Friday, November 27, 2015

Review: The Julian Chapter by R.J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter 
R.J. Palacio
Genre: MG Contemporary
Ebook: 84 Pages
Publication: May 13, 2014
by Knopf BFYR

From the very first day Auggie and Julian met in the pages of the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder, it was clear they were never going to be friends, with Julian treating Auggie like he had the plague. And while Wonder told Auggie's story through six different viewpoints, Julian's perspective was never shared. Readers could only guess what he was thinking.

Until now. The Julian Chapter will finally reveal the bully's side of the story. Why is Julian so unkind to Auggie? And does he have a chance for redemption?


In her FAQs page, R.J. Palacio mentions that Julian doesn't have his own chapter in Wonder because he never bothers to get to know Auggie and thus doesn't have something to contribute to Auggie's story. It's true that Julian doesn't show much depth as a character in Auggie's story. In fact, he seems like a bully who enjoys picking on those different from him and refuses to admit when he's wrong.

Frankly, even after reading this chapter, I can't entirely like Julian. While he has his reasons for disliking Auggie, the fact of the matter is that he's a coward who can't face his fears. Not even at the end of the chapter - though he does take a step in the right direction. Furthermore, there is no excuse for the way he treats Auggie.

That said, I still appreciate the chance to get into Julian's mind. If we only had Wonder, we might be left with the impression that people like Julian are inherently mean spirited and cannot change. The Julian Chapter gives us an opportunity to see what makes Julian who he is and why he began picking on Auggie. More than that, it shows us that he has the potential to learn from his mistakes and grow as a human being.

The Julian Chapter opened my heart to feel sympathy for Julian, and it reminds me that, in the end, we are all human. I loathed Julian's mom in Wonder. I still resent her. But I can relate to her desire to protect her son (even if she doesn't go about it in the best way). As for Julian, learning his fears reminded me that he's just a kid, meeting his grandmother showed me that he can love, and seeing his growth showed me the human potential to mature.

I have to give a shout out to his awesome grandmother. While I don't approve of language usage (even if Julian never quotes her language) and other things she does with her son, her story deeply moved my heart and is easily my favorite part of this chapter. I was in tears over it.

The Julian Chapter is a must-read for fans of Wonder.

Endnote: I read this as part of Auggie & Me. I am so very excited for the next two reads!!

A copy was provided by Random House for review.

Rating: 5 stars

Auggie & Me
Genre: MG Contemporary
Hardback: 303 Pages
Publication: August 18, 2015
by Knopf BFYR

  • N/A

    • Some language

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    Review: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams

    Carolyn Lee Adams

    Genre: YA CrimeThriller,
    Hardback: 256 Pages
    Publication: July 14, 2015
    by Simon Pulse

    A spine-tingling debut about the ultimate game of cat-and-mouse in reverse as a teen struggles to retain hope—and her sanity—while on the run from a cunning and determined killer.

    Ruth Carver has always competed like her life depends on it. Ambitious. Tough. Maybe even mean. It’s no wonder people call her Ruthless.

    When she wakes up with a concussion in the bed of a moving pickup truck, she realizes she has been entered into a contest she can’t afford to lose.

    At a remote, rotting cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ruth’s blindfold comes off and she comes face-to-face with her captor. A man who believes his mission is to punish bad girls like Ruth. A man who has done this six times before.

    The other girls were never heard from again, but Ruth won’t go down easy. She escapes into the wilderness, but her hunter is close at her heels. That’s when the real battle begins. That’s when Ruth must decides just how far she’ll go in order to survive.

    Back home, they called her Ruthless. They had no idea just how right they were.


    Ruth wakes up with a concussion on a moving truck, and she can't remember how she gets there. That is when the story begins.

    Ruth is a fighter. Ruth refuses to be a victim after she is told by the serial killer rapist Jerry Balls that he will kill her as he did six other redheads that he deemed needed to be punished. All she wants is to return to her family, alive and unharmed. Ruth knows this fight will take every ounce of resolve and smart that she has because she is not going to become another victim. She keeps running through the woods naked to survive the wilderness as Jerry Balls hunts her down.

