Half Bad by Sally Green

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The unexpected son of a white witch mother and the most dangerous black witch father, Nathan finds himself a pariah in white witch society. Told his entire life that he is the cause of his mother’s death, that he is less than other white witches, and that he is unwanted, Nathan struggles to deal with the consequences of his birth. As his seventeenth birthday draws near, Nathan knows that he must receive three gifts from a family member in order to access his true magical powers. But, as Nathan is half black, the white witches fear he will unleash dark magic upon the white witch world. Persecuted by white witches and seemingly abandoned by his black witch father, Nathan must carve his own way in the world and find some way to receive his gifts — before it’s too late.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was excellent! The reader was probably one of the best I’ve heard — I kind of just want him to come read me things everyday. While the reader was amazing, the story was so-so. Better than ok, but not super great. Nathan experiences a huge amount of persecution because of his parentage, and that persecution involves torture — a lot of it. I don’t mind reading violence, but I thought the torture happened a bit too often. Somehow, because the torture was a regular occurrence in the novel, it made the instances less meaningful. I don’t know — maybe I feel this way because I listened to the book instead of reading a physical copy. If you’re looking for a fantasy series about witches, give this one a shot. There’s a ton of action, and I really liked hearing Nathan’s history. If you can, get your hands on the audiobook — you won’t regret it!

This one has a book trailer!

*Rating: 3.5/5

*YALSA Amazing Audiobooks, 2015

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

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The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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Thomas wakes up in a steel box, knowing only his name. Everything else — who he is, where he’s from, what he’s doing — is forgotten. He soon finds himself surrounded by teenage boys in a similar situation, all living in an area called “The Glade”. Beyond the Glade lies the Maze — a dangerous, shifting puzzle inhabited by monsters. The boys are sure of only one thing: if they want to go home, they have to solve the maze. Thomas must work with his new companions as they struggle to survive and to find something, anything that will give a clue as to how to beat the maze. But, despite his desire to help, Thomas is met with suspicion by the others, for, as soon as he arrives, life in the Glade changes forever.

This book was … pretty much like every other dystopian novel I’ve read. Maybe if I’d read it before I read Hunger Games, I would have liked it more. But it was just meh to me. I honestly read it because the movie came in my Netflix, and I decided to read the book first. The movie was terrible though! It took unnecessary departures from the book, and was generally just not as enjoyable. The book, though it wasn’t the best book I’ve read, was much better. My only real complaint is that the slang used in the book super annoyed me — I felt like the author was trying too hard to avoid using strong language. But, there was a ton of action and the ending actually surprised me. If you liked Hunger Games or other post-apocalyptic novels, definitely give this one a shot. You may like it more than I did. Also, it’s a movie!

This one also has a pretty good book trailer too!

Rating: 3/5 

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

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Ostracized by her family and village, Ismae is forever punished for her mother’s dalliance — with Death himself. A daughter of Death, Ismae is given special, if morbid, gifts which are feared by the world around her. Sold into marriage to an abusive husband, Ismae flees to the convent of St. Mortain where the sisters carry out Mortain’s (god of Death) wishes. Leaving her old life behind, Ismae is trained as a deadly assassin and sent to avenge traitors to the country. But, as satisfying as her new life is, Ismae soon learns that Mortain’s wishes are not always easy to decipher. What’s more, lies and deception plague Ismae’s most important mission, causing her to question everything she thought was true.

I really liked this one. It has a female character taking over her own life, making her own decisions, developing serious ninja skills — it’s awesome. Unfortunately, I read Throne of Glass before I read this piece, and the two are almost exactly the same. The one difference is that Throne of Glass is way better. Though it’s not a bad story, Grave Mercy is a historical fiction as well as fantasy, and the time period LaFevers chose is rough. Politics of 15th century Britain aren’t always easy to follow, and what would pass for normal happenings in society back then (i.e. a twelve-year-old getting ready to marry) are hard to believe now. If you like historical fiction and you like action, give this one a shot. It has some interesting views on religion/theology that Throne of Glass does not tackle, and I truly enjoyed reading those themes. I liked it enough that I will probably read the companion novels.

This one has a great book trailer!

Rating: 3/5 

*School Library Journal, Best Books of the Year, 2012

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Though born to a psychic mother and living in a house full of those specializing in the supernatural, Blue has no abilities of her own. Feeling rejected by the spirit world, Blue mostly tries to just make it through her days, hoping that one day she will experience magic. Then, without warning, four boys from the prestigious private school, Aglionby – Raven boys – fall into Blue’s life. Though not magical, the boys are certainly adventurous, and Blue is soon swept up into their leader, Gansey’s, quest to find the mythical Glendower. What’s more, Blue finds herself falling for another of the Aglionby boys, Adam. Though everything in her life is soon in question, Blue knows two things for certain: Gansey will die before the year ends, and, if she kisses her true love, he will die. As she delves deeper into the mystery of Glendower, Blue must try to prevent Gansey’s death and her kiss from happening – before it’s too late.

