Rated 4 stars **** ARC. Published August 2, 2016. Algonquin Books. 328 p.
Antoinette 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.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. St. Martin’s Press. 308 pp.
Eden has had to work three days a week to help her father and stepmom make ends meet after her dad was laid off, while still managing to keep a 4.0 average in school. Despite her stellar school record, her classmates keep her at a distance because she lives in a trailer. Knowing they see her as trailer trash, Eden created a prickly armor of self-defense focusing all her energies on getting nominated for a prestigious scholarship that could offer her a full ride to college.
As if trying to get good grades and working didn’t carry enough stress Eden finds out that Ash Gupta, an Indian student and fellow overachiever, is also seeking the same scholarship. Resenting his interference, knowing he has rich parents, Eden sets herself against him to do battle but soon finds herself drawn towards him in a way that surprises everyone. Within a short time their racial differences threaten to tear them and their racially divided town apart.
I really enjoyed this book, and saw it as a modern day “Romeo and Juliet.” My heart ached for Eden and her dead end life, knowing she is representative of thousands who find themselves in the same circumstances. Their story of romance is told in a poignant and eye opening manner, which should cause teens to question their own thinking towards interracial relationships.
Recommended for ages 14 and older.
Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Ebook. DCI Lorraine Fisher #2. 2015. Crown (Random House.)
Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher planned to have a nice vacation with her sister Jo and nephew Freddie in her childhood country home. Though surprised to find Freddie moody and uncommunicative, she brushes off Jo’s concern he might be suicidal because their neighbor Simon and 5 others killed themselves 18 months earlier. Jo is certain the recent suicide of Dean, a homeless teen motorcyclist, would lead to more suicides.
When an autistic neighbor shows her a drawing he made of the accident, showing there had been two people on the motorcycle when Dean died, Lorraine’s interest is piqued. Soon Lenny, another homeless teen, commits suicide and Freddie disappears, leaving Lorraine to find out what happened. What she doesn’t know is that someone has been very clever and will stop at nothing, even murder, to keep secrets hidden that will turn the town upside down.
This whodunit kept me biting my nails and sitting on the edge of my seat in anticipation as Hayes cleverly dropped clues about various key characters. Just when I was convinced I knew what happened, she threw a very clever curveball that left me scratching my head in disbelief. Hayes is an author who does not disappoint, and I look forward to reading more of her books.
Though this book was the second in a series about Detective Lorraine Fisher, it stands alone as each book has its own storyline.
Highly recommended for Adults.
Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2014. Beltor. (Includes Author’s Note, Almost Perfect Book Club Guide, and Suggestions For Further Reading.)
Fourteen-year-old Benny Neusner goes to the New Hope School for children with emotional and behavioral problems. Filled with anger because of his parent’s divorce, he tries hard to please an irresponsible mother who frequently breaks promises to him. Now living with his father and stepmother, Benny is upset because he has not been allowed to have a dog. He is sure a dog will help him through his loneliness but, with his stepmother focused on his imperfections and weight issues, and his dad insisting he get good grades, he feels hopeless.
Benny flounders along helped by counseling sessions with his psychiatrist Dr. Kate, who tries to get him to be more assertive and less dependent on pleasing his mother. When he meets Bess Rutledge, his 70-year-old neighbor, owner of the Umpawaug Kennels, Benny falls in love with her dog McCreery. Though Bess feels she is too old to breed and show championship poodles and has planned to retire, Benny takes her on a path she thought she’d never travel.
Despite not knowing anything about being a dog handler, Benny is sure he can impress his mother if he enters the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show with Breaker, McCreery’s son. With the help of Bess’ son David (who has more in common with Benny than either expected) they all manage to learn about acceptance, love, and belief in one’s dreams.
“Almost Perfect” teaches readers about not judging children by their behavioral and emotional issues, while also being a love story between dog owners and their pets. Every dog story I’ve ever read tugged on my heartstrings and made me cry, and “Almost Perfect” was no exception.
NOTE: In 99.9% of dog stories, readers grab tissues crying hysterically because the dog we grew to love died at the end of the book. I am pleased to report that no dogs died during the reading of this book.
Recommended for ages 11-14.
ARC (Advance Reading Copy). Published June 4, 2013. HarperTeen. 358 pp.
Sixteen-year-old Justine really doesn’t want to do it. She, along with classmates Felix, Rory, Keira and Nate, made a documentary when they were 6 years old called “Five at Six.” She, and the movie, was a big hit, which inspired the filmmakers to decide they should be filmed every 5 years. She rocked “Five at Eleven,” but is sure she’ll be a bust with “Five at Sixteen.” She feels like everyone else has “done” something with their lives in the past 5 years, but she’s just one big, fat, zero.
She has not become the person she thought she’d be by now, and doesn’t want the whole world to know about it. On top of that everyone hates each other. Felix is her only friend, Nate and Felix haven’t spoken in years and refuse to be in the same air space. Keira ignores everyone, but does talk to Nate, while Nate ignores everyone else. Rory’s autism has gotten worse, and Justine did something awful to her years ago so now they’re not friends. They’re all a mess. No one is ready for filming but, as the saying goes “the show must go on.”
As we follow Justine’s struggle to “become” someone, and begin to find out about everyone else’s struggles and issues, “You look different in real life” takes on new meanings as teens “discover” themselves in the life stories of Castle’s characters. I enjoyed seeing each character walk their paths to freedom from the boxes each had placed themselves in, and know teens aged 14 and older will relate. Sometimes big steps are good, but other times small steps work just as well.