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Review & Summary: The Terrorist

Title:  The Terroristindex

Author:  Caroline B Cooney

Publisher:  Open Road Young Readers, reprint 2012

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction


The writer / blogger in me knows a simple truth–typos happen. Anyone who has a smart phone these days knows what “autocorrect” is, and they also know how un-helpful it can be at times. I think that we can all forgive the occasional typo, even in a published novel. I for one, pride myself when I find typos, giving myself a little pat on the back for having such an “editor eye”. All of that being said, there is a line that can be crossed where even I am left so annoyed that I cannot finish the book. The 2012 Open Road reprint of The Terrorist by Caroline B Cooney has crossed that line. There were so many typographical errors and misused words that I stopped counting, and reading. It was several weeks before I could finally pick the book back up and finish it.

I wish that I could say that the poor editing was the only problem with the book and that The Terrorist would be a poignant work of fiction worth placing on any young adults bookshelf– but that is simply not the case. The story begins with the death of a boisterous young American boy in England, an act of terrorism which leaves the book’s characters in a state of fear and panic. The boy’s sister, Laura, takes it upon herself to find the course of the act-and to find revenge as well. My problem with this part of the story is that it is a completely realistic reaction for a teenager. If this teenager were smart and savvy she may be able to find some answers. Laura, however, is neither of those things. She is a stereotypically ignorant and self-important American teenager. She’s a two-dimensional character who acts in accordance to a very bad stereotype, yet has smart and loving international friends who forgive her faults, including her blatant racism.

While Laura is busy interrogating her devoted friends about bombs and religion, she finds herself in the midst of a crisis for her schoolmate, Jehran. Jehran’s family is forcing her into an arranged marriage, and her only means of escape is to use Laura’s deceased brother’s passport to escape to America. Luckily, Jehran, a petit middle eastern beauty, looks just like Laura’s loud and boisterous younger brother. A well placed base-ball cap is all she needed. Far fetched, but okay.

Laura and Jehran head to the airport with two tickets they purchased in cash (also far-fetched, but okay). While they are there her friends follow with a teacher in tow to stop them. The airport scene is the most exciting part of the entire book, though I do not think the preceding 100+ pages are worth it. Cooney made a valiant attempt at writing a book that could be a powerful look at the world of international terrorism and how it affects teenagers everywhere. Unfortunately, she fell flat. My advice to Miss Cooney? Find a new editor.

Posted by: Janine Reads


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Review and Summary: The Last Book in the Universe

lastbookbieimage1Title:  The Last Book in the Universe

Author:  Rodman Philbrick

Publisher:  The Blue Sky Press, 2000

Genre:  Teen Fiction


This story, I have to admit, was not what I thought it was going to be like. I can’t decide if it was better or worse than my immediate expectations. Either way, it was good, and it was definitely a book that I was excited about finishing. In a creepy, depressing land called the Urb, a teenage kid called Spaz lives with the Bully Bangers, the gang that controls Spaz’s home area of the Urb. The “Spaz” part of his name (we never learn his real name) comes from the fact that he can’t probe. Mind probe, that is. You see, our divulged main character lives during a post-apocalypse time after something called the big shake. It was a terrible earthquake, destroying nearly everything in sight. Fortunately, some humans survived and started a new civilization. Unfortunately, that civilization was terrible, and the land was conquered by anarchy and brute force, instead of strategy and decent government. Gangs rule the land, except for in Eden, an area which is only inhabited by genetically perfected humans called proovs. Mind probes are needles developed by years of introspection and science so harmful to your mind it’s almost like sunbathing in ultraviolet light. They create an experience that’s supposed to make you feel like you’re actually in the movie you’re watching. It’s like a TV you stick in your brain. Spaz, however, cannot use mind probes because he has something backtimers call “epilepsy.” If he uses a mind probe, he has a wicked seizure, and lights out – that’s all folks.

He meets an old dude named Ryter and they soon go on an adventure to rescue Spaz’s adoptive little sister, Bean, who is in another section of the Urb and dying. They meet a proov along the way named Lanaya who unexpectedly helps them in lots of random ways. Although Lanaya at first thinks that Spaz is about as attractive as a gargoyle because she is genetically “improved” (the cat’s pajamas is a metaphor that comes to mind) she soon becomes his friend and helps him rescue Bean. Bean, however, is terribly sick and in danger of dying, so Lanaya agrees to take her to Eden where the rest of the “normals” learn that she’s not just any proov – she’s literally a princess destined to become the heir of a position more luxurious than a deluxe yacht. Although Bean is eventually healed, they soon face the fact that Eden has a boycott on normal residents and have to leave. There is a surprising, yet wholly deserved ending that lets you know, as strange as it sounds, that Spaz is the last book in the universe.

