“Nobody’s pilgrims” Sergio Troncoso

Rated 5 stars ***** Cinco Puntos Press (Lee & Low). 2022. 274 p.

Sixteen-year-old Turi loved reading, as books were an escape from the abuse he endured at his aunt and uncle’s house in El Paso Texas. Stories helped him forget he was lonely and unloved.

Undocumented seventeen-year-old Arnulfo crossed the border from Juárez Mexico, wanting to get a good job to escape poverty and help his parents financially.

The two boys meet while working at a chicken farm where Arnie accepts an offer to leave town with Juanito, an older man who works for their boss. After being badly beaten by his uncle, Turi joins them and they set off for Kansas City.

At a checkpoint Turi sees a bribe exchange between Juanito and an ICE officer. Believing they’re transporting drugs and will be killed he and Arnie escape, steal the pickup truck and, in Missouri, meet seventeen-year-old Molly. Desperate to get out of her dead end town, she joins them and they set out for Connecticut.

Unaware they’re transporting something far more dangerous than drugs, they also don’t know Juanito’s boss, Mr. Dunbar, will do anything to find them before his crime boss finds out what’s missing. Though he sets three of his own on the trail, Dunbar doesn’t know his boss already knows and has put El Hijo de Huerta, his best assassin, on the hunt. El Hijo knows that he always completes his jobs. Always.

This suspense filled, dystopian adventure will keep readers on the edges of their seats as our heroes run into tight situations that appear to have no way out. I read it in just one day! As I read I could see it playing out in front of me on the big screen so, if any scriptwriters are out there, this is your next big blockbuster!

Highly recommended for ages 18 and older.

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

“Mud lilies” Indra Ramayan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Cormorant Books. To be published May 17, 2022.

“Mud lilies” is a compelling story of a young girl who survived rape at the age of 14 then, with nowhere to turn, became a prostitute. Over many years Chanie suffered sexual, mental, physical and emotional abuse. When she was arrested, to avoid jail time, she enrolled in a program for troubled youth where she discovered a love for literature and writing. Most importantly she found hope in her teachers and, for the first time in her life, had friends and a plan for her future. She felt accepted and loved, working hard to climb out of the hole where all the people who had used her had buried her body. Unfortunately her meth addict boyfriend and pimps had other plans for Chanie, as they had no intentions of ever letting her be free.

Despite the hatred she felt for herself, Chanie’s teachers, strangers and friends were persistent in showing her that she was important and mattered to them. As Chanie walks through the darkness of her life, her painful steps towards the light will touch reader’s souls.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“A woman of endurance” Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Amistad Press (HarperCollins). To be published April 12, 2022.

In 1836, when she was 18 years old, Keera was captured from the home she shared with her mother in Yorubaland, West Africa. She and hundreds of others were forced onto a ship, where they endured an agonizing ocean crossing. All were beaten and starved, while every man on deck abused the women and young boys. After being sold into slavery and given the name of Pola, she spent years working sugarcane on a plantation in Piñones, Puerto Rico. There she was sexually abused and tortured regularly by individuals and groups of men. Forced to bear children who were taken away as soon as they were born Pola lost her faith in Yemayá, the water goddess who was supposed to give her strength and energy. After 13 years she was desperate enough to escape, but doing so led to recapture, a severe beating that left her almost dead, and resale to another sugarcane plantation in Carolina.

Pola’s new life in Carolina and the roles she plays there are very different from what she experienced at her former plantation, but she is constantly on the offensive. After having been abused for so many years it was very difficult for her to trust others, or to even love herself. The other slaves take her under their wings to help her learn they are her family, and help her get past her former life so she can become the strong, independent woman she was meant to be.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, Llanos-Figueroa’s powerful story of an almost broken woman who worked hard to not let her spirit be fully crushed by her abusers is an amazing read. Learning about slave life in Puerto Rico through Pola’s words in “A woman of endurance” was painful, but it made me proud of my Afro-Latina Puerto Rican heritage. The next time I travel to Puerto Rico I’ll visit Piñones and Loíza with fresh eyes, and look forward to learning more about my Afro-Latina culture through the descendants of Yorubaland who still live on La Isla.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“The night burns bright” Ross Barkan

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Lake Union Publishing. To be published February 1, 2022.

