in the bubble, eating together, playing together, and napping together; when daughter goes out exploring with Papa, she comes back to share what she’s done and seen with Maman, who cannot leave her bubble. As the story unfolds, we see the family’s activities change as Maman’s illness progresses; the story ends with hugs, kisses, and going for ice cream: a last, loving moment between mother and daughter.

The Bubble is simple and exquisite. I ache reading every page of this brief book and the final note from Castrée’s singer-songwriter husband, Phil Elverum. The artwork is focused on Castrée and her daughter; their loving relationship, the bubble, and the intrusion of the outside world. Narrated by the child, each page has 1-3 sentences, describing her relationship with her mother. It’s a comfort to children coping with loss and a testament to the everlasting love between a parent and child. I’ve read this book at least 5 times now, each time with a lump in my throat and an ache in my chest. It’s beautiful, and a good book to give to children – and parents – dealing with grief.

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Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Love, Lucas is in paperback! Read an excerpt.

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510709928

Recommended for ages 13+

 

I reviewed Love, Lucas when it was originally published in hardcover last year. You can read my review here. To celebrate the book’s paperback release, I’m posting a 5-page excerpt, courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Read on and enjoy!

Love, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (Excerpt)

CHAPTER 1

Everyone tells me funerals help with the grieving process, but I think those people are full of crap. If anything, they make you more depressed than you already are.

I stare at my brother’s casket as we gather around the gravesite. A few inches of snow covers the ground around us and I shiver at the cold breeze biting at my skin. Dad blows his nose and I glance over and see Mom crying into the shoulder of his coat. I’m not sure how she even has tears left.

I know I’m supposed to feel something. Anything. Relief that Lucas is out of pain. Anger that he was taken so early from us. Sadness that I’ll never hear his laugh or see his smiling face again.

Instead I feel only a hollow emptiness inside my chest. He took part of me with him. I can already feel the hole he left behind, waiting for something to fill it. But I know no one can ever take the place of my best friend.

Mom grabs my arm and gives it a squeeze. She holds out a tissue but I don’t take it. I haven’t cried since the night at the hospital. The night he left us. I know so much emotion is built up inside of me, looking for a chance to escape, but for some reason I can’t, no, won’t let it out. Something’s wrong with me.

Dad wraps an arm around my waist. I don’t move. My arms are like weights at my side. Lifeless. Like Lucas.

Mom says something to me and presses a long stemmed rose into my hand. I stare at it and say nothing. I’ve always hated flowers at funerals. They’re supposed to make you feel happy. Not depressed.

People around me move one by one toward the casket and place their roses on top. As I watch them, my fist closes and I crush the delicate petals of my flower into my palm. The maimed rose slides from my fingers and drops to the ground.

I can’t handle this. Everyone is so sad. Red faces, puffy eyes. The world seems to move in slow motion as Dad places his rose on the casket. Mom does the same. My breath catches as I notice everyone staring at me, waiting for me to do something. Anything.

Dad urges me forward to take my turn, but my feet refuse to move. He keeps his hand on my back and I take a deep breath before I look up at him. His eyes are sad as they fall on the pieces of the rose at my feet. He doesn’t say anything about it, just grabs my hand and meets my gaze, but the look

he gives me while his eyes fill with tears is more than I can handle. I have to get out of here. I step away from him, take one last look at the casket, and turn around.

“Oakley? Where are you going?” Dad asks.

I don’t answer, just push past him and move through the crowd as my heart hammers in my chest.

Mom calls my name. Dad calls for me, too. I keep walking and don’t look back.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

My parents are arguing again. Mom quit her job at the bank. It didn’t go over very well with Dad, who has thrown himself into his job like a madman. I know they’re both grieving in their own ways but they should talk to each other about it, not fight. Fighting gets you nowhere.

I listen to their raised voices for a moment and put on my headphones when Mom starts crying. I can’t handle hearing her sob all night again, so I turn my iPod on and music blasts in my ears. Nothing like a bunch of guitars and screaming to drown out my parents and my own thoughts. If I can’t hear them, they’re not there.

I lie on my bed and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars that light up the ceiling. Lucas bought them for me for my sixteenth birthday. He even made his own constellation out of them and called it Luca Major. Stupid, but funny. It makes me miss him even more.

The light flips on and I turn my head to see Mom standing in the doorway. I pause my music and sit up.

“Sorry,” she says. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.”

I shrug. “It’s fine.” My voice is hoarse. It was so hard for me to say those two words. I haven’t spoken since the funeral three days ago, and no one’s really spoken to me either.

