Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who Learn Something About Themselves

This is a fun one, I chose to do "characters who learn something about themselves" for this week's Top Ten Tuesday because it's such an easy prompt I can take the time to do it properly. Here are my top ten. These are all wonderful books, and I highly recommend all of them!

1. The Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson Haddix
The kids in this series are illegal. They are third children in a society that only allows two children per family, and they will lose their lives if the population police ever find them. The series revolves around a couple of different "shadow children" as they assume fake identities in order to join the outside world and fight the oppressive government that bans their existence. Several characters learn a lot about themselves as they discover not only how to function in the world outside their sheltered existences, but how to dig deep down and find the bravery needed to win the day.

2. Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I love this book so much, which you may have noticed by how often I use it in these lists! I really can't say anything about what sort of identity crisis Bethany comes to, but it's really a doozy and it's one of my absolutely favorites.

3. The Missing books by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I'm not really sure how much I can say about the Missing books, because the first book would be completely spoiled if I explained the overarching premise of the series. All I'll tell you is that it's not a metaphor when I say that the characters "discover their identities."

4. The Candymakers by Wendy Mass
This is a book about many things, including candy and friendship, but it also deals with the stresses of fulfilling expectations versus pursuing your own dream. One character in particular learns to value his/her own abilities because they are what give him/her joy.

5. Tree Girl by T.A. Barron
This is a little book I read when I was younger, and absolutely adored. Looking back it's a little weird, but it's definitely got that aspect of identity crisis as the main character makes her way through the forest, and winds up discovering her own identity.

6. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
This is a book about completely losing your own identity, and immersing yourself in another's. Sage doesn't learn anything about his "identity," per se - after all, a false name doesn't erase the past - but he does learn about his own strengths as he slowly comes to accept the fact that he is much better at being royal than he had originally believed.

7. The Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley
Poor Sabrina Grimm hates her fairytale detective family, and just wants to go back to her normal life. But as the series progresses Sabrina learns to value the work that her family does, and to appreciate her own power as a Grimm and as a detective.

8. The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester
All of the main characters in The Girl Who Could Fly have talents that tie in with their personalities, but for the first half of the book they don't really respect themselves or their talent. Over the course of the story they learn not only to trust one another, but to trust themselves and their abilities. They learn that they are strong, especially when they work together.

9. Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
Yeah, this is one of my favorites. Bobby wakes up one morning invisible, and spends the next few weeks trying to figure out how to reverse it, and how to convince DFS that his parents didn't kill him and take his body. He becomes friends with a blind girl named Angela, who helps him to discover things not only about himself, but about the rest of the world as well.

10. The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
Addie is the shy, clingy sister. It's Meryl who is the fierce one. But when Meryl gets sick with an untreatable and fatal disease known as the Gray Death, Addie sets out on a quest to find the cure. She braves all sorts of dangers and discovers that there are no limits to what she could do, if she was doing it for her sister.

There we go! Have you read any of these, and do you agree that they fit on this list?

Teaser Tuesdays: The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau (April 28)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is the fourth Book of Ember, The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau. Please don't read ahead if you haven't read the other books in the series! Here is my review of the first book, The City of Ember.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It’s been several months since Lina and Doon escaped the dying city of Ember and, along with the rest of their people, joined the town of Sparks. Now, struggling through the harsh winter aboveground, they find an unusual book. Torn up and missing most of its pages, it alludes to a mysterious device from before the Disaster, which they believe is still in Ember. Together, Lina and Doon must go back underground to retrieve what was lost and bring light to a dark world.
In the fourth Book of Ember, bestselling author Jeanne DuPrau juxtaposes yet another action-packed adventure with powerful themes about hope, learning, and the search for truth.
(293 pages)
This week's quote comes from page 140:
"We don't read," said Trogg shortly. "So quit yapping about it. We don't approve of reading; we stopped doing it a long time ago. It's a useless trick. Everything we need to know came down to us from our fathers and our grandfathers and their fathers before them." 
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Unfriend Yourself by Kyle Tennant, 2012

We are all connected. To each other, to our devices, to our networks, to everything... The world of social media has turned the rest of our worlds upside down.Can you disconnect for three days to assess the situation in your own life? This short book is split into three sections to help you DETOX, DISCERN, and DECIDE what role Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and all the rest can and should have in your life. Unfriend Yourself will help you think critically, biblically, and practically from a Christian perspective about the merits and ramifications of our social media culture.
Don't worry, the world can wait; your friends won't even know you're gone-seriously, there are over half a billion of them out there. I doubt you'll be missed.
(96 pages)

This is meant to be a sort of devotional for someone who is untangling himself from social media for a weekend. The book is separated into an introduction, three chapters (one for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), and an end note. You're supposed to read the book piece by piece and really take the time to absorb what it's saying.

