Mini-Reviews: Boy on the Bridge, Broken Forest and If He Had Been With Me

I've seen mini-reviews on other blogs and love the idea! I'm on vacation, so I'm trying to get a lot of reading done...

The Boy on the Bridge
by Natalie Standiford
To be published by Scholastic
on August 1, 2013
Source: bought

My (mini) take: What I loved most about this book was the setting. Laura Reid is a college student participating in an exchange program in Leningrad in 1982, spending a semester working on her Russian and soaking up the culture.I loved reading about pre-Glasnost Russia -- food shortages, strict rules banning fraternization between Soviets and foreigners, and a high level of paranoia. I also loved the way the book depicted the foreign exchange experience in general -- the constraints that come with living with other American students while trying to experience a foreign country.

When Laura meets a guy named Aloysha on a bridge, she escapes her bubble and gets a glimpse of real Russian life. But in this case, there's a catch: Laura is repeatedly warned by her chaperones and fellow students that many Russians feign romantic attachment to Americans as a means of entering a sham marriage and getting out of the country. Of course, Laura falls in love. 

If you are a reader who needs closure, you may take issue with what, to me, seemed like a frustratingly ambiguous ending. Is this a bittersweet coming of age story about a girl who is duped? A romantic story about love against the odds? I don't mind books that don't tie everything up in a neat little bow, but in this case it felt to me that at a certain point, all the events of the book were dumped in my lap for me to sort out. I think the book would have packed more of an emotional punch for me if more had been definitively resolved. You can read more of my thoughts under spoiler protection in my Goodreads review.

Broken Forest
by Eliza Tilton
Published by Curiosity Quills Press
on May 1, 2012
Source: gifted from author

Synopsis from Goodreads: Hopeless he'll never be more than the boy who didn't save his brother, 17-year-old Avikar accepts his life as the family stable boy, trying to forget the past. But when his sister, Jeslyn, is kidnapped, the thought of losing another sibling catapults him on a desperate quest. With his best friend by his side, and using the tracking skills he learned from his father, he discovers Jeslyn has been taken, kidnapped by one Lucino, the young lord of Daath, a mystical place thought only to exist in fables. And Lucino has plans for Jeslyn. His shape-shifting brethren feed off the auras of humans, and Jeslyn's golden hue is exactly what Lucino needs to increase his power. The longer it takes Avikar to reach her, the more entranced she becomes with Lucino's world, and the harder it will be for Avikar to set her free. He failed his family once. He won't fail again...
Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the author, Eliza Tilton. She is a fellow blogger and I think she's great. It's always tricky when a friend asks you to read their book, because if their book is not your kind of thing, that can be awkward.  Luckily, I really liked Broken Forest -- and check out the beautiful new cover :)

Broken Forest is light YA fantasy offers up a great blend of romance, action and suspense. Multiple POV is something that's not easy to pull off, but I really liked the way that the chapters alternated between Avikar's, Jeslyn's and Lucino's POVs. The switch-offs in POV added a lot suspense to the story, gave the reader insight into what each character was thinking and feeling and really propelled the plot along. Often, in multiple POV stories, I have a strong preference for one narrator, but in the case of Broken Forest, I thought all three were equally compelling. Jeslyn is kidnapped at the opening of the story, and her brother Avikar and his friend set out to rescue her. The action moved smoothly, with the guys facing challenges and picking up a few allies (and some enemies) on the way. 

Avikar was definitely my favorite character. He's one of those "weight of the world on his shoulders" characters that I love. He holds himself responsible for a family tragedy and this experience adds more psychological depth to his character and more urgency to his quest to save his sister. Lucino is a very intriguing villain -- I think including the POV of the villain is a great way to make his character much more three-dimensional -- and scary! Jeslyn is probably the least developed character, or maybe it's more fair to say that she's the hardest character to figure out. She gets put into the "damsel in distress" role at the outset of the story, but by the end of the story, she's … well, even more in distress…

I'd definitely recommend Broken Forest to fans of light/fairytale fantasy. 

If He Had Been With Me
by Laura Nowlin
To be published by Sourcebooks
on April 1, 2013
Source: won on I Heart YA Fiction!

Mini-synopsis (adapted from Goodreads:) Throughout their whole childhood, Finn and Autumn were inseparable—they finished each other's sentences, they knew just what to say when the other person was hurting. But one incident in middle school puts them in separate social worlds come high school, and Autumn has been happily dating James for the last two years. But she's always wondered what if… The night she's about to get the answer is also one of terrible tragedy.

