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

North of Beautiful

North of Beautiful - Justina Chen Headley I'd heard so much about this book, all incredible, so I finally made an effort to pick it up for myself. Even just reading the summary, I knew this book was going to be a life-changing one. And throughout reading the beautifully combined words, it struck chord after chord in relation to my own life. This is a must-read for every teen, I have no hesitations saying that. From body image issues to more subtle but just as dangerous forms of abuse, this book jumps headfirst into real issues faced by real people, and true to its title, addresses them beautifully. The ending is sweet, although I would really have loved to see more of the fallout for her family, but the slightly open ending does leave room for stimulating the reader's own thoughts beyond the words on the page. Rating: 5/5

The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, Book 3)

The Sweet Far Thing  - Libba Bray This book, being the conclusion of the trilogy, was arguably the most dramatic of the three. Each book had its emotional ups and downs, but there's an added element of urgency and confusion mixed in throughout the third, making it a highly emotional read from start to finish. I'd just finished the book and haven't had the chance to look through interviews or other statements from the author, but I'm very curious to learn how much of the story was planned out in advance, and how much, if any, was made up as she wrote. For such an intricate story, I would assume it had to be mostly the former. Bray was able to balance all of the elements she had set up well, with no one plot point dominating the story, but various themes interwoven throughout, equally sharing the space that had been set up for them to coexist, all coming together in an epic finale. Rating: 5/5

Rebel Angels

Rebel Angels - Libba Bray In most trilogies, the second book seems to serve as an expository bridge between the introduction to the world and the massive conclusion. And while there might be a grain of truth to this with Rebel Angels, the book does a good job of standing up for itself, which is a testament to Bray's storytelling abilities. Parts of this book subtly set up for events to happen in the third installment, but much of it is able to stand on its own feet (although I wouldn't recommend reading the second book before reading the first). One thing that really struck me in the reading of Rebel Angels is how easily this series could have been a female-centric Harry Potter...but how that was subverted. Certainly, parallels can be drawn, as they can be with most great works of fiction, but the books, again, stand on their own. And on the topic of things that were subverted, Libba Bray is a goddess for many things, but her subversion of the drawn out love triangle is one notable aspect of the story. It's there, but it's a background element and obviously so. It's rare that I enjoy the second book in a trilogy, but then, Libba Bray is certainly a one-of-a-kind writer. Rating: 4.5/5

A Great and Terrible Beauty (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy)

A Great and Terrible Beauty  - Libba Bray I had read the first two novels in Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy in the past, although I had done so with many years between the two reads, when the books had first been released. This is an intricately woven series and as such, unless the reader possesses a stellar memory (which I do not), should probably be read closer together, with many rereads, for best results. This time around, I read all three novels in a row in the course of about a week, and was not disappointed with the results. I am not a reader who enjoys pieces set in the Victorian Era. It seems too far removed from today, and I find it difficult to care. But Libba Bray manages to craft a world that is both removed from ours today, but still filled with the same basic humanity. These are characters carefully crafted to be known and loved. I don't know how Libba Bray plotted the entire detailed story out, but she must have taken the time and effort to do so, building a full world unlike our own that comes to life. She introduces the new reader to this world alongside Gemma's introduction to the same world, easing us all into a surprisingly full universe. The worldbuilding suggests a great translation to film, if that is ever pursued. Minor complaint of unnecessary flowery descriptions every once in a while, but beyond that, a relatively manageable balance of story elements. Rating: 4.5/5

The Book of Luke

The Book of Luke - Jenny O'Connell This is the kind of thing that gives YA a bad name. There's novels out there with realistic portrayals of intelligent, mature, rational teenagers...and there's this. Can we just have some more books out there that tell you how to be a decent person, rather than being negativistic 'this is exactly the opposite of what you should do' books? Most, if not all, of the problems in this book could have been solved with a nice dose of communication. Which, granted, many teenagers struggle with...so maybe we could write a book about that instead of perpetuating senseless drama that could be easily resolved otherwise. I don't have much more to say. I was disappointed in this book and glad to have it off my shelf. Rating; 1/5

Soul Enchilada

Soul Enchilada - David Macinnis Gill As much as I love a strong female protagonist, this story was just too convoluted for me to swallow. Typically, when a book is able to cross genres, it produces a powerful product, but I'm not really sure how to feel about this girl-power supernatural...legal thriller? I couldn't get past the fact that most of the plot centered around a car. And yes, the car had deeper symbolic implications, but it was a car. The story did move at an interesting pace, and the characters were spunky, I'll give them that. I can honestly say I've never read anything like this story before. While I wasn't personally too fond of the story, I do think it's pretty incredible how one story can hold different amounts and kinds of meaning to each reader. This just wasn't it for me.

