Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews: Cross My Heart by Katie Klein

Jaden McEntyre lives a life that is about as perfectly organized as you can make it. She has everything planned out from her next fundraiser for the children of Bangladesh to the next ten years of her life as she goes from Harvard to med-school and beyond. Her boyfriend Blake is sweet and popular and sends her good morning text messages every day and even if her contractor father hasn’t gotten around to fixing her bathroom sink for the past couple years, she still knows her family loves her. Everything is fine until she’s late for class one day and is assigned a partner for a group project: Parker Whalen.

Parker moved to town a few months ago and the rumors about his past are as outrageous as the motorcycle he rides to school every day. Jaden isn’t sure if she believes even half of them, but she isn’t about to let something as ridiculous as rumors keep her from getting an A on this project. She’s extremely frustrated when Parker avoids speaking to her at first, but she eventually wears him down. Then it’s only everyone else she has to worry about. Her boyfriend is jealous of, her parents are worried about, and her best friend is mystified by the time Jaden is suddenly spending with Parker. But Jaden is finding that the more time she spends with him, the less he seems like the devil-may-care rebel everyone else has him pinned as. When Jaden’s plans for her future suddenly fall apart, Parker is there to help her reassemble the pieces, but what will happen when she discovers the secret he’s been hiding for the past six months? Will she ever be able to move past it and trust him again or has their love been shattered just like her plans?

This book seems like the normal girl-falls-for-a-boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks story, but don’t let that fool you. It’s not. Klein’s characters are interesting and relatable and she knows how to keep your interest right from the start. Jaden has never had anyone question her plans or her need for control, so when Parker starts pushing buttons she didn’t know she had everything changes. The dynamic of Jaden’s family is an interesting subplot–she’s the youngest of three kids with two older brothers and a soon-to-be sister in law still living at home–and it’s amazing how something as simple as a broken bathroom sink takes on grand proportions as it pops up again and again through the story. On top of all this, when you get to the twist ending you’ll immediately want to go back and reread the whole book looking for the clues Klein leaves along the way like bread crumbs. The building relationship between Parker and Jaden is well developed with just the right amount of tension as both of them fight the pull for their own reasons. I found myself just as curious about and captivated by Parker as Jaden was and I think it would be fascinating to see pieces of the story from his perspective.

Overall, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a contemporary YA romance with a twist. And also, I plan on rereading it. Just FYI. 🙂

Erica’s Rating: 5/5

Reviews: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

This book is exactly what it says it is: the story of why Min–short for Minerva–and Ed broke up. Told in a letter written from Min to Ed as she returns a box of keepsakes from their relationship, you hear about their first meeting when Ed shows up uninvited to Min’s best friend’s sixteenth birthday party and everything that follows. Min and Ed struggle to fit each other into their lives, but Min doesn’t belong in Ed’s athletic, basketball groupie, beer drinking clique and Ed doesn’t really mesh with Min’s classic movie loving “artsy” friends. But the more people try to tell them this relationship will never work, the more determined they become to see it through. You know–and since she’s writing this after the fact, so does Min–that the relationship is doomed before Ed shows up in the first chapter, but the little vignettes and the moments captures by the trinkets and tokens Min has collected draw you along as you find out why.

Not necessarily in plot, but in style this book is a daring departure from the norm in young adult fiction. Why We Broke Up mixes first and second person with the narrative written to “you” (Ed) and since Min’s letter is written in a single sitting on a single day, it ends up being almost stream of consciousness as she pours out every moment and every thought and every secret. I loved the originality and the authenticity of Min’s voice, but found myself lost sometimes in descriptions that would carry on for so long I forgot what she was describing. Working to concentrate on following her train of thought pulled me out of an otherwise captivating book. I did, however, love the addition of the artwork by Maria Kalman, renderings of the items Min is returning to Ed. Seeing these items described by Min added something unique to this story.

Overall, I believe Handler and Kalman have created something beautiful here. There’s a poetry to Min’s meandering narrative and this is one of those books that proves the journey is more important than the destination. Knowing where we’re headed doesn’t take anything away from this novel.

