What Dreams May Come
Paranormal Romance, Romance

Review: What Dreams May Come by Beth Honeycutt

What Dreams May Come
Image from Beth Honeycutt; used by permission

Title: What Dreams May Come (In Dreams #1)

Author: Beth M. Honeycutt

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Reality is overrated. Or so Ellie Cross has always believed.

Ellie is ordinary and invisible – the kind of girl who would loan her lunch money to anyone, but not the kind of girl to get noticed. Well, except by her nagging mom and the class bully. But Ellie has someone she can turn to whenever she has a problem. Though some might call him an imaginary friend, since they’ve never actually met outside of dreams.

And, sure, Ellie knows it’s kinda weird to have a friend no one else can see. But since he isn’t real, she can tell Gabe anything without ever worrying that he’ll ditch her for someone cooler or blab her secrets. And so what if she happens to have an itsy-bitsy crush on her reality-challenged friend? Who’s it hurting, really?

But things are about to get complicated, because there’s a new guy in school. A guy with hauntingly familiar eyes. A guy who knows things about Ellie that he shouldn’t have any way of knowing…

If you’ve been around this blog for any length of time, you know I am really not into paranormal romance. So what convinced me to pick this up? Pretty much the first line of that description. Because honestly, half the time I think reality’s overrated. I’d rather read a book.

I liked Ellie. She’s one of those shy sweet girls who’s awesome once you get to know her, but it takes a little effort to get to know her. And I can totally relate to her liking something better than reality – dreams for Ellie, fiction for me, but it’s the same principle.

The only thing that bothered me about her was her lack of spine. I get it that not everybody is like me. But I’m the kind of person where if somebody called me fat, I’d say something like “It’s called curvy, and I’m rocking it!” So Ellie’s ignore-them-and-try-not-to-cry strategy annoyed me. But I’m positive there are plenty of bullied girls out there who can totally relate to her.

Gabe was almost too perfect. He was sweet and strong, amazingly caring, attentive, and a great listener. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him and really wish I can find a guy like him. He just seemed almost too good to be true.

I tried about five different ways to condense things happening in this book to one sentence, but they all make it sound boring. The story is Ellie trying to figure out if new-kid Gabriel is the same person as dream-kid Gabe. But there’s so much more than that. It’s a mixture of her desire for love and her struggle to realize she’s actually worth loving.

I went through a lot of the shyness and self-image issues Ellie went through when I was in junior high. Reading it now, I enjoyed it because I remembered the struggles. If I’d read this in junior high, it would have blown me away.

And bonus: the romance is extremely sweet and completely clean.

What Dreams May Come is actually first in a series, but I think the ending was actually a pretty solid wrap-up. It’s one of those books where if you’re looking for a stand-alone, this one will work, but if you desperately want more of these characters, there’s more on the way. I don’t think I’ll be continuing the series, but I certainly don’t regret this read.

I received a free review copy of What Dreams May Come from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The In Dreams series

  1. What Dreams May Come
  2. Where Nightmares Walk

Report Card

For more on my grading system, please see my About page.

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME scored a 4.0 (A)

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Contemporary

Review: Don’t Even Think About It

Cover of "Don't Even Think About It," featuring a yellow background with multicolored speech bubbles containing the word of the title
Image from Sarah Mlynowski

Title: Don’t Even Think About It

Author: Sarah Mlynowski

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

We wren’t always like this. We used to be average NYC high school sophomores. Until our homeroom went for flu shots. We were prepared for some side effects. Maybe some headaches. Maybe a sore arm. We definitely didn’t expect to get telepathic powers. But suddenly we could hear what everyone was thinking. Our friends. Our parents. Our crushes. Now we all know that Tess is in love with her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That, um, Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper.

Since we’ve kept our freakish skill a secret, we can sit next to the class brainiac and ace our tests. We can dump our boyfriends right before they dump us. We know what our friends really think of our jeans, our breath, our new bangs. We already know what’s coming.

