“The Girl in the Wall” Daphne Benedis-Grab

July 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2012. Merit Press.

TheGirlInTheWallThe last 9 months and 4 days have been horrible for Sera. Her ex-best friend Ariel turned against her, leaving her friendless and alone her senior year. It didn’t take long for Ariel to spread the word that she was a backstabber, forgetting that Sera had a reason for doing what she had to do that fateful day during their junior year.

However, as far as her parents are concerned, their feud is ancient history and she is forced to go to Ariel’s birthday party. No expenses have been spared for this grand weekend celebration for all the rich kids at New Canaan Country Day School, including having the famous singer Hudson Winters as entertainment.

Soon after the party begins, a group of machine gun toting assassins kill Ariel’s billionaire father and her best friend then hold everyone hostage. Ariel manages to escape into the fireplace which leads to a series of tunnels that wind through the home. With Ariel the main target, the head Assassin plans to keep killing her classmates unless someone tells him where she has gone. Despite knowing where Ariel is hiding, Sera holds firm to their friendship and joins forces with Hudson to try to figure out an escape before all of them meet their deaths. With the clock ticking, and Ariel still missing, it is only a matter of time before more of them meet the Assassin’s bullet.

This gritty thriller with cliffhanger chapter endings is told through the alternating voices of Ariel and Sera. Readers feel their inner thoughts and feelings, as well as the terror of their experiences, bringing their nightmarish experiences to life.

Unfortunately the cover choice brings to mind a girl casually looking through a cracked eggshell, rather than a girl peeking through the grate of a fireplace in fear for her life. I hope future editions of “The Girl in the Wall” will have a more realistic looking cover.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Almost Perfect” Diane Daniels Manning

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2014. Beltor. (Includes Author’s Note, Almost Perfect Book Club Guide, and Suggestions For Further Reading.)

AlmostPerfectFourteen-year-old Benny Neusner goes to the New Hope School for children with emotional and behavioral problems. Filled with anger because of his parent’s divorce, he tries hard to please an irresponsible mother who frequently breaks promises to him. Now living with his father and stepmother, Benny is upset because he has not been allowed to have a dog. He is sure a dog will help him through his loneliness but, with his stepmother focused on his imperfections and weight issues, and his dad insisting he get good grades, he feels hopeless.

Benny flounders along helped by counseling sessions with his psychiatrist Dr. Kate, who tries to get him to be more assertive and less dependent on pleasing his mother. When he meets Bess Rutledge, his 70-year-old neighbor, owner of the Umpawaug Kennels, Benny falls in love with her dog McCreery. Though Bess feels she is too old to breed and show championship poodles and has planned to retire, Benny takes her on a path she thought she’d never travel.

Despite not knowing anything about being a dog handler, Benny is sure he can impress his mother if he enters the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show with Breaker, McCreery’s son. With the help of Bess’ son David (who has more in common with Benny than either expected) they all manage to learn about acceptance, love, and belief in one’s dreams.

“Almost Perfect” teaches readers about not judging children by their behavioral and emotional issues, while also being a love story between dog owners and their pets. Every dog story I’ve ever read tugged on my heartstrings and made me cry, and “Almost Perfect” was no exception.

NOTE: In 99.9% of dog stories, readers grab tissues crying hysterically because the dog we grew to love died at the end of the book. I am pleased to report that no dogs died during the reading of this book.

Recommended for ages 11-14.

“Evidence of Things Not Seen” Lindsey Lane

July 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 1 star * ebook. ARC. To be published September 16, 2014. Farrar Strauss Giroux.

EvidenceOfThingsNotSeenAccording to those who barely knew him, Tommy Smythe was an odd student at Fred Johnson High. When he mysteriously disappeared, the sheriff began to question everyone who might have known him. Through their first-person narratives, readers gradually get a view of Tommy seeing him as a science nerd, possibly autistic loner fascinated with the theory of particle physics and parallel universes. Each of the characters interviewed shared a bit of their own inner struggles with loneliness, acceptance, and fear of the unknown while sharing the little they knew of Tommy.

Despite many of the characters sharing a little here and there about Tommy, helping to put flesh and bones to his ghostlike character, I found their stories to be disjointed. Some of the characters didn’t have any association with Tommy at all (like the 60-year-old married couple) which raised my curiosity as to why their stories were included in the book.

I didn’t enjoy the book, and especially didn’t enjoy its open ending, so will leave it up to You to Decide if You Want to Read it or Not.

“From Holocaust to Harvard: A Story of Escape, Forgiveness and Freedom” John G. Stoessinger

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 4 stars **** ebook. ARC. To be published September 2, 2014. Skyhorse Publishing.

