Monday, October 2, 2017

Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Point
Pages: 352
My rating: 2.5 stars
Ages: 13+

Maddie spends most of her time studying, when she isn't at her job at the zoo. With the money problems her family has, she needs to get a scholarship for college and earn money to help out. So it's on a whim when she buys a lottery ticket on her eighteenth birthday. Her life changes over night when she realizes she won the 50 million prize.

This is the second book I've read this year about a teenager winning the lottery. I'll admit that Windfall was a better story, but Lucky had a simpler plot with more likable characters. Of West's books that I've read, I think this is probably the weakest. I just couldn't believe that Maddie, who we know is really smart with a GPA above 4.0, would be so dumb after she wins the lottery. Every time she mentioned that she should meet with a financial adviser, I'd yell at her in my head "Yes! Go! Now!" But who knows, maybe I would have been the same if I had won the lottery when I was 18.

The book does put forth the problem of not knowing if people are your friends because you have a lot of money or not. I think that I might have been more suspicious earlier than Maddie was, but seeing her trust and positive outlook on life crash down was a little heartbreaking. I'm glad that she had Seth, who was the one person who treated her the same after she won.

There is no language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Banned Books Week takes place the last week of September every year. It's a time to bring awareness of the banning and challenging of books that is still prevalent in our society. To support the freedom to read, I choose a banned/challenged book that I've never read before. Because of this, my review is slightly different, as I tend to focus on the reason it was banned or challenged for most of the review. For more information on Banned Books Week, visit ala.org.


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Publication date: 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 325
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+

New girl Eleanor is too different, with her wild curly, red hair and her men's shirts. Park is different too, but since his family has lived in town for generations, he can get away with it. When Eleanor sits next to Park on the bus, neither of them could have guessed how things would turn out.

Eleanor and Park was challenged on the basis of the profane language used throughout the novel. I won't lie, there was quite a bit of language (including the f-word), maybe a little more than *I* am comfortable with. But it's not up to me, or anyone, to control what society can read or consume. There is also some references to sex and sexual situations.

Despite the language, I think that the story that is told is important and heartbreaking. It's so much more than just learning to stand out and stand up. It's about being strong enough to know when to fight back or leave.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father by Jonathan Hennessey and Justin Greenwood

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: 10 Speed Press
Pages: 176
My rating: 2.5 stars
Ages: 15+

Who was Alexander Hamilton? What led him to become such an important, and at times controversial, figure in American history? Learn about the man and legend through this graphic novel.

I have to start by admitting that I'm not very familiar with graphic novels; this may only be the third one I've ever read in my life. With that admission, I have to say that I just didn't feel that a graphic novel was the best form to use for this. I usually think the words and pictures work together to tell the story, but I didn't even look at the art most of the time. The only time that I felt it was done well was at the end during the duel, where the story was told by the characters speaking and by the pictures showing their actions. Most of the rest of the time, there was hardly any dialogue, just exposition.

This book would be much more approachable to younger readers if the author had taken a more creative nonfiction direction. As it was, it took a long time for me to read because it was things that I already knew and presented in a way that wasn't too interesting.

Some of the art was interesting. When Hamilton first came to America, he was a teenager, but he was drawn like a middle-aged man. Then there was some symbolic or metaphorical art that I could never really understand. I also felt that all the women were drawn too modern, with smirks and sass (this especially bothered me with Elizabeth Schuyler, Hamilton's wife).

There was talk of sex, with pictures of Hamilton in bed with a woman, which is why I put the age where I did.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 287
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 14+

The day Kit decides to sit with loner David at lunch is the day that both of their lives start changing. Kit is dealing with the aftermath of losing her father in an accident and is tired of the exasperated pity and sympathy she gets from her friends. David lives his life to be invisible and to survive high school—a place that he doesn't understand no matter how hard he tries. Can the two of them help each other overcome what they are both going through?

This book is told through alternating the POV from David to Kit and back, each chapter. I think this is really important because to see things from just one point of view wouldn't have worked for the story. David is very literally, falling on the autism spectrum, so if it were told completely from his view we wouldn't get the nuances and subtleties. Kit is seeing things very emotionally, so we need David's straight forward view. They perfectly balanced each other out.

The book plays with tropes usually found in high school movies and novels, sometimes completely rejecting them and sometimes embracing them. I liked that our main characters were different than the majority of main characters in American novels.

There was very minor language.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Because You Love to Hate Me edited by Ameriie

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 339
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+

What is it about some villains that make them so intriguing? How did villains become villains? What is it that the villains really want? Through 13 different short stories we find the answers.

Each short story in this collection was inspired by a question asked by a book blogger, who then includes commentary after that story.

