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How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

February 15, 2017

Teenage pickpocket Flick has abandoned his formerly glamorous lifestyle and is now living on the streets of the Lower East Side, stealing from civilians with a “flick” of his wrist. While eating breakfast at a Chinatown restaurant, Flick encounters the mysterious Lucian Mandel, headmaster of Mandel Academy. Flick is offered a place at the school to settle a disagreement between his abusive, alcoholic father, who is on the school board, and Mr. Mandel. Flick’s acceptance and to graduation from the academy will be traded for the information about how his younger brother really died.

Mandel Academy is a well-known school famous for enrolling teenagers from the streets and producing Ivy League-bound students and future corrupt millionaires. Flick accepts Mr. Mandel’s offer and discovers that the academy is not what he thought it would be. There are classes like hand-to-hand combat and crime scene cleaning—“skills for real life,” as Mr. Mandel calls the classes—and tracking chips implanted in students upon arrival, and the consequences for failure could be deadly.

I appreciated how Miller included an Addendum in the back of the book about the characters’ because it gave the reader more insight into their lives before the academy, which I really enjoyed. While I was reading the book I was hoping for more information on the secondary characters past lives and backgrounds. The Addendum also includes blueprints of the school, which helped me picture the school in my mind. I noticed and enjoyed the strong character development. When the book starts Flick is focused on getting revenge on his father and is whiny and ignorant. As the book progresses he becomes less focused on revenge and more concentrated on stopping Mr. Mandel from his evil plan. I could see Flick understanding that he can’t do everything on his own, and I appreciated that detail. I rated this amazing book a 10 out of 10.

How to Lead a Life of Crime was funny, action-packed, and mysterious. I would recommend this gripping book to both boys and girls who love a good action-adventure story and like to be on the edge of their seats.


Razor Bill, 434 pages

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is a fearless assassin in the city of Adarlan and is one year into her life sentence in the salt mines of Endovier. But after a long day in the dark endless  mines she is greeted by six guards and a strange man in black.They bring her to the prince (the king’s son) to be looked over before she is invited to the glass castle to compete in the king’s competition for the title of king’s champion—basically his hitman. One of the king’s many different challenges reveals how the lack of training in the salt mines affected Celaena, who she would normally be at the top of the group. Because of her lack of strength she goes to the king as a different person with a different name so she won’t look bad.

Maas effectively balances out the amount of action and adventure with the drama and romance so readers never get bored with the plot. Maas did an excellent job developing all the characters. For example, when she was developing Celaena Sardothien she made her a brutal, emotionless assassin with a soft side for the people closest to her, like her friends and masters at the assassin’s guild. I think that the author could have added more detail about Celaena’s past, like how long was she an assassin before she got captured and sent to Endovire, but that is why audiences should also read The Assassin’s Blade, which is the prequel to Throne of Glass.

I think that anyone would love this book whether they like fantasy, action- adventure, or drama because this novel has all of those elements rolled into one amazing, must-read story. Celaena grows from being some heartless assassin who got locked in the mines after years of killing for money, to a nicer more trustworthy character who will surprise readers throughout the entire book— and the rest of the series if they choose to read it. A good example this transformation from the start of the book is seeing how her relationship grows with the captain of the royal guard and the prince of Auterland.


Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., 404 pages

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

February 6, 2017

Enzo is not an ordinary dog, and he knows it. When Denny Swift, a professional racecar driver, adopts him, Enzo moves away from his life of standing apart from other dogs. From paying close attention to his beloved owner, Denny, and watching endless television, Enzo teaches himself more than the average person knows—about car racing, humans, and our confusing way of life.

As Denny and Enzo spend more time together, their trust in each other grows deeper, so Enzo is taken aback when Denny falls in love with Eve. But time goes on, and eventually Enzo grows to like Eve, as well as the couple’s newborn daughter Zoe, even though both of them seem to have edged in on his spot in Denny’s heart.

When Eve gets very sick and her parents try to take custody of Zoe, Denny gets into trouble, and Enzo can do nothing but stand back and watch as his family is ripped apart.

I liked how Stein balanced characters with completely different personalities, making readers feel like they were seeing the world through Enzo’s point of view: right with the family as they celebrated, crying with them as they cried, and suffering as their world fell apart.

At first, I thought that it was strange, or at least different, to be reading from this dog’s perspective that Stein had chosen, but as the novel progressed, the observations that Enzo had about being a human, or having the soul of a human, taught me a new way to think about our everyday lives.

