“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 kept” James Scott

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. HarperCollins. 354 p. (Includes “Insights, Interviews & more.”)

The KeptIt’s Elspeth and her twelve-year-old son Caleb against the world of 1897 after three men killed her four children and husband when she was away from home. Only Caleb survived so, bonded by revenge, the two of them struggle through the wilderness seeking the nearest town. There Caleb gets involved with the local gangsters while Elspeth tries to survive the guilt she feels, knowing she was the reason her family was killed. Both she and Caleb have to control their demons if either expects to reach closure.

I was not a fan. The book meandered too much, and many questions weren’t answered. What was Elspeth and Jorah’s relationship in the beginning? Why did her father beat her so terribly if all she said was hello? I especially did NOT like the ending because, after taking readers through a convoluted path to get where Caleb and Elspeth finally arrived, why end the book so openly? These were just a few of my disagreements with “The kept.”

So, though I didn’t like it, I will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“The burning” Laura Bates

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published April 7, 2020. 352 p. (Includes “Author’s note,” and “Discussion questions and Conversation starters.”)

The burningAfter the death of her father, in the middle of the school year, Anna and her mom moved to a 400 year-old house in Scotland to start a new life, where she fervently hopes her old life will recede into the past. After spending time blending in at school she meets new friends, and gets involved in researching a history project about Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft in the 1600’s. She finds a silver necklace in her attic and starts to dream Maggie’s memories, learning things about her that aren’t in research books. At first she’s frightened because of the realistic scenes, but soon realizes Maggie’s story has to be told.

While learning more about Maggie fills her free time, the new life she’d started for herself at school starts to unravel when the real reason she left England in the middle of the school year becomes known. Soon constant sexual harassment and cyberbullyingthreaten to put her over the edge. When she learns to draw on her own strength, and that of other strong women like Maggie, Anna is finally able to accept herself, to speak truth about herself, and to know it to be so.

This book was powerful, and had me hooked from the very beginning. At times  teachers not caring to respond to situations right in front of them aggravated me. When that happened I had to put the book down and walk away in frustration, reminding myself that there are good ones mixed with the bad.

“The burning” is the #metoo movement and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout” rolled into one. I believe all teenagers (male and female) and all adults should have this on their “must read” shelves. It would make an excellent book club book to openly discuss sexual harassment and the effects of cyberbullying. A copy should be in every public and high school library.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

 

“I belong to Vienna: A Jewish family’s story of exile and return” Anna Goldenberg

Rated 3 stars *** Translated from German by Alta L. Price. ARC. ebook. New Vessel Press. To be published June 9, 2020. Includes Period photographs and “Archival sources and references.”

I belong to ViennaIn 2012 Anna Goldenberg moved to New York to attend graduate school and, while there, felt out of place among American Jews for being an Austrian Jew.  As time passed she missed her Viennese family so much she became interested in her family history. Through relatives who had immigrated to New York, Anna pieced together stories about her great-grandparents and grandparents. As she dove into old family letters and did research, she uncovered information about what it was like for them during the Holocaust, and what they had endured during the Nazi occupation of Austria. As Anna uncovers their stories, and their love for Austria, she uncovers her own mixed feelings about her homeland.

I understand and admire Anna’s need to piece together her family’s past so she could honor them through her future. However I felt the many transitions from memories to the present and back again gave the book a disjointed feeling.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a digital 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 bridge home” Padma Venkatraman

Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)

TheBridgeHomeEleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.

With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.

Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.

This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.

Recommended for ages 10-14.

“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.