FromHolocaustToHarvardIn 1938, when John was 10 years old, he witnessed Hitler’s triumphal procession into Austria. With the introduction of the Hitler Youth, his life at school became miserable because he was Jewish. His father had disappeared long ago, and he hardly saw his mother so it was with great joy he received the news they’d be moving to Prague to stay with his grandparents to get away from Hitler’s new rules against the Jewish people.

Unfortunately Hitler, his army and rules followed them to Prague so, in desperation, his mother married a man who hated her son but who promised to save them from Hitler. Through the help of sympathetic men in positions of power and their life savings, the three of them were given visas to Shanghai China where John spent his formative years.

After the war John’s dream of going to school in America came true when several Americans arranged for him to get a scholarship to a college in Iowa. In America he flourished and, eventually went on to get his doctorate at Harvard, worked for the U.N., and met many famous political figures. Though he struggled with relationships, intimacy and trust, John managed to make a difference in the lives of many whom he touched.

“From Holocaust to Harvard” explores the theme of true evil and good people who were willing to take a stand to follow their conscience and work against Hitler’s regime. John is just one of many thousands who survived Hitler and found success in America, showing how immigrants are the foundation of our great nation.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Brutal Youth” Anthony Breznican

July 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2014. Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press).

BrutalYouthPeter Davidek was an 8th grader visiting St. Michael’s high school when the unthinkable happened. A bullied student went crazy, attacking both faculty and staff by throwing bottles at them from the roof of the building. He and another 8th grader, Noah Stein, intervened and saved the life of a student who had been hit on the head.

Now a freshman at St. Michael’s, Peter and Stein meet Lorelai Paskal, a girl so eager to forget her sad middle school and home life that she’s willing to do anything to be noticed. The three of them quickly become friends as they strive to stand together against the bullying culture where seniors are allowed to “haze” freshmen with the faculty’s blessing.

As the bullying worsens, Peter, Stein and Lorelai find themselves changing. Peter’s parents bully him everyday, causing him to do things he would have never done in the past. Stein is hiding a secret from his father, who seems to resent his son, while Lorelai’s mother beats her for no reason. When Stein falls hard for Lorelai, he doesn’t realize her desire to be popular will come with a price he shouldn’t have to pay.

Breznican’s realistic depiction of bullying and family life leaves his readers to wonder if “Brutal Youth” was based on actual events and, if so, make plans to avoid being a student at St. Michael’s.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Charm & Strange” Stephanie Kuehn

July 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. St. Martin’s Griffin. 213 pp. Winner of the 2014 William C. Morris YA Debut Author Award.

Charm&StrangeWho is Win? Who is Drew? Win is the present, while Drew is the past.

Win changed his name, avoided making friends, exiled himself from his family, and has lived in a boarding school for years. Now, at the age of 16, Drew is catching up to him.

Through flashbacks, readers get insight into Drew’s 9-year-old self. He looks up to his kind 14-year-old brother Keith and loves his 7-year-old fun-loving sister Siobhan. Little by little, readers notice their behavior beginning to change as Drew becomes angry enough to hurt himself and others, while Keith turned bitter and mean, and Siobhan became fearful.

Drew’s anger and confusion is still within Win who believes he has a wolf within himself and will change with the right full moon. Torturing himself with past memories, unable to deal with the past while unable to live in the present, Win is at the end of his rope. It takes the help of two classmates who look beyond their own needs to show Win there is light at the end of his tunnel.

Kuehn’s debut novel is deep, strong, powerful and will make her readers think long and hard. It will be remembered long after its pages are closed, and was an excellent choice for the Morris award.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist” Margarita Engle

July 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Harcourt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). 182 pp. (Includes Historical Background, Historical Note, The Writing of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, and References). Winner of the 2014 Pura Belpre Author Honor award.

TheLightningDreamerGertrudis, known as Tula, lived during a time in Cuba’s history when it was ruled by Spain, slaves abounded, women didn’t have any rights and those having thoughts of independence were severely punished. From an early age, Tula believed in emancipation for slaves and women, feeling the magic of books and words flowing from within while being denied their solace because she was a woman.

Undeterred by her mother’s anger and ridicule Tula found ways to release the words and injustice felt in her soul by writing poems she was forced to burn and telling tales to orphans which contained hidden meanings. At the age of 15, she refused an arranged marriage, thus finding a freedom of choice denied to other females.

Through her trademark style of writing in verse, Engle tells Tula’s story through her own voice and those who knew her. In the “Historical Note” section, readers learn more of Tula’s struggles in her personal life and how she influenced her world through her thoughts on women and slavery.

By bringing Tula’s story to light, Engle has enabled readers learn of this brave and outspoken woman at the forefront of equal rights who would otherwise have been relegated to historical footnotes.

Recommended for ages 12-16.


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