Monthly Archives: August 2014

Love and Other Unknown Variables

Love and Other Unknown Variables Book Cover Love and Other Unknown Variables
Shannon Alexander
Juvenile Fiction
Entangled: Teen

Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswerable problems. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck. The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy pawing at her—until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy. By the time he learns she's ill—and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness—Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second).



This is a review of an ARC provided through Netgalley by Entangled Press in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t even know where to begin with how much I love “Love and Other Unknown Variables.”  Love may not be a strong enough word.  There are so many things about it that make it a breath of fresh air in the Young Adult genre.

Shannon Lee Alexander’s writing seems effortless and flows in a way that pulls you in quickly and keeps you engaged, making it nearly impossible to put it down.  The characters are all intriguing and the dialogue is realistic for teenagers, something not always present, which adds to the relatibility of the characters to the target audience.

I was thrilled to find a coming-of-age romance narrated with such tenderness by a male narrator.  Charlie is flawed but likable, and grows in a way that is inspiring.  It was especially wonderful to see how siblings can grow together and become friends as they age, as well as how those we think we know can be so much more than we give them credit for.

I can’t say much else without spoiling the book, but the themes of difficult choices and thinking outside of the lines, both literally and metaphorically in this case, are explored with an excellent mix of humor and gravity.

I feel privileged for the opportunity to be one of the first to read “Love and Other Unknown Variables.”  My honest opinion is that the book, as well as Shannon Lee Alexander, will become a force to be reckoned with in the world of Young Adult literature, something which is well-deserved.


Content Warning:

Language, Sexual Situations


Dataclysm Book Cover Dataclysm
Christian Rudder
Crown Pub

An irreverent analysis of what our online lives reveal about who we really are draws on information from major online sources, from Twitter and Facebook to Reddit and OkCupid, to explain how the science of human behavior is dramatically evolving. 125,000 first printing.



The copy I am reviewing was received through Netgalley from Crown publishing in exchange for an honest review.

In “Dataclysm”, Christian Rudder embarks on the mission to bring Big Data to the masses. Big History and Big Economics are popular today, and I think this book is going to achieve the mission with great success.

Math is not known for being embraced by many, so Rudder’s work was cut out for him.  His subject choices and examples were well-chosen and interesting, and concepts are explained in a way not “dumbed down” too much, but easily understood by anyone wishing to put the effort into learning about them.  At a few points it became a bit too dense with information, and that is why I give the book four stars instead of five.  I wish four and a half were an option, because while it keeps it from having the ability to capture the attention of any reader who may pick it up, I believe that the author is respecting those who want to truly gain knowledge, thereby making the density not a necessarily bad thing.

The facts and writing were both funny and horrifying.  One minute I would be laughing at the idea that Belle and Sebastian are the whitest band in America, and the next I was completely uncomfortable with the racism that is inherent in the population as a whole.  It’s easy to say “I am not racist”, but quite different when the patterns of a large group are put on display and analyzed and you recognize your own behaviors in there.  It’s food for thought, and something most of us are not even conscious that occurs, so the hope that we can now see it on display and work to make changes in our thoughts is a very real one.

The most unsettling question raised is whether or not the social gains are worth the privacy we are sacrificing.  Since it’s a new field, it’s up to the people to set standards, so learning about it is more than educational or entertaining.  Without knowing what is going on, we cannot object or consciously aid in what it’s used for.

Also, please be sure to read the author’s notes at the end.  He does an excellent job of explaining where and how he got the data, as well as the approaches and controls he used in his research.  It’s fascinating and adds the legitimacy numbers often require.

If you enjoy facts, data, charts and graphs (the ones in “Dataclysm” are excellent), or are inquisitive in any way I recommend you give this a try.  The first couple of chapters may feel a bit overwhelming, but eventually the read becomes easier, and it is well worth the time.


Content Warning:

This isn’t a book for kids, nor is it marketed as such, though teenagers may enjoy it.  There are some words some may find objectionable, and the usage of data from a dating site does make sex a topic that frequently comes up.


Graduation Day

Graduation Day Book Cover Graduation Day
The Testing, Book 3
Joelle Charbonneau
Juvenile Fiction
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In book three of The Testing series, the United Commonwealth wants to eliminate the rebel alliance fighting to destroy The Testing for good, and though Cia is ready to lead the charge, will her lethal classmates follow her into battle? 75,000 first printing.



