book reviews

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

**This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.**

Title: The Story Keeper

Author: Lisa Wingate

Published By: Tyndale House Publishers (2014)

Synopsis: When successful New York editor Jen Gibbs discovers a decaying slush-pile manuscript on her desk, she has no idea that the story of Sarra, a young mixed-race woman trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the twentieth century, will both take her on a journey and change her forever. Happy with her life in the city, and at the top of her career with a new job at Vida House Publishing, Jen has left her Appalachian past and twisted family ties far behind. But the search for the rest of the manuscript, and Jen’s suspicions about the identity of its unnamed author, will draw her into a mystery that leads back to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains . . . and quite possibly through the doors she thought she had closed forever. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

I was so impressed by this book. I was drawn in from the first chapter. A book about an editor and the publishing world? I’m in! The author’s talent is so admirable. She effortlessly weaves together so many plot strands, characters, themes, and it works. It was easy reading, while still fun.

I LOVED the aspect of the two separate stories intertwining together—our main character, Jen, finds a manuscript of a story, and we get to read the manuscript in the book as well as Jen’s story. I found it incredibly impressive how the author managed to pull off both stories and also intertwine them. A lot of work and thought went into this story, and it paid off.

I really liked how the author used real locations and places, real facts and real history—it made reading the book that much more interesting. The characters were vivid and alive. The parts about Lane’s Hill were eye opening and thematically, done excellently. I LOVED the sneaky Christian themes that snuck in and yet never took over. I was fascinated by Jen’s family life and the twisted version of Christianity contrasted with the world and the questions presented—“Why did [Lane’s Hill] not line up with the Bible when I read it?”

Sarra and Rand’s story, the story in the manuscript Jen finds, was a little harder to keep track of. The characters were just as alive, and the historical context was strikingly accurate and the story of Melungeons absolutely fascinated me—but some of the action was a little confusing. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on all the time. Overall it did not lessen my appreciation for the story, but I did have to flip back several times to catch up.

Negative Content/Notes:

Toward the beginning of the story, Jen asserts that she doesn’t date because she doesn’t want to be accused of “sleeping her way to the top” in the industry. I was fine with the line but just figured I should just mention it for the sake of younger readers here, though even then I don’t think it’s a problem. Regardless, I’d recommend this for older readers, just because of the depth.

Overall: This is an eye-opening tale of history, family and loyalty, and it blew me away. I loved reading about the publishing world and I loved the thematics of the importance of stories. I found the story talentedly told and the characters real and living. It was both humorous and serious, delicate yet raw. Highly recommended.

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 14 & up

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

** This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.**

Title: Goodbye Stranger

Author: Rebecca Stead

Published By: Wendy Lamb Books (2015)

Synopsis: Bridge is an accident survivor who’s wondering why she’s still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody’s games—or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?
This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend?
On Valentine’s Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight? (Taken from Goodreads)

Review:

**Note: I originally read this at age 14 (which is when I reviewed it), and then this past year at age 16 I reread it again. I see a lot more than I did reading this at 14 (within the suggested age range) and I liked it a lot more, but my review remains the same.**

This book kind of weirded me out. First of all, I found it incredibly disappointing. Nobody or nothing changes through the course of the story. The characters do wrong things, but never change and turn. I thought this book was going to be a moral book about why not to do strange things, but instead it just told the story of the characters doing this wrong things and then ended abruptly without explaining why or why not they should be done.

Okay, so I understand the depth and the meaning behind it, I guess. But I don’t appreciate it for a couple reasons:

  1. It was waaaaay to mature for middle schoolers (the suggested age range).
  2. It was way too vague of a story for me to really understand what was going on.
  3. There were no strong answers or morals at the end.

Number one: This book deals with heavy, even-edging-on-inappropriate issues, and worse, there’s never any black-and-white answer about what to do about them. It just kind of presents the issues, shows the characters, and then ends the book without explanation. I understand the characters were middle schoolers, but I honestly think the author should have seriously considered making this an adult book. I even feel it was too mature for the majority of the YA audience. Will there be a couple teenagers who read it and understand it, like myself? Sure. But I feel the majority of the teenage audience is going to take the occurances in this book the wrong way. In other words: This book just displays the problem without answer, so it could be taken either way—that it’s wrong to do these certain things, or that it’s okay to. And I didn’t like that at all.

