Star Sand

Star Sand

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers (General Fiction, Historical)

In 1941, a teen-aged Japanese-American girl from California travels to Japan with her father. When he joins the Japanese war effort, she moves to a small village on a remote Japanese island to live with her aunt. By April of 1945, when the majority of this story takes place, the aunt has died and the girl, now seventeen, is living alone. By chance, she discovers an oceanside cave occupied by two deserters from the war, one American and one Japanese. They cannot understand each other’s language, but they both wish to co-exist in peace. The girl, Hiromi, speaks both English and Japanese and becomes their interpreter and benefactor, risking her life to bring them food and medicine. Then, one day, a wounded Japanese soldier joins them in the cave. He considers all three to be enemies of Japan and threatens their safety and survival.

The story then fast-forwards to the report of a 1958 American Marine Corps Survey Team that discovered the cave and its contents, which include Hiromi’s diary and the skeletal remains of three people. Fast-forward again to 2011, when a college student working on a research paper questions the validity of the diary and the identities of those who died in the cave. She goes on to solve the mystery in short order.

This book had great promise, but the conclusion was a disappointment. The story of Hiromi and the two deserters provided a unique perspective on World War II, showing everyday people who just wanted to live their lives and do the right thing. However, the final twenty percent of the book felt as though the author had tired of the whole thing and decided to wrap it up as quickly and easily as possible. He introduces a student we’ve never seen before and don’t get to know at all, who gives a quick narration of how she neatly determines who actually died in the cave. What could have been an intriguing bit of sleuthing with something extra thrown in — a startling revelation or heart-wrenching detail — becomes a question answered with little time for the reader to speculate about what might have happened.

I at least wanted some significance for the hundreds of little milk bottles Hiromi filled with star sand on the beach in 1945. I was pretty sure each little milk bottle of sparkling star-shaped fossils was meant to commemorate an innocent Japanese child who became a victim of the war. Instead, filling the little bottles collected by a school teacher and given to Hiromi apparently had no meaning, except to provide a reason for her to visit the beach and find the cave. I wanted more.

Grandma gives Star Sand three stars. 3 stars






Between by Dora Hilburn (Young Adult, Paranormal)

Between is a love story, a ghost story, and a coming-of-age story. Seventeen-year-old Anna has inherited an old Victorian house in Florida, and she and her father have moved there from Chicago to fix it up and sell it. Anna is an introvert and perfectly happy to keep to herself, but a local guy, Eric, becomes interested in her and offers to help Anna and her dad work on the house over the summer and she reluctantly accepts his help.

The house is supposedly haunted, and it doesn’t take long for Anna to notice a chill in the air that comes and goes, along with the sensation that she’s being watched. And then, one day, she hears a voice ask why she’s there, and when she responds, her relationship with Wyatt begins.

Wyatt is a nineteen-year-old who died in combat during World War I. He is caught in the “between,” no longer alive, but not ready to cross over to the light. He has chosen to remain as a spirit in the Victorian, the house of his childhood, where he does his best to discourage newcomers from sticking around. But Anna is not scared off; instead, she is the first person to acknowledge his presence without fear. And Wyatt realizes he finally has what he lost because of his premature death—he has found the love of his life. Unfortunately, she is of the real world, and he is not.

The story covers young love in all its painful stages, with an otherworldly threat and a few other complications thrown in for good measure. Anna learns new things about herself and is forced to make hard decisions that will affect the rest of her life.

This book is entertaining and worth the read. It had its slow moments when Grandma found herself skimming in order to get to the meat of the story, but they were not excessive. She did find several proofreading/editing errors that surprised her, including misspelling of commonly confused words like compliment/complement, verb tenses that didn’t quite match, and what she calls chronic abuse of the ellipsis.

Overall, however, Grandma believes the story deserves four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received Between via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Mailbox: A Scattershot Novel…


Mailbox: A Scattershot Novel of Racing, Dares and Danger, Occasional Nakedness, and Faith by Nancy Freund (Genre Fiction: Coming of Age)

This “scattershot novel” is a compilation of 76 different short takes on a variety of subjects seen from the point of view of a precocious thirteen-year-old girl, Sandy Drue. The mailbox referenced in the title is a box into which, over the previous few years, she has been putting scraps of paper with her observations about life. Now she has pulled them together into a composition of sorts.

