Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles @skesliencharles @AtriaBooks

The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles
Atria Books, February 2021 (delayed from June 2020)
ISBN 978-1-9821-3419-8
Hardcover

I started this book without high expectations. I’d already read one book set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, this year. It was a good book, well executed, well written, a good plot. Heart-rending, as most books on this subject are. What are the chances this one could compare?

Well, let me say right off, this one went directly onto my “Best Books Read This Year” list.

It’s 1939 in Paris. Young Odile Souchet, who is fluent in English, has gotten the job she always wanted at the American Library in Paris. She loves the people she works with, and after refusing a string of suitors her father presented as possible husband material, discovers true love at last. But then the Nazis occupy Paris and the American Library and their mixed bag of subscribers, including a good many Jews, are in dire danger. An American woman with whom Odile has become best friends takes a job at the library as well, hiding during the occupation in plain sight. But then she does the unthinkable and Odile’s anger and sense of betrayal knows no bounds.

Forty years later the reader discovers Odile has moved to a little town in Montana State, USA. There she befriends a girl who has lost her mother to cancer and is angry and bewildered when her father marries again after only a few months.

Together, Odile and Lily help each other grow and forgive and discover what makes a true family.

This is the best kind of book, one where you learn something and do it the easy way. By which I mean by becoming involved with the characters and absorbed in their stories. Especially with a story as meticulously researched, plotted, and executed as this one. You’ll find your emotions, your intellect, and your heart involved. And it doesn’t hurt a bit that you’ll learn some important history along the way.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Jackpot by Nic Stone @getnicced @penguinrandom

Jackpot
Nic Stone
Crown Books for Young Readers, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-9848-2962-7
Hardcover

Jackpot by Nic Stone is the YA jewel I didn’t know I needed. Rico is tough and serious, in her determinedly matter-of-fact way. She knows all she will ever need to know about each of her classmates. Without having an actual conversation, Rico knows what their home lives must be. She can tell what type of people they are. Rico is so grown, she even knows exactly how each of her peers sees her.

So, it’s not such a big deal for Rico to stay out of that basic, high-school drama; she’s truly got no time for it, anyway. Mama is hounding her to pick up extra shifts at the gas station. The purest person on the planet, her little brother, Jax, seems to stay sick. And she does still need to graduate.

Zan, rich-boy-because-of-daddy’s-toilet-paper, is not someone Rico ever envisioned approaching. Truth be told, she hid when he popped into her Gas ’n’ Go on Christmas Eve, just so she wouldn’t have to be polite to him. But now, his mad-hacker-skills may be exactly what Rico needs.

Something else happened that night-before-Christmas. Rico sold a winning lotto ticket, but the prize has not been claimed. Rico vividly recalls chatting with the sweet little lady who mentioned being forgetful. She will do everything possible to track this woman down in time to claim the jackpot.

While the sullen Rico is stuck with the inexplicably cheerful Zan, she grows annoyed by his habit of asking the questions that most folks would just mull over, silently. Replying to his sneaky, probing, seemingly-innocent queries got Rico thinking.

More time together meant more self-realization and Rico began to wonder if her earlier assumptions were not entirely accurate. Maybe, being part of a family that is financially well-off does not necessarily mean having whatever you want. Perhaps someone can be decked out in all-Nike-attire and still legitimately need food stamps. Maybe money is a blessing. Or, it could be a curse.

Ms. Stone’s characters are authentic enough to feel familiar, but fresh enough to be invigorating. Day-to-day life, even when infused with Something Different, is realistic and relatable. The occasional appearance of unexpected and unlikely narrators elevates the entire book in a way that I find intensely delightful.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2020.

Book Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton @LaurenKDenton @ThomasNelson @TLCBookTours

The Summer House
Lauren K. Denton
Thomas Nelson, June 2020
ISBN 978-0-7852-3253-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself again.

Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.

Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.

Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.

Now and then, I feel the need to step back from the world, so to speak, and indulge myself with a book that I know is going to lift my spirits. Lauren K. Denton’s books always fit the bill and The Summer House is no exception. Ms. Denton can take a quite ordinary person and put her in circumstances that are troubling but not very different from what many of us experience and have that character reach a place of contentment without being overly sentimental. In this case, it’s two women, Lily and Rose, who develop a deep friendship based on warmth and trust and thereby move on to a new place in life.

