“The girl who wasn’t there” Vincent Zandri

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Oceanview Publishing. To be published October 13, 2020.

The girl who wasn't thereSydney O’Keefe spent 10 years doing hard time for a quadruple murder he didn’t commit, but kept his mouth shut and didn’t rat out his mob boss. His boss wanted him silenced so, after several attempts on his life, Sydney decided to sing like a bird to the DA and was released.

After ten years away from his wife and eleven-year-old daughter Chloe, Sydney was ready to begin a new life. The three of them went to Lake Placid for a well-deserved family vacation but, when they took their eyes off Chloe for a short while, she disappeared. The police are convinced that, with his criminal history, Sydney kidnapped her and are ready to place him under arrest. Sydney believes his former boss is seeking revenge so, with no way to prove his innocence, goes rogue to find her. He is not going back to jail, and plans to use everything he’s learned about prison justice to find whoever took her and make them pay.

Bloodbaths, shootings, twists, turns, and ingenious deceptions will keep readers on the edge of their seats. I read this Die Hard-like book in one sitting, eager to see what would next happen to Sydney who, like John McClane, took lots of lickings but kept on ticking because nobody messes with the O’Keefe family. Nobody.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“Junk boy” Tony Abbott

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins). To be published October 13, 2020.

Junk boyFifteen-year-old Bobby Long lived with his angry, drunk, invalid father in a broken down shack surrounded by junk. They existed side-by-side but couldn’t connect on anything. His father blamed him for his mother leaving, and Bobby blamed himself. The boys at school nicknamed him “Junk” because his house looked like a junkyard, and made his life miserable every chance they got. None of the teachers knew what to do with him, so he was mostly ignored. Bobby spent a lot of time in the woods, thinking and wondering about his mother.

Rachel was an amazing artist. Her mother beat her for being gay and insisted she go to church to be converted straight. As a result she hated her mother with a passion. When her parents split she wanted to change schools so she could live with her father and attend art school but her father thought she should stay with her mother. She didn’t know how she could survive without her art. As she and Bobby began to spend time together they found that they could see each other in ways no one else could see. Through their shared pain for what their lives had become, they struggled to understand what the future held in store for them.

Rachel and Bobby were so believable that my heart hurt for them. I read this book in one sitting, hoping for good things for both of them. I hope teens with similar issues will see there is hope beyond their pain, and that they have a future.

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.

“Sanctuary” Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. To be published September 1, 2020.

SanctuaryIn the not-too-distant future of 2032, the United States has become an Autocracy. The President has been elected for a third term, and only government-approved news, movies or shows are allowed. Citizens have had chips implanted for admittance to everything in the country. The Great American Wall has been erected, and Deportation Forces have been empowered to enter homes or businesses, at any time, without warrants, to arrest anyone illegally in the country.

Fifteen-year-old Valentina González Ramirez was just four years old when her parents brought her to San Diego, fleeing violence in Colombia. After a few years her father was deported and killed. With even more restrictions in place, they had to leave Tía Luna behind and moved to Vermont with her little brother Ernesto who had been born in San Diego. Her mom bought fake chips so she could work and Vali could go to school, while Ernie’s chip came legally.

When Deportation Forces became even more violent Vali’s mom planned to escape to California, which had declared itself a Sanctuary City. In retaliation the President began to build walls around it, sent soldiers to guard the perimeter, and declared that anyone entering it would be arrested. Soon Vali’s mom is arrested by Deportation Forces, and it’s up to Vali to get herself and her little brother safely across the country. California is their only hope.

I had to put down this book multiple times because there were too many realistic things happening to Vali and to our country that reminded me of the current state of our President and our nation. Its true-to-life events reminded me of the need to use our vote wisely in November’s Presidential elections, or be forewarned that our country will go down the same bleak path as what’s described in “Sanctuary.”

Keep an eye on this book for a possible Pura Belpré Award, now that YALSA is part of the committee.

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.

 

 

 

“Never look back” Lilliam Rivera

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury YA (Bloomsbury Publishing). To be published September 1, 2020.

Never look backSeventeen-year-old Pheus is ready for a Bronx summer with his dad, his guitar, and his friends. He’s not ready to commit to anyone or anything unless fun is involved. Nicknamed “El Nuevo Nene de la Bachata” due to his mad skills on the guitar and his singing, Pheus is ready for a great summer.

Eury’s father left when she was just a little girl, but Ato understood her despair. As her only friend they spent a lot of time together, but he wanted more from her. After the devastation of their home by Hurricane Maria, she and her mom moved to Florida. Though Ato followed her from Puerto Rico, fear of him and what he would do next began to change her behavior. No one would believe she was seeing a spirit and, since her mom didn’t believe in therapists, Eury was sent to visit her aunt and regroup.

