“Until proven innocent” by Laura Stewart Schmidt

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. ARC. Published October 18, 2018. Black Rose Writing.

Until proven innocentAlison loves her grandfather, but hates that Grandma put him in a nursing home.  When she visits him there, he mentioned something about a tragedy involving Grandma and a neighbor named Henry Spriggs who disappeared 50 years ago. Alison is intrigued. She loves mysteries, and is sure she can figure out what happened to Mr. Spriggs and clear her grandmother’s name.

The tragedy with the Spriggs family happened around the same time as the great flood of 1965, so Alison turns to old newspapers and residents at the nursing home for clues. With the help of her little brothers, Alison sneaks into the old Spriggs house. It’s soon to be demolished, and she’s looking for clues to help her investigation, so when she finds old letters from Henry to his sister mentioning someone named Cory who was stalking him, she is sure the mystery is almost solved. With time running out Alison starts to piece together information that appears to lead to Henry. What she doesn’t know is that someone else has been doing their own investigations, and they have no intention of having her find Henry.

I enjoyed the mystery and suspense of the story, even though it was pretty far fetched that a fifteen-year-old could solve a 50-year-old mystery, but I definitely did not enjoy the ending. It was like the ending of “It’s a wonderful life,” when Mr. Potter did not get what was coming to him.

I will recommend it for ages 13 and older, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Those who save us” by Jenna Blum

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2004. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Those who save usIt is 1939 in the little German town of Weimar. Though Aryans are forbidden by law to associate with Jews, 19-year-old Anna has fallen in love with Doktor Max. When he’s on the run from the Gestapo, she hides him in her home and they have an affair. They are planning to escape to Switzerland, but her father finds him and hands him over to the authorities. They sent him to Buchenwald. By now Anna is four months pregnant, so leaves home and flees to Mathilde, a local Resistance baker. She assists Mathilde in baking but in also sneaking food to the Buchenwald prisoners and smuggling messages from them to the Allies. The years pass while she raises her daughter Trudy, hoping to get news of Max.

It is 1996 in Minneapolis, where Trudy had grown up with her adopted father and mother. As a professor of German history, she has never understood why Anna has spent years not talking about her life during the War, nor about her connection to an SS officer who Trudy believes to be her father because she’d found an old photograph of the three of them. Trudy decides to conduct interviews with local Germans who’d survived the war, hoping to find answers to her questions. In time she finds out her mother’s story is one of desperation, secrets, betrayals and lies, as well as guilt and fear. However everything she did was for her daughter’s survival. This is Anna’s story.

Most World War II stories center on the Jewish people and how they were treated in the Holocaust, but I believe it’s also important to reveal, in detail, the roles played by ordinary German citizens in this terrible chapter of their history. There were evil Germans who were true Nazis, but there were also good German citizens who tried to help the Jewish people. Though there weren’t enough of them to make a difference, some did make a difference. Blum’s story is about someone who made a difference.

Highly recommended for Adults.


“Stranded” Melinda Braun

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. ARC. 2015. Simon Pulse.

StrandedEmma is a champion swimmer, but that didn’t help when her car flipped into a body of water trapping herself and her younger sister Lucy. Unable to deal with her guilt at not saving Lucy’s life, Emma has given up on her own life, going through each day like a zombie.

Hoping to avoid the upcoming anniversary of Lucy’s death, Emma signs up to join a weeklong remote wilderness camp for teens. After a freak of nature kills three of the group, Emma finds herself as one of a group of four struggling to find their way in a vast forest with only a few supplies and a little water. They need to work together but, with each passing day, the threat of wolves and an impending snowstorm, along with infighting, distrust, hunger, and thirst begin to wear them down. With the hope of rescue becoming slimmer each passing day, Emma finds an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

“Stranded” ranks right up with Gary Paulsen’s classic book “Hatchet.” Readers will not only learn important wilderness survival skills, but will also learn what “survival” really means.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Sex & Violence” Carrie Mesrobian

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner Publishing). 294 pp. Finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2014 Morris Award.

Sex&ViolenceSeventeen-year-old Evan has been dragged all over the country by his father’s jobs. He uses his New Kid status to scout out girls who’ll Say Yes with the least amount of trouble, knowing he’ll soon be gone and won’t have to form any attachments. While at a boarding school in North Carolina Evan meets Collette, a beautiful girl on the track team. They begin a secret relationship that is ruined when Tate and Patrick, two jealous classmates, viciously assault him.

His father decides to move them to his old family home on a lake in Minnesota, to help Evan heal. Evan begins to see a psychiatrist to work through his issues and, on her advice, begins writing letters to express himself addressing them to Collette, who we soon find out had also been assaulted.

As Evan learns to work through his trauma and sexual issues, he begins calling himself “Dirtbag Evan” as he remembers the many one-night stands of his life and fluctuates between his old persona and trying on a new one with a group of friendly teens who take him under their wings. In “Sex & Violence,” readers gain insight into the mind of a young man trying his best to unlearn his violent sexual past and reinvent a calmer future.

