These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

these-shallow-gravesJo Montfort is a beautiful young woman whose family is among the social elite of New York City.  She is about to graduate from finishing school and is very likely to wed Bram Aldrich, one of the most sought-after bachelors in high society.  Yet, she isn’t sure that is what she truly wants.  Jo longs to be a writer.  She wants to be an investigative reporter like Nellie Bly, though she knows her family would never approve.  But then, something happens that makes Jo question everything she knows about her family.  Her father is found dead in his study — an apparent gun-cleaning accident.  But Jo knows that her father knew better than to clean a loaded gun, and there are other details that just don’t quite add up.  Will her penchant for investigative reporting and a new friendship with a young reporter, Eddie Gallagher, help her uncover the truth?  Or will Jo’s desire not to upset her family and social order get in the way?

Fans of Donnelly’s A Northern Light will not be disappointed…  I think this story was even better, and I absolutely *loved* ANL!  I also recommend this to fans of Anna Godbersen’s Luxe series and people who enjoyed Manor Of Secrets.  If you like stories of scandal set in the Guilded Age, you definitely need to read this book.

Happy Reading!

It’s All Your Fault by Paul Rudnick

its-all-your-faultWhen I saw that this book was going to be published, I requested it from my local library without even reading the description.  (Seriously.)  Gorgeous was one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read, and I just knew that this book would be the same.  PRO TIP:  Laughing out loud when someone is trying to read something else in the same room and constantly interrupting what they are reading to share the funniest parts — of which there were, apparently, far too many — is NOT a good idea!  (I am trying to convince my husband that he should read this book now that I am done with it, but he seems to think I probably gave away “half of the story, or at least all the best parts” and doesn’t need to bother.  His loss!) 😉

Caitlin Mary Prudence Rectitude Singleberry (aka Catey) is, and always has been, a good Christian girl.  She attends church regularly, is homeschooled by her devout parents, and performs in her family’s Christian band The Singing Singleberries.  She WAS looking forward to attending college in the fall and eventually settling down with a good Christian boy to start a family of her own… but her entire future is now in jeopardy.  She is not usually one to blame anyone else for her own actions, but she is adamant that none of this would have happened if not for her crazy cousin Heller.  That’s right, the girl’s name is HELLER!  And, as far as Catey is concerned, Heller might very well be Satan in corporeal form.  Heller is a wild and crazy teen star who has gotten so out of control (a la Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan) that her mom begged Catey to come to New York City and act as a chaperone of sorts during the premier weekend of YA book-to-movie blockbuster Angel Wars.

Since the book opens up with Catey listing out all of the crazy/illegal things she did during the previous 48 hours, and mentioning that she is currently in jail, it is easy for readers to side with her from the start.  Heller may have been cast to play an angel in that movie, but she is far from an angel in real life.  I like how the story alternates between the past and the present to slowly reveal what happened (over that weekend and four years prior, when they girls parted ways).  This book takes readers on a wild and crazy ride that runs the gamut from uproarious, to heartwarming, and and everything in between.

Happy Reading!

You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

you-were-hereHigh school graduation is often a time filled with celebration and excitement.  For Jaycee, though, graduation day dredges up feelings of anxiety and depression.  Why?  Because her older brother, Jake, died on his own graduation day.  Jaycee doesn’t know how to handle the fact that she will now, officially, be older than Jake ever was.  Though his death came as the result of a daredevil stunt gone wrong, Jaycee finds comfort in emulating his behavior.  Instead of seeing Jake’s death as a warning to be more careful, she finds herself repeating his stunts in an attempt to channel his spirit.  Jaycee expected to take this journey alone, but she ended up with a motley crew of [former?] friends who also needed to make their peace with Jake’s death.  Guided by Jake’s urban exploring journal, Jaycee followed both literally and figuratively in his footsteps and finally discovered that it’s possible to let go of grief without letting go of her loving memories.

I appreciated getting parts of the story directly from the perspectives of different characters, like Jaycee’s childhood BFF Natalie.  But, more than that, I enjoyed the different storytelling techniques that were employed — like the pictures of the poems Bishop crafted in his sketches and graffiti or the graphic novel panels that told the story of Mik, who refused to speak aloud but whose actions spoke for him.  McCarthy did a fabulous job of showing how the death of a loved one can alternately tear us apart and build us up stronger than before.  I recommend this story to readers who enjoyed See You at Harry’s and Before You Go.

Happy Reading!

Nerve by Jeanne Ryan

nerveWhen I read Need, I couldn’t get over the sneaking suspicion that many of today’s teens would probably be all too tempted to complete random tasks to win prizes without considering the implications of their actions.  The fact that the tasks were done anonymously seemed like a perfect way to convince people to participate…  But, then I read this book.  And it made me wonder if the quest for fame might be a better way to snag this generation.  With reality TV being as popular as it is, and with  many teens already sharing nearly everything they do on various social media platforms, this book struck me as entirely too plausible.  My only complaint?  I wish I hadn’t started this book when I was so tired.  It nearly killed me to put it down and to wait to finish it the next day!

