Review: One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

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onelittlesecretOne Little Secret by Cate Holahan

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: July 9th, 2019

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 320 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town – and desperate for some kid-free conversation – she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

A taut, locked room mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, One Little Secret promises to keep readers eyes glued to the pages and debating the blinders that we all put on in the service of politeness.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Going in, this book seemed like it would be right up my alley in terms of the types of mystery/thriller novels I enjoy. So I am disappointed to say that I came out with rather mixed feelings about it—it was just a bit underwhelming for me. On the one hand, this story is packed with a few too many clichés and there are a number of elements of the plot that could have been executed better. On the other hand, it is a fast and fairly entertaining read that still completely held my attention all the way through. All this being said, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of my issues with the narrative are simply connected to my personal taste.

The characters that make up the intriguing cast of this story are definitely not particularly likable people. The tension in the house is incredibly palpable with the constant stilted interactions, nasty thoughts, and full-blown arguments. And they will immediately have you questioning why in the world they would ever agree to go on vacation together for a week in the first place. Despite this, there are still redeemable qualities in some of them and not everyone is quite as bad as they seem in the beginning.

Though my mixed feelings really apply to every aspect of this novel, I thought the characterization was decent. I found most of the characters to be realistic and thought they had a good amount of dimension. The majority of them evolved—along with my opinion of them—as the story progressed and as more of their backgrounds were revealed. Many of them are dislikable, but in a very purposeful way—you are meant to be suspicious of them for a while, and almost all of them do end up acting poorly at some point. I did feel like this only added to their believability. There are a couple characters—only one main one—who are quite one dimensional and somewhat unrealistic, but this is avoided for the most part.

Quite honestly, this novel is absolutely full of adult mystery novel clichés. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Commonly used elements can still make for a great story and I do not think that this is an entirely negative thing when it comes to this one. I do think it is a bit overdone. The topics used to create drama between the couples and in the plot of the novel overall are well written for what they are. There are scenes of domestic abuse that are so realistically portrayed they are quite intense and hard to read. The themes of betrayal are very vivid and the moments of insecurity are extremely relatable. All in all, Holahan truly brings every theme dealt with in this novel to life in a multi-dimensional way.

The issue here—and it is certainly more related to personal preference than an actual problem with the story—is that these commonly used plot points became too overwhelming. Trying to crowd all of them in caused the originality of the narrative to take a significant hit. Every unique moment is overshadowed by tropes like infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, and petty arguments. Though these topics are common in many novels and add a good deal of tension and drama, there needs to be more substance. In this novel, it felt like one was being piled onto the next just for the sake of raising more issues for the couples rather than actually building or progressing the plot.

The most major element of the novel that I feel could have been executed better is the creation of suspicion in the reader’s mind. A mystery novel should allow the reader to form their own thoughts about and distrust in the possible culprits by subtly directing their attention to potential motives. While Holahan does do that in some ways, it lacks a lot of that subtlety and ends up coming across as a bit forced. Though every person in the house is clearly going to be a suspect, there are constant and far too obvious reminders of why they could be guilty. It becomes very over-the-top and detracts from the suspense of the plot.

I definitely think Holahan could have left a little room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about each of the characters’ potential for being the killer. Developing them more naturally and relying solely on laying out personalities and backstories with the progression of the plot would have allowed for this. It is easy to get a clear picture of each character and form one’s own opinion based on the way she does these things over the course of the novel. However, too often the narrative strays toward a less delicate way of weaving in distrust of the characters, instead, pointing the finger quite plainly from one person to the next.

Another element of the novel I feel could have been executed better is the narrowing down of suspects over the course of the story. As the narrative progresses, each of the potential killers is cleared one by one until there are only two left in the end. This approach, for me, sort of killed the suspense. It would have kept me more on the edge of my seat if Holahan had left a few more options in there. This, though, is undeniably something that did not work for me personally and could easily be perfectly fine for a different reader. As it stands, I found the ending to be extremely predictable and it fell rather flat. I have to say, the choice of the killer upset me a bit for a number of reasons as well.

