Category Archives: YA

The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

If you enjoy Christian books with a capital C, then you might like The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert, but don’t expect a squeaky clean story. This novel deals with issues such as alcoholism, failed relationships, sex before marriage, teen drinking and drug use, and swearing. Yet interspersed between these “sinful” behaviors are various scriptures and reflections about God and Jesus (which at times become a bit preachy). It’s easy to see why the main characters have doubts about their religion when they can relate better to the Book of Job than to the Gospels.

Two estranged half sisters end up together battling their personal demons. Carmen, a successful meteorologist on a local news channel, is numbed by her inability to have a child, lashing out while keeping her distance from a loving but clueless husband. Gracie is compulsive in her actions reflecting her anger at the world, but she gets a fresh start at a new high school and even begins to make friends despite her negative attitude.

Yet life is not fair and this is definitely not a fairy tale as even simple solutions are unattainable. Despite the hard work and dedication towards setting things right, more often than not failure is the result. Watching the hypocritical achieve their desired outcomes without a struggle, the sisters each wonder about God and why he doesn’t seem to be there for them.

A series of “coincidences” leads one sister to save the life of the other, but there is no resolution to their dilemmas, just more questions.

Three stars for an interesting, though depressing read.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

For This Life Only by Stacy Kade

Jacob Palmer is a PK or Pastor’s Kid and has difficulty living under the family strictures requiring him to always be on his best behavior since the neighbors might be watching and judging his actions. To make matters worse, his twin brother Elijah is on the fast track to follow in the steps of both his father and grandfather to become the pastor at the local church which has become a family legacy. Needing to get away from another night of scrabble with his parents and young sister Sarah, Jace takes off to hang out with his friends, bumming a ride off his twin. Making it an early night so as not to break curfew, he has to call Eli to pick him up after he accidentally gets doused with a cup of beer (can’t let his dad know he’s had a sip or two). On the way home the car spins out on a patch of ice and their vehicle goes over the bridge killing one boy and almost taking the life of the other.

Even as he physically begins to mend, life for Jacob will never be the same. No longer able to throw the ball, his goal of a college sports scholarship is out the window. That’s the least of his worries as he has to adjust to a new family dynamic with broken parents and a traumatized baby sister as he carries the guilt of his brother’s death on his shoulders and tries to avoid the well
meaning platitudes of his classmates and the community.

Inexplicably Jacob finds himself seeking comfort from the school pariah, the daughter of the psychic who lives across the street from the church with the garish neon sign which makes his dad fume. This girl is off limits even to his friends since they hold her responsible for losing the state championship when two seniors were suspended based on her allegations of sexual harassment. Yet Jace sees a different side to the once hated Thera and, through her, starts to view life via a different lens.

For This Life Only by Stacy Kade is a powerful story dealing with some heavy topics such as sexual abuse, faith and religion, death and grief, loyalty and rejection. Kade shows a realistic snapshot of a family trying to deal with a senseless loss.

While there’s a lot going on with various subplots, unfortunately many of the characters aren’t fully developed and the story doesn’t quite gel. A further complication is the quick but confusing resolution leaving out some pertinent details which prevent the reader from attaining a fulfilling closure. While many YA books tend to be too wordy and need a little editing, this one could have easily added another fifty pages to properly wrap things up instead of using an epilogue to try and put a bow on a slightly incomplete story.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

Gary D Schmidt must have lived in Ancient Greece during a former life since he has developed the concept of tragedy into an art form in the new YA book, Orbiting Jupiter. Get out the hankies, this one is a real tear jerker. The parenting gene will go into overdrive as we read about motherless Jack whose father gets his jollies by beating up his only son. Then, while accompanying his dad on a plumbing job in an upscale neighborhood, Jack meets Madeline. After that the thirteen year old walks seven miles each way in all sorts of weather to spend time with this girl who quickly inhabits his heart. Then one day she kisses him and they end up together in the biblical sense. He gets caught and is sent away for his sins, first at one facility and then to a real killer institute. Inbetween times he discovers that Maddie has become pregnant and then that he has a daughter called Jupiter, named after their favorite planet.

All this information comes out later, but in the beginning of the story we meet Jamie and his folks who have decided to welcome Jack as a foster child into their home on an organic farm. Jack, who rarely speaks and remains skittish after some ugly events back at the home, gradually opens up as he interrelates with the farm animals and responds to the true affection provided by the Hurd family.

