Book Review: An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl
Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
St. Martin’s Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-13373-1
Hardcover

Imagine your life as a giant freewheeling gear. At times, it spins freely and isn’t meshing with anything. At others, it meshes with one, or several other gear-lives. The majority of the time, those meshing instances are benign, often interesting, but very seldom result in terrifying, confusing, or life changing encounters. What happens when one involves all three?

Jessica Ferris already carries around guilt, anger and shame. She’s never told her parents the truth about what happened to her younger sister who has brain damage and requires almost constant supervision. She’s never dealt honestly with what happened between her and a New York producer that has taken up residence in the back of her mind. She worries constantly about money for reasons she’s unwilling to share with her small circle of friends. She has to hustle every day to make all the appointments as a professional make-up artist for well-to-do clients through her contract with BeautyBuzz. When she looks at her future, it looks dim and fuzzy.

Then one of those life-gear moments happens, she fills in for a friend at an appointment to be screened for a psychological testing project. While the odd questions raise a red flag, the possibility of getting ahead financially is too strong, so she continues after confessing that she filled in for her friend.

Her admission isn’t a deal breaker for Dr. Shields, a wealthy and somewhat icy female psychologist. As Jessica gets pulled further and further into the complex web woven by the doctor, she’s initially dazzled by the amount of money dangled before her, not to mention the hint that Dr. Shields might be able to get her soon to be unemployed and broke dad a new job.

By the time Jessica’s at a point where she can hear warning bells, she’s not only stuck in the doctor’s web of manipulation, she’s also realized that she’s been involved with the woman’s husband and if any word of that gets back to Dr. Shields, the possible consequences are too scary to imagine.

I can’t reveal more without spoiling the rest of this book, but consider this, At some point, everyone is suspect, there are multiple layers of duplicity, you can’t trust anyone, Jessica has to walk a tightrope to stay reasonably safe and sane, and the twist at the end is a dandy. If you enjoy psychological thrillers that read like a tilt-a-whirl and are extremely edgy, then this is your kind of book.

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

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Book Review: Alien Minds by Christina Bauer



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Alien Minds
Christina Bauer
(Dimension Drift #1)
Published by: Monster House Books
Publication date: April 23rd 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

DIVERGENT meets OCEAN’S EIGHT in this urban fantasy heist!

On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.

So, I’m living the perfect life.

Then why does everything feel all wrong?

My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.

And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.

Maybe it’s time to pucker up.

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After this series’ prequels, Scythe and Umbra, I was pretty sure the first full-length novel would be a wild ride and so it is. Alien Minds delivers a punch on all levels—action, intrigue, and nefarious government activities—and it’s all at the core of masterful worldbuilding I’ve come to expect from Ms. Bauer.

There’s romance, of course, between Meimi and Thorne, and I can’t say I was thrilled with that part but such things seem to be de rigueur in young adult fiction so I just go with the flow these days. Actually, neither of these two is in my list of 5 favorite characters but that’s okay because I really connected with their story if not them.

Ms. Bauer has added in just the right amount of snide humor to make me chuckle in all the right places but, make no mistake, her core theme is one to beware of. It’s bad enough to be doing things at the government’s behest that don’t exactly sit well but how much worse is it to not remember enough of your past to understand how you came to be in such a situation? Meimi has misgivings almost from the moment she wakes up and is confronted with a man and woman purporting to be her parents and telling her she’s going to the ECHO Academy; once she gets there, all does not become clear and there’s this hunky guy, Thorne, telling her a simple kiss will bring back her memories. When she’s assigned to a special project, she bargains to have a few friends help her and, with her team, embarks upon a plan to escape…and do some damage while they’re at it.

There are a few hiccups along the way but, all in all, Christina Bauer still has my attention and I’ll be waiting for the next Dimension Drift story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

“Appealing and engaging. Love the strong female character!”
– Arlene’s Book Reviews

This new series is perfect for: fans of urban fantasy, action & adventure, cool science, evil corporations, forbidden romance and hot new classmates who may or may not be aliens.

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Kobo / iBooks / Google Play

About the Author

Author Bio:

Christina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.

Christina graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with BA’s in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby.

Be the first to know about new releases from Christina by signing up for her newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/CBupdates

Website / Blog / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / LinkedIn

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Book Review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell

Watching You
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-5011-9007-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

In Lisa Jewell’s latest brilliant “bone-chilling suspense” (People) no one is who they seem—and everyone is hiding something. Who has been murdered—and who would have wanted one of their neighbors dead? As “Jewell teases out her twisty plot at just the right pace” (Booklist, starred review), you will be kept guessing until the startling revelation on the very last page.

By now, Lisa Jewell has firmly established herself in the crime fiction field as one of the best suspense/thriller writers today, especially those involving domestic and/or women’s issues. With Watching You, she certainly did not disappoint this reader and, in fact, takes things to another level of creepiness.

Secrets abound in this community and different residents of the neighborhood have varying opinions about their neighbors and even their own families but it’s Tom Fitzwilliam who seems to be at the center of everything. Why is this man, rightfully admired for his headmaster abilities and accomplishments, such a magnet for attention? Which of these neighbors is dangerously obsessed with him?

Ms. Jewell begins her story with a dead body and then backtracks to give the reader glimpses of the previous few weeks and the odd—and chilling—behavior of these people who spy on each other with the precision of a trained professional.  A reader will wonder why do they do so and, just when you think you have a handle on things, the author tosses everything you thought you knew into the ozone.

Pacing is almost frenetic, the characters are diverse in their personalities and in their likeability (or not) and you can’t help wondering if some of your own neighbors might be behaving oddly, perhaps dangerously. The web of lies and rumors that seemed to keep growing had me guessing from beginning to end…well done, Ms. Jewell!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

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: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

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

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of This Story Is A Lie, just leave a
comment below.
The winning name will
be drawn on Friday
night, March 1st.

This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Plum Rains
Andromeda Romano-Lax
Soho Press, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-901-2
Hardcover

Skip forward to 2029. Angelica Navarro is a Filipina nurse who is paying back student loans by working in Japan. Years later, the cost of those loans is about to bury her, as her brother’s debts have been added to her own. He signed on to work in Alaska and became sick from the poison left behind when a plague was eradicated by destroying the land. Angelica is nursing a Japanese woman, Sayoko Itou, who is about to celebrate her one hundredth birthday. When her son gives her a robot for a present, Sayoko and Angelica’s lives both take a drastic shift. As for the robot, the self-learning technology with which he (yes, a he) programs into himself will allow him to become both a friend, and an enemy.

The story is convoluted, the author’s vision of the near future rather terrifying, especially as, in a world that grows more crowded every day, privacy has gone by the wayside. And everything costs. One feels for Angelica, working in a strange country. One feels for Sayoko, too, whose background is tragic. Oddly enough and although neither are aware of it, her story is similar with Angelica’s. And oddly, one feels for the robot, who grows more human in exponential leaps and bounds.

The writing is often lyrical, the characters strong, the dialogue always draws the story forward. I felt a sense of dread as I read it, which certainly proves the writer’s ability to impart emotion into the tale. And I believe the end may surprise you.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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.