Category Archives: Books I Received From The Publisher

Under My Skin

Finished Under My Skin by Lisa Unger. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts–there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?”

This book is impossible to review. Everything about it is potentially a spoiler, but I think here is what can safely be said: the only thing we know for sure is that Poppy’s husband is dead and that he was murdered. Beyond that, we don’t know who’s responsible or what happened or why or even if Poppy herself can be trusted. (And the only reason we think she may be the most unreliable narrator ever is because she’s unsure of what’s real and what isn’t.)

This book is exactly what I wanted to read. It’s incredibly intense and unnerving (because, again, we don’t know what’s real) and every time I thought, “Oh, of course, THIS is what’s happening!” Lisa Unger said, “Not so fast, George Banks” and completely flipped everything again.

If you can deal with a lot of uncertainty, read this. (Or, if you’re in the mood for suspense, definitely read this.)

Highly recommended.

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In Pieces

Finished In Pieces by Sally Field. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget‘s sweet-faced “girl next door” to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships–including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.”

I’m a huge fan of Sally Field and have been since I saw Steel Magnolias. I haven’t seen all of her movies, but I’ve definitely hit the highlights and she’s been good in everything I’ve seen. (Regardless of the movie’s actual quality.)

I’m now an even bigger fan.

Her writing style is incredibly evocative. You can picture everything she’s telling you, and it’s clear that she’s got a real gift for storytelling.

One caveat: if you’re here for celebrity gossip, you won’t love this. There’s some, of course, and we learn her perspective on her relationship with Burt Reynolds. But it’s not the core of the book.  Incidentally, the fact that she’s still asked about Burt Reynolds makes me really annoyed—there is so much more to her than that.

(Should you be curious, though, the core of the book is her relationship with her mom. Like many mother-daughter relationships, it’s complicated to say the least. But it’s also fascinating and heartbreaking and oddly sweet.)

I am blown away by this book and I’ve been talking it up to everyone I know. I hope there’s going to be a second memoir. I get the feeling there’s a lot more to learn.

Highly recommended.

The Chaos of Now

Finished The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lange. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Is it real if it happens online?

Life at Eli’s high school hasn’t been the same since his classmate Jordan committed suicide after being tirelessly bullied. Schools now have access to students’ online activities and students have less privacy than ever. Eli just wants to graduate—so he can get out of town, get away from his father’s embarrassingly young fiancée, and get himself a prestigious coding job. But Eli’s hacking skills get him roped into a vigilante website that—while subverting the school’s cybersnoops— seeks justice for Jordan and everyone else being bullied. Suddenly Eli finds himself in way over his head as his keystrokes start to have devastating consequences in the real world . . . This timely story from the author of Butter is a thrilling tale about the power of the internet, the young people who wield it, and the fine lines between bully and victim, justice and vengeance.”

I love Erin Jade Lange’s books. They’re compulsively readable and part of it is because the reader is always curious to see how much the narrator will be able to get away with. There is a cinematic quality to them; it’s so easy to picture everything. I’m hoping movies will be coming soon.

This one may be my favorite yet. We all know how awful cyberbullying can be but at the same time, there’s the question of how long it takes until “justice” or “vengeance” becomes a problem in its own rite. Eli and his friends may have started this with the best of intentions but it doesn’t take long for them to be seen as the villains instead of the heroes.

And that’s the thing, really. We all do great and horrible things; we all use words to heal and to destroy. But what action means most? Is it the best thing you do or the worst? Is it it what you do the most or is it just the most recent action?

Either way, Jordan’s suicide is horrific and it’s all through this novel. But no matter what Eli, Seth and Mouse do and no matter who they punish for it, Jordan’s still dead. They’re just adding to the collateral damage. Is that reckoning or just more carnage? There aren’t any answers to this, and the book doesn’t provide them. We all have to decide where we think things should go.

Highly recommended.

Louisiana’s Way Home

Finished Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo comes a story of discovering who you are — and deciding who you want to be.

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale — and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.”

I haven’t read Raymie Nightingale, though I want to change that after reading Louisiana’s Way Home.

Louisiana Elefante is an incredible character. She’s very smart and very funny, although I don’t think she tries to be. She is already a force to be reckoned with and I’m hoping we get more books about her in the future. (NOTE: Raymie Nightingale isn’t about her, although she’s in it.)

