“Three keys” Kelly Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Scholastic. Front Desk #2. To be published September 15, 2020. (Includes “Author’s Note”).

Three keysBuying the Calivista Motel improved life for Mia, Lupe, their parents, the weeklies, and their immigrant shareholders. The girls are nervous about the upcoming gubernatorial election because anti-immigrant fervor was everywhere. Proposition 187 was on the ballot, which would not allow immigrants to go to school. If it passed, many students in their new sixth grade classroom would have to leave.

With their teacher against immigration, classmates choosing sides, racist signs appearing, and racist acts rising, the girls are in a quandary. Jason was doing his best to be friends with them, but his dad’s anti-immigrant stance was wearing thin on Mia. Out of frustration, she advertised that the hotel welcomed immigrants but her plan backfired as they began losing money. Worrying became the order of the day with her parents and investors worrying about money, Lupe worrying about her parents, Mia worrying about her teacher and her writing and everyone worrying about the hotel.

With Proposition 187 and facing worry in all directions, Jason, Mia, Lupe and the rest of the Calivista Motel family have to work to keep from sinking into despair over fear of the unknown.

Once again Yang uses her own experiences to make Mia’s story realistic. Unfortunately there is a correlation between anti-immigrant issues from Proposition 187, and anti-immigration stances adopted by the current President of the United States. Yang does a great job showing the immigrant point of view, which is so often forgotten when racism rears its ugly head. “Three keys” has a lot to say, and would promote enthusiastic discussion in a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

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

“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.

“Before she was Helen” Caroline B. Cooney

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Poisoned Pen Press (Sourcebooks). To be published September 8, 2020.

Before she was HelenClementine lives in Sun City, a neighborhood of retired senior citizens who play cards and hang out. She liked it there because everyone was friendly, and no one cared about her past. Being anonymous was good when you had three different identities and a 50-year-old secret to keep.

When her next-door neighbor turns up missing, and a body is found, Clemmie is in the middle of a police investigation. As her past threatens to meet up with her present, Clemmie relives the years of abuse and heartache during her teen years that drove her to a solitary life. With nowhere to turn she will, once again, have to rely on herself to find a way out of chaos in order to live freely again.

Caroline B. Cooney always leaves you on the edge of your seat, and this book will do the same. I gnashed my teeth at what happened to Clemmie during her teen years, and worried about her secrets. Cooney makes Clementine so personable I felt as if I knew her. As a result I was invested in her story, which is the sign of a good author.

Highly recommended for Adults.

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

“Punching the air” Ibi Zoboi with Yusef Salaam

Rated 5 stars ***** Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins Publishers). To be published September 1, 2020.)

Punching the airInjustice. Injustice. Anger. Injustice. Injustice. Fear. Injustice. Injustice. Innocence. Injustice. Injustice. Guilty. Injustice. Injustice. Prison. Injustice. Injustice. Injustice. Injustice.

Spoken words and drawings pour out of sixteen-year-old Amal’s heart, vying to tell his story of being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Once a promising art student on his way to college in two years, Amal is now an inmate at a Juvenile Detention facility because “Their words and what they thought to be their truth were like a scalpel shaping me into the monster they want me to be.”

The inhumane treatment he and fellow inmates suffer at the hands of racist officers and racist inmates in a racist environment sets them all up to fail due to the not-blind eye of justice and systemic racism in the United States.

The Scottsboro Boys, The Exonerated Five, and the Jena Six endured many injustices because of the color of their skin, and their experiences are used to tell Amal’s story. There are many flaws in the United States’ criminal justice system, and its affects on both innocent and guilty come to life in “Punching the air.” A cry to end the endless cycles of black and brown arrests is sure to follow.

Highly 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.

“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.

“Accidental” Alex Richards

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury Publishing. To be published July 7, 2020.

AccidentalJohanna is sixteen-years-old, has two best friends, lives with her strict, old-fashioned grandparents and is drooling over the very handsome new guy at her fancy private school. Though her mother died in a car crash when she was little, she barely remembers her or the father who abandoned her when she was little. She’s always been with her grandparents, and everything was fine until suddenly nothing was fine.

Her estranged father sent her a letter wanting to reunite, so Johanna decided to take him up on it. When they met he told her she’d killed her mother by shooting her with a loaded gun she’d found under the bed. He was remorseful that he’d left his loaded gun in a place where a toddler could reach it, but that didn’t stop Johanna from going into a tailspin. Furious at her grandparents for lying to her for years she cuts off communication, but also can’t forgive herself for killing her own mother. Though everyone tells her it wasn’t her fault she doesn’t believe them, and neither do the students who start bullying her at school and online.

