Book Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-13092-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

Take a good look at that cover. Don’t those two women look an awful lot alike? When I first saw it and read the description, I couldn’t help wondering if this was going to be like one of those serial killer things where the guy has an obsession for women who resemble each other and someone who was once very important to him (yes, I’m being sexist; it’s simpler and it’s almost always men killing women). So, was I right? I’m not telling because that would ruin the enormous surprise at the end 😉

Without a doubt, The Wife Between Us is one of the most intense and page-turning books I’ve read and it turned my expectations completely on end. Most of all, I was impressed by how often I was surprised, perhaps because I trusted too much, like at least one of the three people in this tale of treachery and love. Then again, are any of them really on the up-and-up? Vanessa, Richard, Nellie—are any of them real?

I’m in awe of any author who can create a story and characters as compelling as in this book but I’m purely amazed that two authors could collaborate so extremely well. I suspect their ability to do this has at least something to do with one being an already accomplished author and the other being her editor; they had a certain connection, if you will, and it really shows in the quality of their writing. I really hope this is the beginning of a long-running partnership that will bring us many more books to keep me up at night.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Book Review: Turn It Up! by Jen Calonita

Turn It Up!
Jen Calonita
Point, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-16115-1
Hardcover

Meeting your mother’s expectations when you’re a high school sophomore is often tough, but when your mom is the headmaster of your school and was one of the founders of a once elite a cappella group, the ante is really upped.

That’s what Lidia Sato is looking at when the school year begins. The situation is immediately complicated by her seeing her co-captain and long time best friend Sydney, kissing Griffin Mancini, the boy she’s been crushing on forever. Lidia had bought into all the encouragement her bestie had given her, but every time she was in a position to talk to Griffin, her mind went blank and words failed her.

Despite Sydney’s best efforts to explain that Griffin initiated the kiss and she was as shocked as Lidia when it happened, what her friend saw (or so she believed), was painfully different. Lidia has a very public and messy meltdown during the recruiting party for the Nightingales, the group she and Sydney are trying to bring back to glory. What she says in front of the prospects would be bad enough, but she does it again not long after and then quits the group. Granted she’s also committed to dance and a shot at some really good performance options, but the way she reacts, coupled with some rather evil pranks by the boys a cappella group, the Kingfishers, puts Sydney and the other group members behind the eight ball in terms of coming together and restoring the Nightingales to prominence.

While interactions between the girls themselves and with the guys in their rival group are decently portrayed, the immaturity and repeatedly annoying behavior by both Lidia and Sydney gets pretty old as the story goes on. I can live with unpleasant, flawed or annoying characters if the author reveals a justification for their behavior, but that doesn’t happen here and the two come across as whiny.

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

Book Review: Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Lucky in Love
Kasie West
Scholastic Press, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-05801-7
Hardcover

No matter how hard Maddie works, no matter how much she worries about her family and academic situations, things don’t get any better. Her dad’s been out of work for several years, her mom works double shifts, her older brother dropped out of college and hides in his room. There are times when she feels like a hamster on a giant warped wheel and no matter how fast she runs or how much she studies, it’s as though the river of life is pulling her backward.

When a convenience store clerk convinces her to buy a Powerball ticket on her 18th birthday, she has zero expectation of winning, but she does. Thirty million is her lump sum payout. After giving her parents and brother a million each and paying off the mortgage on the family home, she thinks things will be okay. Hardly. There’s an increase of parental fighting, her brother’s dishonesty overwhelms her and she’s confused about who’s really a friend as opposed to who just wants her to throw cash at them,

The more Maddie tries to figure out who she can trust, the greater her paranoia becomes and her behavior and ability to think rationally get more messed up. The line between friendship and opportunistic greediness in those around her becomes completely blurred. Maddie loses her ability to recognize what’s real, leading her to lash out at Seth Nguyen, the one person not affected by her new wealth and her co-worker at the nearby zoo. It takes a very upsetting incident involving a newspaper article and a near meltdown confrontation with friends and family before the ship called Maddie can start sailing properly again. In the process, Maddie learns some valuable lessons, mainly that family might be messy, but is very important and that some people are worth risking yourself for. Watching how all this unfolds and what she learns is an interesting journey.

I’ve read all of Kasie West‘s books and this was as satisfying as the rest of them.