This is an incredibly sad book, at least in parts. There’s so much going on with her, and while quite a bit of it is good—Louisiana is one of those people who makes friends everywhere she goes—it’s also a stark reminder that one of the worst things about childhood is how little kids can control what goes on around them. Adults have more control, to a certain extent, but kids? Literally none. “Oh hey, we’re moving” and it’s a done deal.

This is a book that will stay with the reader and if you’ve already met and loved Anne Shirley, I think Louisiana Elefante could be your new best friend.

Highly recommended.

The Geography of Lost Things

Finished The Geography of Lost Things by Jessica Brody. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In this romantic road trip story perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson, a teen girl discovers the value of ordinary objects while learning to forgive her absent father.

After Ali’s father passes away, he leaves his one and only prized possession—a 1968 Firebird convertible—to his daughter. But Ali doesn’t plan on keeping it. Not when it reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises. So when she finds a buyer three hundred miles up the Pacific coast willing to pay enough money for the car to save her childhood home, Ali can’t wait to get going. Except Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But guess who does?

Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Nico. And Nico has other plans.

He persuades Ali that instead of selling the car, they should “trade up” the items they collect on their trip to eventually reach the monetary amount Ali needs. Agreeing with Nico’s crazy plan, Ali sets off on a unique adventure that is unlike anything she ever could have expected.

And it’s through Ali’s travels, through the strangers she meets and the things that they value—and why they value them—that Ali eventually comes to understand her father and how his life may not have been as easy and carefree as she previously thought. Because just like the seemingly insignificant objects Ali collects, not everything is exactly as it appears.”

I absolutely loved this book.

One of my favorite themes is grief, and this is a unique approach. We all know what it’s like to miss people we love, but I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone you had a complicated relationship with. And Ali’s relationship with her dad is mostly negative. There are positive aspects and memories, but mostly, she remembers him leaving and gone.

This book is an emotional roller coaster. A lot of that is due to the presence of her ex-boyfriend, but she’s also confronting her relationship with her dad. There are a lot of unmet expectations, and that’s always a hard thing to confront.

Like all of Jessica Brody’s books, this is an incredibly fast, fun read. But it’s also very thought provoking. Highly recommended.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Finished The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Felicity Montague is through with pretending she prefers society parties to books about bone setting—or that she’s not smarter than most people she knows, or that she cares about anything more than her dream of becoming a doctor.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind tour of Europe, which she spent evading highwaymen and pirates with her brother Monty, Felicity has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of Callum Doyle, a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh; and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a small window of hope opens. Doctor Alexander Platt, an eccentric physician that Felicity idolizes, is looking for research assistants, and Felicity is sure that someone as forward thinking as her hero would be willing to take her on. However, Platt is in Germany, preparing to wed Felicity’s estranged childhood friend Johanna. Not only is Felicity reluctant to opening old wounds, she also has no money to make the trip.

Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid. In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that will lead her from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.”

This is the book we need right now. This is especially the book I need right now. I’m hoping this is only the start of a long chronicle of Felicity Montague’s adventures.

Felicity is brilliant and funny and perfect. (OK, maybe not—she’s very prickly and she has no patience for things and people that are beneath her and frankly, that’s a lot of things and people.) I am in love with her, which is very unfortunate. She’s (a) long dead, (b) far too young for me—and also, I guess, too old, because again, LONG DEAD and (c) fictional.

And this is the story of her quest to become a doctor…which is incredibly difficult because she is (a) a woman and (b) living in a time where women were expected to be pretty and dumb. Things are better now but they’re not where they should be. I wonder if Felicity would be happy or discouraged. (Probably both.)

Highly recommended.

 

A Spark of Light

Finished A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.”

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite authors for years (a top five favorite author, specifically) and this book may be her best yet.

Obviously abortion is one of those things where everyone has incredibly strong feelings. It’s hard to find common ground and there’s no real way to compromise. I didn’t change my mind (I’m still very much pro-choice) but it’s impossible to read this and not find empathy and understanding for the other side. Every character here is fleshed out and even if you don’t agree with them (and I’m hoping no one would agree with the gunman), you see where they’re coming from and you weep for them.

