book review

REVIEW: HISTORY IS ALL YOU LEFT ME

History Is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera

Available: January 17, 2017 from Soho Teen

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I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Adam at BEA this year. He was by far my favorite signing. He’s personable, humble, and so SO kind. If you ever have a chance to meet him or go to a signing, DO IT. He’s SO GREAT.

I should note that out of the 140 ARCs I picked up from BEA, History Is All You Left Me is the one I chose to read first. Because, it’s Adam Silvera guys. And his writing is gold.

History Is All You Left Me follows Griffin, a seventeen-year-old boy from NYC who has just lost the love of his life. Twice. Theo was Griffin’s first. First love, first sexual encounter, first everything. The early stages of their relationship is remarkably sweet and will leave the reader full of butterfly feelings.

You know from line one that this book will rip your heart out in the best possible Adam-Silvera-imagined way. The writing is raw, gritty, and impossibly real. The characters are written so beautifully flawed that they could be anyone. I’ll admit it, I wanted to cry from page 13 on.

Take Griffin, for example, our OCD narrator. He suffers from compulsions that force him to count things (in even numbers) and always walk or sit to the left of someone. What I like about him is that he’s imperfect, but through the other characters, we see how loveable he is. This seems to be a direct representation of life that anyone (especially those with low self-esteem) can appreciate. Though we are flawed, we still deserve to be loved. Throughout the book Griffin struggles to overcome his compulsions which leads to tons of anxiety. I loved the patience and concern the other characters displayed for him, even though sometimes their well-intentioned actions were not at all what he needed.

The characters make mistakes. Many, MANY mistakes. Sometimes I found myself hoping they’d make more, just because I knew I’d do the same thing in the same situation. Adam Silvera is remarkable in that way. He can boil down every human emotion and infuse it in the tiniest details until it’s powerful…almost a character in its own right. It will leave the reader with a profound sensation of being understood, something I’ve never really experienced in books until Adam Silvera took my reader heart by storm.

History Is All You Left Me is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Silvera doesn’t shy away from anything—not sex, not mental health, not socioeconomic issues. He writes dangerously, which is perhaps why we love him and exactly what the contemporary YA genre has needed all along.

5 GIANT stars for History Is All You Left Me.

REVIEW – SECOND STAR BY ALYSSA B. SHEINMEL

Second Star by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Available: May 13, 2014 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Goodreads

Amazon

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers. Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete’s nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she’s falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up–and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

I keep wavering between 3 and 4 stars on this book. There were parts of it I really enjoyed, while others seemed rushed and not as thought out.

The story is based around recent high school graduate, Wendy. She had her life waiting just beyond the summer, with an acceptance to Stanford and the promise of a perfect life. Except, she can’t let go of her twin brothers, who went missing just before she started her senior year of high school. As surfers, her brothers lived a beach life, waking before the sun to catch the best waves, sometimes disappearing for days, and finally for good. The police write them off as dead, drowned in a swell too big for them to handle. Their boards wash up, but the boys never do. Her parents accept their deaths, moving on with their lives in a fog of disbelief, not really seeing anything anymore.

Wendy isn’t ready to let them go, and as her summer begins, she throws herself into one final search for them, which leads her to Kensington, part beach, part wasteland of what could’ve been. It’s there, amongst abandoned houses perched precariously over the ocean, that she meets Pete. He’s a surfer, and even better, he may be able to lead her to her brothers. Surely they’d surfed Kensington, with its powder perfect beach surrounded by waves. But Pete’s life isn’t just beaches and fun. As a squatter, he has to steal to eat, to survive, to care for the other life refugees he’s taken in. But Wendy can’t help herself. As she weaves her way into the surfers’ lives, she begins asking questions. Her brothers are out there. She knows it.

But Pete isn’t the only secret hiding in Kensington. On the other side of the beach lives Jas. Surfer by day, renowned drug dealer by night. And he has history with Pete.

