Book Review| Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Book Review | Imaginary Girls

by Nova Ren Suma

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is a bit of a departure for me.

Ruby is the town darling and everyone wants to be her friend. Chloe is her younger sister. One night the teenagers of the town are partying and at Ruby’s urging, Chloe attempts to swim across the reservoir. In the darkness Chloe comes across a boat and discovers the body of her classmate, London. Chloe leaves town to go stay with her father. After two years, Ruby wants her sister to come home. Chloe returns to find London alive and well. Somehow, Ruby, who always gets her way, is involved.

I chose this book based on a recommendation by my library without really knowing what it was. Imaginary Girls is a novel about two sisters caught up in a paranormal mystery. The story is a haunting one. At first, I was a bit leery of it because suspense is not usually my thing, but two pages in I was hooked.

In this novel, it’s difficult to tell what is real and what is not. The prose is magnificent. This twisted tale of tragedy unfolds in a series of surreal events. Imaginary Girls leaves you slightly unbalanced, guessing right up to the end.

I recently re-read I Am The Cheese and perhaps it primed me for this type of story. Perhaps it’s been a while since I heard a good ghost story. This novel reminded me of how much I loved to spin, and hear, a good campfire tale. In any case, this story caught  my interest and held it to the last page. 

The story is told from the younger sister’s point of view. The characterization of the sisters and their relationship is a fascinating exploration of obsession. This novel combines a complicated sisterly bond with the strange other-worldliness of a dark, fantastical world and lyrical prose.

Imaginary Girls is rich in its characters and prose. It is not a fast-paced book, but is absorbing and intense. I do believe at one point in the book I actually shivered picturing the water of the reservoir. There is an eerie twilight zone vibe to this story.

Be forewarned, the characters in this novel do not behave well. There is much language. Imaginary Girls is for mature teens. If your teen is reading this book, I suggest you read it as well and discuss the issues and themes in the book.

Sex, drugs, alcohol abuse, death, language.

 

Book Review|Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

Set in 2030, Free to Fall by Lauren Miller is a young adult dystopian novel in which “The Doubt”, a small inner voice, is labeled as mental illness and medicated away in those who cannot ignore it. In this world, nearly everyone has an app on their phone called Lux. Lux keeps track of all data and helps the user with every decision, major to minor. This setting is ripe for the unfolding tale of high tech social engineering.

Sixteen year old Aurora “Rory” Vaughn is accepted to Theden Academy, an exclusive college prep boarding school. Rory and her friends are addicted to social media, selfies, and coffee. 

The characters struggle with the typical teen issues ranging from dieting to dating, as well as the school work load you would expect at a private prep school. Secret societies, teen angst, conspiracies, mysteries, betrayal, and romance keep the action flowing while the characters grapple with moral questions brought up in Free to Fall. I liked the allusions and themes from The Bible and Paradise Lost woven throughout.

The first time I read Free to Fall, I was stuck by the eerie parallel of current social behaviors and the technological advances we have made that make this imagined world a little too plausible for comfort.

Highly recommended for teens and up. This is an excellent book for discussion.

Some language, kissing, intimacy and heavy petting (not graphic), secret society, simulated death and violence, mind control, drinking, death of parents

Click here for a discussion guide for Free to Fall with Bible verse references from Embracing the Detour.

Visit Lauren Miller’s author website here. 

Watch the trailer for Free to Fall.

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Netflix Series Review| Anne With an E

I wanted to love the new Netflix series, Anne with an E, and it is a good show, but since I am a big Anne of Green Gables fan, my expectations were high. At our house, Anne of Green Gables was our go to movie for slumber parties. This Netflix version is definitely not that happy little girl movie of my daughter’s childhood.

I liked this series, but it left me feeling as if a huge part of the story was missing.

I discovered the CBC 1985 adaptation of Anne of Green Gables on PBS during the wee morning hours of caring for a newborn. All of my children have been raised on the series. Eager to see what new writers might do, I attempted to put aside my feelings for my old favorite.

