by Katherine Howe
First sentence: “How long must I wait?”
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Review copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Content: There is some mild swearing, and talk of sex, but nothing actual. It’d be happy in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I might put it in Teen (grades 9+) so I can get the adult crossover.

Colleen Rowley is a senior at St. Joan’s Academy, a high-profile, all-girls school in Danvers, Massachusetts. Everything is going great… mostly. Colleen is a tenth out of valedictorian position, something which stresses her out because her college acceptance to Harvard (only one of many Ivy League schools that have wait-listed her) is hinging on her senior year academic performance. She’s not the only one under pressure; all of her friends and many of her classmates are as well.

And then something strange happens: Colleen’s classmates, one by one, succumb to a mysterious illness that pulls them out of school. Some develop Turette’s Sydrome-like tics, others loose the use of their legs; still others’ hair is falling out. It’s an epidemic. Except Colleen, spurred on by some anonymous texts, is suspicious. And when she starts looking into the real events behind The Crucible, which they’re studying, especially Ann Putnam’s story, she finds that there is possibly a connection to what’s happening in Danvers now, and what happened in Salem back then.

Told in alternating storylines, Howe gives us both the story of the girls of St. Joan’s and Ann Putnam’s confession about the incident that began what came to be called the Salem Witch trials. She doesn’t spell things out for the reader; instead, she trusts our intelligence and in our ability to draw parallels between the two stories. And although the characters — especially Colleen and her friends — are quite sympathetic, it’s finding the parallels and solving the mystery that fascinated me most about this book.

Unfortunately, the ending didn’t hold up to the rest of the book. Howe kind of goes off into muddle-land, and doesn’t hold up to the suspense that the book built. Even so, it wasn’t enough to completely kill the book for me (it was more of a “HUH?” moment). And it’s made me curious about Howe’s adult books, which is a good thing.

The Road Home

by Ellen Emerson White
First sentence: “On Christmas morning, Rebecca lost her moral virginity, her sense of humor – and her two best friends.”
Content: This is a book about war, and doesn’t pull any punches. There’s language (with a couple of f-bombs), talk of sex (none actual) and lots and lots of violence. It’s also more emotionally mature. It’d be in the teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore, if it were in print.

This was thrown at me by my wonderful friend Laura, without me knowing much else besides she thought it was really great.

This is the last book of a series about a family (I gathered, not having read any of the others), focusing on the daughter, Rebecca. Her long-time boyfriend was killed in Vietnam and her brother fled to Canada to avoid the draft. So she did the only logical thing: she signed up for a tour. Because it was the 1960s, and because women weren’t allowed to be on the front lines, and because Rebecca has an interest in medicine, she signed up to be a nurse. To say she didn’t know what she was getting into was an understatement. The book follows the second half of her tour in Vietnam, after a horrific event she was involved in, through to her coming home.

It’s taken me quite a while to get through this book, not because it was bad or I was disinterested — neither were true –but rather because it was so emotionally taxing. White knows how to write war. The mundane elements of being out in the field, the stress of the ER when helicopters full of wounded and dying soldiers come in. And then the PTSD of coming home. Especially in the 1960s, when there was so much anti-war sentiment at home. She captured Rebecca’s increasing despair, the difficulty she had in making it through so well, that I was drained each time I picked it up.

That’s not to say there wasn’t hopeful elements to the story: there were. Rebecca makes friends and even has a bit of a relationship But it’s not some miraculous recovery or some “ah-ha” moment. It’s very real, almost brutally so, and very honest.

I found it worth reading (once at least), and while I didn’t love it, I appreciated it. I appreciated the depiction of the soldiers and of Rebecca, and especially of her coming home. It’s not an easy read, but it’s definitely worth the time.

Lifesaving Lessons

by Linda Greenlaw
First sentence: “Confrontation was imminent.”
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Content: There’s some swearing, including a number of f-bombs. Plus some discussion of sexual abuse of an adult and a minor.

I read a few of Linda Greenlaw’s books way back when and although I didn’t keep up with what she was doing, when I found that she was coming to the store for the paperback version of her latest memoir, I snagged at the chance to both see her and read the book.

