Book Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

Release Date: January 24, 2017

I think one of the best things about the movement in young adult literature to include diverse authors and own voice narratives is that stories like Tiffany D. Jackson’s will become popular. This novel has all the things that make a good crime novel wonderful, it has a likable yet maybe untrustworthy narrator, a vicious and questionable crime, interesting family dynamics, insight into the criminal justice system when it comes to teenagers, and the dynamics of a group home.

Now, I realize that this is still a fictional narrative but there are a lot of similarities between this Mary’s story and that of the real life child murderer, Mary Bell.  Jackson doesn’t really delve into that in this novel, but she does have a secondary refer to Mary as Mary Bell in one interaction, so I thought it would be interesting to point out the similarities between the character and her real counterpart.

Mary Bell was around 10 years of age when she murdered two toddlers, she had a known strange relationship with her mother (who attempted to kill her a few times), it was an extremely sensationalized case, with her only receiving a minimum sentence since she was a child with diminished responsibility (much like our character).  Another part that is taken directly from reality is the last name of the victim, Richardson. Now, the average Young Adult reader probably wouldn’t be aware of these similarities, but I just happened to read a true crime book a few years ago that brought this up.

I applaud Jackson for bringing a story like this to the forefront, because as awful as it is to kill a child in a narrative, it is something that happens.

Jackson did such a great job of keeping the reader in the dark about certain aspects of the crime and of Mary’s life prior to the death of the child.  I think that the questions about Mary and her Mother really provide more mystery than the death itself.  It’s an interesting commentary on emotional abuse and the desperate relationship between these two characters, plus is raises the question of just how far you’d go for family.

In addition, Jackson was amazing at including linguistic representation of accents.  I find it lacking when an author sometimes just mentions that a character has a type of regional accent without showing this to the reader in dialogue. Bravo for including this, I loved it and it really put me IN those characters’ voices.

I’m giving this novel 4 Bards.  There is a very upsetting scene with an animal in this and violence between characters that doesn’t involve the murder of the child, so please be aware of this when purchasing it for your teen.

Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

25036310Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself. 

Team Midsummer had the amazing chance to interview Caleb Roehrig and we love him. Check out our interview here.

I read this book in a matter of hours.  The only reason I put it down for a few minutes was to run from one airport terminal to the other so I could make sure to catch my flight home.  Even then, I held the book in my hands, unwilling to let it go or lose my place for too long.

When Caleb said he set out to write a thriller, I’d say he succeeded in spades.

First things first, let’s talk about characterization.

Flynn, oh, Flynn, my sweet snowflake.  He is so well rounded as a character, he has his flaws, he has his snarky sarcasm that made me laugh out loud (to the chagrin of my neighbor on the flight), last-seen-leaving-aestheticand he has a struggle of accepting himself for who he is.  He is brash, he is ridiculously self confident in that he will find clues and information that the cops can’t find about his missing girlfriend, and I assume he must have an extremely trustworthy face, because a lot of people he doesn’t really know open right up to him.  Although, I think my main concern here is that those people’s parents didn’t teach them to not talk to strangers.  But again, I could always talk to a wall, so I’m not the best judge!

January is somehow able to be likable despite all of her flaws and her incessant lying.  For instance, even waaaaaaaaaay before the events in Last Seen Leaving, she was consistently portraying her boyfriend, and so-called best friend, Flynn is a very negative light to those around her.  Not only to some of the kids at her new private school, but also to her coworker, who she also pitted against Flynn to make him jealous.  She’s definitely a master manipulator, and I credit Roehrig for still creating a character that I was rooting for, even though I kind of hated her too.  She reminded me of one of those girls in high school who definitely thought she was better than anyone and everyone, therefore isolating herself from everyone.

The mystery/thriller aspect.

This story kept me on my toes the entire time. While I do have my reservations about girls just giving up a lot of random information about January to a guy they’d never really met before, I loved that Flynn had this whole Nancy Drew thing going on (Side note: Nancy Drew was way better than The Hardy Boys).  He’s definitely a bolder person than I’d ever be.  I’d be persuaded to let the cops handle it and then wallow in my own misery, but not Flynn.  Which I love.  I found it so amazing that he was kind of bad at investigating, and the killer was definitely not someone who I immediately suspected, so I credit Roehrig for laying plenty of false leads throughout the narrative that were pretty convincing.

Romance.

I just fangirl flail about Kaz and Flynn. Just, go read this.

4.5 Bards!

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Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

The first time, she’s fourteen, and escapes a near-fatal car accident with scars, a bum leg, and an addiction to Oxy that’ll take years to kick.

The second time, she’s seventeen, and it’s no accident. Sophie and her best friend Mina are confronted by a masked man in the woods. Sophie survives, but Mina is not so lucky. When the cops deem Mina’s murder a drug deal gone wrong, casting partial blame on Sophie, no one will believe the truth: Sophie has been clean for months, and it was Mina who led her into the woods that night for a meeting shrouded in mystery.

