Book Review: Stray

Stray – Joni Johnson – Independently Published – published 22 March 2017

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Synopsis

Lila Baxter, 17, is abandoned at a gas station in a small town when her father, who was taking her to live with her grandmother, has a lapse in sobriety. Lila is left alone, unsure of where she is, with no money, and no cell phone. Gas station cashier Vance Larson, 18, offers to help the unwanted girl. And how does Lila repay him? By unwittingly unhinging Vance’s whole life. Fixing the trouble she’s caused is next to impossible. And will any of it matter when her father returns?

My thoughts

Stray’s synopsis promised exactly what I love in YA fiction – tortured teens and a touch of romance. It reminded me of a story I read and loved many years ago by Cindy C. Bennett.

Lila has just graduated high school. She knows she only has a few days until she must find her own place to live, but she doesn’t expect her father to pack her into his truck and drive halfway across the country. And, despite his disinterest over the past years, nor does she expect him to abandon her in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Alone and unsure what to do she accepts the help of Vance, a (admittedly handsome) guy she meets, who takes her home. There she experiences the love of a family for the first time as Vance and his mother, Vicki, welcome Lila into their home and lives.

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Book Review: Life After

Life After – Katie Ganshert – Waterbrook – Published 18 April 2017

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Synopsis

It could have been me.

Snow whirls around an elevated train platform in Chicago. A distracted woman boards the train, takes her seat, and moments later a fiery explosion rips through the frigid air, tearing the car apart in a horrific attack on the city’s transit system. One life is spared. Twenty-two are lost.

A year later, Autumn Manning can’t remember the day of the bombing and she is tormented by grief—by guilt. Twelve months of the question constantly echoing. Why? Why? Why? Searching for answers, she haunts the lives of the victims, unable to rest.

Paul Elliott lost his wife in the train bombing and wants to let the dead rest in peace, undisturbed and unable to cause more pain for his loved ones. He wants normalcy for his twelve-year-old daughter and young son, to see them move beyond the heartbreak. But when the Elliotts and Autumn are unexpectedly forced together, he fears she’ll bring more wreckage in her wake.

My thoughts

Confession: I’ve never read a book by Katie Ganshert before. Now, I am asking myself why? WHY NOT? Exaggerated forehead smack, Tate style. So I picked up Life After because it sounded really good and my Goodreads friends were giving it great reviews. And now I have learned my lesson and I will definitely be reading more of Katie Ganshert’s books. Life After is a beautiful, incredible book. Moving, sad, and uplifting. It digs deep, faces some really hard questions and packages it all up in a story that is incredibly enjoyable to read.

Autumn Manning was the sole survivor in a tragic attack that killed twenty-two others. Twenty-two lives that she obsesses and worries over each night. Twenty-two unfinished stories. When Reese Elliott, the daughter of one of those twenty-two people, reaches out to Autumn, their lives become entangled, forcing hidden truths into the light and maybe even starting a new future for Autumn and the Elliott family. Continue reading

Book Review: What Hope Remembers

What Hope Remembers – Johnnie Alexander – Misty Willow #3 – Revell – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

When Amy Somers loses her job as a lobbyist, she moves to Misty Willow, well aware that she’s crossing bridges she’d burned years before. With all the mistakes she’s made and the uncaring things she’s done–even to her own family–she can hardly believe that happiness will find her, especially when Gabe Kendall, her first crush and her first kiss, rides back into her life atop a buckskin mare.

A former Marine, Gabe is at loose ends after serving a prison sentence for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He sees beyond Amy’s hard exterior to the girl he once knew and loved, and he longs to see her open her heart. Yet with his vision clouded by shame for his past and fears about the future, he finds it difficult to see the path ahead.

But the memory of that long-ago kiss just may have the power to reignite a romance that brings out the best in both of them.

My thoughts

To say I was excited to read this book would be a massive understatement. I have loved both books in the Misty Willow series so far and the books just keep getting better, so I knew What Hope Remembers was going to be awesome. I was right – it is certainly a beautiful story. Amy and Gabe are characters who both have so many issues to overcome and their story of reconnection is founded in the sweet love of their adolescence.

