“The girl with all the gifts” M.R. Carey

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Orbit (Hatchette). 431 p. (Includes “Interview [with the author],” “Reading group guide,” and a chapter from an upcoming book.)

The girl with all the giftsA strange type of spore has invaded the world, changing most of the population into zombies. Mindless “hungries” are left to wander the ruined land seeking blood. There are just a few pockets of normal civilizations, who shut themselves behind barricaded walls guarded by soldiers. Ten-year-old Melanie has grown up in such a place with other children, strapped into wheelchairs by soldiers for school, and kept in cells at all other times. Her mind is eager for knowledge, and she longs for the times when Miss Justineau, her favorite teacher, visits the classroom.

After hungries attack her secure area, Melanie, Miss Justineau, an evil doctor and two soldiers are left to make their way South towards one of the only remaining civilizations left in Great Britain knowing that hungries lie in wait on every crumbled street in every forsaken city. It is the ingenuity of little Melanie, and the love she has for her teacher, which powers the book towards its inevitable ending. I wasn’t a fan of that ending, but it seemed to make the most sense given everything else that happened in the book.

At first I was bored, and couldn’t get into the book. It wasn’t until the hungries invaded that I became more invested. Though it had a slow start it raised a lot of thinking about what happens when an Apocalypse occurs, but it also left quite a few unanswered questions. The Q & A with the author at the end was very enlightening.

I recommend this book for Adults.

“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.

“The Nickel Boys” Colson Whitehead

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2019. 210 p.

The Nickel BoysElwood Curtis lived in segregated Tallahassee Florida with his grandmother. He was studious, obedient, and a deep thinker with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. resounding in his head. In 1963, when he was a high school senior, his love for learning made him a candidate for free college classes. On his first day he had to hitchhike, and the car he rode in turned out to be stolen. Elwood’s innocence didn’t mean anything to the arresting officer, and he was sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.

The segregated prison presented itself as a comfortable looking place, but hid a long, twisted history of student beatings, sexual abuse, starvation, and murder. With a cruel, sadistic staff it wasn’t long before Elwood was beaten so badly it took the doctor 2 hours with tweezers to remove pants fibers from his legs. Though he eventually recuperated, his soul was broken.

How could Dr. King expect him to love the people who daily tortured him and his fellow captives? Would they all be rescued if he wrote down what he knew of the school’s inner wrongdoings and gave it to state inspectors? Would there finally be justice for the boys of the Nickel Academy? Could he survive his time there?

Whitehead uses events from a real Florida reform school to supplement Elwood’s story, leaving readers fully engaged. It’s hard to believe this evil school, with its atrocities, was allowed to operate for so many years without state interference. After reading Elwood’s partly fictional story I was inspired to find out more information about the school on which this book was based. Colson inspired me, so my next book will be “The Dozier school for boys: Forensics, survivors and a painful past” by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD. Stay tuned to this blog for its review.

I highly recommend “The Nickel Boys” for mature teens, ages 16-18, and for Adult readers.

 

“I’ll never tell” by Abigail Haas

Rated 5 stars ***** Simon Pulse. 2019.

I'll never tellAnna hated the rich prep school her father forced her to transfer to in the middle of her junior year. Now that they were rich, he knew any friends she made there could become future clients, so her protests fell on deaf ears. Her time there was every bit as bad as she knew it would be until she met Elise.

Elise was a force of nature, sexily smiling her way into getting free drinks from college boys, while drinking and partying as if there were no tomorrow. She and Anna hit it off from the very beginning, becoming closer than sisters. They spent all their time together, and had their futures all planned out, until the trip they took to Aruba with their friends changed everything forever. There Elise was violently murdered, with suspicion falling solely upon Anna.

As months pass in jail, evidence is piling up against her. The Prosecutor is intent on finding her guilty, and time is ticking away. Anna faces 20 years in prison, but can she prove her innocence or will she spend most of her life imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit?

Through flashbacks and the present time, readers spend time with Anna and Elise, as we learn the lurid details of their relationship and try to figure out who killed Elise. When the truth was finally revealed, I was SHOCKED! I won’t tell you what happened at the end, as you’ll have to read it for yourself, but I KNOW you’ll be shocked too. Kudos to the author for keeping it a secret for so long.

Recommended for ages 15 and older.

 

“Darling Rose Gold” by Stephanie Wrobel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published March 17, 2020. Berkley (Penguin Random House).

Darling Rose GoldRose Gold had been a sickly child. Patty, her mother, took very, very good care of her. She made sure to get her to all the best doctors, and sacrificed her whole life to make sure Rose Gold had the best care. After almost 18 years of severe illnesses, her online boyfriend helped her realize Patty had been poisoning her over the years. With her mother in prison for 5 years, Rose Gold struggled to find a purpose for her life. Everyone saw her as a victim, but she wanted to be something more in their eyes.

When Patty was released from prison she had nowhere to turn, so Rose Gold made herself available. She needed to make sure her dear mother knows how much she loves and trusts her, because Rose Gold has a plan. It might not seem like anyone understands why she wants to be with the woman who ruined her life, but hadn’t she learned how to lie from the greatest liar in the world?

