“Bang” Barry Lyga

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published April 18, 2017. Little Brown. 295 p.

BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian has never forgotten that, when he was four years old, he accidentally shot and killed his four-month-old baby sister. Everyone knows he’s a murderer, and have judged him for it. His best friend’s parents look at him funny, people whisper behind his back, and his father walked out because of what he did. He and his mother can’t seem to talk about it, and part of him is glad they don’t.

Despite what his therapist has said, Sebastian knows it was entirely his fault, but has plans to make it right. When he’s gone his mother can be normal again, and everyone will be happy. He’s been planning this for awhile so, with his best friend away for the summer, the time is ripe – until he meets Aneesa.

Aneesa is a distraction, helping him become a YouTube cook, and allowing him to think of something other than his guilt. However, despite everything, Sebastian knows it’s only a matter of time before he answers the voice that’s always there to remind him he doesn’t deserve to be happy. He knows the voice speaks the truth.

Sebastian’s struggles, along with those of Aneesa, are heart rending and real. Both experience things no one should have to struggle through but which, unfortunately, occur and need to be discussed. This is Lyga at his most brilliant.

At the recent American Library Association (ALA) conference, I refused to pick up any ARC’s (Advance Reading Copies) because I had too many to plow through from past conferences. However the cover and summary caught my eye, and “Bang” became my only ARC from that conference. I’m so glad I picked it up because I could not put this book down. Neither will you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Watched” Marina Budhos

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. Wendy Lamb Books. (Random House.) 264 p.

watchedNaeem was 5 years old when his mother died and his father moved from Bangladesh to New York. He waited for his father to send for him, but it took another 6 years before he found himself on a plane to Queens, New York. There, he was reunited with his father and met his new little brother and stepmother.

He loved New York, spending years hanging out and roaming the streets instead of helping his parents in their little store. It’s now his senior year of high school and he expects to go to college, but is told he can’t graduate due to low grades. His future is staring at him bleakly until he gets arrested.

To avoid jail time he agreed to work undercover with cops, as they were sure terrorist attacks were being planned. They felt he could blend in and pick up information at mosques. Naeem thought by working with them he could prove Muslims were regular law-abiding citizens but, the deeper he got into play acting, the more he realized he enjoyed learning about his culture.

As time passed Naeem became more and more anxious. Who was he? Was he a traitor to his people, or was he helping them be seen in a better light? Would his work make the world a better place for his little brother, and for his parents, or would he incriminate innocent people?

“Watched” takes readers into the life of a Muslim family and into Muslim neighborhoods, describing an insider’s view of what it feels like to always be watched and judged by others. It will cause readers to think about their own prejudices and, perhaps, make them think twice before passing judgment on others.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Orhan’s Inheritance” Aline Ohanesian

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. 2015. Algonquin Books.

Orhan'sInheritanceForced to return to his tiny village in Turkey from the big city of Istanbul for the reading of the will after his beloved grandfather Kemal dies, Orhan is shocked when his ancestral home is left to a stranger named Seda. Knowing his father and aunt would be displaced if this happens, he is determined to travel to the United States and confront the mysterious woman named in the will.

Orhan finds 90 year old Seda living in an Armenian nursing home, stubbornly refusing to reveal her ties to Kemal. Through persistence and an invisible bond that seems to draw them together, Orhan slowly learns the painful secrets hidden in Kemal and Seda’s pasts which forever changed both of their lives.

Kemal and Seda’s hopes and dreams, often reminding me of the famous star crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet, is intermingled with the horrors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The more I read the more I could see its sad comparison to the events of the Trail of Tears, and how similar warped thinking by people in leadership led to the Holocaust.

These awful lessons from the past should never be repeated, and should serve as a reminder to beware of those who execrate others based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation – especially those in leadership or those seeking to become a leader. Thank you Aline for educating us, and for reminding your readers to never forget crimes committed against humanity. As George Santayana wrote in 1905, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We need to remember.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“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.

“The Visionist” Rachel Urquhart

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Back Bay Books (Little, Brown & Company). 345 pp. Includes “Bibliography,” and a “Reading Group Guide.”

