“Code name Verity” (Verity #1) Elizabeth Wein

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Hyperion. 339 p. (Includes a “Brief Bibliography.”)

CodeNameVerityThe story opens with Verity, a secret agent sent to Occupied France by the British, being held prisoner by the Gestapo during World War II. After being tortured for weeks, Verity struck a deal which allowed her to regain a modicum of civility but which also included having her write all she knew about the Royal Air Force (RAF) and her role with the British.

As Verity’s story unfolds we meet Maddie, a rare female pilot in the RAF who became Verity’s best friend. As their stories of bravery, friendship, and survival in the midst of fear and the unknown are revealed, readers will be hard pressed to keep their tears and emotions in check.

“Code Name Verity” won the Michael L. Printz Honor Award in 2013, given by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). It also was listed on the 2013 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten list, and won numerous other awards. All are well deserved.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“Belle epoque” Elizabeth Ross

Rated 4 stars **** 2013. Delacorte. 327 p. (Includes “Author’s Note.”)

BelleEpoqueUnwilling to submit to an arranged marriage to a 40-year-old man, sixteen-year-old Maude Pichon runs away from her small, seaside village. Adrift in the large city of Paris and with her limited money running out, she seeks work at the Durandeau Agency where she reluctantly becomes a repoussoir – a person who is so ugly she repels others to makes her client look beautiful.

The Agency is filled with poor women and girls who have no money, but who Durandeau deems ugly enough to earn him a few francs. Maude becomes the repoussoir for Isabelle, a Countess’ rich daughter she plans to marry off during her upcoming debutante season. The only catch to her job is Maude must gain Isabelle’s confidence and report back to the Countess, but not let Isabelle know her true role. As months go by and the Countess transforms Maude’s life, she finds herself drifting into fantasies where she has become the debutante and finds herself a rich husband.

As she begins to befriend Isabelle, she looks down on her former life and friends at the Agency in favor of a new, imagined life with the Countess. However, the more time she spends with them, the more she will have to come to terms with her true self and decide if the rich life is really where she’s meant to be.

I enjoyed reading “Belle Epoque,” and learning about life in 1800’s France. Though based on a fictional story about repoussoirs written in 1866, it’s a shame that we still judge others by appearances rather than by what they offer society.

Recommended for ages 16 and older, including Adults.

“What she knew” Gilly Macmillan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2015. HarperCollins. 467 p. (Also includes a Bibliography, Reading Group Discussion Questions, and an Author Q & A.)

WhatSheKnewRachel had never gotten over her husband leaving her for another woman and their subsequent divorce. Their son had been seven years old at the time, and she tried to focus her energies on him but there were days when it was too hard to function. Sweet, gentle Ben knew how to tell when Mummy was having a hard day, and they had bonded over little things that made them their own family.

Now that he was a little older Rachel felt it important to teach him a little more independence so, when he asked to run ahead on one of their daily walks in the woods, she allowed him to do so. Within a few minutes he was out of sight and, by the time she arrived at their meeting place, he was gone.

After a half hour of hysterically searching, she called the police. Her life became a living nightmare as they pulled out all the stops in their investigation to figure out what happened to eight-year-old Ben, while the public reached their own conclusions about her incompetency as a mother on social media, television and in newspapers. Though vilified, misunderstood, abused and harassed, Rachel stood firm on one thing. She would not rest until Ben was back in her arms, and would do whatever it took to find him.

The story of a young child’s kidnapping is told through the alternating voices of his grieving mother, as well as the main detective on the case and his psychologist. Readers will find themselves riveted, alternately rooting for Rachel who is experiencing every parent’s nightmare while wondering what happened to Ben. The answer is a shocker.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“The perfect stranger” Megan Miranda

Rated 2 stars ** ARC. Ebook. To be published May 16, 2017. Simon & Schuster.
Forced to resign from her reporter job in Boston, Leah theperfectstrangerreacquaints herself with Emmy, an old friend. Both women need a new beginning, so decide to rent a home in a small Pennsylvania town. Now a high school teacher, Leah struggles to come to grips with what happened in Boston while trying to figure out how to start her life anew.

