“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.

“Mockingjay” Suzanne Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2010. Scholastic Press. The Hunger Games #3.

MockingjayAfter being rescued from the arena by rebels from District 13 Katniss feels unmoored because they were unable to rescue Peeta. She is sure President Snow is torturing him for information. With fighting going on in every district, the rebels need to unite if they want to attack the Capitol, so they need Katniss to be the voice of the rebellion – their Mockingjay. Reluctantly Katniss accepts the role, but her mind and heart are constantly on Peeta. Though she’s not sure about her feelings for him, she does know that she wants him back. She also wants revenge against Snow, and is determined to do whatever it takes to make him pay.

This third book of the Hunger Games series was filled with action and adventure before it reached its satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Catching fire” Suzanne Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Scholastic Press. 2009. The Hunger Games #2. 

Catching fireIn this second book of the Hunger Games series, Katniss endures the wrath of President Snow because she dared defy him and the Capitol when she prepared to eat poisonous berries at the end of their Games. Though she later claimed she did it out of love for Peeta because she didn’t want to kill him, he knows Rebels in other districts took her actions as encouragement.

President Snow threatens Katniss that she needs to make the Rebels truly believe she’s in love with Peeta and that she didn’t mean to start a rebellion. However, when he feels she hasn’t been convincing enough, he enacts his own revenge. She, Peeta and all winning Tributes from every Hunger Games in the past are forced to return to the ring for the Quarter Quell – a celebration of the Games that occurs every 25 years. As she endures another nightmare Games Katniss plans to keep Peeta alive, knowing only one of them can make it out alive this time.

The second book in this series was as amazing as I remembered it to be! It was so exciting that I couldn’t wait to pick up book 3 “Mockingjay” to find out what happens next to Peeta and Katniss – the star crossed lovers of Panem. BTW

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The Hunger Games” Suzanne Collins

The hunger gamesRated 5 stars ***** ebook. Scholastic. 2018. The Hunger Games #1 (Special Edition). (Includes two interviews: “Interview with Suzanne Collins” and “Suzanne Collins and Walter Dean Myers on writing about war.”)

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 with her mother and little sister Prim. She and her best friend Gale have been hunting in the woods ever since their fathers died in a coal-mining explosion when she was eleven. The woods provide food for their poor families – even though poaching is an offense the rich Capitol punishes with death.

The Capitol rules its 12 Districts with an iron fist, keeping everyone poor and forcing two children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games. Each year residents are forced to attend the Reaping where names are drawn. When Prim’s name is called Katniss is shocked, and quickly volunteers herself as a Tribute to protect her.

She and Peeta Mellark, the other Tribute from her district, are assigned a Sponsor. They are encouraged to pretend to be star-crossed lovers, to play on the public’s feelings and get costly supplies delivered during the Games. What Katniss doesn’t know is that Peeta has been in love with her since he was five years old. As she sorts through her confused feelings about him and Gale, she will have to cross an invisible line in her mind if she wants them to survive.

I first read the Hunger Games series sometime in 2011 so, after reading “The ballad of songbirds and snakes,” I needed to refresh my memory on Professor Snow and the others in the series. This second reading was as exciting as the first, and I look forward to reading “Catching fire,” the next book in the series.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“The ballad of songbirds and snakes” Suzanne Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Scholastic. (The Hunger Games #0). Published May 19, 2020.

The ballad of songbirds and snakesCoriolanus Snow endured hunger, deprivation, and the loss of both parents during the Rebel siege on the Capitol. His cousin’s bargaining abilities at the Black Market enabled them to survive, but the Snow family fortune was destroyed. Coriolanus is determined to keep it secret that the Snows, one of the Capitol’s Old Guard families, is poor.

His favorite professor at the Academy was able to get him assigned to one of the tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games as a student mentor, so he has a chance to vie for a University scholarship. Coriolanus knows winning the Games is his only hope to having a future, and is desperate to win. When he’s assigned Lucy Gray Baird from District 12 he’s disappointed because he’d hoped for a strong boy, however, her musical abilities and joie de vivre help to change his mind.

As he spends time with Lucy Gray, he begins to think of her as a person instead of as a tribute. His determination to protect her from the other tributes, and to win, begins to override rational thoughts until the lines between right and wrong get blurred. As time goes on Coriolanus’ determination to always win, and to always come out on top, will forever change their lives.

When I was given the opportunity to read this ARC, I wondered if it would be as interesting as the other books in The Hunger Games series because, after all, it IS about the very evil President Snow. However, not only is it exciting, but I found myself feeling sorry for Coriolanus. SORRY for HIM?! I can hear gasps echoing around the world, but let me preface that comment. I felt sorry for him in the BEGINNING and MIDDLE of the book, but definitely not by the end. Make sure to read the book to find out why.

I’m now off to reread The Hunger Games series and decipher clues revealed in “The ballad of songbirds and snakes.” I won’t be surprised if Collins writes another follow up to the Coriolanus Snow saga.

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.

 

“Lady Clementine” Marie Benedict

Rated 5 stars ***** 2020. Sourcebooks. 310 p. (Includes “Author’s note,” “Reading group guide,” and “A conversation with the author”)

Lady ClementineAlmost everyone over the age of 50 has heard about Winston Churchill, and how his speeches, tenacity and love for country led Great Britain through World War II. Despite all of the historical information available on Churchill, his wife has remained a shadowy figure. “Lady Clementine” seeks to address this oversight, and does so in a very enlightening manner.

