Hour of the Bees

Grandpa Cactus lives in a desert so scorching it dries his bones. The oxygen tank hisses as air jets through green tubing into his nose.  He’s one thousand years old.

He sleeps on the porch in his snake-stomping boots. The rattlers are always more daring in a drought.  There’s been no rain for one hundred years, and the sheep ranch is dying. The creosote bush and yarrow have taken over. Grandpa’s  been hurt, and he’s alone.  His son is coming to sell the ranch.

His young grand-daughter Carolina thinks he doesn’t look anything like his photographs.  His eyes are pale and watery when she first sees him. But in the sunlight, his eyes are rings of light blue and gold, like ancient tree rings. He tells stories unlike any she’s ever heard.  An undercurrent of truth rolls through his dementia.

The jeweled bodies of bees glitter black and gold in the sunlight, but only Carolina sees them. Grandpa knows that when the bees return, they’ll bring back the rain. Once this dry land was richly blessed, many years ago, when Grandma Rosa still lived.

Grandma Rosa could not stay in the rugged New Mexican mesas. Always she wanted to leave the village—for Paris, for Hawaii, for Russia. Grandpa gave her protections carved from a tree, hoping she’d return.  Once Rosa left, other villagers followed her, abandoning their beautiful lake and its sturdy guardian. In a land that knew no lasting pain, death awakened.

Carolina walks in these lands she’s never known, helping her parents prepare Grandpa to move to a swanky retirement center. She encounters his dementia first-hand, but she also finds her roots. Tossed about on a ranch pulsing with death and decay, she lives his rich, magical stories, and sees a side of her family she’s never experienced.

Hour of the Bees is a dance in the magical elements that weave along the limits of reality. It’s beautifully written and full of wonder, moving us beyond what we see into a greater world.

Lindsay Eagar loves to tear down the walls between the real and the fantastic.  She can be found at lindsayeagerbooks.com.

–Kate Calina

 

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The Only Road

Jaime threw a fistful of dirt over his cousin’s coffin. The Alphas watched from the hillside above the cemetery. Anger and fear washed over him. Jaime couldn’t suppress his thoughts as he watched the murderers staring down at him. It should have been my funeral.

Within hours, the Guatemalan gang delivered a message: Jaime and his cousin Angela were their next recruits. The Alphas would force them to kill the next victims. Failure to join the gang meant certain death.

The two families gathered to consider their options. There was only one road for them. Jaime’s brother worked on a ranch in New Mexico. Tiny hope flickered within Jaime, nearly overwhelmed by fear. The trip was four thousand kilometers—an overwhelming distance for a boy of twelve. In the dark of the night their journey began.

Immigration officers—la migra—stopped their bus and forcibly removed a Salvadoran woman, twisting the screaming woman’s arm behind her back. Jaime knew he and Angela would be thrown in white deportation vans and probably beaten if they were caught too. Each day held new dangers—getting stabbed by brutal gangs, robbed by other immigrants, or abandoned by traitorous “coyotes” who’d been highly paid to get them to the United States.

In the desert, out of food and fainting from blistering heat, death seemed certain. Jaime knew the price of trying to jump onto a moving train. More than one refugee they’d met had lost their limbs. They were completely alone, and Angela was terrified. Was it time to give up?

The Only Road casts blazing light on how desperate the road to freedom is for children trapped in the horrors of gang violence in Central America. I recommend it highly for anyone who wants to understand the crisis at the U.S. border.

Alexandra Diaz is an Americas Award Winner, and her book won the Pura Belpre Honor. Visit her at: https://alexandra-diaz.com.

–Kate Calina

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

When your life begins in a trailer park in South Carolina, relocation to the lively city of Long Island seems a bit daunting. When no one’s there for you but your big sister and her dreams, that move may become downright terrifying. But GiGi’s sister is no ordinary woman. DiDi—short for Delta Dawn the Second—had been known to camp in a tent during a thunderstorm to get her little sister into “the best” school. Even crashing telephone poles couldn’t drive DiDi away.

In the South, GiGi had followed her sister’s advice. Lunchtime meant study time in the library in ratty old clothes. In upscale Long Island, GiGi’s ready for a change. She has a Recipe for Success: a bright new personality, a keen hope for new friends, and a willingness to do everything she’d never had a chance to do before.

When a sweet, handsome boy named Trip becomes her closest friend, GiGi knows she’s become part of something wonderful. Trip’s friends are not so welcoming. Mace glares at her with dagger eyes and seizes her first opportunity to make GiGi look stupid. While all the other moms play tennis or go shopping, GiGi’s mom is dead.

There’s an ache deep inside, an intense longing for her mother. Though her hopes stay locked away, GiGi’s searching for her. In beauty stores. In strangers. Even—especially–in the stars. GiGi stands for Galileo Galilei, and there’s a part of her that always gazes at the stars.

One phone call destroys GiGi’s new world. Permanently.

This book steals your heart. It’s about love, and fragile beauty. It’s about losing something you never had and gaining something you never wanted. It’s friendship and cruelty and misunderstanding, swirling together in amazing chaos that drives right through you.  The Truth about Twinkie Pie is for anyone who knows when it’s time to take a stand.

Visit author Kat Yeh and her awesome recipes at http://www.katyeh.com.

–Kate Calina

 

The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! The Wish List #1

Isabel did not want to go to the Fairy Godmother Home For Normal Girls. Who would want to be in a place with no princesses? No wands? No sparkles!

