[Review] The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Publisher and Publication Date: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2008.
Genre: Young adult fiction.
Pages: 497.
Format: E-book.
Source: Library e-book.
Audience: Young adult to adult readers.
Rating: Very good.

This is book one in The Mysterious Benedict Society. There is a total of 4 in the series plus an extra book.

Goodreads’ author page for Trenton Lee Stewart.

Summary:

A boy named Reynie Muldoon (age 11) lives in a city named Stonetown, and near a port called Stonetown Harbor.

When the story begins, he is encouraged to take a test that has been advertised in a newspaper. There are several sessions in this test.

While at the appointments for the tests he meets other kids who are also taking tests. Only a few will be chosen as winners. A friendship and bond develop.

The tests are a mix of aptitude, mental, and physical strengths.

Later, they will work together to solve mysteries as secret agents.

My Thoughts:

Reynie is a kid that is easy to like. All the kids are likable because I have empathy for their lives. There are also the kids who usually go unnoticed. They are the kids who don’t come from the affluent or popular groups. I love this. They are seemingly ordinary young people with extraordinary character and wit and intelligence.

I love how the kid’s bond. I love how the story develops from their introductions to the working as agents and how they depend on one another. They become a family-not of blood-but one of trust, devotion, encouragement, and time spent together. They also seem to accept one another as they are not who they wished the other would be.

I love Mr. Benedict. He has a wonderful heart.


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[Review] Don’t Call Me Katie Rose by Lenora Mattingly Weber

Publisher and Publication Date: Image Cascade Publishing. 2000. First published in 1964.
Genre: Young adult fiction. Girl’s fiction.
Pages: 302.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers with an interest in a simple story about a teenage girl and her family in the mid 1960s in Denver, Colorado.
Rating: Very good.

This is the third book I’ve read by Lenora Mattingly Weber.
Don’t Call Me Katie Rose is the first book in the Katie Rose and Stacy Belford series.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Lenora Mattingly Weber‘s Goodreads author page.

Summary:

Katie Rose Belford decides early in the story to go by her full name, Kathleen. She is in her first year of high school.

Katie and her family live in a small farm town near Denver, Colorado.

Katie’s dad died a year ago.

There are six kids who live with their mother. The oldest is Ben followed by Katie. The younger siblings are Stacy, Matthew, Angela, and Brian.

Katie’s mother has a brother named Brian. He is a combat Veteran. During the Korean war he was a POW. Brian struggles with alcohol.

The story centers on Katie and the things going on at school, a potential boyfriend, a new friend, family ups and downs, and other growing up angst.

My Thoughts:

I’ve grown to love the stories written by Weber about a generation of girls before my time. In the other series, Beany Malone, they start during World War II. The Katie Rose and Stacy Belford series start in the mid 1960s.

Some of their woes are different than the current generations. However, there are some things that are familiar to most teenagers. These themes are romances, the feeling of not being heard or taken seriously, family problems including addictions, one parent household, grades, a parent who has a job that causes embarrassment, and reliable transportation.

I love how the family tries to work together as a team.

I love how they do what they can to provide and help pay the bills.

I feel empathy for the mother who tries to hold it all together on her own as the adult and parent.

I love how the story ends with book one. There is closure and communication between two friends about what they learn. So, this story provides moral lessons and not just entertainment.

Often, I read serious books where the ending is not necessarily tidy or summed up with a solid ending. It feels comforting to know that in the Weber books there is an uplifting feeling by the last page. However, I’ve only read three of her books. I don’t know how the other books in the two series transpire.

[Review] Beany Malone, Book 2 in the Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber

Publisher and Publication Date: Image Cascade Publishing,1999. First published in 1948.
Genre: Young adult fiction. The series was written for young girls.
Pages: 260.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Self purchase.
Audience: Readers with an interest in mid 1940s America. Readers who enjoy a family story.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon.

To read a biography of Lenora Mattingly Weber: Image Cascade.

And at Goodreads, another biography plus a list of her books: Goodreads.

Summary:

In the first book in this series (total of 14 books), Catherine Cecilia Malone or Beany is the youngest sister and a secondary character, but in this book, she is the principal character.

