Taking Cover by Nioucha Homayoonfar

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution

Nioucha Homayoonfar, Author

National Geographic Children’s Books, YA Nonfiction, Jan. 8, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  12 and up

Themes: Growing up during the Iranian revolution, Oppression, Family relationships, Friendships

Synopsis: Nioucha Homayoonfar is a French-Iranian American girl who moves to Tehran, Iran, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1976, at just five years old.  Nioucha must adjust to living in a new country, learning a new language, starting a new school, and making new friends. But none of that compares to the change Nioucha experiences during and after the revolution of 1979.

Religion classes became mandatory at school and the boys are separated from the girls. Nioucha has to cover her head and wear robes so that none of her skin shows. She has friends who parents are executed, and her own cousin is captured and tortured after he is caught trying to leave Iran.

And yet in the midst of so much change, Nioucha is still just a girl who’s trying to figure out her place in the world. She spends happy times with her family. She listens to forbidden music and idolizes pop stars, but has to do it carefully because Western music is banned. She gets her legs waxed and has her first boyfriend, but they cannot be seen in public together. They keep their relationship a secret. Will Nioucha ever get used to this new way of life?

Why I like this book:

Nioucha’s story immediately captivated me because I had a college friend who married an Iranian and moved to Tehran in the mid-70s. And I knew a woman whose father was a senior advisor to the Shah and fortunately lived in the Washington D.C. when the exile occurred. I was eager to learn more because so little has been written about the culture, the  oppression of women and Iranian life.  So I enjoyed this personal and moving true story about a 12-year-old girl navigating a very tense and complex time in Iran’s revolutionary history. One moment she is living in a very modern Iran where women enjoy a lot of freedom. When the Shah and his family are driven into exile, the Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran as its ruler. The changes are dramatic and scary at times, particularly when Iran and Iraq go to war and there are bombings in her neighborhood.

The first chapter is compelling and draws the readers to the everyday dangers of living in Iran after the revolution began. Smart opening!  “I knew I was in trouble when the white jeep made a U-turn. Driven by the Zeinab Sisters (or the Black Crows, as I called them), it raced toward me and screeched to a stop.”  The stage is set for readers when Nioucha is kidnapped by the Moral Police, thus allowing the author to back track and share vivid memories of her childhood, family life, food, customs, and traditions. She also includes eight photographs in the center of the book about her family, friends and her neighborhood.

Readers will enjoy Nioucha’s spunk and inner rebellion. Like many teens she takes risks. She dislikes the religion class and tells the strict teacher that she is Christian and not Muslim. She manages to get out of attending class for quite a while before she is caught. She also has a secret boyfriend, which could cause her serious trouble if she gets caught. There is humor in her behavior as she tries to figure out who she is.

This book was published in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. It is an extraordinary story that breathes life into history and makes it come alive for readers. There are so many topics to explore in this memoir: revolution, oppression, tolerance, religion and history. Make sure you check out the foreword by Iranian-born author Firoozeh Dumas, who talks about pre-revolutionary Iran where women were making advancements in fields and where the population was secular and co-existing peacefully. At the end there is a map of Iran and the surrounding area and a time line of Iranian history.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Tears of the Mountain by Michelle Isenhoff

Tears of the Mountain (The Mountain Trilogy, Book 3)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

Amazon Digital Services, Fiction, Dec. 2, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 13 and up (adults will enjoy)

Themes: Ancient land, War, Journey, Prophecy, Fantasy

Synopsis A simple act of obedience has the power to change the world.

Jubal wants only to live in peace, but ancient feuds from neighboring kingdoms steal away any hope of tranquility. He is a son of the grand vizier when he would rather be a hermit living high in the mountains playing his flute. Jubal is expected to be part of the Kindolin army, but he doesn’t like battle, unlike his best friend Sark. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s unknown history.

On the day of the annual Sun Festival, a well-planned coup erupts from within the palace walls and Jubal’s family is slaughtered along with many others. War erupts in Kindolin and Sark’s father is involved in the coup. Jubal and Liena go to Doli’s home, where the wise man helps him flee to the mountains. Doli tells Jubal he “has been given a calling and it his destiny to play out a role on a divine stage.” It is a prophecy where Jubal will end a curse.

“Mud and mire shall birth a tree;

A sprout shall grow of ancient seed.

