“In case you missed it” Sarah Darer Littman

Rated 1 stars * ARC. Published October 11, 2016. Scholastic Press. 305 p.

incaseyoumisseditSammy’s junior year is ruined when protestors at her father’s bank hack its server. Along with personal texts and emails, her online journal (where she’d written her deepest thoughts and crushes) is revealed to her entire high school world. Besides having to deal with the fallout of having her personal thoughts shared on social media, she’s lost her best friends, and has to deal with the stress of upcoming AP exams, as well as the loss of her crush. She is officially persona non grata, and it looks like there will never be any relief. Just when she thinks life can’t get any worse, it does.

I wasn’t a fan of this book. Sammy sounded much more immature than a junior in high school, as her issues and constant whining sounded middle schoolish to me. Her brother RJ also presented as immature. Though he was supposed to be 14 years old, his dialogue and behavior was more like a 6 or 8 year old.

Overall I felt the storyline wasn’t interesting, and Sammy’s petulance didn’t help. However I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

“House of Echoes” Brendan Duffy

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. ARC. Ballantine Books (Random House). Published April 14, 2015.

HouseOfEchoesBen Tierney and his wife Caroline live with their baby boy and eight-year-old son Charlie in a Manhattan apartment. When Ben’s grandmother dies, he and his brother inherit a sprawling mansion called the Crofts built between two mountains in the small upstate New York town of Swannhaven. Charlie has endured severe bullying at his school, so Ben is sure he and his family should start a new life at the Crofts. In a short time, the Tierney’s move to Swannhaven to renovate and turn the mansion into an inn has become a reality.

As time goes on creepy things begin to happen at the Crofts, and Ben finds himself facing questions that don’t seem to have any answers. Why does Charlie keep disappearing into the forest? Why do the villagers look at them so strangely? Why does it feel like someone is watching his family? What is really going on at Swannhaven? These questions and more will keep readers at the edges of their seats.

“House of Echoes” has many similarities to the 1973 novel “Harvest Home,” by Thomas Tryon. It is such a creepy and shocking read, I suggest you read during the day. If you must read at night, make sure you have plenty of lights on in the house! Duffy doles out the creepiness in enough doses to keep readers turning pages, eagerly trying to find out what will happen next to the Tierney family.

Recommended for Adult readers.

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“Can you see me now?” Estela Bernal

Rated 3 stars *** 2014. Piñata Books (Arte Público Press). 161 pp.

CanYouSeeMeNowAmanda’s life changed forever the day she turned thirteen. On that day, a drunk driver killed her father and her mother decided it was all her fault. Amanda had loved her father, and felt her life crumbling without his gentle, guiding hand, as her mother couldn’t be bothered to spend time with her, sending her to live with her grandmother. Being without her father and mother was hard, but dealing with the bullies at school made everything worse.

After observing the guidance counselor talking with students, Amanda decided she would look for lonely kids to counsel. It didn’t take long to become good friends with Paloma, ridiculed for wearing strange clothes, and Roger, an overweight classmate. Despite missing her father, and resenting her mother’s absence, Amanda learned to draw strength from herself and from her friends, facing life with a new outlook and finding that things aren’t always as bad as they may seem.

“Can you see me now?” shows a young girl’s struggle to reconcile with a loved one’s passing and her mother’s indifference, while trying to empathize with others’ heartaches. Amanda seems to be quite mature for her age, but her real life hopes and dreams will ring true with readers.

Recommended for ages 11-13.

“If you find me” Emily Murdoch

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. St. Martin’s Griffin. 248 pp.

IfYouFindMeAfter 10 years of living in a camper without water or electricity in the middle of the woods with her meth addict mother and six-year-old sister Janessa, fifteen-year-old Carey knows how to hunt for food, how to teach herself and Janessa their schooling, how to play the violin, and how to survive. Carey has always taken care of Janessa, but now that Mama hasn’t come home in two months she’s worried because they are running low on food.

When a strange man claiming to be her father and a social worker show up, the girls are taken back to civilization. Janessa has never lived outside of the woods, but takes happily to her new life. Despite the love Carey feels from him and his wife for Janessa, she finds it hard to believe they love her. She had to do bad things to survive, and one of those big secrets has kept Janessa from speaking for over a year.

High school is awful; with her stepsister Delaney making sure it gets worse every day. Everything having to do with civilization is new to Carey and she is overwhelmed, wanting to run away to the woods. Her new friend Ryan was trying to be helpful when he showed her a flier saying Mama kidnapped her when she was five years old, but Mama had always said her father beat them so she had to run away.