The first two episodes had me crying over Anne’s plight and ready to watch more. By the fourth episode, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good show, but I’m not sure this is one worth revisiting year after year as in the case of the earlier 1985 Anne Of Green Gables adaptation or the books by L.M. Montgomery.

The cinematography is wonderful, with gorgeous sweeping views and evocative shots. Amybeth McNulty plays Anne Shirley with depth and passion. I would watch the series simply for her performance.

In this new series, we get a peek into the past of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Geraldine James as Mirilla and RH Thomson as Matthew do a marvelous job playing the parts they were given. The brother and sister get their own story lines and character development. I felt a certain kinship with Marilla as she struggled with her emotions, but missed the familiar pithy remarks and personality.

Matthew is cast in a more heroic role, shown riding a horse along the coastline. There are other situations where he is allowed to be an obvious protector, showing his devotion to Anne. While I enjoyed the idea of Matthew as a knight in shining armor riding along a shore and overcoming great obstacles to rescue his Anne, I had to wonder, what was wrong with the quiet, steady love that Matthew Cuthbert had in his previous depiction?

The setting feels realistic, less scrubbed up; a genuineness which I liked.

Against the backdrop of Anne’s dire past we come to understand why a simple farmhouse takes on such an attractive hue in Anne’s eyes.

A series of flashbacks is provided to explain away her quirkiness and tendency to indulge in flights of fancy. Her need to escape is driven by angst rather than imagination. The contrast between the practical world and Anne’s “tragical” notions have been stripped away. Everything is dramatic. In this version, there are few moments of humor, the very thing that helped define Anne and bring her to life.

This is a darker, grittier version. I assume this is in an attempt to be more realistic. I don’t know if this actually works, because real life is rarely a constant unfolding of dramatic, emotional events. Real life is fraught with common practicality. I love emotional fiction, and consider a story good if it provokes a tear or two, but I kept waiting for the humor that never showed up. There is a “delight factor” I enjoyed in the books and the 1985 series missing from this series. Anne with an E has a different worldview than the Anne of Green Gables series or the books by L. M. Montgomery.

I think that some  of the scenes in this new television series added depth to the characters, and would work quite well with the established story. My struggle came where it veered off too far from the original writings. Yes, I am one of those people. Always read the book first!

The show had its moments. If a second series is produced, I may or may not watch. I am more likely to re-read the books than watch another season of Anne With an E.

While not my first recommendation as an adaptation of Anne’s story, it does have worth as entertainment. In my opinion, when compared to Anne of Green Gables too much of the positive is overshadowed by the shortcomings in this particular adaptation. Some of the messages that have been inserted into this version of Anne’s story seem a bit heavy-handed to me. Even though it is entertaining, Anne with an E doesn’t have the same take away value as its hard-to-follow, beloved predecessor.

Watch the trailer for the Netflix series Anne With an E.

You can download a free copy of the original book, Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery, at Project Gutenberg here.

Book Review| A Window to the World by Susan Meissner

 

Megan and Jen are best friends, enjoying a typical childhood. Then one day Jen is snatched when the girls are out riding their bikes.

The novel, A Window to the World by Susan Meissner, follows Megan from young girlhood as she grows into an adult, showing how this one terrible event impacts every decision she makes from the moment of the kidnapping. Nightmares haunt her and fear colors her world.

I expected the story to focus on Jen, or her parents, but instead, Meissner told the story of the child left behind. This was a different angle for an abduction story.  I was interested in the story told from the perspective of Megan, although the kidnapping and my desire to know What happened to Jen! was always in the back of my mind. Just about the time I was starting to worry maybe I would never find out, the question was answered. Good storytelling.

This is an inspirational read with Biblical truths at its core. I liked Meissner’s writing style and my attention never flagged throughout the book. This was an easy to read, high interest novel. I listened to the audio book on CDs narrated by Tavia Gilbert. The recording and reading was well done and easy to listen to. It was a good weekend novel.

 Find out more about Susan Meissner’s books at her website here. 