Benedict focuses on the Churchill’s from their 1908 marriage through the end of World War II in 1945. Important historical events, family life, the ups and downs of Churchill’s political career, and her own battles are told from Clementine’s point of view. Constantly at Churchill’s side, she evaluated his speeches, made speeches of her own on topics near to her heart, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes for her husband. In that time period, being a strong minded and strong willed female in a man’s world often led to ridicule by his associates and her peers for her “unseemly behavior.” Despite naysayers, Clementine continued to further the cause of women’s equality and was a powerful, yet largely unknown, force behind Churchill’s greatness.

This enthralling, quick moving novel about an important women in history who had been largely unknown, kept me reading late into the evenings. I love historical fiction (especially when rich with historical details) and Benedict did not disappoint. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Alexander Hamilton” Ron Chernow

Rated 5 stars ***** 2004. Penguin Books. 818 p. (Includes “Acknowledgements”, “Notes,” “Bibliography,” “Selected Books,” “Pamphlets, and Dissertations,” “Selected articles,” and an “Index.” (Also includes period photographs.)

AlexanderHamiltonAfter almost a month and a half of squeezing in reading during 10 minutes of lunch at work, between doctor appointments, and whenever I could find a few minutes, I FINALLY finished this massive biography. I was inspired to read it after listening to the music of Hamilton for a month in preparation for watching the musical. I loved Lin Manuel Miranda’s version so much, I promptly bought tickets to watch it again a week later. As a result I became hooked on all things “Hamiltonian,” which necessitated reading this massive tome.

Ron Chernow left no stone unturned in his quest to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly about Alexander Hamilton as he follows him from his island home of St. Croix to the American Revolution to his years as Treasury Secretary. Hamilton’s political and personal highs and lows, the love he had for family, and his death by duel with Aaron Burr are all painstakingly detailed. Hamilton’s friendships, and the love/hate relationships he had with his enemies are laid bare, buttressed by words from his own pen taken from primary source material Chernow unearthed from numerous sources.

Of all who had a hand in laying the foundation of our nation, only Hamilton would recognize the United States of America’s commercial rise since those early years, as he seemed to be the sole voice predicting that she would financially rise and grow. Chernow outlines the battles Hamilton endured to ensure that our country would prosper, and the many ways he is remembered today – from Wall Street to Banks, to the Coast Guard to the still running New York Post newspaper and more. Reading “Alexander Hamilton” enlightened me, and helped me see parts of American history that I either didn’t know or hadn’t thought of in years. I know it will do the same for you.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Hannah’s war” Jan Eliasberg

Rated 5 stars **** ARC. To be published March 3, 2020. 313 p. (Includes Author’s note, Further exploration, and Reading group guide.)

Hannah's warLise Meitner,  a physicist who discovered nuclear fission, is an unknown figure to those of us not part of the scientific world. Eliasberg wrote “Hannah’s war” to get Lise’s story “out there,” and to explain why Hitler’s scientists were never able to produce an atomic bomb of their own.

Hannah Weiss, a brilliant scientist who lived in Germany during Hitler’s brutal reign, has been denied her rightful place among scientists because she’s female and Jewish. When her arrest by the Gestapo was forthcoming she was whisked away to the United States where she joined other scientists to work on the Manhattan Project, (the American race to create a bomb before Hitler).

In time the commanding officer of the Project was informed that there was a spy amongst the scientists, which led to Major Jack Delaney being assigned to the case. His dogged determination to uncover the spy’s identity, and the revealed secrets that follow, are the basis for this historical fiction tale of romance, intrigue, and betrayal during a time that forever changed our world.

I really enjoyed “Hannah’s war,” and know other readers will also enjoy it.

Recommended for Adults.

“Lost Autumn” by Mary-Rose MacCall

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. ARC. Published by G.P.Putnam’s Sons. To be published March 3, 2020.

Lost AutumnIn 1920 seventeen-year-old Maddie is learning how to be Prince Edward’s correspondence secretary on his train tour of Australia, feeling overwhelmed by her proximity to royalty.

In 1997 Victoria, a reporter, is asked to cover the death of Princess Diana, but finds herself at a loss for words.

In 1981 Maddie finds herself coming to terms with the loss of everyone she’d ever loved, wondering what she can to do right old wrongs.

In 1918 Helen, an ambulance driver in France, and Rupert, batman to the Prince of Wales, meet on the battlefield when she transports him to the hospital against the rules. They fall in love, but fate steps in to tear them apart.

The author bounces back and forth between these years as she tells stories of love, betrayal, broken relationships, strength and survival. Grief and loss, tinged with hope, survival and strength are woven throughout these stories.

I thought each storyline was interesting, and would have preferred to have each in its own standalone book. A particular favorite of mine was the World War I love story between Helen and Rupert, which inspired Maddie to write “Autumn leaves.” However, having so many storylines in one book was very confusing. In the many switches between timeframes, I had to constantly reread to figure out what had happened to that character earlier in the book.

Therefore I was a half fan of “Lost Autumn,” and will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

Recommended for Adults.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review