Erica’s Rating: 4/5

Reviews: Heart On A Chain By Cindy C. Bennett

Kate lived a normal live once, but it was so long ago she barely remembers what that was like. After her father lost his job and her mother miscarried, Kate’s life was never the same again. Her father started staying out and drinking. When he did come home, it was only to vent his anger on Kate’s mother. It didn’t take long for Kate’s mother to turn her frustrations on the only person left: Kate. Without any friends or anyone she trusts to turn to, Kate is left to suffer in silence as her mother slowly kills her spirit.

Henry Jamison knew Kate when they were little and he thought she was beautiful, kind, vibrant, and smart. But then his family moves just as he and Kate begin to realize how much they care about each other. Six years later Henry moves back and he can’t understand what happened to the little girl he once knew. He’d never forgotten her, but now she runs if he even tries to say hello. The other students either ignore or antagonize her and it doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be able to break through the walls she’s erected around herself. Will Kate be able to trust his intentions or will she fail to recognize the first person to see through her protective barriers and care about the person underneath? What happens when an unthinkable tragedy threatens the delicate balance they’ve found?

This book is beautiful, heartbreaking, and hopeful. Bennett has created characters who live and breathe on the pages–even some of the minor characters–and she sucks you into a world no one wants to live in yet people somehow survive. The tormenting Kate suffers at school may seem overblown, but having seen it in action during my childhood I can say it’s not overdramatized by much. The cruelties of children are equalled by their kindnesses. It’s a strange phenomenon. This is also true of the families presented in the book. Henry’s family is almost too good to be true: loving, warm, generous, accepting and a perfect foil to the cold, angry home Kate has grown up in. Bennett shows readers both extremes of the spectrum and somehow manages to give the book balance, not letting it get too dark or overly fluffy and light.

Henry doesn’t ride in to her rescue as much as give her a place to turn when things get bad. In fact, for most of the book he has no idea what’s going on. He has suspicions that something isn’t right, but coming from his loving household, it’s hard for him to conceive of the abuse Kate is suffering. He is steadfast, protective, and sweet and the growing love between the two teens is a major part of what drew me into the story.

One of Kate’s strengths is her ability to forgive and let go even when faced with those I don’t know if she should forgive. Some people may interpret this as weak–I’ve seen a couple of reviews who really railed on her for this–but I think it takes a much stronger character to let go of grudges than hold onto them. By doing this Kate is not only helping herself move past this horrible phase in her life, she’s (hopefully) helping the others grow and learn from her example. Just by being who she is, Kate changes the lives of the people around her. She never even realizes she’s doing it. I think a lot of people underestimate the quieter kinds of power and strength.

A warning to the squeamish. There are a couple of rather brutal physical abuse sequences, so just be aware of that before picking up the book.

Erica’s Rating: 5/5

Reviews: Dream Chaser by Angie Stanton

Willow has lead her school’s cheerleading team to Nationals and is known as the most death-defying flyer on the squad. She’s willing to try anything, but one of her flights almost turns fatal during practice one day. Only a quick save by one of her catchers saved her from breaking her neck. Physically, she’s fine, but mentally, she knows she can’t ever get back in the air. in fact, cheerleading has lost its draw entirely. Her best friend and team member Jilly is not about to let her walk away, though, and Willow knows she needs an air-tight reason she can’t come back to the squad. The school’s drama production of Dream Chaser might just be the answer.

Before cheer, Willow was a dancer. An amazing dancer who won competitions at all levels and danced with unmatchable passion, but some scared her away from dancing, just like cheer. This something though was over 6 feet and incredibly hot: her co-star Eli McAvoy. Eli and Willow used to dance together and for years they were best friends until Eli wanted more. Willow ran, but now she needs to face the antagonism between her and her on-time best friend and decide where to go from here.

