Thursday, February 27, 2020

Book Review: Sparrow, by Mary Cecilia Jackson

Sparrow by Mary Cecilia Jackson book cover and review
Watching an extremely gifted, hard-working, driven teen girl fall into the grips of a controlling, anger-filled boy made me feel helpless and frustrated.

Savannah--Sparrow to her friends--narrates the story. She can't believe it when handsome, popular, well-off Tristan begins to have feelings for her. He is so kind and gives her gifts and wants to be with Sparrow all of the time.

Sparrow's best friend and dance partner, Lucas, has never liked Tristan. He's been bullied by Tristan since childhood, and Lucas does not believe that Tristan has changed, no matter what Sparrow says. Delaney, Sparrow's best friend, and Lucas watch Sparrow become more and more frightened of her supposed peach of a boyfriend as he controls her every move. Tristan becomes very jealous of Lucas, which makes things even more difficult. Delaney and Lucas repeatedly try desperately to help Sparrow see what Tristan has become. She refuses to acknowledge anything and sticks up for Tristan over and over. Eventually, after Sparrow suggests some time apart, Tristan blows up and beats Sparrow until she is almost dead.

This happens at about the halfway point, and the rest of the story is about Sparrow's difficult path back from potentially losing herself. She must confront not only her relationship with Tristan but other secrets about her childhood relationship with her mother, who died when Sparrow was young. Her friends and family all feel helpless as well as guilty. Her father never allowed her to talk about her mother and the abuse Sparrow suffered. Lucas feels responsible and can't hold his temper. He almost loses everything he has worked for. 

After slogging through the torturous first half of the story--part of it being described by both Sparrow and Lucas--they slowly and painfully begin to heal. Thankfully her family is supportive, and Sparrow builds a therapeutic relationship with a counselor. Lucas spends time away with his grandmother. Their eventual recovery isn't portrayed as being easy or complete. One thing that I must caution--I wouldn't want teens to think that this type of toxic relationship only happens to girls (or boys) who are abused as children. That is what happens in Sparrow's case, but I'm sure these abusive relationships happen to all kinds of "normal" teens as well. And sadly to plenty of adults.

I was put off when the POV first switched to Lucas, and he begins to relate the same events as Sparrow had. I really don't like dual POVs that repeat the same events. I feel like I can imagine the other character's perspective well enough without reading a retelling of the same story. But, this only happened the first time. After that, the switches in POVs continued the story, rather than repeating the same episodes.

Teens who are attracted to edgy, dramatic, issues books will enjoy this one. While somewhat disturbing, it may be enlightening. Give this to your Speak and Dreamland fans. I think Sparrow is going to be popular.

Published by Tor Teen, Marcy 17 2020
ARC obtained from School Library Connection
364 pages

Rating: 4/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Book Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus book cover and review
Bent Heavens is a strangely weird, macabre science fiction story. I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

Liv's father, Lee, has been missing for a couple of years after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens and returned. The reader is taken back to find out what happened after the abduction and before he disappeared.

Lee became obsessed with protecting his loved ones from aliens. He spent all his time in the shed on the back of the property making elaborate traps to catch them and weapons to defend against them. Liv and a good friend, Doug, were in on Lee's plans. Ever since Lee has disappeared, Liv and Doug go out to the woods behind her house to check the traps every Sunday. Liv just believes her father was mentally ill, but Doug believes in the aliens and takes their preparations very seriously.

Everything changes in a hurry when Liv finds an alien stuck in one of the traps.

Sooooo, I had a hard time believing what these teens did after they found the alien. I couldn't believe the lack of compassion. And that lack is what led me to figure out the twist almost immediately. The story got so gory that I had to skim those sections.

There was a big climactic event at the end, and I also had difficulty believing that Liv would do what she did. That's all I'm going to say.

A pretty gruesome, depressing story that is well written, with well-developed characters and settings. It was just the story that I couldn't get into. So, science fiction fans may enjoy Bent Heavens a lot. There's nothing wrong with the execution. I just could buy it (and really didn't want to.)

Published by Henry Holt & Co. BYR, February 25, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
304 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: The Whole Thing Together, by Ann Brashares

The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares book cover and review
The Whole Thing Together is a story of family, both the good and the bad. Even though the family ties are complex, the characters are wonderfully drawn, and the story easy to follow.