The style of this book, I have to say, was not terribly unique. It was, however, similar to The Hunger Games – creepy, yet inspiring. The name didn’t really seem to fit in the beginning, but in the end it’s completely obvious. This is one of those stories where the main character tells the story. A few other incredibly successful books this are Junie B. Jones (although the genre is not similar) and The Hunger Games. I would recommend this book to kids ages 12 and up.


Posted by: Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: The Homework Machine

The Homework MachineTitle:  The Homework Machine

Author:  Dan Gutman

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster

Genre:  Children’s Fiction


 Short, fun, interestingly organized, and about something that you aren’t supposed to do. A good book after reading all these novels about serious issues and murderous plots. The Homework Machine is about four kids – a geek, a class clown, a know-it-all teacher’s pet, and a slacker. A most peculiar combination of fifth-graders. In fact, if you mixed together their equivalents in food, you would probably get something resembling the insides of a septic tank. Brenton is an interesting kid – he dresses unlike other people, he parts his hair weird, and he’s light-years ahead of everybody in intelligence. You might be guessing he’s either the geek or the teacher’s pet. He’s the geek. Judy is a stuck-up snob in the beginning, and she has her ring of friends, but is despised among others. She is adored among teachers, but later on in the book her personality begins to change. Sam, or as other people call him, Snik, is in an awkward position as the new kid in school. The class clown, luckily, can define a potential friend from an enemy. Kelsey is just an average kid who gets grades just high enough to get her through the year, and desperately wants to be out of school.

One day, Brenton tells Snik that he has a homework machine, and, of course, Snik doesn’t believe him. So he comes over with Judy and Kelsey, who hear about the conversation, and like in any other good children’s book, Brenton’s computer with software he designed himself does their homework. They have the fallacy that if their homework is done for them, life will become easier. They’re wrong, but they don’t know that. So they bring their homework over so often it’s outrageous, and the foursome deigns each other their friendship. Eventually, after many rumors leak out, they are caught by the police and have to explain everything. Of course, they try to get out of trouble, but they fail miserably. Don’t worry, they don’t get put in quarantine or anything – it turns out kind of good, actually.

When I started reading, this book had me confused at the beginning. It was on my book list for school, and not because I wanted to read it (I had never heard of it), but because my teacher found good reviews on it and thought that it could be used for a review (which I’m writing right now). Turns out, it’s not what you would excpect from a school book. It’s about four kids and a machine that helps them cheat at homework. Probably not a teacher’s first choice of a book. I wasn’t at all bamboozled into thinking that this was a classic book – I mean, any book about a machine that does homework probably isn’t some dude with a PhD’s idea. You may think at first that this book has no place in any school setting whatsoever – that it would encourage kids to cheat on their boring after-school assignments. However, after reading this book, I found that it sort of got me that no matter how hard you try to conceal your “accidental glancing” at someone else’s paper, you will (almost) always get caught. Even if that accidental peeking isn’t at all peeking, but using some geek’s super computer to do homework in your handwriting at the touch of a button. Hey, anything’s possible.

The setup of this book is quite interesting. It’s like a review, except they follow the same story in the same order with no questions asked. Do you remember my review of The Red Pyramid? Well, it sort of like that, except with WAY more people. All the kids’ moms are in it, an enemy at school appears a few times, and even a police officer talks at the beginning and end. There are back stories and random explanations, which keep the story interesting. Friendships develop and diminish, and there’s always a mysterious flair to the words.

After reading this book I am almost voracious for more Dan Gutman. He delivers bits of everything, and gives his books plenty of humor and good-natured sarcasm. This was a short book, with easy vocab and plot, so I would recommend this book to kids ages 8 to 12.


Posted by: Fred Reads


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Summary and Character Sketch: Mockingjay

Title:  MockingjayThe-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Book-Cover

Author: Suzanne Collins

Trilogy:  The Hunger Games

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Action

District 13; a supposed wasteland, bombed to dust in the war that is the reason of the Hunger Games. It’s not even supposed to exist anymore – just smoldering ruins and nothingness. The crowning display of the Capitol’s terrible power. It’s also the headquarters of the largest rebellion in the history of man kind.

