Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Zombie Tag - Review

Title: Zombie Tag

Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Release Date: December 20, 2011
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Synopsis: Wil is desperate for his older brother to come back from the dead. But the thing about zombies is . . they don’t exactly make the best siblings. Thirteen-year-old Wil Lowenstein copes with his brother’s death by focusing on Zombie Tag, a mafia/
capture the flag hybrid game where he and his friends fight off brain-eating zombies with their mothers’ spatulas. What Wil doesn’t tell anybody is that if he could bring his dead brother back as a zombie, he would in a heartbeat. But when Wil finds a way to summon all the dead within five miles, he’s surprised to discover that his back-from-the-dead brother is emotionless and distant.  In her first novel for younger readers, Moskowitz offers a funny and heartfelt look at how one boy deals with change, loss, and the complicated relationship between brothers. (From GOODREADS)
Expectation: Extremely high. Poor Hannah Moskowitz had a LOT to live up to--most recently, INVINCIBLE SUMMER. It's hard to live up to the expectations of a reader who loved your last work.    
Market/Genre: Middle Grade, Zombie, Hannah Moskowitz Brothers (Yes...Hannah seems to be starting her own genre. And doing frighteningly well at the dynamics between brothers) (-:
“Graham and I spit on our hands and promised we would never, ever grow up. He’s not going to get out of that just by dying.” ~ Hannah Moskowitz, Zombie Tag

“Talking to you is like talking to myself.” ~ Hannah Moskowitz, Zombie Tag (This is a truism for ALL brothers in the throes of their child years together. It’s a shame we forget it when we grow up.)

ZOMBIE TAG has very little to do with zombies. Don’t tell Hannah Moskowitz I said that. I will deny it vehemently.

This was, quite frankly, a beautiful read. You can see by the synopsis that it really does have a lot to do with zombies. But the undercurrent of this book is not quite an undercurrent. It screams to the reader from the gate. This is a Peter Pan tale. This is a story about the complications of being a brother, and about not ever wanting to lose the bonds that brothers have in childhood. It’s about knowing when it’s okay to be intimate with your brother and knowing when it’s not okay. It’s about knowing when to wrestle and hurt each other. It’s about sleeping out in a tent under the stars and talking to each other about the wonders of life and the fear of death when it’s dark and you can no longer see each other and you know precisely what the other one looks like; the expression on his face, the way his hands are worrying into fists and stretching out into wings at his sides as he describes the way he thinks death might be. This is a story that every brother should read. And a story that everybody who was never a brother of a brother should read so they know that boys can have big hearts too, boys can be intimate and filled with dreams too.

Okay. What you see above is not quite a review. It was more about the emotional rollercoaster I went through yesterday as I read ZOMBIE TAG. I’m still relatively new at reviews. I’ll try to bring it back down to earth now.

Wil. Wilson. He’s a kid who has lost his older brother. There is the story. Moskowitz sets up the world in which Zombie Tag takes place with amazing skill. The reader is brought into this contemporary setting that is almost like home. In it, children are playing a game created by young Wil (& his brother, Graham). Zombie Tag is the game. As soon as I started reading those first scenes, I was brought back to my childhood. I could perfectly envision ‘our’ group playing Zombie Tag during a sleepover—creeping through the dark house crying out for BRRRRAAAIIIINNNNSS and banging on closed ‘barricaded’ doors, searching for humans to feed off of. The whole time, our parents sleeping obliviously in their bedroom. It was so real, I could almost swear we did this!

There is, though, a little difference between the world we live in and the carefully constructed world in which Moskowitz chooses to put us in with this story. The world where Zombie Tag takes place has a past history of real live zombies. Around 30 years ago zombies walked the earth for a brief time. There is no real solid evidence, though, of what went on from the time they left their graves to the time they were discovered dead in another location. There’s just the empty graves and the bodies in a different location. Clearly, zombies HAD walked.

