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I’m With the (Vampire) Band, a guest post by Marlene Perez

Writers have always found inspiration from a multitude of sources. For me, television, books, and music sparked my imagination. My taste in music was as deeply personal as the kinds of books I read. For me, the two have been intertwined since childhood and I still hang out in my room listening to my vinyl record collection and reading. Or writing.

I created a playlist for every manuscript I’ve written. Sometimes, I listened to the songs before I wrote, which would bring me into the world more quickly somehow. Other times, I would listen as I wrote, feeling the emotional highs and lows the music evoked. My Dead Is series even featured a jukebox that provides clues to the mystery through song titles, so those playlists always included the clue songs.

The titles of my new teen vampire trilogy, THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY, I’M WITH THE BANNED, and A SUCKER FOR YOU, were all riffs on song titles. It wasn’t too surprising then that the vampires in the books were musicians. In THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY, the main character, Tansy Mariotti, went to a party with her two friends to listen to a band, but got more than she bargained for. Spoiler alert, Tansy hadn’t expected the band, even though they were called The Drainers, to be a group of bloodsucking fiends.

Writing about vampires can be challenging because of the depth and breadth of the vampire canon. From Dracula to Twilight, authors have written about every kind of vampire under the sun, even vampires who can actually spend time in those golden rays without turning to ash. As I was figuring out what kind of vampire I wanted to inhabit my fictional world, it sometimes seemed like everything had been done, even vampires in a band. In Anne Rice’s novel Queen of the Damned, the vampire Lestat joined a rock band, and his song woke the queen of all vampires, and boy was she cranky.

Stories of real-life musicians and how they treated their fans were the inspiration for The Drainers, my fictional vampire band. In some cases, it was almost unbelievable the way certain rock legends treated their fans. If you type in the name of your favorite artist and the word “groupies” into a search engine, you might find some disturbing stuff. But fair warning, it made it impossible for me to listen to their music the same way. In my trilogy, the vampires were bloodthirsty creatures, willing to use their power to compel their fans to give them their blood. It’s no wonder Tansy wanted to stake them.

Like many writers of paranormal fiction, I was a huge fan of (most seasons) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What’s not to love about a kickass yet vulnerable main character, her loyal friends, and her hot vampire love interest? Not to mention the live music at The Bronze. I found the whole Spike/Buffy pairing incredibly squicky and not just because I was Team Angel. Despite some shortcomings (Spike, Riley, and what we later learned about the treatment of cast members), I admired the overall tone of the show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer mixed humor with more serious themes, such as friendship, consent, and death. The show inspired the snark meets dark tone of the Afterlife trilogy as well as Tansy’s weapon of choice for fighting vampires.

One of my favorite vampire novels was Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Sunshine was a post-apocalyptic novel where vampires were out in the open, instead of part of some secret, hidden world. The world of Sunshine held a variety of paranormal creatures, including vampires, witches, and werewolves. Robin McKinley took a common “rule” about vampires, the inability to withstand the sun, and made it her own. Sunshine helped me to think about what strengths and weaknesses my vampires had. Would they be creatures of the night or able to glitter in the sun? How can you fight a vampire? How can you kill a vampire?

Tansy learns the answers to some of these questions in the first book, but in I’M WITH THE BANNED, the second book in the Afterlife trilogy (October 5, 2021), she and her friends had a whole new paranormal creature to figure out. They had to discover who was murdering werewolves before someone sets off a vampire-werewolf war.

And finally, in A SUCKER FOR YOU (TBD 2022), somehow Tansy found herself in a van full of werewolves heading to Vegas to stop an elopement and just maybe prevent the end of the world. And a certain band might be headlining in Vegas.

If you want to spend a few hours reading and listening, pick up a copy of THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY or I’M WITH THE BANNED and check out the playlists for the books. You can find them here on Spotify.

THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY

I’M WITH THE BANNED, Part 1

Meet the author

Marlene Perez is the author of books for children and adults, including the best-selling DEAD IS series for teens. DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK was named an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers as well as an ALA Popular Paperback. DEAD IS JUST A RUMOR was on VOYA’s Best Science Fiction, Horror, & Fantasy List.  Her novels have been featured in Girl’s Life, Seventeen, and Cosmopolitan. The first book in her new teen vampire trilogy THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY is out now and the second book I’M WITH THE BANNED, will release October 5, 2021.

She grew up in Story City, Iowa and is the youngest of twelve children. She lives in Orange County, California with her husband and children.

Find me on social media.

www.marleneperez.com

https://www.instagram.com/marperezauthor/

https://twitter.com/MarPerez

About I’m with the Banned

I never wanted to be a vampire queen.

But on the bright (if not sunny) side of the debacle, I’ve got a super-hot new boyfriend. And he just might be the perfect guy.

Well, if the perfect guy ghosts you for a month and then comes back to school with a new look, a pack of friends, and a secret. But we have bigger problems.

The Drainers are back. They’re singing a different song, but have they really changed?

Even worse, werewolves’ hearts are being ripped from their bodies—which is putting the people I love in danger. I need to figure out who is behind the murders before there’s an all-out vampire werewolf war.

No one is going to mess with my friends, even the ones who like to get wild and howl at the moon.