She hesitates in the doorway but finally comes to sit on the edge of my bed. “Oakley,” she starts. She takes a deep breath and reaches out to tuck my dark hair behind my ear. I pull away from her touch. After all the time and energy she’s spent on my brother the past few years, it’s foreign to me. “Your father and I have been talking. I’ve decided to go live with Aunt Jo for a while. Maybe just until summer. I need some time . . .” She swallows and blinks back the moisture in her eyes. “I need time away

from here for a while.”

“Okay . . .” I say. Great. She’s abandoning me. First Lucas, now her. I breathe in and out. I still don’t feel much. Just empty.

“I wanted to see if . . . well . . .” She smoothes my hair down, and though I consider protesting, I let her. “Honey, I want you to come with me.”

My heart races. “You’re not getting divorced, are you?” I pray she says no. I can’t handle anything else going wrong. Not now. Not when I need at least some normalcy in my life.

She shakes her head. “No. Your father and I are fine. We just . . . grieve differently.” The way she says it confirms that they’re not fine. She takes a shaky breath. “Anyway, just think about coming with me, okay? You don’t have to be in school since you graduated early, and you don’t have a job or anything. I think it could be good for you to get away from everything.”

I think about her offer. Even though I’ll miss Dad, I’d love to get away. I could leave my depressing life behind for the spring and maybe heal a little before I have to decide what to do with my life. College and all that crap. I’ll leave my house and put all the memories of Lucas and my old friends and their whispers behind my back. It would be nice to get away from it all. Away from the uncomfortable silence whenever I see anyone who knows me. I know they aren’t sure what to say; I mean, what do you say to someone who just lost her brother? Even if they have something to say, I’m not sure I’d want to hear it anyway.

“Remember, Jo lives in California now, if that makes a difference. Huntington Beach. She has a really nice house with room to spare.”

I crack a smile. It feels strange on my lips but it’s a start. If I go with Mom, I could use my camera again. The thought of taking pictures comforts me. Just a little. I turn toward her and meet her eyes. “Okay,” I whisper.

She puts her arms around me in an awkward hug. I’m not sure what to do with my own arms, so I lift one and softly pat her back. Physical contact has been nonexistent with her for a while now. She’s not the touchy-feely type. We get along well enough, but for her to hug me . . . I’m sure it takes a lot.

“We’re going to be okay,” she says. It sounds like she’s trying to reassure herself more than me. She pulls away, pats my leg, and stands. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning, so you’d better start packing. I’ve already booked the flights.”

I frown. That doesn’t surprise me at all. “So . . . you were going to drag me there whether I wanted to go or not?”

She shrugs. “I think it will be good for you. For us.”

I want to say something else but don’t have the energy as thoughts of Lucas pop into my head again. Instead, I swallow the lump in my throat, give her a quick nod, and she leaves me alone.

Spending the next few months with Aunt Jo might be a good thing. She’s a marine biologist or veterinarian or something, so maybe she’ll distract me with some of her work. And I’ve never been to a real beach before since our family doesn’t really leave the state of Utah. The only beachy place I’ve been is Antelope Island. This tiny island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake that’s covered with mosquitoes, flies, and brine shrimp. As for animals, I’m sure there are a few antelope here and there, but I’ve never seen any. Just a whole lot of buffalo. Antelope Island . . . covered in buffalo. Go figure.

A real beach. The thought sounds amazing. I’ve only seen pictures of Aunt Jo in the ocean. I’d love to have some photos of my own to hang on my wall. I climb off my bed and go look for a suitcase. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

My ears pop as we land in California. Mom grabs her

carry-on from the overhead compartment and passes me my guitar. I already have my backpack on my lap. We both keep our jumbled thoughts to ourselves. When the line starts to move, I stand, and we follow the crowd and exit the stuffy plane.

Aunt Jo is waiting for us at baggage claim. She runs to Mom and they hug forever, even though they saw each other at the funeral four days ago. Everyone around us is staring, so I move away from them and wait for our suitcases to come down the chute and onto the turnstile. I don’t want to talk about Lucas, so I let them have a moment to themselves.

“How are you doing, Oakley? You hangin’ in there?”

I flinch at Jo’s hand on my shoulder. “I’m good.” I grab my suitcase and she lets go. I don’t miss the look she gives Mom.

They’re worried about me. They can see through the fake smile I put on for everyone who asks how I’m doing. I don’t know why I pretend everything’s okay when clearly it’s not. Lucas is gone. How can anything be okay when he’s not here? He was the only person in my life I could count on.

“Oakley, honey, you ready?” Mom looks over at me with a sad but hopeful smile.

“Yes.” I throw my backpack over my shoulder and my guitar over the other and follow them to the car, dragging my suitcase behind me.

