During 2017 Pop read and reviewed 32 YA books. Here are his five favorites with the #1 posted last.
The last day of spring break Anna (aka Annabelle) and younger brother Eric have the opportunity to go out for dinner with their parents. Eric wants Italian and Anna craves sushi. Mom tosses a coin, Anna picks heads, and pizza wins. Lucky for them! The following morning the news reported an outbreak of food poisoning at the Japanese restaurant.
Or were they lucky? If Anna had called tails instead, her mother would have eaten sushi and be too sick to go to the hospital where she worked as a doctor. She would have avoided being struck by a truck driver that ran a red light and killed her instantly. And Anna’s life wouldn’t have crumbled.
Unfortunately, Anna couldn’t change her past and she’s trying to survive without her mother in her present. Six months later she’s finally bouncing back and excited about the upcoming Halloween dance at school and her date with boyfriend Jake. However, at the party, when the couple is dancing the first slow dance of the evening, a shot rings out in the gym causing panic. Anna’s dress turns crimson as Jake keels over in her arms. Another shot rams into Anna’s skull and all goes dark.
When Anna wakes up she soon realizes she’s reliving the week before the Halloween Dance providing her the opportunity to save Jake’s life. In this parallel universe Anna goes by the name of Annabelle and her mother ate sushi.
Michelle Madow creates a very exciting time travel YA love story through the eyes of Anna/Annabelle. The attractive teenager tries to convince her friends in this new universe who she really is and the dangers they face.
The plot of Madow’s novel, Collide, and her efforts at character development are extremely creative as Anna expertly works her friends in believing her story. But will her efforts be in vain to stop the unknown assassin?
Employer Alexander and Levy mandates weird requests of their top executives. One year the crew had to meet on the corporate office rooftop for calisthenics. The next the board of directors decided everyone take up the vegetarian lifestyle, and on another occasion they were given transcendental meditation breaks. This year CEO Vincent Alexander gives his top executives an extra week of vacation to be spent on a wilderness trek near Lake superior, in a chain of lakes and forests known as the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. The employees must go or lose their jobs.
The executives Ted, Michael, Madison (Michael’s fiancé), Judith, and Cheryl, begin their reluctant adventure at the Northern Lights Wilderness Lodge, a rustic fishing lodge.
The Alexander and Levy executives have three guides waiting for them. Joey Shada is a beautiful Native American and the chief guide. No-nonsense Roger and a Nordic god named Olaf assist her.
Debra Easterling writes a compelling novel of self-discovery by thrusting her characters onto a wilderness trek they were forced by their employer to take. The author expertly describes in vivid mental pictures breathtaking scenes of Superior National Forest.
Easterling tells her story through the eyes of Michael, an executive with a promising future at Alexander and Levy. Michael is looking forward to the trip as much as he enjoyed fighting the flu he contracted during early morning workouts on the company roof.
Though most of the executives detest any skyline other than Manhattan’s, Michael unexpectedly falls in love with Boundary Waters. As he sweats through the daily chores of survival without modern-day luxuries, his companions rebel against their forced vacation with disastrous effects.
Boundary Waters is a character driven novel that will keep readers riveted to its pages from first to last page until the shocking climax. This is one book readers won’t want to miss.
Flying to the Fire is the second book in Elyse Salpeter’s Flying Series. The central character, Danny Anderson, a thirteen-year old deaf child with special gifts, has the unique talent of communicating with the souls of the dead.
In the first book in the series, Danny is six when a crazy corrupt biophysicist, Samuel Harrington, kidnaps Danny’s parents and will stop at nothing to get his hands on their little boy. Harrington’s wife, Marta, is dying and he wants to control her soul after she dies.
In book #2 in the series, Danny is seven years older and is the big brother to Katie, his seven-year-old sister. Where Danny’s powers can commune with things of the sky and heaven, Katie has the power to communicate with insects and the creepy dark things found in the bowels of the Earth.
Now safely behind bars, Samuel Harrington has found a way to get messages out to his agent who is working on developing Katie’s powers so she can free Harrington’s wife from the pits of hell. What follows is non-stop action that will keep readers riveted to the page.
Also back in book #2 is Gary and Maddie Anderson, Danny’s scientist parents. His big brother, Michael Anderson, now a graduate student, brings home his girlfriend, Charity, who takes up all his attention. When Danny unsuccessfully tries to talk to his brother about his trouble sleeping and being attacked by an evil black mass that boiled up from the depths of the earth, he realizes that only he will be able to save their little sister Katie.
