Review: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater

huntedHUNTED (Spirit Animals, Book 2)
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press
Publication Date: January 7, 2014

The saga of four children who have called spirit animals and are destined to save the world continues with HUNTED, the second book in Scholastic’s interactive series. This time, author Maggie Stiefvater takes the helm, penning an adventurous tale that takes the children on their first big test.

In WILD BORN, Conor, Rollan, Meilin and Abeke, learned the basics of interacting with their spirit animals, barely managing to succeed in their quest to obtain the first talisman and outwith the Conquerors. Now, in HUNTED, their spirit animal bonds start becoming stronger, but they still have an uphill battle to achieve the second talisman from Rumfuss the boar as the strength of the Conquerors grows. New foes emerge and internal battles are waged that threaten to tear the four fallen apart.

While WILD BORN had to spend much of its storyline on set-up and world building, HUNTED is able to drop us right into the story. As a result, the second book in the Spirit Animals series is much richer, allowing for more character development and internal conflict to blossom.

Maggie Stiefvater manages to write a story that is both intelligent and accessible for younger readers. The action is fast-paced, the different view points each bring something to the table, and the cliff hanger ending is sure to both frustrate and intrigue readers. I enjoyed seeing the children starting to trust each other and work together, even when they were tested. The stakes are higher throughout this book, and readers get to spend more time getting to know Conor, who’s past and background seem to be one of the main focuses of HUNTED. I enjoyed getting this glimpse into the character of Conor, and am interested to see how the story progresses in the third installment.

This series will appeal to readers of all ages. However, as the books are all very interconnected, reading the books in order is a must.

Review: Pawn by Aimee Carter

pawnPAWN (The Blackcoat Rebellion, Book #1)
Aimee Carter
Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: November 26, 2013

From the back cover:

YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

Previously titled Masked.

I readily admit that I haven’t read a lot of dystopian fiction. I usually tend to stick to contemporary YA, but lately, I’m trying to branch out whenever the book blurb catches my eye. PAWN intrigued me from the moment I read the blurb and an excerpt of the first chapter. I wanted to know more about the ranking system, and more about how Kitty was going to become a pawn to the most powerful family in the country.

Kitty reminded me (a lot) of Katniss from The Hunger Games. This might be because of the similarity to their ‘cat’ names, or because The Hunger Games is one of the few dystopians that I have actually read, but whatever it was, I immediately made the correlation. However, where I never really connected with Katniss or understood why she did the things she did, I readily empathized with Kitty and rooted for her. I enjoyed the fact that she knew who she was from the get-go and although she became the Hart family’s pawn, she never let it change her.

She is a strong character that thinks only of a future with her boyfriend Benji, even as she is forced to jump through the endless hoops the ruling family has set before her. She is extremely loyal to those she loves, which makes for a strong motivator, and she also is very intelligent and street smart despite the fact that she is dyslexic and cannot read. All of these traits make her a heroine that you want to see succeed.

Beyond characterization, Aimee Carter excels at penning a fast-paced thriller with never ending twists and turns. Just when you think you’ve reached a lull in the story, she throws you for another loop. There is never a dull moment, which makes PAWN very hard to put down once you’ve started it.

PAWN is full of political intrigue, plenty of thrills and a dash of sweet romance that is sure to appeal to all lovers of YA, even those who don’t normally read the dystopian genre. I can’t wait for the continuation of this new series with the second book, CAPTIVE!

Review: Secrets of the Book by Erin Fry

secretsofthebookSECRETS OF THE BOOK
Erin Fry
Two Lions
Publication Date: February 4, 2014

From the Back Cover:

You don’t choose the book—the book chooses you.

