“The family plot” Megan Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Atria Books. To be published August 17, 2021.

Dahlia and her family have never been normal. Her mother surrounded them with murder victims, and raised them to become experts in everything having to do with murderers. Dahlia, her twin brother Andy, and her older brother and sister were homeschooled in their creaky old home, kept away from the locals with only each other for company. They had all been named for murder victims, while their mother’s murder curriculum had them memorizing death poses and serial killer facts. Everything in their lives revolved around real murders and murderers. Dahlia felt she had a special closeness with Andy because he was her twin, so was devastated when he ran away the day they turned sixteen. She spent three years waiting for him before she moved off the island.

Though it had been 10 years since she’d left, Dahlia had never given up searching for Andy. When her father died unexpectedly, the siblings reunited. When their father’s plot was opened everyone was shocked to find Andy’s bones in the gravesite, murdered by an ax wound to the head. Dahlia is desperate to find out who killed him but, the more she searches for suspects, the more mysteries she uncovers.

As Dahlia works her way through her memories and a list of suspects, it becomes clear that many people could have killed Andy. She also begins to realize she didn’t know Andy as well as she’d thought, because he’d kept his own set of secrets. Collins carefully doled out secrets for each page of this whodunit. I was shocked when his killer was finally revealed, because I did NOT see it coming!

Recommended for Adults.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Where the truth lies” Anna Bailey

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Atria Books. To be published August 3, 2021.

Since they were little, seventeen-year-old Emma and her best friend Abi have done everything together. Abi’s home life is far from ideal, while Emma’s father left her behind when he returned to Mexico when she was a child. As a result, the two of them depended upon each other for happiness. One night, during a party, Abi disappeared into the woods and was never seen again. Emma is wracked with guilt because she let Abi go. She is determined to find out what happened that night so enlists the help of Hunter Maddox, a local boy who used to party with Abi.

As Hunter and Emma try to find out what happened to Abi, characters in their small town make their debut. Abi’s mother and brothers have been severely beaten by their father for many years, as he’s still suffering PTSD from his time in Vietnam. They all have something to add to Abi’s story, but have their reasons for staying silent. Hunter’s father has his secrets to keep too. Noah, Abi’s brother, has a huge secret he’s not willing to share. As the townspeople’s secrets are revealed, we begin to realize this town is a place where only Americans are wanted, where a fanatical preacher willingly leads his congregation to religious fervor that can lead to death, and where being different or an outsider can cost your life.

A maelstrom of anger, guilt, prejudice, lust and fear, told through flashbacks and the present time, will keep readers anxiously turning pages to find out whodunit. When the shocking truth of what happened to Abi is finally revealed, you will be left dumbfounded. The many clues Bailey scattered throughout did nothing to prepare me. It won’t prepare you either.

Highly recommended for ages 17 and older.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The Nine” Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. She Writes Press. 2019.

For many years Hannah couldn’t have children. When she finally had Sam she devoted every minute to him, often neglecting her husband in the process. Hannah wanted Sam to attend the best schools so, when the opportunity arose to enroll him in an exclusive boarding school, she persuaded her husband that this was for the best. So off Sam went to Dunning Academy.

While at Dunning Sam becomes involved in a secret society called “The Nine.” The Nine were created when the Academy started to diversity the student body and to admit girls, but Sam was assured all they did now was play tricks on the Administration. One night, while exploring one of Dunning’s many underground tunnels, Sam discovered someone was secretly videotaping girls in the shower. He trusts Jason, Head of the Nine, with the information but soon learns the hard way that trusting the Nine as a regular student is never the same as trusting the Nine when you’re rich.

This novel shows how, once again, money can talk anyone out of trouble. All it does is remind me of the impenetrable gap between the haves and have-nots, and tells me that no matter what the have-nots do, they can never, ever catch up.

Though I wasn’t a big fan I’ll leave it up to readers ages 18 and older to decide if they want to read it or not.

“The Nine: The true story of a band of women who survived the worst of Nazi Germany” Gwen Strauss

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. St. Martin’s Press (Macmillan.) To be published May 4, 2021. (Includes “A note to readers, List of Illustrations, Bibliography, Films & Documentaries, Interviews, Archives, and Notes.”)

