How Sweet the Sound by Amy Sorrells

Summary

The Harlan family, known for their affluence and their best-selling pecan pies, appears to be the perfect family. But thirteen year-old Anniston knows that isn’t the case. Thanksgiving night, her family comes apart at the edges, frayed from years of deception, buried secrets, and broken hearts. A domestic shooting takes the lives of two of the Harlan men—Cole, the first-born, illegitimate son of Princella Harlan, and Rey, Anniston’s beloved father. Devastated by the violence, the loss, and the town-gossip, the Harlan family strives for normalcy, though Comfort, the third-born, no longer leaves the house. As Anniston begins to learn more of her family history, she finds strength and faith, instilled by her father’s memory, and a desire to bring hope and love to the most desperate of people.

Pros

The setting of this coming of age novel is vivid and engaging. The Harlan family has run their pecan plantation for years, and reading about their land and the small town surrounding them—including the biases, misconceptions, and gossip that shades every conversation—is realistic and engrossing.

Written in rich, descriptive language, Amy Sorrells tells the Harlan’s story through changing viewpoints. Through Anniston’s point of view, we learn all the secrets of the family as she does. Through Comfort’s story, we learn all the heartache and wounds that plague the family. Both women are strong, engaging characters with moving stories and beautiful voices.

Sorrells doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, and she writes beautifully about characters dealing and healing from rape and abusive relationships, as well as judging people before you know them, suicide, alcoholism, and the dark, dangerous sin of gossip.

Cons

The opening pages of the novel are heart-wrenching and sudden, leaving the reader shocked and dismayed by what she has read. While the events were engaging, it was jarring as a reader to have so much happen right away, and it also made the pacing drop off afterward. The story slowed down dramatically afterward, dipping into the everyday life of the characters dealing with the aftermath. Then, toward the end of the novel, the events seemed a bit cinched in, too tight to allow the characters to breathe and respond.

With the emotionally heavy content, some of the storylines get a bit lost in the upheaval. For one, Anniston’s summer love with foster kid Jed who works on the farm, disappears part way through the book, leaving the reader to wonder how Anniston is coping with the loss of friendship. These are minor, subjective issues.

Note to the reader: Because the novel deals with multiple emotionally heavy situations and storylines, there is some content that is a bit graphic for younger readers. In addition, there is some strong language and innuendo.

Conclusion
How Sweet the Sound is a stunning coming of age novel with real characters, true stories, told through rich storytelling. If you enjoy character-driven fiction with a message of grace and hope, this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Get your copy of How Sweet the Sounds through David C Cook or at your local library!

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“Beyond the Skyline” by Brody Lane Gregg

Summary

Alex Lane is getting released from a juvenile detention center at eighteen years old for reasons he doesn’t want you to know about. Writing has become his outlet, and he shares his story beginning when he gets picked up on his release day by his estranged brother, Brandon. Turns out, Brandon is now a millionaire living with his wife and daughter in a New York mansion. Alex gets to stay with them, but soon learns his end of the deal is going to high school. Out of his element, Alex goes to school, quickly finding a band of misfits who befriend him as well as trouble. Then there’s the girl he met at his sister-in-law’s church, Ana. Alex feels something for her, but he thinks he’s just the same criminal who doesn’t deserve anyone or anything. As he tries to move on with life, making friendships and learning to love, Alex resolve is tested when he asks himself if he is worthy of this new life, or if he has really changed at all.

The Pros

Told through Alex’s journal entries, the reader gets a deep first person narration of the story. Alex’s voice is strong throughout the story, and though he’s a rough, broken young man, the author keeps the narrative clean of any foul language. As the story progresses, the reader can see how Alex is changing because of the people he meets, the stories he hears, and the circumstances he faces. Alex’s story is a strong proof of God’s redemptive power to change anyone’s story.

The friendships, situations, and relationships in Beyond the Skyline are realistic, portraying issues that many young adults face today. The author, Brody Lane Gregg, provides insight into characters dealing with abuse, rape, drug addictions, alcoholism, and grief.

