Book Review: The Final Six

The Final Six – Alexandra Monir – Harper Teen – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

When Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, and Naomi, a science genius from California, are two of the twenty-four teens drafted into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever altered. After erratic climate change has made Earth a dangerous place to live, the fate of the population rests on the shoulders of the final six who will be scouting a new planet. Intense training, global scrutiny, and cutthroat opponents are only a few of the hurdles the contestants must endure in this competition.

For Leo, the prospect of traveling to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—to help resettle humankind is just the sense of purpose he’s been yearning for since losing his entire family in the flooding of Rome. Naomi, after learning of a similar space mission that mysteriously failed, suspects the ISTC isn’t being up front with them about what’s at risk.

As the race to the final six advances, the tests get more challenging—even deadly. With pressure mounting, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo, and the two grow closer with each mind-boggling experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

My thoughts

The Final Six combines thrilling tension, intense romance, heartbreaking grief, and sci-fi speculation in a world that is facing the disastrous consequences of climate change.

Leo has nothing left to live for. His family were killed in one of the massive natural disasters to hit Rome, and with no one to care for, he has given up all hope. Until, shockingly, Leo is drafted to the new world army. He is now one of twenty-four teenagers battling it out to become one of the Final Six. The chosen six will have the chance to escape Earth and forge a new settlement deep in space. When Naomi discovers she is to be one of the chosen twenty-four, she is heartbroken. There is no way she can leave her parents or her beloved brother. With no other choice, Naomi sets in place a plan to reveal the secrets that lie beneath the surface of this space program.

There have been a number of YA books published recently that centre around the concept of teenagers being recruited for elite space training. The Final Six sits well beside titles like Katie Kennedy’s What Goes Up and Heather Kaczynski’s Dare Mighty Things. Yet, despite some similarities in concept, The Final Six brings something unique to this space-cadets plot line, with diverse characters, conspiracy theories, and a unique setting.

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Book Review: The Heart Between Us

The Heart Between Us – Lindsay Harrel – Thomas Nelson – Published 13 March 2018

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Synopsis

Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most.

My thoughts

The Heart Between Us contains an epic journey – both around the world and through the steps of relationship reconciliation. Two sisters, both trying to find answers, two love stories, both about second chances and new beginnings, and a whole lot of travel.

Megan Jacobs is stuck – still living at home with her parents even though she is now in her thirties, still working part-time in a job that she likes but doesn’t love, still wondering what happened to her relationship with her twin sister, still regretting giving up on a chance to follower her dreams, still scared that her new heart and health will fail. When Megan meets the parents of her heart-transplant donor, she surprises herself by deciding to fulfil 24 steps on Amanda’s bucket list, and so begins a travel adventure. She is even more surprised when her sister, Crystal, joins her. Crystal, too, is searching for something – answers to her marriage troubles, inspiration for her career, and maybe a chance to face the fears she has held all her life.

Admittedly, I didn’t love this book. It was good, just not great. Or maybe it just wasn’t the right book for me. There is so much happening in this story: 24 bucket-list travel destinations and the intertwining stories of two sisters and their love, family, faith and career troubles. And yet, the book feels slow, I often felt bored with the story, and it took me a long time to really engage with the plot. I enjoyed Crystal’s story more than Megan’s, but it was Amanda, Megan’s heart donor, who I really wanted to get to know, whose story I really wanted to read, and yet we are only given glimpses of it through her journal entries.

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Book Review: The Secrets We Bury

The Secrets We Bury – Stacie Ramey – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

In an effort to escape his family, Dylan decides to hike the Appalachian trail—but he never expected to run into love.

Dylan Taggart is on the run. His family is trying to put him in a school for psychologically challenged students, and he gets it—he has anger issues. But Believers Charter School is a complete overreaction. So he decides a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide out until he can legally drop out of school.

