Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.

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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 Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

9780316375191_91b3aThe Identicals will be released on June 13, 2017. It’s definitely going to be a hit summer beach read, as are most of Elin’s novels.

Elin Hilderbrand’s novels have a way of transporting me into the story with such force that I can think of nothing else but the characters. I’ve no shame in admitting that my mind was wandering during the sermon on Sunday, thinking about Harper and Tabitha, looking forward to finishing the book during naptime. I look forward to her books with such intense anticipation, but then I read them too fast. Then, I am left wishing that I would have savored them at a slower pace.

Twin sisters Tabitha and Harper are as different as can be, even though they look identical. It’s fitting for Hilderbrand to write this story, as she is also a twin, though not an identical. Readers will appreciate her authentic voice as the author, fully aware of the unique relationship between twins. The story unfolds in alternating points of view between Harper and Tabitha, but also between the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket themselves.

Harper lives with her father, Billy, on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha lives with her mother on Nantucket. Where Harper is laid back and reckless, her twin sister Tabitha is dignified and methodical. Harper is often the subject of gossip on the island, and her current love interest happens to be Billy’s married doctor. She’s made a few mistakes, but she could care less what people think of her. Their mother, Eleanor Roxie-Frost, a famous fashion designer, owns clothing boutiques which carry her brand and designs. Tabitha works for her mother in the Nantucket boutique, and caters to Eleanor’s every whim, while also trying to ride out the moods and rebellion of her teenage daughter, Ainsley. Though the twins only live 11 miles apart on separate islands, they haven’t seen each other for more than a decade. Since they were teenagers and the fateful day they were forced to split up, one moving to Martha’s Vineyard with Billy and one staying on Nantucket with Eleanor, Harper and Tabitha have avoided each other at all costs.

The drama escalates when the twins decide to switch islands in order to handle matters for their parents in the best possible way. Billy’s house needs remodeled and sold, a task which Tabitha is best fit. What she discovers over in the Vineyard may change her outlook on the future, at least where her love life is concerned. Over in Nantucket, however, the boutique needs a fresh outlook and Ainsley needs some adult supervision and encouragement. Will Harper be able to handle her sister’s matters, or will she disappoint her and drive them further apart? Her love life is a hot mess, so she figures that getting a little distance from the Vineyard and all the gossip won’t hurt.

You will not be disappointed with this story. It is full of humorous moments, tender family situations, heartbreak, love, and even a few (sorta) steamy romantic scenes. It has everything readers would want for a summer beach read. I read the book in one evening! Elin also compares and contrasts Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket as sister islands which are unique, much like Harper and Tabitha.

The Identicals ripped my heart out and pieced it back together with the final chapter, narrated by Fish (a dog), Harper’s faithful companion and best friend. This was a clever and fitting way to end such a beautiful story. I can hardly wait for her next summer novel to be released!

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.

Starr Fall by Kim Briggs (Book Review & Giveaway)

51rBBKqt6QLAs a thank-you to readers, author Kim Briggs, has generously donated a copy of Starr Fall to giveaway to one lucky person. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email.

*****

Preparing to take an entrance test for the Leadership Academy, high school junior, Starr Bishop, has no idea how much her life will change in a matter of hours. Starr is a typical high school student, highly successful, heavily involved, and popular. Everyone loves her and she is athletic (a star swimmer),  beautiful, and smart – the whole package. It turns out that The Organization wants her to be their lead assassin and lead the other recruits. After completing the test, Starr is held against her will and told that she will be trained as an elite assassin. Her two best friends have been killed by the Organization, their deaths staged to look like a car accident. Thanks to her excellent swimming skills and brave determination, Starr is able to escape from the Organization. Now she is on the run from them, with virtually no information about why they chose her and what exactly they want her to do. What she does know is that they are extremely dangerous and will stop at nothing to find her. As she tries to figure out how best to hide, an unlikely guardian angel turns up to help – Christian Evergood. Christian may put up a front at school as a Goth loner, but he turns out to be a regular teenage boy who can’t resist Starr’s charm. Part Cherokee and very knowledgeable about nature, Christian is also sexy and mysterious. He has a place to hide and a plan, so he decides to protect Starr with his life, no matter the cost. What has he got to lose? Starr is a strong female character who doesn’t need anyone to save her; but when help shows up out of the blue in the form of Christian, she decides to go with the flow. And readers will be so glad she did.

