‘The Girls I’ve Been’ by Tess Sharpe is a surprisingly touching YA story of friendship, love, a bank robbery and much more

The Girls I’ve Been

In “The Girls I’ve Been,” Tess Sharpe’s brilliant writing draws us into the lives of the three teens at the center of this young adult thriller. We meet them just as they are on the cusp of being held hostage at their local bank in rural California, and from the first chapter (the chapters are labeled with the time, and the amount of time that has elapsed since they were taken captive), we are mesmerized by Nora and her extraordinary narration of the events that are happening both in the present and also as she intersperses the present narration with snippets of her past that serve to explain who Nora is now.

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‘Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry’ is the book that Purina and other huge manufacturers don’t want you to read

Big Kibble by Shawn Buckley and Dr. Oscar Chavez

If after reading this new exposé of the pet food industry, “Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry and How to Do Better by Our Dogs” by Shawn Buckley and Dr. Oscar Chavez, you don’t decide to try to change how you feed your cat or dog, I don’t want to know what’s in your own refrigerator. While some of what is in this new nonfiction release is not news to savvy pet caregivers (I like to consider myself at least somewhat savvy), there is plenty to shock them.

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‘The Zealot and the Emancipator’ by H. W. Brands is an enlightening history of abolitionist zeal vs Republican caution

The Zealot and the Emancipator

H.W. Brands, the author of this superb study, “The Zealot and the Emancipator,” has presented us with a fascinating, authoritative, carefully researched account of the activities and beliefs of two figures who might accurately be described as men who changed America; who forced Americans to examine their minds and hearts in ways that had never been demanded of them before; and who ultimately were responsible for the hard realization that the country could not exist half-slave and half-free. The zealot was John Brown. The emancipator was Abraham Lincoln.

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‘The Historians’ by Cecilia Ekbäck: A history of racial prejudice in a WWII thriller

“The Historians” by Cecilia Ekbäck presents readers with a historical thriller that also encompasses the history of racial prejudice and eugenics that permeated Scandinavia even before Hitler’s rise to power. The story begins in April, 1943, when Laura Dahlgren receives a phone call that her best friend from college has disappeared. Before the actual beginning of the story, Ekbäck provides short passages about events from January, February, and March of that year. Two of those are about mysterious events that seem unrelated to the main story, but give a hint of what is to come.

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‘Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach us about Connection, Community, and Ourselves’ by Caitlin O’Connell

Caitlin O’Connell knows a lot about animals. She spent decades studying animals in their native habitats from the Pacific Ocean to the African savannah. She specializes in elephants, and this is just the latest of her many nonfiction books about these majestic animals. But while “Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us about Connection, Community, and Ourselves” does include elephant rituals, she also includes the rituals of diverse animals from flamingoes and other birds to Galapagos tortoises and African lions. Even her dog, Frodo, is included in the discussion.

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‘Eli’s Promise’ by Ronald J. Balson: A double dose of corruption

Author Ronald J. Balson’s new novel, “Eli’s Promise,” is a superb piece of historical fiction that features three interlocking and interweaving plot threads, each of which offers fascinating views of epochal eras in world and American history.

Plot number one takes place in the mid-1940s, as Jews are being rescued from the concentration camp called Buchenwald, a camp which had all too clearly demonstrated the unconscionable cruelty of the Nazi policy they called the “Final Solution,” the deaths of all European Jews. Among the victims at Buchenwald is Eli Rosen, a young Polish man who had been the owner of a building and construction company before he was taken. Also a prisoner there is his son Izaak. They survive after being rescued by American troops and are taken to an American-run camp in Germany. The camp is set up for Holocaust survivors who await their visas and transfers to new homes all over the world. It soon becomes apparent to readers that the real villain of the piece (other than the Nazis) is one Maximilian Poleski, a traitor to his people. Poleski is using his connections in America and Germany to illegally procure visas that will allow survivors to enter America. He sells the visas to those few former prisoners who have somehow saved or found the money to buy them, charging obscene prices for his services and moving the buyers to the front of a very long line of seekers of entry to America and other potentially new homes. Eli Rosen swears — promises — to bring Maximilian to justice, and he will not rest until he does so. But the visa issue is just the tip of the Maximilian iceberg, and his many other sins are revealed in plot thread number two.