The drive to Jo’s house is quiet. I study her and my mom for a while. It’s weird that they’re even sisters. They look nothing alike. Mom’s short dark hair is neat and straight, while Jo’s is long with light wild curls. Mom is pale with soft skin, and Jo is tan and rough-looking from being outside all the time. I look like Mom. Dark hair and pale skin. Sort of like death.

They’re so different. Their lives especially. Mom married Dad when she was only nineteen. They were high school sweethearts. Obviously it isn’t working out too well. I wonder why Jo never married, but I don’t ask. I’m not in the mood for conversation.

Jo’s house is beautiful. It’s right across the street from the beach. There are windows everywhere. Huge rectangular windows that face the ocean. I’ve always dreamed of living in a house like this. It seems so peaceful. Safe from whispers and gossip. Just what I need.

“You like it?” Jo asks.

I meet her eyes in the rearview mirror and smile. “It’s perfect.”

She puts the car in park and glances at Mom for a second before looking at me again. “I fixed one of the guest rooms up for you so you’ll have some privacy while you’re here. I remember what it was like being a teenager. And your mom told me you like your space. Hopefully you can call it your home away from home for a while.” She gives me a wink before she gets out.

I open the door and step outside as well, breathing in the salty air. It’s strange and different from what I’m used to back home, but right and wonderful at the same time. This is where I’m supposed to be right now and I’m so happy I came.

Palm trees peak around the edge of the house and I have the sudden desire to climb one. I breathe in the ocean air again and grin. For some reason I feel lighter than before. Like all my troubles will magically melt away the moment I step into that beautiful house. But as memories of the past few weeks slam into me again, I realize the depressing fact that fantasy never wins over reality. Even when it should.

We unload our bags and I follow Jo and Mom up the front steps. Jo opens the door and Mom steps back so I can go in first. My jaw drops as I look around.

The inside is gorgeous. Sunlight spills in through the windows, making it almost as bright as outside. The rooms are open. Not stuffy or crowded, but roomy. I’m surprised by Jo’s color choice. The furniture is white, with yellow flowers and throw pillows to accent the living room. A perfect choice for a house like this.

I drop my bags near the door for a moment and take my time walking around the front room, admiring the little seashells accenting the tables. Of course they’re not plastic. They’re very real, and that makes me happy.

Mom’s heels click on the white tile floor and echo through the house. She turns around and smiles. “Jo, I love it,” she says. “It’s amazing.”

“Thanks. It was a bunch of work fixing it up, but I think it turned out nicely.” Jo smiles and turns to me. “Your room is the last one on the left if you want to check it out.”

I grab my bags as I make my way down the hall and open my bedroom door. My eyes widen as I see how big it is. A bed dominates most of the room, with a dresser and mirror across from it. The same sort of decorations are in here as well. Seashells on the glass nightstand near the bed and a few pictures of the ocean hung up on the walls. I throw my backpack on the ground and set my guitar on the bed. My fingers skim the pretty white bedspread. It’s not quite my style, since my room back home is decorated with orange, pink, and lime green, but it works.

I glance around and notice a walk-in closet. Nice. Not that I have a ton of clothes, but still. My favorite part of the room is the French doors that lead outside to a small covered patio. I peek out the window and grin. There’s a hammock and lounge chair and a huge swimming pool. It’s nice and blue. Clean. I wonder if Jo has a pool man, since she obviously makes a ton of money to live in a place like this.

I walk around for a while and go through the fence to the front yard. It’s surreal to be so close to the ocean. My feet start walking on their own and I cross the street and head toward the sand and waves. My first time ever at a beach, and I’ve heard Huntington is really nice.

My flip-flops are covered in sand so I slip them off. I smile at the feel of the sand between my toes. Again, I feel safe. Free. Ready for a new beginning.

The beach is different than I imagined. In all the pictures I’ve seen, there are always a ton of people lying on the sand, tanning. I look around. There aren’t a lot of people out at all. At least not today. An older couple sits a few yards away under big umbrellas. The lady is reading a book and the man I assume is her husband is taking a nap. A few people are playing volleyball further down the beach and there are some surfers bobbing in the water.

It’s like heaven. I walk until I feel the icy ocean water touch my feet. It sends a little shock through my body, but I don’t care. It’s awesome. After a few minutes of watching the tiny waves roll up around my ankles while my feet sink into the mud, I walk back up the beach and sit down in the sand. It’s warm, but a cool breeze caresses my skin. Fascinated, I watch the waves crash into the beach and the surfers riding them so effortlessly.

