The Outsiders-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 4/5

This is a very well-known novel and has even become a required read in many middle/junior high schools across the United States. This story has a minor aspect of American history to it, and it has a number of key ideas such as friendship bridging the gap between rich and poor, honor can be found among the lawless, and that one’s identity must be found outside the influence of friends and family.

Interestingly enough, S.E. Hinton is a woman who published her debut novel under the guise of a man. In the 1960’s, women were still seen as unequal to men, especially in the great literary canon of American writers. Obviously, her novel transcends time and has become a great classic for young readers today.

Although never explicitly stated, this novel takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1965. In this coming-of-age novel, two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (So-sheh-s, short for Socials) are two rival groups divided by their socioeconomic status (the place/location they live in and the income their families have).

The conflict of status between the Socs and the Greasers is long running, and when Ponyboy, the main character (and yes, that is his real name), is jumped by some of the Socs after a movie, his older brother and friend come to his aid. The conflict continues when Ponyboy and fellow Greaser Johnny, come face-to-face with the Socs in a park in the middle of the night. After some snide remarks, Ponyboy spits at the Socs, egging them to try and drown him. Seeing that his friend is drowning, Johnny stabs one of the boys in order to save his friend, honor among the lawless.

Even though he was saving his friend, Johnny committed murder. Ponyboy, present for the death of the Soc, runs to his brother for help and advice. Together, Ponyboy and Johnny hop a train to a few towns away and find solace in a church for a few days. When Dally, one of the Greasers, comes to tell he boys that tensions are even higher after the murder of Bob the Soc, Johnny decides that perhaps things would be best if he just turns himself in.

When the three boys aim to head back to Tulsa, they notice that the church is on fire, and children on a field trip are trapped inside. Perhaps it is his guilt of murder, or perhaps is was the boy’s fault that the church caught fire in the first place, but some impulse drives Johnny to save the children, risking his own life for their own.

With Johnny’s sacrifice, he may not make it, and the tensions continue to boil between the two social gangs. Ponyboy not only loses more than one friend, but he gains numerous injuries from the planned brawl between the gangs. When his grades begin to fall, he finds solace in Gone With the Wind and the theme of death, and the purpose of life and doing something honorable.

Overall, the writing style is sophisticated in the writing itself, but it is also written to fit the attitudes of the characters, which makes the novel feel real. This book, being one of the required reads in many schools, demonstrates a number of social and global issues that we still have today, such as discrimination due to socioeconomic status and gang violence. These concepts are important for young people to have an understanding of so that they can form their own opinions and arguments with these issues as seen in contemporary society. Whether you are in 8th grade, college, or retired, I would say this book is worth the read, becoming one of the great pieces of the American literary canon.

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The Circle-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Near-future Fiction

Rating: 3/5

I was recommended this book at a dystopian literature conference, among other books. After reading, I wouldn’t categorize the novel as young adult (which some say it is), because the protagonist is a college age girl (early or mid twenties). There are also a lot of adult inferences and the language is more complex than that of a young adult novel.

So what is The Circle about? Well, it is about The Circle! The Circle is a major Internet-based company founded and run by the “Three Wise Men,” men who believe technology and being connected through social media is of dire need and importance to society. Mae Holland, a recent college graduate, finds her way to a job at The Circle through her long-time friend Annie. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity appears to be fantastic, but the longer Mae stays with The Circle, the more she questions the company, society, and herself.

The Circle is a technology-based company, and one of their newer creations is SeeChange. These small SeeChange cameras are placed anywhere and everywhere, including around peoples necks. With this technology, everything is known at all times, and ideally, if people know they are always on camera, crime rates would essentially go down and people would think things through more thoroughly before acting upon committing a crime of any kind, or doing anything that society as a whole might look down upon.

When Mae goes kayaking without any SeeChange cameras around, she is not only reprimanded for her risky actions, but also for the fact that she took no pictures or video footage to share her experiences with the word, for The Circle believes all information should be shared. The Circle also has its 10,000+ employees competing with their social media interaction on a daily basis. Who tweeted the most? Who posted the most comments? Who gave the most likes? Each inference of social media participation increases Circle member’s rank, and when Mae’s low rank causes alarm for some of the higher-ups, she begins to rethink how often she comments, likes, and interacts with others’ social media pages.