Yet it’s a long road from damaged to healed, and not smooth sailing for any of the participants as Jack seeks a path to wholeness through the idea of reuniting with his baby daughter. There is no sugar coating to the injustices found in bureaucracy or the nastiness of middle schoolers when they discover a weakness in a fellow student. Jack has too much baggage to be readily accepted by his peers although his abilities are recognized by some caring adults (finally a positive voice about the role of teachers in the life of their students).

This story is told through the voice of twelve year old James Hurd who grows to care for his “roommate” and continually demonstrates that he has Jack’s back, in the face of dangerous or threatening situations. Even though this story evolves around kids, don’t expect smooth sailing or happy endings.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but the plot reads more like my favorite soap opera where evil awaits around every corner with little pockets of hope for positive outcomes in impossible situations. Contrived might be a good word to describe this heart breaker. Also, Orbiting Jupiter is almost too short with some events occurring so rapidly that the reader can’t get a grip on what’s happening until it’s all over, in spite of anticipating this very outcome.

Although written for a YA audience, Orbiting Jupiter will appeal to the younger crowd, especially when they see it is less than two hundred pages. Well written, but easy to read, Schmidt doesn’t dumb down his dialogue and tackles some issues rarely talked about but of concern to young teens. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Hit Count by Chris Lynch

Teenage boys are the hardest audience to convince that reading fiction books is worthwhile. While girls will be happy with almost any topic, boys are much harder to please. Hit Count by Chris Lynch is the perfect novel to scratch that itch. It should be on the shelf of every high school library.

This book evolves around a family with two teenage boys, a mother, and father. Both sons are obsessed with football. The older son Lloyd Brodie, although tough, never advances beyond the Jayvee level and quits his Senior Year. It’s all downhill from there, as he drops out of school and spends his time smoking pot and bumming around the house. The reader isn’t sure if his denseness is drug induced or due to brain injury, but the author portrays him as a pathetic loser jealous of his successful little brother. In contrast, Arlo, 6′ 2″ and 240 pounds, is driven to succeed where his brother failed. He redoubles his efforts, training twice a day throughout the year with his best friend Dino so he can make the Varsity team in his Sophomore year. Once on the team, Arlo discovers he loves the violent contact necessary for the linebacker to do his job. Coach Fisk admires his determination, but sometimes has to bench his star player to keep him from harming himself. Arlo resents these time outs wanting to get back on the field and do some damage to the opposing team. He even gets aggressive during scrimmages with his team mates. Before long Arlo gets the nickname Starlo due to his stellar moves which leads to the team’s winning record.

The meaning of the term Hit Count evolves throughout the book. At first it refers to Arlo’s list of future accomplishments he would like to achieve. Many of the items are easily crossed off prior to his Senior Year in High School. Then the Hit Count is the number of people Arlo successfully targets to smash, until finally he considers himself to be a walking Hit Count. In the end, Coach Fisk reveals the correct definition. A hit count is used to limit the frequency of repetitive head trauma and concussions to improve the safety of youth athletes in competitive sports. Arlo’s mother keeps “The File” full of articles and photographs which both sons are forced to read to remind them of the dangers of concussions and sub concussive injuries prevalent in contact sports. While Arlo’s dad is proud of his son’s power and success on the field, Arlo’s mom refuses to attend the games and watch her son be clocked as he pulverizes the other teams roster. She cringes when reading the nickname Starlo in the local newspaper, intuitively knowing that such a designation is only earned after brutal actions. Eventually Arlo’s girlfriend Sandrine (Sandy) comes to agree and refuses to have “contact” with her boyfriend until the season is over.

What will appeal most to boys, besides the violence found in contact sports, is the graphic details of the game. Lynch rakes us through Arlo’s thoughts as he trains and plays his favorite sport of football. For me, it was a little excessive and upsetting (I’m a mom who is grateful my son got his varsity letter in golf and that her daughters got their letters in bowling and swim) even though I could understand his obsession to be the best and his need for the extreme workouts necessary to build his body into tip top shape. While the gratuitious violence was necessary to advance the plot, it still made me want to yell “stop” or “enough”. So in a way, this book was painful to read, especially after each head trauma episode. While Chris Lynch presents Arlo’s thoughts and feelings in excruciating detail (completely necessary to get the point across to the reader), I was surprised the ending was so brief. I wanted a little bit more about this kid I had spent over 300 pages getting to know. It should at least have had an epilogue. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Remembrance by Michelle Madow (Transcend Time, #1)

