“Journey’s end” Renee Ryan

Rated 2 stars ** 2016. Waterfall Press. 324 p.

Journey'sEndSet in 1901 New York, “Journey’s end” is the story of Caroline St. James, a young woman who grew up poor and hungry on the streets of London. After her mother died, Caroline gambled to get the money to come to America where she planned to confront her wealthy grandfather to find out why he allowed her mother to die in poverty. Her plan takes on a different twist when she meets Jackson Montgomery, a very handsome man who also seems to be hiding something from his past.

I was annoyed at the number of ways the author found to call Jackson “masculine,” as well as the constant references to him as “the man.” The way Caroline responded to him, one would have thought that men existed just so all women could feel happy and secure. I also felt the constant references to sundry Bible verses didn’t belong in the storyline because, from the beginning, Caroline admitted to not having any interest in God. All of a sudden she becomes religious, seeking wisdom from above for every move. It doesn’t feel believable.

The book ended abruptly without revealing why Lucian had left town unexpectedly, why Sally left her past employer, and why Elizabeth and Lucian seemed to be interested in each other. Is a sequel planned? I hope not, because I won’t be reading it.

I wasn’t a fan, but will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

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“Tangled webs” Lee Bross

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Hyperion. 298 p.

TangledWebsForced to work for Bones at the age of 5, an evil thief who forced children to steal for him, Arista and her best friend Nic grew up on the seedy streets of 1700’s London picking pockets and struggling to stay alive. Twelve years later, Arista has become Lady A – blackmailer of London high society. She and Nic roam masked balls trading secrets for money, which they hand over to Bones.

Trying to escape Bones’ evil clutches Arista decides to work for Wild, a more powerful thief, with promises that she will be able to live out her dream of moving to India and living a normal life with her best friend Becky. When she meets Grae, the handsome son of a ship merchant, she feels as if her dreams for normalcy are finally coming true. However, Wild has no intention of ever letting her go. Will love be enough to help Arista escape the plans Wild has for her, or will she be forced to forever be a thief?

Some of the exploits of the real life Jonathan Wild are explored, and the early life led by Nic and Arista is very similar to that of Fagin’s boys in Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” If you want a quick, light read, a sort-of love triangle, and a boy/girl romance that develops within 2 minutes, then “Tangled webs” is the book for you.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Belle epoque” Elizabeth Ross

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BelleEpoqueUnwilling to submit to an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man, sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon runs away from her small, seaside village. Adrift in the large city of Paris and with her limited money running out, she seeks work at the Durandeau Agency where she reluctantly becomes a repoussoir – a person who is so ugly she repels others to makes her client look beautiful.

The Agency is filled with poor women and girls who have no money, but who Durandeau deems ugly enough to earn him a few francs. Maude becomes the repoussoir for Isabelle, a Countess’ rich daughter she plans to marry off during her upcoming debutante season. The only catch to her job is Maude must gain Isabelle’s confidence and report back to the Countess, but not let Isabelle know her true role. As months go by and the Countess transforms Maude’s life, she finds herself drifting into fantasies where she has become the debutante and finds herself a rich husband.

As she begins to befriend Isabelle, she looks down on her former life and friends at the Agency in favor of a new, imagined life with the Countess. However, the more time she spends with them, the more she will have to come to terms with her true self and decide if the rich life is really where she’s meant to be.

I enjoyed reading “Belle Epoque,” and learning about life in 1800’s France. Though based on a fictional story about repoussoirs written in 1866, it’s a shame that we still judge others by appearances rather than by what they offer society.

Recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Every falling star: The true story of how I survived and escaped North Korea” Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Abrams. 316 p. (Includes Glossary as well as a list of Places and proper names.)

everyfallingstarSungju lived with his father and mother in a fine apartment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. His father held a high office in the army and, as devout followers of esteemed leader Kim Il-sung, Sungju and his parents had a happy, easy life. Expected to follow in his father’s footsteps, Sungju went to a very good school and studied tae kwon do with other future leaders of the military.

In 1997, his father was kicked out of the army for unknown reasons. Forced to move to the slums of the town of Gyeong-Seong, life rapidly deteriorated. With hunger as their constant enemy, his father, soon followed by his mother, left in search of food. At the age of twelve, Sungju was left to fend for himself.

