Winter Guest, by Pam Jenoff (book review) – war, love, memory, betrayal

book cover of The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff published by Harlequin MiraNazis getting nearer,
food getting scarcer,
hope is a fool’s game – until Helena finds Sam.

The threat of winter overtaking the family farm in 1940 seems more worrisome than the sudden disappearance of neighbors, as twins Helena and Ruth care for their younger brother and sisters after Mama is hospitalized far away and Nazi forces edge ever-closer to their tiny Polish village.

And then an American airman falls into Helena’s life…

Read an excerpt free here, then find this story of love, hope, lies, and secrets to get the rest of Sam and Helena’s story.


Book info: The Winter Guest / Pam Jenoff. Harlequin Mira, 2014  [author site]  [publisher site] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: After losing their parents during wartime, Helena and twin sister Ruth hold their family together. When Helena risks their safety to keep a downed Allied aviator out of the Nazis’ hands, another rash act may doom them all.

On their small Polish farm, strong Helena and gentle Ruth must keep their younger siblings warm and fed after Papa’s death and Mama’s hospitalization in the city. The young women also must keep the village officials from realizing that Mama may never come home.Winter Guest, by Pam Jenoff (book review) – war, love, memory, betrayal

Hiding near the snowy trail on one long trek to see Mama in Krakow, Helena overhears German soldiers -an Allied plane crashed nearby, and one of the airmen has survived! She finds Sam in a remote abandoned chapel and decides to help him. As his leg heals and more secrets unfold, they plan her family’s escape.

But how to get food to the American when there’s little enough at home?
Will Mama ever rouse from her grief and depression in the Jewish hospital?
Can Ruth and Helena stay clear of the lecherous town constable and the Nazi soldiers now in their village?

Bracketed by episodes of her life as an old woman now, Helena’s compelling memories of the Jewish airman whom she came to love and the terrors which invaded their village paint a vivid picture of World War II mysteries and ghosts, including Ruth’s act of treachery.

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Geek Girl, by Holly Smale (book review) – a beauty of a geek?

book cover of Geek Girl by Holly Smale published by Harper CollinsAnimals? Adores them!
Fish anatomy? Fantastic!
High heels? Huh?

Aspiring natural scientist and focus of every school bully, clumsy Harriet reluctantly goes with lovely Natalie to a fashion tryout – and is chosen! What??

I just loved Geek Girl when I read an advance copy in 2013 and was so sad that it was only available in the UK then. At last, Harper Collins has brought freckled Harriet here – just out this week!

Read the beginning of Harriet’s headlong rush into modeling here on the publisher’s site for free.

The second book in the series, Geek Girl: Model Misfit, will be published in the US this July – whatever will Harriet get into next?


Book info: Geek Girl (Geek Girl, book 1) / Holly Smale. Harper Collins, 2015.   [author site]  [publisher site]   Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Harriet is just fine with being a geek and so are her best friend Natalie and smitten Toby – it’s everyone else at school who hates her for being smart. Tricked into attending a mall fashion show, it’s ginger-haired, freckled Harriet who’s chosen as a model, not beautiful Nat! And wanting to change from despised geek to anything else, Harriet says yes.

From her suburb to the London modeling agency, Harriet’s dad is excited, her lawyer stepmom is skeptical, and Harriet is about to pass out from nerves. This is not part of the plan – she wants to be a paleontologist! It’s Natalie who’s always dreamed of being a model. At least the cute dark-haired guy from the mall is there, rescuing her from outside the agency where she’s hyperventilating.

The flamboyant modeling agent who discovered her (that’s Wilbur with a –bur not an –iam!) calls her Plum-cake and Treacle-Nose. Harriet doesn’t recognize the name of the very influential designer who wants to meet her, but she does know that this clothing brand is top-of-the-line (online research about fashion modeling last night paid off).

Suddenly, a gawky fifteen-year-old geek is the new face of Baylee, slated for a photo shoot in Moscow in the morning! Her stepmother disapproves of teen girls modeling or missing school, but Harriet and her dad are determined to pull this off anyway.

How could she know that getting to Moscow was the easy part?
Why didn’t Wilbur tell her that cute Nick would be there?
Will Nat ever forgive her for stealing her dream?

Every detailed plan that Harriet makes after that fateful mall trip seems to go awry in this funny tale of friendship, family, fashion, and wondering why high heels were ever invented. (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day – windows & mirrors for us all

Yes, books can be windows to other worlds, other lives.
Also they should be mirrors where we can see ourselves, yet the majority of kids’ and young adult books published in the US don’t reflect that. (see my June 2014 post here for statistics)

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day which aims to open eyes, spark discussion, provide resources, and spread the word about the available books with main characters who are not white, middle-class, and straight.

Visit the site to find myriad book lists by category, from Asian American Books for Kids of All Ages to Diverse Biography Picture Books, as well as book lists by geographic region and holidays.

