Quick YA Review: Geek Girl by Cindy C. Bennett

Yet another Net Galley freebie was this super YA find: “Geek Girl”, coming to a store near you (and online) in December. Jen, a “bad girl”, targets a “geek” boy and decides to turn him bad and take him down to her level. What Jen finds is much more about herself, Trevor, her friends, and her foster family than she ever imagined she would.

I took this book to review with a worry that it would be highly predictable, but it actually wasn’t. I loved the characters of Jen and Trevor, and I particularly liked how Trevor’s family was all rather “geeky”, too (and remarkably like mine!). Jen grows as a character and learns to really see what people are – beneath their appearances. Yes – Trevor does find out that he was the object of a bet, and that is not a good thing, but all in all, this was a fun read and a great book for older YA readers!

Review: 52 Things Kids Need from a Mom by Angela Thomas

This title jumped out at me while I was trolling Net Galley one day. I figured I’m always looking for ways to be a better parent and I should check it out. I have delved recently into the Christian genre, and this was my first experience with a Christian parenting book.

First let me fill in some personal info for those of you who don’t know me. I am Catholic and was raised in a (very strict) Catholic household. My husband is Catholic and we are raising our children Catholic. So while I’ve often been drawn to Christian literature, I sometimes have a bit of a disconnect as my experience as a Catholic in terms of church services, etc. is different from other Christian churches (though I have attended some friends’ churches while visiting them or for events, and as a child loved going to Wednesday night youth group with a Baptist friend). That said, you have an idea where I’m coming from when I read these books.

So – in “52 Things”, Angela Thomas covers various things kids need their moms to do, like learn to play a video game, or say no and mean it, or be “groovy”. All the suggestions here are God-centered and child-centered and offered to help parents connect and forge stronger bonds with their children and within a Christian framework.

I loved reading these short sections of different ideas! To be honest, I only had two which didn’t speak to me as something I do or want to do. One had to do with celebrating “Hallelujah” instead of “Halloween”, with some reference to Halloween as celebrating evil. Personally in our house we love Halloween and the celebration of the connected next day’s (Catholic) All Saints’ Day holy day. The other was a great idea that is generally not available to us Catholics: dropping the kids off at youth group on Wednesday nights and getting some alone time for a couple of hours with the spouse! I’d love that! It’s like free babysitting and Sunday school all rolled into a Wednesday night.

All in all, I loved Angela’s voice while writing, which was a bit reminiscent of my favorite gal, Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman. I appreciated her suggestions and how this book was easy to pick and read over time and if I only had ten minutes at a time (and what busy mom has more time than that?). I would recommend it to my fellow parents who wish to raise children within a household of faith and Christian tradition.

Thank you Net Galley and Harvest House Publishers for my free download!

YA Review: Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK by Betsy St. Amant (coming in January)

Through my new favorite thing, Net Galley, I received an ARC of “Addison Blakely: Confessions of a PK” for my Kindle.  “PK” in this case stands for “preacher’s kid” and this novel was the first experience I’ve had of reading Christian literature for teens. It releases on January 1, 2012.

In “Addison Blakely”, Addison is your typical high school student, except for the fact that she is the (widowed) preacher’s daughter, living in a small town. For her whole life, everything she’s done has been under the microscope, so she’s lived up to the expectations of her father and his congregation: always doing the right thing, the good thing, the thing that is expected of her. Then Addison meets Wes Keegan, town bad boy, who has come to live with his father. She is drawn to him, as he is to her, but he is supposed to be off-limits to her (her father won’t even let her date, let alone hang out with “bad boys”). Addison has to deal with her feelings for Wes, a new BFF, her father’s burgeoning romantic life with her English teacher, and the realization of what is truly important to her, all set against the backdrop of a school talent show in school that Addison suddenly finds herself running.

I just loved this novel! I wanted to know how Addison would end up and what choices she would make (and why) so I kept reading. Addison was an engaging character whom I couldn’t help liking. I did find her friend Marta a bit too good to be true, especially for a seventeen-year-old, and I did find parts of the book, especially in the second half, almost preachy (some of the discussions on faith that Marta and Addison have in the latter half of the book ended up sounding like sermons to me). I did enjoy the writing, though, and would recommend this book to older YA readers who enjoy the Christian genre. Addison has a lot of choices to face in her life and in her relationships, as do teens today, and this book showed how she could use her faith to help guide her in those decisions.

Thanks, Net Gally and Barbour Books for my free download!

Quick Review: The Outsider by Ann Gabhart

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to write a review of this book because I really didn’t enjoy it. I read it in August when I downloaded it to my Kindle. If I’m not mistaken, it was free at that time (but lists at $8.99 for a download as of this writing). “The Outsider” tells the story of Gabrielle Hope, a young woman who lives within a Shaker community in Kentucky during the War of 1812.  She falls in love with an “outsider”, a young doctor who lives nearby.  The book is the story of their seemingly star-crossed love, as Gabrielle struggles with her faith and the Shaker’s commitments and Brice, the doctor (were people named that back then?), tries to move on with his life.

So – here’s the good about this book: it’s historical fiction and I always enjoy reading about things where I can learn something new. (I find reading about the Shakers or the Amish rather fascinating since it’s so removed from my daily experience.) I did read this book through to the end so I could see how it turned out.