One of the underlying themes of the novel is breaking stereotypes, or judging people before you know them. Gregg reminds the reader that everyone has a story and unique hurts by including many characters with emotional baggage and backstory that makes them who they are.

The Cons

While I was engaged throughout the story, the pace isn’t overly fast until about three-quarters of the way through the novel. This isn’t a real issue since the narration is well done and I cared about the characters, however, when the pace did start to pick up it was a bit jarring and some of the events occurred with little lead-in.

Conclusion

Gregg does a masterful job telling Alex’s story through journal entries, and I got a clear sense of who Alex is, how he changes, and how he represents so many young adults today who need Jesus in their lives. This is a powerful and realistic portrayal of the Gospel’s redemptive power to change a life.

Make sure to get your copy of Beyond the Skyline, available on Amazon!

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“Chasing Jupiter” by Rachel Coker

chasing jupiterSummary

Sixteen-year-old Scarlett is the glue holding the Blaine family together. From caring for Grandpop Barley who lives with them, to cooking for the family, to babysitting her little brother, Cliff, who has unusual behavior, to covering up for her hippie sister, Juli, Scarlett is worn out. When her little brother asks for a rocket to Jupiter, Scarlett and Cliff plan to sell peach pies to buy the needed materials with the help of the peach farmer’s son, Frank. As the summer progresses, Scarlett becomes more attracted to Frank and increasingly overwhelmed by her responsibilities, wondering how God can possibly be good if He can’t improve her circumstances. But when Frank expresses interest in Juli, and Scarlett is forced to take on more responsibilities while her family struggles to make ends meet, Scarlett must confront her faith and her outlook on life.

The Pros

Set in 1960’s Georgia, this story is charming, cozy, and inviting from the first page. Characters grapple with their changing world, from watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon to new life outlooks epitomized by hippie culture. Coker grounds her characters in the time period and setting by discussing these topics, and painting a picturesque Georgia landscape.

Scarlett’s story is one that young adult readers will be able to relate with. At a young age, she is forced to take on too much responsibility, which makes it difficult for her to spend time figuring out who she is and who she wants to become. Scarlett’s insecurity and tender heart for her family, among other qualities, makes her an endearing character. The reader watches Scarlett’s spiritual development through the story as she searches for God and meaning in her struggle. Coker brings many memorable and lovable characters together, including Scarlett’s brother, Cliff, who has autistic behaviors. Cliff has many unique interests, like learning Spanish, reading A Farewell to Arms repeatedly, and making unrealistic lists of birthday requests, like a rocket to Jupiter. Then there’s Grandpop Barley who insists on wearing his dirty red tie day after day, and loves peanut butter to a fault.

The Cons

This book is touching and heartfelt, albeit a little slow moving. It takes quite a while to delve into the conflict, but it is still a pleasant, cozy read.

Coker deals with some 1960’s culture, but coming from someone who has a keen interest in the era, I would have loved to see more. There are some musical and pop culture references, but the story would have been even more engaging had the author included more time period detail.

Some characters come out at the end of the novel a bit underdeveloped. Juli, for example, was an interesting character with her carefree, live in the moment outlook, greatly influenced by the ideas of the period, but she came out a little one-dimensional in the end.

Conclusion

This was a charming and touching read with many wonderful characters in a meaningful story. If you’re looking to be swept up in a warm-fuzzy story, or if you have a hankering for a peach pie, this is definitely a good pick for you.

Get your copy of Chasing Jupiter from Zondervan, or grab one at your local library!

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“Purple Moon” by Tessa Emily Hall

SSummary

Selena doesn’t believe in fairy tales anymore. With her dad out of the picture and her mom checking into rehab, Selena is sent to stay with her aunt, uncle, and bratty cousin, Whitney, for the summer on Lake Lure. Whitney wants nothing to do with Selena, and Selena befriends neighbor boy, Austin, who she knew as a kid. Austin invites Selena to join him for a Christian youth camp where Selena encounters the same God her dad used to preach about years ago when life was good in Kentucky. Selena feels welcomed by Austin’s group of Christian friends, but their call to faith makes her feel conflicted with her past and the scars she is still trying to hide, including her past with smoking and drinking. Selena feels attracted to Austin’s faith and joy, but when Whitney’s boyfriend starts paying attention to her, Selena feels even more confused about who she truly is and who she will become.

