Book Review: Accused

I didn’t realize this was part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone.

Accused by Lisa Scottoline

Another book from the Library of Grandma. I didn’t realize this was part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone.

Description

Mary DiNunzio hasn’t gotten used to thinking of herself as partner at Rosato & Associates. Doubts and insecurities still plague her, amplified further when her boyfriend wants to take the next step in their relationship. Still reeling from all these changes, she encounters her most unusual case yet, brought to her by a thirteen-year-old genius from one of the area’s wealthiest families. The client, Allegra, has two obsessions: beekeeping and her older sister’s murder. She believes the man the police jailed is innocent, and hires Mary to find the real killer. Content with the closure they received six years ago, Allegra’s powerful family opposes re-opening the case, but Rosato & DiNunzio can never resist an underdog. Was justice served all those years ago? Mary will risk everything to find out.

Characters

Lawyers are often depicted as stiff and self-assured, but Mary is refreshingly insecure and friendly. I admit I lost patience with her, but she comes around in the end. Her boyfriend, Anthony, is disgustingly perfect and unrealistic. The rest of the characters, however, represent a realistic array of personalities and backgrounds. I especially loved the scene where the Tony’s get into mischief. The book is worth reading for that scene alone.

Plot

A typical mystery, the plot weaves through false starts and dead ends at a pace fast enough to maintain tension, but not too fast for the reader to follow. Mary encounters many obstacles—legal, personal, professional—which she overcomes or cannot overcome like any human.

Writing Style

Scottoline writes in great detail, sometimes a little too much, but I liked that many of the seemingly irrelevant passages proved critical to solving the case.

Conclusion

With many red herrings and both personal and professional obstacles, Accused creates an intriguing mystery. Far from the stoic lawyer often portrayed, Mary is personable, and her family heartwarming. A great read for people interested in legal mystery crossed with women’s fiction.

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Accused

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Book Review: The Hanover Square Affair

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my obsession with historical fiction, especially Ruta Sepetys’ work. This is my first foray into historical mystery, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

Another author recommended this book in her monthly newsletter, so I thought I’d check it out. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know my obsession with historical fiction, especially Ruta Sepetys’ work. This is my first foray into historical mystery, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

Description

London, 1816. Cavalry Captain Gabriel Lacey returns from the Napoleonic Wars in forced retirement, but his troubles with his commanding officer follow him home from the peninsula. Burned out, fighting melancholia, and struggling to adjust to civilian life, his interest sparks at the case of a missing girl. Investigating her disappearance brings him into a dangerous world of murder and corruption. To solve the mystery, Lacey will need to draw upon his friendships at every level of the social hierarchy—from celebrity gentlemen to a street girl of Covent Garden.

Characters

Lacey exemplifies the flawed protagonist. He holds grudges for eternity, but losers his temper in a flash, and he doesn’t hesitate to break boundaries—and bones—to get the information he needs. However, his backstory earns the reader’s sympathy, and his stubborn sense of honor toward women represents a characteristic much desired but little portrayed in modern media. He is such a deep character, I can see how the author built a sixteen-book series from him.

The other characters each possess distinct and vibrant personalities, each with their own motivations that drive their behavior, especially their mistakes. Unlike many books, Gardner does not reduce her minor characters to comic relief. Rather, she offers a realistic slice of humanity, including both the beauty and hideous nature of real people.

Plot

I have been binge reading fast-paced sci-fi and fantasy lately, so this represented a brake-screeching slow down for me. Objectively, I think the pace is slower than the average contemporary tale, but readers of historical fiction will find themselves at home.

The story navigates misdirection and twists to reveal the depths of political intrigue and underworld corruption that rivals that barbarity Lacey witnessed on the battlefield. The threat to the missing girl and Lacey’s gradually revealed backstory provided enough drama to maintain my interest throughout and moved the plot along well.

Writing Style

Gardners rich descriptions and vivid setting made me feel like I was watching a movie with a billion-dollar set and costumes budget without slowing the pace. She masterfully used the weather to set the mood for the grim tale, and each character’s interaction with Lacey brought out a distinct part of his personality and backstory.

