Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith

Ghost Medicine was Andrew's debut novel way back in 2008. It's my favorite of all his books. Those of you who've read The Marbury Lens might be shocked by that statement, and it's certainly hard to compare any novel to that literary phenomenon, but I want to point out that I didn't say Ghost Medicine was his best novel, just my favorite.

It would be impossible to call one of Andrew's books better than the any of the others. They're all great. Now, I know I review a lot of Andrew's books, and I promise to some day start talking about books other than his, but not today. Before I get to what touched me about this story, let me give you the jacket copy:

The summer before Troy Stotts turns seventeen, his mother dies. Troy and his father barely speak, communicating instead by writing notes on a legal pad by the phone. Troy spends most of his time with his closest friends: Tom Buller, brash and fearless, the son of a drunk; Gabe Benavidez, smart enough to know he’ll never take over the family ranch; and Gabe’s sister, Luz, whose family overprotects her, and who Troy has loved since they were children.

Troy and his friends don’t want trouble. They want this to be the summer of what Troy calls “ghost medicine,” when time seems to stop, so they won’t have to face the past or the future. But before the summer is over, their paths will cross in dangerous and fateful ways with people who will change their lives: Rose, a damaged derelict who lives with a flock of wild horses and goats; and Chase Rutledge, the arrogant sheriff’s son.

Troy and his friends want to disappear. Instead, they will become what they least expect —brothers, lovers, heroes,
and ghosts.

I loved this book from the very first paragraph. I stepped into Troy's skin the moment I met him. It may be because I basically was Troy at his age: distant father, dead mother, in love with a beautiful girl above his station. The only thing Troy had that I didn't was a strong male relationship. Two of them, actually.

If you thought Jack and Conner showed you how much two young men can mean to each other, wait until you read about Troy Stotts and Tommy Buller. Tom is the strong one, the big brother figure who is at Troy's side everywhere, and who loves Troy and their other best friend, Gabe Benavidez, with a fierce loyalty that only the optimism of youth can inspire. I would have given anything for friends like Tommy and Gabe when I was young, scared, and alone.

The characters in this story jump off the page at you, and kick you in the face with their humanity. I'm not going to give anything away here, but I can tell you there was a moment when I emailed Andrew just to say "you better not." You'll see what I mean when you read this book.

Ghost Medicine also takes place in one of the most beautiful settings I've ever read. In an unknown town in the mountainous west, Troy's father owns a farm next to the Benavidez horse ranch. They're surrounded by mountains, alpine meadows, and deep granite lakes. It reminded me of my own youth, and the time I spent in the mountains, which was beautiful.

I've seen this book compared to Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, and I don't think that's a terrible argument, since they're both full of lovely imagery and poetic language, but I think it's unfair to classify and pigeonhole this book that way. This book is more accessible, more immediate, and ultimately, I think, tells a more powerful tale.

I could probably go on, but I've made my point. I finished this book over a month ago, but the afterglow still warms my heart.

I've talked about Andrew enough that you guys probably know where to find him by now, but just in case, two links:

Andrew's blog.

Ghost Medicine on Amazon.

Oh, P.S. There is one moment in this book that absolutely took my breath away. Email me when you read it, and I bet you'll feel the same way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Forbidden by Tabitha Sazuma

The Amazon Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

The Afterglow

I think I originally picked up this book out of sheer, morbid curiosity. But I was immediately hooked, drawn into this tragic story to the point that I couldn't put the book down. The book follows a family of five siblings who have been all but abandoned by their mother. Lochan, the strong "man of the house" at home, is brilliant and driven but so terrified of public speaking he can barely utter a single word to anyone outside of his own family. Maya, the mother-figure, peacemaker, and loving sister is the nurturer her siblings desperately crave. Kit, headstrong and angry, acts out as many teenagers will. Tiffan, a hyper but lovable child, is the whirlwind of the family. And little Willa is sweet, adorable, and made me want to jump into the book and scoop her into my arms. I fell in love with each and every one of them and distinctly experienced every joy and pain throughout the story right along with them.

When the romantic aspect of Maya and Lochan's relationship began to develop, I was sympathetic, a bit appalled yet understanding, scared, and heartbroken for them all at once. It was actually difficult not to wish they could have a happily ever after - something I didn't expect at all.