Sometimes, all a girl can do is grab her tiara and start kicking some supernatural ass…

The Afterlife series is best enjoyed in order.
Reading Order:
Book #1 The Afterlife of the Party
Book #2 I’m with the Banned

ISBN-13: 9781649370099
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Series: Afterlife #2
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

The Music that Heals Us, a guest post by Jennie Wexler

Boxes of vinyl records sat untouched in my parents’ storage room, begging to take their rightful place on a decades-old turntable covered in a thin layer of dust. During my last visit, I asked my father if I could take a couple of albums, hoping to display my favorites on shelves in my own home. I thumbed through a box, my eyes landing on instantly recognizable artwork. All four Beatles dressed in colorful costumes behind a large bass drum bearing the words, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Licensed to Ill’s rear end of a jet plane crash daring us to take a ride with the Beastie Boys. Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Mitchel, and Noel Redding on the other end of a fish-eye lens asking us, Are You Experienced? Tommy. Led Zeppelin IV. Dark Side of the Moon.

I wanted them all.

It wasn’t right – iconic masterpieces lying dormant in a cold storage room. Music that was meant to be consumed as a story. Not a single track, but a cohesive album of notes and chords that all belonged together, that built upon one another. As my fingers ran along the edges of each album, long-forgotten memories bubbled to the surface of my mind.

“Who is this?” my father asked, his green eyes flicking to me in the rearview mirror, as the opening notes of Strawberry Fields Forever poured out of the speakers and filled our 1984 Toyota. When I was a little girl, my father turned long car rides into musical quizzes, knowledge that would imprint on my developing brain and stay with me throughout adulthood.

“The Beatles,” my tiny five-year-old voice proclaimed, pride swelling in my chest. I didn’t know a lot, but I knew music and more importantly, I felt a sense of awe as I listened. My father ensured I was immersed in the sounds of the sixties and seventies, the pure rock that came out of those decades. He owned guitars and amps, picks lying haphazardly around our house, ready to be put to use whenever the mood struck. He strummed while I sang Can’t Find My Way Home, one of our favorite songs, the memory still vivid today, a blanket wrapped tightly around my shoulders. Whenever I hear that Blind Faith tune, it feels like home, safe, a hug from my father. When you share an intense love for a song with someone, it’s an unspoken bond, a knowing of what speaks to both of your hearts.

When I entered high school, music became more than a cool riff or relatable lyrics. It was a lifeline. Two months into my freshman year, a car accident claimed the life of my friend at just fifteen years old. Everything I understood to be true was shattered in one phone call and I struggled to understand the concept of gone. My grief was unshakeable, heavy, and relentless. I don’t know if it was my father’s intention to ease my pain or just a way for him to connect to his shell of a daughter, but one day he brought home a CD for me – Help! by The Beatles. We owned it on vinyl, but he knew I only consumed music on my CD player, and he wanted me to have my own copy. The next week he came home with Revolver. The week after that was Rubber Soul. A new Beatles CD appeared every week until I had a complete collection. Every week I climbed an inch further out of my grief, the music breathing life back into my colorless world.

I began writing WHERE IT ALL LANDS as a way to process the grief from my teenage years that still grabbed hold of me unexpectedly, even as I became an adult and started my own family. I wanted to write the story I needed in high school – a story that could help a teen cope with an upheaval in their lives. Losing a young peer is not only devastating, it’s shocking. For years I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to untangle my complicated feelings about loss. Writing WHERE IT ALL LANDS was another attempt, another way to try to heal. All three main characters share an intense love of music and they depend on their favorite songs to guide them through difficult times. For me, like the characters in WHERE IT ALL LANDS, music is the one constant throughout my life that has comforted me and helped me find meaning in the face of tragedy.

Today, music still guides me. My father’s vinyl records are displayed in my office, the same songs, like dependable old friends, continuing to inspire me after so many years. Every song tells a story, and every piece of music is a time machine – a way to remind me of a forgotten moment or a hug from my father just when I need one. But music isn’t my only salve. Writing, reading, and art are the tools that help me chip away at life’s unanswered questions. Just like me, I hope teens today can pick up a book, stare at a piece of art, or listen to their favorite songs when they need to make sense of their complicated worlds.

Meet the author

Jennie Wexler spent the first part of her career producing and writing scripts for television shows appearing on VH1, Bravo, and The Travel Channel. Jennie’s debut novel, WHERE IT ALL LANDS, will be released from Wednesday Books on July 6th, 2021. She is an SCBWI member and lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and Havanese puppy. You can follow her on twitter @jenwex or on IG @jenniewexler.

About Where It All Lands

Sliding Doors-esque novel that reveals how our choices define us and how no matter the road, love can find its way.

Stevie Rosenstein has never made a true friend. Never fallen in love. Moved from city to city by her father’s unrelenting job, it’s too hard to care for someone. Trust in anything. The pain of leaving always hurts too much. But she’ll soon learn to trust, to love.

Twice.

Drew and Shane have been best friends through everything. The painful death of Shane’s dad. The bitter separation of Drew’s parents. Through sleepaway camps and family heartache, basketball games and immeasurable loss, they’ve always been there for each other.

