Book Review: Four Three Two One

Four Three Two One – Courtney Stevens – HarperTeen – Published 13 November 2018

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Synopsis

Golden “Go” Jennings wasn’t supposed to be on Bus 21 the day it blew up in New York City. Neither was her boyfriend, Chandler. But they were. And so was Rudy, a cute stranger whom Go shared a connection with the night before. And Caroline, a girl whose silence ended up costing nineteen people their lives.

Though it’s been a year since the bombing, Go isn’t any closer to getting over what happened. Since Chan shuts down every time Go brings that day up, she decides to reach out to Rudy. Just like that, the two fall right back into their easy, deep connection. Facing the past head-on with Rudy has opened up a small window of healing Go never thought was possible. So she makes an impulsive decision: Round up the rest of the survivors and head to New York City. There they will board an art installation made of the charred remnants of Bus 21.

But things are never easy when it comes to rehashing the past. Uniting the four stirs up conflicting feelings of anger and forgiveness and shows them that, although they all survived, they may still need saving.

My thoughts

Take an author who is excellent at writing powerful stories about heartbreaking situations. Add a plot line about a bombing, abusive relationships, recovery journeys and the power of human togetherness. Drop in five character: four survivors and one along for the ride. Stir together and shake a little. With that recipe it’s no wonder that Four Three Two One is an incredibly powerful and emotive story of surviving, overcoming insurmountable odds, and forgiving yourself.

Golden Jennings is one of four survivors of a bus bombing. While she is eager to unpack the emotions and fallout from that fateful day in New York, her boyfriend, another survivor, won’t mention it at all. When one of the attending paramedics reconstructs the bus and creates a memorial for those who died in the blast, Golden decides to make the trip to New York again. With a new-found friend and the two other survivors, Golden begins a journey towards making new memories, facing old ones and maybe even find some form of healing.

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Book Review: The Geography of Lost Things

The Geography of Lost Things – Jessica Brody – Simon Pulse – Published 2 October 2018

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Synopsis

After Ali’s father passes away, he leaves his one and only prized possession—a 1968 Firebird convertible—to his daughter. But Ali doesn’t plan on keeping it. Not when it reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises. So when she finds a buyer three hundred miles up the Pacific coast willing to pay enough money for the car to save her childhood home, Ali can’t wait to get going. Except Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But guess who does?

Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Nico. And Nico has other plans.

He persuades Ali that instead of selling the car, they should “trade up” the items they collect on their trip to eventually reach the monetary amount Ali needs. Agreeing with Nico’s crazy plan, Ali sets off on a unique adventure that is unlike anything she ever could have expected.

And it’s through Ali’s travels, through the strangers she meets and the things that they value—and why they value them—that Ali eventually comes to understand her father and how his life may not have been as easy and carefree as she previously thought. Because just like the seemingly insignificant objects Ali collects, not everything is exactly as it appears.

My thoughts

The Geography of Lost Things is a fun road trip novel about learning to forgive and starting over. Jessica Brody weaves together a compelling story of second-chance romance and father-daughter relationships, family financial difficulties and learning to see again the value in little things.

Ali has just days until the bank will reclaim her family home and she and her mother must find somewhere else to live. Years of paying the debts of her flaky father, of learning that his promises can’t be trusted and knowing he will never come home have made Ali angry for everything she has lost. So, when a knock on the door reveals her father has left her his most prized possession – a 1968 Firebird convertible – Ali is quick to list it for sale, hoping the money can save her home. The only problem is the buyer is miles away and she can’t drive stick. Her ex-boyfriend Nico can, though, and when he wiggles his way into her road trip Ali is sure it’s going to be a disaster. What will a car, miles of road, too many secrets, lies and broken dreams to count and a possibility of a redo bring?

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Book Review: The Reluctant Warrior

The Reluctant Warrior – Mary Connealy – High Sierra Sweethearts #2 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 2 October 2018

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Synopsis

Union army officer Cameron Scott is used to being obeyed, but nothing about this journey to Lake Tahoe has gone as expected. He’s come to fetch his daughter and nephew, and seek revenge on the people who killed his brother. Instead he finds himself trapped by a blizzard with two children who are terrified of him and stubborn but beautiful Gwen Harkness, who he worries may be trying to keep the children.

When danger descends on the cabin where they’re huddled, Cam is hurt trying to protect everyone and now finds Gwen caring for him too. He soon realizes why the kids love her so much and wonders if it might be best for him to move on without them. When she sees his broken heart, Gwen decides to help him win back their affection–and in the process he might just win her heart as well.

My thoughts

The Reluctant Warrior returns readers to the story and characters first discovered in The Accidental Guardian. The Reluctant Warrior is the second book in the High Sierra Sweethearts series and it is a series I have come to really enjoy. With the harsh but glorious surrounds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as backdrop, these stories combine sweet romance that develops out of the toughest situations and tense thrills and heart-pounding suspense as the characters fight for their lives and for justice.