Sixth grader Spencer Lemon has a degenerative eye disease—and he’s rapidly losing his eyesight. So he has no idea why he was chosen to guard Pandora’s Book. When Ed, the old guy at the nursing home, hands over the book, he doesn’t get a chance to explain any of the rules to Spencer. Spencer only knows that the book contains famous dead people—people who can be brought back to life. Spencer and his autistic best friend, Gregor, soon figure out how to get people out of the book, but not how to get them back in. Then Ed disappears, and a strange man shows up on Spencer’s doorstep—and he seems to know a lot about Spencer and about Pandora’s Book. Is he one of the bad guys? Or is here to help Spencer unravel the secrets of the book? But there are others interested in Pandora’s Book, others who might use its powers to take over the world. And it’s up to Spencer, along with Gregor and Ed’s mysterious (and cute) granddaughter Mel, to protect the book—and save the world.

Erin Fry has written a fantastical middle grade adventure with SECRETS OF THE BOOK. Who knew that spending time at a nursing home could be this fun? Certainly not Spencer, who is stuck there due to his mom’s insistence that he volunteer. To him, Ed just seems like some old guy he’s stuck with, until Ed shows Spencer Pandora’s Book and he starts to realize that Ed is more than what he seems. As Spencer embarks on a quest to keep the book out of the hands of the bad guys, he learns about history, friendship, and inner strength.

I absolutely loved the way Erin Fry portrayed the friendship between Spencer and Gregor. Spencer takes Gregor’s autism in stride–it is just something that is a part of him, not something that defines him. Throughout the book, Spencer relies on Gregor’s knowledge and as the book progresses, Gregor digs deep to find the courage to step outside his comfort zone and do what is necessary to help Spencer protect the book. Their strong bond is the number one reason this book is so successful and is a must read for middle grade boys.

I also enjoyed the fact that the book manages to educate while giving readers a fast-paced adventure that never feels like a history lesson. Children learn enough about historical figures like Socrates, Teddy Roosevelt, and Al Capone to peak their interest and make them want to know more. It is not easy to make a book both entertaining and informative, but Erin Fry does it.

If you are looking for a middle grade book that is action packed, adventurous, and a whole lot of fun, look no further than SECRETS OF THE BOOK. This one will appeal to both boys and girls and parents, as well, who will love the life lessons weaved throughout.

Review: A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano

talentfortroubleA TALENT FOR TROUBLE (Ladies of Distinction, Book#3)
Jen Turano
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: October 1, 2013

From the back cover:

Miss Felicia Murdock firmly believed her destiny was to become a minister’s wife. When the minister on whom she had set her sights marries another lady, Felicia is forced to take a close look at her life and comes to a few uncomfortable conclusions. Determined that something needs to change–and soon–Felicia discovers she is finally ready to spread her wings and embrace life the way she’s always wanted.

Grayson Sumner–or Lord Sefton, as he’s officially known–has had more than enough of spreading his wings and only hopes to settle into the life of a normal, respectable New York gentleman. Prompted by some well-meaning friends to lift the spirits of the disappointed-in-love Miss Murdock, he is surprised to encounter a young lady who seems to have become quite adventurous and quite determined to get herself into all sorts of troublesome situations.

Intent on remaining independent, Felicia is reluctant to accept Grayson’s help, especially as she finds herself developing feelings for him. However, just as Grayson decides he’s had quite enough of her antics, his past comes back to haunt him and his presence in her life has endangered Felicia. Will Grayson and Felicia decide they want to spend the rest of their lives keeping one another out of trouble?

This was my second Jen Turano read (the first being A CHANGE OF FORTUNE) and I am quickly beginning to realize that her trademark sparkling wit and energizing dialogue will shine through no matter what she writes.

Felicia is a quirky, independent character who is forever getting herself into trouble (hence the title!). As the story opens, she is mourning the preacher’s marriage to another woman. Felicia had been in love with the preacher for some time and had hoped that she would be the one joining him at the altar, but as she watches him recite his vows to another woman, she realizes that she has spent so much time turning herself into the woman she thought he would want her to be, that she doesn’t even recognize herself anymore.

What follows is a journey to self-discovery, filled with mischief and adventure, and the insufferable Lord Sefton…who somehow becomes a whole lot less insufferable to Felicia as the story progresses. Lord Sefton (Grayson Sumner) is riddled with guilt over both the way he abandoned his sister Eliza and the things he has seen and done while away. He no longer believes in happy-ever-afters, nor does he believe he deserves love. All he wants is to see that his daughter is well taken care of, and do what he can to redeem himself (though he is certain he’ll never get to that point).

