I loved the first book I read by Steve Kluger, Almost Like Being in Love, and yet Last Days of Summer still managed to surprise me. I don't think I ex...moreI loved the first book I read by Steve Kluger, Almost Like Being in Love, and yet Last Days of Summer still managed to surprise me. I don't think I expected to be caught up in the story or the characters in the same way. I was wrong.
Kluger takes us to Brooklyn, New York in 1940 to tell us Joey Margolis' story. He is a 12 year old Jewish boy who having recently moved from Manhattan with his mother and aunt becomes the neighborhood bullies' punching bag. Lacking a father figure in his life, Joey is desperately looking for someone to take that place. He chooses a reluctant Charlie Banks, the new 3rd Baseman for the New York Giants baseball team.
Joey is a smart-mouthed, needy, brilliant little boy who goes to great lengths to get what he wants. His imagination, determination and persistence become legendary throughout the story. Charlie is a baseball player through and through. An uneducated young man who doesn't necessarily make the best first impression, Charlie doesn't seem to be the best choice for hero worship. However, once Joey chooses Charlie he doesn't stand a chance, no matter his reluctance to accept that role. Kluger again uses his favored epistolary style to reveal Joey and Charlie's improbable story of friendship. Through letters, telegrams, report cards, tickets and other means of communication, this beautiful story of friendship and love unfolds as the characters are revealed.
Last Days of Summer accurately details some incredible New York baseball history (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, New York Giants) and other teams as well, but baseball doesn't overwhelm the book. Also, through Charlie and Joey we glimpse the history of the times between 1940 and 1942 and slowly experience how things change and develop throughout the country. Kluger covers the slow escalation of World War II in Europe, Roosevelt's New Deal, Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-American's Relocation Centers in California, and finally our troops in the South Pacific. Although again, as with baseball, history does not overshadow the main story.
Atmosphere is important when setting a book during these times. Kluger achieves this by the usage of language and attitude, as well as by incorporating wonderful details such as: music, Broadway shows, famous personages, and using the names of businesses that were around in 1940's New York.
I laughed quite a bit while reading Joey and Charlie's sharp and witty exchanges and their improbable adventures, although I admit that the content itself pulled some emotional strings at the most unexpected of times -- Joey's Bar Mitzvah was one of the funniest and most emotional events and one of my favorite. There were wonderful secondary characters in this book that made this story work, even though Joey and Charlie were always the main focus. I personally fell in love with Joey's Aunt Carrie and the Rabbi (Rabby).
The end of this book was very emotional for me and quite beautiful in its own way. If you want to know why I was surprised, well... it's because this book is not really about baseball and being a baseball fan that's what I expected. Instead, Last Days of Summer is a beautiful story about a boy who needs, and a man who by answering that need fulfills his own.
Last Days of Summer is a book I couldn't put down once I read the first few pages. That makes two keepers by Mr. Kluger for me.(less)
In Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman writes a chilling tale of ghosts, mixes it with urban myth while capturing Goth youths' subculture, b...more4.5 Stars
In Vintage: A Ghost Story, Steve Berman writes a chilling tale of ghosts, mixes it with urban myth while capturing Goth youths' subculture, bittersweet first love, teen angst and the small town setting perfectly. A haunting and touching coming-of-age story full of dark humor that encompasses not only the unique struggles of gay teens, but the awkwardness, fears, anxieties and a sense of wonder that all teens can relate to.
The story is told in the first person point of view from our main character's perspective, an unnamed teen. It all begins at midnight on a chilly autumn night on a lonely New Jersey highway. Our young man encounters a gorgeous boy dressed in 50's clothing and after a short conversation the boy seems to just... disappear. This gorgeous apparition dazzles our main character, a shy and insecure young man. He finds out that Josh is an urban myth, the ghost of a young man who died decades ago and has hunted the same stretch of highway ever since. Curiosity, a wish to see beautiful Josh again, and the beginnings of a crush push our character to return the next evening to the lonely highway with his best friend Trace as he hopes for another encounter. He gets his wish... and more. Josh follows him home and our chilling story really begins.
