Category Archives: Books I Received From The Publisher

Magnolia

Finished Magnolia by Kristi Cook.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.

Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.

But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.”

I absolutely loved the concept behind this book.  I feel like I’ve read about 50,000 books where people who shouldn’t be in love are and it was very refreshing to read about people who should be in love but aren’t.  (Well, until they are.)

I liked Ryder and I loved Jemma’s friends, although we didn’t spend very much time with them.

The person we spent the most time with was Jemma (the book is told from her perspective) and that’s unfortunate because I really didn’t like Jemma.  I thought she was incredibly selfish and thoughtless and prone to letting down other people instead of inconveniencing herself.  At the same time, she was also pretty passive and had a tendency to go along with things instead of actually saying how she felt.  (For example, she went out on a couple dates with Patrick, who she liked but didn’t LIKE. Most teenage girls would get the difference.)

Still, this is an incredibly unique book and I loved the way the plot unfolded.  This is my first Kristi Cook book and I’m very interested in seeing what else she’s done.

Counting By 7s

Finished Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (by Goodreads):

In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.“

Okay, first, it took me forever to read this book.  (Don’t make the same mistake I did; this book is amazing.)

This book sounds like it could absolutely break your heart, but the weird thing is, it doesn’t.  Instead, Willow manages to find a way to go on and to create a new family. It’s not that she replaces her parents—she doesn’t, and she knows that she can’t and even beyond that, she doesn’t want to.  She loved her parents and they’re gone.  But she isn’t, and that means that she needs to find people to live with until she’s 18 and, hopefully, people who will be okay with the fact that she sees things differently than most people.

And oh, you guys, I love Willow.  I can see how she’d be hard to live with sometimes but she’s also this amazing, sweet girl.  (I am guessing she’s somewhere on the autism spectrum although we’re never told this.)

This is one of those books that you will absolutely fall in love with.

Highly recommended.

Five Days Left

Finished Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.

Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

For the most part, I absolutely loved this book.  I thought it was incredibly well-written and I loved the plot (with its questions of what I would do if I had a terminal illness and knew the decline was starting to get faster and what I would do if I thought I was going to have to lose someone that I had raised for a year).  This is a fantastic book, one that I genuinely think people should read.  (And it’s ideal for book clubs.)

And then there was this: Mara says she believes that, because her daughter is adopted, she won’t be completely devastated when she’s gone.  She believes that she is essentially just a replacement for her daughter’s biological mom and that means that when her husband eventually remarries, her daughter will probably be fine with it because the stepmom will be a replacement for the replacement.

I obviously get that Mara is saying that because it’s what she wants to believe.  She wants to believe that her daughter will be okay, so that she can kill herself with as little guilt as possible.  She doesn’t really mean it; she’s just saying it because it’s the only way she can justify it.

And yet.

I’m adopted and my dad died when I was in high school.  There was no part of me that thought, “Well, at least I still have my real dad, somewhere out in the world.”  My real dad is the guy that raised me, and I don’t care that we aren’t related by blood.  I love my maternal biological family and I treasure my relationship with them, but it’s not the same as the relationship I had with my dad or that I have with my mom and the rest of my family.  And even though I get that Mara was just trying to tell all the lies she had to tell to be able to continue on, I resent everything that she said.

But that’s one paragraph in an otherwise amazing story.  I still recommend it.

The Barter

Finished The Barter by Siobhan Adcock.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A heart-stopping tale as provocative as is suspenseful, about two conflicted women, separated by one hundred years, and bound by an unthinkable sacrifice.

The Barter is a ghost story and a love story, a riveting emotional tale that also explores motherhood and work and feminism. Set in Texas, in present day, and at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel follows two young mothers at the turning point of their lives.

Bridget has given up her career as an attorney to raise her daughter, joining a cadre of stay-at-home mothers seeking fulfillment in a quiet suburb. But for Bridget, some crucial part of the exchange is absent: Something she loves and needs. And now a terrifying presence has entered her home; only nobody but Bridget can feel it.

On a farm in 1902, a young city bride takes a farmer husband. The marriage bed will become both crucible and anvil as Rebecca first allows, then negates, the powerful erotic connection between them. She turns her back on John to give all her love to their child. Much will occur in this cold house, none of it good.

As Siobhan Adcock crosscuts these stories with mounting tension, each woman arrives at a terrible ordeal of her own making, tinged with love and fear and dread. What will they sacrifice to save their families—and themselves? Readers will slow down to enjoy the gorgeous language, then speed up to see what happens next in a plot that thrums with the weight of decision—and its explosive consequences.”

This is a ghost story that isn’t at all scary.  (So basically it’s a ghost story for people who are pretty sure they don’t actually want to read a ghost story.)