Gabe has returned to his Aunt’s farm after many years away, first deployed overseas and then in prison. The farm is now rundown and vastly different from that of his childhood memories. But his aunt’s love remains the same and the community is far more welcoming than he ever dreamed. But the biggest surprise comes when he learns that Amy, his first love and the woman who has always held a place in his heart, has also returned to Misty Willow. Amy has decided to leave her old life behind. She is ashamed of who she has become and yet doesn’t know what to do to turn her life around. Rebuilding the relationships with her brother and cousin and their wives seems a good place to start. As Amy and Gabe reconnect they have many secrets and fears to face, while an outside threat attempts to keep them from rekindling their childhood romance.

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Book Review: Sweetbriar Cottage

Sweetbriar Cottage – Denise Hunter – Thomas Nelson – Published 13 June 2017

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Synopsis

When Noah and Josephine Mitchell discover their divorce was never actually finalized, their lives are turned upside down.

Following his divorce, Noah gave up his dream job, settling at a remote horse ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, putting much-needed distance between himself and the former love of his life. But then Noah gets a letter from the IRS claiming he and Josephine are still married. When he confronts Josephine for the first time in months, they discover that she missed the final step in filing the paperwork and they are, in fact, still married.

Josephine is no happier about the news than Noah. Maybe the failed marriage—and okay, the botched divorce—was her fault, but her heart was shattered right alongside his, more than he would ever believe. The sooner they put this marriage behind them, the better for both of their sakes.

But when Josephine delivers the final paperwork to his ranch, the two become stranded in his cottage during the worst spring snowstorm in a decade. Being trapped with Josephine is a test of Noah’s endurance. He wrestles with resentment and an unmistakable pull to his wife—still beautiful, still brave, and still more intriguing than any woman he’s ever known.

As they find themselves confronted with each other and their shared past, old wounds surface and tempers flare. But when they are forced out into the storm, they must rely on each other in a way they never have before. Josephine finally opens up about her tragic past, and Noah realizes she’s never been loved unconditionally by anyone—including him. Will Noah accept the challenge to pursue Josephine’s heart? And can she finally find the courage to trust Noah?

My thoughts

Sweetbriar Cottage is a delightful contemporary romance, one that tugs on your heart and encourages you to take a chance and rediscover the healing power of love.

When Noah Mitchell discovers that his divorce with Josephine was never finalised, to say he is shocked might be an understatement. After the marriage ended, he gave up his job and retreated into the mountain, away from town and reminders of what happened and what he lost. Now, though, he and Josephine must reconnect if they want the divorce to be filed. Josephine is just as shaken as Noah when she learns of the news and sets out to smooth the process as much as she can, after all she feels the end of the marriage was her fault. But a sudden and dangerous storm leaves her stranded at his ranch and when they are forced to confront the wild weather, they also discover that confronting their past just might lead to healing for them both.

Sweetbriar Cottage is a standalone novel. It is written from both Noah and Josephine’s perspective during present day, but includes a number of chapter flashbacks to both the beginning of Noah and Josephine’s courtship and Josephine’s past. And that’s when this novel really digs its heels in and gets serious about the topics of faith, mistakes, and forgiveness.

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Book Review: Once and For All

Once and for All – Sarah Dessen – Viking Books – Published 6 June 2017

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Synopsis

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

My thoughts

A summer of weddings, a girl with a damaged heart, an annoying guy, and a bet – what could go wrong? Once and For All is a delightful new novel with Sarah Dessen’s trademark mix of romance, summer, and starting over.

