Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

This is a great read by a first time author and perfect for the holidays.  As much as anything its about love, not a male/female love but love of family, of brother for brother, parent for child and more.
Because the main characters are young teens, this is a crossover book, good for adults as well as teens.
The Characters:  Ava and Wash, best friends since childhood, Ava's mother committed suicide many years ago, her caring father, recently remarried and expecting has raised her well.  Wash's grandmother has been raising him since the death of his mother in a car accident caused by his father who could not face the world after that.  they are teens.  Ava's father Sheriff Macon Campbell and his new wife Carmen. Wash's grandmother Brenda and father Tom.  Reverend Brown and his brain injured brother Sam.  Dr. Arnold and his wife, town doctor and nurse.

A plane crashes at an airshow trapping Ava and Wash in debris.  As their rescuers race to reach them, Ava sees that Wash is slipping away.  Panicked by the thought of losing Wash, Ava grabs on to him and holds and thinks hard, memories of her mother flood her mind.  She wakes cold and weak in the hospital being called miracle girl.  She has healed Wash's injuries, saved his life.  And so it is that the town is flooded by reporters and people hoping to be healed by the miracle girl.  Macon is overwhelmed by coping with the mess.  Reverend Brown steps in and guides him.  The reverend could have been a stereotypical televangelist but is a much deeper caring person.  His older brother however is a problem, stalking Ava, trying to get her to cure his brain injury and in the end causing an horrific explosion, killing himself and others.  Sam reminded me of Lennie Small in the novel Of Mice and Men so now might be the time to say that maybe this story or parts of it have been told before, never has the story been told in this manner.  There are tests and more tests to see if Ava is different is some way, always is the question of how?  When she heals a dog's broken leg she loses conscious and wakes up blind.  Eventually recovering, almost.  She grows thinner, and colder every time she heals someone and loses her vision and has a flood of memories of her lost beloved mother.
Even as those close to her want her help, save Carmen's baby, save Wash from cancer, they know it could kill her, something they would never risk.  How do you explain to people in need, people who believe she has a moral duty to help that Ava cannot help them?  There is a first attempt to get Ava to begin what is deemed her duty but she refuses to cure a young child of a brain tumor and instead grabs Wash and runs away.  Ava seems to have come to terms with her "power" with what she can and will do and that is clearly limited to those she loves.  She will risk her own life for them.  And so it is that she heals Wash's cancer without his being aware and heals Carmen's baby, born too early.  But for those outside her tight circle there is no resolution.  JDW 12/14

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett

This summer, Disney told the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of Maleficent. Tracy Barrett has now told Cinderella's story from the perspective of the stepsister. It's an interesting interpretation of the story that seems a bit removed from the original.

Jane's mother has high standards for her daughters to present themselves as ladies like their ancestors always have. That would be easy for Jane to do, if they weren't living in a house that was nearly beyond repair and she weren't forced to work in the family's dairy so that they could survive. When her mother returns from a trip with a new husband and stepdaughter, Jane thinks this might be the answer to their prayers. However, her new stepsister seems a bit stuck-up and her stepfather has his own set of debts. None of this helps them, especially when he suddenly gets sick and dies. In the meantime, Jane forms a friendship with a family of people who lives in the woods, people that she'd initially been warned by her mother to stay away. Then the prince comes with an invitation for all unmarried women as he seeks one particular lady - a girl he met one day on his travels. Jane realizes he means her stepsister Isabella, and while she would love the opportunity to "get rid of" the girl, she begins to realize the prince might not be the happily ever after they were all looking for.

This retelling of Cinderella feels very removed from the original story that everyone seems to know. Given that it's from the perspective of the stepsister, that's to be expected, but at times it felt like a completely different story. For the most part, it feels like a story about a girl whose class status shifts due to unfortunate events and is now living the life of poverty and how she adapts to this life. It addresses misconceptions about people - Will from the family in the woods thinks she's high and mighty because of her class, which is completely wrong because her family has less than his, and she thinks he's too proud to associate with her; then Jane has a misconception about Isabella who has a misconception about Jane. It's a theme throughout the book about how people aren't what you think and how status and title doesn't make a person good. When it comes to the actual Cinderella parts of the story, there's a nice twist to the whole ball and prince that fits with the themes about misconceptions and makes it more original. For the most part, though, this novel felt like it was Jane dealing with their living conditions and trying to survive and keep her family from falling apart. For a while, I kept wondering when the whole Cinderella story was going to happen. I don't know what to make of the Cinderella character, though. For the most part she comes off as a whiny brat and is barely in the book. I would have like more of her, or seen her character develop more. I had very little sympathy for her. I also would have like a bit more clarity with the epilogue. There's closure for a happy ending, but I thought it was a bit vague in terms of where everyone ends up. I wanted more specifics or nothing at all. 

The novel is an interesting interpretation of the story of Cinderella. It is definitely the author's take on the familiar tale, although that tale is more of a secondary story compared to everything else going on in the novel - so keep that in mind. It was an enjoyable read though.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

I think this could have been a powerful story.  But, the author looses track of her characters a couple of times.  In one spot this made the story totally confusing.  And, she switches directions a couple of times, not in a twisty complicated way but sort of in a "Huh"  way.  