I didn't. I'm really sorry, and I know this totally skews my ability to review the book. But you see, I don't have a social media problem. And I'm not just in denial, either - I honestly don't do that much on social media. The only platform I'm on is Twitter, and if you look at my newsfeed you'll see that most of my tweets are auto-tweets about new blog posts that Bloglovin does for me. The truth of the matter is that I can never seem to fully plug into social media for more than short periods of time, and I wind up forgetting all about it. Then I remember I'm supposed to be interacting and networking and all that jazz, so I hop back on only to have no idea what to tweet about. That's why my Twitter feed is full of auto-tweets and updates about my schoolwork. Sounds appealing, right?

So what was I thinking, requesting Unfriend Yourself? Honestly, I was curious. I wanted to understand the fascination with social media that grips almost everyone I know, and I wanted to see if I could pick up any tips for dealing with other addictions (no, not dangerous addictions - just silly time-wasters that destroy my entire weekends, like playing Trivia Crack and watching corny Disney TV shows on YouTube).

Did the book deliver? Meh. I guess so. It was mainly focused on villifying social media, debunking what Tennant called the "promises" offered by sites like Facebook. I guess I learned something about the mindset around the media culture, and he offered some valid points about "networking" versus "fellowship," but I think he comes across a bit too heavily in some of his criticisms of Facebook and social media as a whole. If I were actually someone who was in love with my Facebook news feed, then I would very quickly take offence at Tennant's attitude toward Facebook, decide that he was wrong, and put the book down for good. As it is, I stayed to the end and picked up a few good points about the value of face time over screen time. Even as a late '90s kid who grew up alongside the internet, I can still see the importance of putting down the smart device, closing the computer, and getting together in person with people instead. A very large portion of my life takes place online, and though I have no qualms about continuing to operate on this level I am definitely motivated to spend more time with my friends and family irl.

Are you addicted to social media? Then this might be the book to get you stepping back and taking a critical look at how that might be harming you. The time investment Unfriend Yourself requires is minimal, and the results could be lifechanging. Even if they're not, the excercise of removing yourself from social media for a weekend is still a healthy one.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free review.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Graceful by Wendy Mass, 2015

Stop right there! Don't go any further unless you've read the other four books in the Willow Falls series. I've done my best to avoid spoilers, but when you're reviewing the fifth book in a series you're bound to ruin something from the earlier books. Click the links to go to my reviews of the firstsecondthird, and fourth books in the series. And if you read on and spoil the entire series for yourself? Well, don't say I didn't warn you.

Click to view
on Goodreads
An exciting new story in the bestselling Willow Falls series from Wendy Mass!
Angelina D'Angelo has left town to see the world. It's now Grace's turn to use her magic to protect the people of Willow Falls, and she is up to the challenge. This is her destiny, after all. But destiny is a funny thing-it doesn't always behave the way you'd expect it to.
Mysterious postcards from Angelina begin showing up in the mail, Grace's parents are freaking out with worry, and something BIG is coming to town that will affect everybody who lives there. But all Grace is powerful enough to do is turn leftover meatloaf into pizza.

Fortunately, she's not alone. She has Team Grace on her side! Amanda, Leo, Rory, Tara, David, and Connor know a thing or two about magic and how it works. But none of them are prepared for what's coming, and none of them know how to stop it. Life in Willow Falls is about to change forever.
(272 pages)

Every Willow Falls book is told in first person present tense from the main character's POV, and Graceful is no exception. This time around it's Grace, learning to deal with her new magical abilities, who takes center stage. However, in this book Mass also adds snippets of narration from the other characters: there are diary entries by Amanda, letters from Tara to her pen pal/friend Julie, texts to and from Rory (who finally got a real phone!), poems written by Leo, inventor's notes from Connor, and more. I really like how Mass did that because it keeps the narration focused equally on all of the many characters. Otherwise she would've had to include long pages of second-hand descriptions as characters waited in line to tell Grace everything important that happened to them since the last time they talked to her. And that would not be fun.

The things that I expected to feel fake/annoying (like the middle school couples popping up every time I turn around) turned out to be perfectly fine, and actually pretty enjoyable. I think a large part of this success is the more disjointed technique of using all the different mediums to tell the story, because it dilutes the effect of having so many people running around with different things on their mind. Learning about the magic of Willow Falls was also really interesting - Mass does a good job of explaining it without sucking out all of the mystery and wonder.

Despite how much I did enjoy it, Graceful is not a perfect book. For one thing, I disagree with Grace's decision in regards to her parents. Just because they're stressed about your magical powers, does not mean you should use said abilities to make your parents forget about them! I'm not saying whether Grace succeeds in inflicting amnesia on her parents; it's the fact that this is treated like such a great idea by everyone involved that slightly annoys me. Surely someone would have pointed out that it wasn't really the ten-year-old's place to wipe her parents' memories? Another quibble is that the book can feel a bit disjointed. This wasn't a big deal for me, because I don't know of any other way for a story with that many characters to be told, but I know some might find it annoying. Also, did I mention there are three middle school couples? Yes, that's three. As in 3. As in two more than one.

To be fair, though, they're not just a bunch of random couples off the street; they're our couples, the ones we've watched from the very beginning, the ones we've rooted for and laughed at with and cried over. So I can't really fret too much about how many of them there are, because just in this one series, it doesn't really matter. I love them all with a passion that makes chapter fifteen particularly amazing for me - oh, you want to know what happens in chapter fifteen? I'm sorry, but you'll have to read Graceful and find out for yourself because I just can't bring myself to spoil it for you.

Bottom line: I love this book. A lot. It's the perfect ending to the series, and now that I've read it I can't imagine the series being complete without it. Is Graceful a standalone? Never! Is it the perfect close to an amazing series? Absolutely! So please take the time to read just one more Willow Falls book. But definitely make sure to re-read the other books before you delve into this one: trust me, Graceful is that much better if you understand all the references to the earlier books. And by "better," I mean "funnier." This book is hilarious!

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from Scholastic Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: Graceful by Wendy Mass (April 21)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is the fifth Willow Falls book, Graceful by Wendy Mass Please don't read ahead if you haven't read the other books in the series! Here is my review of the amazing first book, 11 Birthdays.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Angelina D'Angelo has left town to see the world. It's now Grace's turn to use her magic to protect the people of Willow Falls, and she is up to the challenge. This is her destiny, after all. But destiny is a funny thing-it doesn't always behave the way you'd expect it to.
Mysterious postcards from Angelina begin showing up in the mail, Grace's parents are freaking out with worry, and something BIG is coming to town that will affect everybody who lives there. But all Grace is powerful enough to do is turn leftover meatloaf into pizza.
Fortunately, she's not alone. She has Team Grace on her side! Amanda, Leo, Rory, Tara, David, and Connor know a thing or two about magic and how it works. But none of them are prepared for what's coming, and none of them know how to stop it. Life in Willow Falls is about to change forever.
(272 pages)

This week's quote comes from the Amazon preview of Graceful, because I'm not supposed to quote my ARC. This quote comes from page 6, if you want to check it out:
At first I'd tried to explain to the others how it felt to be able to see what I'd never imagined existed, like the way every person seemed connected to everyone else. Seeing the history of our town unfold in front of my eyes, it was like living a hundred years in seven days.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

My Top Ten Favorite Authors

When I saw this week's Top Ten Tuesday prompt, I couldn't help but smile! Who doesn't like reeling off their favorite authors? This was probably the easiest post I've ever written, and one of the funnest. I hope you pick up a few new books/authors to check out as you read through here. I tried to include a few favorites from each author so you can check them out if you're interested.

1. Margaret Peterson Haddix
Click to check out
my review
If I had to make a list of one, and choose a single favorite author, I wouldn't even blink before choosing her. She has written over 30 books, and I have read every single one of them. I adored some, I loved others, and merely liked others, but I have never actually disliked a book by Margaret Peterson Haddix. And after so many books, I find it extremely unlikely that this trend will ever change.

2. E.D. Baker
She does some great fairytale retellings. Her Frog Princess series is one of the few series that can get away with having eight books all about the same characters, and not get boring. I also love her book Wings, which isn't so much a retelling as it is a modern continuation/reinterpretation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Click to check out
my review
3. Gordon Korman
He is hilarious. Hilarious. I fell in love with his books years ago, and got my next oldest brother hooked as soon as he reached middle school. I am determined to foist his books on my youngest two siblings once they get old enough too, because his books are awesome entertainment. Even the names are charmingly sill: two that come to mind are The Chicken Doesn't Skate and No More Dead Dogs (incidentally, two of my favorites!).

4. Andrew Clements
Most of his books are for elementary and middle school kids, and that's where I was when I fell in love with them. Somehow I never really fell out of love with his books, and I still turn to them when I need a break from my normal fare. He also has a phenomenal YA book called Things Not Seen, which is just amazing.

5. Wendy Mass
Click to check out
my review
She has a few books for older and younger people that I'm not a huge fan of (the older books are too racy for me, and the younger ones too slow), but the rest of her books are amazing. She always comes up with compelling, unique story ideas that keep you on your toes. Some of my favorites of her books include the Willow Falls books, the Twice Upon a Time series, and The Candymakers.

6. Angie Sage
Two words: Septimus Heap. It's one of my all-time favorite fantasy series, and is just all-around amazing. She's writing the spin-off series now, called TodHunter Moon, and it's one of the few spin-offs I've read that actually maintain a significant amount of the charm of the original series.