Miscellaneous

  • Usually when I read a mystery, I try to guess the ending, but this author didn’t offer enough clues for that. This is my first historical mystery, so I am unsure if this is genre-typical. I was reading for relaxation, not to stimulate my brain, so I didn’t mind that the book read more like a story gradually unveiled than a who-done-it. I enjoyed it, but readers accustomed to contemporary mysteries may need to adjust their expectations.
  • A warning to sensitive readers, this book ventures into the darker aspects of human nature. The truly horrible things occur “off-the-page,” but the story touches on some awful themes.
  • A woman in a pretty dress is standard for historical fiction covers, but it was irrelevant to the book’s content.

Conclusion

With a vividly descripted setting, rich cast of characters, and flawed-but-sympathetic protagonist, Gardner creates the perfect environment to pull readers through the mystery of the missing girl. She effortlessly captures the depth and breadth of human motivations and flaws while building intrigue and tension that lasts throughout the story. Highly recommend for readers of historical fiction who enjoy some mystery and aren’t afraid to venture into the darker side of 1816 London.

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The Hanover Square Affair

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Book Review: Wonder

During what are already some of the toughest years of human development, Auggie faces the additional challenge of being labelled “different” because of a craniofacial abnormality.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Another author recommended I read this charming middle grade book, and I was pleased the library had it available right away.

Description

After years of home schooling, August will attend fifth grade at a private school. All he wants is to be accepted for the Star Wars-loving Xbox champion he is, but he was born with a facial abnormality he describes as “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them?

Characters

Smart, funny, and just the right amount of quirky, “Auggie” stole my heart from the first page. He takes everything in stride and is quick to forgive, as children often are. Adults could learn a few things from him.

The story follows Auggie’s journey through the fifth grade, but it rotates perspectives to include his family members, friends, and even his sister’s boyfriend. Auggie’s situation affects all of them in different ways, and each character presents an honest account of their experiences.

I love that the author didn’t overdramatize everything. Even the “villains” behave like normal human beings you’d expect to meet on the street. As I read, I kept thinking, “Yep, I’ve met parents like that.” This book isn’t a soap opera; nor is it a portal to another dimension. It’s a mirror, and I saw myself reflected in every character, even when they didn’t respond as they should.

Plot

Auggie faces all the typical middle-school trials: making new friends, misunderstanding said friends, dealing with bullies . . . even a trip away from home. These trials, however, are exacerbated by his situation, which brings out the best, and worst, in his classmates.

Writing Style

Palacio writes with a clean, simple style in short chapters appropriate for a middle grade audience. Each perspective character is unique, and she makes some additional stylistic choices (like not capitalizing) to add further distinction. The book was partially inspired by a song, so the author sprinkled song lyrics and quotations throughout the prose.

Conclusion

During what are already some of the toughest years of human development, Auggie faces the additional challenge of being labelled “different.” This heartwarming story relates the trials he overcomes as well as the effect he has on others. Auggie may be an ordinary kid on the inside, but the impact he has on his family, classmates, and the school staff make him a true wonder. A quick, charming read, I would recommend Wonder for all ages.

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Wonder

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Stuck in Neutral

Another story that portrays realistic attitudes and questions surrounding complicated circumstances. Review pending.

Say What You Will

Review pending.


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Book Review: By Wingéd Chair

By Wingéd Chair by Kendra Merritt

I’m a huge supporter of my local library, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take advantage of a free trial of Kindle Unlimited when The Big River throws one my way. This book was part of my mad binge-reading during that trial.

Description

Seventeen-year-old Merry has one goal—become a licensed mage—but her tendency to mouth off to anyone who underestimates her because of her wheelchair hasn’t made her boarding school mistresses more willing to write her the necessary letter of recommendation. Instead of heading to the University, she takes the train home to face her father—until a group of corrupt peacemakers and their shape-shifting allies attack. As the daughter of Woodshire’s premier expert in the memory-stealing creatures, she can defend herself. The outlaw mage who “comes to her rescue,” however, drags her into a resistance movement she didn’t know lay in her own backyard. When the creatures decide to take the memories of those she cares about most, she must decide whether returning their memories is worth giving up her chance to earn respect as a mage.

Character

Merry represents a fantastic blend of strength and insecurity. At the outset, she hides her emotional pain behind her sharp tongue and masked expression, but as her confidence grows, she displays her friendly side more often. She never lets anything hold her back, though the author doesn’t shy away from portraying the challenges she faces as a paraplegic. Likewise, the other characters have their own struggles and motivations, especially the leading male, rounding out the cast of misfit outlaws.

