Book Review: Thin Space

Thin Space, Jody Casella (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2013, 243 pp.)

Black and white image of a figure, walking through the woods, snow on the ground.

Cover, Thin Space

At the time of this review, the book holds a 4.6-star review on Amazon with 38 reviews.

Young Adult, Paranormal

Book Obtained By: Purchased from Amazon after the author presented workshops at the Upper Arlington Library (Ohio) Write Stuff event in November 2016.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4.5 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

thin space n. A point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side.

Ever since the car accident that killed his twin brother, Marshall Windsor has been consumed with guilt and crippled by the secrets of that fateful night. He has only one chance to make amends and set things right. He must find a thin space—a mythical point where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough for a person to step through to the other side.

But when a new girl moves into a house down the street, the same house Marsh is sure holds a thin space, she may be the key—or the unraveling of all his secrets.

As they get closer to finding a thin space—and closer to each other—Marsh must decide once and for all how far he’s willing to go to right the wrongs of the living … and the dead.”

Thin Space, Jody Casella (Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2013, 243 pp.)

Spoiler-Free Review

Jody Casella builds a likeable, hurting character in Marshall (Marsh) Windsor. His family and school are at wit’s end with his obsession of shuffling around in his bare feet, despite the freezing cold and snow on the ground. He’s going through the motions at school, detached from everyone he used to call friends, even picking fights with them, as he beats himself up for the accident that busted up his face but killed his twin brother. All the while, he needs his feet bare in case he touches a thin space.

Each page, Marsh’s hurt grows as he searches those public spaces while he yearns to enter the empty house where an old lady died. She was the one who told him and his twin of thin spaces, and it’s the best shot he has. But when a family from down south buys it, he finds a girl hurting in her own way at this abrupt move—Maddie. Her drawl sets her apart as much as her sadness, but around Marsh, she has glimmers of happiness. With their friendship built on a lie—his desperate need to get into that house—what will happen between them when everything unravels? Guidance Counselor, parents, friends and former friends, neighbors, each other, who can these kids trust?

You’ll ache for Marsh, wanting him to find peace. You’ll cry for Maddie and Marsh, wanting them to find each other sooner than they may find that thin space:

I’m already past the driveway when I turn to see Maddie dragging her arm across the glass. I don’t know what I’m thinking, but I stride back, step between her and the car, and swipe the snow off fast. I can see her out of the corner of my eye, shivering in her thin jacket, looking down at my boots.

She leans toward me, whispers, ‘Are you okay?’

Funny thing. I don’t remember anyone asking me that in a long time. Another funny thing: I have no idea what the answer is. Before I can say anything, a horn beeps and a car rolls up to the curb. (p. 85)

This book, solidly written, carries all that hurt of high school, deepened by the need to make up for one horrible decision you’d do anything to take back.

Now that it’s getting colder, why not curl up with Thin Space?

About the Author

Learn more about Jody Casella at her website.

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Book Review: Rules for Theives

Rules for Thieves, Alexandra Ott (Aladdin, 2017, Book 1 of Rules for Thieves, paperback, 312 pp.)

A pendant hangs from the title; a marketplace with tents, and two kids running through it

Cover of Rules for Thieves

At the time of this review, the book holds a 5-star review on Amazon with 19 reviews.

YA Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Purchased from the author after she presented at the Red Sneakers Writers Presents Write Well Sell Well Conference in Oklahoma over Labor Day weekend.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

“Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. When she escapes the miserable orphanage she has called home for the past nine years, she finally feels free.

But Alli quickly learns that freedom comes at a price. After a run-in with one of the city’s protectors she is marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical. And the clock is ticking.

Enter Beck, a boy who seems too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be one too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the king of the Guild assigns to her, join the Guild, collect her yearly reward, and buy the cure. The Guild is her ticket to the cure, and it just might be the home—and the family—that Alli has always wanted.

