The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage by Walter Dean Myers and Bill Miles

The Harlem Hellfighters:  When Pride Met Courage by Walter Dean Myers and Bill Miles is a book for ages 9-12 and chronicles the exploits of the “Harlem Hellfighters,” who were African-American soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment of World War 1.  Miles writes the preface to the book and talks about his personal connection to the unit and Harlem, eventually becoming the unit historian.

“Hundreds of black men laid down their lives in France because they refused to believe that they were anything but men, worthy of being Americans and representing their country.” (Page IV)

Myers chronicles the presence of African Americans throughout military history starting from the French and Indian War through WWI.  It also discusses the politics in Europe at the time, especially the desire of European nations to colonize developing countries and those nations rich with resources.  Eventually, a division of partners arose, with Britain and France on one side and Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other.  There are detailed accounts of trenches — how they were dug and how many sets of trenches there were and why — and the rise of modern mechanized weapons and warfare.

Once the foundation is laid down, Myers begins to discuss the problem of race in the United States, beginning in 1896 with the Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson, which enabled companies, counties, states, etc. to segregate whites and blacks so long as the facilities are “equal.”  Not only was segregation a problem, but within the black community, men were reluctant to join the National Guard and possibly fight for the United States when they were unable to vote or have the same rights as their white counterparts.  This reluctance was only overcome when a famous black composer James Reese Europe agreed to volunteer for the 15th New York National Guard or 15th Infantry Regiment.  It took organizers in New York at least one year — between 1916 and 1917 — to reach peacetime size of 1,378 men to obtain federal recognition and additional funding.

The true gems of The Harlem Hellfighters:  When Pride Met Courage by Walter Dean Myers and Bill Miles are the historic photos of those volunteering for the regiment, tenement farmers, and more as well as copies of War Department letters, newspaper columns, telegrams, posters, and other documents.  Although some of the military background can be dry, the story Myers tells about the black soldiers and their struggle against segregation and the solidarity they found as part of the Harlem Hellfighters is inspiring.  The stories of Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts offer additional perspective on how black men became soldiers and how they fought once abroad.  There are other stories like theirs as well, and these personal accounts humanize these historical figures.  The struggle against racism and segregation and early war and political background takes up most of the book, with only the remaining third telling the story of the Hellfighters in WWI France.  For the younger age group that this book is aimed at, Myers does well to pinpoint individual soldiers’ stories, but readers of that age would likely pay closer attention to the historical aspects if there were more of these stories.

About the Author:

Walter Dean Myers is a New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed author who has garnered much respect and admiration for his fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for young people. Winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award, he is considered one of the preeminent writers for children. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, with his family.

William Miles was born in Harlem, New York, and has used his deep knowledge and experience of that borough to produce films that tell unique and often inspiring stories of Harlem’s history. Based at Thirteen/WNET in New York City, William Miles produced many films dedicated to the African-American experience that have been broadcast nationwide.  Miles’ interest in creating historical documentaries was nurtured through 25 years of restoring archival films and early feature classics for Killiam Shows, Inc. and the Walter Reade Organization in New York City.

This is my 6th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart tackles the tough topic of child abduction from two perspectives — that of the young victim, Sophie, and that of a mother, Emmy, whose child is stolen.  In this powerful, yet quiet novel, Kephart explores how one unexpected event can devastate entire worlds.

While the topic is ripped from the headlines, there is no sensationalism here.  Through carefully selected words in her poetic prose, Kephart builds tension and suspense, like the quiet vibration growing louder on the railroad tracks as the train approaches.  It also provides a quiet space — like the air between the branches of a tall tree — for readers to contemplate what each voice is saying, what each voice is struggling to address, what pain is closed inside of them and just clawing to get out.

