Book Reviews: Stolen Memories by Mary Miley and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Stolen Memories
Mary Miley
CreateSpace, November 2015
ISBN 978-151-8883705
Trade Paperback

If you asked me for a book that you could really sink your teeth into—a murder-mystery with just a hint of romance—one that is a delight to read, but not “light reading”…..you know, something that keeps your eyes glued to the pages you are frantically turning and sneaks into your thoughts at random times; but doesn’t necessarily rip out your heart & run away with it–I’d happily hand you Stolen Memories.

1928 was a fabulous time to be a young woman in Europe.  It was particularly exciting and opportunistic for the intelligent, courageous woman carving a path for her own independence and paving the way for others to follow. Eva Johnson, however, is not that woman.   Rather, she is a self-serving, manipulative, nasty thief who has no problem spilling a bit of blood along her way.

When she awoke under the concerned eyes of a doctor in France, Eva had no idea what landed her in a hospital bed.  She has no memory, at all.  She surely does not remember marrying that angry giant hulking around her bedside.  More importantly, she can’t fathom being married at all.  Even in the absence of her memories, she’s sure there’s been a huge mistake.  This initial unease and uncertainty perfectly set the tone for her tale.

Eva desperately wants to regain her memory to reclaim her true self, nothing about being a part of this eccentric family feels relatable.  Those around her share her goal, but for very different reasons.  Deciding who to trust is a daily challenge.  Information is fed to her intermittently and often, inaccurately.  Her every move is watched and scrutinized.

Under such close inspection, we begin to see some interesting things.  While some may simply want to recover their stolen property, someone wants her dead.  Further muddying the waters, Eva is just not herself.  With seemingly natural inclinations towards kindness, she stuns her family.  It is particularly entertaining to watch a mystery unravel while the participants continue to be puzzled.  The many moving parts make for a quick, compelling read.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

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Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Puffin Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-242286-1
Trade Paperback

This is one of those treasures recommended for ages 10 and up that I believe everyone can thoroughly enjoy, not just older elementary and middle-grade people.

I can’t imagine the person who would not be charmed, then completely smitten with young Willow, who at the tender age of 12 has her world shattered.  An admirable and awe-inspiring person Before, her strength, courage and resolve After show the reader what a real-life super-heroine is all about.

Even cooler, we see her spirit, determination and natural kindness pour out and touch so many.  Those touched by Willow intuitively and impulsively stand a little straighter, try a little harder and become more generous.

Few books have the ability to render sobs, then a smile, but this one does.  I would chastise myself for letting this sit on my shelf for so long instead I’m going to consider the timing serendipitous, because now I can pass this jewel on to my son’s middle-grade classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: One S’More Summer by Beth Merlin

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Title: One S’more Summer
Series: The Campfire Series #1

Author: Beth Merlin
Publisher: Ink Monster LLC
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

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One S’more Summer
The Campfire Series #1
Beth Merlin
Ink Monster LLC, May 2017
ISBN 9781943858200
Ebook

From the publisher—

For twenty long years, Gigi Goldstein has been pining away for her best friend’s guy. She knows it’s wrong and it has to stop, but she hasn’t been able to let go ever since they all met on the bus to summer camp back when they were 7 years old. The same week that her best friends finally announce their wedding date, Gigi loses her high-profile design job. With all of her dreams unravelling, she runs to the last place she remembers being happy.

Taking the Head Counselor position at Camp Chinooka, Gigi hopes to reclaim the joy she felt as a camper, but the job isn’t all campfire songs and toasting marshmallows. Gigi’s girls are determined to make her look bad in front of the boys’ Head Counselor—the sexy but infuriating Perry—and every scrap of the campground is laced with memories.

When Gigi finally realizes she can’t escape the present by returning to her past, she’s forced to reexamine her life and find the true meaning of love. But will she be able to mend fences and forgive herself before she loses her one real shot at happiness?

I admit it, my head was turned by a book cover. When I saw this, I couldn’t help flashing back to all the years my family went tent camping, not to mention my Girl Scout years and all the summers I went to one camp or another. I didn’t need any other incentive to read this.

(I also have a strange compulsion to watch movies set at camps.  Hmm….)

Gigi’s first day as head counselor really brought back memories of the camp I went to as a thirteen-year-old except for one thing: Gigi makes it sound like getting rid of head counselors was every campers dream, every year. I never experienced anything like that; rather, all the hostilities and machinations were directed at other campers. Oh, well, this is chick-lit at it’s core so I just ignored the things that didn’t really matter to the central story.