When Mae seems to be thinking The Circle might be on the wrong path, one of the wise men has her go onto the path of “transparency,” something many global politicians are doing. Basically, those who are transparent wear SeeChange cameras 24/7 and their interactions and everything they do for the day can be seen and heard by viewers (with the exception of using the restroom, in which case the video still plays, but the audio may be turned off for up to three minutes). This controlling aspect of society seems odd at first, but Mae falls right into the swing of being transparent.

Her parents, on the other hand, want nothing to do with technology, and neither does her childhood friend (and ex-boyfriend). When her involvement in The Circle affects her parents daily lives, as well as her friend, the three of them relocate without a word of where they are going. 

With the power of The Circle, Mae is able to have all people on a global scale find her friend, but the technology drives him to the limit. When The Circle discusses the idea of everyone having to vote through their company, to make voting required by all people and to be able to see everyone’s votes, one of the three wise men seems to think The Circle is about to be complete, but in a very dangerous way that was not his initial intent.

This sounds like a good story, no? Why did I give it a three you ask? Here’s the thing. While the novel has a very interesting, near-future concept, there is a lot of exposition on some of the technology that makes the story drag on. The writing style is fine, it’s really just that there is too much time spend on extra, unnecessary information to the story itself, which takes away from the thrill of technology being the most important thing in one’s life. I feel like it would have been a much better and faster read without all the extra exposition. This book took me eight months to finally finish (among other books of course), but pushing myself to finish was very challenging, since the incentive and draw to read was so low. I would definitely not recommend this book to everyone, but for those who are interested in technology, how it affects people’s lives, and how our future might just turn out, take a crack at this book.

Tangerine-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Rating: 4/5

I had never heard of this book before finding out it was a part of the curriculum where I would be teaching. So, like any good teacher, I read the book ahead of time so that I would be prepared to assist students with their understanding, as well as their essays, for the novel. It took me a bit longer to read than I would have liked, but it was an amazing book for the middle grade audience, boys and girls alike. It demonstrates what fear can do to a person, as well as the bonds of friendship and family (or lack thereof).

Known as “Eclipse Boy,” Paul Fisher wears huge glasses that make him look like a bug. His seemingly strange incident of staring at an eclipse too long just does not seem to ring right with him though; something else must have happened when he was in kindergarten, but his memories are hazy.

Moving from Texas to Tangerine County, Florida, in Lake Windsor Downs, proves to be a vital test of friendship and family. Paul loves soccer, but he is always under the shadow of his older brother, Erik, who aims to be a star football player and is heavily backed by his father, leaving Paul a little less love and attention than is desired.

At Lake Windsor Downs Middle School, Paul aims for the soccer team, but his mother making and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for him because of his vision impairment causes him to be ineligible to play on a sports team (which is ridiculous). His ineligibility problem is solved when part of the school falls into a sinkhole (just a part of Tangerines strange weather/natural weirdness), and Paul ends up having to go to the rival school, Tangerine Middle School.

The Soccer crowd at Tangerine Middle school is almost thug-like, but when Paul befriends them, he finds a new meaning to friendship. He also asks his mom to not transfer over his IEP, because he wants to play soccer. When Paul is asked to do a report in science class with a group, he opts to learn about Tangerine growing from his friend’s brother, Luis.

Paul learns a lot about the labor hardships of caring for the fruit trees, but he also constantly lives in fear of his brother, because his subconscious keeps telling him his brother is a bad person.

When Paul witnesses something that could end up causing a murder, fear continues to instill itself within him, but his fear is enough to bring back his true memories, and to learn that his brother caused his blindness and not an eclipse. 

All-in-all a great middle grade read that demonstrates the importance of being different, as well as showing how those with some kind of impairment feel about being left out. It also shows what a family who favors one child does to the other, as well as what fear can do to someone psychologically. It is an amazing book that highlights a lot of important issues that young people should be aware and mindful of, while embedding the perfect amount of humor as well. Told in a journalistic style, this is a book that is well worth the read, especially for middle grade readers.

The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

This is the second book in the series, following The Lost Hero. It takes place simultaneously with the first one, but features different characters at a demi-god camp all the way across the country from Camp Half-Blood.

While the first book introduced some new characters to the series (Jason, Piper, and Leo), this book brings back our original hero, Percy Jackson, with a few new friends in tow (Hazel and Frank) as well as the return of old friends (Tyson!).

