Monthly Archives: July 2014

Vampire Academy

Vampire Academy Book Cover Vampire Academy
Vampire Academy, Book 1
Richelle Mead
Juvenile Fiction

St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . .
Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.



Don’t read “Vampire Academy” if you’re looking for something to increase your brain-power.  This is a book meant solely for entertainment purposes.  It fulfills that purpose in a fun way.

I’m not normally one for vampire books, but this one grabbed me thanks to the main character of Rose.  She is the protagonist that no mother would want her child bringing home as a friend.  She drinks, fools around, curses, can be volatile, and is yet one of the most loyal book characters I have ever read.

I recommend this for a beach read or sometime when your brain just needs a break from thinking.  The plot is somewhat ridiculous, but if you don’t dwell on that and focus on the humor it’s a good read.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Strong Sexual Situations, Underage Drinking, Animal Deaths



Matched Book Cover Matched
Matched, Book 1
Ally Condie
Juvenile Fiction

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.



“Matched” is the perfect book to introduce younger readers to the world of dystopias beyond “Animal Farm”.  It explores some difficult issues, including trying to control how people live and think, as well as censorship.  Everything is chosen for them.  What choices they do have are limited to a select few.  The government even controls death.

The content is solidly in the PG category, while still holding enough of a love story to get keep the attention of older readers who enjoy that sort of thing.  It is a relief that, while there are two possible love interests, it is not really a love triangle.  Those are overused and tend to feature at least one unhealthy choice.  This does not follow that pattern, which is a relief to me to know younger readers have access to books who present healthy relationships.

Cassia is a fascinating character who the author uses to highlight the challenges of being different in a society that will not tolerate anyone who strays from the norm.  Good lessons throughout the book that can leave children with a sense of empowerment over those telling them the things they “can’t” be.

It’s an enjoyable read for anyone from fifth grade and up.  A perfect choice for reluctant readers.


Content Warning:

Brief Violence


Unwind Book Cover Unwind
Unwind Dystology, Book 1
Neal Shusterman
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster

In a future world where those between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can have their lives "unwound" and their body parts harvested for use by others, three teens go to extreme lengths to survive until they turn eighteen.



To be honest, I am not sure how to put into words just how profound this book is.  While meant for young adults, I think it presents issues that people of any age should take the time to consider carefully.  It made me rethink many of the views I had that I assumed were firm.

The way the plot evolves is nothing short of amazing.  All three of the main characters are well-developed and come together in a way which is completely plausible.  Their backstories make them feel like real people whose wellbeing is a real concern.  They also are not presented as perfect, or completely imperfect, individuals.  Each is given a complex set of strengths and weaknesses.  The same can be said with all of the secondary characters.  The entire world is brought to life through the vast amount of personalities and intertwining lives.

The author’s writing is superb.  The sentences are structured perfectly to be able to flow smoothly as well as make perfect sense to less advanced readers without losing the gravity of the subject matter.

Be warned:  There is one particular scene in this book that is far more frightening than even the likes of Stephen King has written.  It still gives me the shivers and makes me feel a bit nauseous, and I have a fondness for scary things.  That being said, it is in no way gratuitous, and was a very necessary part of the plot.  If you have a younger reader, be prepared to answer questions.

I love this book enough to give it the rare five stars.  If the rest of his work is like this one, the author will be guaranteed a fan for life in me.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Disturbing Imagery, Brief Sexual Situations


Divergent Book Cover Divergent
Divergent, Book 1
Veronica Roth
Juvenile Fiction
Katherine Tegen Books

Paperback features over fifty pages of bonus materials, including a sneak peek of Insurgent, an author Q&A, a discussion guide, a Divergent playlist, faction manifestos, and more! In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her. Veronica Roth is the New York Times bestselling author of Divergent, the first in a trilogy of dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.



I want to put this out there right from the start:  I have an extremely intense love/hate relationship with this book.  It’s like some form of reader sadomasochism, a punishment that just serves to make me want more.

The plot has more holes than swiss cheese, the sentence structure is written as if meant for a four-year-old, and don’t even get me started on the faction system.  Actually, let me take that back.  I want to get started on the faction system.  It makes absolutely no sense.  Why would someone completely think one way and not even vaguely have a characteristic of the others?  I can see the idea of balance, but this is the most far-fetched division system I have ever read in a dystopian novel, and I have read a lot of them.  I feel like I need to eat some Amity bread to accept this.

And yet, against all reason, I do.  I love this story.  The completely cookie-cutter misunderstood bad boy meets the secret bad-ass girl disguised as a shrinking violet makes my heart go all aflutter.  I think the idea of rolling off of moving trains sounds like fun.  I made my poor wife read it.  We have already pre-ordered the steelbook blu-ray of the movie, which is worse than the actual book.  I even forgive the typos!