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Book Review| Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall

 

Sugar

by Deirdre Riordan Hall

“I lean against the doorframe, heavy with the truth. I am always in the way. I’ve known this for as long as I can remember.”

“I’ve always been too much and yet not enough.”

“I know how to swim, but I feel like I’m drowning.”

I loved this young adult novel. I admit I had a hard time getting into this book at the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I was drawn into the plot. Sugar’s story resonated with me, and I am glad a friend recommended this novel. 

Sugar is a 17-year-old girl with an eating disorder. Home life is fraught with abuse both mental and physical. Sugar is a good girl. She tries with all her might to please her family, but they are never satisfied. She eats to fill the painful void left by rejection.

Other readers have mentioned that the middle of the novel dragged, but I didn’t notice this. I felt the story moved along at a sufficient pace and it kept my interest throughout. It actually kept me awake when I should have gone to bed!

Sugar was a quick read.  Deirdre Riordan Hall’s storytelling style is somewhat straightforward, but the story line and characters were engaging. I found myself rooting for Sugar.

The novel has a satisfactory ending, although tragedy (more tragedy!) does visit Sugar’s world. All the ends tie up nicely without it being too gooey-happy in the end. This is an empowering read for girls going through difficult times. Upon finishing the book, my overall feeling was one of hope. This is a story about rejection, how teens value themselves, and about overcoming.

Sugar’s battles tugged at my heart. This is one I categorize as must read for teens and adults simply because the character spoke volumes to me. It is a deceptively simple tale that delves deep. I found it an emotional read that stuck with me after I turned the last page.

With a caution for younger readers about topics covered, I would highly recommend this book for pre-teens, teens, and adults.

Topics:

Obesity, abuse, abandonment, bullying, assault, attempted rape, contains language, death, mentions of Catholic religion, prayers, rituals.

Deirdre Riordan Hall talks ‘Sugar’ and speaking up against bullies

Author’s Website

 

 

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Book Review|Doesn’t She Look Natural by Angela Hunt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t She Look Natural is one of my favorite Angela Hunt books. I first read this novel several years ago, and it was one worth rereading. I am drawn the emotional journey of the main character. Imagine having your husband divorce you, life turned upside down, only to find that an unknown uncle has died and bequeathed his estate to you. Unfortunately, this windfall turns out to be a broken down funeral home. This is now life for Jennifer Graham, former chief of staff for a Virginia senator.

I enjoyed the humor sprinkled throughout this inspirational novel. The characters stuck with me long after I read the book, fairly seeming to come to life in the pages of this story. I felt myself commiserating with her tragedies and, at times, wishing I could speak directly to her to tell her stop dreaming and face her issues head-on. I suppose this is a good sign, a character who seems real!

This is a lady who has issues with her mom, issues with her ex-husband, and issues with her children as well. Yikes. The setting is perfect for telling the story of the death of Jennifer’s former life and her need to build a new one. The story was an enjoyable read, one I am glad I revisited.

There are some odd POV shifts I found difficult to follow at times when I was listening to it on my Kindle, although I do not recall having any issues with that when I read the print book. Perhaps there was some indication of who was speaking in the print book that did not make it into the Kindle formatting.

Doesn’t She Look Natural is also written in present tense, which seemed a bit awkward. Even so, these two small issues were not enough to distract me from the story.

I absolutely love the title. I’m not sure how much that played into me remembering this book so well. I love stories that tell about a woman’s empowerment and emotional journey, especially if they are flavored with humor and told through the eyes of a true to life, relatable character.

This is inspirational fiction and the Christian element is strong throughout. All in all, aa enjoyable and encouraging feel-good read.

I have to mention I love that the main character’s mother is a red hatter and is active in the Red Hat Society.

This book is free for kindle right now on Amazon here.

Subject Matter:

Mentions of divorce, mentions of infidelity, one incident of the main character slapping her son, mentions of death, funerals, death of ex-husband, mother/daughter issues

Doesn’t She Look Natural is the first in the Fairlawn series.

Author Website 

Book Review|Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish

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What is Watch Over Me about?

