“Holding smoke” Elle Cosimano

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Hyperion. 322 p. (Includes Author’s Note.)

HoldingSmokeWhile going to school, John “Smoke” Conlan worked hard to pay bills his meth addicted father left unpaid. When his father attacked him with a wrench in a drug influenced rage, he floated above his dead, battered body before returning to life after 6 minutes. While recuperating in the hospital he realized his spirit could leave his body at will. Soon after, John is accused of brutally killing his favorite teacher as well as a student who witnessed the crime. He knows a hooded man killed her, and that he killed in self-defense, but is unable to tell the court that he had been floating outside of his body when the murder occurred.

Convicted and sentenced to a juvenile prison filled with dangerous young offenders, Smoke leaves his body behind to ghostly wander the city and fulfill requests from fellow inmates. With each trip the threads that hold him to his body get thinner, but he doesn’t care as he’s ready to leave his scarred life behind. On one trip he meets Pink a tough young waitress who, unlike others, can actually see him. He soon realizes someone wants them both dead and, with time running out, will have to find the strength to hang on to make sure they both survive.

Smoke and Pink remind me of Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg in the 1990 movie “Ghost.” Cosimano’s very believable characters, which stem from life as the daughter of a Warden and research, combine to open eyes to what goes on in many juvenile detention facilities across the country.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

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“That darkness (Gardiner & Renner #1” Lisa Black

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Kensington Books. 308 p.

ThatDarknessMaggie Gardiner, forensic expert, has been called to help solve various crimes in the streets of Cleveland. As the cases of dead criminals mount, her forensic work helps her detect certain patterns in how and where they were killed. Soon she concludes that someone, possibly a police officer, is deliberately killing bad guys. As Maggie begins to get closer to the truth she doesn’t know that the killer is ready to make sure her hunches don’t develop into anything more substantial. After all, isn’t he doing a good thing by helping society?

The voices of Maggie and the killer are alternated to help readers learn about the role forensic scientists play in crimes and to view the mind of a vigilante. The question that resounds throughout “is it wrong to kill if the person you kill is a criminal?” will keep readers talking (and thinking) long after the last page is turned.

Recommended for Adults.

“Bottomland: A novel based on the murder of Rosa Mary Dean in Franklin, Tennessee” Trey Holt

Rated 1 star * Ebook. 2015. Amazon Digital Services.

BottomlandIt took me forever to read this book because it was boring and confusing. The author jumps from the 1950’s to the 1940’s, goes into the future, then reverses back to the past to do it all over again. I wasn’t sure who was coming or going, and had to reread portions to figure out what had just happened.

Though it’s supposed to be a true story of a small town murder, the author spent more time waxing poetic about the main character, his uncle, friends, sister, girlfriend and father than he did about the murdered woman.

I’m so glad I didn’t spend any money for this book. Though I didn’t like it I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I hadn’t.

“How it ends” Catherine Lo

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. ARC. 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers.

HowItEnds

Now 15, Jessie has been bullied since 7th grade by her former best friends. They have helped convince her that she’s a loser and will forever remain friendless. Her mother constantly gets on her case about her anxiety attacks, while she keeps all her feelings bottled up inside herself. When Annie befriends her Jessie can’t understand why a popular girl, who has her act all together, would want to be friends.

Annie was popular in her former school, and is not looking forward to being in a much smaller school. Her mother died when she was young, and her father married an evil stepmother. With her home life in turmoil she is thrilled to hang out with Jessie and her wonderful mom. She is sure Jessie is confident and the kind of girl she wants to be. Together the girls conquer the world, until they allow the influence of others to ruin their friendship.

In alternating voices, Jessie and Annie tell their stories. On their tumultuous ride from besties to enemies and back again, both ultimately learn the value of honesty and true friendship.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“Refugee” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published July 25, 2017. Scholastic. 337 p. (Includes Maps and Author’s note.)

RefugeeJosef was almost thirteen-years-old in 1938 when Kristallnacht sent the strong message that Jews were not welcome in Germany. Soon afterwards, he, his father, mother and little sister, along with hundreds of other Jews, boarded the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba where they hoped to escape bigotry and start a new life.

In 1994 Isabel lived with her mother, father and grandfather in Cuba but, with the fall of the Soviet Union, food, gasoline and medicine had become scarce and people began to starve. After riots began, Castro allowed them to leave without fear of arrest. Knowing their only chance of survival was to flee to Miami, Isabel and her family joined their neighbors on a rickety homemade boat. Their 90-mile trip would be dangerous, but they were willing to risk everything to be free.

Twelve-year-old Mahmoud lived with his father, mother, little brother and baby sister in Aleppo Syria in 2015. Four years ago people revolted against their dictator president, which led to war and constant bombings. Their apartment building was blown apart and they had nowhere to go, so Mahmoud and his family joined thousands of other Syrians on a long march to Germany, hoping to start a new life without fear of war.

Real-life occurrences from World War II, the early 90’s, and current events are combined in alternating voices to tell the story of three children who all hope to grow older. This well-researched book will get conversation flowing about immigrants, xenophobia, acceptance and intolerance. It is excellent for book clubs, especially in middle schools.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

 

“Martí’s song for freedom: Martí y sus versos por la libertad” Emma Otheguy

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Children’s Book Press (Lee & Low). Includes “Afterword,” “Author’s Note,” and a “Selected Bibliography.”

Marti'sSongForFreedomJosé Martí (1853-1895) was born when Spain ruled Cuba with an iron fist. Slave labor on sugar plantations allowed the rich to become richer, oppressing natives of all races. Determined to free his people José advocated for freedom from Spain, which led to imprisonment and deportation. Despite being away from the island he loved, José continued his fight to abolish slavery from his new home in New York through poetry and speeches. Ultimately he gave his life for his country, remembered for the words he left behind which deeply illustrated his love for freedom and justice for all.

Otheguy’s well-researched bilingual picture book tells the story of Cuba’s greatest poet and patriot, as Vidal’s simply drawn, yet colorful paintings, illustrate his struggle in a clear, straightforward manner. It will appeal to older elementary readers, especially those in grades 3-6, and may well be a contender for the upcoming Pura Belpré award. If it wins or places, remember that you read it here first.

Recommended for ages 8-11.

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

“The vanishing coin (The magic shop #1)” Kate Egan with Magician Mike Lane

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Feiwel & Friends. 142 p.

TheVanishingCoinTeachers always send Mike to the principal because he can’t sit still or focus on work. He needs to be moving and, when he’s not, he gets upset. His parents have been working with him on coping strategies, but they don’t seem to work. The fresh start he’d hoped for in fourth grade seems to be gone. On top of everything else, he’s being bullied again by Jackson, a neighborhood bully and his parents are making him hang out with Nora, a gifted kid, every day after school.

Just when things seem to be at their worst, Mike discovers magic. Suddenly he finds something he’s good at, and is ready to do what it takes to be the best magician he can be.

I enjoyed this book, and know my fourth graders will too.