As a deaf writer, I truly appreciated reading about a deaf character and his successful efforts overcoming diversity. It was also nice to see his family had learned American Sign Language, something many families fail to do when one of their own is deaf.
Flying to the Fire is superbly written with excellent characterization, vivid scene descriptions, and an exciting plot. Though the plot centers on a fictional afterlife, the author doesn’t bring in any particular religious point of view, leaving that interpretation up to the reader.
This novel is highly recommended, but to fully appreciate it, read Flying to the Light first.
Dr. Bob Rich tells the story of his mother, Aniko Stern, in an extraordinary biography about a remarkable woman who lived an exceptional life.
Rich takes his readers to 1936 Hungary prior to the Holocaust, as young Aniko falls in love with her future husband, Tibor, and trains to become a bookbinder.
The author does an amazing job showing the strengths and weaknesses of his mother and the sacrifices she made to ensure the survival of her family during the darkest period in Jewish history. As Hitler’s army overran Hungary and herded millions of Jews into ghettos, Aniko conspired ways to find food and a safe haven for her family to wait out the war.
When allied forces liberated Hungary in 1945, Aniko had to confront Soviet occupation and the stifling demands of Communism. This woman figured out ways around the system to ensure her box business remained afloat and thrived.
As in most families, there is strife, which Rich shows masterfully as he remains objective with the ability to show all sides of the dispute, even though he sat center stage. We eventually understand the subtitle—The Stranger Who Loved Me—as Aniko placed her son behind the needs of a second husband and an inspiring job.
Though Aniko’s maternal instinct seems to be lacking and her second husband’s performance as a father is less than stellar, you’ll still love Aniko for her strength of character and mourn her passing with tears. Aniko: The Stranger Who Loved Me is a book for anyone searching for insight into family dynamics with a backdrop of historical references throughout 20th Century European History. Highly recommended.
Guardian Angel by Dr. Bob Rich is set during the mid 19th Century in rural Australia. An angel is assigned to live amongst the humans in an Aboriginal community in New South Wales. Her soul was planted in the body of a girl whose Aboriginal mother was raped by an Australian settler. Her mission is to teach universal love. She chose a female body because, “I have always favored being the life form that bears new life.” After this introduction we read about “the life of Maraglindi, child of the land, fruit of an evil deed, and instrument of love.”
Maraglindi is a Jesus figure without the preaching. Her ministry is simply showing love and passing on her affection for others through the power of her touch. Starting life off as Mick and Glindi’s baby, she has green eyes—white man eyes—but Mick does not blame his wife. Glindi would prefer her husband kill the rapist, but wiser voices prevail. “If you do and they find out it’s one of the people, they’ll do terrible payback.”
When Maraglindi was still a toddler, Bruce MacCaffery, the nicest white man in New South Wales, hired her parents. Mick’s job was to tame horses and Glindi would work in Mrs. Mac’s home as a servant. Eventually, Mrs. Mac discovers Maraglindi’s intelligence and goodness and takes the child under her wing calling her Mary Fisher. When Mary became school age, Mrs. Mac enrolls her in Talbot Ladies’ College where Maraglindi learns very quickly about racial prejudice and hatred.
Dr. Bob Rich has created an extremely memorable character in his guardian angel, Maraglindi. The little Aboriginal child affects everyone she meets. Take the boy Gerald, who commits a heinous crime with his buddies and almost died from food poisoning. Once recovered, Gerald Kline grew up to become an Anglican preacher dedicating his life to the Lord and helping the Aborigines.
This writer’s favorite character is Kirsten, an older student at Talbot who hated Maraglindi on sight. Mary’s capacity for love eventually turns Kirsten around to become one of Maraglindi’s best friends. How the author managed this miracle is told in a very dramatic scene that will keep you breathless.
Guardian Angel is a sad, but inspirational story that will leave readers with a strong sense of hope and a feeling that life has endless possibilities. Once we put the needs of others ahead of our own we’ll begin to learn the lessons of universal love.
Stick around in 2018 for more YA books written by writers not found on the New York Times Best Seller list. Their books are excellent and only lack funding for advertising. That’s why you’ll probably hear about them first on Pop’s Blog.