Categotry Archives: Contemporary

Seed

Seed Book Cover Seed
Lisa Heathfield
Juvenile Fiction
Running Press Kids
2015-03-10
336

All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S. At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S.’s companion. She feels excitement . . . and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community—particularly the teenage son, Ellis—only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant. Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask. But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface. Lisa Heathfield’s suspenseful, scintillating debut features a compelling voice that combines blithe naïveté, keen observation, and sincere emotion.

 

Review:

Well, that escalated quickly.

Those are the words to most accurately described my feelings toward “Seed”, a book about a teenaged girl living on a cult compound with a fear of the outside world.  The cult is well-developed and the creepiness of it (and believe me, it tips the creepy scale) is revealed in a way consistent with the view of Pearle, the narrator.  Everything is presented naturally, without much explanation, but her observations adequately clue in the reader to what she cannot see.

The plot moves at a slow, though steady, pace.  This is good, because things at Seed do not change quickly.  In fact, they rarely change at all.  The characters are well-developed and for the most part sympathetic.  It’s very easy to feel sympathy for the innocents and hope they finally realize they are not in a good place.   That is the first 99% of the book.

The last 1% of the book is a whirlwind that needed quite a bit more exploration.  There were subplots introduced that had nothing to do with the conclusion and had no resolution.  That space would have been much better used to make the actual conclusion more cohesive.  I understand that there is a point where things would speed up rapidly, and the author is trying to convey this, but it was such a disorienting jumble that it cost an entire star in my rating.

If you like reading about cults, or things that make your skin crawl in general, then you may wish to give “Seed” a try as long as you go into it with the knowledge the very end may fall short of your expectations.  It is most definitely for high schoolers and adults.  The content is not explicit but very much present.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Strongly Implied Sexual Content, Brief Language, Violence, Abuse

The Tragic Age

The Tragic Age Book Cover The Tragic Age
Stephen Metcalfe
St. Martin's Griffin
March 3, 2015
Hardcover
320

This is the story of Billy Kinsey, heir to a lottery fortune, part genius, part philosopher and social critic, full time insomniac and closeted rock drummer. Billy has decided that the best way to deal with an absurd world is to stay away from it. Do not volunteer. Do not join in. Billy will be the first to tell you it doesn't always work-- not when your twin sister, Dorie, has died, not when your unhappy parents are at war with one another, not when frazzled soccer moms in two ton SUVs are more dangerous than atom bombs, and not when your guidance counselor keeps asking why you haven't applied to college.?
Billy's life changes when two people enter his life. Twom Twomey is a charismatic renegade who believes that truly living means going a little outlaw. Twom and Billy become one another's mutual benefactor and friend. At the same time, Billy is reintroduced to Gretchen Quinn, an old and adored friend of Dorie's. It is Gretchen who suggests to Billy that the world can be transformed by creative acts of the soul.?

 

Review:

“The Tragic Age” is the type of novel I adore, but yet find extremely difficult to find one that is well-written.  It is, above all else, an excellent study in existentialism for the current high school generation, not to mention the rest of us.

Billy is a narrator with an excellent voice.  His observations are disturbing, disturbed, witty, intelligent, and downright funny.  Funny, that is, until you actually think about them too hard.  Then they become disturbing and/or disturbed.  The author managed to make him both a very self-aware narrator and a very unreliable narrator.  That is a true mark of talent.

Nothing about the plot is predictable, yet at the end the conclusion seems inevitable.  It is definitely a novel that needs a second read to fully appreciate all that it has to offer.  I can honestly say it will be something I analyze for quite some time.

Also, I died a little bit inside when the epitome of old was revealed to be forty.

Recommended for the older young adult crowd and those who like existentialist literature.   “The Tragic Age” is not for younger readers, as it is dark and adult in nature,

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Strong Sexual Content, Strong Language, Violence, Underage Drinking, Bullying

Pioneer Girl

Pioneer Girl Book Cover Pioneer Girl
Bich Minh Nguyen
Fiction
Penguin Books
2015-01-27
304

Discovering a family heirloom that her mother may have received from Laura Ingalls Wilder, PhD graduate Lee Lien explores the tenuous connection between her ancestors and the famous pioneer author only to discover a trail of clues that lead to fateful encounters.

