The Unwanteds
Middle Grade / Juvenile / April 22, 2016

Unwanteds #1. Author: Lisa McMann. Summary: Every Year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their graves. On the day of the Purge, identical twins Alex and Aaron Stowe await their fate. While Aaron is hopeful of becoming a Wanted, Alex knows his chances are slim. He’s been caught drawing with a stick in the dirt – and in the stark gray land of Quill, being creative is a death sentence. But when Alex and the other Unwanteds face the Eliminators, they discover an eccentric magician named Mr. Today and his hidden world that exists to save the condemned children. Artime is a colorful place of talking statues, uncommon creatures, and artistic magic, where creativity is considered a gift… and a weapon. My Thoughts: The writing is clearly directed to a middle-grade level, but I still enjoyed the story for myself. By the end many characters were well-filled out and interesting conflict set in place for later. The world was interesting, although without much background – no doubt more of that will come in later books. There was no romance among the teenagers except for one…

Animal Farm
Adult / April 22, 2016

Author: George Orwell. Summary: Tired of their servitude to man, a group of farm animals revolt and establish their own society, only to be betrayed into worse servitude by their leaders, the pigs, whose slogan becomes: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This 1945 satire addresses the socialist/communist philosophy of Stalin in the Soviet Union. My Thoughts: A brilliant, scathing book. I cannot honestly say I have ever liked it – by the end it always brings me close to tears – but I admire it for the writing power, and for how well Orwell demonstrates the principles he wants to while keeping it fast-paced and interesting. There’s a good reason it’s on so many high school lists. This brutal fable starts off like an interesting animal story – the animals have revolted, freedom is theirs, hurrah! Almost imperceptibly at first, but with gathering momentum and speed ominous signs overtake it as the pigs quietly gather power to themselves. Everything has a meaning to be analyzed later, but within the story everything is woven together so smoothly nothing jolts you out of the action. Content Review: Sexual content: None. Language: None. Violence: Various animals are…

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature
Young Adult / April 22, 2016

Author: Robin Brande. Summary: Mena’s starting highschool at the worst time of her life. Her old friends all hate her and even her parents are distant and cold – she tried to do the right thing, but everything went wrong and she doesn’t know how to recover from the effects. Things begin looking up in biology class, when she is assigned to a completely capable and rather engaging partner, but some of her old friends from church are in the same class – and when the syllabus moves onto evolution, they’re not going to stand for it. Caught up in her partner’s enthusiasm for their science project, Mena is dragged into an ever deepening whirlpool of lies with her parents so that she can go to his house and work on their project. She must struggle to balance all her old beliefs and the new teaching that sounds so convincing, separate her life cleanly between home and school without slipping up, and walk the gauntlet of her classmates’ hate. My Thoughts: Written in the first-person voice of a teenage girl journaling, the writing was convincing and realistic, if occasionally grating. Mena as a character was also believable and relatable, a…

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Adult / April 22, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy #2. Author: Douglas Adams. Summary: Arthur Dent and his comrades are facing death at the hands of the Vogons, and their only help right now is a grumpy old ghost. On the plus side, there’s a good chance of tea later. As usual, the motley band of space-travelers are riding the flow, trying to stay ahead of annihilation, with a few extra efforts at figuring out what’s going on in Zaphod’s dual-brain. By this time, of course, they’ve given up on understanding what’s happening. The best thing you can do, really, is hold on until you can find a really good eating place and take a break. One apocalyptic dining experience, coming right up. My Thoughts: If you enjoyed the first, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this one. More of the same wit, clever plays on tropes, random happenings, and disregard for plot. My only advice is not to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide books too close together – they’re funniest when you’re fresh. Content Review: Sexual content: Character says when he was born there was an accident with a time-machine and contraceptives. The “triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six” is mentioned again. A disembodied voice…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Adult / April 9, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy #1. Author: Douglas Adams. Summary: Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers. My Thoughts: A cynical-yet-fluffy (have you ever read another book that can be described that way?) sci-fi parody. Good for when you want something light to laugh at, or just want to chill. It’s quite humorous in parts, and completely ridiculous in every part. It has a constantly off-handed feel, and so can pull off what would be cliché and annoying in any another book with an edge of humor, and has some clever parodies, just before devolving into randomness again. I find that one can only enjoy so much Douglas Adams at a time, however, before one begins to lose patience with the…