But when her trial goes horribly wrong, innocent lives are in danger—including Alli’s. Can she follow Beck’s rules, even if it means compromising her own? In this thrilling and fast-paced debut, Alli learns how much she is willing to sacrifice in order to survive.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Rules for Thieves, Alexandra Ott (Aladdin, 2017, Book 1 of Rules for Thieves, paperback, 312 pp.)

In Azeland, Alli Roscoe plots her escape from the orphanage. Once she’s free, the enormity of her life change hits her—she’s got nowhere to sleep, she’s got the clothes she’s wearing, and the shoes that mark her has out of place in any nice shop.

Based on the book’s cover, and Ott’s descriptions, I pictured an arid climate and a marketplace-driven, non-industrialized society. Protectors keep law with brute force and magic. She must evade them because she’s a runaway, but that’s harder because a Protector hits her with a curse.

What’s a twelve-year-old on her own to do, when she can’t legally work until thirteen? Lift food. That sets the dominoes falling, tangling her multiple times with the Protectors and with Beck, the boy she desperately wants to believe. How can she, though, after her survival lessons at the orphanage? Ott slowly feeds us those stories, about both the characters, so Alli can’t believe his friendship even when hope wants her to. He has so many rules. She thinks,

“I add one more to the list: Don’t think about who the marks are. Looking at what they carry, not who they are, makes it easier to ignore the lurch in my stomach that might, maybe, be guilt.

That should be a rule too: There’s no place for guilt in thieving.” (p. 48)

Ott keeps the pacing fast, whisking Alli and Beck through their friendship with one lesson in thieving, one escape after another, and the eventual reveal about the Guild and all it can offer her if she joins and accepts those hard rules Beck shares. At the Guild, Ott expands the cast of characters. It became harder for me to keep track of who was who as she unveiled first or last names, and quick snippets about the kids. The Guild’s location marks a huge contrast to Azeland, adding snow and a game that’ll make you worry for Alli.

Through all of this, she’s learning more about being a thief and deepening her friendship with Beck. Stakes do rise, and it’s deliciously fun seeing the lengths Alli goes for her trial, needing disguises, and what she’ll do for friendship even if it breaks a Guild rule or two. I loved the flying creature Ott introduces as a mode of transportation, the giant thilastri.

The story fell shy, when I couldn’t suspend my disbelief at the final stage of the trial. Past the time Alli figures something out, I was asking myself why anyone had let the trial get to that point. It’s still a set of exciting scenes, but my logical side called it a hole in the storytelling.

Alli’s an engaging character, and you can follow her adventures in book two, The Shadow Thieves. The paperback edition of Rules for Thieves contains a teaser chapter for that

About the Author

Learn more about Alexandra Ott at her website.

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Book Review: Bring Me Their Hearts

Bring Me Their Hearts, Sara Wolf (Entangled Teen, June 2018, Book 1 of whatever this series will be called, hardback, 366 pp.)

Beatufiul blond-haired girl in a flowing red velvet dress

Cover, Bring Me Their Hearts

At the time of this review, the book holds a 4.4-star review on Amazon with 101 reviews.

YA Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Borrowed from the library after researching Entangled Teen acquisitions editor Lydia Sharp (before pitching my novel to her at Cleveland Rocks Writers Conference), because the Amazon teaser pages hooked me, and I already have too many books on my shelf to be read.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 5 Godiva Chocolates (sinfully good), with a disclaimer: this book leaves you with a cliff-hanger ending—it’s the first book of a trilogy. I’d normally down-rate a book for that, however this book is SO good, I am forgiving the author

From the back cover

“I raise my chin, carefully keeping my shoulders wide and my face passive. Strong. I will make an impression here, or I will die for my loose tongue. It’s that simple.

Except it isn’t that simple.

Because I can’t die.

Because unlike the girls next to me, I’m not here to impress the king and win a royal’s hand in marriage or a court position for my father.

I’m here for Prince Lucien’s heart.

Literally.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Bring Me Their Hearts, Sara Wolf (Entangled Teen, June 2018, Book 1 of whatever this series will be called, hardback, 366 pp.)

