The Short Life and Tragic Death of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man who left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs

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An extraordinary look at the life of one young man, born in a rough part of Newark, educated at Yale, and dead at 30. Author Hobbs (Peace’s roommate at Yale) makes us so intimately acquainted with Peace’s East Orange neighborhood that we care deeply about not only Rob Peace, but also about his relatives, his best friends, and his small prep school that caters to young men of color. Rob’s tragic flaw is his investment in his neighborhood, and his inability to leave it contributes to his death.

It has taken me several days to write this review, because I genuinely grieve for the loss of Rob, not only because he is exceptional, but also because he represents so many other young black men who don’t even make it that far, but all of whom are cut down too soon.

The musical Hamilton says it is those who are left behind who determine “who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” Rob Peace will never die because Jeff Hobbs told his story.
A must-read.

The Glittering Court, by Richelle Mead

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Our heroine is a countess in a fictional country who risks being betrothed to a man she despises. Her solution sends her on an adventure she could never have imagined to the other side of her world. This book had some echoes of The Selection, but I thought it took us in a very different direction, one much more filled with adventure and with a romance that carries danger and risk to both partners. I liked our heroine’s growth over the course of the novel, and her independence is hard-fought. I know there is more to this series, but this one is nicely self-contained. For 16 and up.

Once a Soldier, by Mary Jo Putney

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Handsome Brit Will Masterson has fought against Napoleon and is ready to head back to England when he is sent to analyze the situation in a small (fictional) country that is open to invasion by roving bandits. While there he meets tall and opinionated Athena Markham, who has been working there as an aide to young princess Sofia.

While this novel has a couple of steamy scenes, but Putney is much more interested in the adventure of the historical era and the threats to her fictional nation. It makes for a nice slow-boil romance and some great supporting friendships that more than pass the Bechdel Test. Excellent read, for 18 and up.

 

Heartless, by Marissa Meyer

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As an origin story for one of the darkest characters in Alice’s Wonderland, this book has echoes of Gregory Maguire. But it sucks you in as a lovely romance starring Cath, a character you quickly care deeply about. And when it becomes more and more grim, it simply broke my heart. So while it was well-written and a good read, it was not what I wanted for any of the characters involved. For 16 and up who don’t mind a journey to the dark side.

 

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

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Kestrel is a 17-year-old general’s daughter, and the path before her is clear. She can join the military or get married. And she doesn’t want to do either. So when she buys a slave, a native of their conquered land, she doesn’t expect to find a third path, but she does. And that choice changes everything, as her understanding of what it means to be conquered pulls her the opposite direction from her duty to her father.

This book did not go where I expected it to, instead, it pulled me in multiple directions as surely as the story does its lead character. This is not a stand-alone; it will propel you into the next book. For age 16 and up for now. (One of my pet peeves in when early books are appropriate for a certain age, then later books in that series are definitely NOT appropriate. Looking at you, Sarah J. Maas!)

 

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo

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While this concluding volume is not a heist story, like the first one, it is still filled with plot twists and surprises. Our gang of six teens return to fictional Ketterdam (think historical Amsterdam) with a mission to get what they are owed. But instead of conning a tourist (or pigeon), they are up against the wealthiest merchant in the city. Bardugo tells a ripping good yarn, and her world-building is like no other. There is terrifying violence in the story, so I recommend 17 and up.

A Feast for Crows, by George R. R. Martin

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Another strong entry in this series, although this one dragged more for me than the others have. Tyrion was deeply missed in this book (his adventures continue in the next), and we had only Brienne to identify with. Of course, this era in Westeros is dragging for the characters as well, and perhaps some of that carried over into my reading. For 18 and up, as ever. Martin’s torture and threats of rape make me blanch, and I read several books in between the books in this series, so that I can recover from my time in his stories. These are very much worth the read for adults, but it is oppressive.

 

Unending Devotion, by Jody Hedlund

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This Christian romance is set in the lumber camps of forested 1883 Michigan. Lily has arrived in Harrison, Michigan to check this town’s brothels, liberate who she can, and free her sister, who has disappeared into sexual slavery. She never expects to meet Connell, a local businessman who has kept himself pure, as she has.

What I liked about this novel was the genuine history of the era’s lumber camps, which eviscerated the forests of an area and moved on, and the taverns and brothels which sprang up to service the “shanty boys” who worked as lumberjacks. The lead romance is fine, and both characters do mature and grow over the course of the novel. For fans of this genre only, 16 and up.

 

Bruja, by Aileen Erin

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In a change from the first three books in the series, this one focuses on Claudia (pronounced Cloud-ia), a witch or bruja, who is the cousin to our heroine of the first three novels. Claudia is the de facto leader of a small group of witches who have left their black-magic coven, and she has to figure out how to free them from their blood oaths to their former leader.  A fun read and it’s nice to have the focus on magic in this one. For 16 and up.