This story felt like I was reading it through a thick layer of fog that never really cleared up. Even though I’m 14, above the age recommendation of middle school, I finished the book and still didn’t understand the title of this book or the majority of things that happened until I read a bunch of Goodreads reviews that explained the depth. So while I guess that it’s good that it’s deep, if nobody but adults can understand the themes, then it’s pointless to market it for middle schoolers. I was confused the entire book, and honestly, I’m still sorta lost. Specifically, the sections in second-person; even though they were really well done and creative, they just added to the confusion, especially when no clarity was offered. I still don’t really know who the mysterious girl is. In other words, I appreciate the depth. But the fact that it’s supposedly aimed at middle school kind of ruins it, because the fact is that most kids will probably not understand this book, or very little of it.

Negative Content/Notes:

What I disapproved of most in this book is the swearing. I found more than one curse word phrased in the context of this story and it was most definitely unnecessary. I hate the fact that there is so much swearing in juvenile fiction these days. Children’s. Fiction. Should. NOT. Have. Swearing! Especially when you’re supposedly trying to send a moral message. Especially considering the fact there was no strong morals, it felt like it was just encouraging children to swear, which is, needless to say, never good.

Overall:

Anyway, to sum it up, I just did not like the audience this was targeted for. It was a fuzzy and hard to understand storyline with deep themes that only some adults will fully be able to grasp. Overall, it just was kind of strange and weird and I would say nobody under 14 would be ready for this, not that I’d recommend it at all—because I wouldn’t.

Rating: 2.0

Recommended to: Not recommended.

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

** This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.**

Title: Beyond the Bright Sea

Author: Lauren Wolk

Published By: Dutton Books for Young Readers (2017)

Synopsis: 

Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift on a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar. Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.
Vivid and heart wrenching, Lauren Wolk’s Beyond the Bright Seais a gorgeously crafted and tensely paced tale that explores questions of identity, belonging, and the true meaning of family.
(Taken from Goodreads.)

Review:

I wasn’t impressed. It was okay, I guess. While the writing had spectacular moments, the plot failed to keep up with it. I immediately was fascinated by Crow, an apparent orphan living on an island with Osh, her caretaker, and an orphan’s search to find her parents is a storyline that always intrigues me. However, I really didn’t feel like it lived up to what I thought it would be. Rather than compelling me, captivating me, enthralling me, this story rather felt like the author grasping at straws and making up for the lack of story by extravagent (and they WERE good) descriptions, paragraphs, chapters. The story really just felt really weak, like a watered down version of what it could have been.

However, I did like the themes of family that crept in. I especially liked how even in the depths of her search for her “real” family, Crow is still insistant to Osh that he is more her father than anything else. Despite not having a storybook family, Crow really does have a family, and she has all she needs, and I really liked that aspect of the story.

The rest of the book felt like a bland narration, without much emotion, but just excitement to make the book more interesting, not to move the plot forward. I never once was scared by Mr. Kendall or even midly intimidated; the only thing that left me unsure was the unpredictability of the author—what happened regarding this mysterious character literally could have gone either way—but it being I didn’t have a strong tie to Crow or Osh, I really could have cared less regardless. Everything felt very one-dimensional; and nonetheless it was a good one-dimensional story, but I just think it could have been a lot better with a little more characterization, a little more emotion, and a little more length. Every action was piled on top of the previous one, leaving no room to breathe, process, or feel anything for any characters.

On the other hand, though, even though I just said it lacked characterization, to an extent the characters were developed well enough to be able to predict their behavior, but it backfired, for the story became boring.  The characters were too solid, too predictable, and I guess that was my main problem—none of them felt real, for none of them had any real flaws. Crow, Osh, Miss Maggie: they were all perfect in their own way. Not once can I remember seeing any fraction of a flaw in any of them, which made the story feel bland and fake.

