Book Review: The Beautiful Lost by Luanne Rice

The Beautiful Lost
Luanne Rice
Point, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11107-1
Hardcover

How do you survive when you’ve been hit by three waves of overwhelming loss and you’re only sixteen? That’s what the last three years have dumped on Maia. Her marine biologist mother walked out, leaving her with her dad, an insurance agent. At that point, Maia had hope Mom would come for her and was keeping afloat emotionally by her memories of the two of them sitting on the roof outside her room, watching the night skies. That bond was further strengthened, or so she believed, by their shared love of whales and their songs. Supposedly, her mother felt suffocated living in suburban Connecticut, leaving to study whales while living in a remote cabin above a Canadian fjord north of the Saint Lawrence River.

Wave number two hit when her father started coming out of his own funk and found someone he wanted to marry. That reality flattened Maia’s imaginary house of hope that things might become as they once were. She fell into a dark depression so severe that she was hospitalized. Now, barely holding on thanks to antidepressant medication, she’s come up with a plan to run north and find Mom.

The only thing she has that makes life bearable, is the secret crush she’s developed on enigmatic Billy, a boy her age who has his own troubled past and lives in a group home she can see from her bedroom window. Almost every night, Maia studies his window, hoping to get a glimpse of him.

When her hyper alert stepmom pushes the panic button after Maia leaves school early, it forces her to speed up her plan. The following day she takes off in her mother’s old Volvo and is shocked when Billy accosts her and insists on coming along.

What follows is a physical journey via back roads from Connecticut through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, followed by a stealthy entry into Canada. More importantly, and of greater interest, is the spiritual and emotional quest that accompanies it. Billy and Maia are both wounded and secretive, he more than she. Learning to feel and then trust those feelings, makes for a fascinating read. The people they meet on their journey are both interesting and integral to their growing awareness.

The ending is partially predictable, but the parts that aren’t really enhance the suspense. I liked both teens. Some readers may find Billy a bit too hard case emotionally, but having worked with teens on an inpatient psychiatric unit, his coping mechanisms aren’t that surprising. Teens who have been depressed, affected by family chaos or secrets, as well as those who know someone struggling with depression.

In her author’s notes at the back, Luanne shares why she felt compelled to write this book and what her own teen years were like. This is her second young adult book. I read and really liked her first one and it’s safe to say after two really good entries in this genre, she’s got game.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

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Book Review: This Is Not the End by Chandler Baker

This Is Not the End
Chandler Baker
Hyperion, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-4847-5024-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

If you could choose one person to bring back to life, who would it be?

Seventeen-year-old Lake Deveraux is the survivor of a car crash that killed her best friend and boyfriend. Now she faces an impossible choice. Resurrection technology changed the world, but strict laws allow just one resurrection per citizen, to be used on your eighteenth birthday or lost forever.

You only have days to decide.

For each grieving family, Lake is the best chance to bring back their child.

For Lake, it’s the only way to reclaim a piece of happiness after her own family fell apart.

And Lake must also grapple with a secret–and illegal–vow she made years ago to resurrect someone else. Someone who’s not even dead yet.

Who do you need most?

As Lake’s eighteenth birthday nears, secrets and betrayals new and old threaten to eclipse her cherished memories. Lake has one chance to save a life…but can she live with her choice?

What an impossible choice Lake has, knowing she can bring her dead best friend or boyfriend back to life but not both. Can you imagine the pressure that comes with that, never mind the twist of having promised her one resurrection to someone else? At first blush, having the technology to allow a resurrection seems a remarkable opportunity but perhaps it really isn’t. Think about it…how would you select one person if you’ve had multiple losses leading up to your 18th birthday?

Lake has a tremendous sorrow, no doubt, but how is it possible that she could feel an almost instantaneous connection with a guy she just met? That budding romance didn’t sit right with me but I still have a lot of empathy for Lake because she’s a nice girl who cares, a very normal girl, and I wanted her to find some kind of resolution that gives her comfort. Lake’s brother, Matt, is another compelling character, not always in a good way but his bitterness is understandable, and the dilemma he causes for Lake gives this story a strong sense of the ethics involved in some of our medical and scientific advances. It also lets us see how Lake has been a sort of second-hand citizen in her own family, certainly something that would affect anyone’s psyche, especially considering the plan her parents have in mind. In the end, can whatever choice she makes please anyone, including herself?

Betrayal is a core element here and we see that certain people are, or were, not what they seemed, and the misperceptions that plague us all played a huge role in this very intriguing story. Those misperceptions lead to some very surprising twists, a fitting way to bring everything to a close and, all in all, I found This Is Not the End to be a most interesting and engaging tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

Book Review: Into the Hurricane by Neil Connelly

Into the Hurricane
Neil Connelly
Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2017
ISBN: 978-0-545-85381-1
Hardcover

Take a boy who’s tormented by the ghost of his dead sister and have him encounter a sad and angry girl on a mission. Add a monster hurricane and mix well. Garnish with a group of religious fanatics, an abandoned lighthouse, a derelict floating casino and a gutsy, but slightly insane war veteran and you have all the ingredients for a really intriguing and twisty story. It’s part romance, part self-discovery and a lot of white knuckle survival—minute by minute at times.

Max (short for Maxine) was already in a world of pain after her mother abandoned her and her dad. When he met someone new in a recovery program and married her, that sense of abandonment increased. Max dealt with it by shutting down and by the time she learned her father was dying from cancer, it was too late to make most amends. She reacted by stealing her father’s ashes and heading for Shackles Island, Louisiana. She and her dad stopped there years ago during a quest to find her mom. She believes he wanted his ashes spread there, but she’s stolen them just as much to thwart her stepmother’s plan to have him buried in a new family plot.