I had two favorite stories: "The Sea Witch" by Marissa Meyer, which shows how the sea witch who provides the Little Mermaid with legs came to be the sea witch. The other was "Beautiful Venom" by Cindy Pon. Pon takes the Greek myth about Medusa and transplants it into China in one of the best ways possible. I think the reason I liked both of these stories so much is that it really does show how these familiar villains became who they are. In the case of Meyer's story, the sea witch was an outcast who thought she found love only to be heartbroken. In "Beautiful Venom," Pon focused more on the part of the Medusa story that we tend to glaze over.

I was a little disappointed in some of the stories because I was expecting all of them to be like the ones I mentioned above—the origin stories of villains. Which did happen in some of the stories, but a lot of them turned the villains into heroes.

I did like the commentary from the bloggers; in fact, some times those where my favorite parts.

One of the stories does use the f-word repeatedly.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 357
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 16+

After years of helping her mom plan weddings, Louna has become a cynic about love. If love does exist, than true love--walking in the sunset love--only happens once and Louna already had her chance. Then she's forced to work with the annoyingly optimistic and commitment-phobe Ambrose. As if working with bridezillas wasn't enough. But through the course of the summer, and a bet they make, Louna might discover that loving and losing doesn't mean love is gone.

Sara Dessen is one of the reigning YA romance authors. She's able to put forth a story, that, if I tried to tell it, would come across as completely unbelievable and contrived. Louna's first love happens in such a way, but is told with such sincerity that I have no problem suspending my disbelief.

I liked the characters, too. Each one was complex and lifelike, instead of just there to move along plot or Louna and Ambrose. The relationship and care between Louna, her mother, and William was wonderful. It's nice to have adult characters who respond well and understand teenagers.

There were some f-words and mentions of sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Pages: 119
My rating: 5 Stars
Ages: 8+

Do you know who the first woman figure skater was? Or that a woman dressed as a man for 20 years in order to play polo? This book explores the life and achievements of women in sports from the 19th century to the present.

Just like in Ignotofsky's previous book, this book was just as wonderful and charming! It's colorful and bright, with fun illustrations and interesting facts. Each athlete gets a two page spread, with a one page bio.

While there are obviously a lot more women who could have been featured in this book, Ignotofsky chose women who were trail blazers, record breakers, or especially respected in their sport. There are mountaineers, coaches, weightlifters, jockeys, and so many other kinds of sports.

This is a must for anyone and is particularly good for children to learn more about athletes and sports history.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
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Monday, August 21, 2017

I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 375
My rating: 2.5 stars
Ages: 17+

For years, Sydney and Leela have been planning their trip to Europe. When it finally comes, it's overshadowed by Leela's recent break-up and Sydney's worry about her family back home. When Leela's ex and his very attractive best friend show up, Sydney must adjust her plans for this trip.

To be honest, I didn't like the girls from the start. Part of that was that I couldn't make the way they really were fit with my first impression. We first meet the girls in the airport, running for their flight. Sydney is presented as a neat, rule following, good girl, while Leela was a wild, chaotic, party girl. Come to find out, it's just the opposite and learning that really made me bothered for some reason. And then I started to not like Leela even more because she never seemed to think about Sydney and how she might feel. Meanwhile, Sydney never seemed to stand up for herself to her friend. I was really expecting them to have a big fallout and go their separate ways.

The writing was good and it was fun to "visit" all the different places that they went, but it's hard to like a book when you don't really like the main characters.

There was also drug and alcohol use, sex, sex talk, and sexual situations.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

This is How it Happened by Paula Stokes

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 368
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 15+

Genevieve Grace woke up in the hospital with no memory of the accident that landed her there and killed her famous boyfriend, Dallas Kade. With the internet exploding with accusations against the man in the other truck and reporters camping out on her front lawn, Gen decides to escape and spend the summer with her dad in Utah. But as Gen's memory of that night starts to come back, she starts to realize that things may not have happened the way everyone else thinks.

This was a book that I wanted to keep reading, to discover what Gen would do and how people would react. I'm not sure if there has been a book that has focused so well on the downfalls of living in the digital age, where netizens become judge and jury, condemning people in trial by media.

Having been born and raised in Utah, I was a little apprehensive about the portrayal of the state and its people, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was nice to have a Mormon character in a nonreligious book that wasn't overdone or made of stereotypes. It was also great have some appreciate the beauty of the state, which some people miss because it isn't green and lush.

There was some mild language, sexual topics, and talks of suicide.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen

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Blogger's note: I recently started grad school, which means that I can't read as much as I used to. For the foreseeable future, reviews will no longer be every Monday, but will be posted when they are written. Thank you.

Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Pages: 320
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 18+

During her first year of college, Andrea experienced symptoms of breathlessness and racing heart. After months of going to doctors and having tests done, she learns that she has an anxiety disorder. For the next two decades, Andrea tries different ways to reduce and control her anxiety. This includes looking into medication, behavioral therapy, and the history of mental illnesses.

What was nice about this book was that, while Petersen does include factual data from experiments, it never feels too hard to swallow. Part of that is because she includes her own experiences with her anxiety. Petersen also talked to mental health experts around the world, which was interesting.

