BOOK REVIEW: ‘Guarding Aaron’ – T.M. Gaouette

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book and thrilled that the series continues in such a gripping way. It seemed like this book was all about change–or the threat of change. Gabriel and Tanner are desperate to find out exactly what change God wants for them, Faith wants one change in her life and dreads another, whilst Aaron really NEEDS a change.

The characters react to the actual and threatened changes in different ways, some very active, like Aaron, some more passive, some in really unhelpful ways. As in her previous books, Gaouette presents a lot of very realistic characters, warts and mistakes and all. But Gaouette also ramps up the action in this book in a big way.

There are some good twists in this story, one of them left me gaping like a fish, I so did not see it coming! If you haven’t read the first two books you should probably start with those, but don’t miss this one. Gripping, faith-filled fiction.

 

Get it HERE.

[I received a preview copy of this book from the author, with whom I am acquainted through several author groups. Opinions are my own.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Saving Faith’ – T.M. Gaouette

This was just as gripping as ‘Freeing Tanner Rose’—but more painful to read! Unlike in book 1, Faith, the main female character of this book, is a cradle Catholic, previously strong in her faith, who is suffering extreme temptations and going seriously astray. In some ways this created even more suspense than when Tanner Rose, an unchurched Hollywood starlet, was encountering sincere Christians for the first time in book 1.

I spent so much of this book shouting at Faith in my head, but her decisions were realistic, even when infuriating and tragic. Possibly my favourite character was actually Christian, and for me his was the most satisfying plot arc. But I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers!

A great read. Give it a try!

 

[I received a review copy of this book from the author, with whom I am acquainted through several author groups. Opinions are my own.]

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.]

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: ‘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.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Crusader King’ by Susan Peek

51oNMQBgpiLI thoroughly enjoyed Crusader King and I’m sure I will read it again, which always says a lot about a book. Peek draws her characters very well, making them memorable and distinct whilst still credibly historical. It’s the main character who really steals the show, though: Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. I knew almost nothing about him before reading the book, but he’s such a lovely character, and so holy – in such an appealing way – that I spent much of the book wondering why he was never canonised.

Having finished the book, I remained fixated on this question for some time, coming to two possible explanations:

Explanation 1) Since Peek is writing for young people, she may justifiably have down-played any negative aspects of Baldwin’s character and emphasised all the positive ones. As a friend of mine once put it – historical fiction remains fiction, if you want pure history, go read a textbook.

Explanation 2) Baldwin really was that holy and good, but since the people with power and money (the nobles) spent his life waiting for him to die so they could seize his throne, they probably weren’t going to feel like spending money trying to get him canonised; whilst the people who loved him (the common people) had no power or money. And both nobles and common people were all too soon after his death conquered by the Saracens, after which they had no freedom to pursue anyone’s canonisation and probably did well to remain Christians themselves.

I certainly hope the reason Baldwin IV isn’t a canonised saint is the second reason, not the first. But either way, the book is a fantastic read. Though I did keep wishing a certain fictional friend had actually existed in real life, and had actually done the thing Baldwin asks him to do. How different the history of the Middle East might have been! If you want to make sense of that spoiler-free comment, you’ll have to read the book!

My one major niggle was that as an adult reader, I would have liked more detail at times. The book passes very quickly over great swathes of events in Baldwin’s life, especially in the later part, and I would have been perfectly happy with a much longer and more detailed book. However, Peek is writing for young people, not for adults, so whilst I hope she might one day write a full, detailed, adult version, this cannot really stand as an actual criticism since she does what she sets out to do well.

Off to look for more books about Baldwin IV, though I doubt I will find anything more satisfying than this one!

Edit: To add information received from the author (below)

Susan Peek says: “To answer your question, Baldwin’s cause for canonization was indeed introduced, and he is considered Blessed in France, but not universally. The French version of his name is Beaudoin, and many boys are named after him. I am not exactly sure why his cause was halted. He truly was very holy; even non-Christians acknowledge his great sanctity.”

Lovely to know!

Get it HERE.

 

I received a free copy of the book whilst acting as a reviewer for the Catholic Writer’s Guild. ‘Crusader King’ subsequently received the Seal of Approval.