So, after the Shiver disaster, I was really reluctant to pick up another of Steifvater’s books. But this one isn’t too bad. There are some minor issues I still don’t like, such as objectifying women and making them dependent on men, but it’s nowhere near as bad as in previous books. Though it took me a while to get into the book (thus the lower rating), the mystery turned out to be engaging, and I definitely wanted more by the time the novel ended. As a heads up, much of the mystery in the book revolves around a mythical king, Glendower, and the power of ley lines. If you’re not familiar with either (I wasn’t), you may want to do a little research before you begin — the concepts are not explained well in the book. I’ve also heard great things about the next two installments in the series, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. If you’re looking for a new series to start — this might be it!

This one has a great book trailer!

Rating: 3.5/5

*YASLA Top Ten Books for Young Adults, 2013

*Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel, 2012

*Carnegie Medal in Literature Nominee, 2014

*Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee, 2015

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Seth clearly remembers dying – drowning in the ocean, his head smashed in by a rock. So why is he awake? And where is he? And . . . where is everyone else? Seth wakes from death in what he believes is hell. He’s naked, alone, and the outside world is empty. Horrible memories of his past surface to haunt him – punishment, he believes, for mistakes he made in life. Seth must solve the mystery of this hell, must find an answer to his questions, or be trapped forever, doomed to relive the pain of his past.

This is probably the most weirdly amazing book I’ve read. The science fiction is fantastic, so if you’re a fan, this is a definite must-read. Even if you aren’t a big fan of sci-fi (which I’m not), it’s not so crazy technical or scienc-y that it’s boring or hard to read. Everything is incredibly believable — so much so that you might be wondering if this is where our world is headed. The twists in the novel will blow you away and leave you wanting more. It’s kind of a slow beginning, though, so hang in there — you’ll be glad you did!

However, as amazing as the novel is, the ending was a HUGE letdown for me. Mega cliffhanger. If you’re a reader that needs a nice, neat ending, this one may not satisfy you. But the rest of the book is so awesome that you should read it anyway 🙂

This one has a great book trailer!

Rating: 4/5

*YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2014

*The Kitschies Nominee for Red Tentacle (Novel), 2013

*ALA Rainbow List, 2013

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS), click here.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

Set in New York during the roaring 20’s, Bray’s epic novel weaves together the lives of Evie, a flapper determined to find the “good” life, Memphis, a number’s runner with a powerful gift, Theta, a Ziegfeld girl running from her past, and many more. Evie, foremost in the cast of characters, is sent to live with her bachelor uncle in New York after a public embarrassment, and finds herself helping him with a murder investigation. Evie, who boasts the ability to “read” objects, must use her ability to help find the murderer, though a darker mystery looms in the near future.

This one was not my favorite. I had high hopes, as I know Libba Bray won the Printz for Going Bovine, but this was a real letdown. First of all, it’s incredibly long (578 pages). I don’t mind length if the story is really good, but Bray filled up most of these pages with back-story that wasn’t necessary to plot development, and lengthy descriptive prose. If I want to read a whole two pages about what the wind “feels”, I’ll pick up Dickens. Aside from wordiness, Bray also riddles the text with 1920’s slang. I think she was trying to add legitimacy, but the constant “-ski’s” and “pie face’s” got annoying. I just really expected better.

That said, once Bray finally got down to business, the murder mystery/serial killer hunting was fantastic. There were points that were really exciting, and I definitely wanted to see how the novel ended. The ending was another let-down, though. Oh well. As always, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean you won’t, so if you’re a fan on the ’20’s, murder mysteries, or ghost stories, give this one a try!

This one has a great book trailer!

Rating: 2.5/5

*YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2013

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Born with a rare facial deformity, Auggie Pullman is entering a real school for the first time. Severed from the protection of hiding his face in his house or underneath an astronaut’s helmet, Auggie must attempt to navigate a hostile middle school world. Palacio tells Auggie’s story through varying first person viewpoints, driving home the message that kindness is truly life’s best practice.

While Wonder is a book clearly aimed at a younger audience (middle school), I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to readers of any age. Every character is relatable and interesting, and some of the narrators are teenagers, so it’s not just a book about “little kids”. If you’ve ever been bullied (or perhaps have bullied), Palacio’s novel speaks to just how damaging that behavior can be, and illustrates that it’s possible to overcome adversity. A funny novel that will sometimes have you reaching for a Kleenex, Wonder is worth your time. 

However, as important as I think Palacio’s novel is, it does sometimes get preachy. Some situations are presented as “too” perfect, and some of the things the characters said I just didn’t agree with (see the full analysis for more). Then again, this is a fiction book, so the “real” world may not matter. If you’re looking for a “feel-good” book that makes the world look awesome, this is it. If you prefer more “realistic” realistic fiction, maybe not so much. But read it anyway and see what you think 🙂

Rating: 3.5/5

*Bluebonnet Nominee, 2013

This one has a great book trailer! Click here to see it!

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.