Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

Drowning Is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley

Drowning is InevitableThis is the heartbreaking tale of a 17-year-old girl named Olivia. Her teenage mother (Lillian) committed suicide just three days after giving birth by walking into the Mississippi River in the middle of the night. Olivia’s grandmother, who she lives with, suffers with dementia and thinks that Olivia is actually Lillian. Many of the townspeople draw similar comparisons between daughter and mother and it feels like they’re just waiting to see if Olivia will suffer the same fate as her mom when she turns 18.

Fortunately for Olivia, she has a strong group of friends who are more like family than her own kin. We’re introduced to a boy named Jamie, who is Olivia’s closest friend along with Maggie and Max. Each friend has their own share of life problems. Max is Olivia’s on-again, off-again boyfriend who struggles with alcohol issues. Maggie is a bit of a wild child who just wants to have a relationship with her absentee mother. Jamie has major struggles with his father who is a violent alcoholic.

Jamie has had enough of his uncontrollable father and upon a violent confrontation, the father is killed. This leads to Jamie and Olivia fleeing their small Louisiana town with help from Max and Maggie. They escape to New Orleans, where they seek to find a way out of their problems while hoping that no one recognizes them as wanted fugitives.

The writing in this book is excellent and is an interesting look at the complexity and richness of the relationships we have with one another.

– Mark

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Wonders of the Invisible World by Christopher Barzak

Wonders of The InvisiableSome families have a few skeletons in their closets, but Aiden Lockwood’s family really takes this to another level. The book starts out with 17-year-old Aiden who is going through life in a bit of a haze. His childhood memories, in particular, are hard to recall until the return of a friend that he hadn’t seen in many years. With his friend’s help, Aiden starts to piece together memories from his past. Memories that lead to strange dreams and a mysterious voice that calls to him.

Aiden’s mother turns out to be a central figure in his memory block. As she gradually lifts the veil that has been clouding his mind, he learns of mystical powers inherited from a family of seers and psychics. He’ll need all of these special abilities once he discovers the source of the curse that was placed on his family long ago. A curse that insures the men of the Lockwood family will all meet death before their time.

Some elements of this story I enjoyed very much, and some I did not. For the most part, though, it was well written and the tangled web of family history with all its secrets and tragedy came together in a satisfying conclusion.

– Mark

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Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Did you Ever Have a Family by Bill CleggLong-listed for the Man Booker prize before it is even published, Bill Clegg’s debut fiction describes a portrait of a family and one that is built in the wake of loss.

On the day June Reid was to celebrate her daughter’s marriage, a terrible accident occurs, killing her daughter, son-in-law-to-be, ex-husband, and her current boyfriend, Luke. As the only survivor, how can she move on after such a devastating loss?

Told from the varied perspectives of those around the tragedy, their voices give insight into the history of this small town and helps put the pieces into place that wouldn’t have connected otherwise.

Central to the story, is Luke’s mother, Lydia, whose poor life choices have always made her an outcast in the small Connecticut town where everyone knows your business. Although, Lydia and June were friends before the tragedy, Lydia doesn’t know how to be there for June whose loss is even greater than her own.

June, numb and empty with no reason to stay, takes a road trip across the country finally stopping at a motel her daughter once visited.

June and Lydia both had rocky relationships with their children and we are shown in glimpses the roads they travelled to repair those relationships and we feel the heartbreak in their realization that those repairs can never be complete.

Can these two women move past their mistakes, find forgiveness and healing, and build something resembling a family?

A heartbreaking, yet inspiring read that will be on everyone’s reading lists this fall.

– Amy

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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! – by Jonathan Evison

Evison_Chance_HC_Jkt_Mech.inddAt first glance you might not think that reading about Harriet Chance, your typical American senior citizen coping with the inevitable issues of old age, would seem like an exciting premise.

But hold on to your hats dear readers, because the snappy en pointe wit of Jonathan Evison’s writing draws you in as soon as you pick up the book! When Harriet finds out that she is the recipient of a cruise to Alaska she unknowingly begins the journey of a lifetime. This absorbing, sentimental, yet dramatic story weaves back and forth through time, starting with Harriet as a baby and continues on through present day, highlighting the important events and people that shaped who she was and who she was to become.