Click to check out
my review
7. Jennifer A. Nielsen
I fell in love with Jaron from The False Prince back in 2013, and haven't looked back since. I devoured the rest of the Acendance trilogy and moved on to her Underworld Chronicles. It's for younger kids, but I enjoyed it and my middle-school-aged brother liked it even more than I did. Just recently I read and loved Mark of the Thief, the start of her new series, and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next. She has a World War II book coming out that's centered around the Berlin wall, which I can't wait to read. It's called A Night Divided.

8. Rick Riordan
Yes, he still goes on this list. I'm not a huge fan of the Heroes of Olympus books, so I may come across as kind of negative toward his books on this blog (in fact, I even did a post listing his most-used cliches!). However, I really do love the Percy Jackson series and that will never change. Those books are hilarious, heartwarming, and altogether charming, and will never lose their space on my bookshelf. And for that, Riordan gets a spot on my "favorite authors" list.

9. Jessica Day George
Click to check out
my review
This is another author whose books I absolutely love. I'm the kind of person who hunts down as many books as I can when I like an author, so after finishing her amazing Dragon trilogy I moved straight into her Princess books and the Castle Glower series. I have never met a Jessica Day George I didn't like, and I don't believe I ever will!

10. James Riley
Riley is a master at fracturing fairytales. His Half Upon a Time books are hilarious, and so heartwarming. On the surface his writing style feels kind of juvenile (read: lots of exclamation marks), but this style of writing becomes part of the overall feel/humor of the books. I love how he takes all of the fairtyales and sets them in an alternate universe to our own.


Those are a few of my all-time favorite authors! What are yours?

Monday, April 20, 2015

All You Want to Know About the Bible in Pop Culture by Kevin Harvey, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads
Somehow, it's hard to picture pop culture and Christianity going hand-in-hand, but maybe we simply aren't looking at things the right way. "All You Want to Know About the Bible in Pop Culture" reveals places where readers may be surprised to find redeeming values and gospel messages in today's movies, music, popular TV shows, and much more!
When you look closely, past the outrageous outfits and the antics of teen pop-sensations, it's easy to see that from the big screen to the small screen and right down to the radio waves, God and His stories are still prevalent in pop culture today. There are movies and television shows that speak eternal truth, reality show families who represent believers well, even fictional Christians portrayed in a positive light. And if you listen closely, musicians are still conversing with God as the original songwriters of the Bible did. For the reader searching for meaning in media today, "All You Want to Know About the Bible in Pop Culture "is the perfect choice.

(244 pages)

Hopefully you know by now that I'm no stranger when it comes to enjoying diverse books. I'm pretty current when it comes to new MG and YA books, I enjoy a good fantasy as much as the next person, and my bookshelves hold way more science than Amish fiction. What you may not know is that my music library is also pretty open to a wide variety of music genres. When I put my iPad on random shuffle, these are the first five songs that come up: "Find Me" by Christina Grimmie, "Waiting for Superman" by Daughtry, "Grenade" by Bruno Mars, "Do-Re-Mi" from "The Sound of Music," and "Do You Think About Me" by Carrie Underwood.

I say this to explain that I am not a shut-in when it comes to popular culture. However, I think there's a limit to what is acceptable for me. There reaches a point where media goes too far, where it so blatantly supports un-Christian morals that I just have to put the book down, take out my earbuds, or hit the "stop" button on the TV. I realize this "turn-off" point is different for everyone, but mine is definitely earlier than Harvey's.

And this is where Harvey loses me. He sits down to watch the dirtiest, most offensive television shows and comes away twisting over backwards to say they represent something from the Bible. I'm sorry, Harvey, but I just can't swallow that there is any Christianity in The Big Bang Theory, Lost, or Extreme Makeover. I'm not saying that they're straight from the devil or anything, just that they are not Christian shows and that you can't pretend that they are. Bend over backward far enough, and just about anything points where you want it to. Harvey addresses these issues by saying that pop culture offers half of the Bible, and it's up to other Christians to teach people about the other half. I personally don't agree with this exaggeration of the Bible's prevalence in pop culture, but even if I did I still would have liked for him to lead more with that, and less with "let's look at this random movie and dissect it for Christ!"

Harvey's writing is compelling, though, and kept me engaged much longer than I would have otherwise stayed interested. The subheadings throughout the chapters are kind of confusing, making it hard to flip through and find his analysis of specific movies/books/shows/etc. There are a bunch of Bible quizzes scattered throughout the book that I didn't even attempt because I knew I'd fail. There's also a section at the back of the book with puzzles about Bible content in them. I don't really see what a crossword puzzle about flowers listed in Song of Solomon has to do with pop culture, but I can see how this would appeal to younger people. I'm handing off my copy of the book to my younger siblings once I'm done with it, because I know they'll like the puzzles a lot more than I would.

