Book Review: Goodbye Days

goodbye-days

Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner – Andersen (Aus/UK) (Crown – USA) – Published 6 April 2017 (Aus) 7 March 2017 (USA)

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Synopsis

Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

My thoughts

Hilarious and heartbreaking, Goodbye Days is a winning combination. Perfection itself.

Goodbye Days is an incredibly poignant and relatable story. How many lives have been affected by the tragic deaths of teenagers – friends, classmates, sons or daughters? How many stories of death and grief are punctuation by questions of why, what if, if only? Guilt and sorrow mixing to form a potent poison. Goodbye Days captures all of that emotion and mixes it with a friendship so strong it can only be called a brotherhood. Mixes it with humour and levity and life so bright it dances in front of your eyes. I was crying one minute and laughing the next.

The day Carver Briggs sent a simple text message irrevocably changed everything. Now his three best friends are dead after a fatal car crash – a crash that may or may not have been caused by Carver’s text message. With a pending criminal investigation and guilt heavy enough to level him, Carver begins to form a new connection with Eli’s girlfriend as they both cope with their grief and he accepts Blake’s grandmother’s request to spend one final day celebrating Blake’s life.

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Book Review: Letters To The Lost

Letters To The Lost

Letters to the Lost – Brigid Kemmerer – Bloomsbury Children’s – Published 6 April 2017

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Synopsis

Juliet Young has always written letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope. 

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past. 

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither of them knows that they’re not actually strangers. When real life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart. This emotional, compulsively-readable romance will sweep everyone off their feet.

My thoughts

Heartbreaking and uplifting, Letters To The Lost is a glorious story of two teens finding each other in the midst of crisis and learning to look past the facades of those around them.

Juliet is supposed to be moving on after the death of her mother. That’s what everyone around her expects. But she can’t stop visiting her mother’s grave or leaving letters for her. Declan is serving his community service sentence mowing lawns at the local cemetery. When he finds a letter at the base of a grave he doesn’t expect the words to hit deep inside. Writing back is impetuous but it sparks a written relationship that might just be the thing to hold him together when the rest of his world threatens to explode.

I wasn’t expecting it, but this book turned into a bit of a “You’ve Got Mail” retelling, but with a whole lot more angst and heartbreak. There have been many, many novels who claim to be the next “You’ve Got Mail” and I don’t think one of them has ever pulled it off like this book does. Letters To The Lost doesn’t boast that similarity, but it takes the best bits of that iconic written relationship – two people writing to each other, one finding out before the other, two opposites attracting and repelling at the same time – and adds deeper layers. I loved it.

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Book Review: Then Came You

Then Came You – Becky Wade – Bradford Sisters Romance #0.5 – Published 7 March 2017

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Synopsis

A leather-bound journal. A single father. A woman in pursuit of freedom.

Garner Bradford, heir to the troubled Bradford Shipping empire, doesn’t know much about babies. But he’s going to have to learn fast because he’s just become a single father to his newborn daughter. As he confesses through his journal entries, he’s not entirely sure how to keep a newborn alive, whether or not he’ll ever patch together his shattered heart, or how to forgive himself for his mistakes.

Career girl Kathleen Burke is wholly uninterested in settling down. She has big dreams, and none of them include Garner and his small hometown in Washington State. Yet she can’t seem to get her handsome boss out of her head or her heart. There’s something extraordinarily tempting about his beautifully sad green eyes. . . .

Told through journal entries, phone conversations, and letters, Then Came You is a unique, heart-stirring romance novella by acclaimed author Becky Wade.

My thoughts

Then Came You is an utterly charming romance told through letter fragments, diary entries, and phone conversations.

Then Came You is the prequel novella to Becky Wade’s new series, Bradford Sisters Romance. At first I was a little confused about how this story fit with the books in the series. Then I realised that this story is set a few decades prior to the first book in the series and Garner, our main male character, is actually the father of the Bradford sisters, around whom the series is based.

The story starts off rather sadly, as Garner makes mistakes and faces much tragedy. We are also introduced to Kathleen, who takes a job at Garner’s family company rather than fulfill her dreams of moving to and working in New York.

