“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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“Refugee” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published July 25, 2017. Scholastic. 337 p. (Includes Maps and Author’s note.)

RefugeeJosef was almost thirteen-years-old in 1938 when Kristallnacht sent the strong message that Jews were not welcome in Germany. Soon afterwards, he, his father, mother and little sister, along with hundreds of other Jews, boarded the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba where they hoped to escape bigotry and start a new life.

In 1994 Isabel lived with her mother, father and grandfather in Cuba but, with the fall of the Soviet Union, food, gasoline and medicine had become scarce and people began to starve. After riots began, Castro allowed them to leave without fear of arrest. Knowing their only chance of survival was to flee to Miami, Isabel and her family joined their neighbors on a rickety homemade boat. Their 90-mile trip would be dangerous, but they were willing to risk everything to be free.

Twelve-year-old Mahmoud lived with his father, mother, little brother and baby sister in Aleppo Syria in 2015. Four years ago people revolted against their dictator president, which led to war and constant bombings. Their apartment building was blown apart and they had nowhere to go, so Mahmoud and his family joined thousands of other Syrians on a long march to Germany, hoping to start a new life without fear of war.

Real-life occurrences from World War II, the early 90’s, and current events are combined in alternating voices to tell the story of three children who all hope to grow older. This well-researched book will get conversation flowing about immigrants, xenophobia, acceptance and intolerance. It is excellent for book clubs, especially in middle schools.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

 

“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.

“Evangelina takes flight” Diana J. Noble

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Arte Público Press. 195 p.

EvangelinaTakesFlightEvangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.

Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.

Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.

I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.

Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?” 

I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.

Highly recommended for ages 12-16.

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

 

“The stolen marriage” Diane Chamberlain

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook.St. Martin’s Press. To be published October 3, 2017. (Includes “Author’s notes and Acknowledgements.”)

TheStolenMarriageIn 1943 twenty-three year old Tess DeMello was set to marry Vincent, the love of her life, in their Little Italy neighborhood of Baltimore where they’d grown up together. He had become a doctor and she was studying to be a nurse so, when a severe outbreak of polio struck children in Chicago, Vincent volunteered his services for several months. His absence set the stage for Tess to visit Washington D.C. where she met Hank Kraft, a rich furniture maker from Hickory, a small North Carolina town. When she becomes pregnant she abandons Vincent, marries Hank, and moves to Hickory.

Hatred from her mother-in-law, as well as from Hank’s sister, former girlfriend, and all their friends greeted her, causing loneliness to cloud her every move. In addition, Tess soon realized Hank seemed to be hiding secrets, and had no feelings for her. Anxious to find a way to relieve the pressure of her marriage, Tess disobeyed Hank to volunteer her services as a nurse at the hospital the town built in 54 hours when polio struck their part of the state.  There she learned to stand on her own again, finally able to become the person she was meant to be.

Many themes are at work in this book, ranging from infantile paralysis (what polio used to be called), religion, mediums, relationships, racial inequalities and more. Readers will definitely have much to ponder, making this a great choice for a book club.

As a child my mother suffered from polio in the mid 1940’s, which caused her to be in a leg brace. To this day, she still has problems with that leg. This is the first book I’ve ever read about infantile paralysis/polio, which helped me understand what she and thousands of other children had to endure. Thank you Diane Chamberlain for enlightening readers on the subject through your excellent research and, of course, a huge round of applause is reserved for Jonas Salk.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“A question of class” Julia Tagan

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2014. Lyrical Press (Kensington Publishing Corp.)

AQuestionOfClassAfter marrying 50 year-old Morris Delcour at the age of 15, beautiful Catherine was finally able to leave behind her past on the mean streets of Connecticut. Once in fine Parisian society no one cared that she used to be a scullery maid and came from questionable parentage. As she and her greedy husband made the rounds of parties and balls, he built up his winery and fattened his wallet while she reveled in the richness and peace of mind that being Mrs. Morris Delcour brought.

After 5 years in France, Morris planned to expand his business to the colonies. It was now 1810, and he felt it was time to open the eyes of high society to the invigorating taste of wine. Unfortunately for Catherine, New York’s society matrons did not look kindly upon her lowly background. Incensed that he wouldn’t be able to use her for monetary gain, Morris informed Catherine that their marriage had been a sham and he was sending her off to the West Indies after he returned from a business trip. Horrified that she’d been trapped into living a lie for 5 years, Catherine set about plotting revenge and an escape route.

It is into this sad state of affairs that readers are introduced to Benjamin Thomas, the brother of Morris’ first wife Dolly, who came to town hiding the revenge he planned to wreak upon Morris for his role in her death. Morris gave him the task of making sure his wife didn’t escape while he was out of town. Instead Benjamin fell in love while helping Catherine rescue her little sister from cruel foster parents. After they became lovers, they hoped to find a way to escape from Morris and reveal his underhanded business dealings to the authorities. But, as everything begins to unravel, it is only a matter of time before Morris catches up to them. Can two penniless lovers find a way to be happy when everything is conspiring against them?

This tale of romance, revenge, love, lust and betrayal (loosely based on the life of Eliza Jumel), is a quick read but also lacking the finer points of detail. For one, Catherine is able to get away with being alone for most of her escapades, though set during a time in history when well-bred ladies always had an escort. Also, she comes across as being flighty and irresponsible, though the author attempts to portray her as a strong, independent woman. I should also note that detailed lovemaking descriptions are found in this romance novel, which may cause blushing. I blushed many times.

Recommended for Adults.

 

 

 

“The sentinels of Andersonville” Tracy Groot

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. 2014. Tyndale House Publishers.

TheSentinelsOfAndersonvilleConfederate soldier Emery Jones captures a Union soldier and delivers him to Andersonville prison. Only after arrival does he become aware of the horrors of the place, and realizes he needs to make it right. From the prison’s stockade wall, confederate sentry Dance Pickett has seen thousands of men starving to death within the overcrowded prison. Commanded not to interfere, he wonders how to get the soldiers the help they need. Feeling as if no one wants to help, Dance is at his wit’s end.

Violet Stiles has worked tirelessly to help Confederate soldiers with various causes, and has learned to hate all Yankees. After visiting Andersonville, she is sickened by the horrific conditions. Emery, Dance and Violet are determined to make a difference, feeling they can get their fellow townspeople to band together for the soldiers. Though accused of treason, scorned by others, and facing extreme opposition, the three are committed to loving their enemies.

Before reading this book I had vaguely heard of Andersonville. After reading it I will never forget the prisoners who languished behind its walls. Tracy Groot’s extensive historical research on the appalling conditions tells how and why 13,000 Union soldiers died within its walls in 1864. I found many similarities to those who closed their eyes to evil, justifying their own blindness, during World War II as millions of Jews were killed. This was why townspeople were forced to tour concentration camps, after they were liberated, to look at what they had allowed to happen and see if it made a difference in their souls. I wonder if it did.

Highly recommended for Adults.