Dylan wanted independence, but being alone on the trail is more than he bargained for. Then he meets a mysterious hiker named Sophie, and the two begin to develop a bond he never expected. But will love be enough to escape what they’re both running from?

My thoughts

I was intrigued by The Secrets We Bury, but never did I expect that is was going to be that good! Everything fits seamlessly together: the authentic male protagonist who struggles to fit in and deal with everything that makes him different; the people Dylan meets on the trail, those who are just passing strangers and those who come to have such an impact on him and he on them; the trail magic; the powerful beauty of the setting and the way Dylan slowly comes to notice it; and of course the underlying themes of grief, guilt, forgiveness and starting over.

Dylan has run away from home. Run away from the grief that overpowers him, run from the guilt of the secrets he carries, run from the mother who wants to put him in a special school to control his outpouring of anger. His plan of escape is to hike the Appalachian Trail. But the trail will test Dylan in ways he couldn’t expect – from bugs and new food to bears. When Dylan happens upon a strange and intriguing girl who is apparently hiking alone and unprepared, Dylan is drawn to her in a way he has never experienced before. Dylan might be running away, but the trail just might be the place where he finds himself.

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Book Review: WordPress Websites for Business

WordPress Websites for Business: How Anyone Can Maximize Website Performance and Results – Michael Cordova – WildBlue Press – Published 12 December 2017

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Synopsis

Ok, so you’re company’s team has finally agreed to build a new website, but all you know is what you knew when you built the last one, and it failed miserably. Nobody in the company wants to go down that same road again, but at the same time, nobody knows how to do it any different than the last time.

Just like so many other things in life, doing it right doesn’t take much more time than doing it wrong. It just takes the knowledge of how to do it right the first time. In the case of building a website, it takes the knowledge of many others to get optimal results from your website, and this book brings them all together in one concise place for your reference.

I have seen many people/companies make mistakes in the creation of their website. Their mistakes have led to Google penalties that they never recovered from. Simple preparations and settings discussed in the book ensure that you don’t make those same mistakes. Each new website has different scenarios, and those particulars are discussed so you can customize your installation to show you how to avoid making critical, and possibly crippling or complete show-stopping mistakes that can set you back for months or years.

My thoughts

This book crossed my path at the exact time that I needed it. I have been using WordPress for a number of years on a free blogging basis, but have recently been asked to coordinate, design and build an externally hosted WordPress-based website for an advocacy group. Everyday I was learning something new and finding that I had endless questions that needed to be answered. WordPress Websites for Business was the ideal solution to those questions. There is something about a book that seems more trustworthy than a variety of random website sources (I guess I am a traditional librarian at heart). However, WordPress Websites for Business has an informal, website feel to it. Short chapters and an informal, personal writing style contribute to this feeling. The author frequently references his own experiences and his qualifications for writing such a book and links to examples.

The first section of this book briefly outlines the book’s purpose, intended audience, and the author’s experience. The next section then outlines a short history of the internet, giving context to some of the techniques and technology used, CSS for example. The remainder of the book is then split into a range of sections which vary from SEO optimisation and security, to plugins and child themes. The chapter headings themselves are quite helpful, “Wordpress.com vs. WordPress.org – Always Pick the Latter for Business”, for example.

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Book Review: If I Live

If I Live – Terri Blackstock – If I Run #3 – Zondervan – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

Casey is hiding again—in Memphis this time—but it’s different now. She knows without a doubt that Dylan believes her and is doing all he can to help bring Brent’s killer to justice. He’s become an unexpected friend . . . and even, maybe, something more. Hope makes everything more bearable.

Casey makes a deal with the DA to turn over all the evidence she and Dylan have gathered against Keegan and Rollins—only to discover that the DA is in league with them too. After a desperate escape, who can they possibly turn to now?

My thoughts

And so concludes the If I Run series. If I Live finishes the series with a whole lot of tension, lots of near-death moments, and some long-awaited romance. The action and suspense in If I Live picks up right where book two left off, and, finally, Casey Cox has a chance for justice – if she can stay alive long enough.