In the first book, Meet the Malones, I learn their mother died, their father is a journalist, there are two older sisters, followed by one brother, and Beany is the youngest.

The second book continues the Malone story:

The year is 1945 and the war is over. It is the fall of the year. The place is Denver, Colorado.

Elizabeth is the eldest sister; she has a young son and she’s waiting for her husband to return home. He was overseas during World War II, and he has a serious injury.

Mary Fred is the second eldest sister. She is a college freshman but is held up taking one final course in high school to be a full college freshman, that course is Chemistry. She wants to be in a sorority. Her friend is Lila.

Johnny is a senior in high school. He is a writer, and he’s working on a nonfiction history story about an early settler in Denver.

Beany is 16. She’s a sophomore in high school with a heart-felt crush on a boy who is not nice. He actually hates the family. Beany’s dad shares information with her that will impact the whole family. He tells her first which is interesting because she is the youngest. In reading between the lines, I believe the father feels she is trustworthy and mature.

My Thoughts:

I am a member of a Facebook group for those who love Lenora Mattingly Weber’s books. Several in the group have remarked they love the early books in the series rather than the later books. The main reason for the later books is they dislike the male personalities and how they treat people. So, it will be interesting for me to read the further books. I feel a big reason for their feelings is the culture and society differences of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. People in history did not live like we do in 2022.

What I love about this book:

1. I love reading old sayings. For example: fiddle-faddle, fling, big shots.
2. I love the substory of Elizabeth and her husband. Towards the end of the story, they have serious struggles to overcome. This story gave me a lesson in what couples went through after World War II.
3. I love the internal and external struggle between Beany and Norbert. Despite how she feels about him, and his hurtful words, she does not change who she is to seek revenge and retaliation. I believe this shows the depth of her character.
4. Weber’s writing is excellent at setting the mood and tone of the various situations in the story.
5. I love the maturity of Elizabeth. She takes time from the serious stuff in her own life to share wise words to her family.
6. I love the hidden gems of wisdom and grace and love in the family.
7. The story weaves in a moral lesson in honesty. An adult who should be mature and honest is not. Instead, a young person marvels the family with honesty.
8. In the first book there is a theme about socio-economic levels of people. Those in the higher income versus those who are working class families who struggle to make ends meet. This book shares a bit of the same. Add to this sororities and popular kids at school and the struggle for those who try and become one of them.
9. Beany is a young girl who wants to take care of people-save-fix-make peace. She finds out not all people need or want her help and interference. She is actually remarkable in certain areas of maturity but as all people who have ever been a young person there are things to learn.

Themes: coming of age, family honor, romance, suffering, judgment, wisdom, trust, gratitude, charity, hope, dreams, acceptance, kindness, compassion, bravery, and honesty.

[Review] Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Teen. 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Young adult.
Pages: 379.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult readers to adult readers who enjoy reading historical fiction from World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Audible.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Summary:

It is January 1945. Several people are in route to the northern coast of Germany so they can escape the war and the approaching Russians. They are refugees.

The main characters are young adults. Most are in their teen years. It is a mix of young men and young women.

Each want to secure passage on the ship, Wilhelm Gustloff, it is a ship that will take them away from the harrowing life they’ve lived. The ship is a savior of sorts in their minds. It will take them to a new life.

My Thoughts:

As many World War II and Holocaust stories that I’ve read and I have not heard of this ship’s tragedy!

There are several elements I love about this story.

1. The form or structure is from the perspective and voice of four people. Each are given a chapter with their name as the heading. I enjoyed reading the overall story from the perspective of the four characters.

2. I’m reminded a bit of Hemingway’s writing style. He too wrote crisp and short sentences. And the dialogue is the mainstream of the story.

3. During the course of the characters sharing, I am told about their background. In most stories, the background and descriptions of the characters are shown in the beginning. In Salt to the Sea, I am given the background and descriptive information during the whole of the story. These things are revealed slowly but naturally.

4. It is a heavy story. It is heavy with feelings of fear, anxiety, weariness, angst, and moments of despair. These are people who have endured years of war. The trauma of what they’ve seen and personally experienced is imbedded in their hearts and minds and bodies. Their plight is what kept me reading. It is what drew me into the story at the first page.