Wil and his friends have fun playing Zombie Tag, but Wil has ulterior motives. He LIVES zombies. He devours everything he can find out about zombies. He misses his brother SO much. If only…

Moskowitz puts the reader deep into the land of brothers with this story. Through Wil, we understand what it’s like to be both beaten and protected in the same day by one’s older brother. We see those soft moments of whispered words between brothers, and we see those moments of meanness that older brothers dole out just to see the younger brother squirm. And we understand that under all the crap, under the beatings and the name callings and the leave-me-alones there is this bond that can not be broken. Not by the span of years between you and not in death. Wil suffers terribly over Graham’s loss, over the loss of his protectiveness and the loss of his soothing and the loss of his its-gonna-be-okay talks. He might even suffer over the loss of the not so nice things that Graham put him through as his big brother. That’s what it means to have a brother. There’s good and bad and it’s very easy for this brother to imagine missing both, should they be suddenly taken.

Yeah, this is a tale of zombies. It’s a tale for children and teens and near-teens. But it is also one for everybody else. And it is also NOT a zombie tale. I’m not going to tell you a whole lot about what goes on in Zombie Tag. I’ll just say that Wil DOES discover a way to get his big brother back. And that he is faced with a dilemma bigger than that of suffering the loss of his big brother, once he does bring him back. With the friends he played Zombie Tag with, Wil will figure things out.

It’s hard to grow up. It’s one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. And when you make a pact with your big brother to skip this part of your life, you REALLY believe it. You believe it because, in the moment, it just seems right. You don’t want to lose those whispered conspiratorial moments with the boy you look up to. You want to be able to be comforted by that larger than life hero for forever. Because nobody can comfort him like he does. You want to run to him at night when you have a nightmare, no matter how old you are, and get under his sheets and feel safe. But Moskowitz knows this isn’t possible. She weaved a perfect Peter Pan tale with ZOMBIE TAG. It will pull on your heartstrings long after you finish the book. For me, it was a wickedly poignant look at brothers. I don’t know how Moskowitz is so wise and knowing when it comes to the relationship that two brothers have…but she is a master at it. Her mastery was witnessed in BREAK and in INVINCIBLE SUMMER and, now, more than ever, in ZOMBIE TAG.

Don’t let the MG market rating fool you. If you are 40 or 90, you’ll love this book. I’m going to call it a classic. Some may scoff. Some may say a classic can’t have cartoon boys on the cover. A classic’s cover wouldn’t depict one boy hitting another boy over the head with a spatula. But I defy you to prove me wrong. READ IT. You’ll understand where I’m coming from. The Peter Pan in me wants to laugh and cry, simultaneously. The brother in me wants to buy more copies. I have 3 brothers. None of them are dead and none of them are zombies. But imagining myself in Wil’s shoes kept me completely invested in the story. Thank GOD I’m not him. And thank Hannah Moskowitz for an incredible read, yet again!


SIZE: 5 (.5)
Expectation was blown out of the water. This should be on Young Adult shelves and Adult shelves too. It's Christmas soon. My brothers and I don't usually exchange gifts. I'm sending a print copy of ZOMBIE TAG to my older brother. I know he'll 'get' it. (-:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Split - Review