Some of us will thrive. Some of us will crack. None of us will ever be the same. So stop obsessing about your ex. We’re always listening.

Review:

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I’m always up for psychic powers. So a contemporary plot with telepathic abilities? Sign me up!

I thought there were maybe three or four girls who got telepathy. I didn’t expect the whole homeroom. There’s a smaller group of major ones (nerdy Olivia, popular Mackenzie, and quiet Tess are the main players), but it was a surprisingly large group of telepathic characters.

And it was such an interesting take on the ensemble cast – the narrator was a collective consciousness. Don’t Even Think About It is the story of how a group of I‘s became a we.

This whole plot was amazing. Most of it is contemporary – crushes, boyfriends, friends and school – but then there’s the telepathy. Despite the paranormal-style powers, the best I can describe this is “contemporary with mind-readers.” It was a delightfully messy, multi-character high school story, with an extra dimension of ESP.

There was no indication of it on the cover, but there’s a sequel. And I want to read it. I want to hang out more with these characters and their high school ESP.

The Don’t Even Think About It series:

  1. Don’t Even Think About It
  2. Think Twice
Contemporary, Historical

Review: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws

Cover of "Tea Cups and Tiger Claws," featuring a hand holding a china teacup with blood dripping from its fingernails
Image from Tea Cups and Tiger Claws Facebook

Title: Tea Cups and Tiger Claws

Author: Timothy Patrick

Genre: Historical/Contemporary

Back Cover:

When identical triplets are born in 1916, newspapers from across the country cover the story, and the babies become little celebrities. Unfortunately, this small portion of fame leads to a much larger portion of parental greed, and the triplets are split up – parceled out to the highest bidders. Judith and Abigail go to live in a hilltop mansion, but Dorthea is not so lucky. She is stuck with a shady family in an abandoned work camp.

Identical in appearance and with the same blood in their veins, the sisters should have also shared united destinies. Instead, those destinies are thrown to the wind, and the consequences are extreme – and very visible – because in their small town, every detail of their lives is witnessed, deliberated, and judged.

Review:

I picked up this book mainly on the premise of identical triplets separated as babies and raised in very different households. The whole nature vs. nurture thing is fascinating to me (plus I’m writing a book with a similar concept, so the idea is pretty close to my heart), so I figured I’d try it.

Dorthea was the main character for the first half of the book. She was ambitious, which I admired…but that was about it. She was just so heartless and ruthless and immoral. I kept trying to find something redeeming, I really did. But as the book went on, she got worse, and I hated her so much.

Veronica, Judith’s daughter, was a spoiled brat. A spoiled, selfish, irresponsible, lazy brat. She had so much potential, though, and I hated her mostly because she could do so much…and instead, she got in trouble and threw money at it to make it go away.

Sarah, Abigail’s daughter, was the only redeeming main character in the book. She was nice, and actually cared about people. She tried a little too hard to please everyone, but I was willing to overlook that because she was the one main character I didn’t want to punch in the face.

One thing I did enjoy about Tea Cups and Tiger Claws was the sweeping scope. It started out with the birth of the Dorthea, Abigail, and Judith to a selfish, rude woman in the poor neighborhood. Then it followed Dorthea, the triplet her mother kept, up through middle age with her driving and ruthless desire to get ahead in the world.

When Sarah and Veronica get into their late teens, it switches to following them – and how they help, hinder, and react to Dorthea’s schemes. I found it interesting that this book managed to cover two generations, a huge cast of important characters, and shifting main characters while still maintaining a coherent plot.

This book was a struggle. The characters were so evil and immoral and petty. I hated almost all of them. Even the romance between Sarah and the sweet stablehand Mack was tainted by how much I hated everyone else. The problem was, Dorthea was brilliant, and I wanted to see how her schemes would play out. I hated the book, but I was fascinated by it, and I hated that I found it fascinating.

