Book Review: Please Don’t Hug Me

Please Don’t Hug Me – Kay Kerr – Text Publishing – Published 28 April 2020

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Synopsis

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

My thoughts

This is the book that everyone is talking about right now. Honestly, I was on board with the pink cover and cinnamon doughnuts, but bonus points for #ownvoices, local Aussie author, diverse character voice representation and a realistic story about growing up, fitting in and learning that it is okay to be different.

Please Don’t Hug Me is written entirely in the form of letters from our main character Erin, to her brother Rudy. We readers don’t know where or why Rudy isn’t at home anymore, but Erin is working through a few things and has been tasked by her therapist to write letters. Through these letters, which include enough dialogue and reflection on events to feel like you are in the middle of each situation, we readers learn about Erin’s friendships, her work, getting through the last year of school, looking forward to things like schoolies, but also feeling out of the loop as she is unable to read social cues or properly fit in with her best-friend’s group of school fiends. A new job, a new friend and working through her feelings about her brother and family, might just be the things she needs to make it through the year.

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Book Review: Set The Stars Alight

Set the Stars Alight – Amanda Dykes – Bethany House Publishers  -Published 30 June 2020

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Synopsis

Lucy Clairmont’s family treasured the magic of the past, and her childhood fascination with stories of the high seas led her to become a marine archaeologist. But when tragedy strikes, it’s Dashel, an American forensic astronomer, and his knowledge of the stars that may help her unearth the truth behind the puzzle she’s discovered in her family home.

Two hundred years earlier, the seeds of love are sown between a boy and a girl who spend their days playing in a secret sea cave, while the privileged young son of the estate looks on, wishing to join. As the children grow and war leads to unthinkable heartbreak, a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption unfolds, held secret by the passage of time.

As Lucy and Dash journey to a mysterious old estate on the East Sussex coast, their search leads them to a community of souls and a long-hidden tale that may hold the answers–and the healing–they so desperately seek.

My thoughts

I am amazed at how Amanda Dykes has crafted the stories in Set The Stars Alight, how she has woven together two stories or overcoming great grief and challenges, incorporated a thrilling mystery that seems hard to believe isn’t real and all this done with a lyrical prose that sweeps the reader away.

Lucy grew up knowing the love of her parents and the stories they told her and her childhood friend, Dash. Now she has lost both parents and Dash has moved away to study the stars, but her career path – marine archaeologist – was formed through the mysteries and stories her parents shared with her. When her application for a grant to uncover the story of a ship that disappeared over 200 years ago is threatened, Dash remarkably returns to Lucy’s life and offers to join with her in her search. 200 years earlier, three lives were interwoven – a shepherd’s daughter, the young man she loved and the young boy of the estate. Their journey is forged through grief, wars, betrayal, great sacrifice and song and now 200 years later, Lucy and Dash are determined to unravel the clues of their story.

I confess I didn’t read this book at the best of times. I started it during the last week of the school term and tried to read it even though my brain was running on fumes and all I wanted to do was sleep. I don’t feel as I gave this book the attention it deserved and I would recommend to other readers that you save this for when you have a few spare afternoons, time and brain power to devote to the very clever story and wonderfully detailed writing style. Nevertheless, I was swept away by this remarkable book. It really is a little magical, a story of great sacrifice, puzzles, adventure, seafaring and romance.

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Book Review: It Came From the Sky

It Came From the Sky – Chelsea Sedoti – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 August 2020

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Synopsis

This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.

Only…there were no aliens.

Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town―it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon’s obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?

My thoughts

Well that was a whole heap of fun. Great plot – tick. Interesting premise – tick. Unique (diverse representation) character voice – tick. Writing style that mixes character narration with document files and interviews with other characters – tick. Laugh out loud funny and with a touch of lgbt romance – tick tick. Seriously It Came From The Sky has it all and is an enjoyable, make-you-smile kind of story.

When a science experiment causes a larger than expected explosion and creates a massive crater on their family farm, Gideon and his brother Ishmael decide to create the most epic prank/sociology research experiment by trying to convince their town that the crater was caused by aliens. Neither of them expect how big the hoax gets, drawing attention nationally and having far reaching consequences.

