Book Reviews: Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson and Eight Days on Planet Earth by Cat Jordan

Seeds of Revenge
A Greenhouse Mystery #3
Wendy Tyson
Henery Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-275-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s time to cuddle up with a holiday whodunit. Smell the crisp pines and baking cranberries as you sip your hot apple cider. It may be the season, but the mood in Winsome is anything but jolly.

Megan Sawyer is determined to farm year-round. So much so that she braves a December snowstorm to pitch her fresh greenhouse greens to Philadelphia chefs.

And then she sees a stranger stranded on the side of the road.

But this woman is no stranger to Winsome. It’s Becca Fox. A love chemist (you read that right). She’s headed to her aunt’s house to sell her love potions at holiday events.

Or so Becca thinks.

Her sneaky aunt only invited Becca home to reunite her with her estranged father. It sounds noble and kind-hearted, until the man ends up dead.

Megan soon finds herself in the middle. She realizes Becca’s not the only one getting iced over. Megan’s own aunt, the famous mystery author, is dragged into the drama. Her novels implicate her and she’s in trouble.

Now it’s personal. Our Megan must follow a cryptic trail of literary clues, all while sifting through the victim’s sordid past. She gets closer to the truth as the murderer gets closer to her.

How’s that for a ho ho ho? Don’t let your fresh apple crisp burn in the oven because you’re lost in this holiday homicide.

Once upon a time, Megan Sawyer was a high-powered attorney in Chicago, recently widowed, but she put all that behind and moved to the small town of Winsome, Pennsylvania, to help her grandmother run her organic farm and cafe. It doesn’t seem like a natural career change but Megan has settled in well and had just been meeting with Philadelphia chefs to set up vendor accounts for her greenhouse wares when she encounters Becca who used to live in Winsome. Becca’s aunt Merry invited her to set up a holiday shop for her love potions but Merry actually had an ulterior motive, to reunite Becca and her estranged father. Megan doesn’t know any of this but she certainly notices Becca’s angry reaction when she sees her father.

When Paul is murdered, suspects and motives begin to come out of the woodwork, as it were, and Megan gets into the thick of it first to help Becca but later to help her own aunt Sarah, a mystery author, who’s one of those suspects. That suspicion is not necessarily arbitrary—she had an odd connection to the dead man—but, before long, the victims begin to pile up and Megan herself might be in serious jeopardy.

Although this series is labeled as “cozy”, I think it’s actually more in line with the “traditional” subgenre for several reasons. There’s a bit of an edge to this story and Megan’s background as a lawyer gives her a believability as a sleuth that many cozy protagonists don’t really have. It’s also a nice touch that Police Chief Bobby King is not averse to her investigating and Megan gets some assistance from staff, friends and family rather than trying to go it alone. There are no TSTL episodes, thank heavens. All in all, this was a well-crafted mystery and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Fair warning, that end is a bit of a humdinger 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Eight Days on Planet Earth
Cat Jordan
HarperTeen, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-257173-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

How long does it take to travel twenty light years to Earth?

How long does it take to fall in love?

To the universe, eight days is a mere blip, but to Matty Jones, it may be just enough time to change his life.

On the hot summer day Matty’s dad leaves for good, a strange girl suddenly appears in the empty field next to the Jones farm—the very field in rural Pennsylvania where a spaceship supposedly landed fifty years ago. She is uniquely beautiful, sweet, and smart, and she tells Matty she’s waiting for her spaceship to pick her up and return her to her home planet. Of course she is.

Matty has heard a million impossible UFO stories for each of his seventeen years: the conspiracy theories, the wild rumors, the crazy belief in life beyond the stars. When he was a kid, he and his dad searched the skies and studied the constellations. But all of that is behind him. Dad’s gone—but now there’s Priya. She must be crazy…right?

As Matty unravels the mystery of the girl in the field, he realizes there is far more to her than he first imagined. And if he can learn to believe in what he can’t see: the universe, aliens…love…then maybe the impossible is possible, after all.

In many ways, Eight Days on Planet Earth is a look at how a teenaged boy copes with the downturns in his life, including his father’s abandonment of the family, and finds hope in the most unlikely of places. When his dad runs off with his own brother’s wife, Matty reacts with a bit of a stiff upper lip and some disdain for his mom’s apparent inability to accept the situation. As far as Matty can tell, his dad has been less than a great family man for a long time but he’s not about to show his deep hurt. On top of that, he has pretty much zero chance of developing anything with his secret crush and he and his mom are having a rough road financially. What should be that wonderful last summer before senior year is turning out to be anything but.

Then he finds an almost otherworldly girl in the field next to the farm, the field where a UFO landed years before, and Priya is a puzzle on many levels beginning with why she’s in the field in the first place. When Priya tells him she’s waiting for the spaceship to come back for her, he certainly doesn’t know what to think but he’s drawn to her. Priya appears to need looking after and she’s the perfect distraction from his woes but she becomes much more to him. Matty does feel a need to protect this strange and wonderful girl but, to his surprise, a deep emotional connection begins to develop.