“My feet are two pale fish inside the tight ponds of my Keds.  I leave the street for the train station.  I leave the station and cross onto the tracks, slick-backed and shiny as snail glisten.  The black gauze of the clouds flap at the moon, and from the tracks I can see into the backs of people’s houses, the private places where the lamps have not gone off.  It’s like looking through snow globes, worlds behind glass.”  (page 21)

Kephart’s prose is very lyrical and imagistic, and readers need to pay careful attention to her lines.  For instance, the above passage perfectly demonstrates Emmy’s frame of mind after losing her child.  She is lost, drowning, unmoored.  She has become separate from those who have “normal” lives because that’s what she believed she had with her child and husband, no matter how imperfect the marriage.

Emmy and Sophie have strong voices, both with stories to tell, and having one without the other here would have left too much unsaid.  Kephart is a masterful storyteller, building characters from the inside out, ensuring readers receive well-rounded men and women with strengths and weaknesses.  But there is always a mystical element to her novels, something in the background that is left unexplained.  She trusts the reader to uncover the truth of these relationships she’s building and the mysteries of what motivates them to keep moving forward even when things are at their most dark and uncertain.

“But my voice skids away, rides the slippery tracks.  Far away, at the bend in the rails, the night is lamped.  It is yellow and growing brighter, and now I understand:  the train has big yellow eyes.  Lovely ocher liquid eyes.  They put the shimmer down on the tracks and splatter the dark.”  (Page 22)

Beyond the main story, there are Helen and Cloris a devoted couple of aunts to a young boy, Joey, who is as normal as can be to Sophie.  Like Joey who supports Sophie, quirky Arlen and fantastical Autumn support Emmy in ways that are unexpected.  Although Emmy’s scenes, which are told from her point of view, limit readers’ knowledge of how she becomes institutionalized, it is not how she got there that is important to the story.  What is important is what happens there and how it transforms her.  Some of the hospital scenes are reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — minus the booze, floozies,and Nurse Ratched — in that she is there against her will and wants to escape, but for a while she merely is.  The relationship Emmy builds with Autumn helps her repair her broken psyche, and in this way, Kephart’s hospital is the antithesis of what happens in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

You Are My Only is an emotional powerhouse drawing redemption out of the shattered pieces of lives rendered asunder by a single event.  Through faith and love these characters can begin the heal, rebuild, and flourish.  What more could readers ask for?  Stunning, precious, and captivating from beginning to end.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. Kephart teaches the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania. You can visit her blog.  Also check out this chat.

My other Beth Kephart reviews:

Please come back this afternoon for my interview with Beth Kephart about You Are My Only and for a giveaway.

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington is a coming of age story about a teen girl growing into adulthood at a time when her father, Matt, is sent to Iraq and her mother, Angie, is not dealing with his absence as well as Alice thinks she should.  The blissful life her family has had up until this point is turned around and twisted as Alice takes on more of her mother’s duties — making dinner, washing clothes, getting her sister’s (Ellie) lunch ready, and getting her sister to school.  She’s constantly worried about her father not returning home, about how she seems not to be anyone’s favorite, and the changes she sees in her friends, family, and Henry (her neighbor and friend).

Harrington creates a world and cast of characters that grab your heart and don’t let go.  The Bliss family story will have your tearing up right from the beginning when the father is first setting his affairs in order and explaining to Alice what she’s to do while he is at war.  Yes, he says, he is coming back, but readers know about the uncertainties of war and so does Alice, which makes his parting all the more heart-wrenching.  Alice only finds solace when running, like her mother finds solace when swimming, but they are too alike to find comfort in one another and often find themselves at odds.  Dynamic characters young and old tackle difficult questions of how to go on without a loved one, who often calmed the waters and even when that situation is expected to be temporary.

