The Maidens by Alex Michaelides is a psychological mystery. Mariana is struggling through the loss of her husband after his disappearance a year ago, when her adopted niece Zoe calls for help. Zoe’s college friend was brutally murdered. Mariana is a group therapist, and she has a particularly challenging patient whose obsessive and attention seeking behaviors have been unsettling to Mariana and to his treatment group. It seems like a good time to get away for a bit.
Mariana travels to Cambridge to support Zoe, and in doing so, she becomes involved in the investigation. Her top suspect is the adored and handsome young Greek professor who is followed by a group of beautiful, wealthy students dubbed the Maidens. The Maidens are the professor’s alibi, but the evidence against him is stacking up. Especially when two more girls are killed.
Throughout he story we read snippets of the killer’s letters which show his abusive background and psychological instability. Readers must decide if the letters are written by the professor, Mariana’s patient, or someone else. Mariana stays with the investigation until finally confronting the actual killer in a surprising twist.
Genuine Fraud by e. lockhart is another of my daughter’s recommendations. Nothing is quite what it seems in this wild story. The chapters are numbered sporadically in order to gradually build Jule’s story, which starts with her being tracked by a private investigator.
Spoilers: It isn’t until the very end of the book that we find out that pure chance brought Jules in contact with a vivacious, wealthy young woman named Imogen. Jules latched onto Imogen, and bathed in her attention and friendship. She became part of her social circle. Things start getting creepy when Jules reveals her obsessive feelings toward Imogen.
All is seemingly fine so long as nobody questions Jules’ motives. Readers begin to realize that Jules will stop at nothing, even murder, to get what she wants. This quick review only touches on the intriguing and crazy events of this book.
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos is Nova’s story. Nova is autistic and mostly nonverbal.
Nova and her older sister Bridget have spent most of their lives in and out of various foster families. They are between families when Nova is taken in by the West family. It seems that Bridget has run off with a boyfriend, but promised Nova that she would return to watch the Challenger take off. Nova is extremely interested in everything to do with space travel, and it is a special bond shared between the sisters.
The story follows Nova’s adjustment to a new school, friends and family. Each chapter is followed by Nova’s letter to her sister which essentially recaps the events in her voice (this was a bit redundant for me). Nova has always been underestimated and misunderstood because of her disability, but now she has a supportive family and an appropriate school placement on her side. Bridget is the only missing piece.
Spoiler: Events countdown to the ill-fated Challenger launch. The aftermath of the launch forces Nova to face the fact that her sister will never come back. This is a touching story that can build empathy and understanding about autism.
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King is a trippy, young adult read. Lucky Linderman just completed a very challenging ninth grade year. His story slips among the events from his past school year, present time and his dreams. Lucky’s lucid dreams started when he was seven years old, following a promise to his dying grandmother that he would find and return his POW/MIA grandfather. His grandfather went missing during the Vietnam War. Lucky’s dreams all involve finding and connecting with his grandfather, but he is never able to bring him home. He does bring home a memento from each dream.
After years of bullying coming to an ugly head, Lucky’s mom decides it’s time to get away. The escape is due to Lucky’s latest encounter with his almost lifelong bully, but it is also due to the strained relationship between Lucky’s parents. Lucky and his mom go to spend a couple weeks with his mom’s brother and sister-in-law in Arizona. Lucky grows from this experience in all the right ways: physically, mentally and emotionally. He creates interesting relationships with his aunt and uncle and a beautiful neighbor with her own baggage. The ants are a metaphor for people’s problems; ultimately everyone has them in differing degrees. Lucky is finally able to figure out how to confront his problems.
This story was unique with strong character development, and it left me with many questions relating to Lucky’s dream states.
Wrong Alibi by Christina Dodd tracks Evie aka Petie’s attempts to keep her true identity hidden while planning revenge against the man who ruined her life.
Evie was just beginning probation following time in juvenile detention before getting what seemed like a dream job. The job turns into a nightmare when her employer, Donald White, frames her for the murder of a mother and son. Evie manages to escape during a chance accident while being transported to her life sentence in prison. She becomes Petie and starts working for a remote fishing/wildlife service in Alaska.
Petie is able to reconnect with her mother and sister, while also making important contacts. Her connections to a powerful businesswoman along with help from an unexpected ally allow her to finally face the elusive Donald White, who is now attaching himself to her mother.
