Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (@KatieMcGarry @HarlequinTeen)

Received an advance digital copy from the publisher via NetGalley

If I’m not careful, I’m going to have to admit I like reading Contemporaries. Which just seems weird. I mean, I’m a fantasy/sci-fi gal. I like when things blow up and shoot lasers and travel through time and battle monsters. What is up with me liking books lately that are all about relatively normal high school students? I’m having a bookish identity crisis, people.

But with Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry, I found yet another well-written and riveting contemporary that I simply could not put down. Really. I tried.

The Plot (from Goodreads)

“No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with “freaky” scars on her arms. Even Echo can’t remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal.But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo’s world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.

Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she’ll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.”

My Thoughts

Okay, the synopsis sounds hokey. Maybe you don’t think so, but I do. Bad boy reaches out to the popular girl so that she can learn to love again? Um, no. Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure why I requested this book, because I think the synopsis sounds hokey. But I’m glad I overcame that (for whatever reason), because it is not hokey.

From the first page, a counseling session between Echo, her father and stepmother, and her therapist, Mrs. Collins (who I LOVE, by the way), I was completely engrossed in this story. Echo is a complex and well-developed character, and we find out right from the beginning that she suffers from traumatic memory loss, that she deals with tremendous grief over the death of her brother, that she has all sorts of authority issues and trust issues, and that she’s smart. And unlike a lot of books that claim the main character is smart but the character never actually talks or thinks or acts like a smart person, Echo actually thinks intelligently. She’s logical. She’s quick. She’s witty. She made me like her, despite her myriad of issues and struggles.

Then you meet Noah, another case of Mrs. Collins. Noah has been in the foster system ever since his parents died in a fire after his freshman year of high school. Since then, he’s been labeled a “bad influence” and cut off from his young brothers. And while Noah is also a smart cookie, he reacts understandably — he decides to become the bad influence everyone thinks him to be, without really thinking through the consequences. As a reader, I could see that he wasn’t really doing himself any favors there, but Katie McGarry does a fantastic job getting inside Noah’s head so you can really understand how he became the way he is.

Partially through the interference of Mrs. Collins, Echo and Noah wind up thrown together, and although they aren’t each others’ biggest fans at first, they slowly grow to see all that they have in common, and ultimately get together (which I don’t consider a spoiler, since it’s on the cover).

However, unlike many other contemporary teen romances, the romance in Pushing the Limits is not the central focus of the book (Echo and Noah actually get together around the 50% point). Although my emotions were pulled every which way by the romance, the main focus is trying to get Echo and Noah to both cope with the trauma in their lives and move past it. Echo needs to remember what happened on that night two years ago when her mother senselessly attacked her. Noah has to come to terms with how he fits into the lives of his brothers, who he is only allowed to see rarely, and how to determine what is best for them. Both stories tackle difficult subject matter admirably (Noah’s scenes with his brothers made me cry on more than one occasion), and both resolved in a satisfying and realistic manner.

There’s a lot of secondary characters in the book, and while none are developed as thoroughly as Echo and Noah, they all had their own voices and personalities, and I loved reading about how the different relationships worked. My favorites were Noah’s foster brother Isaiah, and the aforementioned Mrs. Collins, who Katie McGarry somehow made me love even while viewing her through the eyes of Echo and Noah, neither of whom really liked her.

The narrative uses the alternating POVs of both Echo and Noah, and each had their own distinct voice. They thought completely differently, and even if their names were never mentioned in the narrative, I would have been able to follow who was speaking when. I thought it was a great use of dual POV, and I was fully invested in both characters.

There were times when some of the dialogue felt a bit forced, or some of the descriptions were a bit unrealistic. For example, according to Noah, Echo smells like hot cinnamon rolls all the time, and tastes like warm sugar. I get that maybe she’s really into the “Warm Vanilla Sugar” scent at Bath & Body Works (because seriously, it smells so good), but unless she’s constantly licking frosting (which she isn’t), I’m not sure how that scent is translating to taste for him.

And then there was Noah constantly referring to Echo as “my siren.” I get that he thought she was irresistible, but I kind of doubt a tattooed, stoner “bad boy” would actually think the words “my siren” every time he sees this girl. They’re minor things, but they took me out of the story just a tad.