Just imagine a majorly popular reality TV show that accepts “audition” videos from anyone who wants to seek both fame and fortune for completing dares of increasing difficulty.  Viewers all assume that the show is being televised, so things must be on the up-and-up.  I mean, they couldn’t possibly get away with running a reality TV show that really puts people in harms way…  Could they?  Vee sends in her audition on a whim, basically to prove to herself that she can.  And, when her audition garners enough attention that she is offered a space in the competition, she decides to try it out.  She figures she will just compete for a little while and get some cool prizes before quitting.  But, then she gets swept up in the momentum of the competition.  Before she knows it, she is in over her head and she isn’t sure whether there even IS a way to get out while she’s ahead.

Happy Reading!

Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson

violent-endsThis book was a haunting read.  Any book about school shootings strikes fear into my heart, being that I work with kids and have children of my own, but this one was particularly eerie.  I know I’ve read books before that gave harrowing depictions of the different perspectives of characters experiencing a school shooting — like This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp.  But, what makes this book stand out from the crowd is that it provides the perspectives of many different characters’ interactions with Kirby Matheson [the shooter] in the days, months, and even years leading up to the shooting.  The author explores a variety of relationships people had with Kirby, effectively highlighting the many clues that were missed or ignored.

When compiled in a story such as this, it becomes rather obvious that the young man was struggling with anger and depression and that someone should have stepped in; that an intervention may have been able to prevent this tragedy.  But, as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  I can only hope that readers will take this book to heart and apply the information garnered to recognize if and when the people around them are struggling with anger and depression.  If we can increase the chances that people will recognize someone in need of help, we can increase our chances that we can get people the help they need before they resort to violence.  For more resources, check out the CDC’s page on Injury Prevention & Control: Division of Violence Prevention.

Happy Reading!

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

hello-goodbyeClare and Aidan are high school sweethearts who are about to head off to college. Though they care for [and maybe even love] each other, they aren’t sure whether they should try to stay together after they move 3000 miles apart — with Clare attending Dartmouth and Aidan attending UCLA. Starting college and learning to live away from their homes and best friends will be difficult enough, but trying to maintain a relationship without sacrificing the authentic college experience seems impossible… At least, to Clare it does. She is bound and determined to spend their last night in town revisiting all the places that had significance in their relationship so that they can say goodbye with enough closure to move on. Aidan still isn’t sure he’s willing to give up on their relationship. But will one last night provide him with enough time to change her mind?

Heartbreaking at times, but with plenty of moments of levity, this book is a roller coaster of emotions. Though I enjoyed Smith’s other books — The Geography of You and Me and This is What Happy Looks Like — I found that they were a little bit of a stretch. This story is a much more realistic scenario and I think it will likely resonate with more readers. If you’re unfamiliar with Smith’s books but enjoyed romances by Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han, you should definitely check out Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between.

Happy Reading!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

salt-to-the-seaI couldn’t believe how shocked I was when I read Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray.  I mean, I had taken a world history class with “in depth” unit about WWII and didn’t really know much of anything about what Stalin had done — nor had I even heard of the [Soviet] Holodomor (roughly translated to “death by hunger”) that rivaled the well-known [German] Holocaust.  After reading Between Shades of Gray, though, I felt like I had a much better grasp of WWII history…  And then I read this book.  How is it that there is yet another major piece of WWII history that has flown under the radar for so long?!?

Before reading Salt to the Sea, I had never even heard of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.  I was stupefied to learn that OVER NINE THOUSAND people died in this tragedy.  Prior to reading this book, I would have been willing to bet that the Titanic and the Lusitania were the two largest maritime tragedies of all time.  Even when you combine the death tolls of those two ships, nevertheless, they only account for about a third of the losses of the Gustloff.  I wish American ethnocentrism didn’t extend to history classrooms in which *world* history is being taught, but it seems pretty evident to me that the anti-Germany sentiment surrounding WWII and the lack of American passengers aboard the ship have both contributed to a lack of American attention.  People from all walks of life [civilians, refugees, and soldiers] and of all ages [from babies to senior citizens] were aboard that ship.  It was a tragedy of unbelievable proportions.

Thank goodness Ruta Sepetys!  With her well-developed characters and gripping plots, Sepetys is providing readers with compelling stories that will also spread awareness of these previously unknown tragedies.  Who knows?  Maybe her books will even lead to better coverage in future history textbooks and classes.  I can only hope that the multiple points of view provided by this particular story will resonate with readers and finally bring much-deserved American attention to the great number of lives that were lost in the Baltic Sea [almost exactly] 71 years ago.

Happy Reading!