This one is a memoir of how she became a mother, of sorts. It’s the story of a girl who came to the island from an abusive family, with an uncle who was seen as a savior. That is, until she escaped one night, and the truth came out: her uncle was sexually and emotionally abusing her. It’s not a pleasant story to read; Greenlaw pulls no punches when talking about the abuse. She’s not graphic either, but rather giving us the full emotional heartache that her daughter — and the island — went through because of this. And how she ended up the legal guardian — and eventually feeling like a mother figure — of the girl.

It’s a hopeful book in the end, though. It’s not an easy road, with a lot of ups and downs, but Greenlaw takes us along for the ride in her frank, yet engaging way. I was drawn into her island way of life again, and worked through her problems with her. I wanted things to work out the best for Greenlaw and her ward, and it was that desire that kept me plugging through what usually would be considered Other People’s Problems.

I’m not sure it’s a book for everyone. But I did find the journey interesting.

We Were Liars

by E. Lockhart
First sentence: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.”
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Release date: May 13, 2014
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There were multiple f-bombs and some mild swearing. It’s also a very intense book, emotionally, so be prepared for that. It will be in the Teen section (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore, but I think a mature 13-year-old could handle it.

There is a problem with writing a review for this book. It’s best if you know absolutely nothing going in. Nothing. Nada.

In fact, the back of the ARC says “If anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.”

I will tell you this. Cady is one of the Beautiful Sinclairs, an old-money family in Boston that vacations every summer on a small island near Martha’s Vineyard. Her grandfather is the patriarch of this family but her mother and her two sisters have not really lived up to the family name. Cady is also one of the four Liars: she, her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and Johnny’s mother’s boyfriend’s (Indian) nephew, Gat. Something happened two summers ago, and Cady lost her memory. No, the summer that she’s 17, she needs to figure out what happened.

I will also tell you this: read it. Just read it. Lockhart is amazing. This book is haunting and so gorgeous in its simplicity and so powerful.

I promise that’s not a lie.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

by Gabrielle Zevin
First sentence: “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy is the one that’s being passed around the bookstore staff.
Content: There’s a lot of language, including a handful of f-bombs. I would give it to a bookish teenager, if they expressed interest.

A.J. Fikry is the owner of Island Books on Alice Island (off the coast of Massachusetts), and it’s not something he’s terribly fond of. In the twenty-one months since his wife’s accidental death after an author event, he’s become increasingly more reclusive and cranky. Then two things happen: someone steals his first edition copy of Tamerlane, by Edgar Allen Poe and someone leaves a two-year-old girl on the doorstep of the bookstore. The first is significant because selling Tamerlane was A. J.’s retirement fund. Without it, he’s stuck on the island, running this bookstore, for the unforeseeable future.  The second is significant because it changes his life.

He is a reluctant father, mostly because his wife was pregnant when she died, and he hasn’t quite gotten over the loss. But his daughter, whom he names Maya Tamerand Fikry when he finally adopts her, gets under his skin and the skin of the community. It’s through concern for her (and for A. J. as her father) that the bookstore finds a second life. As does A. J. Through taking care of Maya and getting involved in the community, he finds that running a bookstore isn’t half bad. Even if you sometimes have to sell pulp fiction in order to carry the literary fiction.

It’s really a love song to community and to bookselling, and the connection between the two. And even though I didn’t find it to be deep or meaningful, I did (as a bookseller) relate to it, finding it charming. It was one of those books where you like everything, wanting to live next door to these quirky characters because they’re so interesting. However, it lacked the emotional punch at the end that I think Zevin was going for; I wasn’t even the tiniest bit sad. (Maybe that’s more me than Zevin. Even though I liked the characters, I didn’t feel emotionally connected enough to be moved.)

In the end, though, it was simply delightful.

Audiobook: The Killer’s Cousin

by Nancy Werlin
Read by: Nick Podehl
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Content: There’s talk about a murder and a suicide, a lot of mild language, and one f-bomb. Plus a lot of intense situations. It’s in the teen section, (grades 9 and up) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to an 8th grader if they showed interest.