It was interesting how Stein included obstacles for their family to face, while keeping the story realistic at the same time. This made the plot much more effective, because the characters resolved some of their problems, while others just couldn’t be fixed. These mixed outcomes created a heart breaking, yet much more believable story.

I also appreciated how Stein incorporated humor while writing this novel, because, even though at some points it felt like everything was crashing apart, the mood was lightened by Enzo’s powerful ideas and positive way of thinking

This book was an incredible blend of joy, despair and anger. It made me think about life differently, and I believe that anybody who reads this book will feel the same mix of emotions as this family is brought to life on the pages. Any reader who wants a convincing novel that will change the way he or she thinks about the world, will not be able to put this book down.



Harper Collins, 321 pages




Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Exploring an unusual perspective, Dalton Trumbo writes an uncommon anti-war novel that poses questions we, or at least I, never thought to ask: Why have we fought the wars we have? I think everyone has a different answer. This book explores the mind of a young man who was severely wounded in battle, and finds one way to address part of the question.

A young man named Joe gets his arms, legs, and face blown off during World War I, leaving him without ears, eyes, a nose, or a mouth. He doesn’t know where he is and, with nobody to talk to, hear, see, and nothing to taste ( he’s fed through a tube), he’s completely alone with only his consciousness for company. His mind wanders to all the memories of his past: happy ones and dark ones. He continually imagines what it would be like to see his loved ones again.

Trumbo incorporates Joe’s life into his memories, which I appreciated because then I could get to know the character and not just his thoughts. He makes readers feel as though they’re in Joe’s position: a man stuck in a place that’s nothing like life—and feels so close to death. Trumbo helps his readers imagine darkness until you die, never to see, hear, talk to anybody ever again—nothing to taste or touch. He describes all of Joe’s emotional changes from panic to joy, and the realization that obviously he can’t get new body parts, so he must use what he has. Trumbo takes his audience on a journey to the realities of war and all its consequences.

Trumbo disguises his powerful, but intriguing, anti-war protest with an even better story. When reading this novel, I couldn’t help but think back to past wars and also current events. He wrote in a way that I could see Joe change: for example, by starting to treasure his memories instead of blocking them out, and thinking of how to use what he has, rather than panicking about it. Johnny Got His Gun is based around a simple theme: the complicated reasons we fight wars and the powerful effects they have. This famous book was made into a movie that Trumbo directed, which I haven’t had the chance to see yet. It was also a National Book Award winner.

Johnny Got His Gun is an amazing read that will interest lots of readers looking for a different perspective. I highly recommend this powerful novel.


Lyle Stuart, Inc. 243 pages.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

January 31, 2017

Four students arrive at Opportunity High: some filled with hopes for a new start, others not able to let go of the past. But all of their worst fears come true when, minutes after the school principal finishes her speech welcoming the students to a new semester and encouraging them to shape the future, the students get up to leave and discover that the auditorium double doors are locked. The students swarm around the doors, trying to get them open, when a dark figure appears in the room standing in the frame of the only open door—holding a gun.

The book continues telling the minute-by-minute story of one student’s calculated revenge, the heartbreak of those he kills, and the fast-paced game of survival. The reader closely follows four students: Autumn, the shooter’s sister whose mother recently died; Claire, who wasn’t in the building but wants to help; Sylv, Autumn’s girlfriend who has also had a complicated life; and Tomás, who desperately tries to protect his sister.

This read was gripping and well written. Nijkamp not only crafted a fast-paced plot, but also created characters that changed and grew over the course of the book. Throughout the novel, the characters have flashbacks to important parts in their life, which add up to tell the story of how they got to where they are now. For example Autumn’s memories are about her father who turned abusive after her mother’s death and how her brother Ty reacted. After reading about each story you learn more about that character’s complicated connection to Tyler. This shows the reader more of what is going on inside his head, as well as the motives behind his violent actions.

Nijkamp tells a compelling story that makes you think about other people and the world around you. She explores an emotional topic through the eyes of four complex yet relatable teenagers, and it will leave you full of questions about the society we live in.

This Is Where It Ends sucked me in from the first chapter. Anyone who reads it will thoroughly enjoy the heart-pounding story about love, loss, and the power of forgiveness. Nijkamp effectively brings you into the lives of Autumn, Claire, Slyv, and Tomás, and you feel deeply connected to them as they try to stay alive in a school taken over by fear.