The five unite to break the one;

The curse of man shall be undone.

But brothers rise ere dragon’s bane; 

The last shall smite the first again.” 

Jubal finds himself flung into a quest of even greater antiquity. For victory lies not in the strength of arms but in this promise given long ago. His path, fraught with betrayal, loss, and his own lack of faith, carries him far beyond the boundaries of Kindolin. Will Jubal be strong enough to lay down his own life in fulfillment of his task? Or will Kindolin disappear into the pages of history?

Why I like this book:

Isenhoff has written a captivating novel about the ancient orient. It is about a prophecy and the destiny of a boy to slay the dragon, Ju-Long, and end an ancient curse. Isenhoff’s storytelling is superb and her language is lyrical and poetic. The untamed beauty of the lush mountains setting creates both joy and challenges as the seasons change. The plot is thrilling, courageous and perilous.

The characters are fascinating and unforgettable. Jubal is the son of the vizier, where much is expected of him. He is a gentle soul who has no interest in being part of the army, bearing arms, training and learning battle strategies. He would rather study with his wise tutor, Doli, about Kindolin’s ancient beginnings. Jubal values his childhood friendships with Sark and Liena, and the three share their skills. Sark likes war and teaches Jubal and Liena martial arts. Liena shows them the forest plants that they will need to  sustain them. And Jubal helps Sark with his school lessons. Liena’s destiny is intertwined with Jubal’s task and a love story emerges within the story.

Journey back to the first age of men in Isenhoff’s final installment of the Mountain Trilogy that ties Song to his family’s very earliest beginnings. There are three books in this trilogy, Song of the Mountain (free on Kindle), Fire on the Mountain and Tears of the Mountain. They can be read together, or as stand-alone novels. I have read and loved all three inspirational novels. Isenhoff includes a Prologue at the beginning, so readers have an understanding of the story. I choose to read a book in hand

Sample of Isenhoff’s lyrical style: “Under normal circumstances, music bubbled out of Jubal like water from a spring. He was forever humming or whistling or tapping his fingers to some new tune. He heard them everywhere –in the syncopation of raindrops, in the minor key of the wolf’s cry, even moonlight carried a soft melody. And when the surrounding peaks sent their breath strumming through the forest, it produced an entire symphony.”

Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and The Divided Decade collection. She also writes fantasy: The Recompense series and The Mountain Trilogy. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy of the book.

We Say #Never Again: Reporting by Parkland Student Journalists

We Say #Never Again: Reporting by the Parkland Student Journalists

Melissa Falkowski & Eric Garner, Editing by MSD Teachers

Crown Books for Young Readers, Nonfiction, Oct. 2, 2019

Pages: 272

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: School shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Student reporters, Social activism

Finalist: Senior High Nonfiction category of the Cybils Award, which will be announced Feb. 14, 2019

Book Synopsis: Our story. Our lives. Our School.

While the world reported on the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Feb. 14, 2018, the students themselves were reporting the story and living through it. Many of the most impactful voices in the #NeverAgain movement came through the school’s journalism and broadcasting programs, and they have credited their teachers and the training they received for allowing them to think critically and communicate clearly – enabling them to launch a movement that has inspired a nation.

But how do student journalists report effectively when they have become the story? How do the write about loss when it impacts their own lives so deeply? The insight the students have gained about the media, ethics and researching the public has not only motivated others to join this movement, but has encouraged them to start movements of their own.

Reporting from inside the media storm that followed the Parkland tragedy, these clear-eyed and passionate young reporters bring a fresh perspective to a crucial American issue, while shining a bright light on the importance of journalism in our free society.

Why I love this book:

This sensitive and convincingly penned book is a natural outcome of the events of the horrific shooting of 17 students and faculty members at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas (MSD) on Feb. 14, 2018. It is a story that only the students can tell. It is raw, honest and powerful. It is a hopeful story about a generation who wants to make a difference in their world.

The book was written by the students, but edited by teachers Melissa Falkowski (journalism) and Eric Garner (broadcasting). Each teacher wrote compelling opening chapters in the book that gave an account of the events that fateful day and how the student reporters and broadcasters stepped forward as professionals to report for the school newspaper, website and TV station. The teachers provide  convincing arguments for the importance of supporting high school journalism/broadcasting programs and student-run newspapers.

