LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green

November 21, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Let me start off by saying I didn’t love this book. I was not a huge fan of The Fault in Our Stars; frankly, by the end, I wanted them all to die. But a young co-worker recommended this one and I had a couple of hours to kill, so I read it. In my own defense of not loving this extraordinarily popular author, he does write books for young adults, traditionally defined as teens. But the explosion in popularity of these books has led me down this path, and while I love some of them, I don’t love them all. Feel free to comment.

So far this is the third John Green book that is being made into a movie, after the aforementioned The Fault in Our Stars and this year’s Paper Towns, which I didn’t read or see. Looking for Alaska is actually Green’s first book, and film is supposed to be released sometime in 2016. Here is the trailer:

The book won the Michael L. Printz award (highest honor for YA books), was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, and was a NY Times bestseller. I can understand its appeal, and I liked it better than Fault, but that’s the best I can say.

Here’s a brief synopsis from the publisher:

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .

After. Nothing is ever the same.

So we have a character, Miles, who is the schlubby kid who gets picked on. With a fresh start at a boarding school, his roommate befriends him and introduces him to smoking, and Alaska. Is that a thing now, naming kids after places? Brooklyn, London, Alaska. Why not.

This is a coming of age story about young adults living away from home with the freedom that’s implied. These kids were tame compared to what me & my friends were up to at that age (and you know who you are and what we were doing!) but nonetheless, there are serious ramifications and devastation before the book is done. Lesson learned, I suppose. It was a quick read, if that is enough of an inducement.

11/15 Stacy Alesi

LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. Speak; Reprint edition (December 28, 2006). ISBN 978-0142402511. 221p.


EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon

October 22, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Illustrations by David Yoon

Who can forget the Bubble Boy? Well, I certainly couldn’t, and Nicola Yoon takes that story and gives it a modern, unique twist.

Madeline suffers from SCID; Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. She is allergic to pretty much everything. Diagnosed as an infant, shortly after her father and brother were killed in a car accident, Madeline has lived her life inside her home. Luckily, her mother is a doctor and the insurance settlement from the accident allows her to create a sterile environment throughout the home, so Madeline isn’t stuck in the proverbial bubble.

As she nears her 18th birthday, a new family moves in next door. From her perch at her 2nd floor window, Madeline spies a boy about her age, a very good looking boy. Olly spies her as well, and writes his email address in big letters in his window across from hers. An online relationship is born, this time one that has to stay that way – or does it?

Madeline’s life is full of love, yet she longs for more. And when she finally gets what she longs for, her whole life is turned upside down.

Short chapters are interspersed with drawings, charts & graphs, drawn by the author’s husband. I love epistolary novels and this is a really good one, filled with unforgettable characters. It is a fast, heartwarming read and I can understand the comparisons to John Green and Rainbow Rowell. This young adult novel is sure to appeal to teens as well as adults.

10/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

From Becky LeJeune:

Madeline never goes outside. She can’t because she’s literally allergic to everything. It’s true, with SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency) exposure to a trigger could set off a catastrophic allergic reaction resulting in death. So Madeline’s mother has built their house to be a protective environment – nothing that hasn’t been scoured of contaminants comes in and Madeline never goes out.

Madeline’s been mostly ok with that, until now. Now there’s a new neighbor, a boy who fascinates Madeline. Their friendship begins as a secret – written notes in their windows, emails, instant messages… Suddenly Madeline’s safe bubble starts to feel like a trap. Suddenly, Madeline wants more.

Nicola Yoon’s debut is fabulous. Really fabulous.

Madeline is sweet and brave and from the very first page it’s impossible not to fall in love with her. She lives with her condition while keeping a pretty admirable outlook on things. It helps that she has the support of her nurse and her mother and that she’s excited about her classes – even though she can’t actually attend them in person.

But as with anyone, Madeline does long for a life outside of her home. And connections that aren’t strictly online. This becomes more clear when she meets Olly, the boy next door who will not be deterred by Madeline’s mother or Madeline’s condition.

Yoon pairs illustrations (courtesy of her husband) with her prose to give the readers even more insight into Madeline and Olly. Theirs is a sweet and heartwrenching story, one that both teens and adults can enjoy.

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon. Delacorte Press (September 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-05534966426.  320p.

