BOOK REVIEW: ’10 Steps to Girlfriend Status’ – Cynthia T. Toney

What a great read. There’s so much to like in this book. I think my favourite thing was the deaf character, Sam, who speaks American Sign Language—it’s always so great to see convincingly portrayed characters with disabilities as significant players in a book. And he’s so lovely!

A close second was Wendy’s relationship with her elderly neighbour, Mrs V., who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The elderly are so often invisible in our society—and in our entertainment—so this significant relationship and important plot strand were very welcome. It also played out in a convincing and moving way.

I also loved the mystery involving an interracial romance at a time when that was not widely accepted. However, I both liked, and disliked, the fact that it all ended up tying up so very neatly in the modern day. Very contradictory of me, I know, but I can’t quite decide how I feel about that!

Another thing I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about was the presentation of the ‘blended’ family. With divorce and remarriage so prevalent nowadays, this is a reality for many teens, and it’s great for them to see an honest treatment of it, not minimising the challenges, but showing that it can be made to work well. But I’m always, simultaneously, uneasy about the consequences of taking the normalising of something of this nature too far. No one wants teens in this situation to feel bad, to struggle, let alone to be bullied. But if divorce and remarriage are normalised in their minds, they are more likely to repeat the cycle themselves. This dilemma is not specific to this book, of course, and I have chewed on it for a long time and have no answer. The portrayal of a blended family is certainly done very well in this book and should help teens dealing with such situations.

This next bit of this review is only relevant to Catholics. I was under the impression that this was a ‘Catholic’ book about a Catholic protagonist and family. Quite honestly, that’s not made clear at all—though I should note that I have not read book 1, so maybe it is made crystal clear there. To check that I hadn’t missed anything in this book (I was reading fast, very eager to find out what was going to happen) I actually did a search for specifically Catholic words and the only one I found was ‘Mass’, which appears once. So if you’re looking for a specifically Catholic book, this isn’t the one for you. It’s a vaguely, gently Christian book and a very nice read, but I’d hesitate to label it as specifically ‘Catholic’.

This raises a slight problem for Catholic readers, because consistent with the lack of explicit Catholicism, the author also omits even one single sentence, one tiny nod, to the idea that the mother of the protagonist might have acquired an annulment before remarrying. Since the protagonist’s father is alive, this gives an extremely bad impression. I read somewhere that the author felt that readers would ‘assume’ the annulment. But with such a deafening silence on the subject and with the family’s Catholicism not made explicit, I would have assumed the exact opposite and I imagine many teens growing up in our current culture will as well. So if you are Catholic, you will NEED to have a conversation with your teens about annulments after they read this book and make sure they did understand that ‘of course Wendy’s mother wouldn’t have remarried without one’.

Catholic bit over!

The only other thing that made me slightly uncomfortable in this book was that the teen protagonist kisses a boy on her first date. Not her first date with that particular boy, but her very first date, EVER. And that’s presented as normal and healthy. There seems to be a bit of a convention in teen fiction that a kiss doesn’t ‘count’ as sexual activity, but as something utterly sweet and innocent, and this book is far from alone in following this convention. However, this doesn’t really tally with reality and I do question how easily teens getting physical right from the get-go are going to manage to wait for marriage.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the book, and I think it could be a great jumping off point for conversations about a really wide range of issues and topics. I’m certainly looking forward to reading the rest of the series, and especially to seeing more of Sam! I think he’s definitely my favourite character.

 

[I am acquainted with the author through author groups but purchased my own copy of this book to read and review. Opinions my own.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘An Unexpected Role’ by Leslea Wahl

This was a very easy, enjoyable read, a summer romance crossed with a crime mystery with some satisfying character growth thrown in.

Rather amusingly, I inferred completely the wrong thing from the title and synopsis. Not being a theatre nerd, the word ‘role’ suggested to me that Josie would have to take on some ‘role’, such as caring for someone, that she wouldn’t want to do. So I spent a long time waiting (in suspense!) for her aunt or someone else on the island to get a terrible diagnosis, forcing her to grow up and start caring for them. Ha ha! I think it’s only a mild spoiler to let on that this doesn’t happen. ‘Role’ is used in the theatre sense! (Just in case anyone else was under the same misconception!)

Josie does grow up during the book (thankfully 😉 and therefore all the more satisfyingly) but the catalyst for this is other things. There’s quite a lot of excitement—I found the motorbike scene particularly heart-in-the-mouth and shocking.

