On the Fence

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On the Fence by Kasie West
Published in 2014 by HarperTeen

Remember when I said that I was looking into reading Kasie West’s On the Fence and ended up reading The Distance Between Us instead? Well, it’s a good thing that I did! Turns out that the characters in Distance make cameos in Fence, which is post-Distance, thus, giving away the ending of Distance. Anyway, after the glowing review I gave Distance, I’m sure you’ll find it hard to believe that I liked On the Fence even more, but I did! It had West’s same voice and style, but I could definitely see growth in her characters and the emotional depth of the story.

On the Fence is about Charlotte “Charlie” Reynolds, the youngest of four siblings and the only girl. She has three very protective big brothers…and her dad is a cop. (Not exactly enticing for the fellas, eh?) After losing her mother at a young age, Charlie has grown up in a house chock-full of testosterone and is very much a tomboy. For as long as she can remember, next-door-neighbor Braden has just been another one of her brothers, but when they start having late night chats at the fence that separates their yards, things start to change. Especially since they’ve both determined to keep their fence chats a secret.

When Charlie gets a job at a local clothing shop, she starts to discover another side to herself, a side that wears girly clothes and makeup and just might have a crush on the boy next door. But another guy, Evan, swoops in, capturing Charlie’s attention, and Charlie’s three brothers are the least of his worries. It’s Braden he has to watch out for. Jealousies abound as Charlie learns more about herself, including a devastating secret about her mother’s death. Charlie must decide which side of herself she really wants to be (girly or tomboy?) and which guy loves the real Charlie (Evan or Braden?).

Just like with Distance, there is no language (thank you!) and is very appropriate for YA. This novel does have strong emotional content surrounding the death of Charlie’s mother and the abusive nature of Braden’s dad, so I would recommend that the younger YA audience (15 and under) wait a few more years. Though the ending is somewhat predictable, there are surprises along the way. And Charlie’s brothers are very entertaining—they reinforce the desire I’ve always had for an older brother. I really enjoyed this quick read and look forward to reading the rest of West’s works.

The Shakespeare Stealer

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The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood
Published in 2000 by Puffin Books

I’ve been having trouble finding a book I enjoy lately. I start a book and am disenchanted after just a few pages. Not a good sign. This was not the case with The Shakespeare Stealer (which I think would have sounded better as “The Shakespeare Thief,” but that’s just me).

This work of historical fiction tells the story of a young boy, Widge, who is an orphan living in Elizabethan England. He is apprenticed and taught how to write in shorthand by Dr. Bright, who developed modern shorthand. A stranger arrives one day to purchase Widge’s apprenticeship from Dr. Bright in order to, as the title states, steal from Shakespeare. Widge learns that his new master, Simon Bass, expects him to attend the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s performance of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, a new play by Shakespeare that has yet to be printed (therefore, not easily performed by other theatre troupes). Unable to record the entire play in one setting, Widge ends up joining the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to steal the play book. In the end, Widge must decide which is more important: stealing the play and obeying his master, or finding freedom, a family, and a home with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

I really like how this book shows some of the history of shorthand. Seeing as kids aren’t even taught cursive anymore, I’m sure they have no idea what shorthand is (and there are even examples of it!) Even though Widge’s naivety can be a little annoying, he is still a child, so that is to be expected. This book has several twists. Without giving anything away, let me just say that there is a plot twist that I figured would be used, but I was shocked at the reveal. I will definitely be rereading to see if I can spot the clues sooner.

So, I really enjoyed this book! It is a short read that kept my attention the whole time, even though it is meant for ages 10 to 14. I think 10 is a little young, not content-wise but for understanding who Shakespeare was and the time in which he lived. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction (unless it is Jane Austen related), but I was impressed with this work. I enjoyed seeing how Widge’s accent changes overtime as he goes from speaking in his Yorkshire accent and dialect to that of a Londoner. There is some language, which also makes me question the intended audience, but the words didn’t necessarily mean then what they do now, so I understand WHY Blackwood employs them (historical accuracy) but wish that he hadn’t (contemporary meaning and audience).

I’m really shocked that a movie version hasn’t been made, but I will certainly watch it if one is!

Elixir

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Elixir by Hilary Duff
Published in 2010 by Simon & Schuster BFYR

I’ve been feeling the need for more Hilary Duff in my life lately. What with the tenth anniversary of A Cinderella Story this past July 16 and the release of her new single, “Chasing the Sun,” I’m ready to see the Duff make a comeback (please let her new tv show be good!). With that being said, I pulled from my to-be-read stack Elixir, a YA novel by none other than Hilary Duff! (insert squeal) Going into this book, my thoughts were: did this book get published because it’s actually good, or did it get published because of who wrote it?

Here’s what I found out: there’s a reason I grabbed this book from the $3.97 clearance bin. Sorry, Duff.

The first half of this book is AMAZING. I sat down to read, and an hour later, I was 100+ pages in. I was hooked. Another 100 pages in, I was still hooked. But when I
got to the second half…well, let me back up and tell you about it.

Seventeen-year-old Clea Raymond (who I couldn’t help but envision as seventeen-year-old Duff) is the daughter of a senator—her mom—and a heart surgeon philanthropist—her dad, who went missing on his last trip to Brazil and has since been declared dead. Clea, however, cannot come to grips with her father’s “death,” despite extensive therapy. When the opportunity arises for Clea to go to Brazil, she jumps at it, hoping that she will discover something that will explain her father’s disappearance. (Sounds good, right?) She loves photography and starts noticing an unknown man in photos she’s recently taken. A stalker? He starts to make appearances in her dreams, too, and each time, Clea is a different woman from a different time period, all women who loved this mysterious man named Sage (really?), all women who died. (I know, still sounds good!) When Clea tells her friend, Ben, about Sage being in the photos, Ben reveals a secret of her father’s: Sage has been in every photo of Clea and that Clea has taken since she was born. (Ah, intense!) And it all has something to do with the Elixir of Life (thus, the title).