Gigi is frustrated with her life and that made her a little frustrating to me because she is a bit of a whiner but I totally understood her. When you get right down to it, Gigi is running away and hopes to find solace in the place that was the beginning of her friendships with two very important people. Jordana and Jamie are memorable characters (in a good way) but the developing relationship between Gigi and Perry is what it’s all about and Perry is a delight. It was fun to see these two work their way through their pasts so they can maybe find the future.

I love the way Beth Merlin never quite tells it all so I kept wondering when I would find out more. That’s a great way to hold my attention and adds a touch of chick-lit style suspense. You could almost call this a mystery. Nah, not really, but…. I also appreciated that romance is certainly present but it isn’t the be-all end-all. Instead, Gigi coming to terms with herself and her life is what’s really important. Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

About the Author

Beth Merlin has a BA from The George Washington University where she minored in Creative Writing and a JD from New York Law School. She’s a native New Yorker who loves anything Broadway, rom-coms, her daughter Hadley, and a good maxi dress. She was introduced to her husband through a friend she met at sleepaway camp and considers the eight summers she spent there to be some of the most formative of her life. One S’more Summer is Beth’s debut novel.

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Book Review: Jadeite’s Journey by Lucinda Stein

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Title: Jadeite’s Journey
Author: Lucinda Stein
Publisher: Inkspell Publishing

Publication Date: January 24, 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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jadeites-journeyJadeite’s Journey
Lucinda Stein
Inkspell Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9976212-6-6
Ebook

From the publisher—

When romance turns deadly…

Jadeite’s perfect world comes crashing down on her. In the futuristic world of United Society, her only problem has been how to act around the cute boy on the air shuttle. But Jadeite’s world changes when she comes across a man who looks alarmingly like her father. Clones were declared illegal years ago. When she sees her father, a robotic engineer, headed to the Dark Edge of United Society, she follows him and uncovers her father’s secret life.

Jadeite shadows her father past the boundary of United Society and into a primitive world of canyons and high deserts. She learns her father is a Ridge Runner passing between the two worlds. Even more alarming, she discovers her younger brother, Malachite, is sick and requires medicine only available from over the Ridge. After her father is arrested, Jadeite takes his place in order to save her brother’s life.

But her world turns even more precarious after she breaks up with her obsessive boyfriend, Mattie. Jadeite soon learns his threats are more than words, and she finds her life is in jeopardy.

Book covers DO make a difference, don’t they? It certainly did for me this time—as soon as I saw this one, I just had to know more so kudos to the cover artist, Najla Qamber.

No disease, no crime, no poverty, no death. Sounds great at first, right? No plants, no animals, all made extinct because they serve no purpose. No unproductive people allowed to exist. No right to decide who sits next to you. Maybe the positives of this society aren’t so positive after all but if you’ve never known any other way….

At first, I couldn’t get a clear idea of the time frame and the history leading up to Jadeite’s period with relation to our own time—the numbers didn’t seem to work—but I decided that wasn’t so important. I also found it troubling that the still remaining signs of pre-United Society civilization existed so closely to her sheltered environment but she nothing of it, seeming to contradict her persona as an intelligent, curious young lady. How is it possible that crumbling buildings and roads from our own time are within a brief shuttle ride and, yet, she had no idea? Leaving these issues aside, though, I was quite taken with the world Ms. Stein created with her attention to small details such that I could picture myself in Jadeite’s environment.

Jadeite herself is an appealing protagonist as are her family and her friend, Electra. Mattie, on the other hand, starts showing his questionable side early on and I would like to think such an intelligent girl would see through him but, alas, she falls for the surface as so many girls do. On the positive side, Jadeite soon begins to acknowledge her own doubts concerning facets of the United Society’s dicta and its harsh laws.

What Jadeite will do with the shocking things she learns is, of course, a large part of her story and I found myself intrigued with this girl’s life journey.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

About the Author

lucinda-steinA school librarian for over twenty years, Stein now writes fulltime. Sanctuary: Family, Friends, & Strangers was a 2015 Colorado Book Award finalist. Three Threads Woven, was a 2010 WILLA Finalist. Her story, Sulfur Springs, won First Place in the 2011 LAURA Short Fiction competition. Her stories have appeared in Pooled Ink, The South Dakota Review, Fine Lines, and Women Writing the West online.

When not writing, she hikes desert canyons and alpine trails. She loves anything vintage, her shelter-rescued dog, Opie, and, most of all, her husband, Rob.