Carey doesn’t know what to believe and, because of her big secret, is unsure of her place in this new world. She is certain everyone will hate her when they find out what happened that night. As Carey remembers what she had chosen to forget, she realizes she will have to tell the secret that bound her and Janessa together and kept Janessa from speaking. Their future depends on letting go of the past.

Emily Murdoch does a wonderful job drawing readers into the mind and heart of a young girl forced to grow up in the harshest of circumstances. Her use of flashbacks as Carey remembered Mama and their years in the woods had me on the edge of my seat as I walked through Carey’s pain with her. The rawness of those years comes out in Carey’s violin playing, and will necessitate that readers have a box of tissues at the ready as they read. I finished the book in one sitting, and know it will mesmerize others as it did me.

Highly recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“Scowler” Daniel Kraus

Rated 3 stars *** 2013. Delacorte Press (Random House). 288 pp.

ScowlerIt is 1981 and, through flashbacks, nineteen-year old Ry Burke tells the story of his twisted home life. His father Walter was a mean and abusive man, not allowing Ry to play with toys and beating him if the farm wasn’t run the way he liked. He regularly beat his wife, and the horror he inflicted on her when Ry was ten years old was something he’d never forgotten. That was the day his mom gathered her courage and tried to escape with Ry and his little sister Sarah, but Walter came home early.

Ry tried to hit Walter with a bat, but his father smashed it into Ry’s forehead then chased him through the wintry woods for hours – intent on killing him. Ry survived the hours in the forest, along with the pain in his forehead and broken leg, by depending on three toys he’d managed to hide in his pockets. Mr. Furrington, a turquoise teddy bear; Jesus Christ, an eight-inch bendy toy from Sunday School; and Scowler, an ugly four inch toy made up of a cone-shaped head, sharp teeth and a metal skeleton. Each of these toys imparts wisdom to help Ry survive, but Scowler gave Ry the strength to attack his father. Ry didn’t want to finish the job, leaving Scowler very angry.

Ten years have passed since that awful night, and the family has survived despite the farm falling into disrepair. Sarah knows a meteorite is going to fall that day, but what she doesn’t know is one has already fallen allowing Walter to escape from prison. When he arrives wanting revenge a meteorite falls on the farm and, what follows, is an uncanny look into the past and present when a fresh evil is released into the world. As Ry’s tortured mind melds into the various personalities that helped him survive the cold winter of 1971, this time, Scowler will not be denied.

Through flashbacks “Scowler” tells the long-term affects of emotional and physical abuse, taking readers on a white knuckled ride and leaving them hoping that the good guy will finally be able to overcome the bad guy.

Recommended for readers aged 14 and older.

Listed on the ALA (American Library Association’s) Best Fiction for Young Adults list (compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).

“Almost Perfect” Diane Daniels Manning

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. 2014. Beltor. (Includes Author’s Note, Almost Perfect Book Club Guide, and Suggestions For Further Reading.)

AlmostPerfectFourteen-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.

“Moving Day: A Thriller” Jonathan Stone

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. ARC. To be published June 1, 2014. Thomas & Mercer.

MovingDaySeventy-two year old Stanley Peke and his seventy-year-old wife Rose were ready to move to California, where they planned to enter the last phase of their lives. When the moving men showed up a day early Peke didn’t think anything of it, figuring his 72-year-old brain had forgotten such a small detail. The crew carefully loaded all the possessions he’d built up over the years, and all the memories of the life he’d made for himself from the time he arrived in America as an orphan to the life he’d lived with his wife, children and grandchildren.

Peke had never spoken of his past to anyone, and not even Rose knew of the struggles he’d gone through to survive from the Nazis in the woods as a seven-year-old Jewish child. As a Polish immigrant he’d changed his name, and put his past behind him despite having it continually residing in the depths of his being. His long-lost past returned to haunt him with a vengeance when the moving crew turned out to be a ring of thieves who stole away his life along with his possessions.

With revenge on his mind, Peke sets out to track down the thieves and get back his possessions. What follows is a cross-country chase, two similar yet different men fighting for dominance over what they considered to be theirs, a run-in with Skinheads, and a look into Peke’s past which would soon become his reality.

Stone has crafted a novel that will keep readers on the edges of their seats empathizing with Peke and understanding the resourcefulness, impetuosity and ingeniousness he employs to regain the person he’d lost 60 years earlier.

Recommended for Adult readers.