Josie’s attraction to (and description of) Niko was so overwhelmingly physical and very much based on the stereotype that ‘Latin men are hot’ that it was a bit uncomfortable. BUT, since this reflects her state of maturity at the time, it isn’t unrealistic. It’s just good—if uncomfortable—characterisation.

Some parents might want to be aware that Josie wears a bikini at times and this is viewed as 100% normal. However, although Josie, in a convincing teen girl manner, is very fixated on appearances, the book is very clean (there are 2 kisses, one initiated by a boy, one by Josie).

However, I do feel that parents probably need to have a conversation with their teens after the book is read about when the use of torture is justified (or rather, that it isn’t, ever!). This is because (mild SPOILER) the teen heroine manages to obtain a confession from the baddie at the end through the use of impromptu, but pre-meditated and sustained, torture, albeit of an unusual nature.

It is never named as ‘torture’, but it is—in fact, it is potentially life threatening—and the fact that there is no discussion about what happened clearly implies that because the baddie had done evil things and would probably otherwise have got away with it, the torture was therefore justified. Whilst it would be hard not to read the scene and sympathise with Josie’s desperate desire to save the day, save her friends and the innocents affected, and set things right, I couldn’t help feeling she had crossed an ethical line here. The ‘end justifies the means’ message made me very uncomfortable and I really wished the author could have written the ending differently.

Overall, though, a very enjoyable read, providing a good lead into discussion of a challenging—but important—moral topic.

 

[I am acquainted with the author through author groups but purchased my own copy of this book to read and review. Opinions my own.]

‘Where You Lead’ Blog Tour!

I hope to post a review of this fun new release soon, but for now – it’s out, and here is the blurb!

Sixteen-year-old Eve Donahue’s lonely existence changes in an instant when visions of a mysterious stranger haunt her. Certain God is calling her for a mission, she bravely says yes and begins her quest to meet this young man.

Thousands of miles away, Nick Hammond has been dealing with his own unusual experience, an unwavering certainness to convince his father to run for political office.

When these two unlikely teens finally meet, their belief that God has called them to work together sets them on a journey of faith to untangle a web of deception involving international trade agreements, lost confederate gold, and a blossoming romance. As they follow century old clues, they realize God can call us all in big and small ways. We just need to listen and say “Yes Lord, I will go where You lead.”

Read a sample or buy the book HERE.

 

Author Biography
Welcome! I’m Leslea Wahl, author of faith-filled teen mysteries. For as long as I can remember I have been a creator of stories with ideas swirling through my head. I am thrilled now to be able to share some of them with others. For many years I have been driven by a belief that our purpose in life is to use our gifts to glorify God and lead others to Him. I am blessed to have found a way to intertwine my two passions by creating adventurous stories with positive Christian messages for today’s youth. Not only do I hope to entertain with my writing, but also to inspire others to find their gifts as well.

 

Leslea Wahl is a fellow member of Catholic Teen Books.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Anyone But Him’ by Theresa Linden

Anyone But HimThe title says it all! Caitlyn Summer has been saving herself for marriage, all through her teens. Then one morning she wakes up in bed with the school’s bad boy, Jarret West. If that’s not awful enough, he claims it’s three whole years later than she thinks it is. She’s not a teenager any more.

Oh, and they’ve been married for a year…

Okay, amnesia plots have been done a lot, but they’re popular for a very good reason! If you’re writing a suspense thriller romance, they really work! I was lucky enough to read this book prior to release, and I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed reading the final published version. It’s incredibly gripping, moving, and challenging.

The faith element gives this a fascinating and delightful dimension entirely missing from most amnesia stories. It’s also where the ‘challenging’ comes in. Caitlyn believes in the sanctity—and permanence—of marriage. But she never imagined a situation like this! Can she hold to her ideals, even now?

Combining suspense thriller and romance with a strong pro-life subplot, this is one not to miss!

 

Get it HERE.

 

[The author is a fellow member of Catholic Teen Books, but my opinions are my own!]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Mermaid and the Unicorn’ by Elizabeth Hayek

The Mermaid and the UnicornAuthor: Elizabeth Amy Hayek

Publisher: Geek Haus Press

Publication Date: 7th August, 2016

This book is written by someone I know, but I bought a copy myself and wouldn’t be bothering to review it if I didn’t think it was good! So here goes:

This is a lovely, gentle read, in the best sense. But exciting too! It starts off at a steady pace and builds up to a thrilling climax with some very precious things at stake, through which another problem is very satisfyingly resolved.

