“Ghosts of Harvard” Francesca Serritella

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Random House. To be published May 5, 2020.

Ghosts of HarvardSeventeen-year-old Cady is determined to attend Harvard because it was where her older brother Eric committed suicide. Since she blames herself, she is determined to figure out why he killed himself.  While at school her studies take a back burner to the nagging questions that arise about Eric’s schizophrenia.

As memories of good and bad times with Eric fill her mind, Cady begins to hear voices and music from a bygone era. Afraid she is heading towards the same path of mental illness, she has a small measure of relief when she figures out the voices are the ghosts of a former Harvard slave and two students who attended the school many years ago.

She enjoys having them as company, learning historical aspects about the school that she’d never known. However, as she uncovers more about Eric’s last days, she soon figures out he was hiding something. When his secret is finally revealed, her life is forever changed in even more ways than she’d thought possible.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of “Ghosts of Harvard,” especially since I once worked on campus, and didn’t know about many of the hidden gems revealed in the book. I now want to travel back to Massachusetts to take a leisurely stroll and go to the places mentioned in the book. The storyline about Eric, his secret, and the ghosts seemed a bit farfetched, but the troubling aspects of suicide, mental illness and its weight on families were truthfully articulated.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

“The forgotten girl” India Hill Brown

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Scholastic. 250 p. (Includes Author’s Note.)

The Forgotten girlIn the small town of Easaw North Carolina, Iris hates that everyone in her middle school seems to forget about her accomplishments as Captain of the Step Team. Several times she wasn’t invited to important school events, leading her to believe the administration was purposely leaving her out of things.

Determined to make everyone notice her, Iris and her best friend Daniel take on the task of researching abandoned cemeteries after they stumble upon several hidden graves, including one of an 11-year-old named Avery Moore. They were surprised to find out that cemeteries used to be segregated, with black cemeteries falling into disrepair during the Great Migration. Iris and Daniel decided they wanted to have this abandoned cemetery restored.

Soon after their discovery of her grave, Avery began to make herself known in different ways to a very terrified Iris. Avery doesn’t like being forgotten, and wants to make sure she is remembered. Iris is key, and Avery plans to make sure the two of them become forever friends – forever remembered – together.

I liked this book. Its short chapters, with cliffhanger endings, will keep even reluctant readers glued to the pages.

Recommended for ages 10-15.

“The secrets of lost stones” by Melisa Payne

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Lake Union Publishing. 2019.

The secretes of lost stonesA hit-and-run driver killed Chance, Jess’s 8-year-old son eight years ago leaving her devastated and feeling as if life isn’t worth living. When Jess leaves town to start fresh elsewhere, her car breaks down in a small mountainside town. There she’s invited to be a caretaker to an older woman named Lucy who has a way of knowing things that are going to happen. She believes Jess and a ghostly little boy are “loose ends,” something she has to fix.

Fifteen-year-old Star has been living on the streets for months, after running away from a foster home. When a strange older woman calls her a “loose end” and arranges for her to get a bus ticket to a small, out-of-the way town, Star is dumbfounded. When she arrives Lucy convinces her to stay for a little while. Though Star has tough street bravado, she feels herself melting into the kindnesses offered by Lucy.

In alternate voices Jess and Star tell their stories of loss and fear, with a dose of hope. Readers will become invested in their lives, hoping for their “loose ends” to be tied up so they could have hope filled new lives.

Recommended for Adults.

“Tigers, not daughters” by Samantha Mabry

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Young Readers of Chapel Hill. To be published March 24, 2020.

Tigers, not DaughtersThe four Torres sisters became three when Ana, their older sister, was found dead after falling out of her second floor window on her way to meet a boyfriend. Their father had given up on being involved in their lives when his wife died years earlier, so the three remaining sisters are forced to figure out how to go on without Ana.

As the youngest Rosa has always been a dreamer, spending hours listening to animals. She believes a dead bird and a missing zoo hyena are signs on the one-year anniversary of Ana’s death. She’s determined to figure out what they mean. Jessica coped by trying to become Ana. She has her old room and clothes and dates John, Ana’s abusive boyfriend. Iridian buries herself in her notebooks, writing lurid romance stories, and re-reading a favorite, battered book. As if all this drama isn’t enough, Ana’s ghost decides to haunt them.

The book blathers on through their lives, showing Rosa as air headed and fanatical, Iridian as lazy and clueless about the world around her, and Jessica as alternately weak and strong. My favorite character was Peter, a friend of their next-door neighbor and a co-worker of Jessica. I thought he had the strengths neither sister owned, and loved how he put John in his place.