That said, here are my problems with the book. First of all, I always have trouble with story lines where two people see each other, barely interact, but become completely and irrevocably in love with each other. Did these two even get to know each other? Where did this undying love come from? I would have appreciated more of a build up of their relationship. I also had some questions about the story line, such as: where were all the other young people in this Shaker community? Gabrielle teaches school to the little girls, but do they have no mothers? I know that in Shaker groups there are no families, but except for the tragic Esther (who ends up dying), Gabrielle seems to be the only person remotely on this side of menopause. She is even referred to as “the young sister”. Where did those little kids come from? It’s always possible they were left by their families, but it didn’t make sense to me that Gabrielle had no one to be with except a couple of cranky, mean, old biddies. I honestly would put this book down at night and think: “Wow, those Shakers were a miserable lot”, and I’m not sure that is true in reality. At the same time, things were so incredibly bleak and miserable, it was puzzling to me why Gabrielle wouldn’t leave (she was free to go at any time, though you’d never know it); and if those cranky, old sisters hated her, why didn’t they encourage her to leave? Finally, there were a few plot devices that I had to wonder about. What significance was Gabrielle’s “gift of sight”? I don’t remember her using it to drive the plot forward. Also, the switch to “Brice in the war” scenes served to pull me out of the story. I couldn’t really see the point unless it was to drive the novel forward in time and show Brice as a hardened but caring doctor (though I don’t think that needed war scenes – he’s a mountain doctor in 1812!).

Anyway, if you read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Or if you’ve read Ms. Gabhart’s other novels, I’d love to hear about them.

And one more question from me: did the Shakers really call their dining room a “biting room”? I have never come across that terminology before, but I’m not an expert. As Alice would say: Curiouser and curiouser…

Review: The Pumpkin Man by John Everson

Looking for something scary/gory/thrilling to read this Halloween? Well, thanks to the folks at Net Galley, I received a free ARC of “The Pumpkin Man” by John Everson. In this 300+ page thriller, Jennica Murphy seeks to solve the mystery of her father’s gruesome death, while coming to know her aunt’s family by marriage and the strange and horrific legacy they left behind. Stories of the “pumpkin man” have left the small, Northern California town where Jennica is staying (at her aunt’s house which she inherited) on edge. Twenty years ago a man known for his incredible pumpkin carvings was accused of killing children and summarily lynched by the townsfolk. He was Jennica’s aunt’s husband. Now the murders are occurring again, each victim horribly dismembered and with pieces of pumpkin left at the scene of each crime. Using her aunt’s substantial library on the occult and magic, will Jenn solve the mystery of who is the killer before the pumpkin man gets her?

Well, I had my highs and lows on this book. For one thing, I kept reading because I wanted to know who was the murderer and why (though I had pretty much figured it out correctly). Also, so many people got whacked in this book that I kept wondering if the heroine was going to make it to the end! Also I of course love books that occur in Northern Cal as that’s where I’m from. And I like a strong female protagonist. It was creepy and scary and I can imagine it making a great made-for-tv movie around Halloween time. Those are all the good points.

That said, I had some things in this book that didn’t work for me. For instance, near the beginning, after her father’s murder (where pumpkin pieces had been found at the scene of the crime), Jennica finds pumpkin pieces in her bedroom left by an intruder. She doesn’t bother to tell not only the police, but her roommate (!) until much later. Also, as people start disappearing or turning up dead (beheaded, gutted, etc.) or bones/skeletons/skulls/jars of eyeballs are found in the basement, Jenn and her roommate and the two new boyfriends they picked up in a bar in San Francisco discuss several times how they shouldn’t call the police because, after all, who would believe them?? Finally, they involve the police, and figure out that the murders all tie into the family’s weird past and a whole series of subterranean passages, tombs, rooms, shrines, etc. located under the aunt’s house, that may just rival the catacombs of Paris. 

Everson’s writing was inconsistent at times in my opinion. At times it was solid. At other times word choice or sentence construction pulled me out of reading or even made me laugh. The murder scenes were graphic and gory, which I personally never enjoy reading. I have to say, though, I kept reading to the end!

Thanks to Net Galley and the publishers at DP for my free kindle galley copy!

Review of a $0.99 Kindle Find: The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan

I always enjoy browsing through my Kindle for good, cheap reads. This book was listed in the top sellers, but cost only 99 cents, so I figured it was a good deal.

“The Mill River Recluse” tells the story of beautiful Mary McAllister, an elderly woman who has not left her house high on a hill in Mill River, Vermont for over sixty years. Alternate chapters tell the story of Mary in the present (she actually passes away near the beginning of the book) and Mary in the 1940’s, when she, the only child of a horse farmer, meets and marries her charming and rich, but secretively abusive, husband. Mary, always shy by nature, has suffered a horrific abuse at the hands of her high school teacher, and she puts her faith in her new husband, though he turns mean and evil, damaging Mary irreparably. Her only friend and confidant is the town’s Catholic priest, and he stays as her anchor to the outside world until her death.

I enjoyed reading this novel, especially the years that were in the past. The ending had a bit of a twist to it and was happy and uplifting, though a bit far-fetched. I guess the question that remained for me throughout this book was: “Hello, People?! Can someone do SOMETHING for that poor abused woman who has not left her house in 60 years???”

All in all, this was a good “beach read” for me – an end of summer, positive, not-too-mentally-taxing tale that kept me coming back to see how it would end. I would have loved this book when I was in high school.

And at 99 cents, the price was right!