Rated 4 stars **** Lee & Low. 2016. (First published in 1998 by Dial.)
Lee & 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.
Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. Kensington. 340 pp. (Includes “Author’s Note,” “Q & A with Kristina McMorris,” and “A reading group guide.”)
The year is 1919. Twelve-year-old orphan Shan Keagan from Dublin, Ireland is living a hard knock life with his Uncle Will, trying to earn money and meals as a singer, dancer and impressionist in local bars. When the two of them decide to immigrate to America his uncle dies onboard, leaving Shan to figure out how he will enter the country of his dreams and find his real father.
Befriended by an Italian-American family who had just lost their younger son, Shan began his new life in Brooklyn, New York as Tommy Capello. As Shan adjusts to his new life with the Capellos, he hopes for a chance to find his father and finally find happiness with a real family. Despite his best efforts, life doesn’t turn out as he’d hoped, and Shan finds himself on the short end of the stick of life once more.
McMorris’ keen attention to detail brings Prohibition, Vaudeville, and Alcatraz, among other happenings of the 1920’s and 30’s, to life. These historical events, along with Shan’s struggles to find happiness while still keeping his own heart pure, will keep readers wishing for more even when the last page has been turned.
Highly recommended for Adult readers.
Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Published October 13, 2015. Catapult.
Using her droll sense of Irish humor, Lizzie Burns tells of her life as a poor mill worker in Manchester, England along with the trials and tribulations of living with her sister Mary. Included in the telling is a relationship she had with Moss, a former Irish lover, which vies with the love she feels for Frederick Engles, her current lover, and Karl Marx’s secretary.
Though illiterate, Lizzie is a wise, straight talking, take-no-prisoners kind of woman who takes her chances on having a better life in London with Frederick, cohabiting without the blessings of a marriage vow. The struggle to bring early forms of Communism to the populace pepper the pages along with Moss’ struggles for a free Ireland. As Lizzie ponders thoughts of falling back into her former life and escaping the corner into which she felt she’d painted herself with Frederick, readers are led through the past and present as she recounts her life with Mary.
Though I found Lizzie’s Irish humor and talk to be interesting, Marx and Engles bored me. In truth, the book bored me so I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. Published June 1, 2015. Merit Press.
Rich and pampered sixteen-year-old Morgan Lindstrum is upset because her mother and father aren’t talking to each other, and not spending time at their beautiful home in Princeton, New Jersey. She is also confused about feelings she’s been having for her best friend Ansel and, on top of everything, her beloved Grandfather passed away.
While trying to make her way through the minefield that has become her life, Morgan discovers her mother has a secret centered in Brooklyn. Her curiosity about her mother’s past leads her to discover poor Irish relations, which include her real grandfather Terence Mulvaney. Her mother is reluctant to forgive her father for past wrongs, but Morgan is determined to bring the family back together.
While seeking a bridge of reconciliation she soon discovers her newfound relatives may soon become part of Brooklyn’s homeless population. Morgan must call on all of her resources to try and reconcile her family, but it may come at a price she cannot pay.
Though “Crossing into Brooklyn” realistically described the city’s homeless population, contrasting its poverty with Princeton’s upper class, fake exterior, I thought Morgan’s constant references to what happened in Chicago did not lend merit to the storyline and were a distraction. In addition, though she came across as a heroine, there were aspects of her story that did not come across as believable. Her encounter with Carlos, as well as the fact that she managed to come and go many times through a very poor, rough area of Brooklyn without once being challenged by area residents for being a richly dressed girl in a poor neighborhood did not ring true to this Brooklynite.
I have mixed feelings about this book, so will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. Published August 18, 2015.
Letty Espinosa never learned to be a mother to her fifteen-year-old son Alex and six-year-old daughter Luna. Ever since she got pregnant at the young age of 18, she left them with her mother so she could get drunk and go out on the town. When her parents decided to move back to Mexico, Letty is desperate.
Certain her children will come to harm if she’s in charge, Letty realizes she will have to grow up and learn how to be a mother before it’s too late. However getting mixed up with undocumented immigrants, and Alex’s first love crisis, will strain her resolve and make her realize she is not alone in the struggles of motherhood and life.
“We never asked for wings” is a heartfelt look at the struggles of a single mother as well as those of undocumented immigrants. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down.
Highly recommended for Adult readers and mature teens.
Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. Bethany House. 2013. (Includes Historical Note and Discussion Questions.)
Mollie Knox took over ownership of the 57th Illinois Watch Company after her father’s death. The shop employed 40 disabled Civil War veterans who her father had served with, and the company enjoyed a modicum of success with their exclusive watch designs. Everything changed for Mollie on an October day in 1871 when the city of Chicago burned to the ground. On that fateful day Zack Kazmarek, the handsome lawyer of her biggest buyer, fought alongside her to help save her company from the flames. Despite their best efforts, the watch company burned to the ground.
Mollie never expected to have to start her life all over again, and she never expected help to have come from a man who had previously seemed to regard her in only a businesslike manner. Within a matter of days she found herself falling for Zack but events soon led to Colonel Lowe, another handsome man and Civil War hero, stepping forward to help the lovely Miss Knox get her company in order.
With her emotions raging faster than the flames that destroyed her city, Mollie will have to choose between Zack and Colonel Lowe. The future of the 57th Illinois Watch Company, and those who depend upon her for a living, rest on Mollie figuring out her fickle heart to make a wise decision.
I enjoyed reading this book, even though the author took much historical license by having Molly parade about the city unescorted and allowing Zack to use modern language in calling her “woman,” among other details. I recommend it for Adults who enjoy reading Historical Fiction.
Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. 2013. JWD Press.
In 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.