“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.

“All of us” A.F. Carter

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. Mysterious Press. To be published June 2, 2020.

All of usCarolyn Grand’s father was a monster. For years he abused her physically, mentally, sexually and emotionally. When she was finally put into foster care, her foster parents continued the sexual abuse. For years Carolyn’s body was not her own, forcing her mind to find a way to protect itself. The end result was that Carolyn’s mind split her into different people. Each of her personalities had their own unique way of dressing, talking, and acting to help her get through particular situations.

The comfortable life Carolyn and her personalities built for themselves for ten years began to unravel when Eleni, the promiscuous one, propositioned a cop. Now they had to attend mandated counseling sessions with a therapist who had no interest in helping them. Then Carolyn’s father was released from prison and, though ordered to stay away, he began stalking them. When he showed up dead, Carolyn became the prime suspect, and only a friendly detective keeps them from total despair.

Told through the voices of Carolyn’s six personalities (Eleni, Martha, Victoria, Tina, Kirk and Serena) readers are given flashbacks of what Carolyn endured at the hands of her father. We see the inner workings of a splintered mind that found a way to survive horrible abuse. As the narrative continues, and no one admits to the murder, this whodunit keeps you wondering.

Recommended for Adults.

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

 

 

“Just Lucky” by Melanie Florence

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. To be published September 17, 2019. Second Story Press.

Just LuckyFifteen-year-old Lucky has been living with her grandparents her whole life. Lucky loved living with them, and spending time with her best friend Ryan. They’d known each other since they were seven years old, and were inseparable.

When her grandfather suddenly passed away, things began to change. Her grandmother had been forgetting things, but her forgetfulness began to get worse. When she accidentally set the kitchen on fire, and was sent to the hospital to be diagnosed, Lucky believed she’d get better and they’d return home to her regular life. While she waited for that to happen she was at the mercy of Children’s Aid, so was placed into a foster home.

The first foster home she was put into turned out to be a nightmare, so she was moved to a second one, then a third. As foster home placements mounted, and her grandmother grew worse, Lucky’s hopes of returning home disappeared. Just when Lucky felt as if her luck had taken a turn for the worse, something happened to give her faith in people again.

I loved, loved, LOVED this book. Lucky’s story made me scream, it made me mad, it made me happy, and it made me cry – all hallmarks of a great book.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Home girl” by Alex Wheatle

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. ARC. Published April 4, 2019. Atom.

Home girlNaomi was street wise, knowing the only one who could take care of anything at home was herself. Though only 14 years old, she’d been in charge of her drunkard father for years after her mother committed suicide, cooking and paying bills. She’d seen a lot in her young life, and resented being put into the foster care system after he disappeared.

Louise, her social worker, was at her wits end over what to do with her, as Naomi refused to stay long in any of the homes where she was placed. Finally, in desperation, she was temporarily placed with the Goldings, a Black family who had two young children of their own.

Though her friends from the teen shelter warned her over and over about the evils of foster families and wanted her to stay with them, Naomi wanted to be adopted. She enjoyed her time with the Goldings, keeping them on their toes just to remind them who was really in charge, even though they accepted and welcomed her. Naomi had never known kindness, but knew her time with them wouldn’t last. Louise kept saying she had to stay with her own kind, while her friends told her nobody wanted to adopt teenagers. She should just give up, but something kept her trying.

Naomi’s story is powerful and sad. She’s the voice of thousands of teenagers who want to be loved and to find their place in the world. The ARC I received was very poorly written. Though the characters spoke in a Cockney type accent, their words were even harder to understand because many letters were left out of the text. Words like “pued” instead of “puffed,” “rst” instead of “first” and “sh” instead of “fish” really threw me for a loop. There were many sentences like this with other words and letters missing. I don’t know if the final version had full words, instead of just parts of words, but I really hope so!

Though it was difficult to read due to the many missing letters, the theme was clear and important.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

 

 

“A question of class” Julia Tagan

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 2014. Lyrical Press (Kensington Publishing Corp.)

AQuestionOfClassAfter marrying 50 year-old Morris Delcour at the age of 15, beautiful Catherine was finally able to leave behind her past on the mean streets of Connecticut. Once in fine Parisian society no one cared that she used to be a scullery maid and came from questionable parentage. As she and her greedy husband made the rounds of parties and balls, he built up his winery and fattened his wallet while she reveled in the richness and peace of mind that being Mrs. Morris Delcour brought.

After 5 years in France, Morris planned to expand his business to the colonies. It was now 1810, and he felt it was time to open the eyes of high society to the invigorating taste of wine. Unfortunately for Catherine, New York’s society matrons did not look kindly upon her lowly background. Incensed that he wouldn’t be able to use her for monetary gain, Morris informed Catherine that their marriage had been a sham and he was sending her off to the West Indies after he returned from a business trip. Horrified that she’d been trapped into living a lie for 5 years, Catherine set about plotting revenge and an escape route.

It is into this sad state of affairs that readers are introduced to Benjamin Thomas, the brother of Morris’ first wife Dolly, who came to town hiding the revenge he planned to wreak upon Morris for his role in her death. Morris gave him the task of making sure his wife didn’t escape while he was out of town. Instead Benjamin fell in love while helping Catherine rescue her little sister from cruel foster parents. After they became lovers, they hoped to find a way to escape from Morris and reveal his underhanded business dealings to the authorities. But, as everything begins to unravel, it is only a matter of time before Morris catches up to them. Can two penniless lovers find a way to be happy when everything is conspiring against them?

