24529123Title: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Pages: 288
Year: 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class. 10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open. 10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting. Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

This one was not easy to read.

School shootings are my absolute biggest fear. As a teacher, I face that fear every day, and every day I have to wonder if I will have to give my life for my students that day. So I didn’t get very emotional when I read this, but I think that’s probably because I didn’t let myself get truly enveloped in the story. I couldn’t. It would be too horrifying for me to read this narrative of things that happen all the time all over our country. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is barely fiction.

I think because of that, I wasn’t really able to engage with the text enough to really form opinions. I’m reading other reviews now, and I’m realizing how flat most of the characters were. Their voices in each of the perspectives are indistinguishable. However, I have to disagree with what a lot of reviewers are saying about Tyler being an almost cartoonish villain, with no complexity and no clear motivation. Tyler has clearly been abused in multiple ways throughout his life, and he lost his mother. So there’s some motivation. And as Autumn tells us, Tyler is not all bad. He helped her dance in secret when her father forbid it. He was her rock. But if I understand correctly, he snapped when he started to feel like Sylvia was taking Autumn away from him. And he’s apparently homophobic, so that made him angry. He’s a pretty bad dude, but I think he has more complexity than many reviewers give him credit for.

I will say, I was so over Autumn and Sylvia’s relationship by, like, the second page. Holy moly. How many different ways can you say they love each other? It’s exhausting. It’s like the author was trying to be like, “Look, I support the gays!” Congratulations. We get it.

You know, I’m starting to wonder if all that didn’t play a part in my inability to connect fully with this book. But I’m still giving it three stars because I was really hooked on the plot and finding out who survives and who doesn’t.

Now I’m off to a writers’ group meeting. Happy reading and writing, friends!

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30971720Title: The Special Ones
Author: Em Bailey
Pages: 304
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisA mysterious cult leader has complete control over Esther’s life…or does he? Esther is one of the Special Ones: four young spiritual guides who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? They are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are—and all the while, broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside. Esther knows that if she stops being Special, he will “renew” her. That means being replaced with another Esther. Nobody knows what happens to the Special Ones who are taken away from the farm for renewal, but Esther fears the worst. She also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, and is deeply troubled about her life in captivity. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.

This book is incredibly satisfyingly creepy for the first half. For that reason, I struggled to rate it. In a lot of my reviews, I talk about the first half of the book being okay and the second half really sucking me in, but I had the opposite experience with this book. The beginning had me hooked right away. I was horrified by but so interested in Esther/Tess’s situation. The way she has to pretend and keep Felicity/Zoe in line for their survival is incredible.

And then they get the new Lucille. She freaks out at first, but she quickly becomes a part of their group and seems weirdly interested in the roles they’re meant to act out. And her change in behavior is never really explained. She doesn’t act anything like I imagine I would act if I were kidnapped and brought to the farm, although I guess I can’t really know what I’d do, and everyone is different. I just didn’t think any of her reactions made any sense.

And things don’t get better. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I can’t stand books that change perspectives. I’m tempted to forgive this book for that since there are things we need to learn about the abductor that would be hard to uncover otherwise. And in Criminal Minds they do jump to the killer’s perspective, and I love Criminal Minds. I’m not really sure about how I feel about the fact that there are no indicators on the page that the perspective is switching–you just have to figure it out from the text. But in the perspective of the abductor, we don’t really learn as much as I think we need to. He talks about the “tragedy” a few times, and maybe this is just me, but I still don’t know what that incident is. Clearly it has something to do with his parents, but what it is exactly, I don’t know. And then there’s the photograph. It’s hard for me to fully accept his motivations. He had no emotional ties to that photo. It all came from a drug-induced hallucination that I suppose the author means to say is strong enough at that moment that it makes him obsessed with the photo. I would have liked the photo to have had more significance to his life.

Ultimately, this is a very cool concept, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. Still, it was a fun, creepy read. On to the next book!

33843362Title: Genuine Fraud
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 264
Year: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press (PRH)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat. Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. A bad romance, or maybe three. Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her. A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

I read WE WERE LIARS a couple years ago, and I was less than thrilled. GENUINE FRAUD didn’t sound terribly interesting to me, but Lockhart’s agent once requested my full manuscript, so I thought, hey, why not? And once again, I was less than thrilled.

