Book Reviews: Whenever I’m With You by Lydia Sharp and Keep Me In Mind by Jaime Reed

Whenever I’m With You
Lydia Sharp
Scholastic Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-04749-3
Hardcover

Gabi’s natural grace is fascinating.  Poise, pragmatic manner and confidence rarely coexist in mere human beings; but this 17-year-old possesses all three.  Of course, she doesn’t realize that.  Her Alaskan acquaintances see only the novelty of a “rich Latina from L.A.”  and they don’t even have as much information ‘about’ her as the tabloids do.

Kai is not like that, but he isn’t living the typical teen-age life either.  When Gabi and her father moved in next door, Kai’s father had been gone for almost a year.  His departure turned Kai and his twin brother, Hunter, from full-time high-school students to home-schooled home-makers.  The boys cared for their younger siblings, their mother worked double shifts.

When Kai slips away to search for his father, he doesn’t tell anyone.  He’s been alone in the Alaskan wilderness, following his father’s footsteps for a couple of days when Gabi and Hunter figure out where he’s gone.  The two immediately realize the dire need to reach him ahead of an upcoming storm.  Even an experienced, outdoors-loving-Alaskan could not be prepared for this.

The dangerous expedition is but part of the plot.  Each twin has a secret and when secrets are shared it is as if someone pulled the missing piece of the almost-completed-jigsaw puzzle from a pocket and asks, “Were you looking for this?”  Fiercely frustrating; a remarkable relief.  Each person that participates in this quest has a solid strength inside.  The individual discovery and use is a pretty great thing to witness.

Aside: I have a particular fondness for the West-Virginian transplant.  Vicki easily embodied traits I recognize in the people from my home state; she amused and delighted me.   Special thanks to Ms. Sharp for that.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017.

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Keep Me In Mind
Jaime Reed
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-88381-8
Hardcover

The adage ‘opposites attract’ brings no comfort to Ellia as she tries to picture herself in a relationship with the “tearstained boy hovering over (her) bed…declaring his undying love and devotion”.  She’s come out of a coma with no recollection whatsoever of the accident that caused it or the preceding two years.  Her parents, along with some friends are familiar, if not fully known; but the oddly earnest Liam is a stranger.

Liam is a runner. An addict, actually; his entire personality changes if ever he is deprived of his daily run.  An excellent student, he works diligently for his grades and he writes ridiculously well.  Ellia firmly believes that humans should run in emergency situations only and nothing about school holds her attention, aside from the opportunity to people-watch in order to ponder and provide fashion critiques, solicited or not.

Logically, these two people do not belong together, but emotionally Liam is so confident and persuasive that Ellia is compelled to seriously consider the plausibility.  Understandably the most important thing in Liam’s world, this is really just a piece of the wicked jig-saw puzzle that is now Ellia’s life.  Her first priority is to figure out who she is and why; based on what she’s heard so far, she’s not particularly proud of the person she was.

I absolutely adore the way this author captures and conveys the sheer magnitude of emotions that teens experience.  More accurately, I admire the authenticity of her characters.  The surprisingly witty banter exchanges are straight from the hallways of any high-school and exist alongside the lyrical and somewhat haunting soliloquies throughout. I was immediately intrigued, then immersed and invested.  There were enough questions to be answered that the story-line slid smoothly along, keeping me engaged from the first page to the very last word.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: In Case You Missed It by Sarah Darer Littman

in-case-you-missed-itIn Case You Missed It
Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-90437-7
Hardcover

What teen doesn’t privately criticize their friends? After all, they’re going through major changes that are accompanied by mood swings, major insecurity and self-doubt. In other words, mental squirrel-cage territory. What they don’t expect is every single one of their thoughts, crushes, annoyances and feelings to be hijacked and posted online where everyone affected can see and react, not to mention receiving a barrage of Twitter and Facebook snark from people they’ve never met.

Welcome to Sammy Wallach’s new reality. She’s psyched about the end of her junior year, doing things with her besties, getting her driver’s license and hoping to go to prom with Jamie Moss, the boy she’s drooled over for ages. Unfortunately, the bank her father manages has been picketed by some pretty aggressive protesters, who have now started camping next to the building. When Dad and the board call in police to remove them, someone hacks the bank’s computer system. What does this have to do with Sammy? She kept a diary on her laptop that was backed up on the family server. The hackers hit that as well and now everything she wrote about friends, her fantasies and even rules she broke when she and her two friends went to a club to see a band, something her parents had expressly forbidden, is now online for the world to read.