When Stevie meets Drew and Shane, life should go on as normal.

But a simple coin toss alters the course of their year in profound and unexpected ways.

Told in dual timelines, debut author Jennie Wexler’s Where It All Lands delivers a heartbreaking and hopeful novel about missed opportunities, second chances, and all the paths that lead us to where we are.

ISBN-13: 9781250750044
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Frank Morelli’s Playlist for his Novel, On the Way to Birdland

As the release date approaches for my new young adult novel, ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, I keep getting asked: what inspired you to write this book?

The truth is, any time you string close to one hundred thousand words together into a cohesive story, the avenues of inspiration must be innumerable. In fact, there were so many streams of experience, knowledge, empathy, and emotion flowing through me as I wrote the first draft of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be completely conscious of all of them.

I can tell you, however, that my strongest source of passion for the literature I was composing at the time came in a language many of us may consider universal: the sweet, poetic symphony of music.

To do that I have to take you back a few years to 2005. That’s when I moved from New York City to my adopted hometown of High Point, North Carolina and found out, through some sheer act of fate, that this small, random furniture town in the rural South happened to flow with the same air once breathed by jazz legend John Coltrane. I knew right away I wouldn’t be able to rest until I dove headlong into the history and the music of such an essential, American icon, and I wanted to see if I could understand what it was, if anything, about what at first glance appears to be a pretty bland and generic town that may have inspired an artistic genius to move closer to his creations.

Not only did the process help me gain a visceral appreciation for an artist I now see as nothing less than a musical genius and a modern prophet, but his sound also allowed me to see patterns I never would have noticed before in the collective harmony of American music. And I found solace in the realization that it is in our music where we reflect all of the qualities that make us unique, both for better and for worse.

The following playlist is by no means an exhaustive list or an official soundtrack, but it captures the essence of the music I came in contact with time and again during my process, and that continued to play through my head as I wrote the initial draft of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND. I hope you’ll give it a listen as your eyes peel across the pages of my new novel.

1. Dream a Little Dream of Me – Doris Day

There’s an obvious dreamlike quality to this song that brought me directly into the reeling mind of my protagonist, Cordell Wheaton, a sixteen-year-old boy on a journey to find his estranged brother, Travis, as he struggles to suppress the reverberating memories of a traumatic event.

2. Little Birdie – Vince Guaraldi Trio

As a young boy, I used to roll my eyes every time my father played a song on the radio that was older than two weeks, which included jazz music in any form. Writing ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND forced me to reflect on my own listening experiences with America’s most hallowed music creation, and I realized that the first time I ever recognized a jazz song it was while watching a Peanuts cartoon. Yes, kind of childish, but I was an actual child at the time…and this happened to be the song that welcomed me into the fold of jazz appreciation.

3. Colors – Black Pumas

This is my favorite band to come out in quite a long time, and I think it’s because I love how the Pumas are able to connect through the ages with their music. They provide listeners with a sound that is uniquely suited for the present, while reaching right back into the soulfulness of a Marvin Gaye or an Al Green.

4. My Favorite Things – John Coltrane

This old standard comes to life through the mouth of Coltrane’s saxophone in a way that no other song remake ever can. Compared to some of Coltrane’s later, more experimental music, which takes a bit of a trained ear to truly appreciate, this song grants the casual music-goer with an all-access pass to Coltrane’s musical genius. It also happens to be a song that represents the tight bond between my protagonist in On the Way to Birdland and his missing brother.

5. One More Night – Michael Kiwanuka

Another one of those recent musical artists who seems to be able to reach back into the ages of sound and filter back harmonies that fit the resounding rhythms of the moment.

6. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown

The Godfather of Soul has always spoken to me just as much as he seems to speak to one of my favorite characters in ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, a kind-hearted truck driver who goes by the road handle ‘Cowbird’ and helps Cordy Wheaton find a new direction in his life.

7. Crazy – Patsy Cline

Not only did this song help me to empathetically develop the fragile mental state of my protagonist, but it also served as inspiration for the creation of a struggling country music artist named Lula McBride, who’s just one of the many important mentors Cordy Wheaton meets on his journey.

8. Chasin’ the Bird – Charlie Parker

This playlist would be incomplete without a proper tribute to Charlie “Birdman” Parker, one of the greatest jazz artists of all time, a mentor to John Coltrane, and the impetus behind the famous Birdland Jazz Club in New York City.

9. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton

I love how well this song captures an underlying theme in ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND about the hidden trials and tribulations we all have hidden just under the surface and how our differences actually make us stronger.

10. Bye Bye Blackbird – Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Even if you claim to not be a fan of jazz, I dare you not to like this legendary jazz standard played side-by-side by John Coltrane and one of his most important mentors, the illustrious Miles Davis.

11. On the Road Again – Willie Nelson

This song is Cordy Wheaton’s general anthem as he completes his Odyssey-like journey up and down the East Coast of the United States.

12. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver

Like most of us, Cordy Wheaton wishes he were anywhere on Earth besides his hometown. But, as Cordy learns on his journey, sometimes it takes a few outside experiences to help us appreciate the treasures we have sitting right in our own backyards. It’s a lesson that just sounds better when John Denver sings it.