Toward the end, the author reveals the villains’ true motivations, which make them seem both more human and more realistic. However, these details were added so quickly, they feel like an afterthought. That said, the process by which the creatures become “good” and “bad” fascinated me. I love the idea that all their small decisions culminate in their final nature.

Plot

The plot, a retelling of Robin Hood, follows Merry as she befriends the outlaws and helps them work against the tyrannical duke and the creatures he is using to steal memories from the populace. The story progresses at a solid pace, with a balance between action and character development. There weren’t any surprising twists, but I enjoyed the journey.

Writing Style

Merritt writes with a good balance between description and action. She evokes the characters’ emotions without wallowing for too long. I felt Merry was a little blind and self-absorbed, but at her age, I was equally introspective. The love-story subplot was appropriate for a young adult audience. I found it refreshing compared to the hypersexualized stories that have flooded the genre in recent years.

Miscellaneous

The author’s Christian allegory was very well done. She successfully wove religious themes into the fantasy world, highlighting the relevance to each character’s development. Though evident immediately, the Christian themes didn’t come across as preachy, and weren’t as obvious as, say, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. This book may hold special appeal to Christians, but readers of any belief system—or lack thereof—could enjoy it.

Conclusion

One part Robin Hood, one part Christian allegory, By Wingéd Chair is a delightful fairytale which portrays resilience in the face of suffering. Merry’s personal journey encourages readers to draw strength from their weaknesses, and the well-rounded cast of outlaws provides ample support for the broader theme. I enjoyed this story, and I look forward to reading more.

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By Winged Chair

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Read My Review

Read My Review

I haven’t written a review on this, but with a nerdy princess and lots of magic/action/romance… let’s just say I loved it. Trust Me.


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Book Review: One Little Lie

One Little Lie by Colleen Coble

I had overdosed on Kristin Hannah and was looking for a change when I encountered this in the library’s eBook database. I remembered liking another book by this author, though I can’t recall the title now, so I gave it a read.

Description

Upon her father’s retirement, Jane Hardy is promoted to chief of police in Pelican Harbor, Alabama, triggering resentment in one of her deputies. While battling his hostility, she juggles two murder cases and a vigilante, but when FBI arrest her father, he becomes a prime suspect.

Reid Bechtol is famous for his documentaries, especially one he did on cults. His latest involves Jane’s career as a small-town police chief, but his interest is more than professional. His documentaries are personal, and his past intertwines with Jane’s in more ways than she knows.

Characters

I appreciate when authors give tough female characters—police officers, swords women, jedi knights, etc.—depth of emotion. I hate female characters that act like men with boobs, but Coble goes way too far with Jane. In Reid’s perspective, he often comments about how tough she is, but the evidence on the page argues to the contrary. Jane is hyperemotional to an embarrassing degree. Her storyline reads too close to a soap opera for my tastes—lots of emotional drama, but reactive and overblown instead of mature and developed.

Reid’s character is better. He is calm, protective, but also respectful of Jane’s authority. Aside from the budding romance with Jane, his major conflict is deciding how to reveal the truth to his son Will. This is where the author fails.

To begin, Will is way too perfect for a teenager. Coble tries to circumnavigate this by remarking how mature he is compared to other teens, but it still rings hollow. There was so much potential for father-son conflict, but instead, Will accepts his father’s errors after a few calm heart-to-hearts.

Reid’s ex rears her ugly head early on, but the book would have been better without her. I understand wanting to add more conflict for Reid, but the author could have done that by having some actual drama with Will.

Plot

The characters’ backstories were so obvious I was insulted the author waited until the second third to state them openly. On the flip side, the villain was impossible to guess. Usually in a murder mystery, I like to think “I can’t believe I didn’t see that!” In this story, there were zero clues. I felt cheated.

Writing Style

The prose itself is clunky. Reading felt like driving over a rocky mountain road in a Prius (Yes, I’ve done that. It’s not fun). The author should have fired her line editor. This may not bother most readers, but for me, reading this book felt like resisting the urge to right an askew painting, and I’m not even an editor.

Miscellaneous

I didn’t know this book was Christian fiction before I checked it out, but it’s low on the preach-o-meter. The sugary-sweet tone that drives me nuts in Christian fiction is limited. Yes, the characters reflect on and practice their faith, but it feels like real people interpreting their circumstances in light of their beliefs. There are no lengthy sermons or moralizing.