What did I like about this book? It is fast paced, chilling and a real ghost story, no question about it. Josh is not the only ghost to populate this tale and as you can imagine some are nicer than others. There are Ouija boards, an exorcism and a scene in a cemetery that gave me the creeps! There's an offbeat cast of friends who give this story depth and definitely help with the chilling effect -- Second Mike definitely stands out in that respect. Trace, a gorgeous multi-faceted Goth goddess is also a key character in this tale. Liz and Maggie, a young teen lesbian couple, provide a good balance to our main character's personal struggles.
But there's more to Vintage than the chills and thrills. Real-life issues that affect teens are also addressed, some with a light touch and others with a bit more depth. Our cast of characters, from our unnamed young man to his friends, are either plagued by self-consciousness, low self-esteem, peer pressure and/or family issues, as the gay characters have their own added pressures. The social issues and the ghost story are well integrated, as one doesn't overwhelm the other. The characters' struggles and part-resolution become an integral part of the overall speculative urban myth that Berman creates.
Berman's writing style has a lot to do with my enjoyment of this story. Although there are minimal details when it comes to the background and history of the characters themselves, their essence and the most essential part of their past history are captured without lots of unnecessary detail. The same can be said for plotting, the substance is there but it's all done in a precise, sharp and minimalistic style that I enjoyed thoroughly.
Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman is a young adult book originally released in 2007, and re-released through Lethe Press Books. A finalist for the 2008 Andre Norton Award for best young adult speculative fiction by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and in the category of Best Novel for the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, this is a book that had been on my reading radar for a while and after reading it, I can see why it has received so much attention. I definitely recommend it. (less)
I read the Percy and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan last year and fell in love with Percy and his crew. The Lost Hero is the first book in The H...moreI read the Percy and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan last year and fell in love with Percy and his crew. The Lost Hero is the first book in The Heroes of Olympus series and a continuation of the those adventures. However, in addition to the already established characters and Greek mythology-based world, Riordan introduces new heroes and villains, quests, a new prophecy, a looming battle and adds Roman mythology to the mix.
Mr. Riordan begins this new adventure by introducing his central characters, Jason, Piper and Leo as they're on a field trip away from the Wilderness School for incorrigible teenagers and on their way to the Grand Canyon. Immediately we know there's something wrong when Jason wakes up in the back of the school bus and doesn't remember who he is or where he came from. He doesn't even recognize his girlfriend Piper or Leo, his best friend.
As our three friends work on essays or admire the views, strange weather turns violent and soon Jason, Piper and Leo find themselves under attack from dark forces or venti. Their teacher Coach Hedge comes to their defence saving their lives. After a quick and messy battle where Coach Hedge is lost, the three are rescued by Annabeth and taken to Camp Half-Blood for safety where they learn who and what they are.
While at camp, Piper and Leo are claimed by their respective god (parents) and mysteriously, Jason finds he has already been claimed and by whom. After a series of on-camp adventures, visions and prophecies, the three are sent on a quest to save the (not-so-likable) goddess Herra who has been imprisoned by an unknown evil. A month earlier Zeus closed off Olympus and no one has heard from the gods, so the three friends must succeed without help from the gods or even Annabeth who is off to find a lost Percy! The adventure begins and our heroes will meet and cyclops, wind gods, giants, werewolves and more as they prove their loyalty and bravery to themselves and each other along the way.
Since the Lost Heroes is a continuation to a series, there's no worldbuilding to set up and secondary characters have already been developed, so the readers can get right into the story. However, Riordan does add newness to the worldbuilding by incorporating Roman mythology and weaving it with the Greek mythology introduced in the Percy series, giving this book a fresh feel.
Although Riordan stuck with three heroes and the same formula: two boys and a girl, the characters themselves also felt different and unique.
