“Vagabond wind” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *****  Ebook. 2015. Amazon Digital Services.

VagabondWindZya spent almost her whole life with Romani gypsies, traveling with them all over the new state of West Virginia before the Civil War. Married at a young age, life seemed grand until her husband and father were killed. Falling in with a group of Confederate Rangers, she helped guide them through the wilderness as they worked to thwart the Yankees at every turn through sneak attacks.

She found herself blossoming as she worked with Davis Wyndham, their leader, to wreck trains, rob provisions for Confederate troops, and pass on secret information from the Yankees. As the years passed she and Davis became romantically involved while the group worked to hold the head of the Confederacy above the waters. However, with the war drawing to a close and the threat of capture looming ever closer, Zya and Davis will have to face their greatest threat yet – that of never seeing each other ever again.

Told from the Confederate point of view, “Vagabond Wind” seems to draw from the real life activities of John Singleton Mosby, who spent the War running sneak attacks against the Union. I find it interesting Hughes chose to call these guerrillas Wyndham’s Rangers, the name of a real Union Colonel. I’m thinking it was for irony’s sake that she did so.

I felt Hughes took too much time describing specific events/scenery, dragged out the storyline on many occasions, and had a tremendous overuse of commas. I also didn’t like Zya’s flakiness, fancying herself in love one moment, torturing herself with self-doubts the next, deciding one lifestyle that she was living was wonderful, then deciding that was no good too. She was a human seesaw that made my head spin.

I did enjoy getting sneak peeks into bits of Civil War history (like why West Virginia was formed.) I think it would have been nice if Hughes had added end notes giving a bit of history about the research she did on the era as well as background information on important characters like Wyndham as well as the Swamp Fox, who inspired Mosby.

Thus, due to the pros and cons mentioned above, I’ll recommend the book for Adults but will do so with reservations.

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“Mayanito’s new friends”: “Los nuevos amigos de Mayanito” Tato Laviera

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press.

MayanitosNewFriendsPrince Mayanito, who lives on a mountain high above the clouds, was looking down on the western hemisphere. Children from other countries, formed out of raindrops, became his friends until they turned into flowers when the sun came out. Determined to search for them, Mayanito began an adventure with all sorts of rainforest creatures, leading to a joyful reunion with his friends. Through rich watercolors in full-page illustrations, Mayanito’s journey comes to life.

Though this bilingual picture book can be used to help teach about the rainforest and other countries, I feel it would have been beneficial to include information about the Mayan culture – especially since Mayanito is Mayan. It also seemed as if the story was incomplete, as it started and ended abruptly.

Despite my misgivings about its incompleteness, I will still recommend it because of its ability to lead to teachable moments.

Recommended for ages 5-9.

“The door that led to where” Sally Gardner

 Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published November 8, 2016. Delacorte Press. 277 p.

thedoorthatledtowhereA.J. has grown up with a missing father and an angry mother. With no future in England’s post secondary education due to failing exams, he takes on work as a clerk at a local law firm. There he discovers a strange key with his name on it and, through a series of circumstances, finds it belongs to a door that takes him into the past.

London of 1830 gets much getting used to, with A.J. soon involved in a series of mysterious deaths – including that of his own father. Discovering his father was also a time traveler leads to more mysteries that set the course for A.J.’s past, present and future.

I enjoyed seeing 1830’s London brought to detailed life, and also liked the title. It’s word play for a door that goes “where” rather than “nowhere” is quite clever.

I was not fond of the open ending which usually leads to a series, as I am not fond of books in a series. I also think the author should have had a glossary. Slang British words were used throughout the book, and a glossary would have been very helpful.

I also thought A.J. and his friends were more like 16 going on 26, instead of “normal” 16 year olds. All of these issues, combined with spoiler complaints listed below, is why  I gave “The door that led to where” 3 instead of 4 stars.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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Mrs. Meacock was the picture of health, ready to institutionalize Esme. Yet, two days later, she was rendered practically unrecognizable, just a few short steps from death. I find it hard to believe she had become crazy so quickly after being relatively sane for so many years.

I also thought the author should have unveiled the professor’s identity in a little more detail. I know he was a time traveler, but he knew a lot about A.J.’s history. Why did he know so much?

“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.

“Lavina” Mary Marcus

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 2015. The Story Plant.

LavinaMary Jacob barely remembers her life before she was 13, growing up in Murpheysfield, Louisiana. She is shocked when her older sister calls to say her dad is dying and wants to see her, as she hasn’t spoken to either of them in years. Despite her misgivings she decides to return home, where she is soon forced to face memories she has tried so hard to forget.

Billy Ray, singer and harmonica player, left his hometown of Murpheysfield, Louisiana in 1963 when he was 15 years old and his mother, Lavina, was killed. Thirty years later he reluctantly returns for a gig and finds out Mary Jacob is in town. He knows she is the only one who knows what really happened the day his mother died, and he is determined to finally get the truth out of her.

In alternate voices Mary Jacob, Lavina and Billy Ray talk about life during Jim Crow. As their connections to each other are revealed, the past begins to blend into the present as the events that changed their lives forever are finally revealed.

“Lavina” reveals the endurance of an oppressed race as well as the complex world that existed between black and white. It will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

Highly recommended for Adults.

 

“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.

“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.