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Ambushed!: A Cartoon History of the George W. Bush Administration
Jim Morin

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

Just another random person reiterating what an incredible book this is.  This was not at all the story I expected.  I thought, oh, a combination of text and old photographs, this is going to be some artsy wannabe pretending they're a hotshot professional photographer.  Guys, look closely at the cover.  She's hovering.  And that's just one of many incredible photographs contained within these pages, shaping a terrifying, suspenseful book that will actually leave you with chills.  There are so many incredible plot twists along the way.  I lost my love of the story a bit when time travel came into the picture, and the focus shifted from the incredible characters who I wanted to fully know to a less interesting, less bone-chilling plotline.  All of the props I have to offer to the characters, though.  Great book, really original, stays with you long after you're done.  


Rating: 4.5/5


Underworld - Meg Cabot

I've written on my dislike of the first book in the series, Abandon, so I was surprised to see that I liked Underworld slightly more than its predecessor. It's still nowhere near the Meg Cabot I grew to love with The Princess Diaries and Mediator and all her other books, but it was a slight improvement. We got to learn a bit more about John, which was nice, but he's still kind of a controlling boyfriend, and I'm still unsure how to feel about all that. The novel is still slow-paced much like Abandon, but there was a decent amount of suspense to move it along. Alex's storyline had very little appeal and didn't seem to add much to the story, despite pretty much being the main point of the book. This book felt so forced. I'm just not sure what happened to Meg's writing charm, but I wish she could find it again. Rating: 3/5

Return to Paradise

Return to Paradise - Simone Elkeles

What a shame that a great book like Leaving Paradise got such a lackluster sequel.  If a follow-up story had to happen, which I don't feel it did, it should have at least focused on Leah's role in everything.  It is one of the most contrived, pointless books I've read in a while, which is a shame considering how powerful its predecessor is.  Forgiveness is a powerful central theme, and without Leah around to propel that same original story forward, this book falls flat on its face, and I almost wish it had been Caleb, so the story contained genuinely deep discussions on redemption.  I have trouble believing it's even the same author writing these two books, this was just so bad compared to Leaving Paradise.  I came for the deep, original, beautiful story, and ended up leaving with a pathetic romance novel.  I'm not impressed.  I'd like to pretend a sequel never happened.

Leaving Paradise

Leaving Paradise - Simone Elkeles

Easily one of the best books I've read this year, this original story is an instant YA classic about the transcending power of forgiveness.  It is the ultimate exercise in imagining complexly, but also so much just an amazing story.  Good writing is important, and Elkeles is capable of it, but having that unique, compelling concept to propel the storytelling is critical, and at that, Elkeles' book is perfection.  What a powerful book.  I feel that the main story was slightly cheapened by the last minute plot-twist, which is never explored as much as it could have been, but the underlying message of our shared humanity is still an important one.

The Vicious Deep

The Vicious Deep - Zoraida Córdova

I haven't read any other mermaid YA novels, although I hear there's a relatively new-ish trend towards the mermaid trope.  After reading this one, I'm really not sure I want to seek out any more mermaid books.  I tried to be open-minded and read the whole book, but really, though, this was not a good book for me.  Just in terms of the writing style, basic sentence variation goes a long way to counter awkward writing.  It's something I personally struggle with, but then, I'm not looking to be a published writer either.  Beyond that though, the story itself...Tristan is the obnoxious popular kid you can't stand at school.  He's full of himself, you can't relate to him, despite his role as the main character, he's shallow, sexist, unlikable...the list of adjectives goes on.  He's a caricature of hotheaded teenage arrogance. Guys, the sentence "I'm not rippling with the muscles of the other bros, but I've got a pretty hot body" exists within these pages.  Honestly?  My favorite characters in this book were Tristan's parents.  That's probably not a great sign for a young adult novel.  People spend so much time and energy ripping apart novels like Twilight, and the criticisms are often merited, but I'd really like to hand those same people this book and see where that goes.  So on top of awkward writing and two-dimensional characters, the plot is convoluted, and I just could not bring myself to care.  If anyone has any good YA mermaid book recs, sure, I'd love to check them out with an open mind, but this was not a book for me.

Black Mirror

Black Mirror - Nancy Werlin, Cliff Nielsen

Oh, Nancy Werlin, so hit or miss.  I've previously mentioned my feelings on many of her other books, but suffice it to say that her newer material is light years away in quality from her older stuff.  This one was okay, the supernatural elements were thankfully toned down (they work extremely well in Impossible and Extraordinary, can't say the same for the rest...), and it ends up being more of a story about a girl coping with her brother's death, and trying to figure out the complicated circumstances surrounding it, including finding an undercover drug smuggling ring at her school.  It's not a bad book, it's not a particularly well-written or original book either, but I've seen much worse.  