Overall, this was an amazing book I couldn’t put down. It was an exciting and touching novel that even made me cry. I believe any reader who tries it will more deeply understand the hate and cruelty that causes people to act brutally, and be shocked at how those actions can effect so many people in different ways. So be prepared for an emotional ride that will leave you brokenhearted and full of new realizations.


Source Books, 282 pages

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove and White Raven are the stage names of Delia, and Rhoda a team of female stunt-pilots. Traveling with them as they perform are their two young children, Emilia and Teo. During one of their shows, a bird strike crashes their plane and immediately kills Teo’s mother. Emilia’s mother, Rhoda, survives and adopts Teo. But in this novel’s particular time, 1930’s America, it is often considered suspicious to see a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside her own white daughter. Following Delia’s lifelong dream, Rhoda moves to Ethiopia so she can raise Teo where he won’t be discriminated against for the color of his skin. But soon after they arrive, war with the Italians threatens to push them out forever.

This historical fiction book by Elizabeth Wein (author of Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity) is told in the first person through a letter to the emperor from the present (March 4, 1936), and then a collection of stories from the past attached. Wein gives the reader an overall idea of all the different characters and incorporates the points of view of both Teo and Emilia using flight log entries. These logs give the reader a glimpse of the characters’ thoughts, almost like a diary, revealing untold emotions. Throughout the book , short stories that Emilia and Teo write foreshadow or explain complicated events in a simpler situation. Wein portrays the characters in a way that makes the story come to life.

Although the beginning of the book is slow to develop, the result is an action-packed conclusion. Wein’s detailed plot will make the reader laugh and cry alongside the characters. This heartfelt historical fiction novel would be enjoyed by anyone who likes a heroic adventure. I definitely rate this book a ten out of ten for its realistic and unforgettable story.


Hyperion, 345 pages

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Finn is not your average boy, growing up in a not- so- average place, surrounded by an unusual group of people. Finn is captive in the living prison called Incarceron that can kill and breed people at will. No one except the inmate’s legend, Sapphique, has escaped the dreaded world. No one has come in or out since the prison was built, although Finn believes he came from the outside. In fact, no one believes there is anywhere else. He embarks on a dangerous quest with his oath-brother Kerio to escape Incarceron using a mysterious crystal key and visions of Sapphique, before Incarceron finds them.

Claudia is the daughter of the warden of Incarceron. She lives in a kingdom where she is forced to marry the second son of the royal family and become the queen of the kingdom. She is trying to find Incarceron’s location with the help of her tutor, Jared. Searching through her father’s belongings, she finds a crystal key she believes will unlock the door to Incarceron. A mysterious artifact brings Claudia and Finn together to uncover a secret plot that has to do with the missing prince of the kingdom and the creation of Incarceron.

Catherine Fisher’s imagination has brought to life this blend of science fiction, action adventure, high technology, kings and queens, and lots of deception, conspiracies, and heart. Readers follow Finn and Claudia through their quest to uncover the truth. Fisher switches between third- person perspectives of Finn and Claudia. When I got to an exciting part, the novel would change perspectives so I was always wanting to read on to find out what happened to the characters. Both characters have to overcome many extra problems they run into, in order to accomplish their main goal.

Fisher leads this book into its follow up, Sapphique. She has written another amazing novel called Circle of Stones. I rate this book a ten because I never stopped being interested in the plot. I also liked how Fisher made Incarceron alive. She used personification to give a prison human qualities, and throughout the book  characters talk about a certain emotion Incarceron is feeling at the time— for example, a rumble or a creak would be how Incarceron shows its emotions. I recommend this book to any one who likes action-adventure, science fiction, corruption, fantasy, and rebellion.

Fisher leads you on two adventures that collide into a story that will change everything for both characters. Meanwhile the reader asks so many questions: Who should they trust? What can they do? Who’s bad and who’s good? What is Incarceron?

Dial books, 442 pages


Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

January 27, 2017

Amari’s life had once been perfect: engaged to the man of her dreams, blessed with an adorable little brother, and living in a beautiful African village. But one summer day in 1738, this changes forever. Amari is captured from her home and brought to South Carolina to be sold. On the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic, she meets an older woman, Afi, who encourages her and lets her know that everything will turn out right. After spending a year at the plantation Amari realizes that being a slave is not what she wants for her life. She makes many friends that treat her like family, but after a tragic event Amari chooses to escape with two of her friends: Polly, the indentured servant, and Tidbit, the cook’s son.

I enjoyed how Sharon Draper wrote this novel in third person; each chapter focused on a different character, either Polly or Amari. Draper also wrote from family history, knowing that made the plot more believable. Her diction was amazing throughout the book­–it felt like I was reading poetry because every sentence was so concise, which made it a quick read.

