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: 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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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: Someone Else’s Summer

Someone Else’s Summer – Rachel Bateman – Running Press Kids – Published 9 May 2017

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Synopsis

Anna’s always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm’s summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever—which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm’s list along with her sisters best friend Cameron—the boy next door—who knew that Storm’s dream summer would eventually lead to Anna’s own self-discovery?

My thoughts

Can you fall in love with a book because of its dedication? Because that’s when I first knew I was going to enjoy Someone Else’s Summer. I cautioned myself to actually start reading the book before judging it, but, it turns out, I was right. I enjoyed this book of road trips and love finally realised, summer lists, larger-than-life big sisters, shared memories, shared grief, and unanswered questions. Someone Else’s Summer was refreshing and fun.

Anna’s sister was tragically killed in a car accident just after her high school graduation. Anna and her family are devastated. So when Anna finds one last summer list that her sister left behind, she knows she must complete it. She recruits her sister’s best-friend, boy-next-door, Cameron, and together they set off for a summer of skinny dipping, tattoos, Polaroid photos, and kisses.

I have to say I loved the romance in this story. Anna and Cameron know each other. They have too many shared childhood memories not to. But they drifted apart over the past few years, just like Anna drifted from being her sister’s little shadow. They reconnect through their shared grief and their time on the road trip. Their relationship starts with a familiarity and comfort that comes from being a perfect fit. So it only makes perfect sense when their relationship turns romantic. And boy, does their chemistry leap off the page. Their kisses were literally heart-pounding.

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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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