The Shadows Between Us – Tricia Levenseller

Shadows Between UsFrom the publisher, “They still haven’t found the body of the first and only boy who broke Alessandra’s heart—and they never will. Since then, all of her relationships have been purely physical. And now at eighteen years old, Alessandra is ready for more. The plan is simple:

1. Make the king fall in love with her.
2. Get him to marry her.
3. Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

It’s no small task, but Alessandra wants a kingdom and is going to do everything within her power to get it. She knows the freshly crowned Shadow King will be her toughest target yet. Shrouded in a mysterious power, no one is allowed to touch him.”

But, as forces combine to try and keep Alessandra from earning the king’s heart, she wonders if perhaps she’s already lost her own.”

The author has cleverly written an excellent story involving passion, intrigue and scheming, around two characters who are not terribly likeable.  Alessandra is a narcissist and Kallias is a brooding power-hungry king obsessed with expanding his empire, caring not a whit about his people.  They deserve each other, but together, not the rulers I’d want running a kingdom.  Alessandra becomes a bit more personable as she makes friends at court and as she comes to love Kallias.  The storytelling is excellent, crisp writing, action, fast moving plot, romance, and a twist at the end.  I’ve enjoyed the author’s other books and will continue to eagerly read everything she writes.

eGalley review                                                  Publication date 2.25.2020

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The Warsaw Protocol – Steve Berry

Warsaw ProtocolYea!!! Once again Cotton Malone has been persuaded by his old boss, Stephanie Nelle to come out of retirement, just one more time. Cotton is in Bruges attending a rare books auction for a client when he becomes involved in trying to prevent a theft of a sacred relic from a cathedral and ends up in jail (of course he does) and is released at the request of Nelle (of course he is). It seems that there is to be an auction of incriminating information about the president of Poland with several countries invited, Russia and the United States in the mix. Nelle is unhappy with the designated U.S. representative and talks Cotton into attending. The ensuing romp takes us from Bruges to Poland to the ancient salt mines near Krakow. There are plenty of twists of plot and narrow escapes, lots of blood and action. And of course, the best part is the afterword where Berry tells what is history, what is fiction.

I love the Cotton Malone books, they always have an interesting historic background, there is always a great plot and tons of action. And in spite of Cotton’s life being in danger at every turn, you know he will survive with only a few scratches.

eGalley review                                                                  Publication date 2.25.2020

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The Hidden Girl and Other Stories – Ken Liu

Hidden GirlThere are sixteen stories, an excerpt from book three in the Dandelion Dynasty series, The Veiled Throne, and a new novelette. I sometimes skip the preface, (mainly when I am itching to start reading a favorite author like Ken Liu) and I am so glad I took time to read it this time. Not only did Liu explain how and why he selected stories, he mentioned that these stories are best understood if read in order. Since I usually jump around, that was very good advice.

The stories are so varied in subject. Some I loved, some not so much. My favorites were ones that addressed contemporary issues, like global warming and family relationships. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around human consciousness uploaded to computers, but I liked the stories anyway. My favorite was the title story, “The Hidden Girl,” a story of a Chinese girl kidnapped when she was ten and trained to become an assassin. “Memories of My Mother” and “Seven Birthdays” were also among my favorites. Ken Liu writes wonderful sci-fi and fantasy, and I found all of the stories thought provoking, even the ones I didn’t like so much.

eGalley review                                                  Publication date 2.25.2020

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All the Stars and Teeth – Adalyn Grace

All the Stars and TeethFrom the publisher, “Set in a kingdom where danger lurks beneath the sea, mermaids seek vengeance with song, and magic is a choice, Adalyn Grace’s All the Stars and Teeth is a thrilling fantasy for fans of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval and Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series.

She will reign.

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer—the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous magic. When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.  But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder—and more peril—than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stowaway she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.”

