Book Review: The Girl in the White Van

The Girl In the White Van – April Henry – Henry Holt and Company – Published 28 July 2020

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Synopsis

When Savannah disappears soon after arguing with her mom’s boyfriend, everyone assumes she’s run away. The truth is much worse. She’s been kidnapped by a man in a white van who locks her in an old trailer home, far from prying eyes. And worse yet, Savannah’s not alone: Ten months earlier, Jenny met the same fate and nearly died trying to escape. Now as the two girls wonder if he will hold them captive forever or kill them, they must join forces to break out—even if it means they die trying.

My thoughts

Girl in the White Van is exactly the kind of book I am always on the lookout for to add to our mystery/thriller YA collection. It is an engaging, quick read, with strong characters. Girl in the White Van is a thrilling book. Scary but hopefully, dark and gritty but full of empowerment and a sense of justice.

Savannah is just waiting until she turns 18 and she can escape her mother’s toxic pattern of moving in with random guys. While she doesn’t love living with her mother’s latest boyfriend, she is enjoying living in Portland. She loves her Kung fu class and is just getting to know one of her classmates, Daniel. But on the way home from class, Savannah is grabbed by a man in a white van. Drugged, hurt and confused, Savannah wakes in an old trailer home. But she isn’t alone. Jenny was taken nine months ago.

While the majority of the chapters are written from Savannah’s perspective, there are also chapters from Jenny, Daniel, Jenny and Savannah’s parents’ perspective and a variety of other side characters, including the suspects. The reader is given an insight into the person responsible, but the mystery of who they are remains and builds the tension.

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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: The Archer At Dawn

The Archer At Dawn – Swati Teerdhala – The Tiger At Midnight Trilogy #2 – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 26 May 2020

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Synopsis

The Sun Mela is many things: a call for peace, a cause for celebration, and, above all, a deadly competition. For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebel spies, it provides the perfect guise to infiltrate King Vardaan’s vicious court.

Kunal will return to his role as dedicated Senap soldier, at the Sun Mela to provide extra security for the palace during the peace summit for the divided nations of Jansa and Dharka. Meanwhile, Esha will use her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to keep a pulse on shifting political parties and seek out allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the stolen throne.

But amid the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel Blades’ entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their country and to each other. Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives.

My thoughts

The Archer at Dawn is the second book in the Tiger At Midnight trilogy. It’s packed full of intrigue, planning, action and court politics. There are secret kisses, secret alliances and big secrets revealed. It’s also slightly torturous  as it seems the closer Esha, Kunal and the Blades move toward their goal the more obstacles there are in their paths and the further they are from achieving anything.

As I was drawing near the conclusion of the book I wasn’t sure I was going to be up for reading the third book. So much of this book’s plotting and scheming seemed about to come to nothing. But, at the last minute, one final reveal that comes out of nowhere had me hooked again and wanting to know what comes next. There’s a lot happening in in this book but I was a little disengaged as it seems like the characters aren’t going to achieve anything.

I like the characters. Esha and Kunal are exploring a new romantic relationship, while also testing the boundaries of their alliance and trust, introducing Kunal to the Blades and relying on him and his new found powers to help them complete the next part of the plan for reclaiming their country.

There is also a slight love triangle and Esha is torn between her new feelings for Kunal and the old, unrequited feelings for Harun. Esha is also torn between her desire for revenge on the people who killed her parents and the safety of the Blades’ mission. It means she makes some silly choices, but you can’t deny the depth of her hurt and yearning for recompense.

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Book Review: Nowhere on Earth

Nowhere on Earth – Nick Lake – Knopf Books for Young Readers – Published 26 May 2020

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Synopsis

16-year-old Emily is on the run. Between her parents and the trouble she’s recently gotten into at school, she has more than enough reason to get away. But when she finds a little boy named Aidan wandering in the woods, she knows she needs to help him find his way home. But getting home is no easy matter, especially with Emily finds out that Aidan isn’t even from Earth. When their plane crashes into the side of a snowy mountain, it’s up to Emily to ensure Aidan and their pilot, Bob, make it off the mountain alive. Pursued by government forces who want to capture Aidan, the unlikely team of three trek across the freezing landscape, learning more about each other, and about life, than they ever thought possible.

