A Cactus in the Valley by Olivia Bennett

img_2026Title: A Cactus in the Valley 
Author: Olivia J. Bennett 
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: Print 387
Rating: ★★★★★

Author Q& A Below: Check out her inspiration for this novel!


Disclaimer: This review is solely my opinion. I was given a copy of this book from the author Olivia Bennett, in exchange for my honest review. The comments in this review do not reflect the views of the author.


This contemporary novel follows the journey of the two main characters, Terra and Wyatt. This book is written well and focuses on the lives of both the main characters. Each is struggling with their demons and are forced to face them head on or not survive. The book This novel begins from the perspective of Terra waking up from a terrible plane crash. She comes to her senses realizing that something terrible has happened. We then are shifted to the point of view of Wyatt and his view of waking from the plane crash. In the beginning, both experience grief, strength, awareness, and physical pain all before we get to the first 50 pages. The author spent time explaining each character’s past, using foreshadowing as a method to do so. The reader gains an understanding of the moments leading up to the day of the crash and the moments both characters face to survive. They are both stranded in a desolate area hoping to survive long enough to make it to their families. Terra and Wyatt must decide what they are living for, they must not lose hope, and they must rely heavily on each other. We watch as these two spring into action, noting their survival instincts, rooting for them to survive, mourning their losses, and crying for their pain. A Cactus in the Valley is an incredibly captivating novel, and I recommend this to anyone. The author did a fantastic job capturing the attention of the reader throughout the entire story.


Favorite Quotes

“Take chances, Terra. Make mistakes, because nothing is so terribly messed up that it can’t be fixed.” -Abigail, Terra’s Grandmother

” But eventually, I would get doused with cold water, putting out the flames of rejection and betrayal, downing out the perpetual grief, and overflowing the void left by my parting grandmother. But, I guess that’s a story for another day.” – Terra

In these quotes, I feel Terra’s pain for the loss of the only person in her life that cared for her. There are many quotes like this throughout the novel showcasing the challenges Terra faced in her life before the crash.

” Before long, I was sobbing at the kindness of the truth before me. And that night, I, Wyatt Hartman, came to know the truth.” -Wyatt after a night of partying


Final Thoughts

Overall, this is novel one of my favorite novels. I loved the writing style throughout the entire book and enjoyed the style diary chapters. I was captivated by the dates in each section and the point of view from both of the main characters. These two found each other in a time of grief and let their faith continue to inspire them to have hope. There is a hint of religious influence in this novel, but it is not overbearing. I could tell that the author has a bit of power on this part. The secret that Terra shared at the beginning of the novel was jarring, but it emphasized the hardships she faced and her inner battle. Wyatt is sometimes demanding and other moments loving. These two find solace in each other’s presence and there is a short period in the novel where a natural force separates them. During these moments, each character fights to face the past that continues to hold them captive.  The moments leading up to the crash explained in detail from the perspective of both characters, and we finally get the full details of the accident closer to the ending of the novel. I say that was strategically placed at the end because I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. These two characters are developed so well that you have no choice but to get tangled up in this story.


Question and Answer with the AUTHOR:

1.What was your inspiration for the novel?

I don’t think I had a direct inspiration for A Cactus In the Valley, but I was inspired by other survival stories, both real and fictional. I saw that there was potential for a good story in the heightened emotions and desperation that came with the territory. But overall, I wanted to create an allegory of my own experience becoming a young adult, finding oneself, and overcoming the past.

2.Is there any other novels in the works?

There is! I’m actually in the process of editing the companion novella to A Cactus In the Valley. It centers around Harper, Lilly, and Nick as they grapple with the loss of Terra and Wyatt. It kind of tells the story of what goes on behind the scenes. I’m planning on publishing it this summer!
3. I saw a bit of a religious aspect in this novel, is this stemmed from you have a religious background? 