It’s told from altering perspectives (Bridget in present day; Rebecca in the early 1900s) and each are women who are married with young children.  Bridget’s marriage is happy; Rebecca’s much less so.  The story deals with the sacrifices the women are (and are not) making for their families.

I think there’s a lot here to discuss and I would especially be interested in how people view Rebecca.  She’s not a very sympathetic character (at all) but I found myself liking her almost against my will.

I enjoyed this book but at the same time, it was very much a middle of the road read.  It’s not something I NEEDED to read, the kind of book where I had to keep going (instead of stopping to eat or sleep) but at the same time, I very much enjoyed the characters and my time with them. Does that make sense? I’m interested to see what Siobhan Adcock does next; I have a feeling she’s going to become a must-read author of mine but she’s not there yet.

The Secret Place

Finished The Secret Place by Tana French.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The photo on the card shows a boy who was found murdered, a year ago, on the grounds of a girls’ boarding school in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. The caption says, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM.

Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him this photo. The Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously, is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.

But everything they discover leads them back to Holly’s close-knit group of friends and their fierce enemies, a rival clique—and to the tangled web of relationships that bound all the girls to Chris Harper. Every step in their direction turns up the pressure. Antoinette Conway is already suspicious of Stephen’s links to the Mackey family. St. Kilda’s will go a long way to keep murder outside their walls. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackey, is circling, ready to pounce if any of the new evidence points toward his daughter. And the private underworld of teenage girls can be more mysterious and more dangerous than either of the detectives imagined.

The Secret Place is a powerful, haunting exploration of friendship and loyalty, and a gripping addition to the Dublin Murder Squad series.”

This is my first Tana French novel and I’ve heard amazing things about her and her books.  It seems like pretty much every single person I know is absolutely in love with them.  (So I was very excited to get a copy at ALA and, after that mysteriously disappeared, to get a copy through Penguin’s First to Read program.)

I was instantly drawn into this book, which goes back and forth in time and has two viewpoints (Holly and her friends in the past and Stephen in the present)…and then I hit a subplot that kind of ruined the book for me.  (SPOILER: Holly and her friends seem to all develop some kind of psychic ability.  I can deal with one Carrie but not with four of them.  Obviously I can’t share if/how that subplot was resolved.)

After that, the book lost of a lot of credibility with me and even though that’s a very minor part of the book, I was like, “WHAT?!” and it affected everything else.

I would definitely read another book of hers but this one was a bit of a letdown.

Dangerous Boys

Finished Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas.  I received a copy for review from the author.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Three teens venture into the abandoned Monroe estate one night; hours later, only two emerge from the burning wreckage. Chloe drags one Reznick brother to safety, unconscious and bleeding; the other is left to burn, dead in the fire. But which brother survives? And is his death a tragic accident? Desperate self-defense? Or murder?
Chloe is the only one with the answers. As the fire rages, and police and parents demand the truth, she struggles to piece together the story of how they got there-a story of jealousy, twisted passion, and the darkness that lurks behind even the most beautiful of faces…

I’m going to be honest, I have no idea how to do this review.  For most of the book, we don’t know (a) how we got to the events where one brother is dead, (b) whether the other brother will survive or (c) which brother is definitely dead and which is likely to die.  I’m afraid to say anything that will ruin those reveals for you.

So here’s what I WILL say: last year, Abigail Haas wrote Dangerous Girls (the two books are unrelated) which is also a compelling, impossible-to-put-down read.  I’m not sure if she has any plans to write another book like this, but I sincerely hope she does.  This seems to be her absolute sweet spot as a novelist and this book absolutely blew my mind.

This book is currently only available in e-book format and if you’ve ever taken my advice on anything, read this book.  It’s fun and creepy and just brilliant.

Highly recommended.

Brutal Youth

Finished Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth

With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.”

The blurb list for this book reads like a who’s who of authors I love: Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Stephen Chbosky.  I’d probably read it based on one of their recommendations, but with all three? OBVIOUSLY.

This book made me so happy that I’m not in high school anymore but I also love that it doesn’t paint a rosy picture of those four years. I always feel sorry for people who say that high school are the best four years of their life.  (Why in the world would you feel like your best years ended at around the time you’d be able to vote? And even if you felt that way, why would you tell people?)

My own high school years weren’t as bad as theirs, but I think most people will be able to recognize parts of their teenage years in this even if they will then think, “Thank God it didn’t go that far.”

This book absolutely redefines bleak.  Davidek, Stein, Lorelai and Hannah are all completely damaged in varying ways, and obviously the school is to blame for most (but not all) of it.  This book is set before the rise of cell phones and pre-internet, which is also a huge saving grace for them.  (I don’t even want to imagine how bad the hazing would become with texting and social media.)

Highly recommended.

Amity

Finished Amity by Micol Ostow.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For fans of Stephen King and American Horror Story, a gruesome thriller suggested by the events of the Amityville Horror.