Tea Cups and Tiger Claws was just too much for me. Too much evil and too much selfishness and too much sin. I hated it, but I was fascinated by it, and that more than anything else is what made it difficult. This is my personal opinion and has little to do with the book or the writing – it was just not a book for me.

I received a free review copy of Tea Cups and Tiger Claws from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Contemporary

Review: Ballad of the Northland

Cover of "Ballad of the Northland," featuring a black background with a small picture of a flying eagle
Image from Abe Books

Title: Ballad of the Northland

Author: Jason Barron

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

Life in the north is hard. For many who dwell on the fringes of the Last Great Frontier, far from the major population centers, daily life is purely a matter of survival, of eking out a hand to mouth existence on the back of frozen wastes or along windswept shores. The Boy grew up poverty-stricken in the wild country of south central Alaska. On the Yentna River, he and his cousins grow up hungry, hard, and tougher than nails. He learns to hunt, trap, and just get by in a world where survival is accomplished day by day and never taken for granted. One day, he learns about the Great Race, a thousand-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome, and his odyssey begins…

Review:

I had no intention of ever reading this book. The blurb was lame, the cover was lamer, and it sounded like either a coming-of-age story (not my thing) or something boring and “inspirational.” But my grandparents got it for my brother in Alaska, and he asked me to read it and tell him if it was any good. (He’s not a big reader anyway, and the only books he really reads are ones I recommend.)

One Saturday, nearly six months after he asked me to read it, it finally got to the top of my to-read pile. So I picked it up and decided to read 100 pages, give up, and take a nap.

After page one, I did not expect to like this book. The characters didn’t even get names. Aunt and Uncle, Little Cousin, Middle Cousin, and the main character was just called “The Boy.” (It was written in third person.) So I started slogging. And then I looked at page numbers and realized I passed the hundred mark 23 pages ago.

I didn’t get a nap that afternoon.

The characters weren’t all that outstanding. There wasn’t really a plot. But I was fascinated. It was a look at life in rural Alaska. Cold and bitter, spending the entire day doing enough to survive until tomorrow and do it again. Ballad of the Northland didn’t mince words. It was hard, cold, backbreaking, and brutal … and completely absorbing.

There was also a touch of … something else. Maybe The Boy was messed up in the head. Or maybe there was a dash of paranormal to the story. But it was a strange, eerie addition to the story that somehow didn’t seem out of place.

So did I recommend this book to my brother? Yes. It’s a little different from his usual fare of juvenile humor, but I hope he gives it a chance. I didn’t enjoy it in the sense of entertainment, but it was a fascinating read.

Contemporary

Review: Dare Me

Dare Me book cover
Image from Eric Devine

Title: Dare Me

Author: Eric Devine

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

It’s simple: complete ten dares in ten months to achieve greatness. Ben Candido and his friends Ricky and John are convinced that this will make their senior year legendary. But simple becomes complicated when their videos go viral and the mysterious funder of the dares makes increasingly dangerous demands. Broken bones, Kevlar vests, tasers…while Ben may make his mark in infamy, will it come at the cost of the rest of his life?

Review:

Admittedly, this isn’t a book I would normally read. But I liked the idea of some high school boys taking on dangerous dares for “greatness.” And then I read the first line: “There is no doubt that one of us will die.” That settled it – I was going to read this book.

I don’t want to do one of my regular reviews, where I talk about the characters and plot twists and everything. I think that would ruin the magic of the book.

I’m not sure exactly what to say about Dare Me. It was … different.

The boys were completely crazy. Jumping off bridges, shooting themselves with tasers, self-destructively insane. Yet it made perfect sense. I could relate to their desire for – I don’t know what to call it. Infamy? Attention? Doing something outside the status quo?