During World War II, nine women with completely different personalities and from different countries worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. In time all were arrested, tortured, and sent to different concentration camps. Throughout the years they were imprisoned, the women gravitated towards each other whenever they found themselves in the same camp. Towards the end of the war their camp was sent out on a death march. The women managed to slip away and begin their trek towards the front lines – seeking the American Army and a way home to their families. Their journey from Resistance workers to prisoners to freedom is documented in “The Nine.”

This book is about friendship, survival, and the strength of women who played major roles in the victories of World War II. Over the years the sacrifices of these brave women were forgotten, or not acknowledged. Strauss seeks to tell the story of her great aunt Hélène, who was one of those women.

Though the book is supposed to be based on Hélène, her work with the Resistance, and her leadership of the Nine, Strauss only had one interview with her. The information she used came from that interview, embellished with archives, films, books, letters, as well as stories/interviews from family members and friends of the other eight women. I feel that since many of the Nine had already died, and couldn’t be directly interviewed, this led to Strauss jumping around too much in each chapter as she tried to emphasize the facts from all of these sources.

However, since the story of the Nine deserves to be told, I gave this book 3 stars instead of 2.

Recommended for Adults.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The woman with the blue star” Pam Jenoff

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Park Row Books. To be published May 4, 2021.

It is 1942 in the Jewish ghetto of Podgórze in Poland. Eighteen-year-old Sadie, her father, very pregnant mother and several others escaped the ghetto’s liquidation and were led to safety in an underground labyrinth of sewer pipes by a sympathetic Polish sewer worker. Soon after their arrival her father drowns in the smelly, rushing sewer waters. Though the stench is horrible, the filth is constant, and they barely get enough to eat, Sadie, her mother and the other survivors know the sewer is their only hope.

Nineteen-year-old Ella lives in a big house in Kraków, and is mourning the loss of her father. Her evil stepmother has been collaborating with the Germans and she misses her boyfriend who’d gone off to war. While visiting a distant marketplace, she happens upon a sewer grate and notices a face hiding in the shadows. As Ella gets to know Sadie she realizes her position of relative wealth and safety could offer hope to the beleaguered family. Though she knows the penalty for helping Jewish people is death, her humanity wins out over her fear.

“The woman with the blue star” is a story of hope, love and survival. It’s based on the true story of Jews who were hidden from the Germans in the sewers of Lwow, Poland by a compassionate sewer worker.

Recommended for ages 18 and older.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The social graces” Renée Rosen

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Berkley (Penguin Random House). To be published April 20, 2021. (Includes “Author’s note” [with recommended books and films on the Gilded Age,] “A conversation with Renée Rosen,” “Reader’s guide: Questions for discussion,” and “Reader’s guide: Further reading on Renée Rosen’s bookshelf.”)

In 1876, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor was the reigning Queen of New York’s elite, known as Knickerbockers. She was refined, aristocratic and extremely rich. Society took its cues from her; she threw the most expensive balls, and made decisions as to who was accepted by them. Having come from old, established families and old money, Caroline knew her job was to keep Society pure and unsullied from the vulgar and crass who’d made their fortunes on the new railroads.

Alva Smith grew up rich and enjoyed the pull of Society, however, after her father squandered the family fortune she and her sisters were reduced to poverty. She was sure doors would open to her once again now that she was married to William Kissam Vanderbilt, whose fortune had come from railroads. Alva hadn’t counted on Caroline’s determination to keep her out of Society, and was not going to let Caroline’s rejections keep her from scaling Society’s ladder.

In alternating chapters spanning the years 1876-1908, Caroline and Alva discussed the roles Society played in their lives, the importance of family, and the powerlessness they felt to the men in their lives. Insights into the ostentatious events held at their Newport cottages and New York mansions will astound readers. The women’s suffrage movement, fight for an eight-hour workday, and contrasts between the Gilded Age poor and rich are also showcased. Unfortunately this gap between the haves and have-nots has not lessened in 145 years. If anything it has fearsomely widened.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Mother may I” Joshilyn Jackson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. William Morrow (HarperCollins.) To be published April 6, 2021.

Bree’s husband Trey made enough money as a lawyer to allow her to be a stay-at-home with her teenage daughters and her new baby boy Robert. Though she’d grown up poor, her current lifestyle allowed her to spend time at both of her daughter’s school and extra curricular events. It was at one of those events that Robert disappeared.

