Two Quick YA Reviews: “Fog” by Caroline Cooney and “The Twisted Window” by Lois Duncan

I recently got two creepy, YA suspense thrillers from Net Galley. These are the type of book that I loved to read when I was in middle school! Both were re-releases from Open Road Media – thanks, Open Road and Net Galley for my copies!

“Fog” is the first in a trilogy by Caroline Cooney (who has apparently over 100 books for teens; the one I know best: “The Face on the Milk Carton”). In this story a group of Maine island teens leave their homes to attend school on the mainland. Creepy and disturbing things begin happening and one girl, Christina, fights against the evil. Who will win?

When I started “The Twisted Window” by Lois Duncan I knew it seemed familiar. I had actually read it in the 1980’s. Lois Duncan is a masterful storyteller with all sorts of YA titles to her credit, most of them scary and/or supernatural thrillers. In this one, Tracy Lloyd befriends the new guy in school and gets involved in helping him get his supposedly kidnapped sister back from his stepfather. As a kid, Duncan was always one of my favorite authors as her stories are well-plotted and paced.

Review of “Skinny: A Novel” by Diana Spechler

In August I downloaded a Kindle “freebie” from the “Top 100 Free” on Kindle (note: looks like this is no longer free). “Skinny” is the story of Gray Lachmann, who becomes a compulsive eater after her father’s death. Gray has a life in NYC and a boyfriend, but leaves them to work at a weight-loss camp down south. The reason: the young girl she suspects of being her father’s illegitimate daughter is attending. Gray is determined to meet and befriend this young girl and come to know her father and his secrets in the process.

One thing I really liked in this book was the interesting cast of characters. As I was reading, I would think: you can’t make this stuff up, and I think I was right as Diana Spechler did work in a weight-loss camp at one point in her life. The issues surrounding food, the extreme personalities, the bizarre and unique yet strangely lovable campers, and even Gray – an unlikable protagonist – all were aspects of this book that made me come back to read it each day.

While initially I would have suggested this book for teens and higher, there are some sexually explicit scenes and situations in this book that in my opinion make it more for adults. Great book for opening a discussion on eating disorders, IMHO.

Review: “Cascade” by Maryanne O’Hara

I heard great things about this novel, so I knew I needed to read it. Then I saw that the author will be speaking at the Concord Bookstore next week, so I knew I had to buy it since the wait list at the library was soooo long. I read it last week and just loved this compelling and thought-provoking novel!

“Cascade” is the story of Desdemona Hart Spaulding, an artist in the 1930’s, who has married for comfort, not love, and who feels too confined in her hometown of Cascade, Massachusetts. Dez’ father has owned and ran the town’s Shakespearean theater, but he passes away at the start of the novel, leaving the theater to Dez’ husband, Asa, the town’s well-respected pharmacist. As the story starts, Dez has befriended a local travelling salesman, the Jewish artist Jacob Solomon. Dez dreams of leaving Massachusetts with Jacob and going to New York to draw and be free. Her husband, of course, has other ideas. Behind this storyline is the back story of the town itself: Cascade is being considered for demolition so that the state can create a water reservoir for the people of Boston. The townspeople, led in part by Asa, are trying to save their town, and Dez uses her art as a way to help the cause. Will the town be spared? Will Dez’s feelings for Jacob lead to actions she may regret? Will she stay forever at home with Asa or become the artist she feels she is capable of being?

I just loved reading this book. It is beautifully written with a well-paced, well-plotted story. The symbolism of the river and the damming of the river tying in to emotions and the release of emotions and feelings really spoke to me. While I loved this story, I didn’t love Dez. I thought she was extremely self-centered and self-serving. However, Dez’s actions, as well as Jacob’s, seemed fairly true to life to me. Sometimes the people you hold most dear disappoint you.

I loved, loved, loved it —

I also loved the cover!!

And this is a great You Tube book trailer:

YA review: “Celtic Run” by Sean Vogel

I received “Celtic Run” as a Net Galley digital download. This YA book (geared towards grades 5-8 I would say) tells the story of Jake McGreevy, a teen on a school trip to Ireland. Along with him on his adventures are Julie (the friend he has a crush on), Zach (class bully and Julie’s boyfriend), and new Irish friend Maggie. Jake is a gadget expert and enjoys tinkering with things, which comes in handy throughout the novel. Early on in the story, Jake finds what turns out to be a clue in a treasure hunt. Enter the “bad guys”, and Jake and his friends need to work together to outwit the bad guys and find the treasure (which would not only be noble, but could come in handy to both Jake – whose father was recently severely injured – and Maggie – whose father has lost his job). There is one adventure after another with non-stop action and character development as Jake and hsi friend seek to solve the mysteries and find the treasure first!

