First Line: Bridget was gone. And Nova was broken.
Summary: In this historical middle grade novel, Planet Earth is Blue follows twelve-year-old Nova, who is autistic and nonverbal, as she adjusts to a new foster family. Nova and her older sister Bridget both love astronomy, but when Bridget goes missing, Nova eagerly counts down the days until the space shuttle Challenger launches, which Bridget promised they would watch together.
This story is really heartwarming. I loved seeing Nova become friends with her special education peers and feel more at home with her foster family. Though Nova is nonverbal, Panteleakos richly conveys Nova’s inner world through her letters to Bridget and flashbacks depicting their relationship. Each letter followed a regular chapter, giving insight into Nova’s thoughts and actions, and the flashbacks intermingled throughout the book perfectly capturing the tone and Nova’s emotions.
Nova and Bridget’s strong relationship made me eager to read what happened, as well as Nova just being a great character. She is deeply imaginative and passionate about space.
The narrative also always treats Nova with respect, and her autism is never framed as weird or a punchline. Panteleakos is autistic herself, and she crafts a sensitive, nuanced depiction. She makes it impossible not to care about Nova.
This book is written beautifully. Its prose is simple but well-crafted. References to space, David Bowie’s lyrics, and The Little Prince are interwoven throughout the book and add depth to the story. All of this builds to heartrending climax and ending. It broke my heart but also filled it with hope.
Planet Earth is Blue is a heartwarming story about finding strength and hope in the midst of tragedy, and Nova is the kind of character that will live in readers’ hearts long after the book is finished.
First line: She’s at Mrs. Ruthie’s house, eating one of Mrs. Ruthie’s peanut butter cookies, staring out Mrs. Ruthie’s living room window and waiting for her parents to come home.
Summary: After the death of her parents, Lo Denham, has spent years trying to find and reconnect with her sister Bea. As Lo was recovering from the accident Bea left and joined The Unity Project. The group preaches love, does charity work and helps out the community. They have slowly been growing but Lo has always been suspicious of them. Then one day a man comes into the office of the magazine she works for. He claims that The Project killed his son. Lo sees this as her chance to expose the group and finally find her sister.
My Thoughts: I wasn’t so sure about this book when I first started it. It has dual timelines with different narrators and time periods. It was a little confusing as the story set out and took a little time to get going. But as Lo learns more about The Project the story gets more twisted. Things start to reveal themselves but like most thrillers, not everything you hear and see is true.
Cults are scary things. As I read, I could easily see how people are drawn into them. They are looking for something or someone to guide them. They want a community. Someone to understand them. But then there is always the dark underside. And the author delivered all this.
I had a hard time rating this book. I struggled at the start but enjoyed the ending. It was worth a read and kept me invested until the end.
FYI: Language, abuse and cults.
First line: Kate sees the familiar nameplate on Dr. Williams’ office door and feels a knot in her stomach.
Kate and Lauren are sisters who recently lost their dad but each of
them has a different idea of who the man actually was. Kate idolized
him. Lauren’s relationship was more distant. Then one night at a family
dinner a woman shows up who claims to be their father’s daughter.
Everyone is shocked by the revelation but none more than Kate. She is
determined to prove that Jess is a liar. Lauren is more accepting of her
which leads to even more discord in the family. As Kate looks deeper
into Jess’s story she finds that not everything is as simple as Jess
My Thoughts: This book kept me reading! I kept
telling myself just one more chapter. One more chapter. I loved the
different viewpoints. I liked that each woman was completely different
from each other. It made the story more interesting because of the
conflict. Little clues and hints appeared throughout. Some were red
herrings. Others were not. I flew through this book with my heart
pounding waiting for the ending.
I do have to say though that
some of the stuff seemed a little farfetched. There were some
overreactions and wild theories from the characters. I rolled my eyes a
few times because it got a little dramatic but it did not stop me from
reading it. I was pleased with the ending. I would highly recommend this
for fans of thrillers and fast paced novels.
FYI: Great for fans of Ruth Ware and Shari Lapena.
Woman 99 by Greer MacAllister
First line: Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.
Charlotte Smith is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco business
man. She is engaged to a respectable man. Her manners and comportment
are perfect. However, her sister Phoebe has fits of depression or
energy. Her parents do not know what to do with her. Their only hope is
to send her to a respected asylum for women called Goldengrove.