13. That Was Yesterday – Leon Bridges

Another present-day musical genius, this Leon Bridges song–both lyrically and harmonically–captures Cordy Wheaton’s ultimate realization as he approaches the end of his journey. To Birdland.

14. A Love Supreme, Pt. 1 – John Coltrane

This is the first part of Coltrane’s most widely celebrated and possibly most enigmatic jazz suite of the same name. It is a piece of music so far-reaching that it once inspired the creation of a church dedicated to its worship, and it remains to be one of the most revered pieces of music of all time as consistently cited by leading scholars on jazz. To me, it signifies the importance of spirituality in John Coltrane’s life, and it provides us with a window into the man’s devotion to studying and appreciating the common threads that bind together most of the world’s religions. It’s a piece of music that cements John Coltrane’s legacy as one of history’s great uniters.

15. Carolina in my Mind – James Taylor

This is the song that kept popping into my mind when I envisioned the closing credits beginning to roll if I’m ever lucky enough to see ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND up on the big screen. It’s a song that brings Cordy Wheaton right back to where he started, but with a new way of looking at the world around him, and a new way of valuing himself.

Meet the author

Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novels On the Way to Birdland (2021) and No Sad Songs (2018), a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. His fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening PostCobalt ReviewPhiladelphia Stories, and Highlights Magazine. A Philadelphia native, Morelli now lives in High Point, North Carolina with his best friend and their four rescued fur babies.

Social Links:

@frankmoewriter on Twitter
@frankmorelliauthor on Instagram
frank.morelli.96343 on Facebook

Frank Morelli’s YouTube Channel

frankmorelliwrites.com – author website

Frank Morelli on Goodreads

fowbooks.com – publisher website

About On the Way to Birdland

Self-proclaimed teenage philosopher Cordell Wheaton lives in a sleepy, southern town where nothing ever happens; not since his hero, jazz musician John Coltrane, left some seventy years earlier to “follow the sound.” Cordy’s life has been unraveling since the night his father and his brother, Travis, exploded on each other. The night Travis’s addiction transformed him from budding musician into something entirely different. The night Travis took his saxophone and disappeared. When Cordy’s father falls ill, the sixteen-year-old vows to reunite the Wheaton family. He embarks on a modern-day odyssey with forty bucks in his pocket and a dream to find his brother and convince him to be Travis again—by taking him to a show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, and reminding him of the common bonds they share with their legendary hero. Cordy’s journey is soon haunted by ghostly visions, traumatic dreams, and disembodied voices that echo through his mind. He starts to wonder if the voices are those of the fates, guiding him toward his destiny—or if he’s losing his grip on reality.

ISBN-13: 9781947886056
Publisher: Fish Out of Water Books
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

HOW CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYS A VITAL ROLE IN EVERYWHERE BLUE, a guest post by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

Music often plays a role in MG or YA novels. The music is nearly always new, whether it’s pop or rock or rap. A singer might be mentioned in the text itself, like Beyonce in FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA by Crystal Maldonado. Or the characters in a novel might audition for a Broadway musical, as in BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle, or a school musical, as in CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, by Steven Salvatore.      

        

Many novels have a playlist, a list of tunes that inspired the author, music they listened to while writing the book. Afterward, they share the playlist with fans.

My MG debut novel in verse, EVERYWHERE BLUE, takes a different approach.

Twelve-year-old Madrigal Lovato, nicknamed Maddie, loves music, math, and everything in its place. She is growing up in a musical family. Her mother teaches opera, her father is a piano tuner by day and a composer by night. There is always music in the house. And it’s always classical.

In EVERYWHERE BLUE, music represents emotions.

When Maddie’s beloved older brother, Strum, walks away from his college campus and vanishes, Maddie’s well-ordered world splinters apart. Her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum, and her sixteen-year-old sister Aria reacts by staying out late.

Maman stops humming and singing, Daddy stops playing classical records. The house falls silent.

Maddie continues to practice her oboe in her room alone. She plays the oboe in her school orchestra and music is her world. This is why I opened the book with Maddie walking to her after-school music lesson. The story begins in November, when darkness comes on early. Maddie also has seasonal affective disorder, so early darkness makes her sad. The music I mention reflects those feelings.

I tried to infuse every part of my novel with a piece of classical music, including “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Edvard Grieg, “Largo” by Antonin Dvorak, “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber, “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 by Ludwig Von Beethoven, and more.

I describe how the music makes Maddie feel, so even if the reader doesn’t know the piece, they’ll know just how it can affect people. Whether it’s “the most haunting music I’ve ever heard” (“Adagio for Strings”) or “the brightest, most jubilant music I know” (“Ode to Joy”), music is a metaphor for Maddie’s emotions.

Readers may not be familiar with all the classical pieces I mention in the book. But many readers should know Peter and the Wolf, a musical composition by Sergei Prokofiev. He called it a “symphonic fairy tale for children.” It teaches young people the different instruments in an orchestra, by assigning them to characters in his tale. Peter is represented by the strings, his grandfather by the bassoon, A clarinet represents the cat, a flute represents the bird. And three French horns represent the wolf.

Finally, the oboe represents a duck, because, yes, an oboe sounds a lot like the quacking of a duck.