After a forced stint in rehab, Sophie returns home to a chilly new reality. Mina’s brother won’t speak to her, her parents fear she’ll relapse, old friends have become enemies, and Sophie has to learn how to live without her other half. To make matters worse, no one is looking in the right places and Sophie must search for Mina’s murderer on her own. But with every step, Sophie comes closer to revealing all: about herself, about Mina and about the secret they shared.

I looooooooooove this book. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve had it for almost a year and I can’t believe I didn’t read it right away. In the last year or two I’ve realized I really love mysteries, and this book is perfect for that. I love trying to figure out who did it. But even though I guessed who it was, I still think that Sharpe does an excellent of keeping readers of track with other possible suspects.

The back and forth from present to past was done really well. I’ve read a few books where authors don’t have the right rhythm and it ruins the whole flow of the story. But Sharpe does an excellent job of keeping us in the present while still giving us a great glimpse into the past. Especially, since this is the only way we get to know Mina. Get to know how Sophie really feels about her. Their entire relationship takes place in the past before Mina died and we don’t get a chance to see them in the present time, but we still get great insight into Mina’s character through those flashbacks.

Their relationship is flawed and beautiful. From best friends as little kids to growing up to realize that what they felt for each other was more than just friendship. As we see more flashbacks we see that Mina struggled with her identity because of her religion, and with her feelings for Sophie because of her brother’s feelings for Sophie as well.

The fact Sophie actually says the word “bisexual” makes me so happy. In so much of today’s media, it’s almost like it’s a bad word to say. Which is so damaging to anyone who identifies as bi, like no one in the world can actually validate their identity. It’s so important that Sophie says the word, that she doesn’t struggle with it (even if Mina did). One of the things I loved the most about this book is that it felt real. The characters and their relationships and their struggles are just so wonderfully done, and I can’t wait to read more from Tess Sharpe.

5 bards for this.
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Be sure to keep up with Midsummer’s LGBT History Month Celebration by keeping your eyes on our schedule!
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http://www.amidsummernightsread.com/2792-2/

Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

 

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: March 1, 2016

The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.

Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.

Book Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn’t believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else-before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, tying them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June’s boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this-things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth…which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

This novel started off really awesome.  I will argue that the first half of this book was really spot on.  I will admit that I finished this book in around 3 hours, so it wasn’t that it became hard to read or that it was difficult in anyway.  In fact, I’ll tell you that it is easy and enjoyable.  Then why am I saying just the first half was good?  Well…let me just start with the good.

June is basically your typical high school teenager.  She underestimates her beauty, her intelligence, and her ability to stand up to anyone other than her equally typical boyfriend, Ryan.  She has a really interesting family consisting of a single, drunken mother, but we really don’t see a whole lot about that and we don’t hear about how it affected her growing up or anything.  The entirety of June throughout this novel revolves around Delia.  She is practically a non-entity until Delia is mentioned or brought up.  Delia is the sun and June is the scorched planet Mercury that rotates super close.  But then Delia kills herself, supposedly.  This is where the first half gets interesting.

June begins to suspect foul play in Delia’s death and basically goes off the deep end and reads absolutely anything possible, no matter how far fetched, as being related to Delia’s supposed suicide and everything that happened in their friendship.  The fact of the matter is that their friendship is so complicated and a bit obsessive.  I say “a bit,” but it begins to seem unhealthy around the halfway mark in the book when a pretty big “twist” occurs.  Why is twist in quotations?  Well, because it wasn’t much of a twist to me when I saw it coming.

The latter half of the book does have it’s highlights.  The synopsis refers to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls as being for fans of E.Lockhart’s We Were Liars.  I’d say it’s a fairly weak comparison, but it does have the disjointed narration aspect down pat in the second half.  You will start to question every perception June has ever made and a lot of what she tells you as a narrator.  But, the novel then randomly splits into dual narration between June and Delia, after not doing this at all in the first half.  Delia’s narration, other than being peppered with heavy references to fire and burning, is even more full of confused statements and weird obssessive thoughts about June.

June really just wants to be loved and accepted.

The ending was nice in that it provides the reader with the option to decide the characters’ fate.  There are pretty much two ways that a reader could decide on, but I’m fairly certain a lot of readers will choose a specific one based on other reviews I’ve seen and reactions I’ve noticed.

Either way, I’m giving Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls an average rating because it really wasn’t unenjoyable.  I just wish it had been stronger as a story.

3 Bards

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Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: September 22, 2015

Kate Weston can piece together most of the bash at John Doone’s house: shots with Stacey Stallard, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early—the feeling that maybe he’s becoming more than just the guy she’s known since they were kids.

But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details. When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same question: Where was Ben when a terrible crime was committed?

Book Review: Get Even by Gretchen McNeil

GetEvenBree, Olivia, Kitty, and Margot have nothing in common—at least that’s what they’d like the students and administrators of their elite private school to think. The girls have different goals, different friends, and different lives, but they share one very big secret: They’re all members of Don’t Get Mad, a secret society that anonymously takes revenge on the school’s bullies, mean girls, and tyrannical teachers.

