By: Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin
My Rating: FIVE out of FIVE stars
Friends, I loved (A LOT) Beyond (book 1) and Before (book 2) by sisters Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin.
Wait…aren’t they YA Romance?
Yep. Paranormal romance, actually.
And aren’t you a 42-year-old dad with 6 kids?
Well, dang. I guess I’m just a mushy romantic after all.
Hi everyone. My name is Dan. I like to read romance novels.
But I have rules:
1) No shirtless guys on the cover. Or shirtless girls either…but for some reason the girls always have their clothes on. Huh.
2) I must be able to read it out loud to my teenage daughter without her (or me) getting embarrassed.
3) The romance must be age appropriate for the characters.
4) There must be other stuff happening in the book that interests me.
5) It must make me remember how much fun it was falling in love with my wife for the first time.
6) No one can sparkle in the sun.
Check. Check, check, check, check, and check.
Beyond and Before are a little bit Twilight with a MUCH better female lead, a little bit The Sixth Sense without the blood and jump scares, and little bit Ghost without the pottery. They are a lot bit sweet and romantic, and have some legit, white-knuckle, anxiety inducing moments mixed in as well.
Honestly, this story did everything right for me.
Set in real-life locations around Lake Tahoe, the story follows 17-year-old Presley as she tries to fit in as the new girl at the school where her single mom has just been hired as Principal. She makes some friends, deals with bully’s, takes care of her younger brother who has autism, and falls in love with a cute boy.
Who happens to be dead.
The romance is sweet. The female lead is strong, independent, and a great example for my daughters (I especially liked when she punched her bully in the face. Yep.) The why-can-Presley-see-dead-people mystery is fun. The paranormal elements are a good kind of creepy. The anticipation of figuring out how a story about a girl who falls in love with a ghost can possibly have a happy ending? Outstanding.
There are some of the usual YA pitfalls—insta-love that borders on insta-obsession, a boy with no flaws, a love triangle—but they weren’t obnoxious, and they blended in well with the story. Not a concern.
I was particularly touched by how the story treated Presley’s autistic brother, Chase, who is a very present character in both books. If autism touches your life, you have an ally in Beyond and Before. Chase’s character was inspired by co-author Catina’s own child who has autism, and Chase and Presley’s sibling relationship is patterned after Catina’s own children. As a dad I can’t even think of the tenderness these siblings have for their brother without feeling teary and emotional. Because of Catina’s personal experience, she can write about living with autism in a very raw, real, and eye-opening way. It’s as much a tribute as it is an effort to generate awareness. It’s an outstanding addition to this story and is very, very well done.
I appreciated the responsible, age appropriate, and realistic romance between the high-school aged main characters. The female lead is strong in the right places and vulnerable in the right places. The male lead is respectful, thoughtful, and kind. They are physically romantic with each other while communicating boundaries and acknowledging there is a point of no return they choose to avoid instead of trying to get as close as they can. These elements are all very meaningful to me as a dad who wants to help my children understand how to have their own age-appropriate relationships, and to find this in a YA romance book is exceedingly rare. This is a big deal, folks, and it makes Beyond and Before treasures. I’d be happy to have my teenagers read these books.
So ya, if romance books are like these, sign me up. I don’t think I’ll find many that fit my requirements, though. The rest are barf.
No sex, no language, no violence. You will find teens kissing, the value of surrounding yourself with good friends, how to be a good friend, family love, dealing with grief and death, the challenges of living with autism, taking responsibility for your actions, and discussions about doing what’s right even when it’s the harder choice.
Oh, and you’ll also learn what has to happen before you can make out with a ghost. Hopefully that won’t come up too often though…
Mature 12 and up, probably more like 14 and up.
Hey, here’s some bonus stuff!
Since Catina and Angela are both members of One Man Book Club and are super cool ladies, I thought I’d throw in some bonus material. Thanks to the bloggers who originally posted the content.