Connor’s family moves to Amity to escape shady business deals. Ten years later, Gwen’s family moves to Amity for a fresh start after she’s recovered from a psychotic break.

But something is not right about this secluded house. Connor’s nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons and destruction. Dreams he kind of likes. Gwen has lurid visions of corpses that aren’t there and bleeding blisters that disappear in the blink of an eye. She knows Amity is evil and she must get her family out, but who would ever believe her?

Amity isn’t just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a bloody end as she’s done before. As she’ll do again.

Alternating between parallel narratives, Amity is a tense and terrifying tale suggested by true-crime events that will satisfy even the most demanding horror fan.”

I read a review that slammed this book partially because it wasn’t based on the THE Amityville house (you know the one).  I’m not sure where that came from because while there were some differences, this book clearly owes a major debt to those stories.  (The best example I can give that isn’t a spoiler is the fact that the house has those windows.  You know the ones.  The other example is the fact that one family only lasts 28 days, which is as long as the Lutz family made it in the Amityville house.)

But there are also a lot of differences, which is where this book absolutely shone.  I’ve read Micol Ostow’s other book (a novel in verse about a cult similar to the Manson family) and this one is a million times better (no offense to that book, which I also enjoyed).

Through the alternating narratives, we see two different families who live in that house a decade apart.  We’re not entirely sure what’s wrong with the house (which has been named Amity) but it’s clear that something is.  The house is almost a sentient being and it seems to bring disaster to it.

This is an unsettling read, but even as my sense of dread grew, I HAD TO KNOW what was going to end up happening.  (I was pretty sure that things weren’t going to end well but I wanted to know exactly how “unwell” things were going to get.)

I’m very excited to see where Micol Ostow’s next book comes from.

Charm and Strange

Finished Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When you’ve been kept caged in the dark, it’s impossible to see the forest for the trees. It’s impossible to see anything, really. Not without bars . . .

Andrew Winston Winters is at war with himself.

He’s part Win, the lonely teenager exiled to a remote Vermont boarding school in the wake of a family tragedy. The guy who shuts all his classmates out, no matter the cost.

He’s part Drew, the angry young boy with violent impulses that control him. The boy who spent a fateful, long-ago summer with his brother and teenage cousins, only to endure a secret so monstrous it led three children to do the unthinkable.

Over the course of one night, while stuck at a party deep in the New England woods, Andrew battles both the pain of his past and the isolation of his present.

Before the sun rises, he’ll either surrender his sanity to the wild darkness inside his mind or make peace with the most elemental of truths—that choosing to live can mean so much more than not dying. “

This is one of those books that will require patience because if you’re anything like me, you will spend most of the book not entirely sure of what’s going on.  (And when I say that, I mean I literally spent most of the book completely confused.)  Ultimately, though, everything clicked and made sense and then I was broken.

Win/Drew is a hard person to like.  He’s determined to keep people at arm’s length (or, preferably, even farther away) for reasons unknown.  Not surprisingly, the most effective way to do this is to be a complete jerk to everyone.  (You would be amazed at how well that works.)

But, as you might imagine, there are two people who refused to be shoved away and ultimately they realize exactly what’s going on with Win/Drew and it’s at that point where the book clicks.

This is a unique book and it’s hard to read (both for the confusion and for the revelation), but it’s also amazing.  Highly recommended.

One Kick

Finished One Kick by Chelsea Cain.  I received a copy from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Kick Lannigan, 21, is a survivor. Abducted at age six in broad daylight, the police, the public, perhaps even her family assumed the worst had occurred. And then Kathleen Lannigan was found, alive, six years later. In the early months following her freedom, as Kick struggled with PTSD, her parents put her through a litany of therapies, but nothing helped until the detective who rescued her suggested Kick learn to fight. Before she was thirteen, Kick learned marksmanship, martial arts, boxing, archery, and knife throwing. She excelled at every one, vowing she would never be victimized again. But when two children in the Portland area go missing in the same month, Kick goes into a tailspin. Then an enigmatic man Bishop approaches her with a proposition: he is convinced Kick’s experiences and expertise can be used to help rescue the abductees. Little does Kick know the case will lead directly into her terrifying past…

I’ve read a few of her Gretchen Lowell books and, while I very much enjoyed this book, it didn’t have the visceral reaction for me that those books did.  (That is not a complaint.)

I have this weird fascination with abduction books (fiction ones; I don’t read the nonfiction ones because it feels a little too much like voyeurism) and this is one of my favorites.  The main reason for that is because it deals more with the aftermath than with Kick’s time with her pseudo-parents.  How in the world would you readjust back to normal life?  (If Kick is any indication, the answer is “not well.”)

This is an incredibly fun book and I’m so happy that it’s the first book in a series.  I can’t wait to see what Kick does next.

Recommended.