Rating: Very 'meh'.  3/5

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson

With so many new debut YA novelists arriving on the scene lately, I've been getting lost and sticking to the familiar.  However, I had this book heavily recommended by a friend and went for it.  I'm so glad I did.  The book is written partially as a story, but has epistolary aspects to it, which I always enjoy.  Amy and Roger getting to literally revisit the scenes of their past results in a powerful journey for them and a powerful story for us.  Unlike many narratives, the idea of 'grief' is not isolated to death, although that does prominently feature, but extends itself out to other kinds of profound, irreversible losses that we all experience.  I'm not usually one to want for a sequel where a sequel is unnecessary, and I understand that things were meant to be left a little open ended, but storytelling-wise, I do think leaving Amy and Roger where they were was a little too open.  I wish we had gotten some more definitive answers on their future.  Regardless, it's a powerful story for anyone who has lost a loved one and had to move on, but be warned, you will want to go on a cross-country road trip once you're done!  

Wide Awake

Wide Awake - David Levithan I adore political young adult novels. I just love them. Despite many falling in the 'young adult' category not yet being able to vote, we are people and we are passionate about the world we live in. It is so great to hear voices of fictional teens who feel the same. Wide Awake is the stuff of a beautiful liberal idealistic heaven, and has to be one of the best books I've had the pleasure of reading. And he does it so great, too, with his typical mindblowing writing combining with perfection of a plot. He could have easily used the political victory as the ending, but instead took the hard and ultimately more rewarding road of tackling the end at the beginning. While some of the made up historical events seem a little hokey, once they're explained, it's totally believable, albeit idealistic. And while this may be deemed a 'political YA', more than anything this novel is about finding who you are and reconciling your identity with society's dissenting opinions on who you "should" be, whether dictated through social, cultural, or religious "rules". The "Jesus Revolution" mentioned in this book is a beautiful concept and I could only dream of such a thing happening in my lifetime, the idea of religion going back to its roots of love and kindness for all. Stein is kind of a simple character, and elements of the story seem simple, but there are so many amazing qualities found in this book. Religion could easily have been written off as a force of evil and hate. Instead, Levithan takes the effort to imagine people complexly and recognize that religion itself is not inherently good or bad, but a force for potential action in either direction, often both directions, in complicated, tangled up ways. This book is political, but it is about so much more than that. The personal doesn't automatically have to be political, but man, can the political be personal. Rating: 5/5

Keep Holding On

Keep Holding On - Susane Colasanti This is the YA novel about bullying that the world's been waiting for. So many books addressing bullying take on a preachy stance, ignoring the realities that this bullying consumes a teen's life with shame, making it so difficult for bullying to be addressed. Colasanti knows what she's talking about. We are getting the raw, real story here. I really love that the reader doesn't have to dig deep to find the morsels of meaning, the depth is all there, laid out, ready to be applied to the bullied lives of actual teens. I have a lot of things I could say here. I wish, and don't we all, I could one day have a one-on-one conversation with Colasanti about her books and her life, but for now, I'll revel in knowing that I am not alone, and neither are you. The one adjustment I would have loved would have been either a sequel or an expansion of the story beyond the ending, because as with most endings, the ending was just a beginning. Unlike many of those beginnings, though, it's one that's rarely written about, and if there's anyone I'd like to see writing that unwritten story, it's SC.

Violet in Bloom: A Flower Power Book

Violet in Bloom: A Flower Power Book - Lauren Myracle This is a kids' series. And yet, at 21 years old, I'm still loving the cleverness of these books. Lauren Myracle might have found her way into my life through her YA books, but her children's books have a special place in my heart, too. The books are fun, brightly colored and contemporary, while also maintaining their cleverness and relevance. All kinds of day-to-day aspects of our lives that are usually glossed over in children's literature are dealt with sensitively but importantly in Myracle's books. She doesn't hold herself back, she doesn't censor these very real issues kids of all ages have to deal with, and for that, I have the greatest respect for her. I'm looking forward to being able to read the third book in the series!

