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book review

Swoon Reads – Dangerous Play

Sometimes I have trouble keeping my book budget under control. Social media in the writing community doesn’t help matters; I see so many books that interest me, and before I know it, my nightstand and my Nook overflow.

I recently found a bookish alternative that keeps me reading for free and helps other writers: Swoon Reads! Writers can submit manuscripts, readers get to read and comment for free, and Swoon chooses the top performers to publish! It really is a win-win. My first Swoon Read was Dangerous Play by Alison Miller.

The brief summary:

Best friends and soccer all-stars Jesse, Ashton, and JD are on opposite sides of a prank text that leaves Jesse girlfriend-less and spirals into a vicious social war. When a common rival pits them against each other, threatening to destroy their friendship and futures, they must take him down—together.

I love YA from a boy’s point of view, so I was really excited to see the sides of all three main characters. The close friendships, complicated family situations, and careful reveals of misunderstandings keep the tension high as the story unfolds. I highly recommend reading and rating Dangerous Play, and I’m looking forward to finding more new voices at Swoon Reads!

Book Review: The Thing About Jellyfish

Buy it through Barnes and Noble or Amazon

The summary (adapted from Goodreads):

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.

The review:

The Thing About Jellyfish is exceptionally well-written. Informative without being preachy and realistic but also timeless, Jellyfish covers quite a bit of ground in what it means to journey from childhood to adolescence. That aching realism, and the interesting facts, were my favorite parts of the novel. It’s the kind of book with a cross-over appeal that adults will love. The question I kept asking, though, was how will the target audience feel? Even with the first person narration, I felt a distance from Suzy, as if the reader is seeing an adult tell the story instead of a twelve-year-old. Even with that distance, I still appreciate the layered nuance of Benjamin’s writing.

4 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: Take It All Back by Judah & the Lion

Book Review: The Shadows We Know by Heart

I am thrilled to be back with a new book review. I just finished Jennifer Park’s The Shadows We Know by Heart, and I can’t wait to write about it.

Get your copy through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.

The summary (adapted from Goodreads):

Leah Roberts’s has a secret she’s told no one: Sasquatch are real, and she’s been watching a trio of them in the woods behind her house for years. Leah discovers that among the Sasquatch lives a teenager. This alluring, enigmatic boy has no memory of his past and can barely speak, but Leah can’t shake his magnetic pull. Gradually, Leah’s life entwines with his, providing her the escape from reality she never knew she needed. When Leah’s two worlds suddenly collide in a deadly showdown, she uncovers a shocking truth as big and extraordinary as the legends themselves, one that could change her life forever.

The review:

I’ve read many, many books in the past year. But it took this one to get me back online to write a review. I immediately related to Leah and her struggles, even in this fantastical world of Bigfoot. The family dynamic was incredibly well-drawn, examining what it means to be the child of a pastor in the South, and how faith can be tested in devastating circumstances. The contemporary elements of the novel work so well that I never found myself questioning the fantasy elements. Park also manages to create a believable, dynamic love triangle. She kept me guessing as to how this situation could possibly be resolved in a satisfying way, keeping me turning the pages until late at night, and she managed to pull it all off perfectly in the end.

Rating: Five out of five stars!

Music for today: On Hold by The XX

Book Review: Until I Find Julian

The Summary: I received an Advance Review Copy of Until I Find Julian by Patricia Reilly Giff this summer, and it released on September 8, 2015.



Twelve-year-old Mateo lives in Mexico with his mother and grandmother, and his older brother Julian works across the border in the United States to support their family. When a raid on Julian's work site leaves him out of contact and possibly arrested, Mateo journeys across the border himself to find out what really happened.  



The Review:

I enjoyed this contemporary middle grades story on several levels. The vivid descriptions of life in Mexico transported me into Mateo's world. Both his voice and his heart kept me turning the pages; I read the entire book in one day. And yet, the story as a whole left me a bit unsettled.

