“Winter counts” David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. HarperCollins Publishers. To be published August 25, 2020.

The author is an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation.

Winter countsLife on the Lakota Indian Reservation where Virgil Wounded Horse has lived for almost all of his life is tough. Jobs are hard to find and poverty is everywhere, while many work hard to pass on their beliefs and traditions. Virgil is a loner, who turned his back on Lakota traditions many years ago. Because the federal government doesn’t allow tribal police forces to pursue justice on most types of reservation crime, Virgil is the long arm of the law for those who want their own revenge.

Ben Short Bear, tribal councilman, contacts him to find out who is helping a tribal member bring heroin onto the reservation. At first Virgil is not interested in the case but, when his nephew Nathan overdoes and is later kidnapped, he is ready to knock in some heads. Though a drug cartel and local gang are also involved, he is not dissuaded. Though Virgil has always done things his way, he is soon going to learn he will have to make room for his Lakota people and traditions if he hopes to find Nathan before it’s too late.

Heska Wanbli Weiden’s description of reservation life and the helplessness of the tribal police are very realistic. I’m glad he mentioned that the Lakota despise the French derisive term “Sioux,” as I didn’t know that and know it’s important to be educated on correct tribal name terminologies.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“Front desk” Kelly Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** Scholastic. “Front desk #1.” 2018.

Front deskWhen she was 8 years old, Mia and her parents left China for America. At first they lived in their car, but found work in a restaurant that paid enough to rent a small apartment. While seeking another job her mom found an ad asking for a hotel manager. They began to work for deceitful and unscrupulous Mr. Yao, who changed their wages, denied them protection from robbers, and demanded they pay for a washing machine that broke soon after their arrival.

Though just 10 years old Mia was in charge of the front desk, handling day-to-day affairs of customers and “weeklies” (those who paid by the week) while her parents worked to clean and take care of the hotel. They suffered through poverty and Mr. Yao’s cruelness but, unlike him, remembered where they came from, treating other immigrants kindly and hiding them when they needed to escape abusive employers.

Mia wanted to be good at writing, but thought she wasn’t good because her mother said American children were cars because English was their first language, while she was just a bicycle. Through her job Mia came into contact with discrimination of all types, using letter writing to achieve results. As time passed she, her parents, the weeklies, immigrants they helped, and others put their money together to buy the hotel and earn a piece of America. Mia and her best friend Lupe were finally able to get off the rollercoaster of life and earn their way towards better futures.

I loved reading about Mia and her adventures, and was surprised to learn that the author used her own experiences working in hotels with her parents to craft Mia’s story. Mia is a very realistic little girl, a type of “old soul,” and I look forward to reading more about her.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.



“The cat I never named: A true story of love, war and survival” Amra Sabic-El-Reyess with Laura Sullivan

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury YA. To be published September 8, 2020 (Includes “A note from the author,” “Resources for further reading,” and “Movies about the Bosnian War.”)

The Cat I never namedAmra was almost 16 years old, a top student with lots of friends, eager to go to college. Serbs, Croatians and Muslims had always gotten along in her country and, though signs of unrest were visible, it didn’t worry her parents. War was declared in 1992, and Serbs turned on the Muslims in the country. Though Amra’s family had never practiced its religion, Serbs believed Muslims were terrorists who needed to be removed from society.

One dark day soldiers invaded her town, now filled with refugees, and Amra met a beautiful cat that followed her home. Her mother declared that a maci (Bosnian word for cat) couldn’t be allowed in the house. They tried to get her to leave, but she kept returning. Maci became a member of the household and, as the war dragged on, she was Amra’s shield against fear, depression and uncertainty. Maci was the family’s good luck charm, protecting them from many evils, giving everyone hope for peace and a better future. The never-ending war sapped their strength, but Maci brought it back to them in spades.

Amra’s memories of the four years she and her family endured the trials of war are raw and real. She recounts episodes where thousands of Muslim men, women and children were killed in bombings and massacres by the Serbian Army, and thousands of girls and women were forced into rape camps. She could have been one of those statistics if not for Maci, her love for learning, and her strong family unit. “The cat I never named” is her story, and her words will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

Though I dislike cats, and am allergic to them, reading about this friendly, loving cat who acted more like a faithful dog brought tears to my eyes. I’m thinking they might have been allergic tears, but faithful Maci made me into a fan.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

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

“Lies like poison” Chelsea Pitcher

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Margaret K. McElderry Books. To be published November 10, 2020.

