Swift and Hawk Cyberspies

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by Logan Macx

Two kids, Caleb and Zen, in a special school for technologically gifted teens, find themselves wrapped up in a secretive group named Möbius as they try to free their families from kidnappers. Caleb’s father had passed away shortly after the family’s arrival in London, and Caleb knew his mother was a CIA agent, as his father had been, but not much else about her work. Zen’s parents were both well-known scientists. Both families are captured by some unknown bad guys, but Caleb and Zen manage to elude the captors. They contact their teacher, Professor Clay, and she reveals to them that she also is an undercover agent. Caleb and Zen become agents Swift and Hawk in Möbius the secret spy network run by Prof. Clay. In order to save their families, they must travel to the island of Spøkelsøy or Ghost Island, in Norway. Their lives are threatened at every turn, and they have to rely on their knowledge of robotics, AI, and themselves to survive and succeed in saving their families.

This is a fast-paced exciting adventure sure to enthrall any middle school age fan of computer gaming. There is violence, but it is part of the story. I think this is just the start of the Adventures of Swift and Hawk. I recommend this as an additional purchase for the middle school reader.

The First Thing About You

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by Chaz Hayden

This coming-of-age tale is a first novel for Hayden. It is about a sophomore in high school who moves with his family from San Diego, California to New Jersey. That sort of move, in and of itself, would be challenging for any teen-age boy. But Harris Jacobus is not just any teen-age boy. He has spinal muscular dystrophy and has to have a physical assistant for all aspects of his life. His skeletal muscles do not function very well, but his mind and the rest of his body are fine. Harris has accepted his limitations, but he has never learned to relate to other people or to make friends with people his own age. He also never had good luck with the medical aides assigned to assist him. He relies on his mother to always be there and to take care of him.

Harris hopes that this move will bring big changes in his life even though he and his older brother will be going to separate high schools. Harris would like to have friends—maybe even a girl friend, but in order to do that he has to learn how to let people know who is. Harris has a theory about people’s favorite colors and how they will relate to him. His favorite color is blue, and he believes that people whose favorite color is blue, green or violet will not be compatible with him. He thinks that opposites attract; therefore, his best chance for having a good relationship lies with people who are orange, red, or yellow. The first question he always asks someone is, “What is your favorite color?” Their response colors the way he thinks they will interact with him.

The first person he meets is a girl by the name of Nory. She is in most of his honors classes, and they get paired up as homework partners. But she refuses to tell him her favorite color. The next person he meets is Zander, a nerd who sits with two other nerdy guys at a lunch table and whose favorite color is yellow. And the next important person to come into his life is Miranda, his personal assistant, whose favorite color is red. Harris calls her his executive assistant. Through each of them Harris gradually learns to be a normal teenage boy. Then, because of events in his life, he shuts out Zander and Nory; and Miranda leaves him because of her behavior. Harris finally grows up and realizes that Zander and Nory did not abandon him, and that Miranda, although she took him to rock concerts and drove fast, was not a good friend to him.

I was totally blown away by this novel. It is real and gripping. It allows the reader to experience, with no holds barred, the life of a teenager with a life-altering condition. The author, himself, has spinal muscular atrophy and lives his life from a wheelchair. It must have taken a great amount of courage for Hayden to write this book and be so open about how people with different abilities are treated. He openly discusses how his teachers talked about him while he was present and how others spoke to him as if he were a child. There are a few expletives and Harris does get drunk at a party on night. But the book points out that this behavior was wrong, and Harris regrets it. I highly recommend this book for any middle school and high school student.

Booked for Death by Victoria Gilbert

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This is the first of a new mystery series entitled A Booklover’s B&B. It is well-written and will keep the reader wrapped up in the mystery of a murder which occurs during a Tey mystery book club discussion. The discussion takes places a bed and breakfast named Chapters in Beaufort, North Carolina.

The reader will learn about North Carolina and about a Scottish mystery writer named Josephine Tey. Tey is actually a pseudonym for author Elizabeth MacIntosh, but that is never revealed in the story. I had never heard of Tey, so naturally I began to research her to see if she actually existed or if Gilbert had invented her. MacIntosh, herself, is an interesting character who wrote non-fiction under her own name and wrote plays under the name of Gordon Daviot. As Josephine Tey, she wrote mystery novels. Perhaps she felt that keeping the three genres under different names added to the credibility of each one.

This is a squeaky-clean story also about a widow named Charlotte Reed who inherits a bed and breakfast from an aunt she barely knew after her husband’s untimely death. Charlotte sets out to reinvent herself and finds that the aunt who had left her the bed and breakfast had a similar journey in life. What she discovers about her Aunt Isabella, though, also makes her a suspect in the murder.

