“Letters from Cuba” Ruth Behar

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). To be published August 25, 2020.

Letters from CubaEsther’s father left his family behind in Poland and headed to Cuba, intent on earning enough money to give them a better life. Though he had been working for 3 years, he only had enough money for one of them to make the trip. Esther begged to be allowed to make the trip and, when she arrived, she was entranced. Cuba’s friendly neighbors made her feel welcome, everyone called her a little Polish girl instead of Jew, the weather was balmy, and the sea was breathtaking. It was wonderful!

Esther decided to tell her story in daily letters to her sister that she saved for when they’d be reunited. Though her father had been a peddler before she arrived, Esther was able to earn more money designing and selling her own dresses. As they worked to earn money to reunite the family, she learned about the heritages of the people in their small village. As Nazi beliefs began to invade their village, former slaves, Chinese Cubans, rich sugar mill owners and poor sugar cane workers were united in their belief that Esther and her father should be protected. Through faith and hope, they all learned that love could overcome evil.

This beautiful story told in letter form recounts many parts of Ruth Behar’s own family history, told from her grandmother Esther’s memories of leaving Poland and arriving in Cuba. Though Ruth and her mother were both born in Cuba, and they immigrated to the United States when it became Communist, Cuba is always in her heart. After reading Esther’s story, her memories will stay in her reader’s hearts too.

Highly recommended for ages 11 and older.

PS – I believe “Letters from Cuba” should be a contender for the treasured Pura Belpré Award, to be announced at the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in January 2021. Remember when Ruth Behar wins an award there that you read it here first!

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The two Mrs. Carlyles” Suzanne Rindell

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. G.P. Pubnam’s Sons (Penguin Random House). To be published July 28, 2020.

The two Mrs. CarlylesViolet, Flossie and Cora had grown up in an orphanage and, when it burned down, eked out a living in a boarding house for dancing girls. Violet was shy, Cora was vivacious, while Flossie was the peacemaker. In 1906, when their life got unbearable Violet uncovered something that threatened to rip their lives apart. Soon they were caught up in an earthquake that destroyed San Francisco and hid their secret. Though they profited from it, their knowledge about what had transpired came between them and caused them to go their separate ways.

Violet had never been without Cora and Flossie, and was terrified at the thought of making her own way in the city. Eventually she found a job and settled into a respectable living. One day she attracted the attention of Harry Carlyle, a rich widower. Violet couldn’t believe he was interested in her but, eventually, they married. Upon arrival at his mansion she was met by his dour housekeeper, and a home that was a shrine to his former wife.

It didn’t take long before Violet felt as if the house also hated her presence. At night she heard musical notes, saw open doors, and heard footsteps. Harry thought she was going insane but, as Violet began to lose her grip on reality, something happened that made her realize there was more hatred around her than she’d ever thought possible. Only true love could save her now.

I absolutely LOVED this book! I hung onto every word, turning pages in anticipation of what was going to happen next, while never expecting half of what DID happen. Suzanne Rindell leads her adult readers on a spooky, suspenseful whirlwind ride that ends with a twist. Great job Suzanne!

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Girl from nowhere” Tiffany Rosenhan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury Publishing. To be published July 21, 2020.

Girl from nowhereSophia was not a regular 16-year-old girl. She had lived all over the world with her diplomat parents, and knew more than 14 different languages. She had been trained in deadly combat, and knew how to accurately shoot a gun on the run. After having to live in so many different places and experiencing so many different things, Sophia was shocked when her parents arrived in the small town of Waterford, Montana and told her they were officially retired. Now that she was given permission to slow down her life and “act like a teenager”, Sophia had no idea what to do.

Her first day at school didn’t go over well, as teachers were less than impressed with her knowledge, but she made a few friends who kept her occupied with normal teenage things. Soon Sophia started to fall into the routine of hanging out and wondering why the very handsome Aksel left her tongue-tied. She and Aksel soon became a couple but, just as Sophia thought the doors of her past were forever closed, something happened that caused them to come blasting open. It will take everything she’s learned from her father and Askel’s love to keep Sophia’s former world from crashing down around her new one.

