Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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Holding Up the Universe will be published on October 4, 2016.

If you thought Violet & Finch from Niven’s All The Bright Places were unforgettable characters, wait until you meet Jack & Libby. Much like with All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe is written with chapters alternating back and forth between the two main characters, Jack and Libby. The story moves along quickly in this manner, and I found myself unable to stop reading, finishing the entire book in an evening.

Libby is a strong female character, but also a major target for bullying because of her weight. Once the world’s fattest teen, she had to be cut out of her house and rescued. Due to grief & depression from the sudden, unexpected death of her mother, Libby became so large that she was physically unable to move from her bed. Now after therapy and rehabilitation, Libby is half the size she used to be, starting her junior year of high school with a new confidence and determination to make it through and enjoy the experiences. She knows there will be bullies and name calling, just as there always was when she was younger, but its how she responds to them now that shows readers (and Jack) just how much she has truly grown.

Jack is everyone’s favorite classmate, favorite teammate, favorite friend, etc. He’s a likable guy who appears to have everything going well for him. However, he is carrying around a burdensome secret that is threatening to upset the somewhat normal aspects of his life. He has a rare genetic disorder called prosopagnosia, in which he is face-blind, or unable to recognize facial features, even of those people he sees everyday (his family and best friends). To make matters worse, his father is cheating on his mom with one of his teachers, causing Jack to be awkwardly, and unwillingly involved. Jack is coming to a crossroads where he has to decide whether to tell anyone his secret, or to watch his comfortable lifestyle and friendships crumble around him.

When Jack and Libby’s path collide in a peer-pressure induced bullying incident, they end up in a group doing community service together. As they spend more time together and start to lean on each other for support, knowing that they both are fighting a battle and that life is tough, they become stronger together. Readers will absolutely love this pair of characters – Jack for his charm & quick wit, and Libby for her no-nonsense attitude and healthy dose of sass. I certainly did.

It’s clear that Niven thoroughly researched prosopagnosia, helping the story to seem very real. Niven’s writing style is versatile. Readers will be laughing hysterically on one page and crying for the characters on the next. She also has a knack for transporting her readers into the halls of high school, causing them to reflect on their own experiences as they go through some of the same situations with her uniquely crafted characters. This is a beautiful story about embracing oneself, flaws and imperfections included, and realizing that everything is far from perfect, but perfectly okay.

Thank you to Random House for the early review copy. 

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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I enjoyed the first psychological thriller from Ruth Ware, In a Dark, Dark Wood, but this novel was oh so much better – with a luxury cruise liner as the setting and an abundance of possibilities among the guests as to who could be the killer(s).

Laura (Lo) Blacklock, a travel journalist from London, has just landed a dream assignment – to spend a week on-board a private luxury cruise liner with a limited amount of cabins on its maiden voyage in the North Sea. On board are rich and famous people, including the owners Lord Richard & his wife, Anne. Also along for the trip are other travel journalists, including Lo’s ex, Ben. Determined to make her boss proud, no-nonsense Lo decides to enjoy her time getting to know the other passengers a bit, even though she would probably rather be a recluse in her cabin.

After being woken up in the middle of the night by a loud splashing sound, Lo thinks she sees a woman being thrown overboard from cabin 10, the cabin adjacent to hers. Cabin 10 was to be empty for this trip, but earlier in the week Lo borrowed a mascara from a young girl who appeared to be staying in Cabin 10. Now the girl is nowhere to be found, and none of the passengers or crew have seen her. Did Lo imagine it all? Is she being ultra paranoid after the recent break-in at her own flat? When she seeks help from security and then the ship’s owner, they turn it into her problem, claiming she drank too much and the medication she is on caused her to imagine the whole thing. But Lo knows she saw the girl, and she vividly remembers the blood smeared on the veranda window and the splash of a body into the frigid North Sea. So who was the girl in Cabin 10? Was she thrown overboard? By who? And now the killer knows Lo has seen something. If Lo can just keep it together until they reach a port, she thinks she’ll be able to find someone to believe her. But soon the stakes get higher and she is in way over her head. Will she be able to get away before the killer silences her for good?

This is a very fast-paced novel with an Agatha Christie-like plot. A strong-willed woman with a skeptical past thinks she has witnessed a murder, but no one believes her, causing her to become more and more paranoid of everyone around. Lo is on her own, unsure of who she can trust, while trying to solve a mystery and steer clear of a killer in very cramped quarters out on the open seas. I couldn’t put this book down, and it was suspenseful up through the final pages. Fans of psychological thrillers and authors like Paula Hawkins, Gillian Flynn, and Mary Kubica will truly enjoy the works of Ruth Ware.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the advanced review copy.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

The Book That Matters Most will be released on August 9, 2016. 9780393241655_3db1a

The story alternates back and forth between Ava, whose husband of 25 years has left her for another woman, and Ava’s daughter, Maggie, who is in Italy to study art history. Both and Maggie are experiencing new things, however vastly different in scope and with thousands of miles between them. Maggie has had a troubled past, and Ava is encouraged that her daughter is now on the right path. Little does she know, Maggie is going to leave Italy and  find so much more trouble in France.

