Book Review: Into the Hurricane by Neil Connelly

Into the Hurricane
Neil Connelly
Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2017
ISBN: 978-0-545-85381-1
Hardcover

Take a boy who’s tormented by the ghost of his dead sister and have him encounter a sad and angry girl on a mission. Add a monster hurricane and mix well. Garnish with a group of religious fanatics, an abandoned lighthouse, a derelict floating casino and a gutsy, but slightly insane war veteran and you have all the ingredients for a really intriguing and twisty story. It’s part romance, part self-discovery and a lot of white knuckle survival—minute by minute at times.

Max (short for Maxine) was already in a world of pain after her mother abandoned her and her dad. When he met someone new in a recovery program and married her, that sense of abandonment increased. Max dealt with it by shutting down and by the time she learned her father was dying from cancer, it was too late to make most amends. She reacted by stealing her father’s ashes and heading for Shackles Island, Louisiana. She and her dad stopped there years ago during a quest to find her mom. She believes he wanted his ashes spread there, but she’s stolen them just as much to thwart her stepmother’s plan to have him buried in a new family plot.

Eli knows there’s a terrible storm bearing down on the island, but he can’t, or won’t evacuate because he believes he needs to atone for his sister’s death seven years ago when she fell from the top of the lighthouse. When he arrives there, not long before the storm hits at full strength, he’s confronted by Max. Their interaction is cut short when the Odenkirk gang shows up, slashing the tires on his motorcycle and stealing her Jeep which has her father’s ashes in it.

What follows is scary high adventure, mixing Eli’s sister’s ghost and why she torments him, with their efforts to retrieve the ashes, get off the island, save a little girl and ultimately avoid getting killed by the storm.

Readers will be treated to a fast paced, slightly supernatural tale that’s intriguing and has an abundance of action. I particularly like how both Eli and Max come to grips with what really motivated them to act as they did in the face of a horrific storm. It’s a really good story for teens liking high adventure with a dash of romance and an ending that allows them to write their own ‘what happens next’.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

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Book Review: Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis

hidden-like-anne-frankHidden Like Anne Frank
14 True Stories of Survival
Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-54362-0
Hardcover

Anne Frank was the most memorable child of the Holocaust, but there were many, many others. In this extremely vivid and moving collection of fourteen personal narratives by survivors of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, readers will find themselves experiencing a range of emotions.

These survivors were separated from parents, siblings, cousins and other relatives, found themselves moved more times that they could count, experienced despair the day after hope and came out of the experience forever changed. They had to adopt new names, new religions, learn different customs and even undergo eyebrow shaping and a change of hair color. Readers will discover how entire communities were herded like cattle, lost everything they had accumulated, were forced to ignore siblings in public, live under inhumane conditions, endure beatings by people who had supposedly befriended them, go hungry for extended periods of time and often had to remain in unlit cold and cramped places for hours while being terrified that the knock on the door meant exposure and a trip to a concentration camp.

Each story is different, each survivor knew great loss and deprivation, but all endured. What comes across clearly in each story is how the experience forever changed not only the narrator, but their relationships with surviving family members. Each reader will have unique reactions to every story. There are some that inspire admiration, some that evoke pity, sympathy or empathy and even one that might strike one as annoying, but none of us were there to live the terror and fear, so who’s to say how our story might come across under similar circumstances.

This is a book that should be read by as many people as possible, particularly in a time (like now) where ethnocentricity and racial intolerance are once more on the rise. It’s well worth having in any school or public library.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Reviews: Rescued by Eliot Schrefer and The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

rescuedRescued
Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-65503-3
Hardcover

Every child wants a pet at some time or another.  A dog, kitten, pony or orangutan.  Maybe orangutan isn’t typical, but if you grew up watching BJ and the Bear or Every Which Way But Loose, you may see the simian sway.  Whatever the animal, it is almost always up to parents to make the decision.  Children don’t always know what is best.