My thoughts

Nowhere on Earth is one part sci-fi, one part adventure story. I really enjoyed this story of survival – both against the elements and against the bad guys. Rugged terrain and the beauty of an icy Alaska backdrop brings a sense of harshness and danger to the story, while the mystery of Emily’s past and who and what exactly Aidan is, draws the reader in.

Emily is on a mission to save her brother. They have snuck aboard a plane heading from nowhere Alaska to Anchorage. Emily has been wanting to escape since her parents dragged her to Alaska and away from her friends and ballet, wanting also to escape the trouble she is in at school. But when the plane crashes, she, Aidan and the pilot must depend on each other to survive. Emily will do anything to protect Aidan, even if it means fighting off the men who come after them. Because Aidan isn’t from Earth and they want to prevent him from being able to go home.

It’s funny, the fact that there are aliens, spaceships and ‘people’ from another planet is almost a side story in this book, one that isn’t overly explored. Details of how or why or what aren’t explored. If you want to know everything about the aliens, where they come from, what they want, how their technology works or where they live, you won’t find it in this book. Emily readily accepts that Aidan is from another planet, though his spaceship is kind of hard to dispute.

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Book Review: Stay With Me

Stay With Me – Becky Wade – A Misty River Romance #1 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 5 May 2020

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Synopsis

When acclaimed Bible study author Genevieve Woodward receives an anonymous letter referencing her parents’ past, she returns to her hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains to chase down her family’s secret. However, it’s Genevieve’s own secret that catches up to her when Sam Turner, owner of a historic farm, uncovers the source of shame she’s worked so hard to hide.

Sam has embraced his sorrow, his isolation, and his identity as an outsider. He’s spent years carving out both career success and peace of mind. The last thing he wants is to rent the cottage on his property to a woman whose struggles stir his worst failure back to life. Yet can he bear to turn her away right when she needs him most?

My thoughts

Stay With Me is the first book in a new series by Becky Wade. As always, Becky Wade captures flawed characters in relatable situations and combines that with powerful messages of family, love and faith.

Genevieve is a popular and very successful bible study writer and speaker. But after an accident last year and a stressful schedule and deadlines, she found herself turning to prescription pain medication. When, after setting off for her parents’ house, she wakes to find herself in an empty guest cottage being regarded by the owner with some concern, she decides she finally has to kick her habit and get clean. She asks Sam, owner of the cottage, if she can rent the cottage from him as a place to hide while going through withdrawal and recovery. Sam has his own reasons for wanting to stay far away from the confusing woman he found asleep in his guest house, but he also feels a strong responsibility to help her.

I loved that this book considers a very serious topic of drug addiction. As Genevieve struggles to both admit she has a problem and faces the battle of overcoming her addiction, the very real possibility of how easy it is to fall into a prescription drug problem and the very serious fallouts are considered. But, more than that, the motivations behind Gen’s addiction are also regarded, both with understanding and grace. As a bible study presenter, Gen feels conflict over her addiction, her role as a speaker and her desire to keep everything under wraps.

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Book Review: The Joy of Falling

The Joy of Falling – Lindsay Harrel – Thomas Nelson -Published 14 April 2020

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Synopsis

It has been fifteen months since Eva and Angela lost their thrill-seeking husbands in a scuba diving accident. Both women are trying to navigate their way through the grief, but neither one is making much progress. Angela is barely making ends meet, angry at her husband for leaving her to raise three children on her own. Meanwhile, Eva is stuck, unable to move forward after losing the love of her life and her source of inspiration.

But then Eva gets a life-changing phone call. Before Brent and Wes died, they had signed up for a race of a lifetime—an ultra-marathon in beautiful New Zealand. Eva begs Angela to run the race with her in their husbands’ place, and Angela finally agrees, hoping to finally understand her husband’s choices.