I played the oboe in junior high school. We even performed a student version of Peter and the Wolf and I had a brief solo. It’s been a long time, but I can still remember the crushed-leaf taste of the reed.

As I wrote and revised EVERYWHERE BLUE, music became more and more important to my theme. I realized the French horns’ forbidding, ominous music in Peter and the Wolf was perfect for Maddie’s concern over her missing brother, Strum, and could also symbolize her undiagnosed anxiety.

With each revision, I drew more and more on this recurring theme. Strum’s disappearance throws the family into chaos. Maddie realizes at one point, while listening to the violins play Peter’s theme, that Strum could be Peter. And she hopes he will escape from the wolf of whatever’s troubling him. 

French horns are mentioned throughout the novel, and they’re always forbidding, until Part 4, February, when Maddie begins to feel there is hope for finding Strum. Maddie longs for more daylight, and by February, the days are becoming longer. As she listens to Ravel’s Bolero, she realizes the French horns in that piece are not at all forbidding. They don’t threaten. They rise and swell. They lift her up.

Near the end of the novel, Maddie is getting ready for the school concert. And the verse and the music are full of hope.

Music in books can be healing. Music can soothe the soul. Music, in fact, can be a form of salvation.


Meet the author

Joanne Rossmassler Fritz grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, surrounded by books and music. She has worked in a publishing company, a school library, and the Children’s Department of a large independent bookstore. She’s been writing most of her life, but didn’t get serious about it until after she survived the first of two brain aneurysm ruptures in 2005. She and her husband live outside West Chester, PA, and are the parents of two grown sons.

Twitter: @JoanneRFritz

Instagram: @JoanneRossFritz

Website: https://www.joannerossmasslerfritz.com/

About Everywhere Blue

A brother’s disappearance turns one family upside down, revealing painful secrets that threaten the life they’ve always known. 

When twelve-year-old Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Meanwhile Maddie’s older sister reacts by staying out late, and her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent.

Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved . . .

Scared and on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything—but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.

This powerful debut novel in verse addresses the climate crisis, intergenerational discourse, and mental illness in an accessible, hopeful way. With a gorgeous narrative voice, Everywhere Blue is perfect for fans of Eventown and OCDaniel.

ISBN-13: 9780823448623
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 06/01/2021
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

Publisher’s description

The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home—perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli.

Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life—where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval. 

From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oh, Marty. This kid is a mess. Right now I’m imagining the book that would come after this one, where Marty is getting the help he needs and starting to figure out how real friendships work etc. That’s not to say I didn’t like this book—I did. But Marty is having a ROUGH time and as a reader (particularly as an adult reader and as a mother) I just wanted to help him realize faster that he needs help and to really find better people to surround himself with. He’s doing that, in this story, but it’s a mess. So if you love mess, this book is for you.

Marty has lots of issues with anxiety, including panic attacks, but appears to be undiagnosed and untreated. I hope he can fix that. His relationship with his parents is mostly based on lies at this point. Guess what? I hope they can fix that (“they” being his parents, because I think it’s on them to repair that relationship and learn to love the son they have, not the one they may want). His best friend at home in Kentucky is one of the meanest and least supportive “friends” I’ve encountered in YA in a long time. She repeatedly outs him and just really sucks as a person. She’s awful, which Marty is finally beginning to see, and he IS fixing the friendship situations in his life. And when he starts dating Pierce, Marty also develops issues with food and weight (reader, beware, if that’s triggering for you), eventually going so long without food that he faints. He’s super self-conscious of his body, how Pierce views his body, and talks a lot about BMI and weight loss and food restriction (and thankfully there are characters who try to help him, point out the flaws in his thinking, and even Marty himself acknowledges BMI is garbage—but that doesn’t stop him from fixating on it or from talking about “normal” weight and using a slur for fatness).

Instead of focusing on developing some music contacts and his career while in England, he focuses on relationships with all these new people. He is SO painfully 17, floundering, and trying SO hard. He says that his new life, new friends, and potential new boyfriend make it all feel like he’s finally home and fits in, but it’s pretty clear that that’s not really true yet. He’s always felt out of place, but this new place is still new and can’t really be a home to him while he’s still dealing with so much STUFF. He’s so grateful to finally feel like he fits in that he’s overlooking a LOT of things right now, including one very huge thing with someone he’s newly close to.

Character-driven readers will enjoy this book about one teen’s journey toward self and independence. And while Marty certainly feels like he’s on the way to all kinds of healing and hope by the end of the book, getting to that point involves a lot of drama and pain. There is nothing better than finding your people and being yourself. Marty shows how hard both of those things can be but offers hope that, even with a bunch of disappointments, it’s possible. Realistically messy and heavier than I anticipated.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547600175
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

A Banjo as a Bridge, a guest post by Erica Waters

I first got the idea for Ghost Wood Song, my debut YA novel about a girl with a ghost-raising fiddle, from a spooky experience of my own. I was home alone, writing in my attic office, when I heard a banjo playing below. I crept down the stairs with all my senses tingling, but the music stopped. The room was empty and still, and my banjo rested innocently against a wall, perfectly silent. I chalked the phantom music up to vibrations in the banjo’s resonator and went back to work.

