Three Things I Learned from Tom’s Midnight Garden

Toms Midnight Garden Cover

After reading this magical novel, my only regret is that I was unaware of it when I was a child. Tom’s Midnight Garden is filled with imagination. The author has infused Tom Long with the curiosity, impatience, and determination of youth. Though respectful to his aunt and uncle, who have graciously taken him into their home while his brother recovers from the measles, Tom is adventurous and refuses to spend summer as a quiet guest.

Upon finishing the book, three things occurred to me.

There’s No Real Bad Guy

As most children will tell you when recalling their favorite fairy tales, there’s always a bad guy. And that’s because the hero never starts off as a hero. He must discover in himself powers he never knew he had—usually by defeating his enemy. But in this story, Tom revels in a newly found freedom and sense of wonder by spending time in the garden with Hatty.

The closest this book comes to a bad guy is Hatty’s aunt. Though severe, she isn’t all that bad. After all, she’s provided a home for the girl and, despite her conviction that her sons come first, she is not a monster.

Time Can Be an Enemy or a Friend

The annoying grandfather clock that cannot seem to tell time properly provides the means by which Tom travels into the past to meet Hatty. Mostly, Tom uses this bit of sorcery to his advantage, visiting and revisiting his friend in different seasons. He even figures out how to have Hatty hide a pair of ice skates for him to find in his own time so that he can go ice skating with her in the past. Sheer brilliance!

But Time can also be an enemy of sorts. Tom cannot control it, nor can he determine when the adventure will end. And when it does, the boy is devastated. He wasn’t even able to say goodbye properly. The grandfather clock no longer permits him to go back, and he is left with only memories of Hatty at different ages, from girl to young woman.

Dreams Can Create Powerful Connections

Toward the end, when Tom is with Hatty, and she is all grown up, his brother magically appears and can see her, too. It’s because Tom has been writing daily to Peter about his adventures. And Peter’s imagination seems to be as vivid as his brother’s, thus transporting him into Hatty’s world.

Tom’s Midnight Garden is a must-read for adults and children alike. Every page is filled with warmth, with each character—major and minor—lovingly drawn. It is a coming-of-age story, with Tom gaining an early appreciation for life through the eyes of a lonely girl growing into a confident young woman. And finally, it’s a story of friendship, forged in a garden as timeless as imagination itself.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

Winner of the Carnegie Medal

From beloved author Philippa Pearce, this sixtieth-anniversary edition is the perfect way to share this transcendent story of friendship with a new generation of readers. Philip Pullman, bestselling author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, called Tom’s Midnight Garden “A perfect book.”

When Tom’s brother gets sick, he’s shipped off to spend what he’s sure will be a boring summer with his aunt and uncle in the country. But then Tom hears the old grandfather clock in the hall chime thirteen times, and he’s transported back to an old garden where he meets a young, lonely girl named Hatty.

Tom returns to the garden every night to have adventures with Hatty, who mysteriously grows a little older with each visit. As the summer comes to an end, Tom realizes he wants to stay in the garden with Hatty forever.

Winner of the Carnegie Medal, Tom’s Midnight Garden is a classic of children’s literature and a deeply satisfying time-travel mystery. This newly repackaged sixtieth-anniversary paperback is the perfect entrée for readers of all ages to the vivid world that The Guardian called “A modern classic.” Features new interior spot art by Jaime Zollars.

Where to Buy

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews

Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other reviews here.

Book Review—Dust

Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen.

Dust Cover

When I first began reading Dust by Arthur Slade, I didn’t realize it was a YA novel. To me, the writing was cold and hypnotic, and it unfolded the way that darker, more severe, stories about serial killers and children do. Nevertheless, this is most assuredly a young adult dark fantasy.

Like “Mr. Dark” in Something Wicked This Way Comes, a pale, desiccated stranger appears in the region, and immediately, bad things start to happen. Unaware of the danger, the local farmers and the town’s banker fall under his spell and buy into his scheme to save them from the drought. Good luck with that.