You know that I recommend books outside bestsellers (where, let’s face it, the leads are most often white, hetero, economically comfortable), so I find wonderful diverse titles that lots of folks will enjoy. BookRiot’s recent article on “How to Read Diversely” highlights more ways to find good reads with diverse characters.

#ReadYourWorld or someone else’s with these recent books (click title for my no-spoilers recommendation):

book cover of If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth published by Arthur A Levine BooksIf I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth – Rez life, seeing into others’ lives, the Beatles

Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, by Joel Christian Gill – graphic novel featuring African Americans not shown in history books

Shelter, by Patricia Aust – trying to be a man without resorting to Dad’s violence

Orleans, by Sherri L. Smith – deadly Delta Fever is least of Fen’s worries in post-apocalyptic Gulf Coast

The Chaos, by Nalo Hopkinson – Jamaican-Canadian teen seeks her brother in city overtaken by mythic, storybook, nightmare beings

Riding Invisible, by Sandra Alonzo – escaping on horseback from violence at home

Shadow Hero, by Gene Yuen Lang & Sonny Liew – graphic novel of first Asian American superhero

Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel, by Diana Lopez – Mom’s cancer, Chia’s promesas, answers not always clear

Need more? Watch for Diverse Books as Genre in column on the right (under all the tags) – updating in progress.

What diverse books are your favorites?

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It’s National Readathon Day! Choose your books and get your read on

logo of National Readathon Day 24 Jan 2015Ready!

Today is National Readathon Day – your choice of your books, reading bliss from 12noon to 4 pm local time.

Sponsored by the National Book Foundation and Penguin Random House, National Readathon Day is designed as a fundraiser (you can donate to this tax-exempt organization here) and as an opportunity for readers to share what they love as they take #timetoread.

So tweet out your #timetoread titles during the afternoon today (or any time – we all love a good book list, right?), and please support the National Book Foundation as it strives to create, promote, and sustain a lifelong love of reading in America.

with my stack of to-be-read books at hand for #timetoread

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How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon (book review) – gunshots, expectations, elusive truth

book cover of How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon published by Henry Holt BFYRKilled while running an errand for mom,
is Tarik a statistic, a symbol,
a symptom of our problems?

In single-person chapters, every person shows how their version of How It Went Down is right, but the details just don’t match up. Was Tarik in the Kings gang or not? Was he as good as little sister Tina believed or as cruel as Kimberly experienced?

And how could the police release the white guy who shot Tarik, who was in the neighborhood just to borrow a car, who claimed self-defense against a teen who had no gun? (Tarik didn’t, did he?)

Written and edited well before the troubles of later 2014, this thought-provoking book was published in October, so you should be able to find it at your local library or independent bookstore.

Where does the violence end?

Book info: How It Went Down / Kekla Magoon. Henry Holt Books For Young Readers, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Blam-blam! Black teen shot dead by a white man’s gun – but that’s all that the eyewitnesses can agree on.

Who started it – the kid edging into gang life or the guy just passing through the neighborhood?

Was Tarik holding a gun or a candy bar? Was Jack a good citizen breaking up a gang scuffle or a vigilante doing what the cops wouldn’t?

Did senatorial candidate Rev. Sloan come to Underhill to help the community mourn and heal or to advance his campaign?

Can the late teen’s best pal Tyrell escape to college without Tarik standing between him and the Kings’ insistence that he join the gang and earn his knife?

Each friend, family member, street acquaintance, and bystander tells How It Went Down, their many voices threading throughout the book to weave a most complex picture of perceptions, assumptions, and misunderstandings. Many questions, no easy answers, a conversation which must continue.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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Of Metal and Wishes, by Sarah Fine (book review) – ghost in the machine?

book cover Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine published by Margaret McElderry BooksAltar offerings to the Ghost are mere superstition,
surely we can free ourselves without its aid…

Wen never thought she could find love within the horrific factory complex where her educated father is compelled to run a clinic, but now her heart is torn between two who demand her loyalty and affection.

This adventure-romance set in an alternative perhaps-China echoes themes found in Phantom of the Opera with a steampunk twist and will be followed by Of Dreams and Rust in August 2015.

Would you trust your very life to a whispered promise?

Book info: Of Metal and Wishes / Sarah Fine. Margaret McElderry Books, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: In the slaughterhouse, Wen and her father fight ever-present death at his medical clinic, but an omnipresent ghost bent on revenge may tip the scales forever.

Migrant workers in the slaughterhouse’s guts, machinists in its metalwork shops, her own educated father – no one can get out of debt to the company, yet the 16 year old tries to find a way, not relying on the gossips’ claim of a ‘ghost’ in the factory who grants wishes.

When her murmured plea for an offensive worker to leave her alone results in a terrible accident, Wen realizes that there is something or someone with eyes and ears everywhere in the factory. When she begins helping the migrant workers whose underground leader Melik talks of overthrowing the bosses, the Ghost’s whispered promises to keep her safe from all harm become shackles instead of security.

