February 26, 2013

Review: Bruised

Hey guys! I am excited to share my newest review with you because I loved this book. I loved, loved, loved this book.


Title: Bruised
Author: Sarah Skilton
ISBN: 9781419703874
Pages: 288                          
Available: March 5, 2013
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

When Imogen, a sixteen-year-old black belt in Tae Kwon Do, freezes during a holdup at a local diner, the gunman is shot and killed by the police, and she blames herself for his death. Before the shooting, she believed that her black belt made her stronger than everyone else -- more responsible, more capable. But now her sense of self has been challenged and she must rebuild her life, a process that includes redefining her relationship with her family and navigating first love with the boy who was at the diner with her during the shootout. With action, romance, and a complex heroine, Bruised introduces a vibrant new voice to the young adult world -- full of dark humor and hard truths.

My Thoughts:

My little man is currently taking Tae Kwon Do, so what first drew me to this book was the cover and the fact that this figurine was in pieces. Clearly this book was going to have depth to it, and I love a strong YA novel that has depth. I was not disappointed.

First I want to say that the summary from Goodreads does not do justice to this novel. Period. But to be fair, there is not too much to say about the plot without ruining key points. Of course, that’s the hardest part of writing a review, right? Staying true to the book and characters without ruining the plot.

I will say this about the plot: powerful. I am serious. I felt the author’s storytelling was solid, and heartbreaking, and funny, and solid. Oh right, I said that already.

The question being posed is a strong one—what is the point of life and all that we fill our lives with if we are not able to use that to help others? And what happens when all we believe in fails us at the most important hour of need? These are humanistic questions wrapped up in a different package: a sixteen-year-old black belt present at a robbery and the fallout.

Honestly, as much as I loved the plot and the author’s storytelling (and have a box of tissue if you are a bit of a crier like myself), for me the strength with this book is the character of Imogen. I loved her, and I felt the author did a strong job with her development.

When we meet her, she is lost. Her experience has dug down into her core. This is not just a traumatic event. It is an event she feels as if she could have prevented with her black belt skills. That is a lot to take on at her age, but she does nevertheless.

As readers, we experience her fallout. Her breakdown. Her struggle to remember and comprehend. Her pulling away from those who love and want to help her the most. We spiral into self-destruction with her, and I loved every moment of it. At times it was difficult to read because the hurt she felt was in her soul, and there seemed to be no other character that could help her. That was what I really liked about the development of her character. It’s a reminder to readers that terrible things happen in life. Those things are out of our control. In the end, we cannot carry the weight and responsibility of the world on our shoulders. We are responsible for ourselves and our own actions, and those who cause harm in the world are responsible for theirs. No one expects us to heal overnight, but it’s important to remember those who love and cherish us—and to open the door to them.

In Imogen’s case, she closes more doors that she opens. She must deal with this as well, and again, it was an element I truly enjoyed about her character.

While Imogen is dealing with her trauma, she is not alone. She was not alone in that diner. There was another under the table. A male whom she did not know and is starting to believe was not real. But he is, and he is struggling to deal with the experience as well.

Ricky. Oh Ricky. I just loved his character. The two of them are drawn together because of a shared commonality, the trauma of the robbery. Ricky is good for Imogen because he accepts her as she is, and he understands. He understands what she is feeling because he was there too, but he deals with it much differently.

His character is a nice contrast to Imogen. He keeps her level-headed, real, and full of life. He celebrates her black belt status by wanting to learn from her, and he wants nothing more than her companionship. That was so refreshing, not just for me as a reader but for Imogen’s character. She needs someone like Ricky in her corner, reminding her of who she really is and what makes her special and worthy.

What I enjoy about Ricky’s character is that he takes Imogen as she is, “damaged” goods and all. He breathes life into her not because she needs a boyfriend but because she needs someone who understands her and her trauma. And Ricky does. He does not push her, he does belittle her feelings, he is just there. He learns from her, talks to her, kisses her.