The main concentration is on the show Dream Chaser which involves the best high school performers in the city, no matter what school they attend. Even though she auditioned for the chorus, the director (who also wrote and choreographed the show) casts her as the lead to replace the girl kicked out after two weeks of rehearsals. She’s taking over a position no one except the director wants her to have and her co star is none other than her ex-best friend Eli. Can she ignore the taunts and ostracization and work together with Eli or will Willow let Eli down again?

I grew up dancing. It was the only sport I was ever involved in (and, yes, it is a sport) and I love it. I watch So You Think You Can Dance on TV and still choreograph for the students at my old studio. It’s awesome. I was never as good as Willow, but I know how much work it takes and I know what she was facing going into this show. The descriptions of the exhaustion and the pain and the determination were spot-on and I loved the heavy involvement in the arts. The main characters were all interesting and I liked watching how the dynamic between the different groups (show cast, director, principle actors, spurned cheerleaders) kept shifting. One thing that bothered me (and bother I think is too strong of a word) were the mentions of Willow’s habit of quitting. It seemed like she was an extremely persistent person and determined to succeed in everything, not a quitter. In fact they really only talk about two things she quit: dance and cheer. She had a valid reason for cheer, but a weak one for dance. Still, I don’t see how that classifies her as a quitter. Otherwise, I enjoyed this book from start to finish! It began with a bang (as Willow goes splat on the floor) and kept me very interested all the way through. I especially recommend this to anyone interested in performing arts, but honestly anyone who enjoys contemporary YA books will probably like this one.

Erica’s Rating: 5/5

Review: Rock And A Hard Place by Angie Stanton

Before I start, I have to say that I have absolutely fallen in love with user reviews on Amazon! I am took a writing break last week (with the minor exception of jotting down ideas that pop into my head so I won’t forget them) and so I started browsing Amazon. I’ve shopped on the site before, but I usually I already knew what I wanted. I’ve never taken full advantage of the user reviews. I have read twenty-two books in the past ten days (no, I’m not joking, though part of me kind of wishes I was… that much reading might be a sign of some kind of illness) and most of them I would rate at least 4 stars. Even the worst of them would get 3. I bought them based on a few factors, but the deciding point was always the user reviews and so far they have not steered me wrong! Okay, I’m done gushing about the opinions of random strangers. Onto the books!

Libby’s entire family was in a horrible car accident. Only Libby and her father walked away, but her father walked away broken and reeling from the loss of his wife and second daughter. Lost in depression, he drops Libby off with her mother’s sister, a cranky woman known in town for her temper and her eccentricities. Libby longs for her father to return, but it’s been a year and she hasn’t even had a letter from him. She has no idea where he is or how to track him down, but even if she did how can she start when she has no phone, no computer, no money, and no friends?

Peter Jamison has lead a life a lot of people dream of, especially since the band he and his brothers formed put out a chart-topping rock album. He writes the songs and he loves performing, but what he really wants is someone who sees who he is behind the rock star, someone who doesn’t care about the fame and the fortune. One day when his family’s tour bus stops in an out of the way park in Alabama, he meets Libby who amazingly has no idea who he is and has never even heard about his band. Instantly captivated by this refreshingly honest girl, Peter convinces his family to return to this spot between shows so he can get to know her better.

Libby is thrilled to have a friend, someone she can talk to, but Peter’s family isn’t so happy about this country girl who keeps distracting him from his responsibilities in the band. His older brother makes a choice and Peter loses contact with Libby just when she needs him most. Abandoned and alone, Libby is struggling for her very survival while Peter desperately searches for the girl who has stolen his heart.

I LOVED this book. All of the characters, not just Libby and Peter, were well developed and interesting and the dynamics of this dual narrative drew me in instantly. Peter’s family is believable and their interactions well written. Certain sections of Libby’s story almost made me cry. I liked Libby’s quiet strength and her determination to persevere despite all the obstacles life has thrown in her path and Peter’s devotion would have outweighed a lot of faults… but he didn’t have any. Peter is actually the paragon of rock stars, exactly the way you hope all your idols are in real life, but his family has a lot to do with that, I think. His parents are both painted as loving and supportive, even if they (like everyone) make mistakes along the way.

