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Review: The Julian Chapter by R.J. Palacio

Friday, November 27, 2015

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

    Review: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    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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    Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

    Tuesday, November 24, 2015

    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

    This post was made as part of TLC Book Tours
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    Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    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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    Review: The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

    Friday, November 20, 2015

    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

    Review: Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent

    Thursday, November 19, 2015

    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.

    This post was made as part of TLC Book Tours
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    Review: Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    Angel Killer
    Andrew Mayne

    Series: Jessica Blackwood #1
    Genre: CrimeThrillerUrban Fantasy
    Paperback: 368 Pages
    Publication: September 23, 2014
    by Bourbon Street Books

    FBI agent Jessica Blackwood believes she's left her complicated life as a gifted magician behind her . . . until a killer with seemingly supernatural powers puts her talents to the ultimate test.

    A hacker who identifies himself only as "Warlock" brings down the FBI's website and posts a code in its place that leads to a Michigan cemetery, where a dead girl is discovered rising from the ground . . . as if she tried to crawl out of her own grave.

    Born into a dynasty of illusionists, Jessica Blackwood is destined to become its next star—until she turns her back on her troubled family to begin a new life in law enforcement. But FBI consultant Dr. Jeffrey Ailes's discovery of an old magic magazine will turn Jessica's world upside down. Faced with a crime that appears beyond explanation, Ailes has nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by taking a chance on an agent raised in a world devoted to achieving the seemingly impossible.

    The body in the cemetery is only the first in the Warlock's series of dark miracles. Thrust into the media spotlight, with time ticking away until the next crime, can Jessica confront her past to stop a depraved killer? If she can't, she may become his next victim.


    Jessica Blackwood comes from a family of great magicans. She knows every magic trick in the book, and is a master at illusion. However, she leaves her family and becomes a FBI analyst after a near fatal accident during a magic performance. When Warlock, a serial killer, starts to perpetrate apparently impossible crimes, Jessica is brought in as a consultant because of her unique background.

    The plot is thrilling. Throughout the entire book, Jessica tries to figure out a series of illusions that the Warlock performs while committing murder. Some examples of his work include a dead girl from two years earlier, a Navy plane from years prior, and an angel that vanishes from the roof of the Empire State building and appears moments later in the middle of Manhattan. I enjoy watching the magic unfolded.

    Jessica is a caring and warm character. As the story progresses, we get to know her past, and how she drives to succeed in her line of work from an anxious and insecure FBI agent. Through Jessica’s eyes, we get some great insights into human nature and behavior. Damian Knight, Jessica's ex-boyfriend, is charming and compelling. Since Jessica broke up with him, he has never been able to fully let her go. His character adds more intrigue to the plot when he appears at her apartment seeming to know more about her case than she does, making him a suspect in her case.

    The use of magic and illusion as the serial killer's signature is unique. The twists and turns of the story kept me guessing to the very end. The ending itself was nothing like I expected. Overall, I enjoy the novel and will be looking for the next one in the series.

    A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

    Rating: 4.5 stars

    1. Angel Killer
    2. Name of the Devil


    Review: Unforgiven by Lauren Kate

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    Lauren Kate

    Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
    Hardback: 400 Pages
    Publication: November 10, 2015
    by Delacorte Press

    High school can be hell.

    Cam knows what it’s like to be haunted. He’s spent more time in Hell than any angel ever should. And his freshest Hell is high school, where Lilith, the girl he can’t stop loving, is serving out a punishment for his crimes.

    Cam made a bet with Lucifer: he has fifteen days to convince the only girl who really matters to him to love him again. If he succeeds, Lilith will be allowed back into the world, and they can live their lives together. But if he fails…there’s a special place in Hell just for him.



    When I went back to reread my reviews of the previous books in the Fallen series, a line from my review of Fallen in Love jumped out at me:

    "My only regret is that Cam wasn't in the mood for celebrating Valentine's Day along with everyone else, as I would have loved to read his story—and find out more about his type of girl."

    Unforgiven has answered this question for me.

    It makes me happy that Cam gets his story told because he really deserves it. After all he's gone through, he deserves to find his own love and his own happiness.