I am a Christian, but I also know that life isn’t all sunshine and roses, so why should I write that way? This novel does stem from my religious background of being nondenominational/charismatic Christian.

Because of my circumstances, I find myself around people (and Christians) who don’t conform to the squeaky-clean Christian stereotype. I ultimately saw a need for gritty, real fiction for broken teens. I hope to bridge the gap and create a new genre of fiction that’s too secular to be Christian but too Christian to be secular.
Special thanks to the author for agreeing to answer my questions and for sending me a copy of this book!

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Disclaimer: The opinions in this review are solely my opinions and do not reflect the views of the author. I purchased this book on my own from Barnes and Noble.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a Young Adult Contemporary Fiction novel. This novel follows the life of Melinda, an incoming freshman who faced challenges over the summer which have followed her into her new school year. Melinda starts the new school year as an outcast, not having any friends, people now stare, her old friends now snicker behind her back, and she is currently silent. She only speaks when it is necessary. Speak is a compelling novel regarding the challenges faced by those who harbor a secret that could affect many but most importantly the fear of sharing. Melinda has a dark secret she is afraid to share, and this secret is eating her up inside. She can’t seem to make friends or even talk with her parents. Her parents continue to argue with each other about Melinda’s situation as they watch her withdraw from social situations. Melinda’s grades are falling, she is skipping school, and hides any chance she can. Why won’t she speak? What is this secret? What will happen when she speaks? Unfortunately, I do not want to share too much information, but I recommend you read this book.

Overall, I thought this book is well written. This entire book had me on the edge of my seat. I thought it was different the book did not have chapters but separated by marking periods. The book is only 175 pages which made it a short read for me, but I did love the authors comments at the end. The author provided a question and answered at the end of the novel. I enjoyed learning about how she thought of the Melinda character, and I hope for another book that gives a glance at Melinda’s future after high school. I gave this book a four-star rating because it was a little bit predictable. I knew why Melinda was troubled and why she was an outcast from the beginning of the novel. There are numerous reasons why people tend to decide to go mute. Her reasoning was because of a traumatic event that occurs in the story. In the end, I wanted more action and more of a love story for Melinda and David. I wanted a little bit more happiness for Melinda, but I did like that the happiness wasn’t overbearing or unrealistic. I also wanted more added to the storyline, and i felt like there just was not enough in this book for me. I did however still love this book which why I did not give it a low rating.

I recommend this book to anyone who interested in reading a compelling contemporary novel that allows you to gain a better understanding of the effects traumatic events have on everyone involved.

Busted by Gina Ciocca

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Busted by Gina Ciocca is a contemporary young adult fiction novel that follows the journey of the main character Marissa. Marissa has been placed in a position that she did not necessarily want to be in after helping her best friend. Busted focuses on the lengths of friendship, trust, forgiveness, high school drama, and deciding how far you will go to capture the story.  Marissa is a spunky main character who wants to go to college to study journalism, but when choosing how to pay for school, an option is thrown into her lap. This new option may or may not have consequences. This new opportunity is thrown into her lap by her ex-best friend Kendall. Kendall reenters Marissa’s life after finding out that Marissa helped her best friend Charlie, who goes to a different school than Marissa, bust Charlie’s boyfriend cheating. Kendall begs Marissa to do the same with her boyfriend after she assumes that he is cheating. Marissa attends the same school as Kendall’s boyfriend and accepts the new challenge. The story continues with a lot of twists and turns and betrayal. Marissa must learn to put her feelings aside during the investigation and not get tangled in Kendall’s love life. This story has high school drama written all over it.