All in all, this was a well-written book with weird chapter organization and an argument I disagree with. It's too bad, because I got my hopes up when I saw the title.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Rebel by Willo Davis Roberts, 2003

Click to view
on Goodreads
Her name was Amanda Jane Keeling, but from the time she was two, everyone called her Rebel. Rebel's first word was "No!" And it was downhill from there. As a toddler she resisted strained spinach and potty training. At five, she refused to go to kindergarten. Now at fourteen, she has toned down her rebellious streak somewhat, but whenever faced with a challenge she still feels the need to confront it head on, despite the opinions or advice of others.
When Rebel and her friend Moses -- the only boy she's ever met who can match her in both wit and height -- witness some strange goings-on, instead of going straight to the police, they decide to investigate the matters themselves. A bizarre robbery, an open door in the middle of the night, muddy footprints...all these clues lead Rebel and Moses to more questions than answers. But still they won't go for help. Little do they know the danger that awaits them....

(153 pages)

This was a book swap find, which I only picked up because it was free. It provided an entertaining hour or two but was not a groundbreaker in any sense of the word.

Roberts does an excellent job of simply "dropping" us into the lives of the people we're reading about. They feel just like real people - a little smart, a little naiive, a little awkward, and a little insecure.

Rebel is really tall for a girl (5"10') and doesn't like to admit that her height makes her nervous about ever finding a spouse (you know, down the road. Like any fourteen-year-old, she wants to get a head's start on picking a mate). She comes across extremely pushy in the teaser, and lives up to her nickname in the first chapter or two. Rebel quickly mellows out into a fairly normal MC by the time the action really picks up speed; she definitely speaks her mind, but is not nearly as obnoxiously rebellious as you'd expect from the synopsis. She's actually a bit insecure because of her height, and is really happy that Moses is taller than her. What I enjoyed about her is that she is so excellently characterized that it doesn't even feel like it should be labelled "characterization."

Moses, or Mo for short, is also very tall and often feels oppressed by his business-minded father. He's not a dramatic hero, or a lone rebel. He's just a teenager with a passion for something not very financially secure, with parents who don't support it. He did annoy me sometimes with his constant obsessing over his video camera, but then again, I've been known to obsess over things too. And I'm sure it annoyed my parents far more than Mo annoyed me.

Praises aside, this is not going on my top-ten favorites list. In fact, I doubt I'll ever read it again. I liked Rebel and Mo, and I enjoyed watching them solve the mystery (slow as they may sometimes have been at it), but Rebel is nothing to go back and re-read. It's the kind of book you read because you're sick of unrealistic, idealistic heroes you could never live up to. I didn't even realize I needed a break from them until I read Rebel! If you see a used copy of this at a thrift store, then I definitely suggest taking it home to read. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother hunting for it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten Inspiring Quotes From Books

Yes, I know this Top Ten is up later in the day than I usually post it. I don't know what to say, except that I've got one unit test, one final exam, and a capstone project that are all due by the end of the week. I was going to finish this post yesterday, but then suddenly it was bed time and I hadn't done it and there wasn't anything I could do about that. I have it up now, though: I didn't want to skip this week's Top Ten altogether because I really love the prompt. Here are ten of the quotes that inspire me! Many of these are from later books in series. Where I've reviewed a book in the series I've made the title a link to my review.

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass:
If everyone waited to do something good until they had purely unselfish motivations, no good would ever get done in the world. The point is to do it anyway. To do it at all.

The People of Sparks by Jeane DuPrau:
Being good is hard. Much harder than being bad.

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix:
I didn't have to ask anymore why Elizabeth died, why Daddy died, why I didn't. The new question I was obsessed with was, 'Okay, I lived - now what am I supposed to do with my life?'

The Secret Prince by Violet Haberdasher (link goes to my review of the first book in the series, Knightley Academy:
It is a good man who stands up for his friends, but an honorable man who stands up for his enemies.

The Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling:
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

Among the Brave by Margaret Peterson Haddix:
Maybe everyone is just waiting for someone else to save them.

The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling:
We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.

The Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling:
Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan:
If my life is going to mean anything, I have to live it myself.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis:
Crying is all right while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.

Just going through these quotes makes me feel better! Taken together, they remind me that a) the world does not revolve around me, b) kindness is always essential, and c) it's easier to be brave with the support of friends. What are your favorite book quotes?



Teaser Tuesdays: Rebel by Willo Davis Roberts (April 14)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Rebel by Willo Davis Roberts.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Her name was Amanda Jane Keeling, but from the time she was two, everyone called her Rebel. Rebel's first word was "No!" And it was downhill from there. As a toddler she resisted strained spinach and potty training. At five, she refused to go to kindergarten. Now at fourteen, she has toned down her rebellious streak somewhat, but whenever faced with a challenge she still feels the need to confront it head on, despite the opinions or advice of others.
When Rebel and her friend Moses -- the only boy she's ever met who can match her in both wit and height -- witness some strange goings-on, instead of going straight to the police, they decide to investigate the matters themselves. A bizarre robbery, an open door in the middle of the night, muddy footprints...all these clues lead Rebel and Moses to more questions than answers. But still they won't go for help. Little do they know the danger that awaits them....
(153 pages)