I think it is pretty cool how the chapters go backwards. It was confusing at first, but I started to get the hang of it about halfway through. I didn’t suspect any of the plot twists, and Jule was only a little bit irritating. And I was definitely curious about what exactly was going on. The thing is, though, I never really found out just what was going on. And I just can’t figure out why. Why did Jule do any of this? Is she just a psychopath? What was the point? Just to get her money? Is that really worth living in fear of being discovered? Honestly, the question of why should really come after the question of what. As in, what the heck actually happened? I don’t have a clue what was real and what was not. Maybe that was the point. I don’t know. I don’t really know what else to say about this book because the more I think about it, the more confused I get. I will say, overall I liked it better than WE WERE LIARS. I felt at least some sympathy for Jule, even though she’s actually nuts. In conclusion, I’d read another E. Lockhart book, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this one.

21413662Title: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Pages: 295
Year: 2014
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ He liked these questions so much that he started up What If. […] In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

I am not really a science person. Well, maybe just a little. When it comes to the four main school subjects, the order in which I am most interested is as follows:

  1. English
  2. Science
  3. History
  4. Math (except for algebra, which I would put above history)

This book is half science, half humor. I loved the humor. I skimmed the science. Mostly because I’m just not smart enough to understand it, and I know that, and I’m okay with that. But it helped that a lot of the questions were really interesting, so I tried to get it. Here are some of my favorite questions:

What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

If every human somehow simply disappeared from the face of the Earth, how long would it be before the last artificial light source would go out?

If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple of weeks, wouldn’t the common cold be wiped out?

The answers? You’ll have to read to find out. I’d tell you, but there’s no way I can explain them, or even summarize them with a simple yes or no.

I can tell you that the comics and commentary in this book are hilarious. If you have any interest in science or fun facts at all, I’d definitely recommend this. It’s like, the ultimate nerd book. I gave it four stars only because there were a few questions where I didn’t even understand the question, let alone the answer, and I thought perhaps a better question could have been chosen for the book in its place.

Please don’t forget to follow my brand new bookstagram @katelikesbooks! Happy reading, friends!

29233140Title: The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh
Author: A. A. Milne
Pages: 344
Year: 2015 (1926)
Publisher: Dutton Children’s (PRH)
Time taken to read: 7 months, 3 weeks
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisIn 1926, “Winnie-the-Pooh, ” a collection of stories about a rather stout, somewhat confused bear, was published in England and America. The enchanting tales of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Christopher Robin, and the others were an immediate success, and firmly established A.A. Milne, already an acclaimed dramatist, as a major author of children’s books. “Winnie-the-Pooh” was followed in 1928 by a second collection, “The House At Pooh Corner, ” which continued the adventures from the Hundred Acre Wood and introduced bouncy, lovable Tigger.

These stories are some of my best childhood memories. That silly ol’ bear was my best friend, and I’ll always love him. I bought this leather-bound book for myself about two years ago when I worked at Barnes & Noble in Philly and it was employee appreciation week so we got an extra discount. And I decided to appreciate myself by giving myself a gift. I love the nonsense of Pooh’s brain. His logic always makes me laugh. I think if I were a Winnie the Pooh character, I’d be Rabbit, because he’s so uptight and obsessed with order and structure and he ruins everyone’s fun, and I’m kind of like that (haha). But I just took the Buzzfeed quiz and I got Kanga, which is also very me, now that I think about it.

I also finished How Babies Talk this week, but I’m electing to skip reviewing that fully. I read it as sort of an independent study on how to help the babies in my class start talking more, but I don’t think I’d have much to say in a review, so I’m sparing you all that boring post. However, I will hit you with two fun facts from the book. The first is that language was invented about 120,000 years ago, and the second is that infants can tell if someone is speaking a foreign language. How dope is that? They’re already so attuned to the sounds of their own language that if you start speaking Japanese to a baby born to English-speaking parents, they’ll notice the difference. Babies are incredible.

And last but not least, I want to let you know about my brand new bookstagram! I finally decided to make an Instagram account just for mini reviews and general book thoughts. Please follow @katelikesbooks on IG and comment on a post to let me know you follow my blog and I’ll follow you back! Happy reading, my friends.