Title: Split

Author: Swati Avasthi

Release Date: March 2, 2010
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition
Purchased: From Amazon, after reading a review. I missed this title on its release year. I was so glad to have found a review by teacher/blogger Sarah Anderson, who I follow on Twitter. Again...another title discovered through Twitter. It now creates my TBR list. Thank you, Sarah at YA LOVE BLOG!
Synopsis: (From Goodreads) Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.At least so far.Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again? Readers won’t be able to put this intense page-turner down.
Expectation: High. I liked the YA Love Blog review so much, I Kindled Split the second I finished reading the review. I was extremely interested to see how this novel about physical abuse in the home played out.
Market/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
"Fightology Lesson #8: Relax when the hits are coming because it hurts less."
This book is nothing short of phenomenal! As we are introduced to our narrator, Jace Witherspoon, he is travelling from Chicago to Albuquerque---in search of shelter and sanity. Jace is one of the strongest characters I have come across in quite a long time. I don't say this because he only makes great choices and he's a natural hero. I say this because he is breathtakingly honest when it comes to his flaws. His brokenness and his vulnerabilities make him a hero to readers.
Jace comes to Albuquergue to find his older brother, who fled their abusive home years before him. But Christian has made a new reality for himself. He put himself through university, has a new life and a girlfriend, and he's changed his last name to erase the past he fled. He is less than welcoming when Jace shows up at his doorstep with his face smashed in and no place to go.
Christian's girlfriend, Merriam, who is also a teacher, was a wonderful calming character in the midst of the chaos. After getting over the initial shock of Jace's presence, Merriam was the mediator between Christian and Jace. Though Jace took quite a while to warm up her, he eventually liked her 'meddling' and concern.
I could not believe the raw honesty of this book. I was compelled to read on and one is compelled to rubberneck as they drive by the scene of an accident. Jace's honesty is so brutal; not only when he's talking to others, but also when he is internally ruminating. It's fascinating to see him come to terms with the physical abuse he fled and the heavy secrets he carried away with him. He is determined to become a new person--one who looks and acts nothing like his father--yet feels somehow stuck in the role in which he senses he belongs. This is the reason he can't quite allow himself to get close to Dakota, the girl who helps him get a new job in a bookstore in Albuquerque.
With Merriam's gentle persuasions, the brothers begin to form a new kind of reality. Christian, though, is unwilling to talk about the beatings he took from his father. Christian has truly put the past behind him. In his new life, the old life just did not happen. The wall he built for himself begins to crumble, though, with Jace's arrival into his carefully crafted life.
Avasthi has woven a remarkable story of physical abuse in a family setting. Not only that, she has perfected the relationship of brothers flung into this terrible reality. The guilt, the silence, the covering up and the taking on abuse for others. Everything is just so real that it splits you down the middle. It was such an emotional rollercoaster of a read. I couldn't read it fast enough. There was so much riding in the balance. The highest stakes, for this reader, was the relationship between the brothers. Such an important relationship, that of siblings. I had to find out if Christian and Jace would make it. I needed to know.
I really don't want to give too much away. Buckle up, because this is a ride you have to take. It's a serious and believable ride. One that will let you see exactly what goes on behind the closed doors of a house ruled by the iron fist of an abusive parent/spouse. You have to read Split.

This book exceeded my expectations. The honesty of the story--the realistic portrayal--blew me away. I'd say it is a MUST read.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hunted - Review

Title: Hunted

Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Release Date: December, 2011 in U.S.A. January, 2012 in Canada
Format/Page Count: eARC
Publisher:  WestSide Books in USA/Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Canada
Purchased: eARC given to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Caitlyn, a telepath, lives in a world where all paranormal talents are illegal. She is on the run from government ParaTroopers. When Caitlyn falls for Alex, a Normal, and discovers dangerous renegade Paranormals, she must choose between staying in hiding to protect herself or taking a stand to save the world.
Expectation: High. I enjoyed SCARS by Rainfield. She's a strong writer of the real issues that are facing today's teens. I jumped at the opportunity to read another Rainfield!
Market/Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian Para (-;
Review: HUNTED comes alive on page one. It engaged me throughout with intrigue and a fast-pace that made the book unputdownable. Although a dystopian, this story was so deeply embedded in a contemporary setting that it became a believable allegory for the issues that teens (we all) face in today's society - racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, name it. Rainfield put these issues into HUNTED by making it a story of bigotry in the most fascinating of ways--Caitlyn is a teen telepath. Telepaths are to be feared and loathed…they are other than normal (which is, incidentally, exactly what the ‘normal’ people in the story are called). From the onset, I was reminded of David and Sophie of my childhood favourite, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

As the story opens, the reader is immediately drawn to teenager Caitlyn, and her mother, who are on the run. Always on the move, they're trying to stay one step ahead of the ParaTroopers who are out to capture all paranormals…to either enslave, imprison or kill. Although Caitlyn's mom is also a Para, her powers are completely suppressed. It is up to Caitlyn to keep in touch with the network of para helpers set up to help the underground paras navigate in a world where they are neither accepted nor wanted.

DIVERSITY. This issue was tackled full on in Rainfield's story. Through Caitlyn's eyes the reader is challenged to accept and celebrate the difference that every man, woman and child brings to the table. The uniqueness in this story is that the pacing and the stakes are so encompassing that the issues don't bog down the enjoyment. It's a fine line to weave a story focusing on issues without beating the reader over the head with them. Rainfield definitely accomplishes it.

When Caitlyn and her mom stop in a new town, she is warned by her mother not to get too close to anyone. She must always live on the outskirts of the community while maintaining a convincingly ‘normal’ life inside of it. I can't imagine how hard this would be for a teenager. If they want to have any peace, though, Caitlyn must follow her mother's rules. Nobody can find out that she is a para. Once you start getting close to people, your secret walls start to rapidly deteriorate.