Lucien was a little over six years old when his mother brought him to the House of Earth founded by O.C. Leroux, an almost godlike figure. At the House of Earth, Lucien and others learned to take care of the earth, practicing sustainability and not eating meat. It was an innocent time, but things slowly began to change when he turned twelve.

Televisions and books were removed, and Lucien was forbidden from going to the town library where he had struck up conversations with a local girl. Rules of strict punishment for small infractions soon followed while children and their parents began to disappear. Lucien was curious but, when he discovered what was really happening at the House of Earth, his life would never be the same.

As I read this book I realized how easy it is for people to follow cult leaders. If O.C. decided everyone needed to drink the kool-aid, as was done in 1978 Jonestown, Barkan made it clear why they would mindlessly hold out cups for him to fill. Descriptions of our dying planet are true, but it seemed as if he was bludgeoning the reader with too many facts. My 3 star rating was due to this, and because the ending should have had more “oomph!” for Lucien after everything he’s been through.

Recommended for Adults.

“Her last breath” Hilary Davidson

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Thomas & Mercer. 2021.

Deidre was devastated when her older sister Caroline died suddenly while out on a run. The police said she had a hidden heart ailment, but something seemed off to her after she watched videos of her sister’s last run and saw her going in a different direction from her usual path. Caro had always been the picture of health, a loving mother to a three year old, and enjoyed the perks of having money at her disposal from marrying into a wealthy family. The world seemed to be her oyster.

At her sister’s funeral Deidre received a text from Caro, written on the day she died, telling her Theo (her husband) had killed her. Deidre will stop at nothing to find out who killed her sister. As she starts to unravel the tangled web of lies and deceit that surrounded Caro’s life she begins to discover multiple people who had their own reasons for wanting Caroline out of the way. With every clue that puts her closer to the truth, Deidre own life is getting closer and closer to danger. The killer has no intention of getting caught, but Deidre doesn’t know she’s walked into a trap until it closes around her.

Through alternating voices, Theo and Deidre tell their stories of childhood burdens, hardness of heart and strong feelings of hate for their fathers. The more Davidson’s plot twisted around itself, the more I changed my mind about who had killed Caro. When the murderer was finally revealed, I was completely floored as the author did a great job leading readers on one path then rapidly shifting to another. Well done Hilary. Very well done.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Lies we bury” Elle Marr

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Thomas & Mercer. 2021.

Marissa and her sister Jenessa lived with Mama Rosemary, Mama Nora, and Mama Bethel in the small basement of a man named Chet. Three years earlier Mama Nora left, and Mama Bethel went to heaven when Sweet Lily was born. Mama Rosemary has been talking about Escape Day for a long time now that they are seven years old and Chet wants to spend more time with them. The girls aren’t sure what Escape means, but they want to be together as a family.

Twenty years later, memories of her time in the basement still fill Marissa’s mind with pain. She changed her name to Claire and spent most of her life avoiding stalkers, hiding her identity, lashing out at those who called her the devil’s spawn, and feeling as if everything was out of control. To make matters worse, Chet is being released from prison and a new frenzy is churning on social media over her life in his basement.

A few days before Chet’s release, Claire receives a riddle about a body in Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels.  As crime photographer for the local paper Claire has to be present at the scenes, but soon realizes each body is tied to something personal from Chet’s basement. As she struggles to piece together the riddles, Claire finds herself drawn more deeply into her past. With time ticking towards Chet’s release, she and her sisters find themselves embroiled in something that was born in the basement but grew to monstrous size in the twenty years since they left.

“Lies we bury” is told through flashbacks and the present time, skillfully making readers wonder what could possibly happen next to Claire. The surprise ending was definitely a surprise.

Highly recommended for Adults.

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

“The shadow box” Luanne Rice

Rated 4 stars **** ebook. Thomas & Mercer. 2021.