There were times when I couldn't read it because reading about someone else's anxiety can peak anxiety. Also, there were times when I read it and thought, "Well crap," based on findings of certain experiments, but there were also some really good things I learned from it too.

I put the age up so high because of the reading level, but not because of any sort of content. That being said, there is mention of sex and recreational drug use.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Blogger's note: I'd like to apologize for two Mondays that have gone by without a new review. I recently started grad school, which means that I can't read as much as I used to. For the foreseeable future, reviews will no longer be every Monday, but will be posted when they are written. Thank you.

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Ace Books
Pages: 417
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+
Series: Noctis Magicae

Gray is a talented magician, studying at the best college in the country, when he suddenly finds himself in the kind of trouble that can't be easily fixed. He's taken to work at his professor's country home in the north, which is where he meets Sophie, the professor's second daughter. But there is more to the professor and Sophie than it seems at first, which leads Gray and Sophie into an dangerous adventure which could change the entire country.

This is a revisionist, fantasy historical novel. The world building is great and fully developed; not once did I feel like Hunter was talking down or delving into exposition, instead it was natural and understandable.

Though this is the first of a series, it reads as a standalone. It was enjoyable to read (solid 3 stars), but it took me a long time to get through it. This could have just been because of life events, but I did find myself wondering when it was going to end.

There was no language or sex.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 388
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+

When Bailey moves across the country to live with her dad, she attempts to find the guy she only knows as Alex she's been chatting with online who lives in the same town. Instead, she ends up meeting Porter, a cocky and rude surfer boy who Bailey can't seem to get away from. But when things start to change with Porter, will Bailey be able to forget Alex?

This is kind of a take on You've Got Mail or The Shop Around the Corner—two people meet through writing to each other and don't realize when they meet in real life who they are.

What makes it interesting is that both Bailey and Porter are damaged, both physically and mentally. It makes their friendship and interactions deeper and more difficult to understand. Fortunately, there isn't a lot of misunderstandings, or if there are, they don't last long.

There were times when I wondered about descriptions of the town, set in central California, since I've been to that area and it isn't the sunniest and usually isn't very warm, but the characters would be wearing shorts, but I suppose it could be different from where I was thinking.

There is swearing and sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Waterbrook
Pages: 308
My rating: 3.5
Ages: 14+

Jane and her sister Celia run a fairly successful tea salon in San Francisco. But then the rent is raised to more than they can afford, they move their younger sister out to Austin, Texas, partly running from their past and partly because they have people willing to help them. Callum has just returned to Austin after a medical discharge from the marines. Sure that no one could love a man as broken as he is, he has come to terms with living alone--until he meets Jane.

This retelling of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is populated by fun and interesting characters. While most retellings and adaptations of Austen's novel seem to focus on the oldest sister, this is told from the alternating points of view of the middle sister Jane and Callum Beckett.

This book isn't meant to be taken very seriously. I wouldn't say it's a masterpiece, but it's fun and enjoyable. Simple and easy to understand. I read it in less than 24 hours on the weekend. There are some recipes at the end of certain chapters, and quotes about tea and Texas at the beginning. I'd say that it is cozy.

There were a couple of small continuity mistakes here and there, but nothing that really bothered me.

No language or sex.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 300
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 15+

Alice doesn't believe in luck; at least, not good luck. So when she buys her friend Teddy a lottery ticket as a joke for his birthday, she doesn't expect anything to come of it. But the next day, Teddy becomes the youngest winner of the lottery ever. Alice is scared what this change will do to her best friend--who she has been in love with for years.

I usually love Smith's characters; however, I really didn't like Teddy. Even at the end. He had ignored and brushed off Alice so many times, got mad at her for sharing her opinion, and never seemed to try to see things from her side. Then he would get jealous and childish when she seemed interested in another person. Even at the end of book, I still just couldn't find myself liking him.

That said, I did like the book and the concept of it. Who hasn't thought what they would do if they won the lottery? How would life change or not change? How would it affect your friends and family? Though, really, the story was more about Alice growing and learning about family and friendship than Teddy winning the lottery. And the writing was spot on.

There is some mild language, but no sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 400
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 10+

Peregrine was raised thinking she was a Lakti--a member of the ruling class. Then a fairy comes to her and tells her that she is a Bamarre, the oppressed people who were conquered by the Lakti generations ago. Perry must make the decision to continue to live as a Lakti or to embrace being a Bamarre to save her people.

This is a prequel to Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, telling the background of the freedom of the Bamarre that is referenced. To be honest, it's been a long time since I read Two Princesses, but this book stood on it's own. I just wanted to pick up on the Easter eggs and allusions.

Levine has been one of my favorite authors since I was a kid, so I was excited when a new book came out. This has shades of multiple fairy tales and stories, without being tooI don't know if this is her best book, but it was exciting and a good read, especially if you are a fan.