TheVisionist“The Visionist,” set in New England in the 1840’s, introduces readers to Shaker life. Abandoned as a baby, the strict life of a Shaker is the only life Sister Charity has ever known. Trying to please her spiritual leader “Mother Ann,” her benefactress Elder Sister Agnes, and the other members of the society leave Sister Charity feeling doomed to perdition because of her unworthiness.

Polly Kimball, her brother Ben, and mother May suffered for years under the brutal hands of her father Silas. When a fire Polly accidentally set helped them flee, May leaves them at a nearby Shaker community and disappears. In her sadness Polly has a vision, which the community believes comes from their beloved Mother Ann. Elder Sister Agnes is suspicious of Polly’s “vision” and wonders about her past, while Simon Pryor, fire inspector, has questions of his own.

As the girls’ friendship grows, the fear that Charity will find out everything about her is built on lies weighs heavily on Polly’s mind. Soon the struggle between right and wrong will consume both girls, as each attempt to figure out their role in the community.

Urquhart’s well researched portrayal of Shaker life in the 1840’s, as well as descriptions of clothing and customs of the time, does much to make “The Visionist” realistic. I would have preferred May telling her own story of how she got tangled up with Silas, and then explaining what she did to survive after dropping off Ben and Polly at the Shaker community. Since I only got dribs and drabs of her story, I gave it 3 stars instead of 4.

Recommended for Adults.

“The Curse of Crow Hollow” Billy Coffey

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Thomas Nelson. 406 pp. (Includes “Discussion Questions.”)

TheCurseOfCrowHollowSomething strange is going on in Crow Hollow. People say a witch on the mountain cursed the town many years ago, so have stayed away from her mountain out of fear. The day Cordelia and her friends decided to trespass on the witch’s mountain was the day something caused the girls in town to be stricken with a mysterious illness. As town residents try to find out why the witch has stricken them and how to rid themselves of her reach, they end up turning against each other in ways no one had ever thought could be possible.

A mysterious narrator takes readers through chaos of their own making in a supposedly religious town. Once actually face-to-face with the “evil” they heard about every Sunday morning from their Reverend, they forget what they’ve been taught. Casting suspicious eyes outward rather than inward serves only to fuel the fires of distrust. While echoing some events from the Salem Witch Trials, “The Curse of Crow Hollow” works to show readers what can happen when religion combines with hysteria rather than common sense.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Mercy’s Rain: An Appalachian Novel” Cindy K. Sproles

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Kregel Publications. 263 pp.

MercysRainMercy lives on the side of a mountain in rural Tennessee with her father, the local Pastor, and mother. She and her mother have spent their lives being physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Demons reside in his soul, which encourage him to kill, torture, and beat anyone who crosses his will without a morsel of regret.

Mercy is 19 years old when she witnesses her father kill an innocent man, and participates in his death through the mountain’s code of justice. After her mother sends her away, Mercy wanders the mountain in search of redemption and finding a purpose for her life. As she struggles to understand her role in God’s plan, Mercy continually hardens her heart as she seeks forgiveness for her role in her father’s death.

As I read, I was aghast at the many awful ways the Pastor abused his wife and daughter in the name of God and religion. It is with deep shame that I note this type of behavior is probably happening all over the world. I found it quite unfortunate that Pastor’s flock allowed his spiritual leadership over them to close their eyes to his behavior, leaving Mercy and her mother completely under his thumb of control.

What really annoyed me about “Mercy’s Rain” was Mercy. It seemed as if every single chapter she begged the Lord to show her what to do or how to act, filling the pages with a litany of complaints and questions. When God answered, Mercy spent time thanking him for helping her to “get it” then spent the next chapter complaining about the exact same thing she’d been thanking Him for doing for her in the last chapter. She was a ridiculous merry-go-round of grievances, and quickly grew tiresome. I think Sproles could have gotten her point across about Mercy needing mercy and forgiveness in half of the 263 pages it took to drag us through her whining.

Despite Mercy’s inability to make a decision with her life, I will recommend “Mercy’s Rain” only because it shows the importance of knowing you are not alone when facing trials and tribulations, and that abused women need to seek help immediately.

Recommended for Adults.

I received a complimentary copy of “Mercy’s Rain” from LibraryThing.com in exchange for an honest review.