This, my friends, is the value of a good story.  If you have a good enough plot, people will forgive literally almost everything.  I’m not proud of my Divergent weakness, but there it is, for all of the world to see.

Content Warning:

Language, Violence,  Brief Sexual Situations

The Testing

The Testing Book Cover The Testing
The Testing, Book 1
Joelle Charbonneau
Juvenile Fiction
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Sixteen-year-old Malencia (Cia) Vale is chosen to participate in The Testing to attend the University; however, Cia is fearful when she figures out her friends who do not pass The Testing are disappearing. 100,000 first printing.



Cia is a girl from a small colony who is chosen to go, not by choice, to compete for a spot at the only university in her country, located in Tosu City.  Only the best and brightest are chosen for the honor.

The plot does somewhat resemble the Hunger Games, but I can assure you that the author has created a fully fleshed-out world that stands on its own without a reliance on the structure of Panem.  The imagery is vivid, and the scenes are very intense.  Once she arrives at Tosu City there are no real lulls in the action.  It’s a one sitting type of read.

The book is extremely well written with realistic dialogue and flowing sentences. Plot structure is solid with a multitude of elements to appeal to lovers of dystopian, romance, and survival stories.  The characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, but the fact that they were not can be directly attributed to the situations in which they find themselves in.  Cia simply does not have time to get to know her fellow university candidates in much detail.

Speaking of Cia, she is a great character who enters the story somewhat sheltered but not naive.  She learns quickly, and she is not easily pushed around by those in charge.  This is a refreshing change from many dystopias.

Overall, it’s a fun and quick read that will leave you on the edge of your seat and wanting more.


Content Warning:

Violence, Brief Sexual Situations

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner Book Cover The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner, Book 1
James Dashner
Juvenile Fiction
Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Sixteen-year-old Thomas wakes up with no memory in the middle of a maze and realizes he must work with the community in which he finds himself if he is to escape.



This book is difficult to put down from the first page.  Thomas arrives with no memory of anything aside from what happens from when he opens his eyes forward.  As readers, even though it is written in the third person, we are left to discover things exactly as Thomas does, leaving us to feel his fear and confusion as though it is our own.

The plot has quite a bit of action, but also some moments where things go slowly.  That could create a problem for the reader were it not for the ever-present questions slowly being answered.  While most are resolved, it does leave some unanswered, and brings up new ones.  It’s a real cliff-hanger.

This is a good book for reluctant readers while still being sophisticated enough for adults.  I recommend it for grade 6 and up.


Content Warning:


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Book Cover Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, Book 1
Ransom Riggs
Juvenile Fiction
Quirk Books

After a family tragedy, Jacob feels compelled to explore an abandoned orphanage on an island off the coast of Wales, discovering disturbing facts about the children who were kept there.



I’m not sure what I expected judging by the cover and the blurb, but this was most certainly not it.  It exceeded any expectations I could ever have for it.

Young Jacob grows up listening to his Grandfather’s fantastical tales, never believing they were true after he hit school age.  Then he makes a discovery that will change his life forever, and one that can be compared to a Lemony Snicket type of tale for a slightly older age group.

However, it is much more than that.  This is one of the rare books that weaves a unique and new fairytale.  It isn’t happy, and it isn’t sad.  Great challenges are faced.  Children are in peril.  It’s everything the Brothers Grimm tales were before we somehow decided our children needed things to not be too scary or dangerous.

The world is incredibly rich and full of surprises.  Each child has a story, and none of it is revealed too early.  It leaves us as confused and wanting more as Jacob himself does.  The imagery is amazing, and the use of actual vintage photographs is a brilliant storytelling tactic that also leaves you wondering what happened to those children along with their fictional counterparts.  I would recommend the book for the photos alone.

Well-written, no plot holes, and a desire for more make this one worthy of a five-star rating seldom seen from me.  The world needs more fairytale and adventure.  I have little doubt that this one will endure for generations to come.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Animal Death


Ashfall Book Cover Ashfall
Ashfall Trilogy, Book 1
Mike Mullin
Juvenile Fiction
Tanglewood Press

After the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano destroys his city and its surroundings, Alex must journey from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Illinois to find his parents and sister, trying to survive in a new society.



I absolutely love this book, and the only reason for four stars instead of five is that I felt the beginning dragged a bit.  Once the action got going I literally could not put it down.  No joke, I carried it into the grocery store with me.

Mr. Mullin’s novel is most certainly not for the faint of heart.  It pulls no punches in the gore and general lack of morality that would surely accompany a catastrophic event the size of the Yellowstone super volcano.  It’s all there in stark reality:  death, greed, abandonment, hopelessness.  People can lose their minds in those types of situations.