There is no language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 388
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 16+

Lucy in secure in her life as a Pastor's Kid, relying on her faith and her relationship with her family to guide her life. But when her mom is diagnosed with cancer, Lucy's faith fails her and she starts pushing back against the things she was taught. Instead of helping with her parents' church camp over the summer, Lucy becomes a counselor at the "hippie" camp. It's there that she learns about who she really is and what it means to love and be loved.

I just really love Lord's writing. It's so approachable and easy to read, but with a depth that usually comes from much more complicated writing. I like the view of Lucy's crisis of faith--I think it's something that a lot of people go through. She still held onto the things she was taught, and still wanted to be faithful, but was angry at God.

There comes a time in every teenager's life that they need to learn for themselves and stop relying on their parents to tell them how they should be. And there comes a time when a child learns more about their parents as people, with histories and faults. Lucy learning these things and growing as a person and a friend was natural.

Also, I cried several times.

There is some swearing (about four f-words) and mention of sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentmer

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 399
My rating: 3.5
Ages: 16+

Not only did Carver lose all three of his friends at once, but he has to live with the guilt of knowing he caused their deaths. Not on purpose, but caused all the same. With school starting, Carver isn't sure how to face everyone without his friends. Battling crippling guilt, Carver has to come to terms with what happened, even while being blamed by those around him.

I didn't mean for my last two reviews to be about grief and death, but sometimes these things just happen. However, this is a completely different look at grief and guilt than was in Letters to the Lost. This time, something that Carver did directly attributed to the accident that killed his friends, and it's something he has to live with. What I think is important though, is that in grieving, we all start thinking of things we could have done different and we all experience that guilt and need to come to terms with living while others are gone.

This book also deals with panic attacks, being blamed, and friendship. It's not a deeply depressing book, but it does deal with serious subjects.

There is some language and sexual talk.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 388
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 15+

Juliet spends her free time in the cemetery, writing letters to her mother. Declan is likely to be voted "most likely to end up in jail." He's serving community service when he finds a letter left on a grave. When he decides to respond to it, he starts a relationship with an unknown person who seems to understand him better than any other person. But when he learns that the person he's been writing is Juliet, he wonders if he can continue to share with her.

I loved this book--I could barely stand to put it down. While it does deal with heavy topics such as grief and guilt and judging by appearances, it didn't feel heavy even while addressing them in a good way.

It took a little while for me to realize that when the chapter started with a letter from one character, it meant the chapter would be in the other character's POV. I think I would have liked a more obvious clue than that.

The secondary characters were also interesting and well developed, to the point where I believed that they had a life outside of reacting to the main characters' drama.

No sex (thought mention of it and mention of nudity) and only mild language.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Pages: 345
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 14+

Lydia is occupied with planning her eighteenth party, keeping her uncle from ruining the estate, and getting engaged to the man her father chose before his death. Things start to change with Robert Newton appears. Then they are both kidnapped, which connects them in a new and complicated way. But this just beginning of a mystery that could put both Lydia and Robert in danger.

This was such a fun book, especially for fans of Regency England. Lydia is a strong willed female, who is still feminine but aware of her responsibilities. Robert is a hard working third son with an admirable sense of right and wrong.

I also think that this is a great way to introduce young readers to the world of Jane Austen and the writing of Georgette Heyer. It introduces social mores, culture, and vocabulary in a easy way to for modern readers to understand and will hopefully lead them reading the classics.

No language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Marvel Press
Pages: 336
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 10+

Doreen Green has just moved to New Jersey and ready to make new friends, just like any other 14 year old. However, Doreen isn't your run-of-the-mill teenager--she has a giant squirrel tail. She usually hides it, but when some trouble starts going down in her neighborhood, she takes action. Now, she's Squirrel Girl! Saving babies and befriending squirrels!

Having never heard of Squirrel Girl before it was announced that the Hales were going to write the novel, I went into this with no expectations. I was very pleasantly surprised! It was fun, with great little jokes peppered throughout (some that maybe kids wouldn't get as they are plays on words). I especially liked Doreen's optimism and kindness, even as she's fighting the villain.

I would say that this is more of a "middle grade" book than young adult. Also, I feel that Doreen acts younger than her age. Granted, it's been a few years since I was 14, but I don't quite remember it the way it's portrayed in the book. Of course, I try to block out a lot of my teen years, so it's completely possible.

Anyway. Great book for any one who likes superheros. No language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Inkblots by Damion Searls

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Pages: 416
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 18+

Seen as a stereotype of quackery, the Rorschach test has long been misunderstood, almost since the beginning. But it is more than just random pictures. The test consists of 10 carefully curated inkblots, with meanings derived from multiple factors. Only those trained to use the test (usually in conjunction with other psychological tests) can make sense out of the answers.

