Castle of Concrete

Castle

Author: Katia Raina

Publisher: Young Europe

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Historical novel from the eyes of a teenage girl in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 The school year of 1990-1991 is ushering in a lot of change in Russia, especially in Moscow.  Democracy is starting to take shape with the face of Boris Yeltsin.  Gorbachev is starting to be forced out but isn’t ready to give it up just yet.  Sonya Solovay is experiencing several changes too.  She is finally able to live fully with her mother, who is a dissident of the Russian government.  She leaves her grandmothers in a small remote village and moves with her mother to the outskirts of Moscow.  To complicate things, they are Jewish and many of Russia’s disgruntled residents blame the Jews for their problems.  However, Sonya is determined to make a new life for herself at her new school.  She butts heads with some of the teachers but manages to strike up a relationship with the best-looking boy at school.  She finds it easy to fall in love, but her Jewish ethnicity may cause a problem.  When her mom decides that it may be best to move to America, Sonya is torn between her friends love for Russia and her love for her mother.

 This book is a prime example of why I love historical fiction.  I learned quite a bit about the social climate in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union.  I had no idea that there was such an anti-Semite feeling across the country during this time frame.  I would have figured earlier in the century but was surprised to find this out.  History aside, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Sonya.  I understand that she is a teenage girl out to make a new life, but she seems to just go about it all wrong.  I didn’t really understand the relationship between her and Reslan either.  If the intent was to see this time period though the eyes of a confused teenager, then it was definitely successful.  There is some tension throughout the book between Sonya and two of the boy characters, which plays out great at the end.  Stay through the end of the book and you will enjoy it.

 There is some foul language throughout the book as well as some implied young adult intimate scenes that makes is suitable for a mature audience.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions express within are my own.

The Beginner’s Guide to Wining an Election

election

Author: Michael R. French

Publisher: Moot Point Productions

Release Date: November 20, 2018

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A topic that might not seem interesting shows a different side to the world of high school politics.

 Being involved in high school politics is the last thing Brit Kitridge had on her mind. She wanted to finish high school, go to college and then onto med school. She has always loved history, especially her history teacher and looks to him for guidance. After he fuels her passion for politics, she joins the team of Matthew Boltanski, the school’s shoo-in for winning the election. He has a team of fourteen that has helped him win everything he has gone out for and now he wants to be Student Body President. Before she can do much for the team, she is accused of being a spy and trying to sabotage the team. It doesn’t take long for Brit to realize she wants to be the change in her school and sets out to beat Matthew at his own game and win the election herself. Winning is going to be harder than she imagined and the secrets she uncovers go deeper than anyone in school could have predicted.

 I would like to say I enjoyed this book, but I can’t. It started out far too slow, especially for a YA novel that should take off from page one. Not only did it start slow, but for me it was very unbelievable. Set a few years in the future isn’t enough to make the scenarios feel real for me. High school students being paid by a corporation to win elections in high school?  And the amounts paid? It was just too farfetched for me to buy. The rest of the storyline itself is good, a high school election with the underdog going out to try and make a difference for the school. I liked that along with the values that Brit stood for and tried to be a moral compass, even when she made mistakes she owned up to those mistakes. The author did a good job of portraying young adolescents in a difficult time, one of the best aspects of the novel. Several points in the book had language that I am not comfortable recommending to young readers. I don’t recommend this to YA readers with the language and slow start, but older readers might enjoy the story.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Silence Between Us

Silence between usAuthor: Alison Gervais

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: August 13, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

At its core, The Silence Between Us is about learning to listen with more than just our ears.  Once we learn that, the space between us can close beautifully.

After losing her hearing in her early teens due to meningitis, Maya has had learned to adapt to the deaf world. Things get complicated though when her mom moves her and her brother to Colorado and Maya’s senior year is spent being the only deaf girl at a hearing school. Even though she is deaf, Maya has hopes of getting into the right college to help her get into the medical field. It doesn’t matter to her if she is the only one that feels she can accomplish this, she is determined to prove that the only thing she can’t do is hear. After arriving at Englemann High School Maya meets Beau Watson, student body president and one of the only students who attempts to learn sign language to communicate with Maya. With each passing day, Beau and Maya’s feelings for each other grow but staring them in the face are their differences. Even though Maya knows what it is like to hear, she has no desire to get a cochlear implant.  She is proud of being deaf and doesn’t want to change. Beau doesn’t understand why Maya wouldn’t want to hear again and Maya doesn’t know if she can be with someone that doesn’t accept her for who she is and always will be.