LIes like poisonThe story of who killed Evelyn, seventeen-year-old Raven’s evil stepmother, is told through the alternating voices and memories of Raven, his stepsister Lily, and his best friends Poppy and Bella. Three years earlier Poppy and Bella hated how Evelyn was mentally and emotionally torturing Raven. Bella, Poppy and Raven had role played fairy tales, with Bella taking the part of a witch so she wrote down a deadly brew for killing Evelyn that would involve poisoning her tea with petals from deadly belladonna and poppy plants. Lily insisted on being part of the plan, having her own reasons for wanting her mother dead. She suggested they also include lily petals and took Bella’s original recipe for safekeeping. However nothing happened because they backed out of the plan at the last minute.

Three years later, Evelyn is dead. The police find belladonna petals in her tea and Bella’s handwritten recipe. She is arrested and it’s up to the others to clear her name – if they can get through their suspicions of each other. Is Bella lying about her innocence? Do Poppy and Lily have something to gain by leaving her in prison? Who killed Evelyn?

This whodunit had many layers, which were cleverly unpeeled one at a time. When the truth is finally revealed readers will be in shock.

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.


“The night swim” Megan Goldin

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. St. Martin’s Publishing Group. To be published August 4, 2020.

The Night swimHannah Stills doesn’t believe her sister Jenny drowned twenty-five years ago. The police said she hit her head on rocks when she went night swimming on the beach, but Jenny was a great swimmer and there were no rocks in the area where her body was found. Hannah remembered something bad happened to Jenny the night she died, but she was too young to do anything about it. She was sent to live with a foster family after her mother died of cancer, the town blamed Jenny for her death, and everyone except Hannah moved on with their lives.

Hannah’s only hope was to ask Rachel Krall for help, a true-crime podcast host, who was coming to the town she had left years ago. Rachel was planning to cover a sensational trial where Scott Blair, champion swimmer and handsome son of the richest man in town, was being accused of rape. As Hannah begins to reveal parts of Jenny’s life to her, Rachel begins to realize both rapes have a terrible similarity. With time running out, will there be justice for Jenny?

Told from the points of view of Jenny and Hannah, Jenny’s story and that of the rape victim are both heartbreaking and true-to-life. Money always seems to make a huge difference in how people are treated by both the public and the criminal justice system, and this lens of injustice is fully exposed in “The night swim.”

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

Unforgetting: A memoir of family, migration, gangs and revolution in the Americas” Roberto Lovato

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. HarperCollins Publishers. To be published September 1, 2020. (Includes Notes for each chapter).

UnforgettingJournalist Roberto Lovato is on a quest to discover more about his father’s past in El Salvador, a country run by corrupt governments, who had killed thousands of innocent civilians in the decades since the 1932 “La Matanza/The Massacre,” when 30,000 indigenous people were murdered in one week. Despite this knowledge President Ronald Reagan chose to spend billions of dollars in the 1980’s to support the government against communist rebel fighters. As a result over 75,000 more men, women and children were murdered with weapons and training received from the U.S.

The constant murders and unrest is why thousands of Salvadorans fled in the 1970’s to attempt a new life in the United States. They settled in Los Angeles, encountered Mexican gangs, and formed their own. When the U.S. deported these gang members in the 1990’s they brought MS-13 to El Salvador. 

From his father’s past to his own present, Lovato takes readers on a behind-the-scenes look at the history of violence in El Salvador, the rebels that tried to overthrow the government, the U.S. involvement in the country’s affairs, and how intergenerational trauma leads to gang formations. “Unforgetting” is an eye opening, compelling read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“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 only good Indians” Stephen Graham Jones

The only good IndiansRated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Saga Press (Simon & Schuster). To be published July 14, 2020.

The author is a member of the Blackfeet Tribe.

Ricky, Gabe, Cass and Lewis were best friends, growing up on the Blackfeet reservation where their families had lived for generations. The Elders tried to teach them about their heritage, but they didn’t feel like traditionalists. The Game Warden was quick with arrests, so meals were poached from the woods. Duck Lake was a hunting area set aside for the Elders, but they knew elk could be found there. Despite grave consequences if caught, they decided to try their luck there but, ten years later, they would forever regret that foolish decision.

“The only good Indians” takes readers through the horrors of being methodically stalked with nowhere to turn but, in between the blood and gore, readers are reminded that reservation life is one of poverty, with tribal members still forced to play cowboys and Indians due to deeply instilled prejudices on the part of the White Man. Though Ricky, Cass, Lewis and Gabe chose different ways to live their lives, on and off the reservation, they were forever drawn together by friendship and a shared heritage that survived before them and would continue long after they were gone.

Recommended for Adults.

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



“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.