Category Archives: For Everyone

Quick Review: We Should Hang Out Sometime

Thank you to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with a review copy through Netgalley!

Book Overview:

Title: We Should Hang Out Sometime

Author: Josh Sundquist

Genre: Teen Non-fiction/Memoir

Publication Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Dec. 2014

Synopsis: On a quest to solve the mystery of why he never had a girlfriend, Josh Sundquist shares and analyzes his dating and relationship experiences.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4/5

     On the surface, We Should Hang Out Sometime is a funny memoir of teenage and young adult heartbreak. However, with deeper reading, this book actually delivers much more–namely Sundquist’s thought-provoking exploration of what shaped his identity and decisions from teenage to adult life and how we let our emotional baggage influence our lives.
     To me, this was a realistic and, at times, nostalgic portrait of teenage thought. Dealing with attraction and dating in adolescence and early adulthood is hugely frustrating, with lots of conflicting emotions (optimism, pessimism, fear, courage, desire, awkwardness). Sundquist depicts these emotions honestly (and hilariously) with his retelling of failures and grand romantic gestures, and I often found myself giggling uncontrollably or grimacing in secondhand embarrassment. I followed his stories and feelings without second thought, and I think this proves his true talent for storytelling.I was also touched by the deeper message of this book, showing how fear can blind you, disable you, control your mind, make your decisions for you. As something I’ve experienced often throughout my life, I easily related to Sundquist while reading, and I think teen and adult readers will as well.
     Finally, if I had to sum up this book in one sentence, I would choose the wise words of Rafiki from The Lion King: “The past can hurt. But you can either run from it or learn from it.” I think everyone needs to hear this message, and so I highly recommend this book.
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The YA Gift-Giving Guide

Frequently at work (yes, I work at a bookstore, and yes, it is glorious) I meet parents, adults, teens, and kids all wandering through the teen department with wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights expressions. When I approach them, the conversation usually goes something like this…

Customer: “I/my child/my friend just read [insert bestselling teen book here, usually turned into a movie] and loved it. I wanted to find something like it, but holy crap, there’s so many teen books! What else is good?”

Me: “Well, what kind of things do you/your child/your friend like to read? Fantasy, sci-fi, romance, contemporary fiction?”

Customer: “I don’t know. I just really loved [insert same book].”

Me: “Okay… Let me show you some similar books.”

From these conversations, as well as my own reading experience, I’ve learned to have certain fail-safe titles I can recommend that customers almost always go for. With the holidays quickly approaching (is that jingle bells I hear? …nope, just the sound of desperate, sometimes grouchy customers), I’ve put my mental guide on digital paper in the hopes that it’ll help someone at a loss for a gift or in need of a new series to start. And I’m well aware that not all of these suggestions are very original, but I’m recommending them anyway and you can’t stop me! [Insert maniacal cackling]

IF THEY LIKE… THEY’LL LOVE…
Emotional stories dealing with real-life issues, such as:

 
 Humorous, real-life stories with witty characters, such as:
 
Action-packed stories set in dystopian worlds, such as:
 Realistic and dark stories of post-apocalyptic worlds, such as:
 
 Alternate universe retellings of familiar stories, such as: 
 
 Fantasy and magic-filled stories with strong heroines, such as:
 
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Review: Heir of Fire

Book Overview:

Title: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3)

 Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Publication Info: Bloomsbury Childrens, Sep. 2, 2014

Synopsis: After the death of her best friend, Celaena vows to end the King of Adarlan’s rule by traveling to Wendlyn and discovering the secrets of the King’s power. Yet she quickly finds that, to defeat the king, she must come to terms with  her true identity and destiny.

 Book Review:

Overall Rating: 5/5

This book is by far the best and most amazing threequel (yes, that is a word) I have ever read. I honestly cannot find words to describe how perfect this novel is, so I will attempt to say what this novel isn’t.

