I was pleasantly surprised by WONDER LIGHT: UNICORNS OF THE MIST (hereby shortened to WONDER LIGHT). Having been a big fan of The Last Unicorn by Pete...moreI was pleasantly surprised by WONDER LIGHT: UNICORNS OF THE MIST (hereby shortened to WONDER LIGHT). Having been a big fan of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, I was excited to see how R.R. Russell would handle the portrayal of unicorns in a children's book. These are not the unicorns of old, innocent and pure and for virginal maidens only. Oh, sure, the archetype is there, but from the mists of Lonehorn Island, a new breed of unicorn has risen: blood-thirsty and murderous. Such a refreshing twist! (Rest assured, parents, this isn't a book that will induce nightmares.)
I'll admit, even though I am a grown woman, I was swept away by the impending doom of the wild unicorns and Twig's desperate attempts to keep the Murleys, the other girls, and the rest of the inhabitants of Lonehorn Island safe. R.R. Russell knows how to build suspense!
Twig Tupper is an excellent character and, I believe, a great role model for young girls. She's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but she's smart, fiercely loyal, and compassionate. The story of how she came to be at the pony ranch unfolds slowly but with perfect pacing. I couldn't help but ache for her as she struggled with feelings of abandonment, loss, grief, and inadequacy, yet my heart soared when she came into her own and discovered unconditional love and acceptance, and most of all, an unshakable confidence in herself and a sense of purpose.
The other characters, big and small, were also well-written and I felt like I connected with most of them, especially Mr. and Mrs. Murley, the owners of Lonehorn Island Pony Ranch, and the guardians of the six "throw-away" girls. WONDER LIGHT doesn't glorify their roles as pseudo-parents, and instead shows them as flawed but compassionate individuals doing their best to love and care for children who are not their own. I loved the depth that R.R. Russell gave to each character within the book, especially the "Wild Boy", Ben, whose mysteriously-worded letter toward the end of the story makes me eager to read the sequel.
Another notable aspect of WONDER LIGHT is the incredibly detailed setting and atmosphere. I could picture Lonehorn Island and the yellow house on the pony ranch in my head just as clearly as if I were there. Even the descriptions of the meals that Mrs. Murley made had my mouth watering and my stomach grumbling in hungry protest! I was incredibly impressed by this, as I feel that, far too often, these types of details are glossed over in children's books. Kudos to R.R. Russell for writing such a brilliant novel in a genre that is often lacking in substance!
Overall, WONDER LIGHT is a suspenseful, exciting read especially for children who yearn for adventure and "something more" from their fairy tales. For families who like to read aloud, this is perfectly written for bedtime story time. I hope there is an audiobook of WONDER LIGHT in the future!
*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ---------------------------------- This review was originally posted on BlookGirl.com on May 1st, 2013, as part of the Sourcebooks Jabberwocky Blog Tour!(less)
I listed IF YOU COULD BE MINE as a Waiting on Wednesday pick a while ba...moreThis review was originally posted on BlookGirl.com.
I listed IF YOU COULD BE MINE as a Waiting on Wednesday pick a while back and was completely floored when the kind folks at Algonquin Young Readers had this book (and others) in my mailbox within 2 weeks. I have become more interested in Middle Eastern and Asian culture as of late, and have been impressed thus far by the few books I've read that feature these regions and their people. When a Young Adult novel combines not only characters of different ethnicities, but also characters within the LGBT community, I sit up and take notice. This combination is hard to find and so, a certain level of expectation comes with reading said novel.
After having recently read A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury, which takes place solely in India, I had slightly higher expectations in regard to cultural depictions and setting going into IF YOU COULD BE MINE. We do get a glimpse into the oppressiveness of the Iranian laws (prison time for showing elbows, ladies!) and the shcoking inequality between men and women, but I was hoping for a bit more. Unfortunately, this is the least of my concerns about this novel, Most of my disappointment lies within the story itself. Sahar and Nasrin have been friends, and supposedly in love, since they were six. Aside from a few pages at the beginning of the book, however, we never get a feel for their childhood friendship or how or why they came to fall in love with each other. This omission was made even more obvious as I followed their story through current day.
Nasrin is a selfish tease, pure and simple. I have no earthly idea why Sahar was so committed to and infatuated with her! She sees Sahar when it suits her and is content to play house as long as it doesn't involve any real commitment on her part. Had their childhood friendship been fleshed out perhaps I would know why Sahar was so willing to give up her very identity for Nasrin, but because there was a complete lack of characterization and background, I just didn't buy into their romance or friendship. In the end, I felt incredibly sorry for Sahar. Unrequited love is incredibly tough to deal with, but to also feel as if you don't belong anywhere, even within your own home, it's a heavy load to bear. When Sahar began considering a sex change operation, it was just too much. I was so angry with both of them, but moreso with Sahar. That she would consider such a drastic, life-altering surgery without even consulting the person for whom she was making the change seemed absolutely foolish!