In his own words, Sungju tells how he learned to survive on the streets of various cities for four years with his gang of street “brothers,” despite starvation, beatings, and imprisonment. The story of their friendship and love, along with Sungju’s musings on governmental policy, hope, and Korean legends are woven together to create a powerful story of survival that will tug at reader’s heartstrings.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Possibility of Somewhere” Julia Day

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. St. Martin’s Press. 308 pp.

thepossibilityofsomewhereEden has had to work three days a week to help her father and stepmom make ends meet after her dad was laid off, while still managing to keep a 4.0 average in school. Despite her stellar school record, her classmates keep her at a distance because she lives in a trailer. Knowing they see her as trailer trash, Eden created a prickly armor of self-defense focusing all her energies on getting nominated for a prestigious scholarship that could offer her a full ride to college.

As if trying to get good grades and working didn’t carry enough stress Eden finds out that Ash Gupta, an Indian student and fellow overachiever, is also seeking the same scholarship. Resenting his interference, knowing he has rich parents, Eden sets herself against him to do battle but soon finds herself drawn towards him in a way that surprises everyone. Within a short time their racial differences threaten to tear them and their racially divided town apart.

I really enjoyed this book, and saw it as a modern day “Romeo and Juliet.” My heart ached for Eden and her dead end life, knowing she is representative of thousands who find themselves in the same circumstances. Their story of romance is told in a poignant and eye opening manner, which should cause teens to question their own thinking towards interracial relationships.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

 

“Piecing Me Together” Renee Watson

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Bloomsbury. 260 p. To be published February 14, 2017.

piecingmetogetherJade is starting her junior year at a very exclusive high school located on the other side of her neighborhood. She did not want to leave her old school or friends, but accepted a scholarship because she wanted to learn Spanish and travel with their study abroad program.

As one of a handful of black students at the school, Jade finds that because she is black and poor she is expected to act, speak and think a certain way. She is even expected to participate in a mentorship program offered only to African American girls, causing her to feel that her classmates and teachers disregard her, and are unable to understand why their expectations are hurtful. Prejudices and stereotypes at school as well as in the news cause Jade to create beautiful artistic collages from her self-examinations, as she reflects upon the state of the world for herself and other blacks.

Watson’s thoughtful observations about a young girl finding her voice, while telling her story about what it means to be black, will be an eye opener to many who don’t understand white privilege. I especially loved her poem “Things that are Black and Beautiful” on page 136. I can’t quote it here, because this is an ARC and the author/publisher might choose to change it for the final version of the book, but it is lovely. The beautiful cover art is also striking, while the title of the book excellently conveys Jade’s talent and her actions as she seeks to express herself.

I predict “Piecing Me Together” will win the Coretta Scott King Book Award at the American Library Association’s annual Youth Media Awards, as well as a few other book awards.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Cresswell Plot” Eliza Wass

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. To be published June 7, 2016. Disney-Hyperion.

TheCresswellPlotCastley Cresswell and her 5 brothers and sisters live with their father and invalid mother in a rundown shack in the middle of the woods. Their father is convinced he is a prophet of God, and that his children need to marry each other because they are the only ones who will make it to heaven. Everyone has spent their lives praying, reading Father’s religious writings, shunning everything from “the outside,” and allowing him to punish them in ways that redeem their souls.

Now a junior, Castley is looking forward to taking Advanced Drama with her sister which is a release from her life. When their schedules clash her teacher partners her with George, a local boy. Knowing Father has expressly forbidden her to be with boys, Castley decides to overlook the rule so she can enjoy class.

Over time Castley begins to enjoy normalcy, as George helps her see she could be more than a Cresswell. She begins to question her life, but her brothers and sisters believe she is the devil. They don’t want to leave their Father’s grip, even when he announces they have to go to Heaven. With time running out Castley will have to put on the biggest performance of her life to save her family from the man she once loved.

“The Cresswell Plot” is an interesting read, but started out very slowly. It took me a little while to get “into it” but, when I did, it sucked me in.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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