I absolutely loved “The Testing”, and while a bit disappointed in “Independent Study”, I still enjoyed it.  I wish I had stopped before I read “Graduation Day”.

The one redeeming factor of “Graduation Day” is the action, so I will begin there.  The action sequences were intense and real page turners. Unfortunately, there was not enough of it.

It all seems like the author is trying too hard to put in plot twists.  Some of it came nowhere and made no sense.  Characters made decisions not in line with what had been established about them previously, and at some point Cia became just as cold and uncaring as those she was trying to overthrow.  The ending made her seem like she cared about no one but a cause- the same way of thinking that created the testing in the first place.

I wanted to love this book, or to even just “like” it.  Neither of those are possible. There are barely even any resolutions to the multitude of problems in their society. It was enough of a letdown to make me regret reading past the first book.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence

Into the Still Blue

Into the Still Blue Book Cover Into the Still Blue
Under the Never Sky, Book 3
Veronica Rossi
Juvenile Fiction

The race for survival comes to a thrilling close in the earth-shattering conclusion to Veronica Rossi's New York Times bestselling Under the Never Sky trilogy. Their love and their leadership have been tested. Now it's time for Perry and Aria to unite the Dwellers and the Outsiders in one last desperate attempt to find the fabled Still Blue and bring balance to their world. Perfect for fans of the Hunger Games and Divergent series, Veronica Rossi's trilogy has been called "inspired, offbeat, and mesmerizing" (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) and "incredibly original" ( Brimming with romance and danger and building to a climax that will leave you breathless, Into the Still Blue brings this "masterpiece" trilogy to an unforgettable close (



With the “Under the Never Sky” series being one of my favorite guilty pleasures, I could not wait to get my hands on “Into the Still Blue”.  Aria, Perry, Roar, Cinder and Company were in a bad situation the last time I saw them, and I was glad to know the action picked up immediately from where the previous book ended.

Before I go any further, I need to say that I did enjoy the book.  It was a fast and fun read, and I do not regret reading it.  The characters are fun, the plot still makes no sense but for some reason I did not care, and I am a total Perry and Aria shipper.

With that out-of-the-way, I was still irritated to no end by the sheer predictability of the book.  It feels as though not one single curveball was thrown, and I could have spared myself the few hours it took me to read it by just knowing everything would happen exactly as I thought it would, with one exception, and that is that the author left a major plotline unresolved.  In fact, it goes completely unmentioned.  It is as if it never happened, and that is a pet peeve of mine.

I enjoyed it, but it felt way too phoned in to count as a satisfying conclusion to an otherwise fun story.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations


The Collection

The Collection: A Registry Novel Book Cover The Collection: A Registry Novel
The Registry, Book 2
Shannon Stoker
Young Adult Fiction
William Morrow Paperbacks

How far would you go to control your own destiny?

Mia Morrissey has escaped: from America, from the Registry, from the role she was raised to play—a perfect bride auctioned to the highest bidder. She's enemy number one to the world's largest power, and there's no turning back now.



“The Collection” picks up immediately from where “The Registry” ended, with Mia in the company of Riley and Andrew and Carter being held captive.  Riley is my favorite character in the series up to this point, and I hope we get to see more.

My feelings on “The Collection” are very mixed.  The plot is very imaginative, and it brings up many talking points, including women’s rights, war, etc.  It is clean enough for middle readers without being too juvenile for the older young adult crowd.  Those points alone are worth the given three stars.

Unfortunately, character development is sparse, and the writing contains way too many “he said, she said, they saids”.  I feel like if “said” were to be removed entirely, being replaced with more descriptive words, it would have been a much more pleasant read.  It would have been wonderful to know more about the internal conflicts faced by each character.  Instead, it is left somewhat dry and unexplored.

All said, I am still going to give the third installment of the series a read, because the plot has me hooked enough to want to know how it ends.


Content Warning:

Violence, Sexual Situations, Unwilling Drug Use


All We Had

All We Had: A Novel Book Cover All We Had: A Novel
Annie Weatherwax
Adult Fiction
August 5, 2014

For thirteen-year-old Ruthie Carmichael and her mother, Rita, life has never been stable. The only sure thing is their love for each other. Though Rita works more than one job, the pair teeters on the edge of poverty. When their landlord kicks them out, Rita resorts to her movie-star looks and produces carpet-installer Phil, "an instant boyfriend," who takes them in.