The Silence Between Us is a perfect young adult novel that teaches acceptance in a way that may not always appear to most of us. Hearing loss is not something that is easily noticeable, especially if the person doesn’t have a hearing aid or cochlear implant that is visible. I loved the way Alison Gervais made it relatable to anyone of us that could find ourselves in the situation Maya and Beau did. The writing is easy to follow with all the signing in all caps so the reader can differentiate between signs and other communications. Maya has had some hardships in her life, she has lost her hearing, her brother has cystic fibrosis, and now they have moved to a new town and she must attend a hearing school after years being at a deaf school. Maya is uneasy to trust any of the new friends she makes at her new school.  She appreciates the effort Beau makes to communicate in her language, but she can’t see them as ever being anything more than friends with her being deaf. She takes her only limitation and sets it up to be her failure until she is presented with the option of seeing it in a new light. I loved how every obstacle was a chance to look at things in a new way. Every reader will come away from reading this with a new-found respect for the deaf community. I highly recommend this book to young adults and even adults that want to learn a little bit about a different culture and how they can hear us, but we need to see them.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Where I Was Planted

Where I was plantedAuthor: Heather Norman Smith

Publisher: Ambassador International

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A very poignant and delightful read with characters readers will love to cheer for through the toughest of situations.

In 1961, ten-year-old Nate Dooley comes home one day to find his kitchen stocked with food and his Dad nowhere to be found.  He figures now is as good a time as any to be on his own. With a stray dog as his companion, Nate tries to hide the fact that his father is gone from everyone around him for as long as possible. He likes being in his home by himself and doesn’t want the county to take him away. Even though his father has left, Nate starts to realize he isn’t alone.  His heavenly father will never leave him and will always provide for him. Nate finds these provisions in the form of newfound friends, neighbors and family he never knew he had.

Where I Was Planted is a beautifully written novel with the most wonderful protagonist around in Nate Dooley. Set in the 1960s, things are different than they are today.  If a ten-year-old were left alone for any period of time today, it wouldn’t take long for authorities to be notified and things to change. I loved how independent Nate was but also the way he realized he needed a little help. No matter how grown up he felt or wanted to be, the fact remains he is still a little boy. Even characters that had a small role made a big impact and a lasting impression. I would have liked a little more insight into Nate’s dad and why he left without talking to Nate or anyone about his plans, I know it explains a little, but I felt that part of the storyline could have developed a little further to bring the story up a notch. Nate was wonderfully developed, and I found myself wanting to hug that little boy and tell him how strong he was. The story pace was perfect and not once did I find myself wanting to put it down and move on to something else. The ending tied up just right and left me satisfied with the whole story. This is the first book I’ve read by Heather Norman Smith, but I am sure it will not be the last. I recommend this book to those that enjoy historical fiction with heart and a good message. The religious message comes across evenly, not to strong but also not too weak.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

All Manner of Things

all manner of thingsAuthor: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautifully written masterpiece about a broken family learning to heal.

When Annie Jacobson’s father returned from the Korean War, he was the shell of the man that he was before he left.  His depression finally got to the point that he decided that his family would be better off if he left them.  So, he did.  Twelve years later, Annie is now out of high school working at the town diner.  Her younger brother, Joel, is fourteen and moving into 8th grade.  Her older brother Mike also works at the diner and has just told her he plans to enlist in the army.  His draft number will be coming up anyway, so may as well have some say in where he gets placed.  Her mother has been working ever since her father left to provide some semblance of home for them.   They’ve had their share of trials but have always managed together.

After Mike leaves for basic training, a family tragedy occurs, and Annie’s dad returns home after twelve years.  There is plenty of tension among the family members, but they will have to find away to work together.  As Mike corresponds through letters with each member of the family, the need for them to stay together becomes more apparent and they must work through twelve years of hurt, despair, and love.

I absolutely love this book!  I love that it is a snapshot into a family during this time and what each family member was going through.  I can only imagine that even though they didn’t feel like a normal family, several families were facing the same situations that were presented throughout this book.  I love that the family had to work out their issues with one another and learn to lean on each other.  Told from Annie’s point of view, she is a very strong character that can be overcome at times.  Several people lean on her for support and she finally meets someone that she can lean on when she needs it most.

Throughout this book, I become nostalgic for simpler times when there were no electronic gadgets that took time away from families.  This family really connected.  There were times that they were sitting on the front porch talking about the issues going on in the world that day.  Finkbeiner did a great job of making me feel like I was in the time period by dropping in major events that happened and referencing different television shows of the time.  I didn’t live during the Vietnam war, but I remember growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and having those type of moments with my family.