When their latest target ends up dead with a blood-soaked “DGM” card in his hands, the girls realize that they’re not as anonymous as they thought—and that someone now wants revenge on them. Soon the clues are piling up, the police are closing in . . . and everyone has something to lose.

I’m yet to  be disappointed by any of Gretchen McNeil’s novels.  I really should read her novels as soon as I get my hands on them, but for some reason they always get put on the backburner.  I blame the fact that I have two bookshelves in two different rooms, and the ‘M’ books are in the other room.  Anyway, I’ve had a copy of this since May 2014 and I’m so bummed I didn’t read it before now.

I’m a sucker for a good private school story, because it really does create an isolated world for which all of the crazy drama can occur.  Get Even did NOT disappoint in this category.  I really love how McNeil creates so many individual characters within this story.  Not only do the four main characters stand out individually from one another and have their own unique voices, but even the secondary and supporting characters are so vividly created that the novel just flies by and it almost felt like I was watching a much more devious episode of The O.C. (am I showing my age here? The O.C. was AWESOME.)

I’m torn between really liking what the don’t get mad girls do in the story and thinking that it is still a form of bullying.  Essentially the main four are absolutely 100% against bullying and only choose targets that have somehow done something to deserve their punishment.  But again, I struggle with the fact that they are bullying the bullies to some extent, which really kind of makes the cycle repeat.  However, McNeil is such a strong author, I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t intentional.  I still found all of the members of DGM pretty relatable and I think that each character has a little bit of everyone in them.  There is always the rebel, the shy one, the overachiever, and the dramatic one.  It isn’t as black and white, of course, but there is a little bit of each girl in a lot of people I know and went to high school with.  So again, the characterization was spot on.

WHY didn’t we get to see who the killer was at the end?! See, I can’t even say SPOILER ALERT, because it isn’t a spoiler!  It is a cliff hanger, and a major one at that.  I am going to be waiting impatiently for Get Dirty, and while we wait, you should check this book out too!

BUY THIS BOOK

Amazon| Flyleaf Books | Barnes & Noble

4 Bards

fourbards

Book Review: Dead to Me by Mary McCoy

“Don’t believe anything they say.”

Those were the last words that Annie spoke to Alice before turning her back on their family and vanishing without a trace. Alice spent four years waiting and wondering when the impossibly glamorous sister she idolized would return to her–and what their Hollywood-insider parents had done to drive her away.

When Annie does turn up, the blond, broken stranger lying in a coma has no answers for her. But Alice isn’t a kid anymore, and this time she won’t let anything stand between her and the truth, no matter how ugly. The search for those who beat Annie and left her for dead leads Alice into a treacherous world of tough-talking private eyes, psychopathic movie stars, and troubled starlets–and onto the trail of a young runaway who is the sole witness to an unspeakable crime. What this girl knows could shut down a criminal syndicate and put Annie’s attacker behind bars–if Alice can find her first. And she isn’t the only one looking.

Release Date: March 3, 2015

The most I really know about post World War II hollywood can really be summed up in a few movie titles and one famous murder, The Black Dahlia. McCoy was definitely influenced by the Noir era heavily, and this novel has almost every aspect of a film noir.  McCoy’s novel actually mentions the Black Dahlia murder and references it as “a few years go,” which means that Dead to Me should be set somewhere in 1949 – 1950.

The man character, Alice, is the quintessential younger sister character that idolizes her talented, beautiful, and intelligent older sister for all that she does and everything that Alice believes she is capable of.  Much like Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, Annie has a bit of a wild streak and would be caught drinking and sneaking out during her teen year flashbacks in the narrative.  I really enjoyed that the novel was interspersed with flashbacks to Annie and Alice’s childhood and their friendship in their younger years, because it really juxtaposed how violently their later years are and the circumstances that bring them back together.

There is something to be said about the end of the 40s and the early 50s, and how glamorous it all seems from our point of view now.  The fashion was somewhat seductive but still conservative, the women coy, gentle, but sassy, and the men were supposed to be dashing, passionate, and respectful.  Dead to Me kind of breaks down a lot of those ideals.  All but one of the men are pretty nefarious characters that are self serving, womanizing, and untrustworthy.  I can argue that the one character that I exempted from that description is still somewhat dubious and the main character waffles a bit on weather or not to trust him.  Hollywood itself is described as a pretty trashy town during that time, and the description of the derelict Hollywoodland sign that McCoy gives really sets the tone.

grace kellyEven the women go against type in this book, with most of them still being sassy, but gentle is not a word that describes most of them.  I would argue that Alice is about the gentlest female in the novel, and the rest are pretty wrapped up in some dangerous activities.  I really enjoyed McCoy breaking down these ideals, because it just made the book more fun and believeable for me.  The fashion still sounded pretty fabulous, but it was just details given in passing, nothing too extravagant.

But, just for kicks, here’s a gorgeous picture of Grace Kelly.

There are some pretty overt references to rape in this novel, and I think that the secrecy surrounding the topic really mirror how some survivors feel when they try to tell the truth in today’s society as well.

 

I really enjoyed this, and I think you should pick up a copy!

4 Bards

fourbards

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