As we follow an eleven-year-old boy named Robert, who is desperately searching for his younger brother, Matthew, we come to learn that not only has Matthew disappeared but many other children have as well. And the grownups don’t seem to notice—or care. When we come to know Robert, we can see why he believes it is up to him to find his brother.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the world-building. It takes place in Horshoe, a small town in Saskatchewan during a terrible drought. In the US, the drought occurred in the early 1930s and led to the Dust Bowl. Farmers are barely able to grow any crops due to a lack of rain. It’s always hot, and there’s dust everywhere—grit that blows into peoples’ homes, clings to their clothes, and invades their food. It’s this kind of detail that makes Dust such a compelling read.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
The children were disappearing.
And the worst thing about it?
No one noticed

A rainmaker brings rain to a drought-stricken town. The stranger amazes the townspeople with magic mirrors and bewitches the children with his beautiful butterfly.

First, one child vanishes. Then another. And another.

Only one young man sees through the lies and decides to act.

You’ll love this dark, mysterious young adult novel. Winner of the Governor General’s Award.

Get it now.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Amazon IN

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other reviews here.

Book Review—The Infinite Pieces of Us

The Infinite Pieces of Us Cover

The more I read YA fiction, the more I realize just how hard it is to be a kid nowadays. I won’t bore you with idyllic memories of roasting marshmallows around a campfire, but I will say that for many kids—and parents—today the world is a harsh, unforgiving place fraught with consequences. And this reality was never more evident than in the wonderful new novel by Rebekah Crane entitled The Infinite Pieces of Us. In it, she has given us Esther Ainsworth, a smart, soulful sixteen-year-old girl who has already lived far beyond her years and who is now forced to live in a dry, brittle desert that serves as punishment for something she did and whose secret must never be revealed.

As adults, we are well versed in the notion that we must accept the consequences for our actions. But we also lie—to ourselves and to others—to avoid those consequences, even if only for a while. In this story, Esther learns just how willing adults are to lie to keep the consequences at bay so we can live our lives as though nothing had happened. In such a world, Esther can’t rely on adults for guidance and must turn to her peers, hoping they can help. A touching subplot explores how Esther has fallen away from her sister, Hannah, who blames Esther for ruining her life by making the family move, even though it was their parents’ decision to do so. I found Hannah tragic and vulnerable and could easily picture a sequel starring her.

If you are a parent raising teenagers, read this book. Because these honest, hurt characters will tell you truths that your children will not—that what you see on the surface doesn’t begin to describe the pain and anxiety they carry inside like an even smaller hurt child.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
From the author of The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland comes a hilarious and heartbreaking novel about coming apart, getting it together—and moving on. It’s just a two-hour drive…

Pondering math problems is Esther Ainsworth’s obsession. If only life’s puzzles required logic. Her stepfather’s solution? Avoidance. He’s exiled the family to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to erase a big secret from Esther’s past. So much for the truth. Now for the consequences: an empty swimming pool, a water-sucking cactus outside her window, a goldfish rescued from a church festival, and Esther’s thirst for something real.

Step one: forget about her first love. Step two: make allies. Esther finds them in Jesús from the local coffee bar; a girl named Color who finds beauty in an abandoned video store; Beth, the church choir outcast; and Moss, a boy with alluring possibilities. Step three: confess her secret to those she hopes she can trust. Esther’s new friends do more than just listen. They’re taking Esther one step further.

Together, they hit the road to face Esther’s past head-on. It’s a journey that will lead her to embrace her own truth—in all its glory, pain, and awesomeness.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Amazon IN

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other reviews here.

Book Review—The Wendy

The Wendy Cover

The Wendy is a delight—beautifully written and funny. Loosely based on characters created by J.M. Barrie, I sensed a bit of Dickens in the troubled upbringing of a modern girl named Wendy Darling who was just not at home in the eighteenth century. It seems men were not kind to women back then, the majority seeing them as suited for nothing more than matrimony and motherhood—if they had to be put up with at all. Then, this headstrong girl with grand ideas of captaining a ship enters the stage, and not only are the Neanderthals incensed at her boldness but astonished that she has skills.

Wendy is smart and accomplished and can hold her own against anyone—even the eternally pompous and mean-spirited Captain Hook. And she’s wise, considering she is only sixteen. Though I found her irresistible—especially her eyebrows—my favorite aspect of the novel is the voice of the narrator. I mean, it’s just so wonderfully witty. In fact, some parts made me laugh out loud. Good thing I was alone at the time.

For those who enjoy fantasy with their historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. It’s perfect for kids and highly entertaining for adults. A real gem.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
THE WRONG KIND OF HERO.

“Girls can’t be in the navy! Girls take care of babies! You’re so stupid, you don’t know anything!”

