Monthly Archives: August 2014

Independent Study

Independent Study Book Cover Independent Study
The Testing, Book 2
Joelle Charbonneau
Juvenile Fiction
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Now a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas, Cia Vale attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government's grueling and deadly Testing put her and her loved ones in great danger.



My feelings on “Independent Study” are torn.  On the one hand, it lacks the quick pace and immersive feel of “The Testing”.  On the other, the character development is excellent and sets up for what I hope is a great finale.

There is quite a bit of action packed into the first half of the book, introducing us to new characters and elaborating on others in a sort of “trial by fire” way.  The theme of distrust continues more questions are brought to light about the government and university.  All of that is interesting.

The major flaw in the book is that Cia seems to be superhuman.  There is no problem she can’t solve. She is singled out by multiple groups and people as showing progress, yet there seems to be nothing she has that others in the student body do not also possess.  It’s off-putting  and mars what is an otherwise interesting premise.  The finale has the potential to be great if the Cia situation is somewhat resolved.


Content Warning:


Ashen Winter

Ashen Winter Book Cover Ashen Winter
Ashfall, Book 2
Mike Mullin
Juvenile Fiction

More than six months after the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, Alex and Darla retrace their steps to Iowa hoping to find Alex's parents and bring them to the tenuous safety of Illinois, but the journey is ever more perilous as the remaining communities fight to the death for food and power.



“Ashen Winter” is a solid second installment in the “Ashfall” series by Mike Mullin.  Wasting no time, the book picks up a few months after the first has left off.  Spring, or what can be called spring, has arrived and Alex decided it’s time to set out to find his parents.

Unlike its predecessor, “Ashen Winter” is a page turner from the very first chapter.  I carried it around for a day, reading every second I could, and would have recommended it to everyone I came across if I could have put it down long enough to speak.  In fact, the only problem I have with it is that there is one point that it becomes a bit repetitive, though I even enjoyed those bits.  Anything to get more of Darla and Alex.

Beware, “Ashen Winter” is not for those with weak stomachs.  The attention to detail is incredible and realistic, but that does mean that things are not at all ok in the post-Yellowstone Super-volcanic world.  People under the best of circumstances are capable of horrible things.  Under apocalyptic conditions humanity takes a total nosedive.  Mr. Mullins is not afraid of the gore that ensues.

Along with the gore, I feel like this is a perfect manual for an introduction to Doomsday Prepping. The things that are essential make perfect sense, but I would have never thought of them.  In fact, I am fairly certain I will be one of the first to be flensed.  At least I will have Chapstick now.  (Really. Buy Chapstick.)

The characters are still wonderfully flawed and well-developed, with more being added in seamlessly.  Darla may be my favorite heroine in literature. If this were the Hunger Games, Darla would take out everyone at the Cornucopia and be elected President of Panem before even leaving the arena.  Even Katniss looks weak in comparison to her.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Gore, Animal Deaths, Sexual Situations

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor & Park Book Cover Eleanor & Park
Rainbow Rowell
Juvenile Fiction

"Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try"--



After reading “Eleanor and Park”, I felt an overwhelming urge to write a love letter to Rainbow Rowell.  It was everything my old, nerdy, hipster heart needed and more.

Make no mistake about it, this book is hipster and nerd to the core.  Everything about the 80s that was amazing in terms of pop-culture is here, and everything that needed some good-natured mocking is mocked.  It’s a book filled with nostalgia that can still be appreciated by the young.  In fact, it should be required reading for the new generation of hipsters.

The writing is sparse, but in a good way.  The facts, and only the important ones, are laid out like an outline to a research paper, softened only by the accompanying thoughts and emotions that can only be found in hormonal teenagers finding love for the first time.  It makes it realistic, and also keeps things from becoming overly romantic.  The heaviness of Eleanor’s situation is never overshadowed by the good, and the good is never completely overshadowed by the bad.  Given the subject matter, that balance being so perfectly accomplished is a testament to the author’s talent.

The only reason I am giving “Eleanor and Park” four stars instead of five is the ending.  It seemed rushed, and while somewhat understandable, almost out of character.  Given the easy flow of the rest of the book, it was a jarring awakening from a literary dream.

The ending was not, however, nearly enough to keep me from recommending it to anyone who is old enough to read it.  It is definitely aimed at older readers, with subject matter that is dark and difficult to read.  If given to a younger reader, I would recommend an adult read it and discuss it with them.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, Abuse

Breaking Point

Breaking Point Book Cover Breaking Point
Article 5, Book 2
Kristen Simmons
Juvenile Fiction
Tor Teen

After escaping prison, Ember Miller and Chase Jennings are taken in by the Resistance, but when Ember tops the government's most-wanted list, Chase urges her to run and Ember must decide whether to hide again or fight back.



I really enjoyed “Article 5” and had high hopes for the series.  Unlike many dystopias, this series continued even more strongly than it began, with “Breaking Point” upping the ante on everything in the lives of Ember and Chase.

