Holly Jolly Summer by Tiffany Stewart

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Originally appeared in School Library Journal, April 2018.

Gr 7 & up – The summer tourist season is bustling in the stifling hot town of Christmas, Kentucky, as 15 year old First Daughter, Darby causes a very public disaster at the annual Snow Globe unveiling. Her single father, Mayor Peacher, encourages her to get a job and be a regular kid, replacing her unofficial position in his office with Marianne, an attractive city-girl type sent by the Governor’s office to help Christmas become an even greater tourist destination. Darby goes to work at Holly Jolly Land, a local amusement park full of promise, but in need of a little TLC. Despite being the lowest on the maintenance crew, having to use the infamous M.O.P, and her reputation that precedes her, Darby gets to know the owner, Nick, a Vietnam vet, and the “Misfits,” feeling a sense of belonging. Her new supervisor turns out to be Calvin, a cute boy from the not so distant past, who causes her crush on Roy, the class heart-breaker, to fizzle. Will Calvin stand by Darby when the future of Holly Jolly Land is in the balance? Lacking any mature scenes or language, this squeaky clean young adult romance is suitable for middle grade readers as well. VERDICT: Recommended for strictly additional purchase, Stewart’s debut beach read is full of holiday flavor and humor, but also predictability.

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Little Big Love by Katy Regan

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Originally published in Library Journal, March 2018

A modern family drama unfolds in alternating points of view of authentic voices between a 10 year old named Zac who likes to collect facts and cook, his single mother, Juliet, and her father, Mick.  Juliet and Zac live on Harlequin Estate in Grimsby, a seaside town in England which was a major fishing port. Zac’s father, Liam, left under mysterious circumstances after the tragic death of Juliet’s brother, Jamie, ten years ago. Only Mick, a recovering alcoholic and retired fisherman, knows the truth, but he hides behind grief, guilt, and his opinionated wife. Juliet drowns her sorrow with alcohol and food, and she and Zac have become overweight, causing Zac to be bullied. When the bullying at school escalates, Juliet is determined to get Zac healthy and happy. Convinced it will please his mom, Zac’s mission, a secret with best friend Teagan, is to find Liam. Soon, finding Liam becomes Zac’s top priority, but when the truth is revealed, there’s no going back, no matter the pain it brings. VERDICT: Fans of Jane Green and Susan Wiggs will enjoy Regan’s debut novel with strong family bond that explores the age-old question of what if and the aftermath of one poor decision.

 

Always, Forever, Maybe by Anna Mrose Ricci

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Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr. 9 & Up: High school senior, Bee, has been living in the shadow of her best friends, popular twins Jo and Eric, counting the days until she can move away from her demanding parents. When Bee begins dating Aiden, her relationship with Jo becomes strained, which further increases as she starts keeping secrets involving Aiden from Jo. The tone starts off lightheartedly, but quickly turns serious as Aiden’s true character is revealed. Bee is convinced that Aiden is the one, and she remains in the relationship as he becomes jealous, irrational, and violent. Her parents forbid the relationship, causing her to want Aiden even more. Readers will sense Bee’s fear, and the pressure of trying to please everyone but herself. When sudden tragedy strikes, Bee finally realizes she must leave Aiden before it’s too late. Rissi’s first YA novel gives an accurate, but heartbreaking picture of teenage relationships. Recommended for additional purchase, the story has mature language and sexual scenes, as well as real-life situations which teen readers will appreciate. VERDICT: Fans of Colleen Hoover will enjoy this modern day realistic fiction story, full of diverse characters and the important message that abusive relationships are never acceptable.

 

 

Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington

9780765392275_3ab13Originally published in School Library Journal, March 2018.

Gr 9 & up – On summer break, Virginia (Vee), a talented songwriter and musician, leaves Michigan for a 3 month reality band competition tour with best friend, Logan. Much to her surprise and initial dismay, the newest member of Your Future X is Cameron, Vee’s not-quite forgiven or forgotten ex. Guilt-ridden and alone, Cam moved to Riverton from California after a horrible accident which killed his parents. Vee becomes the center of attention on a tour bus full of single musicians where every moment, private or not, is viewed by the fans. Told in alternating points of view, the pacing is quick, switching between two years prior to the present. Much like notes plucked on their guitars, Vee can’t deny the hum of sexual tension between herself and Cam. Will Vee forgive Cam and open herself up to love again? This modern-day realistic fictional romance has both steamy love scenes and tender moments between best friends, appealing to even reluctant readers. It’s like Battle of the Bands meets the Bachelorette in book form. VERDICT: Filled with lyrics, love, and late nights, Pennington’s timely debut novel will appeal to romance fans of Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti.

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

9780399592188_1bf94Originally published in Library Journal, February 2018.

Readers meet Venus Black, age 13, in 1980 Washington state, as she is locked up in juvenile detention after a horrific event involving her stepfather Raymond. Her father died when she was 5, and soon after Inez, her self-absorbed mother, married Ray. The only positive aspect of their union is her developmentally disabled step-brother Leo, whom Venus loves fiercely. Later details emerge that Venus shot Ray who had been peeping into her bedroom for years. Inez refused to help, forcing Venus to ensure Leo’s and her own safety from Ray the only way she could. Leo is then kidnapped by Ray’s estranged brother, Tinker, who feels he is doing Leo a favor, rescuing him from Inez and Venus. Tinker rents a room from tattoo artist, Tony, and his 11 year-old daughter Tessa. Tessa cares for and loves Leo like a brother. At age 19, Venus is released, rents a room from Mike, and begrudgingly agrees to babysit his precocious 9 year-old niece, Piper. Venus eventually adores Piper like a sister, but when Piper moves away, Venus decides to find Leo, no matter the cost to herself or Inez. In the aftermath of finding Leo, Venus and Inez find forgiveness and hope for a loving future where Leo is loved by two families. While searching for Leo, Venus meets Danny, a determined cop who loves her despite her troubled past. At the end, Venus decides to start college and write her memoir as a way to heal and move forward. VERDICT: Fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Lloyd’s fast-paced, debut novel for the unique characters, captivating story-line, and beautiful tribute to the healing power of love.

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.