Monthly Archives: May 2018

Virginia Reader’s Choice: Girl in the Blue Coat

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This is a mystery wrapped up in war and hidden by the lies we tell ourselves to survive.

It’s late in World War II and Amsterdam has been overtaken by the Nazis. Henneke is a resourceful young woman who helps her family survive. Food and everyday items are in short supply but she has a reputation for being able to find anything. Officially, she does paperwork for the local undertaker but her unofficial job is to fill black market orders for her clients around the city. On her usual delivery route, Mrs. Jensen makes an unusual and dangerous request. She wants Henneke to find a young Jewish girl whose family was wiped out in a raid in which Mr. Jensen was also killed weeks before. There are a million reasons not to take on this task but there’s something deep inside that makes her need to find this girl. Accepting this assignment takes Henneke on a journey to places she never imagined she’d go and the danger she puts herself into borders on reckless but the horror of watching what is happening to her country, her neighbors and friends are too much. She must do something but there are twists and turns in this hunt and, in the end, someone is found but another is lost. Such is life in war.

 

Virginia Reader’s choice: The Serpent King

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Have you ever read a book that touched your soul making you laugh out loud and cry your eyes out? The last one I read like that was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I love books like that; so real and raw.

Dill lives in the deep rural South where there are snakes both inside and outside. Dill’s father is a Pentecostal, snake-handling, poison-drinking preacher whose fall from grace hangs around Dill’s neck like a noose. The only things that keep him sane are his friends Travis and Lydia who hang out at the bottom of the social ladder like him and his music. Things are different this year, though. This is the year for doing things they are afraid of. Travis, a 6′ 6″ gentle giant, loves his fantasy stories and the chat rooms he hangs out in. It’s in one of these rooms he meets Amelia, and he’s smitten. Lydia convinces Dill to perform in the talent contest which has a $50 prize. Lydia is applying to colleges and working on her very popular (everywhere but home) blog. It’s their senior year, and everything is about to change in ways they do not expect.

Your heart will break and mend a dozen times in this book. If you are, like me, phobic about snakes, it will add another level of discomfort to your reading. Still, the story is apropos for these times we are living in, sadly. As a Southern woman, I had to cringe sometimes at the spot-on portrayal of the culture in certain areas of my home. It’s an important book, though, because it highlights the resilience of youth, the power of friendship and the influence (both positive and negative) of family.

Virginia Choice: No Good Deed

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“No good deed goes unpunished” is how the saying goes. I never really understood what it meant. I thought doing good deeds was, well, good. The kids in the book No Good Deed by Goldy Moldavsky takes good-deed doing to a whole new and often painful level.

Gregor is a typical teen, but only if the typical teen wants to save the world. Specifically, he wants to feed all of the starving children and has been working to do just that for two years. Now, though, he has the chance to kick his campaign skills into high gear. He’s been selected to attend the elite Camp Save the World along with dozens of other do-gooders from around the globe. Things start off fairly normal but quickly derail when “The Prize” is announced. Suddenly the mood turns ugly. A mural is destroyed, rumors run rampant and every night another camper is unceremoniously dumped into the lake. Regardless of how zany some of the camper’s campaigns are, they all fight like mad to get points but Gregor finds out something about the camp and its founder, Robert Drill, that changes everything for him and turns his dreams into something else.

This has to be the wackiest story I’ve read in a while. It had me laughing out loud at some of the antics of the campers and scratching my head at some of the actions of the “adults”. This is a great book if you like lots of twists and turns that don’t make sense sometimes (kind of like walking through a maze and running into a dead end over and over again but the scenery is so vivid and weird that you don’t really mind).

Virginia Reader’s Choice: Piecing Me Together

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If the first two books I’ve read from this list are any indication, judging the best one will be difficult. Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson is a powerful and apropos story for today’s climate. I kept thinking that I’d love to see some of Jade’s art. I love collage. It’s a uniquely beautiful art form and the descriptions of it made me curious. Oh well, I’ll just have to imagine it.

Jade is an artist, a scholar and an all-around bright girl who knows full well that the only way she becomes successful is if she gets out of her neighborhood, maybe even out of Portland. She’s a scholarship kid at a swanky private school, where she’s one of the very few black students. She’s determined to take every opportunity that the school provides; Saturday morning SAT test prep and tutoring are in her regular rotation. One opportunity, though, she’s not sure she wants. She’s been invited to take part in Woman to Woman, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Her mentor, Maxine, is a graduate of the same private school and is black but that doesn’t mean she understands what Jade is dealing with. Still, completion of the program means a scholarship to a good university so Jade decides to hunker down and get what she can out of it. Soon, though, she’s frustrated with everything and decides to teach these women a thing or two about what girls like her really want, really need to be successful. Jade finds her voice and her light which she uses to guide those around her and herself to a whole new level of respect and understanding.

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. Issues of race, police brutality and gender inequality are woven into the narrative of a strong, self-aware young woman determined to be more than just a statistic. Renee Watson is a consummate storyteller, deftly dealing with these charged issues with compassion but with a little bit of a bite. I look forward to reading more from her.