“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.

“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. 

 

 

“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.

 

“Don’t tell the Nazis” Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Rated 5 stars ***** 2018. Scholastic Press. 226 p. (Includes “Author’s note.”) [Originally published in 2017 by Scholastic Canada as “Don’t tell the enemy.”]

Don't tell the NazisWhen the Soviets left Krystia’s small town in the Ukraine, everyone cheered. It was 1941, and they’d already endured two years of brutality. They were sure the incoming Germans would allow their country to rise up once again. Unfortunately, the Germans were worse. Soon they started creating lists of Jews and, as more Germans poured into town, Ukrainians and Jews were pushed out of their homes to make room. Soon the Nazis began to execute the Jews, then forced almost 1000 of them to live in crowded, squalid conditions in a Ghetto.

As the Nazis continued to abuse the Jews, Krystia was desperate to help her Jewish friends. Her aunt and uncle were in the Resistance, and provided forged documents she passed on to help some escape. Though no food was available and everyone was starving, her mother found ways to get food and she found ways to sneak it into the Ghetto while keeping up a show of normalcy for their suspicious neighbors. With Nazi spies everywhere can Krystia save her friends before it’s too late?

This sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat book is based on the true story of Kateryna Sikorska and her eight-year-old daughter Krystia who both performed heroic actions during the Nazi occupation of their town. It’s amazing to me that Krystia could have been so brave and clear thinking at such a young age. “Don’t tell the Nazis” is a wonderful testament to their courage, as well as to the bravery of their fellow Ukrainians (recognized in the Yad Vashem) who also stood against the Nazis.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

“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.

“The book of lost names” Kristin Harmel

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster.) To be published July 21, 2020.

The book of lost namesIn 2005, Eva Abrams sees an article in the New York Times seeking the owner of a rare book that had been looted by the Nazis. Eva knows it’s her book that she’d thought was lost long ago, and that it contains a secret she’s waited 60 years to find. With single-minded purpose she books a trip to Berlin to claim it, hoping it might contain a message from her long lost lover who died in 1944.

From Florida 2005, readers are taken to 1942 Paris where we’re introduced to Eva Traube. She and her parents don’t believe there’s going to be a roundup of Jews but, when her father and thousands more are taken, she and her mother escape to Free France where they planned to continue on into Switzerland. Instead, against her mother’s wishes, she becomes involved with the French Resistance. In the hidden library of a Catholic church her artistic skills are put to use forging identity documents for hundreds of Jewish children escaping to Switzerland. There she and Rèmy, a fellow forger, develop a secret code based on the Fibonacci sequence and use a rare book to record the real names of the children to whom they were giving false identities.

Through flashbacks between the past and present readers learn of the difficulties Eva faced by falling in love with a Catholic, the battles she had with her grieving and bitter mother, and the hard work she did to save the lives of many children. We see the ways in which the Catholic church was involved in saving lives, the love she held for Rèmy, and how she’d hidden her true self for many years. It is a story of love, hope and faith, in the midst of despair, that rings true to its time and place.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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.

“The kept” James Scott

Rated 2 stars ** 2014. HarperCollins. 354 p. (Includes “Insights, Interviews & more.”)

The KeptIt’s Elspeth and her twelve-year-old son Caleb against the world of 1897 after three men killed her four children and husband when she was away from home. Only Caleb survived so, bonded by revenge, the two of them struggle through the wilderness seeking the nearest town. There Caleb gets involved with the local gangsters while Elspeth tries to survive the guilt she feels, knowing she was the reason her family was killed. Both she and Caleb have to control their demons if either expects to reach closure.

I was not a fan. The book meandered too much, and many questions weren’t answered. What was Elspeth and Jorah’s relationship in the beginning? Why did her father beat her so terribly if all she said was hello? I especially did NOT like the ending because, after taking readers through a convoluted path to get where Caleb and Elspeth finally arrived, why end the book so openly? These were just a few of my disagreements with “The kept.”

So, though I didn’t like it, I will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“The lions of Fifth Avenue” Fiona Davis

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Penguin Random House. To be published July 21, 2020.

The lions of fifth avenueIn 1913 Laura Lyons struggles during a time in history when women were expected to be complacent with their roles as wife and mother.

In 1993 Sadie Donovan hasn’t gotten over her long ago divorce and is insecure about everything in her life. She has sealed herself off from getting hurt again, so the only thing that gives her joy is answering reference questions and working with rare books at her NYPL job.

Laura lived with her superintendent husband Jack and two children in an apartment hidden away in the recently built New York Public Library. Her dream was to go to school to become a reporter, but she soon learned that women who dreamed faced uphill battles. The more she got involved with free thinking women in the Heterodoxy Club, the more she realized it would take great courage to risk everything she held dear to be truly happy.

Sadie’s career and job is in danger when rare books continue to be stolen from under her nose and she becomes a suspect. It doesn’t help matters when her research into her grandmother’s life discovers that her grandfather was accused of stealing rare books from the same library in 1913. Sadie will have to learn to work with others who share similar goals if she wants to clear her name and, in the process, unveils 80-year-old secrets about her own family.

I enjoyed the dual voice narratives of Laura and Sadie, and how Davis tied the stolen books to both of their stories. I also enjoyed learning about the history of the NYPL, its collections, immigrant babies, and free thinking women of the early 20th century. This is a great book for those who enjoy historical fiction, and who want to learn more about what it was like to be a woman who had dreams in 1913.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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