MARTians
Young Adult / April 9, 2016

Author: Blythe Woolstoon. Summary: Zoe is the last girl of her class, the last living person in her suburb before it closes down, and possibly the last living – rather than simply existing – girl. When her mother leaves for another job, Zoe must move on to her own job at AllMart, where her smile is the welcome mat. It’s the same job as hundreds of other young adults. Surrounded by the consumerism of the huge stores, drugged both literally and figuratively, and trapped by the conditions she agreed to when she signed on, Zoe begins to struggle to realize what this is about and what living might really be like. My Thoughts: This not-so-futuristic dystopia was strange, confusing and yet interesting, in many ways. Overall, the plot was disconnected and jerky, dropping whole side plots and ignoring unexplained things. But taking the book as a whole, I think the author made a deliberate effort to make it more like real life as part of the effect. Our life, where often nothing comes of promising events, where too often little makes sense and there is no real closure. Our Main Character, Zoe, is often as confused as we. She’s just…

The Last Unicorn
Adult , Young Adult / April 9, 2016

Author: Peter S. Beagle Summary: A beautiful, bitter-sweet fairytale with the length of a (short) book. Dreamy and haunting, this is the story of the last unicorn of the world. When She left her friendly forest and set out to find others of her kind, the unicorn was soon captured by a witch and bound in a cage she could not break. Released by the witch’s reluctant compatriot, a magician, she continues on her journey, picking up friends and allies on the way. Everywhere she searches, people tell her the unicorns vanished long ago, driven away by a beast known as the Red Bull. In the end she will have to confront him herself. Facing her direst enemy, alone in the end and struggling to keep hold of her true nature, will the world lose the last of her kind? My Thoughts: One of my all time favorites, both for the gorgeous prose, the best treatment of the essential unicorn that I have ever found, and the masterful bitter-sweet tone throughout the entire book as it muses on beauty, youth long past, and loss. Content Review: Sexual content: When the magician turns the unicorn into a girl, she changes into a…

The Book Thief
Young Adult / April 8, 2016

Author: Marcus Zusak. Summary: It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . . Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. (Summary from Goodreads.) My Thoughts: One of the few books that can bring tears to my eyes. Zusak has a knack for unconventional prose that truly overturns the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”.  In this moving World War II story he focuses not on the allies, or the Jews, but on a common German family. They may hate Hitler, but there is nothing they can do, or will do – and yet the consequences of the war will hit them…

The Girl Who Could Not Dream
Middle Grade / Juvenile / April 8, 2016

Author: Sarah Beth Durst Summary: Sophie has lived all her life just above the dream shop where her parents work. She can’t dream alone, but when she borrows a dream from the dreamshop she can dream it – and coax things, and animals, out of the dream with her when she wakes up. This is how she acquired Monster, her devoted pet. And it’s a good thing he loves her so much, since she doesn’t have any other friends. But when her parents go missing, along with most of the bottled nightmares, Sophie may not be able to do this on her own – she needs allies, and fast. But are all her allies quite trustworthy? My Thoughts: A deliciously wry, humorous middle grade book I would recommend to younger fantasy lovers. Durst sets us in a solid, intriguing world and brings on the action. Here your deepest fears can come to life… but is this a threat or a tool? The characters lampshade and laugh at their own speeches and life lesson declarations, and Monster’s irritation with some of the clichéd dream characters is wonderful. In fact, Monster is one of the best sidekicks I’ve seen in a children’s book….

Icons
Young Adult / April 8, 2016

Author: Margaret Stohl Summary: When Dol and her best friend, Ro, are captured and taken to the Embassy, off the coast of the sprawling metropolis once known as the City of Angels, they find only more questions. While Ro and fellow hostage Tima rage against their captors, Dol finds herself drawn to Lucas, the Ambassador’s privileged son. But the four teens are more alike than they might think, and the timing of their meeting isn’t a coincidence. It’s a conspiracy. My Thoughts: The writing style was plain, simple and straightforward, with none of the beauty in prose I enjoy. The plot was rather strange – Aliens have taken over the Earth! We must save ourselves with emotions! (?) The characters felt underdeveloped. They were extremely bad at communicating, thus creating excuses for several fights and sundry other problems. They did have an interesting means of sharing emotions, by which they might be flooded by each other’s (strong) passions. I must note, hiding a love triangle by having the girl refuse to admit it does not help. I’m afraid the overall rating for this story was bored, with a hint of confusion, and a final statement of ‘meh.’ Content Review: Sexual…