London. 1783. Wendy Darling is an orphan, living in an overcrowded almshouse, ridiculed for believing in a future she can never have. More than anything in the world, she wants to be the captain of a ship. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

By 1789, she’s sixteen, old enough to be sold into service as a dressmaker or a servant. When she learns the Home Office is accepting a handful of women into its ranks, she jumps at the chance, joining the fight against the most formidable threat England has ever faced. Magic.

But the secret service isn’t exactly what she had hoped. Accompanied by a reimagined cast of the original Peter Pan, Wendy soon discovers that her dreams are as far away as ever, that choosing sides isn’t as simple as she thought, and that the only man who isn’t blinded by her gender… might be her nation’s greatest enemy.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Amazon IN

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other reviews here.

Book Review—Nora & Kettle

Nora and Kettle Cover

At first, I had trouble getting into this book because it deals with violence against women and girls. I am the father of two daughters, and stories of physical abuse at home—in any time period—really set me off. Fortunately, Nora & Kettle is a beautiful novel and demonstrates in intense, sometimes lyrical prose, the sheer power and majesty of the human spirit. I felt Lauren Nicolle Taylor’s characters were well drawn and personable, and the setting believable. Her decision to contrast the life of a “rich girl” and her little sister with two homeless Japanese-American boys was the right one and proves to be very effective.

The terror behind the walls of Nora’s home echoes what was happening in a major city in post-war America in the early 1950s. Kettle and his “brother” Kin are just as much victims as she is. Like Nora, they must find a way to survive in a world that doesn’t want them. They must, at all costs, remain invisible and avoid confrontation. In Kin’s case, though, his anger gets the better of him, bringing more bad luck.

As a young adult novel, this story is pretty dark. But the lessons it teaches to a new generation are well worth repeating and make Nora & Kettle a book worth reading.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
After World War II, orphaned Kettle faces prejudice as a Japanese American but manages to scrape by and care for his makeshift family of homeless children. When he crosses paths with the privileged but traumatized Nora, both of their lives are forever changed…

Lauren Nicolle Taylor’s Nora & Kettle is a heart-wrenching historical fiction novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini, novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Beginning of Everything, Eleanor & Park, The Book Thief, and classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
Amazon IN

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other reviews here.

Hooray! Chainsaw Honeymoon Is Published!

Chainsaw Honeymoon Cover 3D

I am so excited—what a journey! The Kindle edition of Chainsaw Honeymoon is available now exclusively at Amazon, and for a limited time, I am offering it for $1.99 US. Click here to order your copy. The print edition will be available in a few days.

Yes, I want to buy now!

Take a look at what IndieReader had to say about my latest novel:

“In this tale of a daughter literally trying to scare her estranged parents back together, Steven Ramirez combines the horror/slasher film and literature genres with the light comedy/romance of a Cary Grant film. Both genres present challenges on their own. What is amazing about Chainsaw Honeymoon is how Ramirez surmounts both of these demands. Added to these accomplishments is his ability to present the viewpoint of a fourteen-year-old girl. In the form of Ruby, Ramirez imparts to readers all the confusion brought about by puberty; the emotional neediness camouflaged by sarcasm; the obsession and continuing frustration with boys; and the bonds female teenagers forge with one another.” — IndieReader

Stop talking so I can click the link!

Book Description
Life, love, and a few dead bodies. Just another day in LA.

One year ago, Alan and Stacey Navarro underwent a painful separation, leaving their daughter, Ruby, to live with her mom and an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. People split up all the time, and most kids might get over it, providing they can still Snapchat. Not Ruby. A bright, funny fourteen-year-old who loves shoes and horror movies, she is on an insane mission to get her parents back together. But she can’t do it alone. She needs her two best friends, her dog, an arrogant filmmaker, a bizarre collection of actors, and a chainsaw-wielding movie killer. What could possibly go wrong?

Chainsaw Honeymoon is “hysterical fiction” and like nothing you’ve ever read. There’s romance, drama, and a creepy talking doll called Mr. Shivers. Cutting a breakneck, jagged swath across present-day Los Angeles, this book hurls flaming balls of movies, music, horror, and comedy—like some kind of possessed pitching machine. Is this real life? Better ask Ruby.

For fans of John Green, Robyn Schneider, and Ferris Bueller.