When John casually notes the potential appeal of ape ownership while watching an old movie, he was not actually asking for a pet.  His dad could dig the draw when he recognized the leading “man” as an orangutan because sometimes the adorable orange creatures would wander around his company’s plant in Indonesia.

In fact, he returned from a business trip bearing a baby-orangutan-in-a-barrel.  John was beside himself with wonder and joy.  His mother was also struck with wonder; but hers was the “in doubt” version, much different than the “filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel” version that burst from her son. John’s wonder won and Raja became the newest member of the family for four rambunctious years.  Until divorce divided them.

The two year separation of John and Raja was torture; for both boy and beast; but paled in comparison to their last days together leading up to their final farewell.   This relationship is written so well, it is as if I actually witnessed it.  The fondness, understanding, patience, support and tolerance between the “brothers” is palpable.  The range of emotions that rocket through John as he blindly battles the hardest decision of his entire life build the ultimate reader’s rollercoaster and recalling that this is a sixteen-year-old-boy, ties a knot and truly tugs the heart-strings.

I thoroughly enjoyed each and every bit of this tiny tome and would be remiss if I did not highly recommend Rescued to those searching for reads.  While the book may  technically tip into the Middle-Grade category (for the 12-year-old and older readers), I have no doubt that there are many Teen-Aged, Young-Adult and Not-So-Young-Adult readers that will love Raja’s story as intensely as I do, and I’m confident that I’m not the only reader to learn a lot from it.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

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The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-66834-7
Hardcover

The Game of Love and Death is positively packed with particulars to ponder.  Love is a man, Death a woman. Each chooses a competitor, a term I use loosely; the chosen do not actually compete.  Most people are unaware of the Game, even while participating.  Virtually no rules, a victor is declared; but the win seems superfluous.

Flora, an amazing aviation mechanic, is also a phenomenal pilot, possibly rivaling Amelia Earhart.  It is 1937 and she “has the brown skin, and here in America, (you) pay so very much heed to that.” Besides, she can trick herself into believing that she was meant for something else.  The death of her parents created a void she valiantly tried to fill with the jazz nightclub she inherited.  Flora chose work over a high school diploma, believing “…the club was her future and most white folk were hell-bent on keeping colored folk in their place, even if they were polite about it.”

Henry hasn’t had it easy, but he is a white male.  His dream is simple: eke out a living with his beloved bass.  Instead, he works for the newspaper of his almost-adopted family, often accompanying Ethan on interviews.  When Henry sees Flora working on a plane, it is as if he had been sleep-walking through life and is just now completely awake.

The harrowing story of Flora and Henry in the The Game of Love and Death is enriched by the secondary characters.  Ethan isn’t the golden boy he seems, and his secret struggles would tarnish his image if revealed; although there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Simple spoken statements throughout, “there hasn’t been a white newspaper that’s written about the likes of us unless some sort of arrest was involved,” reiterate bigoted opinions; making the book more than just entertaining to thought-provoking, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

Book Review: Interference by Kay Honeyman

interferenceInterference
Kay Honeyman
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-81232-0
Hardcover

Kate Hamilton is genetically programmed to fix or make things right. After all, her dad is a U.S. Congressman from North Carolina and her grandfather and great grandfather held a similar office, only in Texas.  When her latest effort to reveal cheating by one of her fellow students at the posh DC high school they attend blows up, thanks to photoshopped and out of context pictures posted online, it also derails her dad’s re-election bid.

Her parents take an unusual tack. They cart Kate off to Red Dirt, Texas where the incumbent who held the seat her grandfather once had, has just died and a special interim election is going to be held. Dad was the star high school quarterback many still remember fondly…Many except Bo Stone who was the player replaced by Dad way back then. Bo is also intent upon running for the vacant seat and his son Kyle is now the quarterback for the local team.