Kindle

Audiobook


THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton

October 20, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Sadie Sparrow was warned about becoming too involved in the Bailey case, but a letter that arrived just as it was all getting started put her in a mindset that definitely wasn’t ideal. At least that’s what she’s blaming for what happened. Now she’s on forced leave, visiting her grandfather in Cornwall, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But Sadie has found a new case to keep her mind occupied. After stumbling upon a grand and long-abandoned house in the area, Sadie learns that it was the scene of a decades-old missing persons case that remains unsolved even today. In 1933, the youngest Edevane – coincidentally the brother of the now famous mystery author A. C. Edevane – disappeared without a trace. For years folks speculated as to who could have been the culprit and what happened to the boy, but no solid evidence was ever found. Now, seventy years later, Sadie aims to be the one to solve it.

This latest from Morton is split between the Edevanes’ stories and Sadie’s. We’re shuttled from the 1930s to present day, and back even further than the disappearance, to when Eleanor – the rightful heir of Loeanneth (the Lake House in question) – met and married Anthony Edevane.

A slew of characters offer up their own perspectives of the case, each contributing pieces the others are unaware of until the entire picture begins to emerge. Morton also offers up insight into the emotions and motives each of these characters had in maintaining their silence or, as is the case with Sadie, in doggedly pursuing the truth.

For the most part, The Lake House is a satisfying read filled with Morton’s usual intricate plotting and fabulous atmosphere. Unfortunately, though, the end felt a bit too neat and tidy for my taste (though there are lots of comments about coincidence throughout the book to support this nice and neat ending). All in all, it’s one that will likely satisfy Morton’s fans but maybe isn’t the strongest title to start off with if you’re new to her work.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton. Atria Books (October 20, 2015).  ISBN 978-1451649321. 512p.


DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy

October 18, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

This book is being promoted as a go to for fans of John Green (check!) and Rainbow Rowell (check check!) plus it’s about an overweight teen, to which I can relate, so I decided to give it a go. I don’t read a lot of young adult literature, but do enjoy some from time to time. Like romances or women’s fiction, I find these types of books cleansing between the serial killers, thrillers and deep, dark psychological suspense that seems to make up most of my reading. And Dumplin’ was enjoyable.

The story centers around Willowdean, a high school senior with a weight problem, only she claims it’s not her problem but everyone else’s. Willowdean thinks she is comfortable with her body, but her reaction to being touched by a boyfriend proves otherwise.

Her family history is interesting. Her mother is a former beauty queen who still runs the town pageant – did I mention this is set in Texas? She recently lost her beloved aunt, who weighed 400+ pounds and dropped dead of a heart attack. No father in the picture either.

Willowdean has a best friend El, but when Willowdean decides to enter the beauty pageant, El does too which causes a rift between the girls. Themes of bullying and first love are typical of young adult reads and this is no exception. Mean girls aplenty here but it’s the underdogs the rule the day.

10/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy. Balzer + Bray (September 15, 2015).  ISBN 978-0062327185. 384p.

Kindle

 

 


WINK OF AN EYE by Lynn Chandler Willis

October 11, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Gypsy Moran’s return to Wink, Texas was meant to be an attempt to lay low after the fallout from a recent case. Instead, he finds himself roped into a local mystery that could have devastating results.

Twelve-year-old Tatum McCallen is certain his father did not commit suicide. He’s insistent about that fact. The man in question, a cop – as his father was before him, had been investigating a series of missing persons cases the department had already shrugged off, in his personal time, when he was found hanging from a tree in his own backyard.

At first Gypsy isn’t interested in getting involved, but as he learns more about the McCallen family and the case Tatum’s father was digging into, even he begins to realize something is very wrong in Wink. And as his own investigation progresses, Gypsy finds he may not like where the clues are leading.

This 2013 winner of St. Martin’s/PWA Best 1st PI Novel Competition introduces a great new private investigator to the mystery scene. Michael “Gypsy” Moran grew up in Wink and longed to leave from an early age. In truth, it was because he didn’t qualify for a football scholarship and couldn’t see himself working a ranch. And so he left for Vegas where he became a PI. But things, as we soon learn, have gone a bit sour in Sin City forcing him to return to his hometown.

In terms of plotting and setting I think Chandler-Willis has done a fantastic job. I was hooked from page one with Tatum’s plea and found Gypsy to be a compelling and utterly likable character (perfect as a PI series lead, in other words). The clues and story unfold at a great pace and Wink, an actual town in West Texas whose claim to fame is that Roy Orbison once lived there, comes to life completely.

