Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book Review: Best Day Ever, by Kaira Rouda @KairaRouda

Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda book cover and reviewWhere do I start?  I really enjoyed everything about Best Day Ever.

The book is narrated by Paul, the husband.  It takes place in one day.  Paul is taking his wife for a getaway to their summer home.  He is planning the Best Day Ever for her.

We quickly figure out that Paul has issues.  Just how big his issues are is only slowly revealed.  He's a domineering husband--one that requires his wife to stay home with the kids, cook his dinners, and run his household. So even though they seem to have a perfect marriage--two kids, lots of money--all is not what it seems.

I don't want to say too much about what happens.  As Paul narrates his innermost thoughts, we get to learn about his past and really just what makes him tick. I couldn't put Best Day Ever down.  Which is really strange, because if you ask me what actually happens in the book -- well -- not much. But as I read, I just couldn't wait to see how this was all going to turn out. What did Paul have planned for his wife? Rouda subtly ramps up the tension just by letting us in this guy's head.

The ending was stunning and unexpected.

Okay.  That's it.  I'll say no more -- except -- if you enjoy a good "their marriage is not what it seems" thriller, read this one right now. Also appropriate for mature teens who enjoy the genre.

Published by Graydon House, October 1, 2018
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Book Review: The War Outside by Monica Hesse

The War Outside by Monica Hesse book cover and review
The War Outside is a unique, compelling story about life during WWII that has never been told.

Margot and Haruko have been uprooted from their lives along with their families.  WWII is raging, and these families have been taken to a Family Internment Camp in Texas because their fathers have been accused of spying for the enemies.

Based on true events, this camp was the only one of its type in the country.  Both Japanese and German families were sent here.  The two teens’ friendship is unlikely, since the two nationalities are segregated within the camp.  But Margot’s family, going against the wishes of the camp’s Nazi leadership, decide to send Margot to the Federal High School, which is accredited, rather than the German school.

So Margot and Haruko begin a secret friendship that isn’t easy.  It is difficult for Margot to be honest, and Haruko tells secrets that she probably shouldn’t.  But she needs someone to talk to.  Life isn’t easy, and Hesse does a great job of pointing out hardships, both mental and physical, that readers might not consider.  No one can be trusted, the girls must be secretive, and they both have other stresses that threated their friendship.  Margot’s mother is pregnant.  Haruko’s brother is serving as a soldier in the war, and they don’t know where he is.

The dual narration is expertly utilized. The girls are in an unbelievable situation.  The War Outside isn’t a happy story. The last chapter found my jaw dropping open. But this is a story that hasn’t been told. This camp isn’t like the ones where Japanese who lived on the coast were sent. Yet another story of one of the atrocities of WWII that needed to be told.  Anyone, teen or adult, who wants to learn more about WWII should be exposed to The War Outside.

Published by Little, Brown BFYR, September 25, 2018
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
318 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Book Review: Sawkill Girls, by Claire Legrand

Teens (or even adults) who are looking for horror stories should check out Sawkill Girls--it is truly horrific!

Marion has moved to Sawkill Island with her mother and sister.  Her mother is the housekeeper for the Mortimers - Val and her mother. When Marion is injured after falling off a spooked horse, Zoey is one of the people who are first to reach her. Zoey's father is the chief of police.

Over many years girls have been disappearing from Sawkill, and none of them are ever found.  Their deaths are never explained.  The most recent was Thora, Zoey's best friend, who had recently dumped her for Val.  It seems the Mortimers have been somehow involved in all of the disappearances.  Zoey is determined to find out what is going on. The three girls' lives begin to intertwine as more girls disappear.

This book is weird and strange.  And like I said, it really gave me genuine creeps at times. Horror isn't a common genre for me, but I have read some. I really appreciated the writing.  Legrand can really describe a scene vividly.  That is the main positive for me from Sawkill Girls. However, this book just wasn't for me.