I also was extremely disappointed with the ending. Leading up dramatically, and then just ditching the plot so quickly, made no sense to me. All this drawn-out, built up suspense, clues, and mystery about Jason and it literally went nowhere. Just dropped off the face of the story a few pages before ending. Again, the feeling like the author was grasping at straws. If I were the editor, I would have deleted Jason altogether. It added absolutely nothing to the story save for a feeling of having wasted one’s time reading.

Negative Content/Notes:

None.

Overall:

While the writing and descriptiveness was exceptional, and the themes were beautiful, the rest of the story was watered down and weak. The characters had no flaws, making them feel fake, and the plot was weak and hardly held together for the duration of the story.

Rating: 3.0

Recommended to: I’m indifferent to this book. If you want to read it, read it, if you don’t, don’t. I really have no suggestion either way.

The Wishing Pearl by Nicole O’Dell

** This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.**

Title: The Wishing Pearl (Diamond Estates, #1)

Author: Nicole O’Dell

Published By: Barbour Books (2011)

Synopsis:

This book focuses on sixteen-year-old Olivia Mansfield. Her father died in a car accident years ago, and ever since she’s been dealing with her stepfather’s abuse. When it becomes too much, she turns to smoking and alcohol as a way to deal with the prolbem. Only when her so-called best friend, Jordyn, dies in a car accident does she start to see the truth of the horrible life she’s been living. When offered a place at Diamond Estates, a place for troubled girls to come find healing in Christ, she finally starts to see the path to recovery might exist.


Review:

Wow. I just finished this book for the second time, and it was amazing! The characters are so vividly drawn, you feel like you know them, and it makes you happy to have such a long book with them. Rather than just a scene, you have over 300 pages—months and months in the storyline—with the characters that you come to love.

This series as a whole is a very mature set of books; it covers topics such as teen pregnancy in a later book, but they are incredibly clean, wholesome, and appropriate, not to mention totally Christian books (which I am incredibly grateful for)—though not hiding from the character’s blatant realities, either. It was real but also clean.

I loved so many things about this book. Besides the characters being amazing in every sense, I also loved the setting the author chose. Diamond Estates is painted beautifully, with its mission being so incredible, that you just want to just believe it exists in real life. I loved how the author wrote in Ben and Alicia’s characters as the guys to look to when you need help, but also the fun leaders, wanting ultimately the best for the girls there. I loved the way the Christian message was so clear in the narrative perspective, but Olivia still takes some convincing. Sometimes this kind of thing can come off cheesy, but I found this book realistic and believable.

Olivia was such a fun character, easy to love, easy to relate to, easy to think she actually exists. The book is written in third person, but we enter Olivia’s mind so much that I often forgot and thought it was from first person! You really find yourself understanding Olivia after just a few chapters and while you want to shout at her, “No! Why are you doing that? Don’t do that!” you also, at the same time, understand her thought process behind it—which makes the Diamond Estates section of the book so much more amazing. You feel you can connect with her so well—when she’s worried, you’re worried. She’s scared, your heart starts racing. When she’s happy, you smile.

I loved Ju-Ju, Skye, and Tricia, Olivia’s roommates, as well; they were painted just perfectly: your average fun-loving teenagers, great friends, and such fun personalities that you don’t even want to know why they’re at Diamond Estates. The four of them just slid together as friends, and you can’t help but cheer on their friendship.

The ending was phenomenal, too. I loved the way it all played out, and the way it just all fit together perfectly once Olivia just let go and trusted God.

Negative Content/Notes:

None.

Overall:

Anyway, to sum it up, an amazing, incredible book by an extremely talented author. One of my all-time favorites for sure.

Rating: 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 13+

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets by Danette Haworth

** This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.**

Title: The Summer of Moonlight Secrets

Author: Danette Haworth

Published By: Walker Childrens (2010)

Synopsis: At The Meriwether, Florida’s famous antebellum hotel off of Hope Springs, nothing is quite as it seems. Secret staircases give way to servants’ quarters and Prohibition-era speakeasies make for the perfect hide-and-seek spot. Allie Jo Jackson knows every nook and cranny of The Meriwether—she’s lived there her whole life—and nothing surprises her, until the first time she spots the enigmatic and beautiful Tara emerging from the springs.
Tara’s shimmery skin, long flowing hair, and strange penchant for late moonlight swims disguise a mysterious secret—and once Allie Jo and her friend Chase discover Tara’s secret, nothing will ever be the same. (Taken from Goodreads.)