When Percy, like Jason in the previous novel, awakens across the country having lost his memory, is being chased by monsters. With the guidance of Lupa, the Roman wolf-goddess (rather than a Greek goddess), Percy finds his way to the California equivalent of camp Half-Blood, Camp Jupiter. Upon arrival to the new camp, Percy is attacked by even more monsters, Gorgons this time, and a lone woman is in danger. Using his power over water to create a whirlpool gains him the woman’s favor, but catches one of the guards (Frank) within. The brave hero that Percy is, saving the woman turns out to be a good thing, considering the damsel in distress is the Roman goddess Juno (the Greek goddess Hera).

With Juno’s approval, the son of Neptune, is welcome into the Roman camp, even though he is looked upon in a negative light for being a Greek demi-god. Despite the gods being the same gods in Greece and Rome even though they have different names, they are at war. Percy, having no memories, is told by Juno that he does have a chance at regaining his memories, but only if he can learn to be a hero again and survive the new challenges that will present themselves to him at Camp Jupiter.

Frank and Hazel, the guards who witnessed Percy fight the Gorgons, become fast friends of Percy. Routines and leadership are different than his own home camp, but with no memories, Percy would have nothing to complain of anyway.  As the camp misfits, the three become more than just good friends. When Frank’s father, Mars, tells the children of a prophecy, the three must set out as heroes to Alaska, free the god Thanatos within a certain amount of time, or die. Of course, the trio finds that freeing the god is a more viable option.

Along the way, the trio stops in Portlans, Oregon, where they can find the location on the giant in Alaska from the blind seer, Phineas. When he tells them to chase a harpy with red feathers and bring her back, they meet Ella, a pretty intelligent harpy who can memorize anything she reads, and ends up being rather a unique asset to the group later one. 

Rescuing Thanatos involves fighting the giant, Alcyoneus, in Alaska. The goddess, Gaea, is awakening from quite a long slumber, and she has some major plans to destroy the gods, along with the known world. With the defeat of one of Gaea’s seven giants, Hazel and Frank become true heroes, finding their own unique abilities.

When Camp Jupiter is under attack, the trio rushes back to California to save the camp. Hazel expresses her feelings for Frank, while Percy remembers Annabeth, and he knows they are coming, for seven heroes will save the world from Gaea. When a great flying ship called the Argo II arrives with Annabeth, among some of our heroes from the previous book, Percy and his demi-god heroes set out to save the gods, and the world, from destruction.

One of the things that I really enjoy about Riordan’s books is the diversity of the characters. In this particular novel, we are introduced to Hazel, who is of African descent, and Frank, who is of Chinese descent (rather than having a book with a bunch of Caucasians). He also goes into some interesting cultural aspects with their own heritage and how that heritage ties into their relation to the Roman gods.

All-in-all I enjoyed this book more than the first one, but I think that is because Percy, our hero from the previous series, has finally returned. One of the fun things about reading this is that Percy does not remember who he is, but we, the reader, do remember his adventures from when he was first taken to Camp Half-Blood, which makes it all the more exciting to see when and how he will remember, all while making new memories and facing new challenges. I think this book is worth the read (especially for a middle-grade audience) and has a lot of potential for the books that follow.

The Burning World (Warm Bodies #2)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Post-apocalyptic Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5

Normally I don’t do reviews or summaries or anything on sequel without having written about the first book prior, but I read Warm Bodies quite awhile ago and my opinion is still the same: It was an amazing read, even better than the movie, and I would love to read it again. (For technicalities, this book is actually #3 in the series because it is followed by a short novella called The New Hunger, which is dubbed as book #2).

When I found out that there was a sequel to Warm Bodies, The Burning World, I got it immediately! Sad to say, this novel is a much slower-paced story (in my opinion) and does not have the same excitement and potential fear that the first novel had, but it was still somewhat interesting. It took me nearly three and a half months to read this book because it moved that slow for me, compared to my speed reading of other novels. Despite this, the conflict in the novel was still interesting enough for me to keep reading, but it was slow to get there.

One of the interesting features of this book is the alternation between “I” and “WE,” the first person perspective of R and the collective perspective of the dead. While this did have its interesting moments, I didn’t feel like the “WE” added anything special that the book couldn’t live without. Another thing about this book, one of the more negative things I have to say, is that the transitions were all over the place. One moment the group will be in the plane and the next they are in a house. quite a few of the transitions were confusing, but after reading a page or two in, it clicks where they are and what they are doing. It’s just a small thing that took away from the flow of the reading. There was also quite a bit of post-apocalyptic politics, which made the book run a bit slower and drier than the first novel.