Accidents, secrets, revenge, family history – as the factory becomes an ever more dangerous place in this possible China, Wen must decide whether to trust the Ghost or trust Melik – but can she trust her own heart? (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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Black Butterfly, by Shirley Reva Vernick (book review) – ghosts, winter, love

book cover of The Black Butterfly by Shirley Reva Vernick published by Cinco Puntos PressChristmas away from Mom,
a place she’s never been,
love and mystery that she never expected!

Ghosts who can’t break free of the inn, strange relationships between inn employees – and what an inn! Super gourmet food, an innkeeper who drinks her dinner (Mom had never even mentioned Bubbles before now), and the innkeeper’s handsome son…

Published simultaneously in paperback and hardback, this 2014 title should be at your local library or independent bookstore. If you can’t find it, ask for it (or you’ll never discover the ghosts’ secrets!).


Book info: The Black Butterfly / Shirley Reva Vernick. Cinco Puntos Press, 2014. [author Facebook page]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Mom’s extended ghost-hunting trip out west sends Penny to a Maine island inn for Christmas where she learns about love, cooking, and ghostly etiquette.

Bracing herself for two weeks of boredom with one of Mom’s long-lost friends, the quotation-collecting teen is charmed by inn owner Bubbles, delighted by the inn’s chef and culinary opportunities, astonished to find herself falling in love with Bubbles’ son George – and welcomed by one ghost while being attacked by another!

What unfinished business is keeping Blue and Starla moored to their death site?
Why can Penny see the ghosts when it’s her single mom who tries to film them?
And why hasn’t Mom ever mentioned Bubbles in all the times that she’s left Penny with an acquaintance while she ghost-hunts?

Spend a snow-bound Christmas at The Black Butterfly Inn for mystery, love, revenge, memories, and gourmet hot chocolate. (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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Red Madness, by Gail Jarrow (book review) – medical mystery & modern food science

book cover of Red Madness by Gail Jarrow published by Calkins CreekPellagra…
a disease brought on by poverty?
bad sanitation? poor nutrition?

Wait! When was the last time you heard of anyone suffering from its bright red rashes, impaired digestive system, delirious visions, and death?

Thanks to the doctors who wouldn’t quit searching for answers, you probably never will!

Red Madness recounts the medical sleuthing involved and tells why pellagra is listed as an inactive disease in today’s USA.
Thankfully, all the historic photos are in black and white.


Book info: Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat / Gail Jarrow. Calkins Creek, 2014.  [author site]  [publisher site]   Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Baffled by a Europe-only disease appearing in the southern USA before World War I, scientists and doctors raced to find the cause of pellagra which led to insanity and death.

Some blamed the disease on moldy corn or sugarcane products, others stated that only poor people in squalor contracted pellagra. When a well-to-do Atlanta woman died of its painful red rashes, weight loss, and delirium under none of these conditions, US doctors and researchers began having conferences to stop this deadly killer. Was it contagious? Was it dietary?

Red Madness shares case histories and photographs of pellagra sufferers in the early 20th century and chronicles the medical detective work of Babcock, Goldberger, and others who devoted countless hours of observation and research to conquering this fatal disease.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, adapted by Stacy King, art by Po Tse (book review)

book cover of Manga Classics Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen adapted by Stacy King published by Udon EntertainmentLove, misunderstanding,
ambition, social constraints,
Jane Austen told the story so well…

And Stacy King uses Austen’s own text along with Po Tse’s stylish illustrations to bring Pride and Prejudice  to lovers of classic lit, love stories, and manga in the newest of Udon’s Manga Classics series.

Which classic work would you like to see in manga style?

Book info: Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice / Jane Austen; adapted by Stacy King; art by Po Tse. Udon Entertainment, 2014.  [series Facebook page]  [publisher site]  Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: Yes, a true manga version of Jane Austen’s classic tale of sisters, ambitions, misunderstandings, and love gone awry!

As you read it from back to front, enjoy Po Tse’s visual interpretations and Stacy King’s well-chosen selections from the original Austen text.

Mrs. Bennet is all a-flutter as the frenetic, social-climbing mother striving to marry her five daughters into higher social status. The aristocratic young men are portrayed as elegant and slim in their well-tailored attire, and the young ladies are most properly frocked, befrilled and doe-eyed (as manga style decrees).

This clever and enjoyable journey from countryside to country estate, from bad first impressions to proclamations of love and eternal devotion is one of the Manga Classics series by Udon Entertainment. (One of 6,000 books recommended on

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Book of Broken Hearts, by Sarah Ockler (book review) – memory is fickle; is love any different?

book cover of Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler published by Simon PulseEl Demonio stealing Papi’s memories,
Family duty stealing Jude’s theater dreams,
Memories stealing Emilio’s happiness.
Can thieves be banished by hard work  – and love?

Jude is sure that Papi’s memory bank will refill if he can just ride once more on the Harley that took him up the Argentine mountains  read more here

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