“Girl from nowhere” is filled with action, love, and adventure. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the cover. With a storyline of a type of female 007 mixed up with a very handsome James Bond type, having a book cover showing a girl with tape over her eyes DOESN’T CUT IT! Come on Bloomsbury! There’s still a month left before publication, so PLEASE come out with a more riveting cover to draw readers in – otherwise they’ll pass up a very good book!

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Being Toffee” Sarah Crossan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury YA. First published in Great Britain in May 2019 (Bloomsbury Publishing Pic.) United States of America edition to be published July 14, 2020.

Being ToffeeSixteen-year-old Allison’s mom died when she was born, leaving her with a father who mentally and physically abused her. For years she tried to stay out of his way but when he got angry, there wasn’t anything she or his girlfriend Kelly-Anne could do to avoid his cruelty. After Kelly-Anne left them, things got so bad that Allison ran away.

Now homeless, Allison eventually wandered into a home where an elderly woman lived alone. Marla’s dementia caused her to mistake Allison for a long-lost friend named Toffee so, for lack of anywhere to go, Allison moved in with her. They soon struck up a friendship but as Marla’s dementia got worse, Allison’s peace of mind improved. As Marla helped her learn to find her voice, she helped Marla gain the strength she needed to face changes coming in her own life.

Allison’s moving story of love lost and found is told in poetic verse. Readers will find themselves rooting for both Allison and Marla. I’m glad Bloomsbury YA decided to release this book in the United States. It’s an important story of finding hope and joy in unusual ways.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

“Accidental” Alex Richards

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury Publishing. To be published July 7, 2020.

AccidentalJohanna is sixteen-years-old, has two best friends, lives with her strict, old-fashioned grandparents and is drooling over the very handsome new guy at her fancy private school. Though her mother died in a car crash when she was little, she barely remembers her or the father who abandoned her when she was little. She’s always been with her grandparents, and everything was fine until suddenly nothing was fine.

Her estranged father sent her a letter wanting to reunite, so Johanna decided to take him up on it. When they met he told her she’d killed her mother by shooting her with a loaded gun she’d found under the bed. He was remorseful that he’d left his loaded gun in a place where a toddler could reach it, but that didn’t stop Johanna from going into a tailspin. Furious at her grandparents for lying to her for years she cuts off communication, but also can’t forgive herself for killing her own mother. Though everyone tells her it wasn’t her fault she doesn’t believe them, and neither do the students who start bullying her at school and online.

Gun violence, unsecured guns, statistics for family shootings, and gun control are just some of the topics readers will learn about as Johanna fights a battle to heal her damaged soul. Her story may give readers the impetus to think about ways to raise awareness for these societal issues.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The companion” Katie Alender

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Random House). To be published August 25, 2020.

The CompanionMargot was the only survivor after her parents and sisters were in a car crash and drowned. Sent to live in an orphanage, she was taken in by a rich family to be a companion for their daughter Agatha. At the estate daily nightmares of her family’s watery death subsided, as Agatha’s mother Laura was very kind. But things began to change when Margot found an old diary of Laura’s younger sister who had died years ago. By the time she began to put two and two together, time was up before she could get to four.

This was very creepy, so make sure not to read it at night or you’ll have the same nightmares as Margot. Alender was very clever as she lured readers along on her sinister plot, making us totally despair for Margot and Agatha. Well-done Ms. Alender. Very well done.

PS – not sure why the cover has a spoon with pins in it. I can think of lots of different types of covers to describe this book, but a spoon with pins would not be one of them.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Darius the great deserves better” Adib Khorram

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Dial Books (Penguin Random House); Darius the Great #1. To be published August 25, 2020.

Darius the great deserves betterSince returning from Iran, Darius has felt a bit more confident. He joined the soccer team and came out to his teammates. He knows they have his back, and enjoys the feeling of being part of a team and having friends. He has his first real boyfriend, Landon, and even got his first job in a teashop where he gets to try different flavors. Soccer is going great, they’re having a winning season and Chip is turning out to be a good friend. Everything seemed to be looking up, until things began to go slowly downhill.

His parents started to work more hours, so his grandmothers came to live with them for a while even though they hadn’t spent much time with them in the past. His dad was away for longer periods of time, while Landon kept pressuring him about their relationship. Chip turned out to be a good guy, but his best friend Trent keeps bullying Darius. While his grandfather’s health gets worse, Sohrab is facing trouble in Iran. With all of these issues Darius feels more conflicted than ever, but he finds strength in his friendships, his family and himself.