Guided by the spirit of her late husband Bernard, the plucky heroine finds herself reminiscing on key life episodes that are as much about love as they are about despair, regrets, and unanswered questions. As Harriet navigates between past and present she acknowledges the truism that hindsight is indeed 20/20. By the end of the tale Harriet finally musters the courage to forgive and be forgiven and it is then she finds peace at last.

I was utterly beguiled by this delightful and imaginative story. Everything about the plot, characters, and dialogue was a true delight. You too will be smitten with the story of Harriet Chance and the kaleidoscopic whirlwind of her life dished out in game-show style snippets. If you love the heartwarming style and panache of Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Berg, don’t miss this charming winner!

– Susan

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Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything by Nicola YoonEighteen-year-old Maddy Whittier lives her life in a bit of a bubble. This can be a cliché for some people, but for Maddy, it’s much more than that. SCID is the acronym for “Severe Combined Immune Deficiency” and victims of this dreadful disease must live in isolation from the outside world for fear of germs and contamination that can lead to death. This describes Maddy’s world where she lives at home with her mother, Pauline (who is also her doctor) and Carla, her long-time nurse and friend.

Maddy seems resigned to a lifetime of books, movies, and board games in her sterile but safe home. Her over-protective mom dotes on her and there’s no denying the deep love they share. With the death of Maddy’s brother and father many years before (in a horrible car accident), they are understandably each other’s whole world. That is until a new family moves in next door and Maddy’s curiosity is piqued by a teenage boy she watches from her window. His name is Olly and his family life is a mess, mainly due to an abusive father who torments the family with ugly fits of drunken rage.

Maddy and Olly’s window to window communication leads to online chatting and they quickly develop romantic feelings for each other. These feelings are brand new for Maddy and now the illness she had learned to tolerate becomes a bitter torment that’s keeping her from a life she now wants to experience more completely. There’s plenty of conflict for Maddy as she risks her health and safety trying to break free from her fearful mom and find the courage to face the outside world. Be ready for a significant plot twist that will have a large impact on all the characters in this well-written YA novel.

– Mark

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Voyagers: Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale

Voyagers Project AlphaEarth is running out of fuel in this fast-paced and exciting sci-fi adventure geared towards middle grade readers. The only option left is to travel into deep space where the discovery of an alternative energy source can save the planet. Engineers have created a revolutionary propulsion system that allows a ship to travel to the far reaches of space. But here’s the catch, only children 12 and under can safely withstand the physical strain of the journey due to the time travel element of the propulsion system.

This starts a worldwide search to find the best possible astronauts for the mission. As the field narrows to eight, the children compete in a series of tests to determine the four voyagers who will be chosen for Project Alpha. The competition is headed up by Commander Phillips, who guides the candidates through the series of tests which make up the first half of the book. The competitors are four boys and four girls, all from a variety of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and skills.

Once the four are chosen and trained, they begin their mission aboard the Cloud Leopard spaceship, traveling to planet J-16 to search for the first element of the needed power source. This is where the real adventure begins and failure is not an option. Several interesting sub-plots develop, one of which is what happens to the four contestants not chosen for the mission.

This is the first volume of a six book series, all written by different authors that will be released over the course of a year. The book also contains coded clues at the bottom of certain pages, giving the book another level of interest by taking those clues and going online to crack a cipher that unlocks additional information about the story.

– Mark

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A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise by Alex Sheshunoff

Beginners Guide to ParadiseYears ago, Calgon had a very successful ad campaign for bath products that featured the slogan “Calgon, take me away!” Many of us have humorously chanted that now ubiquitous catchphrase (and still do!) dreaming of our own island getaway. Reality check – In his delightful memoir, Alex Sheshunoff tells us that sometimes the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

After experiencing severe burnout running a Manhattan-based Internet start-up company, Alex suddenly decides to chuck it all and buy a one way ticket to the Pacific Islands. With no immediate plans beyond trying to figure out how much luggage to take, he is pretty much up for anything that comes his way.