COME AS YOU ARE—More News

Hey, guys! Just a quick note to let you know that today I posted the final chapter from my new YA horror novella Come As You Are at Channillo, a subscription-based online magazine. The novella will be available for reading online through the end of May.

I plan to publish Come As You Are in the next few months both in digital and print. The Kindle edition will be available for preorder first. (More on that later.) Also, I’m very excited to tell you that the book includes nine additional short stories.

If you’d like to read the novella now, check out my Channillo series page. And happy reading!

[Come As You Are Cover]

Synopsis
Ivan Stein isn’t sure he can survive seventh grade, let alone middle school. Living in a town known for its poverty and violence, he is regularly bullied along with his best friend, Ollie. But fortunes can change.

One day, Ivan finds an old notebook in an abandoned locker at school. Despite a nasty warning from the ill-tempered janitor, he takes the book home and soon learns that it once belonged to another kid named Craig and apparently possesses occult properties—powerful magic Ivan can use to punish his enemies.

The notebook describes five tasks Ivan must complete to unleash the full power of the book. But what he doesn’t know is demonic forces control the book’s pages—raw evil that will inflict suffering on the good as well as the bad and demand as payment Ivan’s very soul.

Read Come As You Are

COME AS YOU ARE on Channillo!

Hey, guys! Just wanted you to know that starting Tuesday, January 31st, I am posting chapters from my new YA horror novella Come As You Are at Channillo, a subscription-based online magazine that allows writers to share their work in regular installments. I will be publishing a chapter a week through the end of April, at which point the entire novella will be available for reading.

Please check out my series page. And happy reading!

[Come As You Are Cover]

Synopsis
Ivan Stein isn’t sure he can survive seventh grade—let alone middle school. Living in a town known for its poverty and violence, he is regularly bullied—along with his best friend, Ollie. But fortunes can change.

One day, Ivan finds an old notebook in an abandoned locker at school. Despite a nasty warning from the ill-tempered janitor, he takes the book home and soon learns that it once belonged to another kid named Craig and apparently possesses occult properties—powerful magic Ivan can use to punish his enemies.

The notebook describes five tasks Ivan must complete to unleash the full power of the book. But what he doesn’t know is demonic forces control the book’s pages—raw evil that will inflict suffering on the good as well as the bad and demand as payment Ivan’s very soul.

Read Come As You Are

 

Book Review—CLOCKWISE

[Clockwise Cover]I love stories involving time travel. If I were writing one, it would probably take on a more dystopian tone—not unlike the television show ‘12 Monkeys’ on Syfy. But that’s me. Clockwise is different, though. Thanks to the talented author, Elle Strauss, it’s funny, girly, and inventive. Also, it feels historically accurate, which is always a good thing for the discerning reader.

Teens have enough going on in their lives without adding sudden, awkward trips to the past. And when you add a little danger and a series of escalating romantic complications, you end up with a fun, satisfying read. The protagonist, Casey Donovan, is very self-aware. She goes on endlessly about her height, her hair, and her perceived lack of personality. And like most teens, she’s not really sure where she fits in, though her best friend Lucinda is mostly supportive. The fact that Casey is smitten with a jock doesn’t help matters.

In less skilled hands, this story would have seemed trite. One thing I noticed is that Nate, the object of Casey’s endless fascination, is written with real heart. I mean, come on. Good-looking high school athletes have a reputation that precedes them in movies and television. Allowing him to mature along with Casey was absolutely the right move. Clockwise is socially relevant and charming. A genuine pleasure.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
A dance. A dare. An accidental tumble through time. Awkward.

Casey Donovan has issues: hair, height and uncontrollable trips to the 19th century! And now this –she’s accidentally taken Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school, back in time.

Protocol pressures her to tell their 1860 hosts that he is her brother, and when Casey finds she has a handsome, wealthy (and unwanted) suitor, something changes in Nate. Are those romantic sparks or is it just “brotherly” protectiveness?

When they return to the present, things go back to the way they were before: Casey parked on the bottom of the rung of the social ladder and Nate perched high on the very top. Except this time her heart is broken. Plus, her best friend is mad, her parents are split up, and her younger brother gets escorted home by the police. The only thing that could make life worse is if, by some strange twist of fate, she took Nate back to the past again.

Which of course, she does.

Buy Links
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews
Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other Amazon reviews here.