It was an okay read.
Exit by Belinda Bauer follows the events of a botched euthanasia case. The Exiteers are a small group of carefully trained men and women who bring an easeful death to those in need. Felix and new recruit Amanda are Exiteers on scene when the wrong man is euthanized. Ailing father Skipper was supposed to be killed, but instead his son Albert dies. This leaves Albert’s son Reggie, new Exiteer Amanda (who also happens to be Reggie’s girlfriend), and their housekeeper as possible suspects. This prompts a steady plot to figure out how/why the mix up occurred.
The story transitions between Felix’s and the police investigator’s points of view. Felix tries to make amends by getting to know the intended “patient” Skipper and conducting his own investigation of sorts. Meanwhile, the police are trying to track down the Exiteers and motive which unravels an entire gambling racket.
This was a slow, steady read for me with well-written characters and events.
Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain is a parallel story taking place during two time periods.
In 1939, Anna Dale wins a mural contest and is assigned to paint for a post office in the small town of Edenton, North Carolina. Some town members are irritated that an outside woman got the job instead of their own resident painter, Martin Drapple. Some also don’t care for Anna’s progressive ways such as wearing pants, working in the warehouse at all hours of the evening, and using a black teenage boy as one of her volunteer assistants.
Meanwhile in 2018, Morgan Christoper is able to get an early release from jail after a vehicular manslaughter charge if she agrees to restore an old, mysterious mural (Anna’s) with a very strict timeline. Morgan begins to realize that the painting is far more special than she could ever have imagined. Of course, there is much more depth beyond my quick summary. Both Anna and Morgan need to overcome some major setbacks in their respective lives.
The author artfully 🙂 weaves these stories together, which kept me interested from start to finish.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson was a pleasant surprise from next year’s Nutmeg nominee list, reminiscent of The Freedom Writers with a twist of The Breakfast Club.
Haley is about to begin seventh grade, yet the story follows her memories of sixth grade. She was part of a small specialized class with only five other students: Amari, Holly, Ashton, Esteban, Tiago and their teacher Ms. Laverne. Their teacher decided to give their class time alone in an unused Art classroom every Friday to build connections with one another. This was a very successful experiment. Haley brought in her recorder and each student took turns sharing his/her stories.
Students share their experiences with racism, police brutality, jail and immigration. The students support each other and forge an unbreakable bond. Harmonic convergence is defined in the book as “when people come together and they all care about the same things…all that energy together can shift a whole planet” (140-1). This feeling is a powerful entity in the story, promising what we can accomplish with time, care and attention to others.
The Chain by Adrian McKinty is a page turner that I sped through in just over a day. This book plays into one of every parent’s worst fears: losing a child.
Rachel is a single mom who has already had her fair share of trials in life when her fourteen-year-old daughter Kylie is kidnapped. This rockets her into a horrifying web known as The Chain. Now Rachel must pay a ransom and kidnap another child to continue the process. Only when the next link is completed will the kidnapped child be safely returned to his or her parents. Getting the police involved or trying to outsmart the rules in any way will result in everyone’s death. Rachel reaches out to her former brother in law and ex-Marine Pete for help. Readers follow the entire horrifying process by switching perspectives between Rachel, her daughter and Pete.
The trauma of the experience makes it impossible to truly overcome even after it’s supposedly over. Rachel wonders if she can break the chain and its cycle of events?
I’m finally back at it, and looking forward to getting my hands on as many books as possible this summer!
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling takes readers into thirteen-year-old Aven’s story. Life can be quite challenging for Aven as she was born with no arms. Her adoptive parents have pushed her to be self sufficient with the day to day tasks of eating, dressing and the like. Her biggest challenge is getting others to see and know her beyond her disability. This becomes extremely true when her family moves to Arizona to take over a failing tourist spot named Stagecoach Pass. She must start in a new school while adapting to their new setting. There is a lot to figure out about Stagecoach Pass and how her family ended up there.
Aven stays true to herself which allows her to befriend Connor, a boy with Tourette’s, and an overweight boy (forgetting his name). These friends support each other to be brave and to step outside their comfort zones. In the midst of their growing friendship is their work on solving the mystery of Stagecoach Pass, namely figuring out who the unseen owners (the Cavanaughs) really are, and more importantly, where they disappeared to.
This is a sweet story of overcoming obstacles, the necessity of kindness and the power of friendship.