One day, Leah realizes she hasn’t seen Emmy in almost 5 days. When a young woman is found bludgeoned almost to death, Leah fears the worst and asks Kyle, a local detective, for help finding Emmy. When Emmy’s boyfriend is found murdered, clues seem to point towards Leah because no one can locate any evidence that Emmy actually existed. Each day that passes brings new fears to Leah’s life, and she will have to use every reporter skill she’s ever learned to get herself out of the hole into which someone seems to have wanted her to fall.

Billed as a sequel to “All the missing girls,” Miranda’s “The perfect stranger” seemed more as a standalone read to me. I didn’t find it to be as exciting, and it definitely wasn’t as suspenseful as “All the missing girls.”

I wasn’t a big fan, so will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“The nearness of you” Amanda Eyre Ward

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. To be published February 14, 2017.

thenearnessofyouSuzette and Hyland had been married for years, and were comfortable in their love. Suzette worked long hours as a heart surgeon, Hyland wandered from job to job, but they were always there for each other. Things were good, until Hyland reneged on their marriage agreement by asking for a child. Suzette had never wanted children because her mother was mentally ill, and she stood a chance of passing on the illness. Despite misgivings, Suzette agrees to allow Hyland to medically impregnate a surrogate but, shortly after learning she was pregnant with his child, the surrogate disappears.

Through multiple viewpoints, Ward tells the story of the young surrogate struggling to raise a child she thought she didn’t want, but loved all the same, contrasted with Suzette’s similar conflict and love. Readers are taken through their years of pain, adaptations and sacrifice, to arrive at the conclusion that love conquers all.

“The nearness of you” was a good read, although the medical jargon was very confusing. I think Ward could have portrayed Suzette’s job in a general manner without resorting to readers having to hunt down a medical dictionary to figure out what was happening.

Recommended for Adults.

“Always” Sarah Jio

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Ballantine Books. To be published February 7, 2017.

alwaysKailey loved Ryan, her handsome and rich fiancé who she’d been dating for 4 years. Though secretly still in love with a man from her past, they were set to marry. The day she runs into a homeless man she recognizes as Cade, the love of her life who had disappeared years earlier, her life forever changes.

Through flashbacks, readers are shown their love story, setting the stage for Cade’s disappearance and Ryan’s appearance in Kailey’s life. The more she remembers the former life she had with Cade, the more she begins to question her life with Ryan. Should she give up an old love for a new one? Could she learn to live a new life and leave her old one behind?

As Kailey debates what to do, readers easily split into Pro Ryan or Pro Cade camps. The decision is not as hard as Kailey makes it out to be; she’s just too dense to figure it out as fast as I did. In the midst of trying to understand what happened to Cade, I couldn’t figure out the point of all the “cloak and dagger” mysteries around him. “Always” was okay but was a bit too predictable, with a few too many loose ends, for me to rate it higher than three stars.

Recommended for Adults who don’t mind the occasional “huh?” thrown into their reading.

I received an Advance Reading digital copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

“The peculiar miracles of Antoinette Martin” Stephanie Knipper

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published August 2, 2016. Algonquin Books. 328 p.

thepeculiarmiraclesofantoinettemartinAntoinette is an autistic child with the ability to heal, but develops seizures when she alleviates someone’s pain. She is desperate to heal her dying mother, but is rebuffed.

Lily yearned for the closeness she once had with her sister growing up on their flower farm, but doesn’t know how to deal with her niece. Whenever she’s around, her battles with OCD seem to be heightened, causing a vicious circle of wanting to be with her sister but not wanting to regress into unhealthy behaviors.

Rose knows she is dying. Her sister Lily abandoned her and refused to help her run the farm when Antoinette was just a toddler, yet she is her only living relative. Afraid of Lily’s rejection, she is even more afraid of leaving Antoinette to grow up alone.

Antoinette, Rose and Lily display both physical and mental impairments as they tell their stories. Their hopes and fears will tug at the emotional heartstrings of readers, reminding them that everyone has a burden to bear, a story to tell, and a heart to be loved.

Recommended for Adults.