Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Hyperion. 298 p.
Forced 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.
Rated 4 stars **** 2016. Ember. 246 p. (Includes an interview with Michaela DePrince).
Her parents in her Sierra Leone village loved their daughter Mabinty Bangura but, because of her leopard-like spots from vitiligo, she was shunned and despised by the villagers. Her parents could read, and defied tradition by educating her. They were a happy family until rebels killed her father. Without his support, she and her mother were forced to move into her despotic uncle’s house where they were starved. Within a short time her mother died, and she was abandoned at an orphanage.
Mabinty recounts her hard life in the orphanage, her adoption by an American family at the age of four, and her rebirth under the new name of Michaela. Inspired by a magazine picture, she was determined to become a ballerina. “Taking flight” is Michaela’s story of how she soared past the pain of her early life and into the world of ballet.
Michaela does an excellent job recounting her many trials and tribulations, the love she has for her parents and family members, as well as her successes. However the technical ballerina jargon used to describe various dance moves in several different chapters was very confusing. It would have been helpful to have a glossary, with photographs, of these dance terms at the end of the book.
Recommended for ages 12-18, due to the graphic nature of some of the war crimes described.
Rated 2 stars ** 2015. HarperTeen. 360 p.
Max grew up on the streets and in various foster homes, which made it hard to get to know people. Now a senior in high school, Max still feels on the edge of life as he struggles to make ends meet at a surfing job while his girlfriend Parvati and best friend Preston, who are both rich, glide through life without any worries.
Parvati’s father forbade their relationship, so Max plans to get detention to spend time with her. His taking the blame for someone else’s infraction creates the opportunity to do so for other students, and lays the groundwork for “Liars, Inc,” which Parvati and Preston decide would be the name of their new venture of creating excuses for money.
Max fabricates a lie that allows Preston to escape to Vegas for a weekend rendezvous with someone he met online. When he disappears, Max and Parvati team up to try and figure out what happened. Things become complicated when Preston’s blood is found in Max’s car, along with his missing cell phone. When Preston is found dead, Max becomes the main suspect and is soon on the run from FBI agents. As he and Parvati piece together clues, it becomes obvious that he is being framed. The question is who would do so, and why?
I wasn’t a fan of this book as I found the plot to be far-fetched and unrealistic. Thus I will leave it up to readers 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner). 207 p.
Fifteen-year-old Rakmen’s baby sister died in his arms from an undiagnosed heart murmur. Awash with grief, his parents blame him and each other. His mother begins attending therapy sessions at Promise House, a place that promises to help grief filled; broken parents recover from the loss of their children.
As the broken brother of a lost sister, Rakmen is forced to attend the children’s sessions where he meets nine (or ten) year-old Jacey. Her baby brother was stillborn, throwing her mother (Rakmen’s teacher, Mrs. Tatlas) into a dangerously fragile mindset, and causing Jacey to wonder why she’d been robbed of the opportunity to become a big sister.
For some unknown reason, and to his eternal displeasure, Jacey becomes very attached to Rakmen. Mrs. Tatlas suggests they travel together to her uncle’s cabin in Canada for some R & R so, without any pushback from his parents, the three of them head to the wilderness. When an accident happens, it is up to Rakmen and Jacey to learn to work together to save all their lives.
I couldn’t really get into this book. I found it strange that Rakmen’s parents would let him go off for the entire summer with a perfect stranger, even though she was his teacher. Also, Jacey was supposed to be nine or ten, yet she acted more like six or seven. There were a few other issues, including grammatical errors scattered throughout so, overall, it wasn’t a win for me.
I’ll leave it up to you 14 and older readers to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)
The story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.
As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.
“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.
Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.
Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)
Unwilling 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.
Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published January 3, 2017. Delacorte Press. 261 p. (Includes “Author Note.”)
Dani grew up with Ruby, a mother who hated and blamed her for everything that went wrong in her life. She was a mom with an itchy foot, constantly moving from place to place, always with a different man on her arm. She wore skimpy clothes and drank a lot, and Dani hated her. She hated herself for hating her until the day Ruby was mauled to death by a bear and Dani was left alone with her mixed up thoughts.
Sent from Florida to live in New Mexico with an aunt she’d never known, Dani falls into the abyss of despair. She is alone, except for her dark thoughts and the bear that killed her mother, who seems to follow her everywhere. Dani must face her own hopelessness and learn to feel the anguish of others, because only through their pain can she live.
I found this book to be dark and full of symbolism, with some fantastical elements as seen through Dani’s Don Quixote-type imagination. As she constantly wanders in the sun and thinks contemplative thoughts about the bear, I felt that this book would be perfect to dissect in an English class. A high school English teacher would ecstatically tear it apart for her students.
Even though it was a little too complex for me, I will recommend it for ages 16 and older.