Book Review: Echo

E992E685-1FAF-4FE0-B545-00BE6534793ATitle: Echo
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From Scholastic: Lost and alone in the forbidden Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. How their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

Richly imagined and structurally innovative, Echo pushes the boundaries of form and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories.

My Review: Echo opens up as a fairytale in the Black Forest, Germany. Otto makes the acquaintance of three sisters who tell him a story of a prophecy and give him a harmonica marked with an M.

First we meet Friedrich, a boy growing up in Nazi Germany with a penchant for music he dreams of being an orchestra conductor. Born with a large birthmark on his face, Friedrich knows he will never see his dream come true under Hitler’s superior race.

Next we meet Mike in Depression-era Pennsylvania. He and his younger brother, Frankie live in an orphanage for hopeless and destitute children. Life for the boys does a 180-degree turn when wealthy Mrs. Sturbridge adopts them but she’s not interested in mothering them and soon the brothers are destined to be split up and sent away. Mike works a deal with Mrs. Sturbridge to ensure Frankie stays with her.

Finally we are transported to Southern California where Ivy Lopez is the daughter of immigrant migrant workers. Post-Pearl Harbour, the farm Ivy’s parents run belongs to a Japanese-American couple, the Yamamotos, who are in an internment camp. The government grows suspicious of the Yamamotos and Ivy’s family gets caught in the crosshairs trying to protect them.

I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because of the beautiful and powerful harmonica interlude between chapters.

Echo’s narrative is beautifully woven spanning time and place, family hardships and the harmonica tying three children together. This book should be required reading for all middle grade children and adults alike.

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Book Review: The Stolen Marriage

7A8A527B-F660-4369-817E-3BF251CFC265Title: The Stolen Marriage
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From St. Martin’s Press: In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?

I won a copy of this arc in a giveaway sponsored by Goodreads and St. Martin’s Press. All opinions are my own.

My Review: THE STOLEN MARRIAGE took me completely and utterly by surprise in a very good way. To be upfront I didn’t know anything about this book and thought I was going into a thriller / suspense story. Instead I was fully engrossed in rich history, intrigue and mystery flanked by elaborate characters and complex topics significant to World War II and southern living.

Tess and Vincent grew up as neighbors in Little Italy, Baltimore, Maryland and always knew they would marry. Engaged and planning their wedding, Vincent was busy carving out his medical career while Tess finished up her nursing studies. A weekend away with her girlfriend lands Tess inebriated, in bed with another man and pregnant. Scared, ashamed and her future with Vincent derailed, Tess sets off to seek financial support from Henry but Henry proposes marriage to provide a family for his unborn child.

Tess never imagined the life she would sign onto upon accepting Henry’s proposal. Moving to a small town in the south where she is seen as trapping Henry, Tess lives under the watchful eyes of Ruth and Lucy, Henry’s mother and sister. She’s not welcomed into their lives nor accepted and she’s in a loveless marriage with a man who isn’t attracted to her.

What lies ahead are deception, secrets, compassion, morality and surprising plot twists. While this isn’t a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat, it is poignant and captivating and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.