The storyline was a bit too far out and unbelievable for me. That is definitely a personal threshold, but I had trouble suspending my disbelief. My main issue was that it was, at almost 500 pages, just so looooong.  At about 50%, I thought we were going to start wrapping things up.  But...50%. At 75%, I actually started skimming. I wanted to know the resolution, but I was getting tired of it.  Which is strange, because I said the writing was compelling, but along with that it was very descriptive and the segments of action were just too far apart.

I would definitely recommend this to teens who enjoy gory, creepy, macabre stories that are a bit fantastical. It is not easy to find a real horror book.  And Sawkill Girls is one. It just wasn't one of my favorites.

Published by Katherine Tegen, October 2, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
464 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Book Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers @courtney_s ‏

Sadie by Courtney Summers book cover and review
Sadie is most definitely not a happy book.  But it is a good one.

It has been up to Sadie to take care of her sister, Mattie, since her mother is a drug addict and has abandoned her daughters.

Mattie is found brutally murdered, well, I guess it was brutally because we don't get those details.  Sadie's only support is her neighbor, May Beth, who has been a surrogate grandmother doing the best she can to help the girls.

The case of Mattie's murder goes cold, and Sadie decides to take matters into her own hands to hunt down the murderer. After months, Sadie's car has been found, but nothing else.

Wes McCray hosts a podcast about small, forgotten towns and overhears Sadie's story.  He reluctantly begins to investigate and can't help but be drawn in.

Sadie is told from Sadie's perspective as she searches for the man she knows killed Mattie alternating with McCray's podcasts as he follows Sadie's trail.

The way the story is told is unique and interesting.  We slowly get the details of Sadie's and Mattie's past lives and what led up to the horrible ending. I found it difficult to put down and would think about it while I wasn't reading. And don't expect a happy ending.  It is very realistic.

Sadie has been given four starred reviews with good reason.  As far as teen contemporaries go, this one is edgy and compelling. There would be much to discuss if Sadie were used as a classroom read (although there is some language that might prevent this in some schools.) Don't let your teens miss out on Sadie.

Published by Wednesday Books, September 4, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss and NetGalley
320 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Book Review: The 48 by Donna Hosie

I've recently been interested in the history of the Tudors and the wives of Henry VIII, so when I saw The 48, I was excited to read more.  I was not disappointed.

Time-traveling twins, Charles and Alexander, are sent to England when Henry VIII was married to Anne Boleyn but has designs on Jane Seymour. The twins are part of a secret network, The 48, and have trained for this assignment their entire life.  The 48 is run by a group of people who want to change history, in this case, they want to make sure Henry doesn't marry Jane. The goal is to rid the world of religion.

First of all, that's a very different type of time travel than most stories.  Usually, it is all about never doing anything that will change the future.  And I thought it was strange that they didn't worry about the other changes that such drastic actions might cause. The "butterfly effect" was never mentioned.

This is Charles' and Alexander's first mission and it goes off the rails immediately.  In many ways.  Something is up with The 48, so they aren't getting the support they need. Someone wants at least one of them dead.  One of the narrators is Lady Margaret, one of Queen Anne's ladies, and she wants to marry Alex. Cromwell is up to no good, as you know if you are aware of anything about this time period. For some reason, Alice, one of the time travelers who is still in training, ends up with them, having been pushed through time by one of the other 48.

Once things get going, the tension builds nicely.  Everyone is in fear for their lives, and some characters come very close to losing theirs. It does take a bit to get going, and some of the characters make stupid decisions -- but when don't they. I didn't get much history that I wasn't already familiar with, but the atmosphere of the time period was very well done.

Just FYI, the book that got this started was Fatal Throne, which I loved.  So read that one first, and then The 48 is a great follow-up.

I would recommend this to time-travel fans first.  The historical elements are there, but not as strong as the time travel elements. Fans of Tudor England will be entertained by the potential upheaval this time travel may cause.

