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Oct 13 2015

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher

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23015962Novel: ​The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher | Goodreads
Release Date: ​May 19th, 2015
Publisher:​ Katherine Tegen Books
Format:​ ARC
Source:​ Publisher
Also Published On: Reading Over Sleeping

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is Stonewall Book Award-winning author Brian Katcher’s hilarious he said/she said romance about two teens recovering from heartbreak and discovering themselves on an out-of-this-world accidental first date.

It all begins when Ana Watson’s little brother, Clayton, secretly ditches the quiz bowl semifinals to go to the Washingcon sci-fi convention on what should have been a normal, résumé-building school trip.

If slacker Zak Duquette hadn’t talked up the geek fan fest so much, maybe Clayton wouldn’t have broken nearly every school rule or jeopardized Ana’s last shot at freedom from her uptight parents.

Now, teaming up with Duquette is the only way for Ana to chase down Clayton in the sea of orcs, zombies, bikini-clad princesses, Trekkies, and Smurfs. After all, one does not simply walk into Washingcon.

But in spite of Zak’s devil-may-care attitude, he has his own reasons for being as lost as Ana-and Ana may have more in common with him than she thinks. Ana and Zak certainly don’t expect the long crazy night, which begins as a nerdfighter manhunt, to transform into so much more…

Epic Reads was handing ARCs of Ana and Zak at YALLWEST, so I grabbed it because why not? I hadn’t heard of it before, but a book that celebrates conventions and fandoms can’t be bad. And it really wasn’t. It wasn’t amazing, but it was definitely a lot of fun. 

The characters. This book is told from a dual point of view, which I love. As is the case with a lot of dual POVs I read though, I ended up liking one character’s voice more than the other’s. That character being Zak. Zak is one of the coolest characters I’ve met in a while. He’s a nerd, through and through. He’s gone to Washingcon every year since he was ten, he cosplays sometimes, he sings folk songs based off Star Trek, and he plays crazy card games with trolls and other monsters. And that’s not even the whole of it. I liked him immediately. Ana on the other hand I didn’t end up liking until the last seventy-fiveish pages. We just didn’t click. There were tons of highly entertaining secondary characters that I adored though. 

The setting. I’ve never read a book set at a sci-fi convention. It’s probably the most unique contemporary setting I’ve read. There’s always so much going on at cons that it creates this crazy, super-charged atmostphere (or at least that’s how it works out in my mind), and this book really transported me there. If there are other YA novels like this, can someone direct me to them immediately? 

The plotting. I was having a lot of fun reading this until this block of maybe thirtyish pages where my interest started to drift a little bit. There’s a certain point in the book where it took a turn from Guardians of the Galaxy laugh out loud hilarious to made for TV cartoon movie ridiculous (Think that line in Taylor Swift’s Long Live “Screaming THIS IS ABSURD.”). 

I started to lose track of what was going on really quickly, and it left me feeling a whole lot of HUH? and a little annoyed. The end was redeeming, but it doesn’t take away from the weird. 

The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak was crazy and a bit ridiculous at times, but overall, it was a fun, enjoyable read that celebrated fandom and everyone’s inner (or outer!) nerd. 

Oct 12 2015

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

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18044277Novel: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma | Goodreads
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

Wow. What a haunting, heartbreaking, suspenseful, poetic book. I wish I could open this review with the kind of eloquence The Walls Around Us contains, the kind of eloquence it deserves, but the story left me speechless, my thoughts jumbled and rattling inside my head. So rather than attempting to do this book justice (I can admit up-front that I could never), I will instead list a few brilliant aspects of the novel, hoping to showcase a bit of what makes this book so stunning.

I first fell in love with this novel’s gorgeous writing style. From page one, every sentence glows with the kind of brilliant beauty that cannot be taught, that could only come from the most poetic of minds. I do not count myself as a writer, really—at least not a fiction writer—but I would still give nearly anything to be able to craft sentences like “We were gasoline running for a lit match” and “She didn’t look foam-mouthed or haunted and on edge, her head full of razors.” And these lines are far from the best The Walls Around Us has to offer; they are simply snippets taken from random chapters, and equally and exceedingly beautiful lines can be found on every other page. I highly recommend this book to writers looking to absorb style pointers or anyone wanting to become immersed in stunning prose that flows like poetry.

While I could easily recommend The Walls Around Us based on its writing alone, the story’s plotting is possibly even more impressive. I have seen a few reviewers call the storyline slow, but I have to disagree; I cannot remember the last time I was as obsessed with a plot as I was with this one. Told in alternating perspectives and shuffled time periods that create a complex-but-never confusing story, this book poses questions in the early chapters and does not answer them until the middle, the 3/4 mark, or even the last page. Between real-life mysteries of innocence and guilt and the supernatural secrets of ghostly justice that entwine, Nova Ren Suma’s wonderfully frustrating tendency to hold back on revelations creates a suspenseful, addictive plot. And when readers finally do uncover the solutions to the story’s many mysteries, the answers are both haunting and satisfying.