Add to that her realization, courtesy of some of her father’s emails now exposed, that her parents, who have been extremely strict, are far from perfect, and she’s not only humiliated, but very angry.

This is the point where the story could have turned totally cliché. Instead, the author pulls you alongside Sammy as she guts it out. In the process, she finds new and pretty cool friends, a boy much better than her crush, strength to deal with an unexpected family tragedy, a stronger and mutually respectful relationship with her younger brother and a realization that she survived what, at first, seemed unthinkable.

This is a great read for teens who like a quirky, but relatable story of teen disaster and family chaos. I’d suggest it to all libraries as an acquisition.

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

Book Reviews: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly and Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum

innocenceInnocence Or, Murder on Steep Street
Heda Margolius Kovaly
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-6169-5645-5
Trade Paperback

This murder mystery was written to disguise a political tract describing the author’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia during which her husband, an ardent party member and an assistant minister of trade, was falsely arrested, jailed and murdered.  Both had survived Nazi concentration camps.  The form the book takes was to somehow evade the censors and it surreptitiously tells his story as part of the plot, describing one of the characters.

Essentially, the plot revolves around the murder of a detective on a street on which a movie theater is located.  There are seven women who serve as ushers, each with a secret life, complicating the investigation into the death.  The stories of their lives unfold, together with the secrets they share with each other.

The promotional material recounts the author’s fame as a translator, and especially her love of Raymond Chandler.  It is doubtful that this work measures up to his standard of writing, and has to be judged on its own merits.  On that level, the reader has to cope with various obfuscations and, of course, the obscure Czech names and places which divert attention.  The conclusion is somewhat disappointing and really is somewhat ambiguous, whether by design or inadvertence.

The author really is known for her memoir, Under A Cruel Star, in which she describes her time in Auschwitz and the early years of Communism in her native land.  For its historical importance, the present novel deserves to be read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016

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trapTrap
A Butch Karp – Marlene Ciampi Thriller #27
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9318-4
Mass Market Paperback

The customary courtroom drama in the Butch Karp series takes up about half of this novel, but it isn’t as dramatic as most of the prior episodes.  Although the legal description is proficient, it is highly technical in nature and less dramatic than many of the previous legal battles, which are always a highlight of a Robert K. Tanenbaum story.  This tale is a mixture of a Karp family saga, hate crimes, deranged arsonist and bomber, religious beliefs combined with Nazi sympathizers and events during the Holocaust and World War II, and the conflict between the public school system, the teachers union as led by corrupt officers and charter schools.  How’s that for a mouthful?

What leads up to the courtroom scene are a series of events and even a murder or two.  The Teacher’s Federation president is attempting to head off a bill in Albany which would result in an audit that would expose him and his cohorts for stealing funds from the union’s coffers.  The author certainly knows better than this premise.  Certainly unions are subject to regular audits.  But for the plot to work, this fact has to be ignored.

So the battle between proponents of the charter school legislation, who want a mandatory audit of the Teacher’s Federation, and the corrupt union and public officials, ultimately sets the stage for the dramatic trial.  As side issues, we have a scraggly group of Nazi sympathizers who conveniently serves as a red herring in the lead-up to murder charges, and Karp’s twin sons’ wishy-washy approach to their religious beliefs and late (by several years) Bar Mitzvah.

All in all, however, this was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

the-vanishing-yearThe Vanishing Year
Kate Moretti
Atria Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-1-5011-1843-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

From the opening lines, we learn that Zoe has lived with uncertainty her whole life. Yes, she had a true mother who fills her thoughts every day but it’s the girl who left her behind at birth that Zoe dreams about now, wondering about what might have happened. Sometimes, these dreams are violent, and it’s a far cry from such a start in life to the world she inhabits now of wealth and prestige. Zoe’s husband, Henry, expects her to take her place in society and she does, reluctantly, that reluctance perhaps coming from more than just shyness.