Enter Rachel and Alex. Two strong characters I thoroughly enjoyed. Alex, strong and capable, is a typical teenage boy. I loved that Caitlyn could read Alex's thoughts and see that he liked her. It was nice to see that vulnerable side of a boy’s feelings toward a girl. It was a nicely played addition to the story. And Rachel, who is a strong-willed likeable character, also has feelings for Caitlyn. When she realizes the feelings are not reciprocated, the two become friends. But there is an intense loyal protective aura that comes off of Rachel. The reader quickly understands that, on her watch, no harm or foul will come to Caitlyn.

Caitlyn has a past filled with loss and despair. In the para riots, she lost both her father and her brother. Her peace-loving level-headed father was murdered and her brother, Daniel, was kidnapped during the height of the riots. It is in this new town that Caitlyn discovers Daniel. This is where Rainfield tackles yet another issue—cult brainwashing. The Daniel who was kidnapped is not the Daniel she encounters in this new town. Though a para-slave of the powers that be, he is also part of an underground movement of rogue paras out to claim the world away from the Normals…at any cost.

I want to tell you everything that happens in HUNTED. I want to gush about every scene and share with you the excitement of the execution of the story…but I will stop here. Let me just say that it’s a must read ride. Get ready to cheer for Caitlyn. If you have ever felt like an outsider, you will love this book. You will understand this book. You will walk a mile in Caitlyn's shoes and you will know the adversity she lives with through the unraveling of Hunted. You will root for her, and you will want to see both the government and its potential coup d'état movement fail miserably. I have one piece of advice for you---enjoy the ride!

Met expectation. Rainfield has a great way of tackling issues without being preachy. The story grips! Keep your eye out for the heroic librarian! Librarians rock, don't they!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Witch Eyes - Review

Title: Witch Eyes

Author: Scott Tracey
Release Date: September 8th, 2011
Format/Page Count: Paperback, 332 pages
Publisher: FLUX
Purchased: AMAZON
Synopsis: Braden was born with witch eyes: the ability to see the world as it truly is: a blinding explosion of memories, darkness, and magic. The power enables Braden to see through spells and lies, but at the cost of horrible pain. After a terrifying vision reveals imminent danger for the uncle who raised and instructed him, Braden retreats to Belle Dam, an old city divided by two feuding witch dynasties. As rival family heads Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe desperately try to use Braden's powers to unlock Belle Dam's secrets, Braden vows never to become their sacrificial pawn. But everything changes when Braden learns that Jason is his father--and Trey, the enigmatic guy he's falling for, is Catherine's son. To stop an insidious dark magic from consuming the town, Braden must master his gift—and risk losing the one he loves. ~ From Goodreads
Expectation: High. I pre-ordered this one and read it as soon as I received it in the mail. Again, this was one from the Twitter Train. I've been reading SO MUCH MORE since Twitter. Too many Book Birthdays!
Market/Genre: Young Adult



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Possess - Book Review

Title: Possess

Author: Gretchen McNeil
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Purchased: Kindle
Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her over-protective mom, by Matt Quinn, the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Unfortunately for Bridget, the voices are demons—and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from. Literally. Terrified to tell her friends or family about this new power, Bridget confides in San Francisco’s senior exorcist, Monsignor Renault. The monsignor enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession, but just as she is starting to come to terms with her freakish new role, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons. And when one of her oldest friends is killed, Bridget realizes she’s in deeper than she ever thought possible. Now she must unlock the secret to the demons’ plan before someone else close to her winds up dead—or worse, the human vessel for a demon king. ~From Publisher's Book Description
Expectation: High. I enjoy this type of story, both as a paranormal fan and as a once Catholic schoolboy who was secretly spooked by all the sainthood/demonology lore.  
Market/Genre: Young Adult/Paranormal

"Rule Number Five...They lie." ~ Bridget Liu exorcises demons under the tutelage of her mentor Monsignor Renault, who is quick to shout out the rules of exorcism as she does so.  