That aside, I still really enjoyed this book. I didn’t intend to devour it the way I did, but I couldn’t stop reading. I only got 4 hours of sleep the night I finished it because my bedtime came and went and I couldn’t put the book down. If you’re a fan of contemporary romances that tackle some serious issues, I highly recommend Pushing the Limits.

Content guide: Contains profanity, mentions of child abuse, drug and alcohol use by minors, sexual situations

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (@realjohngreen @duttonbooks)

If you follow any book blogs that are not my book blog, you’ve probably heard that John Green is the best thing to happen in the world of books since Gutenberg. At least that’s the way I understood it. And I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, since I’d never read a John Green book.

So I decided to remedy this problem by checking out his newest book, The Fault in Our Stars. All I knew was that it was about kids with cancer, and it was supposedly heartbreaking and life-changing.

The Plot

The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel, a 16-year-old 3-year survivor of Stage IV thyroid cancer. Hazel’s diagnosis has never been anything but terminal, but she still tries her best to live a normal life and stay positive for her parents. And one of the things that helps her parents is for her to attend a support group of other kids with cancer.

One day, Hazel arrives at support group to see a new boy in the circle. His name is Augustus “Gus” Waters, and although he has lost a leg to osteosarcoma, he says he’s mostly there as moral support for a friend. Gus takes an immediate interest in Hazel, who is initially reluctant to open up to anyone new. But eventually, Gus and Hazel decide to take the plunge, even though their future is uncertain.

My Thoughts

First of all, this book wrecked me. Wrecked. Me. I was a sniffling, sobbing mess starting about 2/3 of the way through the book. My husband came in and was like, “Hey, got something in your eye?” (Because he is a heckler and has a heart like a STONE), and I choked out between ugly-cries, “It’s about KIDS with CANCER! LEAVE ME ALONE!” And he skedaddled out of there.

So if you want a book to make you cry, I’d suggest this one.

But this book is not all tears and angst. It’s actually full of humor and sweetness. Considering it’s a book about KIDS with CANCER, I was not expecting to laugh so much. But laugh I did.

The highlight of the book for me was the characters of Hazel and Gus. It’s funny, because I was reading along and thinking “Wow, Hazel and Gus remind me of some of my friends from high school. Especially Gus, who is pretty much EXACTLY like this guy I knew, except for the cancer thing.” And then I went online and read some reviews, and the first ones I read were complaining that Hazel and Gus were unrealistic, and no teens act or talk like them. Just goes to show that how we perceive things is heavily dependent on our own life experiences.

So just for the record, yes, some teens act and talk like Hazel and Gus. Some teens have large vocabularies and use SAT words in everyday conversation. If you take out all the cancer references, I swear I had some of the Hazel-Gus conversations when I was in high school.

Yes, I was a nerd. But that’s neither here nor there.

On top of the great characterizations and dialogue, the storytelling was excellent. I was riveted by the first page, and couldn’t find a good place to put the book down, so I wound up reading the whole thing in a day. Which is no small feat when you have to also be parenting and cleaning and cooking and all those other things responsible adults do.  But it was just one of those books that you have to keep reading, even when you realize it’s going to rip out your heart and stomp on your soul.

I loved the friendships in the book; I loved the sweet and sad way that Gus and Hazel’s relationship developed;I loved the glimpses into their friend Isaac, Hazel’s and Gus’ parents, and the members of their support group. I loved how real and raw and honest Hazel and Gus were about what they were going through. Basically, I loved everything about this book, except for the way it utterly ruined me. And I even kind of loved that.

Some people say this book has a twist. I didn’t really think of it as a twist — nothing in the book surprised me — and I think if you go into it expecting it to shock and amaze you, you may come out disappointed.

However, if you read this book for the great characters, fantastic dialogue, and gut-wrenching levels of emotion, you will be satisfied. At least I hope you will be. I was.

Even though it wrecked me.

Content Guide: Contains sex, profanity, and difficult situations dealing with cancer and death.

Throwback Thursday (June 14) – Christy

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

It’s the nature of book blogging to focus mainly on new releases, but there are thousands of great books out there that haven’t seen the “New Releases” shelf in years. We hope to be able to bring attention to some older titles that may not be at the top of the current bestseller list, but still deserve a spot in your To-Be-Read pile.

You don’t have to be a book blogger to participate! You can put up a Throwback Thursday post on your non-bookish blog; or if you don’t have a blog at all, just use the comments to tell us about a book you remember fondly.

