Book Review: That Night

That Night – Amy Giles – HarperTeen – Published 23 October 2018

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Synopsis

One night in March, a terrible tragedy shakes the Queens neighborhood where Jessica Nolan and Lucas Rossi live.

The year since the shooting has played out differently for Jess and Lucas, both of whom were affected by that night in eerily similar, and deeply personal, ways. Lucas has taken up boxing and lives under the ever-watchful eye of his overprotective parents, while trying to put good into the world through random acts of kindness — to pay back a debt he feels he owes the universe for taking the wrong brother.

Jess struggles to take care of her depressed mother, with the help of her elderly next-door neighbor, and tries to make ends meet. Without her best friend, who’s across the country at a special post-trauma boarding school, and her brother, who died that night, Jess feels totally alone in the world.

When Jess and Lucas’s paths cross at their shared after-school job, they start to become friends… and then more.

Their community — and their families — were irrevocably changed by a senseless act of violence. But as Jess and Lucas fall in love, they’ll learn to help each other heal and move forward — together.

My thoughts

What happens when you survived but your brother didn’t? What do you do when your family is falling apart or panic grips you by the throat, when you are not sure why you were the one who survived? That Night by Amy Giles presents a unique perspective on gun violence, focusing entirely on the survivors and the emotional fallout from the loss. That Night is romantic and a powerful, emotional story of surviving and learning to live again.

Everything changed that night. Families. The way people looked at and treated you. You. A year ago Jess lost her brother in a shooting that shattered her world. Now her mother hardly gets out of bed and Jess needs to find a job to pay the bills. Lucas took up boxing after his brother sacrificed himself to save Lucas. But the boxing sometimes can’t control his panic attacks that seem to be increasing in frequency or the consuming guilt. Lucas and Jess are now tied together by tragedy, but when they start working together they find that shared memories might make for a wonderful friendship and even romance.

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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: Delayed Justice

Delayed Justice – Cara C. Putman – Hidden Justice #3 – Thomas Nelson – Published 16 October 2018

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Synopsis

Jaime Nichols went to law school to find the voice she never had as a child, and her determination to protect girls and women in the path of harm drives her in ways both spoken and unspoken. As Jaime, now a criminal defense attorney, prepares to press charges against someone who wronged her long ago, she must face not only her demons but also the unimaginable forces that protect the powerful man who tore her childhood apart.

Chandler Bolton, a retired veteran, is tasked with helping a young victim who must testify in court—and along with his therapy dog, Aslan, he’s up for the task. When he first meets Jaime, all brains, beauty, and brashness, he can’t help but be intrigued. As Chandler works to break through the wall Jaime has built around herself, the two of them discover that they may have more to offer one another than they ever could have guessed—and that together, they may be able to help this endangered child.

My thoughts

Delayed Justice is the thrilling third book in the legal suspense series, Hidden Justice. Like the first two books in the series, Delayed Justice offers a riveting mix of legal drama, romance, strong friendship, faith, personal discovery and suspense. Delayed Justice is particularly stirring and tender as the characters face horrific cases – personal, past and present.

Jamie Nichols works tirelessly as a criminal defence attorney to give a voice to those who don’t have one, fighting against the powerlessness she faced in her own childhood. Now in her adulthood she has decided to press charges against her abuser, but she knows it might bring about fierce retaliation. When she is asked to assist a young girl facing the same horrors she herself faced, Jamie knows she can’t refuse. Even if it means working closely with retired veteran, Chandler Bolton and his Golden Retriever therapy dog.

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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: When Elephants Fly

When Elephants Fly – Nancy Richardson Fischer – Harlequin Teen – Published 4 September 2018

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Synopsis

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she’s not developing schizophrenia.Genetics are not on Lily’s side.

When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily’s odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there’s a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can’t abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf’s life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.

My thoughts

An incredible story of survival and finding something to believe in and fight for, When Elephants Fly will have you laughing, crying buckets and wildly cheering for Lily and her battle to save elephant calf, Swifty.

Lily is working off a tight plan to control the likelihood of her developing schizophrenia. The genetic odds are not in her favour but by living carefully she hopes to avoid following the same journey her mother took. But, when on assignment for her journalism internship, she witnesses an elephant reject her calf and Lily can’t help but see the parallels between their stories. Lily must decide if it is worth risking everything she has worked so hard to control to try and save the life of the elephant she is quickly coming to love.