Here´s my quote, from page 21. It has a few more than two sentences, but I couldn't really avoid that:
"Six feet six. The air up here is fine, I don't get nosebleeds from the altitude; no, I'm not a basketball player and don't aspire to be, and the Nikes are size sixteen. They have to be specially ordered." 
Rebel rose slowly to her feet. Gigantic. Not a zero, though. She recognized by the flicker on his face that her own height surprised him. "Five ten," she announced, resisting the compulsion to announce her weight as well. "I'm Rebel Keeling."
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Claim to Fame by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2009 (also, a lot of rambling about Richard III)

It was a talent that came out of nowhere. One day Lindsay Scott was on top of the world, the star of a hit TV show. The next day her fame had turned into torture.
Every time anyone said anything about her, she heard it. And everyone was talking about Lindsay: fans, friends, enemies, enemies who pretended to be friends....
Lindsay had what looked like a nervous breakdown and vanished from the public eye. But now she's sixteen and back in the news: A tabloid newspaper claims that Lindsay is being held hostage by her father.
The truth? Lindsay has been hiding out in a small Illinois town, living in a house that somehow provides relief from the stream of voices in her head. But when two local teenagers try to "rescue" Lindsay by kidnapping her, Lindsay is forced to confront everything she's been hiding from. And that's when she discovers there may be others who share her strange power. Lindsay is desperate to learn more, but what is she willing to risk to find the truth?

(272 pages)

My Richard III books (no, I'm
not using Sent for research - I
just used this as an excuse
to re-read it)
I'm in a bit of a review-writing slump right now. I've been so busy in my personal life lately that blogging has had to go on the back-burner. Speaking of busy, my capstone project in AP English is a speech about Richard III. I've been really swamped researching it - and by swamped, I mean "my floor has been devoured by history books" -  but it's been incredibly fascinating learning so much about a period I never really knew much about. I piled all of my research books up and took a picture. I've got quite a stash, haven't I?

But I digress. I'm not supposed to be talking about Richard III, am I? I'm supposed to be talking about Lindsay Scott. As I sit here typing, trying really hard to stay focused but not succeeding very well, it occurs to me that on the surface Richard and Lindsay are so different there is literally no real comparison that can be made between them that would segue into the review at hand. They're just about polar opposites, completely different in so many respects - most noticeably in the fact that Richard was a real person, and Lindsay is not. Also, they would have lived 500 years apart.

Actually, the more I think about it the more similarities I see between them. Being king of England 500 years ago was a lot like being a TV-star today: you were rich, famous, powerful, and under constant public scrutiny. Most striking in this (slightly ridiculous, I know) comparison is the fact that both kings and TV-stars are subject (pun intended!) to some serious double-talking. A king's subjects pretend to adore him so much, then turn around and curse him behind his back. A TV-star's costars and fans may offer her nothing but smiles and roses on set - but then go home and privately rant about how much they hate her. It takes a thick hide to live surrounded by such duplicity. Well, a thick hide or complete innocence about the vindictiveness of human nature.

And this is where I manage to segue into talking about the book at hand! Lindsay is an ex-TV-star. She was at the top of her game, a queen in her own court by the time she was eleven. She had that innocence that goes with childhood, and honestly believed that the entire world adored her. Then one day she was able to hear everything that was said about her, everywhere. Her naivety was shattered, her trust broken, and her confidence destroyed. Unable to cope with the stress of hearing exactly what everyone around said about her, she became a virtual recluse. She moved halfway across the country to a new house, one that somehow blocks her debilitating ability - though how, she had no idea. And didn't really care.

The book follows Lindsay five years after moving to Springdale as she is forced to come to terms with everything that has happened to her and learn how to function in the real world. She unearths some very hard truths about her relationship with her (newly deceased) father and the fate of the mother she never knew, even as she forges new relationships and decides whether she will spend her life hiding from the world, or will go out and actually live her life. Haddix introduces a lot of deep themes in Claim to Fame, and it's a very grabbing/thought-provoking read. The book's biggest flaw in my eyes is actually that it doesn't dig as deep as it could into these themes. I suppose that's just a sign that I'm past the target age, though - the first time I read Claim to Fame, I thought it was perfect. 

It's not perfect. I can see that now. But it's still very good, and raises a lot of interesting points about everything from transcendentalism to parent-child communication in a manner that just about anyone can digest. If anything I've said about the book interests you, then I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, 2007

Click to view
on Goodreads
In this Newbery Honor-winning novel, Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero. The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York.
Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.


