Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday Wonders & Book Review: RIGHT NEXT TO ME by Rachel Ward

This week's Wednesday Wonders features 
Right Next to Me
by Rachel Ward
and includes my book review

About Right Next to Me:

She has a crush on her boyfriend's best friend.

How long can a good thing last? Sydney was sure Gavin was the perfect boyfriend until he moved across the country for school. After spending more time with her best friend, James, she’s now rethinking everything. Sydney’s once sure footing in life slips even more as she discovers new details about her own father’s betrayal. Scared she’ll hurt Gavin like her father hurt her, Sydney must decide if she’ll stay with the perfect boyfriend, or the perfectly flawed boy who’s been there all along.


          There is a moment at the end of the graduation ceremony where everyone is supposed to throw their caps. But the senior advisors told us not to. Several times. Per minute.
          “If you lose your cap, you don’t get it back."
          “If you lose your cap, you lose your tassel.”
          “If you lose your cap, it won’t be in any of your graduation pictures.”
          So, only about half of us threw our caps. It was very anticlimactic. And then after the ceremony, it took about half an hour to find everyone. Piper was closest. (Madison, Piper, Morris, Sydney). It seemed appropriate though, that we ended this together: Piper and I had been friends since first grade. We wandered toward the exit and spotted James easily, almost a head taller than the rest of the blue and white herd. Piper found her boyfriend, Sean, and ran to him, throwing her arms around him and laughing. As we approached the dais, Gavin appeared at my side.
          “You did good, man,” James praised as Gavin pulled me in.
          “You did,” I repeated from his embrace, my voice muffled by his gown.
          “Thanks,” Gavin kissed the top of my head, a few copper strands attaching themselves to his five o’clock shadow, and then pulled on my hand. “Let’s get out of here.” He navigated out of the doors and we stepped out into the sunlight, immediately surrounded by parents. I glanced around at the crowd. Moms were crying, kids were yelling, and there was a lot of hugging and photography
           “I see my mom,” I exclaimed, pointing through the crowd. “And yours,” I announced to James. “C’mon.” I let go of Gavin’s hand and grabbed James, dragging him through the crowd. “Mom!” I shouted over the din. Somehow she heard me and turned in my direction. She was beaming. My sister, Whitney, was next to her, tapping the program against her leg impatiently. I released James and threw my arms around Mom’s neck.
          “Congratulations,” she said, hugging me tightly. “You did it.” She pulled away and posed me under a nearby tree for a picture. “Whitney,” she called, “come be in the picture.” Whitney made a face and trudged over. She plastered a fake smile on her face and as soon as Mom’s camera clicked she was gone again.
          “James,” my mom called. He stood between his parents, laughing at the empty diploma cover. He turned toward us when he heard his name. She waved him over. “Come take a picture with Sydney.” He handed his diploma to his mom and was next to me in a matter of strides. He wrapped his arm around me and we smiled as the camera clicked. He wrapped the other arm around me and pulled me into him.
          “How you feeling?” he asked softly.
          “Weird,” I laughed. He pulled back and nodded. For most of my high school career it had been the five of us. Gavin, Sean, James, me, and Piper. The group had evolved naturally during our freshman and sophomore years. Gavin and Sean had been close since junior high school. Then Gavin and I got together after freshman year. James had moved into my neighborhood the summer before sophomore year and clicked immediately with all of us. And Piper and Sean hooked up at the beginning of junior year. We were always together, at least in some combination. But starting in the fall, that would change.
          We were all set to head our separate ways. Gavin would go to Yale in Connecticut; he was the pride of our high school and the only one to be accepted into an Ivy League school. Piper was headed to USC. None of us are entirely sure how she got in, but I have a theory that it had something to do with generous donations from her father. Sean had gotten a full scholarship to Utah State and would be moving to Logan. James was accepted to the University of Utah, and was planning on living at home since it was only minutes away from campus. And I was headed north to Boise State University in Idaho to study graphic design.
          “Sydney!” Gavin yelled my name across the crowd. Sean and Piper were next to him. I turned and smiled at him and beckoned to them.
          “Come take pictures,” I called. James stepped behind me and Gavin positioned himself on my left side. Piper snuck in and wrapped her arm around my neck and Sean stood next to James.
          “Smile,” Mom called. James’s mom had sidled up next to her as well, camera at the ready. I knew that we had the whole summer before us, but there was something so final about this moment that my breath caught momentarily in my chest. Everything was changing.
          “You want a ride tonight?” Gavin asked me as we finished with the pictures. Sean and Piper had disappeared and James had returned to his family. Mom and Whitney were waiting to take me home. I nodded. “I’ll text you in a bit.” He bent down and kissed me quickly and then he was back with his family as well.
           My eyes scanned the crowd apprehensively as we walked back to the car. Whitney shot me a look. “You know he’s not here, Syd.”
          “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I lied quickly, shifting my eyes to my feet. I felt Mom’s hand on my arm. “I’m fine,” I snapped, pulling away slightly, immediately sorry. It wasn’t her fault that my dad couldn’t care less about us. He lived out of state and only showed up very occasionally. I had hoped that maybe my graduation would warrant a visit, but it was stupid to get my hopes up. Something as minor as my high school graduation apparently wasn’t worth a plane ticket.

