“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.

 

“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.

 

“Throwaway girls” Andrea Contos

Throwaway girlsRated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. KCP Loft (Kids Can Press). To be published September 1, 2020.

Caroline was crushed when her girlfriend moved to California and left her behind. Her life was already on the skids because her judgmental mother refused to accept her as she was, and sent her to conversion camp to make her into a more acceptable daughter. Caroline was teetering on the edge, and just needed to hang on to her phony life for three months. Then she’d be 18 years old, and could set out to live her own life.

Her private school, rich girl life was set even more upside down when her best friend Madison disappeared. Caroline was determined to find her, and wound up at a nearby rundown town where she’d set up a secret life for herself with her girlfriend. There Caroline uncovered the names of other girls who had disappeared and had never been found. She wondered why so many girls were disappearing, and why the police weren’t concerned. The closer she got to answers, the harder it became to accept what was staring back at her.

Despite Caroline’s constant bemoaning of her lost love, the plot of lost, unwanted girls kept me hooked. I found the constant back and forth from unnamed characters to be distracting, and thought it would have been better to have had those various conversations in italics. Despite those reservations, I thought it was a good read.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

“The snow fell three graves deep: Voices from the Donner Party” Allan Wolf

The snow fellRated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Candlewick Press. To be published September 8, 2020. (Includes Maps and extensive back matter: “Author’s note: Narrative Pointillism,” “Select character biographies,” “Native Americans and the Donner Party,” “The Donner Party by the numbers: A miscellany,” “Time line 1846 and 1847,” “Donner Party members by family,” “The rescuers and the rescued,” “Donner Party deaths,” “Reality checks,” “Murder and the mysterious Mr. Wolfinger,” “About the documents,” “Special terms from this story,” “German words from this story,” and “Read more about the Donner Party.”)

In Markus Zusak’s award-winning book “The book thief,” Death narrates as other characters live the story. Wolf uses a similar approach in “The snow fell.” Here Hunger narrates, while members of the 1846 ill-fated Donner Party tell their poetic verse stories of survival, starvation, and cannibalism during months spent trapped in horrific snowstorms on the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Wolf’s detailed research shows in his descriptions of what led up to their entrapment, who survived (and who didn’t), and how they endured. His extensive back matter gives many opportunities for readers to learn more about the Donner Party before, during and after their horrific ordeal.

The only thing bad I can say about this book is that Candlewick declined to release the ARC in a digital format readable by Kindles. I had to download Adobe Editions to read it on my tablet, which made turning pages and enlarging the print very difficult. It took me twice as long to read this on my tablet with Adobe Editions than it would have taken on my Kindle. As a result, I will never download a non-digital ARC ever again.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

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

 

 

“Ghost boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Rated 5 stars ***** 2018. Little, Brown & Company (Hachette Book Group). 214 p. (Includes Afterword,” “Discussion questions,” and Further resources for parents and educators”

Ghost boysTwelve-year-old Jerome is bullied daily at school because he’s smart. He eats lunch in the bathroom, trying to avoid getting beat up. Carlos, a new kid, comes to school and, though he’s never had a friend, Jerome befriends him. The bullies find them in a bathroom and start beating them but Carlos scares them away with a toy gun, which he gives to Jerome to play with because he’s his new friend.

Jerome doesn’t usually play outside because his neighborhood is dangerous, but is excited to do so with the gun. While playing with it, he’s shot in the back by a White policeman and dies on the street. Now a ghost, Jerome sees his families’ grief and watches the preliminary hearing where a judge decides the officer who shot him shouldn’t be charged with wrongdoing – even though he shot him in the back from inside a moving patrol car without warning, and neither he nor his partner offered any aid while he was lying on the ground still alive.

Sarah, the police officer’s daughter, can see and communicate with him and Emmett Till, another ghost boy. Jerome realizes there are thousands of ghost boys who were also killed early in life, and struggles to understand why they’re still wandering the earth. Emmett tells him the story of how he died; helping Jerome realize they’re still on Earth because they’re all bearing witness to the injustices they suffered due to racism. Though upset at her father, Sarah channels her anger into telling the stories of the ghost boys and also bearing witness for them.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, Jerome’s sad and painful story is very timely for the days in which we currently live. It is excellent for a book club or for a whole class, as it has much material that needs to be discussed.