Heir of Fire is not a resolution or ending. It is not a continuation or simply another step in the chain of events. It is not a quest story. It is not a teen fantasy story. It is not a romantic love triangle story. And it is not the story of Celaena, or Chaol, or Dorian.

Heir of Fire is the story of Adarlan and Wendlyn and Terrasen and Ellwye, and it is the story who Celaena was and what she will become to these countries and people.

If this description seems overly vague or confusing, please know that this is intentional. Only by reading this series will you understand how truly phenomenal and revolutionary these books are. So please find time in your busy lives to read Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire. .

Plot:

This book begins with Calaena at the lowest point we have seen her, grieving for the loss of Nehemia, broken by ending things with Chaol, and utterly emptied of ambition and motivation. From this beginning, I knew Heir of Fire would not be the typical revenge or quest story. Celaena shows authentic signs of grief and depression throughout the novel, and because of this, her experiences become very real: even when we want to shake her for making stupid decisions or become frustrated with her apathy and indifference, we understand the emotions and drive behind her actions. Even if I didn’t agree with her actions, I supported and cheered on Celaena throughout every step of the plot, and I’m so impressed by Maas’ ability to keep me so well hooked.

Maas also flawlessly weaves together so many plots and characters. Although obviously Celaena is the main character, both Chaol and Dorian are given separate plot lines (along with new characters, such as Aedion and Sorscha) with their own complexity and depth. Yet everything intersects and builds together so that you quickly forget you’re reading about a nonexistent world, which I consider the mark of amazing writing.

Furthermore, this book provides so much more depth and material for the series to continue. While I fully expected Maas to start wrapping up development of  the plot and world, I was delighted to find the exact opposite — in a style that reminded me of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, everything and everyone grows and becomes more complex, creating new conflicts and problems to solve. If I was invested in the series before, I am now ten times more so!

Characters:

As mentioned before, Celaena becomes even more real and human in this book through her grief and depression and apathy. Even in grief, she still remains as sarcastic and stubborn and combative as ever, but the darker emotions give depth and meaning to her responses and actions. And she is forced beyond her limits, becoming a version of Celaena we have never seen before; we learn so much of her past and see how her Fae heritage will change her future.

Both Chaol and Dorian show tremendous growth as characters, Chaol struggling to move past his feelings for Celaena and finding where his true loyalty lies, and Dorian working to control his newfound magic.

Additionally, as if the book couldn’t get any better, we meet so many new characters with complex motives and personalities of their own: Aedion, Sorscha, Rowan, etc. Although all of these characters deserve descriptions of their own, allow me to expound on Rowan,  a character who becomes incredibly important. When Celaena first meets Rowan, he is painstakingly abrasive and harsh — as well as violent and potentially sadistic — and this characterization is constant for a large portion of the book. But he certainly grows and develops. The changes in his character are subtle and well-hidden, so that you don’t realize how much you love this asshole until find yourself defending his every action and smiling at his sarcastic, cynical comments. Take caution.

Writing Quality:

Again, the worldbuilding Maas accomplishes in this book alone is more than in the previous books combined, with what we learn not only of Celaena’s past, but also of the Fae and the Wyrdkeys (and even the Valg). Due to this, I would consider Heir of Fire a true fantasy book, because this world certainly has more complexity and background than most worlds in teen novels. And after reading this third installment, I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best teen series I have ever read, not just in depth, but also in characterization and plot and writing style.

Who I recommend this to:

  • EVERYONE (or more specifically, everyone who enjoys fantasy)
  • Fans of The Grisha series, His Fair Assassin series, Mortal Instruments series
  • Late high school, college, and beyond (warning: language, violence, mentions of sex and drugs)

 

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Spotlight: Ready Player One

 

Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Genre: Adult Fiction, Science Fiction

Publication Info: Random House, 2011

Synopsis: The earth has been ruined and wasted by humans, but everyone can escape their dismal lives through OASIS, a virtual reality game created by James Halliday. After Halliday’s death, it is announced that should a player find Halliday’s egg hidden somewhere in the game, that player will inherit Halliday’s enormous fortune. Years in the future, when most have given up the search, the unlikely hero Wade Watts unlocks the first puzzle and is thrown into a fierce competition for the egg and his life.

