“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.

“Midwinter Blood” Marcus Sedgwick

July 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Roaring Book Press. 262 pp.

Midwinterblood“Midwinter Blood” won the 2014 Printz Award for the best book written in the U.S. for a teen audience so, naturally, I had to read it.

In 2073 Eric Seven, reporter, arrives on beautiful Blessed Island to investigate strange reports of islanders living forever. Within minutes he falls in love with a woman named Merle who made him feel as if he’d met her before. The next day morning he begins to experience strange bouts of forgetfulness and soon becomes part of the Island life, forgetting all about his investigation. By the time he finally remembered, it was too late…

From this first peek into the Island, Sedgwick leads readers back in time through the centuries with six more tales which tell the strange and haunting tale of Blessed Island’s dependence on the strange dragon flower, as well as insight into its people and their beliefs, fears and superstitions. With each time travel tale into the past, puzzle pieces are revealed about why Eric and Merle were drawn to each other, along with the terrible truth of Blessed Island. Readers will soon learn to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction if they should ever get the opportunity to visit this strange and mysterious island.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass” Meg Medina

July 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2014. Candlewick Press. 260 pp.

YaquiDelgadoWantsToKickYourAssThis book won the 2014 “Pura Belpre” Author award and, once you read this powerful story, you will see why it was a wonderful choice. Don’t be turned off by the title, as the power of those 7 words tell a story of its own.

Piddy Sanchez is about to turn 16, but, as far as she’s concerned, her life is over. It’s bad enough her best friend Mitzi moved out of their Queens neighborhood all the way to Long Island but now her mother decided to move too – right at the beginning of her sophomore year. Piddy was a top student with plans to go to college and study elephants, but now has to leave her friends and start all over at a school where she doesn’t know anyone.

After just five weeks, Piddy gets the news that someone named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass. Piddy is puzzled since she doesn’t even know her, but soon Yaqui becomes her worse nightmare. Yaqui and her group of Latina girls don’t like Piddy because she’s white (even though she’s Cuban), shakes her butt too much (Piddy didn’t even think she had a butt), and she talked to Yaqui’s boyfriend (two boys whistled at her one morning at school, so Piddy guesses that must have somehow counted as talking.)

Through the constant bullying Piddy refuses to tell any adult what is happening, as she’s afraid of being labeled a “narc.” She tries to change her outward appearance, argues with her mother, and her grades start to fall. After being savagely beaten she starts cutting school with Joey, a troubled boy from her old neighborhood. Piddy’s and Joey’s lives are held in stark contrast, yet hold great similarities, as both struggle to live in a world that’s forced them to grow up before their time.

Feeling abandoned by the father she never knew, misunderstood by her mother, and adrift in a sea of confusion, Piddy is filled with questions. Should she let herself turn into the same type of Latina girl as Yaqui and her friends, forsaking her own goals for college? Would it be better to run away and drop out of school? Should she turn her back on her music, and her culture to reinvent herself?

Medina has crafted a novel of family, love, strong Latina women, and courage. Similar to a character in Laurie Halse Anderson’s wonderful novel “Speak,” Medina shows the inward power and strength that comes from speaking about injustice. I wish someone had shown me how to speak of my injustices while suffering through bullying from grades 3-10, and I sincerely hope Medina’s readers will gain strength from Piddy’s story to speak about their own.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Clockwork Princess” Cassandra Clare

July 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. The Infernal Devices, book #3. Margaret K. McElderry Books.

ClockworkPrincessIt is with mixed feelings I write about the last book in “The Infernal Devices” series. I deliberately set out to reread the series after rereading “The Mortal Instruments.” In the latter I was severely disappointed, but with the former hope has sprung anew that Clare can write a great series without dragging it on ad nauseam as she did with “The Mortal Instruments.” Without spoiling the plot revealed in “Clockwork Princess,” I would like to advise readers to have a box of tissues ready while reading, as they’ll be needed. Now, on with my review.

Tessa is preparing to marry Jem, leaving Will’s heart broken into a million pieces, while Mortmain continues his bloodthirsty path of vengeance against all Shadowhunters.

The Consul is not happy with Charlotte, and has enlisted the help of spies to rid her as Head of the London Institute. Despite the clues she finds pointing to Mortmain’s whereabouts, he refuses to send her aid leaving them all at Mortmain’s mercy.

Meanwhile Mortmain has bought up the entire supply of yin fen needed to keep Jem alive, leaving him to die, and kidnapping Tessa. She holds the key to his plans, and he will stop at nothing to get it from her.

As Jem lies dying his final wish is for Will to find Tessa, so Will rushes off to Wales to rescue her. Despite knowing all this, the Consul will not be moved leaving Charlotte to make a decision that may cause all the Shadowhunters left in her care to die.

Clare leads her readers on another wild adventure through the streets of London and Wales as the Shadowhunters seek Mortmain and his army of evil automatons. Betrayal, tears, loss, sadness and death along with laughter, love and happiness are all bound into the pages of this final book of the series as it reaches its satisfying conclusion.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.



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