Both of these women are in need of emotional sustenance and, while their difference in age would seem to be a barrier, things don’t work out that way. Each finds the connection that satisfies that need and Lily, in particular, learns that “family” is not always those people that you’re born into or marry into; Rose and the residents of Safe Harbor become her new home and Rose, in turn, begins to feel a softening, a breaking down of her walls.

There’s some romance here but it doesn’t take over the story and is a nice addition to this tale that, when all is said and done, is one of hope and happiness for these two very appealing women. Adding to the story is the ambience of a warm, gentle Southern setting that Ms. Denton always does so well. I can’t recommend this highly enough to anyone looking for a few hours of pure enjoyment.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2020.

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

Born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, Lauren now lives with her husband and two daughters in Homewood, just outside Birmingham. In addition to her fiction, she writes a monthly newspaper column about life, faith, and how funny (and hard) it is to be a parent. On any given day, she’d rather be at the beach with her family and a stack of books. Her debut novel, THE HIDEAWAY, was a Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon Charts bestseller. Her second novel, HURRICANE SEASON, released in spring of 2018, is a USA Today bestseller. GLORY ROAD was released in March, 2019.

Connect with Lauren:
Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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Book Reviews: The Furies by Katie Lowe and Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci @fatgirlphd @stmartinspress @misscecil @Scholastic

The Furies
Katie Lowe
St. Martin’s Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-29789-1
Hardcover

Theoretically, it may be a bit easier to handle the aftermath of a tragedy if someone close suffers the same horror. Certainly, an adolescent girl could expect her mother to understand and to bear the burden with her. Vivian’s mom does know the shock, the overwhelming ache of emptiness. It’s almost as if she found a way to absorb it. Vivian no longer sees her mom, there is only a hollow shell where the warm, caring soul should still be.

Perhaps Vivian, too, would have just faded away, if not for the opportunity to attend the prestigious Elm Hollow. A curious campus—that, of course “has a history”—and the intriguing course-structures were appealing. But it was watching the girls making their way from class to class that truly began to stir something inside of Vivian. For the first time, in a long time, Vivian felt like learning again. Looking forward, making friends, maybe even dating: thoughts that had been gathering dust in the back of her brain tentatively slunk forward.

Young ladies gathered in pairs, loose groups and a few had chosen solo spots and were sprinkled throughout. One thing seemed the same, though. All seemed…content.

Ok, not “all”.

There are three…or to be more accurate, there is a trio standing out. Admittedly, the righteous red of Robin’s hair is impossible to miss, but Vivian is pretty sure there’s an undercurrent connecting the clearly-close friends. Inexplicably drawn to them, Vivian feels her heart beat again when she is welcomed into their fold.

Ms. Lowe doesn’t allow the uplifting illusion to linger.

As Vivian embraces all of Elm Hollow her mind happily gathers information, albeit by bits and pieces. She soon learns enough to put together a surprising, scary picture. Relationships are not new; backgrounds are tangled, gnarled roots and Vivian has been snagged. Entirely on her own, she will become eternally ensnared in Elm Hollow, or she will have to hack her way out.

I cannot wait to take this suck-you-in-and-spin-you-story to “my” students next month!

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2019.

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Don’t Cosplay With My Heart
Cecil Castellucci
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-12549-8
Hardcover

This Young Adult novel begins with (what I hope is) an atypical teen scenario. Completely overcome by complicated, conflicting emotions…currently manifesting as mainly anger, Edan dons her Gargantua mask before sitting down to her final family dinner. For the foreseeable future.

She didn’t know much about her dad’s business, other than his firm handled payroll for several Hollywood productions. Lately, she’s heard whispers of misappropriated funds and missing money. Now, her father is being sequestered. But this is not a tale of white-collar crime. Although, that may be a bit more pertinent to the plot than I initially anticipated.

To me, the story is about Edan’s exponential growth as life forces her into self-discovery and independence at a wholly unanticipated time. Sort of like learning to swim by being thrown into the water, having never even contemplated swimming lessons. And Edan is truly alone.

Her best bud, Kasumi, is spending the summer in Japan. Their conversations are quick and Kasumi seems so happy that Edan cannot bear to burden her with what’s happening at home. Edan has to do something to get out of the house and more importantly, out of her own head. Attending her first Comic Con, solo, should do the trick.