Training is exhausting, and the race is even more demanding. Their journey grows more complicated by the presence of two men—Marc is Brent’s best friend who is running the race with Eva and Angela, and Simon King is a writer who is covering their inspiring story. With every step, Eva and Angela must ask themselves questions that they haven’t had the courage to ask before. As the women literally put one foot in front of the other, they wonder: Is it possible to find their way forward in hope?

My thoughts

In the Joy of Falling, Lindsay Harrel has penned a beautiful story about the many faces of grief and about the journey of continuing to move forward and find joy again in life and relationships. This is equally a story about family as it is about individual growth. It is also a romance story, with two romances. At all times, it remains heartwarming and considerate.

Eva and Angela don’t have much in comment except that they both lost their husbands, brothers, in a scuba diving accident. Now, fifteen months on, Eva still has no creative drive or any desire to return to her work as a florist. She spends her time volunteering at the Heart Center and trying to honour her husband’s memory. Angela has three children and two jobs, so she has no time to mourn the husband she lost, nor much energy to confront the feelings of anger and abandonment she feels about his death. When Eva receives a phone call about an ultra-marathon the two brothers were going to complete with their best-friend, Eva convinces Angela to complete the marathon with her.

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of New Zealand and paced with the training Eva and Angela must complete, this is an easy book to fall into and enjoy. For all its beauty, it’s not hard to pick up on the grief, anger and range of emotions the characters are dealing with as they face the loss of husband, son, father and best-friend. Alongside Eva and Angela are their mother-in-law, Angela’s children and Marc, the brothers’ best friend who joins Eva and Angela in entering the marathon. Each form an important piece of the story. Each are feeling different emotions as they process (or ignore) their grief. This book is honest and doesn’t shy away from the very real emotions the characters are facing. Nor does it prevent this being a happy and heartwarming story.

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Book Review: This is My Brain In Love

This is My Brain in Love – I.W. Gregorio – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 14 April 2020

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Synopsis

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

My thoughts

This is My Brain in Love celebrates family and is a wonderful representation of mental health in YA. From everything from a positive experience of therapy to overcoming the stigma of a diagnosis, cultural and family expectations and denial, this is a positive and inclusive portrayal of anxiety and depression. It’s also a wonderful mix of cultures and the wonderful food that comes with those cultures. If you enjoyed The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, this is the perfect book for you.

Jocelyn Wu is surprised to learn her family’s restaurant is facing closure. Sure, it’s old and kind of rumpled around the edges, but it’s home. To prevent having to move away from her best friend, she sets out to improve the restaurant, including adding social media pages, new features and employing someone to help out and build them a website. Enter Will Domenici. They click and working together is fun, but both Will and Jocelyn are hiding secrets and saving the family restaurant might not be enough to save their budding romance.

Whoa. That prologue kind of threw me, giving this book a sort-of trigger warning for suicide. And while the narrator tries to reassure the reader, it kind of did the opposite. It certainly had me intrigued and ready to jump straight into the book to find out more.

And, actually, things never get as serious as hinted at at the start and a few times foreshadowed in the book. It’s a light book, despite the overtones of mental health and depression, financial difficulties and the possible failure of a family business.

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Book Review: What I Like About You

What I Like About You – Marisa Kanter – Simon and Schuster – Published 7 April 2020

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Synopsis

There are a million things that Halle Levitt likes about her online best friend, Nash.

He’s an incredibly talented graphic novelist. He loves books almost as much as she does. And she never has to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him in real life. They can talk about anything…

Except who she really is.

Because online, Halle isn’t Halle—she’s Kels, the enigmatically cool creator of One True Pastry, a YA book blog that pairs epic custom cupcakes with covers and reviews. Kels has everything Halle doesn’t: friends, a growing platform, tons of confidence, and Nash.

That is, until Halle arrives to spend senior year in Gramps’s small town and finds herself face-to-face with real, human, not-behind-a-screen Nash. Nash, who is somehow everywhere she goes—in her classes, at the bakery, even at synagogue.