Andrew (Drew) Carmichael, a rich kid from Manhatten, transfers to a private school, The Beech Tree School, in Pembrooke, New Hampshire. The moment he takes a seat next to Elizabeth (Lizzie) Davenport they both feel a bonding connection, but the appearance of Drew causes a rift in Lizzie’s life. She has a boyfriend, Jeremy, who she has been dating for three years, since eighth grade. Then there is her best friend, Chelsea, who instantly sets her sights on the handsome Drew and hooks up with him almost immediately. Despite their mutual attraction, Drew and Liz do their best to remain distant. Even so, they are thrown together often enough to maintain an unspoken link. Theirs is a push pull relationship, with Drew or Lizzie trying to connect, then pushing each other apart, like two positive polar magnets trying to join together. Drew is adamant that Lizzie is nothing to him, ignoring her most of the time, yet offering to tutor her in French or drive her home when she is caught in the rain. Lizzie is torn between her growing feelings towards Drew and her longstanding childhood friendship with Jeremy and Chelsea. The twist to the plot is that Drew and Elizabeth were in love before, back in 1815. Slowly the details of their reincarnated past are revealed. Little clues are given, such as Liz’s ability to draw distinct details of life from the Regency Era including a self portrait of herself in historical costume standing in the middle of a ballroom. Then there is her sudden ability to speak fluent French and play the piano – all talents from her past life. The author skillfully entwines past with present, leading to the anticipated conclusion (with a few snags along the way).

While the characters were relatable and the idea was interesting, Remembrance by Michelle Madow just didn’t have enough content to sustain a full novel. At times the plot meanders off and repeats itself. We don’t need to know every detail of Lizzie’s Junior year, nor what happened in each class. All right, she has trouble focusing when Drew is near, but after once or twice we get the drift of her feelings. Then when they finally do connect it gets kind of sappy. Drew turns from a strong individual to a love sick calf pleading with Elizabeth to return his love. This after he all but told her she disgusted him.

There are also some little details which nagged at me. Drew was attracted to Lizzie’s curly hair (as it appeared in the past), yet in the self portrait Elizabeth’s hair is long and flowing down her back. In the Regency era, women wore their hair up, never down, in public. Then there is the motorboat that they used to go out on the lake late at night. At night? It must have been pitch black on the water, not exactly a safe adventure. Plus, it’s a motorboat whose engine would be quite loud – loud enough to wake up those in the houses overlooking the lake. It just didn’t make sense.

Despite the discrepancies, I did enjoy this novel and the next book in the Transcend Time Saga, Vegeance, looks to be even more interesting. I am guessing that if these first two volumes were combined into one book instead of two, there would have been enough plot material to have a more complete work. Madow was inspired by Taylor Swift’s music video “Love Story” which previewed in 2008. She should have stuck to the one connection. Instead, the author tried too hard to emulate Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice as a parallel novel to her story. Since Austin’s work originally had three volumes, perhaps the author wished to mirror this endeavor. My advice, chuck the comparison and go your own way. Three stars.

Please note: I was given a free download of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Sacrificed (Enhanced Series: Book 2) by Courtney Farrell

I like when sequels just pick up the storyline where they left off with minimal explanation of the back story. Each book should be able to stand on its own two feet (or binding) but allow the dedicated reader to have an “enhanced” understanding of the motivations and plot. Such is the case with the novel Sacrificed by Courtney Farrell, Book Two of the Enhanced Series.

Here we have Michelle waiting for her boyfriend Dillon to arrive so they can set off on their assigned mission. In pops Brian, her brother’s best friend and the boy she has adored since her younger days. It seems he’s going with them and he doesn’t hold back that he’s available if Dillon doesn’t work out. Awkward! Before Michelle has a chance to think things through, the original mission is scrubbed and she and almost the whole gang (from Book One: Enhanced) are on their way to the remote, arctic Iron Torr, a place which holds bad childhood memories. On arrival, they are attacked by the Rebel Norms, barely making it to safety. Inside Iron Torr, the group gets a mixed welcome from leader Colonel Parker who, once they are rested, sends them outside the military compound to repair the communications equipment. Despite precautions, Michelle is captured.

“A life for a life” as the Norms say, and Michelle ends up adopted by widowed Mollie. Enhanced abilities allows her to assist the inhabitants of the village even while she plots her escape and return to Iron Torr where she hopes to discover the fate of the rest of her group. In the meantime, Dillon has made some discoveries of his own as he goes through treatments back at Iron Torr to upgrade the dormant enhancements buried deep in his persona. No one seems to mind that his father was only a norm, but when it is time to rescue his friends, he must abide by Parker’s Master Plan – a strategy which just doesn’t sit right with his upbringing, especially since the norms who have survived the plague now have at least one enhanced Gene which make them Rebels who are now smarter or stronger.