In the Dark Days – a time of terrible nuclear war, there was a rebellion. There was also District 13. Its job was to make weapons – bombs, guns, and terrible modern death traps used by the capital. When District 13 rebelled, it was easily overpowered by the Capitol of Panem. The land was bombed to oblivion and that was the end of the war. But the Capitol was not satisfied. They created the Hunger Games – a terrible way of keeping the districts in line.

Now, a cruel seventy-six years later, the people of District 13 live on. They moved underground when the land was bombed and though the goings have been tough, they have pushed through to aspire another rebellion. Well, not really aspire. More like confirm. One year ago, a certain sixteen year-old named Katniss Everdeen ended the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, starting whispers of rebellion. Then when she blew up the force field surrounding the arena of the seventy-sixth Hunger Games, there were more than whispers. Now, there is an all-out war between certain districts and the Capitol. And that certain, now seventeen year-old girl, is the face of it. She is the mockingjay, the symbol of rebellion and the spark, no, flame of hope that gives the rebels a steady stream of allies and drive. The president of district 13 – Ms. Coin, is the person that keeps Katniss in line and basically bosses everyone around. The less-than-perfect conditions are not toxic, but enough to get some people from the inner districts complaining. Yes, the place is clean, but the rooms show little decorum. Surprisingly, the people are allowed to be omnivores, instead of just eating two foods.

Anyways, Katniss is caught in a mental snare. For once, she is not force to display hypocrisy, but she is still caught in the situation of choosing between Peeta and Gale. Ironically, Peeta was captured by the capitol, which should make the decision easier, but the truth is – she loves them both. Though luckily, Peeta and several other friends are rescued from the evil and sinister clutches of the Capitol. But then Katniss figures out that Peeta really isn’t there. The Capitol had done something to Peeta called “hijacking,” manipulating Peeta and his memories into thinking that Katniss is trying to kill her. Throughout the book Katniss must fight a battle against the new Peeta, to bring back the old one. Soon Katniss is trained to be a soldier and a voice for the rebellion at the same time, and when she goes into battle, everything changes. She’s a pretty good soldier, walking through danger as if it is a hologram, pulverizing every danger in her path, and, with help from her team and some excellent, yet dangerous deduction, they push through. Unfortunately, though, the team makes many sacrifices. President Snow, the leader of the capitol, is by Katniss like her silhouette. The ending does not come without deaths, betrayals, and decisions of life over love, and love over life.

Katniss herself goes over a huge transformation in this book and the trilogy. She starts off as a starving, poor, seemingly hopeless girl from the seam of District 12. Yes, she is strong, independent, but not even close to the scale of what she will be by the end. Throughout the two Hunger Games, she learns what life and love are truly worth, and the despicable acts that some people can do without hesitation or even blinking an eye. She knew some of this when she was younger, but now that she’s part of what her family is forced to watch, she knows it like the feel of her bow (pun intended). In the second book she must learn to trust others that may not be immediately trustworthy, and expect, quite literally, a stab in the back at any time. And in the third book she nearly breaks down with all the burdens she is given, but like in the other circumstances, she adapts quickly. By the end of the series she is not just a girl, but a physically and mentally strong woman, who can take on any burden without giving up. She can be cold and calculating at times, and warm and welcoming at others. In the span of a year she has become more strong and experienced than most people are in their entire lifetime. She has done the impossible by not only surviving, but helping others survive as well. She has the ability to kill, but she is not heartless either. In fact, I don’t even think that she would want to kill another soul after what she had been through, but that is not specified in the book – it doesn’t have to be.

Ah, the final book of the second most awesome series I have ever read, and most certainly ever will. Suzanne Collins hit the nail on the head, giving the perfect trilogy. I think that this is the best teen fiction material ever written. When I wake up in the morning, I reach for the book on my nightstand, and when I bring it back, the book’s not a Hunger Games book. Then I realize “It’s over. You finished the entire trilogy, and it’s over.” But all good things must come to an end. I cannot think of a way to give my thanks to Suzanne Collins for writing such a series of books with not just a respectable plot, but with raw power all over. The series comes to an end that I think is perfectly suited for it, one that I will never forget. This was more violent than the other two books, with more blood, death, and despair. But, in all honesty, I would still recommend this book to anyone ages fourteen and up. I leave you in the word that has kept me reading this series right to the very last letter, one that is simple, clean, and, in a way, powerful.