Yes, kisses are good too, and this book needed them because there were enough tears to go around. Ricky provided that, but it was in no way over the top. It was just in the right moments when it was as if the reader needed a kiss too. Is that weird?

I cannot forget Imogen’s family.

Her brother Hunter reminded me of a slick Ferris Bueller. He is popular with all of the kids, but most especially with the ladies. As a matter of fact, he seems to prefer those who are friends with Imogen, according to her, and this causes a riff within their relationship as well as with some of her “friends.” This is a constant struggle with her character as well, trying to be sixteen and have a normal life with girl friends when Hunter is her brother.

Her parents are a bit absentee (which is needed in YA because, honestly, sometimes parents just get in the way of the storytelling) but they are still there. They are a necessity to the plot for several reasons. Imogen’s father serves as a catalyst for a bit of her pent up hostility because of his lack of care for himself. She seems to have little use for her mother as well not because she is a bad mother but because she is failing Imogen when she needs her mother the most. We see this struggle throughout the novel, and I like that the author brought this element full circle. I was afraid she would forget and not allow for closure for readers, but she does.

I think I just told you all the reasons why I not only enjoyed this book but Imogen as well. I told you I loved her character. She is dark and twisty. I am dark and twisty. I really felt the depth of where the author was taking the story, and I hope when you pick this up and read it that you experience the same.

What the author has given is a realistic story of what happens to a family when all the cards fall. It is slow at first, everything seems to move in slow motion, but in the end there is a pile that must be sorted and stacked.

This book will appeal to readers of realistic YA fiction and for those looking for strong, complex character development. It is recommended for readers 12 and older, and I agree with this recommendation.

Have you read ‘Bruised’? What's the best book you've read lately?

Happy Reading!

-          The Hodgenator

February 17, 2013

Review: The Madness Underneath

Hey guys! I recently finished Maureen Johnson’s newest read and let me tell you, you need her in your life.

And by need her in your life, I mean she needs to be your best friend. Oh wait, I mean she needs to be my best friend, but that’s a different matter.

On to her newest novel…

Title: The Madness Underneath
Author: Maureen Johnson
ISBN: 9780399256615
Pages: 304                          
Available: February 26, 2013
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

After her near-fatal run-in with the Jack the Ripper copycat, Rory Devereaux has been living in Bristol under the close watch of her parents. So when her therapist suddenly suggests she return to Wexford, Rory jumps at the chance. But Rory's brush with the Ripper touched her more than she thought possible: she's become a human terminus, with the power to eliminate ghosts on contact. She soon finds out that the Shades—the city's secret ghost-fighting police—are responsible for her return. The Ripper may be gone, but now there is a string of new inexplicable deaths threatening London. Rory has evidence that the deaths are no coincidence. Something much more sinister is going on, and now she must convince the squad to listen to her before it's too late.

In this follow-up to the Edgar Award-nominated The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson adds another layer of spectacularly gruesome details to the streets of London that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.

My Thoughts:

I read quite a bit of this novel at the gym. This was a good decision and a bad decision.

Here’s why it was a good decision: it was crazy good which helped me forget the fact that I was sweating like a pig. It was so crazy good that I found myself trucking a bit faster on the elliptical and treadmill.

Here’s why it was a bad decision: I was constantly convinced there was a ghost behind me waiting to take me out. I had hair standing up on my arms and a tingly feeling on my neck, like someone was blowing. Of course, that could have been the wind from my jogging, but I’m sticking with the ghost idea.

Now that I have that out of the way, I have to say that I truly enjoyed every word of this novel. I feel like almost every book I review I say that about, but guys there is a lot of great YA storytelling happening right now. This sequel is no exception.

I love series books for a variety of reasons, but mostly I enjoy getting to know the characters, their families, their friends. While I have read a lot of amazing stand-alone novels, nothing says “home” to me than a series. While some may not use that phrase to describe this particular series, I do. I am invested in Rory’s story, and I am pleased with where Johnson has taken her.

