“Step up to the plate” Maria Singh

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Tu Books. (Lee & Low). 276 p.

StepUpToThePlateIt was 1945 and, with World War II going on, all nine-year-old Maria wanted to do was play baseball. Her aunt built planes and women were starting to play professional ball so, when her teacher started an all-girls team at her school, Maria was thrilled. Unfortunately her Mexican mother and Indian father had old-fashioned ideas about what girls could do, so she knew it would be hard to convince them to let her play.

As she learns about teamwork and baseball, Maria also starts to learn about prejudice and racism when her little brother is beat up for being different and a German classmate lashes out at her. When she finds out her father can’t become a U.S. citizen or own the land he’d worked for years, through the confidence earned from playing the game she loved, Maria learns to speak up and make a difference in her world.

This book is an important introduction to the inequalities and discrimination faced by specific immigrant groups, many of which still go on today. Readers are also given insight into the world of adha-adha “half and half,” (Mexican-Hindu families) which also serves to educate. It should be in every elementary and middle school library, and would make for excellent discussions as part of a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

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

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“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.

 

“That darkness (Gardiner & Renner #1” Lisa Black

Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Kensington Books. 308 p.

ThatDarknessMaggie Gardiner, forensic expert, has been called to help solve various crimes in the streets of Cleveland. As the cases of dead criminals mount, her forensic work helps her detect certain patterns in how and where they were killed. Soon she concludes that someone, possibly a police officer, is deliberately killing bad guys. As Maggie begins to get closer to the truth she doesn’t know that the killer is ready to make sure her hunches don’t develop into anything more substantial. After all, isn’t he doing a good thing by helping society?

The voices of Maggie and the killer are alternated to help readers learn about the role forensic scientists play in crimes and to view the mind of a vigilante. The question that resounds throughout “is it wrong to kill if the person you kill is a criminal?” will keep readers talking (and thinking) long after the last page is turned.

Recommended for Adults.

“Bottomland: A novel based on the murder of Rosa Mary Dean in Franklin, Tennessee” Trey Holt

Rated 1 star * Ebook. 2015. Amazon Digital Services.

BottomlandIt took me forever to read this book because it was boring and confusing. The author jumps from the 1950’s to the 1940’s, goes into the future, then reverses back to the past to do it all over again. I wasn’t sure who was coming or going, and had to reread portions to figure out what had just happened.

Though it’s supposed to be a true story of a small town murder, the author spent more time waxing poetic about the main character, his uncle, friends, sister, girlfriend and father than he did about the murdered woman.

I’m so glad I didn’t spend any money for this book. Though I didn’t like it I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not. I wish I hadn’t.

“How it ends” Catherine Lo

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. ARC. 2016. HMH Books for Young Readers.

HowItEnds

Now 15, Jessie has been bullied since 7th grade by her former best friends. They have helped convince her that she’s a loser and will forever remain friendless. Her mother constantly gets on her case about her anxiety attacks, while she keeps all her feelings bottled up inside herself. When Annie befriends her Jessie can’t understand why a popular girl, who has her act all together, would want to be friends.

Annie was popular in her former school, and is not looking forward to being in a much smaller school. Her mother died when she was young, and her father married an evil stepmother. With her home life in turmoil she is thrilled to hang out with Jessie and her wonderful mom. She is sure Jessie is confident and the kind of girl she wants to be. Together the girls conquer the world, until they allow the influence of others to ruin their friendship.

In alternating voices, Jessie and Annie tell their stories. On their tumultuous ride from besties to enemies and back again, both ultimately learn the value of honesty and true friendship.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“The grand masquerade: Bold women of the 19th century #1” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2014. Lillis and James. (Includes Author’s Note.)

TheGrandMasqueradeFourteen-year-old Sydnee Sauveterre lived with her father Victor and his slave Margarite in a broken down cabin on the Natchez Trace. Customers stopped by his tavern for a drink, fortunetelling, and Sydnee, who her father forced to comply. She had a gift when it came to animals, and had been taught Hoodoo from Margarite. Valued only for the money they earned Victor, they scraped out their existence on the lonely Trace.

After their deaths Sydnee walked for weeks searching for a new beginning, and was hired to work in New Orleans for a wealthy man’s 16-year-old son. Instead, she and Tristan became the best of friends. He introduced her to his neighbor Isabel, who became her first female friend, and a stable worker Mortimer. Soon the four were inseparable.

As the years passed Madame Sauveterre matured into a lovely young woman, and Tristan made sure she had a place in high society. The four friends continued their deep bond of friendship, made ever closer due to secrets they all shared. In time this deception will lead to them making decisions that will change the courses of their lives.

I enjoyed reading about the friends and their grand masquerade, even though Sydnee’s rise from poverty, and Isabel’s deep secret seemed a bit far-fetched to me. Though labeled as #1 in Hughes’ new series, “Grand Masquerade” is a standalone book.

Recommended for Adult readers who like a bit of history and romance in their stories.

“Harbored secrets: A psychological mystery” Marie F. Martin

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 4D Publishing. 2013.

HarboredSecretsThe Montana prairie had always held a fascination for Blinny Platt. She’d worked almost her whole life on her father’s ranch, as the farm was part of her soul. After buying land several miles away in 1982 Blinny began building her own home, where she soon found herself engrossed in memories that had taken place in 1935 when she was 8 years old. At that time her baby brother was killed in a house fire, causing her mother to die of grief. Shortly thereafter, her father sent her and her 3-year-old sister Odette away to live with uncles she’d never met.

After 5 years he remarried and sent for them, but their relationship had suffered irreparable harm. Over the ensuing years Blinny blamed him for her mother’s death, and herself for causing the fire, wondering why he wasn’t there when she needed him. As Odette got older, she turned spiteful and rebellious, blaming Blinny for all of her issues. As the sisters try to piece together their pasts they find that hidden secrets, though painful, will finally set them free.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, this tragic story of loss and betrayal will leave readers aching. Secrets revealed threaten to crush, but the sisters prove to be survivors. Though Blinny’s memories seem to be awkwardly added into the narrative as she builds her new home, the story she tells helps readers forgive the occasional stiffness of the author’s transitions.

Recommended for Adults.