The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

A clean read for upper elementary and middle school readers!

I love the cover because two images can be seen when you change your perspective, black outline of a girl tossing coins and black print of a gargoyle on a cathedral wall.
The opening is told in the gargoyle’s point of view and the statue sees a young woman carrying her baby while running from men. As they almost capture her, she jumps into the river while holding onto her baby. Eight years later, Duck is a young girl within a group of traveling thieves. She’s trying to prove that she’s helpful and ends up as a baker’s apprentice to infiltrate the bakery and steal from inside. She continues to give bread to her thief group, the Crowns, but doubts more and more that she’s doing the right thing because she’s feeling loved by the baker. As the stakes rise, Duck will have to make some tough choices and decide who her family is and who she’s loyal to. 4 stars for this sweet tale of finding your true self.

Ethnicity is predominantly white; it is a historical fiction fantasy.
Language content: no swears
Violence content: PG – men chasing woman and baby and she’s running for their safety.
Mature content: PG – thievery, grooming for a gang
Likes/dislikes: I like the baker. She’s tremendously generous and kind. I appreciate the author’s writing of Duck’s conflicts between right and wrong and in finding her sense of belonging. This is a clean read with a good message. Alternating timelines with a unique gargoyle and a young girl named Duck.

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Inspiring!

Eva is Jewish and lives with her parents in Paris during World War II. Her father is captured and sent to a prison camp while Eva and her mother are away from home helping a neighbor. Eva’s father made her promise earlier that she would leave Paris and travel to Switzerland if he was ever captured. Eva convinces her mother to go. They stop in a town close to the border and meet people that are very interested in the documents Eva made for her and her mother so they could get out of Paris. She discovers they’re forgers and resistance helping Jewish children by creating false documents to help them get to Switzerland. The resistance members are impressed with her work and ask for her help. Eva meets another forger, Remy, who is French. He’s not Jewish but he wants to do everything he can to help stop the Germans and their genocide. Eva and Remy improve their techniques and create better documents faster. They help save many children until the group is betrayed by one of their own. Everything is looted or destroyed by German soldiers and most of the resistance members are captured and killed. This is an inspiring story that gives readers perspective to our times and struggles. I enjoyed reading the author’s notes and her acknowledgments and discovering the research she conducted and the nonfiction books she based her characters and their actions on. I’m interested in reading the author’s other books that also deal with World War II and the resistance groups. 5 heartfelt stars!

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing!

Kya lives in the marshlands of North Carolina with her poverty stricken family. Her father is abusive and, one by one, her siblings leave and, eventually, so does her mother. Her father stays and he seems better for a time, even kind. Then he falls back into his old ways again and ends up leaving too. Kya tries school for a day but after being bullied, she doesn’t return. She makes it completely on her own and digs mussels to sell to the local store to bring in money for food. Tate, a boy a few years older than Kya, loves to explore the marsh. They become friends and he teaches her to read. With reading, she discovers and teaches herself to be literate and all about the marshlands and its nature. She illustrates and collects samples of everything she finds in her marsh area. Tate leaves to attend college and becomes a biologist and works in the marsh. He submits Kya’s illustrations and notes to a publisher and she becomes a published author several times over. She adds comforts to her house and lives well by her own wealth. She lives simply but she gets electricity and running water and other basic comforts that she’s never had. When Tate went away to college, he realized that his life would be difficult for Kya. So, he doesn’t visit her for years. While he’s away, the local and popular Chase moves in on Kya. He tricks her into thinking he’s going to marry her, all the while dating other women. Kya eventually sees his engagement article in the local newspaper and ends it with him. Later, he attacks her, trying to rape her and he beats her up. She fights back and escapes. His body is found later and it looks like he fell from the fire tower in the marsh. Since he was a local celebrity, the police are pushed to investigate for foul play. Kya is arrested and faced with a murder trial. The whole time I’m reading the part after Chase attacks Kya, I’m hoping she killed him but I also don’t want her to be found guilty. The suspense builds to intensity and I couldn’t put the book down! Tremendously honest, heartbreaking and soul healing! 5 stars!

The Hacienda by Isabel Canas

I did not want this book to end!

Beatriz marries Rodolfo. He’s a businessman and owns a large estate. He leaves to do business so Beatriz runs the estate in his absence. Juana, Rodolfo’s sister, believes she’s the one in charge and she treats everyone gruffly. Beatriz starts to feel like she’s being watched and things get creepier from there, to the point that she’s afraid for her life. She asks the local priests for help and all but one shun her. Padre Andres helps her under the guise of being a priest to help the estate workers. He has knowledge from his ancestors that can help exorcise evil. The house has an extremely powerful, angry spirit and it’s harmful. This is an elaborate and beautifully written horror story that I didn’t ever want to put down. I also didn’t want it to end. 5 stars!

