Category Archives: Books I Received From The Publisher

Brush Back

Finished Brush Back by Sara Paretsky.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Chicago’s V. I. Warshawski confronts crooked politicians and buried family secrets in the gritty new novel from New York Times–bestselling author Sara Paretsky.

No one would accuse V. I. Warshawski of backing down from a fight, but there are a few she’d be happy to avoid. High on that list is tangling with Chicago political bosses. Yet that’s precisely what she ends up doing when she responds to Frank Guzzo’s plea for help.

For six stormy weeks back in high school, V.I. thought she was in love with Frank. He broke up with her, she went off to college, he started driving trucks for Bagby Haulage. She forgot about him until the day his mother was convicted of bludgeoning his kid sister, Annie, to death. Stella Guzzo was an angry, uncooperative prisoner and did a full twenty-five years for her daughter’s murder.

Newly released from prison, Stella is looking for exoneration, so Frank asks V.I. for help. V.I. doesn’t want to get involved. Stella hated the Warshawskis, in particular V.I.’s adored mother, Gabriella.

But life has been hard on Frank and on V.I.’s other childhood friends, still stuck on the hardscrabble streets around the dead steel mills, and V.I. agrees to ask a few questions. Those questions lead her straight into the vipers’ nest of Illinois politics she’s wanted to avoid. When V.I. takes a beating at a youth meeting in her old hood, her main question becomes whether she will live long enough to find answers.”

If you’ve ever spent any time on this blog, you’ve probably heard me speak of my love for Sara Paretsky and VI Warshawski.  (If not, just trust me: they are two of my favorites.)  It seems like a new VI Warshawski novel shows up just when I need it most, and this time was no exception.

I love how these novels are political.  (Warning: if you are conservative, you will probably not appreciate this as much, but our politics align nicely, so…)

It’s not exactly a secret that VI’s family is a major sore spot for her, for lack of a better term.  She loved her parents and cousin fiercely and the best way to get her to do something is to attack them.  (So the fact that Stella Guzzo basically slanders all three is a majorly dumb move.)  I don’t want to discuss the plot too much, but it was really nice to hear more about her hockey-playing cousin Boom Boom.

My favorite part, though, is how the most recent novels are definitely set in the present but also give us a major glimpse into VI’s past or Lotte’s past.  I love Lotte too, and more time with her is a great thing.  Maybe we can get more Mr. Contreras next time; he was largely absent in this book.  (That is literally my only complaint.)

Here’s hoping the next two years fly by; I miss VI already.

Highly recommended.

 

All We Have is Now

Finished All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of THE BRIDGE FROM ME TO YOU, a groundbreaking novel about what matters most — when time is running out.

What do you do with your last day on earth?

There are 27 hours and fifteen minutes left until an asteroid strikes North America, and, for Emerson and everyone else who didn’t leave, the world will end. But Emerson’s world already ended when she ran away from home last year. Since then she has lived on the streets, relying on her wits and her friend Vince to help her find places to sleep and food to eat.

The city’s quieter now that most people are gone, and no one seems to know what to do as the end approaches. But then Emerson and Vince meet Carl, who tells them that he has been granting people’s wishes. He gave his car away so a woman could take her son to see the ocean for the first time, and he gives Emerson and Vince all the money he has in his wallet.

Suddenly this last day seems full of possibility. Emerson and Vince can grant a lot of wishes in 27 hours — maybe even their own.”

So as you know, I think Lisa Schroeder writes these amazing, perfect books.  The interesting part is the fact that, with each new book, I say “Oh, this is her best book yet.”

Yeah, I know.  But really, this is her best book yet.

It’s an amazing achievement but this book about the end of the world is so full of hope.  I mean yes, of course there are sad parts.  And obviously people think about the life they could’ve had, the YEARS they could’ve had, and feel cheated.  But also, there’s such a sense of gratitude for the experiences they did have and for the last few hours of their lives.

I love Emerson and Vince so much, but I think my favorite character is Carl.  How awesome is it that he decides to spend his last few hours making things better for other people? (Emerson and Vince decide to follow his example.)  These are great people, you guys.

I can’t even talk about it like a rational person.  Just buy it and read it and talk to me about it.

Highly recommended.

