Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Tag: Five-stars (Page 1 of 19)

Book Review: Everything I Thought I Knew

Everything I Thought I Knew – Shannon Takaoka – Candlewick Press – Published 13 October 2020

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Chloe had a plan: work hard, get good grades, and attend a top-tier college. But after she collapses during cross-country practice and is told that she needs a new heart, all her careful preparations are laid to waste.

Eight months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, all she wants to do now is grab her surfboard and hit the waves—which is strange, because she wasn’t interested in surfing before her transplant. (It doesn’t hurt that her instructor, Kai, is seriously good-looking.)

And that’s not all that’s strange. There’s also the vivid recurring nightmare about crashing a motorcycle in a tunnel and memories of people and places she doesn’t recognize.

Is there something wrong with her head now, too, or is there another explanation for what she’s experiencing?

As she searches for answers, and as her attraction to Kai intensifies, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew—about life, death, love, identity, and the true nature of reality.

My thoughts

While the start and middle of Everything I Thought I Knew have everything I love in a book – heartwarming story, building romance, struggling friendship, introspection following trauma – it is the ending, the glorious, surprising, on-my-gosh-no-way, ending that makes this book so gosh-darned amazing. I was shocked, stunned, honestly a little traumatised. It is honest, brilliant, amazing, and defies the realms of possibility just enough to have you questioning everything you thought you knew.

Chloe is lucky. Or so everyone tells her. Lucky when she collapsed and her heart failed that she didn’t die. Lucky that she received a heart transplant. Lucky she can continue her life. Eight months after her transplant, Chloe is finishing high school via summer school and watching her friends move away to college. Things are changing for Chloe. She does’t feel like the same person. She is sneaking away to take surfing lessons from the gorgeous Kai and has recurring dreams about crashing a motorcycle. Flashbacks, seeing people, knowing things she shouldn’t know. Something is wrong and so she starts to search for answers.

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Book Review: Chasing Lucky

Chasing Lucky – Jenn Bennett – Simon Pulse – Published 10 November 2020

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Synopsis

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

My thoughts

Well, Jenn Bennett has done it again. Just when I thought I was in a book slump that would last forever, Jenn swept in with her tales growing up, dealing with complicated family circumstances, aching and swoony romance. Combined with addictive storytelling, I rejoiced in having found such a wonderful book once again. If you are a fan of Jenn Bennett’s other books (and by that I mean you’ve read one) you will be delighted by Chasing Lucky.

Josie knows how to pack light. She’s used to throwing together her things as her mother moves them from town to town, sometimes in the dead of night. Ever since the great blow up between her mother and grandmother when she was 12, Josie has been on the move. Now, thanks to her grandmother taking an overseas trip, Josie and her mother are finally returning to their hometown, Beauty. Confronted by her past, her ex-best friend and now rather gorgeous Lucky Karras, a chance to realise her dreams of moving to live with her professional photographer father and maybe even get to the bottom of her mother’s history in Beauty, Josie’s return is far from smooth but it might also be everything she’s looking for.

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Book Review: The Price of Valor

The Price of Valor – Susan May Warren – Global Search and Rescure #3 – Revell – Published 6 October 2020

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Synopsis

Former Navy SEAL Hamilton Jones thought that the love of his life was dead. But when a girl claiming to be his daughter shows up with a dire message from his wife, Ham knows he will stop at nothing to find her and bring her home.

Kidnapped by rebels while serving as an interpreter in Ukraine, Signe Kincaid has spent the past decade secreting out valuable information about Russian assets in the US to her CIA handler. Fearing for her daughter after being discovered as an operative, Signe sends her to Ham for safekeeping. She’s ready to give her life for her country, and she can hardly expect Ham to rescue her after breaking his heart over and over.

When Ham discovers the reason Signe has kept her distance, he must choose between love for his wife and love for the nation he has vowed to protect. Will he save the many? Or the few?