This book was nonstop from the minute I picked it up, with no lulls to speak of throughout.  I found myself wondering if all of it could happen within the specified amount of time, and much to my surprise, the author answered the question herself in her notes.  Someone was put in charge of making sure their calendar was logistically possible, and they accomplished a herculean test by mapping all of it out.  Though they may be tired, our young protagonists kept it all real.

The writing, which was not bad at all to begin with, noticeably improved with “Breaking Point”.  None of it felt awkward and the flow was good.  The characters developed in important ways,  leaving even the minor characters with fully developed backstories.  It isn’t difficult to care about them and their fate.

I wholeheartedly recommend the series.  It’s a new take on the old dystopian tropes that is both terrifying and thrilling.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.


Content Warning:

Strong Language, Animal Death, Violence, Brief Sexual Situations

No Safety in Numbers

No Safety in Numbers Book Cover No Safety in Numbers
No Safety In Numbers, Book 1
Dayna Lorentz
Juvenile Fiction

Teens Shay, Marco, Lexi, and Ryan, quarantined in a shopping mall after a biological bomb goes off in an air duct, learn that in an emergency people change, and not always for the better, as many become sick and supplies run low.



I began “No Safety in Numbers” with the highest of hopes.  I mean, bioterrorism and a crowded mall?  What could go wrong with that, right?  By about chapter five my entire reason for finishing the book was so I could write a review of it.

That’s right.  I loathed a book so bad that I became obsessed with getting to the end just to be able to share my thoughts on how horrible it is.  Now my moment has come.  Unfortunately, the English language has not yet evolved enough to have words strong enough to describe the complete pile of dung this collection of words creates.

There was one character, the senator’s daughter, who seemed like she was going to be well-developed with an interesting storyline in the first chapter.  Alas, that worked out like a child learning about Santa Claus on the first day of preschool, only to go home and find out being Jewish means no Santa.  Only worse.  Coal in a stocking is a better present than the lack of character development.

The entire plot revolved around being stuck in a mall during a mysterious lockdown, and somehow the author managed to make the book boring without at all conveying any sense of how bored everyone would be, desperate, panicked, or anything else.  The teenagers seemed to want to escape while also having fun like they were Kevin McCalister and their parents went on vacation without them.  Sliding down a bowling lane naked.  Really?

And then there are the complete stereotypes.  We have the jock, the artist, the nerd, the mysterious Indian, the misunderstood kid who is bullied, and more.  There is nothing to create anything deeper than the tropes that come to mind when you think of these tried and true stereotypes.  In fact, the author seemed to just assume everyone already knew those tropes so it wasn’t even really necessary to establish even the most basic aspects of their personalities.

Then we have the writing.  It is written on the level meant for a solid d-level third grader, and yet it discusses some very adult behavior in not-too-subtle ways.  I have not the faintest idea of what age group this is aimed for, but I hope that should anyone ever find out they do not actually put it into that child’s hands.  No child should be exposed to the horribly offensive bad writing, even if they can handle the gratuitous sexual references.

In short: If I die and go to Hell, Satan will be waiting for me with the next two books in the series.


Content Warning:

Strong Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, Horrific Writing


Through the Ever Night

Through the Ever Night Book Cover Through the Ever Night
Under the Never Sky, Book 2
Veronica Rossi
Juvenile Fiction

In this second book in her spellbinding Under the Never Sky trilogy, Rossi combines fantasy and dystopian elements to create a captivating love story as perilous as it is unforgettable.



Aria and Perry continue their quest to escape the tumultuous atmosphere, save the lives of others, and make me question whether or not Perry is supposed to be Fabio in the sequel to “Under the Never Sky”.  Spoiler alert:  Perry has much more access to shirts in this one.

All joking aside, it’s a testament to the author’s skill and style that I neither enjoy this sort of mixed genre nor find myself drawn to the world of rustic, long-haired tribal leaders, and yet I still found myself devouring this book like it was a Big Mac and I hadn’t eaten for a week.  Actually, this book was even more satisfying than the Big Mac would be.  I would have foregone food for another day or two if it meant more of Perry and Aria.

The story is still absolutely ridiculous to me, but the character development is excellent.  All of the actions in the first book make sense as we learn more about each one’s past and become to care about them on a deeper level.  None of them are one-dimensional, even though it would have been quite easy to make them so, and the dialogue is very snappy and witty.  It breathes life into the characters.

My favorite aspect of the book, and I hope I do not live to regret these words when I read “Into the Still Blue”, is that there is an actual, meaningful relationship between characters of the opposite sex that is tender and does not involve any sort of weird posturing and triangle nonsense.  I could faintly hear a chorus of angels singing in the distance as I read about Aria and Roar.  Perfect.

I found this book to be highly enjoyable.  It’s an easy read that isn’t sloppily written and flows in a way only a good author can write.  “Under the Never Sky” has become my guiltiest pleasure outside of “Divergent”.


Content Warning:

Strong Language, Violence, Some Sexual Situations