“The ballad of songbirds and snakes” Suzanne Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Scholastic. (The Hunger Games #0). Published May 19, 2020.

The ballad of songbirds and snakesCoriolanus Snow endured hunger, deprivation, and the loss of both parents during the Rebel siege on the Capitol. His cousin’s bargaining abilities at the Black Market enabled them to survive, but the Snow family fortune was destroyed. Coriolanus is determined to keep it secret that the Snows, one of the Capitol’s Old Guard families, is poor.

His favorite professor at the Academy was able to get him assigned to one of the tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games as a student mentor, so he has a chance to vie for a University scholarship. Coriolanus knows winning the Games is his only hope to having a future, and is desperate to win. When he’s assigned Lucy Gray Baird from District 12 he’s disappointed because he’d hoped for a strong boy, however, her musical abilities and joie de vivre help to change his mind.

As he spends time with Lucy Gray, he begins to think of her as a person instead of as a tribute. His determination to protect her from the other tributes, and to win, begins to override rational thoughts until the lines between right and wrong get blurred. As time goes on Coriolanus’ determination to always win, and to always come out on top, will forever change their lives.

When I was given the opportunity to read this ARC, I wondered if it would be as interesting as the other books in The Hunger Games series because, after all, it IS about the very evil President Snow. However, not only is it exciting, but I found myself feeling sorry for Coriolanus. SORRY for HIM?! I can hear gasps echoing around the world, but let me preface that comment. I felt sorry for him in the BEGINNING and MIDDLE of the book, but definitely not by the end. Make sure to read the book to find out why.

I’m now off to reread The Hunger Games series and decipher clues revealed in “The ballad of songbirds and snakes.” I won’t be surprised if Collins writes another follow up to the Coriolanus Snow saga.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

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

 

“The second home” Christina Clancy

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. St. Martin’s Press. To be published June 2, 2020.

The Second HomeAnn’s parents had recently been killed in an accident and she was desperate to rid herself of her family’s ramshackle summer home in Wellfleet, though it had been in their family for generations. Her urgency to sell also included the fact that she didn’t want her estranged brother Michael to know she was selling. They’d lost contact years earlier, after an especially horrific summer, and the anger she felt towards him had worsened over the years.

Michael and Ann were the same age and had become best friends at school so, since he got along well with her family, Ann convinced them to adopt him. The summer of 1999 was his first in Wellfleet, which he spent wrestling with his feelings about Ann. She had taken on a babysitting job with the Shaws, a rich family, contrasting their lives and loving how Mr. Shaw made her feel. While they tried to work through their issues, Poppy was busy getting high after falling in with a rough crowd of surfing locals. That summer changed the rest of their lives – forever.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, Ann, Michael and Poppy’s love for their summer home and the memories from Wellfleet (both good and bad) that tied them together, sink deeply into the reader. I was fully invested in their stories, and eagerly turned pages hoping the ending everything would end on a satisfying note.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“Spirits of the high mesa” Floyd Martinez

Rated 5 stars ***** 1997. Arte Público Press. 192 p.

Spirits of the high mesaThrough young Flavio’s eyes, readers are taken on a journey as he remembers the Indian/Mexican way of life spent growing up on a ranch in New Mexico. There everyone depended on the land, the old ways, and on each other. Flavio’s grandfather El Grande was an important man who respected the ways of his ancestors. Everyone turned to El Grande in good times and bad, observing traditions that had been the same for years. He taught Flavio the old ways, and how to work the ranch, but then the Gringos came with electricity.

Electricity made villagers give up traditions in favor of new ways of living. It meant the building of a new sawmill to chop down the forest, which brought more Gringos to build new homes, new roads and changes that would forever change Flavio’s life. Despite everything, El Grande stood firm in his desire to stay with the old ways and to retain his dignity – the most important thing he owned.

This powerful coming-of-age story won the 1998 Pura Belpré Honor Award for Narrative. It’s filled with memories of a time when life was simpler, as well as the love between a grandfather and grandson. It will resonate with readers, as it kept me thinking long after the last page was turned. Though there are many Spanish phrases and words, they are important parts of the narrative.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.

“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.

“Ghosts of Harvard” Francesca Serritella

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Random House. To be published May 5, 2020.

Ghosts of HarvardSeventeen-year-old Cady is determined to attend Harvard because it was where her older brother Eric committed suicide. Since she blames herself, she is determined to figure out why he killed himself.  While at school her studies take a back burner to the nagging questions that arise about Eric’s schizophrenia.

As memories of good and bad times with Eric fill her mind, Cady begins to hear voices and music from a bygone era. Afraid she is heading towards the same path of mental illness, she has a small measure of relief when she figures out the voices are the ghosts of a former Harvard slave and two students who attended the school many years ago.

She enjoys having them as company, learning historical aspects about the school that she’d never known. However, as she uncovers more about Eric’s last days, she soon figures out he was hiding something. When his secret is finally revealed, her life is forever changed in even more ways than she’d thought possible.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of “Ghosts of Harvard,” especially since I once worked on campus, and didn’t know about many of the hidden gems revealed in the book. I now want to travel back to Massachusetts to take a leisurely stroll and go to the places mentioned in the book. The storyline about Eric, his secret, and the ghosts seemed a bit farfetched, but the troubling aspects of suicide, mental illness and its weight on families were truthfully articulated.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

“The burning” Laura Bates

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published April 7, 2020. 352 p. (Includes “Author’s note,” and “Discussion questions and Conversation starters.”)

The burningAfter the death of her father, in the middle of the school year, Anna and her mom moved to a 400 year-old house in Scotland to start a new life, where she fervently hopes her old life will recede into the past. After spending time blending in at school she meets new friends, and gets involved in researching a history project about Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft in the 1600’s. She finds a silver necklace in her attic and starts to dream Maggie’s memories, learning things about her that aren’t in research books. At first she’s frightened because of the realistic scenes, but soon realizes Maggie’s story has to be told.

While learning more about Maggie fills her free time, the new life she’d started for herself at school starts to unravel when the real reason she left England in the middle of the school year becomes known. Soon constant sexual harassment and cyberbullyingthreaten to put her over the edge. When she learns to draw on her own strength, and that of other strong women like Maggie, Anna is finally able to accept herself, to speak truth about herself, and to know it to be so.

This book was powerful, and had me hooked from the very beginning. At times  teachers not caring to respond to situations right in front of them aggravated me. When that happened I had to put the book down and walk away in frustration, reminding myself that there are good ones mixed with the bad.

“The burning” is the #metoo movement and Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout” rolled into one. I believe all teenagers (male and female) and all adults should have this on their “must read” shelves. It would make an excellent book club book to openly discuss sexual harassment and the effects of cyberbullying. A copy should be in every public and high school library.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

 

“The bridge home” Padma Venkatraman

Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)

TheBridgeHomeEleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.

With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.

Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.

This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.

Recommended for ages 10-14.