What ensues is a complicated of exploration of what it means to live and what you must let go when you grow up.

The strongest part of this book was probably the setting. It was California rich, sand and sun and boys, I could practically smell the suntan lotion. There was a lot of symbolic reference to sand, which I liked. It seemed to me that the sand was Wendy’s memories, but by the end of the story, the sand was her future. It was a nice arc from what was to what could be.

The characters themselves were not that well depicted. It’s like the novel just scratched the surface of the whole story. While I enjoyed reading it, I never felt connected to Wendy. Though it was written in first person, I never became Wendy, she always seemed separate from her body, and at times, from the story, like she carried to much of a narrator’s voice. Pete, who was probably the best fleshed out character, still fell a little flat. Jas, who I wanted to like the most, was supposed to be the bad boy, but we only ever got one impression of him actually being “bad.” I wanted more. I wanted to truly and thoroughly hate him before Wendy made me fall in love with him.

There were lots of things I liked. There was romance, but it wasn’t overdone. There were two love interests and I liked both of them and didn’t hate Wendy for being conflicted. I loved the setting and learning more about surfing. I liked the twisting of plot. It definitely keeps you guessing until almost the very end, and then, throws you for another loop.

Overall, this was a quick, enjoyable read, I just wish there was more substance for me to sink my teeth into.

REVIEW: TEN TINY BREATHS BY K.A. TUCKER

Kacey Cleary’s whole life imploded four years ago in a drunk-driving accident. Now she’s working hard to bury the pieces left behind—all but one. Her little sister, Livie. Kacey can swallow the constant disapproval from her born-again aunt Darla over her self-destructive lifestyle; she can stop herself from going kick-boxer crazy on Uncle Raymond when he loses the girls’ college funds at a blackjack table. She just needs to keep it together until Livie is no longer a minor, and then they can get the hell out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

But when Uncle Raymond slides into bed next to Livie one night, Kacey decides it’s time to run. Armed with two bus tickets and dreams of living near the coast, Kacey and Livie start their new lives in a Miami apartment complex, complete with a grumpy landlord, a pervert upstairs, and a neighbor with a stage name perfectly matched to her chosen “profession.” But Kacey’s not worried. She can handle all of them. What she can’t handle is Trent Emerson in apartment 1D.

Kacey doesn’t want to feel. She doesn’t. It’s safer that way. For everyone. But sexy Trent finds a way into her numb heart, reigniting her ability to love again. She starts to believe that maybe she can leave the past where it belongs and start over. Maybe she’s not beyond repair.

But Kacey isn’t the only one who’s broken. Seemingly perfect Trent has an unforgiveable past of his own; one that, when discovered, will shatter Kacey’s newly constructed life and send her back into suffocating darkness.

I really, really wanted to like this book so I’m going to try to be as constructive as possible. Ten Tiny Breaths is the very first “new adult” book I’ve read. I’ve kind of avoided the genre since it became a thing because I was worried I’d be disappointed. Sadly, I was right. Now, I know that’s a lot of pressure to put on a book, and I’m not going to judge the entire genre based on one book, however, if every new adult book focuses on sex so much, I’m probably out.

Also, the main character and I share a name, “Kacey.” This book is in first person present tense. Let me just tell you how awkward that was to read. But, overall, I guess the book did its job, because I was incensed enough to write a review.

So, here we go.

Ten Tiny Breaths focuses on the lives of Kacey and Livie Cleary as they recover from their broken past. They move from Grand Rapids to Miami to start a new life for themselves. Kacey is 20, with a hard exterior and a broken heart. Livie is the opposite of Kacey, at 15, she’s warm and outgoing. They complement each other as much as they contradict one another.

Kacey takes a job as a waitress at a local strip joint while Livie goes to high school.

Enter the bad boy next door, Trent. He’s sexy, he rides a motorcycle, he’s basically the hero you want to see shirtless on every page of the twelve month calendar. I liked Trent a whole lot. He was the ideal mix of sensitivity and sexuality that you want to see in a male protagonist (but you never seem to find in real life!).