The writing itself is a strong point in this book. I really like Holahan’s writing style—it flows very naturally and is easy to get into. Her descriptions are very vivid and help to pull the reader into the story. She sets the scene for all the mystery and deception well, forming an environment that reflects the tone and emotion of each scene. The narrative never lacks realism, helping to immerse the reader and connect them with the setting and characters.

Now, after all that I have said, it may seem like this reading experience was a primarily negative one, but that is not entirely true. There were a lot of issues I personally had with it but, as I said before, I doubt they would apply to everyone. Personal taste was a big factor here. Also, I was very engaged in the story. I did not absolutely love it but it held my attention from beginning to end and I was truly interested in finding out how everything would resolve. Despite the predictability of many plot points, there were still enough surprises to keep me guessing. Overall, this is a novel that I would recommend giving a try. I know it is something that plenty of readers will find enjoyment in.

2.5 TARDISes

Author Bio:

13482092Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Widower’s Wife, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns, all published by Crooked Lane Books. The Widower’s Wife was named to Kirkus’ best books of 2016. An award-winning journalist and former television producer, she has written for BusinessWeek, The Boston Globe, and The Record newspaper. Her short fiction won first place in the 19th annual Calliope competition, a magazine published by the writer’s group of American Mensa. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, ages 7 and 5, and dog Westley. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002.

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Mini Review: Pillow Thoughts III by Courtney Peppernell

pillowthoughtsIIIPillow Thoughts III by Courtney Peppernell

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Pillow Thoughts #3

Date Published: August 6th, 2019

Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing

Pages: 224 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: In a voice that is inclusive and open to all, Courtney Peppernell presents a tribute to her readers in the third installment of her bestselling Pillow Thoughts series.

A beautifully raw and poignant collection of poetry and prose, Pillow Thoughts III continues the series from poet Courtney Peppernell. Fix yourself a warm drink and settle into Peppernell’s words as she pens a tribute to her readers who are bravely continuing their journey from hurt to healing.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

It is difficult to find the words to describe how much I loved this poetry collection. I discovered Courtney Peppernell’s work a couple of years ago when I reviewed the first book in the Pillow Thoughts series and she quickly became one of my favorite authors. Her writing is absolutely beautiful and speaks to me on so many levels, and this collection was no different. Her poetry addresses topics that are highly relatable and always timely, which makes them very easy to connect with.

You can feel all the raw emotion in every word Peppernell writes and the pure passion she puts into creating her poems. This collection is split into five parts, each one dealing with a particular theme. And as a whole, each section ties seamlessly into the next, coming together in a perfect blend that warms the heart and soul. Her poems are a series of meticulously crafted vignettes that comfort, heal, and encourage readers. With vivid imagery, Peppernell takes us on a journey that allows us to better understand, accept, and care for ourselves.

One of the best parts of this collection—as well as Peppernell’s other works—is that it is written in a truly unique voice. It stands out among a sea of modern poetry dealing with similar topics and makes for a very captivating and refreshing read. The heartfelt and genuine nature of these poems is easily recognizable. They are seemingly simple but truthfully so profound and intricate. Peppernell’s words consistently empower the reader and contain a level of sincerity that turns this work into a brilliant gem of a book.

On a more personal note, this collection is something that entered my life at a particularly fitting time. I have experienced a great deal of loss over the past year that has left me feeling very emotionally drained. My mind desperately needed the mending that these words do. I was touched very deeply while reading this book—it helped me to confront many thoughts I was struggling to face. This was a very cathartic and uplifting journey that filled me with the positivity that I have been lacking for a while.

