‘Upgrade’ by Blake Crouch is a thrilling sci-fi novel about the future

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch’s newest novel, “Upgrade,” doesn’t start with a bang but rather a slow, uphill journey that draws us in gradually. But don’t relax, because before Chapter 2 begins, the action ratchets up, and by the end of the second chapter, you’ll find you want to keep reading to find out what happens next — quickly. That level of excitement and wonder continues to the very last page. Crouch is a master at creating stories about fantastic events and the people who are affected by them. There are few real bad guys in this story; instead, there are characters who, because of their arrogance, believe they can save the world.

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‘The Cage’ by Bonnie Kistler is a very enjoyable mystery that will keep you reading until late

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler

I stayed up way too late finishing “The Cage” by debut author Bonnie Kistler. Because of the promo material, I was expecting a sort of “escape room” mystery. That’s not at all what I got, and I’m not disappointed at all. I loved how Kistler alternated past and present, first and third person. The dated entries are clearly to show events leading up to the present predicament in which Shay Lambert finds herself. One Sunday evening, she and the head of HR, Lucy Carter-Jones, both leave the office at the same time and find themselves sharing an elevator. Shortly after they begin their descent, all power goes off, and their only communication with the world outside the elevator is a short 911 call. When they arrive at the first floor, Carter-Jones is dead. But was her death, from an unregistered handgun, murder or suicide?

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‘Memphis’ by Tara M. Stringfellow is an ode to generations of Black women and a view into the conflicting issues of motherhood

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

In her historical fiction novel “Memphis,” Tara M. Stringfellow introduces us to three generations of women. We meet Hazel, who was born in 1921; Miriam, born in 1957; her sister August, born in 1963; and Miriam’s two daughters, Joan and Mya, born in the mid 1980s. It’s through the eyes and words of four of these women that we learn the story of one Memphis family, and this family—these strong women who suffer through so much adversity yet remain pillars of strength—is based on Stringfellow’s family and her ancestors.

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Children’s books for Black History Month and every other time of year

Moving Forward by Chris Barton

If I were going to teach a unit on prejudice, I’d start with a fabulous picture book, “Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins with Airman Alton Yates,” by Chris Barton and Steffi Walthall. There are many, many wonderful nonfiction books aimed at middle grade readers, books which are perfect for research projects or just informational reading. A powerful picture book like this one about Alton Yates will elicit many emotions in readers. We admire Yates for his dedication and bravery, we are infuriated on his behalf because of the prejudice and mistreatment he endured after serving our country in the military, and we are inspired by his fight, at times endangering his very life, against the Jim Crow laws of the south. The story is factual and gripping. The illustrations are powerful. Alton is a heroic person, and his story is a wonderful example of how one man fought against injustice. It’s a fight that is ongoing. (Beach Lane Books)

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‘Honor’ by Thrity Umrigar is a heartrending and thoughtful story of love and hatred

Honor by Thrity Umrigar

“Honor” is a perfect title for Thrity Umrigar’s powerful novel about India and the horrors that are perpetrated in rural areas in the name of religion and honor. For while honor is a noble concept, the foul acts perpetrated in its name are not. Umrigar makes it clear that while India is the setting for this tragic story, the prejudice and hatred toward women, toward others of a different religion, toward others who are considered to be less worthy, are not confined to any one country. Such prejudice and hatred are endemic to almost every country.

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‘The Last Dance of the Debutante’ by Julia Kelly is a frothy tale of parties and upper-class British snobbery but it’s touching and inspiring

The Last Dance of the Debutante
by Julia Kelly

“The Last Dance of the Debutante,” Julia Kelly’s historical fiction about the last group of British debutantes who got presented at Court to the Queen in 1958 is, as might be said about many of the debutantes, a frothy delight. Getting to sneak vicariously into debutante parties and reading about the effort and expense that went into a debutante’s season in 1950s England is fascinating, and Kelly provides us with the inside story. It was a time when, at least for upper class women, their goal as debutantes was to meet other debutantes and expand their social circle, all in the pursuit of one overarching aim: to find a husband who would increase their social value. So the daughters of the extremely well-connected and wealthy might demand a suitor with a title or prospective title, and the daughter of an impoverished but noble family might simply need a suitor who could provide the funds to keep the family estates going. Each debutante had slightly different goals, but almost all were in pursuit of a husband.

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‘Boy Underground’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a coming of age story of a gay teen in the 1940s

Boy Underground by Catherine Ryan Hyde

“Boy Underground” is the title of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest novel, and the title has a double meaning. On one hand, the title refers to Nick, who is main character Steven Katz’ best friend, and who is also Steven’s romantic crush. Because of an unbelievable betrayal by Nick’s father, he must hide and ends up living underground in a root cellar on Steven’s family’s huge farm. On the other hand, the title could also refer to Steven, and the fact he is gay; something he is hiding from his family and pretty much everyone else. During this time homosexuality was considered a perversion and a crime. Steven’s feelings, his identity, his persona—all are hidden “underground.”

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‘Sugar Town Queens’ by Malla Nunn is an emotional tale of familial discrimination and the slums of South Africa

Sugar Town Queens by Malla Nunn

In “Sugar Town Queens,” author Malla Nunn takes us on a journey to the slums of South Africa, where fifteen-year-old Amandla lives with Annalisa, her white mother. Where they live, in the slum called Sugar Town for its proximity to the sugar cane fields, her mother is the only white person, and the oddity of her existence there extends beyond her skin color. Annalisa’s accent marks her as upper class, as does her insistence on living in an immaculate house—even though it’s one room made from tin — teaching Amandla how to make tea the correct way, and speaking correctly. The narrative is powerful, and we see the world through Amandla’s clever, perceptive eyes.

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Incredibly — ‘Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice’ by Yusef Salaam an inspiring read

Better Not Bitter by Yusef Salaam

The set of blazing emotions provoked by Yusef Salaam’s memoir, “Better, Not Bitter: Living On Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice,” includes strong doses of disgust, shame, anger — and inspiration. In 1989, five teenagers, all Black or Hispanic, were convicted in the notorious case of a young White female jogger who had been raped, beaten, tortured, and left for dead in Central Park. Salaam was one of those five teenagers.

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‘That Summer’ by Jennifer Weiner is about two Dianas whose lives intersect in an unexpected way

That Summer by Jennifer Weiner

In “That Summer,” Jennifer Weiner returns to her beloved Cape to share the tale of two Dianas, who each in her own way have had her life’s ambitions destroyed by one man. The difference is that one Diana has her life destroyed—almost—when she is fifteen while the other Diana is seduced into choosing a life of postponed dreams and belittled ambitions.

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Three Mothers: Unappreciated, Unnoticed, Unknown

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs

Their names were Berdis Baldwin, Louise Little, and Alberta King. The percentage of Americans who might recognize those three names is approximately zero. But their lives, struggles, and accomplishments are every bit as important as those of the people we generally acknowledge as American heroes. And that is why Anna Malaika Tubbs’ detailed account of their lives is so significant and timely. Her study, “The Three Mothers,” shines a brilliant light on the influence these three women exerted in the lives of their sons — James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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‘Yellow Wife’ by Sadeqa Johnson: a beautiful historical fiction about love and sacrifice

yellow

“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.

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