Life in Clearhaven is all Hanna has ever known, so her father’s four wives and her fourteen siblings are normal to her. In Clearhaven, all the young men leave town, and the girls, at age 18, marry men old enough to be their fathers. In one week, Hanna will be 18, and she’ll take her place as the fifth wife of a wealthy man.
Then Hanna meets Daniel, a boy her age who makes her question her life in Clearhaven and what she wants for herself, and her mother tells her a secret—one that Hanna can scarcely believe. Hanna doesn’t want the life she sees around her, but is she strong enough to leave behind the sister she adores and the only life she’s ever known?
Clearhaven and its customs creeped me out on a lot of levels. I know there are communities/cultures like this, but I don’t want to have anything to do with them. However, they are vividly portrayed in the book, and the characters leap off the page with startling intensity. Hanna is both easy to relate to—her love for her sister, her confusion over what she wants from her life—and mysterious. I rooted for Hanna for the entire novel, eager for her to escape the future laid out for her and grasp her fate in both hands.
Three years ago, sisters Emma and Cass disappeared one night, leaving no trace of where they’d gone—or why they left. Then Cass shows up at the family home, alone. She tells a story of kidnapping and being held on a mysterious island against her will, and is desperate for the police to find Emma.
But forensic psychologist Abby Winter sees holes in Cass’s story, and it will take delving into her own past to uncover the truth hidden behind a narcissistic mother who twisted the lives of her daughters until they no longer knew the truth. Only Abby can find Emma, because even Cass doesn’t know the true story.
Emma in the Night is not a happy family tale. Not in the least. Cass and Emma’s family is troubled, controlled by their narcissistic mother, an expert at twisting things to get what she wants. There are so many twists in this story! While I knew Cass wasn’t telling the whole truth—there are little signs of that—I had no idea what the truth actually was. The author does a great job of drawing the reader in and bringing them along for a ride filled with unexpected twists and turns.
Wendy Walker is a former lawyer who now writes psychological thrillers. Emma in the Night is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Jillian Eldridge has lived next door to Max Holden for years. They grew up together, going through life as friends who just happened to live close. But lately, they haven’t been so close. Not since Max’s dad had a stroke, and Max took a dark detour as he struggled to deal with the way his life has changed. When Max climbs through her window one night, lost and looking for a friend, Jill just can’t turn her back on him, and her dad catches them kissing.
Jillian knew it was a terrible idea even before her dad caught them. Max has issues. And a girlfriend. But the lost look in her friend’s eyes made her forget all of that. Her parents are fighting all the time and she has a new sibling on the way, so Jillian needs someone she can turn to. She’s not sure Max is the right person for that, but she’s not sure she can resist finding out.
A lot of people think YA books just deal with romance and popularity contests, but that just isn’t the case. Kissing Max Holden does have romance, of course, but it deals with deep issues: family tragedy, troubled marriages, hard decisions. Jillian is a great character, driven and determined, who faces obstacles to her dreams that she never imagined. Max is struggling with almost losing his father and the immense changes in his family, and he copes by turning to things he knows he shouldn’t. Max and Jillian help each other with the battles they face, as their friendship turns to something more. Sweet with the spice of adversity, Kissing Max Holden is a great read that will keep you turning the pages long after you should be sleeping (ask me how I know).
Griff and Dylan—Thomas, like the poet—are almost back from vacation with their parents when the unthinkable happens: a horrible car wreck kills their parents and injures Griff. Now the two boys are alone in the world and struggling with grief and tragedy. Dylan is just worried about Griff, who’s not dealing well with their reality, and Dylan must make sure his brother gets through this in one piece.
When an aunt and uncle they’ve never met offer them a home in Wales, the boys end up in a world they’re not used to, still reeling from the loss of their parents. Griff bravely starts to adjust to their new reality, but he’s not the only who needs to be brave: Dylan has to face up to something if he’s ever going to embrace his own reality.
So. This book. This book. It’s sad, I’m not going to lie. I expected that, but I did not expect the wrenching sadness of both boys, and Griff’s horrible grief. The brothers are so different, and yet the same, and the memories threaded throughout the book—the nearest faraway places—are poignant and make the reader aware how great the boys’ parents were. The writing is strong and evocative, pulling the reader right into every single emotional moment. This is well-worth reading.
Half Moon Hollow is your typical small town: high school football on Friday nights, everybody knows everybody else, and the town crazy to torment just because. Will Fletcher used to be married, a father, and a veterinarian. Now he is none of those things. Instead, his severe bipolar disorder has him living with his sister and trying to forget the trauma of his past. But when a fifteen-year-old orphan shows up, claiming she’s his daughter, Will’s world is turned upside down.
Regan Whitmer is running away from her abusive stepfather and her mother’s suicide, looking for family. Will wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but Regan wants to put the shame of her past behind her, and forge a new life and a new family. Can Regan and Will overcome his mental illness as they learn what family truly is?