“This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone.  She is fourteen, barefoot, her sneakers tied together by the laces and slung across her shoulder so she can feel the soft, sandy dust of the single-track road between her toes.  Her sister fell asleep halfway through the square dance, dropping from hyperexcited to unconscious in a flash.  Her father carries Ellie draped over his shoulder, and casually, or so it seems, her mother says, ‘Come home when the dance is done.'” (page 1)

While Alice is a strong, young woman, she is also timid when it comes to her changing relationship with Henry and volatile when it comes to her relationship with her mother and sister and her schoolmates.  Alice’s life spirals out of control while she’s daydreaming and running away, but there are moments of hope when letters arrive and broken up phone calls pepper their days.  Alice is growing up before readers’ eyes.  She’s learning that her friendship with Henry is more complicated than she expects and at a time when she wants it to stay the same.  She’s flattered when a popular senior asks her to a baseball game, and she’s disenchanted with high school society when her childhood friend Steph remains distant even when it is obvious she needs someone to lean on.  Her sister Ellie tries to act more mature than her sister, and does on some occasions, but she’s still just eight and what’s important to her — a new haircut, new clothes, a nice lunch — skirts the realities of their lives without Matt.

Uncle Eddie and Gram are the rocks of the family that help hold up Angie, Alice, and Ellie — keeping them from imploding.  Harrington has created a wide cast of characters who evolve steadily throughout the novel.  Despite the third person omniscient point of view, Harrington’s narrative evokes an emotional connection between the characters and the reader.  The distance often felt with this point of view is not present here in the least.  Readers will feel the loss, the waiting, the anger, the sadness, and the confusion all at once — just as the characters do — while cheering them on to remain positive that Matt will return home.  This is a young adult novel adults will praise for its realistic portrayal of adult themes, while young adults will praise the relate-ability of its teen characters and their situations.

“Even though Mrs. Grover wears those awful sensible shoes and has gray hair that she wears in a bun, Alice thinks that maybe Mrs. Grover is still young in the ways that are important.  Like she’s not so serious all the time, and she sings and right now she’s teasing a cardinal.  Whistling in response to its call and damn if that cardinal doesn’t whistle right back.  Alice’s mother doesn’t even have a clothesline, let alone stand outside and lift her face to the sun and sing and whistle to the birds.” (page 101)

Harrington is talented at creating a world that is real — a small town where everyone knows one another and feels as though they are under a microscope at home and school — and generates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty — in the silence of waiting.  What are those keepsakes that we hold dearest? What are those memories that we hold onto tightest? Alice and her family find these answers and more, making the novel even more suspenseful.  Alice Bliss not only tracks the evolution of Alice from child to adolescence and the bumps along the way, the novel teaches readers about heartache, compassion, and strength.

About the Author:

Laura Harrington’s award winning plays, musicals, operas, and radio plays have been widely produced in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. Harrington is a two time winner of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and a two time winner of the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England for Mercy and Hallowed Ground.

“Alice Bliss”, a novel, published by Pamela Dorman Books, Penguin/ Viking, will be on sale spring 2011. She is currently writing a new novel, “A Catalogue of Birds,” as well as a song cycle with composer Elena Ruehr, and a series of choral works with composer Roger Ames. Ms. Harrington teaches playwriting at M.I.T and is a frequent guest artist at Tufts, Harvard (where she was a visiting Briggs Copeland Lecturer), Wellesley, University of Iowa, and other campuses.

Please also check out this great Q&A, an excerpt from the novel, and her blog.


This is my 59th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.



Alice blissI took part in the experiment to see where this book would end up once I read, reviewed, and released it into the world.  So, here’s a picture of me releasing it into the wilds of Maryland (Ok, its a Safeway/Starbucks Cafe).

I toyed with releasing it in a bookstore, at the library among the library sale stacks, and finally decided to release it in the Safeway near my house in their Starbucks Cafe.  It was done surreptitiously and I was incredibly self-conscious.  Nevermind that this is a book I really didn’t want to let go because I loved it so much.

I may just have to buy my own copy of this book to add to my shelves and read it again.  It was THAT GOOD!


Where She Went by Gayle Forman

“But the end, when it finally came, was quiet.” (page 109)

Where She Went by Gayle Forman is the follow-up to If I Stay (my review — please do not read this review of Where She Went until you’ve read the first in the series because this will contain spoilers), and it is told from Adam’s point of view several years after the end of the previous book.  His band Shooting Star has hit it big, he’s got an A-list actress girlfriend, and all the money he could want, but what he doesn’t have is what he wants most of all.

