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Overcoming Death and Stereotypes ⇉ Review of What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum

Thursday, June 29, 2017
When I was in school, I would have friend groups for different situations. I met people in certain activities, and our interactions were limited to those situations. Or if we did go out and do something different, only people from that group attended. The older I get, however, the more I appreciate having a stable friend group that does life together.

The initial appeal of What to Say Next is that it breaks these "class lines" and puts a girl from the "in" crowd in the time and place as a boy from the "out" crowd. In the process, we're reminded of the unifying nature of our humanity. We don't have to be one or the other. As long as we put aside preconceived stereotypes, we can be just human.


It's the Small Details (that bring the characters to life)
In a fiction writing class I took in college, the professor told us that small details make a story more realistic. I was reminded of this early in What to Say Next because it is filled with small details about the characters from their mannerisms to beauty marks (like the cluster of freckles David notices on Kit) to their thoughts. Such details made them real to me and helped invest me in their lives.

Crossing Social Boundaries
High school is a microcosm of the "real world," and the social hierarchy is no different. Kit belongs to the "in" crowd (though she's not feeling very "in" right now) while David belongs to the "out" crowd. What's interesting is that Kit isn't very comfortable in her own skin while David is comfortable watching everyone from afar. Their worlds collide when . . . something happens to spark an unlikely friendship between them (see how I avoided spoilers by drawing from the synopsis below?).

I like how the story crosses social boundaries to examine how life could be if people set aside their differences to find common ground. Okay, this might not be the original intention of the author, but it's there and it's real. It makes the story real and relatable.

Also of note: Kit is of a diverse background, and it actually plays an important role in her life and how she perceives her identity. It's not mentioned and left forgotten like I've seen in other books. David has been diagnosed with Asperger's (and he has a problem with it being swallowed into the autism spectrum in the DSM-5, another little detail that brings his character to life).

Invests in the MCs' Stories
All of the above drew me into the MCs' lives. (This story is told in alternating perspectives between Kit and David.) Some parts were cheesy: like the party and what happens at the party, and like what happens in the last scene of the novel (I would've thought it'd take more time to get over what happened almost immediately before that).

However, Kit and David feel like real people, and they deal with very real-world problems. I'm sure many readers can relate to their feelings if not the problems they deal with.

Brings Together the Pieces
There's a big reveal at the end (because what's a contemporary novel without big reveals?). To be honest, I could deal without another piece of drama added to the mix, but to give author Julie Buxbaum credit, this one was well done. I like how it made a lot of inconspicuous events from earlier turn into foreshadowing. If you're into rereads, it'd be worth giving this one a shot after you've seen the big reveal, so you can see how Buxbaum builds up the big reveal.


Some Loose Threads
There are some plotlines that don't get developed much or get an ending. For a time, they seemed important, but they get dropped after the plot twist is revealed towards the end.

The Content: Language & The Afterlife
I have a list of content in the table towards the bottom of this post, but I'll be addressing a couple in more detail here.

Language in particular comes up frequently in What Happens Next. Enough that I felt uncomfortable.

From various details in the novel, it seems that the author is more secular minded. For example, a conversation on life after death uses a paradigm in which science and religion are considered mutually exclusive, and the characters agree that there is no life after death. While I love how the story explores real world issues, I would think twice about recommending this book because of the values expressed.


What to Say Next has some of the most real characters I've seen in a contemporary novel, and it explores real world issues with which we can relate. Readers who enjoy a book with well-developed characters will enjoy this one. That said, I would caution readers to check out the content in the book before delving into it as some readers, especially more conservative readers, may not be comfortable with the content. (See content list in the table at the bottom of this post.)


Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?


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How do you handle grief?

Publication Info
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Julie Buxbaum
  • Published by Harper Collins
  • On May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  • N/A
  • Frequent Language
  • Kissing, making out
  • Thoughts of female nudity (not explicit)
  • Death & Descriptions of a Car Accident
  • Aspergers / Autism Spectrum
  • Bullying
  • Fight scene (not entirely explicit; it's mentioned later that some students get sent to the hospital)
  • Mentions of an affair, divorce papers, and couple therapy
  • Underage drinking / house party
  • Questions on life after death. Science and religion are treated as mutually exclusive entities. Determines there is no life after death.