The Rules of Half deals with a tough topic—mental illness—in a way that makes it understandable and sympathetic, instead of eliciting judgment and disbelief, reactions that are far too common. The stigma of mental illness is alive and well in Half Moon Hollow, but Regan and Will move past that as they learn how to love themselves and those around them. This book is truly eye-opening, an up-close look at the experience of mental illness, that will draw sympathy from the reader, as well as more awareness. I highly recommend it!
Tatum Elsea is not looking forward to summer. Accused of a crime—falsely—she’s under house-arrest with her less-than-loving stepmother while her father is out of the country. Tate is only allowed to be at home and her court-ordered community service, unless her stepmother approves it. Like that’s going to happen. So, Tatum starts a secret graphic design business, which leads to an email flirtation with a cello-playing client.
With her feisty step-grandmother in town, Tate starts to realize that maybe her way isn’t the only way, and soon she learns she’s not the only one in the family keeping secrets. Will Tate be able to use her new perspective to fix her relationship with her best friend and turn her family around? Then there’s the cello player…
I finished reading It Started with Goodbye in less than 24 hours. This is a fun, light read, but it delves into some deeper issues, like taking responsibility for your actions, healing relationships, and honesty. Tate grows a lot through the course of the book, and the author captures her growing pains vividly and emotionally, letting the reader see through Tate’s eyes and experience that awakening along with her. I loved how Tate’s relationship with her stepmother and stepsister evolved, and her step-grandmother is perfect; feisty and fun but not irresponsible. The email exchanges with the cello player are a cute finishing touch.
If you like young adult books, I highly recommend this one. It deals with some deep topics and isn’t just a fluffy romance.
Gabe’s family runs a funeral home, so she knows about death and the truth about life: everything ends. Gabe has embraced her reputation and her Wednesday Addams-vibe, complete with vintage clothes and an I-don’t-care attitude. Her best friend, Bree, is all she needs, someone who understands the weirdness of her life and loves her anyway.
But when Bree starts dating a boy who is the epitome of everything Gabe—and Bree—has hated for years, she wonders if the really knows the truth, or if she knows Bree at all. The only one she can turn to is new boy Hartman, who doesn’t know quite what to make of Gabe, but who gets Gabe out of her shell anyway. Driving a hearse to prom will change Gabe’s life more than she ever imagined.
All the Forever Things is an enjoyable read. Gabe is a character I both loved and sympathized with, and her faux pas and missteps made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Her friendship with Bree broke my heart, and made me hope everything would work out for the two of them, and Hartman is a wonderful contrast for Gabe. If you love young adult books, definitely pick this one up.
Five Months ago, Stephen Porter’s wife died mysteriously in a car crash on the side of a mountain. Tonight, his 17-year-old daughter, Sara, calls in the middle of the night, crying hysterically, stranded on that same mountain in a blinding snowstorm. Stephen just went to sleep after binge drinking his wife’s death from his mind, and he knows he’s in no shape to drive. But he has no choice, so he sets off to bring Sara home.
Kieran O’Shea is also out in the snowstorm: to bring his autistic brother, Aidan, home. Kieran is all Aidan has, but Kieran is afraid that he’ll lose Aidan if anyone ever finds out about the voices in his head. Then there’s the three murdered women… Soon Stephen and Kieran are on a collision course with disaster, one that will bring dark secrets to life, and reveal the truth of Stephen’s wife’s death. Sometimes, there are no easy choices.
This was a hard book to read. It isn’t easy. There are no clear-cut “good” guys or “bad” guys. You’ll feel sympathy for every single character…but disgust and probably anger as well. In the end, Fatal Option is about choices, and how they change us.
Min Jin Lee is the award-winning author of Free Food for Millionaires. Her newest novel is Pachinko.
Sunja is the daughter of a desperately poor Korean family in the early 1900s. To her mother’s shame, she ends up pregnant and unmarried: Sunja didn’t know the father was already married, and walked away from him when she found out. A young minister offers to marry her, and they move to Japan before the baby is born.
Pachinko follows the life of the family as they live as Koreans in Japan. Ostracized and despised, the family struggles to find hope and success amidst prejudice and poverty. Forever despised because of their ethnicity, Sunja’s family retains their pride despite the obstacles they face.
Pachinko is not an easy book to read. The tales of the war and the havoc it wreaked in Japan are horrible, but so are the atrocities faced by Koreans living in Japan during the time, some of who were actually born in Japan but are still identified as Korean and discriminated against. The writing is a vivid description of the poverty-filled life faced by Sunja and her family, but also a moving description of love and strength beyond imagining. I highly recommend this.
Katie Mirowitz isn’t very big, but her love for her grandfather is. After suffering a stroke, he can no longer talk, but Katie’s relationship with him is still a bright spot in her life, as her family struggles to keep things together. Then Katie finds her grandfather’s old journal, full of tales of a creature from myth. She also finds a key. So Katie sets off into the woods in search of the creature, desperate to have her wish granted, a wish that will save her family.
Clay Tongue isn’t very long, but has plenty of room to draw the reader into Katie’s tale. Katie’s just a kid, but her view of the world is bigger—and far more clear—than the adults in her life. Her love for her grandfather is fierce, as is his for her. There is magic in the pages of this story; magic both large and small, as well as love, hope, and vision.
(Galley provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.)