Before long, Ruthie convinces her mother to leave and in their battered Ford Escort, they head East in search of a better life. When money runs out and their car breaks down, they find themselves stranded in a small town called Fat River where their luck finally takes a turn. Rita lands a steady job waitressing at Tiny’s, the local diner. With enough money to pay their bills, they rent a house and Fat River becomes the first place they call home.



I received this book for free from Scribner through the Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

“Every character is a protagonist in their own story” is a quote I once heard (apologies, but for the life of me I can’t find the person who actually said it), and on my own attempts at writing, I have always tried to keep it in mind.

“All We Had” is hands-down the greatest example of this concept in action I have ever read.  The heart of the story is Ruthie and her young mother, but every single character has a deep and rich history that is revealed through remarkably little prose.  I found myself wondering what happened to them all after the last page, and I imagine I will do so for quite some time.

This book is a slice-of-life story that is a very easy read about subject matter that is not easy to read about.  Ruthie shares it all with stark realism, zero nostalgia, and brutal honesty.  There are no feelings of self-pity or self-congratulation.  It is what it is, and that is how the story is told.  As such, it feels raw and honest, ultimately leaving an uneasy feeling in the readers about all of the Ruthies that live within our world.

I don’t want to spoil anything, because in this case the journey is the story, so even a summary feels as though it would give away too much.  I can say that it’s on the list of books I will be giving all of the readers in my life this holiday season.  Annie Weatherwax is a wonderful storyteller, and I look forward to many more novels from her.

Five stars.  I wish I could give more.

Content Warning:

“All We Had” is not actually a young adult book, but I feel like it is an excellent choice for more advanced and mature readers.  There is strong language, violence, sexual situations, rape, and animal death, but none of it is gratuitous or presented too graphically.  In my opinion, the contemporary social issues raised are important and present many good talking points.

The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials Book Cover The Scorch Trials
The Maze Runner, Book 2
James Dashner
Juvenile Fiction
Random House LLC

After surviving horrific conditions in the Maze, Thomas is entrapped, along with nineteen other boys, in an experiment designed to observe their responses and gather data believed to be essential for the survival of the human race.



Once again, there is a second in a series book that I found more enjoyable than the original, though there was more character development and plot in the first, making “The Maze Runner” a better novel all around.  The action is where the appeal is in this one, with “The Scorch Trials” picks up immediately where “The Maze Runner” ended, with the Gladers once again being thrust into a situation they do not understand and have no chance to stop and ponder.

“The Scorch Trials” has action that literally does not stop.  No time is left to think, and the panic felt by the characters becomes very real.  The violence is raised to a higher level than in “The Maze Runner”, so those with weak stomachs should most likely stay away.  In fact, it is taken to a high enough level that the target age group seems to be older.  Gruesome is a good word for it.

The writing is solid and as I said, the plot moves rapidly, making it a good choice for reluctant readers.  There is not much time spent on character development, but it is not neglected, either.  It simply builds naturally on what has already been established in the first book, with a couple of new characters thrown in.  Don’t go in expecting any answers.  “The Scorch Trials” brings nothing but more questions, but it does so in a way that left me eager to find out what is going on, as opposed to frustrated that too much was happening.

A solid read, and I am looking forward to seeing where it all leads.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence


Insurgent Book Cover Insurgent
Diverent, Book 2
Veronica Roth
Juvenile Fiction
Katherine Tegen Books

"As war surges in the dystopian society around her, sixteen-year-old Divergent Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves--and herself--while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love"--



I keep trying to write a serious review of “Insurgent”, but I’m finding it nearly impossible, because I can’t even take myself seriously as a book blogger for loving the entire “Divergent” series so much.

The story is a good one, as long as one sets aside their questioning Erudite nature, but my goodness, it is all so ridiculous.  Why can’t people feel more than one way?  How is it even possible NOT to be Divergent?  These are questions that are not answered in “Insurgent”, and probably will not be answered in “Allegiant”, and I suppose we just accept it all.  And eat more Amity toast.