As I began reading Possess I was immediately taken back to the Catholic possession stories of my youth. Seventies horror seemed to pivot around the Catholic exorcism/possession theme. Being a Catholic, the theme always terrified me as a child. I was delighted to see it revisited in this fast-paced, well written debut novel by Gretchen McNeil. It was a thrill-ride of a story that harkened back to that time in my life. It’s 3rd person POV was so incredibly tight and close, it was as if I were reading 1st person. Remarkably well done. I hope McNeil's Possess is the portal that brings back a wave of stories exploring this theme. If it does become that portal, it's an excellent example of the genre to begin the trend. I could not put this one down!

Bridget Liu, the main character in Possess, was such a strong force. It was a delight to follow her throughout this story. McNeil made sure Bridget had a LOT of issues to overcome. We are introduced to her after her father has been murdered and two suitors are vying for her mother's attention not a year after his passing. And her young brother Sammy is having nightmares. And she has discovered she can banish demons. She's actually killer at exorcising them…I mean, she rocks at it! But she's afraid to take it to the next level. She's afraid of feeling too good in the thick of the exorcism.

With a potential knight in shining armor attempting to get closer to Bridget, she experiences that same 'feeling too good' tingling. Matthew Quinn is an exceptionally likeable love interest that Bridget tries desperately not to fall in love with. If the reader can squeeze between the lines, they might notice that Bridget's high school nemesis, Alexa Darlington, may have earlier performed a little spell to have Matt as her own. But Matt is now cleansed of the spell and only has eyes for Bridget. He is a stunning knight in shining armor, too…always there for the heroine. But though his heart is in the right place, it's clear from the beginning that Bridget is the stronger more capable of the two. She needs no saving. But she may need the good feeling that Matt brings out in her, if she can ever get past the animosity that makes their interactions so entertaining.

Together (in a matter of speaking) Bridget and Matt work to solve the many mysteries that McNeil expertly weaves into this story. Every clue takes the reader on another ride. There are a delightful many creepy occurrences throughout Possess, from the possessed dolls to the feline ghost to the bumbling Father Santos sent from the Vatican to investigate the rising number of demon possessions in Bridget’s town. The reader happily tags along to see where each clue will take them. Who can Bridget trust? Who must she be leery of? The reader knows Bridget will unravel the mess in time to save the day, but the timeline is tight…tight enough to keep one compulsively reading to get to the next reveal.

I think McNeil has found the perfect new marketplace for the exorcism theme---Young Adult. After reading Possess, I’m certain the two are a perfect match. I can’t wait to see what McNeil brings to the table with her next novel. Whatever the story, I’m sure it’ll be as 'unputdownable' as Possess was!   

SIZE: 4.5

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Invincible Summer - Book Review

Title: Invincible Summer

Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Release Date: April 19th, 2011
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Purchased: Kindle
Synopsis: Noah’s happier than I’ve seen him in months. So I’d be an awful brother to get in the way of that. It’s not like I have some relationship with Melinda. It was just a kiss. Am I going to ruin Noah’s happiness because of a kiss?

Across four sun-kissed, drama-drenched summers at his family’s beach house, Chase is falling in love, falling in lust, and trying to keep his life from falling apart. But some girls are addictive.... Not your typical beach read.
Expectation: After reading BREAK (Moskowitz's debut novel), I knew I would eventually read Invincible Summer. After hearing the buzz, my expectations were very high.
Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary


“Gideon keeps falling down.”

Within the opening line of Invincible Summer, is a hint of what will follow as the story of the McGill family unfolds. And who better to tell their story than Chase McGill. Chase, the self-appointed oldest brother (who is chronologically the second oldest), narrates this family saga over four summers as he struggles to keep it together and keep making sense of a dynamic that is sometimes impossible to make sense of…the modern family.

The thing that really touched me on a visceral level about this story was the relationship between Chase and his older brother, Noah. Noah is a wanderer, a bit of a lost soul perhaps. Chase so desires to keep Noah within the family fold that it’s sometimes the only thing on his mind. But when the brothers are together, that’s the real magic of this book. The two are so touching together, so achingly close and intimate. As someone who grew up with three brothers, this bond that Moskowitz has somehow perfectly captured resonated so loudly for me it became the whole focal point of the story. Whatever happens between these two boys, the love they feel for one another is so solid—so breathlessly there—that it leaves you aching within its pulse.