The demonstration of her power goes awry by torturing with the slow dismemberment of a criminal.  Rather gory, but that’s the tools of her trade or magic.  Bastian is the good looking, rugged, determined hero. Ferrick, Amora’s finance, stows away when they flee and quickly proves his worth as his magic heals.  I was very slow to warm up to privileged Amora but her character developed nicely so it was easier to root for her.  Poor Ferrick, at first it seemed he was all in favor of the arranged marriage, but his critical review of Amora’s flaws turned the tide, showing his strength in character.  Vataea, the mermaid, is my favorite as she is vicious and clever and quite likeable.  Her story could be a book in itself. The plot boils down to being an adventure book where the group fights perils, has many near misses, and grow in character during the journey.  It’s fun, but nothing unique in the plot, thus predictable. The story fits a niche and should gain a following with the YA target audience.  Book one of a planned duology.

eGalley review                                              Publication date 02.04.2020

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Remembered – Yvonne Battle-Felton

RememberedThe book begins in Philadelphia during a streetcar strike in 1910 with a newspaper clipping about a streetcar being driven by a black man into a department store. Then we go with his mother, Spring, to the hospital where she sits by Edward’s bed, determined to tell him about himself and about her struggle to survive as a slave. Accompanied by the ghost of her sister, she begins by telling him a story that spans several generations. It begins with a free black 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped in 1843 and taken to a Maryland farm to be a “breeder”. The account that follows is difficult to read as the violence and brutalities are told with detail. I read this book because it is longlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is a story that needs to be told, a telling of women’s trials as slaves and as free, but at times it is evident that this is a debut for the author. I tended to lose characters in the narrative, sometimes the plot twists are telegraphed. Over all, It just felt a bit uneven.

eGalley review                                                   Publication date 2.4.2020

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The Blossom and the Firefly – Sherri L. Smith

Blossom and the FireflyFrom the publisher, “From the award-winning author of Flygirl comes this powerful WWII romance between two Japanese teens caught in the cogs of an unwinnable war, perfect for fans of Salt to the Sea, Lovely War, and Code Name Verity.

Japan 1945. Taro is a talented violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the days before his first and only mission. He believes he is ready to die for his country…until he meets Hana. Hana hasn’t been the same since the day she was buried alive in a collapsed trench during a bomb raid. She wonders if it would have been better to have died that day…until she meets Taro.  A song will bring them together. The war will tear them apart. Is it possible to live an entire lifetime in eight short days?”

Eloquently written, the story of two souls whose lives are directed by the war.  Who they could have been and who they became.  The author captures the culture, the history, and the waste involved in the war from a perspective we often do not glimpse.  The stories of Taro and Hana are seamlessly woven by an expert storyteller.  I am a huge fan of the author and eagerly read everything she writes.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review                                                 Publication date 2.18.20

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A Castle in the Clouds – Kerstin Gier, Romy Fursland (translated by)

Castle in the CloudsFrom the publisher, “Witty and charming, this contemporary young adult novel follows a girl as she navigates secrets, romance, and danger in an aging grand hotel.  Way up in the Swiss mountains, there’s an old grand hotel steeped in tradition and faded splendor. Once a year, when the famous New Year’s Eve Ball takes place and guests from all over the world arrive, excitement returns to the vast hallways.  Sophie, who works at the hotel as an intern, is busy making sure that everything goes according to plan. But unexpected problems keep arising, and some of the guests are not who they pretend to be. Very soon, Sophie finds herself right in the middle of a perilous adventure—and at risk of losing not only her job, but also her heart.  The holiday romance of Love Actually meets the playful mystery of Clue in this captivating novel for teens.”