*Jason is brave, a true hero and his powers are strong. But they are already developed even if he doesn't remember exactly how or where he learned them. He is also confused, depressed and leery for most of the story, something that sets him apart from the other two, even when he's there for them. He's still a bit of a mystery by the end. *Piper is distraught for much of the story and suffers from self-esteem issues due to what she perceives as her father's neglect or lack of love. She has to make some tough choices and that sets the tone for her character development. In Piper, Riordan gives us an ethnic heroine -- she's half Native American and her background and some of those myths are used in the story. Piper is not super duper smart, but she's strong and she knows how to use her powers of persuasion. I enjoyed her character growth from beginning to end. *Leo, is undeniably my favorite character and provided those 'aww moments.' He lost his mother as a young boy in a horrific 'accident.' But although he also suffers from guilt and loss, as opposed to his two friends, Leo knows what it is to be loved and his way of coping is through his sense of humor, mechanical know-how and loyalty. I loved his ingenuity and bravery.
The story is divided by chapter with the titles Jason, Piper and Leo, but written from the third person point of view making this an easy read. Internal dialogues abound with most of the revelations happening in dream sequences and then related to others, slowing down the pace and isolating the characters in some sections. At times, the dialogue is somewhat stilted and lacks flow. And although the humor is provided mainly by Leo's character, there's not enough of a give and take from Jason and Piper to really make it pop. Real action is slow to come, although once on their way our heroes encounter plenty of obstacles throughout their adventures.
I enjoyed The Lost Hero, it had plenty of strengths and some weaknesses. It was a quick and easy read with great action and new adventures. I loved the new twists and turns that Riordan added to the Olympus series by incorporating Roman mythology and look forward to the rest of the series. Plus there's definitely a bit of a cliffhanger there at the end, and I must know!
The protagonists in this book are teens, but these books are appropriate for (and I believe will be fully enjoyed by) middle schoolers. I do recommend that the Percy and the Olympians series be read first for a better understanding of the world and characters.(less)
This excellent collection of thirteen stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman for and about LGBT and Q young adults not only features stories that...moreThis excellent collection of thirteen stories gathered and edited by Steve Berman for and about LGBT and Q young adults not only features stories that address the difficulties of coming out to friends and family, but most importantly Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up highlights experiences, changes and difficulties that affect and are experienced by young adults after that important step is taken.
The stories are as varied in style and content as are the writers themselves. L, G, B, T, and Q stories are all represented in this collection with gay and lesbian themes seemingly taking center stage, however you will find that the characters in all the stories are as varied as the challenges they face. The stories feature young adults and their struggles, triumphs, realizations, and lessons learned and taught.
I really want to mention all the stories. Instead here are a few as examples of the type of stories found in this wonderful collection. In Lucky P by Rigoberto González a bisexual young man realizes that there's a difference between a crush and reciprocal love, and learning about pride, accepting support, and dealing with bullies after coming out in an all girl's Catholic high school is the subject of Gutter Ball by Danielle Pignataro. Victories, acceptance and respect are earned the hard way within the realm of high school sports in the multi-layered coming out story Captain of the World by Alex Jeffers where the focus falls on a Turkish young man whose struggles include battling prejudice against the Muslim religion and homophobia.
In Steve Berman's wonderful story Only Lost Boys Are Found about closets and what they hide, two childhood friends fall in love but while one is out, the other needs rescuing when he gets lost and trapped in the maze that is his closet. The Proximity of Seniors by L.A. Fields on the other hand is all about finding that one unexpected friend who shares a mutual struggle and provides support throughout the worst and best of times during and after those high school years.
Subtle Poison by Lucas J.W. Johnson is a fantastic story about the value or toxicity of friendship that features the challenges of being accepted as an FtM transgendered teen and a gay young man's battle with substance abuse, and Sparks of Change by Dia Pannes is all about a brave young woman who teaches her father and small town a lesson about ignorance, intolerance and acceptance of her lesbian teacher and hopefully her future self. Then there's The Trouble with Billy by Jeffrey Ricker, a wonderful story about two young men, one who is 'out' and barely dealing with daily bullying episodes, and the other full of rage. And I really enjoyed the lovely Duet: A Story in Haibun by Charles Jensen told in narrative and poetry style from the perspective of two male high school band musicians who are deeply in love: "how a pair of shoes, reflections of each, share the same body."