Gilbert weaves a very believable story about each character, but she leaves little clues as to the identity of the murderer and the true story of Aunt Isabella along the way. At the end, I figured out who the murderer was just before I read the reveal scene. This book obviously sets the stage for the rest of the series. I shall be looking forward to reading more in this series. I recommend it for all ages of mystery readers.

The Letter Keeper

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by Charles Martin

I almost didn’t pick this book up in my library. The cover didn’t impress me. I had never read anything by this author, and it was marked as number two of a series. But I am very glad that I did take it out anyway. It was on the NEW shelf. It has a copyright date of 2021, but I suppose it was new to my library.

It is the most moving tale I have ever read of sex-trafficked children and the effort it sometimes takes to free them–not just from the clutches of their abusers, but also from the prisons that abuse has made in their minds and hearts. It is also a tale of sacrificial love by a man who was trained as a military special operator, who became a priest and a writer. This man is Murphy Shepherd, an author, who spends all of his money to rescue children in sexually slavery and to restore them to normalcy.

In doing this he is nearly killed several times, yet he does not kill those who attacked him. He turns them over to law-enforcement. He loses two of his sanctuaries to someone who are trying to stop him from destroying their business.

He has his own personal problems. He seems to lose those he loves. Consequently, he has trouble opening himself up to love, and when he finally does his life is turned upside down. Like the Great Shepherd who goes to search for the lost sheep, he drops whatever he is doing and goes to look for those who are lost.

The psychological trauma these victims endure is clearly spelled out in the pages of this book. It not for the squeamish reader, but it will open your mind to what others may be enduring. It also gets the reader thinking about what life is worth, and whether or not sacrificing your life for another is worth the cost.

I highly recommend this book for mature teens and for adults. It does have a Christian message, but it is not fake or preachy. It is the most honest book I have read in a long time. I fully intend to find other books written by Martin.

The Librarian of Saint-Malo

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by Mario Escobar

In these days of books on World War II and the holocaust being questioned and, in some cases, banned, I would like to suggest this novel. Escobar has given us a view of the French Resistance that is very unique. Although there are instances of sex, and of violence, the reader is not bombarded by them. We clearly see they exist, but the emphasis is on the growth of a young woman in spite of what she has to endure.

We see the events of World War II through the eyes of a French librarian, Jocelyn, who is tasked with the job of protecting the library of her town. We see her passion for protecting all texts, and we also see how the war changes her for the better.

Many Frenchmen went along with the demands of Germany to try to keep the Germans at bay and to save their own lives. Others tried passive resistance. While still others became an active part of resistance. Through Jocelyn’s eyes we meet her husband, Antoine, a policeman for Saint-Malo, who is forced to become a soldier for the French army. We see Jewish shopkeepers like Denis, who lose their businesses and in many cases their lives. We see Catholics, Protestants and Jews working together to try to save their country. We see others, like Mrs. Fave, who turns people into the German occupiers to gain extra food or favors.

We also see two different sides of the German army. One is Adolf Bauman, an S.S. officer who is assigned to live in her house. He is a rabid Nazi who wants to destroy the old history which Jocelyn is determined to protect. Bauman lives for cruelty. The other is Hermann von Choltiz, who is part of the military police of the Wermacht. His job is to find valuable art and books and to see that they are properly cared for and protected, usually by hauling things off to Berlin. He is a Nazi, but he is not interested in killing and enslaving people. He is really doing his job to the best of his ability without causing pain.

Jocelyn tells her story mostly through letters that she writes to the author Marcel Zola, not knowing if he would ever see them and respond. She begins by telling about her wedding and her lack of faith in God. By the end of the book, that has changed and she actually has a deep faith in God. This is NOT a preachy book. It simply shows you Jocelyn and her doubts and questions. Jocelyn takes drastic measures to save the most valuable books. She goes to Paris and becomes a member of the underground with an eye to passive resistance. Once, she is even captured and tortured.

In the end, it was the saviors of France, the Allies, who destroy the library in an effort to root out the Nazis in the area. Even as she is grieving for the loss of her town and her books, Jocelyn speaks the hard truth, “For four years, France had sold its soul to the devil, and he always requires full payment of a debt.”

Escobar tells us this: “Everything is made of words. We would not understand a thing without them. They define our feelings, fuel our ideas, and inspire our faith. Without them the world would be in silence.”

Although this book was written for adult readers, I would not have any reservations about giving it to a teenager who is wanting to learn about World War II. I highly recommend it for all high school and public libraries.