Learning to Love Yourself and What You Do ⇉ Contemplations on Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Francesca Zappia has a talent for bringing characters and their emotions to life. I started reading this book intending to enjoy some light reading before bed . . . and stayed up flipping through the pages, intent on finding out how things develop between Eliza and Wallace after he sees her artwork.

The high school me could relate with Eliza. I didn't like school and had a hard time communicating with my peers. Reading and writing were my means of escape from reality. I never created an online fandom like Eliza, but I did hang around the Inkpop forums before Figment took over. Given this shared experience and how the Internet has become such a large part of our culture, I was interested in seeing how Francesca Zappia would bring the two worlds together.

I like how Francesca Zappia integrates pages from Eliza's popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, comment threads, and text messages into the novel. It gives us a broader picture of Eliza's life and how much more real her online community is to her than her offline life, where everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong. (At least, to the teenage mind.) Because of this broader picture, I can empathize with how Eliza puts more energy into her online life. It's so much easier to invest into something that's going well, especially after all our past efforts with the alternative seem to have failed.

Regardless of whether you consider yourself an artist, I believe we can all relate to Eliza's creativity and passion. We've all felt passion for something at one part in our life. Whether or not we continued to feed that passion is another story. (Or maybe you found another passion: I can relate to that one. I was the child who tried different things but found a hard time sticking to any one thing. Anyone else relate?) I enjoy reading YA lit because of the hope it lights up in the midst of challenges. It fuels my drive to delve into my passions and create something.

The ending of Eliza really hits home for me. There will be times when we fall into slumps. When we want to give up and let go of everything. Even after we overcome one obstacle, we may face another one later on. Eliza's continued passion for her creation in a time of trial reminds me never to persevere through the challenges. When we can get through them, the result will be so, so rewarding.

(Her story also reminds me that authors are human too. There are authors who go on long hiatuses. Eliza reminds us that authors don't belong to their fans; they need time off too for personal reasons. I appreciate the time that authors take with their craft. Some of my favorite authors tend to take their time with their works, and the quality of their writing is worth the wait!)

Of course, no story is perfect, and the reasons will differ from reader to reader. Some things that I didn't love so much were....

1. The language
It's not pervasive, but there are times when cuss words pop up

2. The romance
There are some intimate moments behind closed doors. (Thankfully, nothing that involves clothes coming off, but I did feel like I was invading their private space).

My bigger problem, however, is how Wallace handles the big reveal and what he says to her the next time they see each other. (I don't consider this a spoiler because we know the reveal is going to happen eventually). Though he seems to try to be understanding, in the end, he's thinking about himself, and his backstory was developed enough for me to empathize with the way he treats her. In the end, I still don't see how they got resolve everything other than the fact that they're teenagers. (It still would have been good to see them communicate more. Too much is done at the end out of moments of passion.)

3. Where's Monstrous Sea?
I was looking forward to seeing the story of Monstrous Sea interwoven with that of Eliza's offline life. While we do see some of the story, it's so sparse and infrequent, that I wouldn't remember what I'd last seen of Monstrous Sea by the time the next section came around. I'm also confused as to how the storyline all fits in together. I needed to see either more of Monstrous Sea (so I could make the connections ) or less of it (so I could remember what I did see).

4. Underdeveloped Family Relations
While I like how Eliza's family plays an important role in her life (as under appreciated as they are in the beginning), things wrap up a little to nicely at the end. I feel like Eliza isn't given the chance to grow as much as she could have as a daughter and sister.

Yes, her family didn't try as hard as they could have to understand her and support her, but Eliza also fails to try to understand them and assumes that they hate her. I love how her brothers take action at the end to move things forward, and I wish that more pages were dedicated to showing her respond in kind. This was a great opportunity to show character growth and shine the spotlight on the family.