The only aspect that didn’t work for me was how the author developed Polly; Draper made her a very stuck up, self-centered character, who didn’t add to the book. This made me look forward to reading the Amari chapters more than the Polly chapters.

I loved that this book was written about a hard, unexplainable time in America’s history, but wasn’t completely focused on the horrors of slavery. If you’re over twelve and are interested this time period, you would love this book. Over all, this optimistic historical fiction novel is a must-read, so pull out that Someday List and write down Copper Sun by Sharon Draper.


302 pages, Simon Pulse


The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

It all starts when a deadly disease sweeps across sixteen-year-old Kaelyn’s island  after her best friend leaves for school on the main land without saying goodbye. It seems that there is no chance of survival for anyone, especially when the government quarantines the island. Soon protests start to fill the usually-bare streets, spreading sickness through the whole town.

Leaving few healthy, it’s up to Kaelyn, her dad, and a group of new friends to find a cure. As the hunt for the cure continues, the disease spreads, putting the hopeful heroes at risk. These determined teenagers must use their knowledge of survival to save the human race, even while their own lives are in danger due to the contagion.

This novel by Megan Crewe is split into different sections as the characters enter each phase of their journey, written by Kaelyn as journal entries. Within those phases the chapters go by days, making it easy to follow the progress—and—problems that Kaelyn faces.

From the first page I was sucked in. Obviously most teenagers don’t need to find a cure to save the human race, but I found Kaelyn easy to relate to her personal problems. Right before the disease hits, her best friend has left without a goodbye to attend her dream school, and throughout the book  Crewe incorporates letters written to her from Kaelyn. Another problem  Kaelyn is forced to face is that her older brother is never around to help her care for their home and quarantined mother, while her dad spends days and nights on end at the hospital caring for the diseased.

In The Way We Fall Crewe layers theme deep inside every problem Kaelyn faces. Some themes that emerge are based around family and the importance of life and love. But as the plot thickens, Kaelyn is forced to face the harshness of reality and must consider how to cope with death and anger. One of the main themes I found was is learning to forget everything bad you have ever done in the past and focus on the now.

The Way We Fall is the first book in the Fallen World: a series of four books that follows Kaelyn and her journey to stop the lethal disease.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves compelling stories about dedication, loss, and adventure—but also anybody who is into contemporary realistic fiction and wants to try something more dystopian. However, even if you’re not into those genres and themes, I would tell anyone that The Way We Fall is a must read. Crewe included so much character development it feels like I grew up with Kaelyn and her friends and family.You will definitely not regret trying this amazing book.

This story reveals how Kaelyn reacted when she was put up to the test of saving the human race. But what would you do if everyone’s life was on the line and you were the only one who could save them?


Hyperion, 309 pages

Monument 14: Savage Drift by Emmy Laybourne

Now at Quilchena Refugee Camp in Canada, Dean and the survivors from Monument 14 are safe. The only concern is that Josie is missing. She is now at a Type O containment camp in Missouri where everyone is going crazy due to the reaction from their blood type, and a mean guard called Vengar bosses everyone around. Niko finds out where she is from the start of the book and is determined to rescue her. Jake, Astrid (who is still pregnant), and Dean want to go with him. So a man at the refugee camp takes them to an airport in Idaho where their newest adventure begins.

Monument 14: Savage Drift is a great conclusion to the Monument 14 series. I appreciated how Laybourne switched between the perspectives of Josie and Dean, which were very different, especially at the beginning when Dean and his friends have all that they needed at Quilchena Refugee Camp, while Josie, at the Type O containment camp, is treated terribly. People there are constantly fighting, but a kind man named Mario looks after Josie and the other kids. I also enjoyed how Laybourne recorded the number of each day since the hailstorm at the bottom of each page. I could easily keep track of which day it was. I thought Laybourne described the setting well. I could picture it although I think that the first book had better imagery because the characters spent the whole novel in the store. However, I would change how much Dean, Jake, and Astrid argued. In the other books they seemed to get along better and worked as a team to protect the little kids.

Laybourne’s character development was also effective. Dean, at first, seemed to stand up for Astrid too much and argued with Jake often, but as the book went on, he learned that he was overly protective and became more of a leader, with a little help from Niko. Josie, on the other hand, was very helpful to Mario and in looking after the little kids. She also was good at standing up for herself when crazed Type Os were being cruel to her. As the book went on she kept trying to escape, never giving up.

