Category Archives: Book Recommendations

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia brings a new, refreshing twist to the old vampire story. Set in Mexico City, one of the only cities in Mexico that’s supposed to be without vampires, the book follows five different perspectives as the story unfolds. There’s Domingo, a regular human street kid, Atl, a vampire on the run, Nick, a vampire chasing Atl, Rodrigo, a human helping Nick, and Ana, the cop after the two vampires. Domingo and Atl have are the main main characters, and have the most chapters to themselves.

I’m pretty sure the book states there are around ten different kind of vampires though in the book we see three. How the vampires differ is very interesting as is the lore behind them all. Word building is definitely this book’s major strength, and one area that is spent the most time developed. Everything felt very real. I could really picture the world, and it all made sense.

 The characters were all developed. They all had their own histories, motivations, personalities. No one is pure and sweet. They were all twisted in some way. Domingo and Atl were my favorites which was nice since they were the main focus. The only drawback was I still wasn’t very connected to them. I was concerned and I wanted to know how everything would unfold, but I wasn’t that emotionally invested in them. I remember wondering if they would die, but I had no anxiety over it. I was very calm about it, and I wish I had been more tied to them.

Overall, Certain Dark Things is a solid four star book that I would recommend to others. The world is great. Characters were detailed. While I wish I had been more emotionally invested, I still had a good time, and it was an enjoyable read. 

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

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But one thing I’d learned from being a son of Frey- I couldn’t always fight my friends’ battles. The best I could do was be there to heal their injuries.

The Hammer of Thor is the second book of the trilogy The Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan. I’ve briefly reviewed the first book here. It’s a series based on Norse mythology, and this book in particular follows Magnus and his friends trying to find Thor’s hammer while trying to stop another of Loki’s plans. 

I really liked how this book expanded on Sam being Muslim while interacting with Norse gods. It also detailed more about sign language when Hearthstone, who is deaf, signs which I also liked. This book also introduced Alex who is transgender and gender fluid, and she quickly became one of my favorite characters. I’ve looked through other people’s reviews, and as far as I’ve seen the only people with problems with the representation in this book disagree with Alex and think it’s inappropriate for children. So I think that’s a good sign.

It’s usually common for the second book in the series to have a dip in quality, but I found that I liked this one more than the first one. In the first book, I struggled with the mythology, and it slowed down reading. This time, I knew who was who already so that made reading a lot easier and more enjoyable. 

The characters continue to be the strong point of the series for me. I love all of them individually, and all their relationships with each other. They grow and change, and it’s simply a pleasure to read. Magnus is still a very strong protagonist to me. He’s soft, and the others allow him to be soft without ridicule. It’s very refreshing.

The plot is much the same as his other books. Fetch this, something goes wrong, fetch that, something goes wrong, get information here, something goes wrong, and so on and so forth. But it doesn’t bother me like it does other readers who have read his other two series with Percy Jackson. Maybe if I had read that it would, but to me it’s nice to know what will basically happen. I’m invested in the story, but even with all the action and plot twists I’m not on the edge of my seat with my heart racing. That can be a negative to some people, but it was a nice change of pace for me.

Reading The Hammer of Thor almost felt like coming home. I sank into this book, and I didn’t want it to end. It was comforting, funny, lighthearted, and everything that I needed at the moment. I look forward to the third book coming out in October.

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

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First, let me say that I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It in no way changes my opinions on this book. 

 

The Gauntlet is an own voices middle grade fantasy that’s adeptly compared to Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair. It follows twelve year old Farah as she has to find her seven year old brother Ahmad, who has ADHD and has fallen into the game The Gauntlet. Farah and her two friends have to win all the challenges to win the game. If they win, they can get out. If they lose, they are stuck there forever. 

I loved every character in this book. From Farah to The Architect (the master of the game) to the giant talking lizards I liked each of their personalities and how that fit into the book. The three friends Farah, Ellie, and Alex had that whole this is their one trait and everything they do kind of reflects on that. Usually that annoys me, but not this time. I think it helped that with the challenges they had to do it wasn’t just one person having a specialty in that challenge. They all had to work together. 

Speaking of the challenges they had to do, I liked them. I thought they were interesting. Though on the second on I’m still not sure what they were doing. It was a little hard to picture.

The reveal of who The Architect was surprised me. I was suspecting a completely different person, but it all made sense looking back. Which is the best really when you are surprised but it still makes perfect sense.  

The description was wonderful. Though there was one part were Farah thinks that she is just too tired  and frightened to take anymore in, but then proceeds with a full page of description. But, the food that was described sounded great. I have no idea what any of it was, but it makes me want to look it all up and try it.

