Caterpillars Can’t Swim is a beautiful story of tearing down boundaries and building unlikely friendships

Reviewed for Netgalley

Caterpillars Can’t Swim…but they do eventually morph into beautiful butterflies just as the relationship between three high school boys changes from ugly and awkward into something beautiful that breaks down barriers and saves a life in the process.

Wheelchair-bound Ryan becomes a local hero when he pulls an unconscious Jack out of a river and saves his life, but what could have been an ending is only the beginning as Ryan becomes entwined in Jack’s secretive, unhappy life.

Liane Shaw deftly handled issues such as homophobia, physical disability, depression, and suicide and portrayed them in a way that was gripping without being preachy or clichéd. Her characters were fresh and managed to escape so many of the stereotypes that are usually present in books about high schoolers. Cody could have easily been a one-dimensional jerk, but he had layers that were at times chopped right off to reveal surprising truths about himself. He was abrasive and rude and charming and even sweet in his own way. It’s rare that a reader wants to hug and slap a character all in the same paragraph, but Cody was definitely refreshing and believable in his reactions to Jack. I also liked Ryan from the start. He was snarky and funny and genuine. He was a perfect mix of someone who had accepted his disability and someone who occasionally got completely pissed off about being stuck in a wheelchair. His discomfort and uncertainty about Jack were palpable and made him real to me.

The lack of an insta-friendship was a welcome change. I enjoyed seeing the friendship between Ryan and Jack build over time. Their comradery required honesty and a slow-building trust which wouldn’t have been credible if it had been rushed. And I loved the ending. Jack’s problems didn’t just disappear with a new friendship. Everything wasn’t neat and tidy. The ending was scary and messy and let the reader know that Jack has a long road ahead of him, but that road just might end in a happier place.

Caterpillars Can’t Swim is not your typical YA story, and that is something I really enjoyed about it. This was my first Liane Shaw book, but her writing style and her approach to topics that can be difficult to write about in a fresh, non-stereotypical fashion really appealed to me, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

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Ficklin’s Canary Club doesn’t ruffle enough feathers

Reviewed for Netgalley

Slipping into the 1920s in this period piece was a nice change of setting from everything I’ve read lately. I immediately enjoyed the descriptions of Manhattan as Benny walked its streets after getting out of prison. The scenery came alive with author Sherry Ficklin’s descriptions of the sights and sounds, the people and places, and the lingo of those prohibition days. I liked Benny too. A guy who wouldn’t have any luck if he didn’t have bad luck is the type of underdog many readers like to root for.

On the other hand, I did not care for Masie at all. It really annoys me when a character talks about how bad she is or how dark she is, but there is no evidence to support this. So she calls her former friend to beat up the guy who beat up her best friend? So, what? That does not make her a dark, twisted individual. Her need to be with Benny so he can make her a good person was not believable to me.

The most important part of any romantic story isn’t the plot or the setting, it’s the romance. If the relationship isn’t captivating then the overall story line won’t be either. This book needed a Rose and Jack or a Clary and Jace. Instead, it had Masie and Benny, two characters who have no chemistry and whose instant attraction leaves no room to develop a believable romance. When you aren’t invested enough in the relationship between the main characters, it’s hard to care whether they get a happily ever after.

Unfortunately, my overall feeling about the story was that it was just so-so. Once Benny and Masie’s relationship started to heat up, my enthusiasm for the story cooled down. Plot wise, everything became a little too cookie-cutter for me. Nothing surprising happened. This felt like a story I have read a dozen times before. New background, new character names, same old story. I kept hoping something refreshing and unexpected would happen. Like, maybe Masie would kill her father and take the family business for her own (now that would be dark and twisted) or maybe Daddy’s hired killer would carry out his plan and leave Benny with nothing but emptiness and vengeance. That also did not happen. No, the whole story dissolved into an underdeveloped plot to help the canary escape her cage. The ending was wrapped up in way too neat packaging and tied off with a tiny little bow that left me wanting a lot more.

The epilogue left things open for a sequel, but there simply wasn’t enough to The Canary Club to interest me in reading more. If you want a cut and dry love story, I think you’ll enjoy this book. If you want more, this is not the story for you.

 

The Canary Club, Sherry D. Ficklin, Crimson Tree Publishing, October 19, 2017

Finding Home by Garrett Leigh

Reviewed for Netgalley

I am used to reading Garrett Leigh’s novels intended for adults, so it was a bit of an adjustment to read Finding Home, which is definitely directed at a YA audience. I liked Leo very much. He was a scared, messed up, damaged kid, who loved his baby sister fiercely despite the torture and horrors he had suffered.

I liked the other characters as well, especially mouthy Fliss and older bro Andy, but I wish Finding Home had been longer so that all of the characters could have gotten more ink and been developed more deeply. As a reader, I felt that parts of the story were rushed and could have used more detail, description or background.