Nash who has no idea she’s actually Kels.

If Halle tells him who she is, it will ruin the non-awkward magic of their digital friendship. Not telling him though, means it can never be anything more. Because while she starts to fall for Nash as Halle…he’s in love with Kels.

My thoughts

What I Like About You is about blogging, a love triangle with only two people, online relationships and friendships, books, cupcakes and more books. It’s also about family, growing up and learning to be a better friend. This reads like a great teen novel. The characters have realistic teen voices, from their integrated use of social media and text speech, to facing the problems of finishing high school. It’s a fun, lighthearted book.

Halle Levitt is better known to her many online followers as Kels, book reviewer, blogger and cupcake baker. When she and her brother move in with their grandfather while their parents go overseas for work, she doesn’t expect to come face-to-face with her online (and overall, let’s be honest) best friend, Nash. Shocked, she doesn’t tell him who she is, just introduces herself as Halle. As she gets to know Nash in real life, becomes friends with his friends and maybe even fall in love with him, it becomes harder for Halle to know how she is going to reveal that she and Kels are the same person.

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Book Review: Silent Shadows

Silent Shadows – Natalie Walters – Harbored Secrets #3 – Revell – Published 31 March 2020

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Synopsis

Pecca Gallegos moved to the tiny town of Walton, Georgia, to protect her son and escape the dangerous lifestyle that once defined her. When a series of strange circumstances evolve into threats, Pecca finds herself confiding in an unlikely ally–her stubborn patient.

Army veteran Colton Crawford is desperate to recover from the undiagnosed disorder that is ruining his life, and his instincts are on high alert when threats against his nurse and her son force him to take action. But Colton’s involvement only ramps up the danger when he uncovers a family secret revealing that whoever is after Pecca is closer–and more deadly–than they realized.

My thoughts

Silent Shadows is the third book in the Harbored Secrets series. While the books do have a few character crossovers, each of the three books can be read as complete stories in and of themselves. Silent Shadows is a thrilling tale about mistakes, gangs, wounded military heroes, and, of course, delicious romance.

Pecca would do anything to protect her son. Maceo has already faced so many challenges in his life, so she is determined to protect him from the gang violence of his father’s world. Pecca thought she was pretty safe in the small town of Walton, working as a nurse in the Home for Heroes, but when a serious of threats continue to target her and Maceo, she will need to rely on her newest patient, Colton, an Army Captain suffering from a muscle disorder, to keep them safe. But their physically safety might come at the risk of Pecca’s heart and dreams of the future.

There are some wonderful elements to this book. I particularly enjoyed young Maceo who dreams of being like the other kids and being able to play football, despite his prosthetic leg. He idolises Colton, who does such a wonderful job of encouraging Maceo and helping him to see himself for his full worth and not the bits he lacks. This book has a wonderful family vibe, from little kids football games, and after school play dates and all the troubles of kids in school.

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Book Review: The Midnight Lie

The Midnight Lie – Marie Rutkoski – The Midnight Lie #1 – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

My thoughts

As a fan of Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse series, I was really looking forward to The Midnight Lie, which is based in the same world as the Winner’s series. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Intrigue and romance (LGBT) drive the plot and the world feels a little like being in a Hunger Games novel – the High Kith world is very reminiscent of the Capitol, while behind the Wall is a little like District 11. The Midnight Lie is a compelling book and will leave readers desperate to get their hands on the next book in the series.

Nirrim lives in a world controlled by what she can’t have or do. She can’t go beyond the wall. She can’t eat sweets or wear colours. She and her fellow Half-Kith only work to produce the goods and food that those above them, the Middlings and the High Kith, can eat, wear or sell. But when an accident leaves her in prison she encounters a traveller from far away who challenges Nirrim to see beyond the restrictions that control her life and seek the magic that is rumoured to originate in her land.

Dystopian, fantasy – The Midnight Lie feels like a little of both. There is magic and a unique world, but the themes of control, segregation, restriction of knowledge and history, and the separate class structures will appeal to fans of dystopian novels.

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