Book Review #35: Dare You To

Dare You To by Katie McGarry

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It took me an awfully long time to figure out that Katie McGarry had written any other novels, much less novels that acted as companions to “Pushing the Limits”. (Which I loved.) Since I finished “Dare You To” the same week a teaser for McGarry’s next novel was released, I suspect that I’ll be enjoying these characters for a long time to come.

Beth was the girl I spent most of “Pushing the Limits” disliking. I justified her behavior frequently by reminding myself that she’d had a tough life and an unstable upbringing before the story began. It didn’t hit home for me how true that was until later in “Dare You To,” when Beth started offering little glimpses of her past. Her abrasive behavior is never swept under the rug, but within the context of her own story, the cursing and fighting and isolationism make a hell of a lot more sense.

Compared to Beth, Ryan’s life seemed so much easier–even with his family crumbling to bits. His feelings toward his brother Mark irritated me at times, especially since his family still seemed like one that could be fixed. It was nice to see Ryan embrace the other characters as multifaceted as he began to accept that his own strengths lay in more than just baseball. That particular juxtaposition worked well for me.

One of my only complaints is that I would’ve liked to know more about a couple of the secondary characters. Logan the adrenaline junkie friend and Allison the new wife spring immediately to mind as people whose stories I really want to hear. More spin-offs, perhaps? 🙂

While “Dare You To” never quite reached the intensity level of “Pushing the Limits” for me, I still whipped through the big climactic ending very fast. Can’t wait to get my hands on the next two books in the series!

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Book Review 34: Racing Savannah

Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Even if “Racing Savannah” had been a standalone, I’m pretty sure I would’ve breezed through it. I’ve been a horse racing fan for most of my life, and I had high hopes for another awesome Kenneally story about a girl participating in a sport that isn’t exactly female-dominated.

Savannah’s connection to the horses she rides shines through as clearly as her connection with her new friends and her loyalty to her family. I loved that her relationships with the animals were handled so carefully, and her surprising bond with the Goodwins’ star Thoroughbred was a believable reason for Savannah’s promotion. Her transition from exercise rider to jockey also made more sense than, say, groom or hot walker to jockey.

The class difference between Savannah and love interest Jack–not to mention the importance of their business relationship–added a whole extra layer of tension. It was hard to forget how much Savannah and her family were indebted to Jack’s father, for their residence and for their jobs. That angle really kicked the whole ‘forbidden love’ thing into high gear.

Unlike in “Catching Jordan,” the romance almost took a backseat for me here. Whether Savannah and Jack got together or not mattered less to me than whether Savannah would win a race, or figure out how to help secure her family’s future. There was a lot going on for such a quick read, but I never felt like any of the story’s threads were lost.

As a total tangent: seeing other characters from the Hundred Oaks series mentioned made me want to go out and read the rest of Kenneally’s books. Soon!

Check this out if you’re looking for a cute love story with very real stakes. Check this review out if you enjoy terrible horse racing puns. 😉

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Check-In #6: Spring Writing Boot Camp

I know, I know. This is actually check-in #7, but I was lazy and running behind last week so the usual post didn’t happen. These days, it feels like I set goals for myself so that I can have the pleasure–ha!–of breaking them later. But for good reasons, I swear!

My initial goal for April was to draft, draft, draft like a crazy person on Amnesia Conspiracy. It’s Camp NaNoWriMo after all, and I have been a pathetic participant during the last couple go-rounds. This year is a step up from last, I suppose, when I didn’t even sign up for the April session. But it’s hard to take the positive approach when I already know I’m not going to win this time around either. There’s a loooonnnngg explanation for why, but I’m saving it for another blog post.

All I can say right now is that I have no plans to give up Amnesia Conspiracy. It just needs major surgery before I can dive in and start writing again.

Ideally, I was supposed to have my first round of revisions for FACING THE MUSIC finished by the end of March. (Kudos to chapters 19-20 for forcing me to rewrite you and summarily derailing my attempts at being productive.) Right now I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that it will be smooth sailing from here to the big finish. I am sending chapters to my CPs, which is exhilarating and scary all at once. Their feedback has already given me a critical eye toward the later chapters–and hopefully reduced my workload. 😉 I’m looking forward to implementing the rest of their suggestions, even if that means starting over at chapter one as soon as I reach ‘The End.’

Sigh. It never ends, does it?

Book Review #33: Crown of Midnight

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Considering how much I loved “Throne of Glass,” I had very high expectations for Sarah J. Maas’s sequel “Crown of Midnight.” Six hours of reading later, most of them penciled in around work and other responsibilities, and I can safely say that my expectations were more than met.

“Crown of Midnight” picks up shortly after Celaena has been declared the King’s Champion. Her position involves assassinating political rivals, or rebels to the crown and its cause. Meanwhile, Prince Dorian, the foreign princess Nehemia, and Captain of the Guard Chaol, worry about the brutality of Celaena’s new role and its effect on her loyalties.

