Honor Girl

Finished Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.

This is my favorite graphic novel, by a lot.  I know that seems like damning with faint praise because, as you know, I am not a fan of graphic novels.  But even if I were, I think this would be my favorite anyway.

My ARC has the drawings in black and white; the final book will be in color.  The drawings were stunning already and I can’t even imagine how pretty they’ll be in color.

But what’s even better is the story itself.  I never went to summer camp, but this made me feel like I was there.  And of course I do understand how it feels to fall in love with a girl.

Maggie is pretty stunned—she’d never thought about girls that way before.  So is she a lesbian or is she just in love with Erin?

This is a sweet story and a realistic one.  I’m excited to see more from Maggie Thrash.

Recommended.

Becoming Maria

Finished Becoming Maria by Sonia Manzano.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Pura Belpré Honor winner for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano and one of America’s most influential Hispanics–Maria on Sesame Street–delivers a beautifully wrought coming-of-age memoir.

Set in the 1970s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy Award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving–and troubled. This is Sonia’s own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But–click!–when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real life–the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia’s dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times.

Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl’s resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.”

This is a fascinating memoir but you should be aware that it stops as she’s auditioning for Sesame Street.  (I hope there will be a followup memoir!)

This is also told in a series of vignettes beginning when she’s a child and ending when she’s about to start Sesame Street (as we know, but she doesn’t).

Sonia Manzano’s writing is amazing, though.  Even with a few words, it’s possible to picture everything she’s talking about.  It’s something I admire a great deal.

If you’ve been curious about the woman behind Maria, this is for you.  (And now that she’s retired from Sesame Street, I very much enjoyed reading this.  And again, followup, please!)

Recommended.

The Boy Most Likely To

Finished The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Surprises abound and sparks ignite in the highly anticipated, utterly romantic companion to My Life Next Door

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
– find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
– need a liver transplant
– drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:
– well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more.”

After reading My Life Next Door, I was so excited to dive immediately back into the world of the Garretts.  This time, it’s about Jase’s older sister Alice and her relationship with Tim (who we know from My Life Next Door; he’s Samantha’s best friend’s brother).  I didn’t really like Tim from the first book; I absolutely fell in love with him here. And I want to marry Alice.

Like My Life Next Door, this book is a great love story but the better story here is Tim trying so hard to reinvent himself and to be better than he’s been in the past. It’s easy to say that it’s because of Alice (and I’m sure that’s part of it) but it has more to do with the fact that he wants to wants to be better for his own sake, too.

(I’m hoping the next Garrett book will be a middlegrade from George’s point of view.  I think that book would be absolute perfection.)

Highly recommended.

My Life Next Door

Finished My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, messy, affectionate. And every day from her rooftop perch, Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs up next to her and changes everything.

As the two fall fiercely for each other, stumbling through the awkwardness and awesomeness of first love, Jase’s family embraces Samantha – even as she keeps him a secret from her own. Then something unthinkable happens, and the bottom drops out of Samantha’s world. She’s suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?

A transporting debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another.”

This is my very first Huntley Fitzpatrick novel and, for someone who is completely obsessed with contemp YA, that’s an embarrassing thing to admit.

I’d heard her books were excellent, and they seemed like something I’d really love, but I still kept putting them off.

And then I read this one and just completely fell in book smit.  It was everything I had been told and more.

My Life Next Door is sweet, but there’s so much going on there.  It’s a love story, yes, but also about family (and the fact that the family you choose can be better than the family you have) and it’s just amazing.

I love Samantha and the way that she’s so fascinated with this loud family next door, even though her mom is so completely snobby about them.  And I love the loud family next door (seriously, can they adopt me? Because they already have a lot of people and I do earn money) even though in general, I dislike loud.

It’s just perfect.  If, like me, you’ve been avoiding her books, change that.  NOW.

Highly recommended.

X

Finished X by Sue Grafton.  I received a copy for review from the publisher.

Summary (from Goodreads):

X:  The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss.

X:
 The shortest entry in Webster’s Unabridged. Derived from Greek and Latin and commonly found in science, medicine, and religion. The most graphically dramatic letter. Notoriously tricky to pronounce: think xylophone.

X: 
The twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet.

Sue Grafton’s X: Perhaps her darkest and most chilling novel, it features a remorseless serial killer who leaves no trace of his crimes. Once again breaking the rules and establishing new paths, Grafton wastes little time identifying this sociopath. The test is whether Kinsey can prove her case against him before she becomes his next victim.”

Sue Grafton is one of the longest literary relationships of my life.  I’m pretty sure she’s the third longest author (first two are Stephen King and Sara Paretsky, respectively) whose new books I still read at the first available chance.  I started reading her books in high school, and each new mystery is still welcomed with much excitement.

