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Monday, September 25, 2017

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Disney - Hyperion
Release Date: January 2017

Five years ago, Adam Blake and his mother took a young foster child into their home. To Adam, Julian was the brother he never had. His mother loved Julian like her own. Everything was great until a distant uncle was found. He pulled Julian from their home and cut off any hope of staying in touch.

Adam is a senior in high school now. He's assigned to aide the school counselor. His first duty is to make sure a freshman actually shows up for meetings with the counselor. Adam is surprised to find Julian is that freshman.

Julian's school performance is pathetic at best. He does poorly on assignments, skips classes regularly, and has no friends. The counselor hopes that Adam may be key to reaching Julian. Adam takes Julian under his wing and starts to transform Julian's life. Those transformations, though, could cost the boys dearly.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The detail that went into the writing is amazing. The scenes with Julian tugged at my heart. Adam is a character I loved. Watching Julian and Adam reunite and form such a deep bond had me tearing up. The end of the novel was tough but gripping.

Some of the scenes are so ugly that it's hard to praise them. That said, the key topic is child abuse. That's pretty clear from the start. I hated one character in the book and, sadly, know that there are so many out there that are like him. It breaks my heart that while this is a work of fiction, it could just as easily been taken from the headlines.

RTR's Bottom Line

Pick up A List of Cages. If you can get through this novel without tearing up and feeling outraged, I'll be surprised. I was emotionally invested and wanted to hug so many teens in this story. What an emotional powerhouse of a story.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Deck the Halls by Donna Alward

Setting: Darling, VT
Genre: Holiday Romance Novella
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: October 3, 2017

He used to be homeless, but thanks to the help of his friends, George now has a place to live, a modest income, and a job he enjoys. He's stunned when his friend and fellow soldier's twin sister shows up with questions. Amy feels it's high time she gets answers explaining exactly how her brother died in the Middle East.

George knows he's responsible for her brother's death. He wants to leave the past in the past. At the same time, he knows Amy deserves answers. Fifteen years have passed, is the magic of the holidays enough for both battered hearts to find what they need?

Strengths and Weaknesses

As this is a novella and not a full-length romance, things did seem really hurried. I liked catching up with other characters, and I was happy to see George get his own book, but I wasn't as thrilled with it being so short.

Deck the Halls returns readers to Darling, VT. As a Vermonter, I do spend time trying to figure out what town Darling is patterned after. In all honesty, I can't think of one. There are a couple that may be close, but none are exact. I can't think of a small town where everyone knows each other, has a main street filled with stores, and that's near some of the box stores. It's always left me guessing.

That's the funny part. I'd love to find a town like that. Darling sounds amazing!

RTR's Bottom Line

You don't have to spend a lot to get this novella. It's a very quick, very satisfying holiday romance. While I think I would have preferred a longer novel, one where things didn't feel as rushed, I still enjoyed seeing more of George and finding him happy.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Hanna Who Fell From the Sky by Christopher Meades

Setting: Clearhaven
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: Park Row Books
Release Date: September 26, 2017

Hanna's grown up sheltered in a community where the men are required to marry multiple women. At 17, Hanna's own wedding to a man her father's age is days away. She's uncomfortable being forced to marry a man of her dad's choosing, especially when that man is so much older. She can't help but wonder what life is like in the outside world.

Enter Daniel. Daniel's also part of the community. He and his family have returned after exploring the outside world. Daniel's brothers will be sent out of the community to seek new experiences, but Daniel's chosen to remain as the man who will follow in his father's shoes. Daniel's not sure he wants the life being chosen for him.

Daniel wants to show Hanna that there is life outside of their community. Hanna's both intrigued and scared. If she leaves, she's leaving her handicapped sister behind, and she simply cannot do that to the girl she loves like a daughter. Can Hanna leave it all behind or will she follow her father's wishes?

Strengths and Weaknesses

The strong protagonist in Hanna Who Fell From the Sky told such an amazing, real, and often heartbreaking story. I felt her indecision and cheered her on as each chapter pulled me further into her world. I just can't imagine going back to days when you had no say in who you married.

The title actually plays a part in the story. As Hanna's wedding day nears, you experience more of her mother's past and relationship within the family that is a blend of sister-wives, children, and the patriarch ruling them all. As this story took a stronger part in the book, I started struggling with it. It had more of a fantasy leaning at that point than the general fiction I'd grown fond of. I started to find myself feeling a little disillusioned and definitely less interested.

RTR's Bottom Line

I kept reading because I needed to see how things ended for Hanna. I did really enjoy the first two-thirds or so, and then I found myself uncertain. Having finished it, I'm still not sure I loved how it played out. Part of me wishes that the author had stuck to the gripping reality of life in a cult and bypassed the magical aspect that played a big part in the rest of the book.

That puts my bottom line at how you feel about magic/fantasy novels. I'm not a fan. I'm certain that's what makes me feel so mixed on how everything ended. If you like them, you'll love Hanna Who Fell From the Sky.