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Book Review: The Last Thing You Said

the-last-thing-you-said

The Last Thing You Said – Sara Biren – Amulet Books – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

Last summer, Lucy’s and Ben’s lives changed in an instant. One moment, they were shyly flirting on a lake raft, finally about to admit their feelings to each other after years of yearning. In the next, Trixie—Lucy’s best friend and Ben’s sister—was gone, her heart giving out during a routine swim. And just like that, the idyllic world they knew turned upside down, and the would-be couple drifted apart, swallowed up by their grief. Now it’s a year later in their small lake town, and as the anniversary of Trixie’s death looms, Lucy and Ben’s undeniable connection pulls them back together. They can’t change what happened the day they lost Trixie, but the summer might finally bring them closer to healing—and to each other.

My thoughts

The Last Thing You Said is a heart-wrenching and yet uplifting tale of love, friendship, and the grief felt when all that love and friendship is lost or irreparably damaged. I truly enjoyed sinking into the world that is The Last Thing You Said. The summer days, the smell of sunscreen and ice cream, two best friends who create adventures from the simplest things, and a story of love that was never spoken and had to be hidden away. I warn you, you may need tissues while reading this book, both for sad tears and for happy tears.

Isn’t it strange how book summaries can make things seem simpler than they really are. For example, the summary for The Last Thing You Said goes something like this: ‘once there was a girl named Trixie. She had a brother named Ben and a best friend called Lulu. And together they had the most wonderful time, until Trixie horribly, tragically died. And Ben and Lulu were so desperately sad they didn’t know what to do and so broke away from each other. But this summer they are pulled back together.’ It makes it sounds like a happy summer spent reconnecting with a lost friend; Ben and Lulu reunite after a time apart and everything is ok between them. But the thing is that Ben and Lucy have never really been apart, at least not physically. They go to the same high school and live in the same town, even work at the same place. They just managed to avoid each other since Trixie died and what was beginning to grow between them, something that made them more than friends, more than friends of their sibling, died a horrible death along side their grief and guilt. And so this book, this summer, is about them continually facing each other and not knowing what to do or say, and them continuing to make it worse between them. They fight, they stay silent, they watch from afar. It is far, far more traumatic and heartbreaking than the synopsis makes it sound, and for that this book is far more beautiful and sad and ultimately, in the end, hopeful. Through this summer, Ben and Lucy learn more about themselves, what is worth fighting for, and that it is only themselves who can make the changes they want.

At the start of the book the reader is slowly fed pieces of information about Trixie’s death, the way things were before her death, and why things are the way they are now between Ben and Lucy. I loved the little stories interspersed in this book. Once upon a time there was a girl named Trixie… Lucy and Emily, Trixie’s young cousin, call them Trixies. The stories of their friendship right the way through from kindergarten to high school. It gives this book depth and substance to the backstory, especially Ben and Lucy’s grief. And as the book progresses these little stories are used in other ways to further Ben and Lucy’s story.

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Book Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects

The Hidden Memory of Objects

The Hidden Memory of Objects – Danielle Mages Amato – Balzer+Bray – Published 21 March 2017

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Synopsis

Megan Brown’s brother, Tyler, is dead, but the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide—something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell—at fifteen, she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, she now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings—and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.

Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia—objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners—Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother’s charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington, DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.

My thoughts

The Hidden Memory of Objects is a modern-day mystery with a grounding in American History, a touch of the paranormal and a bit of romance. But it is ultimately a story about a girl’s quest to uncover the truth about her brother, how he really died, and the events leading up to his death, and maybe even discover who she is outside of people’s, especially her brother’s, expectations of her.

Megan’s brother is dead. The police say he died of a drug overdose and Megan can’t reconcile the images she has of her fun-loving, positive brother with those from the story the police are weaving of a boy who saw no other option than to deliberately overdose in an abandoned building. Heartbroken and confused, Megan decides to do some investigating of her own, starting with the things Tyler left behind. But as Megan collects and then starts creating artwork from her brother’s things, she begins to have strange headaches and blackouts, triggering memories of her brother that she couldn’t possibly have.

Megan is an artist and it’s obvious in everything she says and the way in which she views the world, always noticing colours and patterns and endlessly collecting scraps of paper and small objects to add to her collages. It is her love of things that prompts her to turn to Tyler’s belonging to uncover what happened to him. But she is surprised to discover among his effects historical artefacts connected to Abraham Lincoln, a book on John Wilkes Booth and a roll of cash. Some seem to support the police’s theories while others suggest there is more to the story.