Uncommon Criminals

Uncommon Criminals  - Ally Carter I firmly believe that this series should not be a series. It should have been a stand-alone focused on the main cast of characters trying to determine the identity of Romani. These filler stories are getting boring, and I just don't care. Dragging a story out doesn't increase suspense in this case, it makes the reader lose interest. I don't know if I want to read more in this series, maybe just the final book, whenever that happens. For now, though, it's just filler, it's like the higher level equivalent of the elementary school Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew, mysteries with a well-developed cast of characters, but a droll, predictable plot. I do like the characters, I want to know more about them, and where there are opportunities for character development, the author chooses instead to go with recounting the details of various heists that would work better on screen and losing my attention. There's a great bigger mystery set-up, why not just go with that one and let the story be, instead of adding unnecessary contrivances?

You Know Where to Find Me

You Know Where to Find Me - Rachel Cohn I think I had tried reading some of Rachel Cohn's earlier solo writing before, and just couldn't get into it. Her writing seems to have greatly matured in this novel, so it's not just sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, but deals with difficult topics with a more developed sensitivity and complexity. And it's not a perfect book, there are things that could have been expanded upon, and a few disjointed ideas here and there that could have used connecting, but overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The ending did feel a bit lacking, though, and I would have liked to have been able to see more of her recovery. Funny how so often, books end at beginnings.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - David Levithan, Rachel Cohn I am not a person who is familiar with music. I don't live in that world. Concerts are terrifying experiences that frighten my introverted self into hiding. This book was not written for a person like me. I felt like, to genuinely love this book, one would have to be a music lover, and while I enjoy listening to music, that's about the extent of it for me. It's kind of a foreign world. It would be interesting to read about, but the terminology left me mostly lost and confused. The latter part of the book was easier to get through, as the focus shifted from the music to the people, and the characters became humanized and likable, developed beyond a shared interest in music. It was just a hit or miss book for me, where I loved the philosophical musings on life and love, and felt myself drowning in namedrops and references that I couldn't understand. I can see the appeal, I can see why so many people do love this book, and that's great that they can find so much significance in their reading experiences, I just personally can't, and that's okay, too.

The Taker

The Taker - Jim Steele,  Colin Hiles There's not much to talk about in terms of the book itself. It's your typical YA, not too well written, not too horrible, with barely memorable characters and contrived plotlines. This is the story that could have been great, but didn't try hard enough. This book easily could have gone into the complexities of cheating and just how messed up standardized testing and the educational climate are right now, and where cheating would fit within that big picture...but it didn't. Big, important, ethical arguments could have been made. Instead, we got a fluffy story about a teenage girl's day to day goings on. I don't know, readers, I think John Green's got the right idea in saying that teenagers are smarter than we sometimes give them credit. Teens are totally capable of reading this kind of book, but also capable of so much more intelligent thought. They live these complicated lives every day. It's not that much of a stretch to believe they'd be able to read about the same. Rating: 2/5

Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies (The Uglies)

Bogus to Bubbly: An Insider's Guide to the World of Uglies (The Uglies) - Scott Westerfeld I've had this book on my wishlist since before it came out, and I'm glad I finally got the chance to read it. There's not much to review in terms of plot and story, as this is more of a reference guide to the elaborate Uglies universe constructed by Scott Westerfeld. I honestly do wish more books came with reference guides, bonus extras from the authors to fully immerse their readers in the characters and their worlds. Obviously this wouldn't work with all books (standalones, etc.), but with books set in extensive worlds, it would be such a great addition. Westerfeld really seems connected to his readers and what they want to know. There's a good mix of general review information that was found in the books, as well as enhancing new material. Loved it. Rating: 5/5

The Future of Us

The Future of Us - Jay Asher, Carolyn Mackler Jay Asher maybe should have reconsidered writing such a smashing debut novel. I'm concerned he won't be able to top it, and the high expectations have been set. It's hard to separate this novel from Thirteen Reasons Why, the latter being my favorite YA. While I'm sure some may have seen the integration of online social networks in a book as being gimmicky, I thought it was a great element, seeing as the internet is such a big part of all of our lives. I hope to see more YA featuring the internet as a story element. The story concept isn't a poor one either, it's pretty compelling to read about destiny vs. free will in a novel aimed at teens, particularly taking into account that the futures are changing and not set in stone. But it's a different book entirely from Asher's previous Thirteen Reasons Why, and I wish it was easier to sever the tie between the two, but considering he's only written the two books, it's difficult. I almost thought this book would make a better television show than crammed into the space of a book. It's a good idea with great potential, but could have been more. I would have wanted more extensive thoughts on the ideas of destiny and free will, bigger life-revelations rather than teen drama, something more along the lines of the words and big ideas that we get from John Green or Asher himself in TRW. He's certainly capable of it, and I wish it had been done that way. Rating: 3/5