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautifully written, beautiful message, beautiful characters (and yes, that includes elephant calf, Swifty). Alone, Lily’s story or Swifty’s story would be enough in themselves to be both moving and motivational, enough for any book. Yet together they become phenomenal. The compassion between humans and animals, the loss Swifty and Lily both share, and they ways in which they help each other is stunningly conceived and written.

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Book Review: Access Restricted

Access Restricted – Gregory Scott Katsoulis – Word$ #2 – Harlequin Teen – Published 28 August 2018

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Synopsis

At the end of All Rights Reserved, Speth and her friends freed the city of Vermaine from Silas Rog and his oppressive litigation. But now, with the Wi-Fi untethered, the citizens of her city are looking to Speth to lead them. Just as Speth never intended to lead a rebellion of Silents, she has no idea how to begin putting Vermaine back to rights. All she wants to do is break out of the dome and track down her parents, who were sold into indentured servitude years before. Leaving the care of the city in the hands of her friend and mentor, Kel, Speth and a few friends embark on a journey to explore the rest of their world and spread the cause of freedom.

My thoughts

Access Restricted is the sequel to the amazing and scarily possible All Rights Reserved. With just as much action and intrigue, Access Restricted once again delves into a world where every form of communication is owned and fees charged accordingly, where history and knowledge have become propriety information only accessible to those with wealth and standing, where one girl unwittingly became the leader in an uprising, and where that girl must once again risk everything for a chance of a better future.

There has been much debate in my high-schoolers book club, who all adored All Rights Reserved, if a sequel was needed. The first book could, arguably, be concluded and left as it was. Others suggested they were happy with the ending, and that any more could possibly ruin the awesomeness of the first book. Others still, myself included, desperately wanted more -more of Speth, more of her accidental rebellion and uprising, and more explanation of the world in which she lives and the consequences for her actions. Would everything she had already done and sacrificed really change things? Had it really made a difference?

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Book Review: All That I Can Fix

All That I Can Fix – Crystal Chan – Simon Pulse – Published 12 June 2018

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Synopsis

In Makersville, Indiana, people know all about Ronney—he’s from that mixed-race family with the dad who tried to kill himself, the pill-popping mom, and the genius kid sister. If having a family like that wasn’t bad enough, the local eccentric at the edge of town decided one night to open up all the cages of his exotic zoo—lions, cheetahs, tigers—and then shoot himself dead. Go figure. Even more proof that you can’t trust adults to do the right thing.

Overnight, news crews, gun control supporters, and gun rights advocates descend on Makersville, bringing around-the-clock news coverage, rallies, and anti-rallies with them. With his parents checked out, Ronney is left tending to his sister’s mounting fears of roaming lions, stopping his best friend from going on a suburban safari, and shaking loose a lonely boy who follows Ronney wherever he goes. Can Ronney figure out a way to hold it together as all his worlds fall apart?

My thoughts

What to say about a book that is one part humorous, two parts ridiculous, and the rest a bundle of important messages, from mental health, stigma, and racism, to gun control and animal cruelty? All That I Can Fix is a novel that faces difficult topics straight on, with an abruptness that is both disconcerting and refreshing.

When the local exotic zoo owner shoots himself and lets loose his animals, Ronney isn’t fazed. What’s a camel on the loose compared to a father who might be continually physically present but never mentally, a mother who doesn’t know how to cope anymore, a sister on the verge of a meltdown, and a list of things he must do to keep the whole family from falling apart?

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Book Review: We’ll Fly Away

We’ll Fly Away – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 8 May 2018

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Synopsis

Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling.

My thoughts

We’ll Fly Away is a well-written, hard-hitting YA novel with important messages about poverty, child abuse, the justice system, and friendship. I knew We’ll Fly Away would be heartbreaking. I also expected it to be raw, upfront, exposed, and almost crude. It certainly is an unflinching book, with threads of hope (but mainly heartbreak) and a positive message.