As an adult who reads mostly YA and MG novels, I rarely find myself reading through the lens of a parent. I've never been troubled by twelve-year-olds slaying monsters or going away to magical boarding schools, maybe because the fantasy element always reminds me that I'm reading a story. But in Until I Find Julian, I couldn't shed my "mother" glasses. Mateo travels alone through Mexico on foot. He pays a coyote to smuggle him across the border, then makes his way to Arkansas relying on the kindness of strangers. With no money, no food, and without speaking English, Mateo manages to find his brother's abandoned home. Until I Find Julian does ultimately end happily, but all along I felt more worried about Mateo than a desire to journey with him.

I plan to have my own eleven-year-old read this book to see how his reaction differs from mine; this may be a time when I'm too far out of the target audience to be objective.

3 out of 5 stars.

Music for today: First by Cold War Kids

Book Review: How We Fall

Today I’m reviewing How We Fall by Kate Brauning. This book has been on my TBR list since its release, and I was lucky enough to win a copy at the SCBWI mid-year workshops in Orlando this month.



Buy it here

The summary, adapted from Goodreads:
Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus. Their friendship has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie. Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away.
 
The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus. Then Marcus pays the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance becomes horribly clear. Can Jackie leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?
 
The review:
I really enjoyed How We Fall. The relationship between two cousins, Jackie and Marcus, is steamy, intriguing, and uncomfortable in a way that amps up the tension from the opening chapter. The family dynamics, including both sets of parents and many siblings, also give the story depth and authenticity. I was skeptical at first to see how the mystery of Ellie’s disappearance would play out with the complexity of the love story, and while I would’ve liked a bit more of that plot line developed in the first half of the book, Brauning did pull it all together in the end. My favorite secondary character was Will, a fantastic alternative love interest. I would recommend this book to fans of YA contemporary romance and suspense.
5 out of 5 stars.

 

Music for today: 15 Step by Radiohead

Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

I’ve read plenty of books since my last book review. But none of them struck me with enough force to put fingers to keyboard to sing praises. I haven’t really fallen in love with a book for a while. I want to thank Jacqueline Woodson for reminding me what that feels like.

In Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson gives an autobiography of her childhood in captivating verse. She explores issues of geographical identity, race, religion, and personal dreams in a way that keeps the pages turning and leaves the reader hungry for more.

You may notice the seals on the picture above; Brown Girl Dreaming has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Medal, an NAACP Image Award, and the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. I’m sure even more will follow. When reading this book, you know in just a few pages that you’ve discovered a modern day classic, timeless and stunning, that children and adults alike will be reading for generations to come.

If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and go read this book!

5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Chronicles from Chateau Moines

Today I’m reviewing Chronicles from Chateau Moines by Evelyne Holingue. It is available here on Amazon and here at Barnes and Noble. 

 

Summary:
Twelve-year-old Scott is still reeling from his mother’s death. Why is his father dragging the family from their home in California to the small French town of Chateau Moines? With his dad keeping secrets and his sister fitting in right away, Scott struggles to adjust to his new life. Enter Sylvie, a music-loving classmate who won’t admit how fascinated she is by this American boy. If she can overcome her resistance, and her best friend’s crush, Sylvie may be the perfect friend to help Scott find his place in France. Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War protest era, Chronicles from Chateau Moines is about loss and friendship, music and peace, and overcoming family secrets.

 

Review:
As a girl, I dreamed of visiting France one day. As an adult, my visit there holds special memories. Not only did I spend an anniversary with my husband in Paris, but I also started writing seriously when I came home. I may be a little biased, but I absolutely loved the setting of Chateau Moines. From the opening chapters, the author whisked me away to this small town in France. Set in 1970, the characters’ varying stances on the Vietnam War also give a unique international view of the time period.

