“Step up to the plate” Maria Singh

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Tu Books. (Lee & Low). 276 p.

StepUpToThePlateIt was 1945 and, with World War II going on, all nine-year-old Maria wanted to do was play baseball. Her aunt built planes and women were starting to play professional ball so, when her teacher started an all-girls team at her school, Maria was thrilled. Unfortunately her Mexican mother and Indian father had old-fashioned ideas about what girls could do, so she knew it would be hard to convince them to let her play.

As she learns about teamwork and baseball, Maria also starts to learn about prejudice and racism when her little brother is beat up for being different and a German classmate lashes out at her. When she finds out her father can’t become a U.S. citizen or own the land he’d worked for years, through the confidence earned from playing the game she loved, Maria learns to speak up and make a difference in her world.

This book is an important introduction to the inequalities and discrimination faced by specific immigrant groups, many of which still go on today. Readers are also given insight into the world of adha-adha “half and half,” (Mexican-Hindu families) which also serves to educate. It should be in every elementary and middle school library, and would make for excellent discussions as part of a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

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

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“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.

 

“Bottomland: A novel based on the murder of Rosa Mary Dean in Franklin, Tennessee” Trey Holt

Rated 1 star * Ebook. 2015. Amazon Digital Services.

BottomlandIt took me forever to read this book because it was boring and confusing. The author jumps from the 1950’s to the 1940’s, goes into the future, then reverses back to the past to do it all over again. I wasn’t sure who was coming or going, and had to reread portions to figure out what had just happened.

Though it’s supposed to be a true story of a small town murder, the author spent more time waxing poetic about the main character, his uncle, friends, sister, girlfriend and father than he did about the murdered woman.

I’m so glad I didn’t spend any money for this book. Though I didn’t like it I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I hadn’t.

“How it ends” Catherine Lo

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. ARC. 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers.

HowItEnds

Now 15, Jessie has been bullied since 7th grade by her former best friends. They have helped convince her that she’s a loser and will forever remain friendless. Her mother constantly gets on her case about her anxiety attacks, while she keeps all her feelings bottled up inside herself. When Annie befriends her Jessie can’t understand why a popular girl, who has her act all together, would want to be friends.

Annie was popular in her former school, and is not looking forward to being in a much smaller school. Her mother died when she was young, and her father married an evil stepmother. With her home life in turmoil she is thrilled to hang out with Jessie and her wonderful mom. She is sure Jessie is confident and the kind of girl she wants to be. Together the girls conquer the world, until they allow the influence of others to ruin their friendship.

In alternating voices, Jessie and Annie tell their stories. On their tumultuous ride from besties to enemies and back again, both ultimately learn the value of honesty and true friendship.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“The vanishing coin (The magic shop #1)” Kate Egan with Magician Mike Lane

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Feiwel & Friends. 142 p.

TheVanishingCoinTeachers always send Mike to the principal because he can’t sit still or focus on work. He needs to be moving and, when he’s not, he gets upset. His parents have been working with him on coping strategies, but they don’t seem to work. The fresh start he’d hoped for in fourth grade seems to be gone. On top of everything else, he’s being bullied again by Jackson, a neighborhood bully and his parents are making him hang out with Nora, a gifted kid, every day after school.

Just when things seem to be at their worst, Mike discovers magic. Suddenly he finds something he’s good at, and is ready to do what it takes to be the best magician he can be.

I enjoyed this book, and know my fourth graders will too.

 

“The grand masquerade: Bold women of the 19th century #1” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2014. Lillis and James. (Includes Author’s Note.)

TheGrandMasqueradeFourteen-year-old Sydnee Sauveterre lived with her father Victor and his slave Margarite in a broken down cabin on the Natchez Trace. Customers stopped by his tavern for a drink, fortunetelling, and Sydnee, who her father forced to comply. She had a gift when it came to animals, and had been taught Hoodoo from Margarite. Valued only for the money they earned Victor, they scraped out their existence on the lonely Trace.

After their deaths Sydnee walked for weeks searching for a new beginning, and was hired to work in New Orleans for a wealthy man’s 16-year-old son. Instead, she and Tristan became the best of friends. He introduced her to his neighbor Isabel, who became her first female friend, and a stable worker Mortimer. Soon the four were inseparable.

As the years passed Madame Sauveterre matured into a lovely young woman, and Tristan made sure she had a place in high society. The four friends continued their deep bond of friendship, made ever closer due to secrets they all shared. In time this deception will lead to them making decisions that will change the courses of their lives.

I enjoyed reading about the friends and their grand masquerade, even though Sydnee’s rise from poverty, and Isabel’s deep secret seemed a bit far-fetched to me. Though labeled as #1 in Hughes’ new series, “Grand Masquerade” is a standalone book.

Recommended for Adult readers who like a bit of history and romance in their stories.

“The cholo tree” Daniel Chacón

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 248 pp.

TheCholoTreeFourteen-year-old Victor is an aspiring artist and cook in his low income, gang filled neighborhood and, like most kids his age, doesn’t like school. He was very close to his father who was killed when Victor was very young, and holds his mother at an emotional distance. Though not a cholo (gang member) she believes he is one, and doesn’t trust him.

Victor doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and is reluctant to choose a path, despite direction from a teacher he trusts and a very smart girlfriend who gives him some inspiration. As he aimlessly wanders through the life he’s chosen for himself, Victor has to sort through layers of experiences to decide if he already is a cholo. Does he want to be a cholo, or does he want to break free of the mold he created for himself in order to live the way he was meant to live?

Don Quixote-type fantasies intermingled with Victor’s hazy memories of his father, along with stories of his life, are pieced together to show four years of his struggles to discover who he is and what he wants to be. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I did enjoy the author’s portrayal of Iliana as a strong, independent woman. She knew what she wanted, and went for it full speed ahead, the complete opposite of Victor. She didn’t let feelings get in the way of her future, and I admire her for having a goal and sticking to it.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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