If anything, the author should have developed the characters’ religious beliefs more. Religious reflections are dropped into the storyline like breadcrumbs, but they aren’t integrated enough with the narrative. Contrasting Jane and Reid’s beliefs would have added cohesion.

Reid is Christian, but Jane rejected God after her experience in the cult. A close friend (who, like Reid’s ex, isn’t relevant and whose subplot goes unresolved) tries to teach her the difference between the cult and authentic Christianity, but that should have been Reid’s role. Furthermore, their beliefs only affect the personal side of the story, but the author should have contrasted their different interpretations of human behavior.

For example, Reid could have responded to the adulterer with shock and disgust, while lingering cult trauma would reinforce Jane’s skepticism. Contrasting their beliefs would have made their perspectives more distinct and added a fresh take on the crime.

Conclusion

The book’s genre is Christian Romantic Suspense, of which I am not a regular reader, so take my criticisms with a sprinkle of salt. That said, I enjoy well-written books in almost any genre. The premise of a former cult member-turned-police chief intrigued me, and the plot was sufficiently complex. There were many good elements, but none reached their potential.

The female lead was too emotional, the male leads too perfect, the secondary characters irrelevant, and even the police K9 came across as a pet. The backstories were too obvious and the crime impossible for readers to solve on their own. For a book whose cover sports praise from Lisa Wingate, it disappointed.

This is a first-in-series, so I can’t harp on the unresolved subplots, but I won’t read the next book. Had I paid for it, I would have been upset. As is, I’m glad I checked the eBook out from the library so that I didn’t have to waste gas returning a physical copy.

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One Little Lie

Suspense I recommend instead (though neither is Christian Romantic Suspense)


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Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely

In this retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kremmerer

I almost didn’t read this because I was looking for a different book, but I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Harper is determined to help her brother earn money to pay off their mother’s cancer debts, but Jake always underestimates her because of her Cerebral Palsy. She’s relegated to lookout duty, but when she spots someone being kidnapped, she can’t help intervening. She doesn’t realize this kidnapper is heading to another world until he accidentally takes her instead.

Thrust into a fairytale land full of magic and suffering, Harper meets Prince Rhen and learns of his curse. Upon the season’s end, he transforms into a terrifying monster and attacks his own people. After his rampage, time resets, and he must relive his eighteenth year again—until a woman falls in love with him.

Apparently, that woman is supposed to be Harper.

She doubts she could fall for someone so arrogant, but when a neighboring kingdom sends an army over the mountains, Rhen and Harper have bigger things to worry about than breaking a curse.

Characters

Though the book falls into the young adult category, readers of any age can relate to Harper’s desire to prove herself. She is simultaneously tough and vulnerable, determined and doubt-riddled, assured and confused. In other words, she’s human.

Having Cerebral Palsy causes Harper to walk with a limp, but I love that this book isn’t about Harper’s disability. CP is a part of her, but it doesn’t define her character, and rather than focus on Harper fighting discrimination as so many books featuring characters with disabilities do, Kremmerer focuses the story on everything Harper can do, and how she wins the respect of everyone who meets her.

The other characters are similarly well rounded, including the leading man, Rhen. Kremmerer depicts her characters not as “good guys” and “bad guys,” but as deeply flawed humans doing the best they can. Each character harbors regrets about past decisions and agonizes over future ones. Readers may not agree with those decisions, but we can understand them.

Plot

The plot follows a fun twist on the Beauty & the Beast. Rather than focusing on the love story, the invading army gives Rhen and Harper a common goal. Kremmerer does an excellent job escalating both the personal and societal stakes over the course of the plot, forcing the characters to make impossible decisions.

Writing Style

Kremmerer’s prose is just the right mix of description and action. It reads smoothly, with few stylistic obstacles to prevent readers from immersing themselves in the world. She lingers over romantic scenes while driving up the pace during climactic ones, excellent pacing.

Miscellaneous

I wish this were a standalone novel instead of a series. The author needed to leave some loose ends to draw readers forward, but I don’t like where the tale is headed. I’d rather pretend those loose ends were tied up and enjoy the happily ever after in my head.

That said, I feel obligated to admit that I have already downloaded the sequel from the library’s e-book database.