Those eight days are slowmoving but they also pass in a flash and the ending tore my heart out while, at the same time, it gave me a glimpse of the fine young man Matty is destined to become. This is a story of hurt and hope and love of all kinds and I’m very glad to have made Matty’s acquaintance.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Book Review: Dark Energy by Robison Wells

Dark EnergyDark Energy
Robison Wells
HarperTeen, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-227505-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

We are not alone. They are here. And there’s no going back.

Five days ago, a massive UFO crashed in the Midwest. Since then, nothing—or no one—has come out.

If it were up to Alice, she’d be watching the fallout on the news. But her dad is director of special projects at NASA, so she’s been forced to enroll in a boarding school not far from the crash site. Alice is right in the middle of the action, but even she isn’t sure what to expect when the aliens finally emerge. Only one thing is clear: everything has changed.

I don’t make a habit of guessing at authors’ motivations in writing particular books but I have to do it this time. I could be—probably am—dead wrong but I think Robison Wells had tongue planted firmly in cheek when he wrote Dark Energy. How else to explain the truly creative idea behind the story and the inclusion of more diversity than I’ve seen in a while with actions and behaviors that not only would never happen but no thinking individual would believe they could? Just as an example, after the aliens have been here only a few days, two are brought to a boarding school to live. Yeah, right. If you believe they wouldn’t end up in a lab somewhere, I have this bridge I’d like to sell…

Here’s the thing, though—I DON’T CARE how unrealistic and illogical it all is. I quite simply love this book and I applaud Robison Wells for coming up with a twist I absolutely never saw coming and, yet, it made perfect sense if you believe in life out there (and I do). There’s a lot of humor here (never slapstick, just normal) as well as shades of fear and a terrific roadtrip. The ending is actually a bit too rushed and I wish it hadn’t seemed quite so easy but I’ll still be including this in my favorite books read in 2016.

I also fell in booklove with all the major characters and I have to say that, for an adult male, Mr. Wells does a darned good job of writing teen dialogue, especially the girls. Leaving the whole alien thing aside, I really did connect with Aly, Rachel and Brynne and the latter two’s immediate acceptance of Aly is credible because of her connection to the crash site. An exciting time like this is exactly when teens would forego their natural snottiness towards a newcomer. They’re also very cool girls 😉

Kurt is no schlock, either, and I appreciated the lack of insta-love. The attraction is certainly there but the author lets nature take its course, thank heavens. And then there’s Aly. My goodness, I like this girl. She’s smart, brave, snarky and rebellious but she and her dad have a relationship we could all wish for and their mutual trust is, well, awesome.

So, put aside your need for credibility and just enjoy Dark Energy for what it is. If you’re like me, the only thing that will really nag at you is the title—I have precisely zero idea what it’s supposed to mean but, then, who cares?  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

Book Review: Until the Beginning by Amy Plum

Until the BeginningUntil The Beginning
Sequel to After The End
Amy Plum
Harper Teen, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-2225634
Hardcover

Juneau and a now convinced Miles are trying to find the imprisoned clan members being held somewhere in New Mexico. When Miles is shot and they have to hide from his father as well as the group that Whit, former shaman of the clan, is working with, Juneau is tested. Not only must she cloak them, the vehicle and the cabin with invisibility, she has to save Miles’ life. That results in her making a frightening choice and giving him Amrit. If she doesn’t he’s certainly going to die. He survives and begins to develop his own powers as they return to the road.

The closer they get to where the clan is held captive, the more challenging things become. Juneau has to become more comfortable with modern technology, while Miles has to wrap his head around the fact that not only was Juneau telling the truth about her powers, but he has them as well and must learn to use them quickly because he has no choice.

They have to break into a private hunting preserve that’s guarded by mercenaries as well as a sophisticated electric fence. Once inside, they not only have to deal with someone desperate to get the Amrit, but must free the clan as well as rescue separately held hostages. Things are further complicated by the arrival of the other party interested in the formula just when it looks like Juneau and Miles are ready to make their escape.

The first part of this book is slower paced than book one, but that’s because Juneau and Miles are getting to know each other while she’s wrestling with how reality contradicts almost everything she was led to believe as she grew up in the Alaskan wilderness. However, once they start the rescue effort, the action is fast and furious, leading to a very satisfying ending. If you’ve read book one, you will certainly enjoy this one. If you haven’t, you’re in for a double treat.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS., January 2016.

Book Review: After the End by Amy Plum

After the EndAfter The End
After the End #1
Amy Plum
HarperTeen, May 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-222561-0
Trade Paperback

Juneau is the heir to the role of shaman in her clan. Whit, the current one, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what they call the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region beyond Denali in Alaska after what they have told the children was World War III in the early 1980s.