In alternate voices Patty and Rose Gold tell their complicated stories of revenge, love and hate going from past to present to fill in the missing gaps in the story. The author had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to suss out who was lying, who was telling the truth, and who was planning what to whom. I’ll have to admit she totally blindsided me, as I never saw Rose Gold’s plan coming AT ALL!

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Big lies in a small town” by Diane Chamberlain

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published Jan. 14, 2020. St. Martin’s Press.

Big lies in a small townIn 1939 twenty-two year old Anna Dale was excited to have been chosen by the government to paint a post office mural in the little town of Edenton, North Carolina. When she moved there from New Jersey she was excited to learn more about the town, but soon learned not everyone was happy she’d gotten the job. She took on three teens to help her, but Southern tradition soon began to raise its ugly head. Young Jesse Williams was amazingly gifted, and Anna knew if he went to art school he could set the art world on fire. She was happy to mentor him while he helped her, but townspeople were spreading rumors because she was working with a colored teen.

In 2018, Morgan Christopher had been in jail for a year. She was surprised to get a visit from the daughter and lawyer of the famous artist Jesse Williams, telling her his will stipulated she must restore a Depression-era mural within two months. Desperate to get out of jail, she agreed to the strange transaction. As she began to work on cleaning the mural, Morgan began to discover strange things, leaving her to wonder if Anna Dale, the mysterious artist, had become insane.

Chamberlain seamlessly wove through time in alternate chapters, as she told Morgan and Anna’s stories. As more and more of the mural’s clues were revealed, what had been happening while she painted was described through Anna’s point of view. This chilling story of betrayal, murder, vindication and hope will keep readers turning pages until its very satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“How quickly she disappears” by Raymond Fleischmann

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. To be published January 14, 2020. Berkley (Penguin Random House)

How quickly she disappearsIn 1921 Elizabeth’s twin sister Jacqueline disappeared without a trace when they were just eleven years old. Twenty years later Elizabeth lives with her husband and daughter in a small Alaskan town, still believing her sister is alive. When a stranger flew his bush plane in to deliver the mail he introduced himself as Alfred Seidel, a fellow German. He invited himself over to stay in her house, and Elizabeth felt obligated to take him in.

Alfred insisted he needed to stay in town longer to do repairs on his plane but, instead, killed a local Indian who was Elizabeth’s best friend. After being captured he insisted on speaking only to Elizabeth. When he told her he was involved in her sister’s disappearance she’s sure he’d lead her to Jacqueline – even though he claimed he would only give her a little bit of information at a time

As their relationship grows more intense, and in between flashbacks of growing up with Jacqueline, Elizabeth reveals her fascination and hatred for Alfred. He insisted she must complete three favors for information about her sister but, desperate to do whatever he wants, Elizabeth doesn’t know Alfred has many more secrets he’s not revealing.

The suspense kept me eagerly turning pages to find out what happens, but I was not happy with the ending. I thought it should have had loose ends tied up, instead of leaving everything to the reader’s imaginations, so I gave it 4 stars instead of 5.

Recommended for Adults.

 

“Bonnie and Clyde: The making of a legend” by Karen Blumenthal 5 stars ***

Blumenthal pulls out all the stops in this stirring, factual, and extremely well researched, story of the rise and fall of Bonnie and Clyde. These well know outlaws are carefully tracked as the details of their crime sprees and murders from the Depression era to their own dramatic deaths in 1934 are laid forth in full detail for readers.

Bonnie and Clyde

Period photographs, quotes, descriptions of the poverty brought on by the Great Depression, newspaper articles, eyewitness accounts, family points of views, the unjust prison systems of the day, their love for each other, and Bonnie’s own words are just some of the ways used to explain why a young couple like Bonnie and Clyde chose a crime ridden life on the road.

Includes extensive back matter for further research.

Mature high schoolers and adult readers interested in learning more about Bonnie and Clyde set in their time and place will find this book to be very satisfying.

Highly recommented.

“Holding smoke” Elle Cosimano

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Hyperion. 322 p. (Includes Author’s Note.)

HoldingSmokeWhile going to school, John “Smoke” Conlan worked hard to pay bills his meth addicted father left unpaid. When his father attacked him with a wrench in a drug influenced rage, he floated above his dead, battered body before returning to life after 6 minutes. While recuperating in the hospital he realized his spirit could leave his body at will. Soon after, John is accused of brutally killing his favorite teacher as well as a student who witnessed the crime. He knows a hooded man killed her, and that he killed in self-defense, but is unable to tell the court that he had been floating outside of his body when the murder occurred.

Convicted and sentenced to a juvenile prison filled with dangerous young offenders, Smoke leaves his body behind to ghostly wander the city and fulfill requests from fellow inmates. With each trip the threads that hold him to his body get thinner, but he doesn’t care as he’s ready to leave his scarred life behind. On one trip he meets Pink a tough young waitress who, unlike others, can actually see him. He soon realizes someone wants them both dead and, with time running out, will have to find the strength to hang on to make sure they both survive.

Smoke and Pink remind me of Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg in the 1990 movie “Ghost.” Cosimano’s very believable characters, which stem from life as the daughter of a Warden and research, combine to open eyes to what goes on in many juvenile detention facilities across the country.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“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.