“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.

 

 

“I killed Zoe Spanos” Kit Frick

I killed Zoe SpanosRated 4 stars **** ARC. ebook. Margaret K. McElderry books (Simon & Schuster). To be published June 30, 2020.

Seventeen-year-old Anna is thrilled when she’s offered a job as a nanny in the Hamptons on Long Island. She’d wasted the last few months of her senior year drinking and partying in Brooklyn. She’s ready to save money for college, turn over a new leaf, and spend time hanging out on the beach.

She and her charge hit it off quite well, and she’s prepared to relax and enjoy her summer. However it doesn’t take long before Anna finds out she looks exactly like Zoe Spanos, a girl who went missing months earlier, and hasn’t been heard from since January. As days pass Anna keeps getting feelings of déjà vu, believing she’d spent time in the town and had met Zoe in the past. Things begin to get jumbled in her mind and the more they do, the more she’s convinced she killed Zoe. She confesses to the police, and is sentenced to a juvenile center.

Though Anna believes she’s guilty, one person feels there’s more to her story that needs to be explored. Martina, best friends with Zoe’s little sister, runs a podcast about Zoe that tries to figure out what happened to her. Martina is determined to ferret out the truth but, when it’s finally revealed, it will shock everyone.

Told in flashbacks from when Anna first arrived and her time in juvie, the story seemed a bit disjointed. Anna’s memories seemed out of place, and I couldn’t figure out why she was having them. However as more was disclosed, the more her memories made sense. When all was revealed in this whodunit I was completely shocked. I definitely did NOT see that coming!

I recommend this book 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 nesting” C. J. Cooke

The nestingRated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Berkley (Penguin Random House). To be published September 29, 2020.

Lexi had grown up in foster care with a mom who hated her. After a suicide attempt, she lost her job and was dumped by her boyfriend. Helpless and homeless, she spent hours riding commuter rail trains where she overheard a conversation about a nanny job in Norway. Lexi didn’t know anything about being a nanny, but knew she needed this job. She took over the resume and persona of Sophie Hallerton, the commuter who’d been thinking about applying for the job, and sent off her application.

After getting the job Lexi enjoyed her life in Norway with Coco and Gaia, her two young charges. However, Norway had its own secrets. What was the terrifying creature that regularly appeared in the house and grounds? What really happened to Coco and Gaia’s mother? Why did it seem as if the very earth wanted them all gone?

I enjoyed this book, and felt great sympathy for Lexi. HOWEVER I have BIG questions about the ending. For those who are reading my review, if you don’t want to spoil the ending for yourself, please don’t read below the SPOILER ALERT! banner. These questions, and resulting uncertainties, made me drop two stars from my rating.

However, since the storyline is very imaginative, I will recommend it for Adults. I hope the situation I mentioned below gets fixed before the book is published.

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

******SPOILER ALERT! ******* SPOILER ALERT! **********SPOILER ALERT! ********

******SPOILER ALERT! ******* SPOILER ALERT! **********SPOILER ALERT! ********

I am VERY confused over how Aurelia died. In Derry’s version she wades into the fjord, submerges and drowns. However this doesn’t jive with what was written earlier in the book because Aurelia imagined herself wading into the fjord with reindeer and then returned home. She didn’t die during that particular visit to the fjord.

In the Prologue Cooke wrote that Aurelia died when she accidentally fell off a cliff while being chased. Did the author forget what she’d written and decide to make up a completely different death for Aurelia? Did she fall off the cliff OR did she drown while having hallucinations with the reindeer? If she drowned with the invisible reindeer then the Prologue needs to be rewritten.

Also, why did Tom decide to let Lexi stay on after her accident? He didn’t feel bad about her attempted suicide when she told him why she’d impersonated Sophie. He could have insisted she return to London after she got out of the hospital. What changed? I hope the author or publisher have answers for me. Thanks.

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.

“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.

 

 

 

“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.

“White Ivy” Susie Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Simon & Schuster. To be published September 8, 2020.

White IvyIvy was two years old when her parents moved from China to the United States and left her in the care of Meifeng, her grandmother. It took three years for them to save enough money to send for her so, when she arrived, they felt like strangers. Two years later Meifeng joined the family, but Ivy felt caught. In their world she was expected to become a doctor, and to be obedient but she was definitely not obedient and didn’t want to be a doctor. She wanted an exciting life of her own so filled her days reading about beautiful sad heroines.

In 6th grade her father became a technician at a prep school so her tuition was free. By that time she had become a petty thief with her grandmother, and stole the things she needed to fit in at school. Though she worked hard to emulate the lifestyles of the beautiful, rich girls who were now her classmates, and had fallen hard for Gideon Speyer the local heartthrob, she was always on the outskirts of school life.

Through college and beyond Ivy flits from relationship to relationship, refusing any involvements, but is thrilled when she runs into Gideon’s older sister. She makes sure she and Gideon rekindle their acquaintance, and becomes so ruthless and single minded in her pursuit of him that she loses track of the definition of true love.

The author made you really think hard about the characters, and threw in a few twists and turns I didn’t expect. I will highly recommend this book for Adults.

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