When Claire married Griffin, she thought theirs would be a marriage for the ages. They had fallen in love twenty-five years earlier after finding the body of Ellen, his former girlfriend, while out on a date but didn’t get together until both had been married for years to other people. Soon after they wed the knowledge that he may have had something to do with Ellen’s death began to haunt Claire. Her suspicions were confirmed over the years as she learned to fear her husband’s psychopathic tendencies.

Griffin was a successful lawyer, came from old money, and was poised to announce his candidacy for governor. His rich friends and family had invested a lot of money into making sure he won, so no one was happy when Claire began to drop hints about Ellen. When she was attacked in her garage and almost killed, Claire knew the attacker was her husband. She managed to survive and, though fearing for her life, plotted ways to trap him. Since the entire police force was in his pocket Claire didn’t know who to trust with her suspicions, but knew she had to keep him from becoming governor.

As the bodies of those who knew Griffin’s old secrets begin to be discovered, Claire was more determined than ever to expose Griffin. He has no intention of losing his power, so he and his supporters are making sure all loose ends are tied up. The clock is ticking on Claire, as Griffin is ready to make his final move against her.

“The shadow box” is told in multiple voices, through flashbacks and the present time. Though it’s sometimes confusing to jump from one character voice to another, and from one timeframe to another, the plot will keep readers glued to their seats. I was so anxious to find out what happened next to Claire that I read it in one sitting.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Miosotis Flores never forgets” Hilda Eunice Burgos

Rated 4 stars **** Tu Books (Lee & Low). 2021. 296 p. (Includes “Author’s note.”)

Eleven-year-old Miosotis’ mother died in childbirth, so she has always been close with her big sister Amarilis. Both her older brother Jacinto and Amarilis enjoyed school and were straight A students, but Miosotis doesn’t find school interesting. All she wants to do is help foster her next-door neighbor’s dogs, and desperately wants one of her very own. Unfortunately her father’s attempts to force her to get good grades fall flat, especially when he insists she get A’s if she expects to get a dog.

Soon Miosotis starts to notice Amarilis’ strange behavior. Though she’s away at college and has a new boyfriend, she’s starting to act differently. Miosotis used to always be able to count on her, but not anymore. When Miosotis finds out what’s been happening she’s sworn to secrecy, but is bewildered about how to fix the situation. With pressure to get A’s, she’s starting to let her friends and family do her schoolwork. Feeling guilty about that, as well as longing for a dog of her own, and carrying the weight of her sister’s secret leaves her wondering who she can rely on to help carry her burdens. She ultimately learns that those who love her want to help, and there are many who will help carry her troubles.

This book is too similar to “Merci Suaréz changes gears,” which is why I deducted 1 star for originality on my review. It has a similar title, as well as other similarities – including the burden of having a secret placed on a young character. 

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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

“Voyage of the heart” Soraya Lane

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Lake Union Publishing. 2014.

During World War II, four English women married American G.I.’s, though they knew it would be a long time before they’d see their husbands. In late 1945, the United States passed the War Brides Act, which allowed them to reunite with their American husbands. Giddy with happiness and hope, Betty, Madeline, June and Alice met on the ship from England and formed a strong friendship throughout the long voyage to America.

Betty hid her pregnancy from the ship’s officials because she didn’t want to give birth alone in England, but wanted to be with her Charlie – even though it meant giving birth onboard. Madeline was concerned about Roy, as he’d been aloof about life in America, but held on to her father’s promise to bring her home if things went bad. June knew Eddie loved her, and couldn’t wait to be held in his arms. Alice was sure life with Ralph would center on her, and that she would enjoy the luxury to which she was accustomed.

When the four friends landed in New York they went their separate ways, promising to keep in touch. What they didn’t know was that their hopes and dreams would soon be broken. As months passed, reality hit even harder leaving all four of them to have to make decisions about their marriages and their own lives that they never thought they would have to make.

I enjoyed reading about the strong friendship between these women, and became fully invested in their lives. Without giving out any spoilers I will say I was highly upset about what was happening to one of them, and am glad the author did something about it.

Recommended for Adults.

“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.