My (mini) take: I read a great review of this book on another blog, and decided it was just the kind of heart-wrenching contemporary I usually love. And, after reading If He Had Been With Me, I can say that there are a lot of things about the book I enjoyed. First, I love (and also kind of hate) those books that begin with a spoiler, telling you that something terrible will definitely happen. In this case, you even know what it is. I wouldn't want every book to work that way, but in this case it did create an undercurrent of sadness that ran beneath the entire story.

Laura Nowlin does a great job of observing and portraying social and emotional nuances -- the way that a sentence, a gesture, a decision can have huge impact on our relationships and our lives. I loved that she brought the issue of depression into the book -- two characters in the story suffer from serious depression and I thought the topic was handled in a empathetic and responsible way.

If He Had Been With Me is perfect for people who enjoy books with a lot of psychological depth, and, well … tearjerkers. This is a sad story!


  1. Oh, I do like the new cover for Eliza's book. I actually saw this on NG the other day. And I'm not sure how I feel about books that begin with a spoiler at the beginning or in the prologue. It takes the surprise out of it for me for sure. Did you read Dead Silence? I really wish someone would have warned me to skip the prologue on that one. Grrr.

    1. I love Eliza's new cover -- and yes, they put it back on Netgalley!

      I would not want every book to begin with a spoiler, but in this case, I didn't mind. If I'd read the whole book expecting a happy ending, and then got that, I think I'd be pretty annoyed. (Like the movie One Day, which, by coincidence, I was telling Eliza about. That ending really ticked me off…)

    2. I thought you said One Day was the best chick flic you've seen in awhile?? ; )

    3. Yes, I loved all the zombies!!!!!

  2. I totally skipped off to go read your spoilers on good reads. :) How do you do that? I need to do that! Because formatting doesn't save for feeds so I want to stop putting spoilers in my reviews because they don't get covered up except on my blog... also that tear jerker sounds like my kind of book. School is FINALLY over and maybe I'll check it out when I catch up.

    1. If you look to the right of the GR review panel, there is the HTML code. Basically, you type before you start the spoiler text and when you are done.

  3. Boy on the Bridge sounds like something I would like, even though I'm not big on ambiguous endings. I love Russian history and culture.

    1. Then definitely give it a try. The setting was my favorite part, and I did love the idea of a tragic love affair - I just wanted to know what kind of tragedy I was getting!

  4. Boy on the Bridge sounds good, though I think I would like a better resolution. If He Had Been With Me is another I want to read. Great mini reviews.

  5. Great reviews! I've done a few "mini" reviews, but I call mine briefs - probably a carry over from my husband who is an attorney. :) I have The Boy on the Bridge on my tbr, but I really dislike endings like that, so it's now off my list. I will definitely read Broken Forest - totally sounds like my kind of read. I might read If He Had Been With Me. I can't always handle teary reads since they affect my mood, but it sounds like it was good regardless. Looks like you're getting some good reading in on your trip.

    Tressa @ Tressa's Wishful Endings

  6. Awesome reviews! I really want to read If She Had Been With me and even the title (had) says it all. I like the anticipation of what is happening. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. LOVE that new cover to Broken Forest! A very different feel from the first one. And it looks good too! I'm not going near IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME. Big tearjerkers are not for me! I'm also not a huge fan of ambiguous ending so I'll probably skip the first one too. But I really like this short review format. I'm doing one of these next week.

  8. I was really excited for The Boy on the Bridge but now I'm concerned-I want closure and a happy ending! I'll be very curious to compare thoughts once I've read it.

  9. The Boy on the Bridge was sounding like a book I would love, I was REALLY curious about it, but since there's no real closure I'm probably not going to read it. Too bad about that.

    I've been eying that second book. I really like fantasy and I've been seeing it around a lot. I agree, reading friends books can be a little stressful, I'm glad this worked out for you!

    I like a tearjerker sometimes, but lately I've been more about the fun summery reads. However this might be one I'd enjoy in the fall or winter.

  10. I absolutely LOVED If He Had Been With Me. It was so moving and just the type of contemporary that I'm often in the mood for. It's definitely one of my favorite reads this year. I haven't heard of these other two!

  11. Great mini-reviews! Broken Forest especially sounds like one I'd want to read, and If He Had Been With Me sounds great too, even if it will toy with my emotions. I'm not sure about the first one because I think the lack of resolutin would frustrate me to no end. Thanks for introducing me to Broken Forest!

  12. I'm glad you enjoyed If He Had Been With Me - it was one of my favorite reads this year. I totally agree with you on how the author handled the subject of depression. I loved that it was handled sensitively and responsibly but without it taking over the entire book. Also, there aren't a lot of characters in YA with seasonal affective disorder so I loved that the author was able to shine some light on the disorder. Great review, Jen.


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