I sink my toes deeper into the sand and smile. I think I’m going to like it here.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, mythology, Tween Reads

Who will save you from The Last Monster?

last monsterThe Last Monster, by Ginger Garrett/Illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (Apr. 2016, Delacorte Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553535242

Recommended for ages 10-13

Sofia was never the type of kid to stand out. Not before the cancer, anyway. Now, with her shaved head and prosthetic leg, she really doesn’t want to stand out, but the mean girl group at school is determined to make Sofia their project. And then, there’s The Book. The Book that ended up in her closet. The Book that’s writing to her. Xeno, one of Aristotle’s lost students, has gotten in touch with Sofia through the book, telling her that’s she’s been chosen to be the next Guardian. Guardian of all the mythical monsters in the world. The thing is, someone else wants that book – wants to do away with the monsters, and she’ll do anything to get her hands on it, including unleashing the Last Monster. Now, Sofia has to learn her Guardian duties, deal with middle school, and navigate a relationship with her mother, who has a hard time letting go after almost losing her daughter.

This is a wild book, and I mean that in the best sense. I thought I was getting a story about a girl beating cancer – and I was – and then, this fantastic world opened up within that story. Who else to be chosen to be a hero, right? A kid who fought cancer and won, a kid who just wants to concentrate on getting through each day, now bestowed with this responsibility, this guardianship – it’s so much bigger than she is, but she’s clearly the one for the job. I loved Sofia because she’s not a victim. She doesn’t want to be with the cool girls, she doesn’t even know what the heck to do with a crush, it’s so confusing to navigate, and she’s really not sure what the heck to do when a monster shows up at her window for the first time, but she’s going to figure it all out. The monsters are going to teach her a few things, too, and so is Xeno.

This is a brilliant fantasy to put into the hands of middle schoolers. It brings kids realistic fiction and infuses it with an amazing fantasy that will keep the pages turning. This one is going on my library shelves, without question. Give this to your Fablehaven and Spiderwick fans and let them blend their own bestiaries together.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s a Wonderful Death… Can you really get a do-over?

wonderfuldeathIt’s a Wonderful Death, by Sarah J. Schmitt (Oct. 2015, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-63450-173-6

Recommended for ages 12+

RJ is a classic mean girl. She runs with the “in” crowd, she’s stuck-up, and she’s spoiled rotten. But she learns pretty quickly that Death is the grand equalizer when a Grim Reaper accidentally collects her soul. Now, she’s in the Afterlife and she’s not happy. She’s raising a ruckus, but her existing track record isn’t doing her any favors. If she can get enough souls, angels, and Death Himself on her side, she may stand a second chance, but can she stop thinking about herself long enough to make the right choices?

Written in the first person from RJ’s point of view, It’s a Wonderful Death is nearly unputdownable. It’s loaded with snark and sarcasm that will leave you chuckling and snorting into your sleeve (I commute on public transportation, for heaven’s sake). I needed to know what RJ was going to say next, or what Death Himself was going to come up with. Both characters are hilarious and yet, get the message across. What you do in life will stay with you. Whatever you believe – a topic touched on in this book – there is a reckoning; what you may think is a minor moment in your life could mean someone else’s life. We also see, very clearly, that as much as bad karma snowballs, so does good karma.

This story operates on the hope that people are, for the most part, good – if you show them a chance to go on the right path, and they take it, chances are, they’ll keep finding ways to stay on that path. It’s a pretty upbeat message, for a book about a dead teenager.

It’s a Wonderful Death is a very moral story that would lend itself to some great book discussions. And why shouldn’t it? Author Sarah J. Schmitt is a youth librarian. If she can’t get a teen’s sarcasm down, who can? She gets to the heart of a lot of teen issues here, and for that reason, It’s a Wonderful Death is on my must-have list for my YA collection. .

Have a morality program without beating kids over the head with the concept by showing Death Note one week, then discuss this book the next. There are a lot of facets to be discussed.

Posted in Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

YA Media Blitz: The Glass Mermaid, by Poppy Lawless!

The Glass Mermaid by Poppy Lawless
Release Date: 07/14/15
Love Potion Books
Summary from Goodreads:Kate

I’m the last mermaid.

I’m back on shores of Lake Erie, but the cold waters are silent. There is
nothing here for me but ghosts and the beach glass that litters the rocky
shore. Long ago, I lived below the waves. Now, I am the sole survivor, and at long last, my mermaid glamour is leaving me.

Every day, I walk the beach. Every day, I wonder what happened to my people. The little pieces of colored glass that wash ashore give me simple pleasure. They are gifts from the lake, reminders of home. I fashion them into trinkets: necklaces, earrings, bracelets. They are beautiful things. The humans seem love them.