Luke and Toby are best friends – the only ones to see inside the truths of the other’s life, the only ones who could understand. But Luke struggles to maintain his wrestling record for a college scholarship with his mother’s ever increased neglect and caring for his two younger brothers, and Toby falls into a relationship with an older woman while continuing to face his father’s abuse. Events will come to a head as the boys fight for their friendship, their future, and their freedom.

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Book Review: Autonomous

Autonomous – Andy Marino – Disney-Hyperion – Published 3 April 2018

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Synopsis

William Mackler is about to go on a road trip of a lifetime. After winning a contest—and nearly dying in the process—he becomes the proud owner of Autonomous, a driverless car that knows where you want to go before you do. #Worthit! To sweeten the deal he gets to pick three friends to go with him on a cross-country trip to see their favorite band. For William, a reckless adrenaline junkie, this is the perfect last hurrah before he and his friends go their separate ways after graduation. But Autonomous is more than just a car without a steering wheel. It’s capable of downloading all of the passengers’ digital history—from the good, to the bad, to the humiliating. The information is customized into an itinerary that will expose a few well-kept secrets, but it will also force William to face some inner demons of his own. Think you know Autonomous? The real question is, how much does Autonomous know about you?

My thoughts

Please note this is a review of the original book that was to be published in November 2017, and some things may have changed in the April 2018 release.

Picture a road trip – sunny days, hair blowing in the wind, happy times of solid friendship and sing-a-longs to feel-good music. Autonomous is not that road trip. Instead, Autonomous is an examination of the true nature of humanity, where buried secrets are laid bare and the harsh truths of reality are posed against the speculation of how technology might evolve and how it might reflect those truths.

When William wins a state-of-the-art car in a competition, he plans to take his three best friends on an epic road trip. But while discovering the extent of the car’s abilities, from being completely self driving to apparent mind reading, everything William had planed for the road trip begins to fall apart. Instead of making fantastic memories with his friends, their relationships are tested and things get far more dangerous then they could have imagined.

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Book Review: Jacked Up

Jacked Up – Erica Sage – Sky Pony Press – Published 3 April 2018

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Synopsis

It’s bad enough that Nick’s sister is dead and, in some bizarre attempt to force him to confront his grief, his parents are shipping him off to Jesus Camp. But he’s also being haunted by the ghost of Jack Kerouac—who’s surprisingly annoying, for a genius.

And if arguing with a dead beat poet weren’t enough to qualify Nick for antipsychotics, he’s pretty sure Eden Springs Church Camp is going to drive him insane. The campers ride donkeys into the desert campsite; a retired magician dressed as Jesus seems obsessed with converting him; and Nick’s practically shunned for uttering the words “Harry Potter.”

Worst of all is the PC Box, into which every camper is required to place a nightly prayer or confession. In hopes of getting Jack to stop nagging him about it, Nick scribbles down his darkest secret—a secret about his sister’s death—and drops it in the box.

But then the box is stolen, with Nick’s secret inside of it. When campers’ confessions start appearing around the camp, Nick is desperate to get the box back—before the world learns the truth about what he did. The truth he can’t even face, himself.

My thoughts

What a crazy book! Jacked Up is a uncontrollable snort laugher inducing, hypocrisy identifying, gut punching, grammar fixing, donkey jokes kind of crazy book. With all the finesse and humour of its authentic male narrator, Jacked Up is an upfront and honest novel that delves into the aftermath of suicide, grief, and guilt, in a way that is easy to read and lots of fun.

In the wake of his sister’s suicide, Nick’s parents are sending him to Bible Camp. Sure it is the last place on Earth that could help him, especially considering the soul-eating secrets he is hiding, Nick is reluctant at first. Arriving at the camp only increases his doubts – are these people serious with their Bible character dress-up selfie moments, donkey lotteries, and box of prayers and confessions? But when the PC box goes missing, containing Nick’s biggest secret, he will do anything to get it back.

I jumped into Jacked Up with little prior knowledge of its aspirations as a novel. And it totally surprised me. There were so many fun moments. Nick is an awesome narrator and totally realistic of a teenage boy. And the book doesn’t shy away from anything – coarse language, sexual references, innuendo, jokes of every description. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a teen boy (or maybe girl) alive who wouldn’t love to read this book. Unless you consider those who might be offended by it…. And let’s face it, there are many people who might be offended by the revealing of this teenage boy’s mind.

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