‘Call It What You Want’ by Brigid Kemmerer is a compelling story of teenagers grappling with the fallout from mistakes that may or may not be their doing

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“Call It What You Want” is another example of fine writing by Brigid Kemmerer, author of “A Curse So Dark and Lonely.” One of her talents is writing about people by using such effective dialogue and narrative style and technique that her characters become extremely realistic and worthy of compassion. Her two main characters in this novel are both flawed teenagers, but in spite of — or perhaps because of — those shortcomings, they grow insightful and compassionate, and they help right wrongs. The story is told in alternating first person narratives, a strategy which works well to make readers feel that they understand each character’s feelings and motivations.

Maegan is the daughter of a cop, and while she has been held to high expectations, she has also been caught cheating during an SAT exam. All of the other students’ exams have been voided, and she feels as if she has been branded with a huge CHEAT on her forehead. She keeps her head down in school, and the only friend she has left is Rachel. But lately, Rachel’s new boyfriend Drew has been making derogatory comments about Maegan, and Maegan is hurt that Rachel doesn’t stand up for her.

Rob had everything — money, athletics, good looks. But then his father was arrested for defrauding his clients of their money. After a failed suicide attempt, his father is now a body that must be tube-fed, cannot talk or even respond to stimuli, and lives with Rob and his mother in the now-empty mansion that they have called home for years. Many of the parents of his fellow students lost money because of Rob’s father. Even the school librarian is now still working because his retirement money had been invested with Rob’s father. And his friends and acquaintances wonder how much Rob knew about the theft. The worst loss was his best friend, Connor, who didn’t come when Rob needed him and now is openly hostile to Rob.

When Rob and Maegan are paired up for a calculus project, it’s awkward at first. But as they get to know and eventually trust each other, a wonderful thing happens. They start questioning what is going on in each of their lives, their behaviors, and what is right and wrong.

Readers, too, will be forced to think about haves and have-nots. Is it okay for someone to take something from someone who is so wealthy they won’t even know it’s gone in order to give it to someone who desperately needs it? A friend of Rob’s gets a free meal, a cheese sandwich, from the school. He’s ridiculed for it. Yet the wealthy students don’t mind splurging on cookies so that the lacrosse team can buy new sticks.

The divide between those who have a lot and those who struggle to survive will make readers pause and examine their own beliefs. Rob thinks about what he used to take for granted, and he regrets much of his old behavior. He’s torn between hating his father for what he did, but also loving his father because no matter what, he was a wonderful father.

There are good people, forgiving people, and villains in this story. But at its core, it’s about forgiveness, growing, and having compassion. Not only is this is an engrossing novel that, once begun, is difficult to put down, it would also be a great choice for a class read or a book club.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury, the publisher, for review purposes. 

‘Winterwood’ by Shea Ernshaw is a bewitching young adult fantasy

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“Winterwood” by Shea Ernshaw is about witches. Specifically it’s about Nora — daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and more — descended from a long line of witches who live and practice their magic along the shore of Jackjaw Lake and in the shadow of the forest outside the town of Fir Haven.

The Walker women came out of the forest back in the days when Fir Haven was a small gold mining town, and ever since, they have lived in a log cabin between the summer cabins and the dark forest. Nora lives there with her mother, now that her grandmother has died, leaving Nora with her moonstone ring. But Nora’s mother has left to sell her honey (charming bees is her particular magic), and Nora is alone in the cabin with only her wolf, Fin, to protect her when a blizzard envelopes the town and cuts off electricity and the roads.

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‘All the Flowers in Paris’ by Sarah Jio is a beautiful but heartbreaking combination of historical and current fiction taking readers to Paris now and during WWII

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Paris, ostensibly the most beautiful city in the world, has a checkered past. During the German occupation in WWII, many Parisians collaborated with the Nazis. “All the Flowers in Paris” by Sarah Jio is about a French family with Jewish ancestry that is “outed” by a neighbor, and about a woman in modern Paris who loses her memory and must find out who she is and why she was basically a recluse before the accident that caused her memory loss. What she finds hidden in her lovely apartment gives her a mystery to solve, and by solving that mystery, Caroline not only finds closure for the long-ago Parisian family, but also for herself.