But as beautifully written as their relationship is, it is not entirely the focus of Invincible Summer. As the opening line alludes, this could in fact be considered a story of falling. We meet up with the McGills every summer for four years. The first summer, we meet the boys, their parents, their younger sister Claudia and deaf brother Gideon. And we also meet the Hathaway family that the McGills intimately share their summers with. There is Shannon, Bella, Melinda and their parents.

There is a reason I listed all the characters here. In the first few pages of Invincible Summer, as a reader, I thought I was going to have a hard time keeping track of this rather large cast. My fears were quickly alleviated, though, as I got deeper into the McGills’ saga. Each character was so well drawn there was never any question about who was who. Moskowitz did a wonderful job making each one unique and memorable.

There is another character in Invincible Summer worth mentioning. Albert Camus. He plays as big a role as some of the other characters. Moskowitz weaves beautiful Camus quotes throughout her story, as the boys become almost obsessed with his views and opinions of the world. After their introduction to him through Melinda, who has sex with both Chase and Noah, they are able to spout off Camus quotes for every event in their lives. This was done perfectly by Moskowitz, someone who clearly knows her Camus. It was such a delight to see the chosen quotes co-mingling with the story Moskowitz so expertly wove.

I’m not going to go too far into the story of Invincible Summer. I feel to give details would be to give away too much. I’ll just say that there is always something happening. In the first summer, we see Chase and his clan deal with a new addition, the tie breaker baby sister who throws off the balance of blond and brunet in the McGill household. In the second summer we see a rift in the family that has them fracturing in such a unique way it’s as tickling as it is tragic. The pivotal moments in Invincible Summer seem to occur in and around Chase’s yearly summer birthday, a fact not lost on our narrator. Each summer, there are issues for the family to deal with. And as the reader sees them arrive and erupt on the page, we are filled with nostalgia, angst, regret and pain. We laugh with the McGills and we cry with the McGills.

This book is one I will return to again and again. It’s an expertly woven tale of family dynamics, teen relationships and childhood summers. Every reader will connect to these memorable characters. Every reader will recall their own childhood summers as they dive deeper into this book… and how they felt both sickeningly vulnerable and powerfully invincible all at once as they struggled through those summers. And if they have siblings, they will ache with the familiarity of the sibling love that is so perfectly texturized in the bond between Noah and Chase. Moskowitz nailed the modern day family in this tale. I feel certain it will work its way into the hearts of all who read it.          

This book exceeded my expectations by so much, I can't even quantify it. I seriously expected to enjoy it, as I enjoyed Break. But this felt like it hit me on a visceral level. Such an emotional roller coaster--the good kind!  
Size: 5

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scars - Book Review

Title: Scars

Author: Cheryl Rainfield

Release Date: March 24th, 2010
Format/Page Count: Hard Cover Edition, 250 pages
Publisher: Westside Books
Purchased: I won this book from a book blogging contest and received it directly from the author.

Kendra, fifteen, hasn't felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can't remember the most important detail-- her abuser's identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it's her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who's becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra's abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl's frightening path to the truth.
Expectation: Looking forward to reading this one for a long time. Interested in seeing how the subject matter is covered. Issue YA is something I'm passionate about. High expectations.

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary Issues


Fifteen-year old Kendra is such a strong, endearing and memorable character. The fact that she cuts her arms to the point of mutilation makes her no less strong. Scars opens with Kendra telling her therapist Carolyn that someone is following her. The reader is hooked by this revelation. When she tells Carolyn it’s her molester who is out there stalking her, the implausibility of this happening pushes the reader even harder to find out what happens. In the end of Chapter One, though, Kendra discovers a note from her abuser in her backpack, confirming her suspicions to both her therapist and the reader.

Kendra cannot remember the identity of her abuser. The stress she experiences through both vague memories of her abuse, and the stalking from her unknown perpetrator, cause her to cut to relieve the pain. When Meghan enters her life—originally to rescue her from bullying in the school hallway—Kendra experiences a glimmer of hope for her future. With Meghan and Carolyn at her side, the reader gets a sense of hope for Kendra’s eventual recovery. But it’s not an easy road ahead of her.