My thoughts

Another thrilling offering from suspense pro Susan May Warren. While writing this review of Price of Valor, I had to go back and check my reviews of Warren’s previous books to make sure I wasn’t using the same lavish praise phrases, but you could read any of my reviews of any of her books and apply it to Price of Valor, because her books are just that consistently good and I loved this book just as much as all her other books.

Price of Valor is the third book in the Global Search and Rescue series. I recommend reading the series in chronological order, as the characters arcs overlap the books and it is much easier to follow their backstories by reading the lead-in to their stories in the previous books. Each book is as exciting and engaging as the last, so it’s no hardship to read them all.

Price of Valor features Ham, leader of the search and rescue company, ex-military, and father – surprise. He never knew he and his wife had a daughter, nor that his wife actually survived the incident he thought she had died in. Instead, she and his daughter have been living in a terrorist’s training camp. Another surprise – his wife is CIA operative. Now, she has sent their daughter to live with Ham while she tries to bring down the head of the terrorist organisation. Ham wants to help but he can’t risk his new-found daughter’s safety, nor does he know if Signe is the same woman he married all those years ago or if life undercover has changed her.

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Book Review: Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 29 September 2020

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Synopsis

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher.

Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can as the world around them keeps moving. Thoughts and Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

My thoughts

Thank goodness for this book. It is beautiful, insightful, reflective, powerful and conveys so much with such a simple, non-preachy style. Three teenagers. Three separate stories. And yet their lives crossed for just a few moments on one fateful day under a school staircase.

Claire, Eleanor and Brezzen survived the school shooting that killed a teacher and fellow classmates. They have each continued their lives, coping with the trauma and fallout in their own ways.

Thoughts & Prayers starts with Claire and her story. Part one starts with Claire and her brother having made a new life after moving towns. Claire is about to start at a new school. Each morning, she and her brother escape to a local skating park after hours – it’s the only time Claire can move without thinking about everyone around her and constantly scanning the environment. She meets three guys at the park, Leg, God and Dark. They seem like they could become friends, they are supportive of her need for space, cope with her panic attacks. But as she spends more time with them, there seems to be something wrong, a little off, with Dark and Claire knows the risks of not speaking up. Claire has an intriguing story and it brings such a powerful message of how hard it is to do the right thing – to even know what the right thing is. She risks everything to speak out, just as she would risk everything by staying silent. Her story is also about the debilitating panic, fear and gamut of emotions that can occur after experiencing such a traumatic event.

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Book Review: Autumn Skies

Autumn Skies – Denise Hunter – Bluebell Inn Romance #3 – Thomas Nelson – Published 20 October 2020

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Synopsis

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

My thoughts

What an absolutely wonderful book. Autumn Skies is just so good. Denise Hunter’s novels just get better and better and better; this series just got better and better. In this conclusion to a three book series, it was so lovely to see the final part of the three siblings’ stories and work in getting their inn up and running.

Autumn Skies follows Grace, the youngest of the three Bennett siblings. We have watched her grow up a little over the previous two novels. Now she is a young woman. She has started her own business, helped her siblings finish and run the inn, but she still grapples with grief and guilt from her parents’ deaths and a traumatic event in her childhood. Wyatt Jennings is a secret service agent. Suffering trauma and flashbacks, he is suspended. He decides to return to the place of his childhood memories, Bluebird Inn. Wyatt enlists the help of Grace to help him find a particular spot in the surrounding mountains. Their chemistry is intense, but neither is looking for a relationship.

I read this book in one sitting. I just didn’t want to put it down, didn’t want to leave the wonderful world Denise Hunter brings to life. Now I just want to reread it again. I loved everything about this book. The characters, the heartbreaking story, the now familiar setting, the usual banter between the Bennett siblings, but I really, really loved the romance in this one.

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Book Review: Early Departures

Early Departures – Justin A. Reynolds – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 22 September 2020

 

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Synopsis

What if you could bring your best friend back to life—but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

My thoughts

An honest, heartbreaking yet humorous look at death and saying goodbye, Justin A. Reynolds brings his trademark style and humour to this incredible story you’ll have to read to believe.