Ferryman by Claire McFall

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Dylan is involved in a deadly train crash in a tunnel in Scotland after she took off to meet the father she has never known. She wakes up and begins to make her way out of the wreckage. Her cell phone doesn’t work, and she has no idea where she is. She thinks she has survived unscathed, but she couldn’t be more mistaken. She is dead and actually in a wasteland that is being created by her own memories, thoughts and fears. She must cross this wasteland to get to her afterlife destination. After she emerges from the tunnel, she meets a teenage boy sitting on a rock. Tristan tells her she is to come with him, and since she has no other choice, she follows him. Gradually she learns that she is dead and that Tristan is her Ferryman. It is his job is to guide Dylan’s soul safely across the treacherous landscape, a journey he has made a thousand times before. Only this time, something’s different. What occurs between Dylan and Tristan is not the usual things that have occurred during crossings.

What happens to us when we die is a question that is ever in our minds. The answers we accept are determined by our understanding of the essence of man–his soul. Our concept of death and the possibility of life after death is the major theme of this book. McFall pulls ideas from several religions and mythologies of the past to explain what is going on in her story. The idea of a ferryman is, of course, taken from the myth of Charon who ferried the dead across the River Styx. Tristan is not the dirty fearful image of Charon. He is able to take on whatever form is needed for the newly dead to willingly agree to go with him on the journey to the next life. In this case, he is a young teen-age boy who is attractive to the girl who has been killed in a train wreck. Is it possible for the dead to love another being? Is it possible for the ferryman to love someone? Is it possible for the dead to return to this world? All these questions McFall answers very satisfactorily for the reader. I highly recommend this novel for teen readers.

I understand that Ferryman (with its sequels,Trespassers and Outcasts) is in development to be a major motion picture.

Covid 19 and Other Pandemics: a Comparison by Don Nardo

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is covid-19-image.jpg

While we are in the throes of COVID-19, we need to remind ourselves that pandemics are not new and that many of them have been many times more deadly than the pandemic we face today. Our current crises is only eighth (3.4 million deaths) out of others like the Black Death (1347-1351 AD) at number one with 200 million deaths, The Smallpox in the New World (1520-1796) at number two with 56 million deaths, and the Spanish Flu (1918-1919) at number three with 40-50 million deaths. We must also remind ourselves that there will be future pandemics facing humanity.

Nardo gives the reader a look at pandemics of the past and helps us understand what science has learned from them. He also goes into the effect that disease had on the New World, both in loss of life of the indigenous population and the effect on the economy of their deaths. The Aztec people were almost totally wiped out by disease. Since they believed that the diseases were caused by gods and since they noticed that the conquerors were not getting sick (because of the immunity they had developed), many of them turned to the new god as their salvation.

He explains that the need for many laborers to work fields and the lack of indigenous people to do that led to the expansion of the African slave trade. Many Africans, like the Europeans, had developed immunity to the diseases which were killing off the natives. Nardo ends the work with a good discussion of COVID-19 and what has happened so far. He does not take sides on the debates swirling in our society. He provides facts and allows the reader to make his/her own decision. The book has excellent illustrations, a good bibliography and index. I think it will be very useful for middle school, high school, and public libraries.

Hurricane Summer

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How can traumatic events both destroy and build? Tille learns through events in her life in Jamaica one summer that they can. She experiences wonderfully good things and horribly bad things. Both serve to change her for the better. Four men, one her father and the other three very young men that she encounters on a trip back to her parents’ land are the destruction and the building blocks of her life. She yearns for her father’s love, but he has his own demons and cannot give her what she so desperately needs. She falls in love with one young man, Hessan, only to find that, while he does love her, he is promised to another girl, and he will not turn his back on that promise. Another young man, Jahvan, attacks her sexually after Hessan’s fiancee lies about her and tells him that Tille really wants him. Only Andre, her dark-skinned cousin, really cares about her and treats her kindly. In the end he is destroyed by the hurricane that hits the island. Her aunts believe that she is promiscuous. They even call her a slut. However,Tille learns that everyone in her family has secrets hurts. She finally realizes that she can’t do anything to help anyone. The only person she can help is Tille. She can only move on from the destruction of the hurricane summer.

I really liked the story, but I wonder how it will be received by readers who are not familiar with Jamaican patois. The author does provide a list of terms right at the front of the book to enable readers to understand the conversations of the characters. I had to resort to referencing that list many times. Nevertheless, I do not think many high school students will be willing to read material that they cannot readily understand. I can only suggest that it be an optional purchase for libraries.

