Book Review: Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph Delaney

last_apprenticeCould you imagine if you had the job of warding off evil creatures from villages?

You would be an outsider that no one talked to, you would never share your information with anyone, and you would have to put up with witches and boggarts and all sorts of nasty creatures. This is why Tom is rethinking the whole idea of becoming the Spook’s apprentice. Also, there is another catch. The Spook’s last apprentice died.

I, for one, would probably run away from that decision. But in being the seventh son of a seventh son, Tom is sort of pushed into the position.

Right off the bat, Tom is hurled headfirst into an adventure of teaching from the mysterious Spook, trickery from a girl with pointy shoes, and travel as he tries to navigate his way through the land to find the witches. This could be enough to give anyone chills and it certainly did for me.

Throughout his journey, he actually meets some friends, and he still has his family to go back to. Although now they are not so sure, because the spirit of a witch Tom had killed came back and possessed the butcher who then almost killed a week old baby. Tom’s family only wants to see Tom in the daytime now, which is kind of sad if you think about it.

The book overall was very good and I can’t wait to read the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and… you get the point. The only thing to watch out for is this: on the back of this book, it says, “Warning: Don’t Read after Dark Especially Page 148.”

If anyone has read this book, leave a comment about what you thought!

-Kyle H., 7th grade

Sites That Make Writing Social

notebook_thislyrelark

photo by flickr user thislyrelark

Reading books is one thing, but writing them is a whole other thing. I think one of the biggest problems that would-be writers face is that writing can be a lonely business, and it’s not just the hours spent writing, but also for young writers, the lack of a fan base. While it’s always important to write for yourself, having readers that can give you feedback and keep you going when working on a long project can make a world of difference. Thanks to the Internet, it is easier than ever to start gathering this fan base.  Websites like Wattpad and Figment and even deviantART are all great for young writers who want to get their work out there.

Each of the websites I mentioned have pros and cons, and they can all be extremely useful resources for writing.  While I have experience with all of them, Wattpad and deviantART are the two that I have the most experience with. Wattpad and Figment are dedicated literature sharing sites, while deviantART focuses on art as a whole, not just literature.

wattpad_productshot-02Between Wattpad and Figment, Wattpad is my favorite. Wattpad allows you to post books either as one large piece or divided into chapters. My favorite part of Wattpad, though, is the fact that it has an app. When you want to read stories the app is amazing- you can even download books for reading offline, just like a typical ebook. You can also write your stories on-the-go using the app. Wattpad also features forums which can be great for getting feedback and getting help if something in your writing is stumping you. You can also send and receive comments as well as private messages. Overall, whether you want to write, read, or connect with other writers, Wattpad can let you do that.

figment_screenFigment is similar to Wattpad in that it is a dedicated literature website. Like Wattpad, you can publish books in chapters. One of my favorite features on Figment is that is allows to post chapters in a draft forum that can only be read by people with the specific links, which can be great for getting feedback about the latest addition to your story. Figment also has a great group system for connecting with other writers. Another nice feature of Figment is their frequent contests. Even though the chances of being the one chosen as the winner out of all the submission might not be great, just the process of entering can be helpful for developing writing. Figment doesn’t have an app like Wattpad, but overall it is still a solid choice.

deviantart_screenFinally, there is deviantART (DA for short). deviantART isn’t a literary focused websites, but rather includes all forms of art. There isn’t a way to specifically post “books” but it does accept literary submissions which can be contained in folders and keep together that way. I think deviantART really shines for getting poems viewed because of the way that they are published. The big thing that I really like about deviantART, though, is how social it is. While Wattpad and Figment allow for communication, DA really has a sense of community. There are groups, forums, private messages, comments– the list goes on. It is this social interaction that really makes DA a worthy place for the literary inclined. If you’re looking for someone that will be there for you throughout the long haul of writing, deviantART might be the way to go.

Overall, the face of writing is changing. No longer does one need to get published to be read by others; now anyone can get their work out there for the world to see.

-Angela J., 12th grade

Manga Review: Fairy Tail, by Hiro Mashima

 fairy_tail     Hey, have you heard yet?
     Of what?
     Of  Fairy Tail.
     Of course I’ve heard of them. You’ve got to living under a rock in order to have not heard of the top magic guild.
     Well, guess what. They’re making the Council angry at them. Again.
     What did they do this time?
     Well, I heard about  this one guy. I don’t know his real name, but he’s nicknamed Salamander. Anyways, he supposedly blew up a whole town. Fortunately, the town was abandoned.
     What a monster!
     I guess that you could call him a monster. However, he is very comical.
     Well, I prefer Titania, the Fairy Queen. I forgot her real name, too, but she is so hot and powerful! 
     Salamander isn’t my favorite; I personally like the exhibitionist.
     Who?
     I don’t remember his name, but he’s very funny because he takes off his clothes off a lot.
     Fairy Tail’s weird.
     I know, but that’s what makes them special. They may be crazy and weird, yet they are the one guild that I feel is the only one that develops a friendship within the guild and treats their other guild mates as if they are best friends…