Despite the aforementioned negatives, IF YOU COULD BE MINE is not without its positives. The writing, while simple, is decent, and the secondary characters really captured my attention. Although the story is about Sahar and Nasrin's romance, I found myself much more intrigued by Ali, Sahar's gregarious, gay cousin, and Ali's transgendered friend (whose name escapes me at the moment). Unfortunately, the secondary characters also suffered from lack of depth and characterization. In fact, that seems to be my main issue with the book in general: though I realize I read an Advanced Reading Copy and things may very well be different in the final version, the whole story felt unfinished. It reads like a decent first draft of what could have been a truly amazing entry into this much-needed sub-genre of Young Adult novels. As it is, it falls short of the mark.
Overall, IF YOU COULD BE MINE tackles a tough subject matter in a nonjudgmental way and certainly gives the reader a lot to think about in regard to the challenges that millions of those in the LGBT community face every day across the globe. Those looking for a quick, one-day read that will keep you turning the pages, IF YOU COULD BE MINE is a good choice!
*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Perfect for young girls who love adventure, bust-your-gut humor, a bit of romance, and most of all, a feisty heroine they can look up and relate to! D...morePerfect for young girls who love adventure, bust-your-gut humor, a bit of romance, and most of all, a feisty heroine they can look up and relate to! Definitely passing this series on to my sweet niece :-)(less)
"Meh." That was my final thought upon reading -well, skimming- the last sentence of this book. I was expecting a suspenseful, entertaining read (a'la...more "Meh." That was my final thought upon reading -well, skimming- the last sentence of this book. I was expecting a suspenseful, entertaining read (a'la Mary Higgins Clark or Catherine Coulter) and in the end was extremely underwhelmed.
The characters were fairly well-written but did not particularly stand out. The character I connected most with was Emily Houchens, an odd little girl who is bullied endlessly in school, and whose behavior eventually went on to thoroughly creep me out. The other characters seemed, to me, to have so much more potential and I feel there was a bit of a disservice done to them. I can see how many women would easily connect with Susanna, especially in regards to her unhappiness with her marriage. There were a few interesting "aha!" revelations that broke though her otherwise monotonous thoughts.
The plot was meandering and, while it showed hints of promise, rather boring. The "mystery" of who happened to Ronnie was predictable, but I continued to read to find out why, which was probably the most interesting part of the book.
My least favorite part of this book was the last chapter. It is written in a completely different point-of-view from the rest of the book and is a bit too stream-of-consciousness for me. I am not sure what Holly Goddard Jones was trying to achieve by writing it in this manner, but it resulted in me being frustrated and rather annoyed at the end.
My book reviews are usually pretty in-depth, but in this case, the book was so one-note for me, that I really do not feel I have much to comment on. I see that many people have rated this book highly, so perhaps I was just in a different state of mind while reading this book; perhaps I just don't appreciate the point Holly Goddard Jones was trying to make.
As always, I recommend that you read this book for yourself if the subject interests you. It wasn't for me, but many other readers enjoyed it, and so you might, too!
*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Upon reading PUSHING THE LIMITS last year, I declared myself a "Katie McGarry Fangirl" for life. I knew the wait for DARE YOU TO would be tortorous, b...moreUpon reading PUSHING THE LIMITS last year, I declared myself a "Katie McGarry Fangirl" for life. I knew the wait for DARE YOU TO would be tortorous, but I am happy to say that it was completely worth it! I was so intrigued by Beth's rough-and-tumble character in PUSHING THE LIMITS, so when I learned that DARE YOU TO would be written from her point-of-view, I knew it just had to be good. Beth is cynical and sarcastic with a potty-mouth, determined to get a rise out of others while keeping her heart on lock-down. Ryan is mischevious, flirtatious, and a bit cocky; never one to turn down a dare, even if it means risking public humiliation by asking out the one girl who doesn't swoon in his presence.
I really, really enjoyed the characters in DARE YOU TO. It's hard to choose a favorite between Beth and Ryan, but I must admit that my heartstrings were a bit more attached to Ryan. He's a talented baseball player with a very promising future in the pro league ahead of him and the full weight of his successful, hard-nosed father behind him. It's clear to anyone with eyes that Beth has issues and that she's been through a lot. With Ryan, however, everything appears fine on the outside, but no one knows that his parents hardly speak to each other, or why his older brother suddenly disappeared, or that he writes incredible stories when he's alone in his room, showing immense talent beyond baseball.