Eliza's story is one with which many readers can relate no matter where they come from. We often think that other people live more glamorous lives than ours or judge us more harshly than they do. Who better to show us this than Eliza, whose online life is scrutinized by millions of fans? While I did have some problems with plot development (especially the later stages of the romance), I enjoyed following Eliza's high school troubles and the nostalgia of my own high school life (not that I enjoyed high school much when I was a high school student). Eliza's story is a remind that, no matter how tough things get, as long as we push forward with hope for the future, we will find joy in the midst of trials and come out a stronger person.

Lastly, I do need to shout out the references to anime. I love anime and cartoons in general :)


Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.


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What is your favorite means of escape?

Publication Info
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
  • Published by Harper Collins
  • On May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Contemporary
  • Pages: 400 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
  • N/A
  • Language
  • Kissing, intimate couple moments (no sex scenes)
  • Fan work involving BL (boy love)
  • Contemplations of suicide
  • Panic attack

The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht ⇉ Furry Friends and Big Dilemmas Will Encourage Young Readers to Reconsider What They Know about Right and Wrong

Friday, June 16, 2017
The Nocturnals are back for another adventure! Who else enjoys reading books featuring animals as the protagonists?


Friendship Focus
The focus of the Nocturnals has always been on the strong friendship that Dawn, Tobin, and Bismark share. I like how their friendship is put to the test in this novel because it shows young readers that good friends can fight and doubt each other, but they will continue to care for each other and put in the effort to make up.

Blurs the Line Between Good and Evil
Like the first book, The Ominous Eye blurs the line between good and evil. Oftentimes, we look at someone's actions and judge their character based off a specific behavior at a specific point in the time, but we don't stop to question the motive behind their behavior. The Ominous Eye calls us to consider the other side's perspective.

Caricature of the Real World
The actions of the nocturnals in this novel reflect the actions of real-world people when bad things happen and no one knows what to do. This book provide a safe place for children to consider how they would act (or who in the novel they want to act like) should something similar take place in their lives.


Superficial Characters
As in the first novel, the characters stay nicely packaged in their respective personas. While events cause tension within the heroes' relationships with one another, even the quarrel isn't very persuasive and lacks depth.

The Characters' Attitudes and Actions
On top of what I didn't like from the last novel, I really didn't like Dawn and Bismark's attitudes in this novel. The new major player in this novel was also pretty big "know it all." Young readers may find their attitudes and actions interesting, but as an older reader, I wanted to see more to the characters' personalities.


Overall, I appreciate how the Nocturnals books introduce young readers to new creatures and teaches them about friendship, hope, and perseverance through hardships. In exploring real-world concepts through animals lives, the book gives young readers the opportunity to consider the right thing to do when faced with a moral dilemma.


They're baaaccckkk for another mysterious action filled Nocturnal adventure!

Join Dawn, Bismark and Tobin as they set out to investigate the source of a violent jolt that fractures the earth! Along their journey, the Nocturnal Brigade meets an unfamiliar reptile—a tuatara named Polyphema—who reveals that a giant beast caused the destruction and will soon strike again. Polyphema with her special insights, is the only one who can help the Nocturnal Brigade stop this fearsome predator… but can she be trusted? With help from an owl, the jerboas, and some kiwis, the animals set a trap since surrender is not an option against this relentless beast.


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What would you do if one of your best friends seemed to be taking someone else's side?

Publication Info
  • The Ominous Eye by Tracey Hecht
  • Published by Fabled Films Press
  • On September 20, 2016
  • Genres: MysteryMiddle Grade
  • Pages: 208 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: Nocturnals
  1. The Mysterious Abductions
  2. The Ominous Eye
  3. The Fallen Star
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel for review. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel ⇉ Full Color Illustrations, Unlikely Heroes, and a #GIVEAWAY

Friday, June 9, 2017
Five worlds at stake. Three unlikely heroes. . .

The Sand Warrior has the basics to one of my favorite plotlines in fantasy worlds. Furthermore, it's told in graphic novel format. Though I typically favor prose reads, I enjoy a good graphic novel and opened this one in anticipation of how the illustrations would bring the story to life.


Full Color Illustrations
The Sand Warrior is filled with full color illustrations from start the finish. I appreciate the use of full color because it brings the fantasy world to life in a way that wouldn't have been possible with black and white illustrations.

