BOOK REVIEW: ‘Tortured Soul’ by Theresa Linden

I really enjoyed this. I was rather unmoved by the descriptions and slow to pick it up because I have little interest in ghost stories, but having read most of the author’s other books (and really liked them) I wanted to give this a try. I’m glad I did! I think it works as a conventional ghost story (if that’s your thing) but it also works as a spiritual thriller (much more my thing!) and there’s even a low key but very satisfying romantic plotline.

A highlight was the dinner party gone wrong which was equal parts painful and hilarious. I eventually began to get a little impatient with the creeping around, terrified what she was about to see, but as I said, horror’s not my thing. Loads of creeping around or not, I wouldn’t have missed this book. I found it hard to put it down, and also learned a lot from it.

***Mild SPOILER***
I also got frustrated with the main character that even after purgatory had been suggested, she didn’t start any sort of intensive prayer for the ghost. But thinking about it, I was just as ignorant until I went to dinner at a friend’s house a few years ago and heard about an apparition that had happened there, and the priest present made a good case for it being a soul in purgatory seeking prayers. Until then I would have been just as clueless as the main character. So this is a great book for anyone who doesn’t know much about purgatory or ‘real’ ghosts—i.e. an actual human soul manifesting rather than demonic activity. It would also be a good read for more mature teens.

A little non-fiction book called ‘Daily Pilgrimage to Purgatory’ might interest those who enjoy this book and want to pray for the holy souls.

Get it HERE.

[The author is a fellow member of Catholic Teen Books but I got the book myself and my opinions are my own.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Other Side of Freedom’ – Cynthia Toney

I’ve heard so much about this book and all the prizes it’s won, and been intending to read it for some time, although the blurb didn’t entirely grab me. I’m glad I finally read it! It took me a few chapters to get fully into it, but then I was hooked.

Sal is an engaging hero, and all the characters are fun and well drawn, especially Hiram (I liked the little flashes that highlighted the situation of black people at the time, without letting it take over the story), and Antonina (just moving from girl to young woman). It’s a dramatic story told in a down-to-earth and non-sensational manner, very realistic and all the more powerful for that.

There were a couple of places in the last third when I’d have actually liked a bit more explanation/clarity, but I was reading pretty fast by then, impatient to find out what happened, so the fault may be more with me than the book.

I was relieved the law turned out to be on the side of Sal’s father because I really wasn’t convinced it would be, and spent most of the book on tenterhooks as to how that could come out all right. But I’m no lawyer and I’m sure the author researched carefully.

The title is a clever play on the town name and some of the events of the book!

Overall an excellent story highlighting the troubles (especially for Italians) of the prohibition, through the eyes of a conflicted teen protagonist, and a good study of a crisis of conscience. A great read for teen boys or girls (and the young at heart!).

Get it HERE.

[I am acquainted with the author through an author group but have reviewed this book by my free choice. Opinions are my own.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Ornamental Graces’ – Carolyn Astfalk

I don’t read a huge amount of romance and I enjoyed this way more than I was expecting to. In fact, I was blown away by how good it was. Dan and Emily have a long and difficult road to happiness and I kept looking at the progress bar and going, ‘what the? I’m only 20% through. What the? I’m only 50% through! How much more are they going to have to go through before they’re together!’ BUT I wasn’t looking at the progress bar in an ‘I’m bored, hurry up’ sense, just a wondering, in-sympathy-with-the-characters sense.

I think I’m used to short formulaic romances where the requisite few road bumps are hit, overcome, and everything wrapped up all in a concise bundle. I really, really liked the fact that this novel walked the long road with the couple, that it wasn’t clean and quick, but messy and realistic and difficult, but they persevered and they made it (hardly a spoiler, I think, for a romance!). I imagine some readers might get bored and call it slow, but I was engrossed, and it made the pay-off way more satisfying. This had very much the deep, satisfying feel of ‘Intermission’ by Serena Chase and I’d be hard put to say which I enjoyed more.

For Christians who read widely in secular fiction, this will be a warm, refreshing, inspiring read. Christians who’ve been on a diet of more exclusively Christian fare may find the outlook of the main characters a mite sensual for their taste. They’re well written, and realistically portrayed, and they’re trying so hard, which is inspiring, but they don’t, shall we say, always engage in thoughts and behaviour best calculated to help them with their goal of waiting for marriage. I’d be reluctant to give this to a sheltered teen reader, for example, but that’s hardly the target audience.

I should note that the cover and blurb present this as a ‘Christmas’ novel, but that’s unnecessarily limiting. It’s an excellent all year round romance, so dive in at any time!

Get it HERE.

[I’m acquainted with the author through an author group, but have freely chosen to review this book. Opinions are my own.]

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Subtle Grace’ by Ellen Gable

Late nineteenth-century teenager Kathleen O’Donovan cannot wait to marry. She’s already 19, and dreads being an old maid! Although her parents urge patience, she rushes headlong into courtship with the first man to take a fancy to her, whilst newcomer to the town, young doctor Luke, shyly admires her from afar. Meanwhile, her brother Will feels a different calling stirring in his heart. But unknown to him, secrets lie hidden in his past. Will they steal his dream away from him?

I thoroughly enjoyed this period romance drama, often having trouble putting it down. I love the way we get to know all the main characters so thoroughly, and the gentle, slow-building romance between Kathleen and her true love. The book also makes it clear that any form of sexual assault can have devastating consequences for a woman’s confidence.

One character’s plotline has a very unexpected twist/revelation near the end, which makes the—in other ways predictable (though nonetheless satisfying)—showdown all the more poignant and gripping.

 

Get it HERE.

Book Review: ‘Pinocchio’ by Carlo Collodi

To be honest, I struggled with this book. I found the main character incredibly frustrating. He almost always did the wrong thing. I mean, almost ALWAYS. Well, people sometimes do (including me!), but what he does is also almost always incredibly stupid. Well, again, people do stupid things (including me!), and the main character is, after all, a puppet who is only moments old at the beginning of the book, so how is he to know better? Fair question, but still, I found the book hard work. He just did not seem to learn from his mistakes.

Admittedly, the dire catalogue of largely self-inflicted misadventures does make the ending all the more touching and satisfying. If you can make it that far.

The thing that struck me most about the book was actually the strong pro-life message it sends. A man gets a log of firewood out of which to carve a puppet. Said puppet promptly—and unexpectedly—comes to life. The man unhesitatingly regards the puppet as his son, and right from the get up and go begins to sacrifice his own needs and comforts for the puppet’s well-being and advancement. He continues to do so throughout the entire book, despite the puppet turning out to be one of the most foolish, thoughtless, and selfish sons imaginable. Regardless, the man remains unwavering in love for his unplanned child, showing a perfect example of what a good father (or mother) should be.

Perhaps it says something about our time—and the time in which the book was written—that this should strike me so. When the book was written, an unexpected pregnancy was an unexpected baby, no question. Nowadays only expected pregnancies are ‘babies’, unexpected ones are merely ‘tissue’ that can be disposed of. If Pinocchio was written today, it might well be a much shorter book. The old wood carver would probably be shown terminating his unexpected responsibilities by putting the mere ‘wood’ straight on the fire the moment it began to—oh so inconveniently—move.

 

You can get it HERE.

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!]