How can traumatic events both destroy and build? Tille learns through events in her life in Jamaica one summer that they can. She experiences wonderfully good things and horribly bad things. Both serve to change her for the better. Four men, one her father and the other three very young men that she encounters on a trip back to her parents’ land are the destruction and the building blocks of her life. She yearns for her father’s love, but he has his own demons and cannot give her what she so desperately needs. She falls in love with one young man, Hessan, only to find that, while he does love her, he is promised to another girl, and he will not turn his back on that promise. Another young man, Jahvan, attacks her sexually after Hessan’s fiancee lies about her and tells him that Tille really wants him. Only Andre, her dark-skinned cousin, really cares about her and treats her kindly. In the end he is destroyed by the hurricane that hits the island. Her aunts believe that she is promiscuous. They even call her a slut. However,Tille learns that everyone in her family has secrets hurts. She finally realizes that she can’t do anything to help anyone. The only person she can help is Tille. She can only move on from the destruction of the hurricane summer.

I really liked the story, but I wonder how it will be received by readers who are not familiar with Jamaican patois. The author does provide a list of terms right at the front of the book to enable readers to understand the conversations of the characters. I had to resort to referencing that list many times. Nevertheless, I do not think many high school students will be willing to read material that they cannot readily understand. I can only suggest that it be an optional purchase for libraries.

How can traumatic events both destroy and build? Tille learns through events in her life in Jamaica one summer that they can. She experiences wonderfully good things and horribly bad things. Both serve to change her for the better. Four men, one her father and the other three very young men that she encounters on a trip back to her parents’ land are the destruction and the building blocks of her life. She yearns for her father’s love, but he has his own demons and cannot give her what she so desperately needs. She falls in love with one young man, Hessan, only to find that, while he does love her, he is promised to another girl, and he will not turn his back on that promise. Another young man, Jahvan, attacks her sexually after Hessan’s fiancee lies about her and tells him that Tille really wants him. Only Andre, her dark-skinned cousin, really cares about her and treats her kindly. In the end he is destroyed by the hurricane that hits the island. Her aunts believe that she is promiscuous. They even call her a slut. However,Tille learns that everyone in her family has secrets hurts. She finally realizes that she can’t do anything to help anyone. The only person she can help is Tille. She can only move on from the destruction of the hurricane summer.

I really liked the story, but I wonder how it will be received by readers who are not familiar with Jamaican patois. The author does provide a list of terms right at the front of the book to enable readers to understand the conversations of the characters. I had to resort to referencing that list many times. Nevertheless, I do not think many high school students will be willing to read material that they cannot readily understand. I can only suggest that it be an optional purchase for libraries.

Teen Guide to Volunteering by Stuart A. Kallen

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Teens of all ages need to know that they can make a difference in this world. Not only will they make the world better, they will make themselves better by helping others. Kallen has presented them with many different options ranging from working in a soup kitchen to helping out neighbors. He even discusses the possibility of setting up on-line donations.

One of the things that I particularly like was the list of web-sites that readers could go to to learn more about volunteering. I have supplied the list from the appendix of the book. Check these out to see what each site offers.

DoSomething.org (www.dosomething.org/us)

MLK Day of Service (www.nationalservice.gov)

Operation Gratitude (www.operationgratitude.com).

Pet Partners (www.petpartners.org).

Volunteer Match (www.volunteermatch.org).

 

 

Lore by Alexandra Bracken

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Lore

The important things in life: love, honor, compassion and hope are revealed through the actions of a young girl who finds herself caught up in the Agon of the gods. Zeus had commanded that all his descendants were to battle to the death during the Agon until only one remained. An Agon could only occur every seven years for only seven days.  At the end of that time, the survivors would be allowed to regroup until the next Agon.  Ancient families of mortals and demi-gods would serve as the hunters in the next Agon. If one of these mortals killed a god, he/she could take their power and become that god in the next Agon.The children of those ancient families were trained as fighters in special schools. Children who could not fight due to some physical problems served as messengers between families.  They wore a special badge to indicate that they were not to be killed.

     Lore, or Melora, is a part of the ancient family of Perseous, one of several ancient families of the demi-gods. Lore’s family was destroyed on the last night of the former Agon.  She, alone, had escaped the massacre of her family. She wants desperately to be out of the Agon, but Fate does not allow that.  She is forced to participate in it when she meets up with Castor, a friend from another family, and Van, a messenger. Together they save the life of Athena. Lore thinks she is binding herself to Athena to destroy the family that slaughtered hers.  But she learns that things are not as the seem and that the gods willingly use mortals to achieve their own ends.

     This book is a unique take on the gods and goddesses of history. There is much violence and bloodshed, but the author writes about those things in a way that does not sensationalize them.  The reader will see two love interests; one heterosexual and one homosexual.  These, too, are not sensationalized.  There is nothing in the book, except some foul language, that would keep any reader of mythology from wanting to read it. The Agon, as described in the book, is an entire creation of the author, yet it makes the reader wonder, “What if it is true?”  I recommend this for readers in high school.