As the story unfolds, we learn the Kacey lost her family, her boyfriend, and her best friend in a horrific car crash. Kacey was in the middle in the back seat, and was forced to listen to her mother take her last breath and hold her dead boyfriend’s hand until the cops could cut her out of the vehicle hours later. The author did really well painting the picture of horror that Kacey experienced as well as the PTSD she suffered afterward. Kacey dabbled in drugs and alcohol and sex, seeking to numb herself from all the pain.

Here’s where I started not liking the story.

As soon as the reader finds out that someone in the drunk driver’s car lived, (spoiler) I knew it was Trent. I suspected it was Trent in the first few chapters when the landlord muses about how he got two rentals by email back to back. It was so glaringly obvious that I spent 90% of the book just waiting for him to be outed. Of course, the author did lots of things to divert attention away from him. His name is changed. He questions Kacey about the accident, about the guy who survived. His parents live in Rochester, New York, not Grand Rapids, Michigan. Still, I caught on way too quickly to be satisfied by the explosive ending I was promised. Maybe it’s the author in me.

There was too much sex for me, and not enough story. I know that sounds…wrong, since I think they only technically have sex twice in the book. However, Kacey spends an enormous amount of time pondering how much Trent turns her on. There’s a lot of dry humping and groping. I just…I wasn’t impressed. I felt like it took away from the story instead of adding to it. It made the story about sex, when it was supposed to be a sweet story about empathy and forgiveness. There’s a particular scene that really bothered me. When they have sex for the first time, Kacey says that Trent completes her as he enters her (or makes her whole, or something like that). Seriously? I want to throw up. I would’ve been so much more impressed if Kacey had found another way to be complete…which she does by the end of the book. Her dependence on Trent to make her whole made me sad. I wish she could’ve found a way to face her PTSD that didn’t involve fucking her neighbor. That’s right. I said it.

There were a LOT of things I really liked in this book. Kacey is a badass. She’s trained hardcore as a kick boxer and spends a lot of the book running around hitting guys. She doesn’t take any shit. From anyone. She’s fiercely loyal to her sister and the new friends they make in Miami. As a character, I think she’s well rounded and believable. (Even if her guy dependence makes me sad for her.) I think the author did a good job of fighting stereotypes, with the strip club providing an interesting backdrop for Kacey to make her new start. I like that there’s room for characters to surprise you, especially when they come off a little rough around the edges at the beginning.

I think this book had the potential to be very sweet and heartwarming. There seems to be a “bar” set for new adult. It’s young adult, except with pages and pages of sex (which apparently isn’t allowed in YA). I think I could grow to like this genre, once it realizes that it doesn’t have to prove anything by pushing sex in the reader’s face. I would’ve been tons more satisfied if there had been a build up to the sex, instead of having hormones raging on almost every page. I don’t want porn. I want a story. Ten Tiny Breaths was almost there, but just fell short of hitting me in the feels.

3 Stars

REVIEW AND GUEST POST: TWISTED BY HOLLY HOOK

Sixteen-year-old Allie has always been fascinated by storms. So instead of spending her summer break sitting around on the beach, she takes the vacation she’s always wanted.

Tornado chasing.

Allie meets her dream of seeing a tornado. But her dream turns to a nightmare, and she winds up in the middle of a strange ritual that leaves her shocked. When she returns home, something’s different…and it’s her. Allie’s become something powerful, dangerous, and terrifying—and there’s no way to stop it or protect the ones she loves.

With her best friend, Tommy, Allie must return to the plains, find her tormentors, and figure out a cure. But others have their own plans for her and her new abilities. Allie becomes a pawn in a battle to save others from her fate…or to destroy them.

WARNING! SPOILERS BELOW! There’s something to be said for an original idea, and that thing is: WOOHOO!! Just when you thought the fantasy genre was full up with the vampires and the werewolves and the fairies…we get a girl who turns into a tornado. Yes, you read that correctly. She literally turns into a tornado. Talk about a bad hair day, am I right?