Posted by Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: Catching Fire

catching-fireTitle:  Catching Fire

Trilogy:  The Hunger Games

Author:  Suzanne Collins

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Action

Ah, here I am again, basking in the awesomeness of this book, and still trying to get myself calm from the aftershock of the ending of this book two days later. I find it hard to describe another book with this magnitude of sheer perfection. I guess the burrito thing is already used, so I’ll have to describe it in a different way… Ah-Ha! Yes, a root beer float. Think of this book as one of these heavenly concoctions, except in terms of literature. And this root beer float has not just root beer, but every kind of soda imaginable, mixing in a way that packs a punch, but not a Jackie Chan break-every-bone-in-your-body punch. This book has a lot more romance in it than the first book. But not in a way that seems fake. In a way that really makes you feel the character’s anger, fear, despair, confusion, and maybe their loneliness. In fact, I actually got teary, angry, confused and lonely myself in certain points of the book. It just shows you what a skilled author can do. I think there was about three or four moments in the book where I felt like I was going to weep, yell, punch a hole in the wall, or do some other crazy thing that you would never expect while reading any book, especially a fiction one, where you know it’s all made up. This book was so… honest. It was so outrageously believable I had to remind myself every once in a while that this is fiction – that it didn’t really happen. It’s not that it’s not totally futuristic; it’s just the way Collins tells it.

I realize that before I actually summarize this book, I’m going to have to make several things, mainly romance situations, a lot more clear than I did last time. I didn’t really think that it was very important. And it wasn’t in that book. But now it is. And if you want to read all my reviews before you read the series itself (which is fine), you need to really understand this stuff.

When Katniss was left to fend for the rest of her family after her father died in a mine accident (district 12 is the mining district), she leaned towards the woods, the only place where she really felt comfortable. Of course, it was forbidden to go in there, since there was a fence and everything around the district, but that didn’t stop her – she hunted, gathered berries, picked edible plants, and made some money selling things at a full-time black market, dubbed the Hob. One day, she came across some traps, and was scared out of her wits when a sixteen year old boy showed up and accused her of stealing from his traps. He asked her name, and Katniss said it so quietly the boy thought she said “Catnip.” She later found out that the boy’s name was Gale, and though they saw each other often in the woods, they were never really affiliated with each other. Little did they both know that soon they would rely on each other heavily as hunting partners. They became not only friends, but unbelievably important to each other, and not just for work. They were not lovers, though. Yet.

Gale was, truthfully, not incredibly important in the first book, save for some of his skills that rubbed on Katniss and helped her during the games. No, the second main character was highly understated in my last review, which was a mistake. Peeta, the mild-mannered, strong, flirty, and overall hot sixteen year-old is chosen along with Katniss to fight in the Hunger Games (don’t worry, I’m getting to the story of the second book, not the first). The story behind their awkward connection starts with bread. Peeta is the baker’s son, and very skilled at decorating and, well, baking. One night, Katniss was out of the house, her family was starving, and they were going to die if they didn’t get food immediately. So on her walk, on a rainy night, she walks past the baker’s house. A boy stands there, with blond hair, blond eyelashes, and a substantial chest and shoulders. He goes back inside under the command of his mother. His mother is a crazy, deranged woman. She goes so far as to beat him, and yells at him to feed the hogs. So he emerges in the rain again, carrying a burnt loaf of bread, that he supposedly burned himself. He takes a few little bits of crust off the bread until the woman stops giving him the evil eye, then hurriedly tosses the bread to Katniss and disappears inside. Katniss is surprised, grateful, and a little bit confused. Why did Peeta Mellark, a boy she barely knew, risk a beating to give her bread? It is soon revealed before the first games when he declares himself to be in love with her.

In this next epic, astonishing, mind-blowing account, Peeta and Katniss are living in luxury. They have enormous houses – the houses of the Hunger Games victors. They have to go on a victory tour throughout the other districts, possibly the cruelest part. The tour is despicable because all the other districts have to treat it like it’s a celebration. Remember – these are the districts whose tributes they killed. So imagine Katniss’s sheer panic as President Snow himself comes to her house and says that the way she ended the last hunger games is causing talk of an uprising – a rebellion against the capital. Katniss is both surprised and happy. Until, of course President Snow says that if she does not halt the uprisings, he will have Gale killed. She then later on learns that she has to go with Peeta again – to another Hunger Games.

When they get to the capital, Katniss knows she will not be going up against inexperienced kids – that they will have to battle 22 victors of previous Hunger Games.

