‘The Berlin Girl’ by Mandy Robotham is fascinating and engrossing historical fiction

berlin girl

In this novel of prewar Germany, “The Berlin Girl” by Mandy Robotham brings us right into the close-knit world of the journalists who staff tiny offices in capitals around the world in times of strife. Through the eyes of George Young, born Georgina Young and also known as Georgie Young, we enter the cosmopolitan, complex, and perilous environment of Berlin as the Nazis became more ruthless and less concerned with world approbation.

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‘The Unwilling’ by brilliant storyteller John Hart is a searing tale of courage, honor, and war

The Unwilling by John Hart

One of the things that makes John Hart’s novels, including his newest, “The Unwilling,” so compelling is his ability to create complex characters whose actions and courage linger with us long after we’ve finished reading the story. Jason French is one such character, and his inability to reconnect with his family after serving almost three years as a soldier in the Vietnam War is what we first learn about him. We learn much more about not only Jason, but his younger brother Gibby, and their parents. What we learn and how Hart shares the relationships and the emotions is what makes this an unforgettable story.

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Black history comes alive with these 4 children’s nonfiction books

Black lives and books for Black History Month and every month

It’s February, and that means there are amazing new children’s books that are perfect for every month of the year, not just February, and which celebrate Black activists and Black heroes. Some you might already have read about, but some of these fascinating and important historical figures might be newly revealed to you through these worthwhile reads.

“Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter” is by Shani Mahiri King and Bobby C. Martin, Jr. and is a unique book. Its presentation is brilliant — in terms of color and layout. The cover of the book is the first hint that this book will be filled with colorful graphics and lots of positivity. You actually have to look at it a few times to see the order of the words. And words make up this book from the endpapers that are filled with the names of famous Black people with barely a space between, to the introductory letter from the author about why he wrote this book, to the pages filled with questions like, “Have I told you that we were among the 1st patriots to lay down our lives for the dream of an American independence and that a Black man named Crispus was the very first person to die for that dream?” One side of the page is filled with purple lettering on a teal background and the other side, with a stylized image of Attucks, features purple lettering on an orange background. The key is following the colors of the text to see what goes together. For example, on the page asking (telling) in purple letters that “we have long been world-acclaimed poets and authors,” there are names next to those purple letter in white lettering: Zora, Richard, Langston, James, Ralph, Maya, Toni, Ta-Nehisi, and on the facing page are those names, first and last, with the names of other acclaimed poets and authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Jacqueline Woodson, Countee Cullen (a few of my favorites). There’s a double page about Colin kneeling and those who went before him, including, “Jesse punctured the Nazi myth of racial superiority with four gold medals.” At the end are snippets about the lives of 116 Black leaders and artists and athletes. The author points out that choosing which Black lives deserved to shine was difficult, and that these form only a tiny sample. From its sentiment to the powerful presentation, this is a book that deserves a place in every school library and on every classroom bookshelf. (Tilbury House Publishers)

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‘Poisoned’ by Jennifer Donnelly is a beautiful, complex, fractured fairy tale retelling of Snow White

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings are beautiful in their complexity and their reimagining; but make no mistake, the beauty of the writing doesn’t equate with “beauty” being foremost among the traits of the main characters in her newest fantasy “Poisoned,” or her previous fractured fairy tale, “Stepsister.” Both young adult fairy tales are beautiful in the sense that they take fairy tales in which originally the most important trait of the young women — Snow White and Cinderella — is their beauty and change our concept of what beauty is. Donnelly turns that ideal on its head. And while the Disney cartoon version shows that both fairy tale creations love animals, there isn’t much else about them that has any depth or substance.

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‘Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11’ by Alan Gratz is a middle grade novel bringing important historic events into focus for young readers

“Ground Zero” by Alan Gratz

Children’s author Alan Gratz is known and revered for his historical fiction middle grade novels like his newest, “Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11.” As he has done in other novels including the award-winning “Refugee,” Gratz presents readers with two main characters from different backgrounds and different perspectives who share the story in alternating narratives. In “Ground Zero,” we meet Brandon Chavez from New York and Reshmina from Afghanistan.

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‘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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‘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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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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‘I Hope You’re Listening’ by Tom Ryan is a thrilling YA story of abduction, guilt, and making amends

In “I Hope You’re Listening” by Tom Ryan, main character Dee Skinner has never been able to shake her guilt over being the kid who wasn’t abducted. When she was seven, she and her best friend Sibby were playing near their tree fort when Sibby was abducted. And although Dee was right there, she was left behind, helpless, watching as her best friend was carried away by two men, never to be seen again. Continue reading