Allie’s dream vacation goes from awesome to oh-my-god in the matter of a few minutes. One second, she’s tornado chasing, the next she’s part of some bizarre ritual where a tornado embeds itself into her chest. Just when she thinks the worst is over, a storm blows in and Allie blows away with it, in the form of a monster tornado.

And she’s not alone.

What ensues is a horrible mystery of epic proportions. Allie, along with her best friend Tommy, are thrust into a world where turning into a tornado is the norm. However, there’s a new force in town, and Allie’s transformation is only the beginning. If Allie and Tommy can’t stop the Deathwind, soon the entire town will be tornadoes.

Filled with more turns than an eighties perm, Twisted will take you on a wild, windy ride that doesn’t let up until the very last page.

My favorite thing about Holly’s writing is her spot on teenage dialogue.It seems these days that all stories are “aging” their teenagers to sound like adults. Holly’s dialogue is refreshingly on point and hilarious.

My review? 5 Stars for the originality, dialogue, and downright fun of this story.

Because I have those writerly connections, I caught up with Holly and asked her what is the most difficult thing about writing teenage fantasy. Here’s Holly’s response:

I’ve written young adult fantasy for several years now.  I think the biggest challenge about writing young adult fantasy isn’t so much the fantasy part, which I’ve never really struggled with, but with writing believable young adults.  There are just so many things you have to nail: are their emotions accurate for the situations they’re in?  Do they sound exactly their age?  Does their dialogue sound like that of 16-year-olds?  I think the hardest thing for me to get down is the characters’ relationships with each other, since during the teen years they’re so dynamic and subject to change.  If you don’t make your characters believable, then the fantasy part of your story won’t be believable, either.  And not to mention, you have to make sure you keep your slang modern and up-to-date.  Using slang from the eighties simply isn’t going to work unless your story takes place in that time period.

That’s all for today, kids. Take a look at Twisted by Holly Hook. While you’re at it, visit Holly’s blog. She’s all about freebies and sneak peeks, which I know we all appreciate. You can also catch up with her on Goodreads and Twitter.
All the best,
Kacey

REVIEW – HOSTAGE THREE BY NICK LAKE

Hostage Three by Nick Lake

Available November 12, 2013 from Bloomsbury USA Childrens.

As Amy sets out to sea with her family on a yacht, she’s only thinking about the peaceful waters and the warm sun. But she doesn’t get either after a group of pirates seize the boat and its human cargo, and the family becomes a commodity in a highly sophisticated transaction. Hostage One is Amy’s father–the most valuable. Hostage Three is Amy, who can’t believe the nightmare she’s in. But something even stranger happens as she builds a bond with one of her captors, making it brutally clear that the price of life and its value are two very different things.

*****

Hostage Three will take you for a wild, emotional ride. Nick Lake mixes the perfect combination of desperation, love, and heartache. It’s definitely a case of someone doing the wrong things for the right reasons.

With their lives on hold, Amy, her father, and step-mother set sail for the world on their yacht. Amy is the reluctant passenger, content to listen to music and forget where she is and who she’s with. When Amy and her family become hostages, all of that changes.

As the bargaining chip of pirates from Somalia, the yacht and all of its human cargo will fetch a high price, a price, which for one of the pirates, will allow him to buy his brother’s way out of prison.

The back story of Amy and Farouz unfolds between the action scenes. There’s plenty of guns and intensity to go around. It’s such an unlikely romance between captor and hostage, innocent in a unexpected and beautiful way.

Amy is a very unlikeable character at the start. She’s bratty, she’s spoiled, but mostly, she’s unhappy. She has a lot of ghosts following her around and her father’s inattentiveness leaves her cold and lonely.