There have been rumors of rebellion passed around by Katniss’s friends and her prep team. Her Mockingjay pin that she wore to her last games has become the probable symbol of rebellion. So her spirited stylist, Cinna, designs a dress that transforms into a Mockingjay-like outfit. He is beaten and arrested for this deed that the Capitol considers a crime, leaving Katniss shaken right before she enters the arena. During the games Katniss makes allies, there are over fifteen deaths in only two days, and she experiences many heartfelt losses and tragedies. The arena itself reveals a surprise in itself, having a very intricate setup, and there are unexpected friendships, sacrifices, and an ending that not only knocks you out of you seat, but leaves you scrambling back to the bookstore or library for more.

I honestly don’t believe that the next book could be better than this. This is the part where I get totally colloquial and say “WWWWOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” after I reflect, expectantly peacefully, on the time I spent reading this book, and it comes BLASTING INTO MY MIND LIKE A HEAT GUIDED NUCLEAR MISSILE, KNOCKING OUT EVERY SENSE OF SANITY AND CALMNESS AND EXPLODING IN MY FACE, BLOWING ME UP LIKE A TRUCKLOAD OF DYNAMITE!!! Okay, got it all out of my system.

I believe I started that last paragraph saying that I honestly don’t think that the next book could be better than this. And I simply don’t. Collins has already done that amazing, uncommon, unexpected thing – she has created a sequel that actually improves upon the first book. That was one thing with Star Wars – the battle on the ice planet of Hoth and the moment when Darth Vader said “Luke, I am your father” both created explosive moments just enough to pass the Death Star blowing up. But that was in a movie. Not a book. I’ll say one thing – only the greatest authors this good planet earth has sired have created sequels better than books that already blew you away. Those are authors that honestly enjoy doing their work, and feel it coming from their own minds, and not having to look up on Google “hottest book topics of the year”. They make the hottest book topics of the year. Take JK Rowling (pronounced Rolling) for example – she started out literally scribbling notes on scratch paper and now she’s the richest author in the world. So nothing would surprise me.

I think it’s needless to say that, overall, thought that this book was completely awesome. I see no room for mistakes whatsoever, except I wish that the book was a gazillion pages long (shame on you, Collins!). I would again, because this was a moderately violent book with slightly dark and sinister moments, not recommend this book to anyone ages thirteen and under. I would, on the other hand, recommend this book to absolutely anyone over that age who likes, romance, action, and well, other books like this.


Posted by Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: My Side of the Mountain

Title:  My Side of the Mountain

Author: Jean Craighead George

Publisher: E. P. Dutton

Genre:  Fiction/Classic

            So, I pick up this book with a worn cover, a 1959 publishing date, and a color-combo that is, to be terse, quite ghastly. Then I read the author’s preface and completely change my first impression of the book. The author kind of opens up in those couple pages of writing, and we learn a good amount about him – why he wrote the book, and a kind-of cool story of how the book came to be published and the miracles that happened along with it. The author starts with the story of how he, like Sam Gribley (the main character), decided to run away from home, and returned three hours later. He explains the differences of him and Sam. He talks about how he wished he had the courage to do what Sam did, and he goes on about the bit of Sam Gribley he sees in the gangs of kids and the people all around him. It’s very heartfelt, you get that right when he starts, and made me wonder what it would be like to run away and spend the rest of your life living off the land untouched by human activity. Then he explains how the owner of the publishing company didn’t want to publish the book, but how someone persuaded him to do it. That, to me, was the best part of the book.

This book is, to my extent of knowledge, not very well known – at least not as a classic book. I think that the vocabulary is not very hard at all, though the style of writing fits the classic-genre-description. With it having chapters that all begin with “In which”, it brings back memories of my first series – The Spiderwick Chronicles. The book has illustrations, but seldom and scattered about, which almost always means it’s a young adult or classic book. In this case, it’s both. Speaking of illustrations, there are two general kinds – rough ones and detailed ones. The landscape/people drawings are very, very rough, but in a way that’s not totally messy and that gives you feeling it’s not supposed to be perfect. Like a Picasso painting, for instance. The sketches of plants, contraptions, and random constructed things are in such beautiful detail that it’s almost impossible to believe that they were done by human hand. But if you look really closely, you can see the breaks in between lines, and that gives you a reassurance.