 

Review:

“Pioneer Girl” is an absolutely wonderful novel about a Vietnamese woman born to immigrant parents in the 1970s.

As a child, Lee Lien was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books as she and her family moved from place to place, looking for a better life.  As an adult, she begins to trail a story that goes back to her mother’s childhood in Saigon.  The search for the full story makes for a wonderful literary mystery that would be enough to make a good read on its own.  However, there is much more.

Soon Lee, and the reader, begins to connect the lives of her family with those of the Wilders.  The search for a better life is something that spans all cultures and generations, and never has book so captured the American Dream as eloquently as “Pioneer Girl”.  It is something unchanging, and will hopefully be embraced and extended to all of those yet to come.  Don’t we all want what is best for those we love?

I learned more about Vietnamese culture than all of what I knew previously combined.  It was extremely educational, and I don’t think I will ever be able to eat at a Chinese Buffet again.  More diverse books are desperately needed, and this is an excellent addition toward that goal of universal diversity.  Thank you to the author for your work.

I recommend “Pioneer Girl”.  While it is an adult book, the subject matter can be appreciated by upper middle graders and up.  It will be extra enjoyable to all “Little House on the Prairie” fans.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Painless

Painless Book Cover Painless
S.A. Harazin
Albert Whitman Teen
March 1, 2015
Hardcover
272

A first kiss. Falling in love. Going to prom. These are all normal things that most teenagers experience. Except for 17-year-old David Hart. His life is anything but normal and more difficult than most. Because of the disease that wracks his body, David is unable to feel pain. He has congenital insensitivity to pain with anhydrosis--or CIPA for short. One of only a handful of people in the world who suffer from CIPA, David can't do the things every teenager does. He might accidentally break a limb and not know it. If he stands too close to a campfire, he could burn his skin and never feel it. He can't tell if he has a fever and his temperature is rising. Abandoned by his parents, David now lives with his elderly grandmother who is dying. When David's legal guardian tells him that he needs to move into an assisted living facility as he cannot live alone, David is determined to prove him wrong. He creates a bucket list, meets a girl with her own wish list, and then sets out to find his parents. All David wants to do is grow old, beat the odds, find love, travel the world, and see something spectacular. And he still wants to find his parents. While he still can.

 

Review:

“Painless” is a book about a boy, David, who suffers from a life-threatening disease called CIPA that makes it impossible for him to feel pain or changes in temperature.

The world of David is a fascinating one, with inner thoughts and situations that are not what most of us have ever been exposed to.  Additionally, there is a wealth of information about CIPA and what life is like for those living with it.  The plot is excellent in that it shows how David learns to come out of his shell and begin dealing with the world around him, facing his fears head-on, along with learning there are people there to help him and how to accept that help.

Unfortunately, there is almost zero resolution to the mysteries in the plot.  While realistically all of life’s problems are rarely solved easily, it would have been nice for there to be some sort of closure for the reader to at least one of the threads.  It made what was a good read a source of frustration, and that is what is lingering in my head as I write this review.

I cannot recommend “Painless”, nor can I say not to read it.  It will depend upon the reader whether or not it is appealing.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Brief Discussions of Sexual Situations, Language, Violence

Silence

Silence Book Cover Silence
Deborah Lytton
Fiction
Shadow Mountain
2015-03-03
320

Love is blind, but it's also deaf. Stella was born to sing. Someday Broadway. Even though she's only a sophomore at a new high school, her voice has given her the status as a "cool kid." But everything changes when a tragic accident renders her deaf. She can't hear herself sing not to mention speak. She can't hear anything. Silence. What happens when everything you've dreamed of and hoped for is shattered in a single moment? Enter Hayden, the boy with blond curls who stutters. He's treated like an outcast because he's not "normal." And, yet, Stella feels an attraction to him that she can't explain. As Hayden reaches out to help Stella discover a world without sound, his own tragic past warns him to keep a distance. But their connection is undeniable. Can the boy who stutters and the girl who's deaf ever find a happily-ever-after? Silence is a story of friendship and hope with a lesson that sometimes it takes a tragedy to help us find and appreciate beauty and love.