This book also underscores why I read so much—I read to understand things I don’t. I don’t mean physics or how cars run or whatever; I mean why people are the way they are. And A Spark of Light (and especially the author’s note) makes this so possible. Again, I don’t think it will change anyone’s mind, but it will certainly make it harder to demonize the other side.

This is Jodi Picoult’s strength as an author: she makes the other side human, even when they don’t seem to be. (There’s a part in this where the clinic’s doctor—who performs abortions—buys breakfast for a protester. They have a brief conversation and the protester says something like, “You make it really hard to hate you” and the doctor replies “That’s the point.”)

Echo chambers are really nice and it’s good to have a space where you don’t have to continually fight to be heard and respected…but it’s also important to have conversations with the other side. You are less likely to hate people when you know who they are.

Highly recommended.

Del Toro Moon

Finished Del Toro Moon by Darby Karchut. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Twelve year old Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in his family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying wolf-like monsters, known as skinners. Now, with those creatures multiplying, both in number and ferocity, Matt must saddle up and match his father’s skills at monster whacking. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a trillion to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.

Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.

Serious horse power.

Those skinners don’t stand a chance.”

I’ve been a fan of Darby Karchut’s for years, and every book seems to get better. This is her best yet. It’s laugh-out-loud funny but there’s also a ton of suspense and a surprising amount of sweetness. Darby ALSO continues to perfectly capture how it feels to want to be taken seriously, to be seen as better than you currently are—to be judged by your potential and not as much your current ability level. (I think these things are universal, and not gender-specific.)

She also continues to show perhaps her greatest trademark as a writer. Like her other books, this one centers around a father-son relationship. It’s so nice to see the way that Javier and his son Matt interact. They clearly love and respect each other, but at the same time, it’s definitely a father-son relationship. They aren’t best friends and Javier is unquestionably in charge.

This is not always an easy read but it’s constantly compelling and excellent. If you (or someone you know) loves excellent middlegrade stories, snag this one. You need it.

Highly recommended.

Liza Jane and the Dragon

Finished Liza Jane and the Dragon by Laura Lippman and illustrated by Kate Samworth. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Liza Jane believed she could find better parents. So she fired her mom and dad and hired the first applicant who came to the door—what could possibly go wrong?

And at first everything was fun. The dragon did whatever Liza Jane wanted him to do.

But it turned out the dragon had only one response to all problems—opening his mouth and belching fire. Suddenly, people were scared of Liza Jane. The pizza deliveryman didn’t want to come to her house. No one wanted to play with her. And all that fire was very bad for the furniture.

Could Liza Jane have been wrong about what kind of qualities she wanted in a parent?”

This book is fantastic. It’s very clever and the illustrations are adorable.

I think every child has wanted a different set of parents at least once in their lives, right? And who wouldn’t want a dragon? (Well, until you think about how flammable many things in your life are, and how scared most people are of fire, especially fire that can appear out of nowhere, from a creature much bigger than they are.)

This also works as a parable about what happens any time you let someone who has only one method of problem-solving be in charge of…well, anything. But we wouldn’t know anything about that in America. But it can also be taken at face value without losing any enjoyment.

I’m pretty sure Laura Lippman can write in any style or for any audience, and I’d like to see more picture books or a YA…but I also need for her adult books to keep coming.

Highly recommended.

 

 

The War Outside

Finished The War Outside by Monica Hesse. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal.

It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.

Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.

With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?”

This is an incredibly powerful book about a part of the country’s history that is generally glossed over. As most of us know, there were internment camps during World War II for Japanese-American residents. What you may not know (I didn’t) is that some citizens of German descent were also there. And “camps” is a nice way of saying “prisons.” (They weren’t starved and at this particular camp, people were treated fairly well. But it’s still not great and it’s still not something we should be proud of.

Meanwhile, Margot and Haruko. They shouldn’t be friends (each side of the camp distrusts the other) and Margot’s dad is especially awful. (He’s somewhat anti-America, which is understandable seeing as how his adopted country has imprisoned him and his family, but he’s also fairly pro-Nazi.) They also are developing feelings for each other. It’d be dangerous now but is especially bad in the 1940s. And they don’t have any words for what they’re feeling.

Monica Hesse is proving that she’s an author to watch for and I can’t wait for her next book. Recommended.