The story is written in completely in Starr’s point of view. The sequel, Starr Lost, which was released in January 2017, actually switches back and forth between Starr’s and Christian’s point of view. I certainly would like to see what is going on in Christian’s mind! Briggs has done an excellent job of developing interesting, unique characters in both Starr and Christian. There is quite a bit of mystery to the story, as well. Starr, who readers later find out is actually named Jessica, has secrets regarding her grandparents, who try to kidnap her in their mansion after not having seen her for many years. There is quite a bit more romance to this story than in most suspense novels. However, I say that as a good thing! The romantic scenes are more implied than explicit, which  I appreciate. A few of the scenes are very tense, such as when the Organization first kidnaps her and when she is locked inside the mansion by her grandparents, to name a few. The ending is abrupt and clearly leads into the next part of the series. Like myself, readers will be excited to continue Starr and Christian’s love story, as well as figure out more about the Organization and how Starr will avenge her friends’ deaths.

This is a well-written series starter which teens and adults alike will enjoy. As I mentioned, the romance is not explicit and the language is pretty tame, so the book is appropriate for even younger teens and tweens.

*****

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Kim for donating a copy of Starr Fall to give away to a lucky reader!

To enter to win the book, please leave a comment on this post. Contest ends Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email. 

 

What Light by Jay Asher

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What Light will be published on October 18, 2016 by Razorbill (a Penguin imprint).

Though meant for the young adult audience, adults would really enjoy this story as well. With respect to many YA books, the language and romance are very tame. What Light was like a breath of fresh air, compared to some of the YA books that I have read which are full of sex scenes and unsavory language.

This is a perfect book to get into the Holiday season and spirit of giving. For Sierra, Christmas tree farming has been in her family for generations and it is her life. She looks forward to the Holiday season each year, when she temporarily moves from Oregon to California to set up a Christmas tree lot there. Having done so since she was 5, Sierra has developed a set of best friends and neighbors in each of her homes. This Holiday season, however, is going to be bittersweet because it may be Sierra’s last winter spent in California. Her family doesn’t know how much longer they can afford to keep the tree lot open in California during the Holiday season. As with all the years prior, Sierra spends her days working at the Christmas tree lot and her free time with her best friend, Heather.

Though determined not to, Sierra ends up meeting and falling for a guy. Right away, Sierra can tell that Caleb is unlike any of the guys she has known in the past. Sierra has heard rumors about his past and she wonders about the truth. How can a guy who uses his own hard earned money to purchase Christmas trees for others be as bad as the rumors suggest? As Sierra gets closer to Caleb, despite her father’s protests, the Holiday season is also drawing to an end. Once Sierra discovers the truth about Caleb, will she be able to move forward and help him find forgiveness?  Along with the themes of first love and friendship, this novel also has a large focus on family relationships. Sierra’s relationship with her parents will change a bit this Holiday season as well.

I truly loved this book, and I couldn’t put it down. It really put me into the spirit for the upcoming Holiday season. Jay Asher has a knack for creating real characters; characters we can see in those around us on a daily basis. I highly recommend this book!

The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

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Emma, a young Jewish woman living in Poland during WWII, is forced to assume a new identity as a Polish girl named Anna. A newlywed, Emma’s husband Jacob is in the Jewish resistance group and he is forced to go into hiding just a short time after they are married.  Emma and her parents are taken into the Jewish ghetto to live in cramped quarters with no comforts of home. Luckily, Emma is secretly taken out of the ghetto in the middle of the night by one of the resistance group members. She assumes the role of a Polish gentile named Anna, a niece to a wealthy Catholic woman named Krysia, who is Jacob’s aunt. Krysia is also involved with the resistance but Emma is much safer in her care than in the Jewish ghetto. Fearing for Jacob’s safety, the uncertain future of her aging parents in the ghetto, as well as her own future, Emma must press on, living a life of lies and secrets in order to remain safe from the Nazis.

To complicate matters further, Emma is introduced at Krysia’s dinner party to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking, powerful, and extremely handsome Nazi official. Emma knows she should loathe the Kommandant, but he is sweet, caring, and very much interested in her. “Anna” goes to work for the Kommandant, which allows her to secretly assist the resistance group in gathering information from the Nazis. She never dreamed she would be so comfortable in the presence of a Nazi official, much less spend all her time with him and become his “girl.” As the war intensifies in and around Krakow, Anna gets even closer to the Kommandant in order to carry out a most dangerous mission for the resistance group. Torn between her vows to Jacob and her feelings for Richwalder, Emma must decide which path to take.

When the secrets of her true identity threaten to come out, Emma’s life will never be the same again. The ending will have readers reeling. I cried for Emma, who lost so  very much, but still had the courage to carry on despite the circumstances.  This is a beautifully written story with a fast-paced story-line which readers will enjoy from beginning to end.

Thank you to Harper Collins MIRA for an advanced digital review copy.