Conclusion

In this refreshing and beautiful retelling of The Beaty & the Beast, tough-but-vulnerable Harper and arrogant-but-defeated Rhen must join forces to save the kingdom—and perhaps fall in love. With deeply human characters and a thrilling plot full of political intrigue and high stakes, A Curse So Dark and Lonely is sure to please even fair-weather fans of fairy tales. I loved this book so much I read it in a weekend. Highly recommend.


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A Curse So Dark and Lonely

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Read My Review

I haven’t written a review on this, but with a nerdy princess and lots of magic/action/romance… let’s just say I loved it. Trust Me.


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Book Review: Magic Hour

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help.

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah

During my training to become a speech-language pathologist, my classes discussed the concept of a “critical age” for language acquisition, so this book piqued my interest. The cases Hannah mentions throughout the plot are ones I learned about in graduate school.

Description

Child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates’s career is in ruins after a scandal draws national attention. Even during the worst of the media firestorm, she never thinks to seek support from her estranged sister, Ellie. When Ellie contacts her, it’s not to offer support, but to ask for her help. Ellie serves as a police chief in their hometown, near the Olympic National Forest. A six-year-old girl has emerged from the forest. Speechless from trauma, she offers no clues to her identity or her past. With her confidence shaken from months of media mayhem, Julia must find the strength to free the girl from unimaginable fear and isolation.

Characters

Julia dedicated her entire life to her career, so when her career went sideways, she had nothing left. I like how Hannah balanced Julia’s genuine desire to help the girl with the temptation to use her for professional redemption. The characters each had personal stakes in the girl’s progress, not all of them altruistic. My only criticism is that I struggled to believe that Ellie really was that blind, but I suppose even thirty-nine-year-olds miss what’s right in front of them.

Plot

The plot moves at a decent pace. The tension slows around the 2/3 mark, but it quickly rises again. Ellie’s subplot wrapped up too quickly at the end. I would’ve preferred it if she caught onto things sooner so that she could transform more gradually.

I disliked the main plot’s ending as well. To avoid spoiling anything, I’ll just say a character changes their mind when I don’t think they would, at least not so quickly.

Writing Style

Hannah’s prose is beautiful as always. She has hundreds of different ways to say, “it was raining again,” which I suppose is necessary when you live in the Pacific Northwest.

Miscellaneous

I was impressed by how much research the author did. Her description of Alice’s language development was close to on point. Her description of Alice’s articulation was less accurate, but not everyone would notice that.

Conclusion

 Kristin Hannah often writes about middle-aged women hitting their mid-life crises. While Magic Hour follows many of her common themes, the premise of a girl emerging from the woods after years of isolation sparks interest into an otherwise common theme. The characters’ personal stakes and emotions keep the tension high, and the ending, while rushed and overly convenient, is satisfying.


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Magic Hour

Other books by Kristin Hannah I enjoyed

Book Review: Night Road

When you open a Kristin Hannah book, you know exactly what kind of story you’re going to read. Knight Road is no exception.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

This was another loan from the esteemed Library of Grandma. When you open a Kristin Hannah book, you know exactly what kind of story you’re going to read. Night Road is no exception.

Description

Jude Farraday will readily admit she’s a helicopter mom, but better to be overprotective than aloof, like her own mother. Her precious twins are seniors in high school, a final year filled with opportunities and temptations. As a mother, balancing her desire for her children to enjoy high school with her fear of alcohol and parties is a challenge. When Lexi, a former foster child with a dark past, befriends her kids, she becomes part of the family. The three seemed bound by concrete, but one poor decision may tear them all apart.

Characters

Jude Farraday is a typical middle-aged Kristin Hannah character—anxiety, Mommy issues, successful but not fulfilled. While this borders on cliché, it also gives Jude wide appeal. Pretty much any mother can relate to Jude’s love for her kids. Lexi, likewise, resembles other Hannah down-and-out youths—a good kid dealt a bad hand. Though repetitive when considering her other books, all of Hannah’s characters, including the minor ones, are three-dimensional and well developed.

Plot

The plot jumps through time as the kids grow in friendship, grieve through tragedy, and heal. Hannah pushes the accident’s legal repercussions to the edge of believability, but anyone who has dealt with well-to-do parents will know such a harsh reaction is plausible.

Writing Style

Kristin Hannah is a master at capturing and eliciting emotion with words. Her descriptions not only transport the reader into the story world, but they ring beautifully, almost like music. I particularly enjoy how she captures the sentiment that small things are big things, like when the lawyer loans Lexi a bicycle. If I’m being nit-picky, I’d say Hannah must enjoy clothes shopping, because she describes every character’s outfit, which I found unnecessary but not too annoying.