Reyna is new girl in high school.  First day is hard, everyone knows everyone and has someone to eat
lunch with.  So, when Olive encourages Reyna to join her, well, why not?  Olive is quirky and Reyna doesn't know what to think.  So, when another group of girls invites her into their group, Reyna does.
But, they are not really to her liking either.  Well turns out Olive thinks Reyna is gay like she is and Reyna totally freaks and tries to drop Olive as a friend, even making fun of her like the other girls do.  There is a homophobic teacher who is hard on a gay boy in his class both angering Olive and keeping her silent.  Olive is in  a GLBQT group on line and has met other girls like herself.  There is much chatter about suicide.  When there is an actual suicide in town, folks think its Olive as the victim was wearing her coat.  This turns into an opportunity to strike out against the homophobic teacher, an opportunity for Reyna to redeem herself for all she regrets not doing and a few other things as well.  Ok, well I am happy to have finally finished this book.  There are others much better.  Try Julie Peters or Ellen Whittlinger or David Leviathan.
JDW 12/14

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Very Bad Things by Susan McBride

Katie is plagued by nightmares that she swears are not just in her head, that the person calling her name and leaving behind roses is real, but she doesn't have much proof, even though she finds a rose left by her backpack. Regardless of her dreams, a rumor has begun that her boyfriend Mark has cheated on her, and that same day, she receives a package containing something important to the girl he cheated with. Now the girl's believed missing and he's the prime suspect. Katie doesn't know if she can believe in his innocence, not when he can't remember anything about the night he was with this mystery girl. It doesn't help that Katie's best friend has something against Mark and seems determined to prove his guilt, although she claims it's for Katie's own good. Is Mark innocent, even though he claims some guy drugged him, or is there something else going on?

This book is a quick read. For the most part it is a steady mystery with characters who are hiding things. There are three different narrators in this novel - Katie, Mark, and Tessa - although I don't know that switching the narrator adds anything to the novel. They didn't really seem distinct enough to make it necessary. The book is only 225 pages long, so it's a decent mystery with a few twists. The characters probably could have used a little bit more development, but for the limited pages, it's not bad. 

If you enjoy mysteries and are looking for a book you can read in a day or two that is engaging, this is worth picking up.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

It is nothing new to re-imagine a story, which is exactly what this novel does. It takes the world of fairy tales and puts a modern day spin on the story.

Mirabelle is embarking on her sixteenth birthday and is ready for the truth. Her parents died when she was a baby and she has since been raised by her godmothers who have kept her away from the place of her birth. Given the fact that she's forbidden to return home and the secrecy around her parent's death, Mira's natural curiosity gets the best of her, and she hatches an elaborate plan to run away and discovery the truth by her birthday. When she arrives in Beau Rivage, she realizes that her plan wasn't completely thought out since she doesn't have a place to stay or any idea where to begin looking. She finds herself killing time in a casino and meets a boy named Blue who rudely warns her to stay away from her brother and get out the casino. When she finally leaves, she runs into an older boy who offers her a place to stay and turns out to be the brother Blue warned her to avoid - Felix. However, Felix is too nice and helpful to be bad, so she disregards Blue's advice. While she waits for an opportunity to search for her parents with Felix's help, she finds herself spending time with Blue and his friends, all of whom seem a little strange. When she notices the way animals flock towards one friend and another coughs up flower petals, she realizes that something isn't right with these people. Then she discovers that one friend has a mysterious birthmark identical to her own, which means she's somehow connected to these people. She learns that each mark relates to a curse or blessing, relating each marked person to a fairy tale. In her case, she is marked to prick her finger on a certain object by her sixteenth birthday and fall asleep until an honor-bound person with her same mark comes along to wake her up. Now, while she searches for her parents, she also has to discover what object will be her downfall. At the same time, she has to figure out what to do about her growing feelings for Blue in conflict with her undeniable feelings for his brother. Given the fact that these brothers are cursed and the women they love are affected by this curse, Mira's situation has just gotten a whole lot more complicated.

There are certain elements of this novel which are frustrating, like the fact that Mira is only fifteen and running around with complete strangers and ready to jump into bed with an older boy that she's only known for a day. Just because he's nice to her and helpful is no reason to be hopelessly in love with him. This novel definitely requires you to suspend reality for just a bit. I personally kept forgetting that she was only fifteen since all of them seemed to read more like eighteen or nineteen. Still, it was interesting to see how these fairy tales play out, especially when this novel toys with the idea of fate and how their destiny is already written out for them. She knows who her Prince Charming is, and, unfortunately, it is not love at first sight. Blue and Felix are horribly cursed and there's nothing they can do about it, which is something Mira will not accept. The novel created a really intriguing world and easily sets up future stories. At least one other novel is coming out in 2015- Tear You Apart - which is Snow White's story, but characters for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid have been introduced. Her website (http://www.sarahcross.com) features a Cinderella story.

If you enjoy fairy tales and can overlook some literary cliches (head over heels in love with a near stranger, bad boy attraction, etc), this is a enjoyable book. It's fun taking a familiar story and setting it in new world with new twists. Come the end of the novel, you are rooting for the characters to have their happily ever afters and looking forward to more from this strange new (yet familiar) world.