Eli knows there’s a terrible storm bearing down on the island, but he can’t, or won’t evacuate because he believes he needs to atone for his sister’s death seven years ago when she fell from the top of the lighthouse. When he arrives there, not long before the storm hits at full strength, he’s confronted by Max. Their interaction is cut short when the Odenkirk gang shows up, slashing the tires on his motorcycle and stealing her Jeep which has her father’s ashes in it.

What follows is scary high adventure, mixing Eli’s sister’s ghost and why she torments him, with their efforts to retrieve the ashes, get off the island, save a little girl and ultimately avoid getting killed by the storm.

Readers will be treated to a fast paced, slightly supernatural tale that’s intriguing and has an abundance of action. I particularly like how both Eli and Max come to grips with what really motivated them to act as they did in the face of a horrific storm. It’s a really good story for teens liking high adventure with a dash of romance and an ending that allows them to write their own ‘what happens next’.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

Book Review: The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Will to Kill
A Mike Hammer Novel

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Titan Books, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-7832-9142-7
Hardcover

Another uncompleted Mickey Spillane manuscript finished by Max Collins finds Mike Hammer walking along the Hudson River in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and discovering half a body, the upper torso, on an ice floe.  It turns out the half a corpse was the trusted butler of a wealthy inventor who was the captain of Pat Chambers, Mike’s homicide detective buddy, when he first joined the police force.  Pat suspects his friend’s death may have been a murder and “retains” Mike to investigate.

Mike travels to dead man’s Sullivan County estate where he meets the various members of the man’s dysfunctional family and employees.  The daughter also retains Mike, who suspects not only that the father was murdered, but that the butler was as well.  Each of the grown children, two older brothers, and their younger half siblings (the daughter and a brother) has a motive to murder the others.  Under the terms of their father’s will, the inheritances don’t kick in until age 40 and in the event of a death, that portion reverts to the corpus, fattening the eventual amount for the survivors.

The novel is slightly different from the accustomed Spillane genre: it is more akin to a traditional detective mystery, albeit with Mike Hammer wisecracks, a smattering of sex and firearms.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach.  But somehow it left this reader with a desire for something more.  In any event, it is a good read and can be recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2017.

Book Review: Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick

Falling Over Sideways
Jordan Sonnenblick
Scholastic Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-86324-7
Hardcover

Claire’s life is uncomfortable. Older brother Michael can do no wrong. In fact there are times when she expects to hear a chorus of angels and see the halo when he enters the room. Mom tends to alternate between annoyingly perky and unsympathetic, while her author dad jokes when she wants understanding.

At school, she’s harassed by the mean girls, taunted by Ryder about her being an inferior saxophone player and then comes the worst. Her one emotional haven-the dance classes she loves, turn ugly as well. After spending her summer taking extra classes with her best friends, they get moved up while she  has to stay behind and dance with younger kids. Could life get any suckier? Yup.

She’s sitting at the breakfast table with her dad when he starts talking gibberish and falls over. Claire’s terrified, but manages to get it together and after getting Mom’s voicemail, she calls 911. The section describing her panicked, but proper responses makes for emotional reading.

Dad has suffered a stroke and anything resembling normal life comes to a screeching halt. What follows is an empathetic, sometimes funny, often angsty look at life when there’s a major tragedy as seen through the eyes of an eighth grader.

Claire already had a full plate of issues and Dad’s condition, coupled with her anger which turns to depression, pile on a heaping second helping. Told from her perspective, this is a really good look at how a girl navigates the issues surrounding creation of her own identity when rocked by something completely unexpected. Young teens who are struggling with these issues, as well as those where a family emergency upends everything, will really relate to Claire as she sorts out who to tell about Dad, how to be around him when his new reality scares her silly, what to do about mean teachers and kids, as well as sorting out what’s truly important to her. This is a very good book for both school and public libraries to add.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, April 2017.

Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Review: Close Call by Laura DiSilverio

close-callClose Call
Laura DiSilverio
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN:978-0-7387-4920-4
Trade Paperback

Not quite non-stop suspense as some reviewers have suggested, but mostly. The author has firm handles on the story line, the characters and the setting. She manipulates all with a deft hand. If things are a little more complicated than is the usual case in thrillers of this kind, well. It’s up to we readers to pay more than casual attention, right?

The title of the book might have effectively been pluralized. We are with the main character, Sydney Ellison, through most of the book and while she weeps gallons of tears, her determination to see the mystery and the crimes to their righteous conclusions is laudable. That she perseveres in the face of repeated set-backs is testament to her core grit. Sydney’s reconciliation with her sister, Reese, her handling of their slightly insane mother, all play important parts in what is essentially a family drama. The novel is intense, compels persistent page-turning, and introduces us to a multi-dimensioned professional assassin.

In an overcrowded deli, located in Washington, D.C., Sydney encounters her nemesis and main adversary in the story, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Nor does her adversary-to-be, a professional hit man who doesn’t appear to be quite as put-together as he should be, given apparent longevity. Their brief interaction sends both on a long and winding path through mistaken identities, murder, family rollercoaster rides and both keen and fatuous observations on D.C. politicians. Also, lots of tears.

Given the current situation in our nation’s capital, the confirmation hearings going on, the story has exciting real-life resonance. Readers seeking a tension-filled story with real characters should enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.