Failure in Fairy Godmother Training meant a life of non-magical jobs. Unfortunately for Isabel, scholarly effort was not her strong suit. She’d far rather build cloud castles than study The Official Rule Book for Fairy Godmothers. It was hard to compete with her sister, Clotilda. Highly skilled at the fine art of fairy godmother gift-giving, Clotilda knew which magical blessings to give new babies, how to turn raisins into black convertibles, and how to put a princess into a long sleep when all else failed.

Isabel was not one to play by the rules. At her first opportunity, she snuck into Grandmomma’s forbidden office. Though she didn’t know how sparkles worked, she picked up two fistfuls. At first, the room seemed lighter and brighter, almost like it was alive. Then something completely unexpected happened. Isabel knew she had to get away, before she caused more damage.

Off to class went young Isabel. While her friends were busy turning mice into unicorns, Isabel lost track of her mouse entirely. When the time came to find out who her first Princess would be, Isabel was shocked to learn she’d be paired with a young lady named Nora who didn’t care about charming princes. Nora was far more concerned about the world of nature, and helping other people. Isabel was at a loss. What’s a Fairy Godmother to do for a serious princess?

Sarah Aronson turns the world of Sparkly Princesses upside down. What starts out as a funny story takes a serious turn when Nora’s stepmother confides in Isabel that she’d made a wish on a shooting star. Such wishes call on very old, very powerful magic. Suddenly Isabel finds herself confronting unsettling problems and deep-rooted fears. One broken rule might mean banishment from the School—or far deeper consequences.

Sarah Aronson earned her MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Discover more Sparkle Power at: http://www.saraharonson.com

–Kate Calina

Monster

Steve knows the best time to cry is when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. In Manhattan Detention Center, he’s scared all the time. In jail, even strangers find reasons to hurt each other.

He’s on trial for murder, though he never touched the gun. He is charged with being the lookout while Mr. King robbed the store. But really, he stands accused of being a Monster.

Over and over he writes the word. Monster. His defense attorney finally pulls the pencil from his hand. If he acts guilty in front of the jury, there’s no way out for him. He’s black, he’s young, and he’s on trial. In the eyes of many of the jury, he’s guilty until proven innocent.

The finger of blame comes from a dope dealer who’s already served time for manslaughter. He was with King at the shooting. The two left the body and went out for fried chicken and soda. Hoping for a lighter sentence, the heartless dealer’s only too ready to make a deal by piling blame on Steve. The prosecutor makes her pronouncement: All are equally guilty.

Steve paces his cell, waiting for the verdict.  Like everyone around him, he wants his life back again.

Walter Dean Myers paints a graphic picture of what it’s like to be in jail as a black youth. Suspected of horrible crimes, Steve has no real way to defend himself from all the accusations, spoken and unspoken. Almost everyone who means anything to him turns away, some with tears in their eyes. What’s left to believe in when hope is gone?

Monster drives you to think about all the tomorrows of your own life, and the tomorrows of the men charged with crimes they may not have committed. In the end, we’re left wondering who’s actually guilty.

Walter Dean Myers was a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and a shining light in the lives of many. Find out more about him at walterdeanmyers.net.

–Kate Calina

Skyborn

The penalty for treason was being chained to marble columns. For many years, vicious captors tortured the rebellious dragon, burning it with fire lances and shredding its wings. Yet its words only grew bolder as it faced Sirena, keeper of the Horn that controlled its mind. Though one of the most fearless fighters in all the empire, Sirena had yet to unlock the key to the precious Horn of Osius. She had less than five days to learn the secrets of wielding its power—to enslave an entire generation of dragons.

Thianna Frostborn and Karn Korlundsson awoke in an elegant cage, flying south under the wings of angry dragons. Vast forests and ancient ruins spun away beneath them as they approached their destination, the Court of Land and Sky. Raised in the frozen lands of the frost giants, the half-giant Thianna knew little about her mother’s native country. Using one of her unique gifts—a hoarfrost chant—Thianna froze her way to freedom. Recapturing the powerful Horn from an elite force of furious women would require more than brute strength and quick wit. It would demand every gift her allies possessed. Brash minotaurs and leafy dryads soon found themselves fighting for something far greater than their own kingdoms and narrow ideals.

Skyborn is the third of Lou Anders’ Thrones and Bones series. New characters charge through his colorful landscapes, ice blocking down watercourses and gliding over molten lava. Mysterious doors open up, allowing passage to ethereal corridors. As Thianna realizes the decisions she makes have far-reaching consequences, the frost giantess who’s always struck the fastest blows suddenly finds herself unsure of her path forward. Tenuous friendships develop between hardened enemies; impossible alliances become reality. The momentum drives the story at a quick pace towards an arresting climax. Skyborn pulls you into a space you weren’t expecting to be in—a place of wonder and higher dreams.

–Kate Calina

 

Expressions of Culture: The Asian Festival

A blooming display of carved watermelon and carrots claims a place of honor at this year’s Asian Festival. Martial arts studios gave dynamic performances. Taekwondo masters leaped over youths bowed in back hand springs, expertly breaking boards high in the air. Renowned artists painted vibrant lilies and towering pines while haunting music rose from guzhengs, also known as Chinese zithers. Gold and pearl dragons leaped off the stage and danced through the crowds, bringing joy to the children scampering around their lively faces.  It’s been a lovely afternoon.

–Kate Calina