However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a ghost playing a musical instrument. What might he want to communicate? Could music be a bridge between the living and the dead? If so, would that bridge be safe to cross?

I was already deeply interested in bluegrass and folk music, so I knew I could write a story about ghosts set against those musical traditions. But I needed a character to bring the music to life. And out of the blue, she introduced herself to me. Her name was Shady Grove, named after my favorite Appalachian folk song. Her father had died and she was grieving and missing the music he’d taught her to love. But one day she heard his fiddle crying in the pine woods and believed he was calling to her.

Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

That fiddle became my bridge—an instrument that when played just right could call up ghosts and let them take a solid form, speak, even touch the ones they loved. It was temporary and dangerous, but it was a small form of resurrection. However, the real bridge wasn’t the fiddle itself but the music that Shady played.

Bluegrass tunes, murder ballads, classic country, gospel hymns.

It was music that I had grown up on in rural Florida but had forgotten until I moved to Nashville and started going to bluegrass joints and shows at the Ryman Auditorium. All these songs came back to me—ones that my grandfather had played on tape decks, that my father sang while he drove. It was intimately familiar to me and yet felt brand new. These songs connected me to a past that felt like such a part of me but also fractured, painful, irretrievable.

As I wrote, I was flooded with a longing for home and family, even though those things are deeply complicated for me. But the music that shaped Shady’s story cracked me open too, and something that felt miraculous happened: I found my writerly self. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to write and who I wanted to be as a writer. My writing had context, atmosphere, and voice. It was compelling. It was original. Finally, I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself from scratch; rather, I was returning to myself.

Shady’s music became a bridge for me. To the dead, yes. To a home I thought I’d left behind, yes. But most of all it connected me to myself and my own voice.

So maybe there really was a ghost playing that neglected banjo in the corner. Maybe the phantom music was my own personal fiddle crying in the pines. At any rate, it brought me here. It brought me home.

You can buy a copy of Ghost Wood Song at Nashville’s beloved indie bookstore, Parnassus Books: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/ericawaters.

Meet Erica Waters

Photo Credit: Amelia J. Moore

Erica Waters writes young adult fantasy with a Southern Gothic feel. She’s originally from the pine woods of rural Florida but has made her home in Nashville, TN with her spouse and two scruffy little rescue dogs. Ghost Wood Song is her debut novel. You can visit her online at ericawaters.com and connect with her on twitter and Instagram.

Links:

Book: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062894229/ghost-wood-song/

Website: https://ericawaters.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ELWaters

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ericawatersbooks/

Cover Design Credit:

Jacket art: Alix Northrup
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel-Lobell

About Ghost Wood Song

Ghost Wood Song

Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.

If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.

Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.

But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.

In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.

Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.

ISBN-13: 9780062894229
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

The Billie Eilish Readalike Playlist

Billie Eilish has been popular in my house for a while now, probably since first hearing the song Lovely back in 2018. My favorite Billie Eilish song is “You Should See Me in a Crown”, while Thing 2 seems particularly fond of “Bad Guy”. So the other day, as I watched a group of pre-teen and teen girls choreograph a dance to a Billie Eilish song, I had a moment of inspiration: I wonder if I could create a reading RA list based on Billie Eilish songs. So I sat down and started researching her various songs and what they meant. It turns out, there are websites that help you do this.

I then started getting serious about this project. I even turned it into an RA sheet for my work. So what follows is a list of a variety of YA books based on theme and song that teens may enjoy reading if they like the music of Billie Eilish. This was a fun list to create, and it is by no means complete. It only touches on a few of her songs and even on those songs there are a lot more books we could add. So if you have some titles you would like to add, please feel free to do so.

Books About Toxic Relationships

“Bad Guy”, “When the Party’s Over” and several other Billie Eilish songs are about toxic relationships, both romantic and friendships. So here are a few YA books about toxic relationships that your teens may be interested in reading.

You Should See Me in a Crown

“You Should See Me in a Crown” is inspired by the BBC series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In it Andrew Scott, also known as the Hot Priest from Fleabag, plays Moriarty, Sherlock’s arch-nemesis. At one point he proclaims, “you should see me in a crown.” The rest is history. The series is a lot of fun and was extremely popular, I even had a very successful Sherlock party at the time. So here are a bunch of Sherlock retellings or books that are Sherlock Holmes like that teen readers will find interesting.

Books About Mental Health and Depression

One of Billie Eilish’s early hits was a song called “lovely” that she sings with Khalid. It’s a very melancholy song about mental health and depression and it appears on the soundtrack for the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The title began kind of as a kind of sarcastic nod to how depressing the song is. While listening to it someone said, “oh how lovely” and the rest, as they say, is history. Here a few YA books about mental health and depression that your teens may like.

Dark Books about Dark People doing Dark Things

“Belly Ache” and “Bad Guy” are told from the point of view of monsters, whether that means psychopaths or literal monsters depends on the song. Billie Eilish has stated in many interviews that she likes to write songs that tell the story from the point of view from the monster under your bed. Here are several YA books that are about psychopaths and monsters.