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

Book Reviews: Exo by Fonda Lee, R.I.P. Eliza Hart by Alyssa Sheinmel and The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron

Exo
Fonda Lee
Scholastic Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-93343-8
Hardcover

Peace Day may be quickly approaching, but a battle is about to go down while something more sinister, bigger, bubbles beneath. Tension between the Global Security & Pacification Forces (SecPac) and humans is palpable; the humans’ hatred, disgust and raw fury with the zhree is tangible, yet they plan to celebrate a century of coexistence.  Coexistence applies to the fifteen percent of mankind approved to exist among the zhree.  The remaining eighty-five percent faded into shadows of themselves or morphed into fierce, determined resistance fighters.

Having survived the Hardening process that transforms a zhree-approved human child into an exo, the only son of the Prime Liaison appears as a firmly committed SecPac soldier.  Donovan is confident and unquestioning in his fight against human rebels; until a raid goes wrong.  Held hostage where humans are the apex species, his perspective shifts.  It becomes impossible to see the individuals around him as the cohesive, carbon-copy-collection he has been fighting against.  What he fought for blurs out of focus.  Who he really is becomes crystal clear: not human enough for mankind, “nothing but human” to the zhree. Although it feels as if everything is different now, one thing is very much the same: the entire planet is in danger and Donovan is helpless as a hostage.

Exo is a brilliant example of Science-Fiction feeling oh-so-real.  Ms. Lee packs powerful punches in action scenes, soothes with sympathy in some situations, but bites with wit and humor in others.  Entertaining, empathy evoking, surprisingly relatable and utterly thought provoking, this is a book for everyone; not just Science-Fiction fans.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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R.I.P Eliza Hart
Alyssa Sheinmel
Scholastic Press, December 2017
ISBN 978-0-338-08762-8
Hardcover

The appeal of the convenient, all-access “…narrow streets on the narrow island of Manhattan” is almost irrelevant for someone uncomfortable (at best) in enclosed spaces. Hopeful that her home state would help her open doors that claustrophobia kept firmly closed, Ellie accepts a scholarship to attend a tiny boarding school buffered by redwoods, opening wide above the Pacific Ocean.

Alone, Ellie explores the other dorms. A parental accompaniment would have been cool, but her issues have taken up too much of their time anyway. She will make friends here, none of these students know of her problems. Actually, she even sees a name she knows and suddenly, Ellie has something to look forward to: reconnecting with Eliza Hart.

Awkwardness should be the worse-case-scenario. Eliza may not have fond memories of her former childhood friend, she may not even remember Ellie at all. Appearing angry and almost personally offended that Ellie dare approach her, Eliza obviously loathes Ellie. In fact, she’s already told everyone on campus that Ellie is a vicious, pathological liar and students should simply steer clear.

Stunned, shattered, struggling with her sanity, Ellie has to know why. Even as Eliza’s body is recovered from the cliffside and speculations swirl around campus, Ellie cannot stop searching for answers. As she uncovers Eliza’s best kept secret, Ellie’s own repression is revealed, changing her perspective on absolutely everything.

R.I.P. Eliza Hart is an outstanding YA novel because, as narrators of their own stories, Eliza and Ellie explain actualities of mental illness in a way that everyone can understand and empathize with. Misconceptions, such as medicine plus therapy equal a cure, are corrected…without sounding like a somber after-school-special. And the awesome element of something decidedly different, redwood burl poachers.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2017.

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The Forgetting
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-94521-9
Hardcover

Imagine awaking with no knowledge of who you are. You don’t know your name, or age.  None of your surroundings are familiar. The distraught children barricaded inside with you are strangers, but the look of terror covering each little face reflects how you feel. They, too, have Forgotten.

In the white-walled world of Canaan, you carry your life story with you in the most literal way: hand-written in a journal kept close (if not tethered) at all times.  Every moment lived will be written down accurately and truthfully.  When one journal is filled, it is maintained in the Archives. Histories—both individual and collective—are compiled and preserved here; a necessity based on an inexplicable, yet infallible, occurrence that robs the residents of their memories every twelve years.

Every rule has an exception and here, it is Nadia.  Having been a child during her first Forgetting, she still realized how different she was.  She did not Forget.  Admirably altruistic, cunning and courageous, this character could carry the story.  A grudging acceptance to partner with Gray, the Glassblower’s Son, subtly shows her softer side and adds a bit more urgency and suspense to an already captivating caper.

The real scoop is revealed like ripples in a pond. The grab-your-attention-splash of the impending Forgetting expands into a more complex mystery.  Perhaps it is the limited memory, or maybe life without modern conveniences keeps people too busy to ponder, but; no one seems to question the wall around the city.  Again, except for Nadia.  She’s been over the wall and noted differences.  In her city, stone is jagged—as if freshly broken or cut.  The other side of wall has stone that has been worn smooth.  She wonders, “…does the wall protect us, or keep us in?”