New York Times best-selling author Sara Wolf introduces Zera, a Heartless. The Heartless owe their hearts to witches, typically because the witch brought them back from death, and now holds their heart captive in a jar. Heartless must do the witch’s bidding, and it takes an incredible amount of magic to kill a Heartless. They are monsters, needing to feed on bodies, on organs they tear fresh from the human or animal, or a care-giver gives them. They constantly battle to control those urges, and they can decimate a dozen armed humans.

The book opens with the scene from the back cover copy. Zera’s tone goes beyond snarky. She’s downright mean, and that would have put me off, except for her worldview mixing yearning with a dash of hope and a heap of heart. Add in the mysteries about her that Wolf unveils one at a time and you have a recipe cooking long in the author’s head, I’m sure. Plus, despite Zera being a Heartless, the scenes demonstrate her sheer willpower in trying to control the beast within. At one point, I wasn’t sure I’d keep reading the story, because that mean snarkiness wore on me, except Wolf had hooked me. I wanted to put the book down, but I couldn’t.

As the story progressed, and Zera developed, that snarkiness flowed to a softer level. Perhaps, too, the first-person narration present tense helped. Since everything was her thoughts, as if right now, I saw that battle to control herself. I wondered, what girl had she been before becoming Heartless. Wolf rewarded me a hundred-fold for continuing.

The other thing that jarred me was the opening started at the present. Then we took a leap back to “five days earlier,” I think it was, and a lot of the backstory unfolds there. Stories on TV do this all the time, and it typically doesn’t bother me. It’s the first time in a number years, I believe, that a book I’ve read has used this technique. It jarred me, but I accepted it. Then, the longer the “five days ago” went, the more I questioned starting with that scene.

One reason I kept reading, the incredibly fresh world Wolf has built here. A feudal society, but infused with magic and beasts at such level I would not consider it an alternate earth. Witches have long held magic here, and exist in great numbers. Wolf gives us races, some sentient and humanlike (Beneathers), others not (Valkerax). Among the variety comes one character to love, Malachite, the prince’s bodyguard. He’s a Beneather, making him a mighty foe even for a Heartless. He presents a layer of complexity for Zera, who could best take the prince’s heart if only she could get him alone, for she needs time to put it into the magical jar that will restore Lucien to life.

Zera is a Heartless, true enough, and her hate for herself rings loud and true. She despises what she must do, despises the darkness within. Wolf gives that hunger for warm flesh an eerie voice, rather like I imagine an evil split personality. You want one thing, the other personality wants another.

WhiCh pArt should wE eaT first? The hunger slithers around her, resting my eyes on her neck, her wrists—the most tender parts. YoUr soFt eyEs, or your soFt hEart?” (p. 285) This, for a girl who might be Zera’s only friend in the entire court; and worse, her ally. It’s horrible for Zera, wanting conflicting things so terribly.

Along the way, the cast of characters helps and hinders Zera. Someone must coach her be a lady, and that becomes Lady Y’Shennria’s role. Watching their relationship gave me as much delight as in watching Zera and Lucien. Wait, did I just use the word “watching?” You’ve got that right. Sure, I was reading, but Wolf painted this world, these characters, so descriptively I fell into the world. The story played out vividly before my mind’s eyes. I cringed, never knowing what side of Zera would win those moments she found herself alone, however briefly, with Lucien.

Lucien, too, developed as a character. Not nearly to the depth of Zera, but this is her story of loss, of love, of—I hoped—redemption; of their relationship together. That relationship has its own arc. I curse the book for ending with a cliffhanger, losing me in what will happen between them. Yes, Wolf brought Zera’s initial arc to a conclusion suitable for saying “the end,” but I’m never a fan of an author that sets such a strong hook for book 2 that you feel unsatisfied in the current book’s ending.

This book is a “must read” if you love YA fantasy and girls who carve out their place in the world. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, you’ll want book two now. Except Wolf’s not done with it!

Accolades

  • A Goodreads “YA Best Book of the Month”
  • An Amazon “Best Book of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy”

About the Author

Learn more about Sara Wolf at her website.

 

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