I should be clear, though, in that the case Gypsy is investigating is the death of Tatum McCallen’s father. There are a few cases that are intertwined with this one, including the missing girls, but that case isn’t Gypsy’s focus right now. By pointing that out, I mean to say that there are a few questions left unanswered at the end of the book, questions that likely make for further installments in what I hope will be a series. (The author is reportedly working on her second Wink project as we speak.)

Wink of an Eye has been nominated for a 2015 Shamus award in the Best First PI Novel category.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

WINK OF AN EYE by Lynn Chandler Willis. Minotaur Books (November 18, 2014).  ISBN 978-1250053190. 304p.


THE EINSTEIN PROPHECY by Robert Maselo

October 9, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

What if the outcome of WWII were determined by something of a decidedly supernatural and evil nature? This is the question Maselo poses in his latest, The Einstein Prophecy.

After being injured while on a mission for the Cultural Recovery Commission, Lucas Athan finds himself teaching at Princeton. Though both the student body and staff have shrunk as a result of the war, war hero Athan is exactly the kind of man the university will pull strings to have on their roster. But his job with the CRC hasn’t ended. The very ossuary he was tasked with recovering when he was injured – a sarcophagus of historic significance that Hitler tagged for his own collection – has been recovered and the government wants Lucas to continue his work. The primary goal is to find out exactly what Hitler’s interest in the piece may be.

Simone Rashid and her father know all too well what the ossuary represents and what it is capable of. They were, after all, the ones who discovered it in the first place. But even Simone doesn’t understand the full potential of the ossuary or what Hitler’s goal may be. What she does know is that if she isn’t able to intercept the piece or at least warn the people involved, no good will come of opening the ancient coffin.

The Einstein Prophecy is what would happen if The Monuments Men and Indiana Jones had a baby and invited The Manhattan Project to the shower. (The CRC is a fictional creation based on the Monuments Men.)

The story is set in 1944 and Einstein, Gödel, Oppenheimer, and a few others all make appearances. Of course, too, there’s the very real history behind Hitler’s obsession with the paranormal and the occult, the also very real Manhattan Project (which does play a big role in the story), and the biblical history of the ossuary as well. Maselo uses the actual history of the era and the key players to anchor a tale that is based in mythology/theology to create an action packed mashup that’s a quite fun read.

If you’re a fan of James Rollins and the like, you’ll love The Einstein Prophecy.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

THE EINSTEIN PROPHECY by Robert Maselo. 47North (August 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-1477829400. 326p.


JILLIAN CADE by Jen Klein

October 4, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

(Fake) Paranormal Investigator

Jillian doesn’t believe all the paranormal mumbo jumbo her father peddles but she does know that an all but orphaned teen has to earn money somehow. Umbra Investigations is Jillian’s somehow – a PI agency focused on cases of an unusual sort. In other words, taking advantage of the same folks her father does.

But then Jillian gets a case that definitely sounds more serious: a missing person, and she’s been hired to find him. Of course the person hiring her believes the missing guy has been cursed and the new boy in school who has suddenly latched himself onto Jillian also believes this to be the case. (He blackmailed his way into partner status.) Nevertheless, Jillian needs the paycheck more desperately than ever and is determined to solve the case even when the clues start to point in some pretty unbelievable directions.

A writer on Grey’s Anatomy with a slew of other show credits to her name, Jen Klein definitely has the chops for a clever and catchy novel and she absolutely delivers in her debut! Jillian Cade: (Fake) Paranormal Investigator is a fun blend of Veronica Mars sass and Buffy the Vampire Slayer supernatural and is perfect for fans of both.

But Jillian Cade is no Veronica or Buffy – she’s all Jillian. She puts up a bad-ass front all the while dealing with some heavy stuff, most prominently the recent weird death of her mother and her father’s abandonment. And things only get harder for the teen. Confronted by the fact that not one but two people are threatening to out her as a fraud, she knows she has to solve this case.

I expected the whole story to be “(Fake) Paranormal” and was quite surprised to find that wasn’t at all the case. There are some pretty big revelations both for our skeptical heroine and for the reader as well. Considering all of that, I assume that Jillian Cade is the first in a series and will most definitely be looking forward to more.

10/15 Becky LeJeune

JILLIAN CADE by Jen Klein. Soho Teen (September 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-1616954345. 288p.


SANCTUM by Madeleine Roux

September 23, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Asylum (Book 2)

After surviving the horrors of their summer at New Hampshire College, Dan and his friends are looking forward to a bit of normalcy. But someone has other plans for the trio. Dan agrees to visit their old classmate – the one locked up for killing a fellow student – and is given a message that forces him to return to New Hampshire College. His hope is that he can finally bring the whole nightmare to a close, but when he reveals his plan to Abby and Jordan he finds that they too have received messages.

