The Search for Lost Gold
Lisa Schmid’s debut novel for middle-grade readers Ollie Oxley and the Ghost is an engaging story full of mystery and mischief.
Ollie has moved, again, with his mother and little sister. His mother’s new job is in her hometown of Granite City, California, and the family is hoping that they will get to stay permanently. Making new friends has never been easy for Ollie. The school bully, Aubrey, targets him immediately. When Ollie meets Teddy, he is happy to have a friend, but Teddy is not an ordinary boy; he is a ghost! Soon Ollie finds himself pulled into a race against Aubrey for class president while also trying to find the lost gold that Teddy’s father had discovered during the nineteenth-century gold rush. Solving the mystery of the lost gold becomes urgent when Ollie learns that his mom’s new boss is about to lose ownership of the theater, which will force his family to move again.
Granite City is an excellent setting—a town with an interesting gold mining history. The theater Ollie’s mother works in, the local candy store, a history museum, and the pink Victorian home the family lives in all provide a wonderful environment for the story.
The characters are endearing. Ollie is used to moving from place to place and has developed his own rules for surviving any new environment. His interactions with his little sister and with the other children are amusing. Teddy is a funny but lonely ghost who always seems to cause trouble. Even Aubrey has a bit of personality underneath the bullying and bravado, making her nearly sympathetic.
Ollie Oxley and the Ghost is a satisfying middle grade mystery that hints at future adventures for Ollie and Teddy.
CATHERINE THURESON (April 27, 2019)
In Agnes Gomillion’s gripping science fiction debut, The Record Keeper, Arika is born in a postwar, resource-ravaged world and is plucked from her community’s nursery for a position of power.
Arika may have a warm bed, clean clothes, and the promise of a better life, but she also lives at the mercy of the English, the white ruling class who claimed the dominant place in America after the last world war. Future record keepers are taught that the Kongo work the fields out of necessity and that the English have their own complementary roles to fill. Even Obi Solomon, the Kongo hero of the war, said that it was so.
While Arika can recite related history lessons at length, she’s also the girl who once sang young Kongos toward a unity that smacked of rebellion. Fear squelched her songs early on, and it’s especially acute before Teacher Jones, who is notorious for her viciousness.
Now, as her class valedictorian, Arika is close to escaping Jones’s reach. But then a new student, Hosea, appears, and Jones enlists Arika’s help in determining why he was sent—and what he knows about a brewing rebellion. What Arika learns upends all of her certainties and allegiances, leading her somewhere truer and more perilous than she ever imagined.
Old-world elements, including a terrible plague and structural racism that enslaves some and makes monsters of others, wend into the text. Sans references to future history and science fiction additions—like the Rebirth, a pill that reprograms workers’ memories, and the Helix, an individualized weapon—the setting could easily be mistaken for antebellum, which makes the text’s developments all the more searing.
As Arika grows to assume her most powerful place among the people, The Record Keeper—with its absorbing developments and clarion call to freedom—will hold its readership in thrall and have them waiting expectantly for the follow-up.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2019)
What happens when you combine UFOs, a vintage bottle of wine, and time travel? You get Antoine Laurain’s fantasy novel, Vintage 1954.
Four newfound friends—Hubert Larnaudie, a property manager; Julien, a bartender; Magalie, a restorer of antiques; and Bob, a retired American on holiday––share a bottle of wine in modern-day Paris. They wake up the next day and discover that they have been transported back in time—they’re still in Paris, but now it is 1954.
After the initial shock wears off, the four find each other, try to figure out what happened, and work to fix it. The answer to what happened seems to lie in an UFO story told by Julien’s great-grandfather, the old wine grower responsible for that particular vintage of wine. With the help of a scientist, the group figures out that the only way they can return to their own time is by being in the same place, at the right time––right under a UFO as it appears above the Chateau Saint-Antoine vineyard.
Some scenes feel too familiar in this time travel story, and not enough time is given to working out a way to return the characters home. The ending is overly neat. Still, Laurain does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into 1950s Paris and the French countryside.
The book’s descriptions are a must for any Francophile, who will be able to meet Dali, Edith Piaf, Audrey Hepburn, and other luminaries in these pages. A character’s walk through the legendary market of Les Halles at a time when it was in its full glory, all on the way to dinner at Au Veau qui Tete: such scenes are written beautifully, entering fully into the busyness of their settings.
More fun than science-minded, Vintage 1954 is a time travel romp through 1950s France.
ERIC PATTERSON (April 27, 2019)
Drinks, Drugs, Delirium & Why Sober Is the New Cool
His life was magical and euphoric. He was invincible, brilliant, and super positive. Everything he wanted could be his. “You think you’re just happy, that everything is going your way and you don’t have a problem. But you do,” writes Conor Bezane in his intimate and disturbing memoir, The Bipolar Addict.
Yet when the mania flipped to depression and the psychosis and hallucinations set in, Bezane’s erratic behavior destroyed his relationships and jobs. He felt crushed by despair. His bones ached. He attempted suicide, and he felt that he would do anything to get the euphoria back.
According to Bezane, this is what life is like with bipolar disorder. He relates that sixty percent of the 5.7 million people diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the US are also addicted to drugs or alcohol. His book is intimate and brutally honest, showing how mental illness, coupled with addiction, took him from being a geeky guy with a great childhood behind him and a great job ahead of him to being unemployed—a “vampire recluse” who slept during the day and got high with addicts in dark alleys at night.
In telling the bare truth about the nightmare he lived as one of the “dually diagnosed,” Bezane’s moving account of the down-and-dirty events that almost killed him is also an emphatic takedown of the myths surrounding drug use. His story includes a way out, achieved with the help of family, friends, and support groups, and his joy in the present is expressed in eloquent and authentic terms, as is his dedication to helping others to live sober.
KRISTINE MORRIS (June 13, 2019)
A Novel about Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen
David Elias’s Elizabeth of Bohemia brings Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of England’s King James I, to life. Elizabeth was married at age sixteen to Prince Frederick of the Palatinate. Her intelligence, candor, and strong will illuminate Elizabeth of Bohemia, wherein she becomes the short-reigned Winter Queen and endures more tragedy than triumph.
The novel follows Elizabeth from her teenage union to Prince Frederick in 1613 to her final years as a widow in England following the Restoration. Though Elizabeth’s marriage is a strategic alliance arranged by her father, Prince Frederick is devoted to his new bride and to assuring her happiness at Heidelberg Castle, his ancestral home.
Elizabeth tries to return Frederick’s love, but a lingering remoteness keeps her from experiencing great passion. She uses her influence to make Frederick as powerful as possible, and throughout the years she gives birth to thirteen children. The strain of these pregnancies is evident as Elizabeth notes that she spends decades “incubating progeny,” swollen and “waddling about” while preparing for the next ordeal of labor.
Lively and engrossing, Elizabeth of Bohemia includes Sir Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, and Rene Descartes among its royal characters. The novel is also shadowed by sadness, as Elizabeth suffers the too-early deaths of her brother Prince Henry, her husband, and many of her children.
Despite her beauty and sharp mind, Elizabeth is limited by regal obligations and her gender, and her inner conflicts are well defined. Even as a jewel-encrusted crown is placed upon her head at coronation, she feels no thrill or awe but instead longs to tear off its painful weight with irritable defiance and “dash it to the marble floor.”
Rich with historical detail and political intrigue, Elizabeth of Bohemia is a complex portrait of a reluctant yet captivating queen.
MEG NOLA (April 27, 2019)