What would you do if you could bring someone back from the dead? Even if it was only for a short time? That’s exactly the question Jamal must face when his ex-best friend dies in his arms. When Quincy’s mother and Jamal are taken to a secret facility they are offered a mind-blowing option – reanimate Quincy. But it will only be for a few days. For Jamal, it’s a chance to make things right with his once best friend, to heal the hurt between them, a chance to finally speak his mind and a chance to say goodbye, a chance he never got with his parents. But Quincy’s mother doesn’t want to tell Quincy he only has a few days left on earth and Jamal isn’t sure that’s the right way to handle things.

This book just felt so incredibly authentic. The grief, the hurt Jamal is carrying, and most especially the wonderful, broken but still clicked-in friendship bond the two boys share. Flashbacks in the form of videos the two boys made show the depth of connection they share.

Parts of this book are heartbreaking. Yet other parts of this book are honestly hilarious. Jamal and Quincy both have a wonderful sense of humour and are constantly making witty quips and jokes. Quincy dreams of making it big as a comedian. But it’s not just Jamal and Quincy that bring the laughs in the book. Despite the topics of grief and loss, the death of Jamal’s parents and the impending death of Quincy, there are some wonderful light-hearted moments in this book and that’s what brings home the message about living well and enjoying every minute.

As much as I adored Jamal and Quincy, there are some fantastic side characters, especially Jamal’s sister and Quincy’s mother, both who play important roles in the story.

Looking for a meaningful yet lighthearted novel that will have you smiling, crying and rejoicing all at once, then look no farther than Early Departures.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction

Genre: Contemporary

Themes: Death, grief, friendship, best friends, humour, comedy, family,

Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.

Advisory: References to death. Vague sexual references. F*** (16), sh** (24), pi** (5), di** (1), as***** (4).

Representation: Main characters and side characters african american. Heterosexual relationships.

Published: 22 September 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 400 pages.

ISBN: 9780062748409

Find it on Goodreads

Book Review: A Whale of the Wild

A Whale of the Wild – Rosanne Parry – Illustrated by Lindsay Moore – Greenwillow Books – Published 1 September 2020

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Synopsis

For Vega and her family, salmon is life. And Vega is learning to be a salmon finder, preparing for the day when she will be her family’s matriarch. But then she and her brother Deneb are separated from their pod when a devastating earthquake and tsunami render the seascape unrecognizable. Vega must use every skill she has to lead her brother back to their family. The young orcas face a shark attack, hunger, the deep ocean, and polluted waters on their journey. Will Vega become the leader she’s destined to be?

My thoughts

If you follow my blog or reviews you’ll notice that I cannot resist books about orcas. I love these amazing creatures. I hate their captivity. I have read about orcas from the perspective of scientists. I have read about orcas from the point of view of people who have worked with them in captivity. I have read about orcas from the work of researchers and historians, indigenous perspectives, artists and more. I have never read about orcas from the perspective of orcas themselves. Until now.

Vega is an orca, descendent of the wayfinding grandmother orca of her family. Vega knows that someday it will be her job to lead her family, to find food and follow the patterns and stories that have guided her family for many generations. But she doubts her right to lead, especially when decisions she makes puts her family or danger, or no matter how far they hunt, food is scarce. When she and her brother Deneb are separated from their family, Vega must do everything to protect him and find their way back to their family.

I give full credit to Rosanne Parry. She has done a fantastic job of not only researching orcas, but capturing their heart and soul. While we mere humans will never know the wonders of the orca mind and heart, I think, from what we know of orcas, Parry has expressed their love of family, their matriarchal society, the hurt, pain and grief from loss of family and food sources, their sense of fun and adventure and their amazing intelligence, especially emotional intelligence.

