Book Review: The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer A. Nielsen

shadow_throneI was really excited for the release of the final book in the Ascendance trilogy. In it, Imogen is kidnapped AGAIN, King Vargan of Mendanwal (remember him?) launches an attack on Carthya, and ***spoiler alert*** Imogen dies.

I appreciated the fact that there was a lot of battle scenes, but, in a way, it was a bit of a let down, being of the action-adventure genre, and you’d expect a lot more of the “action” part. However, there is a little bit of romance in it as well, and that was one of the things that I didn’t really like about it; for others it may be just the thing that makes the book one of their favorites.

I had expected a lot more from the “thrilling” conclusion to the Ascendance trilogy, but if there’s nothing else to read, I say go for it. Who knows? It may be just the right thing for the reader. Appropriate for all ages, like the two books before it, it was good in some parts, and just meh in others. Overall, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it, but it’s an okay read. I would probably rate this a 7 out of 10, while the others before it were a lot better. In my opinion, after having great expectations for this book, I consider it to be a bit of a let-down.

-Linna C., 7th grade

Book Review: Paper Towns, by John Green

paper_towns“At some point, you gotta stop looking up at the sky, or one of these days you’ll look back down and see that you floated away, too.”

Paper Towns is one of John Green’s lesser known novels, but I think it’s one of his best. A novel about an awkward boy who is in love with a girl far out of his league, its very similar to Looking for Alaska. Accompanied by his two best friends, the main character, “Q” embarks on a journey to find his lifelong crush, Margot Roth Speigelman after she runs away from home for the fifth time. The characters are quirky and lovable and each one has a unique personality and sense of humor to contribute to the plot.

“That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on color instead of taste.”

Quirky and filled with light humor, Paper Towns is not only a story about love and adventure but is a fun and entertaining novel that will make you laugh with every page.

-Sara S., 10th grade

Book Review and Music Pairings: Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society, by Adeline Yen Mah

chinese_cinderella_secret_dragon_societyAs devastatingly drawn in Adeline Yen Mah’s autobiography, Chinese Cinderella, Adeline lived a terrible childhood in Shanghai (see my review here). However, to get away from the cruelty and the monstrosity of her upsetting life, she wrote stories about what she endured. One piece of writing was turned into a book: Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society.

The story begins with Adeline seeing a wonderful acrobatics show in the park one day. They hand her a business card with some words scripted on it that foreshadows the next few chapters. She walks home to her beloved Aunt’s house to find a man talking to her. Adeline learns his name is Master Wu, and he teaches Kung Fu. This is the start of a new beginning for Adeline. Master Wu was speaking in English with Adeline and decides that the name CC for Chinese Cinderella would really fit Adeline. So she is referred to as CC from then on.

CC’s aunt leaves to take care of a family member on a far-off island. CC knows that she will miss her aunt, but it is not until she gets kicked out of her own house by her father that she realizes how homesick for her aunt she becomes. She keeps wandering all by herself, alone and afraid until she comes to the park where just the day before she had seen the amazing Kung Fu acrobats. She rushes to a gardener nearby and wonders when they would perform next. He leads her right into them via…The Secret Dragon Society of Wandering Knights. CC has found her “home.” At this point in the story, I thought of the song “I can go the distance” from the Disney movie, Hercules. After all of CC’s troubles and wanting to belong, she had found the place. While enduring the rigorous training to become a Kung Fu master, her father calls her and wants her back home. She pretends she’s dead.

In both Chinese Cinderella and Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society, CC had some epic adventures. She is a character of great strength, and I admire her courage and potential. I felt like I was a part of her life while reading this story. Though I have never experienced devastating hardships like the ones she faced, I can draw inspiration from her promise to never give up and use it when I face my own challenges.

When you read a book about a character, real or not, who survives against all odds, how do you feel? Inspired? Moved? Motivated? And do you think you would be able to handle the situation? For example, I don’t think I would have the strength to survive being kicked out of my home and have the courage to join a Kung Fu society all within a day. Let me know your thoughts.

By the end of this book, I feel as though an uplifting song like “Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas should be played in the movie version of this 10 out of 10 book. It reminds me of all of CC’s adventures as a Kung Fu fighter and her friends she made in the Society.

-Maya Salem, 6th grade

Book Review: The Darkest Minds, by Alexandra Bracken

‘ It feels like we should do something,’ he said. ‘Like, send her off on a barge out to sea and set her on fire. Let her go out in a blaze of glory.’ Chubs raised an eyebrow. ‘It’s a minivan, not a Viking.’
― Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds

darkest_mindsI just recently put down the book that has been taking up most of my life lately. Captivating. Funny. There are twists and turns up and down the storyline. The Darkest Minds, in my eyes, has the complete checklist for being the next The Hunger Games or Divergent.

