Then and Always by Dani Atkins

atkins_thenandalways_pb1Book – In Then and Always: A Novel, by Dani Atkins, Rachel Wittshire  seemed to have it all: a drop dead gorgeous boyfriend, a close knit group of best friends, and a promising future heading off to college.  But then  tragic accident shatters everything, leaving the lives of Rachel and her friends changed forever.

Rachel was left physically affected by the incident; unrelenting painful migraines and memories plague her constantly.  Five years later, Rachel’s life has continued but she never moved on from that night.  When a wedding forces her to return to her old hometime, Rachel must face the path she left behind whether she wants to or not.  A fall lands Rachel in the hospital, and suddenly she wakes up to a new reality that forces her to question everything she thought was true.

This novel deals with memory in a way I’d hadn’t experienced in a novel before, and it was a really intriguing read.  It’s a simple story, but there was plenty of drama and a touch of romance to keep my attention.  It’s about loss and moving on but also the age old question of What if? What if you could change the past?  Is it ever too late to start anew?  I would recommend this to anyone who wants a more lighthearted mystery/amnesiac drama with a romantic interest.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Cover Image - The Woman in Cabin 10Book – Lo Blacklock, a journalist, lands a plum assignment to travel and report on the maiden voyage of the boutique, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora. Two days before her scheduled departure for the trip around the Norwegian fjords, Lo’s apartment is robbed while she is home asleep after an evening of drinking. The event triggers her anxiety and panic attacks, for which she has been formerly diagnosed and treated. Nonetheless, she is determined to take advantage of the opportunity the cruise offers in the hopes of getting a promotion. When Lo boards the boat, she discovers their are 10 cabins and a crew devoted to the passengers’ comfort. However, as she soon finds out, the guests may not be who them seem to be and it’s hard to get help when you are out at sea. One night, after dinner and drinks, she returns to her cabin and thinks she hears a body fall into the water. She reports the incident, but no one believes her and everyone seems to be accounted for. Lo’s panic, drinking and confusion kept me guessing about the outcome of this suspenseful tale. I’m certainly not in any hurry to take a cruise on a small ship after reading this book! Ware also wrote In a Dark, Dark Wood.

 

Being Jazz: My life As a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

being-jazzBook – Before reading this memoir, I was only vaguely aware of the existence of Jazz Jennings.  I remembered a picture book titled I Am Jazz, featuring a transgender young girl and was intrigued to read a more in depth story of that little girls’ life and experiences growing up.

Being Jazz: My Life As a (Transgender) Teen chronicles author Jazz Jennings experiences growing up as a transgender girl.  Jazz’s story was initially featured on 20/20 with Barbara Walters at a time when there was little information or public support for transgender individuals.  She would continue to shine in the public spotlight throughout her youth through countless interviews, her personal youtube channel, a reality television show on TLC, a documentary, and a children’s picture book.  One of the youngest and most prominent voices in the discussion of gender identity, Jazz shares her trials and tribulations from childhood to young adult in this coming of age memoir about growing up transgender.

Many reviewers were dissatisfied with the writing in this memoir–wanting a more detailed, mature, and eloquent writing style, rather than the words of a fifteen year old teenager.  For the most part, I actually found Jazz’s voice to be surprisingly refreshing and well-worded.  I felt that her writing was very easy to read, and understandable, especially for the targeted audience: teens and young adults.

As a whole, I really enjoyed this memoir.  It was easy to follow, intriguing, and has a unique perspective.  It’s remarkable that Jazz was aware of being transgender–before even fully realizing what that word meant–at such a young age and her memoir makes me curious to read the stories of other transgender youth.

To learn more about the experiences of other transgender youth, check out: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin.

 

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman

150110425X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – There’s a building in Brownsville, Texas, one of the poorest cities in the country, where something terrible happened. A lot of terrible things happen in Brownsville — right on the Mexican border, it’s a center for drug trafficking as well as immigration, both legal and not, and the usual urban crimes born of poverty and desperation — but this was bad enough that the whole building lies under its shadow.

This isn’t the usual kind of true crime book, and if you try to read it that way you’re going to be disappointed. The facts were never really in doubt. In the spring of 2003, John Allen Rubio, with the assistance of his common-law wife, horribly murdered his three children. The oldest girl was only three years old. Less than a day later, they both confessed to the police; Rubio believed the children were possessed. Or maybe, he admitted when questioned, it was the spray paint he’d been huffing.