Despite her admiration and adoration of all things Team Tomorrow, the best comic-book ever, Edan didn’t know much about the fan-filled conventions. And, aside from the recent addition of the Gargantua mask to her attire, she absolutely knew nothing of cosplaying. After attending only one con though, Edan was wholly hooked and, with a goal: “…learn how to make a costume so great that it pulls me right out of my misery and changes my life.”

I appreciate the realistic and relatable mistakes Edan made, as well as how she corrected them. And, I’m always particularly fond of friendships formed in the most unlikely of places. I found this to be fun and entertaining, without being cotton-candy fluffy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2018.

Book Review: Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn @AvaMorgyn @YABoundToursPR

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Check out my stop on the Resurrection Girls
and enter to win a copy below!
 
Resurrection Girls
by Ava Morgyn
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Release date: October 1st 2019

Summary:

Olivia Foster hasn’t felt alive since her little brother drowned in the backyard pool three years ago. Then Kara Hallas moves in across the street with her mother and grandmother, and Olivia is immediately drawn to these three generations of women. Kara is particularly intoxicating, so much so that Olivia not only comes to accept Kara’s morbid habit of writing to men on death row, she helps her do it. They sign their letters as the Resurrection Girls.

But as Kara’s friendship pulls Olivia out of the dark fog she’s been living in, Olivia realizes that a different kind of darkness taints the otherwise lively Hallas women—an impulse that is strange, magical, and possibly deadly.

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Purchase links:

Advance Praise:

“Ava Morgyn’s passion and tenderness shine like a candle,
guiding readers through the darkness of Olivia’s story. Her compelling
characters are made all the more real by the eerie undertow
of myth. A beautiful, deeply emotional debut!”
–Sarah Porter, author of VASSA IN THE NIGHT
 and NEVER-CONTENTED THINGS
“Resurrection Girls is a powerful examination of grief and loss,
captivatingly woven with magic and ultimately hope. A
compassionately rendered debut.”
–Emily Duncan,
NYT Bestselling author of WICKED SAINTS
“RESURRECTION GIRLS is a heartbreak of a book, where love and
loss writes letters to the strange things that lurk in the darkness.
It’s a stunning story that blends the inexplicable and the beautiful
with the bittersweet.”
–Rin Chupeco, author of THE BONE WITCH
and THE NEVER TILTING WORLD
 
“A raw, poignant, unflinching examination of grief and healing
wrapped up in a compelling story. Resurrection Girls is a brilliant debut.”
–CJ Redwine, NYT Bestselling author of
THE SHADOW QUEEN and the RAVENSPIRE series
“The lovely, assured prose draws on ancient archetypes and a
lingering sense of dread to pave the way for a strange but satisfying
conclusion … Morgyn’s supernaturally tinged debut is a
heartbreaking but hopeful exploration of death and grief.” 
Kirkus Reviews

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My Review

As we inch towards the time of witches and ghosties, Resurrection Girls gives off an appropriately creepy vibe with an attention to death and the still-living who are faced with death. Accident and suicide play a part in the dynamics along with a strange compulsion for two teenaged girls to become penpals with men who have no hope of long life.

This tale is far more than that, though, as it delves into a family and how each individual member copes with the nearly unbearable grief after a child dies. There’s no real coming together here; the loss of Olivia’s little brother has fractured this family and Olivia and each of her parents have spent the past few years growing further apart and more mired in their devastation. When Kara and her mother and grandmother move in across the street, Olivia finally has something else to think about with this new friend and the oddities that seem to swirl around the new family.

You might think that this is a very depressing book with its emphasis on grief and the inability to recover but, in fact, it’s really a look at the journey to find peace as well as Olivia’s personal redemption helped along by Kara and a dose of…could it be magic?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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Excerpt:

In the beginning, the dead are always with you. It’s almost as if they aren’t even gone, as though you could round any given corner and see them there, waiting. For months after Robby died, I heard his voice, his laughter catching in his throat, the sound of his footfalls down the long hall upstairs. I could feel his towheaded locks soft against the pads of my fingers still, and imagine his quiet breathing in the night. It was all there, floating around me, able to be summoned forward at any given moment. Like a balloon, I had Robby’s memory, his soul, on a string.

But that only lasts as long as the pain is fresh. You bleed memories for a while. And then one day you find you’ve bled them all out. And the sharp sting of loss has waned into a dull ache.

It’s the little things that go first. The way light would play across his face at a certain angle. The expression he made when he pouted. The smell of him in the morning. You go to summon some detail up from the depths and it’s no longer there. The dead drift away.