Nothing is as it seems. Sacrificed is an excellent term to explain the situation the teenagers find themselves in. All that training to be the best of the best as enhanced human beings, yet trained to do what? And for whose benefit?

While Sacrificed picks up where Enhanced left off (Michelle is now sixteen), the majority of this book takes place in a new setting. Some questions are answered, especially about Dillon’s past, yet a whole slew of new ones pop up. In fact, there are so many open ended plot lines that I was often confused. It was impossible to distinguish between the good guys and the bad ones due to all the deceptions by both enhanced and norms. After awhile, I decided to just sit back and stop trying to forsee what happens as the plot unfolded. Even then, much of the action was extremely murky. This was definitely not a quick read with too many characters to keep straight and just as many plot twists. Parts of the story dragged, while other sections needed to be expanded. Sacrificed was excessively violent since warfare was its central theme and the next book in the series promises to be more of the same. The focus was the development of the two main characters, Michelle and Dillon, who alternately tell the story from their point of view. The other characters from Book One only serve as backups, although Brian does have an important role to play as Dillon’s best friend as well as competitor. Colonel Parker and his wife, Brooke, are also major players along with their son, Slade, who slips in and out of both worlds. While we know the background of the teens, it is impossible to understand exactly what motivates the people of Torr, even with the various clues which Farrell has left. The ending indicates that some of these issues will be resolved in the next book, as the leader of Iron Torr has not completed his master plan.

As in any good YA book, the teens seem to be smarter than their parents, so hopefully these youngsters will find solutions and bring peace to all factions with the series finding some sort of closure in Book Three.

Three stars. I would like to thank author Courtney Farrell for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Some Kind of Normal by Juliana Stone

Juliana Stone is an author who is familiar with the hearts and minds of teens. Her newest YA novel, Some Kind of Normal, deals with the after effects of a drunken driving incident chronicled in her previous book, Boys Like You. Here is Trevor Lewis, whose life has been turned upside down after a car accident in his Junior Year in High School. He’s missed some of his Senior Year due to the resulting coma and has to live with the after effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which includes difficulty with simple tasks, such as playing the guitar and getting the words out properly. Issues which he tries to keep secret from the world. To make matters worse, Trevor must pass his Government Class in order to graduate. His summer tutor, Everly Jenkins, has issues of her own. On the outside her life is in perfect harmony, smart and pretty with the perfect home and parents. As a preacher’s daughter her life seems flawless, yet she too has been carrying a secret for over a year. A secret which could tear her family apart if revealed. These two injured teens find comfort just in the fact of knowing there is someone else out there struggling with obstacles beyond their control to repair. Despite their instant attraction to one another, the author slowly builds up to the point where they are able to verbalize their feelings. The relationship is not a smooth one, as each feels unworthy due to their perceived inner flaws. It is halfway through the novel before they are able to find comfort in each other’s arms. Although Trevor has never had trouble finding a hook up, he realizes that Everly is someone special and is willing to wait until she is ready to take the relationship to the next level. Everly is unsure of her emotions, and is torn between her desires and whether she is ready to fully commit to Trevor. Both teens must work through their demons before they can become a couple. Parents, siblings, and friends play a major role in the story, sometimes making life easier and sometimes worse. When circumstances lead to devastation in both of their lives, their reactions have repercussions which threaten their friendship. In the end, Trevor and Everly must accept “some kind of normal” to replace their past expectations and accept the reality of the new norm. A tender love story of teens left to face some harsh issues at a young age.

This is a romantic story suitable for Middle and High School students, although older readers will enjoy the book as well. When Trevor and Everly finally kiss, you could audibly hear the “ahhh!”. Not only is it beautifully written, but the dialogue is witty and the author paints a visual picture that is easy for the mind to capture, plus the characters’ behaviors ring true. Trevor and Everly take turns advancing the plot by telling their version of events. No one is perfect and the answers to the various dilemmas are not readily available. While there are problems to deal with, the reader has not been invited to a pity party. Don’t expect a fairy tale, happily ever after ending, but a realistic look at people moving forward with their lives in spite of their individual issues. Four stars.

I would like to sincerely thank Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.