Subject to Change by Karen Nesbitt

book-cover

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

9780399555022_442bd

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.

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.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

9781501143199_2af24

The River at Night is one of the best suspenseful, action-packed thrillers that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s a debut novel from author Erica Ferencik, and what a brilliant first novel it is! The story pacing rolls and twists erratically, much like the dangerous river Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra are rafting through the remote Maine wilderness. Ferencik’s characters are vividly portrayed, each uniquely drawn but vitally important to the story. The four women have been friends for many years, but don’t spend as much time together as they would like. Pia, the most adventuresome, fearless and usual leader of the group, plans a trip to the Allagash wilderness in a remote mountainous area of Maine, 30 miles from the closet town. The plan is to meet up with a river guide, Rory, a complete stranger they will have to trust with their lives to get them down the river safely. Despite the trepidation and worry involved with trying something new, Wini and the others are excited for a fun annual girls trip together. Wini is especially excited to have something to focus on, after losing her younger brother and the recent end to her 15 year marriage. The women have no idea what kind of adventure, danger, and thrills await them on the river and in the surrounding wilderness.

Rory is a twenty year old, ruggedly handsome playboy making money by offering guided trips down the raging river. Pia and Rory hit it off a little too well, causing some heated tension between the women. However, they must put their feelings aside, realizing that they depend on Rory for safety and survival. About a third of the way into their trip and partially down the river, an unforeseen tragedy strikes, plunging the women into  a living nightmare. Suddenly they are hopelessly lost and have nothing – no river guide, no supplies, no raft, and no map. Fortunately, they have  each other, but not for long.

As night descends around them in the cold, damp wilderness, they see a beacon of hope – a campfire on the side of the mountain within walking distance. Reinvigorated a bit, they set off toward the fire to find a very primitive camp inhabited by two people. Wini quickly realizes that this backwoods, filthy pair is not actually going to help the women back to civilization at all. Instead, they aim to make the group disappear by all means necessary. Thus begins a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse as the women flee for their lives, but also race against the clock to survive before hunger, thirst, shock, and injuries consume them.

Readers will be dumbstruck by some of the lightning-speed plot twists near the end of the story. I loved the story, even though it didn’t end on a happy note, because (small spoiler alert!) not all the women make it out of the wilderness alive. The writing is vividly real, with brutally raw, emotional scenes between the friends as they cling to each other for support and survival. I also appreciated the way the river was portrayed as a character in itself, a beautiful, but relentless force of nature.

I highly recommend this book. I read it in one evening. You won’t be able to put it down, and I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

9781250111173_74e10

Behind Her Eyes, published by Macmillan, will be released on January 31, 2017.

This story is full of unreliable narrators (who drink…a lot) and the story switches back and forth between them with each chapter. David Martin is young, handsome, and a highly successful psychiatrist. His wife, Adele, is strikingly beautiful with a tragedy-laden past, having lost her parents in a fire at the family estate prior to her marriage to David. Enter Louise, a divorced, single mother who spends her time working as a secretary and drinking wine. Louise becomes entangled with both David and Adele, but in secret (at least Louise believes it to be a secret) from each other. She first meets David in a bar one night, spends some time kissing and flirting with him, but didn’t realize he was married. The next time she sees him, it’s when he becomes her new boss. Awkward much? One day while dropping her young son, Adam, off at school, Louise literally runs into Adele. The “chance” meeting turns into a chat over coffee and the beginning of a gratifying friendship for Louise, who mostly kept to herself prior to meeting Adele.

As Louise spends more time with Adele, she starts to question some of the oddities of her marriage to David. Why does David call to check on Adele at certain times of the day, but not allow her to have a cell phone or any money. Why does Adele keep things hidden from David? And who is this man named Rob, which Adele mentions from her past. Though part of the story flashes back to the time after the fire when Adele is in a mental institution, readers are never given specifics about why she is there. Readers will get a sense that her relationship with Rob, whom she meets at the institution, will be a huge turning point in the plot and what happened to cause such a dark, secretive marriage situation.

This story is dark and even from the outset, there is a powerful mood that something is very, very wrong about Adele and David’s relationship. The ending does a total flip and nothing that happened in the story is as it seems, once the truth is revealed. Everything is explained in the final two chapters and readers will be gobsmacked. Personally, the ending of the book changed my entire attitude toward the story. Though I very much enjoyed reading it, it took a turn toward the twilight zone at the end that I wouldn’t normally enjoy. Sorry to be so vague, but this is not the kind of story I want to inadvertently spoil for any future readers.

