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"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis

Archive for the tag “bookreview”

‘Notable’ takes YA series on adventurous detour from high school

Notable by Marni Bates“Notable,” a companion novel to “Awkward” and “Invisible” gets off to a slow start, but takes readers of Marni Bates’ Smith High novels on a new, exotic journey with plenty of adventure before they reach the final page. Though “Notable’ is a continuation of a series, it can also stand on its own.

Chelsea Halloway, queen of the Notables and top of the high school social ladder, is misunderstood by many people, including her own parents. When they attempt to give her a wake-up call, while conveniently packing her off to a trip abroad to Cambodia while they deal with their divorce, everyone gets more than they bargained on.

Chelsea is thrust into a totally foreign atmosphere that takes her out of her comfort zone. Rather than adoring high school peers, she’s traveling with college students who don’t take her seriously — and one who seems to hold her in particularly low esteem after hearing about her past indiscretions from her father.

Invisible by Marni BatesWhen their professor ends up on the wrong side of a drug lord, Chelsea discovers what she’s made of — plenty of spunk and a heavy dose of reckless good intention. She’s determined to save her professor from prison — and almost certain death at the hands of angry drug dealers. But it will require all the negotiating power she’s gathered on her climb up the social strata and then some.

“Notable” has a different vibe than “Invisible.” Chelsea is in a pretty dark place when the book starts, and her anger and discontent is a constant companion. Her complaining makes it a little more difficult to enjoy the story. But like “Invisible,” this book is also a story of self-discovery, and as Chelsea learns who she really is — outside of her classmates’ perception and her parents’ projection — she becomes an immensely more likable character. Throw in a little romantic tension with a judgmental college boy, and you’ve got the makings of a good YA read if you have the patience to get there.

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“You Are Mine” a beautifully told journey from oppression to expression

You are MineWhen delving into a self-published work, you never know for sure what you’ll get. Books like “You Are Mine,” by Janeal Falor, are precisely the reason I take the gamble.

The beautifully told story of Serena, an oppressed girl in a society where women are the property of warlocks, captured me from Page 1. Serena is a fascinating character: a girl with a spark of independence barely held in check by her restrictive society. The strong voice in her head, and the silence she must hold to avoid painful punishments, are at odds.  Between the two, they form a strong young woman who, when given the chance, will fight for a different life.

Serena is promised to a young, talented warlock who she despises. When he dies during a tournament, with all his belongings going to a winner from a foreign land, the course of her future will change drastically. Serena will struggle to understand her new betrothed —  and whether she can trust his tolerance to last. In her experience, all warlocks are abusive and cruel, but he seems to be the exception. She’s lived her life being told that if she doesn’t follow society’s rules she will be tarnished — spelled to be bald, inked and ostracized. Now, as her warlock ignores her small infractions, Serena begins to explore a new way of life.

Not everyone will like the boundaries she and her betrothed begin to push. As with any society, fighting its restrictions comes with consequences and rewards.

Besides being extremely well-written — I never would have guessed it was self-published based on the high quality — I love the way “You Are Mine” sheds light on what it’s like to experience oppression. Sadly, there are still places in the world today where women’s voices are suppressed and their lives are threatened with violence.

Though “You Are Mine” is a fantasy with romantic undertones, it’s more of a journey from oppression to expression. Serena’s evolution from a fearful girl to the strong-willed, independent woman she is meant to be is beautiful to watch.

The book is the first in a series. It is available on Kindle for $2.99 or approximately $12.99 for paperback through Amazon.

‘If You Could Be Mine’: A story of love and sacrifice

In the US, the social, political, familial and religious pressures and prejudices can be overwhelming for a gay couple. So imagine, if you will, how much higher the stakes are for two girls in love in Iran — and you’ll have the barest glimmer of what “If You Could be Mine” has in store.

Author Sara Farizan shares the story of Sahar and Nasrin, 17. They’ve shared kisses and romantic promises, but Iran is not like the US. It’s dangerous for two girls in love. Should their relationship be revealed, Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned or even executed. Add in the arranged marriage on the horizon for Nasrin, and Sahar’s heartbreak and desperation will become your own.

If you could be mine

After Nasrin is engaged, she wants to continue her secretive relationship with Sahar, but Sahar cannot stomach the idea of sharing Nasrin or carrying on an affair with a married woman. She wants to love Nasrin openly. Her love is so strong, she begins to consider a radical solution: In Iran, homosexuality is a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as a mistake of nature, and sex reassignment is legal. If she were a man, Sahar would be free to marry Nasrin.

Sahar’s willingness to sacrifice and risk everything for Nasrin is remarkable — and above and beyond what most of us would consider.

“If You Could Be Mine” takes you on a dark journey with Sahar. She can remain true to herself and lose Nasrin, the only girl she’s ever loved, or she can sacrifice her own gender identity to hold on to Nasrin.

As she struggles with the choice — and Nasrin’s more self-centered nature is revealed — there were times i wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. I felt as devastated as Sahar, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. But like all great books, “If You Could Be Mine” is a journey — and it was worth experiencing Sahar’s downward spiral to also gain an insight into the lessons she learned about herself and the inner strength she finds to move forward, with hope once more on the horizon.