This is Riazi’s debut novel, and I think she knocked it out of the park. It doesn’t say anything about there being a sequel anywhere, but I think there is room for one. The end left some strings out there that could be tied. Though there is one big question I have that feels less like oh maybe if there’s a sequel it would be addressed, and more like eh I think you forgot something. So I wish I had an answer for that.

Overall, this book was a fun, fast read. I read it in one sitting, and I give it five stars. I think both kids and adults can read this and enjoy it equally. It’s definitely a book I would recommend. 

Review: The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee and David John

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Hyeonseo Lee grew up in North Korea as one of the more privileged people there. She ate meat every day at least. When she was seventeen, in an act of rebellion, she crossed the river to visit China. She only wanted to visit for a week before she turned eighteen and started college. But she would never be able to return. She had to rebuild her life in China, and later, in South Korea unlearning all the propaganda she was indoctrinated with her whole life, and in general, learning how to live while not getting caught by the police. Then, twelve years later, she would again go on another remarkable journey to get her mother and her brother out of North Korea.

I will admit before picking up this book I knew pretty much nothing about North Korea. This book taught me a lot, and makes me want to know more. Lee’s story was overwhelming and sad and amazing. I was in a constant state of awe while reading.

The story is told in a very clear way. It was never boring or dry. The only thing I didn’t like about the writing was that there was a lot of heavy foreshadowing like, “She made this choice. It was the worst choice she could have made.” And other phrases very similar to that were used almost every chapter. It’s a little thing. Very easy to overlook in the grand scheme of everything, but it did happen and was a little irritating.

In the end, I gave this book five stars. I think it’s another book that everyone should read. 

Rywka’s Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto Book Reveiw

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It hurts so much (for them we are not humans, just machines). Oh, pain! But I’m glad that I can “feel” that it hurts because as long as it hurts, I’m a human being. I can feel- otherwise it would be very bad. God! Thank You for your kindness toward us! Thank You, God!

Rywka’s Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto includes a diary written by Rywka Lipszyc. It was translated by Malgorzata Markoff, annotated by Ewa Wiatr, has a preface by Judy Janec, has contributions by  Alexandra Zapruder, Fred Rosenbaum, Hadassa Halamish, Esther Burstein, Zinaida Berezovskaya, and is edited by Anita Friedman.

Rywka Lipszyc was a fourteen year old girl who lived in the Lodz Ghetto. She details seven months of her life in her diary before she stops writing mid sentence. She talks about her faith in God, her wish to write better, her yearning for a better education, and her grief for her mother, her father, and her two younger siblings that died before she started writing.

The book includes facts about how the diary was found, and how it was then translated and later published. It also includes a little history about the ghetto she lived in, and the events she describes in the book which I found very helpful. It also includes pictures of the places she lived and worked at, and scans of her registration cards. Two members of her surviving family writes little essays at the end, and there is also the research they found about what happened after she stopped writing.

It’s a very moving story. One that I think everyone should read. History needs to be kept alive, and books like this one helps to do that.

Our Top Six Books of 2016

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Isis’s picks:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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This book was amazing. It was my first Oscar Wilde book and he did not disappoint. Last year, my mom gave me a beautiful purple Barnes & Noble edition and I’m glad I decided to pick it up this year. Before I even picked up the book I had recurring dreams about Dorian Gray, which was pretty interesting. The witty characters made for a fascinating story. 

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

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I read this book for my Philosophy of Food class and I devoured it. (Get it?) This is a nonfiction book about the cruel reality of the meat industry and the treatment animals receive in most company farms. Not only was the book eye-opening and compelling, it was incredibly engaging. The writing style was similar to that of a contemporary novel, which was refreshing. 

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

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This was one of those thought-provoking books that leave you with more questions than answers. I’m still not sure what the hell even happened in the book, but I have many theories. I adored the characters, friendships, families, and the writing style in this book. It was frustrating at times, but it felt realistic. I plan on reading everything else by the author. 

St. Clair (Gives Light #3) by Rose Christo

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This is the third book in a long-ish series. I have to admit, I didn’t love the final book (though I’m not sure the series is over). But this third book was perfection. I adored every character, every storyline, every twist, every turn. I wanted this book to be a thousand pages long. Actually, I recommend reading this series as a trilogy and stopping here. It’s such a sweet, heartwarming m/m love story that talks about heritage, tradition, and perseverance. 

