Review: “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King HiResSouthern culture. Teenage angst. A bridge by a flowing river. And a preacher who believes rattlers can tell whether or not you are a true believer. This book surely has it all for the young adult enthusiast, which I totally am.

“The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner centers around Dillard Early Jr., whose daddy was a “signs preacher” and used venomous snakes and poison to see if his congregation were above reproach. Of course, now Dillard’s preacher daddy is in jail for child pornography, and that reputation fogs Dillard’s life in the small town of Forrestville, Tennessee. Dillard’s family life is poor because of a massive medical debt hanging over them, which Dillard and his life-weary mom work to repay.

Dill has exactly two friends. One is Travis, whose family life is also terrible and whose obsession with a fantasy series that sounds a little like Game of Thrones and a little like Lord of the Rings is one of his main defining traits. But it’s Travis’s gentle giant character that will have you fall in love with him. The other is Lydia, whose life is so far opposite of Dillard’s and Travis’s it’s almost painful to read her somewhat judgmental and narrow-minded perspective. She’s the daughter of a dentist. She is loved by her parents. She has a car. Her number one college pick is NYU. She runs a fashion blog that is immensely popular and gives her a notoriety beyond their little town. When compared to Dill and Travis, you might scratch your head as to why the hell they are all friends.

I can tell you. Loyalty. They had no one else, and in turning to each other, their friendship became a way to survive in Forrestville, where on any day any one of them could be bullied and picked on or, in Dill’s case, screamed at by ex-parishioners of his father’s church. The fact that these misfits of Forrestville High found each other made me doubt Lydia’s ever-present belief that she was wronged by having to grow up there; if she hadn’t grown up there, she would never have met two of the most loyal boys she’ll ever meet, a fact I think she realizes as the book progress. Lydia gains a wider perspective, which benefits the growing maturity of her character.

But for Dill, things are changing too much. It’s senior year, and while Lydia is happily planning her what-is-sure-to-be-her outstanding future, Dill feels the cage of his small life shrinking dramatically. He writes music, but being told his whole life that it’s a sin to use it beyond church definitely puts a damper on his enjoyment of creating his songs. Zentner definitely shows a side of a crazy church culture that remind me of Boyd Crowder in Justified (ūüėÄ). Plus, Lydia’s leaving him, and the fact that she doesn’t seem to care breaks his little ol’ heart. Dill is in almost in a constant state of conflict with himself, wanting to be more, like Lydia, while still retaining his belief in God and trying to respect his less-than-deserving-of-respect parents.

Dill definitely both broke and won my heart. His desire to BE something is tangible, but his circumstances hold him back continuously. His desire to break free of the chains his mother and father and their religious beliefs created had me cheering him on, even when he didn’t believe in himself and had doubts, which was more often than not.

Zentner created three characters about whom I not only cared but for whom I rooted. I’m not going to lie; I cried a few times. Okay, more than a few, but sometimes it was happy tears, ya know? But be warned: Sometimes, it wasn’t.

If you enjoy a good young adult read about kids who are trying to define their identity, sometimes despite their circumstances, you’ll definitely want to pick up “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner. I loved it, and I know anyone else who gives it a shot will too!

Until next time, my lovely readers, enjoy your angsty YA!

Ta-ta for now, my dears,

HMichaele

Quick and Dirty Book Reviews: Romance and One Young Adult

So, I’ve read a few books very quickly lately, which means they were not labor intensive like, say,¬†The Book Thief (see review here)¬†or¬†The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kid. (Read that, too, but it was for a class, so no review.)¬†Really, once school starts, intelligent reading in my life becomes class-centric, whether I’m teaching the class or I’m in it (grad school!), but I have to read something, ya know?

Of course, being an easy, entertaining (in some cases) doesn’t make them any less worthy of a review, but since my time has waned with the start of school, I’ve decided to do a quick review of the books I’ve read since the start of 2017. And here we go!

Mechanica (Mechanica, #1)Mechanica¬†by Betsy Cornwell. Let’s start with the only YA book I’ve read so far. Here’s the lowdown: A Cinderella retelling,¬†Mechanica¬†focuses on Nicolette, nicknamed Mechanica by her steps due to her penchant for creating mechanical devices. Of course, creating inventions is kinda hard to do when running around, cooking, cleaning, etc. You know, all the things Cinderella does. But when she Venturess (Mechanica, #2)finds her mom’s old hidden workshop, it’s inevitable that she is drawn to the mechanical designs floating in her head. Throw in a friend, a handsome prince, and a Faerie black market, then the interesting concept has been achieved. The only problem I had was the MAJOR front loading of Nicolette’s and parents’ history. I suppose it was necessary, but it weighed down the beginning and could have been parceled out as the book went on. The ending made up for it though, and I’m already looking forward the second book, Venturess, which seems to diverge from the Cinderella tale (a benefit, I think).