In a humorous and self-deprecating style, the author outlines his search for nirvana in sound-bite chapters.  After spending much time island-hopping and trying to navigate his way around various culture clashes, Alex soon discovers that finding Paradise is harder than he expected. His experiences are more Gilligan’s Island…. Sandals Beach Resort, um… not so much.  As you follow along on the seemingly never-ending voyage you can’t help but admire his cheerful tenacity and determination. Not once does he give up chasing his dream, and just when he considers waving the white flag and buying a ticket home, does he find his ultimate happiness in a very surprising way.

Globetrotters and armchair travelers alike will enjoy sailing along with the author on this fantastic soul-searching journey.

– Susan

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The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

9780425271810Fans of historical fiction will want to check out this engrossing novel about New York society in the 1880’s which features an unforgettable cast of characters and the glittering backdrop of old world Manhattan.

The story revolves around the lives of Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie. Both accomplished graduates of the Women’s Medical School, it is their daily mission to aid and comfort women with exemplary professional and personal skills. Both doctors face obstacles that would be unheard of in today’s society, but were a very real threat at that time. Anna struggles to prove herself a competent surgeon in a field dominated by patronizing authority. Sophie, who is of mixed race, has her own struggles as she endures the constant disapproval of people deeming her unworthy of carrying out a noble profession.

You’ll be highly entertained as you follow these fascinating heroines while at the same time learning a great deal about daily life in early America. Parallel plots concerning female reproductive rights and a family’s relentless search to locate two missing orphans will no doubt open your eyes to the challenges that were front and center during this time period.

Combining a successful and satisfying mix of historical, romantic, and mystery fiction, this novel will ring true for a multitude of readers and will showcase once again the talents of a writer at the top of her game.

– Susan

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Dead Boy by Laurel Gale

Dead BoyCrow Darlingson is dead. He knows this because of the maggots, rotting flesh, decaying body parts, and the stench. What he doesn’t know is how he died and why he’s still hanging around at home with his overprotective and clingy mom.  She homeschools her eleven-year-old boy and rarely lets him go outside or have contact with anyone but her.

One day, new neighbors move in and we meet Melody Plympton, who is about the same age as Crow. Both lonely for a friend, the pair quickly bond during late night meet-ups in their adjoining back yards. Melody has a fascination with all things magical and becomes convinced that some sort of a curse is responsible for Crow’s ‘dead but alive’ condition.

Venturing out to a local park one night, they stumble across an abandoned storage shed. Inside they find a creature that is somehow strangely familiar to Crow. After escaping the shed, he presses his father for details of his death and learns that a wish-granting mythical beast called a Meera was indeed responsible for bringing him back to life.

Thus starts a quest for the new friends to challenge the Meera and try to pass a series of tests in hopes of having their wishes granted. It’s not so easy, as they soon find out, and wishes don’t always turn out the way they’re intended.

I found this story somewhat sad in the beginning, but it really pulled me in as I began to root for the friends to pass each of the tests they’re presented with. There are some interesting themes and morals tied into the wishes and overall this was a unique and enjoyable tale.

– Mark

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Purity by Jonathan Franzen

purityI am the first to admit that I have not read Franzen before now. With all of the hullabaloo that usually surrounds his books, I was always a little leery and wondered if they lived up to the hype. However, I like to keep an open mind about these things so I took the plunge to read his latest endeavor.

Right out the gate, I will say that Purity will be this summer’s Goldfinch, which means that it is a long and complicated novel, full of many characters, plot twists, and intricate details. The book has a lot going on, so it may be too heavy (literally and figuratively) to be your beach read, but once you get started you won’t be able to put it down.

The title character, also known as Pip, is a 20-something troubled soul trying to find her purpose in life while simultaneously wondering how to pay off her staggering student loan debt. If only she could locate her long lost father who (by her mother’s account) is very well to do, her problems would be solved. Unfortunately, her mother refuses to reveal who Pip’s father is so she is left to her own devices to try to find him. Thus begins her bizarre and somewhat unlikely odyssey.

One surely cannot discredit Franzen’s writing chops and it can be assured, this novel takes you on a strange, manic, and crazy ride. It is not for the faint of heart, and can be quite brutal and even dismal in parts. Yet an inexplicable curiosity (or madness!) will keep you soldiering on, if for nothing more than to cheer on Pip and her never-ending hope of finding what she is looking for.

– Susan

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