As their individual stories unfolded, I caught myself so involved in the lives of both Beth and Ryan. There were points where my heart literally ached for Beth as she struggled to take care of her deadbeat mother and deal with the guilt heaped on her for being a failure and a disappointment. When things did go right, she quickly shut down or purposefully screwed things up in a subconscious effort to punish herself for being happy. It made me furious and incredibly sad that Beth felt such a great deal of responsibility for her mother, and that her mother put her in that position in the first place. This book made me really question just how much parents owe their children- and just how much children owe their parents. The tension that built with each encounter between Beth and her mom was enough to make me turn the pages with increasing fervor. I just knew something horrible would happen and I had to know that Beth would make it out okay... That's when I realized that "okay" is relative, and we can be broken in so many ways.
Though I shouldn't have been, I was surprised by how well-written Ryan's character was. As a woman, it's often hard to write from a male's point-of-view, but Katie McGarry drew Ryan with an expert hand. She managed to capture both the hard and vulnerable sides of Ryan and made me want to care for him and about him. The old adage, "Looks can be deceiving," came to mind when reading into Ryan's home life. His parents are so angry, mostly at themselves, though they don't realize it. His father is attempting to live vicariously through Ryan, inserting himself into every little detail of Ryan's fledgling baseball career and pushing him to do what he thinks is best. Meanwhile, Ryan's older brother, Mark, is a mere shadow for most of the book, and when I discovered why, I became even more invested in the Stone family. (A big part of me hopes that Katie McGarry will write a novella from Mark's point-of-view!)
The romance that developed between Beth and Ryan can only be described as a slow (but incredibly satisfying) burn. Beth is terrified of feeling and, well, Ryan makes her feel. What started out as a ridculous, egotistical dare led to something so passionate and raw that my throat ached with unshed tears. The more Beth pushed away, the more invested Ryan became in conquering her fears and leaping over her walls. As they begin to trust each other (in between wanting to strangle each other), they both start accepting their pasts and their secrets for what they were and are. When this happens, the growth they experience is incredibly inspiring and touching. Beth starts facing her insecurities head-on and Ryan refuses to settle for his father's dreams when his are so much grander. Faced with each other, neither Beth nor Ryan ever had a chance. If you're looking for a romance that will make you swoon, theirs is it!
While it is a completely different story, I was excited to see some familiar faces from PUSHING THE LIMITS, including Echo and Noah. With the inclusion of Isaiah, Katie once again made me so curious about the background of a secondary character, and I am excited to read his story next. This bad boy has a story to be told, and I'm willing to bet my blog that it's a heart-breaking one. Alongside these characters, we also get to know Scott, Beth's big-shot uncle who used to pitch for the Yankees, and who has now put down roots in his old hometown for the express purpose of taking Beth away from her wretched home life. Oh, if only every broken child had a Scott in their life! His interactions with Beth were often gut-wrenching, sometimes funny, and always poignant. Scott made a few mistakes with Beth when she was younger, which he isn't too proud to admit, and the effort he puts into making things right is admirable.
I've gone on and on about the characters, which are most important to me, but I would be remiss if I didn't talk about how well-paced the plot was and how immersed I became in the story. I literally couldn't stop thinking about it, even when I was supposed to be working. (Confession: I briefly considered trying to read while driving. Please do not do this!) While DARE YOU TO does not necessarily have the "shock value" that PUSHING THE LIMITS had with regard to the issues that Echo dealt with, it is still an emotionally-involving story that will consume your every thought until you reach the end - and then long after you've turned the last page. If you're looking for a happily-ever-after, you won't necessarily find that in Katie's books, but what you will find are a cast of characters that learn how to make the best out of very tough situations and carve out their own slices of happiness... And in my opinion, that's even better.
Just as with PUSHING THE LIMITS in 2013, DARE YOU TO is an easy favorite for 2013. Riveting, emotional, swoon-worthy, and all-around amazing. CRASH INTO YOU can't be published soon enough!
*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ---------------- This review was originally posted on BlookGirl.com on May 16th as part of the Harlequin Teen Blog Tour!(less)
When THE LOOP was first announced, I immediately added it to my "Oh Em Gee" list on GoodReads. It sounded unique and intriguing, and since I'm a big f...moreWhen THE LOOP was first announced, I immediately added it to my "Oh Em Gee" list on GoodReads. It sounded unique and intriguing, and since I'm a big fan of suspense and murder mysteries, I figured this book was right up my alley! I was right - and wrong.
I am a big lover of characters in the books I read. If the characters and their stories are compelling, I become emotionally invested, sometimes to the point of obsession. THE LOOP, clocking in at just over 200 pages, is very much a plot-driven novel. It's fast-paced and action-packed, which makes it a quick read, but I was a bit let down by the lack of character development. Since we're thrown right in to Ben and Maggie's loop within the first few pages, we don't get to learn what their lives were like before the loop, what they were interested in, what their families were like, if they had friends they cared about... the lack of this knowlede didn't lead me to really care about whether or not they escaped the loop in the end.
