“The companion” Katie Alender

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Random House). To be published August 25, 2020.

The CompanionMargot was the only survivor after her parents and sisters were in a car crash and drowned. Sent to live in an orphanage, she was taken in by a rich family to be a companion for their daughter Agatha. At the estate daily nightmares of her family’s watery death subsided, as Agatha’s mother Laura was very kind. But things began to change when Margot found an old diary of Laura’s younger sister who had died years ago. By the time she began to put two and two together, time was up before she could get to four.

This was very creepy, so make sure not to read it at night or you’ll have the same nightmares as Margot. Alender was very clever as she lured readers along on her sinister plot, making us totally despair for Margot and Agatha. Well-done Ms. Alender. Very well done.

PS – not sure why the cover has a spoon with pins in it. I can think of lots of different types of covers to describe this book, but a spoon with pins would not be one of them.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Fighting words” Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House). Includes Discussion Questions. To be published August 11, 2020.

Fighting wordsDella is now ten years old, and in the fourth grade. When she was five, and her older sister Suki was eleven, their meth addict mother was sent to prison and her old boyfriend stepped in to claim them. Through the five years they lived with him Suki always took care of Della. She took the lead and made sure they got away when he did something very bad to Della. Now they were living with a foster mother who seemed nice enough, Della was attending a new school, and Suki had a new job.

Soon Suki started to get angry for no reason, making Della feel as if she were a burden. Della was confused because Suki had always been there for her. When Suki tried to commit suicide it took time before Della realized her sister had been carrying a terrible burden for many years. As Della learned to put her rage into words, she became the arm of strength for Suki so that, together, they could forge ahead to reclaim their lives.

This book was very powerful, and a testament to the ravages inflicted upon innocent children caught in the crosshairs of drug addicted parents and sexual predators. It will, hopefully, give encouragement and strength for children who see themselves in the pages to get help if they are suffering the same fates as Della and Suki.

Recommended for ages 11-16.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The second home” Christina Clancy

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. St. Martin’s Press. To be published June 2, 2020.

The Second HomeAnn’s parents had recently been killed in an accident and, though it had been in her family for generations, she was desperate to rid herself of her family’s ramshackle summer home in Wellfleet, MA. Her urgency to sell included the fact she didn’t want her estranged brother Michael to know she was selling. They’d lost contact years earlier, after an especially horrific summer, and the anger she felt towards him had worsened over the years.

Michael and Ann had been the same age and were best friends at school so, since he got along well with her family, Ann convinced them to adopt him. The summer of 1999 was his first in Wellfleet, which he spent wrestling with his feelings about Ann. She had taken on a babysitting job with the Shaws, a rich family, contrasting their lives and loving how her boss made her feel. While they spent the summer trying to work through their issues, her younger sister Poppy was getting high after falling in with a rough crowd of surfing locals. That summer forever changed their lives.

Ann, Michael and Poppy’s love for their summer home, and the Wellfleet memories that tied them together, will sink deeply into the reader. I was fully invested in their stories, told through flashbacks and the present, and was eagerly turning pages as I hoped for everything to end on a satisfying note.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“The House of Five Fortunes” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. 2016. Lillis and James. Bold Women of the 20th Century #3. 2016.

The House of Five FortunesXiu’s mother bought an opium den, The House of Five Fortunes, in San Francisco after her husband fell ill and could no longer support the family. When she died Xiu inherited it, but was forced to hide the leadership skills she’d learned due to a possessive and tyrannical husband. Her mother had worked hard to make the business a success, even though there were few women business owners in Chinatown, but Xiu passively allowed her husband to hold the reins of her life and her empire because she loved him.

When he was killed Xiu took control again and, with the help of her friend Nuan and Madison a famous actor, they raised The House of Five Fortunes to greater heights. Though there was a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment, that didn’t stop Madison from falling in love with Xiu but, due to her being Chinese, they were not allowed to marry. When random murders began to be committed, the police and local Whites blamed the Chinese. Madison knew Xiu wasn’t safe but, when a massive race riot began in Chinatown, their lives were soon endangered along with all of the town’s inhabitants.