I liked Ben and hated Ricky and wished John would grow a spine, but strangely enough, Ben’s older sister Ginny was my favorite character. I didn’t think I would like her at first, but I did. She was caring and concerned for her little brother, even if she could be manipulative. If I had a big sister, I would want her to be just like Ginny.

I didn’t expect a whole lot out of this book, except death-defying dares. Dare Me overdelivered. There were death-defying dares. But there were also abusive boyfriends, a mixed-up romance, and a family falling apart, friendships being built and crumbling and rotting from within. And a bittersweet but perfect ending.

It was suspenseful. Dark. Violent. Heartbreaking. And beautiful. A quote from Kirkus Reviews on the cover called it “Astute and riveting,” and that describes it, if inadequately. But I’m not sure the words exist for what this book is.

The storyline, most of the characters, the unnecessary violence … many times, the book repulsed me. But somehow, I connected with it. So even though I didn’t like the book in the sense that I enjoyed it as entertainment, but I loved it in the sense that it spoke to me. I have no better way to describe my reaction to Dare Me than, I didn’t like this book, but I loved it.

UPDATE: Eric Devine tweeted a link to my review!

Did Not Finish, Romance

Review: Blaze

Cover of "Blaze," featuring the title in pink text and the head of a girl with her hair, pink at the roots and blond at the tips, blowing forward to cover her face
Image from Laurie Crompton

Title: Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains)

Author: Laurie Boyle Crompton

Genre: Romance

Back Cover:

Blaze is tired of spending her life on the sidelines. All she wants is for Mark the Soccer Stud to notice her. Not as Josh’s weird sister who drives a turd-brown minivan. And not as that nerdy girl who draws comics. What she gets is her very own arch-nemesis. Mark may have humiliated Blaze supervillian-style, but what he doesn’t know is geek girls always get revenge.

Review:

I seem to be reading a lot of what-possessed-me-to-pick-this-up books lately. I’m pretty sure I picked this one up on originality alone. A romance gone bad, the hurt girl gets revenge, and comic books? Sounds pretty good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even finish it.

Blaze was okay. Her moral standards were a little lax, which was my biggest problem with her. Other than that, though, she was responsible and kinda lonely and generally a good character.

Besides being incredibly handsome, Mark (Blaze’s love interest) was a mystery – and not in a good way. He felt very underdeveloped. And besides the fact that he was handsome, I don’t know why Blaze liked him so much (of course, that could have been the only reason).

What really made me put the book down was the plot. The back cover promised me a romance gone wrong and revenge. By the 100-page mark, Blaze and Mark had kissed for the first time. The romance part was just starting, and honestly, I was bored. The first 100 pages was Blaze pining after Mark, and that frustrated me. If it took 100 pages for the plot on the back cover to start, there was no way I’d suffer through this to get to the revenge.

I’m honestly not sure how much of this was me and how much was the book. I’m not a huge romance fan, which might have had something to do with it. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it more than me. But I am not a fan.

Contemporary

Review: Me, Just Different

Me, Just Different book cover
Image from Go Teen Writers

Title: Me, Just Different

Series: The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt #1

Author: Stephanie Morrill

Genre: Contemporary

Back Cover:

Welcome to the world of Skylar Hoyt, a high school senior whose exotic Hawaiian looks have propelled her to the height of the “in” crowd, but who’s no longer sure that’s where she really fits. New friends, old friends, a reluctant romance, and a family crisis swirl around Skylar as she tries to keep it together and figure out who she really wants to be.

Review:

I first heard of this book through the Go Teen Writers blog , where Stephanie Morrill is a co-blogger.  I didn’t plan on reading it, mainly because I don’t usually go for contemporary stories.  But when I heard through the blog that it’s being offered as a free ebook, I figured, what the heck, I’d try it.

Me, Just Different turned out to be nothing like I expected – in a good way.

In the beginning, I didn’t really like Skylar.  She was the drinking-smoking-and-partying “popular” kind of girl that I don’t like, in real life or books.  But as the story went on and I found out how messed up her family was, I felt really, really bad for her.  And I supported her desire to hold her family together and be a better person.

