Book Review: Just Ella, by Annette K. Larsen

just_ella_coverI really like fantasy books. A lot. It’s pretty much all I read. The big ball gowns, the fancy table manners and the magical elements are something I have loved since I was very young. But this book was different for me because it doesn’t have a typical plot. The heroine is so strong and independent it took me by surprise. I mean, usually these girls forgive their prince for being stupid, get married and live happily ever after. But Ariella isn’t like that. She is bold, daring, rash, and strong. She is a princess that is more complex than Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Her character development is stunning.

Ella is just looking for a distraction from palace life when she meets Gavin, a gardener, on the grounds and they quickly form a relationship. But there are so many more twists and turns than that. Ella’s suitor is not just slimy but practically a criminal, her dad is a little bipolar, and her mother may never be completely happy in her role as queen, not to mention her spiteful sister who says mean things to watch Ariella squirm. The layers that Larsen uses to develop her plot are intense and colorful.

I have plenty of praise for Just Ella. It is a charming book with so much intense emotion and so much drama, yet it never feels really cheesy. The word choice is nice even though the sentence structure is a little awkward. But where I think Larsen really excels is her character development. Every character has their own story and with that story comes a book in and of itself.

I really loved this book and if you love romance or fantasy or princesses at all, I suggest you give it a read. Even if you don’t, this one is different.

-Becka O., 8th grade

Book Review: Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi

never_skyI don’t know if you have heard of this book. It’s become bigger recently but it isn’t the most popular title in my library. However, it is an interesting read and a very unique take on dystopian lit.

This isn’t the ordinary, “girl lives in society – society is corrupt – girl rebels and becomes an outcast. – falls in love with a rebel boy – take down corrupt society or government together – the end.” There are definitely those elements in this book, but there’s also cool new technology and a fresh new writing style. It does share elements with Divergent,
The Hunger Games, The Selection, Uglies, etc. However, I thought it was more than the generic dystopian book that has seemed to take Barnes and Noble by storm.

This book takes place in a world where civilized people live in pods and for them to go outside would mean certain death. Aether, the energy that fills the sky, has been zapping the ground for 6 generations. First it started fires and then it started plagues. There are tribes that live in the wild, savages, but for the average citizen, outside the pods is called the death shop. Even to breathe the air is certain death. So when Aria gets dropped off in the middle of the desert after an attempt to find her mom that kills three of her peers she is certain she will die and never see her mother again. But with the help from a Savage named Perry, she learns to survive and fight. But she continues to hunt for her mother.

This book was not extremely well written but the world Veronica Rossi creates is a fascinating concept that has not really been touched by a lot of dystopian authors. I thought that the storyline was good and the plot twists came out of nowhere. I would recommend it to anyone who likes dystopian or wants to try something new.

-Becka O., 8th grade

Book Review: Matilda, by Roald Dahl

matildaIf you were a super genius with super dumb parents, how would you deal with it? The book Matilda by Roald Dahl is all about how five year old Matilda deals with all the adults in her life that underestimate her and her amazing superpowers, and one adult who becomes her helpmeet.

As a general rule I LOVE Roald Dahl. His witty and creative writing always evokes a laugh out loud response. I find myself genuinely adoring the main character, detesting the notorious villain, and overall loving the world that Dahl creates. It’s a place I hate to leave when the book is over and excitedly anticipate when I crack open one of his books for at least the fifteenth time.

There have been movies and even Broadway musicals based on Matilda, the girl genius, but to me the book will always be magical. Just because it is there that I first envisioned the characters, the very world, that I could not visit myself and I’m sorry but movies will never do that for me. So read this book– and if you’ve read this book, read another Dahl book. If you haven’t read anything by Roald Dahl, I want you to head down to Barnes and Nobles and buy as many Roald Dahl books as possible. Now.

-Becka O., 8th grade

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle – as if you didn’t know the story

wrinkle_in_timeThe title is kind of weird, isn’t it? What kind of time has a wrinkle? In this book by Madeline L’Engle you get the wonderful combination of sci-fi and fantasy that is so hard to find.

Meg Murry’s father was on a mission for the president when he disappeared. No one knows where he is, least of all his family. Meg’s mother misses him dreadfully. Her brothers Dennys and Sandy have stepped up and become the family patriarchs. Her brother Charles Wallace is four years old and much smarter than she is. Meg herself is failing in school and feels awful all the time. However, things change when Charles Wallace meets Mrs.Who, Mrs.What, and Mrs.Which who take them and a boy named Calvin on an adventure through time and space to rescue their father from the terrible planet he is imprisoned on.