The students contributed short chapters about being thrust into the spotlight, dealing with criticism, meeting politicians, managing their own trauma, becoming activists, reporting extraordinary acts by MSD students and teachers, dealing with criticism, and managing their own trauma. The book is well documented with photographs of people and events.

The students were trained and prepared by their teachers in the MSD journalism and broadcasting programs. They were part of the story, but they reported the story. From the start the editorial staff decided they would not name the shooter and give him the notoriety he sought. They felt it would be irresponsible journalism. He was not mentioned in the school newspaper or when staff members were interviewed by the national media, spoke at rallies and wrote this magnificent book. It was refreshing to see these students stand strong in their beliefs of what was right and wrong in the reporting of this monumental event in their lives. Their reporting was impartial as they held to a standard that surpasses much of the sensationalism we see in  media today. When they moved into the role of activism at the forefront of the March for Our Lives movement against gun violence, they were prepared and supported.

I studied journalism in high school and in college. What stood out for me was how the MSD multi-media programs inspired high schools students to find their voices and stand up for a cause they believed in — gun violence in America. This book is an excellent discussion book for high school students and teachers. It belongs in every school library.

Melissa Falkowski has been the faculty adviser of the Eagle Eye for the last three years. She has been teaching English and creative writing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for 14 years. Once a student journalist herself, Melissa became a teacher to empower students and help them find their voices through journalism.

Eric Garner leads the Television Production Academy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, preparing students for the broadcast journalism and film industries. He has been a television production and film instructor for over 25 years and has worked at WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida’s News Channel, and WTVJ in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Reprisal by Michelle Isenhoff

Reprisal (Recompense Series Vol. 5)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Fiction, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 14 (Young Adult Fiction)

Themes: Fugitive, Trapped in a foreign world, Anti-slavery movement, Dystopian

Synopsis:

The revolution is over. Andromeda Macron is dead, and Capernica is free. But at the sweet moment of triumph, a premature explosion leaves Ethan stranded in a foreign world, pursued by the entire Bruelim army and wishing vainly for his partner Jaclyn. But she made it home safely. His one hope is that the explosion didn’t destroy all the doors between worlds. If even one portal survived, he intends to find it.

In the meantime, the loss of nearly its entire slave labor force has thrown Brunay into chaos. Fuel shortages and an economic downturn exacerbate tensions between the country’s tribal groups, and government efforts to replace the lost workers threaten to send the nation into civil war. But it’s the remaining Capernican slaves who bear the brunt of the new policies.

Ethan burns to lead the anti-slavery movement, but he’s a fugitive, a soldier stripped of all command. He feels useless and ineffective, flung here by a cruel twist of fate. But then–abandoned, discouraged, and with a price on his head–Ethan discovers a reason to stay in Brunay, even if a portal should open up right in front of him. He just had to travel across the universe to find her.

But what does the future hold in a world where slavery is his only legal option? Where the law stands between himself and the woman he loves? Reprisal is the final book in the Recompense Series.

Why I liked this book:

Wow! Reprisal (Volume 5) is an energetic and thrilling conclusion to Michelle Isenhoff’s Recompense Series. The final novel about Ethan’s entrapment in Brunay brings the story full circle, with a very satisfying ending for Ethan in a brave new world. Readers will not be disappointed with the many plot twists. With the Bruelim Army and the Black Guard in hot pursuit, Ethan manages to find Ahava and Jaspar, the Brunay brother and sister team who helped him free the enslaved Capernicans in “Operation Exodus,” in Retribution.

This is Ethan’s journey about learning to be comfortable with himself, opening his mind to new customs and ways of life, looking for the humanity in the enemy, trusting himself and his friends Ahava and Jaspar, finding ways to contribute the best of himself without compromising his values, and serving a cause greater than himself. And romance? There are many authentic characters breathing life into this story. They are flawed, powerful, vulnerable and will draw you deeply into this high-stakes novel.

The storytelling is gripping and complex, the prose is filled with vivid imagery, and the world building is beyond believable. Readers will enjoy immersing themselves into the beautifully constructed details of life in Brunay. It’s brutal and foreign, but if you look closely enough you will see some of its heart. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome.

The Recompense Series is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, with all five novels, Recompense, Betrayal and Retribution, Abduction and Reprisal, published since January 2018. Readers can binge read and pick up the next volume when they finish each novel! Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome.