I need to be honest. I didn't finish this book. Not because I didn't want to, or because it wasn't interesting, but because of life. Just after starting this book, I started grad school and the combination of the technicalities in the book and the technical things I was reading for my classes, it was difficult to want to read this.

However, the third of the book I did read was very interesting. I find psychology fascinating, so learning the little I did about the test and how it works was cool. The book starts with a modern day example of using the test and how patients react differently to the inkblot test than they do to other psychological tests.

Great for those interested in the history of psychology.

No swearing or sex.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 372
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 13+

All Princess Anya wants to do is read books and become a sorcerer. But then a prince who was courting her sister is turned into a frog by her evil Stepstepfather, and to turn him back she must embark on a quest. What starts out as a simple quest turns into something much bigger as Anya collects more companions along the way.

Those familiar with Nix's previous books will find the same kind of rich world building in Frogkisser. But, as the exclamation point may hint at, it's not as serious as the the Old Kingdom books. Because of this, this is a fun book for everyone, especially younger kids with a higher reading level.

Frogkisser takes some familiar fairy tales and creatures and twists and turns them around, making sure that the reader is pleasantly surprised at every turn. There is also the inclusion of characters like the Gerald the Heralds that are a lot of fun to read.

There is no language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah

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Publication date: 1999; 2010 (this edition)
Publisher: Ember
Pages: 203
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 12+

Blamed with her mother's death, Adeline Yen was treated as the lowest of the low in her family. Left at boarding school and forgotten, she was able to flee to Hong Kong just ahead of the communists. Trying to prove herself to her family and schoolmates, Adeline works hard to get good grades and earn a place in the world and her family.

This gives an interesting look at pre-communist China from the view of a child. There was also a lot about the Chinese written language and how it work (which was really fascinating).

It was a little juvenile, but that just made it easy to understand and more approachable for the audience that I believe Mah was writing for. The children who are ignored or blamed for things they had no choice in.

It was sad, but optimistic. Mah didn't seem to let the situations of her childhood negatively affect her. Instead, she worked hard and remained optimistic. This is probably because she had at least one adult who believed in her.

No language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

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Publication date: 2015
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Pages: 291
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 17+

Beatrix wants to be the next great anatomical artist and to do that she wants to do what da Vinci did and study real bodies. Jack is charming, ridiculously handsome, and . . . maybe a criminal. A chance meeting turns into something mutually beneficial, and then even more. But each has baggage that could interfere with their newfound romance. Can the heart actually break?

This was a somewhat standard teen romance novel. The writing was good, nothing was really off, but I can't say that it was something that stuck around with me after reading it, but it was entertaining to read and had interesting characters and intriguing conflict.

I had never thought about the fact that all those drawings in science textbooks were the hard work of someone studying the human body intensely and thoroughly.

The approach to mental illness was good.

There was some hard swearing and some sex as well as sex talk.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illust. by Jim Kay

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Publication date: 2011
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 205
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 11+
Awards: Carnegie Medal; Kate Greenaway Medal

One night, after midnight, a monster comes walking. It's not the monster from Conor's nightmares, so Conor isn't frightened. The monster tells Conor three stories in exchange for Conor's truth. But Conor doesn't know what that is and isn't sure he's willing to share.

I think what I liked most about this book is the simple way that it told truths. Villains aren't all bad, heroes aren't always good, and sometimes people leave you. (And now we shall have a sing along to "No One is Alone" from Into the Woods . . .) Ness presents everything in a way that I feel like younger kids would find it approachable.

Ness also includes the themes of acceptance, feeling emotions, and being there for others.

Kay's illustrations were mesmerizing. They showed movement and chaos, like what Conor must be feeling, but could also show stillness and peace. There was an orderliness to the chaos, and I probably could have continued to look at them for a long time to really get the feel of them.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Heartbreakers by Ali Novak

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Publication date: 2015
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 329
My rating: 3
stars
Ages: 15+

When Stella meets a cute guy in Starbucks, she doesn't realize that he's the lead singer of the Heartbreakers--the biggest boy group in the world. With her sister sick, Stella doesn't have time to worry about Oliver Perry, especially since he's so famous. But when an opportunity comes to work with the band, Stella isn't sure if she can turn it down. With business and pleasure mixing, along with worry over her sister, Stella is in for an adventure of a lifetime.

This is a nice, fun light read that also deals with some heavier subjects like family, friends, illness, and taking chances. It's nice when something that could just be another teen romance, feeding into the adolescent fantasy of meeting someone famous, is actually a bit more complex and fleshed out.

Both Stella and Oliver are dealing with fears and insecurities that I think a lot of teens (and adults) are familiar with. And throughout the course of the book, they make progress, with a few setbacks, on overcoming them, which makes for good character growth.

There was some hard language and some mild sexual talk.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

All These Wonders ed. by Catherine Burns

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Crown Archetype
Pages: 327
My rating: 5 stars
Ages: 16+

Seeing Pluto for the first time. Surviving a concentration camp. Sharing custody of a dog. Summer camp. Each person has a story to tell, a story to share, about facing the unknown. The Moth has collected these stories into one volume, to share with the world.

