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BRUISED by Sarah Skilton – Review

Bruised2Bruised by Sarah Skilton

Genre: YA Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Amulet Books

Release date: March 5 2013

Source: ARC won in contest

Pages: 288

five starsIn a word: emotional, deeply layered relationships, strong but flawed characters, and satisfyingly redemptive

“You’re bruised,” he says. “It means you’re alive. The body can’t bruise once the heart stops beating.”

Sometimes a book comes along at just the right time and resonates in just the right way. Bruised was that book for me. It could be that I needed a break from all the paranormal stories I’ve been reading, and I have to admit it was a nice change of pace to read a contemporary novel. But no matter what your usual reading fare is, Bruised is sure to trigger some type of emotion, because it’s so well written and perfectly paced. I absolutely loved the character of Imogen; I found her to be one of the most real and natural teenage protagonists I’ve come across in quite some time. Her story is unique, but I’m betting many readers will empathize with her situation nonetheless.

Imogen is a sixteen-year-old with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. The past six years of her life have been dedicated to immersing herself in martial arts and adhering to the rules set forth by Grandmaster Huan, her teacher. But one night as she and a friend are about to leave a diner, a man with a gun tries to rob the place. Instead of using her martial arts skills to stop the holdup, Imogen hides under a table. From her spot on the ground, she sees a boy across the way, also hiding. The next thing she knows, she’s at the police station, covered in blood. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t remember the events of the shooting. But even worse, she blames herself for the gunman’s death, for not being able to use her fighting skills when it really mattered.

One day at school she is called in to see the school counselor, and she meets the mysterious boy from the diner, a boy named Ricky who sets her heart fluttering. Ricky and Imogen attend counseling sessions together to overcome the stress of the shooting, getting to know each other better in the process. The rest of the story involves Imogen’s slow emergence from self-blame to accepting the things in life she can’t control.

This book isn’t really about the plot. I pretty much gave you a wrap up of the story in the last two paragraphs. So why did I love it so much? I loved it because this is a story about relationships and how they can hurt us, help us, and define us. Even before the shooting, Imogen is having problems with many of the people in her life. Her girlfriends are dropping her because they are interested in dating her older brother, Hunter. Her brother is stealing her friends by sleeping with them. And her father is in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with diabetes. Everything is changing, and Imogen is having trouble dealing. Everything except Tae Kwon Do, the one thing in her life that feels steady and comforting. But after the shooting, she realizes that even her well-honed fighting skills have failed her, and she doesn’t know how to come back from the shock of the experience.

There’s a line in the book about building up your muscles, and that the only way to make them stronger is to tear them down first. Skilton uses this as a metaphor as Imogen comes to grips with the tragedy and what her life means now that she’s questioning everything she believes in. Her emotional turmoil is written in such a believable way, and her interactions with Ricky, her family and her friends seem honest and true to life. Poor Imogen is going through a lot, and it’s no wonder she nearly has a mental breakdown. In addition to the drama surrounding the shooting, she’s also dealing with normal teenage stuff: her first kiss, trying to keep her grades up at school, and how to handle it when a friend moves away. I loved Ricky’s character, too, and his interactions with Imogen are especially well done. Yes, there is a bit of romance, but it’s not the focus of the story. Imogen and Ricky are attracted to each other, but they also have some obstacles to get past before their happy ending. More than once, Ricky and Imogen trade actual blows, which may turn some readers off. But I thought these scenes were important in not only propelling the story forward, but giving us a glimpse into Imogen’s inner turmoil.

The author uses color as a theme throughout the book, and I loved the way she accomplished this. She starts out by describing the different belt colors of Tae Kwon Do and their importance in Imogen’s life. Then she has Imogen compare herself to her brother:

We have similar features, but they came out wrong on me, like secondhand clothes. If his short, curly hair is a buttery-golden sunflower, my straight, thick tresses are the color of dandelions—nourished with acid rain. If his eyes are the clear aquamarine of a thirst-quenching mirage, mine are a dry, hazel-colored chalk and the boring sidewalk beneath it.

This gorgeous writing continues up to the end, when she cleverly brings color back to wrap things up.

So what did happen that night at the diner? Imogen does eventually recover her memories, but it takes time and the help of friends and family, including some wise advice from Grandmaster Huan. The details of the shooting are not nearly as important as Imogen’s journey toward healing and self-discovery. Her story will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be dying to read Sarah Skilton’s next book.

Many thanks to the author for the signed ARC I won! You can find Bruised here: Goodreads * Amazon * Barnes & Noble

DAC buttonSARCThis book is part of the Hobbitsies 2013 Debut Author Challenge and Icey Books 2013 Standalone Reading Challenge.

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VENTURE UNLEASHED by R.H. Russell – Review

I was very happy when R. H. Russell asked me to review Venture Unleashed. I reviewed the first book in the series, Venture Untamed, and really enjoyed it. For those of you who didn’t read my review of Venture Untamed, Russell has had many years of martial arts training, and this makes the fight sequences especially realistic. The book picks up right where Venture Untamed left us, as Venture Delving arrives at the Champions Center to begin training for a place in the ultimate fighting competition and secure the title of Champion of All Richland.

At the Champions Center Venture meets two legends in the fighting world: Dasher Starson and Will Fisher, both past champions. He soon finds out that his path to victory will be rocky. In an attempt to put the new kid in his place, Venture is beaten unconscious by Dasher, but earns his respect by not backing down.  After Starson decides to leave the Champions Center and strike out on his own, he takes Venture with him.

Along the way they meet a precocious runaway named Chance who latches onto Venture and becomes his constant companion, and after some time on the road, training and working with Dash, they return to Twin Rivers for some time off. There Venture inevitably runs into Jade, his life-long friend and the girl he loves but can never have, and their reunion is fraught with tension, since Venture swore to her father that he wouldn’t pursue a relationship with her.  He tries to be proper and respectful around Jade, but it is clear he is struggling and only wants to declare his love.

Dealing with his feelings for Jade is only one of many obstacles that Venture must face before the story ends.  When he finally gets his chance to compete for the ultimate title, enemies resurface and threaten not only his chances of winning, but his very life as well.  Venture must overcome injuries, jealousies, and hatred before things get better.

Russell’s writing is smooth and flowing, which I especially appreciated. Although the subject matter, hand-to-hand combat, is not something I usually seek out to read, I found myself cheering for Venture along with all his friends.  Russell has given Venture the admirable qualities of duty and honor, but he also struggles with his temper, which makes him a very human character.  He also displays an important trait of many successful athletes, which is the ability to push through the pain and continue to compete. The constant threat that the crested, or elite, are trying to get rid of the Championship is a driving force throughout the story, and it makes for some great tension.

The character of Venture is a testament to anyone who has been put down and ostracized for being different, and had the strength to overcome those obstacles.  Russell has created a hero in Venture that shines a light on the tenacity of the human spirit.

Many thanks to the author for providing a review copy of the book.

You can visit the author’s website here and purchase Venture Unleashed here. And if you still want more of Venture and his friends (and enemies!), Russell has written a novelette called Boundless that you can purchase here.

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