Thursday, February 27, 2014

review: reconstructing amelia by kimberly mccreight

From the first pages, Reconstructing Amelia was amazing. The book opens with a glimpse into the life of a high school student named Amelia, then quickly turns to the perspective of Amelia’s lawyer mother, Kate. Kate had Amelia while in law school, but didn’t let a baby slow her down. Although she fiercely loves her daughter, Kate’s also dedicated to her job which she will come to regret after Amelia’s apparent suicide. Kate grieves hard, but then finds something new to dedicate herself to when she receives a text stating that Amelia didn’t jump. Kate learns that Amelia’s death was barely investigated and there was plenty going on in Amelia’s life that Kate was clueless about.

Although Amelia dies almost as soon as the book starts, Kimberly McCreight alternates between Kate’s present-day narration and the final days of Amelia’s life as told from her perspective. There are also a few flashbacks to when Kate got pregnant for good measure. It was wrenching to learn everything that happened to Amelia and all that she kept from her mother. When it all unfolded, I was stunned by the entire truth of these characters.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, HarperCollins.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

review: the sweetness of forgetting by kristin harmel

With her divorce still fresh, Hope is struggling a bit. She’s running the family bakery which has taken a hit from the economic downturn, her preteen daughter is being a bit of a brat, and her grandmother has Alzheimer’s. In a moment of clarity, Rose asks Hope to find out what happened to the family she left behind during World War II. Hope’s a bit confused though—the family has a Jewish surname which differs from Rose’s maiden name. Not to mention that Rose attended a Catholic church. Although Hope doesn’t feel she should take time away from saving the bakery, her daughter insists she must follow Rose’s wishes. That leads to Hope uncovering huge secrets about Rose’s past while also finding her own future.

The Sweetness of Forgetting’s plot is excellent and the inclusion of recipes from Hope’s bakery was fun, but the portrayal of Hope’s daughter was annoying. It’s been a while since I was Annie’s age, but I, like, didn’t say “like” each and every sentence. There’s actually an amusing moment where a retired teacher corrects Annie, but she continues to say “like” (and “whatever”) all the time.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

review: heartbeat by elizabeth scott

Heartbeat was heartbreaking. Emma goes with her stepfather Dan (her dad died when she was young) to visit her mother in the hospital after school every day. But the thing is, Emma’s mother is dead. Her body’s being kept alive because she’s pregnant, but not far enough along for the baby to be born. Emma is incredibly pissed about the situation. She and Dan used to be close, but now she believes he only cares about his son. And for Emma, it is always “Dan’s son” never “my brother.” Emma has a really great friend to lean on, but it’s not until she starts talking to bad boy Caleb, who’s doing community service at the hospital, that she really starts to move past her anger and grief.

The portrayal of the relationships between all the characters was so realistic—Elizabeth Scott did an amazing job creating people with shades of gray. Emma and Dan aren’t perfect, but they aren’t evil either. The emotions of the characters really come through too. I couldn’t help but cry as Emma and Caleb and then Emma and Dan shared their grief with each other.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

review: fire by sara b. elfgren & mats strandberg

After finding out they were the Chosen Ones in The Circle, the five surviving girls are still at work to stop the apocalypse in Fire. As the school year starts, they discover their principal (who they learned was part of the Council in The Circle) has been ousted and the new principal will be implementing the new Positive Engelsfors movement into the curriculum. The Chosen Ones think the movement is stupid, but their classmates and a number of the adults in the community embrace it which isolates the girls further. As it turns out, the Chosen Ones have good reason to be wary of Positive Engelsfors.

As with the first book in the Engelsfors trilogy, Fire starts with a lot of unnecessary information. Fire would’ve been amazing if it started at Part Three as that’s where the action really picks up. Instead there’s a lot of background about the Positive Engelsfors movement (which does play a huge role in the plot, but much of the setup could’ve been eliminated) and what’s been going on in the lives of the Chosen Ones. Another issue was how many characters are in this lengthy novel. The Circle suffered from the number of characters in it and Fire introduces even more. Making matters all the more confusing, the girls switch bodies at one point. Yet Fire is better than The Circle. The latter third of Fire really shows just how high the stakes are for the Chosen Ones and the entire town of Engelsfors.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Overlook.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

review: the unwelcomed child by v.c. andrews

The latest title released under the V.C. Andrews name is a standalone vaguely reminiscent of Flowers in the Attic. The Unwelcomed Child is about a girl raised by her grandparents who have kept her captive in their isolated home. While the grandfather seems sympathetic (and later is revealed to be just that), he caves to his wife’s demands that Elle be severely punished for the circumstances of her conception which Elle’s mother claims was rape. But now at 15, Elle is gaining some freedoms including going into the woods by herself. That’s where Elle meets a set of boy/girl twins who skinny dip in the lake. They quickly befriend Elle and are shocked to learn how she’s been treated.

While the horrific child abuse of previous Andrews novels remains, the over the top drama is toned down in The Unwelcomed Child; one can imagine the plot here actually happening. The Unwelcomed Child is a bit horror-lite though as the abuse comes from Elle’s retrospective telling. By the time she’s 15, Elle has figured how to make it look like she’s obeying. As such, The Unwelcomed Child becomes more of a novel that explores a teen experiencing the world for the first time while also learning her own history.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

review: accused by lisa scottoline

The latest in Lisa Scottoline’s Rosato & Associates series focuses on Mary DiNunzio, who becomes partner as the novel opens. As Mary and Bennie discover, it’s a bit of a struggle to split the power, but they’re working on it. Mary’s first big assertion of power is to take on a 13 year old client with a trust fund. Allegra believes the wrong man was convicted of murdering her older sister despite the fact that he pled guilty and has never appealed. The others at the firm think Mary’s a little crazy to take on the case, especially since Allegra’s parents oppose it and reveal that Allegra’s been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder related to her thought processes. Even so, Mary’s determined to find out who really killed Allegra’s sister.

The actual case was very interesting, but Mary’s personal life was distracting. Right after she makes partner, her long-time boyfriend proposes. This leads to lots of drama surrounding the planning of the wedding as Mary and Anthony have very stereotypical Italian families. Most annoyingly, everything Mary’s father says is written in caps lock to show how loud he is. Thankfully, the focus is on the case which has some red herrings and exciting twists. It was also touching to see Mary, whose first husband was murdered, bond with sweet Allegra.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Monday, February 3, 2014

review: the first true lie by marina mander

Young Luca has worried for some time about becoming an orphan. He considers himself a half-orphan because he's never met his father. His fear of eating soup in an orphanage and being separated from his cat seems irrational, but then his mother dies in her dead. Luca really is an orphan. But he continues to go to school and buy groceries with money found in the apartment, so no one catches on (at least for the length of the novella). The story had great potential, but The First True Lie takes place almost entirely in Luca's head and Luca is kind of a brat.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Hogarth.

review: the circle by sara b. elfgren & mats strandberg

After the apparent suicide of a classmate, six high school girls are brought together by an unknown force. The school janitor is their confused leader for there’s only supposed to be one deemed Chosen and if it’s a Circle, there should be seven. Eventually the girls learn they’re being hunted by an evil force that’s killing them, but the authors of the first book in the Engelsfors trilogy take a long time to get there. Most of The Circle is filled with standard high school antics as the girls party, have sex, and fight with their parents. They also discover their magical abilities which some use for personal gain to the extent of dire consequences. With incredibly slow development of the plot and six main characters, The Circle was hard to get into though it picked up once the girls learned of doppelgangers and the evil in their town.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Overlook.