With Malice: A Review

“They’re hinging everything on meeting the legal term of having done something with malice aforethought. That you wanted to do something badly, and you planned it.”

With Malice by Eileen CookEighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room recovering from a broken leg and a traumatic brain injury with no memory of how she got there.

She doesn’t remember anything about her study abroad trip to Italy six weeks ago with her best friend Simone. She doesn’t remember the car crash that killed Simone or the flight her wealthy father chartered to get her to an American hospital. She doesn’t remember why she might need the lawyer her father has hired.

Everyone thinks they know what happened between Jill and Simone thanks to witness accounts and the sensational news coverage, but it’s up to Jill to figure out the truth for herself in With Malice (2016) by Eileen Cook.

This character-driven thriller teases out what might have happened between the two girls as the events leading to the accident slowly unfold. Jill’s recovery in the hospital includes realistically portrayed rehab for her broken leg and speech therapy for the aphasia that leaves her forgetting words. Therapy sessions allow Jill to process the trauma of the accident while working through her retrograde amnesia.

Cook intersperses Jill’s first person narration with supplemental materials including police interviews, news coverage, and blog posts about the car crash. Travel guide excerpts are as close as readers will get to any Italian locations as Jill’s memories of the trip remain elusive for most of the novel.

Flashbacks, Facebook posts, and emails help to further develop Jill and Simone’s characters as well as their complicated relationship. The rest of the cast fall more comfortably into stock character territory including the rich-but-absent dad, the smooth-talking lawyer and the wannabe-Casanova-tour-guide.

Questions of what Jill remembers and what might have been a dream or suggested memory lend a chilling quality to the conclusion of this novel. A solid thriller that expertly navigates familiar territory, With Malice will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the April 2016 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes a girl needs to lose.”

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle ZevinIn a different life, in a different story, she might have been named Nataliya or Natasha. She might have lived in Russia her whole life and never even thought of Brooklyn or yearbooks or cameras.

But in this life, in this story, her name is Naomi. She was adopted by a couple in Brooklyn and–although she won’t remember it for a while–she does think about yearbooks and cameras.

It starts with a coin toss. If Naomi had picked tails she never would have gone back for the camera. She wouldn’t have tripped on the stairs and hit her head. There would have been no ambulance and no amnesia. Naomi would remember her boyfriend and whatever it was they had in common. She’d remember the lives her parents have been living. She would remember her best friend Will and why he calls her Chief and keeps making her mix tapes.

But Naomi picked heads in Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2007) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Find it on Bookshop.

Broken into parts titled “I Was,” “I Am,” and “I Will,” Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a nuanced, thoughtful story. With Naomi’s amnesia at the center of the plot, this book asks interesting questions on the ties that hold a family together and what happens when the context that makes two people friends (or more) is suddenly taken away.

Elements of music, photography, and book design theory all add an artistic feel to this story that will hold special appeal for creative readers. Zevin’s writing is as sharp and insightful as ever while Naomi finds herself all over again during the course of the novel. With a keen focus on Naomi’s relationships as well as her romances, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a delightful ode to friendships as well as an unexpected love story.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Conjured: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Conjured by Sarah Beth DurstEve doesn’t know anything about her past. No family. No home. Even her face has been changed with a series of surgeries.

All Eve knows for sure is that a madman is on the loose–a killer who uses magic to murder his targets. And she might be the key to solving the case. If she ever remembers.

Everyone is keeping secrets from her–maybe even her own mind. Recurring dreams of a carnival with tinny music and a sinister magician haunt her. Sometimes a storyteller is there spinning tales as she tries to sew buttons into Eve’s skin. Eve can change the color of her eyes and make the birds printed on her wallpaper fly around her new room.

Protected by two witness protection agents and befriended by a boy who never lies, Eve will have to make sense of her past if she ever hopes to have a future of her own in Conjured (2013) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Conjured is a tense novel of suspense with bits of magic and character study thrown in. It is nowhere near as coherent as the jacket summary suggests. Readers expecting a linear story here will be disappointed.

Eve remembers nothing of her past and loses time to blackouts several times throughout the story. Her lack of memory is manipulated and exploited. These gaps and Eve’s own confusion are crucial to the plot but they also create a significant distance between readers and Eve’s characters. This gap narrows as the story progresses (and as Durst changes writing tense and person to reflect the changes) but it still makes for a very disorienting–and sometimes slow–beginning.

As her name suggests, Eve is an almost completely blank slate at the beginning of the story. Consequently her character often feels lacking in personality (since Eve doesn’t even know her own personality really). That said Durst does an excellent job creating memorable secondary characters as both friends and foils to Eve. The setting and the premise are also fascinating.

This isn’t a book for everyone but readers who enjoy clever writing and unique plot structures will be rewarded by a completely surprising and original novel as Conjured builds slowly to a shocking revelation and a conclusion that will have readers holding their breath until the dramatic finish.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah starting tomorrow!