Here’s how it works:
1. Pick any book released more than 5 years ago. Adult, YA, Children’s; doesn’t matter. Any great book will do.
2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it. Make sure to link back to The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books in your post.
3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Feel free to grab the Throwback Thursday button code from the sidebar to use in your posts.

Thanks for participating, and we look forward to seeing which books you choose to remember!

My Throwback this week is…

Christy by Catherine Marshall.

I first read this book when the TV show aired in while I was in high school. It is the story of Christy Huddleston, a 19-year-old schoolteacher determined to make a difference in the lives of the children living in the rustic Appalachian village of Cutter Gap in 1912. As she struggles to educate the children, her work impacts the entire community as she battles their superstitions, primitive practices, and prejudices. Meanwhile, her heart is torn between two suitors: the dashing young preacher, and the reserved town doctor.

I have to admit, I loved this series when it aired, and when I found out it was based on a book (which, as a bit of trivia, is based on the life of Catherine Marshall’s mother), I knew I had to read it. The story is sweet, inspiring, frustrating, and romantic (it seems the love triangle was popular even in 1967). Catherine Marshall’s descriptions of Cutter Gap are vivid, and the variety of characters that inhabit the village range from humorous to heartbreaking.

While I loved reading about Christy’s attempts to bring education and civilization to Cutter Gap, my favorite part of this story was the love triangle (something that is normally my least favorite part of a book). I loved both the passionate preacher David Grantland and the solemn Dr. Neill MacNeill, and I found myself nearly as torn as Christy between them. (I won’t tell you who she chooses, but as an additional bit of trivia, in real life, Catherine Marshall’s mother chose the other guy!)

Christy is a sweet and beautiful story of faith, friendship, hope and love. I’d recommend it any time you want to feel warm, fluffy feelings.

This is a blog hop! Link up your Throwback Thursday post below!

Review: Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (@HMHkids)

I’ve been intrigued by the premise of Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer since I first heard of it. It’s another “what if” book, but unlike dystopians and sci-fi, this book is set in current times, with the technology of today. What would happen to our lives if we were suddenly faced with an unexpected global disaster? How would it change our families, our friendships, our communities? These are the questions posed in Life as We Knew It.

The Plot

Life as We Knew It is written as the diary of 16-year-old Miranda. As it begins, Miranda has the same concerns of most 16-year-old girls: grades, friends, extracurricular activities, finding a date for the prom. There’s an event that her teachers and local news anchors seem excited about: an asteroid is predicted to collide with the moon, and it’s supposed to be visible to the naked eye. But Miranda doesn’t see what all the fuss is about; it’s not like the moon has never been hit by an asteroid before.

But on the night of the anticipated collision, Miranda dutifully joins her family and neighbors outside to watch this once-in-a-lifetime event. And the world’s excitement turns to horror when something completely unexpected happens.

The asteroid was denser than astronomers believed, and instead of the harmless impact they were anticipating, a quarter of the moon is destroyed. The moon is also knocked much closer to the Earth, and suddenly looms huge and menacing in the sky.

Soon, the altered gravitational force of the moon begins to cause relentless and catastrophic natural disasters all over the world: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes. Electricity becomes a luxury, then a memory. Communications with other states and countries fail.

Through it all, Miranda diligently keeps her diary, chronicling her family’s struggle to keep the lifestyle they once had, which turns into their struggle to simply survive.

My Thoughts

I was totally captivated by this book. Everything that Miranda’s family went through seemed feasible in our current world, and I found myself wondering how my family would cope in a similar situation. It was chilling and frightening, because her family doesn’t react to their new circumstances like heroes in a story; they react like a regular family.

Miranda was an excellent narrator. Somehow, Susan Beth Pfeffer was able to really crawl inside the mind of a 16-year-old girl. She had the invincibility syndrome that so many teenagers have, convincing herself time and time again that nothing was going to change, that everything would soon return to normal, that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. I found myself infuriated with her when she argued against her mother’s rationing of their food, or her brother’s stockpiling of firewood. I groaned inwardly every time she mentioned that she couldn’t imagine how things could get worse, since obviously, they could. But she reacted the way I expect many teenagers would react — she resisted the magnitude of the situation, and opted instead to focus on whether or not there would still be a prom, or how her favorite figure skater was doing. But my frustrations with her character are actually a testament to the strength of the writing — I believed I was listening to a 16-year-old.