    I felt engaged in the story of Ruth's fight for survival. Throughout the book, flashbacks to both Jerry’s and Ruth’s backstory gives us deeper insight into their characters. Ruthless is a fast paced, intense, psychological and survival thriller. It’s frightening because what happens to Ruth can easily happen to any of us. Ruthless raises the question of "Would I be able to successfully defend myself in any situation like Ruth’s?"

    Ruthless is an intense and unsettling survival story. I would recommend this novel to the fans of survival fiction and serial killer tales.

    A copy was provided by Simon & Schuster for review

    Rating: 4 stars

    • N/A

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    Tuesday, November 24, 2015

    Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

    Trigger Warning
    Neil Gaiman

    Genre: Short Story Anthology
    Hardback: 310 Pages
    Publication: February 3, 2015
    by William Morrow

    In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction--stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013--as well "Black Dog," a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

    Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion.


    Trigger Warning is an eclectic collection of short stories that range from the fantastic and weird to the horrific and macabre.

    Short stories tend to either pull me in or drop me early on. There is only so much room for a short story to get told while also demonstrating a writer's knowledge of the craft. This is the first Neil Gaiman short story collection that I've read. His stories not only piqued my interest, they had me thinking—and wanting to think—about their worlds even after I read the last word. And these stories do ask us to think whether it be about what just happened in the story or about similar events that have happened in our world.

    Gaiman's writing is both poetic and striking. As I read, phrases would flicker asking to be read and reread. For example: "The Thames is a filthy beast." A phrase that says a lot even before Gaiman goes on to describe the Thames and why it is a filthy beast. Or "we smile in bursts, like the sun coming out and illuminating the fields and then retreating again behind a cloud too soon." Beautiful imagery that takes me back to days reading when the sun would come and go, lighting up the pages in short bursts. Then there are the mind-boggling plot twists that force you to question everything that you'd read up to that point (as in "The Thing About Cassandra"). And these are just to name a few.

    One of the best parts about this collection is the introduction, which explains the meaning behind the title and also gives a little background about the stories in this collection. I enjoyed learning about the inspiration behind the stories and a little about the writing process. There is even some humor thrown in (just read the introduction for "Click-Clack the Rattlebag"). I can get bored working from front to cover, so I enjoy the freedom that short stories give me to move around. I read this collection by picking titles that interested me, looking up their backstories in the introduction, and then turning the page to read the story.

    All in all, this is an anthology that I will definitely return to. I recommend this to readers who enjoy a good, short speculative fiction read.

    About the Author

    Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, and is the recipient of numerous literary honors. Originally from England, he now lives in America.

    Connect with Neil
    Website | GoodreadsFacebook | Tumblr | Twitter

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    Monday, November 23, 2015

    Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

    Walk on Earth
    a Stranger

    Rae Carson

    Genre: YA historicalfantasy
    Hardback: 432 Pages
    Publication: September 22, 2015
    by Greenwillow

    Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

    Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

    She also has a secret.

    Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

    When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.


    Walk on Earth a Stranger renewed my love of historical fiction—in particular, historical fantasies.

    For some readers, the first third of the novel was slow. For me, these pages were the best part of this novel. The first pages reintroduced me to Rae Carson's beautifully descriptive writing while immersing me in Lee's world. Few authors can give you a strong sense of the protagonist's characters in the span of a few pages. The hunting scene not only introduces us to Lee's personality and her abilities, it gives us insight into her lifestyle and the world she lives in. While I would have loved to see more of her life with her family (love the strong, positive family relationship here), events do progress quickly from here on out—in a way that made me feel so much for Lee and her loss.