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Book Review: The Memory of You

The Memory of You

The Memory of You – Catherine West – Thomas Nelson – Published 28 March 2017

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Synopsis

Thirteen years ago, Natalie lost a part of herself when her twin sister died. Will traveling back to the family winery finally put the memory to rest, or will it completely destroy her?

When Natalie Mitchell learns her beloved grandfather has had a heart attack, she’s forced to return to their family-owned winery in Sonoma, something she never intended to do. She’s avoided her grandparents’ sprawling home and all its memories since the summer her sister died—the awful summer Natalie’s nightmares began. But the winery is failing, and Natalie’s father wants her to shut it down. As the majority shareholder, she has the power to do so. And Natalie never says no to her father.

Tanner Collins, the vintner on Maoilios, is trying to salvage a bad season and put the Mitchell family’s winery back in business. When Natalie Mitchell shows up, Tanner sees his future about to be crushed. Natalie intends to close the gates, unless he can convince her otherwise. But the Natalie he remembers from childhood is long gone, and he’s not so sure he likes the woman she’s become. Still, the haunted look she wears hints at secrets he wants to unearth. He soon discovers that on the night her sister died, the real Natalie died too. And Tanner must do whatever it takes to resurrect her.

My thoughts

The Memory of You is a delightful story. The setting truly comes alive and creates the perfect backdrop for this story of hidden secrets, guilt, and finding peace by facing the past.

Natalie is haunted by memories of her time at her grandparents’ vineyard. She hasn’t returned since that tragic night thirteen years ago and has tried to bury her memories and the truth of how her twin sister Nicole died. But her nightmares have returned and her symptoms are spiralling out of her control. So when her parents suggest she return to the vineyard she thinks it might be a good time to finally find peace. But the head vintner, Tanner Collins, Natalie’s childhood friend (and crush), suspects the real reason Natalie’s father has sent her to Maoilios – to shut them down – and he isn’t happy to see her.

I love a romance that starts off with the characters fighting. Sparks fly, tempers get lost. You can feel the passion, the chemistry, the possibility. I also liked that Tanner and Natalie had history. A tentative teenage friendship that got lost through the tumultuous fallout of Nicole’s death. As they confront each other about the past and challenge each other about the future, especially the future of the vineyard, they slowly (and with a few bumps along the way) rekindle their friendship and learn to trust each other.

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Book Review: Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First – Susin Nielsen – Penguin Random House – Published 2 March 2017

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Synopsis

Petula has avoided friendship and happiness ever since tragedy struck her family and took her beloved younger sister Maxine. Worse, Petula blames herself. If only she’d kept an eye on her sister, if only she’d sewn the button Maxine choked on better, if only… 

Now her anxiety is getting out of control, she is forced to attend the world’s most hopeless art therapy class. But one day, in walks the Bionic Man: a charming, amazingly tall newcomer called Jacob, who is also an amputee. Petula’s ready to freeze him out, just like she did with her former best friend, but when she’s paired with Jacob for a class project, there’s no denying they have brilliant ideas together – ideas like remaking Wuthering Heights with cats.
But Petula and Jacob each have desperately painful secrets in their pasts – and when the truth comes out, there’s no way Petula is ready for it.

My thoughts

Optimists Die First is a mildly depressing book. It has an honest and gritty tone, so realistic of the circumstances in which the characters find themselves. This in-your-face honesty is perfect for the theme of this book – trust, family, and somehow coping with the guilt of mistakes that shake your world. This book also involves an abundance of cats, cat videos, and crafting addictions – you have been warned.

Petula knows death is lurking around every corner. She is a pessimist and she knows her vigilance will keep her alive longer. She wasn’t always like this. She wishes she had been, because then her baby sister might still be alive. She carries the weight of this tragedy, trying to keep her family from fracturing further. She has been assigned to the school’s art therapy, where a miss-matched group of teens are meant to express their fears and troubles through juvenile art projects. But Jacob, a new addition to the group, shakes them up, gives them a boost of creativity, and might even bring them together.

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Book Review: The Continent

The Continent

The Continent – Keira Drake – The Continent #1 – Harlequin TEEN – Published 3 January 2017

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Synopsis

For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle—a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela—a smart and talented apprentice cartographer—it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.

But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.

