Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

I love Jason Reynolds. His books are always powerful, beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful, and his newest offering, produced with his best friend, does not disappoint. In fact, it is so stunning that after enjoying a library copy I immediately purchased a copy for my personal collection.

Find a copy here

Reynolds penned three long sentences. Griffin filled 300 pocket-sized moleskin pages of art. Together they capture the feelings of fear and uncertainty most of us felt during 2020. Around the world and in our own communities people were isolate, separated. By Covid. By politics. But also, people took to the streets to protest. All the while, we sat glued to the news. Mostly bad news. It was a long, dark year. But not entirely without hope.

This book is almost 400 pages long and weighs almost 2 pounds, but you can read it in 15 minutes. Or linger over each drawing. Or revisit favorite pages. It’s a treasure.

Dedication page

These are a few pages that stuck out to me and I think they are excellent examples of the wide range of feelings expressed throughout the book. The next time someone says they don’t like poetry, hand them this and see if you win them over!

~Megan

May is Mystery Month

May is National Mystery Month and there are a bunch of YA mysteries coming out this month that sound fantastic!

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson

Who killed Brooke Donovan? It’s the biggest mystery of the summer, and everyone in Castle Cove thinks it’s the wrong guy. Fans of One of Us Is Lying and Riverdale can’t miss this page-turning who-done-it that’s sure to be the next must read Young Adult thriller!

Last summer, Alice Ogilvie’s basketball-star boyfriend Steve dumped her. Then she disappeared for five days. She’s not talking, so where she went and what happened to her is the biggest mystery in Castle Cove. Or it was, at least. But now, another one of Steve’s girlfriends has vanished: Brooke Donovan, Alice’s ex-best friend. And it doesn’t look like Brooke will be coming back. . .
Enter Iris Adams, Alice’s tutor. Iris has her own reasons for wanting to disappear, though unlike Alice, she doesn’t have the money or the means. That could be changed by the hefty reward Brooke’s grandmother is offering to anyone who can share information about her granddaughter’s whereabouts. The police are convinced Steve is the culprit, but Alice isn’t so sure, and with Iris on her side, she just might be able to prove her theory.
In order to get the reward and prove Steve’s innocence, they need to figure out who killed Brooke Donovan. And luckily Alice has exactly what they need–the complete works of Agatha Christie. If there’s anyone that can teach the girls how to solve a mystery it’s the master herself. But the town of Castle Cove holds many secrets, and Alice and Iris have no idea how much danger they’re about to walk into. 

Two Truths and A Lie by April Henry

A group of teens are trapped in an old motel with a murderer in this chilling YA mystery by New York Times  bestselling author April Henry.

Nell has always wanted to be an actor, but doubts her ability. As a member of her school’s theater program, she prefers working backstage. On the way to a contest, an unexpected blizzard strands her acting troupe in a creepy motel. Soon they meet a group of strangers from another high school–including the mysterious and handsome Knox, who insists they play the game Two Truths and a Lie. When it’s Nell’s turn, she draws a slip of paper inked in unfamiliar handwriting:
I like to watch people die.
I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve killed.

Suddenly a night of harmless fun turns into a matter of life and death. As guests go missing, it becomes clear that a murderer is hiding in their midst ready to strike again. In a room full of liars and performers, the truth is never quite what it seems. Nell is going to have to act like her life depends on it–because it does.

The Counselors by Jessica Goodman

From New York Times bestselling author Jessica Goodman comes a twisty new thriller about three best friends, one elite summer camp, and the dark secrets that lead to a body in the lake.

Camp Alpine Lake is the only place where Goldie Easton feels safe.
She’s always had a special connection to the place, even before she was old enough to attend. The camp is the lifeline of Roxwood, the small town she lives in. Alpine Lake provides jobs, money and prestige to the region. Few Roxwood locals, though, get to reap the rewards of living so close to the glam summer that camp, with its five-figure tuition and rich kids who have been dumped there for eight weeks by their powerful parents. Goldie’s one of them.
Even with her “townie” background, Goldie has never felt more at home at camp and now she’s back as a counselor, desperate for summer to start and her best friends, Ava and Imogen, to arrive. Because Goldie has a terrible dark secret she’s been keeping and she is more in need of the comfort than ever.
But Goldie’s not the only person at camp who has been lying. When a teen turns up dead in the lake late one night, she knows that the death couldn’t have been an accident. She also knows that Ava was at the lake that same night.
What did Ava see and what does she know? Why hasn’t she said anything to Goldie about the death? Worse–what did Ava do?
But asking questions offers no answers, only broken bonds of lifelong friendship, with hidden danger and betrayals deeper than Goldie ever imagined.