On the flip side, I loved Miranda’s mother. She was level-headed, forward-thinking, and did a marvelous job of looking out for her family. Yes, she made mistakes, had her moments of selfishness, and there were occasions where Miranda’s conflicts with her were perfectly justified. But no matter how bad things got, Miranda’s mother continued to display the kind of sacrifice and perseverance that I feel exemplifies a parent’s love for her child.

I also enjoyed the development of Miranda’s brothers, Jonny and Matt, and their neighbor, Mrs. Nesbitt. I came away from the book feeling like I really knew and understood these characters.

As for the progression of the story itself, I found it mostly believable. Miranda’s family found themselves situated in the best possible scenario in the case of global disaster: their house had oil heat, a gas stove, a wood-burning stove in a separate room, and well water. Convenient, yes, but not unrealistic — these houses do exist, after all. There were parts of the story I found far-fetched, such as being able to immediately hop onto the Internet and surf fan sites every time the electricity turned back on for 10 minutes, but those irritations were minor in the grand scheme of things. There was also a bit of propaganda the author wove into the story that I thought felt a bit awkward and out of place, but again, it didn’t really lessen my enjoyment of the overall tale.

The way the world slowly crumbled around Miranda and her family seemed disturbingly accurate. Humanity didn’t simply plunge into chaos; it descended in increments. Businesses stayed open. Currency still held value. Schools held classes. It was only as the weeks and months progressed that the direness of their situation is truly revealed. I found myself holding my breath as I wondered what could possibly happen next.

Overall, I found this to be a sad yet hopeful look at family, society, and friendship. It was a story of strength, survival and triumph, but also loss and regret. The story progressed in a quiet manner, with very little action or fanfare, and was more pensive than nail-biting. Its strengths were the characters, the relationships, and the incredibly well though-out progression from life as we know it to the world that Miranda’s family unwillingly finds themselves in.

Note: While this book does have two sequels, The Dead and the Gone and This World We Live In, I felt the ending was satisfying enough for this to have been a standalone novel. I do intend on reading the sequels, but if they didn’t exist, I still would have been satisfied.

Content Guide: Survivalist scenarios in post-apocalyptic modern world, starvation, death of several characters

Interview: Shannon Dittemore, author of Angel Eyes (@ShanDitty)

Today is the official release for Shannon Dittemore‘s debut novel, Angel Eyes! It’s a beautiful and exciting tale of tragedy and romance, angels and demons. Isn’t it pretty? I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of Angel Eyes, and you can read my review here.

In celebration of the release of Angel Eyes, I am privileged to be able to treat you to an interview with Shannon, who has been super-kind and friendly. In it, I ask some questions about Angel Eyes, writing, and just some random trivia about Shannon, because trivia is fun.


Where did you come up with the idea for Angel Eyes?

I’ve always loved biblical accounts of angels. There’s so much we don’t know and the topic is fodder for imagination. As a teenager, I was part of our church’s performing arts team. We traveled, did puppetry and mime. We danced and did skits. I’ve played Satan in nearly every medium I can name. Angels and demons have always been a part of my storytelling experience, so it was a very natural choice. The heartbeat of the story, though, arrived when I began contemplating the halo.

Brielle is a dancer and a photographer. Are you either of those?

I’m not. I dabbled in photography during high school, so the dark room at Stratus High resembles the dark room I learned in, but I didn’t pursue it after that. And the only dancing I did back in high school was to Carman songs with my church group, or in a cheerleading uniform at sporting events.

How did you come up with the names for your angelic and demonic characters?

I’m kind of instinctual here. Names either work for me or they don’t. One of my angels did get a name change after I read two different books with characters sharing his name, but the other angelic characters have remained the same since I drafted the story.

I never thought I’d read an origin story for the angelic halo! How much of the Celestial realm was Biblical research, and how much was pure imagination?

It’s mostly imagination, but my imagination was informed by scripture. As a theology student, one of the problems I’ve always had reading angel books is that I’m pulled out of the story constantly because I run into theological issues that don’t gel. Angel Eyes is absolutely fiction, but I did try not to blatantly contradict scripture.

Who do you view as your target audience for Angel Eyes? Christian teens, non-Christian teens, readers of all ages…?

