“A dictionary of mutual understanding” Jackie Copleton

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published December 1, 2015. Penguin Books.

ADictionaryOfMutualUnderstandingAmaterasu Takahashi has had a tough life, and has spent 40 years in the United States trying to forget about the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki that killed everyone she held dear, including her daughter and grandson. With her husband now dead, and everyone she loved gone, Amaterasu drinks herself into oblivion hoping to forget the pain of her memories. Her life is turned upside down when a very burned, heavily scarred man knocks on her door, insisting he’s her long-lost grandson Hideo, forcing her to relive the memories she’s been trying desperately to forget.

Amaterasu’s story is told through flashbacks, as multiple voices painstakingly remove layers to reveal the truth about herself she’s buried for 40 years. Each chapter begins with a definition of a Japanese word, followed by either a present day interaction between Amaterasu and Hideo or a flashback. These flashbacks from different characters sometimes got me confused but I learned much about August 9, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped, as well as a little of Japan’s history and traditions.

Though a bit confusing due to the constant back-and-forth narratives, “A dictionary of mutual understanding” is a good cross-cultural, historical look at Japan and the people of Nagasaki. Amaterasu’s character is very believable, and the reasons she had to act the way she did will generate much empathy from readers.

Recommended for Adults.

“Try not to breathe” Holly Seddon

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Ebook. Published February 23, 2016. Ballantine Books.

TryNotToBreatheAmy Stevenson was 15 years old in 1995 when she went missing. She was found three days later savagely beaten, sexually assaulted, with multiple broken bones and severe brain damage. No suspect was ever found.

It is now 2010 and Alex Dale is writing about a brain doctor’s work in a neuro-disability ward with patients often typecast as “vegetables.” While on a tour of the facility she discovers Amy among the patients, which sets off her curiosity as to what happened fifteen years ago. Alex wants to dig into Amy’s past to locate clues, but her own past stands in the way. Her inability to stay sober has cost more than her marriage and job, as her self-esteem is at an all time low. If she manages to save Amy she may save herself.

As Amy’s foggy brain begins to sift through the events leading up to her attack, Alex tries to conquer her alcoholic demons. Through flashbacks and the present time, Seddon masterfully winds a path of intrigue, which will lead readers to a truth that will leave them reeling in disbelief.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“When no one is watching” Joseph Hayes

Rated 4 stars **** Ebook. 2010. (Includes “Discussion Questions.”)

WhenNoOneIsWatchingBlair Van Howe and Danny Moran had been the best of friends since their days in law school. Both are rising stars in their prominent law firm, but one fateful evening everything came to a screeching halt for Danny. Though a great lawyer he had problems holding his liquor, and that particular night was too intoxicated to drive.

Blair was thrilled to drive Danny’s Porsche, but wound up causing an accident that killed an innocent driver. Afraid his budding political career would suffer if the truth came out Blair framed Danny, allowing him to take the fall for his own crime. Danny was too drunk to know he wasn’t at fault, while Blair believed he could make great changes in other’s lives if he stayed quiet about the accident and kept his political dreams alive.

Throughout the book, as Hayes tells Danny and Blair’s story and the truth struggles a bit too long to be revealed, readers are constantly brought back to the question of who had the better life. Was it the man one step away from becoming President who lived his life based on a lie, or was it the man who lost everything yet had everything in the end? What kind of life do you live when no one is watching?

Hayes ends his thought provoking novel with even more thought provoking Discussion Questions, sure to generate debate on these issues.

Recommended for Adult readers.

“Freedom’s child” Jax Miller

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published June 2, 2015. Crown Publishers (Random House). 311 pp.

Freedom'sChildFreedom Oliver has been in the witness protection program for 18 years, ever since she served time for killing her policeman husband. After losing custody of her two children, she spent the intervening years in alcohol and rage filled fights to make herself forget the pain of their loss. Her brother’s husband served 18 years in prison for the murder of his brother. Now released, he and his brothers have revenge on their mind and are looking for Freedom.

When Freedom finds out her daughter is missing from the cult family into which she’d been adopted, she throws caution to the wind. With the steadfastness of purpose that only a mother can have for have for her children, and with the rage of a mother bear defending her cub, she is determined to move heaven and earth to find her daughter. To paraphrase the poet William Congreve “Hell hath no fury like a mother who is protecting her child,” as Freedom fights through anyone and everything to find the daughter she held 20 years ago for only two minutes and seventeen seconds.