That conversation you just heard was one from Fiore, a country where magic exists and wizards can perform jobs involving magic in guilds where bonds are formed. Wizard Lucy Heartfilla has been hearing rumors about Fairy Tail for a long time; about how crazy they are, how popular they are, and how devoted they are to one another. When she finally gets the chance to join Fairy Tail by a man with a scarf and his talking blue cat, Lucy unknowingly embarks on a journey that can not only change her life, but others as well. Not that she knows it either, but evil wizards are a-lurking.

I found this manga series very comical, since every part of the above conversation actually happened in Fairy Tail. There’s magic and action, but I personally was blown away by the plot twists. If you like magic, Hiro Mashima makes every wizard have a different magic, which is anything from fire magic to the ability to summon magical weapons and armor. And did I mention that there are dragons?If you don’t like long stories, then I won’t recommend Fairy Tail unless you like stories where there are a lot of plot twists. So far, there are at least 41 volumes with over 378 chapters (not including side chapters listed as “.5″), and it will continue on for quite some time.

The recommended age is for teenagers, but some 12 years might be able to read this series, too. A warning is suitable to kids under the age of 13: there are a few bad words said every once in a while, one guy is usually walking around in his underwear, and some of the girls wear revealing outfits (no private parts shown).The evil characters always seem to play with the character’s minds, some bad words are said, and since there is action, there is a bit of blood and screaming.

Overall, I really like this series. It’s super hilarious, I started even rooting for some of the romantic couples to confess their love, and Hiro Mashima is very good at the plot, as in he makes you think one thing is going to happen, but something else entirely different happens. In conclusion, the part I like most about this series is the devotion Fairy Tail members have to others, even ones not from their guild. The thing they’ll mostly likely do could be anything, from willing to sell their soul to save someone or attacking a whole group of over 50 people just to get one apology.

-Megan V., 8th grade

Book Review: The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann

unwanteds_coverThe Unwanteds is a unique dystopian novel by Lisa McMann depicting the fantasy world called Quill. Each year in Quill, all the thirteen-year-olds are categorized into different classifications: the capable, intellectual Wanteds go to university, and the imaginative Unwanteds are sent to die. Thirteen-year-old twins Alex and Aaron Stowe are awaitng to see what their futures look like. Aaron is hopeful of becoming a Wanted; Alex knows that he would not be with his brother because he had been discovered drawing in the dirt. In the desolate region of Quill, being creative is a wrongdoing, punishable by death.

After becoming an Unwanted, Alex must be confronted by the dreaded Eliminators. There he discovers the mage Mr. Today and the secret world called Artimé, where the Unwanted children from Quill have been hiding. Over in Artimé, Alex discovers talking statues, uncommon creatures, and magic. After taking some surprising twists and turns, the ending will be a surprise for anybody.

This is the perfect dystopian novel for any age. I enjoyed it very much because of the element of magic. Even though the book was thick, I could not put it down. I think that Kirkus Review described the book the best when they said that: “The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter.” After reading The Unwanteds, you may enjoy the second book in the series, Island of Silence. I have not read it yet, but if you have please tell me about it! If you are looking for another anti-utopia book, then The Unwanteds is for you.

-Anmol K., 7th grade

Book Review: Looking for Alaska, by John Green

“How do we get out of this labyrinth of suffering?”

looking_for_alaskaMiles Halter, “Pudge,” is just another ordinary kid. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, and he doesn’t like is boring life in Florida. He is smart though, smart enough to remember famous people’s last words. He wants to leave everything behind and go to a boarding school called Culver Creek in Alabama. He seeks “The Great Perhaps” to change his life.

Once he arrives, he does change. He has friends, one of them is Alaska Young. She is funny, beautiful, clever, and screwed-up. She changes his life completely. She pulls Miles into her labyrinth, shows him “The Great Perhaps,” and steals his heart. Miles likes his new life and understands that Culver Creek isn’t just a school, but “The Great Perhaps.”

He realizes that this could be his chance to start over with a clean slate. Alaska shows him that there is more to life than he ever imagined. She led him to see the world as a twisted labyrinth.

Looking for Alaska is a great story about romance and teen problems. John Green will leave you as an emotional wreck by the time you are done with this book. Books don’t usually make me cry, but this one came close. Don’t get me wrong, this book isn’t all sad. It’s also a comedy in more ways than one. It’s a quick read, which is good because you can read it all over again, afterwards. It’s a compelling and heart-wrenching story that you wouldn’t want to miss. However, I would strongly recommend this book for teens, 13 and up. After all, it is about teenagers and their life issues and interests. This is the first John Green book I have read, and I will definitely read more.