I was not a fan of this book. I thought it was piecemeal, bouncing from one sister’s thoughts to another, and left open endings – why was Ana’s window broken when she died? Why did the father need money so much? It was also hard for me to believe that Iridian could leave school in 10th grade, and not have anyone there (other than her neighbors) notice her absence to report it to authorities.

Also, in my opinion, the sisters didn’t have to be named Torres, other than to sell a “diverse” book. Since it was set in Texas, the author must have assumed the main characters should have a Latino last name. However, they could just as easily been named Smith or Jones, as there was nothing cultural to happen that went along with the name Torres.

I will leave it up to readers, ages 16 and older, to decide if you want to read it or not. I would rather that I had not.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“People of the lake” by N.L. Scorza

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published October 15, 2019. Sky Pony Press.

People of the lakeGrowing up Clara’s twin sister Zoe got her in trouble all the time, but Clara didn’t mind. They shared stories and even had their own secret language but, when they were eight years old, Zoe drowned. It took Clara many years to get over losing her best friend, but she still talked to Zoe all the time in her head. After her parents divorced she lived with her mom but, when her boyfriend moved in, Clara sought refuge for the summer with her father in the tiny town of Redmarch Lake.

From her first day there Clara felt something was very strange about the town and its foreboding lake that seemed to draw her with a malevolent power. Townies didn’t want to talk to her, and looked either afraid or as if they hated her because she was an outsider. She was warned multiple times to stay out of the woods and, when she managed to make a new friend, he was suddenly murdered in the woods.

Soon afterwards she and Hector, another outsider, began to work together to try and figure out the town’s secrets and answer its many unspoken questions. Why was everyone afraid? What were the strange sounds they kept hearing in the woods? Who was leaving her notes in the language she and Zoe made up many years ago? When another boy is murdered, Clara and Hector began to realize the town didn’t want its secrets revealed. Something was coming after them, and it was only a matter of time before it got what it wanted.

This book was SO horribly creepy and exciting. I was on the edge of my seat rapidly reading and turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. My biggest advice to anyone reading this book is to NOT read it at night. If you do then you’ll have to distract yourself with something peppy if you plan to actually sleep after reading it. No one told me that, so I’m off to go watch a pep rally or something…….

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Perdita” Faith Gardner

3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. 2015. Merit Press.

PerditaArielle and her sister Casey have never gotten along, but she adores her sister’s best friend Perdita who always has time to talk. The last time Arielle saw her, she had gotten into an argument with Casey and slammed out of the house. The next time she saw Perdita, she was dead.

With Casey now off at college and her best friend Chloe off with a new boyfriend, Arielle feels at odds with everything. Since Perdita’s drowning death, she keeps revisiting the emotions of having seen her own brother drown 10 years earlier when she was only 6 years old. She even begins to feel as if she can see ghosts – especially Perdita’s. The only bright light in her life is Tex, Perdita’s brother. She and Tex are in theater class together, but even their relationship seems strange. When she finds out Perdita was murdered, she realizes her ghost has been trying to tell her something. Arielle is afraid to listen, but even more afraid of not listening.

I liked the storyline, but felt it took too long for something “ghostlike” to actually happen. I also didn’t like that Chloe’s relationship with her overly possessive boyfriend was never explored, which made me feel that the author missed an opportunity to let readers know it is not okay to become a completely different person for the sake of a boyfriend. Chloe was a robot to her boyfriend’s whims, and the only one who knew this was Arielle. I think Arielle should have confronted her about it.

I thought the book was ok, but because of the dragging storyline and the Chloe issue I could only give it 3 stars.

Recommended for 14 and older.

 

“Hotel Ruby” Suzanne Young

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Ebook. 2015. Simon Pulse.

HotelRubyAudrey and her brother Daniel have been completely lost since their mother died of a sudden stroke. Their father, unable to deal with his grief, decides it would be best if they went to live with a grandmother they barely know. On their way to grandma’s house they decide to stop overnight at the Hotel Ruby, a luxurious turn-of-the century hotel.

Once there, Audrey finds herself swept away by the very handsome Elias Lange while learning the mystery of the hotel, and the ghosts which are said to haunt the building. When the family decides to extend their stay she begins to notice that Kenneth, the concierge, seems to have some sort of hold over Daniel, her father, Elias and the staff. Soon Audrey is convinced they need to leave but something, or someone, wants them to stay. Welcome to the Hotel Ruby, where you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave.

I felt like the “Hotel Ruby” was the 1976 Eagle’s hit song “Welcome to the Hotel California” come to life in book form, which is why I said you could check out anytime you want but never leave. I found the story of the hotel to be tragic, but thought Audrey spent too much time playing the tragedy card and apologizing for being such a bad girlfriend. By the end of the book she finally matured, but it was a bit tedious watching her get her act together, which is why I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars.

Recommended for 18 and older.