Come Back by Claire and Mia Fontaine

Come Back

This is an amazing story of the bond between a mother and her only daughter, and their harrowing trip in, around and out of drug addiction. As the mother of a daughter (thankfully one that HAS NOT had a problem with drug addiction) I was able to identify with all the ups and downs of dealing with a teenager. The lengths that a mother would go to help her daughter, and in this case, sending her halfway around the country for rehab, was something I could relate to. The story really shows the strength needed and the love between them that was able to see them through some very scary times. A very powerful book and worth reading.

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys

This is a story of the Burgess family twins, Bob and Susan Burgess, and their older brother, Jim. An accident happens when they are all children.  When the father leaves the children in the car for a few minutes, one of them gets behind the wheel pretending to drive.  The car rolls backwards, killing the father. This incident dramatically affects the entire family. The story takes place in a small town in Maine where the children grew up with just their mother to raise them, doing the best she could.

The two brothers escape to NYC as soon as they can.  Both become lawyers. The older brother, Jim, becomes a successful corporate lawyer whom the twins idolize. The twin brother, Bob, becomes a Legal Aid attorney who is always belittled by his eldest brother.  Their sister Susan stays behind in Maine. All is well until Susan’s lonely teenage son Zach urgently calls them to say that he has gotten himself into a world of trouble and needs their help. When the brothers return to their childhood home in an effort to help get their nephew out of this mess, the long-buried family tensions begin to surface and unravel in unexpected ways that change all of them forever.

I enjoyed this  novel by Elizabeth Strout. She develops and gives insight into her characters, and it is a very deep look into a family’s struggles and triumphs. I found it a very interesting read with many surprises along the way on how each of these characters deal with the family turmoil as the author exposes the tensions that can fester in a family, especially when they return to their childhood home.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet

Not only does this book continue the fantastic Cinder storyline, but it adds a few new characters into the mix!  The title character, Scarlet Benoit, is a teenage girl who has been raised by her grandmother on a small vegetable farm in Rieux, France.  Her grandmother recently went missing, and while Scarlet is sure something must be very wrong for her grandmother to have left home without her portscreen [or even her ID chip], no one else seems very worried at all.  Michelle Benoit is a kind and beloved, albeit eccentric, farmer who has no known enemies [as far as Scarlet believes, anyhow].  And because there is not any evidence of foul play, the police claim they have no choice but to dismiss the case.  Scarlet is pretty sure a street fighter named Wolf knows something that could help but, though she is inexplicably drawn to him, she isn’t sure if she can bring herself to trust him.  I can’t really say any more without spoiling it, but trust me when I say that this series just keeps getting better!  And, since The Lunar Chronicles will have at least two more installments — Cress is due out in 2014 and Winter is due out in 2015 — fans have plenty more to look forward to before the series ends.

Me Before You: a Novel by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You

When the cafe where Louisa Clark works as a waitress closes, she winds up working as a companion for Will Traynor, a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.  Before he was struck by a motorcycle, Will had been an Alpha male, an aggressive businessman who traveled the world and enjoyed mountain climbing and other demanding sports.  Now his girlfriend is gone, he can only move one hand slightly, and he is subject to serious and painful infections and medical complications.  Upbeat Louisa eventually figures out that her role is primarily watcher — Will is depressed and suicidal.  She determines to prove to him that life is worth living, even given his current limitations.  She actually gets Will to laugh, they have a variety of outings, and Louisa finds herself falling in love.  But is this enough for Will?  What if it isn’t?  Who decides if he lives or dies? A powerful, thought-provoking novel.

Legend by Marie Lu

Legend

In post-apocalyptic North America, two countries have replaced the former United States of America — The Republic and The Colonies.  Fighting against both of them is also a rebel group that calls itself the Patriots.  Though it isn’t clear if The Colonies are any better, readers can easy ascertain that The Republic is not so much a republic as a totalitarian regime.  This story is told from the alternating perspectives of characters named Day and June —  Day is an independent anarchist who refuses to work for the Patriots but still does everything in his power to sabotage The Republic in their war efforts against The Colonies; June is a military prodigy who got a perfect score on her entrance exams and has been fast-tracked through military training school.

I think the duel narration was a great way to make readers more sympathetic to characters on both sides of the spectrum and to gradually unfold details about what is happening both around the country and in Los Angeles [where both Day and June live].  The truth is, while life is clearly better for some people in The Republic, no one is truly free.

Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procratinator by Josh Berk

Guy Langman

Guy Langman wasn’t really good at anything — quite the opposite of his dad who seemed to be amazing at everything without even trying.  Guy was rather thrown when his dad died (even though his dad was technically old enough to be his grandfather), and became suddenly intrigued by all things having to do with death.  So, it wasn’t exactly a stretch for him to accept an invitation from his best friend, Anoop, to join Mr. Zant’s Forensics Club.  (Especially since it provided a chance to impress some cute girls!)  For once in his life, Guy really cared about something and was actually good at it.  Which worked out rather nicely as some mysteries popped up in his own life…

My Name is Parvana by Deborah Ellis

My Name Is Parvana

American military personnel found Parvana in a bombed-out school building, so they brought her back to their base as a suspected terrorist.  Because she refused to speak, the interrogations continued day after day.  During that time, Parvana escaped into her memories — her flashbacks serving to provide readers with further information about her past.  With the information gleaned through those flashbacks, it was easy to see why Parvana didn’t feel comfortable talking to the soldiers who were interrogating her.  Between her experiences under the oppressive Taliban regime and the further struggles her family faced in the time after the Taliban was ousted, she learned that people in power didn’t always tell the truth and that speaking freely often made things worse.  Definitely an eye-opening book about what it means to grow up female in the Afghanistan and how the American military presence has both helped and hindered Afghanistan’s progress.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder

There are a lot of fairy tale retellings out there, but I was especially impressed by the fact that Cinder was both evocative of Cinderella and a major departure from the original story.  In this story, Cinder is a 16-year-old cyborg who constantly works to support and care for her evil stepmother and her two stepsisters.  She rarely has time for herself, but does her best not to complain because she knows her stepmother could easily “volunteer” her to be a test subject for letumosis [plague] vaccines instead.  While working in her booth at the market place one afternoon, she finds herself face-to-face with Prince Kai.  As it turns out, Cinder’s reputation as the best mechanic in New Beijing led Prince Kai to disguise himself so he could meet her and ask whether she would be willing and able to fix his droid, Nainsi, who suddenly stopped working.

Immediately after this clandestine meeting, though, Cinder’s entire life is turned upside-down because her stepsister Peony contracts letumosis and is put into quarantine.  Not only is Cinder worried about losing one of the only people in the world who actually cares about her, but her stepmother is blaming her for Peony’s illness!  Trying to balance her regular responsibilities, her promise to help Prince Kai, and her desire to help Peony, nevertheless, proves extremely difficult.  And while many girls in New Beijing would give anything to dance with Prince Kai at the upcoming ball, Cinder couldn’t care less about attending…  She has too many other things to worry about.  Yeah — this is definitely *not* your typical Cinderella story.

Never Fall Down: A Novel by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down

If I didn’t know the horrible truth, I might have thought McCormick had gone overboard with the horror and tragedy in this story. I sometimes find myself asking, as I read, “How much can possibly happen to one character?”   In this case, though, I knew that the novel was based on the true life story of a boy named Arn Chorn-Pond. This novel was only fictional inasmuch as Arn couldn’t possibly recall every detail of every day and every conversation he had over the course of 4 years. The sad reality is that the general timeline and events of this story truly happened to him, to his family, and to his country.

It still boggles my mind to think of how much devastation the Khmer Rouge wrought on Cambodia, especially since people rarely speak of it. How does a militant political group wipe out nearly 2 million people in just under 4 years without getting more than a footnote in many high school world history classes? People talk about the Holocaust and vow to never let something like that ever happen again, but they make no mention of Pol Pot’s reign of terror or the many genocides [some still taking place!] in African countries since the 1940s. It’s disgusting how often these events will go unmentioned just because it’s easier *not* to talk about it, and I applaud Patricia McCormick for writing this book.

I hope this story will help bring more attention to both the unfortunate history of Cambodia and to the subsequent efforts Arn Chorn-Pond has made to help other “children of war” and to keep Cambodian culture alive. For a historical overview of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, check out the Historical Overview of the Khmer Rouge at the Cambodia Tribunal Monitor. To learn more about the humanitarian organizations Arn Chorn-Pond founded in response to his experiences as a child in war-torn Cambodia, visit the websites for Children of War and the Cambodian Livings Arts.