Each story is prefaced by one page with a short anecdote from the author sharing a personal life experience with the reader. These short personalized notes effectively become a part of this collection and with few words all convey key, refreshingly candid moments or the need to have books like Speaking Out readily available.
"The last time this happened was in Decatur, Georgia. At the end of the presentation, a teenager comes up to me and asks in a timid voice: "Excuse me, Mr. González. Could you recommend some books about people like us?" People like us need to keep spreading the word." Rigoberto González.
In his introduction writer and editor Steve Berman says, "voices must be heard," well, they are heard here. Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up is a collection of stories written by writers of LGBTQ young adult literature who not only capture their voice, but also understand the daily challenges they face. This collection is affirming, inspiring and informational. I highly recommend it. (less)
Set in the Florida Keys, Mystery of the Tempest by Sam Cameron is a fast paced LGBT young adult mystery that turned out to be engrossing and entertain...moreSet in the Florida Keys, Mystery of the Tempest by Sam Cameron is a fast paced LGBT young adult mystery that turned out to be engrossing and entertaining enough that I read it through in one sitting. The main characters, Anderson twins Denny and Steven, are the main focus of the story as they solve a mystery that revolves around the explosion of the antique yacht The Tempest and reveal important personal secrets in this fast moving story.
Using the third point of view every other chapter is narrated from Stephen, Denny, and Brian's perspectives, making this a well rounded story where all central characters' views are well represented. I particularly enjoyed the young adults' voices and the fact that they're portrayed as young adults, not grown-ups. The dialogue is contemporary but not overdone and the characters' concerns are quite appropriate to circumstances, age and time.
The mystery in this story is enjoyable although I did figure it out before the end. However, the most enjoyable aspects of the story for me were the boys personal issues, as well as their revelations. How Denny comes to terms with his sexuality and deals with his frustrations are well addressed issues by the author, as is Stephen's personal situation. I liked that lying about his future and the newness of a sexual relationship with his girlfriend deeply affected this character. And speaking of time-appropriate portrayals, I specifically enjoyed Kelsey's character. Here's a young girl who sets a high bar for sexual interaction based on what she's read, and posts all her likes and dislikes on Facebook. If I have one niggle about this story is that when reading this book there's a sense that there have been previous stories about the Anderson twins, however I could not find any other books in this series.
As opposed to many young adult reads, adults are present in this story. Stephen and Denny's parents are not central but are there to support them and Brian's parents are very much a part of the story, but none of them take the focus away from the young adults as central characters. The secondary characters in the story are a good mix of young adults, adults, males and females, with males making the bulk of the significant cast of secondary characters.
This is a different type of read for me, a young adult gay contemporary mystery. Sam Cameron is an author whose short story, "Day Student," I enjoyed in a recently reviewed anthology (Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up). In Mystery of The Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure, I again enjoyed the way this author captures young adults' voices, particularly the brotherly relationship between Steven and Denny, as well as youth's insecurities and strengths presented through the portrayal of Brian's character and his relationship with Denny. I do love mysteries and this one turned out to be an enjoyable, fresh read for me. Recommended.
Boys of Summer is all about the butterflies in the stomach and uncertainties that come along with that first crush or first kiss. Hot summer days, san...moreBoys of Summer is all about the butterflies in the stomach and uncertainties that come along with that first crush or first kiss. Hot summer days, sand, surf, camping grounds, fairs, and summer evenings make the perfect settings for our boys to explore and experience.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Swamp Thing by Ann Zeddies In this solid read about a geek and a gay boy who longs to belong, Chase certainly shows Shane that belonging doesn't always mean being part of the popular crowd. I love the summer atmosphere and the swamp setting, the excellent teenage characterization, and the ending in this story.