If I Live is the third and final book in the If I Run series. I recommend that this series be read in chronological order to fully understand the crimes detailed within and the overall plot line. Since the first book, Casey Cox has been on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the criminals who have framed her for the death of her best friend. Now, Casey has Private Investigator Dylan Roberts on her side. It is just a matter of staying alive long enough to bring the evidence to light.

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Book Review: Beneath The Surface

Beneath The Surface – Lynn H. Blackburn – Dive Team Investigations #1 – Revell – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

After a harrowing experience with an obsessed patient, oncology nurse practitioner Leigh Weston needed a change. She thought she’d left her troubles behind when she moved home to Carrington, North Carolina, and took a job in the emergency department of the local hospital. But when someone tampers with her brakes, she fears the past has chased her into the present. She reaches out to her high school friend turned homicide investigator, Ryan Parker, for help.

Ryan finds satisfaction in his career, but his favorite way to use his skills is as a volunteer underwater investigator with the Carrington County Sheriff’s Office dive team. When the body of a wealthy businessman is discovered in Lake Porter, the investigation uncovers a possible serial killer–one with a terrifying connection to Leigh Weston and deadly implications for them all.

My thoughts

I am always on the lookout for new and exciting inspirational suspense novels, and Beneath The Surface did not disappoint. Lynn Blackburn delivers a novel that balances action with fantastic interpersonal interactions, careful criminal investigation with plenty of tension, and a light-hearted joy despite the depravity of the crimes. Beneath The Surface was a very enjoyable novel to read and with it Lynn H. Blackburn earns her way onto my list of favourite romantic suspense authors.

Leigh Weston has returned to her hometown, eager to escape the memories of a patient who turned stalker. But what was supposed to bring peace and security only brings more chaos when the local dive team investigation unit discovers a dead body in the water just off Leigh’s lakeside home. Homicide Investigator Ryan Parker didn’t enjoy discovering a body on one of his team’s routine training sessions, but he is glad for the excuse to spend more time with his childhood crush (and his best-friend’s sister), Leigh. But the case becomes personal when Leigh finds herself targeted by a dangerous killer.

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Book Review: More Than We Can Tell

More Than We Can Tell – Brigid Kemmerer – Bloomsbury Children’s – Published 6/8 March 2018

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Synopsis

Rev Fletcher is battling the demons of his past. But with loving adoptive parents by his side, he’s managed to keep them at bay…until he gets a letter from his abusive father and the trauma of his childhood comes hurtling back.

Emma Blue spends her time perfecting the computer game she built from scratch, rather than facing her parents’ crumbling marriage. She can solve any problem with the right code, but when an online troll’s harassment escalates, she’s truly afraid.

When Rev and Emma meet, they both long to lift the burden of their secrets and bond instantly over their shared turmoil. But when their situations turn dangerous, their trust in each other will be tested in ways they never expected. This must-read story will once again have readers falling for Brigid Kemmerer’s emotional storytelling.

My thoughts

When life tests you, when it throws everything at you, who can you turn to, who can you trust? Once again, Brigid Kemmerer has created a heartbreaking, emotional and moving novel. As a companion to Letters To The Lost, More Than We Can Tell evokes the same emotional response as the characters face a crisis point in their lives, fall in love, and learn to lean on the support of those around them.

Rev Fletcher has found safety and love with his adoptive parents. But when his biological father reaches out to him, it threatens to shake and destroy everything. In the midst of this turmoil, Rev meets Emma. They attend the same high school but have never really crossed paths until now. Emma, too, knows what it feels like to have her world turned upside down. Her parents are constantly fighting, her father barely acknowledges her existence, and her mother is constantly on her case, and then there is the online stalker sending her horrible messages. When things escalate for both Rev and Emma, they will need to learn to lean on each other as well as drawing on the support of the people around them.