Deputy Benjamin Patil is  called to a scene and finds a an infant abandoned, left in a plastic grocery bag. The mother is nowhere to be found. A door to door search yields no result. By the time the infant is ready to leave the hospital, the investigation has not led to the mother or any information. Benjamin and his wife Abbi are registered as foster parents and take the baby girl in. The stress of caring for a newborn adds to their already troubled marriage.

Abbi and Benjamin are a case of opposites. Benjamin is a war vet recently returned from Afghanistan, while Abbi is a vocal pacifist.

Reactions and Thoughts (contains spoilers)

The wars we fight keep us apart, pushing into the relationships that once sustained us. Separating bone and marrow, some wars we walk into, some we are dragged into, and then there are the private wars we carry around within ourselves. Watch Over Me is an account of what conflicts can do to relationships and the picture of what finding our way back looks like for some of us. Christa Parrish is skilled at creating real life characters. I was quickly drawn into the story and felt an affinity for the couple as they walked through difficulties. Benjamin has returned from war and has PTSD, while Abbi fights her own inner war with bulimia.

In my opinion, Parrish has drawn a quite believable picture of the struggle for control with an eating disorder.

“She did it for the same reason she’s binge used, some bizarre paradox of simultaneous self soothing and self-loathing that not even coming face-to-face with the living Christ at 19 could end. He died so bulimia wouldn’t overcome her.”

I didn’t always like Abbi, but I could relate to her and feel her pain.

Benjamin fights his own demons, riddled with guilt from his inability to save his best friend during the war. He talks of praying for his own spiritual awakening, his “dark night of the soul”.

“Well, he had what he asked for. What a fool. He wondered if he would make it out at all.”

Benjamin’s predicament resonated with me. I think all of us who have prayed this type of prayer have had those moments when we wished we could snatch those petitions back. Asking God to do whatever it takes from a comfortable place of ignorance does not prepare us for the challenge. We find ourselves saying, but I didn’t mean this, not this. And this is where we decide. Will we submit to the change that we previously desired? Will we be strong enough to submit to the molding of our soul? Faith growing is not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy thing.

“Nothing had prepared him for the upheaval that true pain could wreak on the soul. His faith had no calluses.”

The character of Matthew, a young man high school student who also happens to be the cousin of the baby’s birth mother, has his own struggles. He is living with his aunt in a less than desirable situation. When Matthew realizes that Silvia, the baby that has now become part of Abbi and Benjamin’s family, is his cousin Sky’s baby, he is conflicted about revealing what he knows. He does not want to betray his cousin, nor does he want to cause upheaval in Abbi and Benjamin’s lives.

“…deciding if two families will be torn apart, wondering if secrets like this ever lose their teeth.”

In the end Matthew cannot keep the secret.

“He knew he did the right thing. But was the right thing ever the wrong thing?”

A big question we all wrestle with sooner or later. All we can do is pray for guidance and do our best.

I like thought provoking stories, and this one is worth rereading.

Watch Over Me received the 2010  ECPA Fiction Book of the Year and the ForeWord Reviews Bronze Medal for Religious Fiction

Issues of Concern

Topics include: teenage pregnancy, neglect, abandonment of infant, life-threatening illness, eating disorders, crisis of faith, PTSD

Christa Parrish’s Author Website

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Book Review| The Story of Beautiful Girl

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The Story of Beautiful Girl

by Rachel Simon

I have not read a book quite like this one before. The Story of Beautiful Girl is about a intellectually disabled young woman, Lynnie, who does not speak and an African American man, Homan, who is deaf. Both of them have been institutionalized at The School for The Incurable and Feeble Minded, but but have escaped. They show up at the farmhouse of a widowed, retired school teacher seeking shelter in the middle of the night.

Rachel Simon Introduces The Story of Beautiful Girl

I found this book compelling. The story covers a 40-year time span, and at times I felt it could have been more than one book. I was never bored reading this story and have reread it more than once. It is a book with heart.

