Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

9780553496642_9ffdfEverything, Everything is an awesome YA novel. Fans of Eleanor and Park, The Fault in Our Stars, and/or If I Stay will love this novel with similar themes and style. Along with the regular story narrative, there are diary entries, illustrations, and lists which enhance the story and help readers to become more familiar with Maddy, the main character. Maddy has a rare disease that causes her to be very sick at times, but the triggers which cause sickness are unknown. And, for that reason, she hasn’t left her house in 17 years and has almost no face-to-face contact with the outside world. She reads books, some many times over. I loved the descriptions and reviews Maddy gives about books, and the way the author weaves in bits of famous literature to the novel. Aside from her mother, her daily nurse Carla, and the occasional visit from her tutor, Maddy only interacts with people through Skype, email, and IM. Until the day everything changes. A moving truck pulls up next door and Maddy looks out her window and sees Olly. Something about him tells her that her life will not be the same any longer. The author describes it best:

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I loved everything about this book. The style of writing was direct, intense, and beautiful. At times, the relationships between Maddy and her mother, between Maddy and Carla, and between Maddy and Olly were filled with raw emotion that, as a reader, I could really feel. I laughed out loud as I read Olly’s shenanigans with the Bundt cake. I cried at the end, but I won’t tell you why. The illustrations, spoiler book reviews, and dictionary entries by Maddy throughout the book were wonderful and really added an extra dimension to the story. Also, being a book nerd and lover of pages, I loved that the story started with books and ended with a book. You’ll see what I mean. Just read it, and you’ll be in love with it just like me.

Don’t Get Me Wrong by Marianne Kavanagh

I enjoyed this modern day spin on Pride & Prejudice. It takes place in London, so it has the British quirkiness that I have come to love in a story. I would place Marianne Kavanagh in a similar category as authors JoJo Moyes and Sophie Kinsella.

Eva and Kim are sisters living together, but on their own without parents since they were in their late teens. Their selfish and arrogant father left them for Jia, a younger wife with whom he now has two little boys. Grace, their selfish mother, left them for Jean Luc and his Parisian estate. Kim and Eva are close, and when Eva’s friend Harry becomes part of the picture, Kim starts to feel like a third wheel and get left out of much of Eva’s daily life. Harry is handsome, rich, and a charmer. Women fall all over themselves for Harry, including Eva and Kim’s friends Damaris and Izzie. Kim can’t understand because she finds Harry, a banker, to be flashy, arrogant, and insensitive. She doesn’t give him much chance to change her mind, and decides that she will go on hating him, even though she has to be around him all the time. Harry doesn’t understand why Kim hates him, so he deals with her in a joking manner, which fuels her anger and resentment toward him. Kim assumes that Harry is Eva’s lover and therefore the father of her young son, Otis, as well. One would think Harry is the father, especially because he pays for the flat where Eva and Otis live. He offers to help Kim, but her pride and vendetta towards Harry prevent her from accepting.

The story follows Kim, Eva, and Harry through the years as they travel and move from place to place, Harry ending up in New York for a time and Eva living in various communities around the world. When a few successive tragedies strike the group, Kim finds herself unable to escape Harry and his kind demeanor and offer of assistance. Will she let go of the feelings she has been harboring for years? I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, because I wanted more from the characters, mainly from Kim and Harry. However, the author didn’t tie up the ending in a neat little bow. There is quite a bit of heartache in the novel, but selflessness and love can be found as well from Damaris’s mother Christine, and Harry with his relationship toward Ethan, a young boy at the gym where Harry goes for boxing.

I would suggest this book for fans of general fiction, comedy, and/or romance. It’s quirky, witty, and fun.

What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

What We Saw is a fictional account of a teenage rape loosely inspired by the 2012 Steubenville, OH case where two high school football players were accused and then convicted of raping a teenage girl at a party. The details of the crime are horrific, and reading the news coverage incites anger and outrage in most, due to the way the media and the school administration portrayed the victim as being at fault because of the way she acted, dressed, and the fact that she was drunk and couldn’t say no. Not being able to say no isn’t the same as saying yes. These kids were star football players, and surely they would never commit a crime! And especially not during football season, which would affect their team’s performance. Goodness, no! They were just “boys being boys.” And the worst part was that a video of some of the crime was circulated on social media as if it were a joke. As we know, anything captured on a phone or sent to even one person will never be buried forever. It can always be recovered and lasts forever. Unfortunately, teenagers only think about the present, and they don’t think about how much something like that can harm others and fall back on them so heavily.