 

Review:

“Silence” is a romance for teens about a boy who has a speech impediment and a girl who loses her hearing in a freak accident.  At its heart it’s a very sweet story, and I wish I could have given it four stars.

I’ll begin with the good.  It’s nice to see a book written featuring different sorts of disabilities and how they affect lives of both those with them and those around them.  There are no sexual acts outside of kissing, faith is featured heavily, and there is no bad language.  It’s written in a very simple-to-read manner which makes it a good choice for middle readers and those looking for “clean” romances, which I know are often difficult to find.

Unfortunately, the writing, while easy to read, is also over-the-top flowery.  Considering there are two narrators, and both speak in flowery language, it is difficult to distinguish between their voices.  Therefore, character development is stagnant.  The plot is not bad, but seems more suited to a short story, making it seem like quite a bit is filler.

I recommend “Silence” for those looking for a “clean” romance for younger middle graders, but don’t think it would appeal to other demographics.  Your mileage may vary.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Child Abuse

My Best Everything

My Best Everything Book Cover My Best Everything
Sarah Tomp
Juvenile Fiction
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
2015-03-03
400

An Appalachian summer walks the line between toxic and intoxicating in this debut novel about first loves, broken hearts, and moonshine. Luisa "Lulu" Mendez has just finished her final year of high school in a small Virginia town, determined to move on and leave her job at the local junkyard behind. So when her father loses her college tuition money, Lulu needs a new ticket out. Desperate for funds, she cooks up the (illegal) plan to make and sell moonshine with her friends. Quickly realizing they're out of their depth, they turn to Mason, a local boy who's always seemed like a dead end. As Mason guides Lulu through the secret world of moonshine, it looks like her plan might actually work. But can she leave town before she loses everything? My Best Everything is Lulu's letter to Mason--but it a love letter, an apology, or a good-bye?

 

Review:

It is going to be really difficult to describe just how much I love “My Best Everything” and what makes it amazing, but I am going to give it a try.

At its heart it is a coming of age story and a romance, and one that uses some of the standard tropes, but somehow manages to turn them around and make them into something completely different.  You have the bad boy, a common staple of romances, but he is not at all typical and by chapter ten you know his story is not what you think it will be.  There is bullying and stereotypes, but they are not the ones usually addressed in books, and it makes the reader think beyond what they would normally define as “bullying”.

The novel is written in the first person, but as a letter to the male protagonist, making the word “you” draw the reader into the experience.  It makes the entire thing more personal and intimate, with the narrator expressing feelings in a direct fashion, skipping flowery language, exposing the very real problems with the relationship, and yet somehow making this the type of  love story you are glad you were given the chance to become a part of.  There’s also the mystery of exactly why the letter is being written in the first place, adding some suspense, as well as reader anxiety, to the reading.

The character development is some of the best I have ever read in this novel’s genre, with traits and backstories being revealed with perfect timing.  All of the characters are flawed, with qualities that make you want to hug them and qualities that make you want to shake some sense into them.  In other words, they are realistic and react to their circumstances in a manner consistent with their personalities.  Additionally, the environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains is written in a way that makes them their own character.  Beautiful and flawed, they evoke feelings of longing and frustration.

I want to make note that the main character, Lulu, is Latino, and that is refreshing.  It is so rare to find diversity in books without it being the central theme of the book that it was a wonderful surprise to have her race being something that just is part of her and not the driving plot of the story.

