Book Review | Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Aki and Christa are high schoolers who fall in like at first sight when their church groups join up in a small town to help with the construction of a new church. The girls sneak off in the evenings to make out with each other and deal with trying to hide their relationship by day. The book mainly addresses a teen coming to terms with her (bi)sexuality while on a summer youth group trip to Mexico, but also includes broader social issues within the context.

Our Own Private Universe keeps a decent pace and tells a story that holds the reader’s intrest. Some sections, especially that narrator’s internal monologue, are a bit repetitive. As a YA novel, it’s successful in its inclusion of diversity, budding sexuality, and melodrama. Adult readers may be put off by all of the characters lying to each other or the narrator’s tendency to blow things out of proportion. The book could serve as a good introduction to teens trying to orient themselves on the LGBTQIA spectrum. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

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Book Review | The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

hanging girl cover.jpgDuring Skye’s senior year of high school, a fellow classmate is kidnapped. After popular Paige goes missing, no one suspects tarot card reader Skye could be involved, which makes her the perfect choice of accomplice. Skye’s role is to feed tips to the police under the guise that she’s having visions about the crime. Problems arise when Paige doesn’t stick to their plans and Skye realizes she is in over her head.

As a young adult suspense mystery, The Hanging Girl is successful. The story is easy to follow and has enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Chapter breaks are frequent enough and the book’s length is appropriate. That said, the characters are difficult, in that they are rather unlikable, and the narrator is self-deprecating. Similes are overused and the writing style, at times, is a challenge. Readers who enjoy a book for its story that can overlook the stylistic annoyances will have a winner here. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

*Fans of The Hanging Girl, may be interested in The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault (2017).

Book Review | The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault

leaf reader cover.jpgProtagonist Marnie is not one of high school’s popular kids, but her hobby of tea leaf reading gets her involved with the in crowd after one of their own goes missing. Matt is attractive and popular, but something seems slightly off about him. As he searches for answers about his best friend’s disappearance, it’s unclear to Marnie whether he knows more than he’s letting on or has an ulterior motive. When Marnie begins having recurring dreams that involve her tea leaf readings and seeing images outside of the tea cups, she realizes she may be the only hope of solving the town’s mystery.

Definitely a YA book, The Leaf Reader was an enjoyable read. The writing is simple and straight-forward, with an easy to follow plot. The cast of characters is manageable, though somewhat flat. The mystery in this book is intriguing and certainly unpredictable. It’s a plot-driven, fast paced, quick and engaging read. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance uncopyedited edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading The Leaf Reader, you may be interested in The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown (2017).

Book Review | The Infinite by Nicholas Mainieri

infinite mainieriIn New Orleans, a few years after Hurricane Katrina, high schoolers Jonah and Luz are in love. Each with a troubled past, having dealt with parental deaths and other difficult events, Luz and Jonah continue to struggle when they become pregnant and Luz’s father demands she return to Mexico. Jonah decides he must follow her across the border, but all bets are off when Luz doesn’t show up at her Grandma’s on time.

The Infinite is Mainieri’s first novel. It maintains a casual tone, using colloquialisms and interjecting Spanish. The text is clear, with the storyline being mostly easy to follow. Chapters are very short, making the book easy to pick up and put down. The characters are developed enough, and descriptions allow the reader to envision settings described. While violence occurs, it is not overly graphic or drawn out. This novel would work well for somewhat hesitant high school or college age readers, or others with short attention spans. Mainieri has crafted a very digestible read that keeps up a decent pace throughout. Check it out from a library near you!

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading The Infinite, you may be interested in Mexico by Josh Barkan (2017). 

Book Review | An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman

book cover an english ghost story by kim newmanAfter difficult times, Steven and his wife Kirsty decide to leave city life behind for a home in the Somerset countryside and a new start for their family. Both parents, daughter Jordan and son Tim immediately fall in love with The Hollow, a property previously owned by a famed authoress. An English Ghost Story explores the family’s discoveries about their new home being inhabited by spirits and the interaction between the ghosts and the family members. Things heat up as family members are torn apart and turn against each other.

Accessible to all readers, this book started out with an inviting storyline. While there are not regular chapter breaks, there are section breaks that Newman uses to switch focus between characters. Jordan is 17 and interested in her boyfriend Rick who has stayed in London. Little Tim is constantly playing soldier. Steven runs a business where he matches clients with funding. Kirsty is a bit up in the air about her role as Mother, keeping the family together and feeling like she wants to break out on her own. Each character is quirky and forms different relations with the spirits and magical objects in the house. The book is well written and keeps the reader guessing about what is real versus imagined and what will ultimately happen to the family in The Hollow. This novel is recommended for those interested in haunted houses, dysfunctional families or obsessed with a childhood author. Check it out from a library near you.

Film Review | The Truth about Emanuel by Francesca Gregorini

dvd cover The Truth about Emanuel by Francesca GregoriniFor those who appreciate the artistic, somewhat surreal and slightly disconnected, The Truth about Emanuel is a film about two young women who connect through their losses. Emanuel (Scodelario) is 17. She lives with her father and stepmother, and feels responsible for the death of her mother, who died in delivery. She and her father were very close, but with the stepmother now in the picture their relationship has become a bit strained and she can’t really connect with the stepmother. When single mother Linda (Biel) moves in next store with her small baby a relationship between her and Emanuel takes root. Emanuel helps around the house, but finally makes a discovery while babysitting that changes the dynamic of their relationship.

This film does a good job showing realistic interactions between others and both Emanuel and Linda. Kaya Scodelario’s beauty is captured and matches the quality of her acting. Her disjointed relationships are highlighted and developed sufficiently. Viewers who are looking for a film that is entirely realistic and connected may not be able to appreciate some of the artistic nuances this film presents. For example, some footage takes place underwater, though the characters are still inside the house. The Truth about Emanuel deals with love and loss in a way that may help those on the outside to better understand it and those on the inside to consider it differently. Check out Gregorini’s film from a library near you.

Film Review | Short Term 12 by Destin Cretton

short term 12 dvd coverShort Term 12 is an independent film that focuses on a couple, Grace and Mason, and their work in a foster care facility for at-risk / troubled teens. After being introduced to the facility, staff and residents, a new girl, Jayden, is thrown into the mix. She keeps her distance from the other kids and seems to have a darker side. As Grace attempts to befriend Jayden, she finds Jayden’s current situation to have more in common with her troubled past and abusive father than she is comfortable with. Spurred into action by her father’s upcoming release from prison and an unplanned pregnancy, Grace embarks on a new course that pushes the limits of what has become her reality to try to save herself and Jayden.

This was a great movie. It’s hard to praise a film that deals with child abuse, but Cretton and cast capture all of the emotion without the graphic physical violence. This film shows palpable struggle, not just for Grace and Jayden, but for other characters as well. It presents a very realistic view of what living facilities for at-risk teens can be like, and some of their problems. It’s very clear to me why this film has won awards and been well received by both critics and audiences. If you’re looking for a down-to-earth film with great acting that does a terrific job covering a difficult topic, check out Short Term 12.