Weightless

Finished Weightless by Sarah Bannan.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When 15-year-old Carolyn moves from New Jersey to Alabama with her mother, she rattles the status quo of the junior class at Adams High School. A good student and natural athlete, she’s immediately welcomed by the school’s cliques. She’s even nominated to the homecoming court and begins dating a senior, Shane, whose on again/off again girlfriend Brooke becomes Carolyn’s bitter romantic rival. When a video of Carolyn and Shane making out is sent to everyone, Carolyn goes from golden girl to slut, as Brooke and her best friend Gemma try to restore their popularity. Gossip and bullying hound Carolyn, who becomes increasingly private and isolated. When Shane and Brooke—now back together—confront Carolyn in the student parking lot, injuring her, it’s the last attack she can take.

Sarah Bannan’s deft use of the first person plural gives Weightless an emotional intensity and remarkable power that will send you flying through the pages and leave you reeling.”

This book is intense.  Going in, it’s obvious that something has gone very wrong and that Carolyn has been bullied.  But we don’t know what happened or how serious the bullying was.  (Was she shunned, say, or was it worse than that?)

I know that these types of books aren’t new, but this one really is.  For starters, we don’t know who our narrators are.  It’s done in the first person plural (“We” and “us”) and it immediately drew me in.  (I wasn’t sure how well it would work when I heard about this plot device, but I thought it was a brilliant idea.

There’s a total sense of unease and as Carolyn went from an object of fascination to one of scorn, I started actually feeling sick.  I don’t think Carolyn recognized the actual danger she was in until it was too late, and no, that isn’t hyperbole.

This is the kind of book that will stick with you.  Recommended.

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah

Finished My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Friedman.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

There are a lot of comparisons to Judy Blume’s classic Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.  While this book isn’t quite up to that standard, it’s very sweet and fun.

I love Tara and her desire to be true to both sides of her heritage, even when it seems like they’re at odds.  She isn’t necessarily sold on the idea of having a bat mitzvah, but it gets even worse when it seems like it’ll be a big step away from her Indian heritage.

I know a bit about Judaism and very little about Indian culture or its faiths (typically Islam or Hindu, depending).  Probably my favorite part about reading this was learning more about both.  (My second favorite part was everything else.)

And, of course, there are also friend and boy issues.

This book is absolutely delightful.  I wish I had read it much earlier than I did.  (I had hoped my major delay would have meant that the author had written more books, but apparently not.)

Recommended.

Broken Promise

Finished Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the New York Times bestselling author of No Safe House comes an explosive novel about the disturbing secrets of a quiet small town.… 

After his wife’s death and the collapse of his newspaper, David Harwood has no choice but to uproot his nine-year-old son and move back into his childhood home in Promise Falls, New York. David believes his life is in free fall, and he can’t find a way to stop his descent.

Then he comes across a family secret of epic proportions. A year after a devastating miscarriage, David’s cousin Marla has continued to struggle. But when David’s mother asks him to check on her, he’s horrified to discover that she’s been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an “angel” left on her porch.

When the baby’s real mother is found murdered, David can’t help wanting to piece together what happened—even if it means proving his own cousin’s guilt. But as he uncovers each piece of evidence, David realizes that Marla’s mysterious child is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other strange things are happening. Animals are found ritually slaughtered. An ominous abandoned Ferris wheel seems to stand as a warning that something dark has infected Promise Falls. And someone has decided that the entire town must pay for the sins of its past…in blood.”

I absolutely loved this novel.  It’s an incredibly smart thriller, and I immediately cared about the characters.  While not everything is wrapped up, I’m pretty sure that means that there is a sequel coming.  I hope so; I want to know what will happen to everyone.

While there is a lot going on, obviously my focus was on Marla and her “present,” the baby left on her step by what she insists was an angel.  But there were no subplots that dragged for me; there was nothing that I wished had been left out.

I have read one other Linwood Barclay novel and I definitely want to check out his entire backlist.

Highly recommended.

The Good Girls

Finished The Good Girls by Sara Shepard. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From Sara Shepard, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series, comes the shocking sequel to The Perfectionists—with an ending you’ll have to read to believe!

Mackenzie, Ava, Caitlin, Julie, and Parker have done some not-so-perfect things. Even though they all talked about killing rich bully Nolan Hotchkiss, they didn’t actually go through with it. It’s just a coincidence that Nolan died in exactly the way they planned . . . right? Except Nolan wasn’t the only one they fantasized about killing. When someone else they named dies, the girls wonder if they’re being framed. Or are they about to become the killer’s next targets?”

This is the sequel to The Perfectionists and is the last book in the duology.