Cameron Scott, now retired from the Union army, only wishes to retrieve his daughter and nephew and take them to his new home – a parcel of land marked to become a thriving ranch. But the children are terrified of him and instead cling to the woman who has cared for them in the past months. When a determined killer once again trains his sights on the small group huddled together in the wild winter, Cam must extend his time with the annoying Gwen Harkness. Yet the threat of danger and the chance to get to know and love his children give him an opportunity to learn more about Gwen, and Cam finds she just might be the answer to his troubles.

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Book Review: A Heart in a Body in the World

A Heart in the Body in the World – Deb Caletti – Simon Pulse – Published 18 September 2018

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Synopsis

When everything has been taken from you, what else is there to do but run?

So that’s what Annabelle does—she runs from Seattle to Washington, DC, through mountain passes and suburban landscapes, from long lonely roads to college towns. She’s not ready to think about the why yet, just the how—muscles burning, heart pumping, feet pounding the earth. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t outrun the tragedy from the past year, or the person—The Taker—that haunts her.

Followed by Grandpa Ed in his RV and backed by her brother and two friends (her self-appointed publicity team), Annabelle becomes a reluctant activist as people connect her journey to the trauma from her past. Her cross-country run gains media attention and she is cheered on as she crosses state borders, and is even thrown a block party and given gifts. The support would be nice, if Annabelle could escape the guilt and the shame from what happened back home. They say it isn’t her fault, but she can’t feel the truth of that.

My thoughts

Achingly poignant and beautifully written, A Heart in a Body in the World is a book that everyone, man, woman and teen, must read. I truly do not have words adequate enough to describe both the importance and the beauty of this incredible story. It brought me to tears (multiple times), it had me on the edge of my seat, it had me raging at the world, and it had me smiling in hope and joy and hoping that maybe, just maybe, through stories such as these of strong, brave men and women, we can make a difference.

After everything that happened, everything that has been taken from her, Annabelle isn’t sure what to do. What can she do? So she runs. One night just takes off and starts running. She doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t expect her younger brother to create a route for her from Washington State to Washington DC. Doesn’t expect her mother to agree. Doesn’t expect her Grandpa Ed to travel with her in his RV as her support team. She also never expected to become an unwitting activist with a message to share. All Annabelle knows to do is to put one foot in front of the other – because after you’ve lost everything, what else can you do.

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Book Review: What If It’s Us

What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera – HarperTeen – Published 9 October 2018

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Synopsis

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them? Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated. Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited. But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third? What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough? What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play? But what if it is?

My thoughts

What If It’s Us is a cute boy-meets-boy, missed connections, do-over, sweet, funny, charming kind of book. Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera are huge names in YA fiction right now and they pull off this collaborative work seamlessly.

Arthur is in New York for the summer. Ben lives in New York year round. Arthur is working as an intern at his mother’s law firm. Ben is hoping to pass summer school so he doesn’t have to repeat his Junior year. Arthur has never been on a date let alone had a boyfriend. Ben is reeling from his first breakup. When Arthur and Ben meet, they both feel something, but they leave without exchanging names or numbers. So begins a search across New York to find each other again. But when they do meet again, will they be able to start a relationship?

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Book Review: The Simple Wild

The Simple Wild – K.A. Tucker – Atria Books – Published 7 August 2018

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Synopsis

Calla Fletcher wasn’t even two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when Calla learns that Wren’s days may be numbered, she knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.

She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this rugged environment, Jonah—the unkempt, obnoxious, and proud Alaskan pilot who helps keep her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.

Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. Soon, she finds herself forming an unexpected bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago. It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.

My thoughts

Gorgeous scenery, a heartwarming story of family and reconnection and a from-enemies-to-lovers romance that smoulders; The Simple Wild is a contemporary novel that grabs the reader.

Calla hasn’t spoken to her father for years and hasn’t seen him since she and her mother left Alaska when Calla was just a child. When she hears that her father has cancer, Calla makes the decision to travel to Alaska and reconnect with him. Facing all the challenges of life away from the city, Calla is surprised to enjoy her time getting to know her father. Making things more complicated is rugged (yet undeniably handsome) pilot Jonah. While he is counting down the moments until Calla leaves Alaska, she is determined to prove to them both that she has what it takes to survive the wild.

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Book Review: Infinite Blue

Infinite Blue – Darren Groth and Simon Groth – Orca Book Publishers – Published 11 September 2018

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Synopsis

Ashley Drummond is an elite swimmer. Clayton Sandalford is a talented artist. From the  moment of their first meeting, they were destined to be together.

