Year 13, Book 17

17. Bimini Twist by Linda Greenlaw

I have really enjoyed Greenlaw’s non-fiction books in the past, so I figured I would give one of her fiction books a try. I gather this is the fourth in a series of mystery books featuring the character of Jane Bunker who works in a small town in Maine as a deputy sheriff and insurance investigator. In this particular book she is called in to help when a young girl in the country on a work exchange visa for the summer goes missing. At first she suspects that the girl has just run off with a lover, a local naval cadet, but when he goes missing too everything changes.

This was not a good book. For someone whose non-fiction writing I enjoyed Greenlaw does not seem to be a very good fiction writer. The plot development was weak. The characters are not developed at all. Greenlaw basically just tells you who they are and what their thing is. Instead of writing so that you as a reader can see that this quirky town character is like this because you see them act like that she pretty much tells you this town character is quirky because they do this thing. I guess if she’s written four of these books someone must be enjoying them, but it’s not me. I hope she writes some more non-fiction. I give it a 3 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 16

16. The Art of Escaping by Erin Callahan

Teenage girl Mattie is obsessed with escape artists. When her best friend goes off to camp, Mattie decides to seek out Miyu the reclusive daughter of one of the world’s most famous escape artists in order to get trained by her. With Miyu’s help Mattie becomes part of an act a club while trying to keep her life secret from all of her family and friends. Then one night a popular athlete from her school shows up at the club and Mattie fears her secret is blown for good until Will reveals to her that he too has a secret.

If you can’t tell from the description this is a YA book. I really enjoyed it. It has a lot of your typical YA things with teenagers trying to figure out who they are in the world and finding ways to be themselves with of course some romance thrown in. Framing all this around the idea of being an escape artist gives it an interesting twist. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 15

15. The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips

Set in rural Georgia in the 1950s, this book is told by teenage girl Tangy Mae who is the sixth of ten children all fathered by different men. As the darkest child born to a mother who values light skin, Tangy Mae is treated even more cruelly than her siblings. Somehow she is on the verge of being able to be the first of her siblings to be able to continue on to high school being chosen to attend the first integrated high school in her area but will her family drag her back down or provide her the opportunity to get out?

I didn’t love reading this book and had I written this review immediately after reading it I think I would have rated it lower. But having some time to sit with it I can see that it was a well written work that does a good job of showing how these siblings both look out for each other but also resent each other for believing for they have received the worst of what their extremely cruel mother has to dish out. It is an unrelentingly awful story though and as such a very difficult read.

I got a review copy of this book, so assumed it was written recently but it turns out it was written over a decade ago. The fact that the copy I had ended with a few chapters of a sequel makes me suspect that it is being promoted ahead of the release of a forthcoming book continuing the story, although I can find no evidence of that. At any rate I won’t be reading the sequel if it does in fact ever come into existence. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 14

14. Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins

Tom Worthington is returning to campus completely broke after his father is arrested for running a Ponzi scheme. After being caught up in the spotlight of the scandal he wants to come back to school, keep his head down, avoid everyone, and just finish out his degree if he can cobble together enough money to keep paying for school. In order to avoid his old life he’s managed to get assigned to a special dorm for older returning students, but when he gets there his roommate Reese Anders is not an older student and is not expecting to have a roommate. Reese tries to use his overt gayness to drive away his new jock roommate, but Tom refuses to budge and finds himself determined to find out what has created the fear Reese obviously has of him especially when he finds himself attracted to his new roommate. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 13

13. Snowsisters by Tom Willinsky

Soph and Tess could not be more different. Soph is from well to do family in New York and Tess lives on a rural farm with her family. They are thrown together as roommates during a week long writing retreat where they discover they are perhaps less different than they think.

This book was not good. The characters are caricatures. Soph is ridiculously privileged and clueless that everyone doesn’t live her same advantaged life. There are way better YA books out there. I give this a 4 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 12

12. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Aza and Daisy are teenage girls who stumble into trying to solve the mystery of a missing billionaire who disappeared after being caught running a Ponzi scheme in order to get the reward money. Aza realizes that the man is the father of her old camp friend Davis so she uses their previous relationship to try and get close enough to the situation to find out what happened, but quickly realizes that Davis and his brother are deeply affected by what happened. In the process Davis and she become something more than old friends. Through all of this though the real struggle Aza faces is her own mind. She has severe anxiety that affects all her thoughts and actions and as a result her friendship with her best friend Daisy and her budding relationship with Davis.

Green, who I gather suffers from anxiety himself, does an excellent job of describing the intruding thoughts and actions that occur during severe anxiety that cannot be shut down even if you realize that they’re wrong. It does make it a tiring read, but of course that is the point. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 11

11. Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Following her bestselling book Still Alice, Genova delves into another neuro disorder this time looking at the difficult world of ALS. Richard is a world famous concert pianist until his whole life is stripped away from him with an ALS diagnosis. Mostly an absentee father and a terrible husband he is now completely alone after his divorce three years earlier now that none of the people who wanted to be near him when he was a concert pianist genius care about him now that his career is over.

Richard’s ex-wife Karina is still at loose ends after their divorce. She feels free, but having kowtowed to Richard their entire relationship and with her daughter newly gone off to college she is unsure what to do with her life. Then she hears about Richard and unwittingly allows herself to be pulled back into his life to care for him for whatever time he has left.

Like with Still Alice, Genova does an excellent job of portraying what it’s like to be someone suffering from a neuro degenerative disorder and what it’s like to be that person’s caretaker. She’s a good writer, but these books are never easy to read. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 10

10. The Power by Naomi Alderman

One day the power is awoken in teenage girls that allows them to produce electrical currents from their hands, which gives them a physical advantage over others around them. Eventually the power spreads to almost all women starting a revolution. The story is told from the perspective of various women a girl who starts a religious cult, one whose family is involved with the mob and who watched her mother be murdered, an older woman involved in politics and her daughter whose power is not quite right, and one male reporter.

I really liked the premise of this book and the way it looked at the idea of power and whether it ultimately is corrupting or whether women would be better at running the world. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I didn’t find any of the characters ultimately that compelling though. They worked for me in the way they moved the story forward, but I didn’t really care anything about any of them for the most part. I did like the framing device used on the story though. Usually I’m anti-framing device. I generally find they don’t really add anything to the story and was annoyed when I first started reading the book and realized that was what was happening, but when it came back around at the end I really appreciated it.

I sped through this book and would definitely recommend it. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 9

9. Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst

As someone whose default setting seems to be thinking people don’t like me and don’t want to spend time with me, this was a good book to read as it addresses exactly those thoughts and feelings. This is a Christian book so it of course addresses things from a Biblical perspective and the idea that God setting us apart for something does not mean that he is setting us aside. The author illustrates her points through lots of stories from her own life where she felt “uninvited” and deconstructs them to show how her perspective was wrong to help overcome these same feelings when they inevitably crop up again. Like most books that have a self help sort of bent I don’t think reading this book ultimately did anything to help me change my negative self thoughts, but while I was reading it it felt nice to feel like I was not alone and identify with someone else. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 8

8. My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris

This is a graphic novel about a girl named Nora who literally falls in love with a bear. He turns out to be a really good boyfriend, but there are obviously a lot of obstacles they have to overcome. It’s a little odd because well there is literally inter-species relations. It was a quick little light read. I give it a 6 out of 10.