    Lauren Kate writes beautifully and descriptively. Her words breathe life to Crossroads, the characters, and the characters' personalties. The story is told from both Lilith and Cam's perspective with pieces of the past weaved into their present story. As the story is told in third person, it wasn't much of a struggle switching from POV to POV; it was helpful that the chapter headings included the name of the person telling that chapter. I also like how the chapter headings include the time left that Cam has to win Lilith's love. It gives a sense of urgency while keeping us updated on where we are in the timeline.

    While I don't normally like seeing students skip classes (I believe in the power of an education), I believe that many teens will be able to relate to Lilith and Cam. Plus, we see get to see the good along with the bad. Lilith's growth over the course of the novel shows us that our attitudes can change, and once we put in effort to reconcile with our "enemies," we can see a new side to them and even make friends with the people we once resented. As for her changing attitude towards Cam, a lot of things still don't quite make sense, such as how she is quick to blame him for things without solid evidence, but I'm willing to accept that her long history with Cam gives her a bias against him.

    Plotwise, this story is all about the romance. Lilith is in this hell because of her love for Cam, and Cam is here because he still loves Lilith and wants to set her free. I wholeheartedly admit that, in general, I hate stories that are all about the romance, and I don't know why I've enjoyed the Fallen series so much. I believe love is an answer, but I don't believe in giving up everything for a romantic love. I did like Luce and Daniel, though I'm not as much a fun of quick-to-burn, fiery love stories like Cam and Lilith's. Maybes it's the writing. Maybe it's the characters. I especially like Lilith's brother in this hell (as longtime readers of this blog know, I'm always a fun of good family relationships in stories), and the side characters are funny. Though they don't play a super huge role in this story, I like how Lilith's changing relationship with the side characters shows her character growth. And I was delighted to see Arianne and Roland make an appearance.

    My biggest takeaway from Unforgiven, besides getting to read Cam's story, is that we must fight to make our wishes come true. We can't just lolly around waiting for fate to hand our desires to us, and we can't give up in the face of great adversities for fear of losing what we do have. Like Cam, we must not be afraid to challenge the Lucs in our lives in order to protect those we love and to create our own happiness.

    That said, if you're looking for depth of plot, characters, and world building, I wouldn't recommend this novel or any of the Fallen books. If you're looking ot for an easy read to entertain though, you just might be at the right place.

    This novel does wrap up a bit quickly for my liking, and it leaves too many questions . . . which leads me to suspect that Cam and Lilith's story can't end here. I believe that there has to be more to come. Nevertheless, whatever Lauren Kate decides to do in the future, while Teardrop wasn't for me (see my review here), I anticipate more from her.

    P.S. Cam and Lilith are both musicians. Tracks have been made of the songs that Lilith sings in this book (with one of the songs cowritten by Cam). Find out more at Lauren Kate's site here!

    A copy was provided by Random House for review

    Rating: 4 stars

         1.   Fallen
         2.   Torment
         3.   Passion
         3.5 Fallen in Love
         4.   Rapture
         5.   Unforgiven
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    Movie Monday: John Wick

    Monday, November 16, 2015

    John Wick

    Directed by: Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
    Genre: Neo-Noir, Action, Thriller
    Running time: 101 minutes
    Released: 2014
    Distributed by Summit Entertainment & Lionsgate

    Legendary assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) retired from his violent career after marrying the love of his life. Her sudden death leaves John in deep mourning. When sadistic mobster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) and his thugs steal John's prized car and kill the puppy that was a last gift from his wife, John unleashes the remorseless killing machine within and seeks vengeance. Meanwhile, Iosef's father (Michael Nyqvist) — John's former colleague — puts a huge bounty on John's head.

    John Wick is a refreshingly simple action film. It’s whimsical yet satisfying and is an action film in every sense. It brings endless scenes of all kinds of badass action, with depictions of the underworld, martial arts, gunfights, and even John Wick’s own gun-fu style of combat. It comes with a paper-thin plot but delivers with its fast paced gun-fu action, and that’s really all it needs.

    Keanu Reeves plays the titular character John Wick, a retired assassin grieving the recent death of the love of his life. His killer’s instincts are re-ignited when the son of the city’s Russian crime lord breaks into his house and steals his car, killing his puppy in the process, which happened to be the last gift his wife left him. He then goes on a rampage across the underworld to exact his revenge.