This book is absolutely amazing and it really is a classic. Sci-fi isn’t usually my thing but I have made an exception for this one book due to the fabulously written and extremely human characters. The language and the content have caused me to fall totally in love with this book and it has been one of my favorites from a pretty young age. If you have already read the book, there is a book called When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead which has a similar idea and takes a little bit of a more modern view while alluding to A Wrinkle in Time frequently. And if you like Madeline L’Engle, try some over her other books like A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

-Becka O., 8th grade

Book Review: The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, by Erin Dionne

total_tragedy_coverThe Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet was awesome! From Erin Dionne, author of Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies and Tales of an Accidental Band Geek, comes a story about Hamlet Kennedy, a funny eighth grade girl with a few big problems:

1) Her name is Hamlet- what about that is not tragic?
2) Her seven year old sister Dezzie will be attending eighth grade with her- as the math tutor (eek!)
3) Her parents are a walking, talking Renaissance fair who are still stuck in the 16th century and use words like Huzzah!

With issues like this you would expect Hamlet to just curl up under a rock and be homeschooled like any normal person. But Hamlet does not give up. Even if Carter still isn’t interested in her and she’s tanking pre-algebra, she doesn’t (excuse me, does not) let it show. Between her friends, her sister, and the school performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which she plays Puck, she is able to actually enjoy her eighth grade year and even (shh!) has a secret admirer.

The characters are vibrant and funny, the plot is unpredictable, and the writing entertaining. This book is real, funny, and down to earth. Ask for it for Christmas!

-Becka O., 9th grade

Jane Austen Spinoffs Worth The Read

I’m reviewing these awesome books by Jenni James. They are called Pride & Popularity, Northanger Alibi, Persuaded, and Emmalee. They are all modern day parallels to Jane Austen books (suprise, suprise right? Any of you who have read my blogs before probably know I’m borderline obsessed). All these books are set with characters from the same town that interact a bit in all the books. For example, the mean girl in Pride & Popularity is the best friend in Persuaded.

These books, collectively known as The Jane Austen Diaries, are amazing. They have super-good plot development and are true to the original while still adding cool plot twists. I’m going to give you an overview and little summary of each of the four books:

pride_popularity_coverPride & Popularity is all about Chloe Elizabeth Hart, redheaded, four-wheeling, fun loving teenage girl. She is just as determined not to fall in love with Taylor Darcy Anderson as he is to get her to fall in love with him. She is not going to be added to his ever growing list of girlfriends, not going to be associated with all the drama that goes along with dating Taylor. But she starts to wonder if even she can resist his gorgeous smile (even if it is really annoying sometimes).

Northanger Alibi follows Chloe’s little sister Claire to Seattle, Washington where she dreams of finding her very own Edward. As she gets caught up in the world of Twilight she starts creating crossovers she thinks make perfect sense and decides that her (kind of) crush is a vampire and she is the Bella of her very own Stephenie Meyer novel. It’s a really good book even if you aren’t a Twilight fan (Harry Potter all the way!)

???????????????????Persuaded is all about Taylor Anderson’s former girlfriend Kylie’s best friend. Amanda was in love with Greg Wentworth when her cheerleading friends told her to break up with him. That was eight years ago and Amanda still wonders what might have been. Then he shows up again, totally hot, and acting like he doesn’t even remember Amanda. To make things even worse, the same friends that discouraged Amanda eight years ago are now throwing themselves all over Greg (who can fly girls to dates in his private plane). Amanda thinks she has lost any chance with Greg when a huge tragedy draws them close. Close enough that he might even begun to forgive her for breaking his heart all those years ago.

Emmalee follows the little sister of Zach Bradford, Taylor Anderson’s best friend. She is really annoying at first, because she thinks she can get whatever she wants because she has money and a “Bradford” smile. But when something huge happens, she realizes that she needs to make some major life changes, which may or may not involve Taylor’s super hot older brother.

If you have any time over Christmas break pick these up and read them. I guarantee you won’t put them down!

-Becka O., 9th grade

Book Review: Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley

remarkable_coverIn Remarkable, everyone is… well… remarkable. There is Angelina Mona Linda Doe, the famous architect, Anderson Brigby Bright Doe II, a famed author, Anderson Brigby Bright Doe III, who is remarkably good looking and can paint pictures so well they look like photographs, and Penelope Hope Adalaide Catalina, a math genius. With a family like that, you would expect Jane to be absolutely remarkable. But in fact, she is just a normal girl.

Jane doesn’t even have a talent for not having a talent. Her grandpa is so unforgettable that people often forgot he was there. So, even though the whole town goes to Remarkable’s School for the Remarkably Gifted, Jane attends the public school where she gets no attention and is, in fact, the only student in the public school. Until the Grimlet twins arrive. They get kicked out of Remarkable’s School for the Remarkably Gifted, so they end up in Jane’s class– and that is when things begin to happen.

This book was a coming-of-age book with a cute message, however, the story is definitely for a lower reading level than high school. It is a quick and easy read for some pages but I didn’t think the plot was amazing, or the character development was all that great, or that the story took much thought. It was just an average book. My little sister enjoyed it more than I did. There is nothing more to say than the world of Remarkable was entertaining, but the execution was average.

-Becka O., 9th grade

Series Introduction: Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull

fablehaven_coverIn a wonder of a series, Brandon Mull wrote a 5 book masterpiece called Fablehaven. The books are in the same league as Percy Jackson or The Emerald Atlas. With funny, personable characters, this book will appeal to both girls and boys.