Climate Change

Billie Eilish is an advocate for knowing and working to fix climate change. The topic of climate change appears in her most recent video “All the Good Girls Go to Hell”. Here are a few YA fiction titles on climate change that teens may be interested in reading. If you are Googling for additional titles, you may want to also search under the term “cli-fi”, which is a shortened version of climate change.

Basically Dark, Twisted and Kind of Awesome

If you had to describe Billie Eilish’s aesthetic, you might say she is basically dark, twisted and a lot of fun. So here are a bunch of YA books that are basically dark, twisted and a lot of fun. I like to think that Billie Eilish would like these books and recommend them to her fans.

Book Review: Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne

Publisher’s description

night music2Music has always been Ruby’s first love. But has it ever loved her back?
Slip behind the scenes of the classical music world one hot, anything-can-happen, New York City summer.

Ruby has always been Ruby Chertok: future classical pianist and daughter of renowned composer Martin Chertok. But after her horrendous audition for the prestigious music school where her father is on faculty, it’s clear that music has publicly dumped her. Now Ruby is suddenly just . . . Ruby. And who is that again? All she knows is that she wants away from the world of classical music for good.

Oscar is a wunderkind, a musical genius. Just ask any of the 1.8 million people who’ve watched him conduct on YouTube—or hey, just ask Oscar. But while he might be the type who’d name himself when asked about his favorite composer and somehow make you love him more for it, Oscar is not the type to jeopardize his chance to study under the great Martin Chertok—not for a crush. He’s all too aware of how the ultra-privileged world of classical music might interpret a black guy like him falling for his benefactor’s white daughter.

But as the New York City summer heats up, so does the spark between Ruby and Oscar. Soon their connection crackles with the same alive, uncontainable energy as the city itself. Can two people still figuring themselves out figure out how to be together? Or will the world make the choice for them?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first note for this book was “Ack! This book is SO LOVELY immediately.” That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the read. Later I wrote, “Their banter! I love them!” I’m old. My reading tastes haven’t really ever changed and probably won’t ever. I like realistic stories with strong characters, good banter, and lots of emotions. This book hits all three.

 

Oscar has all the reasons in the world right now to be egotistical and insufferable. He’s a composer and conductor whose YouTube video went super viral. The music world is treating him like a genius superstar. He’s spending his summer training with one of the greatest living composers, Martin Chertok.

 

Ruby Chertok comes from a family of talented, famous classical musicians. Until recently, she thought this was her path too, until a less than stellar audition at her father’s school makes her break up with music. She needs to distance herself from that world, from her famous last name.

 

So when Ruby and Oscar meet, neither of them are looking for a relationship. Oscar is supposed to be completely focused on composing and the last person Ruby needs to get involved with is a musical protege studying under her father. But, of course, life makes its own course. With their attraction rather immediate, we know they will get together before too long, but both have so much else going on that they need to deal with. First love is great, but it’s hard to juggle that enormous thing with Oscar’s sudden fame/career and Ruby’s complete fixation on what on earth she will do with her life if not be a classical musician. She hopes to spend the summer figuring out her life (an ambitious summer project when you’re 17). Does she even have the option to travel her own path? Her whole life has been music. Now, without her, she needs to find other ways to fill her days—she takes up running, reconnects with an old friend, hangs out like a regular teenager, and, of course, falls for Oscar. Their relationship is beautiful and intense and profound, but it’s not without its issues. Both could come off looking like opportunists here. And dating Oscar certainly ropes Ruby further into the world of classical music, not exactly giving her the distance she expected this summer. And if she’s Oscar’s muse and his girlfriend, will this get in the way of forming her own new identity? 

 

There’s a lot more going on, too, that starts to come to light as the story unfolds, including financial questions about the music school and a push for the school to sell its “diversity” with Oscar as the face of that. But how genuine is their commitment to diversity? And why are their rewriting Oscar as some poor kid from the rough streets of DC instead of who he really is—an affluent kid from the suburbs?

 

This look at pressures, identity, first love, and the desire to be seen is heartfelt and moving. This great romance with a lot of depth is an easy one to recommend widely to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228771
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/19/2019

Book Review: This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Publisher’s description

this is whatThis tender story of friendship, music, and ferocious love asks: what will you fight for, if not yourself? You Don’t Know Me But I Know You author Rebecca Barrow’s next book is perfect for fans of Katie Cotugno and Emery Lord.

Who cares that the prize for the Sun City Originals contest is fifteen grand? Not Dia, that’s for sure. Because Dia knows that without a band, she hasn’t got a shot at winning. Because ever since Hanna’s drinking took over her life, Dia and Jules haven’t been in it. And because ever since Hanna left—well, there hasn’t been a band.

It used to be the three of them, Dia, Jules, and Hanna, messing around and making music and planning for the future. But that was then, and this is now—and now means a baby, a failed relationship, a stint in rehab, all kinds of off beats that have interrupted the rhythm of their friendship.

But like the lyrics of a song you used to play on repeat, there’s no forgetting a best friend. And for Dia, Jules, and Hanna, this impossible challenge—to ignore the past, in order to jump start the future—will only become possible if they finally make peace with the girls they once were, and the girls they are finally letting themselves be.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I always like a story about complicated friendships. Here, in Barrow’s second book, we get just that; but it’s not just the story of why a friendship broke up, it’s also the story of how a friendship was patched back together.

