“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 nesting” C. J. Cooke

The nestingRated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Berkley (Penguin Random House). To be published September 29, 2020.

Lexi had grown up in foster care with a mom who hated her. After a suicide attempt, she lost her job and was dumped by her boyfriend. Helpless and homeless, she spent hours riding commuter rail trains where she overheard a conversation about a nanny job in Norway. Lexi didn’t know anything about being a nanny, but knew she needed this job. She took over the resume and persona of Sophie Hallerton, the commuter who’d been thinking about applying for the job, and sent off her application.

After getting the job Lexi enjoyed her life in Norway with Coco and Gaia, her two young charges. However, Norway had its own secrets. What was the terrifying creature that regularly appeared in the house and grounds? What really happened to Coco and Gaia’s mother? Why did it seem as if the very earth wanted them all gone?

I enjoyed this book, and felt great sympathy for Lexi. HOWEVER I have BIG questions about the ending. For those who are reading my review, if you don’t want to spoil the ending for yourself, please don’t read below the SPOILER ALERT! banner. These questions, and resulting uncertainties, made me drop two stars from my rating.

However, since the storyline is very imaginative, I will recommend it for Adults. I hope the situation I mentioned below gets fixed before the book is published.

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

******SPOILER ALERT! ******* SPOILER ALERT! **********SPOILER ALERT! ********

******SPOILER ALERT! ******* SPOILER ALERT! **********SPOILER ALERT! ********

I am VERY confused over how Aurelia died. In Derry’s version she wades into the fjord, submerges and drowns. However this doesn’t jive with what was written earlier in the book because Aurelia imagined herself wading into the fjord with reindeer and then returned home. She didn’t die during that particular visit to the fjord.

In the Prologue Cooke wrote that Aurelia died when she accidentally fell off a cliff while being chased. Did the author forget what she’d written and decide to make up a completely different death for Aurelia? Did she fall off the cliff OR did she drown while having hallucinations with the reindeer? If she drowned with the invisible reindeer then the Prologue needs to be rewritten.

Also, why did Tom decide to let Lexi stay on after her accident? He didn’t feel bad about her attempted suicide when she told him why she’d impersonated Sophie. He could have insisted she return to London after she got out of the hospital. What changed? I hope the author or publisher have answers for me. Thanks.

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.

 

 

 

“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.

“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.

“In a dark, dark wood” Ruth Ware

Rated 3 stars *** Scout Press (Simon & Schuster). 2015. 310 p.

In a dark, dark woodNora got an email that brought forth memories she’d been repressing for 10 years from when she’d been in love with James at the age of 16. Though it had ended badly, she’d never gotten over their relationship. Her ex-best friend Clare was getting married and Flo, her maid of honor, was writing to invite her to Clare’s Hen (bachelorette) party. After debating whether or not to go Nora decided to attend.

Six people showed up to a glass walled house buried deep in the spooky woods, where she finds out Clare is marrying James. With memories overwhelming her, Nora is desperate to leave but stayed to save face though no one has phone reception, the landline goes dead, and Flo is obsessed with pleasing Clare. Getting drunk, playing silly games and passing on snide comments about each other turn to seriousness when a Ouija board spells “murderer”, and the back door opens by itself in the middle of the night.

By this time they are all paranoid so, when someone comes up the stairs and is shot dead, no one remembers who did the actual shooting that killed James. Nora developed amnesia after the shooting but, for James’ sake, is determined to recover her memories and find out what happened that night. Who shot James? Did she do it?

The book started out slow and dragged through a few chapters before it started to pick up steam. I enjoyed the suspense, and whodunit feel. I had my suspicions, but was surprised when the villain was revealed. What I didn’t like were loose ends that weren’t explained, how much Nora reverted to her high school self around Clare, and why she went to the Hen when she wasn’t invited to the wedding.

Though the book had its hiccups I will recommend it to Adult readers who like suspense. It will definitely keep you guessing.

 

“After the woods” Kim Savage

Rated 2 stars ** Farrar Straus Giroux. 2016. 294 p.

After the woodsWhen sixteen-year-old Julia and her best friend Liv went for a run in the woods, a man attacked Liv with a knife. Julia rushed to her rescue and he broke her ankle but, instead of helping her, Liv ran away. That first night, when her captor fell asleep, Julia managed to escape. Despite her broken ankle and bruised, bleeding body she spent two terrified days putting as much distance as she could between them, until she was finally rescued.

Hailed as a hero because she was able to escape and lead police to her captor, Julia instantly became a media darling. However she couldn’t understand why Liv never wanted to talk about it, insisting she needed to move on. Julia wanted to know more about her captor, especially when the body of a young girl was found in the woods. Eventually Julia plows her way through a tangled web of deceit before she finds out the painful truth about her best friend.

I thought the book had potential, given its “I’m captured by a crazy guy and now have a broken ankle” scenario. However readers don’t get a survival story about Julia’s time in the woods dragging herself away from a captor used to hunting game in those same woods. Instead the author flits about from storyline to storyline, doling out dribs and drabs of Julia’s experiences through memories, amounting to about 3 of the novel’s 294 pages.

I got whiplash from the different storylines, and was not a fan of the ending. Though I didn’t like this book I will leave it up to you teen readers to decide if You want to Read it or Not.

 

“Shout” Laurie Halse Anderson

Rated 5 stars ***** Viking (Penguin Random House). 2019. 291 p. (Includes Resources on Sexual Violence and Mental Health for readers.)