Michelle Isenhoff is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and the Divided Decade collection. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Purchased copy.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

The Stars Beneath Our Feet

David Barclay Moore, Author

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 19, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Awards: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent

Themes: African-American, Family relationships, Harlem, Gangs, Grief, Self-discovery, Friendship

Book Synopsis: It all started with two garbage bags full of Legos. Or not, maybe it started with the two thugs following 12-year-old Lolly down 125th that night.

Or maybe it was Jermaine’s dying. Or that fight they had before ‘Maine got shot. Yeah, probably it was that.

Lolly’s having a hard time knowing how to be without his older brother around. Seems like he’s either sad or mad. The thing that helps most is building. His mom’s girlfriend, Yvonne, gave him two huge bags of Legos for Christmas, and Lolly’s working on an epic city — a project so big it outgrows his apartment. The community center lets him work on his magical Lego city in a storage room which provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world from his grief.

But there are dangers outside that persist. There are older guys who harass, beat up and rob Lolly and his friend Vega on the street. They pressure the boys to join a crew (gang), like his brother Jermaine. What would Jermaine want him to do? Get with a crew and take revenge? Or build a different kind of world for himself. Lolly’s going to have to figure this one out on his own.

Why this book is on my shelf:

David Barclay Moore has penned a powerful debut novel with a gripping plot and timely, real-life issues for young people of color. He opens readers eyes to how 12-year-old boys are easily targeted and drawn into gangs/crews as a way to survive. They don’t want to be part of gangs, but they are beaten, robbed, threatened and bullied into submission. It’s a way of life in many inner city neighborhoods where opportunities are limited. They believe that having the protection of a gang can save their lives, but it can also kill them, like Lolly’s brother, Jermaine.

I like how the author helps Lolly deal with his brother’s loss through imagination, creativity, and his love of architecture. Lolly builds epic cities with fantastic stories. He doesn’t realize that he is a gifted artist and storyteller headed for great things.

The relationship between two very unlikely friends, Lolly, who doesn’t know what to do with his anger and grief, and Big Rose, who is on the autism spectrum, is my favorite part of the story. Lolly is furious about the center’s director giving Rose permission to build Lego cities in the storage room with Lolly. But, then he begins to see her talent and speed at building. They end up traipsing all over New York City studying, photographing and drawing its unique architecture. They need each other and are important to each other’s growth healing.

A major reason the author wanted to write this novel is because he feels “there aren’t enough books that speak with the voices of the characters in his story.” For instance a slang word in one Harlem neighborhood may not even be used in another neighborhood a few blocks away. So the narrative is richly textured and thought-provoking, and offers hope and an opportunity for self-discovery.

This novel belongs in the hands of every teenager and middle grade and high school. It offers students the opportunity to engage in important discussions about real life and modern social issues.

David Barclay Moore was born and raised in Missouri. After studying creative writing at Iowa State University, film at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and language studies at l’Université de Montpellier in France, David moved to New York City, where he has served as communications coordinator for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and communications manager for Quality Services for the Autism Community. He has received grants from the Ford Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Yaddo, and the Wellspring Foundation. He was also a semi-finalist for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. David now lives, works, and explores in Brooklyn, N.Y.  You can follow him at his website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Abduction by Michelle Isenhoff (Recompense Book 4)

Abduction (Recompense Series Book 4)

Michelle Isenhoff, Author

CreateSpace Independent Publishing/Amazon Digital Services, Fiction, May 15, 2018

Pages: 350

Suitable for Ages: 14 and up

Themes: Abduction, Ruby Parnell’s story, World-building, Future Earth

Synopsis:

If you’ve read the first three novels in the gripping Recompense Trilogy, you’ve read Jaclyn’s (Jack’s) story. You know the important role her grandmother Ruby Parnell played in escaping from Brunay, turning evidence against the Bruelim and initiating the Axis investigation at the end of the Provocation. Now its time to read Ruby’s full story about her abduction.

Ruby’s story is set 47 years before her granddaughter Jaclyn’s (Jack) begins.  Readers will find her world more relatable to their own. She is entirely focused on her upcoming high school graduation and her escape from her Tidbury Bay, a warm  community of seafarers, a beautiful harbor and beaches and the safety and isolation it has offered her. She has given little thought to the disappearances that are taking place all over the North American Republic, because they haven’t touched her town. But Ruby is a restless and lively soul who sees no reason to attend college, even though she is intelligent. Ruby dreams of traveling the world and experiencing life in real-time. She and a friend are talking about getting their teaching accreditation and traveling to Europe to teach English.