The scene is Lublin, Poland, 1939. Hitler conquers Poland and orders his military henchmen to take immediate steps to corral all Jews. Eli Rosen, though, is important to the Nazis because of his expertise in construction, which will help the Nazi power structure to erect ghetto camps, build German official headquarters, and prepare to officially organize all Polish Jews into groups which will eventually be transported to concentration camps to be killed when they are no longer useful to the Nazi cause. Maximilian, the slimy eel, manages to ingratiate himself with the Nazis, saving himself and promising his Jewish friends that he will protect them — in return for huge cash protection payments. But when the noose begins to tighten, Maximilian continues to promise safety when he knows he will no longer be able to actually provide it. And he takes his victims’ last meager cash reserves as payments for the protection he knows he can no longer ensure. Eli’s wife is taken. Eli eventually is taken, too, as is his son. Only the oily obeisant Maximilian escapes significant punishment. Wherever he goes, wherever he is moved, he manages to slither away from the fate he so richly deserves.

The third plot thread flashes us forward to 1965 Chicago. America is again at war, this time in Viet Nam. Eli is an important figure in this thread, but he is not the protagonist. Having survived the Holocaust, he now works in some mysterious capacity for the American government. His assignment is to investigate a group of war profiteers who are in the business of collecting, storing, and keeping huge sums of cash through all kinds of scams involving weapons sales and sales of other wartime goods. The main character (though there are several important ones) is a young lady named Mimi Gold, who lives in Albany Park, Chicago, with her mother and grandmother. As the plot unfolds, Eli moves into the apartment below the Golds’. The women suspect that their new neighbor is working for the CIA or FBI. But it’s Mimi who is gradually becoming unwillingly involved with the network of wartime materials criminals. Vicious crimes ensue — murder, theft, intimidation, arson — all the horrors which almost inevitably result from wartime profiteering, the unchecked felonious activities of the rich and powerful, and the hypocrisy of governments and government officials as they excuse and justify their wartime sins. Meanwhile, as we might suspect, Maximilian, though we don’t know his exact role in the 1965 Chicago criminal enterprises, will appear once more in all his disgusting glory. And the stubborn quest and questions persist: will Eli’s promise be kept; will Maximilian finally be brought to justice?

Besides the three engrossing plots, “Eli’s Promise” vividly demonstrates other necessary qualities of historical fiction. We find fascinating information about actual events which we have likely never considered before: the details of the horrors inflicted on Polish Jews in Poland itself and, of course, in German camps; the difficulties of finding permanent homes for Holocaust survivors, including the stubborn resistance of the American government to the granting of visas to those victims of Nazi atrocities; the corruption of American governments at all levels — local, county, state, and federal — specifically in the 1960s. And on the plus side, we learn much about the courageous people who refused to bow to the Nazis; the Polish resistance and the stubborn will to survive of of the Jewish people; the complicated but extraordinary efforts of the American military to save, protect, and help Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives.

“Eli’s Promise” is a moving and suspenseful piece of authoritative historical fiction; profoundly informative and entirely compelling. It’s highly recommended.

Review by Jack Kramer.

This review was first posted at Bookreporter.com.

‘The Awakening’ is Book One in Nora Roberts’ new series ‘The Dragon Heart Legacy’

An intricately detailed alternate world set just alongside Ireland, a world which has all the charm and natural beauty of Ireland but the addition of witches, fairies, elves, and dragons, makes Nora Roberts’ newest book, “The Awakening,” in her new series “The Dragon Heart Legacy” stand out. When Breen Kelly stumbles across the portal to Talamh, this alternate place brimming with magic, her life changes.

Breen’s life in Philadelphia had been very ordinary. She taught middle school language arts to students who didn’t inspire her. Or didn’t they inspire her because she didn’t love teaching? The truth is that Breen became a teacher because her mother told her that was all she was capable of, and Breen is miserable. But all her life, her mother insisted that Breen was never more than average. There was nothing that she excelled at. And yet Breen does her mother’s bidding, taking care of her home when she’s away.