Instead of moving us forward too fast, Johnson takes her time in this sequel. I don’t mean she moves the plot along too slowly. She allows it to open to us, to allow us to catch up with where Rory is in her life, and in her recovery. This was nice. I was afraid I would be thrown months into the future, but Johnson did not make that mistake.

Rory is dealing with what has happened to her, and we see the repercussions on all levels. We see how the attack has affected her parents, her friends, her boyfriend, her colleagues, and herself. There are heart-wrenching moments of wanting to scoop Rory up and give her a big bear hug of awesome, and then there are moments of terror—of course, I scare easily, so some of you may not find them as terrifying as I did. These nice contrasts meet in the middle to provide us with a solid sequel.

As the novel opens, Rory is in Bristol with her parents. She’s in therapy, trying to deal with the Ripper attack, but how can she fully deal with what’s happened when she cannot tell the truth? She signed a paper promising to keep the Shades a secret, and she will not violate their trust. But when her therapist advises her parents to return her to Wexford as a part of her therapy, Rory’s life begins to shift. This is no longer a distant memory. This happened, and she is in the place where it started—and ended.

A crack is all it takes to send Rory’s keen sense of discovery on a new hunt, one she needs Stephen to believe. After all, the Shades need her. She is now a terminus, and she is their only hope of staying afloat. But she must first convince them to be on her side and to include her in their group. This crack is the key. Rory knows it. She feels it.

If being a terminus is not enough of drama in Rory’s life, she finds that she is not doing well at Wexford. She has not completed her assignments, and she is on the verge of being dismissed. She can’t risk it. Without being in London, she cannot be a part of the Shades. She can’t go back to Bristol, can she?

Desperate times = desperate measures.

Enter Jane. A woman of high monetary means who helps those who need it the most. At least, therapy wise.

At Charlotte’s suggestion, Rory contacts Jane to see if she can help her because no matter how hard she tries, Rory is not okay. She is not recovering. She needs someone to talk to, and Jane may be the one to lead Rory back to her sanity.

Jane is a bit of an interesting character. I don’t know if any of you have ever seen the show ‘LOST’, but her character reminded me of Eloise Hawking. If there is ever a movie/TV show ever made of this series, actress Fionnula Flanagan must play Jane. Period. I won’t have it any other way.

I must not forget the Shades themselves. Stephen, Callum, and Boo make an appearance throughout, but I wanted a bit more of them. That’s it. That is my only complaint. But Johnson did not have a choice. If she was going to give us a broken Rory trying to pick up her life pieces, those three were going to have to be sprinkled throughout instead of having a center spot.

The spotlight is Rory’s—and she fills it well.

What it all boils down to is this: strong characters, strong story, cliffhanger of evil.

Oh that ending. Maureen Johnson is killing me with it, but it was a necessity. You might want tissue with you, just in case. You have been warned. But it’s good. I mean, really, really good.

About forty-five percent into the novel the title starts to come into play. I always like to guess a novel’s plot just on the title alone, and I was not too sure where she was taking me at first. When that light bulb went off, I was excited. I enjoy ghost stories, but I especially love ghost stories where…wait. I can’t say. I think it’s too important and you need to discover that for yourself. Let’s pretend that I never said anything, okay?

While looking over my Goodreads comments, at one point I wrote, “Only Maureen Johnson could have a ghost appear on the page that would terrify me but mix it with cleverly funny dialogue to appease my terror—love it!” This is one of the many reasons you should give this series a shot. And on that comment, that is where I will leave this review.

Have you read ‘Name of the Star’ or ‘The Madness Underneath’? What are your thoughts?

What’s the most terrifying ghost story you’ve ever read? What's the best Jack the Ripper story? Share and discuss below.

Happy Reading!

-          The Hodgenator

February 2, 2013

Review + Giveaway: Hysteria

Hey guys! I had the pleasure of reading Megan Miranda’s new book, and I am in love. Of course, I like novels that are dark and twisty and leave me questioning my own sanity, I mean, the character’s sanity.

