“Taking flight: From war orphan to star ballerina” Michaela DePrince with Elaine DePrince

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).

TakingFlightHer parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.

Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.

Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.

Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.


“Liars, Inc.” Paula Stokes

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. HarperTeen. 360 p.

LiarsIncMax grew up on the streets and in various foster homes, which made it hard to get to know people. Now a senior in high school, Max still feels on the edge of life as he struggles to make ends meet at a surfing job while his girlfriend Parvati and best friend Preston, who are both rich, glide through life without any worries.

Parvati’s father forbade their relationship, so Max plans to get detention to spend time with her. His taking the blame for someone else’s infraction creates the opportunity to do so for other students, and lays the groundwork for “Liars, Inc,” which Parvati and Preston decide would be the name of their new venture of creating excuses for money.

Max fabricates a lie that allows Preston to escape to Vegas for a weekend rendezvous with someone he met online. When he disappears, Max and Parvati team up to try and figure out what happened. Things become complicated when Preston’s blood is found in Max’s car, along with his missing cell phone. When Preston is found dead, Max becomes the main suspect and is soon on the run from FBI agents. As he and Parvati piece together clues, it becomes obvious that he is being framed. The question is who would do so, and why?

I wasn’t a fan of this book as I found the plot to be far-fetched and unrealistic. Thus I will leave it up to readers 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.


“The nearness of you” Amanda Eyre Ward

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. To be published February 14, 2017.

thenearnessofyouSuzette and Hyland had been married for years, and were comfortable in their love. Suzette worked long hours as a heart surgeon, Hyland wandered from job to job, but they were always there for each other. Things were good, until Hyland reneged on their marriage agreement by asking for a child. Suzette had never wanted children because her mother was mentally ill, and she stood a chance of passing on the illness. Despite misgivings, Suzette agrees to allow Hyland to medically impregnate a surrogate but, shortly after learning she was pregnant with his child, the surrogate disappears.

Through multiple viewpoints, Ward tells the story of the young surrogate struggling to raise a child she thought she didn’t want, but loved all the same, contrasted with Suzette’s similar conflict and love. Readers are taken through their years of pain, adaptations and sacrifice, to arrive at the conclusion that love conquers all.

“The nearness of you” was a good read, although the medical jargon was very confusing. I think Ward could have portrayed Suzette’s job in a general manner without resorting to readers having to hunt down a medical dictionary to figure out what was happening.

Recommended for Adults.

“Best friends through eternity” Sylvia McNicoll

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Tundra Books. Hardcover. 182 pp.

BestFriendsThroughEternityPaige is fourteen, adopted by Canadian parents shortly after she was abandoned at an orphanage in China. As a result she feels as if something is missing from her life, coping with her insecurities by shunning affection and anything Chinese.

One snowy Monday the girl’s volleyball team decides to beat her and her best friend Jasmine up in retaliation for something they believe Jasmine did to a teammate. In order to avoid the route where she knows they’ll be waiting, Paige takes a shortcut along the train tracks – even though it means Jasmine will be left alone with them. Oblivious to the world around her due to the loud music on her iPod Paige doesn’t hear the train’s warning horn and is hit, leaving her in an irreversible coma.

From there Paige is given the gift of a week to return to her old life and right the wrong she did to Jasmine, with the caveat being she can’t let anyone know she will die. Paige’s new life takes many twists and turns as she desperately tries to help Jasmine, finding unexpected results from her last, fate filled week.

I was very upset the volleyball team got away with very serious bullying, as some of their antics could have gotten the girls killed yet no adult noticed. On the other hand I was pleased to see Paige’s transformation, as it could encourage some readers to rethink their own lives in a positive manner. I also liked the cover.

Recommended for ages 11-14.

“The Same Sky” Amanda Eyre Ward

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Published January 20, 2015. Ballantine Books (Random House).