According to the author, Alexandra Bracken, “This series has so much more to offer. It really is a near-future thriller with romance, sic-fi, and dystopian elements thrown in, and it’s meant to feel as though something like this could happen tomorrow.” All around the country, people are picking up this book and reading it, becoming a hostage to brilliance of the writer. This book is amazing and I, without a trace of doubt in my mind, give it five out of five stars. Trust me, this is a book that you do NOT want to miss out on.

Anyway, picture this; the US has fallen victim to a disease that only affects ten to seventeen year olds and has already taken 98% of the youth population (I.A.A.N.). You are a part of the remaining 2%. A scared and paranoid government (“They were never scared of the kids who might die or the empty spaces they would leave behind. They were afraid of us- the ones who lived.”) create camps strung across the nation for the remaining kids- you get taken there and you are left. It was the day of her tenth birthday when Ruby was forgotten. Her parents locked her in her garage and called the police. Something was terribly wrong. She might have survived I.A.A.N. but life didn’t go on normally. She came out of it with uncontrollable abilities. Ruby was taken to a camp for six years where they were sorted, red-the highly dangerous ones, orange- the dangerous ones, yellow, green and blue. Working hard and being beaten, she discovers now, at the age of sixteen, she’s a dangerous one. Once the truth is out, she has to trust a total stranger to get her out. And soon.

Now on the run, Ruby joins a small group of runaways just like her, desperately searching for a safe haven- East River. Liam, the leader, falls hard for Ruby and although she wants to give in, she knows that she can’t get near him. Not since what happened to her parents. Once they reach East River, nothing is as it seems, especially its mysterious leader. In the background though, there are forces at work. Groups of people who will do anything to get Ruby in their team to rebel against the government. Ruby will be faced with the fates of everyone she loves in her hands, a decision that can mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living. This book is so amazing and definitely my favorite. Its a must-read. A masterpiece this great has to be given a try. Its only the best choice.

“The Darkest Minds hide behind the most unlikely faces.” You will not regret the choice.

-Danielle T., 7th grade

Book vs. Movie: The Fault in Our Stars

fault_bookvsmovieI believe everything wonderful there is to say about John Green’s The Fault in Our Starts has already stated several times over, not only on this site, but everywhere. Although it doesn’t need repeating, this is an incredibly powerful story about the star-crossed love between Hazel Grace and Augustus. The movie had to live up to a bestselling book, not to mention the large dedicated fan base that has high expectations, and it did not disappoint.

How to describe the movie? It was grand. Like a roller coaster that only goes up, the movie will make you feel all the things. Being in a movie theater on opening weekend is a very different experience than reading a book alone at your leisure.The particular theater I was in consisted mainly of teenage girls in blue sweatshirts with the little okay bubbles. The theater was split between the people who screamed at everything from the title to Augustus raising an eyebrow and the people who told the screamers to be quiet so they could watch the movie. Both groups just had different ways of showing their excitement.

For anyone out there who believes that they shouldn’t read/watch The Fault in Our Stars because it’s a cancer story or a stupid romance novel is misinformed. This is a story about love between two teenagers who just happen to have cancer. They both have their own quirks, Augustus looking for metaphors and Hazel using words like harmartia (fatal flaw).

Now to the differences from the book to the movie. They were minor and never took away from the feeling. These details include Augustus telling Hazel she looks like a specific actress (in order for her to come over and see a movie), Augustus telling Hazel he wrote his number in the book he lent her (which I always thought was so cute), Hazel’s friend she met at the mall that one time, Hazel informing Isaac she got super-hot after his procedure, Augustus’s former girlfriend, the naming/selling of the swing set, (and probably several more details I failed to notice). I think I only noticed these things because I was looking for them. Otherwise, all the great quotes to love and the moments that are shared remain the same.

Is the movie or the book better? Usually is a simple answer: the book. But this is not the case. Not that I’m saying that the movie is obviously superior either. Both the movie and the book tell the same story, just through different medias. If at all possible, I’d suggest both reading the book and watching the movie because only doing one is just okay. Okay?

-Nicole G., 10th grade

Series Review: The Immortals, by Alyson Noel

immortals

If you are bored at home or just looking for a good book to read, I would got to your nearest bookstore or library and check out these books. When I started reading this series, I literally couldn’t put the book down. It’s sooooooo good. (Although I recommend it more for teenagers. Sorry to those of you who are tweens, one more year till you are an official teenager.)

This is one of those series where you can’t tell what the next book is about or else it totally ruins the book before, so I will try my best not to ruin it for anyone.