Simon uses the backdrop of the 1960s mental institutions where many of society’s undesirables were housed. Some of the situations described are heart rending and feel like they could have been based on true events.

Simon delves into various issues but in the end the story wraps up neatly while still providing much food for thought. The story concludes on a happy note, which some may find unrealistic for a book about this topic. Normally, I do not care for endings that are too much a reach, but I like this book.

Some people have found this to be a difficult read. I found it thought provoking.

The story explores issues relating to the treatment and discrimination against those deemed “Feeble Minded”. In addition, characters wrestle with the meaning of suffering and the existence of God.

Discussion Guide for The Story of Beautiful Girl from LitLovers

The Story of Beautiful Girl contains mature issues relating to abuse of the disabled, rape, conditions of institutionalized people with disability in the time period, abandonment, and mistreatment.

Quotes from The Story of Beautiful Girl

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Book Review|The Girl Who Fell From The Sky

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The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

By Heidi W. Durrow

“I’m not the color of my skin. I’m a story. One with a past and a future unwritten.”

Rachel’s father is an African-American G.I., her mother is Danish. As the only survivor of a tragedy that takes her mother, brother, and baby sister, Rachel ends up being raised by her grandmother. Her father is alive, but is absent. She does not even know where he is, only that he is stationed elsewhere.

Set in the 1980s, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a story that explores issues surrounding the life of a biracial girl coming of age.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is told from multiple points of view and the time shifts back and forth, but I never got confused. Rachel tells of her experiences and struggles with identity in addition to the loss of her family. She refers to herself after the accident as ‘the new girl’. Her sadness and confusion comes through quite clearly.

Well told and interest holding, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a book that gives the reader an engaging story in addition to food for thought on social issues.

This book has many adult themes and is for mature readers.

Winner of the 2008 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction

Reading Guide for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky from reading group guides.com

Author Heidi W. Durrow’s website

Issues of concern

infidelity, suicide with description of injuries, death, language, drug use, domestic abuse, alcohol abuse, violence, sex, alcoholism, child abuse, mention of absent uncle’s bisexuality, religion, discrimination, other mature themes

 

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Book Review| Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

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Daddy Long Legs

By Jean Webster

I recently revisited a childhood favorite of mine, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster.

Daddy Long Legs was published in 1912 and contained drawings by Jean Webster as well. Unfortunately, I do not have a print copy of the book but was able to download the text for my kindle from Project Gutenberg here.

I probably read this for the first time when I was very young and read it over and over. I have not reread it since I was twelve or so.

I was surprised to find it was not what I expected. The character of Jerusha was still witty and charming with a bit of sass, but reading as an adult gives an entirely different perspective.

Jerusha Abbott is an orphan dependent upon the charity of a benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous.  Daddy Long Legs is story told through a series of letters that Jerusha must write as a stipulation to receive college funds. Jerusha is smart, clever, and beautiful, if educationally stunted by her orphanage upbringing.

Daddy Long Legs is an easy to read book. If you are interested in women’s rights, social movements, societal changes, or the political history of the time period, you might be interested in this book.

Even though I kept in mind this book was published almost 100 years ago, I still felt uncomfortable at parts of the book by the behavior of Daddy Long Legs aka John Smith. Perhaps men of the day did typically treat women in such ways, but to a modern reader there is a high creepiness factor.

The author’s political view point and worldview come thorough in this story.

It would make for an easy and enjoyable way to study the issues and topics of the day.

A book from a slightly later time period reviewed on this site is Miss Buncle’s Book by By D.E. Stevenson. Both books are humorously clever and easy to read with a female protagonist making her way in the world.

SPOILER

As a child, I thought Daddy Long Legs was a simple story about an orphan who is rescued by a rich man who then falls in love with her. There are no mature themes in the book, but Daddy Long Legs was written for young ladies, not children.

The new view of my old favorite was somewhat disappointing. I still liked the character of Jerusha, but the story felt a bit disorienting, like approaching a once familiar place from a different direction.

Have you reread a childhood favorite and had a similar experience?

 

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