Already intrigued by the idea of a periodic, mass-memory-erase, I became completely captivated considering circumstances that could have resulted in the walled city.  My wildest imagination is not even comparable to Ms. Cameron’s creative genius; I was astounded.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Reviews: Girl in a Bad Place by Kaitlin Ward and Code Red by Janie Chodosh

Girl in a Bad Place
Kaitlin Ward
Point, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-10105-8
Hardcover

Commune. A calm word, calling forth images of folks immersed in wilderness; frolicking with forest creatures, blissfully coexisting with Mother Nature. Idyllic, sure; but Mailee certainly didn’t anticipate the sad-looking metal shacks she saw upon arriving at the Haven. No matter how odd and uncharacteristic the visit to this remote area may be; she is determined to be positive; after all, this peculiarity is the only thing Cara has shown interest in all summer.

Mailee never expected a super-celebratory Senior year. The ache of Cara’s loss lingers and her home is still shrouded by a palpable dark cloud of sorrow and anger, sucking up all hope of happiness. Moreover, Mailee has noticed changes in Cara that cause concern. So, even though “…nature is gross. And filled with spiders,” Mailee is willing to make the pilgrimage as pleasant as possible.

The founder, a man dubiously dubbed Firehorse, seems more like a shifty, misogynistic pig than a peace-loving-Earth-boy and everyone else emanates a surreal, suspicious, semi-aggressive vibe. Initially surprised that Cara is smitten; Mailee is soon stunned by her best friend’s frenzied fascination of the creepy cooperative.

Maybe Mailee was willing to—temporarily—omit meat and dairy from her diet as a show of support; but as Cara raves, Mailee researches. The line between commune and cult begins to blur. Against her better judgment, Mailee agrees to attend a celebration at the commune with Cara. Guessing that she will need to provide more than moral support; Mailee has no idea how dangerous and dire the circumstances will be.

A bad place can be literal, figurative, or even both at once. Sometimes, as in Cara’s case, a metaphorical bad place leads to an actual bad place. In the same way that a phrase can mean more than one thing, this keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat, compelling conundrum is not just a suspense-filled mystery, but also a survival story. One about learning to live in spite of loss, loyalty, and the immeasurable value of friendship.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2017.

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Code Red
A Faith Flores Science Mystery, Book Two
Janie Chodosh
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-929345-28-1
Trade Paperback

Faith Flores is a bit of an atypical protagonist insofar as she’s somewhat rough around the edges. Of course, considering her circumstances, she’s a remarkably well-adjusted adolescent. Knowing the bare minimum about her father, really raising herself—while doing her best to take care of her addled, addicted mother—Faith’s occasional avoidance of silly social graces seems just about right. Above-average intelligence and a freaky-fast mind also, understandably, contribute to her curtness.

Having recently figured out ‘who-done-it’ when her mother was murdered (Janie Chodosh’s Death Spiral, A Faith Flores Science Mystery), Faith needs a change of scene as much as something to wholly occupy her inquisitive intellect. And so begins her internship in Santa Fe where she will be assisting in studies of genetically modified chiles. The fact that her always-absent-father supposedly inhabits this town certainly won’t distract her (she wishes) but the headline “A New Drug for Northern New Mexico” just might.

Smoothing the story with more than soul-soothing songs, we have violin virtuoso, Clem. Quite frankly, there is no going wrong with a dude named after Vassar Clements <bows deeply to Ms. Chodosh> and this young man is no exception. Aside from his evident awesomeness, for the first time ever, Faith feels a possible connection…perhaps he can identify with her “…own mixed race too-brown-to-be-white-too-white-to-be-brown ethnicity…”.

Santa Fe has several surprises in store for Faith and suddenly, her luxurious length of time here seems lacking. To focus on the inexplicably angry threats against her lab and GMO crops, grab a few minutes here and there with Clem, and attempt to take advantage of opportunities with new-found family; Faith definitively does not have time to delve into the intrigue of Liquid Gold, the latest in dangerous dope. Unless there’s a link that would render her choice irrelevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2017.

*Not to go full-out-nerd on you but when I began writing this review I realized that I still felt relatively ignorant about the term “GMO” & the arguments against it. This Mental Floss article saved the day: What is a GMO?

 

 

Book Review: Mean Girls by Micol Ostow

Mean Girls
Micol Ostow
Based on the Screenplay by Tina Fey
Scholastic Inc., September 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-08756-7
Hardcover

I’m not pleased to admit that I picked up Mean Girls with preconceived notions and possibly an internal sigh.  Yes, girls can be despicable, particularly during the terrible teens; and sure, for so many students, high school certainly sucks.  Both truly important topics, but how many ways can that be covered?