She’s out hunting for caribou when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before and recognizes the threat it poses, so she abandons her kill and drives her sled dogs back to her village as fast as she can.

When she arrives, all clan members are gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposed to be away on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes no one has been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away in what appears to be a desert location. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan. When she reaches the sea, she’s stunned by the city and people she finds, forcing her to not only question everything she believes, but adapt quickly while evading pursuers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school for a third major infraction and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.

When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.

Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the WildBeware the Wild
Natalie C. Parker
HarperTeen, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-224152-8
Hardcover

Swamps make stellar settings for the spookiest of stories. “The meanest swamp in Louisiana” however, disdainfully dismisses “spooky”. This arrogant, angry bog is far more frightening than the orneriest of angry alligators. A petulant presence, tinged with wicked lurks within.

Following an epic sibling squabble, Sass’s revered brother, Phin, belligerently explodes from the sanctity of their backyard into the eagerly awaiting quagmire. She dreads the worst. Not “the worst” as it relates to the average, hazardous marsh. It isn’t images of the one person she loves unconditionally, who loves her right back: sinking into quicksand, being bitten by a venomous snake, hopelessly lost, slowly succumbing to the elements that plague her.

Whispered legends. Volumes of collected Swamp Stories. Knowing looks exchanged over children’s heads. The unimaginable horror that is never actually addressed, always alluded to. These fears fill her mind and freak her out. As if insulted by her tame, unimaginative worries, the glade grabs Sass by her chin, jerks her head up and shoves the unspeakable, tortuous cruelty into her stunned face.

Ms. Parker explodes into the Young Adult literary world, boldly and courageously with an authority that won’t be denied. I’m a little bit in love with her and I’m pretty sure she had me in mind with the shout out to my beloved Phish and the perfect use of a term that needs to come back: spaz attack.

Amid a tale that unapologetically reaches out and with a quick tug, pulls the reader into the sticky, steamy swamp; enters dark-skinned Abigail, the “girl who prefers girls” in a very small town. This diversity is not gratuitous nor is it the point of the story. Rather, Ms. Parker’s natural inclination to include characters of differing ethnicities and sexual orientation seems simply indicative of her norm; yet feels utterly refreshing.

Superbly depicted southern stereotypes lend a feel of authenticity while the dynamics among the characters enrich this brilliantly written, compelling, creepy and captivating story. Absolutely, all-the-way awesome, Beware the Wild is a book that I look forward to re-reading and sharing with my bookish pals both Young and Not-So-Young Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2015.

Book Review: What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass

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Title: What’s Broken Between Us
Author: Alexis Bass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: December 29, 2015
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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What's Broken Between UsWhat’s Broken Between Us
Alexis Bass
HarperTeen, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-227535-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Look to the left, look to the right. We’re all going to die. But someone has to do it first. So who’s it going to be?

Tragedy struck Amanda Tart’s town a year and a half ago when a sophomore girl was killed in a car accident on graduation night.

Amanda’s brother, Jonathan, was behind the wheel and too drunk to drive. He’s spent the past year in prison and has cut off all ties. But now Jonathan is coming home. Just as Amanda’s trying to figure out what that means for her family and herself, she’s paired up for a school project with Henry Crane—a former crush, and brother of Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend, who survived the crash with horrible injuries.

Everyone is still incredibly damaged by the events of that night. Can Amanda and Henry finally begin to heal what’s broken and find some peace?

I’m full of conflicting feelings about this book and I both like and don’t like it, leaning more heavily to the liking end.

Who among us has not been affected, either directly or indirectly, by a drunk driving incident in high school, almost always revolving around either prom or graduation. For me, having grown up in a fairly good-sized city and its surrounding counties, such memories do exist and it almost seems like a required rite of passage. The problem hasn’t gotten any less serious, either; there are still drunk driving deaths every spring and, whether we know the kids or not, we all mourn the loss of so much promise.

There have been books on this subject before but Ms. Bass quite imaginatively approaches it very differently. We still see the fallout suffered by family and friends but the main character is the sister of the drunk driver, not the direct victim or a survivor. Amanda is damaged almost as much as anyone else and I see her as someone who tries her level best to not do or say anything that’s going to cause the slightest bit of controversy. Amanda walks through life like a shadow of her true self, very carefully, like a tightrope walker who must place each step extremely carefully, looking neither to left or right. Some of the decisions she’ll make once Jonathan has come home are really questionable but perhaps not surprising although I can’t condone her treatment of Graham no matter what her reasons.

Jonathan is also a surprise. Unlike other stories in which the drunk driver “sees the light” and takes his punishment to heart, this boy is doing his utmost to alienate everyone and he’s a poster child for recidivism. There doesn’t seem to be any way for him to make up for what happened but, perhaps more importantly, Jonathan doesn’t appear to care or to want any kind of redemption.