This book is such a creative, fast-paced, and imaginative read! Cline wonderfully combines 80’s pop culture, nerdy references, and a science fiction world, and it’s impossible to not get drawn in from even the first chapter. Anyone interested in futuristic fiction (or anyone looking for a fun summer read) should check this book out.

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Review: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Book Overview:

Title: The Impossible Knife of Memory

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Teen Fiction

Publication Info: Viking Juvenile, 2014

Synopsis: After years on the road with her veteran father, Hayley must adjust to a “normal” life with a permanent home and public schooling. Yet as she struggles to come to terms with her new life, she must also deal with the consequences of her father’s PTSD and worrying behavior.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4/5

This was my first novel by Anderson, and I was thoroughly impressed by her frank and beautiful way of telling such a genuine and heartbreaking story. There are so many layers to this book, from Hayley’s issues to her father’s issues to the walls they build around themselves because of these issues, and I loved how Anderson explored these layers and the complexity of the situations. I would not classify this as a happy, light, or fun summer read, but despite its sad content (and few flaws that bothered me), I think this is definitely well worth reading.

Plot:

Like with Fangirl, I often found myself wondering what the plot was building to, mainly because I’ve become accustomed to the clearly defined plotline of teen dystopian/adventure novels. It seemed that Anderson wanted to portray the reality of Hayley’s life, which was well-written and realistic, but I kept asking myself, “What’s the point? What are we heading towards?”

To me, the point of this novel is change. Like Fangirl, we see Hayley adjust and grow over time, and because of this, I would classify the story as one of growing up and finding one’s place. In the beginning, we meet a bitter and reserved protagonist who cannot stand the people around her and does not want her new life. As Hayley faces different challenges, from friendship to romance to the public school system, she begins to change in demeanor and approach, and at some points, I cheered for her — at other points, I wanted to physically shake and scream at her. And that’s how I knew that I was hooked, not only to this character, but also to her storyline. Although Anderson doesn’t give a clear-cut path towards the end of the book, it’s this connection that keeps you reading to the emotional and climactic ending.

And now, my one true quibble with this book —  not the ending, but the epilogue. I refuse to give any details, but I felt that the story would have been more fulfilling if Anderson hadn’t tacked on an epilogue. The resolution of the climactic ending, to me, gave me hope for Hayley and her future, and that was enough. Because I was already fulfilled (plot-wise), the epilogue felt forced and unnecessary, and after a story so real and genuine, telling what happened to everyone afterwards felt suspiciously like a “happily ever after.” But perhaps I’m too cynical, as some people may truly appreciate this epilogue. I leave that to you to decide.

Characters: 

As stated before, Hayley is incredibly bitter, reserved, saracastic, and stubborn to a fault — which means I absolutely loved and connected with this character! (Although what that says about me I’m not going to explore…) Because of all her faults, Hayley was incredibly real to me: I could see her, hear her, as I read, and that is not easy for a writer to accomplish. Well done, Anderson! Hayley’s characterization also shows moments of true depth and complexity as she veers between immature and mature, teenager and adult, around others, particularly her dad. Having to play the parent to one’s parent is not easy, and Anderson showed how damaging and difficult this was to Hayley, as it is to anyone who endures it.

Because of the emotional connection I felt towards Hayley, I was able to experience and understand her reactions to her father. His PTSD and substance abuse is downright scary at times, and when Hayley felt scared or angry, I felt the same. But despite all that, like Hayley I wanted him to succeed and be a father and see his own worth, and this deep connection I felt to the story and characters shows Anderson’s writing genius.