The entire plot can be summed up by saying that Tris and Four argue and then Caleb does some stuff.  Oh, and we meet Four’s mother.  None of it really makes sense, but again, have some more toast.  I can’t even mark this as a spoiler because it reveals nothing, just as the actual plot reveals nothing.

I want to edit the book.  Then I want to edit “Divergent”.  Then I want to read them again because they are still my guilty pleasures.  Life doesn’t always need to make sense.  Sometimes I need a total fluff read.  I would say the author’s age shows in the writing, but who am I to judge?  Nobody has paid me to write a book.  I doubt they ever will, so good for her!

I do wish they would hire a better editor, though.  It would make me feel just a bit better about my life’s choices right about now.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations, Bad Grammar



UnWholly Book Cover UnWholly
Unwind Dystology, Book 2
Neal Shusterman
Juvenile Fiction
Simon and Schuster

"Thanks to Connor, Lev, and Risa, and their high-profile revolt at Happy Jack Harvest Camp, people can no longer turn a blind eye to unwinding. Ridding society of troublesome teens and, in the same stroke, providing much-needed tissues for transplant might be convenient, but its morality has finally been brought into question. However, unwinding has become big business, and there are powerful political and corporate interests that want to see it not only continue, but expand, allowing the unwinding of prisoners and the impoverished. Cam is a teen who does not exist. He is made entirely out of the parts of other unwinds. Cam, a 21st century Frankenstein, struggles with a search for identity and meaning, as well as the concept of his own soul, if indeed a rewound being can have one. When a sadistic bounty hunter who takes "trophies" from the unwinds he captures starts to pursue Connor, Risa and Lev, Cam finds his fate inextricably bound with theirs"--



Mr. Shusterman accomplished something with “Unwholly” that I would have thought impossible: He not only improved upon “Unwind”; he made the entire idea of unwinding even more disturbing.

My humble words can never appropriately describe the genius that is the “Unwind” dystopia.  The progression from the first book to the second is so natural that it is easy to imagine it actually happening in this country, and the facts added by the author send shivers down my spine.  They provide excellent talking points about how reality can be scarier than fictions and how the decisions made by us today can have the type of lasting impact that could lead to these types of laws.

Additionally, the “ads” and “political advertisements” sprinkled throughout “Unwholly” are brilliantly worded and well-placed.  They show the progression of thoughts and corporate greed, as well as the use of propaganda to sway the opinions of the population.  They are terrifying because we see and hear messages worded the same way every day.  None of it is as far-fetched as the reader would like it to be, and Mr. Shusterman is relentless in keeping us from feeling secure in our own worlds and beliefs.

Without getting too spoilery, I have to say that “Unwholly” made me completely reassess my own religious and moral beliefs on certain issues.  What makes one human?  What is a soul?  Cam puts those questions, and more, right into the face of anyone who seems to think they know the answers, and does so in a way that can keep a person up at night.

I could go on about the character development (exceptional), writing (exemplary), the attention to detail (minute), and more, but all it really comes down to is that the only way to appreciate how profound this entire series is is to pick it up and read it for yourself.


Content Warning:

Language, Violence, Sexual Situations


Crossed Book Cover Crossed
Matched, Book 2
Ally Condie
Juvenile Fiction

Seventeen-year-old Cassia sacrifices everything and heads to the Outer Provinces in search of Ky, where she is confronted with shocking revelations about Society and the promise of rebellion.



Unlike many second books in series, “Crossed” managed to not only match, but surpass, the first.

As with the first, Cia is discovering more about the Society than she was ever meant to know.  The pacing is excellent, with a great balance of action and character development.  New questions are raised while also giving readers some resolution to a few from “Matched”, thereby avoiding the frustration of too many loose ends found in many second novels in a trilogy.

The writing itself is superb and raises many thought-provoking questions about the importance of art, censorship, and the role of the government in our lives.  What are we willing to pay for perfect health and stability?   Are our choices worth exchanging for security?  Will that security last?

Both books in the “Matched” series are excellent introductions into the dystopian genre for younger readers.  The questions are important, but the content is presented in a way which is accessible and without too much in the way of questionable content.  It is a good series for parents to read along with their children.


Content Warning:

Violence, Very Mild Sexual Situations