The story itself is very thought-inducing. It is, like you probably guessed, about a boy named Sam Gribley who runs away to the woods, with parents certain that he will return within the next couple hours. His parents, however, are mistaken, and Sam lives on the land, catching fish, eating roots, stalks, and nuts, and building a very comfortable home in a tree. But it’s not just that. He not only learns how to survive, he learns how to live an extremely comforting life. He lives in the Catskill Mountains, a place inhabited by his ancestors, but long abandoned. He trains his own peregrine falcon, which he names “Frightful” and his newfound friend and companion gives him a helpful hand at hunting, scaring away mice looking to burrow in Sam’s home, and provides a source of entertainment. Sam gets befriended by a fearless and spunky weasel, which soon becomes known as “The Baron Weasel” and gets not only a friend, but a few laughs as well. He befriends a malnourished raccoon who is dubbed “Jessie Coon James” and names a few chickadees during the winter.

But, as time passes, human activity begins to disturb Sam’s serine life of quiet. But it has its upsides, too. He meets, Bando, a college English teacher lost in the Catskill Mountains. He becomes a fatherly figure to Sam, and he visits from time to time during school breaks. Hunters kill deer and they lose them, giving Sam a few meals, a door for his impressive tree house, and a few deerskin suits. He meets several other people, old and young, who either help him, become suspicious of him, or befriend then betray him.

Before the winter, our spunky main character in a frantic rush to save up enough food. So, disturbingly like a squirrel, he gathers, nuts, roots, and other assorted food items and puts them in another tree, which he burned out like his home. He puts Frightful in overdrive, making her hunt more and more rabbits and squirrels, and then freezes them, using methods not revealed in this book. Bando comes at Christmastime, like he had promised earlier, and a special surprise is on the horizon. Sam’s dad comes to see him for Christmas, and is not mad at him at all. In fact, both of them are ecstatic to see each other, and they have a feast with Bando. Later on, the city comes to Sam, and he has to go back home.

I thought that this book was very sincere and I would probably read a sequel to this if it had one. I would recommend this book to people ages twelve and up.


Posted by Fred Reads


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review and Summary: The Hunger Games

the-hunger-games-book-cover-290x290Title:  The Hunger Games

Author:  Suzanne Collins

Publisher:  Scholastic Inc.

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction

            Yes, I, Fred Reads, dare to review such a ragingly popular book as The Hunger Games. After a while of blogging, I’m ready to review a book with more reviews than possible to count. Some people may not agree on my opinion, but hey, they don’t have to. And by the way, is it just me, or have I been reading a lot of really good books lately? I’m quickly running out of original sentences that I use for these kinds of books.

You know how sometimes you read a book that you honestly don’t want to end? Like, seriously, you would want it to have so many pages it just goes on and on and on? Well, this is one of those books. No, wait, that sentence was way, way too calm for the emotions that I’m feeling right now. No, it was more like… HOLY BUCKETS!!!!!!! THIS BOOK IS SO TOTALLY FREAKIN’ AWESOME IT’S SCARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, that’s more like it.  I was, as it may have come across, totally addicted to this book. I mean, literally, I had to peel my eyes and hands off this book after the first two and a half hours straight of reading. Without blinking. Or going to the bathroom. This book just generates this fast-paced… thing. I can hardly even describe it. Think about it as the world’s biggest, most totally awesome burrito ever created in the history of man-kind. It has suspense, action, sadness, anger, despair, humor (though not a lot, I mean, the people try to kill each other), betrayal, uncertainty, stuff that I don’t even know the name of, and, yes, a little bit of mushy stuff called love. Oh, and it’s rolled in a tortilla of perfect, incredible storytelling. Suzanne Collins is a literary twin of J.K. Rowling. She delivers the perfect punch in a book, giving you a surprise as soon as you’re sure you know what’s going to happen. She makes a perfect pie, in a way, putting the perfect amounts of everything in, none overpowering the others. I’m actually getting a little teary, this book is so perfect. Thank god, there are other books in the trilogy. I’m actually kind of mad at myself for not getting the whole set at once, because now that I’m done with the first book, I have to get the next one.