Farouz became a pirate because he had no other choice. Somalia is not a forgiving place. After his parents are killed and his brother is imprisoned, he turns to piracy to raise the money to free his brother. Farouz’s story is heartbreaking, and even though he’s a pirate and he does terrible things, I can understand why Amy would sympathize with him. I found myself rooting for the bad guys.

Amy and Farouz’s romance develops slowly and is filled with uncertainty. Though it’s clear Farouz cares for Amy, he’s also a pirate who has sworn to do his job. Refusing could mean his execution.

I found Hostage Three unique and heartbreaking. It tests the limits of trust and love. It shows that even good people do bad things, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad people. What I loved about this book was that it was unapologetic. Hard situations are described, nothing horrible is skirted.

The action and suspense make Hostage Three unputdownable. The carefully crafted relationships make it unforgettable.

This book will haunt me well into the future.

Rating: 5 GIANT Stars

REVIEW – HEARTBEAT BY ELIZABETH SCOTT

Available January 28, 2014 from Harlequin Teen

Goodreads

Life. Death. And…Love?

Emma would give anything to talk to her mother one last time. Tell her about her slipping grades, her anger with her stepfather, and the boy with the bad reputation who might be the only one Emma can be herself with.

But Emma can’t tell her mother anything. Because her mother is brain-dead and being kept alive by machines for the baby growing inside her.

Meeting bad-boy Caleb Harrison wouldn’t have interested Old Emma. But New Emma-the one who exists in a fog of grief, who no longer cares about school, whose only social outlet is her best friend Olivia-New Emma is startled by the connection she and Caleb forge.

Feeling her own heart beat again wakes Emma from the grief that has grayed her existence. Is there hope for life after death-and maybe, for love?

****

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

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Heartbeat is an emotional look inside a family as they deal with loss and tragedy. When Emma’s pregnant mother suffers a stroke, Emma’s stepfather, Dan, decides to keep her alive to save the unborn baby, even though Emma’s mother is brain dead. Emma hates Dan for his decision, not only because he never consulted Emma, but because she thinks he only cares for his unborn son, and not her mother. Emma doesn’t know how to survive without her mother. She’s lost everything- her mom, her stepfather, her grades, and the one thing that remains – her unborn baby brother, is the catalyst for all the hurt and confusion.

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The characters:

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Emma is a smart teenager. Before her mother’s stroke, Emma was on the fast track to a prestigious college. She was a serious, hardworking student who thought planning her perfect future was the most important thing she could do. After her mother dies, Emma’s grades fall, she stops doing her homework, stops caring, because nothing that was important is that way anymore. I like how this story takes a hard journey through loss and grief. Several times, I found myself connecting with Emma’s internal dialogue. Her anguish and confusion, the what if’s, the author really hit the grief spot on.

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Dan is the doting father figure. Even while Emma hates him, and is constantly spitting hate in his direction, you can see how much he loves her and their family. He’s torn between saving his son and using his wife’s body as an incubator. He knows that his wife would want him to save their son, but his struggle with Emma’s hatred is spectacular. He’s an incredibly strong character, even though he’s not perfect. I loved that the reader gets glimpses into the past, of how happy he was to have Emma and her mother. It lets the reader know that he’s not some heartless bastard trying to farm his son into existence at any cost.

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Caleb is Emma’s love interest. He’s a broken boy, which is how Emma connects with him. He considers himself responsible for his little sister, Millie’s, death. Emma and Caleb bond over their guilt and pain, and their love story is sometimes quiet and beautiful and other times bright and explosive. Caleb is the perfect reflection for Emma and I love the two of them together. It shows how you truly cannot know someone from the outside. Caleb appears to be the typical bad boy loser, into drugs and stealing cars, but he’s really just a sad, scared, young man, who has taken on far more guilt than he should have to bear alone.

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Things I liked:

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*Heartbeat doesn’t sugarcoat pain or loss and allows Emma to make bad choices. It also allows for forgiveness.

*It has a clear understanding of grief and the anger and hatred that come along with it.

*There is visible character growth for Emma, Dan, and Caleb.