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Book Review: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

its-not-me-its-youIt’s Not Me, It’s You
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Point, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-95258-3
Hardcover

When Avery’s dumped mere days before the senior prom, that would be bad enough, but she’s prom committee chair and all the guys have dates. All the guys except the Nerd Squad who avoid things like prom in favor of an all night game rage. Included in that group is Hutch, her lab partner for all four years at their California prep school.

Determined to hold her head high and look successful on prom night, Avery turns her oral history assignment for English class into a psychological autopsy of her long and unsuccessful dating career. She hopes that by interviewing every one of her old boyfriends, she can learn why there were so many and what caused each breakup. Avery imagines this knowledge will somehow help her stay single and happy.

She enlists the help of Hutch and Coco Kim, her best friend, to accomplish this task. The list of exes is impressive, stretching back to fourth grade. The story is arranged in brief interview form, alternating between Avery, Hutch, Coco and whoever is the topic at the moment. Said topics include her arch nemesis Bizzy Stanhope, her parents, the principal, Ms. Sergerson, the teacher who gave her the assignment, the former boyfriends, random kids from school, a Vespa riding Italian boy, a TV star and even a pair of helicopter parents.

Avery must bulldoze (convince isn’t even on the table here), her teacher to let her forge ahead with this as a valid oral history project. After all, as she notes early on, history can be what happened five minutes ago. At first, the short paragraphs with rapidly changing viewpoints can be a bit disconcerting, but once you get into the flow and start being comfortable with the main characters’ personalities, it’s a mad and funny ride. There are times when you’re likely to cringe at Avery’s ‘blondness’ (after all more than a few exes bring up her long blonde hair as among their first impression of her) and a reader could get frustrated with what seems to be an aura of cluelessness and self-absorption, but Avery manages to dance back from that abyss at the right moment each time.

Halfway through the book, I realized where it was headed, but that made it all the more fun reading to see how Avery and the rest got there. It was particularly satisfying to read how she and the guy she was meant to be with saved the prom after it was sabotaged two days before it was to happen.

I’ve read and really enjoyed the author’s other books. She writes teen funny extremely well while keeping her characters sympathetic. Those are rare talents. This is a good book to offer young adults who like funny high school drama or a quirky love story.

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

Book Review: Membrane by Michele Corriel

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Title: Membrane
Author: Michele Corriel
Publisher: Leap Books

Publication Date: October 10, 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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membraneMembrane
Michele Corriel
Leap Books, October 2016
ISBN
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

In the multi-verse people may look familiar, but no one is who they seem.

In a small town in Montana, Sophie lives with her quantum physicist mother, and her equally brilliant, but dangerously obsessed step-father.

Her father disappeared years ago under mysterious circumstances, but Sophie is still haunted by memories of him that seem so real she swears she feels his presence one night as she drifts off to sleep.

Realizing that somehow her missing father is trying to send her a message, Sophie decides to take a big risk.

With her friend, Eli, Sophie must discover what strange experiment her father did and understand the startling impact it has on her world and another, just across the membrane dividing the multi-verse.

Isn’t that cover eye-catching? Better yet, it reflects the story as well as any I’ve seen in a long time. The fractured title evokes the thin barrier between Sophie’s Earth and…whatever is on the other side…and the image of the man, who surely must be Sophie’s missing father, is almost haunting, kind of a ghost. Kudos to the cover artist, Nina Gauthier Gee.

The thing I really appreciated about Membrane is its simplicity. Here we have a girl living in a less-than-fabulous family, a girl whose father went missing years ago without any resolution. When she begins to believe he’s trying to reach out to her, she’s compelled to go through his journal for hints as to what might have happened to him, leading her to an incredible adventure with her friend, Eli. What they discover is life-altering and Sophie may be humanity’s last hope.

Sophie is a smart girl with plans for her future but, at the same time, she’s protective of her mother and has learned to cope as well as possible with her increasingly paranoid step-father, Ted. Eli could easily become more than a friend if only Sophie would allow herself to let him in and I have to say Eli is possibly the most appealing guy-friend-potential-love-interest I’ve found in young adult fiction. I’m so glad there’s no insta-love here, just a naturally growing connection between two decent kids.

On the whole, Membrane is an intriguing tale with vivid characters and twists you never see coming. Although we’re left with some unanswered questions, that’s quite natural and I turned the last page feeling more than satisfied.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

About the Author

michele-corrielMichele Corriel lives and works in Montana’s scenic Gallatin Valley, surrounded by seven mountain ranges.