But Tillman isn’t telling that story as much as she’s telling the story of the community in which that crime occurred. What did the neighbors think of John and Angela, both before and after the murders? What was it like, to be them, to live in their world? And if John truly, sincerely believed that the children were possessed when he killed them, does that make him not guilty by reason of insanity? What if he had schizophrenia? What if he had brain damage from long-term drug use, or a low IQ from his mother’s long-term drug use? If the state of Texas executes him for his crime, what does that say about us, and the world we live in? And can the community ever come to terms with what happened? Tillman doesn’t offer answers to these questions, but she asks them with care, and I think they’re important ones.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

17668473Book-It was a dark and foggy night. Gretchen Müller was in the car with her brother and friends when a Jew was seen walking across the street not too far ahead. Without warning, Kurt decides it speed up in order to hit the Jewish man. When that attempt failed, the boys left car with the sole purpose of beating the man to death. Why? Because to Gretchen and her friends, Jews were evil people. That is what Adolf Hitler told them and ‘Uncle’ Dolf would never lead them astray. Hitler was the man who took Gretchen and her family in after her father was killed saving Hitler’s life. They owed him everything.

But that night, instead of reveling in the idea of taking out the cancer of Germany, Gretchen found herself really looking at the Jewish man. His eyes were full of terror as he was about to be attacked by two members of the Nazi party. Going against everything she was taught by her parents and Hitler, Gretchen ran after the boys in order to stop them.

That night was the first small step on a journey of self-discovery that Gretchen goes on throughout this book. She takes her next step when a young Jew tells Gretchen that her father did not die to save Hitler’s life, he was murdered. In her pursuit of the truth, Gretchen learns some startling facts about Hitler and his party. Now she has to decide if her loyalties truly lie with Hitler and her family or Daniel, the Jew.

You can find Prisoner of Night and Fog on the Lincoln Award Shelf and on the Lincoln Award Kindle. Once you read it, check out the sequel Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

18782854Book – A. never knew he had an eccentric millionaire uncle in America until his uncle died, leaving him an eccentric old mansion in America — with, as Edith Wharton says, supernatural enhancements. There’s the ghost in the second-floor bathroom, of course, but she’s nothing compared to the mysterious notes and encoded messages scattered around the house, the nightmares plaguing our narrator, or the growing implication that maybe A.’s uncle didn’t commit suicide after all. The mysteries only grow deeper as A. and his friend Niamh begin to uncover the details of the secret society centered around their new home.

The Supernatural Enhancements is told in an unconventional style – letters from A. back to Europe, transcripts of audio and video recordings, and conversations from Niamh’s notepad (she’s mute). This has the potential to get confusing, but I found that the story flows pretty seamlessly for the most part (except for a few places where it’s obviously meant to be confusing). More importantly, this gives the reader the chance to figure out some of the puzzles at the same time as the characters, if you’re inclined to that sort of thing. Me, I’m happy to let the characters do the hard cryptographic work for me, but if you like puzzles and ciphers, this is a great book for you.

Bitch Planet Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

1863e34a261397f597644526b51444341587343Graphic Novel – Kelly Sue DeConnick was sharply criticized for her recent transformation of the Marvel character Captain Marvel. In a response to some of those criticisms DeConnick created Bitch Planet. It is a graphic novel series in a society where men extremely prosecute women’s actions. Express your opinion too vocally, go to Bitch Planet. Disagree with your husband, go to Bitch Planet. Become overweight, go to Bitch Planet!

In this first volume DeConnick provides the reader with small amounts of information into the main characters. Penny Rolle is the only character with some backstory. It is of a troubled childhood, her dislike for people who try to change her, and how she feels about herself. Other characters are introduced with minimal storylines. With this being just the first volume I was left with a lot of questions at the end.

One of the main storylines of this volume is centered on forming a team to play a sport similar to rugby. It has only been played by men and they would be the first women team. The reward, if they survive, could be freedom from Bitch Planet.

