“To stay alive: Mary Ann Graves and the tragic journey of the Donner party” Skila Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Candlewick Press. 304 p. (Includes a Map of the Donner Party’s route West“Author’s Note,” and a list of individuals in the Donner party.)

tostayaliveIn mid-Spring 1846, nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves left Illinois with her parents and eight brothers and sisters because her father wanted to begin a new life in California. Accompanied by horses, cattle, oxen, and almost everything they owned stuffed into three wagons, the family began their 1900-mile long walk.

As there was safety in numbers, they later joined up with a wagon train led by George Donner. Together they continued heading towards California, certain the trip would only take a few more months. If they had known of the dangers and the cost to their families that lay on the road ahead after they became lost for 32 days, they would all have stayed in Illinois…

Mary’s account of the horrors of their trip, which included death, starvation, freezing cold and mountainous terrain, will transfix readers. One hundred and seventy years later, all that they faced are brought to life in poetic verse.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

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“Stranded” Melinda Braun

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. ARC. 2015. Simon Pulse.

StrandedEmma is a champion swimmer, but that didn’t help when her car flipped into a body of water trapping herself and her younger sister Lucy. Unable to deal with her guilt at not saving Lucy’s life, Emma has given up on her own life, going through each day like a zombie.

Hoping to avoid the upcoming anniversary of Lucy’s death, Emma signs up to join a weeklong remote wilderness camp for teens. After a freak of nature kills three of the group, Emma finds herself as one of a group of four struggling to find their way in a vast forest with only a few supplies and a little water. They need to work together but, with each passing day, the threat of wolves and an impending snowstorm, along with infighting, distrust, hunger, and thirst begin to wear them down. With the hope of rescue becoming slimmer each passing day, Emma finds an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

“Stranded” ranks right up with Gary Paulsen’s classic book “Hatchet.” Readers will not only learn important wilderness survival skills, but will also learn what “survival” really means.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Passenger” Lisa Lutz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Published March 1, 2016. Simon & Schuster.

ThePassengerWhen Tanya Dubois finds her husband’s body at the foot of the stairs, she is sure no one will believe it was an accident. Even though she didn’t kill him she’s afraid of what prying policemen will find hidden in her own life. Without a second thought she assumes a disguise and flees the scene. With this impetuous decision, Tanya reverts to life on the lam.

As Tanya crisscrosses the country, she manages to assume multiple identities, so many that I lost count and had to look at the table of contents to reorient myself. Her efforts to stay off the grid for 10 years involved ingenious types of survival tactics, several of which had me raising my eyebrows in disbelief. When she meets Blue, a fellow fugitive, their adventures become even more hair raising with some interesting similarities to Thelma & Louise.

As I tried to figure out who were Jo and Ryan and why they were emailing each other throughout the story, I was also trying to figure out Tanya’s identities, her back-story, and Blue’s motives. Though the storyline gets a bit confusing, the fast paced action will keep readers glued to their seats. The ending left me gasping out loud in disbelief, as Lutz was very sneaky. I never saw it coming.

Recommended for Adults.

I received this Advanced Reading Copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“The one that got away” Simon Wood

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Published March 1, 2015. Thomas & Mercer.

TheOneThatGotAwayWhen Zoe awoke that fateful night, she didn’t have any recollection as to what could have happened. In her last memory she and her friend Hollie were traveling through Vegas having fun, but she had no clue as to how they had now wound up captives in a strange place. Managing to free herself she saw Hollie being tortured, but chose to abandon her and run for her life.

In the 15 months since the attack, Zoe’s life has drastically changed. Unable to forgive herself for leaving Hollie behind, and choosing her own life over Hollie’s, she decided to punish herself. She dropped out of graduate school, separated herself from family and friends, and blamed herself everyday for Hollie’s disappearance. However her lonely existence is shattered when she learns of the murder of a young woman, which closely matches what happened to her and her friend Hollie.

Zoe decides to work with the police to find the killer, but she doesn’t know that the killer knows exactly where she lives and wants to finish the work he’d begun fifteen months earlier. Zoe is in his crosshairs as she’s the only one that ever got away from him, and he won’t make the same mistake twice.

As Wood leads readers on a desperate chase to discover the killer’s identity before he can find Zoe, the action-packed chapters had me completely engrossed. With each move on the killer’s part bringing him ever closer to Zoe, I couldn’t help but read faster to find out what would happen next to her. “The one that got away” will make readers take a closer look at their surroundings because we now know there are killers amongst us.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Mrs. John Doe” Tom Savage

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Published October 6, 2015. Penguin Random House.

MrsJohnDoeNora Baron received a call that her husband, Jeff, had been killed in a car accident while working in London. In a state of shock, she travels to identify his body and collect his belongings. Within a few hours Nora finds herself in a mysterious game of cat and mouse, as someone seems to want something Jeff left behind for her.

As she struggles to understand Jeff’s secret, it becomes increasingly obvious someone is willing to kill her for it. With multiple attempts already made on her life Nora is in a battle with time to solve the clues Jeff left behind before it’s too late.

This book was a thrilling ride with new twists and turns constantly revealed, seemingly on every page. Savage kept me glued to the pages, and will do the same for you.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines” Eric Blehm

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Crown (Penguin Random House.) Published April 28, 2015. (Includes “List of Characters,”Military Terms, Acronyms, and Abbreviations,” an “Index,” and various maps.)

LegendOn May 2, 1968 Roy Benavidez, then a Staff Sergeant with the Army’s Green Beret Special Forces unit stationed in Vietnam, willingly jumped onto a helicopter to enter no-man’s-land in Cambodia where 12 men from his team were pinned down by enemy fire, sustaining heavy loss. Without thinking of his own safety, Benavidez jumped from the helicopter and into Special Forces history with his daring rescue of the surviving 8 men despite suffering devastating wounds. “Legend” tells his story, along with the years long battle to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Using eyewitness accounts, archival and military records, among other sources, Blehm gives readers insight into Benavidez’s home life and what led him to become a member of the Green Berets, along with minute-by-minute accounts of the events leading up to the Special Forces unit’s foray into the supposedly neutral country of Cambodia which had been giving support to the North Vietnamese. At times the narrative becomes bogged down with technical lingo, but the urgency of battle and the story of the heroic men who suffered that day, shines through the technicalities.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Secret of the Sevens” Lynn Lindquist

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. EBook. Flux. Published June 2015.

SecretOfTheSevensEighteen-year-old Talan Michaels is about to graduate from the Singer School for poor, unwanted and troubled children. Having been there since he was 7 years old, his housemates, house parents and friends are the only family he’s ever known. Upon graduation he will face a future of homelessness and uncertainty, which fills him with fear. Thus when an invitation comes to join the Sevens, a secret society at the school, Talan is ecstatic. He is sure the Sevens’ promise of riches will be his ticket to freedom after graduating.

Talan knew that William Singer’s wife, founder of the school, had died under mysterious circumstances. He also knew that William Singer and five of the original Sevens had also died, with the Sevens accused of his murder. He and his house sister Laney embark on a series of secret missions destined to save the school from someone who knows what really happened to William Singer, his wife and the original Sevens. Talan and Laney will have to be careful, or they will share the same fate. With time running out, the two will have to pull out all the stops to save their school before it’s too late for everyone.

The plot twists and mysteries hidden in “Secret of the Sevens” had me mesmerized. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next to the new group of Sevens. Lindquist will keep readers on the edges of their seats.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.