Though this book is in the Bold Women of the 20th Century series, I didn’t see Xiu as very bold. Her mother was strong, but I saw Xiu as weak and easy to manipulate. I thought her mother, Nuan, and Dandan the cook were strong female characters, not Xiu. In fact the strongest character in the book was Madison, and he was a man!

Descriptions of the United States in the 1870’s, life during the gold rush, and the building of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese immigrants were interesting to read. I was saddened to read of the many ways the Chinese were mistreated – ways that are mirrored in anti-Immigrant policies today. Our country may have travelled far during the past 150 years, but many unpleasant reminders from the past still rear their ugly heads.

Recommended for Adults.

“I’ll never tell” by Abigail Haas

Rated 5 stars ***** Simon Pulse. 2019.

I'll never tellAnna hated the rich prep school her father forced her to transfer to in the middle of her junior year. Now that they were rich, he knew any friends she made there could become future clients, so her protests fell on deaf ears. Her time there was every bit as bad as she knew it would be until she met Elise.

Elise was a force of nature, sexily smiling her way into getting free drinks from college boys, while drinking and partying as if there were no tomorrow. She and Anna hit it off from the very beginning, becoming closer than sisters. They spent all their time together, and had their futures all planned out, until the trip they took to Aruba with their friends changed everything forever. There Elise was violently murdered, with suspicion falling solely upon Anna.

As months pass in jail, evidence is piling up against her. The Prosecutor is intent on finding her guilty, and time is ticking away. Anna faces 20 years in prison, but can she prove her innocence or will she spend most of her life imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit?

Through flashbacks and the present time, readers spend time with Anna and Elise, as we learn the lurid details of their relationship and try to figure out who killed Elise. When the truth was finally revealed, I was SHOCKED! I won’t tell you what happened at the end, as you’ll have to read it for yourself, but I KNOW you’ll be shocked too. Kudos to the author for keeping it a secret for so long.

Recommended for ages 15 and older.

 

“The secrets of lost stones” by Melisa Payne

Rated 5 stars ***** ebook. Lake Union Publishing. 2019.

The secretes of lost stonesA hit-and-run driver killed Chance, Jess’s 8-year-old son eight years ago leaving her devastated and feeling as if life isn’t worth living. When Jess leaves town to start fresh elsewhere, her car breaks down in a small mountainside town. There she’s invited to be a caretaker to an older woman named Lucy who has a way of knowing things that are going to happen. She believes Jess and a ghostly little boy are “loose ends,” something she has to fix.

Fifteen-year-old Star has been living on the streets for months, after running away from a foster home. When a strange older woman calls her a “loose end” and arranges for her to get a bus ticket to a small, out-of-the way town, Star is dumbfounded. When she arrives Lucy convinces her to stay for a little while. Though Star has tough street bravado, she feels herself melting into the kindnesses offered by Lucy.

In alternate voices Jess and Star tell their stories of loss and fear, with a dose of hope. Readers will become invested in their lives, hoping for their “loose ends” to be tied up so they could have hope filled new lives.

Recommended for Adults.

“The rest of the story” by Sarah Dessen

Rated 5 stars ***** 2019. Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins). 440 p.

The rest of the storyEmma Saylor’s mother overdosed when she was just a little girl. Now seventeen, she’s spending three weeks with her mother’s side of the family until her father returns from his honeymoon. Though she hasn’t seen them since she was four, her grandmother, aunt, and assorted cousins love her unconditionally. They’d known her as Saylor – the name only her mom called her, giving her the chance to decide if she wanted to be known as Emma or Saylor.

Living in a motel on a lake with teens who all have jobs felt strange, but she pitches in to help while learning stories about her mom that begin to give her a sense of the person she’d never really known. Emma was cautious, and organized things to stay calm, however, she decides to become Saylor at the lake. There she’s someone who comes alive with the help of her new family and the very handsome Roo, whose memories of her mother intertwines with that of his father in his family photo album.

Just as Saylor begins to feel as if she’s part of lake life, her father returns and insists she leave and become Emma again. How can she make him realize she’s also Saylor, and that she’s changed? Learning her mother’s story helped her see herself in a new way, something Roo and her lake family made happen.

I loved this book so much!! Sarah Dessen always writes great stories, and she did not disappoint me. Reading about Emma Saylor and her family made me feel as if I was out on the lake with them, suffering through their troubles and cheering on their successes. Readers are invested, which is a sign of a great writer.