Louna works for her mother’s wedding planning business. Every week she witnesses the pinnacle of true love. Or at least that’s what it should be. But Louna herself knows how badly love can end, leaving her cynical and sure that romance doesn’t come around all that often. Then she meets Ambrose, a serial dater who enjoys the first few perfect moments of a relationship but never commits to more than a day or two. Ambrose drives Louna nuts with his eternally cheerful and haphazard ways. So she is shocked when her mother employs him to help with the summer weddings. But Louna finds herself enjoying spending time with Ambrose (sometimes, when he isn’t making her crazy) and, even stranger, finds herself making a bet with him – she will agree to start dating again and he will try to commit to a relationship that lasts for seven weeks.

This book was described as sugar and effervescent champagne. But I didn’t get that feeling at all. Yes, there are weddings, flirting, and summer days, but it was far more somber than I was expecting. And yet it perfectly fit the Sarah Dessen mould – sweet romance and a light story, tempered with sad tragedy or hard circumstances with which the character must wrestle. I found Louna’s story to be far sadder than I expected. When it says that her last relationship, her first taste of a true and epic love, ended badly, they mean badly. The reader slowly pieces together what happened and how it changed Louna. Meanwhile, we get to know Ambrose. At first, Louna can’t stand him. But as they work together they build a sweet friendship.

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New Book Releases May 2017

New Book Releases for May 2017

Books, books, glorious books. Here is my little list of new books due for release in May 2017. Click on covers for more information and reviews.

Adult Fiction

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories – Celeste Fletcher McHale – Thomas Nelson – Published 23 May 2017

Jacey Lang spent three terrifying days atop a roof during a terrible storm. She shared that experience with a young family and (possibly) the man of her dreams. But a traumatic accident during their rescue left Jacey with scattered memories and no way to reconnect with Colin. One year later Jacey accidentally finds Colin again – at the end of the isle at her best friend’s wedding, as the preacher. Uncertain what the future holds for them, Jacey must deal with her returning memories about the accident and the fate of the young family, while Colin comes to terms with his family’s past.

Adult fiction: Contemporary


Children’s Fiction

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine – HarperCollins – Published 2 May 2017

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Latki—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Latki-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

Children’s fiction: Fantasy.


Young Adult Fiction

Love and Vandalism – Laurie Boyle Cromption – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 May 2017

Rory creates her art in the dark depths of night, spray painting her lions onto vacant walls and overpasses. It helps her control her rage and rebel against her father. Art is the thing she has most in common with her artist mother. But Rory has a plan to escalate her art and paint a lion that is larger and far more visible than all her previous pieces. She knows she will need help to pull it off but the new guy in town is probably last on her list of limited choices. Never mind his city-boy looks and his determination to stay away from trouble (especially the illegal kind), it’s enough that he is threatening to reveal Rory’s identity as the lion graffiti artist if she doesn’t show him around town.

Young adult fiction: Contemporary

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Book Review: Girl Out of Water

Girl Out of Water – Laura Silverman – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves.

My thoughts

Girl Out Of Water is an easy YA contemporary novel about an unexpected summer, family commitments, new relationships, and hanging onto old friendships.

For Anise, surfing is everything, so her summer plans consist of surfing, spending time with her friends surfing, attending the Surf Break festival, and more surfing. So, when her dad informs her that they will be spending the entire summer in Nebraska caring for her cousins as her aunt recuperates from a serious car accident, she is more than a little upset. But the summer ends up being not so bad as she reconnects with her cousins, meets a new guy, learns to skateboard, and finally has a chance to learn a little more about her long-absent mother.

Anise loves the ocean, and you can see why with the way in which the author describes it. The freedom of the sea, the thrill of riding waves, and the connection that it brings to her friends. For Anise, everything pretty much revolves around surfing. Although I did find a few inconsistent details – you actually have to paddle to catch the wave rather than just wait for it to pick you up – the author captures the scenes of Anise’s life well.

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Book Review: 180 Seconds

180 Seconds – Jessica Park – Skyscape – Published 25 April 2017

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Synopsis

After a life spent bouncing from one foster home to the next, Allison is determined to keep others at arm’s length. Adopted at sixteen, she knows better than to believe in the permanence of anything. But as she begins her third year in college, she finds it increasingly difficult to disappear into the white noise pouring from her earbuds.