Staying together, however, will test the limits of their love. A world-record swim, and the strange vision that accompanies it, raises questions about the couple’s connection.

Then a life-altering incident triggers a mystical change, which will demand that both of them let go in ways never imagined.

My thoughts

Just like its cover, Infinite Blue is beautiful, ethereal and just a little bit magic. Mixing fantasy with realism, Infinite Blue is an epic love story about accepting your destiny and letting go.

The day Ashley and Clayton meet seems fated. Ashley appears almost out of nowhere to save Clayton’s life. As Ashley’s swimming career progresses to new heights, Clayton is her steadfast support. Yet as they face the challenges of time and distance they promise each other forever. Yet, neither could predict the impact that a terrible accident will have or the ways in which they will both have to let go.

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Book Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury – Tracy Banghart – Hodder Children’s Books – Published 26 July 2018

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Synopsis

In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other on an island prison where women must fight to survive.

Serina has spent her whole life preparing to become a Grace – selected to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining example of the perfect woman.

But her headstrong and rebellious younger sister has a dangerous secret, and one wrong move could cost both sisters everything.

Can Serina fight? And will Nomi win?

My thoughts

Grace and Fury is a compelling and thought-provoking fantasy – no magic, just an invented world that feels historical and transports you to a place much like Venice – that asks, what would you do if you were a girl in a world where women had no power?

I am a huge fan of Tracy Banghart’s Rebel Wing series, so when a fellow reader recommended Grace and Fury to me I was quick to take up the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of this thrilling and unique YA fantasy.

Tracy has a wonderful way of capturing the essence and voice of her characters, and Grace and Fury centres around Nomi and Serina – two sisters, both trapped in a world that offers women very few choices. Serina has trained all her life to become a Grace – a concubine of the King’s Heir, a position of esteem and luxury, if not power. Nomi hates everything about the world she lives in and rages against the constraints forced upon her. When she accompanied her sister to the palace as her handmaiden, Nomi knows she must hide her rebellion and her deadly secret. But when Nomi is chosen as the Heir’s Grace and Serina is sentenced to an island prison for Nomi’s crime, both girls must decide how much they will risk to survive.

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Book Review: The Queen’s Rising

The Queen’s Rising – Rebecca Ross – The Queen’s Rising #1 – HarperTeen – Published 6 February 2018

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Synopsis

When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

My thoughts

The Queen’s Rising is a gorgeous fantasy, spectacularly crafted, imaginative, unique and so deliciously easy to be swept up in. It came as a complete surprise and I loved every minute of it.

For seven years, Brienna has struggled to master a passion – music, art, whit, drama and finally knowledge. On the eve of her seventeenth solstice, Brienna will have to prove she has the right to become a Passion and earn a patron. When her fears of failing are realised, she is granted reprieve when a lord agrees to become her patron father. But he seems less interested in her knowledge passion than he is in her new and volatile ability to flash back hundreds of years ago, to a time when the realm to the north was rightfully ruled by a queen. Brienna must decide if she is to become entangled in a plot to over throw a king, and if it is worth the risk to discover more about her secret paternal heritage.

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Book Review: The Other Side of Lost

The Other Side of Lost – Jessi Kirby – HarperTeen – published 7 August 2018

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Synopsis

Mari Turner’s life is perfect. That is, at least to her thousands of followers who have helped her become an internet starlet. But when she breaks down and posts a video confessing she’s been living a lie—that she isn’t the happy, in-love, inspirational online personality she’s been trying so hard to portray—it goes viral and she receives major backlash. To get away from it all, she makes an impulsive decision: to hike the entire John Muir trail. Mari and her late cousin, Bri, were supposed to do it together, to celebrate their shared eighteenth birthday. But that was before Mari got so wrapped up in her online world that she shut anyone out who questioned its worth—like Bri.

With Bri’s boots and trail diary, a heart full of regret, and a group of strangers that she meets along the way, Mari tries to navigate the difficult terrain of the hike. But the true challenge lies within, as she searches for the way back to the girl she fears may be too lost to find: herself.

My thoughts

Jessi Kirby is no stranger to writing heartfelt stories that touch on grief and strength in the face of it, and she does it again so expertly in The Other Side of Lost. Grief, loneliness, the cost of false facades and things you can’t undo are combined with the beauty of nature, the importance of friendship and the strength and resilience that can be found within. The Other Side of Lost made me want to grab a pair of hiking boots and hit a trail.

Mari has constructed an identity online, carefully editing and filtering for optimum followers and likes. But online celebrity cost her a relationship with her cousin, and on her eighteenth birthday, evaluating where’s she come from and all that she has lost, she decides to throw everything away. After posting a video online outing herself and her false identity, she takes up her cousin’s plans to hike the John Muir Trail. Over 200 miles will push Mari to her limits, but it just might give her the chance to start over.

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