    Lee is a fierce young woman. So much has been taken from her, but she doesn't back down from any challenge. In fact, she not only has a strong will, she can work as well or even better than most men, and she has the resourcefulness and wits to do what it takes to survive. And she is confronted by so very much. She must deal with strongly rooted prejudice: against her gender, against her best friend for being half Cherokee, against African Americans. She must face death and partings. She must face the hardships and dangers of crossing America with little to her name. She must face her fears of trusting others. Not to mention her newfound feelings for her best friend (though romance plays a very small role in this novel—she has much bigger issues to worry about). I like how Lee's powers don't entirely give her an edge over the others while on the trail. She may be able to sense gold, but it doesn't help her much with all the challenges that she must face. There is more historical than fantasy in this novel, and I love it the way it is.

    All these challenges create many opportunities for action scene after action scene. Lee is a very brave young woman. While I do wish that she would rely more on others, it was pretty satisfying to see her tackle everything head on and prove that a woman doesn't need a man to protect her. Heck, the other women may not all do "men's work," but they prove fierce in spirit as well. Becky, Lucie, Mary, and Theresa are all women on the trail as well. Each of them show courage in the face of harsh trials. And Rae Carson does not hold back in showing us the dangers of the trail. There is violence, prejudice, cruelty, illness, suffering, and death.

    I do wish that the story wasn't as fast paced as it was. I understand that Lee's journey west is a long one, but I really would have liked to see more development of the other characters and her relationship with them as they bond over the course of the journey. In particular, Jefferson was often left out of the picture. I'm usually the one complaining that there's too much romance in a story, but I really would have liked to see more of Lee's conflict over him and how their relationship moves forward over the course of their journey. For example, I wouldn't have known that she was avoiding Theresa out of jealousy if Jefferson hadn't brought it up one time. I would have liked to see more of Lee's non-interactions with Theresa to get the picture before Jefferson brought it up.

    All that said, there was one scene that really bugged me as it seemed randomly inserted: someone invites her to travel West with him, but she decides to join the Joyners and never does talk to that guy again. I wonder if he'll play a larger role later on. Otherwise, that was a pretty random scene.

    Overall, Walk on Earth a Stranger is a brilliant if not entirely historically accurate work. I am very much looking forward to reading the next installment in the series!

    A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

    Rating: 4 stars

    1. Walk on Earth a Stranger
    2. Untitled
    3. Untitled
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    Friday, November 20, 2015

    Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

    The Last Time
    We Say Goodbye

    Cynthia HAnd

    Genre: YA ContemporaryTragedy
    Hardback: 400 Pages
    Publication: February 10, 2015
    by Harper Teen

    There's death all around us.
    We just don't pay attention.
    Until we do.

    The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn't look at her like she might break down at any moment.

    Now she's just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that's all she'll ever be.

    As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there's a secret she hasn't told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

    Lex's brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn't have to be real to keep you from moving on.


    The Last Time We Said Goodbye is so good and so very sad. I love when novels portray strong positive family relations, but it also makes me that much more sad when the family members lose a loved one and are working through their loss. Even more when the individual that was so loved decided to kill himself.

    This is one of the realest, deepest, saddest novels that I've read. Lex's emotions are so genuine and from the heart that it tore apart my bleeding heart and ripped right through it over and over again. If I wasn't so busy feeling for Lex, I would have sobbed my eyes out. As it was, my heart bled for Lex and for Ty. I'm writing this review over a day after I read this novel, and my heart is still feeling all sorts of sad. And guess what, I still feel the urge to read this novel. It's going on my keepers shelf.

    What made this novel connect to me on a more personal level is that I went through a major depressive episode during my junior year of high school. I can relate to how Ty goes through periods when he thinks everything's okay and the knowing that the darkness is coming and that it's going to keep on coming back. And his feeling that he's messed up and that he can't fix himself. During those dark days, the only thing that I felt like I could do was endure each waking moment, and I couldn't wait to sleep and not have to worry about anything. I did contemplate what would happen if I left the world. What got me through each day was the distant hope that everything would turn out better somewhere in the future. And life did get better. It was difficult, and it's still difficult today. Depression is something that I live with and that I choose to fight.