I feel like her books are getting darker and this one is no exception.  We learn who the villain is pretty early on but the novel is still incredibly interesting and tense because where is the proof? It’s all well and good to say, “Oh, this guy is straight up murdering people” but unless you can prove it, nothing can be done.

This isn’t my favorite of hers, but it’s very interesting and creepy.  (Sociopaths are scary, guys.)  And it’s always wonderful to spend a few hours with Kinsey.

We only have two books left.  :(

Recommended.

Queen of the Tearling

Finished Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

Long ago, Kelsea’s forefathers sailed away from a decaying world to establish a new land free of modern technology. Three hundred years later, this feudal society has divided into three fearful nations who pay duties to a fourth: the powerful Mortmesne, ruled by the cunning Red Queen. Now, on Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remnants of the Queen’s Guard—loyal soldiers who protect the throne—have appeared to escort the princess on a perilous journey to the capital to ascend to her rightful place as the new Queen of the Tearling.

Though born of royal blood and in possession of the Tear sapphire, a jewel of immense power and magic, Kelsea has never felt more uncertain of her ability to rule. But the shocking evil she discovers in the heart of her realm will precipitate an act of immense daring, throwing the entire kingdom into turmoil—and unleashing the Red Queen’s vengeance. A cabal of enemies with an array of deadly weapons, from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic, plots to destroy her. But Kelsea is growing in strength and stealth, her steely resolve earning her loyal allies, including the Queen’s Guard, led by the enigmatic Lazarus, and the intriguing outlaw known simply as “the Fetch.”

Kelsea’s quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun. Riddled with mysteries, betrayals, and treacherous battles, Kelsea’s journey is a trial by fire that will either forge a legend . . . or destroy her.”

I had to read this for book club and it was excellent.  I wasn’t sure going in (fantasy is not really my genre of choice) but I was absolutely blown away.

Kelsea is the new queen, but—even though she has known this her entire life—she has no idea how to be a queen.  And she certainly doesn’t look the part.

Once she assumes the throne, she also inherits all the kingdom’s problems.  And there are a LOT of them.  She wants to make things better for her people, but every decision she makes has potentially fatal consequences.

(Also there are two separate factions of people who want her dead.)

Kelsea is awesome and I love her so much.  She’s smart and genuinely cares about her subjects.  I can’t talk much about it because of spoilers, but you want to read this.

I have the sequel and can’t wait to read it.

Recommended.

The Best of Enemies

Finished The Best of Enemies by Jen Lancaster.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Bridesmaids meets The In-Laws in a novel told from the alternating perspectives of two women who define the term frenemies—from New York Times bestselling author Jen Lancaster.

Jacqueline Jordan knows conflict. A fearless journalist, she’s spent the past decade embedded in the world’s hot spots, writing about the fall of nations and the rise of despots. But if you were to inquire about who topped Jack’s enemy list, she’d not hesitate to answer: Kitty Carricoe.

Kitty reigns supreme over the world of carpools and minivans. A SAHM, she spends her days caring for her dentist husband and three towheaded children, running the PTA, and hiding vegetables in deceptively delicious packed lunches.

Kitty and Jack haven’t a single thing in common—except for Sarabeth Chandler, their mutual bestie. Sarabeth and Jack can be tomboys with the best of them, while Sarabeth can get her girly-girl on with Kitty. In fact, the three of them were college friends until the notorious frat party incident, when Jack accidentally hooked up with Kitty’s boyfriend…

Yet both women drop everything and rush to Sarabeth’s side when they get the call that her fabulously wealthy husband has perished in a suspicious boating accident. To solve the mystery surrounding his death, Jack and Kitty must bury the hatchet and hit the road for a trip that just may bring them together—if it doesn’t kill them first.”

This book is ridiculously funny.  I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I laughed out loud.

Kitty is a mean girl except now she’s actually grown up and is just sort of a bitch.  Her heart’s in the right place—well, sort of—but she is just relentlessly catty (appropriate, I guess, given her name).  And Jack is the exact opposite.  She’s not catty but she’s abrupt and rude.  There’s no way the two of them can ever get along…until they have to.  And then they accidentally become really great friends.

Jen Lancaster is better known for her series of memoirs, but I love her novels.  (And every time I read one, I remember how much I really need to binge-read her memoirs.)

Recommended.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

I finished Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Preparing to survive a typical day of being Digbys friend wasn’t that different from preparing to survive the apocalypse.