Closure is a word that is thrown around a lot, but as humans we often want to know the reasons why things happen, and when we are not given a reason — even one we think is bollix — it incenses us.  In some ways we become obsessive about it.  Forman has a firm grasp of this obsession and its ties to passionate love, and the intensity of these feelings come to the fore when Adam is in New York and attends a concert at Carnegie Hall.

“I slide into my seat and close my eyes, remembering the last time I went to a cello concert somewhere this fancy.  Five years ago, on our first date.  Just as I did that night, I feel this mad rush of anticipation, even though I know that unlike that night, tonight I won’t kiss her.  Or touch her.”  (page 38)

In addition to the flashbacks of Adam’s rise to fame, Forman sprinkles in lyrics, which act like stanzas from poems, at the beginning of certain chapters, providing a certain lens or frame of mind for the characters.  Readers will enjoy seeing the more creative fruits of Adam’s labors because it provides an insiders view into his evolution into the “guy” he’s become.  Forman also does well showing the realities of the music industry and how many musicians just become commodities, losing themselves and their artistry.

Told from Adam’s point of view and using a similar style of flashbacks,  Forman again builds the tension between Mia and Adam from the beginning of their relationship and its end.  A young love unfinished, a journey taken alone by both characters, and so much left unsaid between them — a situation ripe for awkwardness, tenderness, and more.  Where She Went is an excellent follow up that not only fleshes out these characters, making them your friends so that you cheer them on and hope they find peace.  Both are quick, engaging reads, but are far from fluff, dealing with tough topics like death and redemption.

This is my 16th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That ChallengeI’ve wanted to read this book since reading Jill’s dual review in June.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is a young adult fiction novel about a teenage musical prodigy and her family.  She’s got a boyfriend with a band that is just taking off, and she’s under pressure to gain admission to Julliard playing the cello.  Tragedy strikes and changes everything, shaking up her world.

Forman’s prose is engaging from the first page, but the tragedy that befalls Mia is a predictable plot device that forces this blossoming 17-year-old to reassess her life.  Her music transports her to a safe place and even though she is not as confident as she thinks she must be to perform it, it is as much a part of her as her family and her boyfriend.  The strength of this novel is Mia’s character, her introspection, her trepidation at experiencing new things, and her ability to overcome embarrassment and fear.

“And I didn’t know how to rock-talk at all.  It was a language I should’ve understood, being both a musician and Dad’s daughter, but I didn’t.  It was like how Mandarin speakers can sort of understand Cantonese but not really, even though non-Chinese people assume all Chinese can communicate with one another, even though Mandarin and Cantonese are actually different.”  (page 47)

Mia often feels on the outside of her family, which has deep rock-and-roll ties in the community, and from her boyfriend, who is a lead guitarist in a up-and-coming rock band, and sometimes even from her own classical music because she has not done many of the things that other classical music prodigies have done with local quartets, etc.  However, Mia continues to plug along, beating back her insecurities and striving for the life she wants.  Forman has a firm grasp of a teenager’s life — the peer pressures they face, the insecurities that haunt each decision they make, and the passions in which they lose themselves.

Forman builds tension by shifting from Mia’s present into her past, careful not to rush through each moment and unfurling revelations as Mia sees them in each fragment of time.  Readers will be moved by Mia’s story and her struggle to find her true self amid high school pressures and more.  But If I Stay by Gayle Forman is more than a coming of age story, it’s about the ties that bind us to one another and how we keep those ties alive and relevant.

This is my 15th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That ChallengeI’ve wanted to read this book since reading Jill’s dual review in June.



This is my 32nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the third book in the young adult Hunger Games trilogy featuring Katniss Everdeen, Peeta, and Gale.  Readers have been raving about the series, and many are obsessed with the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle.  (You can read my reviews of the previous two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire — IF you have not read the previous two books, be warned that this review will be full of spoilers).