Overall, I really liked this book. I enjoyed how It switched between Josie and Dean’s perspectives, and the settings were intriguing and easy to picture. I would rate it a nine out of ten and recommend it to anyone who likes exciting, survival books and great character development.


Square Fish Books, 308 pages

Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

January 25, 2017

Laurel is an average teenage girl—with a wealthy best friend. Tom Forelli is a celebrity who needs to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. The Cruise to Lose is the opportunity of a lifetime for both of them.

When the diet drug Solu is created, the company holds a luxury cruise for only the richest of the rich to get a sneak peek at their new, seemingly-magical, sweetener that not only tastes exactly like real sugar, it also helps the eater lose weight. At first, Laurel and Tom’s paths cross in a somewhat cliché way (literally running into one another), but their reason for staying in each others’ lives is unique: neither has taken Solu, which means neither has experienced the strange symptoms popping up in the rest of the passengers, such as extreme addiction to the point of murder. The passengers get crazier and literally bloodthirsty, including Laurel’s best friend, Vivika, and Tom’s to-the-public “girlfriend,” reality-star Sabbi Ribiero. As the only sober people on the ship, Tom and Laurel unite to put an end to the cruise and take down Solu before it is released to the public.

Laybourne switches perspectives between Tom Forelli and Laurel. Because these two characters are so alike in personality but come from contrasting backgrounds, I felt the plot had more dimensions to it. It creates the expectation of predictability in the readers’ minds, then goes in a surprising direction. There are twists and turns no reader could expect, giving the novel its breakneck speed.

An aspect I particularly loved was how Laybourne packed multiple themes into one book to appeal to multiple audiences. It contained bits of dystopian science-fiction, contemporary realistic fiction, disaster/survival, adventure, and magical realism. Even if you prefer only one of those five genres, Laybourne’s way of fusing them together is intriguing and unique: perfect for this novel.

Prepare yourself for a book filled-to-the-brim with shocking twists (including a conclusion no one could’ve foreseen) that you can finish it in a day. Sweet reveals human nature’s dark side when we want something badly, but also the beauty of two different personalities working together.


Feiwel and Friends, 272 pages

About the Blog

February 13, 2016

You Gotta Read This! features book reviews written by CTL seventh- and eighth-grade students about books they have loved and think other middle school readers would love, too. All reviews are written by the kids in writing workshop, based on titles that they’ve selected and adored in reading workshop. The reviews are posted chronologically–extending back to 2009–tagged according to genre, and added to each year.

Happy reading!

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Rev_paperback_US“Yeah. Sure. My brother’s dead. My mother’s insane. Hey, let’s have a crêpe.”

Andi Alpers is just a seventeen-year-old girl living in the heights of Brooklyn. She plays guitar; and has a talented French artist for a mother and a brilliant scientist for a father. Sounds perfect, “ja?” — as her teacher Nathan would say. Not so much. Andi’s younger brother, Truman, was killed in a car accident, her father lives with his new young wife, and most of the time Andi’s mother catatonically paints pictures of Truman, which leaves Andi on her own. But after Andi attempts suicide at a party, she finds her father at her house trying to make sense of her mother who sits dazed at her easel, and wondering why Andi wasn’t there. Abruptly, he suggests that he and Andi go to Paris, so that Andi can work on her college essay and try to move on from Truman’s death.

When Andi arrives in Paris she finds an artifact she never expected to spark her curiosity: a diary. It belonged to a poor girl Andi’s age named Alex, living in the time of the French Revolution. As Andi continues to read the diary, the world of eighteenth-century Paris captures her in a way more real than she could ever imagine.

I loved how Donnelly incorporated so many different personalities in both Andi and Alex’s stories. Even the characters in Alex’s diary entries Donnelly made both Andi and the reader feel like the people described were real. The three characters that I loved the most in Revolution were Amadé Malherbeau, Virgil, and Prince Louis-Charles. I loved those characters because they all helped Andi discover who she was —I know it sounds cheesy, but trust me— in different powerful ways: Louis-Charles shows Andi the innocence of the monarchy in the French Revolution, Amadé shows her how the revolution affected the people and how not everyone is as good as they seem, and Virgil teaches her that she needs to open up and let people into her life. I think all of these lessons are important in anyone’s life, regardless of the French Revolution setting.

I thought it was interesting and effective how Donnelly constructed the novel using specific entries from Alex’s diary to describe her life, so that both Andi and the reader can get know her and deeply understand the struggles of her life. I also thought Donnelly’s use of an epilogue to end the book was effective and satisfying.

