Subject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, February, 2017.

NESBITT, Karen. Subject to Change. 276p. Orca Book Publishers. Feb. 2017. $14.95. ISBN 9781459811461.

Gr 9 & Up -In Nesbitt’s debut realistic fiction novel, readers come face-to-face with Declan, a teen living in Quebec and dealing with major family issues. Told through Declan’s (at times) vulgar point of view, the pace is somewhat slow until the reasoning behind Declan’s parents break-up is revealed: his father cheated with another man and is gay. Coupled with Declan’s older brother Seamus’ illegal behavior and bullying attitude toward him, Declan is at a breaking point, receiving so many detentions at school that he is forced to undergo tutoring. His tutor, Leah, turns out not to be the “Little Miss Perfect,” he assumed she was all along. The language and content of the novel is very mature in nature. The subject matter would appeal most to teenage males, and even reluctant readers. The story is a great example of a teen’s uncertain relationship with a gay parent, as well as a family dealing with the aftermath of an affair. As Declan spends time with Leah and her grandmother, Bubby, a Holocaust survivor, his perspective changes a bit, allowing him to give his father another chance, and just in time as tragedy strikes Seamus. VERDICT Fans of John Corey Whaley and John Green will enjoy this brazen, realistic young adult “guy’s story.” Recommended for strictly additional purchase.

The Heartbeats of Wing Jones by Katherine Weber

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Review first appeared in School Library Journal, January 2017.

WEBBER, Katherine. The Heartbeats of Wing Jones. 336p. Delacorte Press. Mar. 2017. $17.99. ISBN 9780399555022.

Gr 8 Up – Set in 1990’s Atlanta, this coming-of-age story is realistic fiction with a touch of magical realism, is full of diverse and strong female characters. Bullied for her looks, Wing Jones, half Chinese and half black, doesn’t stand out like her football star, golden boy brother, Marcus. After a night of drinking, Marcus causes an accident, killing two people and ending up in a coma.  Unable to sleep at night, worrying for Marcus and living on the brink of poverty, Wing starts running. Though Marcus is one of the reasons Wing is running, she is able to step out of his shadow, finally feeling acceptance and accomplishment. Aaron, Marcus’s best friend and Wing’s long-time crush, is also a runner, providing a romantic element and additional distraction for Wing. Running gives her the courage to embrace her differences and stand out. Wing’s family back-story regarding her father is heartbreaking, revealed early on, explaining why her father is not in the picture. Wing lives with her mother and both grandmothers, and as such, is surrounded by female role models with take-charge attitudes. The plot moves along quickly, written in first person through Wing’s perspective of the changing world around her. Fans of Jandy Nelson and Stephanie Perkins will enjoy Webber’s debut novel. VERDICT A uniquely original novel about family, love, and the courage to stand up to life’s challenges and triumph which will delight teen readers. Recommended as a general purchase for all libraries.

The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs

the-bright-hour-9781501169359_lgThe Bright Hour is a wonderfully written memoir by Nina Riggs, who passed away after a courageous battle with cancer in February 2017. She was only 37. Nina, mother of two young boys, wife of 16 years, and great-great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was a beautiful soul and talented writer. Her writing is emotionally raw; the conversations with her family members, her appreciation for nature,  and descriptions of her surroundings are thoughtful and true.  The Bright Hour, despite the heavy subject matter, is one of the most enjoyable and truly wonderful books that I have read in quite a while. I would highly recommend this book to all of you.  

I normally do not read nonfiction, but I make special exception for memoirs. I’ve always enjoyed them, because they are written with such heart and grit. It takes a lot of courage for a writer to pour out their most personal thoughts, hopes, and feelings on paper for others to read. Nina wrote her memoir, in part, as a tribute to her husband John and young sons, so that they might read it someday and get to know her even better, and really understand the depth of her love for them.

One of my favorite authors of all time, Elin Hilderbrand, recommended Nina’s book multiple times, and I knew that with her endorsement, I would undoubtedly enjoy reading The Bright Hour. I didn’t realize how quickly I would become immersed into Nina’s story, however, unable to put the book down because the writing was so beautiful.

Everything about this book is beautiful. Nina’s relationships with her husband, her sons, her dying mother, her father, her brother, and even her doctors are each unique and special. It is through these relationships with their well-times jokes, light-hearted humor, and even  the many tear-filled moments that Nina’s impact on each and every one of their lives shines through. She was a bright spot in so many lives.

Woven throughout the book are quotes and writings from Emerson’s works, as well as from French writer/philosopher Montaigne. Nina looks to both writers to guide her through fear and grief, allowing her to concentrate on living, really living with the time she is given.