The premise of the novel is excellent, but I think the execution of it was poor in some parts and fair-to-middling in others. There were things that didn't really make sense, which sometimes is part of what makes a story great, but in this case, just left me feeling frustrated. Maggie had apparently been in other loops before, and remembered that she had, but couldn't seem to remember how she got out of them. Then, both Ben and Maggie try to change the course of Fate by making different decisions to escape the loop, but their decisions didn't really seem to make sense. They may be head-strong teenagers, but they're still children, and I would think that most kids would try to involve others (parents or mentors?) to help keep them away from a man bent on murdering them. And while I'm at it, the sole purpose of the big bad wolf, Roy, seemed to be that of someone Ben and Maggie could run from to further the plot. By the end of the story, I had forgotten why Roy was even intent on murdering them in the first place, and asked myself several times why Roy didn't just stop pursuing them to stop his own loop... Too many plot holes for me, and I'm not a big fan of Swiss cheese.
I know my review thus far is a bit of a rant/complaint, but I did give THE LOOP three stars, so there were some redeeming qualities. These qualities include the fact that it was a quick read, the action was non-stop, and it did keep me entertained. If you are a fan of plot-driven novels and are in search of an entertaining book you can read within the span of a plane ride or a few hours by the pool, THE LOOP may be just what you're looking for! Just don't over-think it and you're set!
*A finished copy of this book was provided by the publisher and AuthorsOnTheWeb in exchange for an honest review.(less)
I'll admit, angel books are not normally my "thing." I'm wary of them because they tend to be a bit too self-righteous for me. THE SWEET DEAD LIFE is...moreI'll admit, angel books are not normally my "thing." I'm wary of them because they tend to be a bit too self-righteous for me. THE SWEET DEAD LIFE is a refreshing relief from the typical angel book, in that you won't find characters with a superiority complex or overly-preachy moral messages that make you want to chuck the book at the wall in disgust. No, instead, you'll find angels (and non-angels) that smoke pot, cuss like sailors, masturbate, and generally behave like, well, humans. This is where the book exceeded my expectations, and at the same time, fell short of what I thought it could have been.
Allow me to elaborate by focusing on what I felt was good in this book: First, the characters. Jenna Samuels was so refreshing! She has a sarcastic, witty voice that kept me in splits for a good chunk of the book. This girl says what she thinks and is not quick to censor herself, which is typical of most 14-year-olds. Similarly, the other characters, from Jenna's older brother, Casey, to her best friend, Mags, and even ol' Nurse Ed with the purple Crocs, all had depth and personality that just jumped off the page. The humor sprinkled throughout the pages, both within the scenes and the dialogue, made THE SWEET DEAD LIFE an easy, entertaining read, and is a big part of what kept me going until the end. If Joy Preble's night-job isn't as a stand-up comedian, it should be! I also enjoyed the overall mystery of the plot, and though I did recognize who the villian would be early on, the way everything unfolded was very satisfying. Finally, I give Joy high marks for including so much of the Houston/Texas I know and love within the pages of THE SWEET DEAD LIFE. It's so neat reading about places and street names with which you are familiar. "Hey, I was just there!"
Now, on to the things that didn't quite work for me. I mentioned earlier how I liked that THE SWEET DEAD LIFE doesn't beat you over the head with a moral message. While this is true, I also thought that the almost-constant mention of pot and porn, as well as the excessive cussing, were just too much. I know (some) teenagers do and say these things, and I think I understand what Joy was going for - that is, no one is perfect - but it seemed that the inclusion of these -ahem- activities was more for shock value or in an obvious attempt to avoid the "heavenly being" cliches. The main character is 14, yet I would not feel comfortable giving this book to any middle grader, so while it is a bit of a cross-over between Middle Grade and Young Adult, I'd say this book is more for older Young Adults. The pacing of the story was decent-to-good, but I did have an image in my head of wheels spinning but getting no traction for several portions of the book. Finally, the ending fell flat for me. It's not a happily-ever-after, and it really can't be, since there's going to be a sequel, but it was an ending that didn't exactly inspire me to read the next book in the series.
Coming up with a final rating for THE SWEET DEAD LIFE was really hard. I've been trying not to split hairs with half-stars, but in the end, this one demanded that I do. It wasn't quite 4-star material for me, and honestly, I hate that because I love Joy and I especially love supporting local authors. However, the good outshone the bad and this is why I gave the rating I did. Overall, THE SWEET DEAD LIFE was a well-written and fun read, and many of my good friends did enjoy it. You may, too! I recommend that you give it a try and see for yourself!
*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ------------------- This review was originally published on BlookGirl.com.(less)