Sixteen-year-old Ever Bloom is not exactly what you find as your average teenager. Oh sure, she looks like everyone,  talks like everyone- that is, if she talks at all. Eliminating her drab wardrobe, hood over her head, and earbuds stuffed in her ears all the time, she is as normal as normal can be, except for the fact that she is a psychic. She can hear people’s thoughts and see their auras. Ever since Ever’s family died in a car accident a year ago, her life has been quite different. Ever has experienced nothing but emptiness and pain. With her only friends Haven, a goth girl, and Miles, a gay boy, Ever has been able to mange at her new school. When Damen August, a drop dead gorgeous seventeen-year-old, enrolls at her school, Ever’s world is turned around.

The only thing strange about this super hot new student is that Ever can’t seem to hear his thoughts and he doesn’t seem to have an aura. In the first book, Evermore, Ever tries to figure out Damen’s feelings for her. She discovers his unconditional love for as well as another secret. Damen may be the reason why she is a psychic. Unfortunately, there always has to be a bad guy in the book and that bad guy is Drina. With her gorgeous, fiery red hair and striking green eyes, she poses a threat to Damen and Ever’s love. Ever sees Drina as competition for Damen’s love. To find out more you are just going to have to read the first book, Evermore.

The second book of this series is Bluemoon. When a new student named Roman comes to Ever’s school, things seem to get a little out of hand. People who were thought to be worst enemies are now best of friends and everyone seems act differently, even Damen. Ever must figure out what Roman has done to her group of friends of whom she is worried will never be the same. With Damen growing weaker every day and Roman’s power increasing, Ever is presented with a choice one to reverse time and get her family back while losing Damen in the process or the other to stay with Damen and to try to nurse him back to health. Though, in the end, her choice puts Damen’s life on the line, keeping her and Damen apart.

In the third book, Shadowland, Ever’s choice has brought a curse upon Damen and her that gives them a deadly touch to each other. One single touch could mean the end of Damen’s life. Ever treks into the dark world of magick where she finds an unexpected friend, Jude Knight. Jude works at a psychic shop though he’s not one himself. Ever knows that her love for Damen is eternal and strong, but the tension between her and Jude makes her question herself. Is Jude really the one? Or is Damen her one and only soulmate? Got to read the books to find out. I can’t say anything about the other three books or else that would be spoiling the surprise. Its a good series,  I hope you enjoy it!

-Christina B., 7th grade

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

boy_striped_pajamasFriendship. A simple word that possesses a significant meaning. True friendship is something that is difficult to come by and may arise in the most unexpected way. A friend may share laughs with you or tell you that they love you. But a real friend will have a mutual understanding with you that will allow them to tell you their deepest, darkest secrets. A real friend will always be there for you through thick and thin. And they will be able to put aside their differences to see and accept you for what you truly are.

Written by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of the most compelling stories you will ever read. Nine-year-old Bruno is a child living in Nazi Germany with his parents and older sister. When his father, a military man, accepts a new important job, the family is forced to move from the city to an isolated, mysterious place in the countryside that is surrounded by Nazi soldiers. But strangest of all is the fence—the place where fate brings Bruno to meet a peculiar boy dressed in a pair of striped pajamas.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is truly a wonderful book that is well-written and ultimately shocking. It is narrated by Bruno, a naïve child who does not really understand what it going on. At times, this made parts of the book a little confusing, so I had to infer and use past knowledge to figure out what was going on. For example, Bruno says that his family is moving to a place called “Out-With,” which really means Auschwitz. However, this unique narration was able to convey the overall message with even more meaning.

By exploring the beauty of innocence and the desire for friendship, it makes the story even more chilling and unforgettable. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone over the age of twelve, as it does cover the time of the Holocaust in Germany. For those of you who have read The Book Thief and don’t mind stories that don’t always have the perfect ending, this book is for you!

-Kaylie W., 9th grade

Book Review: House Rules, by Jodi Picoult

house_rulesInexplicably, although unsurprisingly, New York Times Bestselling Author Jodi Picoult has once again succeeded in throwing me into an alternate world of her personal creation—almost instantaneously. I was forced to forget everything pertaining to actuality prior to reaching the final page; alas I sat both cherishing and lamenting the book’s resolution for the entire duration of a four hour return flight from Atlanta, Georgia.

Jodi Picoult seems to possess an unwavering habit of pulling me (and all her readers) into the aperture of her novels—both mentally and emotionally. Although I found myself unable to adequately empathize with the main character of this book in particular, I was able to understand and relate to many of the other characters and their personal anticlimactic struggles.

I really believe that Picoult has not received nearly enough recognition for her incredible contributions to literature (although I am sure it is because I am in 8th grade and her books, it seems, are geared toward a marginally older audience. Plus, no one reads for fun these days! At my school, people read for required Reading Counts points; if it wasn’t for the RC program, I doubt most of them would read at all).