Finally, the romance between Hayley and Finn reminds me of the romance in Fangirl, because it, too, is genuine and authentic. These two fight and misunderstand and become awkward and ignore each other, but at the end of the day, are obviously good for each other. And the romance doesn’t overshadow any of the story, but rather enhances it, which I was so happy about.

Writing Quality:

Although I have yet to read any of Anderson’s other novels, if they are as wonderfully written as this, I have no choice but to read them all. Anderson does not tiptoe around the realities of life, both good and bad, and I really appreciated this straight-forward, truthful approach.

(Because I’m a hypercritical nut, I do have to point out that I caught a few blatant typos and grammatical errors that hopefully are fixed when this is published in paperback.)

Who I recommend this to:

  • Fans of John Green’s novels
  • Fans of Thirteen Reasons Why and the Anonymous novels (i.e. Go Ask Alice, Jay’s Journal)
  • Realistic fiction readers
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: language, violence, mentions of suicide, sex, alcohol, and drugs)
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Review: Fangirl

Book Overview:

Title: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Genre: Teen Fiction

Publication Info: St. Martin’s Press, 2013

Synopsis: A devoted fangirl and fanfiction writer, Cath must come to terms with adulthood and independence, anxiety, and her evolving relationships with her twin sister, terrifying roommate, and classmates in her first year of college.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 5/5

Let me say that I rarely consider a book to truly deserve such a high rating. I most often give this rating during the aftereffects of finishing a great book — the “book high,” if you will — or because I ignore or overlook the tiny flaws I noticed while reading. However, it has been quite a while since I finished this book (weeks, even, thanks to my proclivity to apathy and procrastination), yet I still feel that this book deserves a perfect rating. Why? Because Fangirl is the perfect blend of teen and adult content, wit and humor, sadness and emotion, and fantastic writing. I think everyone should give this book a try, or at least read the synopsis, because even if it is outside your interest type, it is a wonderful book.

Plot:

The storyline and plot development of this book is different from others in the teen category, in that most teen books set up a quest or goal for the main character(s) to achieve in the first few chapters, with side plots and events merely adding to the main plot. Fangirl, however, does not really follow this trend, as Rainbow Rowell chooses instead to follow Cath’s life and growth throughout her first year of college. Because the quest plot trend has become so ingrained in me from reading so many teen fantasy novels, I admit I was thrown off by this at the start. But looking back, I really appreciate Rowell’s choice in this, because it shows that the real goal is for Cath to grow and change and accept herself, rather than win a boyfriend or become popular. And this, to me, is what life and college are really like, so when you read this book, you are reading real life experiences.

Seriousness aside, the romance in this book is by far one of the most perfect and well-written relationships I’ve ever encountered. Here are the five reasons why: (1) awkwardness, (2) tension, (3) fighting/misunderstandings, (4) slow development, (5) actual chemistry. If you want to know what real romantic relationships are like, look no further than this book.

Finally, I tremendously appreciated the ending of this book. I won’t spoil anything, but Rowell doesn’t spell out everything in Cath’s future for the reader, which in this book did not seem necessary. Personally, it meant that it was enough that Cath had grown and changed, and while she still had things to learn and do, we are given confidence that she can handle them. This is genius to me.

Characters:

If it feels like I’m fangirling and raving over this book, you may want to skip over this portion, because I can do nothing but rave over the characters in this book.

Cath is such a relatable protagonist to me, as she struggles with shyness, anxiety, and the inability to connect with others — all things I have struggled with and continue to deal with on a daily basis. While some may not be able to relate to her position as a fanfiction writer and devoted fan of Simon Snow, her personality traits are enough to make her frustrating and realistic in the most endearing way possible. (So many times I wanted to shake Cath and yell at her, only to realize I did the same things in college.)

I’ve already ranted about the romance of the novel, but allow me to briefly say that Levi, Cath’s romantic interest, is so lovable and interesting and intriguing. Yet another point for Rowell.