-Sabrina C., 8th grade

Book Review: Confessions of A Murder Suspect, by James Patterson

confessions_murder_suspectJames Patterson is one of my favorite authors, and since he’s also one of the world’s highest paid authors, clearly others share this opinion.  When I saw his latest collaboration with Maxine Paetro, Confessions of A Murder Suspect, I knew I had to read it.

The basic premise of the story is the investigation of the apparent murders of Malcolm and Maud Angel. The Angels are a very powerful family, heading up a huge pharmaceutical company and hedge funds, and it would seem that the list of suspects would be huge. The cops however, narrow the list done to one of the couple’s children given that their deaths occurred in a locked, extremely secure and exclusive apparent complex. Tandy Angel, one of the couple’s children, is not going to sit around and wait for the cops to conduct their investigation so she starts one of her own. Throughout the book family secrets and conspiracies arise and nothing is as it first seems. “Confession” chapters break up the main story and give us more insight into the lives of the Angels.

I personally have mixed feelings about this book. When I was reading it, I was fully engrossed and it kept me turning pages… after I had finished, however, I wasn’t quite so sure anymore. A lot of what makes the story so interesting is the many mysteries that the plot centers on, and once the secrets are revealed, the story loses something. It’s not that the answers to the many questions are underwhelming or unbelievable exactly– they just weren’t what I thought, and a lot of it wasn’t really justified in my mind.

The thing that I had the biggest problem with in this book was the final “who done it” explanation. Without giving anything away, suffice it to say that knowing all of the information about Malcom and Maud that is revealed by that point in the book, it doesn’t seem well justified that their deaths occurred in the way that they did. It was mainly the way that Malcom’s death occurred that bothered me- Maud’s was fairly well explained- but I just can’t fathom why Malcom’s death occurred the way that it did, knowing all of the information about Maud.

On the flip side, I think that the book’s strongest point is the careful balancing of several plots lines. While the main focus is the murder investigation, there are several other mysterious that are expertly tied into the main plot. I loved the many family secrets that the Angel family contained and never felt bored.

Another of the book’s strong features are the “Confession” chapters. They’re a unique way to add more information to the story that wouldn’t have necessarily been easily tied into the story if it was written in the traditional chapter format. There are just enough of these to add something extra to the plot without drowning it out.

When the book ended I was mostly satisfied with the way that things were wrapped up and most of my questions had been put to rest. That being said, room was left open for a sequel, which will hopefully fill in any reaming gaps and extend the story of the Angel family.

-Angela J., 12th grade

How to Improve your SAT Critical Reading and Writing Scores

glasses-272401_640As a high school junior, I have grown to realize the importance of the SAT, and have searched for hours for ways to improve my scores.  From my own experience, reading is ridiculously helpful in improving critical reading and writing scores, so I thought I would provide you guys with a list of books that are both rich in SAT vocab, and enjoyable to read.

Leonardo di Caprio and Carey Mullligan in a still from The Great Gatsby1.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:  Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors of all time.  I love him because he writes about the 1920s, which is pretty much the most interesting era of all time, and his writing style is beautiful.  The Great Gatsby is one of those rare books that I actually recommend reading after you see the movie, as it makes the plot much easier to understand and hey, looking at Leo DiCaprio for three hours isn’t all that bad either.

2.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding:  This was my favorite book that my class read during sophomore year.  It’s a fictional expose on the concept of civilization and it is interesting and terrifying all at once.  I definitely recommend this book if you are a fan of survival stories, adventure, or even horror.

brave_new_world3.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:  This book was required reading for my sophomore year, but I would have read it even if it wasn’t required.  Brave New World is a book that predicts how our future society will look, and also uncovers the startling faults in our own present-day society.

4.  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:  I can sum up all the reasons I love this book in two words: Atticus Finch.  Atticus is one of the main characters in the book and is pretty awesome.  He is one of those silent-but-deadly literary heroes that are so hard to find in books nowadays, and that makes me love him even more.

catcher_in_the_rye_cover5.  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: This book is amazing because it is written exactly the way I think: sarcastically, honestly, and caustically. (Like how I threw in an SAT vocab word?)  Holden Caulfield is one of the most famous literary characters of all time, and you should definitely read the book to find out why.

6.  Animal Farm by George Orwell:  This book is a satire on the Russian Revolution, as different figures of Russian history are represented by farm animals.  The great part about this book is that it will help you learn grammar and a little bit of history at the same time!

Other books that I haven’t read yet, but are rich in SAT vocab include:  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Have you guys read any of these books yet?  What did you think of them?  Are there any other books that helped you with your SAT studying? Reply in the comments and good luck on your SATs everyone!

-Amanda D., 11th grade