House Rules tells the captivating story of an eighteen-year-old boy named Jacob who has Asperger’s Syndrome (which is declared to be “a form of autism”) and a knack/obsession for forensics (crime scene investigation). Although he is academically empowered and intellectually brilliant, he is also socially impaired; and cannot transform thoughts to words or read social signs as people without Asperger’s can. Little, random things bother him that other people wouldn’t even notice, such as the crumpling of paper, brightly shining lights, or miniscule interruptions to his meticulously planned-out Life Schedule. He cannot lie, for it is nearly impossible for him to tell anything but the undiluted, unmistakable truth; his mother dubs this as “a symptom of Asperger’s” in the midst of the novel. Jacob is a real, living, non-Divergent Candor, so to speak (I realize that describing a fictional character as “real” and “living” is an absurdly paradoxical statement, but I digress).

One aspect of this book that I greatly appreciated was its authentic and…candid…approach to the subject of love. Not only is her perspective true and honest, Picoult seems to voice the things that we are afraid to say. She addresses the fact that love and hate can be felt simultaneously; and that sometimes, even when we love someone dearly, we still wish for them to be a little more perfect than they are in reality. Love, although indescribable in context and unmistakable in its climax, may be transformed into an immovable burden. Jacob’s fifteen-year-old brother, Theo, feels this way when he realizes that he will have to take over caring for Jacob when their mother is no longer able to. He knows he will, though—out of his love for Jacob—which angers him, because he feels like he isn’t given a choice either way. But later in the book, he states that “when he finds a girl he loves and is ready to propose, he’ll just have to make sure she knows that Jacob and himself are a packaged deal, and that she’d just have to deal with it”.

Note: House Rules is a murder mystery. I purposely did not address any specific events/introduce certain characters in fear of giving something away.

This book was enthralling in a way I cannot even put into words. I would recommend this book to anyone who a) likes murder mysteries, b) has read—and liked—any of Jodi Picoult’s other novels, or c) has read—and liked—The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

-Danielle K., 8th grade

Book Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini

kind_of_a_funny_story_coverI came across this movie a few weeks back when a close friend and I decided to watch it as a close to our Friday afternoon. The movie was great in its portrayal of the characters so I picked up the book to immerse myself a step further.

I loved this book. To be frank it’s about teens and it discusses suicide, depression, drugs, and sex, but it’s a beautiful story, with an important message-sometimes it takes a fall to the very bottom in order to pick yourself back up again to get to the top.

Craig shares a story akin to many teenagers nowadays. He’s overly stressed out and pushed to the edge. He has a seemingly bright future ahead of him, but is unable to cope with his mounting stress and begins to consider suicide as one of the last options. Thankfully, instead, he chooses to call a local suicide hotline the night that he was planning to execute his suicide, where they direct him to check himself into the hospital for his own safety. To his parents’ alarm, he checks himself into the mental hospital, the only problem to him being that the teen ward is shut down, forcing him to live with the adult patients where he meets a host of interesting and- not to say the least- crazy characters.

The story that is woven is touching and heartfelt, and surprisingly uplifting for one that is about depression. It strikes many chords with the reader and holds many relatable aspects for anyone who has struggled with depression; on the other end of the spectrum, painting a realistic and tangible picture for those who have not.

The characters were all well written, thought provoking, and real to the point of being relatable, each of them holding an impressive back story of their life. I feel like the fact that the author himself was self-admitted to a mental hospital, makes this book a direct reflection of his experiences, and the characters projected through that are the immediate distinction. It’s one thing to write about such a serious subject from the standpoint of just research, but another to openly admit the personal stay in the ward and grow from the experience, reflecting it in the writing. This makes for a fully tangible approach to the story, where everything is bitingly real, yet incredibly touching.

This book is about suicide, but it’s not depressing; it’s uplifting to say the least- a reminder to give yourself some perspective and realize that however horribly messed up it may seem, you may really need humor as the best way to cope.

One of the aspects that struck me the most was Craig’s personal upbringing. This wasn’t a story where Craig’s hard life was too much to handle; he lived in a family that had a supportive and loving mother, father, and younger sister. He wasn’t in a broken household, and was actually quite privileged, which made me glad that the author was able to illustrate that mental illness does not discriminate. That mental illness is not a problem with the person, but instead on in a balance of chemicals in the mind. Even the most stable person can suddenly become depressed and the author effectively diffuses the cloud of stigmatism that one would encounter surrounding mental illness in the real world.

Through this light-hearted read, you’ll be able to touch on lessons that you may have forgotten, to be reminded again, while following Craig’s story. It is a story that touches on things that are not normally discussed in life, but are nonetheless important, painting an uplifting and humorous shade to the normally stigmatized and rarely discussed subject.

-Sophia U., 12th grade