The plot of this book is inventive, perfectly paced, and more than slightly disturbing. I won’t sugar-coat it – this is a violent book with life and death scenarios, and there is blood in it, though not so much that it’s bad. Our protagonist is a sixteen year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen. She lives with her mother, her sister Prim, a goat, and an ugly, misshaped cat. They all live in the seam, an area in District 12. District 12 is one of the districts surrounding Panem, a shining, glorified, arrogant capitol. The twelve districts and Panem make up an area once known as North America. Almost everyone in district twelve is starving, and it’s the same scenario with the other outer districts. But every year they have a chance to fix that, to get more food than they could imagine for a whole year. But this happens in a grizzly, terrible way. The event called The Hunger Games, hosted by the capitol, brings together one girl and one boy from each district – twenty four people from the ages 12 to 18 – to fight to the death on live television. This year, Katniss and her best friend, Gale, are extremely nervous. The people get chosen randomly from the thousands of teenagers in their district, but someone has to get picked, and the odds are totally random. Luckily, neither Gale nor Katniss get picked. No, Prim, her little sister, the only person in the world that she could certainly say she loved, gets picked. Katniss is in a daze, and almost faints, as her only sibling walks onto the stage in front of thousands of people. Katniss snaps out of it, and volunteers herself in place of her sister. She’s sure she won’t win, but it’s the only way. Then the boy gets picked. Peeta Mellark. Laughably, the exact person she was hoping wouldn’t get picked. He has an interesting history with Katniss that’s revealed in the book, but do you seriously think I’m going to tell you what it is? She says her good-byes and gets whisked off to the capitol.

Before the games begin, her mentor (the only living person in District 12 that’s won the games), Haymitch, a drunk man, gives Katniss and Peeta some advice. Then she meets her stylist, Cinna, a very interesting character, who is awesome at designing clothes with expert techniques that make Katniss look beautiful. She’s almost in a state of repose. Then they get in the arena. All the audience thinks that they are madly in love, because of something Peeta said at his interview. She vacillates over running for cover or going into the thick of things when they are released at the cornucopia, a place with supplies that the competitors need to survive. She gets a backpack, and then makes for the trees. In the games she faces many dangers and setbacks, makes allies and loses them, and the book comes to an uncertain end that makes you want to read the next one.

I thought this book was just the right length for a young adult book. It’s not a gazillion pages long, so it’s not repelling, but it’s not twenty pages long with lots of colorful pictures, either, if you know what I mean. Like I said before, this book is indeed violent, but that should not give anyone a bad impression. I would simply give this book an age recommendation of anyone about 14 and up.

Posted by Fred Reads


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Review: Fly By Night

flybynight-316x480Title:  Fly By Night

Author:  Frances Hardinge

Publisher:  Macmillan Publishers, 2005 (UK)

HarperCollins, 2006 (US)

Genre:  Fantasy

Awards: Branford Boase Award (UK), School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2006 (US)


I was excited to find this book on display at my local library during the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” back in October. I picked it up, read half of it, lost interest, then recently checked it out again to give it another shot. I know what you’re thinking, “You lost interest in an award-winning Fantasy book which is about banned books?!” Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Although Fly By Night is an adventure story filled with unique and quirky characters and a world that is unlike our own, overall, I found the book to be tedious.

The book is written in faux old English, at an unnamed time and place which mildly resembles jolly old England at the turn of the century. The writing has some amusing attributes – my favorite being that each chapter is lettered and titled, “A is for…”, “B is for…” and so on – but many of the chapter are simply too long and contain too many side stories which do not serve the plot whatsoever.

Mosca, our main character, is a Spunky young girl whose deceased father was once a great writer. Because of this Mosca has learned to read and write,  which in a world where written word is not only banned but feared, leads her to become intertwined in a full on war. Mosca meets a con man who is involved with several guilds which resemble social / religious / political groups. The guild leaders among the only characters who can read and write. They use the power of fear to manipulate the general public into following their guild – eventually this leads to a full on war. Mosca, who cannot seem to stay out of trouble becomes a key player in the outcome of the battle. The book ends with an uncertainty for where Mosca, her con man, and the general public will end up next.

Though this book has many great attributes of a riveting fantasy novel, the length, word choice, and never-ending subplots prevent me from recommending it to any of my friends. If wordiness and meandering plots is your thing, I’d find this book suitable for readers aged 10+.


Posted by: Janine Reads


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Compare and Contrast: The Breadwinner and Parvana’s Journey

breadparvanas_journey_0Titles:  The Breadwinner and Parvana’s Journey

Author:  Deborah Ellis

Publisher:  Groundwood Books

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Yes, I know that I wrote a review on The Breadwinner just a week ago. But I’m not going to focus on that. The Breadwinner is the most important part of Parvana’s Journey. Parvana’s Journey is, after all, a sequel to The Breadwinner. Remember when I said in my review that The Breadwinner has a confusing ending? Well, Parvana’s Journey to the rescue! It starts off a little after the previous ending, so they go together well. These two books are basically the same story, if that makes any sense. It’s like a really, really short series.