Sasha and Ray live in the same bedroom, but not at the same time. Sasha's dad and Ray's mom were once married. They each remarried and gave birth to Sasha and Ray within a few months of each other. And now these families share a summer house on alternating weeks.

There are three older sisters from the original marriage, who, of course, know both Sasha and Ray. But Sasha and Ray have never met.  And then they do.

It's a complicated and compelling relationship. The three older siblings each have distinct personalities that add to the drama. And there are other secrets. And romance. As these dysfunctional parents persist in their refusal to be in the same house with each other, circumstances propel them together with disastrous results.

Brashares, as usual, unwinds this twisted tale, engrossing us in the lives of each character. I was quickly absorbed in the story and found The Whole Thing Together to be a quick and entertaining story.

Published by Delacorte, 2017
Copy obtained from the library
304 pages

Rating: 4/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Audiobook Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead book cover and review
 The Nickel Boys is getting a lot of hype, and I understand why.

The Nickel Boys chronicles the story of Elwood, a black teenager from Tallahassee, Florida in the 1960s. Elwood's parents have abandoned him, and his grandmother is raising him. Elwood is smart and determined. When he is accepted into the local black college, his future is bright. Everything comes crashing down when Elwood is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up in a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy.

The black "students" are kept separate from the white, and even though the mission statement says the school provides "physical, intellectual and moral training," what it really provides is a horrific existence where students are worked hard, provided little nourishment, and beaten and sometimes even killed for small infractions.

Elwood is optimistic, being a follower of Martin Luther King, and believes he can overcome his environment and continue to love his captors. His friend, Turner, thinks Elwood is crazy, the world is out to get them, and they need to avoid trouble at all costs.

This story is all the more harrowing since it is based on a reform school that existed during that time and, of course, ruined the lives of many, many black children.

I liked The Nickel Boys. It helped that is was a short book. I still felt it dragged at the beginning, but I needed to find out what happened. The ending was a surprise, but that is all I'll say. The book makes you sad, and frustrated, and outraged, as is intended. I'm not sure I'd consider it one of The 10 Best Fiction Books of the Decade (Time Magazine), but that is just my opinion. I do think it is worth the read. Also, The Nickel Boys would be a great classroom read for high school students.

Published by Doubleday, 2019
Audiobook obtained from the library
 224 pages

Rating: 4/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 10, 2020

Book Review: The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly by Kerri Maher

The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher book cover and review
The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly was an entertaining fictionalized account of Grace Kelly's life.

This book kind of made me sad because I had always thought that Prince Ranier swept Grace off her feet and she willingly gave up her stardom to become Princess of Monaco. That's not exactly true...

The account of Grace's life goes back and forth from the 50s to the 70s. We immediately see (in the 70s) that she is not completely fulfilled by her life as a Princess and her relationship with Ranier. But then we go back to the beginning, of Grace as a Barbazon model. What I didn't realize is that she really worked hard at acting, taking classes and studying under some great acting teachers. She has a lot of relationships and a lot of success. Even though she didn't realize that she was a success. She had no desire to do movies--she wanted to be a Broadway star. But when that didn't materialize, she decided to give Hollywood a try.

Apparently, the author had to pick and choose which relationships to include, but still, I thought that part went on a big long. A lot of familiar stars and familiar movies were mentioned, and I got a bit tired of it. (But was fascinated by her encounter with Princess Diana.) Maybe if Maher had jumped back to the 70s a bit more in the middle of the book that would have broken it up a bit.

However, I still really enjoyed The Girl in White Gloves. But as I said, my dreams have been shattered. Grace was really forced to give up acting and risked losing her children if she ever tried to move in that direction. Ranier turned out to be quite the cad, and the storybook romance ended fairly quickly.

The Girl in White Gloves is well researched, and the author points out some historical inaccuracies in her notes at the end. Well worth the read if you are interested in Kelly, or the life of a princess.

Published by Berkley, Februery 25, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Audiobook Review: The Quiet Game by Greg Iles

The Quiet Game by Greg Iles book cover and review
The Quiet Game is the first book in the Penn Cage series. I had read Natchez Burning, not realizing that it was the fourth book and enjoyed it so much I wanted to start at the beginning.

Penn, a prosecutor in Houston, has been trying to get over the death of his wife and decides to return home with his young daughter to heal. Instead of healing, he puts himself, his parents, and his daughter in grave danger as he investigates a 30-year-old unsolved murder of a black man in Natchez. There is much resistance from the town, both black and white, to opening this case again. Penn doesn't understand why.

