WITH MALICE by Eileen Cook

July 11, 2016
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Jill was looking forward to her trip to Italy – a chance to walk the very streets and alleys as some of her intellectual heroes.  It was also a chance to spend some time with her best friend, Simone, with no parents over their shoulders. It was to be a true adventure.

But Jill is in the hospital with no memory of how she got there. She’s told she was in an accident in Italy. One so bad that the last six weeks or so have been wiped from her memory. She doesn’t remember the accident, she certainly doesn’t remember the trip, and she definitely doesn’t remember killing Simone. Without her memory to help her, she has no way of proving that the crime she’s been accused of never took place, but she knows without a doubt that she would never have killed her best friend. Never.

A trip to Italy and an American girl accused of murder might sound familiar but interestingly Cook says With Malice was not actually inspired by the Amanda Knox case, only somewhat shaped by it as the story progressed. And the story itself bears little similarity to Knox’s except for the basics: setting and the accused.

Much of the book is focused on Jill’s time in therapy and her attempts to unravel the truth about her final days in Italy. Reports claim there was a boy involved. They also claim that Jill and Simone had been arguing for much of the trip. And since Jill’s father had her quickly shipped back to the States, the Italian police are desperate to make a case for bringing Jill back to Italy to face trial. The pacing is quick and intensified by the fact that our own main character’s resolve about her innocence is shaken as the story progresses.

With Malice is an excellent psychological suspense tale, one that is sure to appeal to teens and adults alike.

7/16 Becky LeJeune

WITH MALICE by Eileen Cook. HMH Books for Young Readers (June 7, 2016).  ISBN: 978-0544805095. 320p.

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THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry

May 13, 2016
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Olivia was only three years old when her mother was murdered. Now, fourteen years later, she only remembers what she’s been told about the incident: High school sweethearts Naomi Benson and Terry Weeks, twenty and twenty-one respectively, took their three-year-old out to hunt for a Christmas tree. All three and Terry’s truck were reported missing when they failed to return home. One day later, the toddler was identified as a girl found three hours away, abandoned at a local Wal-Mart. Another three weeks passed before Naomi’s body was discovered and Terry’s truck was found in an airport parking lot.

Of course the running theory was that Terry murdered his girlfriend and left his daughter before escaping. But new evidence proves that wasn’t the case. As the only witness, Olivia has always wondered if the truth about that day might be hidden somewhere in the depths of her own memory. And now she’s determined to find out. But the killer who once spared her isn’t likely to do so again.

April Henry has made quite a name for herself in teen mysteries. But Henry was a name on my radar long before she broke onto the teen scene thanks to her Claire Montrose series. It was a series I quite enjoyed (I can’t see a vanity plate without it coming to mind.) so I was understandably excited to sink my teeth into her latest teen release. And I was not disappointed.

Olivia, born Ariel, is an emancipated minor who’s long lived with the knowledge that her father murdered her mother and then ran for the hills. But that belief is shaken when Terry Weeks’s remains are discovered fourteen years after the crime in question took place. The guilt of knowing she was so wrong in her assumptions about her father prompts Olivia to attend his funeral and face the people who knew him best. And in doing so she realizes that she can anonymously dig into the case on her own.

As with any amateur investigation, especially one so close to the heroine in question, the killer does eventually catch wind. This of course leaves Olivia vulnerable to a killer whose face she can’t remember in spite of the fact that random memories of her childhood have started to return.

The Girl I Used to Be is a quick read that’s absolutely packed with suspense. It’s an excellent addition to the genre (and a fantastic return to her work for this older fan).

5/16 Becky LeJeune

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry. Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (May 3, 2016).  ISBN: 978-1627793322. 240p.

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TELL ME THREE THINGS by Julie Buxbaum

April 5, 2016

TELL ME THREE THINGS

Losing a parent is always difficult, but especially when a teenage girl loses her mother. Jessie and her father are close, but the relationship is definitely different than what she had with her mother. Jessie feels like she needs to be strong for her father, and Googles everything she would normally have asked her mother.

Two years later her father returns from a business trip and announces that he has remarried, to a woman he met online, and they are moving to Los Angeles. Her stepmother is nice enough, but Jessie feels totally displaced. The house is a mansion and her stepmother some type of movie mogul. She pays for Jessie to attend the private school her stepbrother attends, and he just ignores her.

Her first day at school she meets the mean girls, but an email pops up from “Someone/Nobody,” SN for short. SN becomes her first friend and confidante, but Jessie doesn’t know who he is and he wants to keep it that way.

She gradually makes a few friends, finds a job at a bookstore,  and even has a bit of a social life. Meanwhile she is in constant touch with her best friend Scarlett from Chicago, and between Scarlett and SN, she muddles through.

The SN plotline is reminiscent of one of my favorite films, “You’ve Got Mail,” where the Tom Hanks character sees the Meg Ryan character in real life, but also has this secret email relationship with her. SN works the same way, to a similar end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this Young Adult novel. Buxbaum has written two previous novels, both women’s fiction so this was a new direction for her. This was a bit reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, which I loved, so that is high praise indeed.

4/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TELL ME THREE THINGS by Julie Buxbaum. Delacorte Press (April 5, 2016).  ISBN 978-0553535648.  336p.

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BEHOLD THE BONES by Natalie C. Parker

March 2, 2016
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Beware the Wild (Book 2)

Ever since Sterling saved her brother from the swamp, things in Sticks have been just a little bit stranger, the Shine has been just a little stronger, and the ghost sightings just a little more frequent. But for Candy, nothing has changed. She still can’t see the things her friends Sterling and Abigail see.

Candy knows she has the power to repel the Shine – they learned that when the swamp took Phin – but she doesn’t understand why she’s the only one who can’t see it. After a desperate attempt to change that, though, the ghosts in Sticks start coming out in droves. And folks soon learn that Candy has the ability to send them away.

Then the King family arrives. Their father is a producer on a ghost hunting show that wants Sticks – and Candy – to be the subject of their latest venture. Candy wants no part in it, but the Kings are pretty insistent. Plus, they seem to know an awful lot about the Shine. Candy strikes up a hesitant friendship with new classmate Nova King in the hopes that she can answer some of Candy’s questions about the magic surrounding Sticks. But Nova isn’t willing to share information freely. She wants something in return. Something only Candy can offer.

This follow up to Beware the Wild takes readers back to Sticks and the characters of that previous tale. This time, however, readers are given a story from Candy’s perspective.

Like its predecessor, I liked Behold the Bones but, again like its predecessor, there was something missing in the development of the story. The narrative felt thin as a whole, like there were pieces missing from the story, and Candy herself came across as flighty and confusing. The creepiness factor did save this one a bit, but I wanted to love it and just couldn’t.

3/16 Becky LeJeune

BEHOLD THE BONES by Natalie C. Parker. HarperTeen (February 23, 2016).  ISBN 978-0062241559.  368p.


LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green

November 21, 2015
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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
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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.

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THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton

October 20, 2015
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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
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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.

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WINK OF AN EYE by Lynn Chandler Willis

October 11, 2015
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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
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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.