YA mystery lovers are in for a fantastic summer of reading!

Novels in Verse for Poetry Month

I have always struggled to appreciate poetry, which is why I am always surprised when I read and love a novel in verse. Every time. I read two this month and they were both amazing.

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride. Moth, named for a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is grieving the loss of her family. When she meets Sani, she recognizes another lost soul, another lonely person. Together they embark on a road trip. A quest. A search for roots and ancestors.

I went in to this book knowing nothing about it and I recommend you do the same. Just know it’s beautiful and engaging. It’s full of Earth magic and voodoo and Native imagery along with nods to Greek mythology and Shakespeare. A truly lovely read.

Ain’t Burned All The Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin. I listened to this one while following along with the book. In about 10 sentences and 300 pages of art, the Jasons tell the story of what if feels like to be Black in America today. This manifesto is brilliant. Dark and vulnerable, fierce and hopeful, it’s a stunning visual experience.

Finally, the novel in verse that started it all for me:

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown. What more can I say about a NOVEL IN VERSE ABOUT THE DONNER PARTY other than, heck yeah!

I hope you found a new gem during National Poetry Month. If not, I suggest you check out one of these.

Megan

I Read YA: That Weekend by Kara Thomas

That weekend was supposed to be a fun, secret getaway. Ditching prom for a weekend of hiking, camping, drinking, just Claire and her best friends, Kat and Jesse sounds like a dream. But something goes horribly wrong and Claire can’t tell anyone what happened. She has no idea why she was the only one to come down from the mountain where all three hiked. Claire struggles to regain her memories and as the months pass with no news of her friends’ whereabouts she grows more frustrated. Taking matters in to her own hands, she resolves to get answers. This was a fun thriller. Complex relationships, plenty of red herrings, and big twist will keep readers wondering about what really happened that weekend. If you like a slow-burning mystery and unreliable narrators and a whole lot of karma, check out That Weekend.

I Read YA: The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

Tress Montor had status in Amontillado, Ohio until her prominent parents vanished without a trace while driving her then best friend, Felicity Turnado, home one night seven years ago. After being orphaned Tress went to live with her grandfather at his wildlife attraction, known by the locals as the “White Trash Zoo”. Tress’s fall from grace was swift and her friendship with Felicity was over. Tress could not accept Felicity’s claim that she had no memory of that fateful night. So Tress does what she needs to in order to get by and she stews and plots until she has the perfect plan to get Felicity to talk. At a Halloween party in an abandoned house Tress lures Felicity to the basement, where she begins to bury Felicity alive behind a brick wall that she lays a row at time. Meanwhile, upstairs, the town’s teens suspect nothing. They are falling victim to the flu-like illness that is spreading through Amontillado. Also, a panther from the zoo is on the loose.
Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado, this is another dark and mesmerizing offering from Mindy McGinnis. The second book in the duology, The Last Laugh, is also available.

Sculpting Stories: The Grim History of Fairy Tales with The Scholarly Banana.

Fairy tales are a staple of childhood-damsels in distress, magic, and happy endings, right? Wrong. Grimm’s tales were the things of nightmares and author and artist Karly West is here to tell the REAL stories. If you are a fan of dark history, dark humor, and the macabre in general, pay attention, this post is for you!

The Scholarly Banana (check out those glasses) is your tour guide on a journey into the real, gruesome, and down right bonkers origin of both well known and lesser known Grimm’s fairy tales. Fitcher’s Bird was one of the latter for me. It involves a kidnapping/murderous wizard, village girls whose curiosity leads to their downfall, and a girl dipped in honey and covered in feathers who saves the day. Seriously. The Juniper Tree stars an insanely evil stepmother who turns her murdered stepson into a lawn ornament AND a human stew. Seriously. Dark. Stuff. And yet, the claymation figures are adorable! Everything about these tales are delightfully macabre and charming and the storytelling with commentary is snarky and droll.

In conclusion, “THINK FAIRY TALES MEETS CLIFFS NOTES MEETS ADULT SWIM CLAYMATION…MEETS A BANANA!” ~Karly West

Want to learn MORE? You know you do! Karly West will be joining us in person to talk more about the dark history of fairytales while we make our own grim characters. Join us on Saturday, March 26, 10:00am-12:00pm for Sculpting Stories: The Grim History of Fairy Tales with Karly West. This program is part of our new Intergenerational series for teens and their favorite adult! Registration is required, polymer clay will be provided, and participants will be entered into a raffle to win copies of Karly’s books.