Ruby has another reason for wanting to leave — her older sister Opal. The two may be related by blood, but they have opposite personalities.  The sisters live with their grandfather and Opal works at the local cannery. Opal loves nature and wandering through the woods. She is quiet and cares and cooks for the family without complaint. She’s such a model of perfection that Ruby never sees Opal’s betrayal coming the night of her graduation.  In a moment of emotional recklessness, Ruby flees to the woods alone. She awakens a captive of a cruel race in a land she’s never heard of before, Brunay. She will soon discover what happens to the missing girls.

What I like about this book:

Michelle Isenhoff is a prolific author and a skilled storyteller. Her world-building is imaginative and intelligent, with a strong elements of realism. She makes her readers think, ask questions and look at the world around them. Her execution of cliffhangers at the end of each chapter propels the reader into the next one, making Abduction and her other books addictive reads. And her characters stay with you. I’m already plotting out her final book in my head. I would love to be a cell in her brain, because she writes with such ambition.

It is Ruby’s risk-taking and thrill-seeking nature and her stubborn determination that allows her to fight for what she believes and return. She plans a massive escape for all of the women in her compound, but fails. She endures unbelievable punishment and brutality by the heartless Bruelims, and experiences heart-wrenching loss. Yet she still manages to be the first of over 100,000 captives to escape Brunay and shed some light on the reason for the abductions (NO SPOILERS). It is a harrowing story of resilience.

After reading Ruby’s story, I understand the similar personality traits between Jack and her grandmother. They both are on the same unrelenting mission with stubborn abandon for their own safety so that others may be saved.

Fans of the Recompense series, will be thrilled with Abduction. It is a full-length prequel to the series, and is intended to be read at the completion of the main trilogy. There will be five books in the series: Recompense, Betrayal, Retribution, Abduction (full-length prequel), and Reprisal (full-length sequel coming Summer 2018.) Hooray! I still have one more opportunity to see how this series is brought to a resounding conclusion this summer.  Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website to view all her published work.

Michelle Isenhoff  is a former teacher and longtime homeschooler. She has written extensively in the children’s genre, most notably her work in historical fiction: The Ella Wood series and the Divided Decade collection. She has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work. These days, she writes full-time in the adult historical fiction and speculative fiction genres. Visit Michelle’s fabulous website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Inspired by Susan Schaefer Bernardo

Inspired

Susan Schaefer Bernardo, Author

Inner Flower Child Books, YA Fantasy, May 6, 2018

Suitable for ages: 12 and up

Pages: 282

Themes:  Self-confidence, Creative ability, Greek muses and mythology, Family Relationships, Friendship

Synopsis: As if life weren’t complicated enough, 14-year-old Rocket Malone has just learned that her mysterious Aunt Polly is actually Polyhymnia, a Greek Muse who desperately needs her help. And there is the matter of the gift of a mysterious mirror from Aunt Polly that keeps glowing and draws Rocket into the timeless world of the nine muses. The more time she spends with the muses, the more lost Rocket feels at home and the more out-of-place she feels at school. Now Rocket needs to juggle middle school and apprentice Muse training, learn how to ride Pegasus and blow glass, stand up to Zeus and catch a crazed nymph named Echo — all without losing her best friend or looking like an idiot in front of her crush, Ryan. As she strives to inspire others, Rocket learns to trust her own voice and realizes that the most important spark she must ignite is her own — because the brighter she shines, the more she lights the way for those around her.

Why I like this book:

Inspired is a charming novel with a perfect balance of magic and Greek mythology, but is grounded in a strong dose of realism. It is set in Hollywood and takes place in a regular middle school with all of the angst of messy teen problems.

There is so much beauty in this novel. The tone of the prose is rich and wandering, inviting the reader along this magical journey about Greek muses, gods and mythological creatures, like a Pegasus. A school field trip to the Getty Villa opens the door for Rocket’s first contact with the mythological world, when she wanders off among the statues of muses and discovers Polyhymnia, who looks like her Aunt Polly. When the statue turns from stone to Aunt Polly, Rocket gasps and nearly collapses.

