Tag Archives: teenagers

Sixteen by Jen Estes

Here is a tale of teen angst with a twist. You have the social misfit who despite her lack of popularity, is best friends with the prom queen and dating the Captain of the Football Team that she met while fulfilling her court mandated community service as punishment for buying drugs (sleeping pills) from an undercover cop. To complicate matters, the one person who provides emotional support has run off with her obnoxious foster sister. Sounds like your typical YA novel, yet there is a whole other story written between the lines which moves Sixteen by Jen Estes up a notch from normal expectations.

Those of you who read Fifteen, the first novel in the Dreamwalker Diaries Series by Jen Estes are familiar with Ashling Campbell, a Dreamwalker who is the only one that can stop the depraved Jumlin from achieving immortality for himself and his spawn, thus gaining the ability to enslave or destroy mankind. Luckily this can only be attempted once every fifteen years and requires the help of the reincarnated Laughing Bear who is human despite being a descendent of the Jumlin. The Dreamwalker is able to travel 15 years forward through time in order to find a way to thwart these potential cataclysmic events. Their progeny is then burdened with the same task until the Jumlin either succeeds in his task or is destroyed.

In Fifteen, Ash discovers that the Jumlin is actually, Walker Smith, the supposed father of best friend Skykar (who was actually switched at birth with his real daughter – Nadette – by the predecessor Dreamwalker). In order to prevent her horrific recurring nightmares from becoming true, Ash convinces Nadette (her foster sister) to run away, not realizing her buddy Tate would go along for the ride. It’s not that she totally resents his attraction to her malicious “adopted” roommate, it’s that she doesn’t have anyone else with whom she can share her most intimate nightmares without being declared insane.

Sixteen advances the saga as Jen tracks down her half brother who has the key to finding another way to “redo” her previous feat in order to “undo” the accidental shooting death of her mother. Success in this quest would result in a boring plot, so the unexpected repercussions of her actions alert the Jumlin to her presence, endangering her friends and family. Forced to expand the circle of individuals who know the truth, they must band together and make some difficult decisions on how to keep the demon Walker from unearthing any further secrets while destroying the minions who make up his empire – all without being thrown into prison for murder or ending up hospitalized/dead.

The trouble the author, Jen Estes, faced was how to weave the two stories together. It’s been two years since Fifteen was published, so a little refresher was welcome, but as Ash explains the whys and wherefores to a widening circle of people in the know, the reader is forced to hear the details over and over. Flashbacks and old diary entries fill in additional blanks as Ash solves some of the remaining riddles. While the repetitions get annoying at times, the plot has enough booby traps to keep it interesting along with some gratuitous violence to appeal to readers who additionally enjoy stories with vampire or dragon slayers. Of special interest was the blending of past, present, and future as Ash interacts with various individuals from her life at different stages in their existence.

Expect an abrupt culmination with a cliffhanger ending leading into the next novel where the teens, armed with what normal people would consider insane facts, are determined to spend the summer tracking down and destroying this evil which threatens the world.

Not quite as groundbreaking as the first novel, three and a half stars and a thank you to Curiosity Quill for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

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.

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.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

What lurks beneath the facade we present to the world? What secrets do we keep hidden, even from ourselves? How many lies are we willing to live in order to satisfy the realization of our innermost fantasies? The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma is a fascinating character study of a group of adolescent girls who struggle with their true identities, the ones that fill their souls.

The book banters back and forth between premiere ballerina, Violet, set to attend Julliard in September, and Amber, sentenced to Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center for a heinous crime she was accused of committing at the age of thirteen (an act so horrendous that even her own mother refuses to visit). One common denominator between these two teens is Orianna – former best friend to Vee and cellmate to Amber. Ori is a girl who is easy to love, one who brings light even to the squalid prison conditions of the institution. The inmates who struggle daily with their own feelings of guilt fail to see exactly how this harbinger of kindly gestures could have been dubbed “The Bloody Ballerina”.