Highly recommended for ages 15 and older.

“Deliver her” Patricia Perry Donovan

Rated 2 stars ** Ebook. 2016. Lake Union Publishing.

DeliverHerMeg is worried because Alex, her 16-year-old daughter, has been acting strangely since her best friend died in a car accident. Alex lost interest in the things she used to do, has a new set of friends, is extremely moody, sullen and uncommunicative, and seems to be taking a ride on the wild side.

After an unsupervised party that wrecks their home, Meg finds drugs in the house. Believing Alex desperately needs help she decides to hire a stranger (who specializes in transporting troubled teens) to take Alex (against her will) hundreds of miles away to a school that will help her get a fresh start. This decision forever changes the dynamics of the Carmody family because, after a car accident, Alex disappears en route to the school.

Through multiple viewpoints, taking place over the course of several days both in the past and present, Donovan takes readers on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and events guaranteed to leave readers heads spinning. There were too many back and forth discussions and storylines, as well as many unanswered questions at the end. I will have to include a spoiler alert below so you can see what I mean.

I wasn’t a fan of this book so, in light of all of my questions, I will have to leave it up to you to Decide if You want to Read it or Not.

***********SPOILER ALERT ***************

Why didn’t Jacob get his act together? Why is Meg still allowing their strange living arrangement? Why does Carl seem to ogle Iris, a married woman, a little too much on their brief NY visit? When Iris goes on and on about how much she likes NY is she hinting that she and her husband will soon be on the outs?

There were WAY too many unanswered questions for my taste. I hope the author isn’t planning book #2, because I definitely won’t be reading it.

 

“Holding smoke” Elle Cosimano

Rated 5 stars ***** 2016. Hyperion. 322 p. (Includes Author’s Note.)

HoldingSmokeWhile going to school, John “Smoke” Conlan worked hard to pay bills his meth addicted father left unpaid. When his father attacked him with a wrench in a drug influenced rage, he floated above his dead, battered body before returning to life after 6 minutes. While recuperating in the hospital he realized his spirit could leave his body at will. Soon after, John is accused of brutally killing his favorite teacher as well as a student who witnessed the crime. He knows a hooded man killed her, and that he killed in self-defense, but is unable to tell the court that he had been floating outside of his body when the murder occurred.

Convicted and sentenced to a juvenile prison filled with dangerous young offenders, Smoke leaves his body behind to ghostly wander the city and fulfill requests from fellow inmates. With each trip the threads that hold him to his body get thinner, but he doesn’t care as he’s ready to leave his scarred life behind. On one trip he meets Pink a tough young waitress who, unlike others, can actually see him. He soon realizes someone wants them both dead and, with time running out, will have to find the strength to hang on to make sure they both survive.

Smoke and Pink remind me of Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg in the 1990 movie “Ghost.” Cosimano’s very believable characters, which stem from life as the daughter of a Warden and research, combine to open eyes to what goes on in many juvenile detention facilities across the country.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

 

“The cholo tree” Daniel Chacón

Rated 3 stars *** 2017. Arte Público Press. 248 pp.

TheCholoTreeFourteen-year-old Victor is an aspiring artist and cook in his low income, gang filled neighborhood and, like most kids his age, doesn’t like school. He was very close to his father who was killed when Victor was very young, and holds his mother at an emotional distance. Though not a cholo (gang member) she believes he is one, and doesn’t trust him.

Victor doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and is reluctant to choose a path, despite direction from a teacher he trusts and a very smart girlfriend who gives him some inspiration. As he aimlessly wanders through the life he’s chosen for himself, Victor has to sort through layers of experiences to decide if he already is a cholo. Does he want to be a cholo, or does he want to break free of the mold he created for himself in order to live the way he was meant to live?

Don Quixote-type fantasies intermingled with Victor’s hazy memories of his father, along with stories of his life, are pieced together to show four years of his struggles to discover who he is and what he wants to be. Though I wasn’t a big fan of the book, I did enjoy the author’s portrayal of Iliana as a strong, independent woman. She knew what she wanted, and went for it full speed ahead, the complete opposite of Victor. She didn’t let feelings get in the way of her future, and I admire her for having a goal and sticking to it.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.