“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The girl in the blue coat” Monica Hesse

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. To be published April 5, 2016. Little Brown and Company.

TheGirlInTheBlueCoatDespite assurances to the contrary, Hitler invaded the Netherlands in 1941. Two years have passed since the Dutch accepted the invasion in order to avoid bombings of major cities. During that time, methodically watching the capture and deportation of their Jewish citizens by the Nazis has become a way of life.

Hanneke Baker trades in black market goods with the rich citizens of Amsterdam. Having been dealt a rough blow at the start of the occupation she taught herself to hide her emotions, deal only in cash and have “survival first” as her motto. One of her customers, Mrs. Janssen, had been hiding Mirjam, a young Jewish girl, for a month when Mirjam suddenly disappeared. With nowhere turn Mrs. Janssen offered Hanneke money to locate Mirjam. The only clue she had was Mirjam had been wearing a blue coat and had been reading a Resistance magazine. Intrigued that Mirjam seemed to have disappeared without a trace, Hanneke decided to accept the money.

While seeking clues to Mirjam’s whereabouts Hanneke learned about the work of the Resistance, and began to finally put real faces and feelings onto the thousands of Jews being deported. Despite the circumstances Hanneke holds out hope, but finds herself racing against time hoping to find Mirjam before it’s too late.

“The Girl in the Blue Coat” will keeps readers turning pages until its final, unexpected ending.

I graciously received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Playing with Fire” Tess Gerritsen

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. To be published October 27, 2015. Ballantine (Random). Includes Historical Notes.

PlayingWithFireNetgalley provided me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Told in two points of view, readers are first introduced to Julia Andsdell, a violin player married to Rob, and mother to 3-year-old Lily. Her life was perfectly ordinary until she brought home a book of music from an antiques dealer in Venice containing a complicated piece of music titled “Incendio.” One day while caught up playing it she was shocked to discover her daughter had killed their cat. Julia soon realizes every time she plays “Incendio” Lily has another violent episode. It seems as if Lily wants her dead, but why? No one believes her, but Julia is sure the answer lies in “Incendio’s” origin. As she begins to ask questions about its composer, death and destruction arrive at her doorstep.

Interspersed in Julia’s story is that of Lorenzo Todesco, a violin prodigy growing up in 1938 Italy. Hitler had not yet advanced on the country but, within a short while, Lorenzo’s musical prospects had come to a halt. Separated forever from his family and the love of his life, Lorenzo has only his violin and music to keep him sane. However, they may not be enough.

I absolutely LOVED this book! It made me cry, but good books are meant to draw in the reader and make them experience the lives of its characters. Gerritsen succeeded on both counts. Her Historical Notes did much to set the book in its time and place.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“The Last Passenger” Manel Loureiro

Rated 5 stars ***** EBook. Published January 1, 2015 by AmazonCrossing (first published in 2013).

TheLastPassengerWhen reporter Kate Kilroy’s husband Robert is killed by a drunk driver, she feels like her own life has ended. To give her a new lease on life her editor suggests she take on an assignment researching the Valkyrie, a Nazi ghost ship discovered in 1939 with no one alive on board except for a baby, and which has lain untouched for 70 years. Within a short time she has met the eccentric millionaire, Isaac Feldman, who purchased the ship for millions of pounds and renovated it for some obscure purpose.

Eager to learn more for her story, Kate agrees to accompany Isaac and a group of scientists to recreate the Valkyrie’s last journey. Soon, strange things begin to happen and they begin to realize there is a malevolent spirit on board who wants to recreate what happened in 1939. With time running out, Kate will be called upon to reach deep into her soul for the strength to combat an evil determined to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

Each cliffhanger chapter ending of “The Last Passenger” drew me deeper and deeper into its mystery, keeping me glued to its pages until I reached its satisfying conclusion. It was a wonderful read.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“The Boston Girl” Anita Diamant

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. ARC. To be published December, 9, 2014 by Scribner. (Simon & Schuster.)