The Bright Hour is not about dying, but more about how to live, which she discovers and shares with readers, as she is dying. Though Nina writes quite a bit about her experiences with chemo, radiation, and the many tests and hospital stays, she doesn’t sugar coat anything, but gives the unpleasant truth about cancer’s destructive path through her body and life as she knew it. As Nina is actually going through treatment, she loses her own mother to cancer, after a 9 year battle. I can’t even imagine losing a mother to cancer, but even worse, imagine losing your mother while you are also battling the greatest battle of your life, and knowing deep down that your time on Earth with your loving husband and precious children is coming to a close much sooner than you anticipated. It is heartbreaking and terrifying, but somehow Nina was able to get the most out of the days left with her mother, as well as her own time remaining after her mother passed on. She didn’t let grief consume her. She doesn’t focus on the cancer, but on her family, enjoying her days, and living with hope. If that isn’t strength and resilience, I don’t know what is.

Read Nina’s story. I promise you will come away from it with a better outlook on life and living.

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone tells the tale of a mother’s worst nightmare: someone taking her children and no one believing her. They were here with her one minute and gone the next. And now fingers of the townspeople and the law are pointing at her.

She was desperate to leave her abusive husband and set out with her 10 and 6 year old kids across the country to seek refuge with a friend.  On the way to a new beginning, free from her husband’s abuse, Audra is stopped (in what appears to be a routine traffic stop) by a sheriff in a small, old-fashioned town and everything changes in an instant. A large bag of weed which was obviously planted in her trunk, is found during the stop, so now the sheriff can take her in for questioning and press charges for possession with intent to sell. With Audra’s history of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, she doesn’t stand a chance in the eye of her accusers, even when she has been clean for two years. As she watches helplessly locked in the back of the sheriff’s car, another policewoman comes and loads her children up to take them to a “safe place.” Locked in the town jail until she can appear in court the next morning, Audra demands to know where her children are, but the only response she receives is “what children?”.

How can she ever find her children when no one in the town believes that the children were in the car with her when she was stopped by the sheriff? And it certainly doesn’t help when her terror of a husband and evil mother-in-law portray their side of the story to the media, painting a portrait of Audra as an abuser and unfit mother who has likely killed her children. Talk about an impossible situation to be in. I was blown away by the sheer terror of this story, and I could not put it down until I figured out how Audra was going to find Sean and Louise.

The story switches back and forth between the points of view of Audra, her children, and a stranger named Danny Lee. When the reader is introduced to Danny Lee, he or she may wonder what in the world he has to do with the kidnapping of Audra’s children, but Danny Lee becomes very important to the plot. You’ll see!

This book was terrifying, but so good that I read the whole thing in a few hours last night. The characters are uniquely drawn and the plot is well thought out as well. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, that’s for sure. Major props to Haylen Beck for a fascinating and stimulating roller-coaster novel. It’s sure to be a summer hit and I would highly recommend it for fans of suspense, thrillers, and mysteries.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for the review copy. It was wonderful!! I can’t wait for her next book to release.

Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells

41BJHcaW-KL.SX316Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells will be released for publication on 6/27/17.

Howells’s debut novel is set in present day Cornwall, in a small coastal town. Part of the Silence is an atmospheric suspense novel, with many of the major scenes in the story occurring in or around the woods. The story unfolds in alternating points of view from different main characters, as well as flashbacks from Casey,  a character who doesn’t show up in many of the present day scenes. The way Casey is introduced and weaved into the story begs the questions: “Where is Casey now?” and “What became of her?” The questions regarding Casey certainly enhances the mystery of the story.

Howell really set a high mark with rich character development in her first novel. Readers will feel like they know some of the main characters very well; Jack, Charlotte, Jen/Evie, and Casey.

Jen, now known as Evie, was brutally assaulted and left for dead in a cornfield. She has no memory of what happened, but eventually remembers her name as Evie and the name, Angel, her three-year-old daughter. However, there is no sign of Angel, as well as no evidence Evie ever had a child – no birth records, no children’s clothing or toys at the house, and no one but Evie who claims to have seen a child. Even Nick, her ex-boyfriend, thinks she has lost her mind because he doesn’t know a thing about a child. Jen/Evie was babysitting three-year-old Leah Danning 15 years prior when Leah was abducted. Is Jen imagining she had a daughter but thinking of Leah, from all those years ago? Even in her fragile state of mind, Jen/Evie knows without a doubt that she has a three-year-old daughter. But where is she? And why does it seem like she never existed?

Jack is a great detective, despite being preoccupied with grief from the loss of his fifteen-year-old son two years prior and, more recently, being left by his wife. Jack is the type of detective who doesn’t leave work at work; always on the job and observant of his surroundings.

Charlotte becomes involved with Jen/Evie when she realizes that Jen was her schoolmate long ago. She offers to help Detective Constable Abbie Rose keep an eye on Jen and serve as a friend, hoping it might spark Jen’s memory. Charlotte has a live-in, surfer boyfriend named Rick and their relationship is not too stable.