Review: 

This was a very…interesting read, and by interesting I refer to the plotline.

The characters were very vividly described, well drawn and developed; I loved the author’s choice of names and I felt like I could truly connect with each character. They were easy to love and easy to relate to. I thought the author did a good job with switching perspectives—between Chase and Allie Jo—and wrote each character with their own distinctive personalities. So in terms of character growth and development, the author did an excellent job.

The setting was a fun, realistic place as well, described skillfully and written in a way you feel like the Meriwether could truly exist. The secret passageways were intriguing, and despite the fact they were never really explored, they were a fun addition to the plotline.

But the storyline was another story. (No pun intended.) I felt it was rather overdramatic, slightly forced, and too unrealistic. For example, take Tara, the main mystery of the novel. She is hiding out at the hotel, taking midnight swims in her one pair of clothes, hiding out again, and somehow eating. Yet, nobody notices her and nobody knows she’s there—except Allie Jo and Chase (who were somehow persuaded into secrecy just by a few words). I found this whole circumstance incredibly unrealistic. This hotel she’s hiding at—the place Allie Jo lives at—is a high-up, important place from the author’s descriptions. Someone would have noticed her! Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal; a lot of authors can get away with this. But the way this author wrote it made it seem just way too unnatural.

Secondly, when the mystery of Tara is unraveled, I found it very strange—not strange as in bad, just strange—and just not matching the style of the story at all. I understand the author is probably trying to be creative, in creating a different solution to the mystery, rather than the obvious one expected—but seriously? Instead, the answer to the mystery of Tara is so bizarre and unheard of that I wasn’t even sure what the author was talking about at first. It just didn’t line up to the rest of the story and seemed off-balance…just too fantastical compared to the rest of the book.

Negative Content/Notes:

None.

Overall:

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets did have some nice themes and great characters. But the plot twist I’ve described above was just too unusual…that while I definitely found it enjoyable, it was not a book I loved, and most likely one I will not be reading again.

Rating: 3.0

Recommended to: Not recommended. 8-10 yrs.

Magic: The Crest by Rena Marthaler

** This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.**

Title: Magic: The Crest

Author: Rena Marthaler

Published By: CreateSpace (2013)

Synopsis: Magic The Crest is the story of a group of ten-year-old girls who use special powers to battle a flying dragon menacing their elementary school. When the girls receive a prophecy to rescue a child lost in the woods, they succeed. The rescued girl joins the group on a series of thrilling adventures as they search for The Crest. The spirited, brave young ladies have to join together to battle shape-shifting animals, mythological monsters, and supernatural forces of nature on their quest for The Crest. (Taken from Goodreads)

 

Review:

 Before I begin this review, may I begin in saying that this book was written by a nine-year-old girl! It is amazing that she was able to publish such a book at her age and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Full of imagination and fun, Magic: The Crest is a fantasy novel following four friends—Rachel, Lily, Ashley, and Zoe—through the galaxy on their quest first to find a lost child, then to find the magical jewels. Each of the girls possess a certain power depending on their element—fire, earth, water, etc.—that helps them through their quests. There was some element of the girls casting spells, which in a normal book I would have been bothered by, but in this case it was a fun addition to the story.

Shape-shifting dragons, unheard-of planets, lots of magic, and a bit of nine-year-old imagination combines to create an unforgettable story. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of planets, people, and things, and meeting the many interesting characters. The plot was ever-moving and never stopped; there was always something else going on, another adventure to embark on, another person to meet or another mystery to unravel.

Negative Content/Notes:

None.

Overall:

Considering the author is so young, this was an amazing book. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this book was overflowing with nine-year-old imagination. The ideas and plot twists were ones only a nine-year-old could ever have come up with; it was a super, super fun read and I LOVED it. The writer is so creative with her names and setting. The book is written from first person of a nine year old and since the author is the same age as her main character, this was incredibly realistic; the MC sounded exactly like your average nine-year-old.

Rating: 5.0

Recommended to: I’d highly recommend this to all ages, or anybody looking for a fun read!