Charlotte loves her sister and is determined to get her out of the
asylum. She devises a plan to be admitted to the asylum in order to find
and rescue her sister. When Charlotte arrives at Goldengrove she
realizes that her plan may not be as easy as she originally thought.
My Thoughts: The story took a little while to gather momentum. The first several chapters were devoted to giving a little backstory but once Charlotte enters the asylum everything picks up. Quoting one of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads, “…the chick in this book is cray cray!!” Why do you think that walking an insane asylum is going to be easy. She figures that she can just waltz out with her sister once she finds her. Even though her main goal is to find her sister, she learns a lot about the struggles that women have to face out in the world. She was raised very sheltered and wealthy where these hardships are not shared. I loved seeing her growth.
Most of the story is told through Charlotte’s
thoughts rather than interactions and conversation. This style makes the
reading a little slower but as a reader you can tell that the author
did a lot of research in order to fill out her novel. Everything down to
the specific treatments to the activity at docks in San Francisco.
other women at the asylum though were hands down my favorite part. Each
of them had a story to tell even though we get it in bits and pieces.
Hearing how easily a wife, daughter or sister can be discarded is so
sad. If you wanted to do or be anything other than what was expected you
were clearly “insane”. It makes me want to scream at the injustice that
they faced. And the women that were truly disturbed did not get the
help they needed. Be ready for a look into a cruel world but it will
also give you the feels for how much Charlotte and Phoebe truly care for
each other. I hope that I would do something this crazy for my sister
if the time ever came around.
FYI: Greer MacAllister’s first book, The Magician’s Lie, is phenomenal! Read it. Please!
Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
First line: Serina Tessaro stood on the steps of the fountain in Lanos’s central piazza flanked by nine other girls her age, all in their finest gowns.
Summary: In Viridia girls are not allowed to read, they must be subservient and bend to the will of men. When sisters, Serina and Nomi, are sent to the palace with a chance of being a Grace and her handmaiden, Serina sees this as a chance to take care of her family. However, when the Heir chooses her younger rebellious sister, Nomi, as a Grace instead, their worlds are changed forever. When Nomi breaks the rules, being able to read, and her sister is the one who takes the blame and is sent to the women’s prison on the isolated island of Mountain Ruin. Nomi has to learn to be a Grace while living under the roof of the Superior while Serina is forced to fight for survival.
Highlights: I found this very enjoyable. I would classify it as a dystopian novel. Going into it, I thought there would be an element of fantasy to it. To tell the truth I was fine without it. It was good straightforward story. I liked the relationship between the two sisters. They truly care about each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the other one. So many stories are centered on romance but this was sisterly love. Each sister had their own strengths that sets them apart. The action was well done. Not overly gruesome or gory. The cover art is beautiful. I enjoyed the supporting characters such as Maris, Malachi and Jacana. I am hoping that we get to see more of them as the story goes on. I raced through the ending. It was fast and gave a cliffhanger that leaves me wanting more!
Lowlights: Several plot lines were predictable. There were similarities between other books of this genre. Even with the similarities, I did not feel like I was reading a rewrite of another novel.
FYI: Perfect for readers of The Selection by Kiera Cass and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.
Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.
Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.
“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”
Of course I had to search Newspapers.com (using the link on our library website) to see how Wichita reported the events of the time. It seemed that the who country shut down to help protect civilians from the dreaded flu that was wiping out millions of people.
Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.
FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is set during the Blitz in London during World War II.
Legendary by Stephanie Garber
*This is book 2 in a series! May contain spoilers. Check out my review of Caraval on our blog as well.*
First line: While some rooms on the estate had monsters hiding beneath the beds, Tella swore her mother’s suite concealed enchantment.
Summary: At the end of Caraval it appears that Scarlett and Tella are now safe from their evil father. But this is far from the truth. Tella is entangled in a bargain with a mysterious friend. This friend plans to help Tella find her mother, who disappeared years before, but it comes at a price. Tella must find out the Legend’s real name. However, the truth could bring about the end of Caraval and Legend himself.