As mentioned, Casey’s character is revealed in flashbacks weaved into the story. She is the older sister of Leah Danning, who went missing fifteen years ago. Casey’s life has always been tough, beginning when she was sexually assaulted as a child. She surrounded herself with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and bad relationships, and all the while she was jealous of people like Jen, with her easy childhood and movie-star looks.

Readers may wonder why Charlotte becomes so involved with Jen/Evie’s situation and offers to help, being a mere acquaintance from school so many years ago. Is she feeling guilty about something? Does she have something to do with three-year-old Leah’s disappearance fifteen years ago? And what about her surfer boyfriend, Rick, who comes and goes like the swell of the waves he surfs. Does he have something to hide?

Someone knows what happened to Leah and to Jen/Evie’s daughter, Angel, providing there really was a daughter who was abducted at the time of Jen/Evie’s attack. Is it Casey? Xander? Nick? Miller? Charlotte? Jack? The story allows for many possible suspects to keep readers guessing until the end.

The plot doesn’t move along as quickly as most psychological suspense novels. It wasn’t a “read in one sitting” novel for me, but it did keep my interest until the end. I was blind-sighted by the twist and turn of events in the final chapters. Fans of psychological suspense and unreliable narrators will love this story.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the early review copy.

Wait for Me by Caroline Leech

9780062459886_b8b2dReview first appeared in School Library Journal, November 2016.

LEECH, Caroline. Wait for Me. 384p. Harper Teen. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062459886.

Gr 8 Up- In 1945 Scotland during WWII, Lorna Anderson is tending to the family farm alongside her father while her older brothers are fighting at war. Her mother passed away when she was young, leaving Lorna to grow up quickly, assuming some motherly responsibilities in the household. Lorna’s initial uneasiness upon meeting Paul, a German solder with a badly burned face assigned to work at Craigielaw Farm, turns into a mutual respect and friendship. Then, a forbidden romance begins: the daughter of a Scottish farmer and a German prisoner of war. Tension between Lorna and her best friend Iris increases as each grow into young women and fall in love for the first time. Lorna longs for an end to the war, but the end is bittersweet, as her future with Paul is uncertain. Though missing his mother and younger sister, Paul is unsure whether he will have a home to return to after Dresdyn was left in ruins. Even though the war moves slowly, the narrative flows quickly as readers are immersed in the innocent love of Lorna and Paul. Leech includes historically accurate details, and a helpful notes section as well. Fans of Ruta Sepetys and Laurie Halse Anderson will enjoy Leech’s debut novel. VERDICT Historical fiction, forbidden romance, and a coming-of-age tale combine into a memorable story perfect for young adults. Recommended as a first purchase for all libraries.

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

9781250099563_3fe1aOne Perfect Lie is due for publication from Macmillan on April 11, 2017.

I always enjoy Scottoline’s stand-alone novels. They are quick reads because they are hard to put down, with just enough mystery mixed into the story line to keep readers guessing until the very end. The topics of her novels are varied so that when you read them, it doesn’t feel like a mystery you’ve read many times already with the same general story line. I appreciate that, on account of the large number of mysteries that I read. Unique is good!

One Perfect Lie is trademark Scottoline – equal parts thrilling and entertaining. “Chris Brennan” has just secured a teaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. Handsome, quick-witted, and perfect for the job, he is hired without much trouble. He’ll also be the assistant baseball coach, allowing him to get even closer to some of the students and find a much-needed baseball player to serve as a pawn . The only catch is that Chris isn’t a teacher at all, so why is he at Central Valley and what kind of game is he playing? As the intriguing stranger gets to know the students and their families, the mission he is on becomes a bit more personal, even if know one knows his real name or the reason he is hiding out at Central Valley as “Coach Brennan.”

Readers will find out Chris’s true identity and purpose about halfway through the novel, so I won’t reveal it here. What would be the fun in that?!  When one of his fellow teachers is found dead, the stakes increase and Chris has to decide what is most important to him – keeping the secrets and sticking to the mission or finally letting down his guard and feeling like he has a home. No family of his own, Chris grew up in foster care, leading him to live a pretty private adult life perfect for the type of work he is caught up in at Central Valley. He’s a very likable character, despite appearing to be the “bad guy” in the beginning of the story. Once you find out why Chris is at Central Valley, your opinion of him will likely change.

I will mention that there are quite a lot of other main characters in the story, including baseball players Jordan, Evan, and Raz and their respective families. There is even a hint of possible romance involved. Each of the young men and their family have their own unique situations and challenges. Scottoline weaves their stories in with Chris’s mission to add to the richness of the story. I just chose to focus my review on Chris’s character, but rest assured there is a lot going on in this story!

Thank you to Macmillan for the early review copy of this book.