Overall, it is a quick read and a nice story of young love overcoming a terrible past. I simply wish there had been more of it.

Finding Home will be published on October 9, 2017 by Riptide Publishing.

Glaser’s The Book Jumper doesn’t stick the landing

Major Spoilers…

Mechthild Glaser’s The Book Jumper has a very promising start. The plot is fresh, the location is an island off the coast of gorgeous Scotland, and the main character has the ability to jump into the plot of any book (though all those written about seem to be Classics) and walk through the stories and even interact with the characters as long as she doesn’t interfere with the plot or change the story in any way. Which probably would have worked out just fine for Amy Lennox if someone else hadn’t been jumping into the book world and stealing ideas from the books. The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. The cyclone from Wizard of Oz. A monster from The Odyssey.

It’s up to Amy and fellow book jumper Will to solve the mystery of the thefts, which should all be very compelling reading except the story moves so bloody slowly that I felt as though I was dogpaddling through treacle.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Say I am Amy. I come from this awesome Scottish Isle called Stormsay. My people are sooooo special because we can jump into any book we want. Pardon me while I derail, but personally, I would have chosen something a little more modern. Hello, Song of Fire and Ice. Psst, Ned. Hey Ned, don’t go to King’s Landing, man. Trust me on this one, dude. Heads will roll, mainly yours, if you leave the North. Okay, jumping back on track here. So, I’m traipsing through the jungle with Shere Khan, watching some poor sop get drunk on ink, breaking all the carefully laid out rules, and I come to the revelation that all is not well in Booklandia. Do I immediately hatch a plan to catch whoever is stealing story ideas? No. Instead, I drag my feet through almost 200 pages of drudgery, name a whole bunch of people as the definite perp without actually solving anything, and then end up trapped in the book world with my possessed boyfriend and a psycho princess hell-bent on getting what she wants.

And instead of paddling through treacle, the action suddenly speeds up like the log flume ride at Busch Gardens. And a whole bunch of stuff which could have been spread out to make the rest of the book less boring, instead practically trips over itself to make it onto the page before the book ends. And we readers are left with this vague, half-assed resolution that doesn’t quite make sense. Okay, so Amy’s pedigree is half-human, half-book character, which we’ve known for quite a few chapters now, but all of a sudden she is going to lose her book jumping ability? Since when and how does she know this? As far as we readers know, Amy is the only person of this pedigree in existence, so I just can’t imagine how she jumped to that conclusion. And how nice that her boyfriend is left forever in the pages of his favorite book, not dead, but not really alive. And she’ll never see him again when she mysteriously loses her ability to book jump, but she seems fairly okay with that.

I, however, am not okay with that because I invested a lot of time in reading these disappointing 373 pages and, in the end, all I am left with is disappointment and quite a bit of anger at such a waste of an idea. What could have been a fascinating adventure in the land of literature ends in a poorly executed tome that missed the mark entirely.

 

The third visit to Clare’s Shadowhunter world is just as intriguing as the first

*Mild spoilers*

One of Cassandra Clare’s greatest strengths is that she built a fictional world that never gets old. The Dark Artifices is her third series set in the world of Shadowhunters, but it’s every bit as fresh and intriguing as the original Mortal Instruments series.

Set entirely across the country from the New York Institute where we first met Shadowhunters, Lady Midnight takes place in California where the Institute is backed by the desert and fronted by the ocean and that body of water is just about the only thing that scares main character and heroine Emma Carstairs. I liked Emma from the start. She’s a fearsome fighter, a dedicated friend, and hellbent on discovering who murdered her parents. I liked the diversity of the Blackthorn children as well and how they were such a devoted family despite the loss of their parents and the struggles they faced. I must admit, though, that Julian didn’t really do much for me. He was a little too perfect, a little too intense. When he confessed his big secret to Emma and Mark, I didn’t really think it was much of a secret. Wasn’t it rather obvious to anyone reading the book that Arthur wasn’t the Blackthorn who was running the Institute? And I didn’t buy for one minute that Julian actually believed the others would hate him for lying to them. His lies kept the family together. No way anyone could hate him for that. I also thought it was hard to believe that Emma didn’t realize what had been going on for so long. For me, that plotline was a bit weak.

Speaking of Blackthorns, the one I was intrigued by and wanted more of was Mark. Half-fae, half Shadowhunter and forced to ride with The Hunt for incalculable years in Faerie, his reintroduction to his family and life in the mortal world was interesting. I wanted to see more of his thoughts and reactions. I hope there is a lot more of Mark in future Artifice books.

And what Clare fan didn’t love revisiting our favorite characters from The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices? Jem and Tessa, Jace and Clary, and the fabulous Magnus Bane. I hope they reappear in future books. Lady Midnight left a lot of unanswered questions and many, many paths for the characters to follow. I can’t wait to see where those paths lead.

Burning is snuffed out by poor plot development

Burning by Danielle Rollins

Reviewed for Netgalley

SPOILERS

Sometimes when I am reading a book that just isn’t holding my attention, I start a premature review to collect my thoughts on why exactly I am not loving it. So here goes…

First impressions:

Angela Davis is three months away from being released from a juvenile detention center when a new inmate and some sketchy so-called philanthropists show up and strange, unexplained things begin to happen. With her safety threatened, Angela must find a way to free herself and friends before it’s too late.

“Readers will be rooting for Angela and her friends to find the truth and save themselves in this spine-tingling story rich with secrets and conspiracies.” (The book’s blurb) Yeah, that’s what I thought too. That I would be rooting for them to overcome the creeps and weirdness and save themselves. Except, so far, there is nothing to save themselves from because the pace of this book is glacial. I’m 80 pages in and still wondering when things are going to get interesting.

So far, new girl and possible paranormal presence Jessica has arrived, Angela has gotten some hard to explain burnt fingers, and Dr. Gruen and her Stepford-wife assistant have shown up on the grounds of Brunesfield with a paper thin cover story about some science program for gifted young girls. And here is the first major problem with the story. I have a bit of experience working with juvenile offenders, and I can tell you this: while some of them may not have “book” smarts, they all have street smarts. I don’t think a single one of these girls would fall for the SciGirls lies. Why would a program that seeks out exceptional young women start with girls in juvie? They wouldn’t. They’d start in colleges and prep schools and high school honor programs, and the characters in Brunesfield should know this. They are far too smart to fall for such obvious lies.

Final impression:

Burning is a hot mess. For a story that took so long to get going, it wraps up in a quick meltdown of clichés and underdeveloped plotlines. Makes me wonder if a pending deadline forced too many cuts in the writing. There were simply too many half-baked plot points. How can a girl make fire appear out of nowhere and then wield the flames as a weapon? There were hints of illegal human experimentation under Dr. Gruen and her SciGirls, then a claim that the ability is a contagious infection, but I guess we’ll never know.

Gruen is a predictable, stereotypical villain with no character development. In the end, she attempts to kill both Jessica and Angela, yet leaves before she confirms that they are dead. Sorry, but I am not buying that. This lunatic was hell bent on covering up her dirty, soot-covered tracks, yet she doesn’t make sure that her trap actually kills them? She isn’t that sloppy.

Why, when Angela’s brother is brought to the prison for a visit by Dr. Gruen, does she not warn him to stay away from Dr. Crazy? She knows at this point that the doctor is not who she says she is, yet she gives her beloved brother no warning whatsoever?

And where in New York are they that wolves are a huge threat and where a group of girls wearing orange prison clothes can walk through the woods for days without encountering another human being or a convenience store or basically any other lifeform but can find a working telephone in an abandoned shack? Bye-bye, reality!

Underdeveloped and disappointing. Skip this one.

Riders preview is a tantalizing tease

ridersArgh!!!!! Tor Teen Books, you tease! You cruel, coy, infuriating tease. You give me the first 19 gripping, enthralling, can’t-get-enough chapters of Riders and then the preview just ends?!?!?!?! No matter how many times I swipe my finger across my Kindle screen I can’t get another word, can’t turn another page, and now I have to wait until February to find out what happens to Gideon, Sebastian, and Daryn???? Evil! You, Tor Teen Books, are as evil as Samrael and his creepy cronies!

Okay, deep, calming breath.

So, Netgalley (and I can happily say the slump is over) granted me access to a preview of Veronica Rossi’s soon-to-be-published Riders, about a young Army Ranger in training who plummets to his death during a parachute jump and comes back as one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And that’s when things really get weird, and intriguing, and page turning, and agonizing when the pages no longer turn!

I usually avoid previews because I don’t like waiting. I want the whole book, and I want it now, but I knew what I was possibly setting myself up for when I clicked the request button on the Netgalley page, and despite the waiting and the cliff-hanger of going from Chapter 19 to no chapter 20, I am happy I put in this request because this is gonna be good. I immediately liked Gideon, Army Ranger turned confused Horseman of the Apocalypse. He has a great voice and manages to be strong, self-depreciating, and funny all while being confused, angry, and capable of kicking some ass even when he isn’t sure why and who’s ass it is exactly that he is intending to kick. And to add to his stress, he and his other recently reincarnated friends are tasked with saving the world from an ancient evil…and they fail. Yup. Though it hasn’t been revealed how and why by the end of Chapter 19, Gideon wakes up in the custody of some very unhappy government officials. Now, he’s got to talk his way out of this mess, find his comrades, and somehow manage to save the world before it’s too late.

And we’ve all got to wait until February 16th to find out how it turns out. One month, 4 days. Time cannot move fast enough!

Full review to come.