The characters are excellently written, and Alex has an amazing and believable character arc that flows as though Mr. Mullin actually observed someone being forced to grow up too quickly in a time of crisis.  He’s still a child, but we get to see him slowly turn the corner toward becoming a man.

Now on to possibly my favorite female protagonist in the history of young adult (maybe even adult) literature:  Darla.  She is both entertaining and tough as nails.  I have no doubt that she would not only take out Katniss at the beginning of the Hunger Games, but also every other tribute.  This girl has everything.  If for no other reason, read this book to meet her.  Excellent character.

Very few things please me more than an author who is not afraid to write teenagers as they actually are, as opposed to the more sanitized versions preferred by adults.  This author is one of the best at that.  Sure, they may die, but Alex is still a boy.  What boy his age doesn’t think about sex?  I have seen some call it unrealistic, but the instinct of humans is actually to become more sexually active when they feel their species is being threatened.  This is the same throughout the animal kingdom.  So we have a teenager, hormones, and a primal instinct to protect the species.  If sex didn’t come up the novel would be ignoring the obvious.  Bravo!

Highly recommended read, and to be honest, I now have a strong urge to stock up on condoms and Chapstick.  The disaster and fallout are written so vividly that suddenly doomsday preppers don’t look so strange after all.  When a road melted in Yellowstone, I was quite ready to leave the country.  That’s a good book.


Content Warning:

Strong Language, Violence, Gore, Animal Death, Strong Sexual Situations

Article 5

Article 5 Book Cover Article 5
Article 5, Book 1
Kristen Simmons
Juvenile Fiction
Tor Teen

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., have been abandoned. The Bill of Rights has been revoked and replaced with the Moral Statutes. There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behavior—instead, there are arrests, trials, and maybe worse. People who get arrested usually don't come back. Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard for her to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. That life in the United States used to be different. Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs, like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and how to pass the random home inspections by the military. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow. That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.



“Article 5” is a dystopian novel that is set in a world where a super-charged version of the moral majority has taken over in a civil war.  Ember is forcibly removed from her home for committing the “crime” of being born out-of-wedlock.  When she is arrested by the former boyfriend who was drafted into the military, her entire world seems to fall apart.

This was a terrifying book for me and a good cautionary tale against becoming overzealous with ruling by morality alone.  What I would have liked to see more of was the backstory of how the war started and why they ended up in such a dire governmental system.  The book would have been much more enjoyable had those explanations been present, but I am holding out hope that it is covered in the next installment.

Ember is a character about whom I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, she has led a sheltered life in one very small section of a city, only to be suddenly yanked into a very terrifying world.  On the other, she seems hellbent on not trusting Chase, who can reasonably expect to be changed due to traumatic circumstances.  The problem is that she does not bother to ask, or believe a word or action from him, and it became frustrating to me.  She is an intelligent girl, so writing her with such a slow ability to adapt in some areas while adapting quickly in others was very out of character.

The action is what makes me want more.  It was fast-paced and intense.  Lots of questions are unanswered, but the end of the book and change in character awareness make me want to know more.  I have high hopes that the next book will build on the improvements found at the end of this one.  The writing is solid and obviously from a talented author who has the potential for great storytelling.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations

Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die
Dorothy Must Die, Book 1
Danielle Paige
Juvenile Fiction



Amy is a girl with a less than stellar life in her little Dusty Acres trailer park in Kansas.  That is, until a tornado picks up her and her mother’s pet rat and unceremoniously deposits them in Oz.  Of course, every girl from Kansas knows the story of Oz, and Amy is more than a little shocked to discover that it is nothing like the beloved movie of her childhood.

Believe me, this book is the last thing you want to pick up if you’re looking for a feel-good story featuring Dorothy and Toto.  This is a brutal story with violence that will churn your stomach and quite possibly give you nightmares.  And yet, it is intensely enjoyable and loyal to the lore of Oz created by Frank L. Baum.  Purists may or may not like it depending on their stomach constitution.

For my part, I loved it.  Amy and Knox are excellent characters you want to know more about, though in this first book of the series, Knox remains for the most part a mystery.  While there is some romance, the author has chosen to make us wait for it to be more than a feeling in the background.  Along with Knox, there is a cast of other fascinating characters who play into the current political climate of Oz and leave you wanting more.

Unfortunately, we all have to wait for that more.  This was a good set-up to the series, giving us a background without any resolution whatsoever.  It left us with nothing but questions and the suspicion that nothing is what it seems.  I recommend it for those who like their Oz mixed with some horror and gore.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Gore