The Pros

Purple Moon is a well-written novel with a great message and a powerful protagonist. Selena struggles with insecurity and plenty of emotional baggage from her broken family, unhealthy relationships, and a history of smoking and drinking. Her story is one young adult readers will admire and relate with—the search for self and purpose in the midst of peer pressure. Through Selena’s relationships with her mom, Austin, Christian friends, and non-Christian friends, Hall provides realistic circumstances through which Selena must make decisions and ultimately decide who she wants to be and what she will live for.

Selena encounters many issues that teenagers today must deal with, including teen drinking, premarital sex, partying, and abusive relationships. Rather than shying away from these issues, Hall faces them head-on through Selena’s experiences, and ultimately provides readers with a positive example for dealing with these issues.

The Cons

Many of Selena’s issues stem from her relationship with her cousin, Whitney. Whitney is a spoiled teen who has been given everything she wants and is aggravated by the fact that Selena is coming to stay with them for the summer. While I got the impression that Whitney had always been bratty, her hatred of Selena seemed a bit unfounded. Whitney doesn’t hide the fact that she wants nothing to do with Selena, though they used to play together as kids. As a reader, I wanted a better understanding of Whitney and why she was so angry with Selena—perhaps for insecurities of her own—and what created the huge rift in their relationship.

Conclusion

Purple Moon is a great, inspiring read for young adults with a relatable protagonist and great examples of Christian living. Read more about author Tessa Emily Hall on her website, and get a copy of the book on Amazon!

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“Miles From Nowhere” by Amy Clipston

Summary

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 12.05.00 PMChelsea Morris is excited for her final summer before going to college. She has big dreams of working in fashion design, and part of making that dream come true is working as the lead costume designer for a local theater group while working a part-time job and babysitting her younger brothers. Chelsea’s dream summer includes spending time with her boyfriend, Todd, but with his schedule filling up with work and Chelsea becoming more involved in the theater, the summer isn’t going quite as planned.

Then, there’s the good-looking actor, Dylan, who’s paying extra attention to Chelsea. Though Todd dislikes the friendship, Chelsea finds herself drawn to Dylan and his free-spirited personality. As Chelsea and Todd grow further apart, and Chelsea shirks her costume design duties to sneak out for parties at Dylan’s, she begins to wonder where God is in her life and how to get back to where she belongs before it’s too late.

The Pros

Chelsea’s story is written in clear, accessible language. It’s a story many can relate with–wondering if the heart is leading in the right direction and how to discern truth from lies. Chelsea is a great character with unique interests. She has passions, goals, and she’s willing to work hard to achieve them. Through her experiences, the reader learns a lot about real friendship with positive examples of Christian girls confiding in one another and encouraging each other in their faith. The author, Amy Clipston, deals with some real issues for Christian teens, including teen drinking. The situations that Chelsea puts herself in are realistic–how should young Christians handle teen drinking and partying? Why is it so difficult to stand up to peer pressure? Clipston doesn’t shy away from this issue, and her characters make decisions that are ultimately a positive example for young readers.

The Cons

It took me a while to connect emotionally with Chelsea. While I knew plenty about her–she’s dependable, hard-working, driven, loves fashion and costume design–I didn’t really connect with her until she started struggling with her relationships. At times, I had a hard time understanding her reactions. While most of the story was relatable and believable, there were moments when Chelsea overreacted or made decisions that seemed out of character, especially when it came to the partying scenes.

Conclusion

This is a great read for young adult and new adult readers. Clipston tells a wonderful story of young love, responsibility, friendship, and faith in the midst of peer pressure. While the story is fairly predictable, readers will be able to relate to Chelsea’s story and will enjoy the insight into the theater scene.

You can order a copy at Zondervan or check out a copy at your local library!

Clipston, Amy. Miles from Nowhere. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

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