“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.

 

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“Refugee” Alan Gratz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published July 25, 2017. Scholastic. 337 p. (Includes Maps and Author’s note.)

RefugeeJosef was almost thirteen-years-old in 1938 when Kristallnacht sent the strong message that Jews were not welcome in Germany. Soon afterwards, he, his father, mother and little sister, along with hundreds of other Jews, boarded the MS St. Louis bound for Cuba where they hoped to escape bigotry and start a new life.

In 1994 Isabel lived with her mother, father and grandfather in Cuba but, with the fall of the Soviet Union, food, gasoline and medicine had become scarce and people began to starve. After riots began, Castro allowed them to leave without fear of arrest. Knowing their only chance of survival was to flee to Miami, Isabel and her family joined their neighbors on a rickety homemade boat. Their 90-mile trip would be dangerous, but they were willing to risk everything to be free.

Twelve-year-old Mahmoud lived with his father, mother, little brother and baby sister in Aleppo Syria in 2015. Four years ago people revolted against their dictator president, which led to war and constant bombings. Their apartment building was blown apart and they had nowhere to go, so Mahmoud and his family joined thousands of other Syrians on a long march to Germany, hoping to start a new life without fear of war.

Real-life occurrences from World War II, the early 90’s, and current events are combined in alternating voices to tell the story of three children who all hope to grow older. This well-researched book will get conversation flowing about immigrants, xenophobia, acceptance and intolerance. It is excellent for book clubs, especially in middle schools.

Highly recommended for ages 11-15.

 

“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.

 

 

“Trail of broken wings” Sejal Badani

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. Lake Union Pub. 2015.

TrailOfBrokenWingsShortly after they moved to America from India, Brent began beating his pregnant wife Ranee and young daughter Marin. He insisted on perfection in everything, beating Marin for any perceived infraction of his rules. When his wife gave birth to Sonya, who was not the son he wanted, she also learned the feel of his abuse. Shortly thereafter baby Trisha was born, who became his favorite. She witnessed the abuse but didn’t experience it.

Marin escaped the household through an arranged marriage, spending her life as an overachiever, demanding the same of her daughter. Sonya left after her college graduation, her career spanning the globe as she shied away from any type of commitment. Six years later Sonya reluctantly returned to her childhood home after Brent falls into an unexpected coma. There she and Marin are finally forced to face what they’d hidden from themselves and others. As Trisha begins to experience strange dreams, previously hidden family secrets begin to be revealed. Soon, the foundation upon which all of them had built their lives is forever shattered.

Though suffering broken bodies, hearts and dreams, each member of this family found a way to repair their broken wings and fly again. Their individual voices, traumatic experiences and sense of hope reach out to readers who may be experiencing similar circumstances, making this an important read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

 

 

“Evangelina takes flight” Diana J. Noble

Rated 5 stars ***** 2017. Arte Público Press. 195 p.

EvangelinaTakesFlightEvangelina lived with her parents, brothers, sisters and grandfather on her father’s ranch in Mariposa Mexico, which had been in the family for generations. She was looking forward to turning 15 in a year and a half so she could also celebrate her quinceañera, like her big sister. Everything about her life seemed to be going well, until the politics of 1911 turned everything upside down.

Due to the fighting that had begun with the Revolution, Pancho Villa and his soldiers roamed the countryside, robbing and killing villagers, Evangelina’s parents decide it’s too risky to stay in Mexico, so Evangelina had to leave her home and everything she loved, including her grandfather. It took days to travel to a small border town in Texas to live with her aunt but once there, the family found out they weren’t welcomed because they were Mexican.

Through the trials and tribulations she endured at school and at the hands of prejudiced villagers, Evangelina gained the courage to spread her wings and fly free as a butterfly, despite those who wanted her to crawl at their feet like a caterpillar.

I enjoyed learning about the Mexican Revolution from the eyes of a family who was living it. It was sad to read how Mexicans were treated in Texas and other states, even though they had been part of Mexico before the Mexican-American War. When settlers from the United States moved into these new states and took over land previously owned by Mexico, it was the Mexicans (the original inhabitants) who lost the rights to their ancestral homelands – just as what had happened to the Native Americans.

Attitudes towards Mexicans and other foreigners are, unfortunately, still alive today. Despite having to flee their homes due to war, gangs and other types of violence, many are not met with acceptance when they arrive in the United States. I loved what Evangelina said on page 111 when she asked, “Why do people in town glare at us so hatefully if they’ve never even met us? What would they do if the war was in Texas and their sons and daughters and fathers and sisters were being kidnapped and killed?” 

I have to get on a soapbox to say that people need to put themselves into the shoes of others, and stop being judgmental. As I’ve said time and again no one is an original American except for Native Americans, so think about where YOU would be now if your ancestors were kept out of the country the way you’re trying so hard to keep others out.” Think about it really hard.

Highly recommended for ages 12-16.

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

 

“A question of class” Julia Tagan

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2014. Lyrical Press (Kensington Publishing Corp.)

AQuestionOfClassAfter marrying 50 year-old Morris Delcour at the age of 15, beautiful Catherine was finally able to leave behind her past on the mean streets of Connecticut. Once in fine Parisian society no one cared that she used to be a scullery maid and came from questionable parentage. As she and her greedy husband made the rounds of parties and balls, he built up his winery and fattened his wallet while she reveled in the richness and peace of mind that being Mrs. Morris Delcour brought.

After 5 years in France, Morris planned to expand his business to the colonies. It was now 1810, and he felt it was time to open the eyes of high society to the invigorating taste of wine. Unfortunately for Catherine, New York’s society matrons did not look kindly upon her lowly background. Incensed that he wouldn’t be able to use her for monetary gain, Morris informed Catherine that their marriage had been a sham and he was sending her off to the West Indies after he returned from a business trip. Horrified that she’d been trapped into living a lie for 5 years, Catherine set about plotting revenge and an escape route.

It is into this sad state of affairs that readers are introduced to Benjamin Thomas, the brother of Morris’ first wife Dolly, who came to town hiding the revenge he planned to wreak upon Morris for his role in her death. Morris gave him the task of making sure his wife didn’t escape while he was out of town. Instead Benjamin fell in love while helping Catherine rescue her little sister from cruel foster parents. After they became lovers, they hoped to find a way to escape from Morris and reveal his underhanded business dealings to the authorities. But, as everything begins to unravel, it is only a matter of time before Morris catches up to them. Can two penniless lovers find a way to be happy when everything is conspiring against them?

This tale of romance, revenge, love, lust and betrayal (loosely based on the life of Eliza Jumel), is a quick read but also lacking the finer points of detail. For one, Catherine is able to get away with being alone for most of her escapades, though set during a time in history when well-bred ladies always had an escort. Also, she comes across as being flighty and irresponsible, though the author attempts to portray her as a strong, independent woman. I should also note that detailed lovemaking descriptions are found in this romance novel, which may cause blushing. I blushed many times.

Recommended for Adults.