Behind Her Eyes is certainly unique and like nothing I have ever read in the past. Perhaps for this reason alone, and despite the ending that wasn’t to my liking, I really loved the book!  Fans of Gone Girl-type psychological suspense and authors like Mary Kubica and/or Stephen King will enjoy this book immensely. It’s sure to be a bestseller with a movie to follow.

Author Interview with Liz Coley & Review of The Captain’s Kid

I’m thrilled to have author Liz Coley here for an interview. I met Liz at the Indiana state library conference after her YA novel, Pretty Girl-13 was chosen as the winner of the Eliot Rosewater Award. (More on the Eliot Rosewater Award here.)

Liz is a brilliant writer, but also very humble and down-to-earth. I must say I was so nervous to meet her, but it was awesome! She is a definite rock-star in my opinion. Pretty Girl-13, her first novel for young adults was suspenseful & excellent. Liz’s newest book, The Captain’s Kid, was released in October 2016. I’ll be interviewing her about the book, as well as including my review below. I hope you enjoy “meeting” Liz as much as I did! And, please, let me know what you think about The Captain’s Kid. You can purchase it from Amazon here.

About Liz Coley (from lizcoley.com)

272282f

Liz Coley has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter’s Regret, and You Are Not Alone.

In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, and Traditional Chinese. German and Simplified Chinese are in the works.

Liz lives in Ohio, where she is surrounded by a fantastic community of writers, beaten regularly by better tennis players, uplifted by her choir, supported by her husband, teased by her teenaged daughter, cheered from afar by her two older sons, and adorned with hair by her cats Tiger, Pippin, and Merry.

Liz invites you to follow @LizColeyBooks on Twitter and Instagram, like Liz Coley Books on Facebook, and visit her website at lizcoley.com, where you can watch the Pretty Girl-13 book trailer, download editing tips, and read her confessional blog postings “Scenes from a Life.”

Author Interview with Liz Coley

Question 1. The Captain’s Kid is a much different genre than your previous novel, Pretty Girl-13. How did you decide to write science fiction? Have you always been a fan of sci-fi? 

I have always loved sci-fi, from the fifth grade when I read the age appropriate Wrinkle in Time and the age inappropriate Thuvia, Maid of Mars. My seventh/eighth grade English teacher was a huge sci-fi fan as well and even used sci-fi in curriculum, so I was in heaven in middle school. I actually got into the writing biz specifically to write sci-fi for tweenagers. I call Pretty Girl-13 “the book I accidentally wrote.” In fact, if you stare at it closely, you’ll see that a science fiction question was at the heart of the story: if you had the choice to remember or forget the worst things that had ever happened to you, what would you do? I tackled that from both the realistic therapy angle–reintegrating memories–and from the sci-fi angle–deactivating memories at the neuron level. Science fiction is still my favorite genre to read.

Question 2. Were any of characters in The Captain’s Kid modeled after real people you knew? If so, which ones? 

Brandon is somewhat a reflection of my oldest son Ian as he was at that age–precocious in math, physically uncoordinated in normal gravity, very hungry, addicted to video games, unable to keep clothes off the floor, and unaware of his leadership potential. The theme of vegetarianism was completely informed by my younger son Connor’s commitment to becoming a vegetarian around the age of 10. Everyone else hopped onto the page via my imagination.

Question 3. Are you working on any other novels at this time? 

I used to be disciplined and write one story at a time. Now I find myself with a variety of tales at the halfway point. There’s a thriller-mystery that I think of as a mashup of Rashomon, Oedipus Rex, and Breakfast Club called We Thought We Knew You. There’s a story about one of my favorite calming pastimes, Balancing Stones, about self-forgiveness and healing. There’s a lively romance that takes place in the bureaucratic upside-down high-rise that is Purgatory, tentatively called Living Down Under, and there’s a weird reincarnation mystery story I’m trying to wrap my head around. Also, I’m dabbling in playwriting.

Question 4. What age group do you feel The Captain’s Kid would appeal to most?

The Captain’s Kid seems to have two audiences. The obvious one, tween/teen boys and girls, ranges from a precocious 10-year old reader to a reluctant 16-year-old reader, with the sweet spot at about 7th-8th grade. Then there are the grown-ups who want a nostalgic read, a clean space adventure with teenage heroes, real life problems, and a first kiss.