Her work is as varied as the life she’s led, from the rock/art venues of New York City to the rural back roads of the Rockies. With her fourth book just out from Leap Books, she’s also a prolific freelance magazine writer with articles regionally, nationally and internationally. Michele has received a number of awards for her non-fiction as well as her poetry. She also enjoys teaching, presenting writing workshops and speaking on panels across the country.

When she’s not writing you may find her on the golf course, hiking or slogging her way through the snow on what some people like to refer to as “skis.” You might also find her in the kitchen creating exciting new flavors or recreating classics.

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Book Review: Interference by Kay Honeyman

interferenceInterference
Kay Honeyman
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-81232-0
Hardcover

Kate Hamilton is genetically programmed to fix or make things right. After all, her dad is a U.S. Congressman from North Carolina and her grandfather and great grandfather held a similar office, only in Texas.  When her latest effort to reveal cheating by one of her fellow students at the posh DC high school they attend blows up, thanks to photoshopped and out of context pictures posted online, it also derails her dad’s re-election bid.

Her parents take an unusual tack. They cart Kate off to Red Dirt, Texas where the incumbent who held the seat her grandfather once had, has just died and a special interim election is going to be held. Dad was the star high school quarterback many still remember fondly…Many except Bo Stone who was the player replaced by Dad way back then. Bo is also intent upon running for the vacant seat and his son Kyle is now the quarterback for the local team.

Kate’s upset and angry when they arrive in the middle of nowhere, but no sooner do her parents tell her she can be free of campaigning and be a ‘normal teenager’ (as long as she stays out of the headlines), than Kate starts being seduced by the wide openness of Texas. One of her goals is to get back at her DC tormentor, but do it in an honorable way. She needs lots of volunteer hours as well as more photos for her art portfolio if she wants to get into a school where that is offered and one of three coveted letters of recommendation written by the principal for a graduating senior.

High school in Texas is a far cry from her old school and features a cast of characters that affect her in ways she never expected. There’s Ana Gomez who’s as good, maybe better a photographer than Kate. Ana is still acting like a deer in the headlights after lies were spread by an ex-boyfriend. There’s Ms. Serrano, the yearbook adviser who is more than she seems and challenges Kate in unexpected ways, but most of all, there’s Hunter, who she sees as a rude, slightly antagonistic student, who she first meets when she has her hands in a very embarrassing place when pressed into service by her prickly Aunt Celia to help with a difficult calving at the sanctuary.  Celia has spent her life rescuing stray and abandoned animals of all types (and naming each after a famous politician). She reluctantly accepts Kate’s offer to help out at the refuge near the home her dad inherited.

There aren’t any particularly unique elements in this story, but great recipes come out of common ingredients and that’s the kind of story this is. It’s about Kate’s growing awareness of how she needs to change, who she really is and how a congressman’s daughter can learn to love a small town in Texas as well as a guy she thought cared about someone else. It’s a great read and definitely worth adding to any school or public library caring about offering teens a neat read.

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

Book Review: A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

a-tangle-of-goldA Tangle of Gold
The Colors of Madeleine, Book 3
Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-39740-7
Hardcover

This third installment in the Colors of Madeleine series begins with Elliot in our world, but after he makes an amazing discovery that tosses much of what he believed out the window, his stay is cut very short. Instead of building on what he and Madeleine developed as they worked to open the cracks in order to rescue the royals from our world, he’s whisked back to Cello, only to find himself tortured by very strong Greys while being held a hostage by the hostiles.

Meanwhile everything else is thrown into chaos. Princess Ko is branded a traitor and thrown in prison, the colors are becoming more aggressive and disrupting everything and it becomes ever harder to figure out who is really in the various factions. The Jagged Edge seems to have assumed control, while yet another group, the Circle, not before apparent but with strong connections to our world, becomes a player.

Madeleine suffers ever stronger nosebleeds, mixed with vivid visions of notable historic figures from our world and has to fight hard to save what little sanity she still has as she faces the very real possibility that her connection to Cello is about to be permanently closed. Her desperation, coupled with who she really is, help propel her back there at the right moment.

Readers will find the first part of the book is slower, but that’s necessary to expand the threads which need to be pretty clear as things speed up and numerous plot twists start unfurling in order for the somewhat frenetic finish to happen. Those make for a toe crimping experience as readers race along with the two characters you really want to be happy together in their attempt to figure out how and where to find the elusive thing needed to save Cello and the lands surrounding it by conquering the color storms and resurrecting the Cello Wind. It’s a dandy finish that will amply reward readers who have come along for the ride and, best of all, they’ll get to imagine their own happily ever after.

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