I think all readers will absolutely love this book—I definitely did. I rated it a definite eleven out of ten. It’s the perfect size for this type of novel—about 470 pages— but I promise you, it will go by fast. PLEASE: do not be swayed from reading this spectacular book by the cover image of a key. I think it distracts from the theme and plot of the book, which is about people and things changing, and only a bit about Andi and Alex’s connection to Truman’s key.

Be prepared with some tissues; this book is an emotional ride.

Random House, Inc. 473 pages.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life-of-PiPiscine Molitor Patel is in the same “boat” as many others his age: he deals with religion, family, and even moving. But when his immigration to Canada goes horribly wrong, he finds himself orphaned and in a completely different boat—one with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger.

After spending his first night aboard dangling from an oar, Piscine realizes he must stake claim to his territory. The hyena is a constant threat, and Piscine has no control. But as the animals die off, soon all that is left is the most dangerous: the tiger. Filled not with the desire to survive, but the aim to die comfortably, Piscine sets out to create living accommodations.

To summon the will to fight through to the end would be barely believable right off the bat. Piscine’s urge to die comfortably may seem like a way for Yann Martell to create a realistic character, but I see it as an intentional choice that adds to the theme in a way I am still understanding. Piscine himself describes it with this matter of fact statement: “With a tiger aboard, my life was over. That being settled, why not do something about my parched throat?”

As Piscine dictates his story to a writer, he often interjects with the behavior of animals, family, and his hatred of agnostics. Through the dual perspectives of the writer and Piscine himself, his character develops in real-time as well as the past, allowing readers to see how Piscine’s early life affects him in his forties.

Much like Laura Hillenbrand’s nonfiction book, Unbroken, a good third of Life of Pi takes place before the initial catastrophe. And, much like Unbroken, it’s not a part to skim over just to reach the “good stuff.” Watching Piscine mature and grapple with religions is essential and enjoyable. His joint worship of Hindu, Islam, and Christianity, and his involvement in religion hold a key to the major theme of the novel. All the dialogue and description is fundamental to a reader’s formulation of Piscine as a character. If readers are finding it boring, uninteresting, or a chore to read through the first part of his childhood, this most likely isn’t the book for them in the first place.

Piscine himself has a master’s degree in zoology—appropriate as he grew up in a zoo. I found myself learning a lot about animals and gaining perspective on zoos and animals in general. Entire chapters are filled with his theories, both religious and scientific, and Piscine is very opinionated—and therefore easy to disagree with. I have no doubt fans of Blackfish will find it difficult to accept the idea that animals prefer zoos to the wild. But Piscine offers a convincing argument, and ended up changing my view on the topic completely.

All in all, this was one of the most worthwhile books I’ve ever read. I recommend this novel to people who enjoy questioning and debating religion, and think they will find it worth their time.


Random House of Canada, 319 pages.

Chew on This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Chew on This

“There was one kid who, as paramedics were loading him into the ambulance, asked his friends to take his burger to the hospital with him.”

One aspect that I admired about Chew On This by Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) and Charles Wilson, a book about the role of fast food in our society, is that it goes into lots of detail and does not just focus on one subject.  Instead it broadens out into many fields, such as the following:

  • the meatpacking industry
  • the french fry industry
  • the fast food companies
  • the flavor industry

For example, the authors talked about how these fast food companies go and advertise and sell in schools and to young kids who are only about seven years old. The authors also describe meatpacking companies where the workers don’t bother pulling the rats out of the meat that we EAT.  They also reveal that the average small french fry order at McDonald’s has more than triple the fat that a Big Mac has.  I also learned the flavor industry is so advanced that they can make a food taste and smell like body odor.  Finally, did you know that the fast food companies encourage the drinking of a six-pack of Coke every day? I had no idea until reading this hard-hitting work of non-fiction.

The reason that I picked up Chew On This was because I wanted to know the truth about what we eat.  Schlosser has taken his Fast Food Nation research and made it accessible to younger readers like me. Once I picked up this book I could not put it down, because the authors include excellent diction and such detailed description.  I was horrified, intrigued and informed all at once.  This read made me more aware of the some of the horrors of the fast food industry.

I think that Chew on This helps us by telling us what our food is really going through, and what is really in our food; I think that this will help us by educating us in this subject.  If you liked or even watched the movie Fed Up then you will love this book.  I would rate this book a 10 out of a 10.  I would recommend this book to ages ten and up.