Get Brenda Foxworthy by Shawn Syms In Syms' dark(ish) tale, his characters Dean, Preet and Rickie are on their way to fight back against mean girl Brenda Foxworthy who bullies through psychological abuse and underhanded manipulation. There's a violent edge to this solid story by Syms that I found provocative and one that fits with the YA LGBT theme. I like that it lends a different perspective to this anthology, and that it also gives Dean hope for change at the end.
Cave Canem by Dia Pannes This is a good story that features Wyatt, a summer volunteer at a local pet rescue. It has dogs, dog fighting, a hot bad boy, and rescuing as a theme. The rescuing applies to both the dogs and the bad boy. There's a definite summer atmosphere, as well as that "I'm crushing on you" trope that I enjoy. The ending is ambiguous and left to the reader's imagination.
Breakwater in the Summer Dark by L Lark Lark weaves a rather clever story where he combines the fear of coming out with first love, shy moments, and youthful lust. Both of his characters are plagued by different fears that are alleviated only when Cody admits to himself that he cares for Harry. I ended up loving these two boys together, weird monster in the lake and all.
Brass by Marguerite Croft & Christopher Reynaga I really enjoyed this cute story about an unknown (could be any) boy who has a crush on fellow high school band member Ben. Ben plays the tuba and he plays the trumpet. This short story takes place on a hot 4th of July day as our young man makes up his mind to make a move on Ben. There's heat, a balmy evening, a car, a first kiss, and... ohhhh the possibilities that opened up on that hot summer day!
Summer's Last Stand by Aimee Payne Aimee Payne concentrates her summer tale on bullies, family, and the all important support that young adults in the LGBT community need. Payne captures the importance of family and friends with the promise of a future romance.
Most Likely by Steve Berman Most Likely bears Berman's signature writing style. I love that he adds a bit of diversity to this anthology by featuring Roque, a hot Latino boy who has the hots for Gregg, a Jewish boy who turns out to be Roque's friend and big "high school crush." Berman's hints of 'the unexplained,' conjures great summer atmosphere and combines it all with Roque's uncertainty about Gregg's feelings and some jealousy that drives Roque to a passionate pursuit. This is a great read.
Leap by 'Nathan Burgoine Ohhh, I loved this story! I did! Burgoine's boys of summer experience all the right moments: the uncertainty and butterflies that come from that first crush, the vulnerability and desire experienced during the first kiss, plus real friendship and fear for the future. Burgoine's Leap is a complete, detailed short story that captures all those "first" moments and hot summer days beautifully, leaving the reader feeling great at the end.
Bark if You Like Bad Boys by Sam Cameron Sean is a secondary character in Cameron's Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure, a story I really enjoyed, and I can't tell you how glad I am that he is highlighted in this anthology. There's a gorgeous summer atmosphere to Bark if You Like Bad Boys, the setting is perfect and the reader feels as if he/she is there eating ice cream at the beach. Cameron really captures the growing friendship between Sean, Rob and Andrew, Sean's growing concern as events begin to take a serious turn, and the beauty of that "crush" and first kiss. I love this story.
Wheat, Barley, Lettuce, Fennel, Salt for Sorrow, Blood for Joy by Alex Jeffers Alex Jeffers is a favorite writer and it is no surprise to me that this turned out to be one of my favorite stories. Jeffers combines a contemporary tale with a legend and in the process adds that cultural diversity that I enjoy so much. This is a gorgeous story that transports the reader to the sea and another culture. There's longing, discovery, desire, and passion in this excellent boys of summer story that ends with a surprisingly sweet touch.
