“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.

 

“The second home” Christina Clancy

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. St. Martin’s Press. To be published June 2, 2020.

The Second HomeAnn’s parents had recently been killed in an accident and she was desperate to rid herself of her family’s ramshackle summer home in Wellfleet, though it had been in their family for generations. Her urgency to sell also included the fact that she didn’t want her estranged brother Michael to know she was selling. They’d lost contact years earlier, after an especially horrific summer, and the anger she felt towards him had worsened over the years.

Michael and Ann were the same age and had become best friends at school so, since he got along well with her family, Ann convinced them to adopt him. The summer of 1999 was his first in Wellfleet, which he spent wrestling with his feelings about Ann. She had taken on a babysitting job with the Shaws, a rich family, contrasting their lives and loving how Mr. Shaw made her feel. While they tried to work through their issues, Poppy was busy getting high after falling in with a rough crowd of surfing locals. That summer changed the rest of their lives – forever.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, Ann, Michael and Poppy’s love for their summer home and the memories from Wellfleet (both good and bad) that tied them together, sink deeply into the reader. I was fully invested in their stories, and eagerly turned pages hoping the ending everything would end on a satisfying note.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“Summer on the bluffs” Sunny Hostin with Veronica Chambers

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. William Morrow (HarperColllins). Oak Bluffs #1. Coming Summer 2021. 385 p.

Summer on the BluffsAmelia and her husband Omar worked their way up from the bottom to become rich millionaires, and built a beautiful beach house in a historically black section of Oak Bluffs on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. There they relaxed, mingled with other well-heeled neighbors, had parties, and enjoyed the island’s beauty. Midway through their marriage they became godparents to Perry, Olivia and Billie. The young girls spent summers with them on the island, were introduced to cultural activities, travelled widely, and became like sisters to each other. Ama and Omar’s generous monetary gifts enabled them to attend the finest schools, and set them onto high paying career paths.

It’s 2020 and Ama is now alone, as Omar passed away five years earlier. Despite inner reservations she’s decided it was time to tell her girls important secrets she’s kept hidden from them for decades. She invites them to spend one final summer at the Bluffs, but she doesn’t know that Perry, Olivia and Billie are hiding secrets of their own. Can three grown women who have grown apart over the years return to the summers of their youth with a woman they have grown to see as a mother figure?

Each of the women are strong characters, although I think Perry could have been a little less whiny and a better listener. Ama’s character was deep and long-suffering, while the men were well rounded and had their own strengths (except for Jeremy). I enjoyed reading a little about the history of Oak Bluffs, as well as seeing life through the eyes of the “powerfully rich and famous, I can live anywhere” crowd. I spent several summer days there many years ago as part of the “working full time, I can only stay in the cheapest place” crowd, but I’m proud to say my adult self once got the brass ring on the famous Oak Bluffs carousel. I had to return it at the end of my ride, but it was fun to get a free ride!

This is book #1 of a planned series, but it’s unknown as to whether or not the same characters will be in the rest of the series or if the author will introduce another set of characters to spend time on the Bluffs.

Recommended for Adults.

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

 

“The bridge home” Padma Venkatraman

Rated 5 stars *****. 2019. Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House). 187 p. (Includes “Glossary” and “Author’s Note.”)

TheBridgeHomeEleven-year-old Viji and twelve-year-old Rukku’s mom was abused by her husband, but always believed him when he said he was sorry. Viji knew Rukku had special needs, and had always taken care of her older sister but, when her father hit them in a fit of rage, she knew they’d have to run away.

With nowhere to go and only a bit of money, they bus to the city where Rukku becomes attached to a homeless puppy, and they become friends with two homeless boys living on a bridge. There they build their own ramshackle tent, and the boys help her forage for recyclables in stinking trash dumps with other homeless children that they sell for pittances.

Hunger dulls their strength but, as time passes, the four forge strong bonds of friendship. Though they wind up living on a grave under a tree in a cemetery after marauding men destroy their home on the bridge, Viji tries to keep believing in her dream of becoming a teacher. Each day of looking for food in trashcans, and hoping to earn money on the dump, makes her dream seem impossible.

This moving story, based on real children’s first-person accounts, is an eye opener for many who might be unaware of the plight of over 1.8 million children living on the streets of India, working and eating from its many garbage dumps while trying to avoid abuse and slavery.

Recommended for ages 10-14.

“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.

“Only love can break your heart” by Ed Tarkington

Rated 3 stars *** Algonquin Books. 2016. 307 p.

Only love can break your heartSet in a small Virginia town in 1977 Richard, called Rocky by his beloved sixteen-year-old big brother Paul, was almost eight years old. Paul was everything Rocky wished he could be – though he was always in trouble, and not a favorite of his mom. He was a girl charmer, and owned a great collection of records he often invited Rocky to hear in his room. Paul was always there until, one day, he wasn’t. He disappeared with Leigh, his long-time girlfriend.

Rocky missed his brother, but was distracted by his neighbor’s daughter Patricia who he met when he was almost 15 years old. Though she was almost 10 years older, for several months she schooled him in the art of sex in the hayloft of her family’s stable. Rocky was content to spend time with her, and was bereft when she broke up with him after Leigh returned and figured out their relationship.

Many years later Paul returned. Leigh’s time away had badly scarred her, leaving her mentally unstable, for which Paul blamed himself. Though Rocky and the Old Man were thrilled to have him back, Richard’s mom felt he was still the bane of her existence. When their next-door neighbor and wife were found murdered, Paul and Leigh quickly became the main suspects. Were the police overlooking the real killers in their eagerness to solve the crime, or was it true that Rocky’s idol and his girlfriend were murderers?

Rocky, as narrator, told his story as an adult sharing his memories. Though there was lots of rambling as he described his feelings and thoughts during the various events that transpired over the years, what I got out of it was that small town life in the late 70’s meant no one suspected what Patricia was doing to him, that an older father loved both his sons equally, that Rocky’s mom needed to get over herself for disliking her stepson so much, and that Rocky and Paul loved each other very much. That’s what I got out of it, and I’m sticking to it.

Though I wasn’t a huge fan, I’ll leave it up to you Adults to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

 

“The debt of Tamar” by Nicole Dweck

Rated 5 stars ***** St. Martin’s Press (Thomas Dunne Books) 2015.

The debt of TamarIn 1544 Portugal José, his rich aunt Doña Antonia, and his cousin Reyna find themselves caught up in the “Death by burning” of six Jews condemned as heretics in the Portuguese Inquisition. Deeply moved José tries to get involved, but his aunt forcibly restrains him. Later she reveals that they’re Jewish – including the parents he’d never known. Stunned by the knowledge his aunt had kept secret for so many years, José dedicates himself to learning everything he can about his Jewish faith.

When it’s discovered that the family is Jewish, they’re forced to run for their lives. Eventually they arrive in Istanbul, where the reigning Sultan allows Jews to safely worship. In time José marries Reyna. Their child Tamar falls in love with the Sultan’s son, but José is unable to bear the thought of her marrying outside of the faith. He banishes her to an unsettled land, allowing everyone to believe she died from a fever. With that act a curse is placed upon his ancestors that isn’t broken until centuries later when readers are introduced to the last Sultan of Istanbul.

Reading how all the generations since José were tied together, of loves lost and found, and learning about the Ottoman Empire was fascinating. I was glad the Sultan allowed his land to be a place of refuge for the Jews when other countries were kicking them out. It’s too bad that goodwill between the two countries has been deteriorating in the past few years.

Recommended for Adults.