Yet, that’s the story which is slowly revealed through the musings of our two storytellers – exactly what happened that day behind the dance studio where the pubescent girls gathered for a “bit of air” in the smoking tunnel. Even more fascinating is the narrative of life behind bars for young female inmates at the Upstate New York detention center. Throw in a touch of supernatural déjà Vous and you’ve got a mesmerizing little book.

While, at times, the plot allusions get confusing, it is readily evident which are the guilty parties. The author’s style keeps the reader riveted wanting to know how the events all tie in together with a conclusion that is in some ways predictable and in others totally shocking. Each character’s motivation, however, is not kept a secret. We might not approve of their actions, but we understand the circumstances that led to their dastardly deeds (and there are several). It’s too bad I can’t go into further details, as there are numerous highlights I am dying to discuss.

Don’t be put off by the Ballet theme, this is a book for both teens and adults, even those who don’t know a cartwheel from a plié. I especially liked the literary references (Amber’s life skills assignment was to wheel the library cart around, just in case anyone wanted a book to read or a message to pass). While Suma includes numerous citable quotes in her narrative, I was especially tickled with Ambers’s assessment that “reading a new book before anyone else got to it was like getting the first hot lunch”. Four stars for a fascinating psychological study.

A special thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

In a YA book, the expectations for great literature are not very high. Teens tend to want a fast paced story with some action, a bit of conflict, a touch of romance, and a dose of angst thrown in for good measure. Mary Jennifer Payne has tossed all this into the mix in her novel, Since You’ve Been Gone, with a varying degree of success.

Edie and her mom are constantly on the run from an abusive father who has a tendency towards violence whenever conflicts arise, which is fairly often. The day he placed a hand on Edie was the day her mother packed their bags and left home, successfully eluding her husband for five years by constantly switching from one locale to the next. Although Toronto was their original home, this latest move finds the two in London, England, where Sydney Fraser spent her youth.

Edie is sick of the constant upheaval and now she’s in a new country with different customs. Her first day at school she meets (and rejects) the school nerd, is accosted by the school bully, and settles in with some potential friends. The teachers are not overly welcoming and she is reprimanded for being late. While striving to keep a low profile, she needs to find a solution to a major catastrophe in her life – the sudden, prolonged disappearance of her mom. After stealing the fundraising jar of money meant to help build a school for girls in Afghanistan, she is able to fund a weekend to search for her missing parent. Unfortunately, a fellow classmate, Jermaine, is the one accused of theft. Even though he knows that Edie is the culprit, he remains mum in exchange for the truth. Together the two set out on a manhunt to discover the whereabouts of Sydney Fraser.

As an American, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the various landmarks in London. Common names, such as Tim Horton’s (a popular coffee shop throughout Canada started by a famous hockey player), Starbucks, and Burger King are relatable to those of us living in North America. Other customs may be a little alien, such as double decker buses and the metro system. They add a little spice to the story. Also of interest are the racial dynamics facing a black teen born and raised in England. Jermaine seems to face some prejudice, with teachers dismissing his intelligence and punks threatening to knife him in full view of a crowd, but it doesn’t extend to the developing friendship/romance between the two protagonists and, in spite of his questionable treatment, Jermaine remains one of the good guys.

Unfortunately, the plot line has a potential which is never reached. One of my criticisms is that the story takes place within about a week’s time. The idea that all the events unfold this quickly defies logic. And even though it is a relatively short novel (the perfect length for a YA story) there are sections which drag. While the premise is interesting, the specific events leading up to the climax are dull, in spite of some “erroneous events” popping up along the way that at times enhance and at other times detract from the story. There are also a lot of random characters who make brief appearances but aren’t worth noticing. In addition, Edie’s thoughts are too often like a broken record. The most complex and interesting character is Jermaine. I would have liked to have heard more of his story. The romance between these two was gentle and appropriate for fifteen or sixteen year olds, with more of an emphasis on friendship then on passion.