Without being overly serious and weighed down by the issues present in this book, Rock and a Hard Place manages to remain uplifting. It’s a testament to the power of love, hope, determination, and trust and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes contemporary YA.

Erica’s Rating: 5/5

Review: Sophie & Carter by Chelsea Fine

Sophie and Carter have lived next door to each other for years, ever since Sophie moved into town in elementary school. They’re seniors now and best friends, even if they hide their relationship from the rest of the school. It makes things easier this way, for both of them. Easier to pretend they’re normal. Easier to pretend their lives outside of school are normal. But they’re not.

Sophie’s mom is a prostitute and, in recent years, a drug addict. She disappears for months at a time and leaves Sophie in charge of her three younger siblings. Sophie has to be mother, father, taskmaster, rule maker, bill payer, tutor, and sole support when she should be enjoying high school and preparing for the rest of her life. Carter is physically scarred, but the worst damage is on the inside, the secrets no one but Sophie knows. His father was a brutal monster who abused him and his mother for years. Eventually the mental and physical abuse broke his mother and now her only solace is insanity and alcohol. His father is gone and Carter is the only one left to take care of his poor mother.

This story is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting. It touches on subjects too dark to contemplate and shows how hope, love, trust, and beauty can survive even in hellish circumstances. Chelsea Fine’s writing is poetic, but always real and her characters are believable and true. I only had one complaint: it was too short! Sophie and Carter are such beautiful characters and beautiful people that I wanted to see every minute of their days and hear more about their lives–both past and present. Still, it was fabulous to watch them both realize what they’ve known quietly for years: they are absolutely devoted to and hopelessly in love with each other. If more people persevered through adversity like Sophie and Carter do, the world would be a much better place.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It will captivate you from the minute you start reading (I found it on amazon, read the first chapter, immediately downloaded the Kindle edition, and read it in one sitting) and keep you thinking about it well after you put it down. Despite the strong subject matter, the language and situations don’t make it unsuitable for younger readers. However, I would still suggest parental guidance as some of the topics mentioned will probably raise questions you may or may not want to answer. 

Erica’s Rating: 5/5

Review: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Jordan Woods is not your average girl and she wouldn’t be even if she wasn’t the captain and quarterback of one of the best high-school football teams in the state. She’s six-feet tall and just happens to be the daughter of NFL Quarterback Donovan Woods. Jordan has always been one of the guys, but even though this is how she wants it, it does have certain drawbacks. Like the fact that she’s a senior and hasn’t been kissed yet. The arrival of Ty Green changes everything.

Suddenly Ty is challenging not only her position on the team, but her sanity, her friendships, and her self-control. She’s never wanted anyone this bad and never knew a crush could cause so many problems. To top it all off, her football-star father won’t take the time to attend her games or even support her love of his sport, her best friend Sam Henry is upset and won’t tell her why, and Alabama State (her dream school) is offering her a scholarship that will probably mean she won’t play a game her entire college career. Will Jordan be able to regain control of her life or will the changes that started with Ty ruin everything?

Despite not liking sports, I love sports movies. When I heard about this book, I thought it sounded like a perfect balance. The characters were likable and entertaining and the dialogue was realistic; several times the exchanges between the characters made me laugh. I especially liked Jordan’s relationship with her father and how that progressed through the course of the book. It was believable and touching. I also fell in love with Sam Henry, Jordan’s best friend. He made me wish I knew someone like him. Ty was hot and an emotional disaster area for very understandable reasons, but I never really liked him much. Maybe it was because I always felt as though he was hiding something and we didn’t get to know him as well. The one thing that disturbed me a little was the flippant attitude toward cheating. I can see how this is probably a realistic perspective from inside the guy’s locker room (in theory, not in actuality–Jordan uses the girls locker room), but it seemed like Jordan’s friends on the team were never with the same girl. And all the girls seemed to be cheerleaders. Either that cheerleading team was huge, or those cheerleaders were very busy…