Kate’s upset and angry when they arrive in the middle of nowhere, but no sooner do her parents tell her she can be free of campaigning and be a ‘normal teenager’ (as long as she stays out of the headlines), than Kate starts being seduced by the wide openness of Texas. One of her goals is to get back at her DC tormentor, but do it in an honorable way. She needs lots of volunteer hours as well as more photos for her art portfolio if she wants to get into a school where that is offered and one of three coveted letters of recommendation written by the principal for a graduating senior.

High school in Texas is a far cry from her old school and features a cast of characters that affect her in ways she never expected. There’s Ana Gomez who’s as good, maybe better a photographer than Kate. Ana is still acting like a deer in the headlights after lies were spread by an ex-boyfriend. There’s Ms. Serrano, the yearbook adviser who is more than she seems and challenges Kate in unexpected ways, but most of all, there’s Hunter, who she sees as a rude, slightly antagonistic student, who she first meets when she has her hands in a very embarrassing place when pressed into service by her prickly Aunt Celia to help with a difficult calving at the sanctuary.  Celia has spent her life rescuing stray and abandoned animals of all types (and naming each after a famous politician). She reluctantly accepts Kate’s offer to help out at the refuge near the home her dad inherited.

There aren’t any particularly unique elements in this story, but great recipes come out of common ingredients and that’s the kind of story this is. It’s about Kate’s growing awareness of how she needs to change, who she really is and how a congressman’s daughter can learn to love a small town in Texas as well as a guy she thought cared about someone else. It’s a great read and definitely worth adding to any school or public library caring about offering teens a neat read.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, September 2016.

Book Review: A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

a-tangle-of-goldA Tangle of Gold
The Colors of Madeleine, Book 3
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-39740-7
Hardcover

This third installment in the Colors of Madeleine series begins with Elliot in our world, but after he makes an amazing discovery that tosses much of what he believed out the window, his stay is cut very short. Instead of building on what he and Madeleine developed as they worked to open the cracks in order to rescue the royals from our world, he’s whisked back to Cello, only to find himself tortured by very strong Greys while being held a hostage by the hostiles.

Meanwhile everything else is thrown into chaos. Princess Ko is branded a traitor and thrown in prison, the colors are becoming more aggressive and disrupting everything and it becomes ever harder to figure out who is really in the various factions. The Jagged Edge seems to have assumed control, while yet another group, the Circle, not before apparent but with strong connections to our world, becomes a player.

Madeleine suffers ever stronger nosebleeds, mixed with vivid visions of notable historic figures from our world and has to fight hard to save what little sanity she still has as she faces the very real possibility that her connection to Cello is about to be permanently closed. Her desperation, coupled with who she really is, help propel her back there at the right moment.

Readers will find the first part of the book is slower, but that’s necessary to expand the threads which need to be pretty clear as things speed up and numerous plot twists start unfurling in order for the somewhat frenetic finish to happen. Those make for a toe crimping experience as readers race along with the two characters you really want to be happy together in their attempt to figure out how and where to find the elusive thing needed to save Cello and the lands surrounding it by conquering the color storms and resurrecting the Cello Wind. It’s a dandy finish that will amply reward readers who have come along for the ride and, best of all, they’ll get to imagine their own happily ever after.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, August 2016.

Book Review: The World Within by Jane Eagland

the-world-withinThe World Within
A Novel of Emily Bronte
Jane Eagland
Arthur A. Levine Books, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-49295-9
Hardcover

Well, this is embarrassing.  As someone who considers herself relatively well read, I know of the Bronte sisters in only a vague, pedestal-classics-women-only-wear-dresses kind of way.  Apparently, I’m not mature enough to put that aside and just read a book.  Unfortunate and unfair when reading for review, I almost allowed my uninformed opinion of the main character to cast a shadow over the entire effort.  Absolutely asinine; I dig so much about this book.

I loved that Emily grew by leaps and bounds in some ways; staying self-limiting to the extreme in others.  The author’s adoration and admiration is clear and contagious.  Ferociously fond, Ms. Eagland is nevertheless fair and forthright.  Emily has faults that she may never notice but the author acknowledges in a skillfully sly, demonstrative way.