These poems are moving, expressive, inspiring, and utterly beautiful. I know that Peppernell’s words will stick with me for the rest of my life and I will regularly return to her collections. Works like this one are what greatly motivate me in my own writing and remind me why I am so passionate about the written word. I would love to touch one person’s life through my writing in the way she has touched mine with hers—provide someone with that bit of comfort and encouragement at a time where it is so vital. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Changeling by William Ritter

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changelingChangeling by William Ritter

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Oddmire #1

Date Published: July 16th, 2019

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Pages: 272 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I absolutely loved this novel. It is such a fun and magical read with just the right amount of suspense and creepiness to it. At its’ core, it is a beautiful story of love, belonging, and the true meaning of family. It shows the bravery and strength one can find in themselves when protecting the ones they love. On top of being an action-packed adventure, this story is also full of heart and positive messages. Changeling is a fast-paced and fantastical journey. I was hooked from page one and I never wanted it to end.

In this novel, we follow two young brothers, Tinn and Cole. By looking at them, they appear to be human twins—however, one of them is actually a changeling. When a goblin named Kull’s plan to switch the human baby for the goblin one goes wrong, they are both left behind. For years, their mother Annie raises the boys as brothers despite the unusual circumstances. They live as a normal family, though the boys have always wondered what they are deep down. When, at twelve years old, Tinn and Cole receive a mysterious message telling the changeling they must return to the Wild Wood and save the dying magic, they set off on a dangerous adventure to cross the Oddmire swamp and find the goblin horde.

The unique and colorful cast of characters is the driving force of this narrative. Each one has a distinct and memorable personality that adds depth and dimension to the world as a whole. Tinn and Cole are such loveable characters with a beautiful relationship—they are truly the definition of brothers. They both have very individual personalities that mesh together really well. Annie is a remarkable mother who loves the two boys equally and thinks of them as her own no matter what. She is such a strong and brave character, risking everything to find and protect them once they have run off on their journey. Ritter also packs this novel with imaginative magical beings. It is clear that he has put much time and effort into forming every aspect of the setting and the creatures and weaving those two elements tightly together.

It is incredibly interesting to hear the internal conflicts the boys have about discovering who the changeling is. They both have reasons to believe that they are the changeling due to a part of themselves and their personalities that they are unable to understand or explain. For instance, Cole wonders why he is always so compelled to cause trouble and do things he knows he shouldn’t. On the other hand, they both believe the other deserves to be the human because of what a good person they are. They both want the absolute best for the other, despite their own fears of being the changeling. It shows just how much they love and care about each other.

William Ritter does a wonderful job crafting this novel. His writing flows seamlessly and is incredibly easy to get sucked into and follow. His descriptions are vivid as he builds the unique world and palpable atmosphere of the narrative. The mysterious and treacherous nature of the Wild Wood is shown so well in the way he constructs the environment. From the encroaching trees with their gnarled roots to the mist that permeates the air, the suspense of Tinn and Cole’s journey is drastically enhanced. Ritter consistently blends reality with magic that will spark readers’ imaginations. This is true for every part of the world, making it incredibly multi-dimensional and highly immersive.

This novel fits the middle-grade genre perfectly. It is one of those universally enjoyable novels, offering something that both children and adults alike will love. The messages packed into the story are inspiring and heartwarming—they are great things for a young audience to learn about. The ideas that family can truly be found in others whether they are related to you or not and the importance of taking care of those you love are beautiful and meaningful messages to understand. The darkness in the story never becomes overwhelming and is very suitable for younger readers. Overall, this was a charming read. I cannot wait to see more from this series.

5.0 TARDISes

Author Bio:

Ritter,_Will_HR (c) Katrina SantoroWilliam Ritter is an Oregon author and educator. He is the proud father of the two bravest boys in the Wild Wood, and husband to the indomitable Queen of the Deep Dark. The Oddmire is Ritter’s first series for middle-grade readers. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Jackaby series for young adult readers. Visit him online at rwillritter.wordpress.com and find him on Twitter: @Willothewords. 