Every day, I walk the beach. Nothing ever changes, until the day he says hello.

 

Cooper

I’m dying.

It’s not a question, it’s a fact. The cancer is eating me alive. They told me I have six months to live, maybe less. I came home, back to Chancellor on Lake Erie, to die. The sunsets are vivid there, and I will relish every one.

I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than a Lake Erie sunset until I see her.

All life is fragile as glass.


W
hat would you sacrifice to save the one you love?

Buy Link:

 

About the Author: Romance author. Cupcake connoisseur. Certified herbalist. Beach bum. Fan of all things Starbucks.
Holistic healing advocate. Surfer girl wanna-be. Lost guru. Maker of dandelion wine. Counselor. Paranormal buff. Etsy addict. Secretly Jedi. So not a geek girl. Gifted in sarcasm. Hot wife. Ninja mom. And now, I’m ready to share a whole head full of witty, mouthy, smart, lovely, heart-warming, and hot characters with the world. Are you ready?

Poppy Lawless is the author of the forthcoming series Love & Chocolate releasing in 2015 and The Glass Mermaid. Poppy holds degrees in English and Psychology. She is a counselor in the field of mental health and is a trained herbalist. Poppy’s new series blends the best of romance with a Practical Magic or contemporary Bewitched appeal.

 

Author Links:
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Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Love, Lucas – A story of grief, letting go, and moving on

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63220-417-2

Recommended for ages 13+

Oakley Nelson’s reeling from the loss of her brother, Lucas, to bone cancer. She’s spent the last few months at his bedside, pulling away from friends, activities, and life. With her parents’ marriage in a tailspin, Oakley and her mom head to California to spend some time with her Aunt Jo, hoping the change of scenery will give them the space they need to recover.

Once in California, Oakley’s mom gives her a notebook, filled with letters written to her by Lucas. He leaves her with life lessons, small observations, and wry humor to help her move on, and she clings to the notebook like a life raft as she navigates getting to know the local teens in her aunt’s neighborhood, including Carson, a good-looking surfer who’s unlike any guy she’s ever met. She’s caught between her feelings for Carson and feeling guilty about moving on too quickly, but as she turns to Lucas’ own words for guidance and comfort, she realizes that going on with her life is exactly what Lucas wants her to do.

This is a moving YA novel dealing with grief, loss, and the fallout that happens when a terminally ill family member dies. Oakley’s anchor is gone when Lucas, her best friend and brother, dies; she’s devoted the last few months to him, abandoning friends and extracurricular activities. Her parents’ relationship is in turmoil, and with all the attention focused on Lucas, she doesn’t feel she can rely on either of them. She feels out of touch with other teens when she meets Carson and his friends, and her internal narrative is focused on how awkward she feels, and she often looks at herself with a self-deprecating sense of humor that’s funny and at the same time, teens will recognize and appreciate.

Love, Lucas will appeal to John Green, Gayle Forman, and Sarah Dessen fans. There’s romance, finding inner strength in the face of tragedy/adversity, and introspective dialogue that teens today gravitate to.

Chantele Sedgwick is the author of Not Your Average Fairy Tale and Not Your Average Happy Ending (Sarah Dessen fans, recognize!). Her author site offers more information about her books and

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness (Candlewick, 2011)

Recommended for ages 11-13

A Monster Calls is one of those books that will tear your heart out while you’re reading it, but when you’re done, you’re glad that you went through the experience. It’s that good.

Conor is a 13-year old boy who lives in Britain with his single mother, has a strained relationship with his father, who has his own life and new family in the States, and is bullied at school. His mother is fighting a battle with cancer, and losing. Around this time, Conor starts receiving visits every night, just after midnight, from a monster in the guise of a yew tree in his backyard. The monster tells him stories – truths – whose outcomes really play with perspective, and he tells Conor that the fourth story will be Conor’s, telling the monster his own truth. It’s a truth that Conor doesn’t want to think about, but that gives him nightmares every night.

The story, originally an idea by author Siobhan Dowd, whose own life was cut short by cancer, is gorgeously written. Ness’ words bring the reader right into Conor’s fear, grief and anger at his mother’s battle, his grandmother’s fussiness, his father’s distance, and the numbness he feels as he endures the bullies at school. When the monster allows Conor’s rage an outlet, the reader feels it, viscerally. Jim Kay’s stark black and white illustations add to the moody feeling of Ness’ prose.
 
A Monster Calls has been shortlisted for several awards including the Galaxy British National Book Award, the Red House Children’s Book Award, and the Cybils Award in Middle Grade Fantasy. The author’s website features his blog, an FAQ, and information about his books and events.