True Crime Book Review: Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen

It was 1911 and wealthy spinster sisters (in their 30s!), Dora and Claire Williamson had arrived on holiday in the United States from Britain. The sisters were free-spirited heiresses with delicate constitutions. They fretted over their health and frequently sought cures for their ailments. In fact, they had been in correspondence with Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard and were excited to undergo her revolutionary fasting treatment. The sisters were disappointed that her sanatorium in the forest in Olalla, Washington was not ready for patients, but the doctor insisted they not delay their treatment. So the anxious and excited sisters rented an apartment in Seattle near Dr. Hazzard’s office and began following the prescribed regimen. The sisters were finally able to move to the new facility, but by then it was too late. Linda Hazzard had control over the Williamson’s finances as well as their minds and bodies. They were separated from each other, subjected to painful and unnecessary procedures, and they were starving. In a moment of weakness, her faith in the treatment waivered, and she reached out to their former nanny and beloved friend in Australia. Of course she dropped everything and immediately booked passage to Washington, unsure if she would arrive in time.

Deadly doctors are not a new phenomenon. Linda Hazzard was not the first medical professional to exploit her patients for her own personal gain and Dora and Claire Williamson were not her first victims. Dora and Claire were independent, intelligent women in their 30s, who if they lived today, would no doubt enjoy all of our juice bars and fad diets.

If you liked the podcast Dr. Death or The Opportunist, you will probably enjoy Starvation Heights. If you want to discuss the case with us, feel free to join us in person next week for Riverinos! We will be in the Community Room at 7pm.

True Crime Book Review: Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trail of Harper Lee by Casey Cep is three stories in one, told in three parts. The first part tells of the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a southern preacher and serial killer accused of murdering five people in order to collect the insurance money. Maxwell got away with each crime until he was shot to death at his last victim’s funeral by a family member. The second part of the story features Tom Radney, Reverend Maxwell’s attorney who then defended Maxwell’s killer, Robert Burns. Surprise! And with the trial of Robert Burns comes one Harper Lee. Readers learn about the reclusive author from her childhood, college experiences, and the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. By the 1970s is appeared that Lee was destined to never publish another book, until she heard about the murder of Willie Maxwell. Lee had helped her close friend Truman Capote when he wrote In Cold Blood, and she was determined to have her own success with a true crime book. To that end, Lee spent a year back in her native Alabama gathering information and even more time writing her account of the trial of the man who killed the serial killer. And yet, the book never made it to fruition. This book is part biography, part history lesson, and part true crime. It’s an interesting exploration of the life and times of Harper Lee, racial issues in the South, and the judicial system. The case of Reverend Maxwell was news to me and the most engrossing portion of the book.

This month Riverinos will we meeting in person to discuss the case of Dr. Linda Hazzard and the book Starvation Heights. See you Wednesday, March 16 at 7pm if you are interested!

True Crime Book Review: Diamond Doris by Doris Payne

Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief

In honor of Black History Month I’d like to share this gem of a memoir. Pun intended.

How did a black girl who grew up in a segregated, Depression-era, West Virginia coal town become the world’s most notorious jewel thief? The desire to help her mother out of an abusive relationship and revenge. Tired of being dismissed from jewelry counters when a white woman approached, the young and beautiful Doris, armed with charm, a quick wit, and a love of magic, started to help herself to small pieces. As her skills and confidence grew, her heists became more daring and lucrative. Her race actually helped her get away with her crimes for as long as she did. It turned out that white store owners were reluctant to admit that they were duped by a Black woman. The law sometimes caught up with her. Sometimes she escaped. Diamond Doris eventually served her time, wrote her memoir, and now, at 91, lives a quiet life in Atlanta.

This book is a fascinating look at race in America. Doris is a hilarious and audacious person, and it’s hard not to admire her, despite her 60 years of crime! Do yourself a favor and meet Doris. She is fascinating. And for our local readers, she has a Cleveland connect!

True Crime Book Review: Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson

Find a copy here

On May 19, 1975, Harry Franks, a white salesman, was robbed, assaulted, and murdered in broad daylight in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood. Three black youth were sentenced and spent a combined 106 years in prison for the crime. The murderer was never caught. The entirety of the prosecution’s case against Wiley Bridgeman, Kwame Ajamu, and Ricky Jackson was based on the eye-witness testimony of 12-year old Ed Vernon. Nearly 40 years later Vernon recanted his story, revealing that the police used fear and coercion to convince him to tell the story they wanted him to tell.
In Good Kids, Bad City, journalist Kyle Swenson weaves the personal stories of the young men who were sentenced to grow up in prison with the corruption and injustice that plagued the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland police department. Swenson’s narrative is a scathing indictment of systematic discrimination that continues to this day.