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