Book #1: Fablehaven

Kendra and Seth go relunctantly to their grandpa’s estate in New England while their parents go on a cruise. Although they originally find it boring, Kendra soon discovers a curious journal titled, “Journal of Secrets.” In the journal is one cryptic line: Drink the Milk. Once they find out what this means, their eyes are opened to the world of Fablehaven- a world of creatures from all branches of mythology and Brandon Mull’s imagination combined. Seth, ever the troublemaker gets into some trouble with a witch and some fairies. He also is the reason for his grandpa’s abduction. I won’t say anything about the rest of the book except this: it is amazing!

Book #2: Rise of the Evening Star

Kendra and Seth are back at Fablehaven for the summer and have three new teachers due to the fact that the society of the evening star is rising. The society is trying to open Zzyzx, the demon prison. Kendra also has some cool new powers, which she finds out after a meeting with the Sphynx. Along with all the tutoring they are getting from Tanu the potions master, Vanessa the animal guru, and Coulter, the relics collecter, there is a spy at Fablehaven. But will they be able to fing out who it is before the society gets Fablehaven’s artifact? Read the second book to find out

Book #3: Grip of the Shadow Plague

in the third book, Kendra and Seth are having trouble convincing their parents to let them stay at fablehaven. School is about to start and they have been gone all summer. But something terrible is going on. A shadow plague is beguiling the creatures of Fablehaven, but Seth may be the person to help stop it. Meanwhile, Kendra is traveling to the Painted Mesa reserve in Arizona to try to retrieve another artifact, only to find out they have sacrificed a mission in vain. The ending of this book is too wonderful to spoil.

Book #4: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

In the beginning of this book, Kendra is kidnapped by the society. Later, Kendra and stowaway Seth go to the dragon sanctuary to retrieve another artifact. To retrieve it they must also “borrow” the first horn of a unicorn. Their many adventures in the dragon sanctuary culminate in a great victory and a great betrayal- much worse than book 2. The cliffhanger ending on this one is also killer.

Book #5: Keys to the Demon Prison

With the opening of Zzyzx imminent, all of them end up in the dungeon of the secret fifth preserve which is where the last artifact and their greatest enemy lies. The artifacts are all collected and there is just one obstacle to the opening of Zzyzx- the eternals. 5 immortal humans who must be destroyed and Kendra and Bracken (a super awesome unicorn… Yes, UNICORN) are determined to defend them. Eventually they end up on the island of Zzyzx and… You’ll have to read them to find out!

-Becka O., 9th grade

Book Review: Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

wonder_coverThe book Wonder was truly beautiful, wonderous, and inspiring. It is a realistic fiction about a 5th grade boy going into real school for the first time. This boy has really severe facial deformities and he has had to have tons of surgery. He feels like a normal kid, but to everyone else he has the “Plague,” he looks like a zombie, and other cruel things. When the popular kids gang up on him and he hears his best friend talking about him behind his back, he just deals with it, because “the universe was not kind to [him]. He knows that he is “cool beans.”

Even if you think this book will be, as my friend put it, “another one of those depressing books about kids dealing with bullies in school,” or have something against 5th graders– read it. Everyone must read it. I swear, if you read this book, you will never, ever in your life, look at someone with a facial deformity, wince, and look away. Another good book to read that is more depressing is called Out Of My Mind. I would check Wonder out of the library immediately (I have it checked out right now at my school library). Wonder will change your whole life.

-Becka O., 9th grade

Book Review: The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt

wednesday_wars_coverNewberry Honor books are usually pretty good, but this one definetly wins top 10 on any of my reading lists. The writing was superb, the voice child-like but engaging, the character development definite, and the plot was riveting.

13 year old Holling Hoodhood knows seventh grade will be a nightmare when Mrs. Baker, his English teacher, hates him with a passion for no reason (most of us know that feeling, right?). But the world outside him is much worse than anything the two pet rats could cook up. The year is 1967 and the Vietnam War is raging. Every night on the news is a few more pictures of men crouching in bunkers, trying to survive.

But Holling has plenty of torture in store. Because he doesn’t go to the Jewish temple or the Catholic Church on Wednesday afternoon, he is stuck with Mrs. Baker who makes him read Shakespeare. But Holling soon notices an uncanny parallel between what is going on in his life and the plays he is reading. Eventually he doesn’t mind the Shakespeare. Even if it does end up with him in yellow tights on stage.

The character development of all the characters, even the minor ones in this book is huge and very rewarding. They all seem so alive and complex, which I think is one of the signs of a great author. The writing and the voice, which may be my favorite part, is very much like a 7th grade boy with a humorous outlook on life that reminds me of The Worst Best School Year Ever, by Barbara Robinson.

This book definitely made me think more about life but not in a boring way. I was always excited about what the next story would be and loved looking at life through Holling’s eyes. Everyone should read this book!

-Becka O., 9th grade