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Love the historical aspects of this story!

A young woman disguises herself as a man to look for her missing father. She visits the sister she hasn’t seen in five years and there’s still much animosity between them. The sisters have a history in the forest. When they were younger, they were lost and then found unconscious in the midst of a crime scene. Now the sisters work together to find out what’s happened to their father after he went searching for thirteen missing girls in the forest. The mystery surrounding the missing girls and their father twists and turns until the sordid truth is unraveled. Based on the forced sacrifices of young women of Korea around the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the historical aspects are the most fascinating parts of the story and the danger builds suspense. 3.5 stars!

Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz

A great mix of mystery and historical fiction!

The setting is early 1800’s. Hazel is fascinated with science and specifically medical applications. She sneaks in to watch a medical lecture because women aren’t allowed to attend. Jack scrapes by with odd jobs, such as digging up recently buried bodies to sell for medical studies. Hazel and Jack meet when he helps her sneak into a medical presentation. Hazel later disguises herself as a young gentleman so she can attend classes to become a physician. She’s found out but the professor makes a deal with her and gives her some help to prepare for the physician’s exam. Her family is away so she can study as much as she wants. She also begins treating people that aren’t taken care of by the hospital. She ends up treating patients with Roman Fever; a plague that seems to be appearing again. Jack brings exhumed bodies to Hazel for studying and live patients for her to treat. Jack and Hazel become close, even though she’s been betrothed to a viscount’s son since she was a child. Jack and Hazel get involved in the horrible experimentation of an eccentric doctor and everything gets turned upside down for both of them. I love Jack and Hazel. They’re both strong and selfless and they have an adorable relationship. I would love a sequel to be written to continue the story but at this point, I can’t see any sign of that happening. A mix of mystery and historical fiction to be enjoyed, 5 stars!

They Went Left by Monica Hesse

A beautiful story!

Zofia returns home to Poland in hopes of finding her younger brother Abek after WWII ends. She arrives to an empty home and unwelcoming neighbors. She learns of a camp that helps survivors retrain for jobs they can do so they can move on with their lives. She’s hoping to find Abek near there. It takes a few weeks to travel to Germany but Zofia is welcomed into the camp while she searches for her brother by visiting nearby camps, writing letters and making phone calls to organizations set up to reunite family members. There, Zofia meets Josef and makes friends that show her how to overcome the trauma she’s been through. Her mind plays tricks on her and she’s unsure if some of her memories are real or skewed. A post WWII story that encompasses PTSD, perpetual hope and the importance of support in all its forms. A beautiful story, 5 stars!

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Tugs at the heartstrings!

The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a historical fiction story set when Alaska was just barely made into a state of America. Young acquaintances tell their points of view of their lives and their perspective of each other’s. Ruth ends up pregnant with Ray’s baby, Alyce spends her time on the family fishing boat with her father and uncle, Dora lives with Dumpling and Bunny after their father protects Dora from her abusive father and Hank and his brothers stowaway on a ferry. Selma doesn’t know her birth parents but lives with her loving adoptive parents. All of their lives intertwine in different and unique ways. This book is a fairly quick read that pulls at the heartstrings and builds empathy, 5 stars!

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Wonderful character building!

Hanneke lives in Holland with her mother and father. She’s a young woman who has lost her boyfriend in the war, who works as the undertaker’s receptionist and also helps the undertaker with black market dealings. Her jobs support her family. On one of her deliveries, an elderly woman confides in Hanneke that she’d been hiding a Jewish teenage girl, in her home, in a secret compartment behind her pantry. The girl is missing and there’s no evidence of how she left the house. The woman pleads for Hanneke to help her find the teenage girl, Mirjam. Hanneke reluctantly agrees to help so she starts searching for any information she can find on Mirjam. As she’s searching, she inadvertently ends up at a resistance group meeting and becomes accidentally involved in a delivery of a Jewish baby, to an adoptive family, after the baby’s family had been detained by the Nazis. Hanneke learns about all of the ways that young adults around her have been helping with the resistance and she sees how selfish she was by keeping to herself and not becoming involved but that changes during her search for Mirjam. The young adults work together to find Mirjam and help everyone they can in this inspiring story of young heroism and perseverance. A wonderful character building historical fiction book, 4 stars!

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Based on the tragically true story of the Donner Party.

Eerie prologue opens the story with a perfect creepy and ominous tone. This book is so much more than just a horror story! The author takes historical facts and mixes them with some historical fiction and then adds a touch of supernatural horror to create a scary tale out of a true horrific tragedy. The characters are many and we get to know each of them in turns as the author reveals their background stories and personal secrets. The characters range from timid, blustery, brave and to all out dangerous. The tragically true story of the Donner Party gives the perfect backdrop for a horror story and the author blends truth and fiction together seamlessly, 5 stars!