Fan the Flames¬†and¬†Gone to Deep by Katie Ruggle. Okay, so Ruggle’s a new author to me, andFan the Flames (Search and Rescue, #2) Gone Too Deep (Search and Rescue, #3)I think I’ll probably read more of her romances as she becomes more prolific. (Right now, she only has the four books in this series, as far as I can tell.) These two books are the second and third book, respectively, in Ruggle’s¬†Search and Rescue series, which are set in a small town in the Rockies where rugged, good-looking men abound, apparently. The women in both are well-developed with layers to their characters. They didn’t whine or act too indifferent to the heroes, nor did they fall madly in love at first glance. Not even in lust at first glance. I liked both of the women characters. And the men are your standard protect-and-serve-the-woman heroes. They are sweet and mildly unsure of their position in the women’s lives, but man, do they know how to fall in love. My only complaint was that in¬†Fan the Flames, we don’t get to see the story from the hero, Ian’s, perspective, except in the prologue. But in¬†Gone to Deep, Ruggle does include a few glimpses at that hero, George’s, perspective, and I think that made it a better book. I will definitely pick up the rest of these books and probably all of Ruggle’s from here on out. Oh, and there is suspense. All four books connect to a murder, while individually dealing with different aspects surrounding that murder.

Dancing at Midnight (The Splendid Trilogy, #2)Dancing at Midnight¬†by Julia Quinn and¬†Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands. I’m looking at these together because I got these recs from the same forum topic, of which I can’t remember right now. I’m sure it has something to do with the hero loving the heroine to distraction, which both of these heroes do. Or maybe it had to do with having scars and self-worth issues? I really can’t remember. If you like strong heroines, theLove Is Blindwomen in both books are headstrong, I would say even more so than the men. Oh, maybe it was from a “heroine wears glasses” thread. Both the heroines needed to wear glasses, but didn’t for different reasons. (I get recs from some oddly chosen thread titles, I’m realizing.) I’ve read both of these authors before, and although I don’t think either of these is their best work, I enjoyed both books and read them in one sitting. They both have passion and heart and are not insta-love, a trope I’m pretty sick of. Plus, I love good historical romances! I would definitely check out both of these books…from the library, which is what I did.

A Match Made in MistletoeA Match Made Under the Mistletoe by Anna Campbell. This was a very cute, quick read. I enjoy Christmas romances (think¬†A Wallflower Christmas), so I picked this one up. Giles has been in love with Serena for ages, but she loves his best friend, Paul. Giles never even thought he stood a chance and never tried until he sees something in Serena’s eyes over Christmas while visiting her family’s estate (historical!). Giles is the dark horse in this one, and I quite enjoyed the romance that played out between him and Serena.

Wild at Whiskey Creek by Julie Ann Long. Yeah, didn’t love this one. Eli’s loved Glory forWild at Whiskey Creek (Hellcat Canyon, #2) years, but after he arrested her brother, who was also his best friend, she gave him the cold shoulder, which pisses him off. Honestly, I thought both characters were immature–Eli because while he claimed to expect her to blame him, he really didn’t think it was deserved; and Glory because, well, she’s just immature. I like some of Long’s historicals, but this contemporary romance left me cold.

And that’s it, my lovely readers. Hope you enjoy a few of these lovely romances or YA novel soon!

Until next time, my dears!

HMichaele

Review: “The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B” by Teresa Toten

unlikelySo, this book was a rec from…well, I really can’t remember where. It was one of many recommendations that I tend to gather to me, often to be put in a very long list of other delightful novels that I should read and bring back out again…maybe.

I’m definitely glad, though, that I brought this one back out.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is about Adam Spencer Ross, an almost-fifteen-year-old who falls in love with the newest member of his OCD support group, Robyn. In this meeting, the attending doctor in the group, Chuck, has the members assign new identities to themselves to boost their confidence. And, of course, they are all superhero-based, and Robyn decides to be Robin, which leads Adam, in the throes of his first stirrings of true adolescent love, to become Batman.

This becomes who Adam is: He is the central guy, the wisdom giver, the idea man, and, ultimately, the wannabe savior of all in his group. He wants to save not just Robyn from her problems but most of the members of his group as well, doling out advice to everyone in the group who rely on him for ideas and leadership. But there are problems with his nascent romance with Robyn. She’s 16, and he feels he needs to grow, height-wise, to get an older girl like her. So, you know, logically, he wills himself to grow taller. (Luckily, it seems to work!)

But while the height thing seems to be looking up, he can’t seem to rescue himself from his actual problems. His OCD issues are big, and they get worse as the book progresses, due largely to outside forces that increase his anxiety to massive levels. His family, like his group, largely revolves around him, pulling him from one household to another between his divorced parents. Oh, and you’ll love his little brother, Sweetie, who sometimes unintentionally causes problems for Adam but is too charming for words! These two boys and their love for one another made for the most stable relationship in the book.

Adam, too, charms. You’ll root for him to overcome his struggles, which go far beyond his OCD. I would definitely suggest you add this book to your own recommendation list and make sure that you, too, bring it back out to read and enjoy.

Until next time, my young adult enthusiasts!

HMichaele