While Felicia learns to listen to what God wants her to be, rather than what others expect her to be, Grayson learns that no one is beyond redemption. God’s grace is sufficient for even the most irredeemable, and that lesson gives him the courage to believe in a life with Felicia.

With intrigue and zany anecdotes, Jen Turano excels at romantic comedy, bringing both laughs and a poignant lesson to every story. I look forward to her next book!

 

 

Review: Made to Last by Melissa Tagg

madetolastMADE TO LAST (Where Love Begins, Book #1)
Melissa Tagg
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: September 15, 2013

From the back cover:

Miranda Woodruff, star of the homebuilding show “From the Ground Up,” will do anything to keep the job she loves. Due to a painful broken engagement and a faith she’s mostly forgotten, she’s let her entire identity become wrapped up in the Miranda everyone sees onscreen. So when she receives news that the network might cancel her program, she must do the very thing she fears most: let the spotlight shine on her closely guarded personal life. The only problem? She’s been living a lie–letting viewers believe she’s married–and now she’s called upon to play wife to a sweet, if a bit goofy, pretend husband to boost ratings.

Desperate to help his family and prove he’s not a total failure, reporter Matthew Knox is looking for a breakout story. When he’s offered the opportunity to do an online serial feature on Miranda Woodruff, he jumps at the chance, even if celebrity reporting isn’t really his thing. But as soon as he meets Miranda, he knows she’s keeping secrets.

When Miranda’s former fiance suddenly appears on the scene again, she doubts her life could get more complicated. Juggling three guys, an on-the-rocks television show, and the potential exposure of her deception is way more than she bargained for. Can the woman who makes things look so good onscreen admit it’s time to tell the truth about who she is? And if she does, will the life Miranda’s built come crashing down just as she’s finally found a love to last?

I often find myself shying away from contemporary inspirational romance. It doesn’t seem to hold my interest as much as books in the historical genre do, and most times I find authors throwing in exaggerated quirky characters that are supposed to be charming (but often border on annoying) rather than penning a plot that is compelling and real.

I picked up MADE TO LAST by Melissa Tagg because the blurb intrigued me, there seemed to be inherent humor in the plot (not forced) and I loved the idea of a female Tim Taylor from the old Home Improvement sitcom (dating myself here, I know!). I half expected to lose interest quickly and lament why I’d agreed to review it in the first place, but before I knew it, I was flipping through the pages, desperate to know how Miranda’s scheme was going to fall apart on her!

The thing about Melissa Tagg is she does humor the right way, making situations both emotional and funny and making readers wait for the payoff instead of throwing in a bunch of zinging one liners that are there strictly to “make ’em laugh”. Sure, she has her own quirky character in Miranda’s fake husband, Blake (Blaze) Hunziker, but she manages to keep him real by giving him a compelling and mysterious backstory.

Miranda is just the kind of heroine that makes for the best story. She’s tough on the outside, but vulnerable on the inside. She’s been burned by love and that hurt has caused her to live a lie, which in turn, has caused her to distance herself from God, believing she is beyond redemption. Too often contemporary inspirational heroines are written as perfect and God-fearing — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but Miranda’s flaws make her just like us.  We all make mistakes and bad choices and struggle to figure out how to get back on track with our life.

And then Matthew comes into the picture. This down-on-his-luck reporter has suffered some major setbacks and failures in his career and his life, but he believes one breakout story featuring America’s hottest home improvement star can turn his luck around. Like Miranda, Matthew has his own demons to wrestle with. He’s made mistakes and feels undeserving of God’s forgiveness, but as he starts to fall for Miranda, he begins to realize his worth in God’s eyes.

Bottom line, I really enjoyed this debut by Melissa Tagg. Filled with humor and emotion and a message of redemption, MADE TO LAST does not disappoint. I look forward to Blaze’s story, HERE TO STAY in May 2014!