And then even the dull ache disappears, and only numbness holds in its place. You stop trying to recall details because the futility of it is worse than the grief. It’s no longer the loss of the person you mourn, but the loss of the haunt. And the absence is all that is left when you reach for your pain.

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About the Author

Ava Morgyn is a long-time avid reader and writer of young adult fiction. She studied English Writing & Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, and now lives in Houston—city with the most rain, best food, and worst traffic—with her family. When she isn’t at her laptop spinning darkly hypnotic tales, she can be found making fairy houses, talking to her crystals and plants, hunting for delicious new vegan recipes, or bothering her dog. She also blogs regularly about the devastating journey of child loss at ForLoveofEvelyn.com.
 

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GIVEAWAY:

One hard copy of Resurrection Girls

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Book Review: The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson

The Wonder of Us  
Kim Culbertson
Point , April 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-73151-5
Hardcover

If ever the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ applied, this is that book. Abby and Riya became best friends the day Abby picked up a spider, and after naming it Sam, carried it outside where she let it go free. That was when they were in second grade and despite Riya being an extrovert and Abby an introvert, that friendship has remained unbreakable. That is until last year when Riya’s family moved to Berlin temporarily so Mom could help her brother stabilize the family business.

Shortly after the move, Abby’s mother announced she needed space and change, moving out a couple days later, only to begin living with the family dentist. Abby, feeling doubly abandoned, had to suck it up and start being the adult because her dad lost his way, leaving her to make meals, buy groceries, not to mention having to remind him to take a shower and get to work almost daily. It was a time she needed Riya desperately, but their phone calls, texts and face time chats were all poor substitutes for having her best friend at hand when she was continually crashing and burning in silence.

When Riya’s grandmother sprung for a grand European vacation and urged her granddaughter to invite Abby, it might have, should have, been the perfect healing reunion, but it wasn’t. Both girls had let too many secrets and unsaid things build up during their year apart and as they visited Florence, Switzerland, Berlin, Scotland, Iceland and finally London, it was akin to having a severe burn, only every time the healing started, someone ripped off the protective gauze, setting the process back.

Abby’s love of history comes alive when they visit each new location as the author brings historical tidbits to life in a way that allows readers to imagine they’re seeing them as well. Abby’s observations about how seeing certain places adds even more because she takes her emotional responses and turns them into dialogue that’s extremely easy to relate to.

The negotiations (there’s no better way to describe them) between the two friends are often awkward, cloaked in the angst and hurt of what should have been shared in the year they spent apart and ownership belongs to both of them. There are times when you feel like continued friendship is a lost cause, but their history is too strong for that to happen. If you want to find out how they end both the trip and where they’re headed, read the book and discover how much depth and insight it has. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Then you can read Kim’s other books as I have and see what a satisfying storyteller she is.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, March 2019.

Book Review: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen
Will Walton
Scholastic Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70954-5
Hardcover

It’s not every book that can convincingly cast a character with such seemingly unrelated skills. A closet dance fiend who can also (albeit a bit dubiously) aid in delivering a calf. Tretch keeps these truths hidden, right along with another fact he hasn’t figured out how to share.

He appreciates the perks of life in a tiny town while acknowledging the total lack of privacy. Also absent, is the population to properly support a funky, refurbished theatre. So, no matter how cool the 1976 King Kong movie is, Matt and his dads will probably be moving to a city soon. The time to come clean is now. Or never.

And it’s here that I could tell you Anything Could Happen is about absolutely true friendship, the strength and support of family and crushing on the wrong kid. Accurate, yet incomplete. To me, it simply shows how sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness.

Tretch is wise beyond his years, in a unique—not unrealistic—way. His uncanny ability to set his own feelings aside to focus on a friend isn’t instinctive, making it all the more admirable. He is incredibly aware of others’ feelings and hasn’t shared particular pieces of himself solely for the purpose of protecting his friends and family.

“…the insults that somehow fly right past me, but I fear would peg each of them smack in the gut.”

Secrets don’t stay hidden forever and often, they are spilled at once. How they come out matters as much as addressing the information, once it’s laid bare. A lot of pressure for an adolescent and while Tretch may not initially handle it smoothly, once he allows himself to be honest, his sincerity is unquestionable.

This was fun, without being frivolous and is appropriate for the Middle-Grade reader, but (I think) appealing to all.

Oh, and now I know who Ellie Goulding is.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2018.