“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.

“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.




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.

“Lady Clementine” Marie Benedict

Rated 5 stars ***** 2020. Sourcebooks. 310 p. (Includes “Author’s note,” “Reading group guide,” and “A conversation with the author”)

Lady ClementineAlmost everyone over the age of 50 has heard about Winston Churchill, and how his speeches, tenacity and love for country led Great Britain through World War II. Despite all of the historical information available on Churchill, his wife has remained a shadowy figure. “Lady Clementine” seeks to address this oversight, and does so in a very enlightening manner.

Benedict focuses on the Churchill’s from their 1908 marriage through the end of World War II in 1945. Important historical events, family life, the ups and downs of Churchill’s political career, and her own battles are told from Clementine’s point of view. Constantly at Churchill’s side, she evaluated his speeches, made speeches of her own on topics near to her heart, and worked tirelessly behind the scenes for her husband. In that time period, being a strong minded and strong willed female in a man’s world often led to ridicule by his associates and her peers for her “unseemly behavior.” Despite naysayers, Clementine continued to further the cause of women’s equality and was a powerful, yet largely unknown, force behind Churchill’s greatness.

This enthralling, quick moving novel about an important women in history who had been largely unknown, kept me reading late into the evenings. I love historical fiction (especially when rich with historical details) and Benedict did not disappoint. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“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.


“Hannah’s war” Jan Eliasberg

Rated 5 stars **** ARC. To be published March 3, 2020. 313 p. (Includes Author’s note, Further exploration, and Reading group guide.)

Hannah's warLise Meitner,  a physicist who discovered nuclear fission, is an unknown figure to those of us not part of the scientific world. Eliasberg wrote “Hannah’s war” to get Lise’s story “out there,” and to explain why Hitler’s scientists were never able to produce an atomic bomb of their own.

Hannah Weiss, a brilliant scientist who lived in Germany during Hitler’s brutal reign, has been denied her rightful place among scientists because she’s female and Jewish. When her arrest by the Gestapo was forthcoming she was whisked away to the United States where she joined other scientists to work on the Manhattan Project, (the American race to create a bomb before Hitler).

In time the commanding officer of the Project was informed that there was a spy amongst the scientists, which led to Major Jack Delaney being assigned to the case. His dogged determination to uncover the spy’s identity, and the revealed secrets that follow, are the basis for this historical fiction tale of romance, intrigue, and betrayal during a time that forever changed our world.

I really enjoyed “Hannah’s war,” and know other readers will also enjoy it.

Recommended for Adults.

“They called us enemy” by George Takei

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Top Shelf Productions. 204 p.

They called us enemyIn 1942, when George was almost 5 years old, his Japanese-American parents had their bank accounts frozen, and his father lost his business. Ordered out of their Los Angeles home with only what they could carry, they were forced to live in several different internment camps for four years. What was their crime? Their “crime” was that they were of Japanese ancestry and, thus, considered enemies by their own country – the United States of America. They, along with hundreds of thousands of other American citizens, were incarcerated in these camps.

Simple black and white illustrations convey George’s story to readers as he talks about his parents, and what it was like for them to navigate through years of being stabbed in the back by their own country. Their strength, fortitude and creativity were traits that got them through hard times, and enabled little George to feel as if he was on an adventure. Some of his memories of that time came through clearly, while at other times he relied on his father’s memories to flesh out his own.

America’s intolerance towards others because of how they looked during World War II comes across loudly and clearly, especially in the ways our current government has sought to keep out people of different nationalities. Philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This phrase bears repeating because the rhetoric and events unfolding since 2016 in the United States are leading our nation into the gutter, where we spent too much time in years past. It’s time for a new narrative to take over our land.

George TakeiI, along with thousands of other librarians, had the privilege of hearing George Takei share his story and talk about this book before it was released at the American Library Association (ALA) conference in Washington this past June. He was very passionate, telling us his parent’s generation kept their stories hidden from their children because they felt shame in how they’d been treated by their own government. It’s time for their stories to be told.