Miscellaneous

This book is a typical Kristin Hannah book. It repeats her common themes and includes many elements found in her other books—grief-driven pettiness, the power of motherhood, legal technicalities, and children with psychological quirks caused by the adults’ drama.

Though the book doesn’t stand out from her other works in any significant way, such consistency isn’t necessarily bad. Readers know exactly what to expect when picking up one of her books. If you’re in the mood for an emotional journey through grief and heartbreak, Kristin Hannah always delivers.

Personally, I needed a break from this book halfway through because it got too depressing. Again, that’s not the book’s fault. I just wasn’t in the right headspace for it.

Conclusion

Night Road is an emotional journey through grief and forgiveness with wide appeal. While it’s nothing special when compared to her other works, if you’re in the mood for this type of story, Night Road is a great read.


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Night Road

Other books by Kristin Hannah I enjoyed

Book Review: The Running Dream

I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

I was searching for a different book when I stumbled upon this one, and I’m glad I did.

Book Description

Jessica awakens from a morphine-induced haze to pain in her leg, or what used to be her leg. After surviving an accident that killed one of her teammates, doctors had to amputate her leg below the knee to save her life. She’s alive, but she may never again do what makes her feel most alive: run.

As Jessica adapts to life as an amputee, she clings to the dream that she may walk—and even run—again, but an insurance conflict hampers the family finances. While her track teammates try to make her impossible dream a reality, a new friend, Rosa, helps her with another impossibility—catching up in math.

Rosa’s life with Cerebral Palsy gives Jessica a new perspective on her disability, on feeling simultaneously in the spotlight and invisible. As Jessica continues her rehab, she decides crossing the finish line is no longer enough. This time, she wants to take Rosa with her.

Characters

The first-person narration allows readers to experience Jessica’s ups and downs as she recovers. Her initial dejection is understandable, and her insecurities are relatable. The strength and determination she eventually finds propel the story.

While Jessica is three-dimensional and relatable, the remaining cast members are underdeveloped. The story hinges on her relationship with Rosa, but other than learning she is good at math, we learn little about her.

Rosa wants to be seen as more than her disability, but we never learn about her hopes and dreams for the future. Unlike Jessica, we don’t experience her ups and downs. She is never discouraged. She never has a bad day or throws a tantrum or makes a mistake. Instead, she serves as a constant source of support and inspiration, more like a shining light seen from a distance than a real person.

In the author’s defense, all the characters are slimly developed, but Rosa is especially disappointing, because Rosa supposedly changes Jessica’s outlook on life. I would have liked their friendship to have been more developed.

Plot

The author sacrificed character development in favor of sticking to a concise, quick-paced plot. I read the entire book in an afternoon, and while I found the storyline moving, I didn’t connect with the characters enough for it to matter.

The plot follows Jessica’s initial adjustment to becoming an amputee, her recovery and adaptation to using a prosthetic, and her inspiration from Rosa. In the beginning, even mundane tasks are huge barriers, but after her initial recovery, things flow smoothly. Too smoothly for my tastes. Her track teammates and classmates are super supportive, and she doesn’t encounter much resistance from any of her teachers either. Everyone is eager to help, which I suppose makes sense, but it gives the cast a kumbaya feel.

Writing Style

In keeping with the tight plot and fast pacing, the author writes in short but effective sentences. Seems fitting for a novel about a track star.

Conclusion

I love that this book emphasizes the power of friendship rather than focusing on disability. Yes, Jessica completes an incredible journey, but the real power of the story is how her friends, teammates, and townsfolk inspire and support one another. I wish the characters had been more developed so that I could truly enjoy their victories, but overall, I loved the book.

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The Running Dream

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Wonder

Review pending, but a great, multiple-perspective story if you like middle grade fiction.

Say What You Will

Review pending, but I liked how this YA book extended into life after high school.


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Dreams of Significant Girls

This book made so many recommendation lists that I added it to my Christmas list. I love the concept of three very different girls supporting each other as they come of age, but…

Book Review: Dreams of Significant Girls by Cristina García

This book made so many recommendation lists that I added it to my Christmas list, but reading it proved less than satisfying.