Clearly consumed with compassion for her siblings, Emily nevertheless continues to anticipate issues incorrectly.  Almost illustrative of something that Hank Green recently said, “I think that the longer you know someone, the easier it is to think that you know what they think all the time and that leads to really bad communication.  When you’re like, I already know how you feel about this, so I’m not even going to ask.”

Ms. Eagland does not portray Emily as a heroine, nor does she gloss over the young woman’s courageous, self-less acts.  Feisty and fierce, Emily does not always choose the best battle to fight, in spite of being considerate and thoughtful.  Wise and well-informed on the one hand, naïve and somewhat sheltered on the other; I found it interesting and intriguing to witness her acquisition of knowledge.  I loved that she changed her mind quickly, compulsively to adopt and embrace the completely opposite opinion.

Engaging and exhilarating, Emily takes center stage but the spotlight certainly shines on the charismatic cast.  Curious and considerate, interacting with different people has a ripple effect as Emily first defends, then reconsiders her stance on practically every topic from religion to women’s role in society.  As it turns out, any preconceived notions are irrelevant.  The World Within is simply an interesting story about an intriguing young lady.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2016.

Book Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Cracks in the KingdomThe Cracks in the Kingdom
The Colors of Madeleine #2
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-39738-4
Hardcover

First an admission, I bought A Corner of White, book one  in this series when it came out in 2013, started reading it and lost interest about 50 pages in. As a result, I wondered how I’d find the middle book. I was surprised to discover it grabbed me pretty fast and I read straight through.

Imagine two worlds in parallel dimensions that once allowed travel between them via invisible cracks. Only the very adventurous took advantage of them and when the plague from our world seeped through to Cello, killing many, their monarchy established the WSU, a powerful agency charged with finding and sealing all the cracks and executing anyone trying to access them.

Princess Po is a teen and the only member of the royal family not captured by factions intent upon bringing down the monarchy. She’s pretty certain her parents, older sister and younger brother have been exiled to the World (our planet), but has no idea how to find or rescue them. She’s got her hands full just keeping up the illusion that all four family members are busy elsewhere while she keeps the daily affairs of state going. Po knows she’s in over her head, so she creates what she calls the Royal Youth Alliance as a cover for a small group of teens who might be able to figure out where her family members are and how to get them back.

Chief among the members is Elliot who discovered a crack in the first book (inside an ancient TV on a rock behind his school) that is connected to a parking meter in our world near the home of Madeleine Tully, another teen who is somewhat lost since her dad left. Her link to Elliot was forged when he was able to give her a string of beads that cured her mother’s near fatal illness in the first book. The fact that intense emotional energy allowed them to connect is literally all they have to work with as they try to figure out where the missing royals are and how to retrieve them.

Their mission is complicated by the fact that most who have moved to our world soon lose all memories of Cello, who they are, where they lived, what they did, who family members are. Add in that the four members of the royal family are widely dispersed and you have a giant puzzle for Po, Elliot, Madeleine and the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance to solve.

The challenge is further complicated by Elliot’s missing father, gone for more than a year, who has supposedly been located by two government agents, but said agents keep coming up with barely plausible reasons why Dad hasn’t been freed and returned home. Then, there’s the Monty Python-like weather in Cello, affected by unpredictable magic that can change summer into winter and back in a heartbeat, not to mention the wildly differing customs in various provinces that the teen rescue team must deal with as they travel around the kingdom, seeking clues to where the cracks are and how to open them enough so they can retrieve the missing family members. There are twists and surprises galore near the end of the story, setting up plenty of anticipation for the final installment.

I really like this book and don’t feel I lost much by not finishing book one. Princess Po isn’t particularly likable, but given her desperation, that’s almost forgivable. Elliot is a great guy who is conflicted about who he likes, Madeleine or one of the members of the Royal Youth Alliance. There’s plenty of action and mystery in this story and I’m eager to read the final installment.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, August 2016.