My thoughts

The Continent is an interesting sort of fantasy novel – no magic, but set in a new and strange world that is half old-world traditions and some of today’s technology where peace and civility reigns and half a land torn apart by war, where the inhabitants fight the elements and each other to survive.

Vaela lives a safe and privileged live in the Spire, where there has been no wars for many years. She is a cartographer and thrilled when her parents gift her with a trip to the Continent, where the landscape is rugged and a bloody war is still fought between the natives. But Vaela’s exploration of the Continent ends in disaster and she is left alone to fight for survival, both against the icy and treacherous landscape and the natives. But as she makes a home there, Vaela learns to look anew at life on the Continent and hopes the war can somehow be ended before she once again loses everyone she holds dear.

It is the writing that makes this book, that sets it apart from other books. The writing truly creates the setting, with the old-worldly phrasing evoking images of the Edwardian era of long dresses, suits and hats, propriety and old fashioned traditions.

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Book Review: Can’t Help Falling

Can't Help Falling

Can’t Help Falling – Kara Isaac – Howard Books – Published 11 October 2016

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Synopsis

A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England.

Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter façade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England—home to C.S. Lewis—to try and make amends for the damage she has caused.

Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers—until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream.

When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart? Cobblestone streets, an aristocratic estate, and an antique shop with curious a wardrobe bring the world of Narnia to life in Kara Isaac’s inspiring and romantic story about second chances.

My thoughts

A truly magical story. From the cover and the title to the summary and the fact that I absolutely adored Close To You, I just knew that I was going to love Can’t Help Falling. And I was right, because this book is fantastic.

Emelia longs for a second chance. She has moved to England, left her old life behind and intends to make restitution for her past. But she doesn’t expect it to be so hard and when hiding in an antique wardrobe she happens to meet Peter Carlisle. As they continue to meet, they cannot deny their attraction, but the secrets of Emelia’s past may prevent a future between them.

This book might start with a teacup, an antique shop and a wardrobe, but there is so much more to this story. Can’t Help Falling has a magical quality, much like pushing through the coats at the back of the wardrobe and finding yourself in a magical wood. There are a number of Narnia quotes and references in this book, as to be expected, but even someone who has only seen the movies or has a faint idea of Narnia will understand and love this book. And, of course, the avid Narnia-obsessed reader will adore the way this story is steeped in all things Narnia. Then there is the romance. Beautiful, complicated, meant-to-be, irresistible, sparks-flying romance. It weaves through all the other details to bring together this story of family, second chances, friendship and the rough and tragic sides of life. 

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Book Review: For This Life Only

For This Life Only

For This Life Only – Stacey Kade – Simon and Schuster – Published 30 August 2016

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Synopsis

A young man struggles to move forward after the death of his twin brother in this gripping, coming-of-age tale about loss, redemption, love, and the moment you begin to see the world differently.

Three minutes.

Jacob Palmer died for three life-changing minutes.

And when he woke up, nothing was the same. Elijah, his twin brother, is dead, and his family is broken. Jace’s planned future is crushed, along with his pitching arm. Everyone keeps telling him that Eli’s in a better place, but Jace isn’t so sure. Because in those three minutes, there was nothing.

Overwhelmed by guilt and doubt, Jace struggles to adjust to this new version of the world, one without his brother, one without the certainties he once relied on. And then Thera comes into his life.

She’s the last girl he should be turning to for help.

But she’s also the first person to truly see him. 

My thoughts

I really enjoy Stacey Kade’s writing, so For This Life Only was a must read for me. It is just as heartbreaking as the summary makes it sound, as well as uplifting and purposeful. I loved the themes of this story – grief, soul searching, faith, families of the church, expectations and choosing to do the ‘right’ thing even when you’re not sure what that is.

In Jace’s family he is the destructive twin, while his brother Eli manages to effortlessly maintain the levels of perfection their dad craves. Jace wants to play baseball, while Eli will probably follow in their father’s footsteps and become a pastor, Jace is happy to go out partying and drinking with his teammates while Eli will be with his equally perfect girlfriend or at bible camp or writing his next debating speech. They are two halves of a whole. So Jace’s life is shattered when, in a car accident, Eli is killed and Jace is saved. It challenges his view of the afterlife, faith and his family as they too start to crumble around him. But the town’s outsider, the one girl he has been told his whole life not to go near, offers Jace some hope, a person to talk to about his darkest fears and reveals that even Eli was keeping secrets…  Continue reading