Okay, back to the book. Aaron Hartzler did a wonderful job of portraying the story from the perspective of Kate, a girl who was also very drunk at the same party as the victim, but she was driven home earlier in the evening prior to the time of the crime. Kate, a HS junior and soccer player, struggles with guilt because she used to be friends with the victim, fear because it could have been her, and apprehension because she wants to help Stacey (the victim), but everyone else seems to be blaming her and calling her horrible names when she isn’t even at school to defend herself or give the true story. People in the community refer to the crime as a “rumor” and they way they talk about Stacey is downright ugly. In the book, it is four basketball players who commit the crime, so it’s a huge deal for the school to have four star basketball players arrested during the season and right before a major series of games. Oh, and they may lose their college scholarships over this scandal. To complicate matters, Kate begins to date Ben, also a star basketball player and best friends with two of the accused players. She has been close to Ben as friends since they were five, but now they are dating and she finds herself falling in love. However, the fear and helplessness about the case and Stacey overshadow many of the happy feelings with Ben. Against her fathers wishes that she steer clear of the case, she decides that someone has to help Stacey. Even the football coach and principal are trying to cover up evidence, which fuels her mission to find out the truth despite the cost.

To top it all off, there is a bit of a surprise ending. I loved every part of this powerful, beautiful book. The author captured the wide range of emotions so well that I laughed and cried along with Kate. I also enjoyed the relationship between Kate and her brother Will, who is two years younger. If only there were more HS students like Kate and Will in the world. This book should be read by everyone: high school kids, teachers, parents, and even those adults without kids. It is so important for a story like this to be understood in different perspectives. And it is important for people to see just how much social media can devastate lives and cause chaos.

There are some beautiful passages from this book, and one below that I want to share:

At the end when Kate is playing soccer, “I see a hawk soar high above us and feel a rush of gratitude for the knowledge that just this once we have escaped the gaze of a camera lens or a status update. Some moments should only be recorded in our hearts.” Wow. Isn’t that the truth. I look forward to a day when people start recording more moments in their hearts rather than Twitter and Facebook.

Props to you, Aaron Hartzler. This is the kind of literature that we all need. Thank you for writing it.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

This is a work of fiction that certainly lives up to all the hype and anticipation prior to its publication. I absolutely loved the book. I normally don’t think about books being turned into movies right after I read them, but I felt like these characters are so interesting and that this would be great movie material.

On the eve of her only daughter’s wedding, June Reid loses her entire family in an instant in a horrible explosion. Her daughter and her fiance, her ex-husband Adam, and her boyfriend Luke are all inside the house and are killed instantly. In a moment, her entire world is turned upside down and she remains in a state of shock thereafter, almost as if she is on autopilot to a destination she feels will bring her closer to her daughter. After June takes off, the gossip and rumors begin to circulate in the small town and many speculate as to where she has gone. June was no stranger to gossip, often the subject of gossip because Luke was half of her age. Some townspeople even claim that Luke caused the explosion, because he had a past record with drugs. Luke and his mother were not close and were just beginning to patch up their relationship when the explosion stopped all progress at reconciliation in its tracks. His mother is left to deal with the rumors in town, and she becomes a recluse who speaks to no one and only leaves her house for groceries every so often. The story is told through different character narration. Each chapter is a different character, some very close to June and the family, and some acquaintances who have made connections with them in some way or another. June ends up at a motel by the ocean in Seattle, Washington. The owners of the hotel do not ask questions, but can sense that she is grieving or hiding from something. They, along with Cissy, who cleans the motel rooms, become sort of protectors and watch over June as she keeps to herself for months. Meanwhile, back East in June’s hometown, someone knows what really happened the night of the explosion, but he is too scared to say anything. When he finally talks to Luke’s mother, the story takes a major turn. Though June has no remaining blood relatives, it is clear by the end of the story that she certainly does a family who loves her very much, because family can be what you decide it to be. My favorite part is the last chapter, narrated by Cissy, because it is so beautiful and touching. Bill Clegg has a way with creating characters, and he has written a fabulous first novel. I would highly recommend it. It is wonderful!

The Ex by Alafair Burke

The Ex will be published January 26, 2016 by Harper.