The majority of the book is about the operations of a grand old luxury hotel nestled in the Swiss Alps.  We meet and quickly come to love Sophie, the young intern, and the multitude of hotel employees and guests.  Sophie is tasked with many jobs and during the festive winter holidays, assists in child care.  She is kind, cute, witty, and has a delightful sense of humor.  The wealthy guests arrive for the holidays and the possible crimes are introduced: burglary or kidnapping.  The story builds slowly but that’s just fine.  I could feel the hotel and get to know the characters.  The last part of the book is action-packed, moving quickly and invoking a few twists.  Best for readers who prefer a story that develops with richness, a story that may inadvertently cause a yearning for the Swiss Alps full of old character hotels.  Highly recommend.

eGalley review                                                      Publication date 1.28.20

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Washington’s End: The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle – Jonathan Horn

Washington's EndWhen he left office in 1797, George Washington planned to stay busy with “rural amusements.” But it was not to be. He was in debt. The farm was a money pit. He needed to rid himself of his many slaves, but could not because they belonged to the estate of Martha’s first husband. He found himself in the midst of quarrels between the Federalists and Republicans. Then, when the relationship with France became ugly, John Adams decided the country needed an army and it needed Washington as commander in chief. So much for his plans for a quiet, rural retirement.

This was an interesting look at the personal Washington, not General, not President. Using many primary sources, including letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, it tells of his relationships with friends and family, of struggles with problems on the plantation. It shows us the man with all his flaws. I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

eGalley review                                                                  Publication date 2.11.20

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Scavenge the Stars – Tara Sims

Scavange the StarsAmaya was sold to a debtor ship filled with children conscripted to pay off familial debts.  She spent 10 years diving for pearls, gutting fish, beaten and starved until she escaped.  With the help of Boon, a man she saved from drowning and who later saved her, they plot revenge to those that wronged them.  A primary target is the wealthy merchant and owner of the debtor ship whose son, Cayo, is to be used in the plot to destroy that family.  The plot gets a bit twisty.  We delve into Cayo’s backstory and of course discover he’s a likable though troubled sort.  This first book in the planned duology wraps a few things up, but all the players are in place for the next book.

Maybe I’m just drawn to books about plotting and revenge but it seems there are lots out there.  This one is good, the writing is well done, briskly paced, never plodding.  The bad guys are bad while the good guys are often in a state of puzzlement.  This reinvention of Count of Monte Christo is an engaging read and I look forward to reading the sequel.

eGalley review                                                      Publication date 1.7.20

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Educated for Freedom: The Incredible Story of Two Fugitive Schoolboys who Grew Up to Change a Nation – Anna Mae Duane

Educated for FreedomIn the 1820s most Americans did not see a need to educate black children. Reading, writing and a bit of math would do very well. After all, these children were seen as inferior. But the people who established the New York African Free School system saw things differently. This is the story of two boys who became friends at the Mulberry Street New York African Free School: James McCune Smith (1813-1865) and Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882). Smith became a physician, graduating from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, becoming the first African American to hold a medical degree. He worked for the abolitionist movement from within, quietly using his medical education to show that blacks were not at all inferior. Garnet became a minister and an eloquent passionate speaker who was able to move hearts and minds. The two friends disagreed, often violently, on the best way for blacks to attain true freedom. In an era where most saw only two options for freed slaves, continued subjugation or return to Africa, these two childhood friends sought a better solution.  This is an amazing story.  That the sons of enslaved mothers could become well-educated and successful in influencing public opinion through writing books, speaking before adoring crowds, even speaking before Congress, during this time period is a monumental achievement.  I highly recommend this book.

eGalley review                                                           Publication date 1.14.2020

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The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom – Stephen Tomkins

Journey to the MayflowerThis year, 2020, marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower. That’s usually the beginning of the story. But the story begins in 1553 with Queen Mary’s cleansing of the church. No, it really begins several hundred years before that. This story encompasses the beginnings of the Church of England, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and of course the Puritans. It is a history of oppression and intolerance.  This is a difficult book to read, quoting many early tracts and books. There is way too much information, too many sects with too many rules, too many preachers, too many people who died for their faith. It would be useful for scholars, but it is not for the casual reader.

eGalley review                                         Publication date 1.7.2020

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Fireborne – Rosaria Munda

FireborneFrom the publisher, “Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone—even the lowborn—a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders. Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet. But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city. With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves…or step up to be the champion her city needs. 

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.”