Readers will definitely relate to Darius and all of his issues, and will feel as if he’s one of their own classmates. I loved reading about Darius again, and can’t wait to see what happens in the next book of the series.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Darius the great is not okay” Adib Khorram

Rated 5 stars ***** Dial Books (Penguin Random House); Darius the Great #1. 2018.

DariustheGreatisnotokayDarius has “father issues,” because his dad hates his weight and long hair, telling him the bullying he endures is his own fault. Though both suffer from depression, Darius feels as if his dad succeeded in the world and he hasn’t. In addition he feels “fractional,” not “full” Persian like his mom, believing his little sister Laleh is loved more because she’s smarter and cuter.

When the family travels to Iran to visit his grandparents because his grandfather is dying, Darius struggles to understand the language and customs. He immediately feels loved by his grandmother, but feels held at arm’s length by his tough grandfather. Things improve when Sohrab, a neighbor who believes in him and encourages him, becomes his best friend. Together they conquer Iran as he helps Darius develop a love for soccer and for himself. Eventually Darius’ father helps him realize how much he is loved.

This story of the often-difficult dynamics found in family relationships, friendships and heritage stays with readers long after they turn the final page. I look forward to reading more about Darius as he learns more about himself.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Thirteens” Kate Alice Marshall

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Viking (Penguin Random House). The secrets of Eden Eld #1. To be published August 18, 2020.

ThirteensAfter a house fire and the disappearance of her mother, Ellie moved in with her aunt and uncle in the little town of Eden Eld. She’s determined to show them that she’s normal, because she and her mom used to see things nobody else saw. She’s not going to tell them about the weird grandfather clock that just appeared outside of her room ticking backwards, and she’s certainly not going to tell them about the big, strange looking bird with a yellow eye that was staring at her while she waited for the bus.

At school Ellie becomes friends with Pip and Otto, who clue her into the fact that they can also see things no one else sees but she has to keep it a secret. It doesn’t take long to realize their names are palindromes, they’re all going to be thirteen years old on Halloween, and they all have the same birthmarks. These strange similarities don’t seem coincidental so, working together, they discover the town is hiding a strange secret. Every 13 years, three thirteen-year-olds disappear. They’re next on the list to disappear without a trace, so will have to pull out all the stops if they plan to make it to their fourteenth birthday.

Those of you who are regulars on my blog know I refuse to read books in a series unless I have all of them in front of me. However, the publisher tricked me. The description sounded really interesting on NetGalley and Goodreads. Neither site had the name of a series listed for the book, so I requested it. When I downloaded it, the very first page said it was part one of a planned series. I was upset I’d been hoodwinked, but gamely set about reading because I had to review it.

I actually enjoyed it, but the cliffhanger ending reminded me that nothing could be tied into a big bow until the series was completed. I don’t even know how many books will BE in the series! I can’t wait to find out what happens next to Ellie, Otto and Pip, and the first book hasn’t even officially come out yet!!

Grrr! However, despite all this angst, I will still recommend it for ages 11-14.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Fighting words” Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House). Includes Discussion Questions. To be published August 11, 2020.

Fighting wordsDella is now ten years old, and in the fourth grade. When she was five, and her older sister Suki was eleven, their meth addict mother was sent to prison and her old boyfriend stepped in to claim them. Through the five years they lived with him Suki always took care of Della. She took the lead and made sure they got away when he did something very bad to Della. Now they were living with a foster mother who seemed nice enough, Della was attending a new school, and Suki had a new job.

Soon Suki started to get angry for no reason, making Della feel as if she were a burden. Della was confused because Suki had always been there for her. When Suki tried to commit suicide it took time before Della realized her sister had been carrying a terrible burden for many years. As Della learned to put her rage into words, she became the arm of strength for Suki so that, together, they could forge ahead to reclaim their lives.

This book was very powerful, and a testament to the ravages inflicted upon innocent children caught in the crosshairs of drug addicted parents and sexual predators. It will, hopefully, give encouragement and strength for children who see themselves in the pages to get help if they are suffering the same fates as Della and Suki.

Recommended for ages 11-16.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.