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Book Review: More Than Just A Pretty Face

More Than Just A Pretty Face – Syed M. Masood – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 4 August 2020

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Synopsis

Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man–a school-wide academic championship–it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

My thoughts

More Than Just A Pretty Face is an uplifting, fun book that also comes with sweet romance and a feel-good, save the world message. Diverse representation – both ethnically and faith based, #OwnVoices, this has all the boxes ticked to make it an “important” book, but basically it’s just lots of fun to read.

Danyal is going to be a chef. Sure, his teachers and classmates think he’s a joke and his father disapproves of pretty much everything he does, but Danyal isn’t fazed. His goal is to get his best-friend’s twin, Kaval to value him as he is, even if their parents might not approve an arranged marriage match. When his mother sets up a meeting with Bisma, he is shocked with her open honesty and the way she gets him, even if she says she’s not interested in him. When he is selected for a school academic championship, he asks Bisma for help researching his topic – a topic everyone else has cautioned him against. But working with Bisma makes him feel like nothing else does and it might just mean he has to reevaluate his other goals too.

More Than Just A Pretty Face is Syed M. Mason’s YA debut and I really hope he sticks with it, as I would love to read another YA contemporary novel from him. He has such a great way of capturing the characters’ voices and bringing them to life. The situations are almost ridiculous – people don’t treat their family that way, right? – but it is so ridiculous it feels entirely true and hits home. The teens in this book struggle to balance their faith and personal values with the ideals and standards of the world – something that brings conflict into their relationships with friends and family. Danyal is open about his faith, but can’t quite relate to the more devout devotion his friend is showing.

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Book Review: It Came From the Sky

It Came From the Sky – Chelsea Sedoti – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 August 2020

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Synopsis

This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.

Only…there were no aliens.

Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town―it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon’s obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?

My thoughts

Well that was a whole heap of fun. Great plot – tick. Interesting premise – tick. Unique (diverse representation) character voice – tick. Writing style that mixes character narration with document files and interviews with other characters – tick. Laugh out loud funny and with a touch of lgbt romance – tick tick. Seriously It Came From The Sky has it all and is an enjoyable, make-you-smile kind of story.

When a science experiment causes a larger than expected explosion and creates a massive crater on their family farm, Gideon and his brother Ishmael decide to create the most epic prank/sociology research experiment by trying to convince their town that the crater was caused by aliens. Neither of them expect how big the hoax gets, drawing attention nationally and having far reaching consequences.

I loved so much about this book. It’s easy to read – the narrative is all written from Gideon’s perspective broken up by files, text conversations, interview transcripts and other asides. The book is meant to represent Gideon’s research case notes, but it makes for some funny insights.

While the plot is fun and there is never a dull moment as the hoax gets wilder and more complex, my favourite thing about It Came From the Sky is the characters.

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Book Review: Accidental

Accidental – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 7 July 2020

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Synopsis

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

My thoughts

What would happen if you discovered you were the reason your mother was dead? That’s exactly what Johanna learns in Accidental. It’s a heartbreaking novel about family, death, grief, uncontrollable emotions, huge letdowns, and broken relationships, yet it is also about learning to breath again, hanging onto those friendships, mending relationships and letting go of others, about making a difference, fall in love and even making out.

Jo has always missed her mother, but respected the boundaries her grandparents have put in place – no talking about her, no photos, no memories. They put their life on hold to raise a granddaughter. But when Jo’s father suddenly appears in her life and tells her that she accidentally shot her own mother, Jo’s life is upended. Not sure what to do, not sure what to believe, Jo relies on her friendship and growing relationship with new student, Milo, to navigated the complex emotions she is feeling.

Gut punch comes to mind from the emotions in this book that feel so big and real. The roller coaster Jo rides from before she knew to the absolute devastation she feels after discovering the truth of her mother’s death is compelling. It’s messy and complicated. There are also so happy times. I loved the friendship she has with Leah and Gabby. Those two friends are there for her and even when they hit hard times, they stick together. Jo, despite everything she’s going through is a decent friend. All three girls must learn how to cope and support each other.

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