Pheus never expected to meet someone like Eury. Hopeless against Ato’s tormenting spirit Eury felt relief when she met Pheus. Together their love enables them to climb mountains and forge seas of chaos and uncertainty.

As a Puerto Rican Latina and New Yorker, I could hear the music, feel the beat, and understand the Spanish phrases that flowed throughout Pheus and Eury’s stories. Publicity material calls it a retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice but, since I don’t have familiarity with that myth, I can’t tell whether or not it matches. I CAN tell you I believe it should be in the running for a 2021 Pura Belpré award – especially now that the judging panel has been expanded to include YALSA. Listen in at 44 min. 55 sec. to hear the announcement made at the 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards. Remember that you read it here first!

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.

“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 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.

 

 

 

“I belong to Vienna: A Jewish family’s story of exile and return” Anna Goldenberg

Rated 3 stars *** Translated from German by Alta L. Price. ARC. ebook. New Vessel Press. To be published June 9, 2020. Includes Period photographs and “Archival sources and references.”

I belong to ViennaIn 2012 Anna Goldenberg moved to New York to attend graduate school and, while there, felt out of place among American Jews for being an Austrian Jew.  As time passed she missed her Viennese family so much she became interested in her family history. Through relatives who had immigrated to New York, Anna pieced together stories about her great-grandparents and grandparents. As she dove into old family letters and did research, she uncovered information about what it was like for them during the Holocaust, and what they had endured during the Nazi occupation of Austria. As Anna uncovers their stories, and their love for Austria, she uncovers her own mixed feelings about her homeland.

I understand and admire Anna’s need to piece together her family’s past so she could honor them through her future. However I felt the many transitions from memories to the present and back again gave the book a disjointed feeling.

Recommended for Adults.

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

“Clap when you land” Elizabeth Acevedo

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Hot Key Books. To be published May 5, 2020.

Clap when you landThis novel of verse is dedicated to the memory of the 265 people killed when AA flight 587, headed to the Dominican Republic, crashed into a Queens neighborhood on November 12, 2001. Over 90% of the passengers were Dominican. I lived in New York at the time, and remember vividly how this loss shocked the city so soon after the losses of September 11th.

Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. Her mother died when she was six, and her Papi lives in New York but visits every summer. After he’s killed in a plane crash Camino is beset with grief and worries for her future. Papi paid for private school, but what will happen to them without his monthly checks? When she finds out he has another daughter in New York City Camino is angry because Yahaira had led a rich life while she has to struggle. However, though that girl stole her father, she’s also her sister.

In New York City Yahaira’s father is killed in a plane crash, but sorrow is mixed with anger because she’d found out a year earlier that he had another wife in Santo Domingo. When she finds out he had a daughter there too she’s angry that this girl stole her father, but is happy to have a sister. Against her mother’s wishes she’s determined to travel to the Dominican Republic to meet her new sister, Camino.

In alternating voices, Yahaira and Camino tell their stories of grief, loss, love, discovery and forgiveness as the beauty of the Dominican Republic, and the love its people have for their country, is clearly verbalized. Once again Acevedo weaves a story that will keep readers glued to their seats. I finished it in just a few short hours, feeling a great affinity for all the strong women described in its pages. I won’t be surprised if this book wins a few more awards for its author in the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards.

Highly recommended for ages 15 and older.

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

 

“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.

“New kid” by Jerry Craft

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. HarperCollins Children’s Books. 249 p.

New kidJordan’s parents, especially his mom, feel that sending him to an expensive private school will be the ticket to his having a “leg up,” which will open doors in his life. Jordan loves drawing and wants to go to art school, but is sent to become Riverdale Academy Day School’s (RAD) newest financial aid student – one of only a few students of color.

Having to negotiate a new world of rich, almost all white kids, feeling judged by the color of his skin, enduring subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism, and a seeming inability to bridge the gap between Washington Heights and Riverdale make it seem as if Jordan and his schoolmates are worlds apart. He wonders how to find commonality and friendship with them without sacrificing the life he knows in Washington Heights. But, through the eyes of his twelve-year-old experiences, Craft’s humor and colorful illustrations depict Jordan’s predicaments in ways that will evoke thought provoking responses from his readers. “New kid” will make an excellent Book Club book.

Awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal at the January 2020 American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards in Philadelphia, “New Kid” will go down in history as being the first graphic novel to receive this award. It was also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Author Award.

Highly recommended for ages 9-14.