    The plot is as simple as it sounds. We have John Wick, a legendary assassin who is nicknamed ‘Baba Yaga’ by the Russian mob, which translates roughly to the Boogeyman. Then we have a simple excuse for him to start killing people, and from there the action dictates the rest of the film, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The action is all we want from a film like this and it is done perfectly. While not bad by any means, the dialogue isn’t what we want. We want to see John Wick dropping bodies left and right.

    The action in this film is engaging without feeling artificial, and the cast boasts a lot of talent and they breathe life into what would otherwise be one-dimensional characters. Keanu Reeves does a phenomenal job with the action scenes, and there’s also Nyqvist who is both imposing and amusing in the role of the nemesis Russian mob leader. Instead of being the stereotypical badass gang leader, he also shows humor as he giggles at Wick’s tenacity during the climactic car chase. Other characters manage to show a lot with little screen time, like William Dafoe, who plays a sort of mentor figure to Wick.

    John Wick is definitely one of the best action films in the past few years. It’s a film that understands what it brings and doesn’t try to do too much at once. It sticks to its guns, and they are powerful ones. I would recommend this film strongly to anyone who doesn’t mind an hour and a half of pure action.

    Review: Dead Boy by Laurel Gale

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    Dead Boy
    Laurel Gale

    Genre: MG FantasyZombies
    Paperback: 256 Pages
    Publication: September 29, 2015
    by Crown Books for Young Readers

    Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a life.

    Crow Darlingson died in the 4th grade. But he’s still alive. And growing, actually. He can’t eat or taste anything, his body parts sometimes fall off (mom always sews them back on, though), and he’s only allowed to leave his house once per year, on Halloween.

    Crow’s parents are separating, and despite their reassurances, he’s pretty sure it’s his fault. After all, having an undead son can’t be much easier than being one. Sneaking out at night only makes things worse, but he can’t resist the chance at a real friendship with Melody Plympton, the new girl next door, who loves mystery more than she minds the stink of his flesh or the maggots that sometimes crawl out of his nose.

    Together they investigate the mysterious Meera - a monster living in the nearby park. Logic and fear tell Crow to stay away, but fuzzy memories lure him on. When Crow and Melody venture into its underground lair, Crow’s not just risking the half-life he clings to. He’s also risking the only friend he’s had in years.


    Take humor, zombies without the terror elements that permeate post-apocalyptic fiction, overprotective parenting, positive life lessons, and young friendship. Throw them into the pot, and you'll come out with a smile on your face and in your heart.

    It's rare to find a middle-grade story -- or any story for that matter -- that is both entertaining and enlightening. I was delighted to find both in Dead Boy. I mean it when I say that it captivated me from beginning to end. I picked this one up in the middle of a reading slump (and general life slump - starting life as a high school English teacher has been a fight for survival). I could not tear myself away from my book. If any chore called, I came with book in hand.

    Laurel Gale's explanation for how Crow got his condition is fantastic. I like how she weaves in themes of humans greed, what we do for the people we love, and how we need to be careful for what we wish for. It can come true in unexpected ways. As the story starts with the aftermath and Crow's coming-of-age awakening and pursuit of the truth, we are also presented with the question of what to do when we learn the truth and whether revenge is the answer. (Given that this is a middle-grade novel, I think we know what the answer is.)

    Plot aside, the characters were a blast. Middle-grade books generally have stereotyped characters, including adults that can't do anything and need the kids to save the day. I admit that I was a little irked by some of the stereotypes, but these weren't enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of the novel. I'm always happy to see a protagonist that uses his or her brain. In particular, I like how Crow notes the specific details of his conditions and how he doesn't recklessly charge into a situation. I also liked seeing the friendship that blossoms between Crow and his new next door neighbor and the lengths that they're willing to go for each other and to do right by others.

    Dead Boy is a funny, poignant, and heartwarming story about friendship and self discovery. I would recommend this to upper-elementary and middle-grade readers.

    It's been a while since I read Dead Boy, so please forgive the brevity of my review. Starting a new job is a challenge in itself. Starting a new job as a high-school English teacher straight out of college is another.

    A copy was provided by Random House for review

    Rating: 4 stars

    • N/A

      • Middle-grade appropriate