The book really focuses on three things: Jordan and football, Jordan and her dad, and Jordan and Sam Henry. It’s possible one of the reasons I didn’t like Ty much is because it was pretty obvious from the beginning that he was only there as a catalyst to set all the other events in motion. All of the main characters have decent development through the book and that’s really what kept me reading. I loved their devotion to the team and to each other and Jordan’s willingness to fight for what she wanted, even if she forgot what that was somewhere in the middle of the book. She’s a strong female character in a male dominated story and sport, but I think she held her own well. I did, however, appreciate that she eventually found girl friends who made her have some connection with the other side of herself.

Light, enjoyable, and fun, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an entertaining, romantic read. Although understanding what a flea-flicker is probably won’t hurt. 🙂

Erica’s Rating: 4/5

Book Reviews: The Truth About Forever

“Life can be long or short, it all depends on how you choose to live it. it’s like forever, always changing. for any of us our forever could end in an hour, or a hundred years from now. you can never know for sure, so you’d better make every second count. what you have to decide is how you want your life to be. if your forever was ending tomorrow, is this how you’d want to have spent it?”

Losing someone you love is hard enough without being there to watch them disappear before your eyes. Hard or not, this is exactly what happens to Macy Queen when her father dies of a heart attack as she watches helplessly. Macy’s older sister grieves by bawling her eyes out for days. Macy’s mother avoids her pain by working nearly twenty-four hours a day. Macy copes by falling for the guy who has all the answers, who has somehow managed to become perfect. For over a year she copies her boyfriend Jason’s every move and goal becoming a straight A student, active in extracurricular activities, and a model daughter, but then Jason leaves for the summer to go to Brain Camp. Suddenly, Macy is left to her own devices and filling in for Jason at the library where the other employees (both female versions of Jason) seem to go out of their way to make her miserable. Everything seems to be going as well as can be expected until an email from Jason blows her world to pieces: I think it’s best for us to take a break from our relationship, and each other, until I return at the end of the summer. It will give us both time to think, so that in August we’ll know better whether we want the same things or if it’s best to sever our ties and make this separation permanent. After reading this email a spur of the moment decision and a twist of fate find Macy signing on to join the Wish catering crew, an unlikely group that just happens to include the sawoon-worthy Wes. Macy eventually discovers that Wes is also on a break from his girlfriend and the two develop a strong friendship, bonding over their non-relationship statuses and a seemingly never-ending game of Truth (the only rule, you have to tell the truth). When the end of summer starts looming closer every day, questions start to race around Macy’s head. Should she get back together with Jason? What will happen to her friendship with Wes? Why does it feel like she’s finally alive for the first time in years?

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen is brilliant. I’ve only ever read one of her other books before (Lock and Key, also highly recommended), but I loved that one too. Sarah has a way of dealing with powerful emotions issues and family crises without making them depressing or overly melodramatic. Her characters are real and relatable and her writing is beautiful. Honestly, authors like Sarah make me wish I was still a “young adult” so that I could have discovered her at a younger age. Her stories make you think about a variety of topics but always seem to leave you with a sense of hope. I loved the subplots in this book, especially; they came together so beautifully by the end. This book will make you take a long look at death, grief, family, love, friendship, truth, flaws, luck, life, choice, infomercials, junkyard art, prison records, and how sometimes finding perfection means accepting that you’ll never have perfection.

Erica’s Rating: 5 stars

Book Reviews: Pure Red

“I, Cassia Bernard, do solemnly swear to find pure red—my passion—this summer. Dad’s passion is art. When he’s painting, no one can reach him, not even me. My mom’s passion was the ocean. She said the ocean allows you to see whatever you want to see. That was one of the last things she ever said to me…”