This book . . . it was good. Really good. And I don't really know what I can say in this review, other than that. It's not exactly my go-to type of book, mainly because of the age of the main character. A lot of the events that take place in the book still make me cringe just thinking about them - but at the same time, they were pulled off more tastefully here than anywhere else I've ever read them. This is probably the least gag-worthy middle school romance I've ever read, due in large part to the fact that the romance doesn't take center stage. In fact, if the book doesn't mention numerous times that it's set in middle school, I could easily have mistaken it for a high school romance, not because of mature content but because of the maturity of feelings both characters show for each other - they may not have always been on the same wavelength, but at least they didn't spend the whole book in an on-again-off-again relationship.

One thing I loved in the book was the copious amount of Shakespeare references. Holling begins halfway through the book to use Shakespeare lines such as "toads, beetles, bats, light on you!" as his go-to curses, and the results are rather hilarious. He also begins to mix and match his Shakespeare lines, making up his own curses like "strange stuff, the dropsy drown you." His teacher Mrs. Baker seems really awesome, and for once in my life I almost envied a public school kid for having teachers who weren't his parents! But then again, my parents aren't as horrible as Holling's so I don't need a teacher like Mrs. Baker.

And tthat brings me to Holling's family. I hate his father, I really do. I also have zero sympathy for his mother. The father steamrolls, the mother gets steamrolled, and anything and everything must be sacrificed in the pursuit of appearances for the sake of his father's career. The first time his father told Holling to behave nicely to someone because it was important to his father's career, I was okay with it. The second time I was annoyed. By the end of the book, if he so much as started a sentence with the phrase "____? As in related to ____?" I just wanted to punch him. When  Holling talked about his life, all his father heard was "business potential!" I empathized much more with Holling's sister Heather. She was about my age, and supported everything her father detested. She wanted to join the flower children in protest against the Korean war, but her father basically called her an idiot who would make him look bad in front of potential customers, and forced her to act the part of the perfect daughter. I don't blame her at all for what she did later in the book, and I love Holling all the more for the way he was the only one who supported her when things got rough.

Basically, this is probably one of the best Newberry Honor books I have ever read. If you think it looks interesting, then go read it! I promise it's worth your time.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Teaser Tuesdays: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (April 7)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
In this Newbery Honor-winning novel, Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero. The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York.
Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.

(264 pages)

Here´s my quote, from page 2:
If your last name ended in "berg" or "zog" or "stein," you lived on the north side. If your last name ended in "elli" or "ini" or "o," you lived on the south side. Lee Avenue cut right between them, and if you walked out of Camillo Junior High and followed Lee Avenue across Main Street, past MacClean's drug store, Goldman's Best Bakery, and the Five & Ten-Cent Store, through another block and past the Free Republic library, and down one more block, you'd come to my house - which my father had figured out was right smack in the middle of town. Not on the north side. Not on the south side. Just somewhere in between.
Does this interest you? Check back on Friday for my review!

Monday, April 6, 2015

This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? by Patrick Di Justo, 2015

Click to view
on Goodreads
What do a cup of coffee and cockroach pheromone have in common? How is Fix-A-Flat like sugarless gum? Is a Slim Jim meat stick really alive? If I Can't Believe It's Not Butter isn't butter, what is it?
All of these pressing questions and more are answered in This Is What You Just Put In Your Mouth? Based on his popular Wired magazine column "What's Inside," Patrick Di Justo takes a cold, hard, and incredibly funny look at the shocking, disgusting, and often dumbfounding ingredients found in everyday products, from Cool Whip and Tide Pods to Spam and Play-Doh. He also shares the madcap stories of his extensive research, including tracking down a reclusive condiment heir, partnering with a cop to get his hands on heroin, and getting tight-lipped snack-food execs to talk. Along the way, he schools us on product histories, label decoding, and the highfalutin chemistry concepts behind everything from Midol to Hostess fruit pies.
Packed with facts you're going to want to share immediately, this is info-tainment at its best—and most fun!—which will have you giving your shampoo the side-eye and Doritos a double take, and make you the know-it-all in line at the grocery store.
(192 pages)

Di Justo definitely did his research for this book. He bats around words like "carrageenan" and "3-isobutyl-2-methoxy-pyrazine" as easy as anything, listing off their origins and common uses in terms that anyone (including me) can understand. Each little chapter is only a few pages long, listing out the most bizarre and disgusting ingredients in the featured product. He doesn't just break down food items, though - trust me, you do not want to know what's in that fabric softener you're putting on your clothes!

This is the sort of book that's good in small doses. I read it over the course of a few days, and I think I suffered overload. There reaches a point where nothing shocks you. "Horse fat? Manure? Diesel exhaust? Okay, whatever." Get the book and read it in small doses. A few here, a few there - it's the kind of book you flip through with your friends, making gagging sounds and proclaiming loudly at the crazy stuff they add to make your food look like food. Read it all in one go like I did, and it's senses overload!