I loved so much about this book. It’s easy to read – the narrative is all written from Gideon’s perspective broken up by files, text conversations, interview transcripts and other asides. The book is meant to represent Gideon’s research case notes, but it makes for some funny insights.

While the plot is fun and there is never a dull moment as the hoax gets wilder and more complex, my favourite thing about It Came From the Sky is the characters.

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Book Review: This Vicious Cure

This Vicious Cure – Emily Suvada – This Mortal Coil #3 – Simon Pulse – Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Cat’s hacking skills weren’t enough to keep her from losing everything—her identity, her past, and now her freedom. She’s trapped and alone, but she’s survived this long, and she’s not giving up without a fight.

Though the outbreak has been contained, a new threat has emerged—one that’s taken the world to the brink of a devastating war. With genetic technology that promises not just a cure for the plague, but a way to prevent death itself, both sides will stop at nothing to seize control of humanity’s future.

Facing her smartest, most devastating enemy yet, Cat must race against the clock to protect her friends and save the lives of millions on the planet’s surface. No matter the outcome, humanity will never be the same.

And this time, Cat can’t afford to let anything, or anyone, stand in her way.

My thoughts

This Vicious Cure is the eagerly awaited third and final book in the This Mortal Coil series. I was a little delaying in picking up this third book after it’s publication (or one of the other librarians gave it to a student before I could read it!) so it was during the height of the first wave of COVID-19 that I was reading this conclusion to a series about a serious virus that kills and dramatically alters society. It’s surprising how many books there are bout deadly plagues and virus, but I think the This Moral Coil series is one of my absolute favs and is always one I love recommending to students.

This Vicious Cure follows on from the conclusion of the second book. The characters (and readers) have been through so much since the first book. Honestly, a happy ending seems a little unlikely. The action starts up again almost instantly. Please be aware this review may contain spoilers for the first and second book. You should read the series in series order. This Mortal Coil is perfect for fans of science fiction, dystopian novels, action, a touch of romance, strong female lead characters, coding, technology and the absolute terror of humans and society.

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Book Review: Keep My Heart in San Francisco

Keep My Heart in San Francisco – Amelia Diane Coombs – Simon Pulse – Published 14 July 2020

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Synopsis

Caroline “Chuck” Wilson has big plans for spring break—hit up estate sales to score vintage fashion finds and tour the fashion school she dreams of attending. But her dad wrecks those plans when he asks her to spend vacation working the counter at Bigmouth’s Bowl, her family’s failing bowling alley. Making things astronomically worse, Chuck finds out her dad is way behind on back rent—meaning they might be losing Bigmouth’s, the only thing keeping Chuck’s family in San Francisco.

And the one person other than Chuck who wants to do anything about it? Beckett Porter, her annoyingly attractive ex-best friend.

So when Beckett propositions Chuck with a plan to make serious cash infiltrating the Bay Area action bowling scene, she accepts. But she can’t shake the nagging feeling that she’s acting irrational—too much like her mother for comfort. Plus, despite her best efforts to keep things strictly business, Beckett’s charm is winning her back over…in ways that go beyond friendship.

If Chuck fails, Bigmouth’s Bowl and their San Francisco legacy are gone forever. But if she succeeds, she might just get everything she ever wanted.

My thoughts

Keep My Heart in San Francisco is a cute YA romance with a darker side of serious topics, including losing a parent to suicide, and important portrayal of mental health and depression.

Chuck (aka Caroline, but don’t call her that) Wilson loves living in San Francisco, so she is shocked to overhear that her father is in danger of losing the family bowling alley. What’s worse is that her ex-best friend Beckett Porter also overhears the eviction threat. Beckett suggests that they team up and start hustling and gambling at bowling to raise cash fast. Chuck isn’t sure, but she’d do anything to stay, even if it means working with Beckett.

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Book Review: An Appalachian Summer

An Appalachian Summer – Ann H. Gabhart – Revell – Published 30 June 2020

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Synopsis

In 1933, most people are focused on the Great Depression but all Piper Danson can think about is how to get out of being a debutante and marrying Braxton Crandall. In an act of defiance, Piper volunteers as a frontier nursing courier in the Appalachian Mountains where adventure awaits.