This extremely well written political fantasy offers a study of regimes.  When one regime is overthrown, will the next one be any better?  Is the new government really for the people or is it creating a whole new set of class struggles?  The characters of Annie and Lee are fantastic.  Annie begins rather timid, lacking confidence and we see her grow into leadership.  Lee begins with royal confidence, despite witnessing his family slaughtered.  As his beliefs falter due to conflicts between lineage and the present, we see his confidence diminish.  Engaging, thought provoking, true characters – all of them, this book has it all! AND DRAGONS! I am eager to read more from this author.  Highly recommend!

eGalley review                                            Publication date 10.15.19

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Voyage of the Frostheart – Jamie Littler

Voyage of the Frostheartr, “In a snow-covered land where monsters rule the icy tundra, only song weavers hold the power to control these vicious giants. But for centuries song weavers have been the subject of suspicion—how can those who hold so much power be trusted?


Ever since his parents were lost on a pathfinding expedition, Ash has spent his life as an outcast. As a budding song weaver, his village marked him as a potential threat, even though all he wants to do is protect them. Eager to find his place in the world, he and his cantankerous yeti caretaker seek passage on the Frostheart: a ship-like sleigh whose mission is to explore faraway lands. There he meets a fast-talking, spunky navigator, a walrus captain with a peg leg who runs a tight sleigh, and a mysterious traveler who encourages him to hone his song. But can Ash’s song weaving save the Frostheart from the monsters hiding under the ice? Or will his untamed powers put his newfound friends in jeopardy? 

Chockfull of heart and humor, as well as Jamie Littler’s irresistable illustrations, the journey of the Frostheart will win over readers and gatekeepers looking for a rich, gateway fantasy read.

As an adventure story for the elementary age kiddos, this was a bit plodding.  The story seemed overly long in the village before he is exiled.  Once they boarded the Frostheart, the story picked up with the action of plenty of near misses.  I don’t know how kids will react to the continual passages regarding Ash’s training and learning to “sing”.  Best character is the yeti guardian.

eGalley review                                                                Publication date 11.5.19

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Shine! – J.J. Grabenstein and Chris Grabenstein

ShineFrom the publisher, ““Who do you want to be?” asks Mr. Van Deusen. “And not when you grow up. Right here, right now.” 

Shine on! might be the catchphrase of twelve-year-old Piper’s hero—astronaut, astronomer, and television host Nellie Dumont Frisse—but Piper knows the truth: some people are born to shine, and she’s just not one of them. That fact has never been clearer than now, since her dad’s new job has landed them both at Chumley Prep, a posh private school where everyone seems to be the best at something and where Piper definitely doesn’t fit in. 

Bursting with humor, heart, science, possibilities, and big questions, Shine! is a story about finding your place in the universe—a story about figuring out who you are and who you want to be.

This quick read is made for middle schoolers.  Piper’s father is the new choir director at an elite school so Piper has to leave her friends and start over at this school full of snobby kids.  But not all the students are haughty.  She quickly finds a group of supportive friends, each with their own interests.  Her interest is science and her specialty is kindness.  Piper is a good all-around kid who enjoys science. While she may not have the musical abilities of her parents, her kindness shines through.  Nice read.

eGalley review                                                                Publication date 11.5.19

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The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History – Kassia St. Clair

Golden ThreadWe take cloth for granted. It has just always been there. Cotton, silk, wool, linen, have been with us forever, nothing special. But this book shows how fabric has shaped our civilizations, has allowed us to go to extreme places, to do extreme things. This wonderful story takes us from a cave in the republic of Georgia where traces of the oldest fibers known to have been used by humans were found, (fibers more than 30,000 years old), to the fabric used in space suits. We travel around the world to China where an empress makes the first silk, to Egypt, where linen was filled with magic, to the Vikings, whose ships had sails made of wool. We meet makers of lace and weavers of wool, athletes and astronauts. I love fabrics, so I enjoyed this book very much. But if you are a person who doesn’t know the difference between velvet and denim, and really don’t care, you might enjoy the book a little bit.

eGalley review                                         Publication date 11.12.19

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