The characters are believable and have problems, which are handled with sensitivity by the author.  Rocket isn’t happy with the direction of her life, but she is a resilient character. Her father committed suicide and her mother has remarried. They are moving from their Venice Beach apartment to her stepfather’s home in the Hollywood Hills. Rocket isn’t pleased when her mother announces she is pregnant and expecting twin boys.  Her best friend Gillian, finds a new friend. Her friend Ryan is dealing with the death of his sister in a car accident and the loss of his home in a wild-fire.

I enjoyed the diversity among the female apprentice muses, each representing a different country, culture and different time period. It takes Rocket a while to realize that they all communicate with each other through a universal language when they are together. They aren’t fluent in English, as she first thought.

The plot is fast-paced with universal themes the author manages to keep fresh for readers. For instance, no matter how challenging our lives may seem, they are “part of our human, creative process.”  This is an engaging story about self-confidence, friendship, adventure, trust, embracing one’s uniqueness, and finding one’s voice. This novel shines!

Susan Schaefer Bernardo is a published poet and the author of several award-winning picture books, including Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs, The Big Adventures of Tiny House, and The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm (a collaboration with LeVar Burton that was sent via rocket to the International Space Station for Storytime from Space!). This is her first novel. She loves school, and has collected her B.A. from UCLA, a master’s degree in English Literature from Yale, and teaching credentials from Pepperdine University. She lives in Los Angeles with her family. You can visit Susan at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Reviewed from a copy provided by the author.

Recompense Trilogy by Michelle Isenhoff

Michelle Isenhoff’s  has managed to captivate me in her fresh and diverse YA fantasy/dystopian series, the Recompense Trilogy, published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.  It is an ambitious undertaking for Isenhoff, with all three novels, Recompense, Betrayal and Retribution, published since January 2018.  Readers can binge read and pick up the next volume when they finish each novel!

Isenhoff ‘s trilogy is a heart-pounding and thrilling read with gorgeous writing, mesmerizing world building and gripping story line that culminates in a series that is absolutely addictive. She masterfully builds a world that is believable, haunting and creates a realistic backdrop for her multi-layered and authentic characters in Jaclyn (Jack), Will, Ethan, Aunt Opal, Willoughby and Jewell. They are flawed, powerful, vulnerable and will draw you deeply into their high-stakes story. The heroine, Jack, is such a likable character, who repeatedly demonstrates strength of body, mind, and spirit throughout the series. You’ll be cheering for her from the very first page. The thing I liked about the large cast of characters is that you never know who you can trust and when you can trust them. They keep you on your toes and utterly glued to the pages. And there is a sweet love story.

Readers will enjoy sinking into the thoughtfully constructed details of Isenhoff’s ravaged future Earth, as well as a number of terrifying action sequences that build to a game-changing twist. The plot is riveting, action-packed and complex. Isenhoff has a sweeping imagination and you never know what to expect next. Each chapter ends with a cliff-hangar which keeps you reading because you want to know the outcome. I lost a couple of nights of sleep because I couldn’t put her engaging novel down.

Instead of reviewing each book separately, I’ve given you my impression of the complete trilogy. I’ve also decided to share the synopsis of each book below, so readers can grasp the depth of this brilliant trilogy.

Synopsis: Born into Capernica’s lowest social tier and not permitted to leave Settlement 56, Jaclyn (Jack) Holloway refuses to pour out her years in the local fish cannery. She gambles on the one chance available to her to advance–the high school Exit Exam. In a country that still keenly remembers the horrors of the Provocation, the period of unexplained disappearances that led to revolution, the smartest and strongest are richly rewarded in exchange for military service. Jack is adamant that her best friend, Will Ransom, join her in striving for induction.

But if Jack fails to pass the stringent physical standards and Will succeeds, she will not be allowed to see him again until his tour of duty is completed–in twenty years.

Meanwhile, the government has been keeping a tight lid on a new string of abductions. Jack’s Exam score places her in a position to aid Axis, an underground organization charged with investigating events that threaten national security. The evidence leads her back forty-seven years, to a series of high-profile cover-ups linked to the Provocation. Blowing the whistle could place her in danger, but holding her silence means history will likely repeat. And Capernica could never survive a second Provocation.

Synopsis: Jack and her teammates at Axis have succeeded in stopping the widespread abduction of Capernica’s teenage girls and neutralized the operatives living among them. Now they turn their attention to uniting the nation against the Bruelim. It’s time to take the fight through the portal and make sure, once and for all, that the Provocation never repeats.