Boys of Summer edited by Steve Berman captures and combines those lazy days of summer with the excitement of summer crushes, love and adventures, perfectly. It's a great read for young adults experiencing or hoping to experience these feelings for the first time, or adults who have been there. Remember when? You will if you read it. Enjoy! (less)
Last year I read Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure and enjoyed it. That book was the first installment in Sam Cameron's young adult LGBT...moreLast year I read Mystery of the Tempest: A Fisher Key Adventure and enjoyed it. That book was the first installment in Sam Cameron's young adult LGBT mystery series Fisher Key Adventures. I've also enjoyed related and unrelated short stories written by this author, so of course I purchased the second book, The Secret of Othello as soon as it released. The series stars the Anderson twins, Denny and Steven, and I think what I love about these eighteen year old young men is how Cameron balances out each character by highlighting their common ground, yet gives them unique, individual traits and personalities.
Denny is gay and more circumspect about his heroic actions with an almost shy personality, and Steven loves girls and is known as the outspoken twin with the cocky attitude. Yet they share many of the same interests including love and respect for family and the sea, a propensity to find trouble in the most unimaginable of places and a curiosity that leads them to solve mysteries. However, being teenagers, they also share some of the same concerns and struggle by making wrong decisions and looking for the right choices.
While Mystery of The Tempest was very much a mystery that introduced these wonderful characters, Sam Cameron uses The Secret of Othello more as a tool to further develops these characters by focusing on the boys' concerns about changes taking place and affecting their lives after high school graduation.
After the mess he made out of his love life during graduation, Steven has given up girls for the summer, but has to fight himself constantly not to break this personal promise when three local girls make a play for him, and a new girl visiting Fisher Key makes an impact.This is not an easy task for impulsive, easily distracted Steven with his high libido. Instead after witnessing a shooting star streaking across Fisher Key skies, he tries to distract himself by following his natural curiosity after NASA scientists claim a weather satellite fell in the ocean. Steven doesn't really believe it's a weather satellite and keeps his eye on the Othello II reclaiming vessel and its crew, particularly on the beautiful female scientist aboard. However, Steven's real conflicts in this second installment are internal, as his future with the SEALs is still uncertain.
In the meantime, Denny is not really interested in NASA or their satellite and leaves all the snooping and speculating to Steven. Instead Denny's whole summer is consumed by his new relationship with boyfriend Brian. Denny is still hoping not to be the only virgin arriving for training at the U.S. Coast Guard, but he's also struggling with adjustments and choices, especially since he is only partially out of the closet. Brian is not so understanding of Denny's needs, and Denny doesn't always make the right decisions when it comes to their relationship. Additionally, Denny deals with the Cuban side of the family and going by his Aunt Riza's homophobic and intractable attitude that might end up a disaster. It all becomes a balancing act for Denny between family acceptance, Brian's understanding, mistakes, and his own libido gone wild! The boys end up helping each other out as always, and Brian confronts his own tough situations. There is a lot of growing up for Denny and Steven, as well as Brian in this installment.
The Secret of Othello is a good follow up to Mystery of The Tempest. It delves more into the characters and although there is a mystery to be solved, and of course Steven, Denny, Brian, and their friend Sean are all involved, in the end that mystery is not central but more of a side story through much of the book. However, toward the last third of the book the mystery and action pick up and the ending is quite exciting.
Sam Cameron writes young adult stories for young adults, although as an adult for me they are also enjoyable. The Fisher Key Adventures in particular are wonderful because not only is ethnic diversity subtly and naturally weaved into the series, but there is also the inclusion of inner struggles faced by young adults of different gender and sexual orientation. Cameron achieves this while placing these young adults in situations that include family, friends, and community in an organic environment, all while making these books highly entertaining mystery reads. The Secret of Othello was a solid read for me, and now I look forward to reading the next book of the series, The Missing Juliet. (less)
This is a wonderful YA read! The author really captures Abbey's teen angst, high school days, and successfully adds the main character's struggles wit...moreThis is a wonderful YA read! The author really captures Abbey's teen angst, high school days, and successfully adds the main character's struggles with sexuality to the mix. The characters, central and secondary, are all believable and draw the reader from beginning to end. The You Know Who Girls: Freshman Year is a wonderful story that should be read by all, but specifically by LGBT young adults and their friends. My hope? That Hesik continues to write Abbey's journey throughout her four years at Gila High. Recommended. (less)