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Review: All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

allrightsreservedAll Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis

My Rating: 1/5 TARDISes

Series: Word$ #1

Date Published: August 29th, 2017

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Pages: 400 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: In a world where every word and gesture is copyrighted, patented or trademarked, one girl elects to remain silent

Speth Jime is anxious to deliver her Last Day speech and celebrate her transition into adulthood. The moment she turns fifteen, Speth must pay for every word she speaks, for every nod, for every scream and even every gesture of affection. She’s been raised to know the consequences of falling into debt, and can’t begin to imagine the pain of having her eyes shocked for speaking words that she’s unable to afford.

But when Speth’s friend Beecher commits suicide rather than work off his family’s crippling debt, she can’t express her shock and dismay without breaking her Last Day contract and sending her family into Collection. Rather than read her speech—rather than say anything at all—she closes her mouth and vows never to speak again, sparking a movement that threatens to destroy her, her family and the entire city around them.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I had been so eager to read this book ever since I first heard about it, so I am really sad to say that I did not enjoy it. The concept for the plot is very interesting and there were many aspects of this novel that were quite creative. However, the negatives severely outweighed the positives in this case. There was so much potential here for a riveting and powerful story about freedom of speech, and the subject itself is very topical in our world today. But what could have been both exciting and enlightening was ruined by too many tropes and an extremely unlikeable main character.

This novel takes place in a dystopian future, reminiscent of settings like Orwell’s 1984 and The Hunger Games trilogy. This society brings new meaning to the term free speech. Every single word and gesture is copyrighted or trademarked and there are few things a person can do that do not cost them money. In this story, we follow a young girl named Speth who is about to reach the age at which this system of payment for communication applies to her. When she witnesses the tragic death of her friend right before her “Last Day” speech, she is overcome with sadness at the unfair and restrictive situation they have all been forced into. So instead of reading her speech, she vows to never speak again, inadvertently starting a dangerous but crucial revolution.

I really did not like this book. Though there were some unique parts, much of it felt like a copy of other dystopian young adult novels, relying on far too many overused tropes. My number one problem was the main character, Speth. She is by far one of the most infuriating characters I have ever come across and as this is written in first person, there is no escaping her. Her actions throughout the story are consistently enraging, causing tons of unnecessary pain to everyone around her. She could have been a strong heroine, standing up for what she believes in and fighting for free speech. However, almost everything she does is highly irresponsible, not well thought-out, and is more damaging to society rather than helpful.

Though she does end up inspiring people within her society to fight for their rights, Speth herself does not even seem to actually know what she is fighting for exactly. As the plot intends, her initial refusal to speak inadvertently starts a bit of a revolution. This choice comes from the deep grief she feels in the moment, and that is completely understandable. But as the story progresses, she comes across as increasingly immature and she does not grow at all.

Standing up for what you believe in can be an extremely daunting task and requires a huge amount of courage and strength. But Speth is stubborn in the wrong way and she constantly fails to see how much she is hurting innocent people who are close to her. This calls into question the plausibility of so many people following and looking up to her.

Most of the other characters in the novel are far more likable than Speth and I thought Katsoulis did a very good job creating them. They are definitely multi-dimensional and it is interesting to learn their backstories and get a picture of how they live in this bleak societal state. Since Speth does not speak to anyone during the narrative, it is hard to get a handle on her relationships with the other characters, but for the most part, the characterization of the side characters is a decently strong aspect of the book.

Another aspect of the novel that I quite liked was the creativity of the different corporations that run every part of society. Katsoulis comes up with some very clever and sometimes hilarious ideas for these companies and the advertisements they put forth. There is this sort of dark comedy feel here due to the mixture of humor with a frighteningly realistic dystopian world. I particularly liked the concept of the placers, and I actually wish there had been even more of a focus on them.

I think the main problem here does not stem only from Speth’s recklessness and lack of consideration for other people and their wishes but also from the way the story is approached. It is clear that Katsoulis wanted this to be an action-filled narrative that shocks the reader with its many twists and turns. However, he just goes way too far. Rather than add to the strength of the underlying message of the story, these twists only become a massive detriment to Speth’s character. These events also serve to make the story less and less believable as they transpire. There was one situation in about the final quarter of the narrative that was the final straw for me and there was no redeeming itself after that.

