“Eventide” Sarah Goodman

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Tor Teen. To be published October 6, 2020.

EventideIn 1907 seventeen-year-old Verity and her little sister Lilah set out from New York City on an orphan train to find a new home. Verity was bitter because she hadn’t been allowed to care for her sister. She was almost eighteen, and had taken care of her ever since their mother died and their father started to go insane. However, she was still underage, so they had been forced to go to an orphanage when their father was taken to an asylum.

When they arrived in the small town of Wheeling Arkansas Miss Maeve, the local schoolteacher, adopted Lilah. Desperate to stay near her sister Verity allowed herself to be indentured to a couple that needed help on their farm. As she struggled through her chores, the thought of being able to leave forever with Lilah in a few months enabled her to get through the days in this little, superstitious town.

Verity couldn’t understand why everyone was afraid of the woods, and why she’d been warned to stay away from it. When she decided to explore it for herself she couldn’t understand why it suddenly became freezing cold and foggy, nor could she explain the presence of a little girl who disappeared when Verity tried to follow her. As Verity learned more about the people in the small town she began to realize that Lilah was in grave danger. Verity will do anything she can to protect her sister – even if it means giving up everything she once held dear.

I loved this book! It was suspenseful, spooky, thrilling and kept me up turning pages until late at night. I did have some questions about the ending that I would love to ask the author but, because they might reveal spoilers, I can’t ask them on this blog. However, I would love it if Sarah Goodman contacted me on the “down low” so I can unburden myself and get the answers I seek.

Despite my questions I highly recommend “Eventide” for ages 16 and older.

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

 

“Four days of you and me” Miranda Kenneally

Rated 1 star * ARC. Sourcebooks. To be published May 2020. 340 p.

Four days of you and meIt took forever to finish this book because it was so disjointed it lost my interest. The storyline of two high schoolers (Lulu and Alex) who either hate or love each other during their high school years is a good one, but I have a problem with how their stories are told.

Each section of the book focuses on Lulu and Alex during the same timeframes of different school years (freshman, sophomore, etc.), but too much of their story doesn’t take place in real time. In each section Lulu’s interactions with Alex are either taking place in real time, in the very near past, or months ago. I found it too confusing to switch my brain back and forth from a memory to real time and back again. In addition Lulu was too whiny and insecure for me.

If the author had just stuck to a school year, telling Lulu and Alex’s stories in order during that specific year, I would have been able to give the book at least 3 stars. As it stands I gave it 1 star because she had a good idea, but it wasn’t well executed.

I didn’t like it, so will leave it up to teens, ages 16 and older, to decide if you want to read it or not.

“Afterlife” by Julia Alvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. To be published April 7, 2020.

AfterlifeAlmost a year after the unexpected death of her husband Antonia wanders through life in her small Vermont town, alternately bewildered and angry. Her fog is lifted as she helps a very pregnant undocumented teenager with no place to stay. Antonia feels herself becoming alive through the good deeds she does in Sam’s name.

Contrasted with the uncertainty she feels for life without Sam is the love she holds for her three sisters. Their bond of sisterhood includes watching out for their older sister Izzy, who has been experiencing manic highs and lows. The sisters combine forces to rein her in, though Izzy wants to be wild. Through upheavals and uncertainties Antonia draws wisdom from authors, poets, her ancestors, her sisters, and Sam. They, along with the quote “If I try to be like you, who will be like me?” give her strength to forge a new path in the midst of tragedy.

I know there is some deep literary analysis waiting to be uncovered, but I will leave that to some other reviewer. I read “Afterlife” as a story of a lost and sad Dominicana trying to find her way in a world that, at times, seemed foreign. I was put off by the many quotations from authors and poets in the narrative, not being as well read as Antonia. I also didn’t like the many shifts from past to present and back again that, combined with the endless quotes, made my mind wander. I did enjoy Antonia’s interactions with the sisterhood, feeling they were the strongest part of the book.