My thoughts

An Appalachian Summer is an atmospheric novel about the frontier nurses of the Appalachian Mountains, women couriers, and life and love in the in 1930s. With romance aplenty, adventure and lighthearted moments, An Appalachian Summer is a light and easy book to enjoy.

Piper is grateful her family has weathered the crash of the economy so well, even if it means she must go ahead with her Debut Ball. Being pressured by her father to accept an engagement to Braxton Crandall and heartbroken over the silence she is receiving from her best friend and keeper of her heart Jamie Russel, Piper seizes upon the opportunity to join the frontier nursing courier service in the Appalachian Mountains. From the journey there, to the surprises in store for her, it is all a great adventure. She just wants to forget men and romance for a summer, which is fine until a mystery man from her aunt’s past re-emerges, Jamie follows her all the way to the mountains and she must decide where her heart and future will lay.

Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, this is a novel that mixes the past with more modern ideas of women’s liberation and a changing society. I sometimes forgot the time setting and had to do a double take at some of the more casual language and use of jeans and such.

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Book Review: How Sweet It Is

How Sweet It Is – Robin Lee Hatcher – Legacy of Faith #3 – Thomas Nelson – Published 14 July 2020

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Synopsis

Holly Stanford is doing the best she can with the restaurant she inherited from her late uncle. But after her fiancé abandons her and the business, Holly regrets having given up her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Now a few bad financial decisions might cost her everything, including her hope for the future.

Jed Henning has done well with his new company despite his prodigal brother’s behavior. When Jed‘s father , the controlling member of the board of directors, temporarily suspends operations until his sons work out their differences, Jed resentfully chases his brother, Chris, to Boise. There Jed rents a basement apartment from Holly and hopes to convince Chris to get his act together before their company collapses.

Unaware that Holly is the one person who can help him get through to Chris, Jed starts the tough work of reconciliation armed with little more than a few family photographs, a stack of old letters, and a Bible that belonged to his great-grandfather, Andrew Henning. And as romance blossoms between Holly and Jed, the story of Jed’s great-grandfather highlights the power of God across the generations and the legacy of a family’s courageous faith.

My thoughts

How Sweet It Is is the very sweet third book in the Legacy of Faith series. Like its predecessors, it combines the present day story of two people meeting and falling in love with the continuation of the story of the Henning family, set in the late 1960s. It is faith filled and an endearing tale of family, belonging and love.

Holly just wants to bake. Instead she has been left with a restaurant to run and crippling debt, thanks to a fiancé who left her just before their wedding. Jed is a successful businessman but is father has given him an ultimatum: make it right with his brother or sell the business. Jed travels to Idaho to try to reconnect with his brother and his family’s past and finds himself renting the same basement apartment his great grandfather, Andrew Henning, once lived in. For Holly, it’s a blessing to be able to finally rent the apartment and gain some much needed income. But she is drawn to Jed and isn’t sure she should trust herself to be in a relationship again.

There is no doubt that this is Christian Fiction. The faith, prayer, scripture, church, community and belief is evident in every chapter. Some Christian fiction doesn’t reference faith aside from a few prayers or themes, but not so in this book. Both the present day characters and the characters from the past rely heavily on God and reflect and want to grow in their faith.

Andrew Henning’s story, set in 1969, is a wonderful reflection of the modern day love story. I love how Hatcher has woven the threads of the two generations together, as she has done in the previous two novels in this series. Readers of the first two books will no doubt enjoy the continuation of Andrew Henning’s story, but new comers to the series should be able to follow along without too much confusion.

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Book Review: Accidental

Accidental – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 7 July 2020

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Synopsis

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

My thoughts

What would happen if you discovered you were the reason your mother was dead? That’s exactly what Johanna learns in Accidental. It’s a heartbreaking novel about family, death, grief, uncontrollable emotions, huge letdowns, and broken relationships, yet it is also about learning to breath again, hanging onto those friendships, mending relationships and letting go of others, about making a difference, fall in love and even making out.