The little stories themselves are a mix of funny, poignant, and astute interpretations of everything from religion to puberty to how unfunny haunted houses can be. She searches for the meaning of life while contemplating fireflies, loss of loved ones, and the questionable conduct of some of the adults around her. In true stream-of-consciousness behavior, she says whatever comes into her mind at the moment, punctuating her narrative of what’s happening now with an amusing aside or a quick definition of a word she thinks the reader may not know, then exuberantly popping back in to finish where she unceremoniously left off.

This novel is classified as Coming of Age rather than Young Adult, and I believe that’s wise. In true Judy Blume style, the author takes us into the thoughts of a preteen facing the physical changes of young womanhood and beginning to ponder her place in the world. Sandy’s voice is young — at times, she made me think of Junie B. Jones — and the stories she tells most likely have more nostalgic significance and appeal for mature adults than for teenagers who have recently moved out of that phase themselves.

I found this to be primarily a light read, quick, and fun.

Grandma gives Mailbox four stars.4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received Mailbox via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


April Raintree


April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier (Young Adult Fiction)

When I chose April Raintree to read and review, I had no idea that it is already one of Canada’s most popular works of aboriginal literature. I was captivated by the description: “April Raintree is the story of two sisters, separated from their family and one another. Despite that, the bond between them grows as they navigate a society that is, at times, indifferent, hostile, and violent. Through this work of fiction, author Beatrice Mosionier reflects the all-too-harsh reality facing Indigenous people today – as well as a message of hope, healing, and reclamation.”

April and her sister, Cheryl, are Métis, a mix of white and Native American. Their story, told by April, starts in early childhood when they are taken from their loving, but alcoholic, parents and put into the Canadian foster care system. Sometimes living together, and sometimes forced to live separately, April and Cheryl experience both kind and abusive foster parents. April, who can pass as white, chooses to do so as an adult, while Cheryl, who exhibits more of the native features, develops great pride in her heritage. As time passes, society takes its toll on both of them, and their once-strong childhood bond is strained when they become adults. Tragedy follows them in many forms, and their story is not an easy one to read. Yet it is compelling and held my interest and attention; I found myself reading late into the night to find out what happened to them. The ending—simultaneously tragic and uplifting—left me feeling that my time was well-spent.

This book has many autobiographical attributes, giving it even more importance as a source of substantive information about how aboriginal people are treated in both Canada and the United States. At times, I found some of the dialogue too complex to be realistic for two children, but for me that did not detract from the message and the story that needed to be told.

As mentioned above, this is not an easy book to read for many reasons, but to do so is definitely worth the effort. I will be thinking about this story, these characters, and the reality they represent for a long time.

Based on the adult novel In Search of April Raintree, April Raintree has been revised specifically for students in grades 9 through 12.

Grandma gives April Raintree five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received April Raintree as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Along Came the Rain


Along Came the Rain by Alison R. Solomon (General Fiction)

Grandma says: This is a suspense-filled story told from the points of view of two major characters, Wynn and Barker, and two additional characters, Parminder and Kallie. Wynn is an older woman, a self-employed jewelry-maker who is somewhat eccentric and quirky; Barker is a social worker and the younger woman in this domestic partnership. Parminder is an intern working under Barker, and Kallie is a fifteen-year-old foster placement of Barker’s.

A kidnapping with an unusual motive is the basis of the story, which proved to be very engrossing right from the beginning. I found the outcome to be a total surprise, far from predictable, and the entire book an enjoyable read. Wynn and Barker are believable and well-developed characters. I could feel Wynn’s periodic confusion and frustration with herself, and I came to really like Barker because of her dedication to her clients. Parminder and Kallie are less developed, but that felt okay because the story belongs to Wynn and Barker.

My main criticism is that, while the story is told from the points of view of four different characters, their voices never differ. Kallie, a fifteen-year-old coming from a decidedly rougher background, possesses a vocabulary and sentence structure similar to that of the adults. Parminder, a native of India, does not have any distinctive characteristics to her narration. I also had a problem with Wynn’s ability to accept and forgive when she is grievously wronged, but it’s possible that she might just be a better person than I am.

This book was well-written, an enjoyable read, and I found no errors of note other than a single word that should have been edited out and multiple places where I would have expected commas. I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a quick suspense novel with a satisfying ending.

Grandma gives Along Came the Rain four stars. 4 stars


Bella Reads and Reviews received Along Came the Rain as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.