Copies of “They called us enemy” should be in every public and high school library in our nation, and used in book groups all across the country.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.


“Dominicana” by Angie Cruz

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. To be published September 3, 2019. Flatiron Books. 324 p.

DominicanaThe Dominican Republic, and life in New York City as an immigrant in 1965, is explored in this memoir-like novel about a young fifteen-year-old girl named Ana Canción. Unrest caused by the United States’ invasion into the Dominican Republic, along with chaos from the New York City race riots, form backgrounds to Ana’s story.

Ana was her mother’s only hope. If she married thirty-two year old Juan Ruiz, then she could send for her family so they could all come to the United States to work and have a new life. There Juan makes good money, and Mamá knows Ana can help them all to live their dreams so, before she knows it, young Ana is married and living in a strange, freezing cold city where she knows no one.

Life in New York is not what Ana expected. Juan works hard, but has a mistress and no time for Ana. He’s abusive, and expects her to stay home, take care of the house, and meet his needs in bed. Ana wants an education, to learn to speak English, to live her dreams, and to make something of herself. She wants to fly.

Ana’s metamorphosis from Juan’s little Dominican bird to a New York City pigeon is detailed in this very realistic novel about the immigrant experience. I hope that readers will realize that, fifty-four years later, the dreams of immigrants remain the same. They hope to escape the poverty and violence of their homeland for a place where they can work hard to gain a better life for themselves and their families. That has always been the American Dream.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

5 stars ***** (2018). Crown. (Crown Publishing Group/Penguin Random House). 421 p. (Includes photographs).

BecomingLast year at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, I waited on line for 3 hours to hear Michelle Obama speak on her “Becoming” book tour. The wait was worth it. Michelle was beautiful, very interesting, and a great motivational speaker. She kept us alternately laughing and applauding as we listened to her speak about different scenarios from her upcoming book. (Below are some photos I took at the event.)

Michelle Obama6

The hopes, joys, highs and lows of Michelle Robinson Obama’s life are clearly outlined in this detailed memoir of her life. Starting with her growing up years on the Southside of Chicago, Obama talks about the closeness she felt with her family, and her desire to succeed. Throughout the book she emphasizes the love and support her parents, brother, extended family members and friends gave to her.

Michelle Obama5Michelle goes on to talk about her various jobs, detailing how her innate sense of detail and fortitude helped her accomplish the many goals she set for herself in those careers. Readers feel as if they’re right beside her as she details how she first met Barack Obama, and evokes laughter in her various descriptions of his easygoing demeanor versus her sense of orderliness.

Their marriage, the births of her two daughters, and Barack’s election to the Presidency of the United States in 2008 and 2012, are all part of the rich story Michelle Obama weaves in “Becoming.” Her work as First Lady to improve the lives of women, children and the military, as well as the good and bad experiences she and Barack experienced during their time in the White House, will keep readers engrossed.

Obama’s free flowing, easy-to-read narrative made “Becoming” a hard book to put down. I wanted to keep reading it, and to keep hearing her stories. I especially loved her closing remarks “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” (p. 421).

Get yourself a copy of “Becoming.” Allow Michelle Obama’s words and experiences to pierce through to your very soul. Feel the strength she generates, and use it to propel yourself to the goals you hope to achieve for yourself and for your children, and then make sure to go out and VOTE. EVERY vote counts. YOUR voice matters.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Dark sky rising” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., with Tonya Bolden. 5 stars *****

ARC. Published Feb. 2019. Scholastic Focus (Scholastic). 224 p. (Includes Selected Sources, Source Notes, Photo Credits, and an Index.)

Dark Sky Rising

What was Reconstruction? What happened to Black people in the South after the Civil War? Why were Black men allowed to vote, but then couldn’t do so anymore? What were the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and why were they important? Can you name important Black heroes from Reconstruction?

These and many more questions are addressed in this sweeping history that describes the time periods before and during the Civil War, as well as the years after Reconstruction. With period photographs, first person quotes, and informational sections after each chapter, Gates makes history come alive for his young readers.

Recommended for grades 6-8.