‘Lemons’ by Melissa Savage: Wonderful and Thoughtful Middle Grade Fiction

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“Lemons” by Melissa Savage covers some tough topics in a lovely story. The main character, Lemonade Liberty Witt, named because her mother wanted her to be able to make lemonade from tough situations, has just had a really tough situation. Her mother died.

Lem, as she is called, and her mother lived in San Francisco and enjoyed life to the fullest. Her father was never a part of the picture, and she didn’t really have other family. At least, that’s what she thought until her mother died and she went to live with her grandfather, who had been estranged from her mother, in small-town Willow Creek.

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‘The War I Finally Won’ Is the Amazing Sequel to ‘The War that Saved My Life’

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It’s rare when a sequel is just as beautifully written and just as touching (maybe even more so) than the first book. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley accomplished this difficult feat with “The War I Finally Won,” the sequel to “The War that Saved My Life.”

Ada is the main character in both books, and it’s her story, that of a child who has endured unimaginable abuse and cruelty, who has struggled through life with a disability, yet who emerges strong and brave. That story has enthralled readers and made tens of thousands of them weep.

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‘Liberty’ by Kirby Larson: Middle Grade Historical Fiction About a Boy and his Dog

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“Liberty” is the third book by Kirby Larson for middle grade readers about a child and a dog during WWII. In “Liberty,” a boy, a girl, and a dog dominate the story about life in New Orleans during World War II.
Fish, as he is nicknamed, contracted polio when young, and now that he’s in fifth grade, one leg is shorter than the other, causing him to limp. In the water, however, he is as fast as a fish — hence the nickname. His next door neighbor, Olympia, is friendly and helpful although they attend different schools. While Larson doesn’t actually describe Olympia, through clues in the text, the reader will come to realize that she attends a different school because she is black. At one point, Fish doesn’t want to take the trolley because they wouldn’t be able to sit together.

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‘I Love You, Michael Collins’ by Lauren Baratz-Logsted: Beautiful Middle Grade Historical Fiction

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In “I Love You, Michael Collins,” Lauren Baratz-Logsted creates a perfect melding of history and fiction in this middle grade story that will be enjoyed by boys and girls and adults.

The protagonist, Mamie (who was named after a President’s wife), is different from the other kids her age. Is she on the spectrum? Probably. She thinks differently and speaks in a manner that is much more mature than others her age. She also thinks more maturely, as is evidenced when all the rest of her classmates choose to write to Buzz Aldrin or Neal Armstrong and she decides to write to Michael Collins. No one can understand why she wants to write to the guy who isn’t going to step foot on the moon, but as the story unfolds, her choice becomes more and more apt.

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‘A Twist in Time’ by Julia McElwain is mystery first, sci-fi second, with a bit of romance

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“A Twist in Time” by Julia McElwain continues the journey in time that began with “A Murder In Time.” In that story, FBI genius profiler Kendra Donovan travels unexpectedly through a time warp back to 1815 where — as luck would have it — there is a series of murders to solve, all committed by a serial killer.

In this story, which takes place right after the first story ends, Kendra’s stay in Regency Period England continues. A wealthy and wonderfully winsome widow who is not held in high esteem by the titled peers of the realm has been viciously killed in her townhouse.

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‘Six Minutes in Heaven’ by Eloisa James: Lovely historical fiction by the master romance writer

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In “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” Eloisa James continues to show through her clever and thoughtful writing that she is not only an extremely erudite professor of Shakespeare, but that she also possesses an abundance of creativity. Each of her female protagonists is uniquely talented and often successful. They have independent ideas and thoughts.

In this new story, which includes many characters from recent novels, Mrs. Eugenia Snowe is a widow who after seven years is still missing her husband. When she meets Edward Reeve, the jilted lover from a previous story, she feels an attraction.

But Snowe’s reputation is beyond reproach, and in her position as the owner of an agency that provides governesses to the most sophisticated realms of society, she must keep her reputation perfect — snowy white, as it were.

When Reeve’s half-sister and brother prove too much for the governesses she has sent, Reeve appeals to her for help. He has no idea of Snowe’s social status, and that leads to a misunderstanding that causes the wrench-in-the-works that every good romance must provide.

In James’ usual style, this novel is a veritable treasure chest of both romance and humor. The addition of a pet rat is a wonderful touch, and James treats the charms of the small mammal with appropriate affection. Those who have had pet rats (James’ daughter has one) will especially appreciate the rodent’s arrival. The action never flags and the dialogue is witty and clever. Don’t miss this reunion of old friends and introduction of new ones. It’s the third book in the “Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers” series.

Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by Avon Books, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Glory Over Everything” is glorious historical fiction about love, family, color, and devotion

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“Glory Over Everything” by Kathleen Grissom is truly — without doubt — a book that will cause readers to lose track of time and keep turning page after page. It’s fabulous. And it’s now available in paperback.

The protagonist is Jamie Pyke, whom the reader meets as Jamie Burton, after he is adopted by a well-to-do silversmith and his wife in Philadelphia. Jamie fled north from a strange childhood. He was raised as a white child by what he found out was his grandmother. He had thought her his mother. The hateful man Jamie had thought was his brother was really his father. When his father decided to sell Jamie as a slave, he escaped but not quickly enough to save his grandmother from a fire that consumed his childhood home. He killed his father that night and then fled north.