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‘Pretty Little Wife’ by Darby Kane is a murder mystery with a special twist

pretty little wife

“Pretty Little Wife” starts with a special twist. We know who killed Aaron Payne before we even open the book. The back of the book’s heading reads, “Shouldn’t a dead husband stay dead?” We know that Lila Ridgefield killed her handsome husband, a beloved high school teacher — but there’s a problem. His body, whose death she had carefully staged, is gone, along with Aaron’s car and cell phone. Continue reading

Andy Carpenter Strikes Again….and Again

“Silent Bite” is author David Rosenfelt’s twenty-second entry in the Andy Carpenter Mystery series, and it’s just as engaging and entertaining as the first twenty-one. I must admit that I’ve now read all twenty-two of them, and I still can’t help laughing out loud at the extraordinarily humorous phrases, sentences, and stories that grace virtually every page. As a matter of fact, LOL now has a home, and its name is Andy Carpenter. But the beauty of these novels lies in the simple realization that they’re both funny and suspenseful. And keeping readers in suspense while they laugh is, indeed, quite a feat.

In “Silent Bite,” attorney Andy’s client is Tony Birch, a former gang-banger who has served prison time because of a manslaughter charge of which he was wrongly accused and convicted. At his trial for that crime-that-wasn’t, two fellow gang members acted as eye-witnesses to his alleged crime, and their incriminating testimonies taken together were the coup-de-grace. Also during that trial, Tony had become so enraged at their fake testimony that he loudly threatened to kill one of them. Now, six years later, both of them have been murdered, and Tony is obviously the prime suspect even though he has straightened out his life in the intervening years and is now a respected small business owner. So Andy takes on his case, this time at the urging of one of his dear friends, Willie Miller, whom Andy had successfully defended in an earlier novel.

As always in these mysteries, Andy and his friends and crew are all sharp, tough, street-wise, and very funny. Each character continually either displays or is the object of Rosenfelt’s own unique sense of humor. Those characters, of course, include the ubiquitous canine pet/investigative assistants. One of them, for example, is the K9 partner of investigator Corey Douglas, whose team works for Andy. No spoilers here, so I won’t tell you the dog’s name, but here are a couple of hints: his initials are SG, and when he stretches (after a doggie-nap, for instance), he forms a virtual bridge over troubled waters.

So Andy and friends investigate; get themselves into all kinds of perilous, even life-threatening situations; patiently and doggedly (!) accumulate clues, and invariably take us on a roller-coaster ride of suspense and laughter. And even though every Andy Carpenter novel is a fascinating and complex mystery, there remains one thing we know for sure: when all is said and done, Andy Carpenter — and David Rosenfelt — will emerge as the winners every time.

‘Every Last Secret’ by A. R. Torre is a twisted tale of neighbors and infidelity

every last secret

The title of A. R. Torre’s new release, “Every Last Secret,” gives a hint of what is to come. Secrets, more secrets, and even a few left for the very last chapter. It’s about a golden couple, Cat and William, who are living a life that only the very top one percent live. Their gated mansion is on a gated street, filled with staff who cater to their every whim. Cat tells us how her life changed after marrying William when she relates how he wouldn’t let her carry a box of personal belongings into their new home. He instructed her that they had staff to do that. Continue reading

‘The Preserve’ by Ariel S. Winter is a mystery set in a robot-filled future

In “The Preserve” by Ariel S. Winter, a police chief is racing to solve a murder that occurs in his town in a “preserve” created for humans which specifically excludes robots from its premises. Jesse Laughton lives on the newly-formed preserve with his wife Betty and his daughter Erica.

The setting is fascinating on many levels. The preserve has been created at some unspecified time in the future when a pandemic has decimated the human population. Robots, on the other hand, live and prosper and control the government and many other aspects of life. Winter doesn’t go into specifics about the plague, and it’s mostly referenced peripherally.

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