Houghton Mifflin, 318 Pages

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

I Will AlwaysCaitlin is an average seventh-grade girl with a comfortable American life. Martin is a smart, hardworking, eighth-grade grade boy living in Zimbabwe. They have never met, but one letter changes both their lives. This dual memoir tells the touching story of two loyal best friends. Over the course of eleven years, Caitlin helps give Martin the education he needs to have a successful life—first in Zimbabwe, then in the US— and through it all they both gain a true friend and a story to share.

I could not put this book down once I began reading! It was hard to believe that a series of letters could change lives. This book made me feel so many emotions: happiness, sadness, hope, and gratitude, but most of all, how fortunate I am for the life I live. I do not have to work to pay for school, I get three full meals everyday, and I don’t have to sleep on a cold, hard floor.

I liked how Alifirenka and Ganda included some of the letters and pictures that they had sent to each other, because it helped me see more into their lives and lifestyles. As a reader I found that the parts about Martin were more compelling and interesting  than the parts about Caitlin because Caitlin’s life was nothing new for me—her life is like mine in some ways—but Martin’s story was new to me. I always wanted to know what was happening in Africa with Martin and his family.

I would recommend this book to both girls and boys because of the male and female protagonists. I gave this memoir five stars, because of how unbelievable this true story is.

Little, Brown and Company, 387 pages

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The_Maze_Runner_coverThomas wakes up. A stranger to a small, pitch-black room, he feels his surroundings shoot up to the sky until he jolts to a stop. The top opens up to a blinding light. He can’t see anything for a moment, and all he hears is, “Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the glade.”

Author James Dashner puts his protagonist Thomas into a twisted, evil place called the maze. The setting is a huge field in the middle. Surrounding it is a maze with a box in the center that brings up new supplies and a new boy each month. But one month the very first girl comes up with a note: This is the last one.

I really enjoyed the book because it drew me right into the reading zone with all of the suspenseful action scenes around every corner—or every turn of the page. For example, my favorite is when Thomas runs into the maze to save his friends and fights off the Grievers, an enemy, at night. Nobody has ever survived a night the maze. One of the best traits of Thomas as a character is his bravery and how he is willing to help others, like he does in that scene.

This also leads me to the theme. It shows up in different chapters throughout the book: its perseverance and to never give up hope or leave anyone behind. Thomas does just that in the scene where he runs into the maze to save his friends. He believes in each one of them.

I loved how Dashner would give the reader some information and then hold the rest back. He would give me enough details at the right time so that I could make a connection, but it would not be predictable. For example, he tells readers that inside the Grievers stinger there is a number— that number is what section they come from and maybe an escape route.

Dashner did a great job with all of the plot twists, such as when Thomas kills the first Grievers ever. The next day, when the doors to the maze open and they don’t close, the Grievers roam into the glade when night falls. This had me reading for hours to grasp more of the juicy content that was provided over the course of this book.

I would recommend this novel to anyone. It was amazing and, as a reader, I was able to finish it in just a sitting. I rated this book a ten out of ten, and it is definitely a re-read book. There is also a series that goes along with the book— this is the first— and the rest of the series is definitely promising. The movie based on Dashner’s novel follows the storyline of the book perfectly, so give this book a read first and then enjoy the film.


Delacorte Press, 386 pages

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I_Am_Number_Four_CoverNine Loriens escape from their planet after being attacked by dozens of Mogadoriens. The Lorien Alien nine go to Earth, but the Mogadoriens follow them a few months later on a quest to finally destroy all Loriens that are still alive. The nine survivors all have powers that develop over time. They all split up to different states and countries and with mentors that act as parents and teachers to them and help them live grow their powers, in order to someday to be ready to defend themselves.

The main problem in this novel by Pittacus Lore is that the nine need to grow and master their powers so they can fight back and kill the Mogadoriens, which is the main problem in the book. I think that the Lore crafted that conflict well. He was able to bring the characters to life, and draw the reader in to make it seem like he or she is in the book along with the characters.

During the novel the nine develop more powers, have fights with the Mogs, who are always looking and hunting the Nine down, especially the main character named John Smith who is Number Four. The Loriens have to be killed in order by the Mogs. If they go out of order it will have a reverse effect and make the person die who-is trying to kill them. When the book begins One, Two, and Three have been killed-now they are after Number Four.

John’s life is fun: he enjoys himself, he goes to school, and there is even a romance between him and Saharh, but as a Lorien in hiding he has a big secret to keep from his friends and his girlfriend, which is another main problem.