The existence of the magical beings is smoothly reconciled with Christianity in a credible and inoffensive way and I liked the role played by the rich Christian symbolism of the Middle Ages.

I was particularly impressed by the subtle skill with which certain characters were depicted (with the exception of one small wobble). Also, although there were reasonably large groups of similar characters – a group of college girls, a group of nuns, etc.—by and large I was able to keep track of who was who, so this was handled well (I’m terrible at keeping track of large numbers of characters, so most readers probably won’t have the slightest problem at all).

The ending for the main character was, on a personal level, extremely satisfying, although unusual. The author mentions in the afterword that she considered changing this, but I’m very glad she stuck with it, seeing the whole book was working up to it, especially in terms of the MC’s character growth.

Fans of Regina Doman’s ‘Fairytale Novels’ will love this, or indeed, anyone wanting something gentler to read after my ‘I Am Margaret’ series! And the good news: there is not one, but two more books in this series already in the pipeline! Enjoy!

 

Get it HERE.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The King’s Prey’ by Susan Peek

kings-prey-front-cover-1_2Synopsis:

An insane king. His fleeing daughter. Estranged brothers, with a scarred past, risking everything to save her from a fate worse than death. Toss in a holy priest and a lovable wolfhound, and get ready for a wild race across Ireland. Will Dymphna escape her deranged father and his sinful desires? 

For the first time ever, the story of Saint Dymphna is brought to life in this dramatic novel for adults and older teens. With raw adventure, gripping action, and even humor in the midst of dark mental turmoil, Susan Peek’s newest novel will introduce you to a saint you will love forever! Teenage girls will see that Dymphna was just like them, a real girl, while young men will thrill at the heart-stopping danger and meet heroes they can easily relate to. If ever a Heavenly friend was needed in these times of widespread depression and emotional instability, this forgotten Irish saint is it!

I recently read (and reviewed) Peek’s ‘Crusader King’ and loved it, so I was delighted to receive a review copy of her new book, ‘The King’s Prey’. ‘The King’s Prey’ tells the story of little-known Saint Dymphna of Ireland, patron saint of those with mental illness. I hadn’t really heard of this saint before reading and I deliberately didn’t find out about her, so I read the entire novel not knowing whether she was a confessor, a martyr, a hermit, or what—which hugely added to the suspense of the story, so if you don’t know anything about her, don’t go and look her up, just buy ‘The King’s Prey’! It’s all the introduction you could need!

Although there was the odd hint of plot convenience here and there (characters making stupid-but-convenient decisions being the chief offenders) I could not put this book down. Peek interweaves what is actually known about St Dymphna (Princess Dymphna, in fact) with the fictional story of her companions, and others. I was gripped from the first chapter, desperately wanting to know not only what happened to the princess saint, but also what happened to estranged brothers Breoc and Turlough—and not to forget the wolfhound, Sam.

Some of the misunderstandings that take place between characters were absolutely agonising—and something I was totally not expecting happened part way through that eclipsed them all. Ultimately, I simply had to read straight to the end to find out what happened. It’s full of adventure, heroism, romance, and lovely characters, and it also gives a sensitive look into the world of someone suffering from mental illness. I don’t feel I can say more without giving things away, so I suggest you simply read it for yourself.

I would highly recommend this book to both adults and young adults. I think it is suitable for all but the most sheltered and sensitive teens, since although St Dymphna’s insane father wants to marry her, it is all handled extremely discretely and age-appropriately.

Get it HERE.

[I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The author is a fellow member of ‘Catholic Teen Books’ and the Catholic Writers Guild.]

 

BOOK REVIEW: Freeing Tanner Rose by T.M. Gaouette

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Tanner Rose is a wild Hollywood starlet, with a toxic, party-orientated lifestyle and no taste for quiet rural life or country pursuits. So for her, being sent to stay with conservative, quietly religious Gabriel and his mum is like receiving a jail sentence. Queue much culture clash, and a steep learning curve—for both sides.