Published by Holiday House, September 4, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Book Review: Origin, by Dan Brown

Origin by Dan Brown book cover and review
I'm always entertained by Dan Brown's writing, and Origin is no exception.

This time Robert Langdon is going to Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain to hear an announcement about a major scientific discovery by a former student who is now a world-renowned scientist. Chaos ensues, and Langdon finds himself on the run with the director of the museum, who is also the fiance of the future king of Spain.

The story in Brown's novels is always intriguing and edgy.  This one has to do with the origin of mankind. But what makes his books special is the setting. This time we travel to Barcelona.  Brown has the knack for describing places so that they are easily visualized, and the detailed description of the setting never takes away from the story. I find his storytelling very unique in that respect.

Of course, the excitement mounts, and Langdon's life is on the line. How will he get through this one unscathed?  Well, that's the fun of the story.

As with all of Brown's Robert Langdon novels, I now must put Barcelona on my list of cities that I must visit. If you are a fan, this is a must-read. On the other hand, if you don't like the previous books, this one is no different.  These novels all have the same rhythm and style. If you've never experienced a Robert Langdon thriller, then Origin is an acceptable introduction.  The books do not need to be read in order. These books are accessible to teens also.  They are popular with a certain group of students in my library.

Published by Anchor, 2017
eBook - purchased
463 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Book Review: Rule by Ellen Goodlett

Rule by Ellen Goodlett book cover and review
I find myself tiring of books about royals competing for the throne, but Rule has enough mystery to allow it to stand out.

Three half-sisters from very different backgrounds are summoned to the capital city for what they all think is their execution. They have all committed acts that could be considered treasonous. Instead of incarcerating them, the king reveals that they are all his daughters, and one of them will be chosen to rule. What is different about Rule is that the story isn’t about the competition for the crown.  The girls end up banding together because they are all being blackmailed because of their secrets.  Someone knows what all three of them have done and is trying to get them to give up their right to the throne or be exposed.

At its heart, Rule is a mystery. And one that keeps doling out clues that steadily build up the tension. The multiple points-of-view are handled adeptly. A minor annoyance is the “instalove” between one of the girls and the queen. From the moment they saw each other for the first time, there was this magnetic attraction that I couldn't quite buy.

But my biggest peeve, as usual, is that the book ends in not only a cliffhanger but actually in the middle of the story.  There isn’t any resolution whatsoever. Endings like these make me want to not read further in the series just for spite!

So if you can wait for the rest of the story, this one is a good choice for teens who enjoy stories of royal mystery and intrigue.

Published by Little, Brown BFYR, September 11, 2018
eARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
371 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan @annsulliva

A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan book cover and review
King Midas turned things into gold.  Including his daughter, Kora.  A Touch of Gold is Kora's story.

Midas screwed up, and after he gets his curse reversed, he can no longer turn things to gold.  And although Kora is no longer gold, she still isn't normal and has powers that must be kept secret from the kingdom.

Midas needs to be near the other items he turned to gold in order to live.  So when they are stolen, Kora must hunt them down and return them to save her father and the kingdom. She gets the help of one of her suitors, Aris (who hasn't fled at the sight of her golden skin), and he takes her on his ship.  Her cousin, Hettie, stows away on board which also complicates things. When the sailors find out who Kora is, her life is in danger.  Aris along with the captain, Royce, protect here. Kora can sense where the gold is--she gets visions that help them find it.

The lore is interesting although at times confusing.  There is a complexity, but things sometimes are explained a bit quickly. The bad guys aren't what they seem -- and neither are the good ones.  There are plenty of twists and turns that all surprised me. The romance is a bit overdone, but hey, it added to the enjoyment. It is for teens, after all. The ending ramps up nicely and is very exciting and satisfying.

Teens who enjoy fantasy, mythology, and retellings will certainly enjoy this one. Adults should give A Touch of Gold a chance too.

Published by Blink, August 14, 2018
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
320 pages

Rating: 4/5

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