The tone set by Ms. Moretti is just slightly ominous in those first pages but, in her capable hands, the tension ratchets up until I started getting those creepy crawlies, the kind that ripple up and down your spine, and I couldn’t sleep for needing to know what was coming next. The secrets and lies, the twists and turns, kept showing up without warning and leaving little time to contemplate their true meaning before the next surprise. It’s the unknown that really frightens, isn’t it? And, yet, here the known will become even darker. more of a morass, than Zoe could possibly imagine.

It all begins when someone calls her “Hilary”.

If I have anything negative to say at all, it’s that a cast of characters would have been welcome, considering the plethora of players. Kate Moretti is a writer to be reckoned with, one who wrapped her story around me until I could barely breathe but, when all was said and done, she left me with good feelings and wanting more. This is a writer who knows how to tell a tale 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-a-Million // Apple
Amazon // Blio // Google // IndieBound

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About the Author

By Pooja Dhar at PR Photograph

By Pooja Dhar at PR Photograph

Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at katemoretti.com, or follow her on Twitter (@KateMoretti1) or Facebook (KateMorettiWriter).

Find Kate online:

Website: www.katemoretti.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katemorettiwriter

Twitter: @KateMoretti1

Instagram: @katemoretti1

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“Kate Moretti’s The Vanishing Year is a Rebecca
for the modern age—a novel filled with doubts and

deception, secrets and history. Society wife Zoe Whitaker
must confront the age-old question of whether
forgetting our past dooms us to endless repetition
and more heartache and danger than one woman can bear.”

—Jenny Milchman, author of As Night Falls

The Vanishing Year is more than an engaging tale of utter
betrayal. It’s an intricate dance of realities, full of twists
and turns you won’t see coming. Kate Moretti has outdone
herself. You’ll miss your bedtime, guaranteed.” —J.T. Ellison,
New York Times bestselling author of No One Knows

Book Review: Remember Me This Way by Sabine Durant

Remember Me This WayRemember Me This Way
Sabine Durant
Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-1-476-71632-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  One year after her husband Zach’s death, Lizzie Carter, 41 years old, goes to lay flowers on the site of his fatal accident.  Since the tragedy, she just hasn’t been the same, racked with grief and guilt and regret and . . . relief.  Even though her friends tell her she’s grieved enough for her ‘prince charming,’ her memories of a darker side of Zach that no one else knew are burned into her brain and won’t let her forget him.   But as she puts her flowers down at the roadside, she sees a bouquet of lilies at the foot of the tree.  Addressed to her husband.  She isn’t the first to pay her respects . . . but who is Xenia?  As Lizzie learns more about her husband’s past, she begins to realize that maybe she didn’t know Zach at all.  But she’s still tormented by her guilt and the memories that just won’t fade . . . because Zach doesn’t seem to be as gone as everyone thinks.  And she just can’t shake the feeling that he’s still out there, watching her, waiting to claim her as his own once again.  After all, just because we love someone doesn’t mean we can trust them . . . .

Lizzie does psychometric testing for a living; Zach is an artist, although a not-yet-successful one.  The p.o.v. alternates between that of Zach (the first page is his, and though only one page long [before the narration switches to Lizzie’s], it is quite startling, letting the reader know at once what he/she is in for.  Lizzie’s p.o.v. sections take place initially in February 14, 2013, a year to the day of Zach’s car crash, on a Cornish roadside in the middle of Cornwall and 200 miles from her home in London.  She thinks to herself “His death feels real for the first time.  I must let him go, hard as it is, because, despite everything, he was the love of my life.”  The next section, Zach’s, takes place in July, 2009.  As opposed to Lizzie’s thoughts as described above, he is thinking “She doesn’t appreciate me, that’s the problem.”

All the following alternating p.o.v. sections follow those same timelines [Zach’s last ending on the day of his car crash], wherein initially Zach has a significant other named Charlotte, overlapping with his meeting and becoming involved with Lizzie.  All who meet Zach, who is pretty much addicted to Xanax and tramadol, see him as a very handsome and charming man, although he is self-described as being “not very nice” [with which the reader wholeheartedly agrees], and “. . . People like me can’t relax.  We may roam outside the boundaries that restrict the behavior of other people, but we’re never free.”