Katniss has been rescued by the rebel alliance of District 13 — thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol — but Peeta was left behind to be captured by President Snow’s forces.  Beyond deciding whether or not to become the symbol — the MOCKINGJAY — of the rebellion, Katniss must further realize that she needs to make adult decisions, decisions that could impact the fate not only of the rebels, but of the human race.  Along the way, she will reconnect with Gale, her family, Finnick, and others from the Games, but she also will be hit hard by the tragedy of loss, even those losses she was too numb or too blind to notice when they occurred.  As part of her evolution, Katniss must learn to discern for herself the best course of action and how her actions impact others, as well as how each side is manipulating every move she makes.

“After about twenty minutes, Johanna comes in and throws herself across the foot of my bed.  ‘You missed the best part.  Delly lost her temper with Peeta over how he treated you.  She got very squeaky.  It was like someone stabbing a mouse with a fork repeatedly.  The whole dining hall was riveted.'” (page 244)

Collins has a firm grasp of how a young teenage girl would react to high levels of danger, betrayal, and dystopian heartbreak.  Her no-nonsense prose keeps the plot moving quickly and easily paints a picture that young and adult readers become lost in.  Time flies quickly as readers get absorbed in the rebellion, cheering on Katniss and her struggle to find her rightful place.  However, there are moments when the reader will want the plot to move more quickly or will want more action or will wonder why Collins is beating them over the head with the references to the oppressive nature and rigidity found in District 13.  At one point, it seems that the narration takes on a preachy tone as the benefits of democracy are heralded above the current, rationing-and-sharing government of District 13 and the power wielded by the dictatorship of the Capitol.  However, readers will easily forgive this digression as the action picks up once again.

What’s ironic about this third book is that Prim, Katiniss’ younger sister, seems more mature, while Katniss is still childlike and impulsive.  Prim seems to have matured in a way that Katniss, who has seen more violence, could not — perhaps because Katniss’ childhood was a place she could retreat to and feel safe.  Prim’s character development is not spelled out, but readers are likely to enjoy the new dynamic between her and her sister.  A number of secrets about the Capitol and what happened in District 13 are revealed, rounding out the trilogy.  Compared to the other books in the series, Mockingjay does not have as much action, but overall, it is a satisfactory end to this dystopian trilogy.

This is my 9th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I pre-ordered the book from Amazon.  It’s about time I read this one.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers is a young adult novel for ages 9-12 or ages 12 and older depending upon maturity.  It touches upon the role and racism encountered by young African-American draftees and volunteers in the Vietnam War.  The coming-of-age novel was banned by certain school districts for its use of profanity, violence, sexual language, and vulgarity, and continually challenged by parents and teachers for the last decade.  Myers pulls no punches in this young adult novel, painting a picture of war as teens drafted in the 1960s would have experienced it and been impacted by it.

Harlem, New York’s Richie Perry volunteers to join the army at age 17 after he realizes its the best option to provide for his alcoholic mother and younger brother and that college is a dream that is too far out of reach since his father abandoned them.  He joins Alpha Company once in Vietnam and meets a cast of characters from a soldier who preaches faith to Peewee who acts as tough as he does on the Chicago streets and sees racism in every comment.

“Hot.  Muggy.  Bright, Muggy.  That was the airport at Tan Son Nhut.  We deplaned, followed Lieutenant Wilson across the field into an area in front of some Quonset huts, and started forming ranks.  It took a while.  The sergeant with the clipboard came along and tried to encourage us as best he could.

‘You faggots can’t even line up straight, how you gonna fight?’ he shouted.” (page 7)

Perry thinks a lot about what to write to his mother and his brother, Kenny, and he details every moment of his time in Vietnam as if he’s keeping a journal.  His relationship with Peewee continues to grow even though their outlooks on getting back to the World differ and their reactions to tragic events are opposite.  Death touches these men in many ways, but mostly they try to forget despite the visions that flit in front of their minds out in the field as they fight the Viet Cong.