Even the smaller characters of this book read like authentic, real people to me, such as Wren, Cath’s father, Reagan, Nick, etc. Every character reminds me of people I have met and known, which is a feat of great writing to me.

Writing Quality:

I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the writing or quality of this novel as a whole. Everything is well-developed, well-timed, and well-written.

 

Who I recommend this to:

  • Fans of John Green’s novels
  • Realistic fiction readers
  • Romance readers
  • Soon-to-be or current college students
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: language, mentions of sex, drugs, alcohol)

 

 

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Review: Scarlet

13206760Book Overview:

Title: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)

(If you would like more information on the first book of this series, Cinder, visit https://transitionreads.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/spotlight-cinder/.)

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: Teen Futuristic/Romance

Publication Info: Feiwel & Friends, 2013

Synopsis: In this second installment of the series, Cinder must escape from imprisonment and find the one person who may hold the key to her past: Michelle Benoit. However, Benoit has mysteriously disappeared–kidnapped, according to her granddaughter, Scarlet, who teams with Wolf, a streetfighter, to find her.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

As sequels go, Scarlet was an exciting and well-written continuation of the series. Rather than focusing on the main character of the first novel, Cinder, Meyer introduces us to a whole group of new characters with humorous and realistic personalities. This, along with an action and twist-filled plot, developed the series so much more and kept me engaged. I’m much more invested after reading this book!

Plot:

First of all, I am so grateful to Meyer for including timelines and perspectives of various characters instead of giving the reader only one point of view and plot line–to me, this variety automatically makes a book more interesting and engaging. However, I have read other books/series that have taken a similar approach and only became confusing and not easy to follow as a result. For me, this problem did not occur with Scarlet whatsoever; it made me addicted, and it was extremely difficult for me to step away from this book.

Also, because of certain characters and plot events that I will not spoil, Scarlet was much darker and more violent than Cinder. I can’t see very many finding issue with this, but you have been forewarned. As for me, I love the dark and violent [insert sinister laughter here]. If Meyer hadn’t included this, the book (and series) would seem too sugar-coated and unrealistic. Well done, Meyer!

Finally, my only criticism with the book lies not surprisingly in the use of instalove, or extremely quick romance. To be fair, I was rooting for Scarlet and Wolf from the very beginning of the plot, but things progressed much more rapidly than I would have liked. I personally enjoy suspense and tension rather than instant gratification when it comes to romance, but not everyone feels that way. Please don’t let this stop you from reading the series.

Characters:

I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the characters of this series, because Meyer uses such fresh, realistic, and funny people throughout.

Cinder remains as awesome and sarcastic here as in the first book, and though the reader clearly sees her feelings for Kai, she doesn’t fall into whiny, mopey romantic territory. Cinder also grows as a character through delving into her past, which I really enjoyed reading.

Scarlet has my favorite personality traits in a character: impulsive, fierce, and real. From the very first pages, I knew I would love reading her perspective and plot line, and I was not disappointed (instalove aside).

Wolf, to me, provided a well-written and developed version of the mysterious love interest, not only because of his past, but also (and more so) because of his clumsy, awkward shyness. Some “shy” characters aren’t truly shy, but more elusive and guarded; while Wolf certainly is guarded, there’s more to him than secrets. I really appreciated Meyer’s handling of this character.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Thorne. He is an amazing comic relief and dashing scoundrel character. He brings so much to the book, and I can’t wait to see how Meyer will use him in the future.

Writing Quality:

As Meyer keeps building this series, the world and plot become more complicated, which I attribute to her creative genius. The reader has experienced life in various parts of this world (Asia, Europe), and I look forward to seeing the cultures and futuristic design of other parts of this world, perhaps even the planet Luna. From this book, the reader learns that the relationship between Earth and Luna, between Queen Levana and Princess Selene, is not so simple, and this will keep any reader engaged, invested, and ready for more.

 

Who do I recommend this to? 