Rainfield skilfully keeps the reader on edge through the unfolding of this dark and realistic story of childhood sexual abuse. What really touched me the most about this story is the heartbreaking way Kendra occasionally suspected one of the most caring people in her life of being her abuser. Sandy, her mother’s homosexual friend, is always there for Kendra…always filled with love and understanding for her. But her struggle to remember the details of her abuse, and the face of the man behind it, means nobody in her life is above suspicion. Through her suspicion of Sandy, the reader gets a keen sense of the turmoil Kendra lives in.

Readers will become fully engrossed in this young adult novel. Rainfield has drawn such a paradoxically strong and broken character in Kendra that the reader will both fear and long for her memory to be recovered, for her life to be restored. They will feel Kendra’s urge to cut and they will experience temporary relief when she does, so powerful are Rainfield’s descriptions of the stress and pain that Kendra experiences. She writes Kendra’s helplessness and determination to reclaim her life with such painstaking accuracy that the reader cannot help but get totally engaged with this story. Though I thought I worked out who the abuser was early on in the story, I was still fully engrossed in discovering if I was right and how exactly the story would play out. Rainfield delivered a satisfying ending, worthy of the build-up created by Kendra’s journey of pain.
Scars is an important book. It’s a brave look into the wasteland that is left behind when our children are sexually molested. It’s a book of truth, pain and hope. Rainfield turns a spotlight on a topic that needs to be brought into the open. And she does it in a no-holds-barred way, offering up a true look into the horrible reality that too many children face.

Expectation was met and exceeded. I wasn't sure how such a difficult topic could be tackled, but Cheryl Rainfield did it with an exactitude of excellence. 

Size: 4 1/2

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Near Witch - Book Review

Title: The Near Witch

Author: Victoria Schwab

Release Date: August 2nd, 2011
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Synopsis: A darkly romantic young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who lives on enchanted moors. A strange boy arrives in her small village, and right away, children start disappearing.
Expectation: Really excited about this one. Got caught up in the whirlwind of discussion on Twitter about the release of The Near Witch. 

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Paranormal Romance


“It starts with a crack, a sputter, and a spark. The match hisses to life.”

So begins the beautiful and beautifully lyrical The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab. This reader was immediately mesmerized by the intoxicating poetic prose in which this enchanting fairy tale/paranormal love story was written. Schwab’s debut novel is a fast paced charmer destined to be a classic. Her storytelling prowess, combined with her excellent ability to mash the best elements from the Gothic horror novel with those from modern YA romance and paranormal novels, and, remarkably, those from the latest wave of dystopian YA, leaves the reader hooked from page one to the end.

 The town of Near seems trapped in a near trance of fear and suspicion as they live their lives deep inside a whirlwind undercurrent of fairy tales, rumours, truths and half-truths swirling around the presence of the witches on the town’s outskirts…both living and dead.

One of the best aspects of The Near Witch is the headstrong and independent main character, Lexi Harris. Lexi lives in a small secluded town dominated by its male citizens. But Lexi doesn’t accept her station in her male dominated society; and she certainly doesn’t take no for an answer. When the rest of Near gets up in arms over the arrival of a new stranger—something the isolated town doesn’t usually deal with—Lexi is the only one capable of keeping a level head. It is her determination to do the right thing that propels this story forward at such a galloping pace. And the first person present tense voice of our protagonist puts the reader right at her side, cheering her on along the way. Schwab picked the perfect voice to tell her story.

When the town’s youngest children begin to disappear, Lexi will do anything to prevent her little sister Wren from becoming one of the missing. She will also do anything to save those who are already gone. But the men of her town, led by a Council of three and her own Uncle Otto, do whatever they can to prevent her intrusions and interventions.

This story is so well written, the reader will want to devour it in one sitting. But it’s also one of those books they will want to take their time with, so they can cherish the ride. Every character is well drawn, from the stranger Cole, to the sisters Thorne (Magda & Dreska), to Lexi’s jilted paramour Tyler Ward.

This was a remarkable adrenalin spiked read. Schwab is a master storyteller with a beautiful lyrical style readers will fall in love with immediately. The Near Witch is marketed as a YA, but it is absolutely a story for all ages. I look forward to seeing the next offering from Victoria Schwab. And the next and the next. A writer who can tell such a tight fast-paced story in such a lovely voice is definitely a writer to watch.

Expectation exceeded in spades.

