“Yellow Wife” takes us into America’s dark past, where we meet Pheby Delores Brown, a woman of valor. A woman who loved deeply and fiercely. A woman who was a slave yet managed to keep her dignity. But no matter Pheby’s relatively privileged upbringing in the plantation house where she grew up, being taught to read and play the piano by her master’s sister who was also her aunt; in the end, there was no one left to protect her. Pheby reverted to being nothing more than a possession, a belonging, to be sold at the whim of her owner.
The “Endling” series by Katherine Applegate, of which “The Only” is the conclusion, is her most powerful story yet. And that’s huge. “The One and Only Ivan” is rightly beloved by almost every student in my elementary school, and by children and adults around the world. It’s a story that grabs hearts and connects readers with the characters in a manner that becomes unforgettable. The “Endling” series will also grab hearts, and readers will absolutely connect with the narrator, Byx, a Dairne, and practically the last of her species. But readers will also learn about what happens when greed is allowed to reign supreme and when power becomes more important than humanity. It’s a story that follows one young very human-like narrator in a story that’s not only a coming-of-age story but also an allegory about our world. As with “The One and Only Ivan” and all of Applegate’s novels, we are enthralled with her brilliantly drawn characters and the plot that takes us on an emotional rollercoaster.
In “The Wild Huntsboys,” Martin Stewart makes sure we understand that fairies are not beautiful, kind, generous magical beings who grant wishes. There is no fairy godmother that will provide a ballgown and carriage. Rather, if you make one misstep, you might be hunted down and killed in a manner almost too gruesome to consider. Those are the fairies that Luka must confront after he fails to do the one thing his sister asked of him before she was evacuated during a war.
Margaret Peterson Haddix completes the “Greystone Secrets” trilogy with the conclusion, “The Messengers.” Like many of her middle grade novels, this one has a clear message for young readers. It’s a message that teachers across the country echo: Be an upstander, not a bystander. In this trilogy, we see what happens when evil grows and people just look the other way, each hoping someone else will confront those who hope to control their country through lies and fear.
In the first book, the Greystone children discover that three children, with the same names and birthdays as they, were kidnapped. Then their mother leaves on a mysterious “business trip.” They must solve the cryptic and coded clues left by their mother to find out where she’s gone. This first book ends on a cliffhanger. It’s in this book that we first see a theme that is repeated throughout all three books: that siblings Emma, Chess, and Finn are stronger together and stronger through their love for each other. In the second book, they must go back to the alternate world that their parents were from, and where their mother has been imprisoned. They must save her. While this book has a satisfying conclusion, we know that the siblings are determined to help those left in a world that holds no hope for its residents.
Stéphan Pélissier’s memoir, “I Just Wanted to Save My Family,” enlightens us by aiming an unforgivingly bright beam on the injustices engendered by the network of dark systems and practices that define governments and authoritarian figures all over the world. Unfettered nationalism. Corrupt populism. Cruel tyrannies. Stubborn bureaucracies and the frustrating red tape that characterizes them. Pélissier came face to face with all those dark realities because he dared to attempt to save his Syrian in-laws from the terrors of the government of Bashar al-Assad. The narrator/protagonist/attorney simply wanted to bring his wife’s family to France, his home.
Want a story that will grab you from the first sentence and hold your attention to the last? “Hold Back the Tide” by Melinda Salisbury is just such a read. It begins, “Here are the rules of living with a murderer.” And the suspense grows and grows as we keep reading, desperate to find out how the hero, our feisty, brave, selfless, and intelligent main character, fights to prevail against a life in which the cards all seem to be dealt against her.
“The Stills” by Jess Montgomery continues the story of Sheriff Lily Ross, whom we first meet in “The Widows” and again in its sequel, “The Hollows.” Lily’s husband was the sheriff in Bronwyn County, Ohio, and after his murder, Lily is offered the opportunity to finish his term. She not only does that, she runs again for sheriff and is elected.
“Starfish” is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and it’s a winner. Think Jennifer Weiner for middle grade readers and you will come close to picturing this book. It’s about Ellie, who is known as Splash for an unfortunate exclamation made by her older sister when she did a cannonball into the family pool at age five. It’s tough being a five-year-old and having your mother and everyone in your family berate you for your weight. The only one on Ellie’s side is her dad, but it’s not enough.
If you haven’t started the “Rockton” series by Kelley Armstrong, you are missing out on a wonderful detective series with a setting that is unique and that makes each mystery in the series much more than a typical whodunit. “A Stranger in Town” is the sixth book in the series, and Casey and Eric, the detective and the sheriff in this Northern Canadian, off-the-grid town of Rocton, made up of people hiding from something in their past, come across a woman who has been attacked and is in desperate need of medical care. Continue reading →
In “The Vines,” debut author Shelley Nolden has created a story that is part fantasy, part historical fiction, part family drama, and part horror. The tale is centered around the Gettler family, whose roots are German, and a girl named Cora. The youngest son in the Gettler family is Finnegan, a landscape lighting artist who feels a bit like a failure given his family’s long lineage of doctors. His older brother, his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather all worked diligently to create cures for diseases that decimate populations. They did their work on an island In New York, North Brother Island, where a now-shuttered tuberculosis hospital stands. Through a series of flashbacks, we meet all those ancestors as they work to help patients as well as to find cures for diseases. Sounds noble, right?
“City Spies: Golden Gate” is the sequel to “City Spies,” and both middle grade action books will be loved by those who enjoy reading novels that are quick-paced, filled with interesting characters, and boast satisfying endings. This series doesn’t fail to entertain, and even readers who haven’t read the first book in the series will be able to start right in on the second book, although it’s more fun getting in on the ground floor, so to speak.
In “Twenty,” the newest Jack Swyteck mystery by James Grippando, there are important questions that arise at the very start of this gripping mystery/thriller. Who was the shooter who killed students at the tony private school in Miami? Whoever it was was covered from head to toe: goggles, face mask, tactical vest, even booties covering the shoes. But when one of the students, Xavier Khoury, confesses to the shooting after the gun used was discovered to belong to his father, the community closes ranks against him and his family. Continue reading →