Connor I really liked.  He occasionally said the wrong thing, but even when he did, he was just so cute doing it.  Of course, I’m saying that as an outside observer.  I can see how Skylar frequently ended up getting mad at him.

This book will enter the reading halls of fame as one of three that ever made me cry.  It was just so heartwrenchingly sad!  Skylar had some trauma to live down, her father was always at work, her mother was distant, her sister had some problems to deal with, her best friend was trying to shove her out of the social circle, and she had a boyfriend that she felt obligated to date.  And for most of it, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

I’d expected a mainly romance plot, with Skylar trying to find the right boy and discovering where she fits in.  But it was so much more than that.  In fact, the romance and friends plot took backseat to Skylar’s family troubles.  And that was just fine with me.

Since Me, Just Different was a Christian novel, I expected a whole lot of churchgoing and Skylar getting preached at.  But through the whole book, Skylar went to youth group once, and there was no pastor anywhere.  I think religion is going to play more in the subsequent books, but it wasn’t a huge factor in this one.

I’m honestly not sure if I’m going to read the second book in the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Out with the In Crowd.  It’s not because I didn’t like this book, because I did.  But I honestly think Me, Just Different wrapped itself up quite nicely, to the point where I think a second book would be overkill.

The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series:

  1. Me, Just Different
  2. Out with the In Crowd
  3. So Over It
Contemporary

Review: Game Changer

Game Changer book cover
Image from Ciao Bella

Title:  Game Changer

Author:  Margaret Peterson Haddix

Genre:  Contemporary

Back Cover:

Eighth-grader KT Sutton is the star pitcher for a highly selective club team, and she’s going to play for even more impressive teams in high school, win a college scholarship, and become an international star.  But in the middle of a championship game, she blacks out.  When she wakes up, the whole world is different.  There’s no more school classes, just hour after hour of athletic drills – always practice, never a game.  To top it all off, there’s no after-school sports – instead, everyone’s obsessed with academic competitions.  And her parents are more interested in her brother’s mathletics career than her softball hopes.  KT wants nothing more than to find her way back to the real world.  But her crazy dreams maker her wonder…what if something truly awful happened to send her here?  And what if she lost something more important than a softball game?

Review:

I have a love-hate relationship with Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books – some of them I love, and some of them I hate.  But I can never tell from the synopsis if I’m going to love it or hate it, and I thought Game Changer‘s premise sounded at least interesting.  So I picked it up.

I loved KT.  Her enthusiasm and obsessive love for softball came through immediately in a way that, even though I don’t like sports, I could understand.  I could empathize with her big dreams, and I wanted her to succeed.  And while she could be a jerk to her little brother, I could empathize with that, too.

I also loved the plot.  Honestly, I had no idea how KT ended up in the alternate world, and I enjoyed following her as she tried to make sense of it.  And since I had absolutely no clue how she would get back to the real world, I was perfectly content to enjoy her attempts to find some semblance of normalcy.

I only had one problem with the whole book, and that was really nobody’s fault.  KT’s first day at school in the alternate world, she was entirely disoriented and had no idea what was going on.  But because I’d read the synopsis, I knew what was going on, and I was ready for her to hurry up and get it, already!  But once she figured it out, I had no problem with it.

My copy of Game Changer was 250 pages, but it was an extremely quick read.  I think half of that was me frantically turning pages, wanting to know if KT ever got back to the real world.

One thing I have to say is how much I loved the ending.  It’s not a traditional happily-ever-after – honestly, I think it’s happier, more fitting, and all around better than any sort of traditional happily-ever-after.  In fact, I think the ending was the absolute best part of the book – and I loved the whole thing.

Game Changer falls on the “love” side of my love-hate relationship with Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books.  Which just cements my policy to not judge her books before I read them.