David Yaffe is a killer. Sure, he was acquitted at trial for murdering his girlfriend, but he knows in his heart that he. is. a. killer. So, even though he’s off to Boston to live with his Uncle Vic and Aunt Julia (and their daughter, Lily) and to start over at a new school, he knows — knows — that things will never, ever be the same again.

It doesn’t help that Vic and Julia have waged a cold war with David’s parents for years, and that Julia (at least) is not happy to have David there. It also doesn’t help that their daughter, Kathy, committed suicide in the attic apartment where David’s currently living. And it really doesn’t help that Lily resents David’s presence. Not because he’s a killer — which is the reason most people can’t be around David — but because he’s an intrusion in her perfect little (albeit warped) world.

I don’t know how this is in print form, but listening to Podehl narrate the book, I was completely creeped out. Especially by Lily. It was one of those books where I was yelling at the CD in the car “NO. SHE NEEDS HELP!!” pages (discs) before the characters realized it. And Vic and Julia? I don’t care if it was the mid-1990s (I realized, at one point, that Kathy was my age, which means Vic and Julia were my parents age), they were horrible, horrible, horrible parents. (So were David’s, for that matter.) The epitome of controlling and judgmental. And there was very little growth arc, for them, at least. (Though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the point of the book.) However, David and Lily, were fascinating characters, and the book is more about their relationship than anything else.

And that had me compelled — even if I thought Podehl’s voice for Lily was a bit on the whiny side — from the first disc to the last.

Audiobook: The Art Forger

by B. A. Shapiro
read by Xe Sands
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: All kinds of swearing, plus some explicit (but not graphic) sex. Definitely deserves to be in the adult fiction section.

Claire Roth is three years out of grad school, and she’s been blacklisted as an artist. It was a bit of a big deal with one of her professors whom she was having an affair with (and who ended up killing himself). But now, when the owner of the most prestigious art gallery in Boston — Aiden Markel of Markel G — comes to her with a Degas — no, the Degas from the 1990 Gardiner heist — asking her to create a forgery of it, she can’t refuse.

Well, she could have. But then we wouldn’t have a story.

This, in many ways, is a story of obsession and compulsion, and because I watch White Collar (which is a quite fantastic show, that) I was already familiar with the idea of how art becomes a compulsion. That said, I still don’t… get it. The depth of obsession, the idea of owning something priceless. It’s just paintings on a wall, right?

That said, I really enjoyed the journey Shapiro took us on. The initial journey of Claire’s painting the forgery, the gradual unfolding of how she became blacklisted, the relationship between her and  Aiden, and the unraveling of all their best-laid plans. Shapiro had a lot of different threads going, and she kept me wondering how they all fit together.

Which does lead me to the end. It all felt too tidy for me. She did manage to wrap everything up with a bit of an idealistic bow (it is fiction after all), and I’m not quite sure I’m satisfied with the way she did that. But that said, getting there was such an intriguing ride, I’m not unhappy I took it.

One note on the audiobook: while Sands was a good narrator — I loved that she did all the voices, though her men all sounded the same — she made Claire often out to be simpering. And that grated on me. Not enough to bail on the book, but I didn’t see Claire as someone who was insecure and simpering. Indecisive and unsure of herself, perhaps. But not simpering.

That’s just a personal problem, though, and only with the audiobook. The book itself was quite fascinating.

Boston Jane: An Adventure

I really liked this book by Jennifer L. Holm. It’s a great girl book. An awkward 11-year-old goes to refinement school in Philadelphia because she has a crush on an apprentice of her father’s and then goes out to Oregon Territory (this is late 1800s) to marry him only to find that he’s abandoned her (because of the time it takes for the mail to get there…). So, she learns to survive. And the beauty of it all is that it’s really, truly believeable (at least to me). You laugh at her, you cheer for her, you want her to succeed. And she does (of course). It’s actually the first in a series and now I’m sorry I didn’t checkout all three at once. I can’t wait to see what she does next.