Above all else, Suma’s beautiful writing and brilliant plotting work together to convey a barrage of emotions. The Walls Around Us tells a story of innocence and guilt, the feelings that go along with each, and the pain that results when the two are confused. Characters experience regret, loneliness, anger, and so much more—and thanks to this book’s vivid storytelling, readers do too. On top of that, The Walls Around Us encapsulates the emotions of prison life—the shame, the sadness, the stifling restriction—that are only compounded for the undeserving innocent. I found myself tearing up more than once for this book’s jailed characters and their real-life counterparts (especially the innocent, but even, to some extent, the guilty).

I cannot say much more about this book without eroding some of the mystical magic that comes from entering the story with a open, clear mind. But I can say this: read this book if you are looking for knockout writing or plotting. Read this book if you are looking for a spooky, haunting, and atmospheric (but not scary) story for fall. Meanwhile, I will be catching up on the rest of the author’s surely-phenomenal books.

Oct 10 2015

The Notorious Pagan Jones by Nina Berry

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The Notorious Pagan JonesNovel: The Notorious Pagan Jones by Nina Berry | Goodreads
Release Date: May 26th, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Pagan Jones went from America’s sweetheart to fallen angel in one fateful night in 1960: the night a car accident killed her whole family. Pagan was behind the wheel and driving drunk. Nine months later, she’s stuck in the Lighthouse Reformatory for Wayward Girls and tortured by her guilt—not to mention the sadistic Miss Edwards, who takes special delight in humiliating the once-great Pagan Jones.

But all of that is about to change. Pagan’s old agent shows up with a mysterious studio executive, Devin Black, and an offer. Pagan will be released from juvenile detention if she accepts a juicy role in a comedy directed by award-winning director Bennie Wexler. The shoot starts in West Berlin in just three days. If Pagan’s going to do it, she has to decide fast—and she has to agree to a court-appointed “guardian,” the handsome yet infuriating Devin, who’s too young, too smooth, too sophisticated to be some studio flack.

The offer’s too good to be true, Berlin’s in turmoil and Devin Black knows way too much about her—there’s definitely something fishy going on. But if anyone can take on a divided city, a scheming guardian and the criticism of a world that once adored her, it’s the notorious Pagan Jones. What could go wrong?

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The common idiom is a valuable and applicable statement for life, but in its literal sense, it’s difficult to follow. I’m surely not the only reader that finds a handwritten title, an illustrated cover, or a thoughtful book jacket design more enticing than a synopsis on its own, nor can I be the only book fan ashamed to admit the habit. Regardless, covers are important; they, along with the title, are one’s first impression of the content within the binding. I bring up book covers only because the cover of Nina Berry’s The Notorious Pagan Jones is so good, capturing the attention of potential readers, hinting to the levels of drama and espionage in the plot, and living up to the outstanding story found inside. Granted, I’m a sucker for large typography, but Berry’s publication, a historical fiction espionage thriller of sorts {how’s that for a genre?}, is impressive, inside and out.

Pagan Jones was America’s favorite sweetheart and a movie star on the rise, but underneath the glamour of the press, Pagan was hiding a secret drinking problem. When a drunk driving incident leads to the deaths of her father and younger sister, Pagan loses her title of teen starlet and instead earns a cell at a girls’ reformatory. Only months later, to both her and the reader’s surprise, she’s released, now under the watch of a young studio executive. The catch: She hasn’t got a clue as to why. Pagan challenges the idea of an “unlikeable narrator,” displaying traits that can be hard to stomach, but are nevertheless important to her characterization and growth. She’s sometimes spoiled, often selfish, and rash in thinking, but she also has a long list of good traits to her name, including her intelligence, bravery, and compassion. It’s clear that Berry is no novice to character development, as she looks for and finds a realistic balance to these traits.

Pagan’s sharp observations and honest remarks may set the tone for the story, but the 1960’s setting is what brings it to life. Following her release from the reform school, Pagan is brought to Berlin, where, you’ll remember if you’ve ever sat through history class, tension was at a peak. This time period provides Berry the opportunity to include references to popular 60’s fashion, dissect political leaders and their connections, and comment on the Hollywood industry of the era. If it sounds ambitious, that’s because it is; if it sounds fascinating, we would make great friends. Unlike other historical fiction novels I’ve read where cultural references have too large of a presence, Berry’s research is carefully woven throughout the narration, so it’s effective, not overdone. Furthermore, the chapter headings are done as newspaper headlines, heightening the impact and purpose of the setting.