“‘How about people in the hamlet?’ Brew asked.

‘We got to show them that we can be peaceful if they peaceful with us, or we can mess them up,’ Sergeant Simpson said.

‘Pacify them to death!’ Peewee said.”  (page 120)

Fallen Angels tackles very adult themes, but from the point of view of young teenagers thrown into a war they do not understand, are unable to describe to their loved ones, and have a hard time dealing with on a day-to-day basis.  How do you define courage? Can killing the enemy and seeing fellow soldiers die be forgotten and should they?  From the spider holes used by the Viet Cong in their guerrilla warfare against the Americans to the miscommunications and changed orders for each unit, Fallen Angels provides an inside look at this confusing war, and sheds light on how inexperienced soldiers react when facing death and superiors they do not understand.  Walter Dean Myers tackles not only morality, but also racism, courage, forgiveness, and finding oneself amidst terrifying circumstances.  The anniversary edition includes information about the author and some book club discussion questions with answers from the author.

About the Author:

Walter Dean Myers is a writer of children’s and young adult literature. Walter Dean Myers was born in West Virginia in 1937 but spent most of his childhood and young adult life in Harlem. He was raised by foster parents and remembers a happy but tumultuous life while going through his own teen years. Suffering with a speech impediment, he cultivated a habit of writing poetry and short stories and acquired an early love of reading.

This is my 53rd book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

Ghost Hunt by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson

Ghost Hunt by Jason Dawes and Grant Wilson is due out this September for young readers and contains not only short stories, but also a guide the Ghost Hunters use on every investigation, plus activity pages.  If you haven’t seen this show on television, you are missing out on one of the originals and best investigative teams examining the paranormal.  They never go into a case believing the ghosts are there, but enter homes with the assumption that noises and events mostly have logical explanations.

In this chapter sampler, readers get a glimpse into the short stories (based on investigations done by the TAPS team) available in the full book.  In each of the short stories, kids are at the center of the haunting activities.  This angle will help young readers see themselves in the stories and relate to the characters, but the prose does not condescend to readers in the way that some stories of this nature would, but it does explain some of the technology used in the investigations.

From ‘Pennies from a Ghost,’ “The sound grew louder, louder, LOUDER.  A deep throaty rumble.  Like thunder, Scott thought.  But it wasn’t thunder.

Without warning, a burst of light appeared on the wall across from the boys’ beds.  Scott heard Jerry make a strangled sound.  The light flickered.  It seemed to hover in the same place.”  (page 5 of the sampler)

Young readers will be engaged by the ghost stories and investigations, and will have a fun time working through the TAPS steps in the guide from the interview to the sweep of the house and the collection and analysis of evidence.  The guide also includes a glossary of terms used in the book and the guide to help readers not only understand the investigative techniques, but also expand their vocabularies.  Overall, Ghost Hunt would be a fun addition to the bookshelves of young paranormal fans.

***Thanks to Anna from Diary of an Eccentric for passing along her extra copy to me.

This is my 44th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer‘s The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a short novella that takes a glimpse at the other side of vampirism . . . the darker side.  Written as a companion to the Eclipse novel and the release of the movie, readers will experience what it truly is to be a newborn vampire, to crave the blood, and to think of nothing else.

“She opened her mouth to scream, but my teeth crushed her windpipe before a sound could come out.  There was just the gurgle of air and blood in her lungs, and the low moans I could not control.”  (Page 10)

Bree Tanner is a young teen turned vampire thrust into a vicious world of vampire gangs, who hides behind Fred, a young vampire with the power to repel others.  She’s timid and fearful of the new world she’s in, but she cannot control her thirst any more than her other counterparts.  Bree meets an older vampire teen, Diego who takes her under his wing and allows her to find comfort with her new life.

Overall, the novella is a quick read and helps shed light on the vampire world not seen in the Twilight series, but it lacked the gruesome and detailed slashing that one would expect from newborn vampires.  Much of The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner focuses on teen angst about fitting in and finding one’s way in the world, and naturally about a budding love.  Meyer is a gifted storyteller, but her timidity with regard to the vicious nature of vampires will leave many fans feeling flat.