Highlights: Once again I cannot help but rave about the beautiful cover! But the language and story make it even more wonderful. I was a little weary about reading Tella’s story when in the previous novel she was a minor character that caused much of Scarlett’s troubles. However, I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed this book than the first one. Tella is a tough girl who does not think that love is anything she is destined to experience. This is quite a change from many YA novels where the girl only wants to find love. She is smart and tricky. She is not scared to get her hands dirty.
I loved the Fates! So creepy and detailed. I was truly terrified of the Undead Queen and her Handmaidens but not more than the Prince of Hearts. Everything about him makes my skin crawl. The addition of these supernatural beings expands and makes the story even more elaborate than Caraval.
That ending! Throughout the story, we follow Tella as she tries to figure out what is real and what is not. I felt like I was slowly going mad along with her trying to piece together all the clues. As we reached the last few pages, I kept wondering if we were going to get another book and we certainly will! I wonder if it will follow Tella some more or expand on another minor character. Either way I am in!
Lowlights: That I have to wait a year for the next book!
FYI: Book 2 in the Caraval series.
Sisters First: Stories From Our Wild and Wonderful Life by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
First line: From the very beginning, before we could walk, before we could talk, Barbara and I were a pair.
Summary: Barbara and Jenna Bush are twin sisters. They are the children and grandchildren of Presidents. As the first daughters, they were in the media spotlight. From being trailed by secret service to dodging the paparazzi they led hectic lives. Through an alternating narrative, the sisters tell stories of their lives. Plus a forward by former First Lady, Laura Bush.
Highlights: I listened to the audio version of this book and I loved it! Barbara and Jenna read it themselves. Hearing their stories from their own mouths was even more interesting. They discuss their most embarrassing moments and their highest triumphs.
The stories of their grandparents and parents were very endearing. I enjoyed hearing that these famous families are still just normal families. I laughed aloud listening to the struggles of Barbara trying to order a pizza. When you have the same name as former First Lady simple things can be a struggle.
My first election I was able to vote in was the 2004 race between George W. Bush and John Kerry. When I first saw this book I knew it had to be one that I wanted to read.
Lowlights: The only lowlight I can think is that by listening to the audio book I cannot see any photos that are included in the book. I have Googled each sister in order to put faces to the stories.
FYI: Listen to the audio book on Libby by Overdrive!
Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart
First line: On the morning of her arrest, Edna Heustis awoke early and put her room in order.
Summary: In the third book of the Kopp Sisters series, Constance, the first lady deputy, strives to find justice for the women that are brought to the jailhouse. These women were arrested on morality charges but Constance is out to prove that these women are just trying to provide for themselves and have a little freedom. At the same time she has to find her sister, Fleurette, who runs away to join the stage show of May Ward and her Dresden Dolls.
Highlights: I love that this is based on true stories. As I was skimming through the historical notes at the end of the book, I saw that the news articles about Constance Kopp appeared in the Wichita Beacon. As the first woman deputy, she had to fight the constant backlash from the people that believed a woman should not and could not be a deputy. She proves them wrong. Norma makes me laugh with her straightforward speech and tough demeanor.
Lowlights: I feel that the story is slow moving with multiple storylines intertwined. The story could have been condensed and made a little shorter.
FYI: Check out the libraries database, Newspapers.com, and search for Constance Kopp. It is very interesting to see the real life woman and her stories.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
First line: I was very young when I was cracked open.
Summary: The Drowning Pool as it has been dubbed by the locals is where several women have been found dead. Julia has not been back to her hometown in many years and rarely spoken to her sister. However, when she gets the call that her sister, Nel, has been found in the water she has to travel back to take care of her fifteen-year-old niece, Lena. As the police look into the two most recent deaths of Nel and a young girl named Katie, they begin to discover that they might be connected.
Highlights: I listened to this as an audio book and was happy to find that many of the characters had different readers. When there are, multiple points of view listening can be very difficult. The story was suspenseful enough to keep it interesting. I liked that several different storylines were intertwined with the main plot. The chapters are nice and short which make the story move along quickly. This is a fast read and great for rainy day.
Lowlights: I felt like the ending was a little predictable. I was not 100% sure with who Nel’s killer was but it was not hard to figure out once several more pieces fell into place.
FYI: Perfect for readers of Gone Girl and The Couple Next Door.