Gun violence, unsecured guns, statistics for family shootings, and gun control are just some of the topics readers will learn about as Johanna fights a battle to heal her damaged soul. Her story may give readers the impetus to think about ways to raise awareness for these societal issues.

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.


“Fighting words” Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House). Includes Discussion Questions. To be published August 11, 2020.

Fighting wordsDella is now ten years old, and in the fourth grade. When she was five, and her older sister Suki was eleven, their meth addict mother was sent to prison and her old boyfriend stepped in to claim them. Through the five years they lived with him Suki always took care of Della. She took the lead and made sure they got away when he did something very bad to Della. Now they were living with a foster mother who seemed nice enough, Della was attending a new school, and Suki had a new job.

Soon Suki started to get angry for no reason, making Della feel as if she were a burden. Della was confused because Suki had always been there for her. When Suki tried to commit suicide it took time before Della realized her sister had been carrying a terrible burden for many years. As Della learned to put her rage into words, she became the arm of strength for Suki so that, together, they could forge ahead to reclaim their lives.

This book was very powerful, and a testament to the ravages inflicted upon innocent children caught in the crosshairs of drug addicted parents and sexual predators. It will, hopefully, give encouragement and strength for children who see themselves in the pages to get help if they are suffering the same fates as Della and Suki.

Recommended for ages 11-16.

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.┬áDespite 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.

“Eventide” Sarah Goodman

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Tor Teen. To be published October 6, 2020.

EventideIn 1907 seventeen-year-old Verity and her little sister Lilah set out from New York City on an orphan train to find a new home. Verity was bitter because she hadn’t been allowed to care for her sister. She was almost eighteen, and had taken care of her ever since their mother died and their father started to go insane. However, she was still underage, so they had been forced to go to an orphanage when their father was taken to an asylum.

When they arrived in the small town of Wheeling Arkansas Miss Maeve, the local schoolteacher, adopted Lilah. Desperate to stay near her sister Verity allowed herself to be indentured to a couple that needed help on their farm. As she struggled through her chores, the thought of being able to leave forever with Lilah in a few months enabled her to get through the days in this little, superstitious town.

Verity couldn’t understand why everyone was afraid of the woods, and why she’d been warned to stay away from it. When she decided to explore it for herself she couldn’t understand why it suddenly became freezing cold and foggy, nor could she explain the presence of a little girl who disappeared when Verity tried to follow her. As Verity learned more about the people in the small town she began to realize that Lilah was in grave danger. Verity will do anything she can to protect her sister – even if it means giving up everything she once held dear.

I loved this book! It was suspenseful, spooky, thrilling and kept me up turning pages until late at night. I did have some questions about the ending that I would love to ask the author but, because they might reveal spoilers, I can’t ask them on this blog. However, I would love it if Sarah Goodman contacted me on the “down low” so I can unburden myself and get the answers I seek.

Despite my questions I highly recommend “Eventide” 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 ballad of songbirds and snakes” Suzanne Collins

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Scholastic. (The Hunger Games #0). Published May 19, 2020.

The ballad of songbirds and snakesCoriolanus Snow endured hunger, deprivation, and the loss of both parents during the Rebel siege on the Capitol. His cousin’s bargaining abilities at the Black Market enabled them to survive, but the Snow family fortune was destroyed. Coriolanus is determined to keep it secret that the Snows, one of the Capitol’s Old Guard families, is poor.

His favorite professor at the Academy was able to get him assigned to one of the tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games as a student mentor, so he has a chance to vie for a University scholarship. Coriolanus knows winning the Games is his only hope to having a future, and is desperate to win. When he’s assigned Lucy Gray Baird from District 12 he’s disappointed because he’d hoped for a strong boy, however, her musical abilities and joie de vivre help to change his mind.

As he spends time with Lucy Gray, he begins to think of her as a person instead of as a tribute. His determination to protect her from the other tributes, and to win, begins to override rational thoughts until the lines between right and wrong get blurred. As time goes on Coriolanus’ determination to always win, and to always come out on top, will forever change their lives.

When I was given the opportunity to read this ARC, I wondered if it would be as interesting as the other books in The Hunger Games series because, after all, it IS about the very evil President Snow. However, not only is it exciting, but I found myself feeling sorry for Coriolanus. SORRY for HIM?! I can hear gasps echoing around the world, but let me preface that comment. I felt sorry for him in the BEGINNING and MIDDLE of the book, but definitely not by the end. Make sure to read the book to find out why.

I’m now off to reread The Hunger Games series and decipher clues revealed in “The ballad of songbirds and snakes.” I won’t be surprised if Collins writes another follow up to the Coriolanus Snow saga.

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.