One of my favorite aspects of the book may have been all the literary Easter egg references.  From Travels with Charley by Steinbeck to A Wrinkle in Time, there were several of my favorite books mentioned.  I love it when an author throws in little tidbits like that to make me enjoy the book even more.

Fair warning, this book may make you emotional.  There are some very sad moments that occur that may leave some readers feeling depressed.  Even so, it is well worth picking up a copy of this book.  It is a clean read that will be sure to remain on reader’s personal bookshelves for years to come!

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

No Place Like Here

No Place like Here

Author: Christina June

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An absolutely beautifully written coming of age story that will leave readers smiling long after turning the last page.

 After a year away at boarding school, Ashlyn Zanotti feels she has deserved a second chance to come home for her senior year of high school. As she prepares to head home and ask her parents for her second chance, she gets the news that her father is being sent to prison for tax evasion and her mother is going to rehab for exhaustion. With no one at home, Ashlyn is sent away to work with her cousin at a team building retreat center. Dreading the summer but knowing she has no other choice, Ashlyn decides to make the best of the situation which turns out to be more than she ever imagined. The center’s new manager is disorganized and makes more than her fair share of mistakes leaving Ashlyn with the difficult decision of staying quiet or standing up for what she knows is right.

 This book is the very thing that should be in all school libraries and recommended to young readers. I loved the way the story played out and the characters evolved. Ashlyn shows so much growth as a person having to deal with incredibly tough issues not only at her new job but with her family as well. Spending time with a cousin she barely knows is awkward enough but having others at camp find out about her father makes things even more difficult. Being a teenager at camp there brings about opportunities for a summer romance.  These moments played out both realistically and sweet. All of the relationships made sense, not once was I questioning why a character was acting a certain way, they all played their parts exactly as I felt they should. I disliked Deb, as was intended, she didn’t technically have a lot of page time but what she did have was memorable. June has a way of writing these characters that have no other choice but to get the readers hooked and become deeply emotionally involved with the outcome of each of the characters. I recommend this book to young readers looking for a good story to relate to and feel like they might be at summer camp with learning the life lessons along beside them. I also recommend this to adults that might need an insight into the emotions of the younger kids in their lives.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak

Brief chronicle

Author: Adi Alsaid

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Release Date: April 30, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A story of young love and the heartache that comes along with life lessons of moving on and finding a brighter side to a rough time growing up.

 With high school over and the summer ahead, Lu Charles wants it to be the best summer ever.  Unfortunately, life has other plan when her boyfriend dumps her causing her to have serious writers block for her relationship column. If she doesn’t get past her block and find material for her column at the online magazine Misnomer, she will lose her scholarship for college.  Her best friend thinks she should use the pain of her breakup to fuel her writing, but the emotion is too raw to write about. As she is sulking, she overhears a couple in the park planning to break up before leaving for college. She thinks they could be just the material she needs to write about and get her out of her block.

 This was a fun little book that probably could have been slightly condensed. The angst that Lu felt just didn’t resonate well with me. Her dilemma and heartbreak were real but the way she handled the situation wasn’t the best. The few sections with her writing from her column didn’t interest me, which I felt should have been one of the most interesting parts. However, I did enjoy the relationship dynamic between her and Pete; I wish this part would have been played out much more to enhance the story. I also would have liked to have seen a little more dialogue throughout the story, the sections with dialogue did move quickly and kept me engaged. The story itself was a cute idea and is one I think will resonate with certain readers, if you are not a young adult fan or fan of heartbreak books, this will not be the one for you. I do feel that fans of Sex and the City and the Carrie Bradshaw types will enjoy this read and find the humor in it to be just right.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsatawney_RD3Author: Laurie Boyle Crompton

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A great coming of age story that shows how important it is to not judge a book by its cover and find what’s beneath the surface.

Andie loves movies more than most anybody she knows. When she moves to Punxsutawney with her family right before the start of her senior year in high school, she gets caught in her very own version of Groundhog Day. Being the new kid in school is hard enough but having to live the first day at a new school over and over again is even worse. Andie gets stuck in a time loop reliving the first day of school with only her realizing the day is repeating. After watching Pretty in Pink and other classic teen romances, she becomes convinced she needs to meet her true love and get a kiss to break the curse. Each day she tries to infiltrate a new clique and finds the best in each of them she never would have seen or known otherwise. With each passing day, she learns more about her new friends but also loses hope she will end the time loop and be able to continue with her life.