I think the basic concept here is pretty solid and I definitely do see what Katsoulis is going for. Unfortunately, the execution was rough and, in my opinion, did not produce the desired effect. The positive message of championing freedom of speech is mostly lost due to the lack of a strong main character. Katsoulis also throws in too many events that take place purely for shock value and feel somewhat pointless within the actual narrative as a whole. I do intend to read the next book in the series to see if any of the issues I found in this one are fixed.

1.0 TARDIS

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Review: The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

thevirtueofsinThe Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: June 25th, 2019

Publisher: Philomel Books

Pages: 432 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together.

But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs.

Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.

A compelling debut novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

There are so many aspects of this story that appealed to both the book nerd and psychology nerd in me and I was completely absorbed from the start. This is the story of two teenagers who have spent their entire lives in a cult and how they deal with their newfound clarity about their situation as they are thrown into adulthood in the community. It is a novel that portrays the importance of not always taking what people in power say at face value, fighting for equality, and learning to accept others—and oneself—for who they are.

I absolutely love anything to do with psychology—I am actually currently a forensic psychology major—and the psychology of cults is particularly interesting to study. Seeing the mindsets of both the members and the leaders is both fascinating and chilling. This novel primarily demonstrates how the beliefs and laws a leader comes up with are drilled into members. We see how this warps a person’s thoughts and view of the world and how incredibly challenging it is to break free of these beliefs. Schuren’s depictions of these elements of a cult are very accurate, enraging, and heartbreaking.

The primary subject dealt with in this novel is the unequal and extremely poor treatment of women within the cult. We see how the men silence them and do not allow them to make their own decisions. There are also other elements of the unfair treatment of minorities in the plot. The importance of standing up for these types of injustices, whether you are part of that minority or not, and of treating others with respect are shown through this story.

I was surprised at how many twists there were in this novel that I did not see coming. And I liked every single one. Schuren takes the narrative in a number of unexpected directions. There are so many secrets spilled and revelations that propelled me through every chapter. This is a true page-turner.

One of the only issues I feel the story has is that it does become a bit repetitive. I somewhat conflicted about this because it does make sense in context to some extent. The process of changing ones’ mindset and beliefs about something or someone—particularly in such a severe situation—takes a lot of time. Miriam actually does come around and see the lies of the cult’s leader fairly quickly in terms of the number of days over which the story takes place. However, I did feel that facts potentially did not need to be repeated to the reader after the first few times hearing them. Overall, this is just a very minor problem I came across.

Miriam is an incredibly strong female lead right from the very beginning of the novel. She does not want to put up with the suppression and ill-treatment of women that the men of the cult have turned into an accepted way of life. She gradually finds her voice and stands up for not just herself and the other women, but for everyone who is under the control of the Prophet. Headstrong and intelligent, Miriam makes a wonderful protagonist.

This story is not just told from Miriam’s perspective but also from Caleb’s, the boy she’s sure she is meant to marry. Alternating between these characters and seeing every situation through two different sets of eyes made this an even more intriguing plot. Schuren writes these narrators well, making their voices distinct from the other, which can be a challenge when working with more than one point of view.

Both main characters and side characters alike are multi-dimensional in this story. They are clearly carefully crafted and they evolve and respond realistically to their environment and the events of the novel. They don’t feel flat—they are the driving force of the plot. I felt that I got to know many of the characters well, no matter what size part they play in the grand scheme of things. Just like the worldbuilding, the characters are equally as vivid, detailed, and fully fleshed out. Aaron’s storyline is probably my favorite out of all of them.

My only issue with the characters is that a couple characters are rather unclear or inconsistent, mainly early on. I felt they became clearer pretty quickly, but I had a little trouble connecting with them at first. For instance, in Aaron’s case, I would think I was getting a handle on his personality and then he would do something that seemed out of character, causing me to become confused. There were times when I did not quite understand the motives for a character’s actions and those events were not always cleared up. Again, this is just a very minor issue I had.