    I can also sympathize with Lex. I have a brother who is two-and-a-half years younger than me—which is approximately the same age difference between Lex and Ty. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my brother, but I know that I would be pretty devastated. I can relate to much of Lex and Ty's relationship from the funny brother to the awkwardness of talking relationships to the brother-sister squabbles. And ahhhh I seriously don't want to think about my brother dying much less killing himself. And that text that could have changed everything. And knowing that it may not have changed anything after all. I'd be torn apart if I were in Lex's shoes.

    I was torn apart reading this novel.

    Plotwise, Ty's suicide plays a large role in Lex's development. It's on her mind practically all the time. It's influenced some major decisions that she's made and goes on to make. She dreams about him, and no matter how terrible these dreams are, she embraces them because it gives her a connection with him. I do admit that these dreams are surreal and maybe a little fantastical, but I love the way they contribute to the plot—especially that last one. Oh, how it broke my poor little heart. I really wish we got to know Ty, and I really wish that we could turn back the clock and save him. And you know what? These feelings show how much Cynthia Hand has brought the characters and Lex's feelings to life.

    That said, Ty's suicide isn't everything in this novel. At its heart, The Last Time We Said Goodbye is about learning to accept the grief and also that you can't allow yourself to take on all the blame for the death of a loved one. Suicide in particular is the choice that an individual makes. One text, one call, one cry of pain, may hold a lot of weight, but it won't necessarily change anything. Even if someone chooses not to commit suicide one day, he or she may commit suicide the next time. Choosing to live with depression, to reach out to someone for help, does benefit from having a social network upon which one can rely, but it also requires a serious attitude change and the will to face life's challenges head on.

    I do feel like the romance and friendships weren't really well developed given that the love interest doesn't have much screen time. No one side character gets much consistent screen time other than Ty and the mom (and perhaps the dad). But I'm satisfied on the whole with how things play out. For one thing, it's always nice to see the romance take a backseat to other issues (because I'm a firm believer that, while romance may be important to an individual in love, romance isn't all there is to life). Secondly and lastly, there's no room for romance and friends on Lex's mind all things considered. She herself explains how she feels like she's been pulling away from everyone, and I can't fault her given everything she's going through. I would be on my way to becoming a hermit if I were Lex.

    I seriously recommend this novel. It's genuine and beautiful and heartbreaking. It's a keeper for me. If you read it or have read it, please let me know what you think. I love this novel so much.

    A review copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

    Rating: 5 stars

    • N/A

    • Some explicit language
    • Making out
    • Talk of sex
    • Suicide

    Thursday, November 19, 2015

    Review: Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent

    Mendocino Fire
    Elizabeth Tallent

    Genre: Short Story Anthology
    Hardback: 272 Pages
    Publication: October 20, 2015
    by Harper

    The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son's pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

    Diverse in character and setting, rendered in an exhilarating, exacting prose, these stories confirm Tallent's enduring gift for capturing relationships in moments of transformation: marriages breaking apart, people haunted by memories of old love and reaching haltingly toward new futures. The result is a book that reminds us how our lives are shaped by moments of fracture and fragmentation, by expectations met and thwarted, and by our never-ending quest to be genuinely seen.


    There is a sense of narrative distance that simultaneous makes me feel disconnected from the story yet draws me deeper into the characters' emotional conflict. The stories in Mendocino Fire don't give us direct insight into the narrators' minds. Instead, the narrators seem to observe the situations they find themselves in and comment on what is happening. The simplicity of the narration serves only to heighten the emotional tension by cutting away any excess that would take away from the story's focus.

    It can be a challenge working through these stories. A lot of pronouns are used, so it was difficult at times for me to figure out to whom the narrator was referring. There are also time skips without an immediate explanation for what is happening or what has happened in the duration. Much is left to the reader to decipher the text. That's one of the beauty of short stories though. They're meant to be read and reread with new meaning drawn from the text with each reading.

    Mendocino Fire won't be for everybody. It's deep, dense, and complicated. It isn't something that I would pick up for a casual read (though I can think of some people who would do just that). Nevertheless, I can see myself returning to one of these stories when I'm looking for a story that explores the depths of human nature, relationships, and conflicts.


    • Explicit Language
    • Sex

    About the Author

    Elizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.

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