33830437Title: Far from the Tree
Author: Robin Benway
Pages: 374
Year: 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Time taken to read: 1 week, 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Being the middle child has its ups and downs. But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs. And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Far from the Tree is a very cute story. I want to be an adoptive mother, so I’m interested in books about adoption. From that perspective, though, I was pretty disappointed. I’d really like to see a book about adoption that doesn’t cast away the adoptive family in favor of the biological family. But besides that, this book had some problems that are very common in YA literature.

I didn’t really understand the point of Rafe’s character. He seems to be one of those “perfect” YA characters with sharp wit and no flaw, and he never really connects to the story as a whole. The only character I really connected with is Grace, because she has a secret that we know but the others don’t, whereas Maya has no secrets and Joaquin has a secret that we also don’t know. Because of that, Grace feels like the only character that’s fully developed. And boy is she developed. Her pain feels so real. I was so heartbroken for her, so that’s a point in this book’s favor for sure.

There were a lot of big issues in this book, and I don’t know how to feel about it. We have alcoholism, LGBT themes, adoption and foster care, teen pregnancy, etc. It felt like a lot. I particularly struggle with the alcoholism part. We never really get to understand why Maya’s mom drinks so much. Maya’s parents fight. A lot. But why? That’s what really bothered me throughout the story. It just seems like the author wanted to make sure Maya’s life didn’t seem too perfect, so she threw that in.

I’d say the best things about this book are Grace and the cover. Because that is a seriously beautiful cover. And Grace is actually interesting. I wouldn’t say I don’t recommend this, but I don’t think it’s amazing. Happy reading, friends.

30312837Title: The You I’ve Never Known
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Pages: 590
Year: 2017
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisFor as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire. Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined. Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago. What is Ariel supposed to believe? Is it possible Dad’s woven her entire history into a tapestry of lies? How can she choose between the mother she’s been taught to mistrust and the father who has taken care of her all these years?

This is not the first time I’ve started an Ellen Hopkins book, but it is the first time I’ve finished one. I’m not a poetry person. I’ve written poetry myself–I find it to be very cathartic–but I don’t like reading books of poetry. I love description, and Ellen Hopkins stories are just the bare bones of the story with none of the visuals. Some people may like that. Some might find it fun to create the visuals yourself. I get that. But I want to be told what the room looks like. What it smells like. And Ellen Hopkins leaves all of that up to our imaginations. Again, not my thing.

Yet, that wasn’t the worst part about this book. For me, the most glaring problem is the dialogue. Hopkins’s characters speak like no one else I’ve ever heard before. Here’s an exchange between Ariel and Gabe:

“You calling me selfish? Because here’s the thing. I’ve never, not ever, had that opportunity. What, in my lifetime, has given me anything to hold on to, to fight for? […] As for people, the few true connections I’ve been allowed are all right here in Sonora. Now I’m expected to sacrifice those, because of the woman who sacrificed me? No damn way.”

“[…] I’ll shut up now because I don’t want to upset you any more than you already are. Except one last thought: maybe your anger is misdirected?” (478-479)

Feel free to disagree with me, but I don’t think people put together sentences like that when they’re speaking out loud, and especially not when they’re heated.

Oh, also, you really remember things from when you were two and three years old, Ariel? Not likely.

Moving on.

Actually, now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing Ariel kind of sucks. She “loved” Monica so much, and they flirted constantly. No, they’re not in a monogamous relationship technically, but she was leading Monica on thinking she was devoted to Monica when she was really kind of hooking up with Gabe behind Monica’s back. Like, way to throw in some bisexual stereotypes. But I can’t even get into that. It takes too much of my bisexual brain power to think about how Hopkins could have done that better.

One thing I definitely can talk about is the synopsis. Hopkins tells us before we even start the book that Ariel was actually kidnapped. Which she doesn’t find out until after page 400. I’m actually kind of angry about how good that reveal could have been if it wasn’t in the synopsis. Like, my mind could have been blown if I had learned that at the same time as Ariel. But nope. The synopsis is a major spoiler, and that’s so disappointing.

Now, a moment to discuss the last 20 pages: holy moly. I really disliked 99% of this book, but reading those last pages, I swear I almost cried. Boy does that tug at some heartstrings. But I won’t spoil that for you. You’ve already got enough spoilers, as I mentioned!

In conclusion, I don’t expect to attempt another Ellen Hopkins book ever again.