“Being Toffee” Sarah Crossan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury YA. First published in Great Britain in May 2019 (Bloomsbury Publishing Pic.) United States of America edition to be published July 14, 2020.

Being ToffeeSixteen-year-old Allison’s mom died when she was born, leaving her with a father who mentally and physically abused her. For years she tried to stay out of his way but when he got angry, there wasn’t anything she or his girlfriend Kelly-Anne could do to avoid his cruelty. After Kelly-Anne left them, things got so bad that Allison ran away.

Now homeless, Allison eventually wandered into a home where an elderly woman lived alone. Marla’s dementia caused her to mistake Allison for a long-lost friend named Toffee so, for lack of anywhere to go, Allison moved in with her. They soon struck up a friendship but as Marla’s dementia got worse, Allison’s peace of mind improved. As Marla helped her learn to find her voice, she helped Marla gain the strength she needed to face changes coming in her own life.

Allison’s moving story of love lost and found is told in poetic verse. Readers will find themselves rooting for both Allison and Marla. I’m glad Bloomsbury YA decided to release this book in the United States. It’s an important story of finding hope and joy in unusual ways.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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

 

 

“Fighting words” Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House). Includes Discussion Questions. To be published August 11, 2020.

Fighting wordsDella is now ten years old, and in the fourth grade. When she was five, and her older sister Suki was eleven, their meth addict mother was sent to prison and her old boyfriend stepped in to claim them. Through the five years they lived with him Suki always took care of Della. She took the lead and made sure they got away when he did something very bad to Della. Now they were living with a foster mother who seemed nice enough, Della was attending a new school, and Suki had a new job.

Soon Suki started to get angry for no reason, making Della feel as if she were a burden. Della was confused because Suki had always been there for her. When Suki tried to commit suicide it took time before Della realized her sister had been carrying a terrible burden for many years. As Della learned to put her rage into words, she became the arm of strength for Suki so that, together, they could forge ahead to reclaim their lives.

This book was very powerful, and a testament to the ravages inflicted upon innocent children caught in the crosshairs of drug addicted parents and sexual predators. It will, hopefully, give encouragement and strength for children who see themselves in the pages to get help if they are suffering the same fates as Della and Suki.

Recommended for ages 11-16.

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

“Behind the red door” Megan Collins

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Atria Books. To be published August 4, 2020.

Behind the red doorFern loves her daddy even though he was always distracted with his work. His research dealt with the effects of fear, and she was always part of his Experiments where he terrorized her for years in many ways then interviewed her about her feelings. Though she had always been truly afraid during the Experiments, his care during the follow up interviews made her feel important and loved. As she grew older the years she’d spent being tormented caused her to become anxious and develop nervous habits, but it never diminished her love for him.

When Ted called to ask for help packing for an upcoming move, Fern was thrilled because she believed he needed her. Once she arrived they took a trip to town where she picked up a book about a local woman who was kidnapped 20 years ago and was missing again. As reading about the kidnapping tugged at memories she’d long kept hidden, these remembrances began to turn her life upside down.

This book really bothered me. I can’t reveal what happened, but I can say I was not happy at how that particular situation ended. I also couldn’t understand how, as an educated Social Worker, she was so ignorant about her own father. I liked the suspense, and how she gave Fern a wonderfully loving and supportive husband.

I gave it 3 stars for its twists and turns, and will recommend it to Adults.

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

“All of us” A.F. Carter

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. Mysterious Press. To be published June 2, 2020.

All of usCarolyn Grand’s father was a monster. For years he abused her physically, mentally, sexually and emotionally. When she was finally put into foster care, her foster parents continued the sexual abuse. For years Carolyn’s body was not her own, forcing her mind to find a way to protect itself. The end result was that Carolyn’s mind split her into different people. Each of her personalities had their own unique way of dressing, talking, and acting to help her get through particular situations.

The comfortable life Carolyn and her personalities built for themselves for ten years began to unravel when Eleni, the promiscuous one, propositioned a cop. Now they had to attend mandated counseling sessions with a therapist who had no interest in helping them. Then Carolyn’s father was released from prison and, though ordered to stay away, he began stalking them. When he showed up dead, Carolyn became the prime suspect, and only a friendly detective keeps them from total despair.

Told through the voices of Carolyn’s six personalities (Eleni, Martha, Victoria, Tina, Kirk and Serena) readers are given flashbacks of what Carolyn endured at the hands of her father. We see the inner workings of a splintered mind that found a way to survive horrible abuse. As the narrative continues, and no one admits to the murder, this whodunit keeps you wondering.

Recommended for Adults.

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

 

 

“The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2019. 210 p.

The Nickel BoysElwood Curtis lived in segregated Tallahassee Florida with his grandmother. He was studious, obedient, and a deep thinker with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resounding in his head. In 1963, when he was a high school senior, his love for learning made him a candidate for free college classes. On his first day he had to hitchhike, and the car he rode in turned out to be stolen. Elwood’s innocence didn’t mean anything to the arresting officer, and he was sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.

The segregated prison presented itself as a comfortable looking place, but hid a long, twisted history of student beatings, sexual abuse, starvation, and murder. With a cruel, sadistic staff it wasn’t long before Elwood was beaten so badly it took the doctor 2 hours with tweezers to remove pants fibers from his legs. Though he eventually recuperated, his soul was broken.

