“The boy who killed Grant Parker” Kat Spears

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published September 13, 2016. St. Martin’s Griffin. 305 pp.

theboywhokilledgrantparkerLuke Grayson hates the little town of Ashland, Tennessee where he had been sent to live by his mother after a series of unfortunate events at his Washington, D.C. private school. His dad is a Baptist preacher who he hasn’t seen in years, and neither he nor his stepmom are happy to have Luke living with them.

All Luke wants to do is make it through the final months of his senior year and get out of town but, from his first day there, he is targeted by Grant Parker, star football player, son of the richest man in town, and the biggest bully in school. Everyone has learned to steer clear of Grant, but Luke follows the beat of a different drummer. Tired of his forced status at the bottom of the social ladder, Luke turns an unfortunate event with Grant into an opportunity to rise to the top. With his newfound power Luke can be anything he wants to be, so why is he having so much trouble learning to fit into his new role? Isn’t this what he’d always wanted?

The age-old question of “when is a lie really a lie?” is brought to life through humor and teen angst as Luke tells his story. Male readers will find much in common with Luke’s quandaries, questions and continued series of unfortunate events.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

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“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.

“Alice & Freda forever: A murder in Memphis” Alexis Coe

Rated 4 stars **** Pulp (Zest Books). 2014. 223 pp. Includes “Appendix,” “Bibliography,” “Notes,” and an “Index.”

Alice&FredaForeverI was asked to participate in the “True Stories Fall Blog Tour,” put on by Zest Books, where you can see lots of other information on this great book.

In 1892 nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell, fine upstanding citizen of Memphis, Tennessee, committed an unfathomable crime against her seventeen-year-old ex-fiancée. In a fit of passion, she brutally slashed Freda Ward’s throat on a public street in front of witnesses.

Before the murder Alice had planned to impersonate a man so she and Freda could marry, move away, and live together as a couple. When their plan was discovered their families forbade them from any interaction, but Alice was obsessed. Freda seemed uninterested in restoring their relationship, appearing to be in love with several men, causing Alice to become extremely jealous and determined that no one could have Freda if she couldn’t be the one to marry her.

What made this crime so sensational was that lesbianism was not socially acceptable in 1892, and the social mores of the time dictated Alice would have had to be insane to entertain such impure thoughts towards another woman.

Using an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, Coe uses Alice and Freda’s love letters, newspaper accounts of the day, and other sources to walk readers through their disastrous love story. The events leading up to Freda’s murder, and Alice’s insanity trial are also thoroughly investigated.

Coe’s historical research allows readers to “see” the Memphis of 1892 including its civil rights violations, crooked politics, amazingly inaccurate medical theories and the ways in which Alice’s case was decided by the media rather than the courts. The turmoil faced by Alice and Freda for their love over 100 years ago will long resound with her readers.

Recommended for ages 18 and older.

“If you find me” Emily Murdoch

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. St. Martin’s Griffin. 248 pp.

IfYouFindMeAfter 10 years of living in a camper without water or electricity in the middle of the woods with her meth addict mother and six-year-old sister Janessa, fifteen-year-old Carey knows how to hunt for food, how to teach herself and Janessa their schooling, how to play the violin, and how to survive. Carey has always taken care of Janessa, but now that Mama hasn’t come home in two months she’s worried because they are running low on food.

When a strange man claiming to be her father and a social worker show up, the girls are taken back to civilization. Janessa has never lived outside of the woods, but takes happily to her new life. Despite the love Carey feels from him and his wife for Janessa, she finds it hard to believe they love her. She had to do bad things to survive, and one of those big secrets has kept Janessa from speaking for over a year.

High school is awful; with her stepsister Delaney making sure it gets worse every day. Everything having to do with civilization is new to Carey and she is overwhelmed, wanting to run away to the woods. Her new friend Ryan was trying to be helpful when he showed her a flier saying Mama kidnapped her when she was five years old, but Mama had always said her father beat them so she had to run away.

Carey doesn’t know what to believe and, because of her big secret, is unsure of her place in this new world. She is certain everyone will hate her when they find out what happened that night. As Carey remembers what she had chosen to forget, she realizes she will have to tell the secret that bound her and Janessa together and kept Janessa from speaking. Their future depends on letting go of the past.

Emily Murdoch does a wonderful job drawing readers into the mind and heart of a young girl forced to grow up in the harshest of circumstances. Her use of flashbacks as Carey remembered Mama and their years in the woods had me on the edge of my seat as I walked through Carey’s pain with her. The rawness of those years comes out in Carey’s violin playing, and will necessitate that readers have a box of tissues at the ready as they read. I finished the book in one sitting, and know it will mesmerize others as it did me.

Highly recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).