“Freedom’s child” held me in its thrilling grip as I eagerly turned its pages to find out what would next befall Freedom. Though her life had been filled with pain, sorrow and strife, her rage and thirst for revenge allowed her to draw on her previous experiences to fight for her children as only a mother can fight. Other readers will be just as enthralled.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Everything, Everything” Nicola Yoon

Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Ebook. Delacorte Books for Young Readers (Random House). Published September 1, 2015.

EverythingEverythingEighteen-year-old Madeline Whittier has spent her whole life inside her house after being diagnosed with S.C.I.D. (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) when she was an infant. Maddy’s father and older brother were killed in an accident when she was just a baby so her life revolves around her mother and Carla, her full time nurse. Having S.C.I.D. means Maddy has never smelled the outside air, felt grass between her toes or experienced anything outside of the four walls of her home. However, since this life is all Maddy has ever known, she fills her mind with stories from books, learns about life through the internet, and plays games with her mom.

Her world’s axis tilts when a family moves in next door. Handsome Olly wearing all black, with movements as graceful as flowing water, soon becomes part of her every waking thought. Maddy has fallen in love for the first time in her life, but what can a girl with S.C.I.D. do with a love filled heart?

“Everything, Everything” is a wonderful look at the pain of S.C.I.D., which gives a new twist to the angst of teenage romance. I loved how Olly not only loved but also understood Maddy.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

***SPOILER ALERT ****

I was confused at the end of the book as to how Maddy was able to figure out Olly was in N.Y.C. One minute she was sitting on Olly’s roof, and the next she had bought a plane ticket to meet him. I figured she must have finally sent him an email, but Yoon let readers draw their own conclusions about how they were able to reconnect. However I would have liked to have read more details about their reunion.

“What remains” Helene Dunbar

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. Flux. Published May 8, 2015.

WhatRemainsCal, Spencer and Lizzie have been best friends since first grade; knowing each other’s moods, thoughts, likes and dislikes. Spencer and Cal have been protecting Lizzie from her abusive home life since she was a little girl, which has made them inseparable. Love binds them together.

Now juniors, the three of them are starting to get excited about their upcoming senior year. Cal is planning on being the best shortstop the Major Leagues has ever seen, and can’t wait for baseball season to begin, while Spencer is always onstage performing in something with the Drama Department. Lizzie doesn’t think she’s good at anything, but is a wonderful artist.

Life as they knew it ends the day a texting driver crashes into their car, killing Lizzie, almost killing Cal, and injuring Spencer. Cal’s heart was literally broken in the crash, and his baseball dreams died with Lizzie. Certain that he was at fault for the accident, Cal falls into an abyss of guilt, loneliness and despair. As he begins to lose himself, only love can save him.

“What remains” is a heartfelt look at a special kind of love that touches the soul. Dunbar does a wonderful job drawing readers into Cal’s anguish and salvation. The author has also written “These Gentle Wounds,” also from Flux publishers, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

“My best everything” Sarah Tomp

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. ARC. Published March 3, 2015. Little, Brown & Company.

MyBestEverythingSeventeen-year-old Lulu tells her story through a letter to the boy she met and fell in love with during the summer she graduated from high school. Falling in love was not part of her plan, as she was supposed to leave Virginia in just a few months. She planned to say goodbye to her best friend Roni and to her backwoods town of Dale so she could start a new life at the University of San Diego. For her part Roni is certain her future lies in marrying her boyfriend Bucky and living in Dale forever. Neither of them can understand why Lulu is so anxious to leave, but Lulu is undeterred. She will leave Dale.

Unfortunately all of Lulu’s plans come to a screeching halt when her father loses her college money in a poor financial move. She is devastated, but is determined that she will get out of Dale no matter the cost. When a moonshine still is delivered to the junkyard where she works with Roni, Lulu is sure selling moonshine will be the answer to her problems. Bucky’s friend Mason has been in the moonshine business with his cousin Seth, and offers to help with their endeavor.

As Lulu, Roni, Bucky and Mason work together to secretly make and sell their illegal moonshine, Lulu again finds her life turned upside down. Her need to leave Dale has compromised everything she has ever believed in, as she finds herself turning into someone she doesn’t recognize. Confused over her feelings for Mason, and now questioning her desire to leave Dale, Lulu’s summer turns into a bubbling mess that will rival any moonshine in her secret still.

Determination, strength of will, and stubbornness are just a few of the adjectives that describe some of the characters in “My best everything.” Though I don’t agree with the way Lulu decided to try and solve her problems, I admire the way she owned up to her mistakes.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.