This tale of romance, revenge, love, lust and betrayal (loosely based on the life of Eliza Jumel), is a quick read but also lacking the finer points of detail. For one, Catherine is able to get away with being alone for most of her escapades, though set during a time in history when well-bred ladies always had an escort. Also, she comes across as being flighty and irresponsible, though the author attempts to portray her as a strong, independent woman. I should also note that detailed lovemaking descriptions are found in this romance novel, which may cause blushing. I blushed many times.

Recommended for Adults.

 

 

 

“Ball don’t lie” Matt de la Peña

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Ember (Random House). 280 pp.

BallDon'tLiePeople say a skinny white dude can’t ball, but Sticky don’t pay them no mind. He don’t talk much, but lets his mad balling skills do the talking. Once he steps onto the scuffed boards of Lincoln Rec with his boys and a ball, the world disappears. Balling takes him to a place where no one else can go.

Though shuffled from foster home to foster home all his life, and afflicted with a severe case of OCD, seventeen-year-old Sticky has one thing going for him – he can ball. He’s spent years perfecting his shots and, despite setbacks in his personal life, basketball has always been there for him. Sticky’s dreams of playing college ball and making it into the NBA are threatened on the day he makes the worst decision of his life.

“Ball don’t lie” is raw. It’s honest. It’s gritty. It’s a Broadway play waiting to be cast. It’s waiting for you.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older, especially reluctant readers.

“Liars, Inc.” Paula Stokes

Rated 2 stars ** 2015. HarperTeen. 360 p.

LiarsIncMax grew up on the streets and in various foster homes, which made it hard to get to know people. Now a senior in high school, Max still feels on the edge of life as he struggles to make ends meet at a surfing job while his girlfriend Parvati and best friend Preston, who are both rich, glide through life without any worries.

Parvati’s father forbade their relationship, so Max plans to get detention to spend time with her. His taking the blame for someone else’s infraction creates the opportunity to do so for other students, and lays the groundwork for “Liars, Inc,” which Parvati and Preston decide would be the name of their new venture of creating excuses for money.

Max fabricates a lie that allows Preston to escape to Vegas for a weekend rendezvous with someone he met online. When he disappears, Max and Parvati team up to try and figure out what happened. Things become complicated when Preston’s blood is found in Max’s car, along with his missing cell phone. When Preston is found dead, Max becomes the main suspect and is soon on the run from FBI agents. As he and Parvati piece together clues, it becomes obvious that he is being framed. The question is who would do so, and why?

I wasn’t a fan of this book as I found the plot to be far-fetched and unrealistic. Thus I will leave it up to readers 14 and older to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“A List of Cages” Robin Roe

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. 308 pp. To be published January 10, 2017. Disney-Hyperion.

alistofcagesBoth of Julian’s parents died in a car crash when he was just 9 years old. Back then he used to sing, draw, write and act silly knowing his parents loved him no matter what he did. With them gone he now lives with his strict uncle, and has learned to keep all his emotions tucked away where no one could see them. Uncle Russell doesn’t like it when Julian does things he believes he shouldn’t do.

Adam remembers when Julian used to live in his home as a foster child when he was just a little boy. Now that he’s a senior and Julian is a freshman, they see each other often at school. Adam has always been a happy person, and knows Julian has special needs, but is determined to enfold him into his life and win his trust. What he finds out about Julian will forever change the course of their lives.

Through alternating chapters, Julian and Adam tell their stories of love, loss, heartbreak, faith, fear and hope. Theirs is a story of friendship, caring and strength that will wring tears from the hardest of hearts. Roe expertly shows her readers what goes on in the mind of a special needs child, reminding us that everyone deserves the same chances at life.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Pretty Baby” Mary Kubica

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published July 28, 2015. MIRA.

PrettyBabyHeidi and Chris Wood had a good marriage until cancer and the loss of her future family took away her dreams. She immersed herself in caring for others through charitable work, longing for the closeness she used to have with her only daughter Zoe who was now a teenager and confided only in her best friend Taylor.

Chris and Zoe were used to Heidi’s many lost causes, but were still shocked when she invited Willow, a homeless teenager, and her baby Ruby to live with them. Willow is very secretive about her past, and the Woods don’t press her, but are sure she is hiding something. However they soon find out the biggest secrets may be those you tell yourself.

“Pretty Baby” was definitely a page-turner as Chris, Heidi and Willow told their stories, but I felt the author did an injustice to Zoe. She picked at her food, barely ate, and was always cold, all signs of anorexia. I thought Heidi’s best friend Jennifer might have noticed something and was trying to talk to Heidi about it, but Heidi was in her own world. Zoe was left to drift at the edges of Chris and Heidi’s worlds; while I felt her obvious need to be noticed should have been one of the stories explored in the book.

Despite this observation, I highly recommended this book for Adults.

“Forgetting Tabitha: The story of an orphan train rider” Julie Dewey

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. 2013. JWD Press.

ForgettingTabithaIn 1860 Tabitha Salt was just 10 years old. When her father was killed in an accident, her mother sold their farm in Westchester N.Y. and moved them to Manhattan where she hoped to find work as a laundress.

This section of NYC, known as Five Points, was filled with poor immigrants and homeless orphans roaming the gang-filled streets. When Tabitha’s mother suddenly died, Tabitha found herself out on the street as one of these orphans. With nowhere to turn, she was befriended by the Sisters of Charity who sent her and dozens others on an orphan train to be adopted out West. There she will have to draw on her strong character, courage and perseverance to survive the unknown and make a future for herself. “Forgetting Tabitha” is her story.

Before reading this novel, I knew about the terrible poverty facing NYC immigrants, but didn’t know about the orphan trains. Julie Dewey makes Tabitha’s and the orphan’s stories come alive, making me eager to find out more about them as I read.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.