Catina and Angela gave a TV interview about Beyond here
Hymn for the Weekend by Coldplay
Untitled by Simple Plan
Stolen by Dashboard Confessional
Already Gone by Kelly Clarkson
I Will Wait for You by Mumford and Sons
Forever Young by Alphaville
If I Die Young by The Band Perry
Waiting on an Angel by Ben Harper
Fix You by Coldplay
Hurt by Johnny Cash
Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis
Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry
The Reason by Hoobastank
Here’s an interview by Typewriter Society where Catina and Angela talk about how two people go about writing a book together.
Here’s an Author Q&A:
(Thanks Stacey at booksdreamslife0829, original post here)
1) When did you start writing, and was there a specific event or person who influenced you to become an author?
Angela: I’ve always enjoyed writing in school, but I started writing short stories and bookish things on my own after high school. It was my way of dealing with a huge unrequited crush! Reading the Grapes of Wrath was formative moment for me as a writer. It was the first book that powerfully showed me how incredible writing can be.
Catina: I’ve loved writing stories my whole life but developed a passion for it in college when I started writing for our university’s newspaper and TV station. One morning, the idea for BEYOND came to me and I knew I had to morph my journalism skills into that of an author, because the story had to be told!
2) Are you currently working on a project, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?
Angela: Right now I’m querying a romance set in rural NV. It’s like The Breakfast Club meets Holes. I’m currently working on a romance about a British Prep School boy forced to accompany his father on a business assignment to a tiny Tennessee mountain town. There he meets a girl struggling to support her family. Though total opposites, they have a lot to learn from each other . . . and of course they fall in love!
Catina: I am currently working on a middle-grade adventure. Because I have a request for the full manuscript, I can’t say much!
3) What is your favorite writing snack?
Angela: Trader Joe’s dips and hummus.
Catina: I love to eat flavored popcorn while I write. I can feel like I’m indulging without doing too much damage!
4) If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? Why? What food would you serve?
Angela: I’d have dinner with Reese from the Beyond series because I like the funny boys. We’d eat microwave convenience store burritos and Dr. Pepper – his favorite:)
Catina: I’d have to have dinner with Reese and Landon together. I lover their brotherly cousin dynamic and their senses of humor. I’m also a little star struck by their awesome skiing skills and ravishing good looks. Ha! They have huge appetites so I’d probably grill piles and piles of rib-eye and serve it with a yummy pasta salad and dessert.
5) Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Angela: I learned I can do harder things than I thought I could. And that all skills can be improved upon with practice, no matter who you are.
Catina: I’ve learned to write what’s in your heart. Write, write, write and do not edit as you go. Save the editing for after your entire first draft is complete. I’ve also learned that my writing improves so much when I hit it every day. Big breaks aren’t awesome when it comes to writing skills.
6) How do you relax, or what do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Angela: I eat brownies in bed and watch Netflix shows about food, decorating or kissing.
Catina: I love going to the movies so much. We are an opening night kind of family. I also love to read as much as I can. At any given time, I’m reading a book for book club, one in the genre I’m writing, one for my kids and one off my personal list.
7) What is your largest unfulfilled dream, and what are you doing to reach it?
Angela: I’d love to get my MFA in creative writing. Currently, I’m researching schools and hyperventilating about taking the math portion of the GRE.
Catina: Ooohhhh – that’s a tough one – but I’d have to say seeing my work on the big screen. That would be incredible.
8) What do you fear most?
Catina: Spiders. Being bitten by a brown recluse in the night.
9) What was your favorite Halloween Costume?
Angela: Without my mom’s permission, I bought a Harem Girl costume when I was nine. As an adult, I see the folly in this, but at the time I LOVED the purple veil and the gold sequins belt and headband. And it even came with brass finger cymbals!
Catina: My favorite Halloween costume wasn’t really for me – it was one I created for my son. He was Wolverine. We grew his hair out for four months, found an awesome leather jacket at the thrift store and bought him his first pair of jeans. Ha ha! We nailed it and everywhere we went, people wanted a picture.