Category Archives: YA

It Started with a Whisper by A. W. Hartoin.

It started with a whisper

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Ernest “Puppy” McClarity has only one wish: that Miss Pritchett, his dreaded math teacher, leaves him alone on the last day of school, so he makes a wish to his great-granddad Ernest to take care of her for him. Only wishes are a powerful thing when you are a McClarity, and old Ernest always watches over his own, even if he is long dead.

I absolutely loved It Started with a Whisper. It has magic and paranormal elements in it, but they are presented in such a manner that a lot can be seen as coincidences or weird accidents. This book is not about the all-powerful witches that smite their enemies with deadly spells. It’s about a family that loves each other and their land, and would do anything to protect each other as well.

I loved all the characters in this book. The McClarity clan is big, colorful and full of crazy people. They biker, they fight with each other, but they also have fun and love each other unconditionally. And they are all fully fleshed and tridimensional characters. I felt like I was right there at Camp with them, just another member of the Pack.

And Great-grandpa’s Ernest old homestead, or the Camp as everyone calls it, is described with such love and attention to detail, that I could picture it perfectly in my head as well. That’s actually one of the reasons I loved this book so much – it reminded me of the summers I spent at my grandparents summerhouse when I was a child. It was in a remote village in Russia where everybody knew each other and nobody ever locked their doors. All the kids would play together from dawn till dusk, and nobody worried where we were. That long-forgotten feeling of freedom, of summer heat and lazy afternoons swimming in the pond or exploring the woods behind the village, I managed to recapture it again while I read this book. And for that, Mrs. Hartoin, I thank you.

This story is less about magic, and more about Puppy slowly leaving his childhood behind and realizing that actions have consequences, and that sometimes things are not what they seem, and neither are people. Nothing is black or white, and even the hated teacher who had been so awful to him all year long might do so because she is profoundly unhappy and just lashing out.

It’s a coming of age story and it’s executed perfectly. Puppy is a typical 14 year old boy who has just barely left childhood and suddenly discovered that girls might as well be aliens from Tau Centori, because they are just as puzzling. Like any other boys his age, he is awkward around them, unsure of himself and slightly embarrassed about his mother always dropping him at school at least 30 mins late. All he wants at the beginning of the book is spend a fun summer at Camp with his family and friends, and hope that Beatrice, the llama that seems to hate him for some reason, doesn’t spit on him too often.

But when real disaster strikes and some of his actions have grave consequences, he steps up and does what is right. By then end of the story, Puppy has turned into a good man, a man Grandpa Ernest would be proud of.

I thoroughly enjoyed It Started With a Whisper and my time spent at Camp with the McClarities. On this cold and dreary season it was a much needed breath of summer heat. I would definitely pick up the next book when it comes out in 2015, because I wouldn’t mind coming back for a visit… as long as I’m invited. Because bad things happen to people who step on Ernest’s land uninvited.

PS. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review through LibraryThing.

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn.

Open Minds

Stars: 5 out of 5.

I don’t usually read YA. Well, scratch that. There are very few YA books that I actually like. Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, or the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix come to mind. So I should rephrase this to : I read YA, but the book needs to be exceptional for me to like it. Fortunately, Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn is one such book.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it’s perma-free on Amazon, so I admit that I was rather reticent about downloading and reading it. I’ve been less than impressed with the quality of some free books on amazon in the past.

But the moment I opened this book, I was hooked! I kept turning the pages and I couldn’t put it down. Susan Kaye Quinn created an interesting and compelling world where reading other people’s minds is considered the norm, and where people who can’t mind-read, or zeros, are outcasts, relegated to the most menial jobs. Because you wouldn’t trust someone whose mind you can’t read. And they wouldn’t be able to operate most of the machinery anyway, since everything, from phones to cars and kitchen appliances, runs on mindware. I must admit that the worldbuilding in this book is impressive, and the consequences of common mindreading are well-thought of.

Kira is not a typical teenage protagonist either. Sure, she dreams of fitting in and having friends again, and agonizes about the fact that the boy she likes will never go out with a zero. She has the normal hopes and dreams of a teenage girl. And when she discovers that she can not only read minds, but also control them, her first reaction is to pretend that it never happened, to try and hide it, to pass for a normal reader and just fit in. That’s what Kira wants most of all, to fit in. But that option proves impossible, and she discovers that there are a lot more jackers than she thought. She also discovers that the harsh reality for a jacker is either to live your life in hiding, work for the FBI, or be sent to a concentration camp.

I liked the fact that when the shit hits the fan, Kira doesn’t lose time mopping around and waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue her. She takes the matters in her own hands instead. She does what she thinks is right, even if that means risking her life to free other jackers from a secure FBI facility, or exposing the existence of the jackers and the horrible way they are treated by the government to the media.

I am very interested to see how she deals with the fallout from that bombshell in the next book,  Closed Hearts, btw.

My only gripe with this book would be how quickly Kira changes from being scared of her powers and reticent to use them to using them left and right without remorse. But you can argue that she is placed in a situation where her survival depends on those powers.

I would also have liked to see a bit more of a learning curve, because it seems like Kira went from a zero to a super-jacker in the space of a couple months and without any particular efforts.

But all in all, Open Minds is a fast-paced and interesting book. It’s also very well written and formatted. I would never have guessed it was self-published. So if you want to pick up a though provoking and intelligent book for your teen (or for yourself) to read, head over to Amazon and download the free copy.