Of course, the setting is secondary to the actual plot: What happens to Pagan outside of prison? Why is Pagan whisked away to Berlin? Who is Devin Black, and where does he go when Pagan’s not looking? Berry manages multiple story threads of varying significance – no easy feat – but, more importantly, she never loses sight of the main character in the process. Though she ties each storyline back to Pagan, the connections feel natural rather than forced, just as the relationships between Pagan and secondary characters feel relatable rather than out-of-touch. The only place where the novel falters is in its pacing. The beginning portion lags in comparison to the increasingly complex middle section, whereas the middle chapters lack the same intensity as the high-action ending. My enjoyment wasn’t affected by it, but I know from experience that other readers may dislike the “chunky” plot.

I’m typically weary of starting a new series without a trusted recommendation or natural enthusiasm. With stacks of unread books piling up in my room, I know that if I begin a finished series now, I will be done with every installment long after I’ve graduated high school. What I do like are books in a series that could easily stand on their own, as it takes a talented author to craft a story that is just as strong in one book as it is in five. The Notorious Pagan Jones is one such example to consider with a second book slated for release next year. Does it need a sequel? I don’t think so, but am I all sorts of excited to return to the one and only Pagan Jones? Absolutely. If you like Code Name VerityOut of the Easy, spy novels, historical fiction, traveling the world, or just plain reading YA, you know what to do next.

Oct 8 2015

Ten Illuminations {38}: Ships We Would Go Down With

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Ten Illuminations is a bi-weekly feature hosted by Lit Up Review where we recommend our ten favorite books that fit under one topic. Inspired by The Broke and The Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday, Ten Illuminations gives you five people’s recommendations in one!

Today we’re talking about our favorite ships! (For those of you new to the lingo, “ships” refers to (relation)ships, generally of the romantic variety, that you wholeheartedly support.)


SayWhat_jkt DES1.indd

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern | Goodreads

The relationship between this book’s two main characters is so much more than just a typical fictional romance, but I loved their slowly-growing relationship so much that I feel like the fangirl term “ship” is still appropriate. Both characters are dealing with a disability or disorder – Amy has cerebral palsy and Matthew has OCD – and watching the two develop a friendship and maybe even a romance because of – not in spite of – their challenges was wonderful.


Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman | Goodreads

In this original World War II book, Gretchen, a family friend of Hitler, falls for Daniel, a Jewish, anti-Nazi reporter. Their romance is so delightfully forbidden, which is precisely why I love it so much. I cannot wait for the third book in this series so I can watch the two characters work together to overcome even more obstacles than they already have.


The Start of Me and YouThe Start of Me and You by Emery Lord | Goodreads

Although I’m open to almost any YA romance, I fall particularly hard for the relationships of characters I easily relate with. Like me, Paige, the protagonist in Emery Lord’s The Start of Me and You, is a list-maker, a book lover, and a loyal friend, qualities that are complemented by the traits of her love interest, Max, whose kind personality and trivia knowledge won me over after his first appearance. Their relationship is far more sweet than “steamy” {that’s a Bella type of romance for you}, and it never interferes with their own personal growth. A perfect, albeit fictional, match? I sure think so.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally | GoodreadsBreathe Annie Breathe

Call me predictable, but the majority of my favorite ships are similar in that they all hail from cute, well-written contemporary novels. I’m sad to say that I have yet to pick up another book from the Hundred Oaks series, but I hope that doesn’t discount my love for the relationship featured in Book Five, Breathe, Annie, Breathe. Following her ex-boyfriend’s death, Annie finds solace in completing one of his own dreams: running a marathon, and in her training, she meets Jeremiah, who is a sweetheart and funny guy all at once. Awkward scenes ensue as both define a “romance” for themselves, but, by the ending, my heart was stolen.



7042434Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta | Goodreads

Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah Taylor and Jonah

That’s all.

10194514Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry | Goodreads

Katie McGarry = love.

Noah and Echo are the couple from McGarry’s first book in this series, and are the ones who made me fall in love with her writing. They’re incredibly flawed but work through every one of their problems, are incredibly supportive of each other, and I SHIP THEM SO HARD IT HURTS. I’ve loved watching them grow throughout the series!


Oct 7 2015

Waiting on Wednesday {70}

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Waiting On Wednesday is originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, but we just love this meme so much we had to tag along! Each Wednesday, one of the Lit Up Review writers will post a book she is looking forward to, along with the summary and cover. You can find all of these posts by clicking on the category button and selecting “Waiting on Wednesday,” and fill up your Goodreads shelves with great books to get excited about!


These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelley | Goodreads
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte

Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

I’ve previously fallen in love with Jennifer Donnelly’s historical fiction, and I doubt that will change with These Shallow Graves. From its mystery to its Gilded Age glamour, this book sounds all-around thrilling and gorgeous.


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