Especially for someone who usually feels adrift, meeting someone with a passion—a true purpose for their life—can be unsettling. Living with someone like that is downright depressing if, like Cassia Bernard, you can’t seem to find your own guiding force. Remembering how she used to like playing pickup games of basketball, Cassia joins the summer league in hopes of discovering a love for the game. Not too far into the season, though, she suffers a bad sprain and is forced to sit it out while she recovers. During her recovery, she decides to take a ceramics class and finds something else that may call to her. While all this is happening, she’s dealing with a best friend in the gushing, obsessive new-relationship phase, her perpetually clueless father who gets so wrapped up in his art he forgets to come to her games, and Graham—a new boy who worships Cassia’s father, the famous artist, but doesn’t seem to see Cassia for herself. Will her father ever come out of his own mind long enough to really connect with her? Will Graham ever be able to see past her father long enough to ask her out? Will she ever find her calling?
Like Indigo Blues, Pure Red is more about the characters than the action. Again, I enjoyed Danielle Joseph’s prose and think she has an amazing talent for phrasing. I especially enjoyed the constant use of color and the way Cassia interpreted everything by color—including the opposing teams of the summer league. The characters were interesting and well written and although I would have enjoyed more doing, that’s not always necessary. I think the main reason this book couldn’t get to the four-star mark for me is Cassia’s passion. She states herself that finding her passion will be her goal. Honestly, the buildup was so heavy through the whole book that I really wanted an epiphany moment. I wanted everything to come together like puzzle pieces magically flying into place as she realized, “Oh, goodness! How could I have been so blind!” I didn’t get that. In fact, less than a week after reading it I had to go back to the book to make sure she actually had found her passion at all. I remembered the things she had been interested in, but the realization had been so quiet and subtle that I didn’t feel as though it meant as much to her as it should have. I liked Graham who turned out to be even more interesting at the end of the book than I thought he’d be, but her father annoyed me. That, however, was probably only because it would have driven me crazy to have my only parent be as disconnected and scatterbrained as he was. There were a couple of side characters that I felt went nowhere, but the ones that stuck through to the end made for a very interesting bunch. I recommend the book especially to anyone who likes art or color. It’s also always interesting to read something set in my area of the world (the story takes place in Miami). Overall, a good read, but I expected more from it.
Erica’s Rating: 3/5

Book Reviews: Indigo Blues

“When I found out that ‘Indigo Blues’ hit number one on the Billboard charts this morning, I ran to the bathroom and threw up. Then the toilet lid smacked down on my nose. Now, at the insistence of my mom, I’m zoning with an ice pack on my face.”

Think about the worst rumor anyone has ever spread about you and then imagine that someone turned that rumor into a song and it became a hit single overnight. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. This is Indigo’s life.

Told from alternating points of view, Indigo Blues shows what happens to both the songwriter and the muse after a breakup inspires a hit single. Adam Spade’s band Blank Stare is the newest craze and all Adam can think about is Indigo. She won’t return his calls or texts, but she never leaves his thoughts. For Indigo, this seems like the peak in her sudden rise to infamy and even though Adam has ruined her life he still won’t stop calling her.

It’s hard to give a better description because, honestly, not much happens. The story centers around Indigo and Adam’s relationship as Adam struggles with newfound fame and attempts to write a song that will live up to the standards ‘Indigo Blues’ has set and Indigo tries and fails to stay out of the limelight. Indigo finally gives in to one of the numerous requests for an interview and agrees to go on TV with Adam to put to rest all of the rumors surrounding the song.

To be honest, I found Indigo annoying. She whines and complains but doesn’t actually do much. And plus, the thing she’s complaining about is something most girls are searching for everyday: a guy who is completely in love with them. She broke up with Adam after they’d been dating a few months not because he was mean, a cheat, or a liar but because he was too devoted. Really? Give me a guy like that any day. I liked Adam better, but could see in his tendency to clinginess an insecurity that would ruin all of his relationships. Still, I thought he grew as a character more than Indigo through the book. I probably could have dealt with all this if there had been more of a conclusion to the story. Did Adam and Indigo find closure or a way back to each other? You could argue it either way.

The prose itself read well and there were some very pretty phrasing, but overall, I liked Shrinking Violet a lot more.

Erica’s Rating: 2.5/5 stars