Number Four’s mentor is named Henri, and I think the author Lore has crafted every character to add new meaning to the book. He gives each one powers, and their character development is all based around them growing their powers to fight back.

Lore crafted the theme and plot with details about what the Nine are there for, how they will survive, and how to fend for themselves while also helping others in danger. I would rate this book a ten because the author makes the plot and theme build so much and has great character development. This novel kicks off a compelling series of books, all of which readers will want to devour as soon as they finish I Am Number Four.


Harper, 440 pages

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel

February 11, 2016

Half BrotherBen Tomlin was an only child for thirteen years. Then his parents brought home a baby chimpanzee. The book Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel takes place in the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy named Ben Tomlin. His mother and father are both scientists and have finally been able to fund their experiment, which involves cross-fostering, where one species raises another. Ben’s parents wanted to cross-foster a chimpanzee named Zan, to see if he can learn ASL (American Sign Language), truly understand what we have in common with chimps, and to discover what makes us different.

The Tomlins teach Zan how to communicate using ASL: ‘up’, ‘drink’, ‘give’, ‘more’, ‘eat’, ‘you’, and ‘me’ becomes Zan’s vocabulary, and, before long, he is regularly signing to get what he desires. Ben sees Zan for who he really is, but Ben’s father, who is opposed to even giving Zan a name, almost never interacts with him and doesn’t want anything to do with him besides write down data. Ben’s mom is acting as Zan’s mother figure, and while she is kind and nurturing, she is also strict and stern.

As Zan grows in both size and strength, and the experiment becomes more difficult to maintain safely, the project begins to spiral out of control. At this point, Ben finds an ally in Peter, one of the student research assistants working on the project. Like Ben, Peter sees Zan for what he truly is – a living being with real needs and emotions. With Peter, Ben attempts to find a way out of what has become a tragic trap for Zan.

Oppel did an excellent job with going into the mind of a teenage boy, and along with the troubles the chimp brings, he also struggles with school and with winning the heart of his crush, Jennifer. This book really shows the love in a relationship between two brothers, or in this case, half brothers. Oppel brought life into a chimpanzee that felt more human than animal, and showed us how close we really are to these apes. I thought this book was well-written and contained incredible insight into the thought and voices of both the humans and the chimps. I would recommend this novel to animal lovers and those who would like to read about family relationships.

Scholastic/New York, Pages: 375

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns“Maybe all the strings inside him broke,” she said.

Ever since the day she moved next door, Quentin Jacobsen has had a crush on Margo Roth Spiegelman. To Q, she is everything he isn’t: free-spirited, wild, and brave. One day when they’re kids, Margo and Q ride their bikes to the park, and come across a dead man under a tree. That night, Margo slips into Q’s room dressed like a ninja. She tells him she’s done some detective work.

Seven years later, Q still likes her, even though they don’t hang out in high school anymore. Margo has become something of a legend. Often she’ll run away, like the time she joined the circus for a week. But any time she goes, she leaves little clues for her sister, Ruthie, or her parents to find. So when she disappears right before prom, no one is shocked, and Q thinks that she has left clues for him.

The night before Margo leaves, she sneaks into Q’s room— like she did seven years before— and has him drive her all over the city to do random-seeming pranks on people, break into SeaWorld, and finally, end up in the tallest building to look out over the city. Here, Margo explains to Q that Orlando is a paper town: a fake, paper place where paper people live their paper lives. She dreams of getting out, and when she disappears from the school hallways, Q thinks she has done just that.

But when Margo doesn’t return for weeks, Q and his two best friends, Radar and Ben, start looking for clues that lead them on an adventure: both in their hometown of Orlando, Florida, and across the country.

I both loved and disliked that Green’s focus was on the two main characters, Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin Jacobsen. It focuses on the central problem and lets readers feel involved. While I was reading this book, I felt like I was going on the adventures with Q, laughing until I cried with him, and being terrified of certain “Troll Holes” with him. But I disliked it because I wanted to know the secondary characters, too. I knew very little about Radar (his parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas; he has a girlfriend named Angela), and almost nothing about Ben (he has a crush on Lacey Pemberton). I liked those characters and wanted to see them developed further.

There is a movie based on this book, and I would say it’s fairly accurate, but there are a lot of important details you wouldn’t get without reading the book first.

I would recommend this novel for anyone, whether you like realistic fiction, mysteries, humor, or action-adventure, because this book has all of those. Brace yourself for the breakneck speed of John Green’s Paper Towns.


Penguin Group, 305 pages

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