 

Hanna, Dia, and Jules used to be best friends. Dia and Jules still are. They also used to be in a band together. Super tight, the girls played their mix of punk/grunge/R&B at shows and parties all around town until Hanna’s drinking problem got in the way. The book opens with them having just played a successful show, then jumps to the very end of senior year, 407 days after Hanna got sober. She’s no longer friends with Jules or Dia. The other two girls remain close, supporting each other through a break-up, a baby, and a death. We move around in time, narratively, and see their friendship in the past, see Hanna’s drinking escalate, and see Dia’s relationship with Elliot, the now-dead father of her baby. It’s easy to see how their friendship imploded, but it’s harder to see how the girls can put it back together. Enter the Sun City Originals contest.

 

Dia wants to enter the contest for a chance to win $15,000 and the opening spot for one of their favorite bands. Jules says it wouldn’t be right to enter without Hanna on drums, even though they haven’t even spoken to her in nearly two years. Reluctantly, the girls reform their band, but just their band—not their friendship. But playing together again means spending a lot of time together, and it’s hard to keep those walls up and hang on to those old hurts when they’re around each other so much, and when they’re having so much fun making music again. Dia and Jules realize they don’t even really know Hanna anymore. But can you start over being friends with someone when there’s so much baggage?

 

I loved this book for the painfully honest and authentic look at teenage friendship. The girls are all complex characters dealing with their own things. Dia has a toddler and is trying to protect her heart from falling in love and potentially losing another person. Jules is dating Autumn, a new girl at work who has never been in a relationship and isn’t sure if she’s a lesbian or bi or what. They’ve all just graduated high school and are trying to figure out what the future will bring. They’re not just trying to figure out who they are in relation to each other, but who they are in relation to many other people, and on their own. This story of trust, old wounds, rebuilding, and music is empowering and ultimately a powerful look at support female friendships. A great read.

 

Bonus: The whole time I read this, I was thinking about an amazing local (Minnesota) band that I saw last winter, Bruise Violet. I’m listening to them as I write this review. Check them out!

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062494238
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/06/2018

Book Review: Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Publisher’s description

ra6Sparrow has always had a difficult time making friends. She would always rather have stayed home on the weekends with her mother, an affluent IT Executive at a Manhattan bank, reading, or watching the birds, than playing with other kids. And that’s made school a lonely experience for her. It’s made LIFE a lonely experience.

But when the one teacher who really understood her — Mrs. Wexler, the school librarian, a woman who let her eat her lunch in the library office rather than hide in a bathroom stall, a woman who shared her passion for novels and knew just the ones she’d love — is killed in a freak car accident, Sparrow’s world unravels and she’s found on the roof of her school in an apparent suicide attempt.

With the help of an insightful therapist, Sparrow finally reveals the truth of her inner life. And it’s here that she discovers an outlet in Rock & Roll music…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

sparrowA middle grade book that deals with mental health? YES, please.

14-year-old Brooklyn 8th grader Sparrow has debilitating social anxiety. She has always dealt with her fear and shyness by flying away—not literally, of course, but pretty close. She pictures herself off with the birds, away from everything on land that makes her uncomfortable. When she’s found on the school roof during one of her flying episodes, everyone assumes it’s a suicide attempt and won’t hear otherwise. Sparrow begins therapy with Dr. Katz. At first, she’s reluctant to open up, worried Dr. Katz will think she’s crazy. It doesn’t help that her mother isn’t thrilled that she’s in therapy and thinks of it as White Girl Stuff (Sparrow and her mother are black). But slowly, Sparrow begins to talk to Dr. Katz, admitting to herself and her mother how much good the therapy is doing. School is still hard for her, especially because her beloved favorite teacher, Mrs. Wexler, the librarian, died earlier in the year. Sparrow had spent every lunch since 5th grade in the library, finding solace in both the library and Mrs. Wexler. Everything since her death has been harder. But therapy is helping, as is her new (and intense) interest in music. Dr. Katz introduces her to older punk and indie music (think Pixies, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith), and Sparrow revels in the connective and redemptive power of music. Dr. Katz pushes Sparrow to learn how to deal with all of the things that make her want to fly away, but it’s really through a month-long girls’ rock music camp that Sparrow begins to find her voice and overcome her fears.

 

This is a fantastic book for older middle grade readers. Sparrow, though silent through much of school, is such a profoundly real character. Readers get to know her well far sooner than her peers get to know her. She’s funny and bitingly clever. Her passion for books and music will send readers seeking out the bands they’ve maybe never heard of or delighting in seeing their favorite titles or songs as part of the story. Dr. Katz, Mrs. Wexler, and Mrs. Smith, the English teacher, are wonderfully supportive, compassionate adults who see Sparrow for who she is. Though her mother is wary of therapy and Dr. Katz, she loves Sparrow and wants the best for her. She may not totally understand what her daughter is going through or how to best help her, but she’s open to doing whatever seems right for Sparrow and desperately wants to be a part of Sparrow’s very private inner life. Well-written, emotionally powerful, and packed with stand-out characters, this middle grade title is a must for every library. A welcome addition to the small field of middle grade books that address mental health. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781338032581
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 10/10/2017