I love these slice of life stories. They could be funny, sweet, sad, or happy. Each person shares something from their life that we can all identify with, even if we've never worked with a space craft or was a spy in WWII or been a refugee. But we've all lived life, experiencing new things, encountering death and birth, living through all those moments that make life what it is.

Because these are transcripts of oral stories, the voice of the person is kept intact, in a way that written stories seem to lose. I kept telling my family about certain stories I had read, even reading one out loud in it's entirety to my mom as she made dinner one night ("A Phone Call" from Auburn Sandstrom). Others I just summarized, though I'm sure really poorly.

Well worth reading. These are the things that help us see that we are a human family, connected by the things that are universal.

Some hard language and references to sex.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Pages: 420
My rating: 2 stars
Ages: 13+

Jill Cafferty has made history as the first woman to be drafted onto a MLB team. That was the easy part. Now she has to deal with her new found stardom, her teammates, and the haters that come with it. Jill isn't sure if she can handle it, or if baseball is worth it.

This book had such great potential. The story of someone making history. . . it could have been such an amazing story. However, right off the bat, I was distracted.

The editing wasn't up to par. Usually I dismiss this as me just being an editor, but it was so prevalent, on every single page, that I just can't this time. Sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, chapter breaks . . . all of it together made it difficult to get into the story.

When I did try to ignore the editing, I started to notice little things about the writing. So much of the book was internal for Jill, but it was written in the third person. Changing it to first person would have made it much more approachable and bring the reader closer to Jill. Then we could have focused more on the difficulties and her insecurities in a better and deeper way. There were also parts of the book that were too long, which, if shortened, would have allowed for other parts to be longer or more fleshed out.

There was some language and sexual discussion.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Pages: 436
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 16+

As a child, Liesl used to pretend to play with the Goblin King. Now she's grown and trying to give her brother the chance she will never have and those games have become hazy memories. Then Liesl's sister, Kathe, is taken Underground and Liesl must save her. The Goblin King, Der Erlkonig, is real, just as their play was. Now, Liesl must play his game to save Kathe, and in the process, accept something in herself she had kept hidden.

This book has a hints of The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, Labyrinth, and Red Riding Hood. It starts out strong, with interesting characters and dilemmas. Liesl is complex, striving for her family and her brother, but dismissing her sister as safe.

Then about half way through, the story started to drag a little. I felt that the same scene seemed to happen about three times, with Liesl expressing the same thoughts and feelings as she had before. The relationship was hot and cold, more complicated than I think it needed to be. Also, there were a couple of times when the tense changed from past to present, and I couldn't make sense why.

The ending, however, was strong, with a bittersweet feel that was a perfect end.

There was some sex, including one scene that was fairly graphic, and some mild language.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

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Publication date: 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 368
My rating: 2.5 stars
Ages: 16+

Franny Banks is on a deadline. She has given herself three years to become a working actor in New York. With only six months left, she's starting to despair that it's every going to happen. Through odd jobs, strange auditions, and relationships, Franny discovers what is most important to her and what she wants from her career.

For a debut novel, this is good. However (there's always a however, isn't there?), I felt that the story was a little predictable. From the beginning, I knew exactly where it was going to go and what was going to happen.

I missed Graham's innate humor, which is so obvious in her interviews and memoirs. Instead, I was left with a somewhat flat character who just let life drag her along, no matter how she felt about it. Franny never seemed to take action or responsibility. I understand--sometimes I ignore my mail for a couple of days because I just don't want to deal with it--but Franny seemed to still be acting like a 19 year old college student.

I did like that Franny was mystified by show business when it came to everything but acting. And in the end, she made the right choices.

There was some mild language and sexual situations.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 274
My rating: 1 stars
Ages: 18+

At fifteen, Lane's mother commits suicide. That means Lane is shipped off to Kansas to live with the grandparents she has never met. There she becomes part of the legacy of the "Roanoke Girls." But there is more to that legacy than she knows and once she discovers the secret, she runs. Eleven years later, Lane is drawn back to Roanoke when her cousin goes missing. Lane is forced to face the past she had left behind.

This was well written and intriguing. However, I couldn't finish reading it, though I read 105 pages. The topic was so perverse that every time I read it, I felt sick.

I don't usually give away spoilers in my reviews, but I feel that for the sake of readers, I should. This deals with incest. Serial incest. A man who not only sleeps with his sister, but his daughters and granddaughter. A man who uses his charm to convince impressionable young girls who look to him as an authority figure to sleep with him, that there isn't anything wrong. And a woman who turns an eye to it. Perhaps he gets his comeuppance in the end, but I couldn't wade through it to see.