Question 5. The acknowledgements mention that you wrote The Captain’s Kid for your two sons. That’s really cool! Did they help you brainstorm to come up with any of the characters or ideas in the novel?

The original version of The Captain’s Kid started as something I wrote in spiral notebooks while the boys were at Taekwondo and piano lessons. After I typed up each scene, I would read it to them in bed as part of our nightly 45 minutes or more of reading aloud. They were extremely helpful as far as their unedited natural reactions, whether laughing with or at me. Since I don’t work with outlines, they made me as anxious to know what was coming next as they were. As a vegetarian, Connor did take real exception to one part of the story and refused to listen for weeks! That little episode showd the impact of fiction on developing minds and codes of ethics.

Question 6. If you had to explain The Captain’s Kid in one sentence or less, what would it be? 

When thirteen-year-old Brandon Webb set out on his first interstellar voyage, he little suspects that the fate of a failing colony will come to depend on his courage, creativity, and compassion.

Question 7. Anything else you would like to say about the novel? 

I’ve met a lot of middle schoolers through school visits who still like being read to. Maybe they haven’t told their parents, but they’ve told me. So I recorded myself reading The Captain’s Kid as a YouTube serial–no fancy production values–just me being a mom and reading aloud, chapter by chapter. My dream is that kids who don’t enjoy reading because of reading challenges will find the series and take the opportunity to read along with me, the book in their hands and my voice in their ears. I branded the series “Undercover Reading,” and if nothing else you should check out the neat morphing logo I designed for it.

download

About The Captain’s Kid (from lizcoley.com)

Whenever his parents went out on missions for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon Webb was left behind on Luna, left to dream of journeying between the stars, meeting aliens, defeating villains, saving the world. Now it’s his turn for adventure, permitted at last by the captain, his father, to join a year-long trip to a failing colonial planet on an emergency resupply run. Or so he’s told.

Brandon’s former dreams could turn to nightmares when the starship is sabotaged, the alien holds secrets about his past, the villain is on the right side, and the world isn’t ready to be saved.

Librarian Laura’s Review of The Captain’s Kid by Liz Coley

First, let me point out that I am not a reader of science fiction. However, I am so glad to have read The Captain’s Kid! I couldn’t put it down, mainly because the story line was so intriguing with just enough mystery to keep it moving along at a quick pace. Additionally, the main character, Brandon Webb, the “Captain’s kid,” was such a unique teenager. Smart as a whip, he still has the boyish clumsiness and goofiness that allow him to keep a positive attitude in perilous situations. With both parents working for the Space Survey Corps, Brandon grew up in an intellectually charged environment, which is clear by his genius in math and computer programming (or “hacking,” as some would refer to it). Brandon’s mother, missing and presumed dead, never returned from a space mission four years prior to Esperanza, a war-torn planet.

One day, Brandon’s father, Gordon, receives a call, and he’s back working for the SSC and planning a resupply mission to Esperanza. Having promised Brandon to never leave him behind, he must make good on his promise. So, Brandon is about to go on his first space mission, a “nube,” embarking on a year-long voyage on the starship named RELIABLE to Esperanza, the place his mother was last alive. He is nervous, but also very excited, having always dreamed of journeying in space.

When Brandon boards the ship and meets some of the other “space kids,” the trip becomes even more interesting for him. There’s Karthik, the son of RELIABLE’s head cook, who quickly becomes his best friend and confidant. And then there is Audrey, whom Brandon is instantly smitten over from the start. If only he can play it cool and not screw up his chances with her, being the klutz that he is. When Brandon becomes the main target of sabotage, however, he has to figure out who on the ship could be an enemy and why they are trying to put a stop to the mission and his life. As the RELIABLE gets closer to Esperanza, Brandon grows closer to Audrey, the danger aboard ship intensifies. Can Brandon and his friends figure out a way to save the mission, and themselves in time? You’ll have to read it and find out for yourselves. You won’t be sorry – it’s a great adventure with a neat ending. The book is well written, and very clean. Middle grade kids, young adults, and adults alike will enjoy this fast-paced space adventure.

Another really cool thing about this book is that Liz has a YouTube channel (LizColeyBooks) with a read-along serial of this book read by Liz herself as part of the Undercover Reading series. Anyone is welcome to subscribe and listen to Liz narrate this story and others.