When Bree sees the note demanding total silence about his disappearance she is sure the person who took him wants ransom money. In grief and desperation she makes her way home, only to be shocked when Robert’s abductor demands she go to a company party to give drugs to her husband’s boss. Bree used to be an actress, but the role she has to play becomes a catalyst that leads her and her best friend’s detective husband in a race against time to save Robert’s life.

Bree’s fierce love for Robert, and quest to reunite with him at all costs, will keep readers turning pages as nothing seems too derail her pursuit of the kidnapper. What she discovers as she searches will leave readers open mouthed in disbelief. I had to use tape to hold mine closed – that’s how shocked I was at the many twists and turns that led to the final page!

Recommended for Adults.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Your heart, my sky: Love in the time of hunger” Margarita Engle

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster). To be published March 23, 2021.

In Margarita Engle’s signature poetic style, readers learn about the Cuban summer of 1991 where we meet fourteen-year-old Liana and fifteen-year-old Amada. The two of them, along with Paz their stray dog, are at the beginning of a period of almost 10 years of starvation the government mandated be called “El período especial en tiempos de paz” (The special period in times of peace). While thousands starve, visiting athletes from the Pan American games are being feted by Castro with food taken from their hungry mouths.

Liana and Amada decided not to attend the summer of teen labor, mandated by the government. Instead their decision to stay home to search for food means they will not be considered for future jobs with the government. As the summer drags on and their bellies cry out for relief, the only thing that gives them sustenance is their love for each other. Desperate for food, they will have to decide whether or not they should build a flimsy raft to brave the ocean and escape to the United States.

I remembered many Cubans arriving in the United States by sea during this period of time, but never knew they braved the ocean due to starving conditions in Cuba. Thank you Margarita for sharing another part of Cuba’s history with your readers.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The last secret you’ll ever keep” Laurie Faria Stolarz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Wednesday Books. To be published March 16, 2021.

When Terra was thirteen, her parents were killed in a house fire. She survived but her anxiety became worse with her newfound survivor’s guilt. With no place to go she moved in with an aloof aunt who barely noticed her presence, and spent the next few years in and out of mental hospitals.

Five years later Terra went to a college party with a friend. Her experience wasn’t good, so she disregarded the many safety warnings her parents had drilled into her and left the party alone. Using her aunt’s hidden key she let herself in and fell asleep – only to wake up at the bottom of a well. After four despairing days filled with hunger, recriminations, thirst and hallucinations she managed to claw herself up to freedom. When she finally made it home she was shocked that her aunt hadn’t noticed her absence. When she described what had happened, the police didn’t believe her because they couldn’t find anything to corroborate her story. No wells existed in the town’s park, the kidnapper didn’t leave any clues, and Terra’s descriptions of him were too vague.

Left with even more anxiety and fear filled memories, labeled as a liar by her aunt, the police and everyone in town, Terra is determined to figure out clues and find out what happened. An online group for survivors is her only source of relief from the uncertainty that follows her every move. Her online friendship with Peyton, kidnapped in a similar manner, helped keep her sane. However when Peyton goes missing, Terra is the only one who can find her – even if it means putting herself at risk.

Terra’s story is told through flashbacks, allowing readers to understand her frame of mind and thought patterns. Stolarz’s surprise plot twist was artfully done. Well-done Laurie Faria Stolarz. Well done.

Recommended for ages 18 and older.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“A million reasons why” Jessica Strawser

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. St. Martin’s Press. To be published March 23, 2021.

Caroline and Sela couldn’t be more different. She has a loving husband and three children, while Sela is divorced and the mother of one. Caroline was raised with loving parents, while a single mother raised Sela. Neither knew the other existed until Caroline found an email from a recent DNA test with the shocking message that she had a half sister. What she doesn’t know is that Sela, her half sister, is dying from a failing kidney. Caroline is her only hope.

Told from alternating points of view Caroline and Sela’s stories of agony, loneliness, anger, despair, depression, confusion are true to life. The bond expressed between mothers and their children will wring reader’s hearts. Mine was dripping with emotion before I turned the last page. Yours will too. You’ll also learn a lot of information about what it feels like to have a failing kidney, and how powerful it is to become a donor.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received an advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.