Well.

This book is based on a screenplay, a unique concept for me; mostly certainly nothing I’ve read yet.  Oh, and said screenplay was written by Ms. Tina Fey.  I am a fan.

Turns out, this tantalizing twist of transition is not the only tweak on a traditional tale.  There is, indeed, a new facet of this oft admired gem.  Some may say high school is like a jungle, but Cady could quickly squash that simile. Born, raised and home-schooled in Africa by her scientist-parents; the jungle, she understands.   However violent and messy it may appear, there are absolute rules.  Law of the land, yes; but clearly defined with potential consequences equally easy to assess.

Nothing is apparent or effortlessly understood in this American high school.   Well, sure the “no green ink” and absurd requirement to obtain permission to use the restroom; but absolutely absent is any advice about interaction among the species. Cady realizes, of course, that if she wants to fit in, she will need to observe and mimic.

But first, does she want to fit in?  If so, with which group?  Unsolicited answers are offered up, different questions are asked, and in no time, Cady is in the thick of things.  With the support of two obvious outcasts, she attempts to take on typical teen traits and immerse herself in the adolescent atmosphere.   Much like a jungle kitten on a muddy, slippery, slope; Cady is soon over her head and seemingly all alone.

Because Mean Girls plays out from pivoting point-of-views, the whole picture emerges as if puzzle pieces are studied, sorted then clicked into place, perfectly.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Run by Kody Keplinger and Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

Run
Kody Keplinger
Scholastic Press, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-83113-0
Hardcover

To say that Agnes and Bo are polar opposites would be grossly overstating their similarities….at least at first glance.  It is difficult to imagine what the serene, docile blind girl would discuss with the most promiscuous wild-child in the small southern town.  It is initially inconceivable that the two would form a bond built on trust and whole-hearted acceptance.  Run isn’t a SnapChat view of two teenagers’ lives.  Ms. Keplinger uses a wide lens to clearly capture the vast and complicated contributing factors that affect not only how other people see the girls; but also their own perceptions of themselves.

That is not to say, however, that this is a dark and heavy tome.  Contrarily, I found this to be immediately irresistible and I ended up reading the book in one day.   It is so easy to become immersed, then invested in a story that is told from two points of view.  Ms. Keplinger spins the tale in that fashion, with a fantastic little tense twist.  True to her very core, Bo’s side of the story is happening right now, present tense, in your face—exactly the way she lives her life.  Agnes takes us back—remembering, yes….but also, considering and contemplating.

While I hesitate to use comparisons in reviews, I genuinely feel that I would be remiss if I did not say: this story, to me, feels important in an Eleanor and Park kind of way.  Although it is undeniably Bo and Agnes’ story; their parents do play a key role.  Just like the teens; adults can be guilty of making and sticking to snap judgments.  Also alongside adolescents; adults have plenty of room to grow.  I’ve no doubt Run will have mass appeal in the YA world and I’m pretty confident that there are plenty of Not-So-Young Adults that will dig it, too.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

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Death in the Tunnel
A British Library Crime Classic
Miles Burton
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4642-0581-1
Trade Paperback

First of all, a short synopsis: Sir Wilfred Saxonby dies as he takes the five o’clock train home. He’s in a locked compartment, shot through the heart by one bullet, the pistol that fired it under his own seat. His death seems straightforward enough, the only odd thing being the fact the train was traveling through a long tunnel at the time. A very noisy, very dark tunnel. And there were the mysterious lights the engineer and fireman saw on the tracks, changing from red, which slowed the train, to green again, when the train sped up.

Was Sir Wilfred’s death suicide, or was it murder?

That is the question posed to Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard. Terribly puzzled himself, Arnold calls in Desmond Merrion, an amateur expert on criminology. Together they set out to discover the truth in this convoluted plot.

See. No spoilers.

Death in the Tunnel was first published in 1936, the author contemporaneous with Agatha Christie. The plot plods, in my most humble opinion, although the premise is classically intriguing. The characters never really come alive, composed, for the most part, of talking heads. I never really see them. The action, what there is of it, seems constrained. Nobody, even the dead man’s children, seems to care all that much.

Writing styles come and go. Perhaps the British version of that day was more stilted, although Christie, Sayers, Creasey, among others, always struck me a writers of good stories. American author Mabel Seeley, from the same era, brought the reader into her characters’ world, always with a sense of danger involved.

As a puzzle concept, Death in the Tunnel, delivers. As a rousing good story, I can only say, “Not for me.”

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.