Highly recommended for ages 12 and older.

“I hope you’re listening” Tom Ryan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Albert Whitman & Company. To be published October 6, 2020.

I hope you're listeningDee was 7-years-old when her best friend was kidnapped and she was left tied to a tree where they had been playing. Ten years have passed, but Dee has never forgotten Sibby. As a result of the kidnapping she became introverted, and started a podcast to help find missing people to erase the helplessness she felt about not being able to do anything to help Sibby. With the aid of “laptop detectives” around the country who listened to her show, she was able to get clues to solve these mysteries.

When a young girl goes missing from the house where Dee had lived as a child, similarities are drawn to Sibby’s case. Dee pushes back against reporters who want to put her in the spotlight, and her best friends insistence that she use her podcast to solve the case. Her growing relationship and friendship with Sarah, her next door neighbor, helps calm the confusion she’s feeling about whether or not to get involved and gives her courage to do what needs to be done. What she doesn’t know is that the nightmare in which Sibby had found herself was lying in wait for her too.

I loved, loved, LOVED this book! As Sibby and Dee’s stories were slowly revealed, the suspense kept me turning pages. My list of suspects grew higher in this whodunit, and then plummeted with each reveal. Ryan did a great job tying a knot at the end of the book. I love his last sentence. Touché!

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.

 

 

 

“Eventide” Sarah Goodman

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Tor Teen. To be published October 6, 2020.

EventideIn 1907 seventeen-year-old Verity and her little sister Lilah set out from New York City on an orphan train to find a new home. Verity was bitter because she hadn’t been allowed to care for her sister. She was almost eighteen, and had taken care of her ever since their mother died and their father started to go insane. However, she was still underage, so they had been forced to go to an orphanage when their father was taken to an asylum.

When they arrived in the small town of Wheeling Arkansas Miss Maeve, the local schoolteacher, adopted Lilah. Desperate to stay near her sister Verity allowed herself to be indentured to a couple that needed help on their farm. As she struggled through her chores, the thought of being able to leave forever with Lilah in a few months enabled her to get through the days in this little, superstitious town.

Verity couldn’t understand why everyone was afraid of the woods, and why she’d been warned to stay away from it. When she decided to explore it for herself she couldn’t understand why it suddenly became freezing cold and foggy, nor could she explain the presence of a little girl who disappeared when Verity tried to follow her. As Verity learned more about the people in the small town she began to realize that Lilah was in grave danger. Verity will do anything she can to protect her sister – even if it means giving up everything she once held dear.

I loved this book! It was suspenseful, spooky, thrilling and kept me up turning pages until late at night. I did have some questions about the ending that I would love to ask the author but, because they might reveal spoilers, I can’t ask them on this blog. However, I would love it if Sarah Goodman contacted me on the “down low” so I can unburden myself and get the answers I seek.

Despite my questions I highly recommend “Eventide” for ages 16 and older.

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

 

“Blacktop wasteland” Shawn A. Cosby

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Flatiron Books. To be published July 14, 2020.

Blacktop WastelandBeauregard’s father was involved with shady business dealings but taught him about life and fast cars before he disappeared, leaving his son to mourn his loss. Bug now had a wife and kids of his own, and carved out a life at his own car repair shop. Things were going well until a competitor started taking away his business. Now the bank refused to extend his loan because a developer wanted him to fail so he could take the land. His daughter didn’t have money for college, his young boys needed glasses and braces, his wife wanted a real house, and the nursing home had bills due for his mom’s care. Everything, and everyone, seemed to be conspiring against him.

In desperation Beauregard took on the role of getaway driver for a jewelry store heist. Even though he didn’t trust his partners he needed the money, and they needed him because of his skills behind the wheel. What Bug didn’t know was that a gangster owned the jewels they stole, and what he had planned for him and his family would need him to use every arsenal in his power to survive.

Wow! This good vs. bad guys action packed book is filled with car chases, and flying bullets. Our hero is hurt many times, but gets up and gets the job done. I was on the edge of my seat, turning pages as I read. It would make a GREAT movie, so I hope some movie producers or screenwriters read it and realize its potential.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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