The characters in “My Best Everything” act realistically, so there is underage drinking, sexual situations, and quite a bit of colorful language.  There is also a relationship with an age difference that may bother some, though the girl is only a couple of months shy of eighteen, so keep that in mind if that is the sort of thing that will decrease your enjoyment of the book.  Also, it’s about making moonshine, so if alcohol bothers you in any way, this is most definitely not the book for you.

As for my opinion, I highly recommend “My Best Everything” for older young adults as well as those who are no longer young.  It’s wonderful and I did not want to leave the characters and world behind.  I will never stop hoping that Sarah Tomp revisits Lulu and Mason at sometime in the future.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Sexual Content, Language, Violence,  Addiction, Underage Drinking,  Lots of ‘Shine

The Third Twin

The Third Twin
CJ Omololu
Delacorte Press
February 24, 2015
Hardcover
336

Identical twins. Identical DNA. Identical suspects. It’s Pretty Little Liars meets Revenge in this edge-of-your-seat thriller with a shocking twist.

When they were little, Lexi and her identical twin, Ava, made up a third sister, Alicia. If something broke? Alicia did it. Cookies got eaten? Alicia’s guilty. Alicia was always to blame for everything.

The game is all grown up now that the girls are seniors. They use Alicia as their cover to go out with boys who are hot but not exactly dating material. Boys they’d never, ever be with in real life.

Now one of the guys Alicia went out with has turned up dead, and Lexi wants to stop the game for good. As coincidences start piling up, Ava insists that if they follow the rules for being Alicia, everything will be fine. But when another boy is killed, the DNA evidence and surveillance photos point to only one suspect—Alicia. The girl who doesn’t exist.

As she runs from the cops, Lexi has to find the truth before another boy is murdered. Because either Ava is a killer . . . or Alicia is real.

 

Review:

I really wanted to like “The Third Twin”, and for a little over half of the book, I did.  Somewhere around there it really jumped the rails in several aspects.  The first half is why I gave it three stars, but the second would most certainly would be a two star book, in my opinion.

The premise is a very interesting one, and an unsolved murder for which the protagonist is a suspect holds a lot of promise.  The stakes rise as it goes on, delivering a mix of the predictable and good surprises.  The set-up was the best part of the book.

The characters are not well-developed, relying mostly on tropes to establish their personalities, and by the end they are quite grating.  The ending, without spoiling it, is everything that a mystery should not be.  While unpredictable, which is a good quality, it comes out of nowhere with absolutely no clues to lead it there, which is anything but good.

For most mystery lovers, I would recommend giving this one a pass.  If the little details are not something you care about in a mystery or thriller, it may be worth a try.  If nothing else, “The Third Twin” is a quick read.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

Mild Sexual Situations, Language, Violence

Paper or Plastic

Paper or Plastic Book Cover Paper or Plastic
Vivi Barnes
Entangled: Teen
February 23, 2015
Paperback
352

Welcome to SmartMart, where crime pays minimum wage...

Busted. Alexis Dubois just got caught shoplifting a cheap tube of lipstick at the local SmartMart. She doesn’t know what’s worse—disappointing her overbearing beauty-pageant-obsessed mother for the zillionth time…or her punishment. Because Lex is forced to spend her summer working at the store, where the only things stranger than the staff are the customers.

Now Lex is stuck in the bizarro world of big-box retail. Coupon cutters, jerk customers, and learning exactly what a “Code B” really is (ew). And for added awkwardness, her new supervisor is the totally cute—and adorably geeky—Noah Grayson. Trying to balance her out-of-control mother, her pitching position on the softball team, and her secret crush on the school geek makes for one crazy summer. But ultimately, could the worst job in the world be the best thing that ever happened to her?

 

Review:

“Paper or Plastic” is exactly what it intends to be: a light ya romance and palate cleanser.  It fulfills its purpose wonderfully.

The characters are engaging and fun, all of them with underlying issues that a revealed throughout the book.  They grow a surprising amount as people given the length and lightness of the plot.  It’s easy to find yourself relating to them in some way and I found myself more invested in their lives more than I expected to be.