One unsuspecting afternoon, Allison is roped into a social experiment just off campus. Suddenly, she finds herself in front of a crowd, forced to interact with a complete stranger for 180 seconds. Neither she, nor Esben Baylor, the dreamy social media star seated opposite her, is prepared for the outcome.

When time is called, the intensity of the experience overwhelms Allison and Esben in a way that unnerves and electrifies them both. With a push from her oldest friend, Allison embarks on a journey to find out if what she and Esben shared is the real thing—and if she can finally trust in herself, in others, and in love.

My thoughts

Wow. Wow. God save the Queen. God save the Queen wow. Whatever that was I was not expecting that. That!!! That mess of human emotions that was so achingly, amazingly, indulgently perfect. I want to read it again. Indulge and fall in love and feel it all again. I melted and laughed and overheated and cried buckets. This review may not be coherent because of reasons. Many reasons.

Allison is starting her junior years of college. She is happy her roommate never shows and is content to spend her college experience as she always has – hiding in her room, studying and blocking out the world. Her sixteen years in foster care taught her to never expect anything, to protect herself and build the walls around her heart as high and thick as she can. It’s safer to keep everyone out, even her adoptive father. Everyone except her best friend Steffi. And then, Allison finds herself pulled into a social experiment, where she unwittingly spends 180 seconds with (unbeknownst to her) social media celebrity Ebsen Baylor. 180 torturous, amazing, emotional-roller-coaster seconds. Her reaction: run. Steffi encourages her to chase after what could be and to be brave, but Allison isn’t sure if it could ever be worth the risk.

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Book Review: Made You Up

Made You Up – Francesca Zappia – Greenwillow Books – Published 19 May 2015

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Synopsis

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

My thoughts

Made You Up has been on my to-read list for a while but I only picked it up after reading Fancesca Zappia’s new book Eliza and Her Monsters which is AMAZING!! So I had high expectations for Made You Up. And it certainly lived up to them in terms of writing style and story and characters, obviously it doesn’t have the extra story and accompanying webcomic panels, but it shares the refreshing honest and up-front way of talking about teenage mental health within a totally authentic setting.

Alex is starting at a new high school after an Incident at her last school involving spray paint, the gym floor and the possibility of communists. Alex is hoping that she will be able hide the fact that she has paranoid schizophrenia from her new classmates. But that might be hard when her new principal could be crazy, the school’s scoreboard is haunted and the boy from her childhood, whom she previously thought was a hallucination, might actually be real.

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Book Review: The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories – Celeste Fletcher McHale – Thomas Nelson – Published 23 May 2017

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Synopsis

Jacey and Colin shared the three most intense days of their lives together, waiting for help as Mississippi floodwaters surrounded them. Jacey knew Colin was the love of her life—until her rescue boat went under water, along with Colin’s last name and pieces of Jacey’s memory.

As Jacey walks down the aisle as the maid of honor in her friend’s wedding a year later, the last person she expects to see is Colin. The biggest surprise, though, is that the man of her dreams is not wearing jeans and flip-flops as he did when he held her through those long nights of the flood. He’s the preacher.

As Jacey’s memories come flooding back, it’s almost more than she can take. The fate of the young family trapped with them haunts her. The unwavering honesty—and support—of her best friend Georgia forces her to take a fresh look at herself. She’s spent her life afraid of love. But this flood is opening Jacey’s heart in the most unexpected ways.

My thoughts

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories is a lighthearted tale of friendship, misunderstandings, and missed chances.

Jacey Lang spent three terrifying days atop a roof during a terrible storm. She shared that experience with a young family and (possibly) the man of her dreams. But a traumatic accident during their rescue left Jacey with scattered memories and no way to reconnect with Colin. One year later Jacey accidentally finds Colin again – at the end of the isle at her best friend’s wedding, as the preacher. Uncertain what the future holds for them, Jacey must deal with her returning memories about the accident and the fate of the young family, while Colin comes to terms with his family’s past.

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