As I got closer to the end of the story, I found myself reading slower, not wanting to reach the inevitable end to a truly beautiful, tragic story. I cried through the last two chapters of this book and I think this will be one of those stories that will haunt me forever.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

on Goodreads

Andi Alpers is on the edge. She's angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and angry at the world for taking her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And her father has determined that Andi's accompanying him to Paris over winter break is the solution to everything.

But Paris is a city of ghosts for Andi. And when she finds a centuries-old diary, the ghosts begin to walk off the page. Alexandrine, the owner of the journal, knew heartbreak also, and Andi finds comfort in the girl's words. Until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

The Afterglow

The blurb just does this book no justice whatsoever. The blurb is simply interesting. The book is gorgeous. Ms. Donnelly juggles several different themes here - the past's relationship with the present, the parallels between Alex and Andi's lives, and the different ways the characters channel their grief - and she weaves them together with haunting, beautiful prose.

I was particularly impressed with Andi and Alex's distinct voices. I appreciated that even though Andi is a troubled character, Ms. Donnelly never went for the cheap teen angst. Andi has lighter moments as well, and I was truly sympathizing with her and rooting for her. I'm surprised at how much I ended up loving Alex, though. I loved that she didn't start off as a particularly good person, but she becomes such a quietly inspiring figure by the end of the book. The supporting characters were well-drawn, and though I'm notoriously hard to please when it comes to romance, this one really won me over.

This is not the sort of book to tackle if you're looking for something light - even in the book's happier moments, there's an undercurrent of melancholy. But overall it was a very uplifting, very engaging read. I highly recommend it.

And on an unrelated note, hi! I'm Becky, and I'm happy to be the newest member of Afterglow. I'll do my best to make these reviews coherent!


For centuries, Blackhope Tower has been shrouded in intrigue, centered around a labyrinth and a painting in the Mariner's Chamber.

When fourteen-year-old Sunni Forrest visits the tower and sees her stepbrother Dean disappear, seemingly into the painting itself, she must find him and risk being drawn into the heart of the Blackhope Enigma.

The Afterglow

LOVED this one! Not only do people live inside the painting; there are layers of worlds, in which the inhabitants are unaware of how much time has passed outside the painting. Arcadia--the "main"world, I guess you could say--is too perfect to ever leave.

I loved the idea of Arcadia; how it seems so perfect on the surface, but once you dig a little deeper, you find some darkness lurking in the corners . . . wonderfully creepy!

This book releases August 9--just a few days away!

Monday, August 1, 2011

True Spirit by Jessica Watson

Blurb: On May 15, 2010, after 210 days at sea and more than 22,000 nautical miles, 16-year-old Jessica Watson sailed her 33-foot boat triumphantly back to land. She had done it. She was the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted, and nonstop around the world.

Jessica spent years preparing for this moment, years focused on achieving her dream. Yet only eight months before, she collided with a 63,000-ton freighter. It seemed to many that she’d failed before she’d even begun, but Jessica brushed herself off, held her head high, and kept going.

Told in Jessica’s own words, True Spirit is the story of her epic voyage. It tells how a young girl, once afraid of everything, decided to test herself on an extraordinary adventure that included gale-force winds, mountainous waves, hazardous icebergs, and extreme loneliness on a vast sea, with no land in sight and no help close at hand. True Spirit is an inspiring story of risk, guts, determination, and achievement that ultimately proves we all have the power to live our dreams—no matter how big or small.

The afterglow:

I followed Jessica's journey while it was happening through her blog, and was inspired with every post. So it's no surprise I bought her book as soon as I heard it was out. Seriously, folks, AMAZING. The book was written by Jessica herself, pulling from her blog posts, and I loved that the story came out in Jessica's own voice.

The book is so full of hope, enthusiasm, and encouragement, I feel like it's practically a self-help book on achieving your dreams. Only so much better, because you get an incredible story into the bargain. It's well written, engaging, and TRUE. I was tugged along for an emotional, exciting ride with Jessica and felt lucky I got to share even a little bit in something I'd never be able to do: sail solo around the world.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, enlightening, and enthusiastic read.