  • Fans of the Divergent and Legend series
  • Fans of fairy tale interpretations
  • Futuristic/science-fiction readers
  • Romance readers
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: violence, death)

 

 

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Spotlight: Cinder

Title: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) 

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: Teen Futuristic/Romance

Publication Info: Feiwel & Friends, 2012

Synopsis: In this futuristic rendition of the fairy tale, Cinderella appears as Cinder, a cyborg mechanic who inadvertently is thrown in the middle of  dangerous plots after meeting the popular and handsome Prince Kai.

This, to me, is one of the most innovative and well-done fairy tale adaptations I have ever read. From the setting to the plot to the characters, this book was fantastic, and I recommend it (and its series) to everyone!

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Review: Every Day

Book Overview

Title: Every Day

Author: David Levithan

Genre: Teen Fiction

Publication Info: Knopf Books, 2012

Synopsis: A wakes up as a different person every day, with only 24 hours to adjust to and learn each person’s appearance, family, and life before switching bodies the next morning. A is accustomed to this routine, this abnormal life of observing others and never interfering, but begins to question everything after meeting Rhiannon, putting A’s lifestyle and identity in danger.

Book Review:

Overall Rating: 4/5

When first encountering this book, I was intrigued by the idea of A’s life, jumping from body to body regardless of gender, race, culture, etc., and it was this original and creative idea that led me to actually buy the book. I am so glad that I did, because I was not disappointed. Every entry/chapter records a day in A’s life, and so as A experiences life from so many different perspectives, so do we. To me, Levithan handled this brilliantly, and this book is definitely an amazing read.

Plot:

Although some might complain that the beginning is slower compared to the rest of the book, the opening of this book shows clearly the reality of A’s life, which I think is crucial to understanding the whole book. Once A meets Rhiannon, the love interest, I had already begun to see things from A’s perspective, and I could understand A’s motives and feelings.And if you’re a romantic person, then this book is definitely for you! The romance between A and Rhiannon drives the plot and was so well-done that I could not put this book down; I read it in two days. That being said, while I was completely addicted and caught up in the plot, I could easily see the whole love-at-first-sight, instalove phenomenon happening from the very beginning. I’m not a fan of instalove and was bothered by it occasionally while reading. However, if nothing else, the romance here is realistic–to which I say a huge thank you to Levithan–and shows the struggles of relationships (both normal and completely abnormal, as in A’s case).

Other than the instalove, I can only criticize the ending, which I will not spoil for you. All I can say without giving away anything is that Levithan leaves a lot of questions unanswered, both plot-related and idea-related. Because of this, I couldn’t get the book off my mind for days afterward, which is a good thing. Overall, I would NOT stay away from this book just because of the ending. It is still worth your time.

Characters:

Some people are bothered by A’s personality, for a myriad of reasons, but I loved A. Although I constantly had to reconstruct my thoughts on character gender, telling myself that A is neither a girl nor a boy, the character was extremely relatable and likeable to me. And because of the non-gender characteristic and abnormal life, A saw the world in a way that was so fresh and different and wonderful to me.  I loved the narrative, I loved the perspective, and I loved reading from A’s point of view.

Similarly, I also felt that Rhiannon was a strong character, realistic and relatable, though she frustrated me on several occasions for her reactions to A’s changing identity and appearance. However, I think this was intentional, and if nothing else, meaningful, because most of us would react the same way if we had to rethink our whole worldview for the person we loved.

Writing quality:

As mentioned before, I loved A’s point of view and perspective, which forced me to rethink my ideas of gender and appearance. A (or Levithan, rather) had a very blunt and yet beautiful way of telling events and looking at things that I appreciated. As a result, he first person point-of-view actually enhanced this book, and the writing was a joy to read.

 

Who do I recommend this to?

  • Fans of John Green’s writing
  • Realistic fiction readers
  • Romance readers
  • High school, college, and beyond (warning: mentions of suicide, drug use, sex)

 

 

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