***I borrowed my copy of Meyer’s novella from the local library.  I’d also like to thank Not Enough Books for the recommendation.***

This is my 4th book for the 2010 Vampire Series Challenge.

Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

Beth Kephart‘s Dangerous Neighbors, which hits stores on August 24, is set in 1876 in Philadelphia on the verge of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the United States as two sisters, twins, struggle with changes in their relationship and find the ability to fly on their own.

Katherine and Anna may be twins, but they are very different with Anna considered the beauty and adventurous one and Katherine as the dependable protector.  As adolescence hits and Anna falls in love with the baker’s son, Bennett, the relationship between the girls changes, forcing Katherine to make tough choices and keep secrets.  Anna is like the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia in that she winds her way through a society on the cusp of change and modernity.  She takes the plunge even though her love for the Bennett would be frowned upon by her family given his status in the city compared to that of her father, a banker.

“Nothing in this world is safe.  Clouds form.  Trees split.  Horses rear.  Ice breaks.  Fire rages.  Maybe the bird in that girl’s cage is better off, but then again, Katherine thinks, the cage could crack, the prison could itself perish, along with its prisoner.”  (Page 32 of ARC)

Dangerous Neighbors is told from Katherine’s point of view, which limits what the reader sees and hears from Anna’s perspective, but in this way, readers know the story is Katherine’s and not Anna’s.  Katherine must protect her wayward sister, or at least that’s the pressure she feels from her parents, particularly her father.  Their mother barely plays a role in their lives as she focuses all of her energy on the Centennial celebration and women’s rights.

While references are made to dangerous neighbors by her father and others in the book, readers will find that the true dangers lie in the decisions one makes about his or her own life and how those decisions can sometimes lead to unexpected tragedy.  Dangerous Neighbors is a young adult novel dealing with very adult themes of family, growing up, and moving past grief. Kephart’s attention to historical and descriptive detail will transport readers back in time, while tugging them along emotionally and with some suspense as Katherine unravels her tragic story.  Another delightful novel from Kephart, though readers may wish to see more of the mysterious William, who rescues Katherine from herself.

***I received my signed ARC of Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart from Book Expo America.***

Undercover by Beth Kephart

Elisa, a adolescent Cyrano de Bergerac, uses her love of words, nature and skating to navigate not only school and peer pressure, but also her family’s problems.  As a spy in Undercover by Beth Kephart, Elisa creates lines of verse to help her fellow male students make their girlfriends and soon-to-be girlfriends swoon.  She does so with stealth and folded scraps of paper without much thought, until Theo comes along.

“Dad likes to say, about both of us, that we’re undercover operatives who see the world better than the world sees us, and this, I swear, has its benefits.”  (page 8 )

Elisa takes much of her dad’s advice to heart, and much of that is probably because he’s away on business a lot of the time.  She spends quite a lot of time observing and creating verse until in Honors English she comes upon the tragedy of Cyrano, which effectively turns her philosophy upside down.  Beyond spending her days writing poems, she’s discovered a pond to provide her inspiration.  When it freezes over, she decides to skate . . . something she has never done before.

Undercover is a story about a girl who digs deep for courage, a courage she needs to write, to deal with fellow classmates, and to hold her family together.  Readers will connect with Elisa as they would reconnect with themselves, particularly if they were the student with few friends, felt that they were on the outside in many situations, or who wrote in their dark room at night alone.  Elisa is that girl in all of us.  She’s the young woman unsure of herself, her surroundings, and her abilities, but who is pushed beyond her self-imposed limits to reach higher, strive for more and dream big.  She does not want to be Cyrano.

Undercover will resonate with readers, push them to feel lonely when Elisa is alone, cheer up when she triumphs, and cry with happiness when all is right with the world.  The only drawback is that readers will not want to leave; they’ll want to know what happens with Theo, her rivals, and her family.  Kephart deftly uses language to paint each scene and elicit emotion, connecting the reader to Elisa through her casual narrative.  In many ways, readers will love this as much or more than Kephart’s Nothing But Ghosts.