Contemporary

Review: How to Be Popular

How to be Popular book cover
Image from tHe Journey of My      LiFe : )

Title:  How to Be Popular

Author:  Meg Cabot

Genre:  Contemporary

Back Cover:

In fifth grade, Steph Landry spilled a red Super Big Gulp on Lauren Moffat’s white skirt.  In revenge, Lauren coined the phrase, “Don’t be such a Steph!” – said whenever anyone does anything remotely dorky.  Now, Steph is going into eleventh grade, and she’s determined that this is the year her name stops being synonymous with “moron.”  With the help of The Book, Steph is going to turn her social status around.

Review:

I picked this up because I’ve been reading dry financial books for school, and I wanted a light-hearted,  quick read.  And Meg Cabot delivered.

Steph was an enjoyable character – kind of unremarkable at first, but highly interesting once she started following The Book’s advice.  She started taking an interest in fashion and school spirit and generally being nice to people, much to the bafflement of her friends, Jason and Becca.  I loved following her through trying to change her social status and get Mark, the most popular guy in school, to like her.

I really didn’t get much of a feel for the other characters.  There were the basics, of course – Becca’s a farm girl, Jason’s a nonconformist – but other than that, not much.  I didn’t really care, though, since I was more interested in Steph.

The plot was fun, too, even though there wasn’t a whole lot of one.  It left me thinking, “There’s no reason I couldn’t be popular, too!”  And then I had to laugh at myself and say, “there’s none of those tips that I didn’t already know.”  But I loved watching Steph work through them and challenge Lauren as popularity queen.

About the only problem I had with the book was the romance angle.  I found the twist on that plot annoyingly obvious.  Although that could be just me – I have a habit of guessing the endings of books.

Overall, this was exactly what I wanted – a quick read, light and fun, interesting without being heavy-handed on the drama.  It was precisely what I needed after that huge financial book.

Contemporary

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars book cover
Image from libraryofcleanreads. blogspot.com

Title:  The Fault in Our Stars

Author:  John Green

Genre:  Contemporary

Back Cover:

Despite the medical miracle that bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal.  Her final chapter was written upon diagnosis of the cancerous tumors in her lungs.  But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Review:

I had not planned on picking this book up.  I’ve heard some bad things about this book and about John Green as a writer – plus, it was a contemporary novel (which I don’t generally like) about kids with cancer (which promised to be either unbearably sad or incredibly trite).

But it was a book club book, and so I read it.  And even though I’m sure this review won’t do it justice, I will try.

Hazel’s snark and cynical outlook came through on the very first page, and I loved her wit.  I also loved her general personality, her off-the-wall thoughts about life and death.  But even more than that, I felt her pain – the agony of the tumors in her lungs, the fear of not knowing when it will take her, and all the anger and frustration that came with it.

Augustus was also a little off-the-wall, but in a different way.  He seemed a little more laid back than Hazel (but it could be because his cancer was in remission).  He had his own quirks, though – like his obsession with metaphors and his non-smoking habit.  And while he wasn’t a point-of-view character like Hazel, I felt like I knew him just as well.

I admit it – this book made my cry.  In fact, if my brother wasn’t in the room, I would have been sobbing.  It was so heartwrenchingly sad, but also heartbreakingly beautiful.  It was a romance story, but a romance between a teen who’d had cancer and a teen who’s dying of it.  It was sad in its beauty and beautiful in its sadness, if that makes any sense.

I have a habit of guessing the endings of books about halfway though, and this one was no exception.  But honestly, up until the end, I was hoping hoping hoping I was wrong.  But I was right, and the ending just made me want to cry harder.

Normally, I don’t go for the tearjerkers, but somehow, this was an exception.  It could be because it was so sweet and innocent and beautiful among all the sadness, but I didn’t want to stop reading even after I finished it.

I can’t figure out how anyone could think John Green is a bad writer.  The Fault in Our Stars completely blew me away.