There are several reoccurring visuals and themes requiring deeper analysis. They include the race issue present throughout, lack of women’s rights, the sexualized image of women, the role of a patriarchal religion, and more. The style of the volume is based on the 1970’s women prison and Blaxploitation films. There is a lot of nudity, violence, and blood. If you do not like this type of thing I would not recommend you read it. If you do and want something that will engage the current landscape of society then this one is a must read.

The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis

414uoB117lL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Nina Borg has a kind heart and is passionate about her work as a Red Cross nurse and social worker that tries to assist refugees. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children. One day Nina receives a call from her friend Karin begging her for a favor. At first Nina is reluctant, but the friend sounds desperate. So Nina goes to the train station and retrieves a suitcase from a locker. What she finds inside is a naked 3 year old boy who has been drugged. As she decides to tell the police, she notices a man kicking the empty locker in rage glaring directly at her, so fearing for her own and the boy’s safety she panics and runs. Nina tries to get a hold of Karin for an explanation, but discovers that she has been murdered.

Nina is a likable character, but her need to help others surpasses her family and personal obligations. But you have to admire her protectiveness of the boy, because soon it is apparent that there are three parties seeking the child – the mother, the kidnappers, and the man who paid for the boy to be abducted. The boy can reveal very little, because of his age and he only speaks Lithuanian. This fast paced thriller gradually reveals the motivation behind the abduction and it’s probably not what you think.

This is the first book in the “Nina Borg Mystery” series, followed by Invisible Murder, Death of a Nightingale, and The Considerate Killer.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

dietlandBook- At the beginning of the book, Plum Kettle feels like a very familiar type of protagonist: a ghost writer for the advice column of a preteen girls’ magazine, Plum Kettle is a meek, neurotic fat woman who aspirationally buys beautiful clothes in a size she has never been and is waiting for her ‘real’ life to begin after she has her much-desired weight loss surgery. Plum’s plans are derailed, though, when she notices a mysterious woman following her and gets embroiled in an underground community of feminist women who live life on their own terms. Plum agrees to run a gauntlet of challenges set by the mysterious woman, designed to expose the darker side of becoming desirable according to mainstream standards and to dissuade Plum from weight loss surgery.

Plum’s personal growth story occurs against the backdrop of a world beset by the machinations of a fictional home-grown terrorist group known as “Jennifer,” which targets those who dehumanize women in a series of violent vigilante strikes. Naturally, this story intersects with Plum’s and the roots of the terrorist group are eventually revealed.

This satirical novel will appeal to feminists, dystopian enthusiasts, and fans of dark humor.  With a premise like this, it would have been easy to be too didactic and moralizing, but Dietland keeps the tone refreshingly breezy, though with a very strong bite.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover_ravenboys_300Book Series – Richard Gansy III is the scion of a privileged Virginia family, the prep school princeling golden boy with the impossible, magic dream.  Ronan Lynch is rage and sharp edges under a thin veneer of skin, sneering at the world through the window of a muscle car.  Adam Parrish is the impostor in their midst, hiding his accent and his bruises as he works three after-school jobs to pay his own tuition.  And Noah Czerney is… around, usually, if you don’t think about him too hard.

They are the Raven Boys, high school students at prestigious Aglionby Academy, and local girl Blue Sergeant–a passionate activist growing up in a house full of psychic women–hates them all on principle.  Until she meets them, anyway.  Until she gets to know them.  Until she is drawn with them into an impossibly high-stakes mythic quest that will transform them from five teenagers into an unbreakable brotherhood, wielding ancient and unimaginable powers, facing down curses and demons and kings.

I read the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, a little more than a year ago.  While I did find the characterization exceptionally well done, I was ultimately neither disappointed nor inspired.  But I’m so glad that I picked the series up again when the fourth and final book arrived in April (Book 2: The Dream Thieves; Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Book 4: The Raven King), because book two hits the ground running and doesn’t let go.  By its later chapters, The Raven Cycle became a reminder for me of what really good fiction feels like: its magical ability to transform the world and make the reader genuinely believe and care about its characters and plot, its potential to be fresh and original and at the same time seem like a story you’ve always known.  I devoured the last book in a day, and feel both bereft and energized now that it’s done.

TL;DR: If you like fantasy fiction even a little, read these books.  And if you like audiobooks even a little, try them that way, because we offer the whole series through both Overdrive and Hoopla, and narrator Will Patton knocks it out of the park.