I borrowed my copy of Undercover by Beth Kephart from the public library.

***Also, I forgot to mention that I took this book out upon Jill at Rhapsody in Books‘ recommendation.***

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Beth Hoffman‘s debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, has become a New York Times bestseller, and what a debut it is.  Her novel is a prime example of what’s great about southern fiction from the enveloping summer heat of Georgia to the fragrant aroma of orchids and other flowers.  CeeCee Honeycutt is a young girl living in Ohio mainly with her mother as her father travels weekly for his job, but she’s got more worries than just school and peer pressure — her mother is slowly losing her grip.

“‘Oysters are a lot like women.  It’s how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.’  She fell silent for a moment and gazed out the window.  ‘They say there’s no such thing as a perfect pearl — that nothing from nature can ever be truly perfect.'”  (page 255)

Eventually, CeeCee comes to live with her great aunt Tallulah “Tootie” Caldwell, who is a busy society woman interested in preserving the historical structures in Savannah.  In many ways the restoration of these homes resembles the rebuilding CeeCee must accomplish after her life is irrevocably altered.  At the young age of 12, CeeCee must contend with tragedy, being an outcast, the confusing emotions about her parents, and fitting in with a society that is foreign to her.

“Momma left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road.  That’s what three eyewitnesses told the police.”  (Page 1)

Hoffman creates dynamic characters in CeeCee, Mrs. Odell, Oletta, and Tootie, but she also has crafted a supporting cast of eccentric older women who are neighbors and have their own problems and tensions with one another.  Picture large hats, garden parties, and soirees, and you’ll be transported in CeeCee’s Georgia, away from her hometown in Ohio.

“The bedsheets were damp with humidity and sleep, and from the pillowcase I detected a familiar scent:  it was just like the lavender sachets Mrs. Odell made every year as Christmas gifts.  I rubbed my eyes and tried to sit up, but I was nestled deep in the feather bed, like a baby bird in a nest.”  (page 57)

“Though she’d long since passed the zenith of youth, unmistakable remnants of a mysterious beauty oozed from the pores of her porcelain-white skin.  Swirling around her ankles, as light as smoke and the color of midnight, was a silk caftan splashed with bits of silver glitter.”  (page 81)

Readers will be absorbed in CeeCee’s evolution from young, responsible woman caring for her mother to a mischievous child lashing out and back to a young lady becoming content in her own skin.  Hoffman does an excellent job of painting Georgia and its traditional society in a nostalgic hue that enables readers to grasp that CeeCee is remembering this period of her life fondly and with greater clarity than she probably did as a child.  Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is captivating debut novel and coming-of-age story about a young lady who has lost her way, only to find a new chapter has begun.

About the Author:

Beth Hoffman was the president and owner of a major interior design studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, before turning to writing full time. She lives with her husband and two cats in a quaint historic district in Newport, Kentucky. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is her first novel.

Thanks to Penguin and Inkwell Management for sending me a free copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt for review.

Check out the other tour stops:

5/17 & 5/18 – Devourer of Books

5/19 & 5/20 – Diary of an Eccentric

5/21 – Savvy Verse & Wit

5/22 – Medieval Bookworm

5/23 – lit*chick

5/24 – A Novel Menagerie

5/25 – The Tome Traveller’s Weblog

5/26 – Peeking Between the Pages

5/27 – Steph Su Reads

5/28 – Galleysmith

5/29 – The Literate Housewife Review

Giveaway details — three copies for US/Canada readers and one copy for an international reader:

1.  Leave a comment about why you want to read this book; don’t forget to let me know if you are living outside the United States or Canada.

2.  Leave a comment on the guest post.

3.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a comment on this post.

4.  Become a Facebook fan of the blog and leave a comment.

Deadline is June 2, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST.

This is my 33rd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.