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‘The Last Widow’ by Karin Slaughter is the book you don’t want to miss reading in 2019

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“The Last Widow” is the newest book in the Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter. If you haven’t read the previous books in the series, don’t let that fact stop you from reading this one because it reads like a stand-alone novel. Be forewarned that after you finish it, you will probably want to start the series at the beginning and read all about Will Trent and Sara Linton.

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‘Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks’ by Claire Cook is a funny but tender story of relationships and dogs…and cats

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In “Must Love Dogs: Hearts and Barks” by Claire Cook, Sarah Hurlihy and John Anderson might be living together in her family’s home, but that doesn’t mean that Valentine’s Day is going to be a simple affair. Between Sarah’s indecisiveness and John’s romantic streak, Sarah’s crazy family and crazier father, and all the dogs and cats ruling their house, life is hectic, to say the least.

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‘Things You Save in a Fire’ by Katherine Center begins with a spark and ends in an inferno

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“Things You Save in a Fire” by Katherine Center isn’t literally about things you would save in a fire. The main character, firefighter Cassie Hanwell, was born to be a firefighter. She’s a fascinating and complex character. When there’s an emergency, she gets calm and knows exactly what to do. She’s the one you want to be with when danger threatens. But in her own life, she’s helpless to get things on track.

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‘Betrayal in Time’ by Julie McElwain is a wonderful mystery/scifi/historical fiction novel

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“Betrayal in Time” by Julie McElwain is the fourth novel in which Kendra Donovan, a 21st century FBI agent, is unwittingly sent to the past while trying to avenge the deaths of  most of her team. Her goal is to kill the culprit in England. When someone beats her to the kill, she escapes up a staircase and ends up in 1815, in England.

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‘Spin the Dawn’ by Elizabeth Lim is an engrossing fantasy about a young girl whose ambition proves world-changing

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In a fictional world reminiscent of ancient China, Elizabeth Lim creates “Spin the Dawn,” the story of Maia, daughter of a tailor who is as skilled as any tailor but who is barred from the profession because of her gender. Her father has lost his ambition since the death of Maia’s mother, and two of her brothers were killed in the Emperor’s war. Now, it’s just Maia supporting the family.

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‘The Summer Country’ by Lauren Willig is an ambitious tale of prejudice and plantations in Barbados during Victorian times

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“The Summer Country” by Lauren Willig refers to the island of Barbados, where it is summer all year long. The story is about three women, and from the beginning it alternates between 1812 and 1854. The story begins in 1854, when Emily Dawson and her cousin Adam travel to Barbados for different reasons. Adam is representing the family business now that his grandfather, Jonathan Fenty, has died, while Emily is traveling to visit Peverills, the sugar cane plantation that her grandfather left her in his will.

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‘Mrs. Everything’ by Jennifer Weiner is a fascinating study of sisters

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“Mrs. Everything” might be Jennifer Weiner’s most ambitious novel yet. She takes readers into the lives of two sisters, Jo and Bethie, who grow up during the 50s. Readers watch Jo and Bethie as the Kaufman family buys their first house in a suburb of Detroit. Readers with at least one sister will nod as the story shows girls who are very different in terms of personality and temperament, but who love each other — much of the time.

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‘The Yankee Widow’ by Linda Lael Miller is a fabulous historical fiction novel filled with ordinary people who do extraordinary things

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“The Yankee Widow” by Linda Lael Miller takes place during the Civil War and takes readers right through the Battle of Gettysburg in all its horror and death. Caroline Hammond, the main character, becomes a widow at the start of the story when her husband, young Jacob, dies after becoming grievously injured at the Battle of Chancellorsville. She travels to Washington City, as it was known then, and finds him at the point of death.

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