Summer Unplugged

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In another one of my searches for free Kindle books, I came across Summer Unplugged by Amy Sparling.  This novel is about Bayleigh, a girl who is sent to spend the summer with her grandparents as punishment for spending too much time on her smartphone.  (Hence the “unplugged” in the title.) There, her summer becomes much more interesting after she meets the boy next door named Jace.

The author takes on a modern-day issue – how obsessed and fixated people are with smartphones, social media and technology in general. Bayleigh is constantly motivated to check her Facebook or phone while away, but keeps forgetting that she doesn’t have  access to a computer or her phone with her. I liked that Sparling addressed this topic, because it’s something I think almost anyone can relate to. It’s become almost second nature for almost everybody, myself included, to regularly check our devices as part of a routine.

Although the smartphone aspect does add some substance to the story,  the rest of the plot fell short in many ways. I found the story too predictable and following the formula of many teen romance novels. Girl meets cute boy, they eventually develop feelings for each other, and so on and so forth.  I expected something more, maybe a twist or another occurrence, but there was none. Plus, I found Bayleigh and Jace’s relationship progression way too fast.

In conclusion, this is not a novel I recommend. I’m actually glad it was a free Kindle book, because I don’t think it would be worth actually buying it. Harsh, but true.

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The Katie Parker Series (Books 2-4)

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A few weeks ago, I posted a review on Jenny B. Jones’ first book in this series, which tells the story of foster child Katie Parker and her adjustment of moving in with new foster parents in the town of In Between, Texas. At this point, I’ve read the remaining three books in the series and figured I would do a post covering all of them.

The second book picks up six months into Katie’s stay with the Scotts. She’s adjusted to her new life in In Between, but now experiences changes when her foster mother is diagnosed with cancer and a tornado rips through the town. She also navigates the typical teenage love life as she encourages her best friend to pursue a crush while experiencing a crush of her own.

The third book deals with a more serious case. Katie discovers that the case against her biological mom’s has been overturned and that she is fighting to get custody of Katie back. Her mom succeeds in bringing Katie back home, but Katie soon realizes there is something wrong. Jones was able to write about a serious situation in a way to make the reader understand. I was able to imagine being in the setting myself, the imagery and the feelings Katie was going through.

The fourth book is unique to the series in that it takes place six years after the third book, when Katie is now twenty-three years old and a college graduate. I loved that Jones chose to set the book as a follow-up to give us an idea of what Katie ends up doing. Of the four novels, I found that I related to this one the most. The theme involves choosing what you want to do with your life. Being about Katie’s age, I’ve experienced that same feeling uncertainty, when you feel like your family is pulling you in one direction and your own desires the other way.

Jenny B. Jones is a brilliant writer. She is somehow able to make the situations in the novels so realistic that it almost seems as if she has had the experiences herself. I like how she chose to write her character as a foster child. As I’ve said it before, it’s a nice departure from the young adult cliche of teenagers dealing with their parents’ divorce, death and new significant others.

Although the books contain serious subjects, I love how she inserts random pop culture references into the stories too, a few times mentioning Disney and even popular Disney star Hilary Duff. It made the character of Katie much more realistic and relatable.

For a refreshing book series with a likable main character, check out this series.

The Probability of Miracles

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This is a book I read awhile ago, by American author Wendy Wunder (not sure if that’s a pen name or her real name- pretty catchy name regardless.)

The plot tells of Cam Cooper, a teenage girl with cancer who is told she has a limited amount of time left. Hoping for some change and possibly a miracle, her family relocates from Orlando, Florida to Promise, Maine. There, she meets a whole set of new people who show her that there’s more to life than just waiting for the end.

The story had a good message- living life before its over, especially when you know that might be. However, I feel like the plot device of the main character being sick has become a cliche nowadays, especially since The Fault in Out Stars has become very popular. It does add some realism to the plot, but I knew how it was going to end only a few chapters in. There were also elements of romance that I found predictable.

I did like the character of Cam; she is kind but has a sarcastic streak, which made her somewhat relatable. I also appreciated the setting of Maine, showing the difference between Florida and New England.

Overall, I don’t recommend this book too much because of its predictable elements, but if you want to read a book that takes place in New England, this is one to check out.

Divergent

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The second movie of this popular series is soon to be released, but the concept originated as a 2008 novel by Chicago native Veronica Roth.

The story is narrated in first person by Beatrice “Tris” Prior, who lives in future dystopian Chicago. The city’s society is divided into “factions” based on values: Abnegation for selflessness, Amity for peace, Candor for honest, Dauntless for bravery and Erudite for intelligence.

Every year, there is a choosing ceremony, where all sixteen-year-olds have the choice of staying with their native faction or deciding to join another one. Before the ceremony, they take a test to determine which faction is fit for them. Tris discovers she is “Divergent,” or one that does not fit into any particular faction, a species that is considered a threat to the balance of society. She has to maintain her choice of faction while uncovering deeper secrets within the nation’s leadership.

There are comparisons to the Hunger Games series. Tris and Katniss are both strong female protagonists and the concept of “factions” is identical to the Hunger Games’ separate “districts,” as is the setting of a dystopian society. However, Divergent is set in real-life Chicago instead of Hunger Games’ fictional nation of Panem. The themes of the two also differ, as the Hunger Games reflects tyranny and control while Divergent is more about conformity and choice.

I admire Roth for being able to complete a novel as a student. According to her website, she wrote the book while still a student at Northwestern University. I like the fact that she is young and yet was write a book series that became a sensation, a change from most popular book series that are usually written by experienced and veteran writers.

If a fan of the Hunger Games, this book will appeal to you. It could one day be the world as we know it.

In Between: A Katie Parker Production

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Since getting a Kindle for Christmas has made getting and reading multiple books at once easier, I decided to check out the free Kindle books Amazon offers. One book I came across was called In Between, by an author named Jenny B. Jones. The story is about a teenager in foster care named Katie Parker who is sent to live with a new family in the town of In Between, Texas. Although this story may sound a bit cliche at first, there were several refreshing plot elements that made reading it worthwhile.

The foster care element of the story interested me, a departure from the stepfamily and divorce aspects present in most young adult books. Instead of having to deal with new stepparents or rivalry with siblings, Katie has to adjust with being sent to live with an entirely new family, people she does not know and struggle to explain her past to those she meets. As someone who’s been around some kind of familiarity for most of my life, the idea of having to cope with a completely new environment at a young age made me think about how people have to deal with that every day.

The plot did remind me of a Sarah Dessen novel in some ways, with the main character being an independent, strong-willed girl who initially doesn’t want to be in a new place. However, the romantic subplot did not involve Katie meeting some guy. Instead, it involves Katie encouraging her foster grandmother to pursue a relationship. That’s not the kind of typical romance formula I’ve found in most books.

The setting is another change I appreciated. Many of the stories I’ve read lately have taken place in the Eastern or Western United States. In Between is located in Texas. The location didn’t contribute a lot to this book, but knowing there are sequels means it could play a part in one of Katie’s further stories.

In conclusion, it’s nice to come across a book that surprises you with new and engaging story points. It also proves that my theory of free ebooks being self-published mediocre stories isn’t exactly true.