Everything about this story–the emotion and action and plot twists–was high intensity from beginning to end. Though I predicted a handful of minor details, I was in no way prepared for the ending. The switches in perspective flowed effectively here, not only for the significance of the information revealed through other characters, but as a way to show the seeds of rebellion being planted.

I can’t not discuss the romance, since it played a much more important role here than it did at the start of Celaena’s story. Seeing her and Chaol fall for each other and fall together, hesitant but not reluctant, absolutely stole my heart. The personal details they revealed to each other worked well as a lens through which the reader could view their histories. For both Celaena and Chaol, so much of where they might go–either separately, or as a unit–stems from where they’ve been as individuals.

The attention paid to the struggles, failures, and triumphs of the side characters added a welcome extra layer of depth. Caring for Nehemia, and Dorian, and newcomer Archer Finn whom Celaena is forced to investigate, became so much easier because I never forgot how much all of them stood to lose.

I would’ve liked a little more world-building in book one, especially regarding the history of the kingdom and the now outlawed magic system. Though all the pertinent details came up in believable ways, more setup would’ve made it easier to retain the information. As critiques go, however, that’s a pretty minor one.

Breakneck action scenes, shocking magical revelations, and the emergence of a pretty epic romance made “Crown of Midnight” a highly enjoyable read. Now I can see why everyone is so excited for the upcoming release of “Heir of Fire,” book three in the series. Because I, for one, can’t wait.

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Check-In #5: Spring Writing Boot Camp

Another slow-ish week, but since I kind of saw this one coming I’m not going to complain too much. Finishing edits for one of my CPs kind of feels like a huge accomplishment in and of itself. I’m glad all the time I put in on those this week paid off.

I did manage to get chapter one of FACING THE MUSIC sent to my CP group, thank God, even if it turned into a huge production. I’d set aside two hours on Wednesday evening to read over it aloud just to make sure the writing flowed and there weren’t any glaring mistakes. Two hours. Ha. Someone should remind me that any of my future endeavors set within the boundaries of a specific timeline will require twice as much time as I expect them to take. At least.

It has been a couple months–one at minimum–since I’ve revised chapter one, but I sure as hell didn’t expect to open my word document and realize that the opening paragraphs needed to be reworked. And that there was a whole bunch I could cut down. And rearrange. And rephrase.

You get the picture.

Two and a half hours later, I finally liked the look of that chapter. Now I’m just waiting on a few more CPs to send feedback before I grit my teeth and take another look. I’ve forgotten how totally time consuming revisions are.

The only writing I did for Amnesia Conspiracy was over the weekend. I came close to 1k on Saturday and close to 2k on Sunday. I finished chapter 6 and found a way to condense the story by working a plot point in early that could then be eliminated down the road. Chapter 7 is underway and I’m glad for every last bit of progress. This one’s slow-going but it’s going. Baby steps.

As for the new title, I’m thinking of adopting a ‘don’t ask, won’t rant about it’ policy. Thoughts?

Book Review #32: Unteachable

Unteachable by Leah Raeder

My rating : 5 out of 5 stars

I bought “Unteachable” by Leah Raeder on a whim, and I am so glad I did. Teacher-student relationships are usually more squicky than sexy for me, and I’m not sure whether the technical legality of this romance made the decision to pick up the book easier or not. Now that I’ve finished reading, I’m not so sure it matters.

Maise O’Malley is a restless eighteen-year-old, eager to finish her senior year and go to film school somewhere as far from her small hometown as she can get. She meets Evan during one intense night at the carnival, fleeing after she realizes that she’s falling for him much too fast. Avoiding their connection proves impossible when Mr. Evan Wilke is waiting to teach Maise’s film studies class on her last first day of school.

As much as I loved the deeply dysfunctional relationship between Maise and Evan–not to mention their crazy chemistry–I wouldn’t have cared half as much about their story if the other people getting tangled up in it weren’t just as interesting. The contrast between Maise’s desire to belong to her friend Wesley’s eccentric family, and the mother she’s really stuck with, added depth to her bold personality and her longing to escape.

Raeder’s writing is beautiful–walking the fine line between lyrically vivid and bluntly coarse with natural ease. I’ve read and re-read some sections over and over again since finishing the book the first time, and I keep finding passages that wow me. The prose here makes me almost green with envy. I love it.

One of the things that impressed me about “Unteachable” was the whole host of other character issues orbiting the forbidden romance at the center of the story. Maise fights a constant battle–both in her relationship with Evan and her life outside him–between acting like a mature adult and being seen as one. Her handling of her problems veers between childlike and grown-up depending upon how she feels around Evan. It seemed realistic to me that she would be so influenced by her first real relationship, and watching her stand on her own with or without him was super rewarding.

This novel earns an easy five stars and it deserves every one of them. “Unteachable” is being released by a publisher next year, with a brand new cover to boot. If you haven’t bought it by now, I suggest you do after its second release. You won’t regret it.

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