Getting to the truth of what really happened almost destroys everything Penn has, but he can't give up until he gets some resolution. No matter what the cost. That's just the kind of guy he is.

The story contains the beginnings of what could end up a romance for Penn, which as a reader you really want. He's suffering and you want to see him happy. These books are very long at 20 hours -- some would say a bit bloated. But I enjoyed the details and Iles' writing style is interesting. It helps that the narrator, Tom Stechschulte, does a great job of pulling you into the lives of these characters.

I received this book from I have really enjoyed this audiobook service, and you should check it out if you are interested. Not as many books as Audible, but I've been able to find everything I wanted.

If you are at all interested in Civil Rights murders in the south during the 60s and beyond, check out the Penn Cage series. I've really become attached to these characters and plan to continue with Turning Angel, the second book.

Published by Dutton, 1999
Audiobook obtained from
433 pages

Rating: 4/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Book Review: Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon book cover and review
Although Of Curses and Kisses incorporates a familiar trope, the story of Princess Jaya and Grey Emerson is engaging. 

Jaya has been raised to be an Indian heiress, following all the protocols her parents have set in place without question.  When scandalous photos of her younger sister's escapades are exposed in the media, Jaya willingly accompanies her to a new boarding school away from the attention. When Jaya discovers Grey Emerson attends the same school she vows to avenge her sister. You see the Emersons family and Jaya's family are feuding and Emerson is the author of the vicious attack on Jaya's sister. She will compel him to fall in love with her, only to break his heart. 

The reader can see from page one where Of Curses and Kisses is going. Of course, Grey is not what he seems, and these two are destined for true love, even though Jaya is practically betrothed to a neighboring prince (to build alliances for her father) and Grey has been cursed (by Jaya's family) and will die on his 18th birthday. The group of friends (and enemies) surrounding these two are interesting and canny. There is the friend who is "in love" with a cad, and the cad is dating one of the most popular girls at school. Jaya's sister is falling for a totally unacceptable mate, in Jaya's eyes. There is something mysterious about Jaya's ruby broach -- stones keep falling out of it and Grey seems to think it has something to do with the family curse. So there are plenty of barriers to true love and many surrounding issues adding substance to this "hate to love" imagery. 

Another bizarre issue is that Menon throws in obscure vocabulary so much that at times the phrasing is awkward as if she is trying to throw in as many SAT words as possible. I kept a list of just some of them: puerile, insouciant, vitriol, imbibed, ennui, loquacious, innervating bespoke, misanthrope, disingenuous, untenable, nihilism. Some of these words were used in the dialog between the teens -- it was just awkward, and some teens may find this daunting. Of Curses and Kisses is being marketed to ages 12 and up.  I just don't see that, given the vocabulary.

The happy ending is frenetic, but everything gets tied up nicely in a bow. Nothing special, but romance junkies will probably find Of Curses and Kisses charming.

Published by Simon Pulse, February 18, 2020
ARC obtained from School Library Connection Magazine
361 pages

Rating: 3/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved

Monday, February 3, 2020

Book Review: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman book cover and review
It's about a bookish girl, so how could I not check out The Bookish Life of Nina Hill?

Admittedly, romantic comedy isn't one of my usual genres, but once in awhile, I need a fix. And The Bookish Life of Nina Hill had me chuckling aloud, so it was a win.

Nina works at a book store and lives alone in a small apartment with lots of bookshelves and a cat. Her life is turned upside down when she discovers her father has died and left her something in his will. Surprising because she has never known who her father is -- her mother didn't tell her. Nina had a father who has lived close by for all her life. And... she has relatives! Lots of them. And they want to meet her.

Introverted Nina has a hard time with her newfound family. Then, on top of all that, she has a man that is interested in her. He won't take no for an answer, and Nina really doesn't want him to. So Nina is navigating her new life with all its ups and downs, and she's funny.

The book is fluffy and quick and a great diversion that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. Waxman has done a great job bringing Nina to life, and as a reader, you can't help but root for her. Will everything turn out happily ever after?  You will have to read The Bookish Life of Nina Hill to find out!

Published by Berkley, 2019
eBook, purchased
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

Back to Annette's Book Spot Homepage Copyright © 2019 Annette's Book Spot. All Rights Reserved


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...