Now, I do have a complaint or two to make. My favorite parts of the book are the extra notes he adds to the end of entries, providing some backstory or a funny anecdote about a particular product. However, sometimes he is a bit too crass for my taste. He uses swear words a couple of times, and a bit of crude humor. Also, two of the products he breaks down are "enzyte" and "K-Y Yours+Mine Couples Lubricant." I, a rather straight-laced teenager, am a bit hazy on what exactly these are. However, I couldn't get through either of these entries because of all the innappropriate jokes about the products. 

It's really too bad that he crosses the line a few times, because if he didn't I would happily recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone looking for a well-researched and hilariously gross look at the food in our pantry. As it is, I still recommend it but with a warning to skip the two products I mentioned above and a heads up that the humor, while usually fine (and hilarious!) becomes too much sometimes.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bloggers Unite (Award Post)


Happy Good Friday, everyone! Whether you celebrate or not, I wish you a lovely day off from school. Even I get to take it easy today, because my online classes are giving me some time off. I used some of it to finally get this tag finished! Here it is:

Trisha over at Forever Trisha was kind enough to nominate me for the Bloggers Unite tag, so here's my award post! I had fun putting this together (after I remember I was going to do it, that is - I completely forgot about it for a week).

Here are the rules:
1. Display the tag on your post along with the instructions
2. Display the link to the blog whose author tagged you.
3. Insert their ‘about me’, biography, or profile text (unless they don’t have one). And if you wanna go all-out, add their picture too (if they have one)!
4. List or talk about some things you LOVE about their blog.
5. Mention your favorite post by that blogger.
6. Tag as many bloggers as you can! Share the love! (And remember, the more you tag, the more people will hear about you and your blog.)
7. And don’t forget to let the bloggers know you've tagged them.

So let's do this!

1. Check.

2. I already did that above, but here is the link to Trisha's award post.

3. She doesn't have an "about me" page (that I could find, at least), but I put her lovely profile pic to the right of this text.

4. Trisha's blog is still pretty small, but it has some fun posts. She is very fun and personable, and her posts are always fun. I just wish she would post more often, so I could read more from her!

5. I really liked her February Highlights post, which went through some of the most interesting events in the month of February. I definitely recommend doing that every month, Trisha!

6. I'm not going to explicitly tag anyone this time. If you want to participate, then just put me as your nominator and give me a link over to your post. If you don't want to participate, then don't and no one will ever know. :)

7.  I'll do that as soon as this goes live!

And there we go. Now I want to know: what do you guys think of awards/tags? And what exactly is the different between an award and a tag, anyway? I realized in writing this that I was using the words interchangeably, but they're probably not the same thing. Which means there's a fifty-fifty I'm not using them correctly . . .
Any help here?

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson, 2014

Click to view
on Goodreads 
Saving the school -- one con at a time.
Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz.... But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.
Then Keith Sinclair -- loser of the Blitz -- announces he's running for school president, against Jackson's former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn't talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won't welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.
So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn't the only thing he wants to win.

(240 pages)

I deliberated about even writing a review for this one, because I read it so quickly. It's not the best book I've ever read or the worst, just somewhere in the unmemorable middle. I'll mainly keep track of it as a recommendation for fans of Gordon Korman, Dan Gutman, and the like, but I figured I should probably write out my thoughts as a reference for when I can't remember what I thought of the book.

Basically, it's Gordon Korman's Swindle series with some of the humor taken out, and some middle school romance added in. This makes it sound pretty bad, but it was actually pretty fun! It had a bit more of a straight-laced story than did the Swindle books, with a lot more focus on the plot and the driving conflicts than on characterization. I don't really know a whole lot about Jackson outside of his strange criminal mastermind-like persona and his love/like (whatever you want to call it) for his former best friend Gabby, who currently hates him. It takes most of the book for Jackson to get anywhere with Gabby, and I really appreciated that. It could have turned into a cheesy love-fest anywhere in the book, but it chose instead to remain palatable.

The characters were painted with pretty broad brushes. On the plus side, they're not caricatures. On the minus, there are so many of them I got them mixed up a couple of times. They have personalities, but they're kind of vague personalities that are really easy to get confused. Jackson was rather unrealistic as this genius spy-master who learned all sorts of tricks from his grandfather, a master con-man. The scenes with Jackson's father definitely made me roll my eyes and want to yell "You can read people's expressions, not their minds, guys, so bring the pride thing down a notch, okay?" You have to just take certain things in this book with a grain of salt, though, so I just sort of rolled with it.

Besides the unrealistic-ness of Jackson's skills, it was a fun book. It's just the sort of book I'd give to my brother - except I won't, because there's too much of a romantic undertow throughout the book for him to enjoy it. I wouldn't really recommend it to more mature fans of romantic adventure books, either, because the romance isn't as good as a lot of stuff out there (and frankly, I am not the biggest fan of middle school romance in general). However, if it interests you enough that you're still trying to decide whether not to read it, then you'd probably like it. If you do give it a try, let me know what you think!