Tying in with what I said about the characters being multi-dimensional, Schuren does a good job of clearly indicating how they develop over the course of the story. They learn and grow and evolve. The events that take place and the upheaval they experience consistently affect each character, their actions, and their views of life and the world around them.

Schuren’s writing style is definitely one of the strongest aspects of this novel. I found it very easy to get into and it had a very captivating quality to it. It was not just the story but the way she told it and worded it that held me in the narrative. The writing and the message it sends are both beautiful.

I found Schuren’s worldbuilding to be absolutely fantastic. She creates this extremely detailed and frighteningly realistic picture of what living in a cult is like. She forms both the physical world and the psychological world of these characters through her words. It feels like you are there in the desert—in the supposed safety of the community. You experience the raw emotions and the sinister atmosphere. She really brings this story to life.

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and it absolutely did not disappoint. It was so easy to become engrossed in this novel and I found it extremely hard to put down. I read through it so fast, just intending to read a couple chapters and realizing a while later I read over one-hundred or more pages. Schuren brings so many interesting elements together to create a story that will quickly draw in readers and open their eyes to topics that are very important and timely. I highly recommend picking this up and giving it a read.

4.0 TARDISes

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Reviews: What If? by Anna Russell and And We Call It Love by Amanda Vink

whatifWhat If? by Anna Russell

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: December 1st, 2018

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Josh Baker isn’t sure why his brain tells him to do things that other people don’t need to do: checking his locker again and again, counting cracks in ceilings, and always needing to finish a song, for starters. He is a talented drummer, a math genius, and he knows everything about rock and roll. Yet, he knows his problems have the power to hurt his family and make him fail at school. When Josh is diagnosed with OCD, it’s a blessing and a curse. Can he overcome his thoughts, or will they break him?

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ve read a number of these hi-lo fiction novels recently and this one was definitely my favorite of the bunch. This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for an early middle school to early high school audience, so basically mid-middle grade and early young adult.

In this novel, we follow a teenage boy named Josh who is struggling to understand the way his brain is functioning. Something just does not feel right to him—his mind is driving him to do things he knows others don’t tend to do such as to repeatedly check door locks and counting cracks in ceilings. Deep down, he knows he does not need to do any of this, however, he feels that he must or harm will come to his loved ones. When he is diagnosed with OCD, Josh finally knows what is wrong, but overcoming it is a daunting obstacle looming ahead.

I feel a very personal connection to these types of stories as I have struggled with OCD for many years. In fact, I was around the same age as Josh—early high school—when I was officially diagnosed. This personal connection can be either good or bad. It can make me quite picky about the way it is portrayed. I think that Anna Russell ended up doing quite a good job with this. Josh’s struggles felt very realistic and accurate to what experiencing OCD is like and I believe it will be quite an informative story for readers.

It is difficult for me to put myself in the position of someone who is reluctant to read, but I felt it was important for me to check these types of novels out. I, of course, want to promote reading to everyone any chance I get. While I do wish there had been a little more to this book—not much, just that is was a bit longer and went into more detail about OCD—I do think this is a good addition to hi-lo fiction. This is definitely a story I can see readers really getting into, and I think it will not only encourage them to explore literature more but that it will also teach them some important information about mental health.

3.5 TARDISes

andwecallitloveAnd We Call It Love by Amanda Vink

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: January 15th, 2019

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Clare and Zari are best friends. They write music together, go everywhere together, and they know everything about the other. At least they did before Zari started dating Dion. The more Zari falls for Dion, the less she has time for anything else. At first, Clare chalks it up to a new and exciting relationship, and she tries to be happy for her friend despite her loneliness. When Zari starts to show up to school with half-hidden bruises, Clare knows there’s something darker about this relationship that has to be stopped.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This ended up being an okay read. In this short novella, we follow two teenage best friends who begin to drift apart when one of them enters into a new relationship. Soon it becomes clear to Clare that something is wrong, as Zari is acting less and less like her usual self. She realizes that there may be some abuse taking place in her friend’s relationship. Clare knows she has to help her friend remove herself from this horrible situation. I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t hate it either. This narrative deals with very serious issues that can take a while to fully understand, so while this was decent, a longer format suits this topic much better.