Even as they prepare, disgruntled Lowers hang on the brink of revolution. Their rebellion has the potential to split Capernica along its caste lines just when the nation should be pulling together against a common enemy. But how can Axis convey the importance of cooperation when they’re unable to tell the people exactly what dangers they’re facing? Forty-seven years ago, Governor Macron expressly forbid any investigation into the Bruelim and ordered the evidence from the Provocation destroyed. No one’s certain what she’ll do when she learns the files have been reopened.

Meanwhile, Jack remains crazy hopeful that upcoming Military maneuvers might once again throw her into contact with her best friend Will, while Ethan, her capable Axis partner, strongly hopes they do not. Neither she nor Ethan are prepared for the testing their partnership is about to undergo. Or the revelation of their most immediate threat.

Synopsis: Jack was the revolution’s contingency plan. With the assault on the Macron City Military Base shattered, she was to assassinate Governor Andromeda Macron and revert Capernica back to Capernican control. But she failed, the revolution lies in ashes, and the one person she loves more than anyone in the world has betrayed her.

Alone in Brunay, Jack becomes an anonymous cog in the vast Bruelim slave economy, where callous wardens aren’t the only threat to her safety. The labor compound she’s been assigned to has an inmate hierarchy dominated by descendants of the Provocation’s original victims, and they don’t welcome newcomers. But Jack also finds friendship among the displaced laborers, and like her grandmother, Ruby, she burns with the desire to see them all home.

More importantly, Jack discovers the key to freeing Capernica from Bruel aggression forever. But even if she managed an escape, how could she leave Will in Brunay, trapped in the body of a Berkam?

Isenhoff has made Recompense available free for download on Amazon kindle. I ordered the paperbacks. This new original series will please fans of Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. Isenhoff has completed a prequel to the trilogy, Provocation, which will be released soon. Visit Michelle Isenhoff at her website to view all her published work.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim by Liane Shaw

Caterpillars Can’t Swim

Liane Shaw, Author

Second Story Press, Fiction, Mar. 6, 2018

Pages: 256

Suitable for Ages: 13-18

Themes: Cerebral Palsy, LGBT, Depression, Family Relationships, Bullying, Homophobia, Prejudices, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Ryan, the water is where he finds his freedom. Ever since childhood, when he realized that he would never walk like other people, has loved the water where gravity is no longer his enemy. But he never imagined he would become his small town’s hero by saving a schoolmate from drowning.

Jack is also attracted to the water, but for him it’s the promise of permanent escape. Disappearing altogether seems better than living through one more day of high-school where he is dogged by rumors about his sexuality. He’s terrified that coming out will alienate him from everyone in town — and crush his adoring mother.

Ryan saves Jack’s life, but he also keeps his secret. Their bond leads to a grudging friendship, and an unexpected road-trip to Cosmic Con with Ryan’s best friend Cody, the captain of the swim team. They make an unlikely trio but each of them will have the chance to show where he is brave enough to go against the stereotypes the world wants to define him by.

Why I like this story:

Liane’ Shaw’s examines the paralyzing impact of bullying on teens in this raw, honest and emotional novel. What stands out for me is the prejudice against two teens — one who has a physical disability and the other teen who is struggling with his sexual identity.  This is the first time I’ve seen the differences appear together in a compelling story, especially when the teen who is disabled is the hero.

The characters drive the action in this story. The main character Ryan, was born with cerebral palsy and has spent his life in a wheelchair. However the story really doesn’t focus on his disability, but his funny, upbeat personality and his role on the school swim team. Jack is sad and depressed. He has no friends, and keeps to himself. Ryan befriends Jack, listens to his pain as he deals with his identity, and keeps his secrets. Kids suspect that Jack’s gay and bully him. Ryan’s friend, Cody, steps in when he sees the school bullies harassing both Ryan and Jack after school.  Cody is hyper, wacky, funny, obnoxious, and someone you can dislike one moment and love the next. He provides for a lot of comic relief in the story.

I really liked the metaphor of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, a mirror of what happens when three unlikely teens come together to support each other. Especially Cody, who is homophobic. His growth as a character meant the most to me.

