“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.

 

“White Ivy” Susie Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Simon & Schuster. To be published September 8, 2020.

White IvyIvy was two years old when her parents moved from China to the United States and left her in the care of Meifeng, her grandmother. It took three years for them to save enough money to send for her so, when she arrived, they felt like strangers. Two years later Meifeng joined the family, but Ivy felt caught. In their world she was expected to become a doctor, and to be obedient but she was definitely not obedient and didn’t want to be a doctor. She wanted an exciting life of her own so filled her days reading about beautiful sad heroines.

In 6th grade her father became a technician at a prep school so her tuition was free. By that time she had become a petty thief with her grandmother, and stole the things she needed to fit in at school. Though she worked hard to emulate the lifestyles of the beautiful, rich girls who were now her classmates, and had fallen hard for Gideon Speyer the local heartthrob, she was always on the outskirts of school life.

Through college and beyond Ivy flits from relationship to relationship, refusing any involvements, but is thrilled when she runs into Gideon’s older sister. She makes sure she and Gideon rekindle their acquaintance, and becomes so ruthless and single minded in her pursuit of him that she loses track of the definition of true love.

The author made you really think hard about the characters, and threw in a few twists and turns I didn’t expect. I will highly recommend this book for Adults.

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

 

“The House of Five Fortunes” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. 2016. Lillis and James. Bold Women of the 20th Century #3. 2016.

The House of Five FortunesXiu’s mother bought an opium den, The House of Five Fortunes, in San Francisco after her husband fell ill and could no longer support the family. When she died Xiu inherited it, but was forced to hide the leadership skills she’d learned due to a possessive and tyrannical husband. Her mother had worked hard to make the business a success, even though there were few women business owners in Chinatown, but Xiu passively allowed her husband to hold the reins of her life and her empire because she loved him.

When he was killed Xiu took control again and, with the help of her friend Nuan and Madison a famous actor, they raised The House of Five Fortunes to greater heights. Though there was a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment, that didn’t stop Madison from falling in love with Xiu but, due to her being Chinese, they were not allowed to marry. When random murders began to be committed, the police and local Whites blamed the Chinese. Madison knew Xiu wasn’t safe but, when a massive race riot began in Chinatown, their lives were soon endangered along with all of the town’s inhabitants.

Though this book is in the Bold Women of the 20th Century series, I didn’t see Xiu as very bold. Her mother was strong, but I saw Xiu as weak and easy to manipulate. I thought her mother, Nuan, and Dandan the cook were strong female characters, not Xiu. In fact the strongest character in the book was Madison, and he was a man!

Descriptions of the United States in the 1870’s, life during the gold rush, and the building of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese immigrants were interesting to read. I was saddened to read of the many ways the Chinese were mistreated – ways that are mirrored in anti-Immigrant policies today. Our country may have travelled far during the past 150 years, but many unpleasant reminders from the past still rear their ugly heads.

Recommended for Adults.

“Amid the shadows” Michael C. Grumley

Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. 2013.

AmidTheShadowsA six-year-old who sees people’s souls is chased by “bad men” after they murder her mother. Churches are blown up across the country. A teen hacker plans the release of a virus so powerful it will bring China to its knees and cause the release of nuclear warheads from the United States and Russia. Police are kidnapped and murdered. Someone plots the demise of the planet through nuclear warfare – but only on the Northern Hemisphere. Through it all, faith in God will pull you through.

Yes, ALL of these play out on the pages of this book. Though filled with too many details about things not relevant to the plot, the book shows some promise and managed to keep my interest for a little while. It was frustrating that Grumley left so many unanswered questions. Some of my questions for him are: If Zahn was Ryan’s guardian, why did he act so menacing towards him and his father? Who was bleeding in the hallway when Sarah’s mother was killed? Will the detectives ever be found? Why did Rand have a black shadow? Why did it consume Zahn? How did Sarah know about Zahn’s history and how God felt about him? I have many more, but these are a start.

Normally I don’t review self-published books, as too many authors don’t use the basics of spell check, and have bad writing skills. However this book had some promise. I suggest Grumley get a good editor who can help him whittle through his ideas and decide on a main theme. This will allow him to focus on fleshing out specific ideas so as not to get caught up in too many plot twists that will cause the main storyline to get lost. Ultimately readers will not be left scratching their heads wondering what just happened.

Not recommended due to many unanswered questions.

“Mama and Papa have a store” AND “La tienda de mamá y papá” written and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling

Rated 4 stars **** Lee & Low. 2016. (First published in 1998 by Dial.)

mamaandpaphaveastorelatiendademamaypapaLee & Low republished these out-of-print editions in both English and Spanish.

In 1938, the author’s parents fled their village in China before the Japanese invaded at the advent of World War II. Settling in Guatemala City, they raised their six children in the back of a grocery store, which sold all sorts of sundries.

Through detailed watercolor drawings, the author shares her memories of a typical day spent playing in the store with her brothers and sisters, meeting Mayan Indians who came from their faraway village to buy colorful thread, and interacting with Guatemalan and Chinese patrons. By the end of the book, readers will have a clear idea of what it was like for a hardworking Chinese immigrant family to make their way in a new world.

I would have preferred to have both the Spanish and English versions in a single book, rather than in two different books, as it would’ve been easier for children learning each language to see the opposite language as they practiced.

Recommended for ages 6-10.

 

 

“Gutless” Carl Deuker

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 329 p.

gutlessBrock Ripley is first to back away from conflicts, on the soccer field or off. He hates being gutless, but doesn’t know how to be brave. When he agrees to catch passes for Hunter Gates, the school’s star quarterback, his life becomes even more confusing as he tries to learn football and avoid getting hit on the field, hold off Hunter’s jealous former wide receiver, hide his father’s worsening sickness from his friends, and keep his friendship with Richie Fang.

Though Richie is a star soccer player, wins all types of competitions, is academically gifted, and a great jokester, his talents don’t include ways to stop riling Hunter. The angrier Hunter gets towards Richie, the more Brock retreats into his shell of avoidance. It is only a matter of time before Brock will have to learn how to get himself off the fence and onto the field of life before it’s too late.

This action packed book about football, bullying, true friendship, and learning to stand up for yourself is bound to pique the interest of readers – especially reluctant readers.

Recommended for ages 11-18.

“Best friends through eternity” Sylvia McNicoll

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Tundra Books. Hardcover. 182 pp.

BestFriendsThroughEternityPaige is fourteen, adopted by Canadian parents shortly after she was abandoned at an orphanage in China. As a result she feels as if something is missing from her life, coping with her insecurities by shunning affection and anything Chinese.

One snowy Monday the girl’s volleyball team decides to beat her and her best friend Jasmine up in retaliation for something they believe Jasmine did to a teammate. In order to avoid the route where she knows they’ll be waiting, Paige takes a shortcut along the train tracks – even though it means Jasmine will be left alone with them. Oblivious to the world around her due to the loud music on her iPod Paige doesn’t hear the train’s warning horn and is hit, leaving her in an irreversible coma.

From there Paige is given the gift of a week to return to her old life and right the wrong she did to Jasmine, with the caveat being she can’t let anyone know she will die. Paige’s new life takes many twists and turns as she desperately tries to help Jasmine, finding unexpected results from her last, fate filled week.

I was very upset the volleyball team got away with very serious bullying, as some of their antics could have gotten the girls killed yet no adult noticed. On the other hand I was pleased to see Paige’s transformation, as it could encourage some readers to rethink their own lives in a positive manner. I also liked the cover.

Recommended for ages 11-14.