And this brings us to an opinion that is going to sound a bit silly given the type of story this is supposed to be. This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for a late middle school to early high school audience, so basically early young adult. This story definitely fits into the short format better than some other books of this type that I have checked out. However, I still ended up feeling that it needed just a little bit more to it. It is harder to connect with the characters given the small amount of information we get on them.

That being said, I do think this is one of the more decent examples of hi-lo fiction that I have come across. It is quite hard for me to put myself in the shoes of a potential reader of this novel as I want to read every book in sight. With this one, though, I did get into it a bit more. While these are topics that are hard to fully portray in this limited format, I think the author did an okay job. Domestic abuse and speaking up about it is such an important and timely topic, and I love the fact that Vink is contributing this work to an audience that needs to learn this information.

2.0 TARDISes

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Reviews: Fifteen and Change by Max Howard and Second in Command by Sandi Van

fifteenandchangeFifteen and Change by Max Howard

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: October 1st, 2018

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Zeke would love to be invisible. His mother is struggling to make ends meet and stuck with a no-good boyfriend. Zeke knows he and his mom will be stuck forever if he doesn’t find some money fast. When Zeke starts working at a local pizza place, he meets labor activists who want to give him a voice–and the living wage he deserves for his work. Zeke has to decide between living the quiet life he’s carved for himself and raising his voice for justice.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for a late middle school to early high school audience, so basically late middle grade and early young adult. In this novel, we follow a teenage boy named Zeke who is struggling quite badly in life. He lives with his mother, who is trapped in an abusive relationship, and they are all barely making ends meet.

So Zeke wants to make some money so he and his mother can escape this situation and he finds a job at a local pizza place. While there, he meets a group of labor activists who are fighting their unfair pay and offer Zeke a chance to stand up and have a voice. Because of this, he is left with the decision of whether to remain in his quiet life, focusing on work and an escape or to stand up for an important cause.

Of all the hi-lo fiction I have read recently, this was not one of my favorites. The idea for the plot is great and definitely deals with some extremely important and timely topics. I think it is something that would teach readers quite a lot about the unfairness in the workforce and how it is good to raise one’s voice for a just cause. However, I have to say I didn’t really get into this story. The writing made it feel jumbled and all over the place. It felt sort of disjointed and I never felt a sense of completion at the end. The characters also fell a bit flat. There is not enough time in a story this short to build these characters and fully develop the storyline given the deep topics it deals with. Overall, it wasn’t my thing, but I do think some reluctant readers may really enjoy it.

2.0 TARDISes

secondincommandSecond in Command by Sandi Van

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: February 1st, 2019

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for an early middle school to early high school audience, so basically mid-middle grade and early young adult. This novel focuses on how a family is affected when one member is deployed for the army—in this case, it is the main character’s mother. After his mother has left, Leo has to take charge of many household duties, including taking care of his two younger siblings. On top of this, Leo discovers that his brother, Jack, has become tangled up in a dangerous situation while running with the wrong crowd. Leo needs to find a way to hold his family together in the absence of their mother.

I quite enjoyed this story and found it really easy to get into. Van did a very good job building her characters and creating the atmosphere and tone of the narrative in such a short amount of time. I know I sound silly saying this about books in the hi-lo format, but I wish there was more to this story. I want to hear more about these characters’ lives—about how these major changes affect them—and learn more about what it is like to have a parent in the army. Van manages to pack a ton of emotion and heart into this book, which I was impressed by. I really do think this is a book that would entice reluctant readers as well as introduce them to a topic they might not be fully aware of.

3.0 TARDISes

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