After checking out my review, scroll down for your chance to win a copy of Hysteria, on shelves Tuesday.

Title: Hysteria
Author: Megan Miranda
ISBN: 9780802723109   
Pages: 336                          
Available: February 5, 2013
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from the book jacket):

Mallory killed her boyfriend, Brian. She can't remember the details of that night but everyone knows it was self-defense, so she isn't charged. But Mallory still feels Brian's presence in her life. Is it all in her head? Or is it something more? In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her . . . or anything about her past. But the feeling follows her, as do her secrets. Then, one of her new classmates turns up dead. As suspicion falls on Mallory, she must find a way to remember the details of both deadly nights so she can prove her innocence-to herself and others.

In another riveting tale of life and death, Megan Miranda's masterful storytelling brings readers along for a ride to the edge of sanity and back again.

My Thoughts:

Besides the rockin’ cover, this book has a lot going for it.

I am a scaredy cat. It’s bad. The littlest things make me jump. I found myself jumping several times while reading this creepy book. My husband kept trying to talk to me while I was reading it, and I found myself saying to my him, “Stop talking to me. I’m trying to read this creepy book.” That’s the way I’ve been describing the plot: creepy.

What’s creepy about it is what is happening to Mallory. She hears whispers. She hears footsteps. She hears pounding. She sees shadows. She feels someone gripping her shoulder. Or does she? This part of the plot was a combination of ‘The Bell Jar’ and ‘Mara Dyer’ for me. Was the author descending me into madness, or was there method to the madness?

That’s about all I can say without spoiling any element of the plot because there is so much more I want to say, but I’m afraid it will ultimately ruin the experience for you.

The strength of this novel does not lie in its plot as much as its characters. I loved them. I invested in them. I wanted more of them. Okay, just of Reid, but he’s a character so it counts.

First, Mallory. Oh Mallory – what a character she is. She just cannot remember the night she killed Brian. Well, I guess that’s not really accurate. She remembers it in snapshots. Pieces here. Pieces there. As readers, we discover the truth as she discovers it, which I appreciated. The author throws puzzle pieces at us—and Mallory—and it’s our job to put them together. While the pieces fall slowly, I felt it was a necessity to the development of her character, as well as her questioned madness. I think it was risky for impatient readers, but I enjoyed it because the author gave me just enough of a flashback at all the right moments to keep me engaged.

Second, Mallory’s best friend Colleen. I love this girl. She is 100% best friend material, something that any teenage girl who has killed her boyfriend and cannot remember that night needs. And Mallory needs Colleen, more than she will admit. Colleen brings humor and truth to the story, but mostly I just wanted to be her best friend. Every girl needs a Colleen in her corner.

And there is Reid. Reid is a friend who needs Mallory in his life as much as Mallory needs him. Their relationship is a bit complicated. After all, Mallory is carrying baggage with her when she arrives at Monroe, and I am not talking suitcases, but Reid has his own. And he takes her as she is. He believes in her. He wants to help her. And he wants to kiss her. His character reminded me of Jake Ryan (swoon) with more lines. He’s the guy mom wants you to bring home.I felt he wasn't in the book enough, but that would not have served the author's purpose.

What would a YA novel set in a private school be without resident bad girls – and bad boys? Krista and Jason? They are snarky, and snide, and they do not disappoint.

I have read a few reviews that complained that the author doesn’t effectively develop the plot, and I have to disagree. I thought the pacing was right on track, and I felt that she answered most of my questions. There was one major question that I felt she did not adequately tie together. Since it wasn’t something that made me feel frustrated with the book, I can forgive her.

My only complaint is that I felt the book needed one more chapter. With kissing. Kissing is good after reading a creepy book, right?

And now it is giveaway time…that’s why you’re really here anyway. Enter for your chance to win a copy of Hysteria. Good luck all!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Happy Reading!

-          The Hodgenator