Size: 5

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alexandria of Africa - Book Review

Title: Alexandria of Africa

Author: Eric Walters

Release Date: September 9th, 2008
Format/Page Count: Paperback, 200 pages
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Purchased: Blue Heron Books Uxbridge, Ontario

Synopsis: For Alexandria Hyatt having a fabulous life is easy: she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Being glamorous and rich is simply what she was born to be. When Alexandria is arrested for shoplifting, having to drag herself into court to face a judge just seems like a major inconvenience. But Alexandria has been in trouble before–and this time she can’t find a way to scheme out of the consequences. Before she knows it, she’s on a plane headed to Kenya where she has been ordered to work for an international charity. Over 7,000 miles away from home with no hot water, no cell phone reception, no friends or family, Alexandria is confronted with a land as unfamiliar as it is unsettling. Over the course of her month in Africa, Alexandria will face a reality she could never have imagined, and will have to look inside herself to see if she has what it takes to confront it.

Expectation: I had high hopes for this story. Having been to Kenya, I was looking for a read that would take me back there...if only in my imagination. I have to admit that this is a heavy burden for a book to carry!

Market/Genre: Young Adult - Contemporary


Alexandria of Africa is written in first person, from Alexandria's point of view. Interestingly enough, Alexandria is not very likeable. She's actually quite terrible. She steals for kicks. She lies. She's in trouble with the law and doesn't understand why everybody won't just leave her alone.

The story opens in California, with Alexandria facing a judge for a second offense. She is so blasé the reader wants to reach into the pages and smack her. Such is her sense of entitlement. Walters does a wonderful job of taking us right to the brink of unrest in the way we feel for the narrator. The reader wants to see Alexandria receive just punishment not only for her actions but also for her outlook on the world around her.

Although she does receive a sentence, it's not the one the reader would like. In lieu of a stay in a youth detention centre, Alexandria is sentenced to a work program in Kenya. The reader becomes more angry as we are privy to Alexandria's constant inner dialogue of entitlement. But we know she's in for a rude awakening...or a blossoming, if you will. Walters sets all the signposts for that eventual enlightenment with dead accuracy, through the experiences Alexandria faces along the way.

This poor little rich girl is a slow learner. As she meets the people she will work with in Kenya, she stubbornly finds fault with them where others would see good. The turning point doesn't happen when Alexandria is put to work in the sweltering heat of Africa. That, I think, is what makes Walters' storytelling so fine. He could have taken the easy route and made Alexandria open her eyes when she saw the work that needed to be done for these people less privileged than her. But she didn't. She did everything to make it look like she was working, when in fact she was slacking off...thinking about nails and clothes and cars and home.

Enter Ruth, a Maasai girl who takes Alexandria in to the world of her small village. It is an eye-opening experience for Alexandria that shaves some of the sharper corners off of this unlikeable character. The outcome of Alexandria's journey is a fulfilling one for the reader, who was beginning to think there was no way she would compromise her spoiled rich-girl outlook on life.

To tell you more would be to reveal more spoilers than I already have revealed. I'll just say that Walters wrote a fine story of personal growth that doesn't come off as being too preachy or lesson oriented. He manages to make the reader dislike his narrator to the point where they seek her failure. But he also manages to subtly make that character open to the possibility of change.

This was a pleasant read. It brought me back to the wonderful country of Kenya. It also helped to shed light not only on the plight of some of the country's poorest people, but also on the wonderful spirit they have in the face of that plight. I happily recommend this book. If you have been to Africa, it will skillfully take you back there. If you have will allow you to see it as acurately as any book can.

Expectation met and exceeded.

Size: 4

Welcome to my Book Review Blog!

Welcome. If you're here, I hope it's because you have a love of the written word.

Although I am a slow reader, I am going to try my hand at book reviewing. I love books and I love sharing my thoughts on the books I love. I will attempt to post my reviews in a timely fashion and in a uniform manner. Please see below for the format you can expect to find all reviews:

Release Date:
Format/Page Count:
Expectation: What I hope for before beginning the book.
Size: This is where I will rank the books I read. Instead of STARS I will give each book a size. Size 1 being the lowest ranking and size 5 being the highest ranking (Okay, it's exactly like stars without the got me).

Simple as that. I will be posting my first review shortly and hope to continue at a pace of at least 1 review every two weeks.