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: Birthright by Jessica Ruddick

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Title: Birthright
Series: The Legacy Series Book One

Author: Jessica Ruddick
Publication Date: January 26, 2017 (paper)
March 20, 2017 (ebook)

Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Birthright
The Legacy Series Book One
Jessica Ruddick
Jessica Ruddick Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-946164-01-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

How do you live with yourself when you decide who dies?

Ava Parks would have killed for an iPod for her sixteenth birthday. Anything would have been better than coming into her birthright of being a seeker for the Grim Reaper, an arrangement made by her fallen angel ancestor in exchange for his re-admittance to heaven. And she isn’t just any seeker—she finds souls that have the potential for becoming angels and sentences them to death. A year and two souls into her role as a seeker with her conscience overflowing with guilt, Ava comes up with a plan to thwart the system. When it goes awry, she is forced to submit the name of a classmate, Cole Fowler, an ornery, rough around the edges guy who always seems to come to her rescue, whether she likes it or not. Her feelings for Cole prompt her to intervene, and she saves him from death, upsetting the Grim Reaper’s agenda. 

While Ava schemes to find a way to save Cole, she learns he has some secrets of his own. She lets him believe he is protecting her, and not the other way around, until a final showdown with the Grim Reaper forces Ava to make choices Cole may never forgive.

I’ve read quite a few books (and series) that are focused on the Grim Reaper or fallen angels and the like and they’ve run the gamut when it comes to mood. Some are purely black comedy, some are mysteries with a fantastical element, a few have been more romance than anything and others have been a sort of action adventure. Birthright is a little bit of all these types.

It must be hard to cope when you find out your destiny, your “career” if you will, is all about putting the finger on people for the guy who brings death and, indeed, Ava is understandably resentful. Picking out people to become angels sounds like a good thing but….

Ava has learned to protect her own feelings by remaining detached, even from those who aren’t potential targets, but that doesn’t work when it comes to the unpleasant Xavier, the middleman she and her mom report to. Still, a year after finding out the truth, she hasn’t gotten past the lies and the betrayal that have been at the core of her own life and the thing she’s required to do is eating away at her.

Then she comes up with a foolproof plan to make this all a little fairer.

I had fun with this book and I liked Ava a lot, as well as the new hot guy, Cole, and the nerdy but sweet Kaley. The ending is a humdinger so be prepared 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

About the Author

Jessica lives in Virginia with her college-sweetheart husband, two rambunctious sons, and two rowdy but lovable rescue dogs. Since her house is overflowing with testosterone, it’s a good thing she has a healthy appreciation for Marvel movies, Nerf guns, and football.
Author Links:

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Book Review: Riding Chance by Christine Kendall

Riding Chance
Christine Kendall
Scholastic Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-92404-7
Hardcover

Troy is adrift and in danger of falling into that trap created when grief is compounded by lack of a caring parent to turn things around. His mom died not long ago and his father is still too wrapped up in his own loss and sorrow to intervene. When Troy gets the blame for a cellphone theft that should have been dropped on Lay-Lay, the crime-spree-in-the-making on his Philadelphia street, he’s less than thrilled at the community service assigned to him and his best friend Foster.

As often happens, what initially seems like a punishment and a total downer, becomes a whole new way of looking at life with some amazing skills attached. The boys are assigned to an equestrian program in the large city park not far from their homes. Troy’s initial impression is that horses are uncomfortable and smelly. However, he’s interested right off by Alisha, a very pretty girl who is his age and is already quite comfortable with the horses.

It turns out they have something in common-grief and loss. Winston, a former professional polo player who runs the program, is Alisha’s uncle and took her in after her parents died. Despite his initial unease around horses, Troy soon realizes that when he’s with them, especially Chance, the horse he’s assigned to ride and care for, he feels more alive and at peace. In fact, there are times when he’s grooming her or riding when he feels almost like he did before his mother died.

Despite his growing comfort with Chance and a realization by almost everyone involved that he’s a natural around horses and has great potential as a budding polo player, Troy can’t lose his hard edge. That’s sharpened by an encounter outside his house with police that goes badly, as well as his inability to be open with anyone about how he really feels. This increased mistrust and alienation threaten his newfound love of horses and excitement about becoming a member of the polo team. It takes the adults around him and Alisha, as well as his best friend confronting him, coupled with a very frightening incident at a polo exhibition for Troy to realize that he’s not much different than those around him.

The dialect takes a chapter or so to get comfortable with, but after that, the story becomes a seamless and engrossing read. I finished it in less than two hours. Both adults and teens/tweens will really identify with the way Troy feels, how he’s his own worst enemy and the way he comes through a better person. A great book for inner city schools and libraries, but a really good one for any library where diversity in the collection is important.

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

Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

Book Review: As You Lay Sleeping by Katlyn Duncan

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Book Review: A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby

a-taste-for-monstersA Taste For Monsters
Matthew J. Kirby
Scholastic Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-81784-4
Hardcover

Numerous mysteries and novels have been written involving Jack The Ripper. A few have been written where Joseph Merrick (known as the Elephant Man) was featured. In this juvenile mystery, the two come together under the excellent crafting of Matthew J. Kirby. I read and cheered on (for a well deserved Edgar) his Icefall, so I was eager to see how he treated this markedly different setting.

London, 1888: Evelyn, a young orphan, has already experienced multiple tragedies when she seeks a position at the London Hospital. She lost her mother very early and then her father when speculation in commerce turned against him and he drank away both his wealth and his life. Left to survive on her own, she was dealt another cruel blow when she was poisoned by the phosphor in the match factory where she worked. Surgery saved her life, but took part of her face and jaw. Forced to survive amid taunts and jeers from passersby on the streets of London and needing to scrounge enough coins to pay for lodging each night in filthy flop houses, she’s desperate.

When she seeks an interview with the hospital matron, the woman’s initial impulse is to send her away, fearing her disfigurement will upset patients. However, Mr. Merrick has come to spend his remaining days in isolation at the hospital and it has been difficult to keep anyone on staff who is not completely unsettled by his appearance. Despite her misgivings, Evelyn soon realizes that he’s a kindred soul and she feels a sense of comfort and safety when taking care of him. She reads to him, as well as assisting him with the completion of a complex jigsaw puzzle. The more they converse, the more she warms to him, realizing there’s a lovely, caring soul underneath his disfigurement.

All is well until a mysterious killer calling himself “Leather Apron” begins murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel, the ghosts of the victims begin to appear each night at exactly the same time in Mr. Merrick’s quarters. Each visitation seems to sap his strength a bit more. Evelyn can also see them and the two realize these spirits have something unresolved in life that has locked them into their nightly visits. Realizing that she’s the one who must leave the safety of the hospital in order to learn what must be done to send each ghost on to eternal rest scares Evelyn silly. With the help of Charlie, a violinist who befriended Mr. Merrick, she does so, but not without several upsetting experiences.

How she deals with them, secures peace for the ghosts, overcomes betrayal and deals with “Leather Apron”, make for a dandy read. Both young teens and adults will very much enjoy the story, the plot twists and the very strong main characters. It’s a book well worth adding to any school or public library or buying as a gift for younger family members who love to read.

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

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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