My Book Review:

This was a thoughtful coming of age novel covering many of the challenges facing young adults as they prepare to leave the cocoon of safety they enjoyed in high school and go off to college. Told in the first person, Sydney Morris is one of five tight-knit friends who spent most of their high school years doing almost everything together. Sydney’s personal life is also complicated by her parents’ divorce. The story starts at the time of high school graduation, but includes flashbacks to relevant scenes in her past life.

At graduation, the five sense the changes that are coming in their lives even though they have the summer ahead of them to still enjoy each other’s company. Several of them work, Gavin is off to Yale, James will go to the local college and live at home due to finances, Sydney’s application to her first choice of colleges, Cal Art, is rejected, so she must settle for her second choice. All of them are facing the challenges of moving in different directions. Sydney and Gavin face the decision of whether or not to try to continue a long-distance relationship with him attending college back east and her being in Idaho with the hope of eventually transferring to California. Some relationships in the group solidify, some drift apart, not everything is as it appears on the surface. Then there are the complications of Sydney and her siblings dealing with their relationships with their father.

This story is well-written, character and situation-driven story. It held my interest as I empathized with the difficulties and choices they faced as they solved their individual challenges. It held my interest, it captured my empathy, and I recommend it to readers from high school age and up.
Right Next to Me Purchase Links:

About Rachel Ward
Rachel grew up reading every book she could get her hands on and spending time with her cat. At least, that was the report in every annual Christmas letter.  The humiliation was enough to spur her into action, and she began writing.  And she never stopped.  Rachel studied English at Brigham Young University-Idaho and then wrote and blogged in between the births of her six children. She currently lives in West Jordan with her family, and while she no longer has a cat, she still reads every book she can get her hands on.
Connect with Rachel Ward:


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday Wonder & Book Review: SAFE HOUSE by Shannon Symonds

This week's Wednesday Wonders features 
Safe House 
by Shannon Symonds 

About Safe House:

True, it was her prison, but it was also her sanctuary.

Where can you turn when your house is not safe? In a small coastal town in Oregon, Amber and Kelly know the deadliest people sleep down the hall. As they attempt to escape the violent, domineering men in their lives, despair fights against faith and hope as an introduction to the Book of Mormon promises them a haven they can’t find in their homes. But getting out of these abusive situations is not as easy as it appears. With their lives spiraling out of control, can they have faith that God’s grace will save them?

As a victim's advocate, Grace James is used to rushing into trouble to save her victims from abuse or assault. And with a handsome officer like Joe Hart at her side, Grace is sure there's nothing she can't do. But an ominous storm brewing on the Oregon horizon is about to change everything-and bring with it dangers and revelations Grace and Joe never expected.


Grace drove up the winding road, high among large new homes. They sat along the edge of the lush Oregon forest on the Pacific Coast Range Mountains. She didn't have to look too hard for the address. An ambulance and two lit up police cars, lights silently rotating, marked the last home at the top of the steep road. Light spilled from every window and the open front door. Ancient pines and a dark old growth forest swayed in the wind behind the house. On the front porch a woman was arguing with a medic, holding a bloody rag to her face.

My Book Review:

This book was a mystery/thriller suitable for teens and adults. The author has worked as an advocate for victims of abuse and/or assault. She has taken her first-hand knowledge of what she had learned in real life to write fiction that is believable and reflects some the actual difficulties with which people can find themselves dealing.

At first I experienced anger directed not only at the abusers, but in the ineffectual response on the part of the victims. The author gently leads a reader to understand how people can find themselves being gradually led into situations that open them up to abuse without realizing the position they are in until it is too late. Her goal, besides telling an excellent and exciting story, is to guide the readers to see how victims who blame themselves for the abuse they receive can work to become survivors who put the blame where it belongs, but sometimes they must accept help from others to do so. The story highlighted not only the issues of spousal abuse, but how much abuse of a spouse can have a negative impact on the children in the family and leave them living in constant fear and uncertainty.

In addition to the social issues and the tensions they provided the characters, this was an exciting adventure as the characters in the town find themselves dealing with a force of nature that threatens to overpower them all, including the modern technology we take so much for granted in this day and age. The action kept me reading.

This is a novel with many L.D.S. (Mormon to much of the world) characters. I believe the novel can be enjoyed by readers who are not L.D.S. since the author depicts people of faith, and some L.D.S. practices, without getting much into doctrine. 

The focus of the book was not romance, but the romance elements present were sweet and clean. Not all romances were resolved, which leads me to hope the author may have a sequel to this novel. It was an enjoyable and enlightening read, and I recommend it.

Purchase Links for Safe House:

About Shannon Symonds:

Shannon Symonds currently works as an Advocate serving victims of intimate partner or family violence. Shannon responds with law enforcement to the scene of domestic or sexual assaults, works with victims, accompanies them to the hospital and provides follow-up care. She is a trained trauma and recovery specialist, has completed the Oregon Coalition training as a professional advocate, has completed training as a parent educator, Head Start Teacher, early childhood education certification and one year program, an Associates Degree with an emphasis in Social Services, has worked and trained as an advocate for over 15 years total. She is the recipient of the Oregon Trial Lawyers award for her work to change housing for victims of domestic violence. She is a confident trainer and speaker, and is comfortable working with the public.

You may stay in touch with Shannon on her blog: