2013 · 4 stars · contemporary · ya

My Best Friend, Maybe by Caela Carter

Title: My Best Friend, Maybe
Author: Caela Carter
Pub. Date: June 3, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (thank you, Bloomsbury!)
Summary: It has been three long, lonely, boring years for Colette. Ever since her best friend Sadie dumped her right before they started high school, Colette has tried to be perfect for everyone: for her parents, her younger brothers, her teachers and even her boyfriend, Mark. But she’s bored. And she misses Sadie.

So when Sadie tells Colette out of the blue that she needs her old friend to join her on a Pepper family vacation to the Greek Islands, one that leaves only a few days after the invitation is issued, Colette is surprised to find herself thinking about it. But can Colette get over the hurt of the past three years to be there for Sadie now that she’s called on? Can Colette choose Sadie over Mark after all this time? Can Colette give up her perfect life for a little adventure? A little drama? A summer with Sadie?
Genre: YA, Contemporary, GLBT
Rating:

Newcomers to Carter’s work take note: this is not an author who’s afraid to tackle heavy subjects. Last year’s Me, Him, Them, & It focused on pregnancy and now her latest, My Best Friend, Maybe sheds light on sexuality and what happens to a friendship when it’s called into question.

Until three years ago Colette and Sadie were best friends and virtually inseparable. Then everything changed just before high school. Suddenly Sadie went out of her way to avoid Colette and, while the two could have talked non-stop for hours just a few years before, any chance encounters in the school halls are now met with awkward and forced hellos. For Colette this sudden change in Sadie is met with confusion and hurt – what did Colette do? Was there something Colette didn’t do that made Sadie all but abandon their friendship? What – if anything – can be done to fix things?

The hole left by Sadie has been hastily patched over with a church youth group and a new boyfriend, Mark – a boy Colette’s parents heartily approve of; Sadie’s free-spirited mother and laid back attitude toward rules never failed to raise an eyebrow. Colette’s relationship with Mark is practically perfect: he always treats her like a princess, showers her with gifts, and never goes further than the chastest of kisses. With a youth group trip quickly approaching, Sadie presents an invitation that changes everything. Colette must choose between spending the summer with Mark on a retreat or visiting the Greek Islands with her ex-best friend – and possibly find some answers.

Slowly but surely GLBT themes are emerging in Young Adult literature and I welcome it with open arms. Sadly, all too often a character’s sexuality is glossed over or revealed for little more than shock value and adds absolutely nothing to the story. Even worse is the sitcom-style ending: everything is wrapped up nicely in a pretty bow and any bullying/harsh remarks/bigotry is forgiven and forgotten. While My Best Friend, Maybe left me wanting more, the portrayal of the characters was wonderful and heartbreaking.

My Best Friend, Maybe is told through Colette’s perspective and until the ending we only know her side of the story as to what happened the night her friendship with Sadie fell apart. What Carter did extremely well was keep me guessing. The back cover of my ARC states: “A beautiful and multi-layered story of friendship, romance, and sexuality…” and, naturally, I expected these would all come into play between two characters. Carter caught me off guard though and I really enjoyed that. Yes, there’s friendship, romance, and sexuality, but the storylines aren’t one and the same.

Over time the reader discovers more of Sadie’s side of the story as well as her reasoning for inviting Colette along. While I was rooting for Sadie the entire time, her motives gave me pause. Colette’s Bible-thumping mother also plays a large role and her actions were appalling and gut-wrenching. Although I finished the book in a single sitting (something I rarely do) I had to walk away more than once because of Colette’s mother. It certainly says something about Carter’s abilities as a writer that she was able to stir up such emotion in me.

Even though I felt the ending was a bit too sweet and sitcom-y, I devoured it in a handful of hours. The day I received My Best Friend, Maybe in the mail I immediately sat down to read it and didn’t stop until I was finished. Caela Carter made a name for herself with her debut and her sophomore effort proves she’s not a one-hit wonder. My Best Friend, Maybe is an absolute joy of a novel and definitely one to pick up!

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2013 · 4 stars · contemporary · paranormal · ya

Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell

Title: Mistwalker
Author: Saundra Mitchell (website | twitter)
Pub. Date: February 4, 2014
Source: ARC via Around The World ARC Tours
Summary: When Willa Dixon’s brother dies on the family lobster boat, her father forbids Willa from stepping foot on the deck again. With her family suffering, she’ll do anything to help out—even visiting the Grey Man.

Everyone in her small Maine town knows of this legendary spirit who haunts the lighthouse, controlling the fog and the fate of any vessel within his reach. But what Willa finds in the lighthouse isn’t a spirit at all, but a young man trapped inside until he collects one thousand souls.

Desperate to escape his cursed existence, Grey tries to seduce Willa to take his place. With her life on land in shambles, will she sacrifice herself?
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Rating:

Mistwalker is the kind of book I feel was written for me. Deadliest Catch marathons are not uncommon in my house and there were SO many delicious references that only someone like me would get (ONTD and the Weasley family, anyone??).

Willa Dixon’s town lives and breathes fishing. The main source of income comes from the season’s catch and Willa’s father is struggling to make ends meet. Willa grew up on the boat – she feels just as comfortable on the water as she does on land, but her brother’s death turned the family upside down and she feels responsible. In an attempt to cut off a rival fisherman, the two sneaked off in the middle of the night to confront him on their boat, but only Willa came home. Since that night she’s been reeling from the guilt and the loss is taking its toll on the family.

Old superstitions are still alive and well for these villagers and legends like the Grey Man are taken as fact. Depending on who you speak to, the Grey Man is actually a Grey Lady and it’s not hard to find someone whose uncle/second cousin/great-grandmother once had a sighting. What they don’t know, however, is that Grey is actually a 17-year old boy and has been for quite some time. The Grey Lady once called to him and he followed. Now he’s part of the lighthouse, bound and tethered until the day he collects 1,000 souls (in a century there have only been four deaths on the water) or someone is willing to take his place.

A widely-known fact about me: I. LOVE. Dual narratives. Love them! Unfortunately many authors are unable to pull it off without sounded stilted or repetitive. Mitchell’s talent shines in Mistwalker and the alternating chapters between Grey and Willa are fantastic. I got a unique feel for both of them and the insight into their worlds was great. Willa’s anguish felt real and the look into life in a fishing family was very interesting – Mitchell certainly did her homework! Grey’s existence was just as real and he had his own set of hardships. The lighthouse provides him with anything he could ever want (he received a computer after wanting news on the outside world; contemporary books – yes, Twilight was among them – appeared after he exhausted the lighthouse library’s supply), yet it can’t – or won’t – give him the one thing he truly wants: freedom.

While I’m not sure Mistwalker will appeal to everyone, I can certainly say I enjoyed it. I read this book in a single sitting and it left me wanting more – in a good way! If you’re a fan of quick chapters, solid research without being dry or bogged down with technical details, and no romance, be sure to pick up a copy of Mistwalker. It surprised me in the best way and I’ll be sure to go through Mitchell’s backlist. Mark my words: Saundra Mitchell is an author to keep your eye on!

2013 · 3 stars · contemporary · ya

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

Title: Being Sloane Jacobs
Author: Lauren Morrill
Pub. Date: January 7, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Delacorte!)
Summary: Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Rating:

With the success of her debut novel Meant to Be last year, expectations and excitement for Lauren Morrill’s follow up ran high. The buzz was so great even I began to join in – admittedly I have yet to read Meant to Be, though that gorgeous cover stares at me every day at work! When I received a copy of Being Sloane Jacobs, I couldn’t wait to sit down with it and discover the author everyone had been talking about. Even more intriguing was the premise: two girls with the same name switch places for the summer. Very Parent Trap-esque with the added bonus of sports (hockey and figure skating)! Being Sloane Jacobs practically promised a fun, entertaining read, and in the end, delivered just that – though not without a few bumps along the way.

On the outside, Sloane Emily Jacobs appears to have the perfect life with the perfect family. Underneath the white smiles and posed photo ops however lies a life that is anything but perfect. After walking in on her senator father with his secretary, Sloane jumps at the chance to run away to a prestigious skating camp although she’s not yet ready to return to the world of figure skating.

Sloane Devon Jacobs watched her mother give in to alcoholism until her father finally forced her mother into rehab. Since then Sloane has thrown herself into hockey – not just to take her mind off her home life, but to hopefully score a scholarship, the only way Sloane could ever possibly attend college. After a violent outburst guarantees a benching for the start of the next season, Sloane’s coach makes a few calls and lands Sloane a spot at a hockey camp.

After a luggage mix-up the two Sloanes meet. While the two girls don’t have much in common (apart from a rather uncommon name) they’re both running away from their problems and what better way to do that than by pretending to be someone else? Sloane Emily agrees to spend her summer getting down and dirty with hockey players while Sloane Devon will spend hers bedazzled and sequined.

I loved the premise for Being Sloane Jacobs and it definitely was fun, but it fell a bit flat. Normally I’m all about dual narratives – some of my favorite books feature multiple narrators! In this novel, however, I had such a hard time keeping track of the girls and more than once had to refer back to the book’s summary to remember who was who. Apart from a few details – Sloane Emily is the rich one and Sloane Devon’s wardrobe consists of dirty and baggy clothes – there was nothing unique or defining about either girl. Much like the novel itself, I could have easily swapped the girls and it would have had little impact (if any!) on the story. I would have loved to see more depth to these girls. The potential was certainly there for some excellent character exploration! Whether it was a further look into the scandal that rocked Sloane Emily’s family or more insight into Sloane Devon’s mother and her battle with alcoholism, I feel Being Sloane Jacobs had so much to work with and definitely missed the opportunity.

Another issue I had was with how quickly the girls picked up the other’s sport. Yes, both are skating-related, but I just can’t see a hockey player transform into a figure skater in a month. Sloane Devon was doing leaps and spins with ease and Sloane Emily had no trouble scoring goals. I had been under the impression that these girls had worked for years at their sport to reach the level they were at, but apparently a newcomer can train for a week or two and be at a competition level. That aspect didn’t sit well with me.

Secondary characters brought little to the table. There were the token Mean Girls, the Gay Figure Skater, and of course the love interests. Sloane Devon (pretending to be Sloane Emily) rekindles a childhood friendship while Sloane Emily (going by Sloane Devon) turns a playboy into a one girl kind of guy. When the girls’ identities are revealed I rejoiced in the boys’ reactions. Naturally they feel hurt and betrayed – and a bit confused. Unfortunately, they both got over their anger far too quickly for my liking. Then again, each had only had a handful of interactions with the girl they were with.

Despite my issues with many aspects of Being Sloane Jacobs, I enjoyed it. Although its on the better side of 300 pages (closer to 400!) it felt half that length and I breezed right through it. Morrill’s research was definitely evident and I loved the look into these sports (I’m all for more sports in YA). Any reader looking for a fun story to get lost in for an afternoon should look no further than Being Sloane Jacobs. While it glosses over deeper themes – and answers – I can see this book becoming a favorite of many and I certainly look forward to going back and reading Morrill’s debut.

2013 · 5 stars · fantasy · ya

epic recs: shadow and bone by leigh bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo
June 5, 2012
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Sometimes I need a push to read a book. Whether it’s because I’ve had an iffy experience with the author/similar novels in the past or I simply have too much on my plate already, there have been numerous books widely loved that I just haven’t managed to get to yet. Shadow and Bone is one of those novels. For over a year I’ve been hearing absolutely GLOWING reviews and the current buzz over the third (and final?! I HOPE NOT!) installment coming in the spring has brought this series to my attention once again.

Earlier in December, I posted about Epic Recs, a book club of sorts founded by Judith and Amber. What makes this book club different is that you have a partner and you recommend books to each other. You can read more about it in my post – including what book I recommended to Lillian! As for Lillian, she wasted no time in recommending Shadow and Bone and I immediately grabbed a copy from my library. Russia (or, in this case, Russia-inspired), high fantasy, mythology – these are things that IMMEDIATELY appeal to me. I dove right in and, much to my delight, was not disappointed one bit!

Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina and Mal, two orphans who were taken in by a Duke and raised together. When they were children they were visited by Grisha, people who possess magical abilities. Every child in Ravka undergoes testing to determine Grisha talents, but neither Alina nor Mal presented abilities and that was it. Ten years later, however, things have changed. Mal is a tracker in the First Army and Alina is a passable mapmaker. On an expedition to the Shadow Fold, a darkness home to creatures seemingly plucked from nightmares, Alina risks her life to save Mal’s and soon the entire kingdom hails the coming of their Sun Summoner.

Suddenly Alina is thrown into the world of the Grisha, a world with magic, fine clothes, and people so utterly breathtaking they can’t possibly be real (and I won’t say anything further on that!). As a Sun Summoner Alina ranks among the most powerful Grisha – comparable to the Darkling, a man who has taken quite an interest in this once-ordinary girl.

Alina’s put to the test – physically, mentally, and emotionally. She’s desperate for a friendly face, she misses the bond she shared with Mal, and struggles to perform her magic. The pressure of being Ravka’s savior weighs heavy on her shoulders and the complete lack of word from Mal cuts deep. Could this pale, scrawny, lonely orphan really be the answer to Ravka’s prayers? Could Alina truly be the person to banish the Fold?

Just like with The Raven Boys, I dreaded the thought of writing a review for Shadow and Bone. I loved this book, absolutely ADORED it, and nothing I could possibly type could ever do it justice. Leigh Bardugo thoroughly won me over, not just with the Russian-esque setting, but with her gorgeous writing, fantastic characters, and beautiful story. I was completely enchanted and had to make the hard decision of reading the entire book in one go (I definitely didn’t want to stop!) or take my time to live and breathe this world. Ultimately the latter choice won – though it was certainly a hard decision to make! – and I spent four glorious days immersed in the world of Grisha.

It’s extremely rare for me to jump right into the next book in a series, but my library currently has a copy of Siege and Storm and, well, I’ve never been very good at controlling temptation..

1 star · 2013 · mystery · ya

Poor Little Dead Girls by Lizzie Friend

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If spoilers aren’t yo’ thang, move along. Also: rage-y rants.

After an extremely impressive streak with YA Thrillers (Find Me & Dead Girls Don’t Lie are two of my favorite 2013 releases!) I was feeling pretty confident about Poor Little Dead Girls. A boarding school’s secret society has ties to the deaths of two girls – what’s not to love?

Unfortunately, Poor Little Dead Girls spectacularly crushed every single expectation I had, including the hope of actually finishing (spoiler alert: I did, but it was a fight on both our parts).

Sadie is a star lacrosse player on her high school team back home in Portland. When she receives a scholarship from the elite Keating Hall – students of the school are all but guaranteed acceptance to Ivy League universities – she doesn’t hesitate for a second. She quickly becomes fast friends with Jessica (seemingly the only other student who isn’t uber wealthy) and her royal roommates. After their hard partying habits brought shame upon Britain’s royal family, Trix & Gwen were shipped off to America where they’ll hopefully stay out of the public eye. Don’t worry about getting to know these two though – their presence is only acknowledged in passing and piles of dirty laundry until the very end when Friend pulls out the shocker: Gwen is into girls! Really now? Gwen’s sexuality added nothing to the story, particularly since it came about at the very end, and felt tacked on simply to bring some sort of life to an otherwise dead story.

In the very (and I mean very) beginning, things looked promising. Sure, the characters were little more than stock personalities (particularly the Mean Girls), but that was something I could live with. Within a few chapters, however, I realized this book and I weren’t going to become bosom buddies. Chapter 6 – an entire chapter – was devoted to discussing all the ~hot boys~ on the football team. An. Entire. Chapter. Also – and this should come as NO surprise – it is in this chapter that Sadie falls head-over-heels for a boy she has yet to speak to, and when she finally does, this is the conversation they have:

“Is yours [a test] on Monday?”
“Yeah.”
“Ours, too.”

SWOON. When Jeremy turns to walk back to his own school, Sadie’s stomach was ‘now flipping around like a kid three doses behind on his Ritalin.’ I suppose I could overlook this if the scene took place in the middle of the day after a class or something. Instead, this happened in the middle of the night after Sadie had been chased. Ain’t no thang though – she simply forgets all about that now that there’s a SUPER HOT BOY!!

Once Jeremy shows up, classes are no longer a priority. Instead, she obsesses over his jawline (“A part of her – the same part that led her subconscious through the same cheesy dreamscape every night – wanted to lean in and lick it“). Riveting stuff, guys.

But, Leah, I thought this was a murder mystery I hear you say. Turns out there’s a SOOPER SEKRET SOCIETY. More than once Sadie wakes to find bruises on her body and doesn’t think anything of it. Later – much, much later – we discover she was being drugged and kidnapped this entire time. Those bruises are from having her blood taken and analyzed to prove she’s ~worthy~ and of course she passes. Believe it or not, here’s where the crazy comes in. This society is two hundred years old – Thomas Jefferson founded it. Its members are among the richest people in the world and they plan on creating a new world power. Sadie’s mother (who had died when Sadie was a child) was a part of this group although she broke all ties with them and her family to marry Sadie’s father (see, to make sure genetics are pure, the society arranges marriages for its members). The other girl who had died at the school was also in the society – and also related to Sadie. At one point its revealed SADIE’S EGGS WERE HARVESTED. Just in case Sadie were to die or run away, another heir could be created.

Poor Little Dead Girls tried to pack WAY too much into a tiny story. There were multiple story lines that were introduced and went nowhere: Sadie witnessed a rape and shrugged it off like it was nothing and a fellow student (and one of Sadie’s friends!) was being beat by her boyfriend but he’s hot so it’s okay. There was no consistency or coherency to be found and all of the action happened off-screen: “An hour later she finally stopped talking [explaining basically the entire plot to Jeremy – but not the reader]” “The next three hours were so much fun she started to get nervous.

The author couldn’t even get the ending right. Sadie receives hush money ($1M is all this group could come up with? These are supposed to be the richest families in the world.) and begins applying to college with her bestie Jessica and looks forward to spending more time with Jeremy. …and that’s it. There isn’t any kind of resolution or closure. Much like with the rest of the story, Sadie shrugs it off, leaving a very unsatisfied reader.

Other readers have mentioned Friend at least succeeded in nailing the voice of these girls, but I have to disagree. Instead of calling each other by, you know, their names, Sadie and her friends refer to one another as hooker, skank, hobag, etc. Yeah, I’ve never called my friends any of those. This name-calling caused some serious eyebrow-raising once the rape & abusive boyfriend plots were introduced.

Poor Little Dead Girls isn’t a book I would force upon anyone. Trust me on this: stay as far away from this book as you possibly can. I SUFFERED SO YOU WOULDN’T HAVE TO.

2013 · 5 stars · mystery · paranormal · ya

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Once again I’m late to the party. Much like The False Prince, I picked up The Raven Boys an entire year after hearing about how great it was. I’ve given in to hype in the past, would I be let down again? To my delight, the answer turned out to be a huge NO.

A sleepy little town in Virginia has more going for it than you’d expect at first glance. Through the town runs a ley line – a track through the earth that’s said to contain mystical properties – and Blue’s family uses this line to their advantage. Blue’s presence heightens the psychic abilities of her family and she’s grown up being called upon when there’s a heavy decision to be made or a difficult reading to be done. Every year on St. Mark’s Eve she visits the local cemetery with her mother and jots down the names of the spirits her mother sees: the spirits of those who will die the following year.

An impromptu visit from an aunt (a renowned television psychic) sets Blue’s world into motion. Instead of accompanying her mother, this year Blue visits the cemetery with her aunt and finally sees a spirit on her own. To her surprise it’s a boy not much older than herself and dressed in the Aglionby uniform; definitely not the kind of boy Blue would be involved with. Not that she would be involved with anyone, mind you – her entire life she had been told that her true love would die from her kiss.

A chance run-in with the boy – Gansey – and his fellow private school friends opens the doors on a new world for Blue. A world of ancient kings, treasure seekers, and possibly love.

I’m so glad my friend let me borrow not only The Raven Boys, but also The Dream Thieves. I haven’t yet read the sequel, but the moment I finished this book I knew I’d be diving into the second one soon – and the wait for the third will be a killer! From the get-go, I was worried that this book would be far too focused on the romance (from the very beginning we’re told Blue will kill her true love), but I was wrong. SO wrong.

While Blue is certainly a main character, the story lies with the Raven boys, the boys of Aglionby Academy. Gansey, the smooth-talking, Camaro-driving leader who yearns for adventure; Ronan, quick to raise a fist and barely scraping by with his schoolwork; Adam, the boy from the trailer park who’s only able to attend the school with the aid of a scholarship; and Noah, quiet and never fully there. These boys and their friendship were the backbone of this book and I loved them all. My heart broke several times over for Adam, Noah was intriguing – particularly as I got farther in, I wanted to shake some sense into Ronan, and absolutely loved the way Gansey lit up at the thought of adventure. These boys were magical and raw and real.

Blue’s story and the boys’ weave together perfectly and I loved her inclusion in the group. Much like Adam, Blue was able to bring a voice of reason and some balance to these boys and Gansey’s insistence on calling her Jane made me giggle every single time.

I only had one teensy tiny complaint. In the beginning chapters Maggie’s overabundance of similes and too-clever wording didn’t sit well with me. These awkward, stilted sentences were prevalent enough that I took notice. Thankfully, however, they all but vanished as the story progressed.

This is the type of review that I hate writing – the reviews for books I loved with every shred of my being, to the very depths of my soul. There’s nothing I could say that would do The Raven Boys any justice. My original review looked like this:

:):):):):):):)!!!!!!!!!vngdjgjmgdgs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!gdsjgdgoldseo!!!!!!!!!!!!:(:(:O!!!!!!♥♥♥

which just about sums it up, really.

If you’re a fan of adventure, mythology, friendship, and a bit of magic, The Raven Boys is a must-read! I spent over a week with this novel – not because it was bad, but because I didn’t want it to end.

2013 · 3 stars · fantasy · paranormal · ya

Rain of the Ghosts by Greg Weisman

Title: Rain of the Ghosts (Rain Cacique #1)
Author: Greg Weisman
Pub. Date: December 4, 2013
Source: print ARC via publisher
Summary: Welcome to the Prospero Keys (or as the locals call them: the Ghost Keys), a beautiful chain of tropical islands on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle. Rain Cacique is water-skiing with her two best friends Charlie and Miranda when Rain sees her father waiting for her at the dock. Sebastian Bohique, her maternal grandfather, has passed away. He was the only person who ever made Rain feel special. The only one who believed she could do something important with her life. The only thing she has left to remember him by is the armband he used to wear: two gold snakes intertwined, clasping each other’s tails in their mouths. Only the armband . . . and the gift it brings: Rain can see dead people. Starting with the Dark Man: a ghost determined to reveal the Ghost Keys’ hidden world of mystery and mysticism, intrigue and adventure.
Genre: YA, Paranormal
Rating:

Thirteen-year-old Rain Cacique and her parents live on a series of islands in the Bermuda Triangle known as the Prospero Keys, the Ghost Keys to the locals. The height of tourist season is upon the Keys and the Caciques’ home/inn is currently serving as a haven for some very odd guests – including the creepy Callahan. Rain’s only escape is an area of the jungle dubbed the NTZ: No Tourist Zone. It is in the jungle that Rain and her friends find peace and quiet and, more importantly, no camera-snapping, flower shirt-wearing tourists.

Shortly before Rain’s beloved grandfather dies, he gives her a special armband and Rain discovers it grants her the ability to see ghosts and spirits. In an attempt to put her grandfather’s soul to rest, Rain aids his spirit in one final mission – but it soon becomes clear that Rain isn’t the only one who knows about the armband’s power.

Rain of the Ghosts is a tiny morsel of a novel, barely clocking in at 200 pages. In those pages, however, is a thoroughly engrossing and enchanting tale. The story is seen through the eyes of Opie, Rain’s ever-present guardian. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure just what Opie was – at times I thought both he and Maq (his partner and sidekick of sorts) were spirits or humans. Toward the end of the novel I got the impression they were dogs, yet there were scenes where Maq speaks with people. In the end I reached the conclusion that, in a novel like Rain of the Ghosts, it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense. That said, I’m hoping the sequel will provide some answers!

While Opie is the story’s narrator, he sees all and knows all, providing some wonderful insight into what the characters are feeling and thinking. It also sets up a potential romance quite nicely – or a possible heartbreak. Rain’s best friend Charlie has been harboring a long-time crush while Rain is totally oblivious. Rain of the Ghosts was romance-free, and I’m looking forward to what lies in store for these two.

The magical element was superb and one I think many readers will enjoy. There was that fantasy side without being overtly paranormal and it worked. Rain is the only person able to see and communicate with these spirits, which makes things wildly entertaining in the scenes where Charlie attempts to help out. ‘Bastian, Rain’s grandfather, was a pilot in WWII and carried the weight of regret with him his entire life. He led his men through multiple battles only to be the only survivor of a horrific accident back home. He can’t rest until he makes amends and Rain is the key.

The novel ends by opening the doors to a mystery: why is Rain’s armband so special? Why are other people looking for it? Why are there eight more? Rain of the Ghosts is chock-full of genres: it’s one part paranormal, one part mystery, a dash of coming-of-age and I had a wonderful time reading it. The setting was great, the characters were fantastic. The writing was a bit on the simple side – think more Middle Grade than Young Adult – but its fast pace and short chapters made Rain of the Ghosts a delightful one-sitting read. Its sequel, Spirits of Ash and Foam comes out in May and I’m eager to jump back into the Ghost Keys and find out what happens next!