Olivia Randall has earned her reputation as one of New York City’s top criminal defense attorneys. Her personal life is not as neat and tidy as her office life, but makes her an interesting main character. Out of the blue, she receives a call from a teenage girl asking her to represent her father, Jack Harris. Olivia hasn’t seen or heard from Jack Harris in twenty years, not since they were engaged and then parted ways after a tragic accident. Olivia harbors quite a bit of guilt about her past with Jack, so she agrees to take his case. She also immediately decides that Jack, her Jack whom she feels she knows better than anyone else, couldn’t be guilty of the charge – a triple homicide. Jack is accused of killing Malcom Neely, a high profile person who happens to be the father of Todd Neely, who killed Jack’s wife Molly and a dozen others three years ago. As Olivia begins to work on Jack’s case, she finds herself back in a tolerant, but not overly friendly relationship with Charlotte, Jack’s best friend and her own old college acquaintance. Olivia remains convinced of Jack’s innocence at first, but what if she finds out that she never quite knew him as well as she thought? This was a well-written book with a great twist at the end. The author did a nice job of keeping the reader interested in the plot, without tying everything up in a bow at the end. I would suggest this book for fans of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, and/or David Baldacci.

The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens

This is one of those works of fiction that sticks with the reader long after the last page. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it. It is at its heart a survival story, but also a story of love and selflessness. Wolf is finally telling the story of everything that happened up on the mountain to his adult son. The book begins with a letter from Wolf to his son Daniel, which explains why he waited so long to tell the story and why it was so important for him to know. And so the story begins. After his best friend is in a tragic accident and his deadbeat father is finally imprisoned, 18 year old Wolf Truly decides to go to the mountain on his birthday to take his own life. Nola Devine goes to the mountain to celebrate her anniversary by spreading her late husband’s ashes on the mountain where they once came together. Nola’s daughter, Bridget, has come along for support, as well as Bridget’s daughter, Vonn, who is in a stage of teenage rebellion. When Wolf first meets the three women, he doesn’t realize they are related. However, once they become stranded on the mountain, Wolf becomes a guide as well as a sort of fourth family member to the Devine women. Wolf knows the mountain well, as he and his friend Byrd spent so much time there before Byrd’s accident. Nola is trying to find a certain spot on the mountain and becomes lost, so Wolf steps in offering to act as a guide, not letting on that he actually had other plans in mind once he left the mountain tram station. Ever the kind-hearted soul despite his upbringing, Wolf cannot resist helping the clueless group of ill prepared women who will surely die if they do not make it off the mountain. Also, it doesn’t bother him too much that Vonn, who is his age, is beautiful and mysterious. After a few unfortunate turns and falls, the foursome find themselves in Devil’s Canyon where a helicopter rescue is not possible due to the thin atmosphere and weather patterns. As the hours turn to days, and the days turn to nights more and more quickly, the situation becomes dire indeed. The three who make it off the mountain alive are forever bound together and changed by their shared experience. It could be said that Wolf saved their lives, but in reality the Devine women saved his first. I couldn’t put this book down, because I really found myself worried for the group, and I had grown to love the characters. It is beautifully written and the ending is bittersweet. Read it. You won’t be sorry.

The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block

This book will be published September 8, 2015 by Grand Central Publishing.

The Girl Without a Name is a psychological suspense novel that I really enjoyed. Dr. Zoe Goldman is a psychiatrist completing her residency in the children’s psych ward. Certain events in Zoe’s past are still coming back to haunt her, and she actually sees a psychiatrist herself, which is rather ironic. Zoe’s real mother and foster mother have both passed away and her only remaining family is her brother, Scotty, and dog, Arthur. She also has a boyfriend, Mike, who is an ER doctor. When a new patient arrives, Zoe begins to doubt some of the treatment courses the attending physician, Dr. Tad Berringer, prescribes. The patient, referred to as “Jane,” because her identity is unknown, is a young African American girl in a catatonic state who doesn’t remember where she came from, or how she ended up in the hospital. She has a peculiar scar on her ankle, and is mysteriously being given medications even though no once claims to have prescribed them for her. Zoe begins working alongside a seasoned police detective with whom she has come into contact in her past. She starts to uncover clues about “Jane,” and puts her own career in jeopardy to ensure that “Jane” is safe. It doesn’t help that Dr. Berringer is a married, heartthrob who begins to take more interest in Zoe after he informs her that he is getting a divorce. Will Zoe fall for his charm? How can she know who to trust with the truth about the patient. The plot is fast paced, and I read it very quickly.