Though there is a lot of hype about this book I was not a big fan, so will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“And then you loved me” by Inglath Cooper

Rated 5 stars ***** 2014. Fence Free Entertainment, LLC.

And then you loved meI read this book in one sitting, losing myself in a beautiful story of loss and heartache, friendship and pain. Seventeen-year-old Becca belongs to a religious group of farmers, similar to the Amish, who shun worldly things, while eighteen-year-old Matt is the popular, handsome baseball star of their small town. Though completely opposite in the ways they’ve been raised, they fall in love.

Unfortunately circumstances drove them apart for eighteen years until Matt returns to town for the funeral of his grandmother. Both are grown and have their own lives, but seeing each other again causes all the feelings they’ve kept bottled up for eighteen years to begin bubbling to the surface.

Becca has spent those eighteen years married to a man she doesn’t love, caring for a young girl and her little sister who has never gotten over the death of her young man when they were just fifteen years old. Meanwhile their mom mourns the only love of her life, and has refused to reconcile with her son because he married someone of the wrong race and religion. It seems as if no one is allowed to be with the one they love because they’re too busy worrying about appearances and what others think.

Tangled thoughts of having loved and lost, and questions of whether or not it’s possible to start fresh from the mistakes of life are brought before readers. At times I found the storyline to be sad because people chose circumstances over their own happiness, but at other times I found it to be hopeful when they chose to give hope a chance.

Highly recommended for Adult readers.

“Harbored secrets: A psychological mystery” Marie F. Martin

Rated 3 stars *** Ebook. 4D Publishing. 2013.

HarboredSecretsThe Montana prairie had always held a fascination for Blinny Platt. She’d worked almost her whole life on her father’s ranch, as the farm was part of her soul. After buying land several miles away in 1982 Blinny began building her own home, where she soon found herself engrossed in memories that had taken place in 1935 when she was 8 years old. At that time her baby brother was killed in a house fire, causing her mother to die of grief. Shortly thereafter, her father sent her and her 3-year-old sister Odette away to live with uncles she’d never met.

After 5 years he remarried and sent for them, but their relationship had suffered irreparable harm. Over the ensuing years Blinny blamed him for her mother’s death, and herself for causing the fire, wondering why he wasn’t there when she needed him. As Odette got older, she turned spiteful and rebellious, blaming Blinny for all of her issues. As the sisters try to piece together their pasts they find that hidden secrets, though painful, will finally set them free.

Told through flashbacks and the present time, this tragic story of loss and betrayal will leave readers aching. Secrets revealed threaten to crush, but the sisters prove to be survivors. Though Blinny’s memories seem to be awkwardly added into the narrative as she builds her new home, the story she tells helps readers forgive the occasional stiffness of the author’s transitions.

Recommended for Adults.

 

 

“Cold black earth” Sam Reaves

Rated 5 stars ***** Ebook. Thomas & Mercer. 2015.

ColdBlackEarthAfter a failed marriage and 20 years of working overseas, Rachel returned to her childhood home hoping that farm life would release pent up stress and allow her to reunite with her brother and nephew. Expecting serenity she is, instead, entangled in a murder mystery. As killings begin to randomly occur, she notices her nephew acting very strangely. When he asks her to help him out of a difficult situation, Rachel finds herself in the murderer’s crosshairs with nowhere to turn.

Reaves had me eagerly turning pages to find out whodunit, while the surprise ending left me reeling.

Highly recommended for adults.

 

“Bone Gap” Laura Ruby

Rated 1 star * 2015. Baltzer + Bray (HarperCollins). 345 p.

BoneGapTheir mother abandoned Finn and his big brother Sean when she fell in love and moved out of state after their father’s death. In the two years since she left, Sean gave up his dream of becoming a doctor so he could take care of Finn. Everyone in the town of Bone Gap loves Sean and his quiet ways of doctoring as an EMT, while Finn suffers name-calling and abuse because of being unable to look anyone in the eye. He’s different, and the town doesn’t like someone to be different.