I really enjoyed reading this book. I read a lot of YA and children’s and found it refreshing to deal with a story where the kids were typical but the problems were not overly disturbing and intense. In my opinion not too many people are writing books like this these days: contemporary kids whose problems are surmountable. I will be recommending this one for my children’s elementary school library! I could see this as a fun movie for kids – a bit like “Goonies” or the old “Apple Dumpling Gang”. Some of the action was a bit fantastic and the crooks were very “crookish” if you know what I mean, but I like it. It reads as if it may be the start of a series. Just a note – this author’s bio was one of the most interesting I’ve come across!

Thanks, MB Publishing and Net Galley, for my copy!

Review: “A Thin, Dark Line” by Emma Elliot

Received from Net Galley, “A Thin, Dark Line” is a romantic suspense story (I don’t read too many of those!).

Eloise Carmichael is a small town librarian. She hires Cormac O’Malley as her handyman, however, there is one big hitch: Cormac is the town’s “bad guy”, having just returned from jail and serving time for murder. Eloise, however, knew Cormac as a child, and believes he is honestly good (though he is quite up front that he really did commit the murder).There is a lot of small town history/back story regarding Cormac’s mother and the town politicians. When Eloise starts to dig into the past, one of her former co-workers is found murdered at the library. The bodies begin to stack up, and fingers start to point at Cormac. Will Eloise’s faith in him be supported? Or will she be the next victim?

I enjoyed reading this novel, which I got as an ARC from Net Galley. I loved the character of Eloise and the relationship she had as a single woman with her best friend and her best friend’s children. Eloise and Cormac’s relationship built slowly and I appreciated that there weren’t glowing, romantic descriptions of them looking perfect. They weren’t perfect and they both knew it, and that made them all the more likable.

If you like romantic mysteries, then you will probably like “A Thin, Dark Line”. Thank you, Net Galley and The Writer’s Coffee Shop, for my copy!

Quick Kids’ Review: “Pets at the White House” by Jennifer Pickens and Barbara Bush

I received “Pets at the White House: 50 Years of Presidents and their Pets” as an AR digital download through Net Galley. My children and I enjoyed looking through this book at all the wonderful photographs of former (and current!) Presidents and their beloved pets who have lived at the White House. There is a particularly well-developed section on the Kennedy years which had the dearest pictures of Caroline and JFK, Jr. as children with their many pets. Informational text is included, along with quote from many First Ladies about the role of pets in their lives. This was a keeper!

Thank you, Net Galley and Fife and Drum Press, for my copy!

Review: “The Widow of Saunders Creek” by Tracey Bateman

Through “Blogging for Books” I received a free copy of this book to review. “The Widow of Saunders Creek” tells the story of Corrie Saunders, a young woman recently widowed when her husband dies serving his country in Iraq. Corrie returns to her husband’s hometown and to the home they own and had planned to restore. Her husband’s family is still learning to accept her into the family and tensions are a bit high. Jarrod’s (her husband) cousin Eli, who is also a preacher, helps Corrie with work on the house; but as time progresses Eli worries that he is beginning to have feelings for his cousin’s widow. Meanwhile Corrie is still battling her grief and feelings of loss and begins to believe that Jarrod’s spirit is dwelling in their house. Will Corrie ever be able to move on with her life? And just what is going on in that house??

I have to say – I enjoyed reading this book, which combined dealing with grief, romance, and Christian elements. I found the supernatural aspect (the ghost in Corrie’s house) an interesting addition. Corrie dabbles a bit in local folklore and “craft” by trying to have a séance. She is guided by Eli to a relationship with Jesus. In some ways, this happened rather quickly and easily in the book (one minute she’s having a séance and the next she’s calling on Jesus). I also never quite figured out what the spirit in the house was, though Eli certainly thought it was a demon.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy Christian romances and would not be bothered by the discussions of witchcraft/occult in the book.

Thank you, WaterBrook Press, for my copy!