*There is a clear line between Emma’s “old” life and her “new” life, and proof that neither is perfect.

*Caleb- especially how he doesn’t “exist” to Emma until she finally “sees” him.

*First person present tense. I usually don’t like this POV, but the immediacy worked perfectly for Heartbeat, packing an emotional punch.

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Things I didn’t like:

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*Caleb’s parents. I can see where a family would get to the point of hating their child if they believed him responsible for the death of their other child, however, I thought the entire scene between him, Emma, and his parents was over the top. I know that the author wanted to show how “evil” they are, but pure evil is hard to swallow, and she left little redeeming qualities for Caleb’s parents. I would’ve believed it more if they’d just ignored him instead of trying to convince Emma that Caleb is a terrible person.

*Millie’s back story. I kept waiting for the “diets” Millie was on to pan out into a plot point. I wanted to see that perfection reflected in Caleb’s mother. It felt like an afterthought, another “staged” point just to make his parents look worse. Their callousness never felt authentic.

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This story is unique, like nothing I have ever read before. Heartbeat takes the reader on a turbulent ride. I found myself laughing and crying at equal intervals. Heartbeat answers the following questions:

How do you say goodbye to someone who is still breathing? Someone who will produce a life but has none left for herself? What makes a life? What makes a family? What is the right decision if you cannot choose for yourself? Who will love me when I have so much hate?

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This story will move teens and adults alike. Great for fans of emotional books along the lines of The Fault in our Stars by John Green and Imperfect Spiral by Debbie Levy. 

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Rating: Four Stars

REVIEW – PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL BY KARA TAYLOR

In this breathtaking debut that reads like Gossip Girl crossed with Twin Peaks, a Queen Bee at a blue-blooded New England prep school stumbles into a murder mystery.

Anne Dowling practically runs her exclusive academy on New York’s Upper East Side—that is, until she accidentally burns part of it down and gets sent to a prestigious boarding school outside of Boston. Determined to make it back to New York, Anne couldn’t care less about making friends at the preppy Wheatley School. That is, until her roommate Isabella’s body is found in the woods behind the school.

When everyone else is oddly silent, Anne becomes determined to uncover the truth no matter how many rules she has to break to do it. With the help of Isabella’s twin brother Anthony, and a cute classmate named Brent, Anne discovers that Isabella wasn’t quite the innocent nerdy girl she pretended to be. But someone will do anything to stop Anne’s snooping in this fast-paced, unputdownable read—even if it means framing her for Isabella’s murder.

**

I received an advance copy of this title from NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I did not receive any compensation, monetary or otherwise, for my review.

5 STARS

Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor

This book was so much fun! The dialogue was hilarious and the situations had me laughing all the way through. Don’t let the cover or the title fool you—I went into this book thinking it was going to be snarky, shallow, and annoying. It was none of those things. (I might go as far as to wish they’d used a different title AND cover, one that was more interesting and more applicable to the story.)

Anne Dowling has a serious case of bad luck that ends her at Wheatley as the “new girl.” What ensues is a mix of mystery, murder, friendship, relationships, and self-discovery. While Anne is constantly touted as a “troublemaker”, I think she’s just a typical teenager trying to stay ahead of the game. She does her fair share of sneaking around, breaking and entering, and snooping, but her character never seemed catty or contrived.

When Anne’s roommate Isabella is found dead in the woods, the book really takes off. The reader follows Anne as she tries to solve the mystery of who killed Isabella—no matter the consequences.

Things I liked: Anne’s authentic voice. The storyline and how it keeps you guessing until the end. How all the characters are involved in something unsavory—it keeps things interesting!

Things I didn’t like: The stereotypical relationships and how Anne chooses the “rich” kid in the end. The extra characters who aren’t well developed.

Prep School Confidential will keep you on your toes and you’ll fly through the pages trying to figure it out. Anne is a likeable main character and the plot is substantial enough to satisfy even a critical reader.