The characters all come alive in these pages, but Zach is one of a kind, displaying love, jealousy, and vengeance, among other traits.    The ending is shocking, but thoroughly believable.  This is a book, and characters, who will stay with the reader after the last page is read, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah

Woman with a SecretWoman with a Secret
Sophie Hannah
William Morrow, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-238826-1
Hardcover

Woman with a Secret is a book that could only have been written now, in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century. While some of its themes – infidelity, the nature of love, the mysteries within marriages, human perversity – are ageless, the way they are explored in this novel is through the thoroughly modern world of online bloggers, Twitter, and virtual dating websites.

The book begins, traditionally, with a murder. Outrageously opinionated Damon Blundy, a celebrity columnist, is found dead in his house in a suburb outside London. The crime scene is bizarre – a knife is taped to Blundy’s face, but was not used to kill him, there’s a knife sharpener in the room, and the killer even leaves an unrecognizable self-portrait to mock the police. There’s also a cryptic clue painted on the wall: the phrase “He is no less dead”, which baffles  the crime scene officers and detectives.

While the book is partly a police procedural, it is much more of a literary novel, with an intense focus on people’s hidden motivations and secret lives. The story is told from a number of different perspectives. There are sections made up of Damon Blundy’s columns, and some of the Twitter wars resulting from the things he has written. These mostly consist of debates about a disgraced cyclist who strongly resembles Lance Armstrong , about a weed-saturated literary novelist named Reuben Tasker, and about gorgeous former MP Paula Riddough, and her faithlessness. These chapters alternate with descriptions  of the police investigation, mainly featuring arrogant, single-minded Simon Waterhouse, and Simon’s wife Charlie Zailer. The sections that are perhaps the most compelling are the first-person, present-tense chapters narrated by Nicki Clements, a feverish, rattled, possibly pathological housewife tormented by an upsetting childhood and a marriage that bores her.

I couldn’t say that I liked Woman with a Secret, because I’m not fond of unreliable narrators, and I didn’t find any of the characters likeable. However, it was an interesting taste of current literary mystery fiction, and I was fascinated by the author’s focus on social media – both the true revelations and the lies that many of us now seek out daily online. Hannah explores people’s psyches deeply, and in a manner that’s often unpleasant, reminding us how cold and selfish some of our motivations can be. Not surprisingly, given the title, Hannah delves specifically into questions around honesty and dishonesty, and all that surrounds those qualities: righteousness, cheating, mistrust, forgiveness. Despite all of the nasty twists and convoluted psychological turns in this book that left me wondering if anyone in it was capable of experiencing real love or friendship, I think the author has captured something authentic about the difficulties of recognizing the truth in the current smoke-and-mirrors atmosphere of social media.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, May 2016.

Book Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

RookRook
Sharon Cameron
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-67599-4
Hardcover

This review has proven to be as stubborn as Sophie Bellamy.  Therein lies the ultimate compliment.  To me, it is only when I’m consumed by furious joy and almost dumb with delight that writing a review becomes a seemingly insurmountable challenge.  I’m torn between simply carrying this tome everywhere I go so that I can thrust it into someone’s hand and simply say, “This.” and gushing like a new grandparent.

Rook is a remarkably enjoyable, engaging read.  Each of the colorful, captivating characters has his or her own agenda.  Engulfed in a time when a coin stamped with the year 2024 is considered ancient and satellites are machines from the Time Before, enamored with and eagerly enthusiastic for Sophia, I could not keep myself from guessing who was true to Sophie and her most honorable cause, and who was true only to himself…..or herself, for that matter.

Instead of moving forward, it seems that we’ve only gone backward…all progress has been undone.  Rather than gender equality, women are reduced.  Instead of a democracy, a dictatorship, topped by the illogical, egotistical insanity of narcissistic men that are only up when holding others down.

Against unimaginable odds, The Red Rook devises a daring plan including a mass release of those wrongfully imprisoned to be followed by the triumphant toppling of the terrifying regime.  Action is aplenty, alongside conflicting emotions, witty banter and immediately intriguing ideas.  It isn’t possible to read this story without taking pauses to consider and ponder points.  Not in a “what the ……?” way but in an “hmmmm…..interesting, I couldn’t have conjured….” way.

While appropriate and appealing to Middle Grade readers, I would be remiss if I limited my recommendation to that group.  Like a giant bag of Hershey’s miniatures, there is something for everyone.  Enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2016.