There was also a lot of language.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Publication date: 2011
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Pages: 372
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 16+

In the year 2044, Wade (aka Parzival) is one of many "gunters"--those searching for the three keys left on the Oasis after the founder's death. Winning means total control of the Oasis and riches beyond imagination. When Wade becomes the first person to find a key, he has to race against the other gunters and the nefarious IOI to find the last three keys.

This is not the kind of book that I would normally pick up for myself. I'm not a gamer or really understand gaming. But it was assigned for a new book club that I just joined, so I got it from the library and read it.

I was pleasantly surprised! It was an interesting futuristic novel, set mostly in an online world. I don't like the idea of people spending all their time in a virtual reality, but since the real world had become depressing, I guess it kind of makes sense. There were times when I forgot that the virtual world wasn't the real one, which I think is exactly what was supposed to happen.

At times, the 80s references seemed a little out of control. It also wasn't a perfect book. But it's interesting and easy to read.

There was some language.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

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Publication date: 2015
Publisher: Quirk Books
Pages: 207
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 15+

What does it mean to be a "fangirl"? How do you defend yourself as a geek? What is the most important things to know about cons? This and so much more are discussed in Maggs's guide for fangirls of all kinds.

This was a lot of fun to read. Maggs tries to be inclusive, which is a difficult thing to do, so I don't think I can fault the guide for not including some things that I believed should have been included or approached differently. People from different backgrounds will always have different ideas and approaches, which I think Maggs did a good job at acknowledging, especially with the interviews she conducted with famous geek girls.

My favorite parts was probably the "One of Us" chapter, the chapter on surviving conventions, and the lists of resources and fandoms of all kinds.

There were some editing/design things that made me cringe, as an editor, but they weren't necessarily wrong more than that they went against what I had been taught.

There is some mild language and references to sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 205
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 14+

From auditioning with her butt to the Gilmore Girls revival, Lauren Graham shares the struggles and successes of her acting career. Her humor and honesty is as refreshing as the first smell of snow in Stars Hollow.

Graham writes the way she speaks, which I love. I love reading something and being able to hear in my head how the person would say it.

There was something refreshing about Graham's book, something different than the other celebrity memoir I've read. I think it was because Graham seemed to see everything in a positive light, or at least wrote of it positively. She also seemed to have a relatively normal life. I think we sometimes think that creative people are tortured eccentrics with drug and alcohol problems, so it's nice to read about someone from a loving family with relatively few problems.

It was also fun to hear her thoughts on the original Gilmore Girls series and the filming of the revival.

Very mild language.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine

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Publication date: 2006
Publisher: Harper
Pages: 161
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 12+

Best-selling author and Newbery Award winner Gail Carson Levine gives advice and writing techniques that work. From how to create a character to working through writer's block, she walks the beginner writer through each step of the process. Each topic has a writing activity to help the reader put what they just learned into action.

I'm a huge Levine fan, so getting this book was kind of a given. What I liked about this book is that each chapter was short and to the point, making it a lot more approachable than some other books. This makes it particularly good for young writers who are interested in getting better at writing.

I do have to admit, I didn't do any of the writing activities. I was usually reading the book during lunch at work or in bed before going to sleep, so I wasn't really interested in doing them. However, just reading through it is something that I think will help me in my writing.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Del Ray
Pages: 322
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 13+

It's been nearly twenty years since the Empire took power over the universe. The Rebel Alliance has heard rumors of a new powerful weapon the Empire is building, but has been unable to find any proof. Jyn Erso has spent most of her life fighting, with no real loyalty to anyone or any side. Cassian Andor is an intelligence agent working for the Alliance. The two are thrown together on a task to learn more about the Empire's new weapon, putting them, and the Alliance, in danger as they travel across the galaxy, creating a rag tag group who is willing to do anything to hurt the Empire.

After seeing the movie, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I found out by looking things up on the Internet that the novelization included more information on each character and scenes that didn't make it into the movie. I immediately bought the book and anxiously waited for it to arrive.

I don't usually read novelizations, because they are basically everything you see on the screen put into print, which rarely makes a good novel. This was a pretty good novelization. Freed was able to take the story and add things to it that, for the most part, felt true to the characters presented on the screen. It provides context for the characters that we don't see in the film, though I think he did Jyn a bit of a disservice. In the film, she had strong opinions and her own moral code and a natural leader. In the book she seemed unsure, unfit for leadership, and without the nuances had made her such a great character in the film.

Several of the nuances from the film were lost, while others were added. There was also a liberal use of italics throughout the book, which were unnecessary and distracting.

In all, good for Star Wars fans, especially those teens who are reluctant readers.

There is no language or sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Everyday Magic by Emily Albright

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Publication date: 2017
Publisher: Merit Books
Pages: 334
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 15+

Maggie's father expects her to go to UCLA and become an entertainment lawyer. What Maggie wants is to get far away from her famous and abusive father and become a designer. Things seem to be coming up Maggie when she gets into the school of her dreams and meets Preston. But she just can't seem to get out of her father's control, no matter what she tries, and that starts to get in the way of her relationship with Preston.