I was disappointed that the boys who assaulted him and Collette did not get their “due,” as readers were left with a nebulous court date and no closure on the crime. It was also a bit discomfiting to see “you’re” for “your” and “they’re” for “their” several times in a book that was not an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy). If the book gets a second edition run it would be nice to see these misspellings corrected as well as a chapter or two describing a trial that would send Tate and Patrick to jail for an indeterminate amount of time for their crimes.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

“Bridge (The Alternative)” Patrick Jones

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. To be published September 1, 2014. Darby Creek (Lerner Publishing). Includes Spanish to English glossary and Author’s Note.

BridgeAll eighteen-year-old Jose wanted to do was graduate high school and go to college but, at his alternative high school, these simple goals have eluded him for five years. His parents are undocumented immigrants who don’t know English, his mom works two jobs, and his dad had worked 10-hour days until he fell off a roof due to a negligent foreman and suffered brain damage. With his father unable to work, Jose works two jobs to make ends meet. In addition, as the only English speaker in the household, he is often called upon to translate for them which makes him miss school.

Falling asleep in class from working nights, missing school due to family translation appointments, staying home to take care of his Aunt’s kids, while dropping out several times to work full-time have kept Jose from his graduation and college goals. He works hard to keep family issues from interfering with school work, but each day’s problems seems to make his goals more impossible to reach.

Luckily he has understanding teachers, but even they are beginning to get frustrated. They know he is hiding something, as he never quite answers their pointed questions about his life, but Jose can never let them know about the secret he’s carried for 10 years. This secret is his reason for working hard, but the guilt is weighing on him each year that he remains silent.

Can Jose, an American citizen born to undocumented, non-English speaking parents break out of the cycle of poverty? Will he finally confess the guilt that has eaten at him for 10 years and be able to move on with his life? Patrick Jones’ no-holds barred story of a young boy and his inner motivation to rise above his circumstances when everything is conspiring to bring him down will keep readers turning pages to find out whether or not Jose will succeed.

Recommended for reluctant readers, especially boys, aged 14 and older.

“Steering toward Normal” Rebecca Petruck

Rated 3 stars *** To be published May 13, 2014. ARC. Amulet Books.

SteeringTowardNormalDiggy was left on his father’s doorstep when he was born, then his mom left town on a tractor. Over the years, he has managed to hide the hurt of being abandoned (and many tractor jokes) while establishing a great relationship with his dad who everyone calls Pops. Diggy and Pops prank each other with tricks and jokes in preparation for their yearly April Fool’s Day assaults, and enjoy their time together.

As a member of 4-H he takes pride in training steers and competing with them at various county fairs, pretending his sudden interest in steers and 4-H had nothing to do with the beautiful (but older) July Johnston. Now that July has moved on to a greater leadership role in the organization, Diggy has been picked as her successor to win the purple ribbon and the $12,000 prize at the upcoming Minnesota State Fair with his steer, Joker, and he will do everything in his power to make her proud.

Everything is going great for Diggy until Wayne Graf gets dumped in his driveway by his drunken dad. Fourteen-year-old Wayne’s mom has just died so his father dumped him because he is angry that Pops is his real dad. Diggy is incensed to learn he has a half brother but soon gets even more upset when Wayne decides he wants to also compete against Diggy in the upcoming fair with a steer of his own. On top of that he insists Diggy should find his real mother who dumped him 13 years ago, starts looking up information about her without Diggy’s permission, starts hogging up Diggy’s personal time with Pops, and horns in on Diggy’s time with July.

With all of these issues piling up Diggy and Wayne quickly become enemies, trying to outdo the other and win the State Fair with their steers. What follows are hilarious pranks, fights, arguments and general mayhem as they set about learning what it really means to be brothers and what it means to be a family.

“Steering toward Normal” is a good read for boys, especially boys interested in learning about country life, how to train steers, and learning more about 4-H.

Recommended for ages 11-14.


“Frozen” Mary Casanova

Rated 5 stars ***** 2012. University of Minnesota Press. ebook. (Includes an Author’s Note, and a list of books for further reading).

FrozenSadie Rose hasn’t spoken a word for 11 years. When she was 5 years old she went out into the snow to look for her mother, and almost froze to death. With her mother dead, a rich Senator and his wife took her into their home.

It is now 1922 and she accidentally finds some photos of her mom hidden in a garage. Soon memories begin to trickle back and, with them, her voice returns. With the ability to speak once again, Sadie Rose feels a freedom she’s never felt. Her returning memories spur her on to find out what really happened to her mother but, the more she uncovers the more it seems someone wants the truth to stay hidden.

Set alongside the fledgling Women’s Rights Movement, Prohibition, and the new Environmentalist Movement, “Frozen” shows a young girl struggling to find her true voice in the midst of her own changing world. It is based on true events.

Recommended for ages 13-16.