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Book Review: Take Three Girls

Take Three Girls – Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell – Pan Australia – Published 29 August 2017

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Synopsis

Ady – not the confident A-Lister she appears to be.
Kate – brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
Clem – disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda’s antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try – but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

My thoughts

Take Three Girls is contemporary #LoveOzYA fiction at its best. And yet, Take Three Girls is transferable to any society, any country which experiences the troubles of bullying, social media dangers, and relationship breakdown. With a no-holds-barred approach, Take Three Girls takes some serious and seriously important topics and meets them head on. What results is an open, honest, and refreshing novel that clears the way for some vital conversations.

Clem, Ady, and Kate. Three girls who attend the same school, but who otherwise don’t have a lot in common. Or at least, don’t think they do. When these three girls, like many others, are targeted by an abusive website spreading horrifying false information and sexual harassment, they are thrown together, not only in class but as they face the challenges of a cruel online world and culture.

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Book Review: Where I Live

Where I Live – Brenda Rufener – HarperTeen – Published 27 February 2018

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Synopsis

LINDEN ROSE HAS RULES FOR SURVIVAL.

1. Prevent the in-class nap.
2. Never carry too many belongings.
3. Avoid looking the part.

Her rules guarantee no one discovers her secret–that she’s homeless and living in the halls of her small-town high school. Her best friends, Ham and Seung, have formed a makeshift family, and writing for her school’s blog prevents downtime. When you’re homeless, free time sucks. Despite everything Linden’s burdened with, she holds on to hope for a future and a maybe romance with Seung.

But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits too close to home. Linden begins looking at Bea’s life, and soon her investigation prompts people to pay attention. And attention is the last thing Linden needs.

To put a stop to the violence, Linden must tell the story. Even if it breaks her rules for survival and jeopardizes the secrets she’s worked so hard to keep.

My thoughts

As expected, Where I Live is an incredibly powerful book. It snuck up on me and simply stole my breath away. In addition to raising the very needed and important topic of teen homelessness, Where I Live is a beautifully crafted novel that examines relationships in all their forms, and balances heartbreak with hope, offsetting challenges that knock you to your knees with the joy of living.

Linden is hiding in plain sight. Every day she handles a million tiny details to ensure that no one knows she is living in her high school, especially not her two best friends, Ham and Seung. Their love, banter, acceptance, and sometimes crazy schemes make the secrecy worth it. But when Linden starts to uncover the secret of a fellow classmate, sees abuse that is all-too reminiscent of her past, it begins to shake her already fragile world.

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Book Review: Hooper

Hooper – Geoff Herbach – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 20 February 2018

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Synopsis

For Adam Reed, basketball is a passport. Adam’s basketball skills have taken him from an orphanage in Poland to a loving adoptive mother in Minnesota. When he’s tapped to play on a select AAU team along with some of the best players in the state, it just confirms that basketball is his ticket to the good life: to new friendships, to the girl of his dreams, to a better future.

But life is more complicated off the court. When an incident with the police threatens to break apart the bonds Adam’s finally formed after a lifetime of struggle, he must make an impossible choice between his new family and the sport that’s given him everything.

My thoughts

It is going to be hard to put the magic of this book into words. What at first seems to be a simple tale about a boy who plays basketball is actually a richly detailed and poignant story of family, belonging, racial injustice, finding home, and settling into the person you were meant to be. Hooper, with a style all of its own, captures these timely themes in an original and approachable way.

“Basketball will be your passport.” Adam doesn’t exactly understand what that means. After all, he already has a passport from when Renata adopted him and brought him from Poland to his new home in the USA. But he does love basketball. Loves the freedom he finds only on the court. Loves the way it silences the anger and painful memories. As his basketball skills start to give him new opportunities on the court, Adam must balance these with the challenges he faces off the court. And maybe, through it all, he will discover a home, family, and friends, and finally a place where he belongs.

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