Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

station elevenTJ Burns — February 27, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I love well-written dystopian novels and I love solving mysteries, so Station Eleven is right down my ally. The biggest mystery throughout was figuring out how all the players fit together. One-third through, I made a mind map and a timeline to sort things out. Putting together the pieces of the puzzle was as entertaining as it was intriguing, and it took away a bit of the sting from the heavier, more deprestation eleven2ssing subject matter.

I was enraptured from beginning to end by the captivating subject matter, the puzzles to solve, and the diverse and interesting characters.

Published September 9th 2014 by Knopf

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Ghosts of Greenglass House (Greenglass House, #2) by Kate Milford

ghosts of greenglass houseTJ Burns — March 3, 2018

My 10-year-old daughter and I loved Ghosts of Greenglass House even more than the first book in this series, Greenglass House, which we absolutely loved! We were glad, along with Milo and his parents, to welcome back Georgie and Clem and especially Meddie. We also enjoyed meeting a whole slew of new and interesting characters and delving deeply into their histories and motivations.

New mysteries engaged and enthralled us and, as with the first book, we enjoyed guessing, second-guessing, and guessing again.

On the philosophical level, I valued how the lines in these stories are blurred between what is considered “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “bad,” “crazy” and “normal.” These unclear, blurry lines force the young reader to take a critical look at who is making the value judgements and what their interests are. Can thieves, smugglers, and ghosts be “the good guys”? Can customs agents be “the bad guys”? Can some thieves act honorably, while others act dishonorably? Can the same question be asked of customs agents? Who is “crazy” and what does it mean to be “normal,” and who gets to decide?

I enjoyed reading and discussing this book with my daughter to gauge her interpretations and analyze her reactions. She clearly didn’t delve as deeply into such philosophical topics as I did, but she also didn’t feel upset by such inconsistencies and had no problem identifying with and liking characters in which “society” may deem as “criminals” or “undesirables.”

As an educator and a parent, I also especially loved how Milo, like in the first book, takes on an alter-ego to engage in activities he himself feels too shy to attempt, to take on tasks that he feels incapable of accomplishing, and to use skills and talents that he doesn’t feel he has. Since a different set of skills and talents are needed in his current challenge, he creates a new alter-ego to respond to the new obstacles and challenges that present themselves. I think this is a fantastic idea and can engage young readers to look inside themselves to see what skills, talents, ideas, and abilities they actually have, but never never thought that they did.

I can highly recommend this creative series and am looking forward to reading a new Greenglass House adventure as soon as possible!

I received a copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published October 3rd 2017 by Clarion

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Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) by Kate Milford

greenglass houseTJ Burns — February 3, 2018

Wow! Fantastic! Fun, mysterious, suspenseful. And man, I did not see that twist coming. Boom! Intriguing & entertaining characters, original setting, clever premise, creative puzzles — fun for young and old!

I read this book with my 10-year-0ld daughter, and we could not wait to continue it each evening! We’ve already started the sequel, Ghosts of the Greenglass House, which promises to be equally enthralling!

Published August 26th 2014 by Clarion Books

 

 

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Ink, Iron, and Glass (Ink, Iron, and Glass #1) by Gwendolyn Clare

Ink Iron and GlassTJ Burns — December 2017

Wow! Yes! This is my kind of book! Intelligent, clever, creative, and action-packed story line; intriguing and diverse characters, who experience personal growth; interesting, clever, and at times witty dialogue; surprises and unexpected twists – everything I look for in a YA fantasy!

 

Expected publication: February 20th 2018 by Macmillan/Imprint


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The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1) by Jonathan Stroud

The Screaming Staircase4

TJ Burns — December 7, 2017

Wheeeeeeeee-uuuuuuuuuh! Boom-chuckaluckla-boom! That was an exciting ride! Yeee-ha!

The humorous, chuckle-out-loud interaction and dynamics between the three main characters is refreshing, entertaining, and endearing — all at once!

I guessed the who-dunnit shortly before Lockwood and long before he revealeThe Screaming Staircase1d it to Lucy and George, but that didn’t distract from the story’s suspense in the least. I simply applauded my brilliance and chalked it off to a great-minds-think-alike kind of a thing. Besides there were more than enough – correct that – loads and loads of surprises to keep me oThe Screaming Staircase2n the edge of my seat and cause me to jump up and scream periodically!

Within minutes of finishing The Screaming Staircase, I bought and started reading The Whispering Skull, the second book in the series. I haven’t gotten this excited about a series since Harry Potter! Yipee!

I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

like vanessaTJ Burns — February 2018

Heart-wrenching, moving, and inspirational all at once. Who’d have ever thought I’d get involved in the story about a beauty pageant contestant? But this book has so much to offer. Vanessa’s aspirations go so much deeper than beauty pageants. Vanessa dearly wants to be loved and to be considered beautiful. Her quest to achieve beauty leads her to the discovery that the beauty is inside herself — and it has been there all along.