Description

1970s. In a prestigious summer camp in Switzerland, three girls from different backgrounds must come together as roommates to navigate first loves and heartbreaks. Eager Vivien, who loves to cook, hails from the United States and treasures her Cuban heritage. Shirin, the prickly “Iranian princess,” prefers mathematics textbooks and horses to people. Ingrid, the rebellious Canadian artist, will do anything but the expected. Together, they find their differences don’t matter if they support each other.

Characters

The characters are the shining strength of the book. Each is distinct enough that dialogue tags are unnecessary for knowing who is speaking. They behave in the emotionally driven way of teenagers, consistent with their individual personalities. I enjoyed getting to know them, which made everything else a disappointment.

The friendship between the girls was rushed. On one page, they’re enemies, and by the next chapter, best friends? The book claims to focus on friendship, but little support made it onto the page. In fact, there were several serious trials that the girls kept secret from one another. If anything, the friends complicated each others’ troubles rather than alleviate them.

Plot

The plot reads like a bundle of periodicals, with few threads carrying through the entire narrative. Most of the unfortunate episodes end negatively and are never processed or resolved. I don’t mind reading about bad decisions and tragedy, but these girls failed to learn anything from their mistakes, or the mistakes of the surrounding adults.

The publishers could re-title this book Fourteen-Year-Old Girls Discover Sex because most of the story revolved around sex. The girls experienced everything from digital rape (explicitly described) to masturbation to a full sexual relationship with a much older adult man.

Sex is common in young adult literature (though I question Simon & Schuster’s Age 14 and up rating), but the sex in this book served no real purpose to the overall story.

The girls stumble blindly into their relationships, which I suppose is typical for teens, but they don’t gain any insights from their exploits. Shirin’s experience, which triggers her mental breakdown, goes unaddressed for the rest of the book. I don’t consider myself prudish, but the relationship with an older man receives a much too positive a portrayal for even my tastes. The book supposedly focuses on friendship, but aside from a kissing lesson from Ingrid (during which she has the others practice on her), the girls navigate the joys and perils of their relationships alone.

The author included some family drama, but most of it takes place outside the girls’ control and participation. Divorce and remarriage, dark family secrets, religious tradition faced with modern culture—the author had more than enough, perhaps too much, material to work into a telling story. Instead, that drama is communicated via the occasional lunch date with a visiting relative. The girls practically don’t take part in their own families’ lives. They show little interest in doing so, preoccupied as they are with sex.  

I finished this random collection of sexual exploits and family drama and thought, “What was the point?” The author injected no meaning or growth into the narrative, which left me feeling like I’d paid for an expensive dinner and received a plate of cold potatoes.

Writing Style

The author does a fantastic job creating a distinct voice for each character. Her prose is clean and pretty. However, most of the story is summarized in diary-style entries rather than dramatized, making it hard for readers to experience the story vicariously.

Miscellaneous

* Spoilers Begin *

Shirin’s subplot was so mishandled that I feel the need to spoil it. After she is raped at the ball and has a mental breakdown, she requests her new best friends meet her back at boarding school. Vivien and Ingrid don’t consider her a friend yet and wonder why the heck she invited them, but even after they do become close, Shirin never mentions her rape. I understand why she would keep silent, but even when she moves on to a consensual relationship, she doesn’t process her trauma. It magically resolves, which strikes me as unrealistic, even for someone who suppresses the memory.

Her friends, even without knowing the root of her issues, could have helped her work through them. Instead, Ingrid gives her a kissing lesson, her new boyfriend manually stimulates her such that she has an orgasm riding her horse, and everything is hunky-dory.

Later, after her consensual relationship leaves her pregnant, Shirin takes an herbal abortifacient and experiences serious hemorrhaging. She confesses to Vivien that her periods are now black and sickly and coming twice as often. The subplot ends there. Shirin is having serious health complications, but the reader is left to assume they magically resolve along with her trauma. Only the fact that Shirin later has a daughter reveals that she recovered. Furthermore, Shirin never tells Ingrid of her experience, which seems a grave oversight in a book about the power of friendship.

* Spoilers End *

Conclusion

I wanted to like this book. I love the concept of three very different girls supporting each other as they come of age. The author does a fantastic job crafting interesting characters and giving them unique voices, but Dreams of Significant Girls felt more like Sexual Exploits of Confused Girls. Neither inspiring nor impactful, the story derives no meaning from the girls’ experiences, and much of the significant family drama occurs without their participation.

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