Just to refresh the memory of The Breadwinner, it’s about an Afghan family that lives in the time of Taliban rule (which wasn’t too long ago). It’s a substantial family, with a father, a mother, and four kids, Nooria, Parvana, Maryam, and Ali. The Taliban have enforced extreme laws considering women, girls, books, television, and books. Needless to say, it’s a harsh life surrounded by war, despair, and poverty. Soon, their father gets arrested for being educated in England and the family is in ruins, and is soon forced to disguise Parvana as a boy, so she can work to raise money and support her family. After a few days of work, she meets Shauzia, an old classmate from her former school, they become best friends, and their friendship is one of the few things that keeps them sane. After getting into trouble for a couple of weeks, Parvana learns that her older sister, Nooria, is getting married (don’t worry, it’s not mushy) and Parvana gets to stay behind. Soon after her family leaves she figures out that the Taliban are moving into the city her sister is getting married in. she is panicked, but slightly relived when she finds her father on her doorstep, released from jail. They then set out on a journey to find the rest of the family.

Not a very short memory-refresher, but hey, what can you do? Anyway, Parvana’s journey starts, oh, maybe a few weeks after Parvana and her father set out to find her mother and three siblings. You immediately find out that Parvana’s father died on the way, so it’s not a spoiler. Parvana is left alone to fend for herself and has apparently no hope of finding the means to survive, much less find what’s left of her family. But miracles happen often on the way, and she finds a baby, left alone in the ruins of the city that her older sister was supposed to get married in. She names him Hassan and takes him along a soon finds another boy, about ten years of age with one leg and a rude personality. Asif, the boy who she discovered, turns out to be a big help along the way. He’s very good with babies and takes the best care of Hassan as he can. The three children find a girl, about eight years old, living with her extremely depressed grandmother. They actually make the place a nice area to live, until it’s bombed and Parvana, Asif, Hassan, and their newly found friend Leila, have to live. The book comes to an ending that is happy, yet sad, out-of-place, yet fitting. In other words, a book that made me feel very satisfied.

This book is a must-have sidekick to The Breadwinner. But here’s the catch:  I would not read Parvana’s Journey before The Breadwinner, but when you read The Breadwinner, you pretty much have to read Parvana’s Journey. Confused yet? Like The Breadwinner, I find this book’s age group hard to place, but again I would recommend it to kids ages 11-14.

Posted By: Fred Reads


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Review and Summary: The Breadwinner

breadTitle:  The Breadwinner

Author:  Deborah Ellis

Publisher:  Groundwood Books

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

This book is about a girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to support her family. She lives in Kabul, Afghanistan, a place controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban are an extreme religious group that is quickly taking over the country. Most of their laws ban women from doing the simplest things, such as going outside without covering their entire body with cloth, working, and even going outside without a man. The laws forbid any sort of music, foreign ideas, and pretty much everything the Taliban don’t like. Girls aren’t even allowed to go to school. Many men and older boys are satisfied with the new rules, and are happy to make their wives stay inside. But not Parvana’s father.

Parvana’s father was a former history teacher, until he lost his school and his lower leg in a bombing. He is the one that makes the family’s money and sustains their well-being. That is, until he is arrested for no apparent reason by the Taliban, leaving Parvana and her family to fend for themselves. He is the only man in the house, except for an infant named Ali. So the family is left alone, with apparently no hope, no friends, and only one room to sit and squander. But then they meet Mrs. Weera, a former P.E. teacher and grandmother. She gives Parvana and her “team” hope and comes up with the idea to disguise Parvana as a boy. Parvana is sure that she won’t get away with it and, lo and behold, she goes to work for days without being spotted – by the Taliban, that is. During her first couple days of selling things here and there, she spots a boy that looks quite familiar. She quickly figures out that it’s not a boy at all – it’s her old classmate Shauzia. In the past they weren’t very close, they had different friends, but now their friendship is one of the few things that keeps them sane. They pull each other into things that they probably shouldn’t be doing. In the end of the story Parvana discovers her father at their doorstep and quickly is happy again.

This book was a grim reawakening for me. It made me truly realize what many people in the U.S. ignore, or do not really understand. It made me realize that there really are people struggling for life in other parts of the world and even here in the states. That there are very cruel people willing to go into very real violence to enforce their beliefs on other people. This book is extremely hard to recommend to a specific age group. The material would be suitable for ages twelve and up, but the length and vocabulary would be suitable for maybe ages 8-10. If I had to pick I would recommend this book to ages 11-14.

Posted by: Fred Reads


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