5. The internal and external conflicts are extremely strong.

6. Even though the characters share a common goal to survive. It is interesting they are segregated by their ethnicity and heritage. This causes feelings of isolation and insecurity.

Do I have a favorite character among them? Joana. She is indispensable because of her nursing skills. I believe she is probably the most important character in the story. She is able to care for people despite their ethnicity which made her likable and heroic.

How does the story make me feel? War is a horrible event. It is not just the military who fight and are affected. The civilians are always impacted. Obviously, the Russians ignore The Geneva Conventions.

Themes: survival, war, bravery, courage, kindness, honesty, betrayal, death and dying, resistance, trust, grief, hope, injustice, suffering, romance, sacrifice, power of love, and good and evil.

[Review] Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Publisher and Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Square Fish. March 7, 2017.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Memoir.
Pages: 352.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Young adult nonfiction.
Rating: Excellent!

Link @ Amazon.
Link @Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

There are several YouTube videos with Michael or his daughter Debbie who are co-authors of the book. These are two I’ve shared.

Summary:

On January 27, 1945, the Russians liberated Auschwitz. Of the 2,819 prisoners, 52 were children under the age of eight. Michael Bornstein was one of those children.
Michael, with the help of his daughter, Debbie, has documented this narrative style account. He felt his story needed to be shared about this traumatic event. He did not want to remain silent on what happened to him, his family, and the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The story begins in October 1939 when the Germans invaded Zarki, Poland. Michael’s family lived in a home in Zarki. Michael’s older brother, Samuel, is age four. Michael will be born in May of 1940.

Michael’s parents are Israel and Sophie Bornstein. There are several family members who live in the Zarki area. For a while, they are able to continue living in their home, later, they will be resettled, and then, transported to Auschwitz.

In this story, the focus is on his family but shares the chronological history of what happened to the Jews in Zarki, and in great detail the hellish life in Auschwitz.

My Thoughts:

I have read a lengthy list of memoirs of the Holocaust. It is rare to read an account through the lens or perspective of a small child. This brings a unique nature to the story. I believe, Survivors Club, is in the top five books I’ve read of Holocaust memoirs because of the unique structure and feel to the story. Michael was born during the Holocaust. He was an innocent babe in peril at his first breath.

Other reasons why this is an excellent book.

1. A detailed chronological timeline of the events happening in Zarki, Poland, starting in October 1939. This is not a sterile type of account, but deeply personal.

2. Most Holocaust stories that share the experiences in Auschwitz do not share thoughts and daily life in great detail. What I mean is Michael shares perspectives and thoughts not usually shared. For example, on pages 126-127, “Men who reached for suitcases that weren’t there.” “Women reached for children who had been pulled from their grip.” My takeaway is the shock of what is happening has not registered yet in their brain that the item or beloved person is no longer there. This is startling, shocking, and a surreal moment. This illustration is one of many that caused me to pause and ponder.

3. Further events in the book: the processing of the prisoners, the work details, the bathhouse, Mengele’s selection of children, the infirmary, the “Death March” out of Auschwitz, liberation, and rebuilding a life afterwards. The story is a solid view Michael’s life and what he has experienced.

4. Thirty-six illustrations. Most are in black and white, a few are in color.

5. A glossary is included

6. Notes on their research is included.

7. In the preface, the authors explain what has been pieced together through research, interviews, and memories (factual), and what they have constructed (conversations and emotions.) I love it when the author lets me know what is factual and what has been pieced together in the story.

Themes: war, survival, grief, intolerance, hope, resistance, suffering, sacrifice, family honor, good and evil, fear, heroism, power of love, courage, and bravery.

Survivors Club is a powerful story. It is an important story. It is a story I will not forget.

And, considering the events happening in the Ukraine, this story is more than just a memory, both remind us that evil exists. We cannot ignore, we cannot take a nap thinking this will all be over when we wake up. This story makes me feel firm in my convictions that freedom is important; and a huge part of that freedom is the ability to have free speech, and to live in a humane, safe, and free society.