Jo has always missed her mother, but respected the boundaries her grandparents have put in place – no talking about her, no photos, no memories. They put their life on hold to raise a granddaughter. But when Jo’s father suddenly appears in her life and tells her that she accidentally shot her own mother, Jo’s life is upended. Not sure what to do, not sure what to believe, Jo relies on her friendship and growing relationship with new student, Milo, to navigated the complex emotions she is feeling.

Gut punch comes to mind from the emotions in this book that feel so big and real. The roller coaster Jo rides from before she knew to the absolute devastation she feels after discovering the truth of her mother’s death is compelling. It’s messy and complicated. There are also so happy times. I loved the friendship she has with Leah and Gabby. Those two friends are there for her and even when they hit hard times, they stick together. Jo, despite everything she’s going through is a decent friend. All three girls must learn how to cope and support each other.

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Book Review: The January Stars

The January Stars – Kate Constable – Allen & Unwin – Published 31 March 2020

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Synopsis

When twelve-year old Clancy and her fourteen-year-old sister, Tash, visit their Pa at his aged-care facility, they have no idea that the three of them will soon set out on an intrepid adventure.

Along the way there are many challenges for Tash and Clancy to overcome and in the process, they discover their own resourcefulness and resilience and demonstrate their heartfelt love for their grandfather.

My thoughts

A delightful Australian middle-grade fiction, The January Stars combines a heist (sort of) with a magical (maybe?) journey across Melbourne, that results in a extraordinary story about family, listening and the stars.

When 12-year-old Clancy’s parents leave on an emergency family trip to New Zealand, she and her older sister Tash convince their parents they will be fine to stay with their aunt. But when their aunt also leaves on a trip, the girls find themselves alone. They decide to visit their grandfather in his aged-care facility and thanks to a slight incident with a cat, an open door, runaway residents and an angry nurse, the girls find themselves on the run with their Pa. The girls must pool their resources and shelve their constant fighting if they are going to outrun the growing amount of adults that seem to be chasing them, including an irate real estate agent and the police.

I was totally hooked by the idea of a story in which two young girls steal their grandfather from a nursing home. It was utterly delightful from start to finish. Clancy and Tash manage to accidentally break their Pa out and he couldn’t be happier. After suffering a stroke, Godfrey can’t speak much and relies on a wheelchair to get around but he is plenty able to communicate his happiness to run away with the girls. They start by visiting their old family home and venture from there as various adults challenge them.

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Book Review: At Love’s Command

At Love’s Command – Karen Witemeyer – Hanger’s Horsemen #1 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 2 June 2020

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Synopsis

Ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leads a band of mercenaries who defend the innocent, but when a rustler’s bullet leaves one of them at death’s door, they seek out help from Dr. Josephine Burkett. When Josephine’s brother is abducted and she is caught in the crossfire, Matthew may have to sacrifice everything–even his team–to save her.

My thoughts

Every time I read a Karen Witemeyer book I am surprised all over again at how much I love her writing style, characters and the romance that just leaps off the page. Either I’ve got a bad memory or every book she writes just gets better and better.

I was a little worried by the first chapter. Would the heroes of the book be made heroic at the expense of Native Americans and a white-washed history? I need not have worried. Horrified by the events and massacre he and his men are commanded to be involved in, Matthew Hanger and his three men leave the cavalry and create Hanger’s Horsemen. They are hired guns, working to arrest criminals and help those needing protection from gangs and bad guys. During one such job, one of Matt’s men is injured and he races to find the nearest doctor. He is surprised to find Dr Jo is actually Dr Josephine Burkett. Josephine is a good doctor and striving to prove that women make excellent health practitioners. When Jo’s brother is taken captive and held for ransom, she turns to Matt and his men for help.

As always, the love story Karen Witemeyer has penned comes to life off the page. It’s romantic, and the chemistry between Josephine and Matt is off the charts. But there is also a shared understanding between them. Even though there isn’t a lot of time for them to connect between pulling bullets out of shoulders and riding after the gang who hold her brother hostage, Josephine and Matt do get some time to share their past hurts, something the other can relate to, and a shared respect for each other. There is also lots of time for kisses, which I am pleased to report.

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