TheBostonGirlBorn in 1900 readers are introduced to feisty Addie Baum when she is 85 years old. At that time, her granddaughter asked her to explain how she got to be the woman she is today so Addie obliges and begins her interview with the year 1915. At that time, she lived on the North End of Boston with her Jewish immigrant parents and two older sisters.

Never able to please her mother, who always managed to find fault, Addie managed to stay sane through her love for reading, wanting to gain knowledge, the friends she made at weekly meetings of the Saturday Club, and the time she spent at the Rockport Lodge. Addie wanted to go to high school, but the times called for her to go to work to support the family.

As the years passed Addie shared her heartaches and fears, as well as the hopes and dreams she held for her future. Various female role models, who ignored the boundaries placed upon them by society, impressed upon her young mind the importance of achieving more than what was expected of females by society. All of her experiences combined to make Addie the woman she is today, and helped her raise a generation of females who had the freedom to make something of themselves that would lie outside the boundaries of what women could (or should) do.

Diamant’s well-researched, historical novel is a great read, and is highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Prisoner B-3087” Alan Gratz, Ruth Gruener, and Jack Gruener

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Scholastic Press. 260 pp. (Includes “Afterword”).

PrisonerB-3087In 1939 Krakow Poland, Yanek Gruener lived a good life with his parents in their small apartment on Krakusa Street. He was just 10 years old, and loved entertaining his aunts, uncles and cousins with made up stories from watching American movies. When the German army invaded Poland that year, his life changed forever.

Change began with small things such as being ostracized at school but, gradually, the changes got worse and worse. Soon, Yanek and his family were hiding out in a pigeon coop on the roof of their building to avoid night raids and beatings by the Nazis. They managed to stay together for 3 years, before Yanek lost his entire family and was sent to the first of 10 concentration camps.

In one of the camps Yanek was tattooed with the number B-3087 and, in chronological order, Gratz takes readers to all the places where Yanek was sent when he was just 13 years old. These camps included Plaszow (1942-1943), a barracks at the Wieliczka Salt Mine (1943-1944), Trzebina (1944), Birkenau (1944-1945) and Auschwitz (1945).

With the Allies approaching the Nazis forced their prisoners on two different death marches, which ultimately led Yanek to spend time at Sachsenhausen (1945), Bergen-Belsen (1945), Buchenwald (1945), Gross-Rosen (1945), and Dachau (1945). Along with his hopes and fears Yanek tells of the beatings, starvations and other horrors he endured in these camps and on the forced marches, while the goal of survival kept him alive.

“Prisoner B-3087” is based on Jack Gruener’s life, and is an important look into the dark past of World War II. We need to remember what happened during the Holocaust while never forgetting those who died, and those who survived.

Recommended for readers aged 12 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“From Holocaust to Harvard: A Story of Escape, Forgiveness and Freedom” John G. Stoessinger

Rated 4 stars **** ebook. ARC. To be published September 2, 2014. Skyhorse Publishing.

FromHolocaustToHarvardIn 1938, when John was 10 years old, he witnessed Hitler’s triumphal procession into Austria. With the introduction of the Hitler Youth, his life at school became miserable because he was Jewish. His father had disappeared long ago, and he hardly saw his mother so it was with great joy he received the news they’d be moving to Prague to stay with his grandparents to get away from Hitler’s new rules against the Jewish people.

Unfortunately Hitler, his army and rules followed them to Prague so, in desperation, his mother married a man who hated her son but who promised to save them from Hitler. Through the help of sympathetic men in positions of power and their life savings, the three of them were given visas to Shanghai China where John spent his formative years.

After the war John’s dream of going to school in America came true when several Americans arranged for him to get a scholarship to a college in Iowa. In America he flourished and, eventually went on to get his doctorate at Harvard, worked for the U.N., and met many famous political figures. Though he struggled with relationships, intimacy and trust, John managed to make a difference in the lives of many whom he touched.

“From Holocaust to Harvard” explores the theme of true evil and good people who were willing to take a stand to follow their conscience and work against Hitler’s regime. John is just one of many thousands who survived Hitler and found success in America, showing how immigrants are the foundation of our great nation.

Recommended for Adult readers.