“Vagabond wind” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *****  Ebook. 2015. Amazon Digital Services.

VagabondWindZya spent almost her whole life with Romani gypsies, traveling with them all over the new state of West Virginia before the Civil War. Married at a young age, life seemed grand until her husband and father were killed. Falling in with a group of Confederate Rangers, she helped guide them through the wilderness as they worked to thwart the Yankees at every turn through sneak attacks.

She found herself blossoming as she worked with Davis Wyndham, their leader, to wreck trains, rob provisions for Confederate troops, and pass on secret information from the Yankees. As the years passed she and Davis became romantically involved while the group worked to hold the head of the Confederacy above the waters. However, with the war drawing to a close and the threat of capture looming ever closer, Zya and Davis will have to face their greatest threat yet – that of never seeing each other ever again.

Told from the Confederate point of view, “Vagabond Wind” seems to draw from the real life activities of John Singleton Mosby, who spent the War running sneak attacks against the Union. I find it interesting Hughes chose to call these guerrillas Wyndham’s Rangers, the name of a real Union Colonel. I’m thinking it was for irony’s sake that she did so.

I felt Hughes took too much time describing specific events/scenery, dragged out the storyline on many occasions, and had a tremendous overuse of commas. I also didn’t like Zya’s flakiness, fancying herself in love one moment, torturing herself with self-doubts the next, deciding one lifestyle that she was living was wonderful, then deciding that was no good too. She was a human seesaw that made my head spin.

I did enjoy getting sneak peeks into bits of Civil War history (like why West Virginia was formed.) I think it would have been nice if Hughes had added end notes giving a bit of history about the research she did on the era as well as background information on important characters like Wyndham as well as the Swamp Fox, who inspired Mosby.

Thus, due to the pros and cons mentioned above, I’ll recommend the book for Adults but will do so with reservations.

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“Mayanito’s new friends”: “Los nuevos amigos de Mayanito” Tato Laviera

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press.

MayanitosNewFriendsPrince Mayanito, who lives on a mountain high above the clouds, was looking down on the western hemisphere. Children from other countries, formed out of raindrops, became his friends until they turned into flowers when the sun came out. Determined to search for them, Mayanito began an adventure with all sorts of rainforest creatures, leading to a joyful reunion with his friends. Through rich watercolors in full-page illustrations, Mayanito’s journey comes to life.

Though this bilingual picture book can be used to help teach about the rainforest and other countries, I feel it would have been beneficial to include information about the Mayan culture – especially since Mayanito is Mayan. It also seemed as if the story was incomplete, as it started and ended abruptly.

Despite my misgivings about its incompleteness, I will still recommend it because of its ability to lead to teachable moments.

Recommended for ages 5-9.

“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.

“Deep in the shadows: Undercover in the ruthless world of human smuggling” Hipólito Acosta

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 319 p. (Includes photographs and an Appendix).

DeepInTheShadowsHipólito Acosta grew up in a tiny Texas town and, in 1975, was hired by the U.S. Border Patrol. After working locally for a little while he was assigned to Chicago, becoming one of the first Hispanic agents to work undercover for the agency. There, either single handedly or with fellow agents, he infiltrated gangs and cartels to root out drug dealers, human smugglers, and sellers of false identity papers. Later in his career, assigned to work in higher leadership roles in the Philippines and Mexico, he continued to set the bar high in his single-minded pursuit of justice.

In simple, understated narrative Acosta details his innovative, yet very dangerous experiences working to uphold his oath to protect our country’s borders. His memoir is loaded with names, dates, and facts, which can be overwhelming at times. It would have been nice if an alphabetical glossary or timeline, with associated page numbers, was included to help readers better associate the details of his career.

Recommended for Adults.

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

“Black Dove White Raven” Elizabeth Wein

Rated 2 stars ** Hyperion. 2015. 345 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BlackDoveWhiteRavenEmilia and Teo grew up on the road with their stunt pilot mothers in the early 1920’s. Frustrated at the lack of job equality for women, and especially upset with the laws against blacks, Teo’s mother Delia dreamed of freedom in Ethiopia. When she was killed in a freak accident, Emilia’s mother decides to raise Teo as her own and leaves for Ethiopia to fulfill her best friend’s wishes for him to have a better life. For a number of years they all enjoyed their time in Ethiopia until Mussolini’s army invaded in 1935. “Black Dove, White Raven” is Teo and Emilia’s, as well as Ethiopia’s story, during that timeframe.

I had a hard time making it through this book, as I found it to be too slow moving and it really didn’t capture my interest. Writing about Ethiopia was important to Wein, but the enormous amount of material put into the 345 pages was a bit much for me. However I will leave it up to those of you ages 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.

“The way back from broken” Amber J. Keyser

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner). 207 p.

TheWayBackFromBrokenFifteen-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.

“You and me and him” Kris Dinnison

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Houghton Mifflin. 275 p.

YouAndMeAndHimSeventeen year old Maggie and Nash have been friends for almost all their lives. Nash can’t wait to graduate and leave their little town behind, always hoping to meet the boy of his dreams while he waits. Maggie loves the quaintness of their town, and hopes the future love of her life won’t care she’s overweight.

Over the years the two of them have held each other’s secrets, and were always there for each other. Then they met Tom, a new student. Nash was instantly infatuated and called dibs, leaving Maggie to take on the role of matchmaker even though she thought Tom was cute.

When Maggie finds herself developing feelings for him, she buries herself in baking cookies and her job at the record store so as to leave the road clear for Nash. Meanwhile Maggie’s frenemy Kayla also has her eyes set on Tom, setting the stage for a love triangle with a twist.

I liked Maggie’s character, which was not the stereotypical “overweight teen girl is bullied at school so binge eats for happiness and spends her life alone, wishing she was skinny” storyline. Though sometimes she seemed too good to be true, she gave me hope that overweight teens reading the book would gain strength from her maturity and way of thinking. Nash, Tom, and Kayla, on the other hand, have lots of growing up to do and their behavior should never be emulated.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.