How could Dr. King expect him to love the people who daily tortured him and his fellow captives? Would they all be rescued if he wrote down what he knew of the school’s inner wrongdoings and gave it to state inspectors? Would there finally be justice for the boys of the Nickel Academy? Could he survive his time there?

Whitehead uses events from a real Florida reform school to supplement Elwood’s story, leaving readers fully engaged. It’s hard to believe this evil school, with its atrocities, was allowed to operate for so many years without state interference. After reading Elwood’s partly fictional story I was inspired to find out more information about the school on which this book was based. Colson inspired me, so my next book will be “The Dozier school for boys: Forensics, survivors and a painful past” by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD. Stay tuned to this blog for its review.

I highly recommend “The Nickel Boys” for mature teens, ages 16-18, and for Adult readers.

 

“I am watching you” by Teresa Driscoll

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Thomas & Mercer. 2017.

I am watching youSixteen-year-old Anna Ballard and her best friend Sarah were at a party when Anna wanted to leave. She was very drunk, but Sarah had her eye on a guy and didn’t want to leave. Anna decided to go outside to find a taxi, and was never heard from again.

As the police do everything they can to investigate her disappearance, those who had some involvement with Anna tell their stories in alternating chapters. Ella saw Anna and Sarah on a train hanging out with two men who’d just gotten released from prison. Could they have had something to do with Anna’s disappearance? Maybe one of them is sending her threatening postcards.

Sarah feels guilty over what happened the last time she saw Anna, but doesn’t dare tell the police about what happened before the party. Anna’s father is heartbroken over her disappearance, and keeps repeating her last words to him “you disgust me dad.” Will he ever get the chance to make it up to her?

With each chapter readers gain clues into what may have led to Anna’s disappearance, but the shocking conclusion telling us what really happened came as a huge surprise. It was such a surprise that I immediately began rereading the book to find out what I had missed. It was just as good, and still just as shocking, the second time around.

Highly recommended for Adults.

 

 

“Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published March 17, 2020. Berkley (Penguin Random House).

Darling Rose GoldRose Gold had been a sickly child. Patty, her mother, took very, very good care of her. She made sure to get her to all the best doctors, and sacrificed her whole life to make sure Rose Gold had the best care. After almost 18 years of severe illnesses, her online boyfriend helped her realize Patty had been poisoning her over the years. With her mother in prison for 5 years, Rose Gold struggled to find a purpose for her life. Everyone saw her as a victim, but she wanted to be something more in their eyes.

When Patty was released from prison she had nowhere to turn, so Rose Gold made herself available. She needed to make sure her dear mother knows how much she loves and trusts her, because Rose Gold has a plan. It might not seem like anyone understands why she wants to be with the woman who ruined her life, but hadn’t she learned how to lie from the greatest liar in the world?

In alternate voices Patty and Rose Gold tell their complicated stories of revenge, love and hate going from past to present to fill in the missing gaps in the story. The author had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to suss out who was lying, who was telling the truth, and who was planning what to whom. I’ll have to admit she totally blindsided me, as I never saw Rose Gold’s plan coming AT ALL!

Highly recommended for Adults.

“This does not leave this house” by Julie Coons

Rated 1 star * ebook. 2017. Amazon Digital Services LLC.

This does not leave this houseA girl hates herself because her mom hates her. She feels ignored by her father, alternately hated and loved by her brother, and hated by her abusive husband. She’s raped in college, so loses her dream of becoming a doctor when she drops out, and develops terrible illnesses – all while seeing spirits from the spirit world and still desperately wanting to be loved by the very hated mom.

The author said she put herself “out there” in this tell-all book about her horrible childhood and equally horrible adulthood, but her rollercoaster emotions towards herself and others, her constant repetitions and rehashing of the same stories, and her lack of chronology as she jumped all over the place in the book quickly got tiresome.

I didn’t like it at all, but will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I had not.

 

“Trapeze” by Leigh Ansell

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. ARC. To be published September 10, 2019. Wattpad Books.

TrapezeCorey was 2 years old when she went to live with her aunt. For fifteen years she trained as a trapeze artist, traveling around the country with her circus family. When the circus reached a small town in California, someone set fire to their tent during a performance and, just like that, her circus family was forced apart.

With nowhere to turn Corey was forced to live with her mom, who she hadn’t seen in 15 years. Now that she wasn’t constantly moving around the country, she had to attend high school for the first time in her life. Knowing that the townspeople hated circus people, she vowed to keep her life as a trapeze artist a secret. The only one who knew her secret was Luke, a very handsome junior she’d briefly met at a diner the night of the fire.

As their romance began to take shape she began to notice things about him that didn’t seem right, almost as if he was hiding things. Her relationship with her mother was frosty, while she was hiding her past life in the circus, so who was she to judge? Though they both worked hard to keep their secrets, eventually, secrets have a way of being found out. When their secrets are finally revealed, it will change everything forever.

I commiserated with Corey and the decisions she had to make throughout the book, but I had a few problems with it. I wasn’t a fan of the ending, and thought the character of Landon was very stereotypical. Also, the whole premise of why everyone hated the circus was never addressed. Who caused the vandalism? However I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.