The plot is solid and deals with some heavier issues like bullying, Alzheimer’s, and child abuse while somehow managing to keep the tone light and humorous for the most part.  The writing is done in a style that makes it a quick read, and the teenagers speak like actual teenagers, which is something I am always appreciative of when digging in to a ya novel.

I can’t finish the review without noting that the author has very obviously worked at a retail chain of some sort in the past.  The horrors of retail were enough to bring me back nightmares about my days at a grocery chain.  In spite of the nightmares, reading about the customers had me literally laughing out loud.  Well done, Vivi Barnes.

“Paper or Plastic” is obviously meant for the teen market, but there are few things explicit enough for parents of younger teens to worry about.  I recommend it for those looking for a quick romantic read filled with humor and just the right amount of sweetness.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content Warning:

Mild Sexual Situations, Brief Language, Child Abuse

How (Not) to Fall in Love

How (Not) to Fall in Love Book Cover How (Not) to Fall in Love
Lisa Brown Roberts
Entangled: Teen
February 3, 2015
Hardcover
352

Seventeen-year-old Darcy Covington never had to worry about money or where her next shopping spree was coming from. Even her dog ate gourmet. Then one day, Darcy’s car is repossessed from the parking lot of her elite private school. As her father’s business hit the skids, Dad didn’t just skip town, he bailed on his family.

Fortunately, Darcy’s uncle owns a thrift shop where she can hide out from the world. There’s also Lucas, the wickedly hot fix-it guy she can’t stop crushing on, even if she’s not sure they’ll ever get out of the friend zone.

But it’s here among the colorful characters of her uncle’s world that Darcy begins to see something more in herself...if she has the courage to follow it.

 

Review:

“How (Not) to Fall in Love” is the perfect palate cleanser that mixes romance with deeper issues, making it light but intelligent.  Part romance, part mystery, and part family drama, it covers quite a wide range of subjects.

All of the characters are wonderfully flawed and do not fall prey to stereotypes, even though the other characters try to project them onto those who are different.  They are well-developed and the dialogue is realistic and snarky.  The male love interest is actually a decent guy who sets a good example for the type of relationships girls and boys should expect to have.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case with young adult romances, so I’m always appreciative when it happens.

Mental illness and the effect it has on family members is also tackled and handled in a very sensitive manner.  There are no miracles to make it go away, and the path is not an easy one.  The realistic nature is something many people will be able to relate to, and it will also serve to help educate those without personal experiences.

While there is some adult content, none of it is explicit enough to keep middle readers from being able to read it and appreciate it, and parents can feel at ease with how everything is handled.  This makes it a wonderful choice for romance lovers of almost any age.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Content:

Mild Sexual Situations, Language, Drug Usage

 

Hades

Hades Book Cover Hades
Archer and Bennett, Book 1
Candice Fox
Mystery
Kensington
January 27, 2015
Hardback
320

 

Review:

It has been quite some time since I have found a new and enjoyable mystery series that features both procedurals and a unique premise, but “Hades” definitely meets all of those requirements and more.  If you read the description, it may sound like “Dexter”, but I can assure you there is very little resemblance.

The plot goes back and forth between the backstory of the twins Eden and Eric, along with their “father” Hades, and a first-person account by detective Frank Bennett of the current work of finding a prolific serial killer.  On occasion there is also a third-person narrative of what is happening with the killer.  The switches took a bit to get used to, but once they did I found them enjoyable.

The plot is fast and interesting, with quite a few surprises thrown in.  It will be difficult for even the most enthusiastic mystery lovers to see where it all will end, making it the perfect mystery.  The characters are deep and well-developed, with enough mystery surrounding them to make the reader look forward to the sequel.  Unfortunately, writing much more would spoil the surprises, and where is the fun in that?

I recommend “Hades” for any mystery lovers out there with strong stomachs, as it can be gruesome at times.

This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

Content Warning:

I don’t normally write content warnings for adult books, but please be aware that this novel contains animal death.