Interview with Jennifer Loiske, Author of Demon’s Touch

[Jennifer Loiske]Today, I’m pleased to have as my guest Jennifer Loiske, author of Books One and Two of the “McLean Twins” series, Black Diamond and Demon’s Touch.

Q. Welcome, Jennifer. Young Adult is a very popular genre—one that even adults enjoy reading. So, tell us what’s unique about your stories?

A. My books are very, very realistic. They’re urban paranormal/paranormal romance stories, but there are so many facts hidden inside of them that even though the creatures are supernatural the story could very well be true. I believe in mixing reality with myths, and making my characters look like they could be anyone you know … the boy next door, your mum, your best friend … In fact, many of my adult readers have said that they couldn’t sleep in the dark for days after reading my stories and that the characters were creepy-realistic. My stories are also fun, a bit sassy, and the ones meant for YA or mature YA, quite sexy. I love cliffhangers, so one of my trademarks is the pacing of the chapters, and ending them in a way that makes it nearly impossible to put the book down before the reader reaches the last page.

Q. Sounds like you really know how to hold an audience. In terms of the theme, what are the one or two things you are hoping the reader will come away with in each book?

A. As said before, there are a lot of facts in my stories. Also, I can’t help but put some of my educational experiences in use whilst writing, so my goal is to challenge my readers. I have very clear values and I’m not ashamed to put them out for my readers to see. So, I’m happy if a reader finds out at least couple of the facts in the story and learns something new whilst enjoying my story. I’d like to think that I’m offering food for the brain as well as entertainment for the soul. Examiner.com described Black Diamond as “mind candy,” and for me it was the best compliment I could have hoped for.

Q. What are you working on now, and is it in the same vein as Demon’s Touch?

A. I’m writing the final part of the “McLean Twins” series so, yes, it’s in the same vein. Hopefully, I will get it done before midsummer so my readers can enjoy it before Christmas. I’m also working on the second part of the “Blood Hunters” series, which is a follow-up to the “Immortal Blood” series. Usually, I have two or three works-in-progress going, so whenever I get bored with one I can easily switch to another. In that way I keep the writer’s block away and will never get bored!

Q. Excellent strategy! Thanks so much, Jennifer.

Book Blurb

[Demon's Touch Cover]

“Magic is all about words and believing. If you believe then anything is possible.”

Shannon McLean had come a long way since she lost her mother. A while ago she’d thought she was alone in the world, a plain Jane with no place to go. Now she knew better. Suddenly she was surrounded by relatives: a crazy talented twin brother, Ian, who literally held the keys to magic in his hands; a demonic father, Connor, who had paid a high price for a one-way ticket to hell; and a wannabe big brother, Simon, who was not only half demon but also a hit man of some sort; and herself … so not a plain Jane but a witch with ancient spells tingling on her fingertips.

Oh, and if that were not enough of a burden for a thirteen-year-old girl, her father had sent her to London on an impossible quest. Truth be told, she might have volunteered, but only because she naively believed that the world was beneath her feet and she was capable of performing a miracle as long as her brother stood beside her. She’d been so wrong.

No matter what she did, or who tried to help her, she kept failing time and time again, and time was not something she had. If she ever intended to save her father from becoming the next king of hell, she had to act fast. She had to find a way to do the impossible and save a demon. After all, every witch knows the hard truth: demons cannot be saved.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
Jennifer Loiske lives in Finland in Naantali, which is a small sunny town on the southwest coast. She is a Teen/YA paranormal fiction author, with four exciting series available worldwide: the “McLean Twins” series for teen readers, the “Immortal Blood” series for mature young adult readers, the “Blood Hunters” series—also for mature young adults, and a follow-up to the “Immortal Blood” series, and the “Shape Shifter” series for anyone ages sixteen and up.

Jennifer’s stories are full of creatures of the night—vampires, demons, witches and shape shifters … but even if they are mostly fiction you can find a hint of a truth in every story. Jennifer loves to research, so every time she gets an idea for a new story, she does a crazy Google session looking for places, old myths, names, folklores and magical items—anything that could spice up her story and make it more real for the reader. Jennifer is also part of Authors for Charity, an international author alliance, and team member in Epilepsy FI magazine. She is a pre-school teacher by profession.

You can find Jennifer on Twitter, on Facebook, at Goodreads, and at her blog, jenniferloiske.wordpress.com, as well as on her Amazon author page..