Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

An unexpected mystery and a group of Ghastlies: Death and Douglas

Death and Douglas, by J.W. Ocker, (Sept. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-2457-0

Good for readers 8-12

Twelve year-old Douglas Mortimer gets Death. His family runs the local funeral home in a small New England town named Cowlmouth; he learned how to tie a tie by putting them on the corpses before viewing. There’s a morgue downstairs in his home. Dressed in his suits and impeccable ties, he’s ready to take over the family business one day. For Douglas, death is just part of life: he’s more comfortable with it than most adults are, let alone kids. Until the murders begin. Someone is killing people in Douglas’s sleepy little town, and carving letters into the victims’ faces. Douglas understands death, but murder is just unnatural. It’s wrong. And it scares him. He and his best friend, Lowell – the police chief’s son – and his new friend, Amber – an ambulance driver’s daughter, decide they need to get to the bottom of this mystery. Calling themselves the Ghastlies, they start their own investigation, which could put them right in the killer’s sights.

Death and Douglas is fascinating – not many middle grade novels are going to be this frank about death and its place in the natural order of things. It’s a relief; it addresses the routines and rituals involved in passing, as part of Douglas’s parents’ work, with no overwrought emotion. In fact, when a group of  self-nominated “guardian angels” try to suggest that Douglas’s upbringing is unwholesome, his father fires back, stating that his understanding allows him the strength to help others who have lost loved ones. His family may shelter him from some of the grimmer parts of the business – he is only 12 – but Douglas’s parents are very forward about death as a part of life. The characters are well-crafted; believable, and equal parts hilarious and conflicted – kind of like real kids. I’d love to see what the Ghastlies have in store for the future. Until then, I’ll just have to settle for foisting this book on the kids in my library. Give this one to your mystery fans for sure.

Author JW Ocker’s site, Odd Things I’ve Seen, is truly worth a look.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Rollin’ with the Royces: YA’s answer to the K… well, you know…

Royce Rolls, by Margaret Stohl, (Apr. 2016, Freeform), $18.99, ISBN: 9781484732335

Recommended for readers 12+

Sixteen year-old Bentley Royce is the “bad girl” member of the Royces, reality TV’s family du jour. Her family: Mercedes, her narcissistic, media-obsessed mother; Porsche, her self-absorbed sister, and her brother, Maybach, who may or may not be nurturing a gambling addiction, live the high life in the spotlight – or is that the camera glare? The thing is, it’s all an act. Bentley is the classic middle child, overlooked and unheard; the one who takes one for the team when the family needs her, whether it’s pretending to be drunk and staggering out of a nightclub or sticking her tongue out for the cameras in true “Bad Bentley” character mode. But things aren’t looking so good for the Royces as of late: the show’s sixth season is up in the air, and Mercedes is desperate to keep her family’s business on the air, no matter how outrageous the shenanigans have to be to stay there. Looks like it’s up to Bentley to pull the family out of the fire one more time.

Royce Rolls is a biting send-up of all things reality TV, taking gleeful aim at shows like that show where everyone’s name starts with a K because the matriarK Klearly needs all the attention the world Kan give. Loaded with “footnotes” from various show insiders and taking a seemingly vapid character and giving readers an inside view of the “reality” machine, we get satire, a whodunit, and a brilliant reference to Stohl’s Black Widow novels (my favorite part of the book).

The novel is narrated through press releases, news clips, and a third-party narrator. There are plenty of pop culture and reality TV references for readers to spot and laugh at; the emphasis here is on the fact that reality TV is NOT real – they have writers and character treatments, just like any fictional show. It’s about the breakdown and redemption of a family, with a mother who would sell her daughter’s first period on television to get viewers and a Hollywood machine that treats people as disposable. And it’s about how one person can decide to finally say, “Enough”.

I didn’t love Royce Rolls, in part because I found most of the characters exasperating and in part because I’m sick of 99% of reality TV. (I have my vices, I am human.) But I did enjoy it; teens will get a kick out of the references, the unexpected romance, and the satisfying ending.