The plot is multi-layered, brave and complicated. Jack’s drowning happens early in the story with a lot of drama and action. Readers may wonder where the story is headed. But the pacing is fast, engaging and lighthearted at times. There is  more to this deeply moving novel that readers will find appealing.  It is an inspiring story about family, friends and hope.

Liane Shaw is the author of several books for teens, including thinandbeautiful.com, Fostergirls, The Color of Silence, and Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell. Liane was an educator for more than 20 years and lives with her family in Ontario.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

To Look a Nazi in the Eye

To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial

Kathy Kacer with Jordana Lebowitz, Authors

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 13-19

Themes: Oskar Groening, WWII War Crimes, Trial, Holocaust, Justice

Book Jacket Synopsis: True story of nineteen-year-old Jordana Lebowitz’s experience attending the war criminal trial of Oskar Groening. Groening worked at the Auschwitz concentration camp and became known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz.” In April 2015 he stood trial in Germany for being complicit in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews.

A granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Jordana knew a great deal about the Holocaust and had traveled to Europe with her Jewish Day School classmates to visit Auschwitz and participate in the March of the Living. There she met and became friends with Hedy Bohm, a holocaust survivor. A few years later she invited Hedy to speak with students and faculty at the university she attended. When Hedy told her that she had been asked to share her personal story of survival at Groening’s trial, Jordana wanted to go to Germany. But she was not prepared for what she would see and hear at Oskar Groening’s trial, including how much an ordinary seeming man — who at first glance reminded her of grandfather — could be part of such despicable cruelty. She had expected to hate him, and she did. But hate, just like forgiveness, can be complicated.

Listening to Groening’s testimony and to the Holocaust survivors who came to testify against him, Jordana felt the weight of bearing witness to history — a history that we need to remember now more than ever.

Why I like this book:

Kathy Kacer sensitively weaves a format for this compelling and dramatic nonfiction narrative that reads like a story. The chapters alternate between Oskar Groening’s life story and testimony, Jordana’s experiences of the trial, and her relationships with the courageous survivors she has come to love and respect. Kacer shares the survivor’s gut-wrenching stories with compassion, dignity and grace. Her pacing will keep readers glued to the story.

There are interesting dynamics at play throughout the story. Seeing the trial through Jordana’s eyes  (two generations removed) offers readers an open-minded and contemporary perspective. Jordana is loyal to the survivors she has journeyed with to Germany. Their painful stories are etched in her heart and mind. But she has trouble seeing Groening as a monster. She wants to hate him, but she sees a frail and sad man who admits he’s morally guilty for his role in the process. Yet she is disturbed by the details of his actions.

Jordana meets the deniers who say the Holocaust is a conspiracy. She converses with Reiner Hoess, the grandson at the Rudolf Hoess, the mastermind behind the design and construction of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. She is moved that Hoess has spent his life talking about the Holocaust with young people and has come to see justice served in the Groening trial. She is shocked after a female survivor finishes her testimony, steps up to Groening, shakes his hand and says “I forgive you.” The other survivors are upset by the woman’s gesture. Jordana even boldly walks up to the judge and asks him “what is it like to be a judge at this trial…and does it affect you?”

Jordana doesn’t carry the baggage of a survivor. She has a youthful desire to be a witness to history and relates her experiences of the trial through a daily blog she writes for the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center — the center that paid for her plane ticket to Germany. In the end, Jordana realizes that the trial represents something greater than achieving justice for the survivors. It sends a message to the world that there will be consequences for anyone who is commits or assists in hate crimes, murders and genocide against human beings, no matter how long after a crime.  Jordana also sees an important role for “the youth of today to create a better tomorrow.”

Resources: There is an Epilogue at the end about other SS Nazi guards being brought to trial. Since most are in their 90s, time is running out. Kacer shares what Jordana has  done since the trial and her dream to become a human rights attorney. To Look a Nazi in the Eye is an important book for school libraries. It fits nicely with Holocaust education and will challenge students to have many lively discussions. Although this book is designated for those 13 and up, I would share this book with a mature middle grade student. Adults will benefit from reading this tactfully written book.

Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her books about the holocaust for young readers, including Hiding Edith, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, Clara’s War and The Underground Reporters. A former psychologist, Kathy tours North America speaking to young people about the importance of remembering the Holocaust. For more information, visit Kacer’s website.

Oskar Groening died Mar. 13, 2018

Greg Pattridge is the permanent host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.