The interesting thing about this book is that it moves past The Perfectionists and other people the girls disliked start dying or having accidents.  This obviously makes them look like even bigger suspects.

This book and series was incredibly fun and definitely vacation-worthy, but not really a must-read.  It’s a little forgettable.  And the reveal has definitely been done before.  (Although I would argue that the ending was still pretty chilling, at least for me…and, of course, it leaves things open for another book.  I hope Sara Shepard doesn’t do one.)

The Perfectionists

Finished The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling series Pretty Little Liars comes a thrilling new novel about five perfect girls who are framed for a murder they didn’t commit.

In Beacon Heights, Washington, five girls—Ava, Caitlin, Mackenzie, Julie, and Parker—know that you don’t have to be good to be perfect. At first the girls think they have nothing in common, until they realize that they all hate Nolan Hotchkiss, who’s done terrible things to each of them. They come up with the perfect way to kill him—a hypothetical murder, of course. It’s just a joke…until Nolan turns up dead, in exactly the way they planned. Only, they didn’t do it. And unless they find the real killer, their perfect lives will come crashing down around them.

From Sara Shepard, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series, comes another story of dark secrets, shocking twists, and what happens when five beautiful girls will do anything to hide the ugly truth.”

This is an incredibly fun novel, one that is very similar to her Pretty Little Liars and Lying Game series.  (Unlike those two, this is only a duology—a wise choice, considering that both of those seemingly dragged on forever.)

I like the concept behind this.  Who hasn’t thought about getting back at the people who are mean to you, and who hasn’t jokingly wished someone dead?  Obviously, most people never mean those thoughts…except in this case, someone clearly did.

Things are also creepy, as we have no idea exactly who the killer is, and if it’s one of the girls or if it’s some random person.  As in her other series, everybody’s a suspect.

I enjoyed this book and was very excited that I could read the second one immediately.

365 Days of Wonder

Finished 365 Days of Wonder by RJ Palacio.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In the #1 New York Times bestselling novel Wonder, readers were introduced to memorable English teacher Mr. Browne and his love of precepts. Simply put, precepts are principles to live by, and Mr. Browne has compiled 365 of them—one for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate kindness, hopefulness, the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills. Interspersed with the precepts are letters and emails from characters who appeared in Wonder. Readers hear from Summer, Jack, Charlotte, Julian, and Amos.

There’s something for everyone here, with words of wisdom from such noteworthy people as Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Confucius, Goethe, Sappho—and over 100 readers of Wonder who sent R. J. Palacio their own precepts.”

I love this book and it appealed to me for the same reasons that Postsecret does: these sentences and thoughts all affect me.  Some are applicable to my life now and some aren’t but they’re all worth thinking about.

For people who aren’t sure this is something they’d enjoy, each month is also bookended by thoughts from Mr. Browne (the teacher from Wonder who solicited these precepts).  There are also notes from students in those chapters (including Auggie, the hero from Wonder).

This book is a fun stocking stuffer, especially if you pair it with Wonder.  I read that when it first came out and this makes me really want to re-read it.

Because You’ll Never Meet Me

Finished Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In a stunning literary debut, two boys on opposite ends of the world begin an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever.

Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.

A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.”

I very much enjoyed this novel.  It’s about these two boys who, for different reasons, are outcasts.  And they have different ways of dealing with their isolation.  Moritz has become dark and cynical; Ollie clings to hope and is almost annoyingly cheerful.  (Okay, if we’re being honest, a little more than “almost.”)

As the two become closer, they turn into best friends.  Watching that happen was incredibly sweet.  Until, of course, the novel takes a dark turn.

This book isn’t for everyone.  It’s sad, but there’s also a great deal of hope (mostly, but not entirely, on Ollie’s side).  I enjoyed it, though, and am excited to see what Leah Thomas does next.  I hope for a sequel.

Armada

Finished Armada by Ernest Cline.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.”

I was a huge fan of Ready Player One and so this was one of my must-reads for the year.

While I definitely preferred Ready Player One, fans of that will find so much to love here, too.  (They are very similar in terms of tone and all the pop culture references.  There’s a lot more about video games here, but that didn’t affect my fondness for Armada.)

At any rate, this is such an interesting premise and I love the characters we meet as Zack and a few other gamers prepare to help save the world.  It would be easy for a story like this to become a caricature, but it’s obvious that Ernest Cline loves the tropes so much that this is a love letter and not a mockery.  (I would really enjoy seeing what he does with horror movies…)

Recommended.