Just because a book is meant for Young Adults, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve well developed characters with interesting motivations. Ms Payne needs to know when to spend more time on a topic, and when to eliminate unnecessary elements to the story, in order to create a more cohesive whole. Hopefully her next novel will reflect these recommendations. I give this book three stars.

I would like to thank Dundurn Press from Ontario, Canada and Netgalley for allowing me to download a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler

If you are looking for a feel good read, go find another book, because this isn’t the right one for you. If you enjoy bizarre and unsettling stories which are surprising (but not in a good way), read away. How does the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events translate his dark style of writing into the adult realm? Your answer can be found in his newest novel, We Are Pirates.

Daniel Handler certainly has mastered that surreal touch of horror. All the characters are flawed. Their human faults prey off one another, like in a pool game where the cue ball hits one of the characters which ping off one or two of the others. In this case, the lucky ones end up in the pocket, and the losers stay in play throughout the book. Right up front Handler tells us about his youthful indiscretion of listing “pirate” on his high school aspiration list. Even then he realized that the vision of pirate seemed exciting and adventurous, while the reality contained a brutality and violence beyond our imagination. This is that story.

There are two parallel plot lines being told which somehow intersect. One is the story of fourteen year old Gwen who is rebelling against her parents. She feels unwanted (her name was left off the yearly Fourth of July open house invite), displaced with no friends (they have moved to an upscale neighborhood in San Francisco), scarred (there’s a mark on her leg from a accidental burn as a toddler), constantly under scrutiny (her mother searches her room regularly), bored (she isn’t allowed to take the bus alone), and disconnected from her parents (they don’t have a clue). While at the dentist, she accidentally meets up with a kindred spirit, Amber, who is just as mixed up and angry at the world. Together they devise a life changing plan – they decide to become pirates. Gwen, as a punishment for shoplifting at the local drug store, volunteers at a nursing home by caring for Errol, The Captain, who is fascinated with novels such as Captain Blood and Treasure Island. Gwen borrows these books and together they perfect the pirate lingo. Errol has Alzheimers, so he is easily persuaded to be Captain of the planned venture. Manny, an aide at the Jean Bonnet Living Center, also feels mistreated and misunderstood, and agrees to go along. Up to this point, the plot line is a harmless frolic. Then the friendly banter morphs into malice and mayhem involving drugs, kidnapping, theft, and even murder. This is where our pity towards lost souls turns into terror at the senseless violence. They truly become pirates.

The second story is about Gwen’s father, Phil Needle, a radio producer who is looking for that one idea which will propel him into the successful business man he desperately feels is his destiny. The truth is that Phil’s life is a mess and he’s close to financial ruin. He does have a potential masterful idea, but he can’t come up with a title. Just at the point he is ready to give his pitch, there’s a phone call that his daughter is missing. Phil, despite his narcissism, does love Gwen, so he drops everything and sets out for home, driving from LA to San Fran, as quickly as he can.

Somehow things get tied up in a frayed bow by the end of the novel, but it’s an ugly package to be decorating. There are too many baffling questions left up to the reader to ponder. The story is told by a narrator looking back and making comments on the culture of the times (these tidbits are an interesting aspect of the story, actually providing hope for a successful conclusion to the saga). But who is this story teller? Is it a reporter looking for an angle on the pirate scandal? Is it a private investigator looking for clues? Is it the author, putting himself in the position as impartial observer? In order to get a better understanding of what has occurred between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the time frame within this novel, it is necessary to reread the opening chapter. This is the true ending, not the beginning, of this book, which, although it provides some closure, also leaves the reader even more disgusted about the dynamics of the Needle family.

The style is easy, but the plot is strewn with stormy weather. If you have your sea legs, anchors away. Those who like smooth sailing, choose a different book. I give We Are Pirates three stars.

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for allowing me a free download of this title in exchange for an honest review.