There is a lot of darkness and unhappiness in What’s Broken Between Us and the ending will not satisfy some readers. For me, it made the most sense because, after all, terrible events rarely have unabashedly happy resolutions. Most of all, drunk driving must always be seen as the worst choice to make.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

About the Author

Alexis BassAlexis Bass grew up in Washington, went to college in Arizona, and spent her early twenties in Seattle. She currently lives in Northern California with Dylan McKay, her gorgeous and rambunctious golden retriever. She loves good fashion and good TV as much as a good book, and is a huge advocate of the three C’s: coffee, chocolate, and cheese. LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES is her first novel.

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Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7264073.Alexis_Bass

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Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness and A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness
HarperTeen, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-240316-2
Hardcover

Surviving high school is a challenge even when you’re normal and as well adjusted as a teen can be, but what happens when you feel like you’re the least important in your circle of friends? What about when your mom is an elected official running for national office, your dad is an alcoholic afterthought and you have poorly controlled OCD? Dealing with all that might be overwhelming, you think, but what if the situation was a lot crazier and scarier than even that? Suppose your town and your school are ground zero for a cosmic battle, a repeat of one that wiped out the high school less than ten years ago? Now imagine that your best friend has powers beyond anything you could explain to a stranger and is worshiped by mountain lions. Add in the possibility that the ‘indie’ kids at school are supposed to save mankind and you have quite the situation.

This is what high school senior Mickey faces. He’s in serious like with biracial friend Henna, scared that his sister Mel, who almost died (she did briefly, but was brought back to life) from an eating disorder, will relapse and he’s distressed by the flare-up of his OCD. At the same time, he’s convinced that everyone tolerates him because, as he puts it, “I’m the least.”

As the craziness surrounding the possibility that zombies, ghosts and creatures affected by the ubiquitous blue lights may be about to defeat the ‘indie’ kids, teen readers will find the challenges Mickey, his sister Mel, Henna and best friend Jared are dealing with as graduation approaches are ones they can easily relate to. And the second layer of supernatural happenings is a nice counterpart to the sort of angst each of the main characters face as they begin to realize just how much life will change soon, no matter what else happens. This is a fun, quirky and emotional story about growing up and the insanity that accompanies that experience.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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A Little in LoveA Little in Love
Eponine’s Story from Les Misérables
Susan Fletcher
Chicken House, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-82960-1
Trade Paperback

How do you think your life might turn out if you were born in a field, your father gambled away every cent and as a result, you were raised to hate and steal? Meet Eponine, one of the characters in Les Misérables. This is her story from the time she’s born to the day she’s lying in her own blood at age seventeen after a final selfless act. You know how the story ends because it’s in the first sentence in the book, an entry from June 5th, 1832.

When the book begins, Eponine is looking back to what her mother told her about when she was born. Her father was away at the battle of Waterloo, but spent more time robbing his fellow soldiers as they were dying than fighting. She describes him thusly: “His eyes were quick like a rat’s—quick and cunning and black”. He came home rich and bought an inn that was in terrible shape. He lied about the inn, about the war and pretty much everything.

No matter how successful the inn was, he found a way to make money, food and clothing disappear, so when Eponine and her younger sister Azelma became old enough, they were trained to steal from drunken patrons and then from the townspeople.

When she’s four, a woman appears at the inn with her daughter Cosette and offers to pay for the family to care for her because the mom can’t work and take care of Cosette at the same time. Instead, the girl is treated like a slave, starved, verbally and physically abused, as well as forced to do the most demeaning chores, sometimes multiple times. While Eponine feels uncomfortable treating the new girl abusively, she has little choice.

Eight years later, a man appears and ransoms Colette for 1500 francs, informing the family that her mother had died and asked him to find and care for her daughter. Of course, Eponine’s father gambles the money away and in desperation to keep the inn, commits a terrible crime. The family, which now includes a younger brother aged six and unwanted by the parents, flees for Paris under cover of darkness. The journey is arduous and leaves everyone hardened and on the edge of starvation. When her little brother is abandoned as the family boards a barely functional rowboat, Eponine’s heart shrinks painfully.

It’s this event that starts her looking inward and wondering whether there might be a better way to live than one of constant theft and cruelty. In Paris, the family live with a gang of thieves until they steal enough to get their own place. Eponine meets Marius, a young man who rents the room next to theirs. It is this meeting that really turns her heart around and even though she doesn’t stop doing bad things right away, she is able to figure out what she needs to do to have a sense of worth and purpose. How she gets to that point is sad, but understandable.

I have not read Les Misérables nor have I seen the movie. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this book and I doubt it will diminish the level of satisfaction when teens, particularly those who like stories of tough times or historical tales, read the book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.