The Gospel of Winter

Author: Brendan Kiely 
Pages: 304 
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry 
Format: Paperback (ARC) 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): As sixteen-year-old Aidan Donovan’s fractured family disintegrates around him, he searches for solace in a few bumps of Adderall, his father’s wet bar, and the attentions of his local priest, Father Greg—the only adult who actually listens to him.

When Christmas hits, Aidan’s world collapses in a crisis of trust when he recognizes the darkness of Father Greg’s affections. He turns to a crew of new friends to help make sense of his life: Josie, the girl he just might love; Sophie, who’s a little wild; and Mark, the charismatic swim team captain whose own secret agonies converge with Aidan’s. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

My Summary: Aiden is living in the midst of what some would describe as their worst nightmare. With his already unstable home life crumbling more and more every day, Aiden begins to self-medicate. However, the alcohol and drugs can't fill the hole inside his heart, so Aiden begins talking to Father Greg about the demons that haunt him. 

But when Father Greg's true motives for befriending Aiden are revealed, he attempts to escape the memories of what happened through a group of friends who offer more support than he's ever gotten from his family. And although he may try to hide it, Aiden can sense that Mark may know just what he went through... and together, they may just be able to help each other heal.

My Thoughts: This novel was so hard to put down. The second I stopped reading, I was plagued with questions about what would happen to Aiden and had to pick it up and continue. 

Aiden was such a likable character, and you couldn't help but sympathize as you watched him struggle to navigate the obstacles he faced - those of growing up as well as those due to the situations he'd been put into. The writing was incredibly honest while also flowing like prose. I liked that you were placed right in the center of the plot right from the start - I was hooked within minutes.

The topic of clerical abuse was dealt with very gracefully in this novel. The focus was not so much on the abuse or abuser but on the healing process, and how important support from loved ones is in getting on with your life - in my opinion, it was a great approach to dealing with a usually taboo subject. 

Final Thoughts: Definitely check out The Gospel of Winter if you're a fan of contemporary literature or are just looking for a novel that hits your heart in all the right places.


Norwegian Wood

Author: Haruki Murakami
Pages: 296
Publisher: Vintage Books
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. 

My Summary: Toru is a quiet, introverted young student who finds his life turned upside-down when his best friend commits suicide. With nobody else to turn to, Toru isolates himself and moves to Tokyo to attend university. There, through a chance encounter, he reconnects with the mysterious Naoko - his deceased friends girlfriend and possibly the one person who understands exactly what he is going through. But Naoko is not coping well with the death of her first love, and as she slowly begins to deteriorate, Toru can do nothing but wait and hope that their love will be enough to heal her broken spirit. 

My Thoughts: This novel was beautifully written. Murakami has such a way with words - especially when it comes to painting a picture of his settings in your mind. When you read his novels, you can picture every detail so clearly that it's as if you yourself are immersed in the character's world. 

Murakami's novels are often very character-driven, and Norwegian Wood introduces the reader to a likable bunch. Each is so subtly - yet deeply - developed that you find yourself wanting to know more and more about them long after the story is over. I always find that my favourite characters of Murakami's are far from center-stage in his novels, yet their stories always resonate with me. You can't always clearly see the motives of each character, but their complexity and depth is what makes them relatable. Midori was a definite favourite, but for some reason I wasn't overly fond of the narrator (Toru).

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to fans of Haruki Murakami's works, or anyone interested in sampling his writing for the first time. Fans of contemporary literature with an edgier side will definitely enjoy this introspective novel and everything it has to offer.


The F- It List

Author: Julie Halpern 
Pages: 256 
Publisher: Fiewel & Friends 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family. 

But when Alex finally decides to forgive Becca, she finds out something that will change her world again—Becca has cancer. 

So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend—you do it. 

My Summary: Alex has been having a tough summer. First her dad was killed in a car crash, and then her best friend slept with her boyfriend on the night of the funeral. Alex dumps the guy and knows she and Becca will get past it, but she needs some time. So she tells Becca she needs some space and spends the rest of the summer trying to put her life back together after her dad's death.

Then, on the first day back at school, Alex hears some horrible news: Becca has cancer and won't be coming back. Devastated, Alex hurries over to see her friend, where she gets a strange request: fulfill all the items on Becca's bucket list for her before it's too late. 

My Thoughts: I started and finished this book in one sitting. It was hilarious and heart-warming and witty and honest. A lot of books tend to romanticize serious illnesses, but this one showed cancer for what it was: something that really, really sucks. 

There were so many hilarious moments, and I loved that this wasn't your typical YA novel where sex is barely mentioned and extremely taboo - the girls talk about sex realistically and embrace it. I hope more authors will follow Julie Halpern's example in the future.

Final Thoughts: I definitely recommend this novel to fans of contemporary YA and anyone looking for a refreshing and unique read.



Author: Tonya Hurley 
Pages: 400 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Format: Paperback (ARC) 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy watched as Sebastian sacrificed himself for what he believed in. Will the girls trust that their destiny as saints and martyrs and perform the miracles as Sebastian instructed? Or lose faith in themselves and each other in his absence? Time is running out for them to make a decision, and the fate of the world lies in the balance. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

My Summary: Agnes, Cecelia, and Lucy are destined to be saints and martyrs - or so they've been told. Now, with Sebastian gone, they'll have to rely on each other more than ever in order to do as Sebastian wanted and perform the miracles they've been entrusted with. But with him gone, it's harder than ever to believe in themselves, their faith, and their mission ... and time may be running out.  

My Thoughts: Having read the first novel in the series, I knew that the second was going to be a wild ride. There's nothing worse than a sequel that doesn't live up to the first in the series, right?

I loved the dark, creepy feeling of the group hunting the girls. The installment definitely upped the ante of the series (even if I did miss Sebastian). I loved the atmosphere of the novel, and I felt like the setting fit the story perfectly - who knew Brooklyn could be so creepy? 

The author's signature dark humour really made it easy to connect with the girls, and the characters were written perfectly: you felt their struggle to accept their destinies, and you watched them come to terms with knowing that they were no longer just normal teens. 

Final Thoughts: Having finished this novel in one sitting, I can say without a doubt that anyone who enjoyed the first installment will devour this one. I recommend this series to anyone who enjoys paranormal YA with a twist.