 

Sylvie and Scott’s distinct voices were also a high point. I related quickly to Scott as a main character—I sympathized with his grief over his mother’s death, and I rooted for him as he stood firm in his beliefs while leading a war protest. Although the characters are younger, I think both the theme and the voice would appeal to upper middle grades readers who enjoy character-driven historical fiction and anyone who loves all things French.

 

5 out of 5 stars.

2015!

2015! I am so ready for the flying cars, house cleaning robots, and the slimming, monochromatic body suits we were promised. As we all sky rocket into the future, I have a few bookish goals for the year ahead.

 
1. Review more books.

I really skimped on my book reviewing last year. I hate writing bad reviews. I know they’re helpful to other readers, but as a writer, I really struggle with tearing down someone else’s work. I enjoy critiquing and beta reading, but at that point the work is still in flux. If the writer shares it with me, she is still willing to make changes. That knowledge gives me the freedom to share what doesn’t work for me. But a published work is complete. Just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean someone else will. And unfortunately, I only read a few books that I really loved last year. Here’s hoping goal #2 changes that in 2015.

2.   Read more debuts.
 
Last year I mostly read big name, highly publicized books, partially because I’m entrenched in so many series. I enjoyed the fresh voices in the debuts I did read, and I plan to push myself in that direction this year.

3. Really enjoy the fun parts of writing.

Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. It’s messy and free and private. Things may really take shape in the revising stage, but that part is as much work as it is fun. This year I just want to soak in the joy of creative process, instead of always focusing on the success or failure of the end product.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are off to a great new year!

Music for today: There is a Light that Never Goes Out by The Smiths

Book Reviews: A Double-edged Sword

Recently a writer I know and respect sent out a message asking readers and friends to please review her new book on the various sites. (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) It was all completely on the up-and-up. She didn’t ask for positive reviews, just honesty from those who’d read it, in the hopes that they might balance out some harsh ones. I haven’t read her book yet, but of course this piqued my interest to see what prompted her request.

She had a few of those scathing, rambling reviews that tell you far more about the general unhappiness of the person writing them than the actual book. Who has time to write this stuff? I mean, why not spend that time writing their own masterpieces of fiction? As a reader, those reviews mean nothing to me.

But the rest of the reviews were of the helpful variety. They gave short summaries and highlights of what they liked and what they didn’t. The points were all very similar, with above-average ratings. My problem is this: the issues they mentioned were all things that really bug me in other books. They’re things related to character development that cause me to put a book down.

I wanted to buy this book, both for my own enjoyment and to support a fellow writer. But with so many awesome releases coming out every week, what I read on these sites was enough keep my money in my pocket. The key point is that it wasn’t the terrible reviews that held me back, but the good ones. The worst thing is, at least from her perspective, that I would have bought her book if I’d never gotten that message.

Music for today: Lovesong by The Cure

It’s been forever since I checked in with YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday. This week the topic is simple and perfect for what’s been on my mind:

What are you reading right now?



I’m still reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At about halfway through, that’s slow reading for me.

I’ve been itching to talk about it, though, because I think Ms. Tartt has a secret. On top of being a best-selling, Pulitzer-winning literary powerhouse, she may secretly be a YA writer in disguise. Let’s start with the premise of The Goldfinch, according to Goodreads:

Buy it here

Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

I realize that in the course of the narrative, Theo will grow up, and I’ll learn how the trials of his youth shaped him and the circumstances he faces as an adult. But for the first half of this book, Tartt creates a raw, honest picture of a teenager’s life in America. Theo deals with tragedy and loss, guilt and confusion. My heart aches for him and for my real-life sons, who are edging too close for comfort to his age.

The “youth” portion of this novel may not form a complete story on it’s own, but even with plot elements aside, it would hold up as a coming of age tale. My question is, then, which defines a book as YA more, the age and circumstances of the main character, or the intention of the author to write for young people? If the answer is the former, then Ms. Tartt is definitely a YA writer in addition to her other talents.

Happy reading and happy Wednesday, everyone!

Music for today: Bad Blood by Bastille