TheSameSkyIn five-year-old Carla’s poor and crime riddled village of Tegucigalpa Honduras the only income comes from trying to sell trash from the town dump, so her mother made the dangerous trip to the United States to search for work. Her job enables her grandmother to provide food and clothing for Carla and her two baby brothers.

After a few years her mother saved enough to pay passage for one child to join her but, when her grandmother died a few years later, ten-year-old Carla and her six-year-old brother Junior were left alone. As they slowly began to starve, Carla was desperate to get to her mother in Texas. With nothing but water and a few dollars, she and Junior set out on an almost two thousand mile journey on foot to, hopefully, survive marauding gang members, murderers, rapists and robbers.

Cancer has rendered Alice infertile, and she is desperate to be a mother. She and her husband Jake have tried to adopt for 10 years, but have faced numerous disappointments. Nothing fills the hole of sadness she feels inside and, with bitterness slowly poisoning her marriage, Alice will have to look within to find the true answers to her sorrow.

In alternate voices Carla and Alice tell their stories of sorrow, pain, heartbreak and hope amidst despair. However, despite coming from two different worlds, they manage to leave a stamp on each other’s lives that will never be forgotten.

“The Same Sky” is a touching story of survival and love, shedding light on why so many undocumented workers and unaccompanied minors make the harrowing and incredibly dangerous journey to the United States. Their plight, and the circumstances they go through to get to America, broke my heart and had me reaching for tissues many different times. It will do the same for you.

Mature themes. Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“The Secret Ingredient” Stewart Lewis

ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published June 11, 2013. Delacorte Press. 241 pp.

TheSecretIngredientFor the past 17 years, Olivia has enjoyed everything about her life. She loves her two dads Bell and Enrique, her older brother Jeremy, and her best friend Lola. She especially loves cooking and even has her own Saturday Special in her dad’s restaurant, whipping up new, delicious treats for his customers. Through her years of cooking, she’s learned that chefs should have their own secret ingredient to spice up their dishes and give them a mysterious flavor.

She knows she’s adopted and is really happy with Bell and Enrique but feels something is missing. One day she meets a psychic who tells her that her life is going to change. Soon after,  she reconnects with Theo, her long lost love, who makes her feel like nothing can go wrong. But she still misses having a mom of her own. Things start to happen, including finding an old cookbook from someone named Rose filled with notes about life in the mid 1960’s. As Olivia explores the book and cooks its recipes, she finds herself imagining Rose’s life and comparing it to her own. Suddenly Olivia is desperate to conquer the many fears in her life and find her own missing ingredient, beginning with locating her birth mother.

Budding chefs ages 14 and older will have the opportunity to try new recipes based on Olivia’s many food choices, while adopted kids and those from nontraditional homes will see themselves in Olivia.

“Small Damages” Beth Kephart

ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) to be released July 19, 2012. Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers). 304 pp.

Kaitlin is in her senior year of high school, has a boyfriend she adores, college plans, and a close knit group of friends with whom she can hang out with on a daily basis. Her dad died suddenly and she doesn’t get along with her mother, but Kevin helps her through both the good and the bad. He sings a different song, however, when he gets her pregnant as both he and her mother want her to get rid of “it” so they can live their lives. Early on in her pregnancy, Kaitlin feels the love of motherhood for her unborn child and insists on keeping it. As a result, she is shipped off to Spain to spend 5 months of her life on a ranch with a family she’s never met, with the goal of giving her baby up for adoption to a Spanish family before she can return home.

I had mixed feelings as I read because I felt there were too many characters with complicated stories to tell, while Kephart seemed bound and determined to also infuse every single detail about Spain, its history, and its people into these stories. In addition, Beth’s use of flashbacks to tell most of these stories often took away from a sense of continuity. However, the ending was quite emotional and allowed me to almost forget what I had to “plow through” to get to it.

Thus, I will leave it up to high school readers interested in learning more about Spain, gypsies, flamenco and other aspects of its history to decide if they should read “Small Damages” or not.