How To Say Goodbye In Robot

How To Say Goodbye In Robot - Natalie Standiford I didn't expect much from this book, but I think I can now safely call it one of the best, most emotionally evocative books I've gotten the chance to read. Many young adult novels discuss the dangers of physically abusive romantic relationships, bypassing the ideas of emotionally abusive relationships as well as abusive platonic relationships, both of which, at least from my vantage point, are huge problems in many teens' lives, and many don't even have the vocabulary for it. It's also one of the few YA books I've read featuring truly introverted protagonists. We have our fill of socially awkward penguins, but most of them do gain their energy through social interaction with others, and that's a little more blurred in this book. I'm grateful for Natalie Standiford's courage in writing an important story, and I hope it was able to bring some level of clarity to other readers as it was able to offer me. Rating: 5/5

I Love You, Beth Cooper

I Love You, Beth Cooper - Larry Doyle While this book had its moments of excessive and unnecessary crudeness, I loved the deadpan narrative technique employed. It isn't often that I praise a book for including details, but mentions of specific songs and other details in this book worked, and worked well, adding only to its realism and wit. This is one of the rare instances where details add to the plot rather than detract from the storytelling by serving as pointless, painful-to-sift-through filler. Halfway through, the book seems to switch course and just become a coming of age novel involving dorky boys at parties with alcohol (Did people seriously do that in high school? Was I just a severely sheltered child?) and I was no longer interested. It was a better story before teen partying became the central focus, when it was a realistic story about high school rather than a fantasy version of what high school should be, filled with unnecessary drama and drunkenness. I think I would have preferred a story that served more as a prequel that led up to the titular event, rather than its aftermath.

Sisterhood Everlasting

Sisterhood Everlasting  - Ann Brashares I read The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants religiously when I was younger, and found myself massively disappointed by the 4th book. I was apprehensive about what this look into their future lives would hold! I think the reason this series and these four girls are so compelling is because we see parts of ourselves reflected in all of the girls, in different amounts. I know this book hasn't had the most positive reception, and I can definitely understand why, but for me, it was a cathartic read. We get to see these already-established characters we've grown to love, and it might not be the look we expected, but they still retain their core selves, in different ways. Some of the story is repetitive. Some of the story is predictable. Some of the plot twists will make you cry, will make you want to throw the books and sent hate mail to the author, but in the end, everything comes together and the pay off is worth all of the gut-wrenching emotions.

Molly Moon, Micky Minus, & the Mind Machine

Molly Moon, Micky Minus, & the Mind Machine - Georgia Byng I read the first few Molly Moon books when I was home sick from school a few years ago. Turns out, I needed some mindless fluff fiction in my life, so despite being a senior in college, this is what I read today. I wasn't expecting much, the first few books were enjoyable in a feverish haze, but not all that memorable. But mindless fluff was what I wanted, and mindless fluff was what I got. The animal sidekicks are always a bit much for me, but it was an interesting albeit predictable plot. I was surprised that they didn't exactly pull an evil twin maneuver. I think this book series would translate well into movies. Also, if any Nerdfighters read this, evil baby orphanage, amirite?