I’m not really sure why, but my expectations weren’t all that high when I opened this book. I think maybe because it’s book 1 in the ‘Faith & Kung Fu’ series and I have next to no interest in Kung Fu. But I could hardly put it down. It was a gently gripping, and deeply satisfying read. And, I should mention, it turned out no interest in Kung Fu was necessary whatsoever!

I would perhaps have liked to a see a little more of Tanner’s interior life, so we got a better idea of how she moves mentally from A to B at times in the story (and maybe a little more of Gabriel’s thoughts and backstory as well) but it’s a minor niggle only. I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series!

Get it HERE.

 

[I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hush Hush’ by Michelle Quigley

51iHrSVY9sLBlurb: ‘Why do I have to stand here and pretend that everything is alright, when the truth is I want to curl myself up into a ball and die somewhere?’


Molly is a normal sixteen-year-old working as a factory girl in Derry, Northern Ireland, until one night her world is turned upside down. After experiencing a brutal attack, she is left mentally and physically broken, slowly withdrawing from her family and community, suffering in silence. She tries in vain to keep her increasing despair to herself, but life has more surprises and heartache in store. As her family battle to conceal a dreadful secret and expected allies shun her, Hitler steps up his invasion of Europe. With the outbreak of war an even greater strain is placed upon her family when her brother enlists in the army. Will she ever manage to make amends with him again? And with gossip rife among the community, will her secret remain hidden forever?

Hush Hush will draw you into Molly’s struggles and desires and leave you hoping that maybe, just maybe, there is someone out there who can help turn her life around.

 

This was a gripping read that I should have put down more often than I did. Molly is a sympathetic heroine and the characters and scenarios were, for the most part, very credibly drawn. There was also a really lovely love interest (I want one!), and for me the romance was a very satisfying part of the plot.

To begin with I found some of the writing a little awkward, but I suspect it was mostly due to the differences in Northern Irish dialect and phrasing since I got used to it and stopped noticing it quite quickly.  The Northern Irish and Irish settings were vividly drawn and made me want to go and explore them! The historical angle was also fascinating, especially the glimpse at the culture of the period.

In many ways this book could be described as a fable about lying, and the consequences of lying. All the way through runs this huge ‘if only’. If only she had told the truth… But this pent up frustration makes the climax of the novel all the more poignant.

The only thing that really annoyed me was what some reviewers have called the plot ‘twist’ at the end. Quigley carefully leaves the identity of the attacker up in the air for the majority of the book, making it a mystery. Is it one of two possible candidates – or someone else entirely? It’s an effective technique, only I suspected that while we were supposed to assume it was one suspect, it might turn out to be someone else.

My issue was that if it was this other person, some of the scenes in the novel were implausible, because it was not credible to me that the first person narrator could think about certain things without thinking related thoughts that would give away the identity of the rapist. Essentially, by including such scenes, Quigley should have been ‘proving’ that a particular person wasn’t the rapist – but I had a feeling this might prove not to be the case and I was irritated when my suspicions proved correct.

As a Catholic I was also a little frustrated by the fact that at one point, in a time of need, Molly decides to pray the rosary every day. When she plunges further into despair and darkness, we are never told whether or not she is doing it. In fact, the whole subject is never mentioned again. I would have liked to known more.

However, these two small niggles don’t change the fact that overall HUSH HUSH was a gripping, satisfying read, with a strong, life-affirming message, and I would recommend it, especially to Catholics and all those committed to the cause of life.

Get it HERE.

Please note, the rape is fairly discreetly described, but I would strongly caution anyone who has suffered a sexual assault.

I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Angelhood’ by A. J. Cattapan

24553425This was a thought-provoking and moving read that deals sensitively with a very serious subject. The first couple of pages are quite shocking, though if you’ve read the synopsis what happens won’t be a surprise, and the rest of the book pulls one along with the need to know what happens, whether it can all turn out alright.

Some reviewers have noted that this is not a theologically accurate presentation of the afterlife, and indeed it is not, however, there is a cast iron reason for this within the book. I can’t say more without giving spoilers. Just enjoy it as fantasy, and all will become clear. The novel has the Seal of Approval from the Catholic Writers Guild, incidentally, which should assuage any doubts about theological issues!

This book is perfectly okay for teens to read, despite the suicide theme. In fact, the more of them read it the better, since it allows the consequences of selfishness to play out very clearly before the reader’s eyes, much more effective than simply lecturing on the subject!

Highly recommended.

Get it HERE.

 

[I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval.]