This is the synopsis of the book found on Amazon:

And her next case? It’s for ex-frenemy Kendall. She’s convinced her boyfriend, TJ, has feelings for someone else and persuades Marissa to start spying on him. But the more Marisa gets to know sincere and artistic TJ, the more she starts to fall for him. Worse yet, the feelings seem to be mutual. Marisa knows she needs to give up her investigation—and the spoken-for guy who may just be the love of her life. Then she uncovers new secrets about Kendall and TJ, secrets that take “cheater” to a whole new level…

I purchased this book after reading the portion of the synopsis above. This sounds like it is going to be amazing, right? I thought that it would be amazing.  I liked this book and thought it had a good storyline but the plot twist was a lacking. There was a lot of build-up to the plot, but I did not think it met my expectations. I assumed there would be more drama or connection between the characters. I mean everything felt a little bit forced. Of course with most contemporary novels, it has a cliche happy ending. I wanted more development in this story. There could’ve been more done with this book with the title. It is definitely a contemporary drama, mystery, romance novel. I did love the development of the friendship between Charlie and Marisa. I love the style of writing but not necessarily all the content.

I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in a bit of cliche high school drama with a little bit of romance and betrayal.

Disclaimer: This review is solely my honest opinion. I purchased this book on my own from Barnes and Noble. Below is a link for you to purchase the book as well. The opinions in this review do not reflect the views of the author.

You can purchase a copy of this book from Amazon  or Barnes and Noble. This book was published on January 2, 2018.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a young adult contemporary fiction novel focus on the challenges faced by twin high school teenagers whose lives are intertwined. Stuart and Ashley are two teens who must face their own challenges and learn to get along. This book discusses divorce, family, friendships, bullying, sexual assault, and new relationships. It’s a great contemporary novel to give to any teen facing problems in school. Stuart is a friendly kid who has been bumped up a grade because he is “gifted.” His dad tells him he should not tell that to everyone. Ashley is a popular freshmen in high school who just wants to have all the attention. Her parents are divorced and her dad is gay. She wants to keep her dads sexuality a secret from her friends. As Stuart’s dad and Ashley’s mom make the decision to move in together, things start to get complicated. Can these two teens get along? Will Ashley ever accept Stuart as her step brother?

I loved the plot twist and kind of hated Ashley the entire story. In the end Ashley changed but that took the entire story. You definitely get the popular girl vibe from Ashley and the geek vibe from Stuart. Stuart wants to do what’s right and protect his new family member, while Ashley just wants to be popular. I wanted more from the title and I wanted more from the story. Overall, it had a great message but it was predictable in some places and the end was kind of cheesy. I would definitely recommend this to other teens who are interested in this book but only to older teens who are okay with LGBTQ reads. It was a bit mature for younger teens but very well written.

I give it a 4 out of 5!

Until I Break by Kara Bietz

IMG_0952*Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars*

Until I Break by Kara Bietz is a Young Adult Fiction Contemporary Novel. It takes an interesting approach to bullying. It focuses on two main characters, Ace and Sam. Both boys are in high school with bright futures ahead of them but one fateful day changed both their worlds. We journey through novel through the eyes of Sam and the struggles he faces dealing with his biggest challenge in life, Ace. This book brings light to bullying in high school, and the challenges young men face when tackling a bully. The struggle to face the problem on their own and the battle to try to ignore the problem. The fear of being seen as weak when asking for help. All of these struggles are in this compelling story of the fight for survival and the battle to ignore a bully.

This novel is the next read for my book club. I was excited to read it but had a few reservations after reading the synopsis. The entire novel I was on the edge of my seating waiting for the ball to drop. I was waiting for the plot twist in the end, and the build-up was terrific. The novel starts from the perspective of Sam and continues in his view the entire time. The one question answered is, ” how much can person physically and mentally take before they break?” I loved the way this novel is written and the plot twist, in the end, had me holding my break the entire time. I wanted to know more about the aftermath of the plot twist, but otherwise, this novel is well written. I recommend this novel to anyone willing to read a contemporary young adult fiction book. It has a lot of good parts and moments that make you want to yell at the ceiling screaming “wwwhhhhhyyyy.”

I give this book a 4.5 out of 5 stars. If you are interested, then you should check this contemporary novel out.