In Perfect Light by Benjamin Alire Saenz

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I really don’t know what to say about this one. Saenz is, of course, the best author in the world (to me, ’cause I’m biased). And I think this is one of the best works of fiction out there. I haven’t heard a single person talk about this book, which is disappointing. I loved the honest, raw pain in every page, the heartbreaking characters, the beautiful family ties, and that hopeful ending that gave me the biggest smile. This is one of my top favorite books of all time. It is stunning. 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

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I read this book for a Lit class in college. The class sucked, but this book didn’t. It’s set in a dystopian world although it appears ordinary at first glance. Again, the characters were my favorite part of this book. The close relationship between the three main characters was fascinating. I loved watching them grow and evolve separately and together. I hated everything that happened to them. I didn’t realize how attached I’d been to them until I put the book down and could not stop thinking about it. I had such a terrible book hangover afterwards. It just stuck with me. 

Nicole’s picks:

Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World by Signe Pike

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I only read this book for a little research on Faeries since Isis and my book involves them, and I was really surprised to like it so much. It was really interesting, and I loved reading it. Before this book I was struggling to finish any book, and it kind of cured my reading slump.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd 

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I read this during our summer read-a-thon, and I read it within one day. I was surprised I liked this book so much, especially since I thought that the first half of the book was kind of boring. But I loved all the female relationships, and I loved May the most even if she did make me cry.

Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster (Dragonbreath #4) by Ursula Vernon

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I don’t think this should come as a surprise to anyone since I feel like I’ve talked talked about this series so much this year. This one was my favorite out of the six I’ve read, and I think that’s all I need to say about this one.

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

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This book completely swept my off my feet. I don’t typically read thrillers, so maybe I’m just easily impressed, but I was completely enthralled in every page. Wylie is one of my new favorite characters.

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

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I did not expect to like this book at all, but I still picked it up since I heard so much about it. I remained critical throughout it, and ended up liking it despite all that. I thought it was creative and fun, and I can’t wait to continue the series.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

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This was such a fun read. I loved Magnus, and all of the other characters. There is actually a deaf character in this, and I don’t think I’ve read about a deaf character. Especially not in fantasy. I also enjoyed learning about Norse mythology.

Dragonbreath Books 4-6 Review

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This series keeps geting better and better. I’ve reviewed the first three books here if you want to check it out. The Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon is children’s books that mixes novel form with comics, and follows the adventures of Danny, the only mythical creature in his school. 

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They were best friends. They had a system. Danny was fearless and Wendell was terrified, and it worked out between them.

But at the moment, what his best friend needed wasn’t a coward.

In Dragonbreath: Lair of the Bat Monster Danny and Wendell take a trip to the pool, and end up saving a bat from drowning. They end up taking it to Danny’s mom to make sure it isn’t hurt. She doesn’t know anything about bats, but, luckily, they have a cousin who works with them down in Mexico. One bus ride later, they get into a big, monster of an adventure.

This one had a lot more of Wendell’s point of view, and I really liked that. His anxiety and worry is both funny and relatable, and make the book more enjoyable to read. This book had a lot of focus on Danny’s and Wendell’s friendship, and since I’ve talked about how that is my favorite part of these books, I obviously loved that. The adventure with the bats was really fun as well. I rated this book five stars.

 

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“Well, anyway, Occam’s Razor is this principle that the fewer assumptions you have to make, the more likely you are to be right.”

“Awhuh?”

“The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

“Ghosts are pretty simple.

Dragonbreath: No Such Thing as Ghosts takes place on Halloween. Danny goes trick-or-treating with Wendell and Christiana, a girl from school. They run into Big Eddy, the school bully, who dares them to go into a haunted house.

A little slow in the beginning, but this was still a nice read. It’s as funny and interesting as the others. Christiana is a new character. She’s really into science and is very skeptical of anything that can’t be proven with hard facts. I like the dynamics between all three of them. I rated this one a four point five out of five stars.

 

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Danny wished his mother could see him, being responsible and everything. She’d better appreciate it later. The next time he needed a new video game, for example.

Dragonbreath: Revenge of the Horned Bunnies takes Danny to summer camp at Camp Jackalope. He’s joined by Wendell and Christiana and Spencer, his annoying seven year old cousin. Under the regular crafts and horseback riding, a conspiracy is brewing, and you bet Danny lands right in the middle of it.

This story was different than all of the previous ones and it was a welcomed change. Christiana appears to be becoming a regular in the books which I like. There was one small annoying thing with blaming the other girls for liking nail polish and makeup, but that’s small. Spencer was a cute character. I liked his relationship with Danny. A solid four star book. 

I think these three books are little different than the first three. I could be mistaken since I read the others back in the summer, but these ones have a lot more science in them. Personally, I think it has elevated the series, and has made them that much more enjoyable. I hope the rest of the series continues to include it. I’m not sure when I will be picking up the rest of these, but I know I definitely will one day.