Now. It. All. Goes. Down. Hill. (**Spoilers ahead**). Clea goes to Brazil, just happens across Sage, decides after about five minutes that he isn’t a threat after all, and falls in love. A day later, what does Clea do…with Sage…in her best friend’s car? You guessed it. Then, there’s this journey to Japan to find a creepy old lady in the basement of a Japanese mall, which leads to the revelation that Sage destroyed the Elixir of Life 500 years ago and didn’t bother to mention that before flying halfway around the world. Oh, and Clea IS the women she dreamed about (surprise reincarnation, very Fallen-like), the women who all died (still sounds like Fallen), and she will die next if Sage doesn’t kill himself to end the cycle, which he is about to do when he gets kidnapped. And then the book ends. (I’m sorry, what?) Yes, Sage gets kidnapped, and Clea gets on a plane to go home. No resolution, no trying to save him, no nothing. Is Clea’s father is still alive? Don’t know. She has what she thinks is a premonition of him still being alive, but we have no clue because the book ends without mentioning him again. I imagine that this is how Hazel felt after reading that book that just ends mid-sentence in The Fault in Our Stars. (I get it now, Hazel!) I don’t have any qualms about giving away the ending because after this review, I hope you’re not going to waste your time, but let me just say that I have never been more disappointed in a book ending. (I’m talking worse than Mockingjay and Allegiant, folks.) How can a book that starts off so good end so badly??

Besides this non-ending ending, there were other issues that I had with this book. 1. Clea is only seventeen, but her mom lets her jet around the world by herself. (And the parent of the year award goes to…) 2. People all around the world recognize Clea because her mom is a senator. (I’m sorry, but I don’t think that I’d recognize Obama’s kids, much less some senator’s.) 3. Clea, under a pseudonym, is a famous photographer (The reason she’s able to go to Brazil is because it’s an “assignment.”) 4. The scenes where Clea is the women from different eras don’t even attempt to use historically accurate language. (I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t have used the phrases “deal with it,” “ex-girlfriend,” “a big deal,” and “are you kidding” in RENAISSANCE Italy.) 5. I can’t believe how many times “I” was used instead of “me” and vice versa. (Simon & Schuster, hire me to be an editor!)

Obviously (said like Snape), this novel is a big disappointment. I wouldn’t recommend Elixir unless you stop reading in the middle. There is language, not an extensive amount, but some. The biggest turn off, though, is the sex in the car. At least it isn’t described. If you still want to read it, I would recommend 16+ (because I wouldn’t let my fifteen-year-old cousin—who loves the Duff—read this and be so disappointed). But I still love the Duff!

The Distance Between Us

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The Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Published in 2013 by HarperTeen

What made me read this book? Well, I was actually looking at another book (On the Fence) by the same author and decided to buy The Distance Between Us first—I can’t remember why. What intrigued me about both books was that the reviews mentioned how clean these books are, and I’m hoping this is a characteristic of the author.

The story is told from the point of view of Caymen (no, she isn’t named after the Islands) Meyers, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her single mom above their doll store. It’s written in first-person present tense, which happens to be my preferred POV and tense—it makes me feel like the story is happening as I’m reading it and that I’m right in the middle of the action. Caymen has been raised to think not-so-highly of rich people, so when she meets Xander Spence, a handsome rich boy, she has to decide whether or not her mom’s views should continue to be her own. Xander isn’t just rich, by the way, he’s RICH, and Caymen can’t even afford to have a cell phone. Both Caymen and Xander want to rebel against the expectations their families have for them, so they have “career days” to discover what they want for themselves.

As with most YA novels (The Hunger Games, even Twilight), the hero of this book is significantly more invested in his relationship with the heroine than she is in her relationship with him. While Xander has nothing to hide, Caymen is constantly keeping secrets—including keeping her relationship with Xander a secret from her mom. It takes time for Caymen to realize that honesty really is the best policy, but she wouldn’t be the heroine if she were perfect from page 1.

Ms. West’s site lists The Distance Between Us as “Pretty in Pink meets Pride and Prejudice.” Some similarities I see are: two guys are competing for the heroine’s attention, there’s initial reluctance on the heroine’s part toward the inevitable hero, a fight ensues between heroine and hero that nearly destroys the entire relationship, and everything turns out happy-go-lucky in the end.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this book. It might be one of the best YA novels that I’ve read in quite some time, and I’m hoping that there is a sequel in the works (or at least the same story from Xander’s POV). It’s a quick read, easy to get interested in (a big factor for me), and retails for $9.99 (or even less on Amazon!). There is no language that I recall (and I was on the lookout), and while there is somewhat detailed kissing, it isn’t graphic in any way. I would let my fifteen-year-old cousin read this (or make her because it is so good!) but not my thirteen-year-old cousin.

So, grab a copy for yourself, and let me know what you think!

Greetings!!

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And welcome to Owl Reviews: Book Reviews with Wisdom! I felt the need to start a blog because I read a lot (my goal is a book a week) and want to inspire others to read, too. Not only do I love to read, but I also love to write, and you can like my Facebook author page in the widget on the left (thanks!). My goal is to find books that are appropriate for all ages. Books that are fun to read and clean. So many books out there are full of filth, and, quite frankly, I’m tired of it! Hence, the creation of this blog and my reviews of the books I read. I hope you enjoy what I have to say!