I’m thinking Angel Eyes is a good fit for an older young adult audience. There are some intense themes presented, so if younger readers are interested, I’d recommend a parent reading first. And, while I’ve gotten great feedback from readers across the spectrum, I’m thinking the story will be best received by readers with a Christian background.

Without getting all spoiler-y, what can you tell us about the sequel to Angel Eyes?  Will we learn more about the history between Canaan and Damien?

Well! You will learn a lot more about many of my characters. How about that? At the end of Angel Eyes there are characters scattered across two realms. Some of them will return and some of them will not, but, yes, history will be revealed.

The Afterword is from Jake’s POV. Will we be hearing more from Jake’s POV in the sequels?


How long have you been writing?

Always, I suppose. As a kid, I wrote poetry and plays. I journalled. I didn’t get serious about novelling until late 2008. My daughter was a couple months old and a horrible sleeper. Angel Eyes was conceptualized as I walked the floor with her one night.

How long did it take to write Angel Eyes?

My first draft was done in four or five months, but it was rough. I wasn’t in a hurry and had two small children at home, so it took me another year of editing and getting feedback before the manuscript was ready for representation.

What are you most looking forward to after your book is released?

You know, I’m kind of in the trenches right now. I have several deadlines looming: line edits for Broken Wings, which is the name of book two, by the way, and I’m drafting book three. Release date or not, I don’t know that I’ll really breathe until after the first of the year. So, that, I suppose. Breathing. Resting.

What is one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring writer?

Settle in for the long haul. I wish I could say I came up with that on my own, but I didn’t. I read it somewhere and it’s never left me. It’s so very true. The waiting never stops. Even after you’ve acquired an agent and a publisher has acquired you, you’ll still be waiting for something. Learn to be okay with it.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I walk. We live in a court and I literally walk in circles until I’ve thought through a problem. My kids sit on the steps and watch, the neighbors wave, but I have to keep moving. Have to keep thinking.

What was your reaction when you got your book deal?

It was surreal. We knew a deal was possible, so for days I answered the phone all giddy and shrill. When it wasn’t Holly—my agent—I got downright moody. After nearly offending my husband, I decided I had to get my shrill under control. So, when Holly did call with the deal, I was very zen. I was in the kitchen, staring out the window at my humming bird feeder and I just kept thinking, “Holy heck. My dream publisher wants my book.” It took several days for it to set in.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage?

That’s tough. I’m a huge fan of the book of Daniel. I also love Esther. LOVE Esther. Not surprisingly, I’m drawn to the books that read like stories, and one of my favorite verses comes from the Gospel of Matthew. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.—Matthew 6:33

What’s your perfect vacation spot?

It’s a tie. Disneyland and Hawaii. I’m rather excited about the Disney resort they’re putting on Oahu. Best of both worlds!

[NOTE FROM LAUREN: It’s official. I need to go to Hawaii.]

What song is stuck in your head right now?

I can show you the world. Shining, shimmering, splendid…. I’ve got a three year old.

[NOTE FROM LAUREN: I have this stuck in my head right now too. I also have a 3-year-old. Freaky.]

What’s the most recent movie you’ve seen in theaters?

The Avengers! Just the other night with my mom and sisters. Captain America was my favorite Avenger until Iron Man started talking. What is it about snarky bad boys?

[NOTE FROM LAUREN: This was the correct answer. And will continue to be the correct answer until Batman is released.]

What are you reading right now?

I’m actually reading several things, which is not common for me. I’m reading A Wrinkle in Time because the other day I realized I couldn’t remember half the story. I’m also reading a couple WIPs by two aspiring writer friends.

What’s your caffeinated beverage of choice?

Coffee or Pepsi. Or coffee.

Favorite snack food?

Funyuns (don’t worry, I carry gum)

Name 5 authors that have inspired you.


[NOTE FROM LAUREN: Yes, only five, because I am really, really mean.]

Okay, without thinking too hard, here are five fabulous writers who are so good they make me cry:

Suzanne Collins

JK Rowling

Ted Dekker

Stephen R. Lawhead

Tasha Alexander


Thanks so much for being willing to answer my questions, Shannon! I wish you great success with Angel Eyes, and look forward to reading more about the adventures of Brielle and Jake!

If you’d like to support Shannon, you can buy Angel Eyesfollow her on Twitter, and Like her page on Facebook. I also encourage you to visit her website for more information about Angel Eyes and her other projects.