Confession time, I have seen neither of the main movies it talks about here: Groundhog Day or Pretty in Pink. Even so, I knew what the stories are about and was able follow along without a problem. This was a very cute story that has a lot of heart to it. I loved the way Andie used each new day as a way to learn something and bring all that together in the end to help solve her problem instead of getting discouraged to the point she gave up altogether.  Even though I found certain parts of it predictable, it didn’t take away from making me want to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen. Andie’s relationship with her parents played out well, the more she continued in the time loop the more worried they became with her behavior and with good reason. I enjoyed the fact that this is a YA read that is clean and not anything I would have concern letting my children read. I recommend this book to young readers that want a fun romance with heart, and maybe even older readers looking for a little nostalgia.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

 

The Forgotten Hours

Forgotten hours

Author: Katrin Schumann

Publisher: Lake Union Press

Release Date: February 1, 2019

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Emotional, intense, and thought provoking.

 When Katie Gregory’s father was imprisoned for the statutory rape of her best friend, she never believed it to be true.  Her life fell apart and she had to change her name to get away from all the reporters and other people snooping around in her family’s life.  Now at the ripe age of twenty-four, she has a great job in Manhattan and finally a stable romantic relationship with an artist.  Her mother divorced her father and remarried, and her younger brother has had no interest in keeping in touch with their father or anyone else in the family for that matter.  Katie has always sought her father’s approval, even now that he is locked away.

 But the time for his sentence has almost been served and he is about to be released.  As Katie is the only one he has been talking to, he asks her to head back to the lake cabin to get it ready for him to stay at.  The same cabin where everything fell apart.  Going back to this place is the last thing Katie wants to do as it starts to dredge up memories that she would rather keep locked away.  As these memories start to climb back to the surface, Katie’s curiosity gets the best of her and she starts digging around to find out more information about the trial and the events.  But what she finds may change how she views the man whose approval she always needed.

 This book had a lot of promise, but it took a long time for it to deliver.  The story line was good and Katie played out her character’s insecurities as expected, but it just didn’t move along very quickly.  Katie was a fragile person, even though she had been moving on with her life after her father was taken away.  She was also very naïve, but is it really that surprising given what she went through?  It just goes to show that one random comment made in public can bring about a firestorm.

 The book jumps around between past and present quite a bit, with no indication that the reader was just transported back in time.  The reader then has to figure out when in the past this was.  It doesn’t always move chronologically, so it may be a memory from one of the summers that Katie and Lulu were together, to the first summer that they met, to the last summer they were together.  It got a little confusing and took away from the story to continually figure out how each scene tied into the overall plot.

 There is quite a bit of harsh language throughout the book as well as implied sex scenes including graphic description of statutory rape.  I recommended this book for mature readers.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions express within are my own.

One Day in December

One Day in DecemberAuthor: Josie Silver

Publisher: Broadway Books

Release Date: October 16, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

What happens when you see the one, but can’t meet them?

All it took was a moment in her mundane little life. Laurie was sitting on a bus on her way to her flat from work during Christmas when she saw him sitting at the bus stop.  They’re eyes met and they both knew in an instant that it was a connection meant to be.  They would spend eternity together just like you read in the books and see in the movies.  As he made his move to get on the bus and come to her, the doors locked and the bus drove away.  No names.  No number.  No way to see each other again.  Her flat mate, Sarah, tries to cheer her up and begins to fix her up with other dates, but she has elevated the nameless man to a place where no other man can touch him.  Then one day Sarah wants her to meet her new boyfriend, Jack.  As luck would have it, it’s him, the man from the bus stop.  Sarah is like a sister to her and Laurie knows she would never jeopardize their relationship, not even for Jack.  What ensues is a story about changes in life, romance, and circumstances that affect all because of one day in December.

I honestly did not expect this book to be as good as it was. I thought it was going to be a girl finds love with best friend’s guy and in the end it all works out.  However, this was more of a raw look at life and what circumstances can do and how it touches several lives, not just two or three.  There were so many different tangent lines that it was fun to watch them all connect in the future.  Through it all were Laurie and Jack, even when they were with different people. Silver did a great job of keeping those two characters at the center and really letting the reader see who they were and fleshing them out.  This isn’t your average holiday romance.  In fact, I’m pretty sure there might be a movie about this in the future that will be an exciting movie.

There is quite a bit of harsh language throughout the book as well as some sexual content that will be better suited for mature audiences. If you like holiday romances, this is for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.