When I picked up this book I had just finished reading a series of books that involved a lot of crying over deaths of beloved characters, so I needed something light and quick to read. This book fit the bill perfectly. Despite what could be construed as some dark themes (abuse, blackmail, etc.), the book didn't really dwell on the really dark parts.

There were some inconsistencies throughout concerning chronology (one date was called the second, the fourth, and the fifth date between two minor characters). Some of the dialogue was a bit awkward and unnatural sounding. There was some jumping over long periods of time, which sometimes seemed to cut things short or require retroactive telling instead of showing it while it happened.

As it was, the book was a fun read, just because it happened to be what I needed at the time. There was romance, dreams coming true, just some fun escapist fiction for a few minutes.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Besties by Leah Reena Goran

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Pages: 96
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 15+

There are friends and then there are besties. A bestie is someone who knows you inside and out, who you have inside jokes with, and who you can trust to be honest.

This is a celebration of besties everywhere. Through colorful illustrations and simple explanations, the book talks about that girl in your life who is basically family.

I don't really feel that this book was groundbreaking in anyway. It's more something that I would expect to see at a Hallmark store or similar places. Mostly, this would be a cute book to buy for your bestie for her birthday. That being said, there were several times when I thought of my own bestie--who I have known for 20 years. There are just certain things in this life that are universal, and the experience of best friends is one of those.

I put the age up where I did because there are some adult themes.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
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Monday, January 23, 2017

This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 312
My rating: 3.5 stars
Ages: 15+

The River Point Boys are all anyone will talk about, everyone wondering which was the one that shot the gun that killed their friend. Kate is an intern at the DA's office and the attorney she works for just got the case. Kate has her own reasons for finding justice for the boy who was killed and is determined to dig into the case to find out who shot the gun. But things aren't always as they seem, which Kate is about to discover.

I read this book in a day. It was interesting and gripping, with some twists and turns I wasn't expecting (of course, I never expect them). Each character had hidden depths, and interactions between characters were natural and interesting. There were times when Kate didn't do what she should have done, but I remember being a teenager and teenagers don't tend to think things through in the most logical way.

There was something that bothered me; Elston frequently used the phrasing "hands framing her face" (or something similar). It got to the point where I rolled my eyes every time it showed up. Not that the action it was describing was annoying, but that it was only described that way. I wish that she had thought of other ways to portray it (i.e. "he cupped my face in his hands"). It was used often enough (especially near the end of the book) that it became repetitive.

In all, though, it was a good read and a good mystery.

There was some hard language and some sexual talk.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 276
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: 13+

Dee thought she knew exactly how her summer was going to go, but instead, she's looking forward to a hot Georgia summer with no art school and no best friend. So when a movie starts filming her in her small town, she jumps at the chance to work as a PA on set--though knowing the film would star Milo Ritter was a big incentive too. However, her first meeting with Milo was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

This is the kind of book that you can just curl up with and enjoy. It's decidedly aware of its genre, which is kind of what makes it work.

I like "behind the scenes" things, so I enjoyed the stuff on the movie set, though I'm not exactly sure how accurate it was--my knowledge of film sets being based on cobbled together information that I have gathered from various places. I was a little unsure about a full-length movie being made in three weeks . . . but it has happened, and since it was an indie film . . .

I liked Milo. I thought that his struggle with being famous and having to deal with all that brings was very well put together. Dee was sometimes annoying, sometimes fun, sometimes a little dense; so, a teenager.

Very little language and some mild sexual references, appropriate for teens.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

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Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 388
My rating: 3.5
Ages: 16+

Both Libby and Jack have things they'd rather not have people know. Libby is returning to school after five years of being housebound and would rather that no one remember that she was once "the fattest teen in America." No one knows that popular guy Jack can't remember the faces of anyone around him, and he's been very careful that no one finds out. When the two of them end up having to spend a lot of time together, they find that they have more in common than they would have ever thought possible.

This book is an amazing example of great writing. Niven seems to really understand teenagers and the things that happen during those completely awkward and uncertain teen years. The teasing, the bullying, the worry about what your peers will think of you. Then there are the relationships between siblings and parents, of all types, and the examples of both good and bad teachers. Then there are the deeper themes of looking past the surface and seeing people for who they really are.

I liked Libby a lot. She was still a bit self conscious about her weight (like everyone), but she was passionate and knew what she wanted. There wasn't anything she was going to let stand in her way to getting the things she wanted. She was also close to her father, which is unique in YA novels, but as someone who had a good relationship with her parents throughout her teen years (and now), I thought it was nice to see.

Jack was kind of . . . rude, but that was mostly because of how he compensated for his face blindness and the people he surrounded himself with. Jack doesn't have anyone in his life that inspires him to be his true self.

There was quite a bit of language and some sexual talk.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.