This book begins with R and Julie having their own little home outside of the Goldman Dome, where R is learning how to be human all over again, including reading, writing speaking, socializing, and romance! When some helicopters fly overhead, Julie has her suspicions, because who could it be with operating helicopters?

When R and Julie head to the main headquarters in the Dome, they find themselves face to face with some members from a group called Axiom, a group that seems like it wants to establish peace across the various human colonies, but rather has other plans. The Axiom group, although shrouded in mystery, seems to have some kind of ulterior motive, which is reinforced by the destruction of the armory and the leaders of the Dome.

Taking Julie, R, and Nora captive, they aim to get information on this new “cure” that seems to have made itself known at the Dome. With torturous interrogation by the Axiom group, the prisoners seek a way out. Before their eyes, Perry, Julie’s once-boyfriend, seems to have shown up, but how? What looks like Perry is actually his older brother that no one really knew about, and he is there to get them out. While he is a member of Axiom, he finds that perhaps what they are doing is not right, and he has a daughter to think about.

When they escape, Axiom goes after them endlessly, but when  M saves the day, the group decides to head to R’s old home: the airplane! With Abram (Perry’s brother) having the skills to pilot a plane, the group plans on heading out to some other place, away from the Axiom-dominated America. Aboard are R, Julie, Abram, his daughter Sprout (not her real name), Nora, M, and R’s two “children” who roamed around the airport with him in his more dead-days.

When the group jumps from city to city, finding old homes ravaged, burned down, or destroyed, or not even being able to cross another country’s borders, they eventually end up in New York, where the head of Axiom resides. Along the way, R continues to recover his past life, and the terrible things he had done before his new life. He wants to tell Julie, but he is afraid that she would not be able to accept him for his past.

While in New York, they meet the woman responsible for the Almanac, a hand-written and self-published newsletter that she sends out to the world to give survivors information. This interesting woman has discovered one of Axiom’s secrets: they have a tower that is jamming all frequencies except for their own sick message to draw people in. When she destroys the tower, she expects to be able to share the news of the world on a global level, but the group finds out that there is another jamming tower on the west coast, and they head out to destroy it.

With the ending being thus, we can expect another book to be coming in the series. Despite the slower pacing and the switch from surviving the dead to surviving the living, it was still a decent read. I would recommend it for an older reader (16+) because of a lot of the vocabulary, political, and sexual inferences that are in this book. While it was slow, the end shows promise and gives the reader something interesting to look forward to. Since Warm Bodies and The Burning World are so different in terms of plot, there’s no saying what kinds of things we can expect to happen with the characters in the next book. Overall, slow but decent. You should read it if you feel like Warm Bodies needed to continue, but if you are satisfied with the ending of the first book (or perhaps the movie) then maybe just leave it at that.

Bloodlines-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fiction/New Adult Fiction/Paranormal

Rating: 4/5

While this is a spin-off series from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, it can still be read as its own series. I would highly recommend reading the Vampire Academy series first anyway, because this book has a lot of references and characters that first appear in Vampire Academy. One of the characters in the later part of the series, a supporting character, takes on a leading role in this series, and the main character, Sydney, reflects upon events that happened with her and the vampires during the Vampire  Academy series. Also, I had trouble deciding whether this should be young adult or new adult, because the main characters are 18 and 21, but the other characters are high school age and the predecessoing novels are young adult, so I put under both, because I think college-age would like this novel too.

After Lissa Dragomir becomes the Queen in their society, her cousin, Jill, is in grave danger. With the Vampire rule that a ruling monarch must have a living relative to hold the position, Jill’s life is attempted at to remove Lissa from the throne. Told from the first person perspective of Sydney, the Alchemist must keep the peace while aiding to hide Jill in Palm Springs.

Alchemists find Vampires to be against nature, their very existence a foreboding thing against God. Sydney is frightened of their use of magic, abnormal beauty, and blood diet, but even more foreboding are the Strigoi. Strigoi are the evil, corrupt version of the Vampire community who live forever and enjoy killing, while Moroi are the mortal elites, and Dhampirs are half human half Moroi.