ShoutIn free verse, Laurie Halse Anderson tells her story of constantly having to move due to her father’s job, of being poor, of having to attend many different schools, and of being raped by someone she considered a friend at the young age of 13. After her assault Anderson details the many coping mechanisms she used to try to cover the raging anger she now felt, including getting high, cutting classes, and getting drunk. It was only after spending 13 months in Denmark as an exchange student, during her senior year of high school, that Laurie finally began to feel some of the scar tissue within begin to heal.

Anderson’s journey towards healing, and how those healing steps helped her become a writer, are interspersed with outrage towards those who foist themselves on boys and girls, friends, girlfriends, sisters, brothers, cousins and anyone who didn’t say “yes” to those advances. She offers strong encouragement and strength towards those who suffer in silence from the pain of sexual assault or rape.

Laurie doesn’t pull punches as she shouts out her outrage, calling out the Principal who cancelled the rest of her appearances at his school, after the first of three sessions “because those things [sex, rape, bodies touching, consent, and violence] don’t ever happen in his school” (p. 187). Censorship of “inappropriate books” also met the steely beam of her eyes, reminding us (and censors) “Censorship is the child of fear, the father of ignorance, and the desperate weapon of fascists everywhere.” (p. 191.)

In short, “Shout” loudly, lovingly and firmly gives victims of sexual assault the strength to stand firm, to speak their pain, and to rise up from the ashes knowing they’re not alone. The #MeToo movement gave voice to that which had had been hiding in the shadows for too long. However, with her memoir, Anderson takes that movement and puts it on an amplifier, giving knowledge and courage to her readers, infusing them with power and strength so they can also #MeToo and shout out their pain as they heal.

“Shout” is raw and truthful; a description of what happens when a slice of life is stolen from unwilling victims. Anderson’s pain from being a victim of sexual assault is your pain. Her fight to rise above her pain is your fight. Her courage to keep going forward is your courage. Her voice to educate others is your voice. Her healing is your healing. Her shout of victory is your shout.

I am going to predict “Shout” will win the 2019 YALSA Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature at the upcoming American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, along with many other awards. When it wins, remember you read it first on my blog. I will be at that conference, and plan to SHOUT VERY LOUDLY at the ALA Youth Media Awards for Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Shout.”

Highly recommended for teens ages 14 and older, as well as Adults.

 

 

 

“Lost Autumn” by Mary-Rose MacCall

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. ARC. Published by G.P.Putnam’s Sons. To be published March 3, 2020.

Lost AutumnIn 1920 seventeen-year-old Maddie is learning how to be Prince Edward’s correspondence secretary on his train tour of Australia, feeling overwhelmed by her proximity to royalty.

In 1997 Victoria, a reporter, is asked to cover the death of Princess Diana, but finds herself at a loss for words.

In 1981 Maddie finds herself coming to terms with the loss of everyone she’d ever loved, wondering what she can to do right old wrongs.

In 1918 Helen, an ambulance driver in France, and Rupert, batman to the Prince of Wales, meet on the battlefield when she transports him to the hospital against the rules. They fall in love, but fate steps in to tear them apart.

The author bounces back and forth between these years as she tells stories of love, betrayal, broken relationships, strength and survival. Grief and loss, tinged with hope, survival and strength are woven throughout these stories.

I thought each storyline was interesting, and would have preferred to have each in its own standalone book. A particular favorite of mine was the World War I love story between Helen and Rupert, which inspired Maddie to write “Autumn leaves.” However, having so many storylines in one book was very confusing. In the many switches between timeframes, I had to constantly reread to figure out what had happened to that character earlier in the book.

Therefore I was a half fan of “Lost Autumn,” and will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

Recommended for Adults.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

“Tigers, not daughters” by Samantha Mabry

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Young Readers of Chapel Hill. To be published March 24, 2020.

Tigers, not DaughtersThe four Torres sisters became three when Ana, their older sister, was found dead after falling out of her second floor window on her way to meet a boyfriend. Their father had given up on being involved in their lives when his wife died years earlier, so the three remaining sisters are forced to figure out how to go on without Ana.

As the youngest Rosa has always been a dreamer, spending hours listening to animals. She believes a dead bird and a missing zoo hyena are signs on the one-year anniversary of Ana’s death. She’s determined to figure out what they mean. Jessica coped by trying to become Ana. She has her old room and clothes and dates John, Ana’s abusive boyfriend. Iridian buries herself in her notebooks, writing lurid romance stories, and re-reading a favorite, battered book. As if all this drama isn’t enough, Ana’s ghost decides to haunt them.

The book blathers on through their lives, showing Rosa as air headed and fanatical, Iridian as lazy and clueless about the world around her, and Jessica as alternately weak and strong. My favorite character was Peter, a friend of their next-door neighbor and a co-worker of Jessica. I thought he had the strengths neither sister owned, and loved how he put John in his place.

I was not a fan of this book. I thought it was piecemeal, bouncing from one sister’s thoughts to another, and left open endings – why was Ana’s window broken when she died? Why did the father need money so much? It was also hard for me to believe that Iridian could leave school in 10th grade, and not have anyone there (other than her neighbors) notice her absence to report it to authorities.

Also, in my opinion, the sisters didn’t have to be named Torres, other than to sell a “diverse” book. Since it was set in Texas, the author must have assumed the main characters should have a Latino last name. However, they could just as easily been named Smith or Jones, as there was nothing cultural to happen that went along with the name Torres.

I will leave it up to readers, ages 16 and older, to decide if you want to read it or not. I would rather that I had not.

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