The Political Intricacies
With the fate of 5 worlds at stake, there is unrest and political intricacy as expected. Different races fight for a say in their fates, there are power struggles, and there is the daily fight for survival. In the end, the story makes the reader question who is in the right and if there is a way to resolve everything in a way that respects all the parties involved. The twist in the last battle of The Sand Warrior further expands on the political intricacies and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters.

Creative World Building
Though only a few of the characteristics of the 5 worlds are explored in The Sand Warrior, it is clear that each world possesses its unique elements. The ability of the sand dancers is the focus in this first book. Oona's troubles in the academy will be relatable to many young people; I wish that her time there was explored in more detail.

Strong Mentor Figures
The main characters are still children. Though they must take action on their own at times (being the heroes), they do not do everything on their own. At times when they don't know what to do, they turn to their mentor figures, who play instrumental roles in providing them with shelter, important information, and learning opportunities. I am always appreciative of books with strong mentor figures. No matter how old we get, we always need them!!

Contemporary Issues in a Foreign World
Bullying and name calling . . . social unrest . . . political intricacies . . . racism . . . many contemporary issues are raised in The Sand Warrior. Given that events take place in a foreign world, this presents a safe place for young readers to explore these issues.


Does Not Build a Firm Foundation
Soon after the start, events take place one after the other without pause. I felt like a puppet being dragged from one place to another without understanding the point of the mission. Yes, this may have happened because the characters themselves don't know what's going on, but without a clear focus, the readers will become lost as well.

This first book certainly does its job of setting up the premise. However, it was a simple introduction and nothing more. As a first book, it's weak and doesn't have the power to stand alone, something I expect from a strong first book in a series.

Flat Characters
Outside of the twist introduced towards the end, The Sand Warrior fails to invest my interest in the characters' stories. The characters felt bland and cookie cutter. They fit nicely within the stereotype presented and don't act much outside of it. Though the panels will focus on their faces now and then, their expressions weren't readable and didn't tell me anything about them.

I expect that later books will teach us more about the characters and the worlds they inhabit. That said, we shouldn't have to rely so much on sequels to let us get to know the characters, especially if they were introduced early into the novel and play a pivotal role in events.

What's the Message?
Lastly, because there isn't a coherent plot and the characters don't take much of an active role in pushing it forward (instead being led by others), this first book last a decisive message to pull it together. Again, I expect to see a clearer plot as the later books bring the plot threads together, but we shouldn't have to rely on later books to bring it all together. Each book should still have a clear purpose.


All in all, The Sand Warrior is a weak first book but sets the stage for the sequels to come. I enjoyed the full color illustrations and the creative world building. There is much intrigue in this book, and I am interested in seeing where the plot twist at the end takes us.

If you're interested in reading more (or know someone who would enjoy reading this book), remember to enter the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of The Sand Warrior!

The Five Worlds are on the brink of extinction unless five ancient and mysterious beacons are lit. When war erupts, three unlikely heroes will discover there s more to themselves and more to their worlds than meets the eye. . . . The clumsiest student at the Sand Dancer Academy, Oona Lee is a fighter with a destiny bigger than she could ever imagine.

A boy from the poorest slums, An Tzu has a surprising gift and a knack for getting out of sticky situations.

Star athlete Jax Amboy is beloved by an entire galaxy, but what good is that when he has no real friends? When these three kids are forced to team up on an epic quest, it will take not one, not two, but 5 WORLDS to contain all the magic and adventure!


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Akiko and the Planet Smoo by Mark Crilley


If you were to travel to another planet, what will you do there?

Publication Info
  • The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel
  • Published by Random House BFYR
  • On May 2, 2017
  • Genres: Graphic Novel
  • Format: Hardback
5 Worlds
  1. The Sand Warrior
  2. The Cobalt Prince
  • Some violence

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author. All thoughts expressed are my personal honest opinions.


Thanks to the publisher, I have the following to give away to a blog reader!

The Sand Warrior by Mark Siegel

The United States

a Rafflecopter giveaway