The majority of the story is about Jamie’s relationship with those whom he befriends and those who have helped him. Most of the story takes place in 1830, but the action begins in the middle, and then goes back in time to when Jamie first arrived in Philadelphia in 1810. He tells the story of how he ended up at the Burton’s home and how they came to adopt him. His first person narrative is entwined with the first person narrative of others in the novel.

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‘Karolina’s Twins’ by Ronald H. Balson is a beautiful tribute to love and survival

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“Karolina’s Twins” by Ronald H. Balson is a beautifully told story about an older woman trying to fulfill a promise she made to her best friend during the years they were in a Nazi camp during World War II.

Lena is currently a well-to-do woman living in Chicago. She has, in her late eighties, decided that she needs to fulfill the promise she made to her friend Karolina to take care of Karolina’s twin babies. She asks husband-and-wife team Liam Taggart and Catherine Lockhart (investigator and attorney respectively) to help her find them. In order for the couple to investigate, she has to tell them her story, her history.

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‘Dragon Springs Road’ by Janie Chang is a tale of survival and a fascinating peek into old China

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“Dragon Springs Road” by Janie Chang is historical fiction about turbulent times in China right after the turn of the last century. Jialing, the main character, begins the story as a seven-year-old child whose mother leaves her in their home, a residence attached to a large home near Shanghai.
Jialing’s mother was the concubine of a man of failing finances, and as the reader comes to understand later in the novel, she refused to take Jialing with her to be sold into life at a brothel or worse. Jialing’s mother left her in the home at the mercy of the new owners. Throughout the book, Jialing struggles to understand why her mother would have abandoned her, and searches to find her mother.

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‘Somewhere There Is Still a Sun’ by Michael Gruenbaum: Middle grade memoir about the Holocaust

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“Somewhere There Is Still a Sun” is Michael Gruenbaum’s story about his childhood in Prague and then, when the Nazis invaded, in the ghetto and then in Terezin, the concentration camp.

The readers learn about Gruenbaum’s life before they moved to the ghetto, then life in the ghetto, where his father died. He, his mother, and his sister got his father’s body back to bury before they were sent to the concentration camp.

The first person narrative is compelling and gripping. The reader feels as if her or she is living through the experiences with Gruenbaum. And middle grade readers will empathize with 10-year-old Gruenbaum’s (at the beginning of the memoir) love of soccer. Once in the concentration camp, Gruenbaum’s narration tells about living with 40 other boys and the young man, Franta, who takes them under his wing. His demand for high morals, even in the face of adversity, is inspiring.

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‘The Fate of the Tearling’ by Erika Johansen is the fabulous last book in the inspiring ‘The Queen of the Tearling’ trilogy

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The trilogy that began with “The Queen of the Tearling,” continued with “The Invasion of the Tearling,” now ends with “The Fate of the Tearling.” The books seem almost prescient — especially the last book.

The world in the trilogy is a new continent where a group of people live together. They are those who left a world filled with violence, the rich and the rest — who lived horrible lives, to follow a visionary, William Tear, to a better place. But the “better place” is not better.

In fact, the world in which Kelsea, the Queen of the Tearling lives, is one in which “… there are drugs, there is an extremely corrupt Church (in this book the author shows just how corrupt), and there is unmitigated evil.”

Kelsea often has visions of the past. She sees the pre-crossing world through the eyes of Lily, William Tear’s lover, who was in an abusive marriage. In this world, the rich become even richer, the poor and marginalized become even more so, and women are deprived of their rights. Lily is married to a wealthy man, but he is — or becomes — weak and cruel. Because of her society’s anti-female rules, there is nowhere for Lily to go, and she has no means of escape from her awful marriage.

In this book, Kelsea has visions of a different character from the past. She is someone who was there at the beginning of the new world. Through her eyes, Kelsea sees the beginning of unrest in the small colony. She sees the cause of it, and the reader is left wondering whether mankind is capable of the utopia William Tear envisioned.

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‘A Torch Against the Night’ by Sabaa Tahir: Sequel to NYT bestseller ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

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Sabaa Tahir, in “A Torch Against the Night,” the sequel to “An Ember in the Ashes,” manages to write a fabulous second book. The story of Elias, his best friend and now-enemy Helene, and Laia continues, laced with magic, adventure, and mystery.

This tale set in ancient Rome features soldiers with silver masks that become part of their faces, the silver melding with their skin. There are creatures who live for thousands of years, magical silver that is coveted by a jinn to avenge a past wrong, and characters willing to sacrifice all to defeat evil.

Tahir creates an antagonist who is pure evil. Marcus, one of Elias’ peers in the first book, becomes Emperor, and his cruelty knows no bounds. This is not a bad guy with shades of gray — he is evil through and through down to his coal-encrusted heart. Helene, Elias’ good friend, on the other hand, is out to kill Elias and Laia, but she is conflicted. She knows Elias is honorable and good, but Marcus is blackmailing Helene, threatening someone she loves. She has also promised to be true to “the Empire,” or Rome. And surely that means doing what the Emperor commands her to do — even if it is repugnant.

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