Wait a second… that’s the end?!?!

I’m a huge fan of series writing. Some of my favorites include: Harry Potter; Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series (two separate series); The Hunger Games; Legend series; Divergent series; Chaos Walking; Across the Universe. The point I’m making: I love series. I am the ideal target audience for them.

But, I have a caveat.

I’m not a fan of the new fad emerging, in which writers/publishers capitalize on series popularity by publishing half a story and calling it the first installment of a series.

Come on, people.

I need a complete story. I’m okay with cliffhangers, more okay than some readers. I’m cool with loose ties and emerging mysteries that will carry on in the next book. But I do need a complete story within that first book. You can’t just chop off the book at the midway point of the story, and say … Well, that’s all folks! Tune in next year to find out more. That just doesn’t cut it.

A recent example of this is the book “Autumn,” by Sierra Dean. The first of the Dog Days series comes to an abrupt end. So abrupt, I stopped and said out loud, “Wait a second … that’s the end?!?!” I felt as if I should be hitting the mid-point of the novel. The new girl had moved to town; she’d found the outcast boy and ventured into a new relationship with him; she learned there was some sort of supernatural mystery under way; and she’d been threatened to stay away from him.

YA book reviews

At the moment when it seemed the real action was about to begin, the book was cut short.

The story itself had pulled me in. It was slightly shallow, compared to the writing of Patrick Ness or Beth Revis, but it was adequate. Not every book has to delve deeply into its characters’ psyche, particularly if it’s not testing its characters’ integrity in difficult circumstances. But for a little supernatural romance, it was doing its job.

Until it wasn’t, that is.

Can you imagine if you read the Hunger Games, and the first book left off right after Katniss arrived in the tournament?

A good series will offer readers a complete story within each book, while continuing a larger story arc to follow-up books. Anything else should be published as a serial, hopefully with publish dates that are months apart, rather than the typical year or two you wait for a new book in a series.

Authors or publishers who ignore this unspoken rule will only aggravate readers and hurt themselves. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I doubt my interest will last until the next book of the Dog Days series, given that the story dropped me cold.

In a parallel universe (and book series)

Today, I’m telling the tale of two book series. Both YA and sci-fi, both with strong protagonists (both male and female), both with stories built around secrets and lies.  They also happen to be two of the best sci-fi series in the YA category that I’ve read.

I highly recommend both.

Exploring the Universe

across the universe

The “Across the Universe” trilogy by Beth Revis and the “Chaos Walking” series by Patrick Ness have a lot of similar themes.

Both stories take us on space exploration. In Across the Universe, our protagonist Amy is woken from a cryogenic sleep aboard the spaceship Godspeed on its way to explore a new planet.

In Chaos Walking, Viola is thrust into a strange society on a new planet after her parents die while attempting to land their scout shuttle.

Secrets, lies and deceit, oh my!

chaos walking trilogy

Both trilogies include some intricately laid deception for their characters to uncover.

The Across the Universe series takes your from the spaceship Godspeed to Centauri-Earth, but the larger journey is the journey toward truth. In the first book, the spaceship is being led by a secretive dictator and the behavior of the people born on the ship is far from any normal Amy has seen on Earth. She and Elder begin working together to reveal the truth behind the mysteries, and they continue in their truth-seeking mission throughout the series.

The series is like a web of deception. Each truth Amy and Elder discover clings to more secrets and half-truths they must unravel.

In the Chaos Walking series, the truth about the planet’s checkered past with the native alien race, and the conflicts that haven taken place among the human settlers, gradually comes to light. Though Todd has lived his whole life on the planet, he realizes that every bit of history he thought he knew was a lie.

Moral Dilemmas

Both series tackle some pretty major moral dilemmas for their protagonists, who want to be “good” people while in bad situations.

Chaos Walking delves into this more deeply than Across the Universe. At one point in the series, Todd is effectively trapped working for his greatest enemy, and in doing so, he loses hope. Along the way, he commits some morally questionable acts. At the same time, Viola has found her way to a rebel group that is striking back. The actions of the army and the rebels are both morally gray, as they put people’s lives at stake in their struggle for power, and Viola and Todd’s determination to do the right thing is put to the test.

In Across the Universe, Elder and Amy also have their own moral tests. After discovering people are being controlled by a drug and discontinuing its use, Elder’s leadership is met with rebellion and chaos. He must decide, as his control over his people crumbles, whether it’s better to risk mutiny for the sake of free will or maintain the peace with mind-controlling drugs. But just as Amy serves as his moral compass in these instances, Elder also reins in Amy when she is bent on vengeance. In this way, they help each other make vital choices about one kind of people – and leaders – they want to be.

Go. Read. Enjoy!

“Across the Universe” and “Chaos Walking” have everything I want in a book series: strong characters, adventure, mystery and the kind of soul-searching that makes you think about the choices we all make in less than ideal circumstances. When you read them, other YA books pale in comparison.

So, what are you waiting for? Read them, then come back and tell me what you think.

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