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie Not that this book doesn't already have enough praise, but I'm going to add some to the pile. When I hear a book has won awards and comes highly recommended by some arbitrary people with power in the book industry, I am usually wary. These tend to be highly formulaic books with some life lessons, usually involving an absent father, some kind of death, probably a dog, and some hopeful gathering at the end. Which isn't to say this book doesn't employ those tropes, too, because it does, but it does so with a truly funny, genuine narrator, not some flat-voiced 11 year old living in a rural area, but a boy, an authentic, witty boy that readers of all shapes, sizes, ages, walks of life can relate to. And this boy is wise beyond his age, and it pains me to know that some children out there won't be able to experience his sarcastic wisdom because apparently honesty is grounds for book banning for some people out there. It's a book about a fictional boy telling a not-so-fictional story, and bless Sherman Alexie for writing it.

Ship Breaker

Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi I read Ship Breaker at the recommendation of Internet-famous and all-around awesome guy, Hank Green. I really wanted to like the book. It started off painfully slow, pontificating lengthily on irrelevant details. The story thankfully did pick up the pace, and once the action started and more characters were introduced, it turned into a pretty decent read, almost unrecognizable from the story it started out as. I've never understood the writing tool of "show, don't tell"--I felt that this book, even once the story picked up, showed too much and told too little. I think Paulo Bacigalupi could have taken a page out of Scott Westerfeld's book and added some illustrations to really bring the story to life. This is a book that would have benefited from visual imagery to supplement (and hopefully bypass entirely) some of the verbal descriptions. It's nearly impossible to find a good young adult novel whose plot doesn't somehow revolve significantly around a romantic subplot, and while there are bits and pieces of romance here and there, it's not overwhelming and made for a refreshing change. I thought the ending went and did a 180 on the beginning, as the plot felt rushed, and some characters (Tool, most notably) didn't get the full resolution they deserved. Rating: 3/5

Going Bovine

Going Bovine - Libba Bray I'm at a loss for what to say about this book. It's a testament to Libba Bray's writing talent that such a bizarre book has such a large readership, and that is meant as a compliment. I'd wondered why the book had such vague, disconnected summaries, and then I read the book, and it made sense. It's a vague disconnected book with the full randomness of life thrown in your face. There are some jewels of wisdom within the "random", but if you're looking for a plot that makes sense, this isn't the book for you. Throughout reading, my thoughts could best be summarized as "What on earth is this weirdness and why is it so good?" I can see how some readers could easily see the ending as a cop-out, and it is an undeniably strange book that messes with your mind but in doing so, delves to the core of who we are as human beings. Rating: 4/5

What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye - Sarah Dessen I missed the good old Sarah Dessen writing. Yes, her stories are often formulaic, but most of the time, they each have a special something to set them apart. I wasn't thrilled with her last two unremarkable books, Lock and Key and Along for the Ride, but I was glad to see the uniqueness shine through in her latest, What Happened to Goodbye. It's emotionally honest, sweet, and utterly relatable, leaving me with a smile and lots to ponder after finishing. I think Dave could have used some more character development, but he's a new classic Dessen boy. Sarah Dessen's books are always going to have a special place in my life and on my bookshelf, some books more than others, and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next! Rating: 5/5

Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us

Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us - Joe Palca, Flora Lichtman I'm not sure how scientifically accurate this book is, but I'd like to know. I liked how much of a starting point this book was in prompting my own research on a variety of different topics, but the annoyances featured most prominently were, well, annoying. I'm not interested in trivial annoying sounds and annoying smells. I'm interested in deeper interpersonal annoyances, for instance. Those are the annoyances that really matter and cause real problems, in my opinion. I also thought there was minimal organization to the book, which bounced between topics haphazardly. I would have loved a more linear format. It wasn't what I expected. There were scientific explanations of *some* annoyances, but none of which I cared about.

Between Here and Forever

Between Here and Forever - Elizabeth Scott I had recently mentioned how hit or miss Elizabeth Scott's books are, and was thrilled to discover that this one was definitely a hit! It was a predictable, fluffy story, and much more repetitive than necessary (Seriously, how many times do I need to hear that you're tired of living under your sister's shadow, I don't need to read that every other sentence), but overall, a fabulous story about finding happiness in yourself. It's an emotionally honest story, so even though you probably don't have a comatose sister, you'll still be able to see parts of yourself in the various characters. Word of warning, though, this is one story where you don't want to read the summary. Don't you hate it when huge plot points are revealed near the end of the story, but you saw them coming because of the summary you read before even opening the book?