Her first day not in school (because she cut) in her new hometown that will soon be her old hometown (because she’s getting out of Dodge as fast as she can) Zoe meets Digby. Or rather, Digby decides he’s going to meet Zoe and get her to help him find missing teenager. Zoe isn’t sure how, but Digby—the odd and brilliant and somehow…attractive?—Digby always gets what he wants, including her help on several illegal ventures. Before she knows it, Zoe has vandalized an office complex with fake snow, pretended to buy drugs alongside a handsome football player dressed like the Hulk, had a throw-down with a possible cult, and, oh yeah, saved her new hometown (which might be worth making her permanent hometown after all.)

A mystery where catching the crook isn’t the only hook, a romance where the leading man is decidedly unromantic, a story about friendship where they aren’t even sure they like each other—Trouble is a Friend of Mine is a YA debut you won’t soon forget.”

This was compared to Veronica Mars, and that’s a really apt comparison.  If Veronica’s first case wasn’t the death of her best friend and if her dad didn’t run a detective agency, she’d probably be a lot like Zoe.

Because honestly, Zoe had no plan to get into the mystery-solving business—pretty much the entire time, actually, which is pretty interesting because she turns out to be pretty good at it.

Digby is a complete genius but he’s also really obnoxious—to the point where I’m actually really surprised that he has survived to be in high school. ;)

This is a really fun book, and I’m guessing there’s a chance there will be a follow up.  I hope so; I would like more Zoe.

Let Me Die In His Footsteps

Finished Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy.  I received a copy for review at BEA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the spellbinding and suspenseful Let Me Die in His Footsteps, Edgar Award–winner Lori Roy wrests from a Southern town the secrets of two families touched by an evil that has passed between generations.

On a dark Kentucky night in 1952 exactly halfway between her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Annie Holleran crosses into forbidden territory. Everyone knows Hollerans don’t go near Baines, not since Joseph Carl was buried two decades before, but, armed with a silver-handled flashlight, Annie runs through her family’s lavender fields toward the well on the Baines’ place. At the stroke of midnight, she gazes into the water in search of her future. Not finding what she had hoped for, she turns from the well and when the body she sees there in the moonlight is discovered come morning, Annie will have much to explain and a past to account for.

It was 1936, and there were seven Baine boys. That year, Annie’s aunt, Juna Crowley, with her black eyes and her long blond hair, came of age. Before Juna, Joseph Carl had been the best of all the Baine brothers. But then he looked into Juna’s eyes and they made him do things that cost innocent people their lives. Sheriff Irlene Fulkerson saw justice served—or did she?

As the lavender harvest approaches and she comes of age as Aunt Juna did in her own time, Annie’s dread mounts. Juna will come home now, to finish what she started. If Annie is to save herself, her family, and this small Kentucky town, she must prepare for Juna’s return, and the revelation of what really happened all those years ago.”

This is the kind of book that will require patience from the reader.  I was instantly sucked in (there’s a sense of dread throughout the book, although for the most part, it’s very subtle–a sense of unease, for the most part, until the last few pages).  We immediately know that Annie’s Aunt Juna is someone the town doesn’t trust and that people seem to be watching Annie to see if she’ll take after Juna or her mom, Juna’s sister.  (And so far, it seems to be that she’ll take after Juna.)

I love the folklore in this book.  In the town, there’s a tradition that at midnight on the date teenage girls are exactly 15 and a half years old, they can stare down a well and see the face of the boy they’re going to marry.

This is just a fun novel, especially if you like Gothic-type books.  (I don’t think this officially counts as Gothic, but there is definitely a similar vibe.)

 

The Woman Who Stole My Life

Finished The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Stella Sweeney is back in Dublin. After living the dream in New York for a year – touring her self-help book, appearing on talk shows all over the USA and living it up in her 10-room duplex on the Upper West Side – she’s back to normality with a bang. And she’s got writer’s block.

Stella wants a clean break as she didn’t exactly leave New York on a high. Why is she back in Ireland so soon? Who is it who keeps calling? Stella wants to get back to being the woman she used to be. But can she? And should she?”

I love Marian Keyes and this is a great return to the books of hers I loved.  (I wasn’t as crazy about her last two books.)

I immediately loved Stella.  We get her story in bits and pieces—we know that she wrote this self-help book that was sort of a big deal and that her life was on a major upward trajectory—until it wasn’t anymore.

(We don’t learn until almost the end exactly what happened, but while I am not a huge fan of self-help books, I would read Stella’s.)

I love Stella’s family (by which I mean more of her sister and parents than her ex and children) but honestly, Stella is the star of this book.  She’s smart and funny and just a survivor.

If you’ve never read Marian Keyes before, start here.  If you used to love her but the last two books turned you off, COME BACK.