Now all three have returned, under the guise of a student campus visit, to once again face the horrors of Brookline Asylum.

This follow up to Asylum picks up just a few months after Dan, Abby, and Jordan narrowly escaped the summer college prep program at New Hampshire College. All three have returned home to their own high schools, but Dan has a hard time letting go. Part of this is of course thanks to the revelations about his own shocking connection to Brookline Asylum.

This time around, Dan and his friends are sent on a bizarre scavenger hunt throughout the town of Brookline, all the while trying to evade their student hosts and a weird secret society while Dan also tries to muddle through the meaning of a series of visions he’s been having about Warden Crawford.

As with Asylum Roux again uses creepy and gritty imagery to ratchet up the chill factor of Sanctum. It was great to return to Brookline – a town I’d definitely NEVER want to live in – and get more of the Warden and the asylum’s story, though there were still a few loose ends left by the end. Overall it’s a great mix of horror and suspense, the perfect kind for a one-sitting read on a dark and stormy night.

9/15 Becky LeJeune

SANCTUM by Madeleine Roux. HarperCollins; Reprint edition (September 1, 2015).  ISBN 978-0062221001.  368p.

Kindle

 


ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux

September 22, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Dan Crawford couldn’t be more excited to have been accepted to the New Hampshire College College Prep Program. Not only does this mean his first taste of college and the real world, it means a summer away from his parents. Freedom.

Dan arrives on campus to find that his dorm is actually an old asylum, something that at first intrigues. But that’s before the strange things start to happen. A student is killed and Dan begins having bouts of missing time and that’s only the start. As the tension increases on campus, Dan and his friends explore more of the old Brookline Asylum in an attempt to unravel the mystery. What they find is truly terrifying and could mean certain danger for each and every student in the program.

Using “vintage” images in the style of Ransom Riggs’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Roux builds a chilling and intriguing tale filled with ominous locked rooms, hints of strange experiments and dark insane asylum history, and an uber creepy serial killer who may just have returned from the past to hunt down and murder teens.

In other words, Asylum is super fun.

9/15 Becky LeJeune

ASYLUM by Madeleine Roux. HarperCollins; Reprint edition (August 26, 2014).  ISBN 978-0062220974.  336p.

Kindle

 


ANA OF CALIFORNIA by Andi Teran

July 31, 2015
Click to purchase

Click to purchase

One of my favorite books is Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I read it as a child, and then again when I was in library school taking “History of Children’s Literature.” It was an even better read as an adult, or at least it felt that way to me. So when I heard about this modern retelling, I must admit I was skeptical. But I braved it out and started Ana…and was immediately hooked. I loved how Teran brought this story into the 21st century and kept the charm and spunk of the original.

If you haven’t read the Montgomery book, I urge you to do so. I recently watched the movie and was startled to see that the actress playing Anne was named Anne Shirley, the same name as the character. That caused me to do some digging and apparently she was moved enough by the story (or the studio) to legally change her name to that of this most beloved character. The movie was okay but I would recommend the book over it any day.

Back to Ana…it is absolutely not necessary to have read Anne to enjoy this book. Ana is a 15 year old Mexican American, and a product of the foster care system. Eventually she gets thrown out of one too many homes and is offered a last chance; to work as an intern on a farm further up the California coast. If she can manage to hang on until she turns 16, she will be old enough to become emancipated.

Garber Farm is run by brother and sister Abbie and Emmett. Emmett is all in favor of an intern, but he’s expecting a boy and grudgingly decides to give Ana a one month trial period. Abbie is delighted to have a girl around the house, and Ana quickly finds that she enjoys life on the farm. Things get a little more difficult when school starts and there is boy trouble, friends and drug trouble, and other road blocks to happiness thrown in her path. But slowly she starts making a difference in the lives of those around her.

For fans of Anne, all I can say is some of the most memorable scenes are updated here. Ana has a run in with a neighbor, her best friend’s accidental drunkenness is now a psilocybin mushroom trip, there is a major hair mishap, and so forth. Every one of these scenes felt like finding a little nugget of happiness.

Ana is a charmer and this is a warm, wonderful coming of age story that should appeal to adults and young adults too. Great for book discussions – check out the Reading Group Guide

7/15 Stacy Alesi

ANA OF CALIFORNIA by Andi Teran. Penguin Books (June 30, 2015). ISBN 978-0143126492. 368p.

Kindle