Ava is invited to join a lucrative book club to which her best friend belongs, when one of the other book club members moves out of town. The book club is like a family, members taking turns driving one member to chemo and attending each other’s family celebrations. The book club only allows 12, so that each member is able to pick a selection for one month of the year. Each year there is a different theme for the book club, and for Ava’s inaugural year, the theme is “the book that matters most to you.” Ava thinks back to a somewhat mysterious book she remembers reading during her childhood, a book that helped her to carry on after her little sister died in an accident and then her mother left them. She chooses this book, but soon realizes that it is very hard to find a copy. In a moment of panic, wanting to fit in with the book club, she tells a little fib that the author will be joining them for a talk during they month they read her choice. Now she is having trouble locating the author, so she turns to an old friend for help.

The Book Club gives Ava a purpose and fills a void in her life, which was growing with heartache, guilt, and grief from the loss of Lily, her mother, and her husband. Getting to know the other book club members is cathartic for her and allows her to feel almost normal again.

As a librarian, I loved this book because it focused on a close-knit book club, included literary quotes and lively discussion of some classic and modern literature, and most of all explored the ways that literature can change one’s outlook in life. The subject matter is definitely mature and adult in nature because of descriptive sex scenes and recreational drug usage. The ending was cool; even though I suspected what would happen prior to reaching the final pages. Overall, I truly enjoyed the story because it was unique and a perfect tribute to books and their power in our lives. I would recommend it highly! Let me know what you think.

Thank you to W. W. Norton & Company for the advanced review copy.

 

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

9781250121004_9c076.jpgI was excited to see Lara Avery had a new novel coming out, because I read A Million Miles Away and loved it. Now The Memory Book has become my favorite Lara Avery novel. I devoured it in just over one day. The chapters are short, mostly written as journal entries into Sammie’s memory book, making for quick, easy reading. Avery’s characters seem so real that readers will have no trouble loving them, despite their flaws.

This is the story of Sammie McCoy, a high school senior and valedictorian of her class, who is preparing for the national Debate finals and starting college at her dream school. She has worked tirelessly for the past 4 years, planning out everything so her future would be bright. Sammie’s family plays a big part in her life, and she enjoys time spent with her parents and three siblings.

However, Sammie is writing everything down hoping to never forget. She is hoping Future Sam will be able to read and remember all the things she likes, dislikes, and all the things she has experienced. True to her personality of being a go-getter, perfectionist, planner, and fighter, Sammie plans to keep living as best as she can, even after she is diagnosed with a rare genetic disease (Niemann-Pick Type C) which will cause her to lose her memories and eventually die. She doesn’t tell anyone about the disease at first, keeping it from her best friend and even her boyfriend. Sammie doesn’t want to be pitied, because she is determined to beat the odds and go ahead to college and chase her dreams.

Sammie is inspiring and brave. She is determined to spend her remaining time on earth really living, and being with the ones she loves. Even as her health declines, she still records all of the everyday moments in her memory book. She wants it to be real, showing both the ups and downs of her life.

One of the most memorable parts of the story was the scene where Sammie and Coop are together and Coop is reviving Captain Stickman, a character who made his appearance often when they were children. The way the scene is written with the back-and-forth shouting is hilarious, but also touching because it shows how Sammie can and has always been able to truly be herself with Coop, even if they have grown into young adults with pressure and responsibility. I was laughing out loud during this scene because it was a perfect way to capture Sammie and Coop’s easy-going relationship.

I also cried a lot while reading Sammie’s memory book, especially near the end when all of the people she loves are writing in the book. Fans of All the Bright Places and The Fault in our Stars will love this story, as it touches on some similar themes. However, I found it to be unique and an absolutely beautiful, touching story. I’ll be recommending The Memory Book wholeheartedly to all of my students when school starts up again in August.

Thanks to Little, Brown, and Company for the Advance Review Copy.

 

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

9781250121004_9c076.jpgBehind Closed Doors is set for a release date of August 9, 2016 by Macmillan. Previously released in the UK, it was an instant bestseller. After binge reading it all in one evening, I can certainly understand why!

Jack and Grace are the perfect newlywed couple. He’s a gorgeous, wealthy, high-profile attorney who stands up for battered women. She’s the picture of charm and elegance, always right beside her husband, eager to please his every request. Others envy their perfect, loving relationship. They often entertain in their state-of-the-art mansion with enchanting meals and wine. The neighbor ladies and other wives of the law firm would like to get to know Grace better, but find it almost impossible. She never leaves her husband’s side, and always cancels lunch dates with the girls.

If their marriage and life are so perfect, why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And why has she never made one of the lunch dates, other than one Jack escorted her to, of course. The other wives wonder how Grace can eat so much during the dinner parties, but remain so frail and thin. Do they really have the perfect marriage, or are they living in a perfect lie? Will someone look closer at their relationship before it’s too late?

This is one of the most terrifying books that I’ve ever read. I had goosebumps while reading the last page. Upon finishing, I found myself thinking back to when Grace met Jack and fell in love with him. It’s unsettling to see how easily one can be charmed into such terrifying situations. Read this and I promise you’ll love it. It blows Gone Girl out of the water, in terms of plot and thrill factor. I promise you’ve never read a psychological thriller like this one before. Major kudos to B.A. Paris for a brilliant debut!