Beautiful Roza left Poland to study in America, never expecting to find herself kidnapped by an insane stranger on her final day of classes. She managed to escape and find a good home with Sean and Finn, but it didn’t take long for the stranger to find her. The only witness to her abduction was Finn but, because he didn’t get a clear view of her abductor, no one believes him. Finn and Sean feel abandoned once again.

Through alternating chapters from Roza, Finn, Sean and others in the small town of Bone Gap, Ruby weaves a tale of love, intrigue, fantasy and magic. Her meandering tale reveals that sometimes what we see with our eyes isn’t really there, while what we don’t see with our eyes is really there – or something like that.

Though this book won the 2016 YALSA Printz Award, I couldn’t get into it. I was confused half the time, as I prefer books to be more realistic than magical. I will leave it up to you to decide if you want to read it or not.

 

“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).

“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” Ilsa J. Bick

Rated 5 stars ***** 2013. Carolrhoda Lab (Lerner Publishing Group). 287 pp.

TheSinEater'sConfessionStationed with his Marines unit in Afghanistan, Ben plans to volunteer to infiltrate a Taliban-filled unit in the morning. Knowing that those who volunteer for these assignments usually don’t survive, he has decided to unburden his soul from a deep, dark secret he’s carried for 3 years.

Ben spends all night penning a “To All Whom This Might Concern” letter in which he recounts what happened in his Wisconsin hometown three years ago the summer he was seventeen. Up to that point he’d been living a robot-like life going to school, taking classes at the university, getting high grades and working two jobs trying to please his mother by getting into the college of her dreams. When Del, a classmate, was killed in an accident Ben volunteered to mentor his younger brother Jimmy.

Through a series of events, Jimmy was murdered. Ben was a witness to the events of that fateful night, yet couldn’t be sure of what he’d seen. Through fear he stayed silent but through his letters he questions himself, his actions, and everyone who played a part in Jimmy’s murder. As he struggles to figure out why Jimmy was killed and who did it, he rails against rumors, his cowardice, his inability to make decisions, his parents and life in general.

“The Sin-Eater’s Confession” is full of questions, innuendoes, and half-truths leaving readers scratching their heads while feeling strong empathy towards Ben and Jimmy.

Recommended for ages 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).

“Steering toward Normal” Rebecca Petruck

Rated 3 stars *** To be published May 13, 2014. ARC. Amulet Books.

SteeringTowardNormalDiggy was left on his father’s doorstep when he was born, then his mom left town on a tractor. Over the years, he has managed to hide the hurt of being abandoned (and many tractor jokes) while establishing a great relationship with his dad who everyone calls Pops. Diggy and Pops prank each other with tricks and jokes in preparation for their yearly April Fool’s Day assaults, and enjoy their time together.

As a member of 4-H he takes pride in training steers and competing with them at various county fairs, pretending his sudden interest in steers and 4-H had nothing to do with the beautiful (but older) July Johnston. Now that July has moved on to a greater leadership role in the organization, Diggy has been picked as her successor to win the purple ribbon and the $12,000 prize at the upcoming Minnesota State Fair with his steer, Joker, and he will do everything in his power to make her proud.

Everything is going great for Diggy until Wayne Graf gets dumped in his driveway by his drunken dad. Fourteen-year-old Wayne’s mom has just died so his father dumped him because he is angry that Pops is his real dad. Diggy is incensed to learn he has a half brother but soon gets even more upset when Wayne decides he wants to also compete against Diggy in the upcoming fair with a steer of his own. On top of that he insists Diggy should find his real mother who dumped him 13 years ago, starts looking up information about her without Diggy’s permission, starts hogging up Diggy’s personal time with Pops, and horns in on Diggy’s time with July.

With all of these issues piling up Diggy and Wayne quickly become enemies, trying to outdo the other and win the State Fair with their steers. What follows are hilarious pranks, fights, arguments and general mayhem as they set about learning what it really means to be brothers and what it means to be a family.

“Steering toward Normal” is a good read for boys, especially boys interested in learning about country life, how to train steers, and learning more about 4-H.

Recommended for ages 11-14.