With Sydney finding her latest assignment acting as Jill’s sister at a boarding school in Palm Springs and keeping Jill hidden and safe, she also notices a number of things. One is that everyone loves her tattoo and thinks it makes her super intelligent so she doesn’t have to try academically. When other students begin getting tattoos that make them high or enhance them physically, Sydney suspects the misuse of compounds made by her own association: the Alchemists. The other thing that she notices is that a strange sting of murders has happened in the area over the last few years. Could there be any connections here?

The only local Vampire in Palm Springs believes that his daughter, among those murdered, was killed by some vampire hunters. The odd thing is, vampire hunters seem like a thing of myth, since it is part of the Alchemists jobs to keep the Vampire world hidden. When the attacks appear to be from a Strigoi, Sydney and Adrian investigate, only to find that something even more shocking than a Strigoi OR vampire hunter has been behind the murders.

To keep the human world safe from the Vampire world, Sydney must learn to face her fear of Vampire magic and mystery, and fight to keep her job in Palm Springs. Jill and Adrian have some interesting secrets of their own, but Sydney finds that even though they are Vampires, she can possibly call them friends.

I was a bit wary of this book at first, thinking it may not be as good as the Vampire Academy series, but it was an excellent read. Like I said, you can read it on its own, but I would highly recommend reading the Vampire Academy series first because of the number of events and character appearances. This book is amazing, and shows what happens to Adrian after his heartbreak with Rose. That being said, Adrian was definitely one of my favorite characters from the original series, and I am glad he was able to get his own story, because he is an interesting character, and the development of both him and Sydney is superb. I can’t wait to read the next one!

The Fever Code (Maze Runner Book 5)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fiction

Rating: 4/5

Since The Kill Order was a somewhat lacking prequel to The Maze Runner series, I lowered my expectations for The Fever Code, but this book was interesting and fantastically crafted!

This story gives us the reveal to the mystery that readers have been wondering since reading The Maze Runner: how the maze was built! The novel starts with how Newt was taken from his family, along with his sister, who is also a candidate in the maze trials for group B (the all girl group).

Following this single instance of Newt’s capture, the rest of the story is taken in by Thomas’s third person limited perspective. When Thomas first came in, his name was Stephen, but WICKED used a sort of torturous shock therapy until his brain was ingrained with the name: Thomas.

We get to see a somewhat rushed version of Thomas’s childhood, when he meets Teresa, and how they get involved with the other guys, such as Chuck, Minho, Newt, and Alby. Thomas and Teresa are special, though, compared to the other children. They are the two from group A, designing the maze for the boys to study the killzone (the brain) to fight the Flare. Aris and Rachel are the designers of the maze for group B, the equivalents of Thomas and Teresa.

Once the mazes are built, the children start getting inserted into the mazes to begin the maze trials. Thomas, Teresa, and their buddy Chuck, begin to observe their old friends through the beetle blades. On top of Thomas’s and Teresa’s observational work for WICKED and the maze trials, they find that one of the leading officials has the Flare, and that he has been hiding it from WICKED. Since Thomas, Teresa, Aris, and Rachel are immune to the Flare, Dr. Paige sends them to remove this threat, among other suspected officials who are infected, before the whole facility and their killzone project becomes marginalized! The kids have never killed anyone before, and this mission will test their limits.

Jorge and Brenda, who appear in The Scorch Trials, make an appearance as well, explaining that the mazes are only the first trial, and that once the Gladers find their way out of the maze, all of them will then have to go through the Scorch.

When it is Thomas’s turn to enter the maze, those of us who have read the initial trilogy can figure out the story from there. His thoughts and feelings about going in demonstrate his feelings for WICKED, but Teresa still believes, no matter what, that WICKED is good.

Overall this was a fantastic book. I would recommend it more after having read the whole series first, BUT it could also be read as the first book for new readers going into the series. It was well paced and fun to see the characters in the WICKED facility before they ever entered the maze, and it was also interesting to see Jorge and Brenda and their involvement before Thomas meets them in the scorch. This was a great addition to the series, and it would actually be pretty fun to see another installment, if it can meet up with the standards set by this prequel!

On a side note: Don’t forget to check out Dashner’s worthwhile, internet adventure Mortality Doctrine trilogy, The Eye of Minds, The Rule of Thoughts, and the Game of Lives, wherever books are sold!