Vanessa is so genuine, so honest, in her thoughts (although she sometimes holds back in her words and actions). She has such “heart.” I could immediately identify with Vanessa, though her world and mine are entirely different.

Very well written, at times heart-wrenching, and extremely emotionally involving throughout, I can highly recommend Like Vanessa for anyone (age 12 and older) when it comes out in March of 2018.

I received a copy of this book from Charlesbridge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March 13th 2018 by Charlesbridge

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Artemis by Andy Weir

artemis2TJ Burns — August 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Fantastic read! Something for all of my senses! Intelligent, scientific, thought-provoking contents; action-packed, suspenseful, clever story-line; less-than-perfect, but approachable, understandable, and intriguing characters; witty, laugh-out-loud dialogues; all wrapped together into one exciting ride!

Jazz is an intriguing anti-hero. Not only does she have the most awesome name and nickname, both of which I gave to my own daughter, but her quick-witted, humorous, spontaneous, flippant, don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-thinks attitude is both entertaining and endearing.

Jazz, who wallows in self-pity, but puts up a don’t-give-a-damn front for everyone to see (and even convinces herself of its validity), and whose relationship with right and wrong and moral values is shady (to put it politely), and who is the self-proclaimed perpetual maker of bad life choices, and who the entire community sees as case-in-point for squandered potential, is the most unlikely of unlikely heroes… all the more reason to love her in all her imperfections.
Artemis
From beginning to end, I was captivated. Jazz and her personality move the story along at a mega-quick pace, and although there are some detailed scientific explanations, they serve to stimulate the brain cells rather than bog the story down. I didn’t look up the mechanical terms or check the accuracy of the chemistry involved… but for now, I’ll just take Weir’s word for it, and save the fact checking for a rainy day ;).

Five big fat stars for Artemis from TJ Burns!

I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: November 14th 2017 by Crown Publishing Group (NY)

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Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens

emily and the spellstoneTJ Burns — September 23, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Laugh-out-loud, smart, creative, action-packed, middle-grade adventure!

Emily and the Spellstone claims to be a middle grade novel, but there is wit enough to capture and captivate an older audience as well.

I read this with my 10-year-old daughter and we were constantly rolling over laughing like crazy! Throughout the day we would quote both Emily and Gorgo — each clever in his/her own right. Emily’s matter-of-fact, reluctant to become involved in any kind of adventure, slightly sarcastic, slightly critical, slightly negative, but ready-to-step-up-when-needed personality combined with Gorgo’s bubbly, entertaining, over-the-top hilarious, morally dubious, but inherently helpful personality (or do you say demon-ality?) bring to life a wonderful, creative, witty, entertaining, original adventure!

I received a copy of this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published June 13th 2017 by Clarion Books

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Unearthed by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

unearthedTJ Burns — September 9, 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars

Wow! Just wow! What an exhilarating ride! Interesting, likable characters! Unexpected, unpredictable twists and turns!

This story is amazing! It blew me away. Before I knew it, I was finished and dazed – I didn’t know what hit me!

Mia and Jules are such intriguing, interesting, and likable characters. Mia, tough, athletic, worldly, street-smart, clever, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued. Jules, introspective, sweet, highly-intelligent, soft-spoken, sensitive, and a bit insecure (at least at first).

The fact that we, the readers, were privy to both of their thought processes added depth – we could see, understand, and support (or dispute) their motivations, but even more we could see when they clearly misread, and misjudged each other’s actions and motivations.

Non-stop action; clever dialogue; intriguing characters with substantial character development; twists and turns; puzzles; mysteries; intelligent creative story line… I couldn’t ask for anything more in a novel. Absolutely breathtakingly fantastic read!

I received a copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: January 9th 2018 by Disney-Hyperion

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The Border by Steve Schafer

the borderTJ Burns — August 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

Pato, Arbo, Gladys, and Marco are such genuine, well-developed characters, I feel I know them — really know them. I had a stake in their fate – I needed to see them through their trials, to safely overcome incredible obstacles, and to reach their destination unknown. I was so emotionally involved in these four teenagers’ lives that I kept thinking about them long after I finished reading.

The fact that the fate and the journey of these four young people is not just fiction to so many, not just in North America, but worldwide, makes this story all the more potent, and hard to swallow.

The writing is fantastic. I never felt like I was reading a novel, but felt rather like I was sharing in the experience, the tragedies, the hardships, the bonding, the friendship, the love.

I received a copy of this book from Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Expected publication: September 5th 2017 by Sourcebooks Fire

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Wintersong (Wintersong #1) by S. Jae-Jones

wintersongTJ Burns — July 2017

5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

I was intrigued and thoroughly captivated at the start.

Liesl is an interesting character. Such untapped and unappreciated talent, such passion with no outlet to express it… she just had to explode (sooner rather than later).

Beautiful Käthe annoyed me to no end. But I think that’s the point. She’s self-involved and weak, but her character is just a pawn in a larger game. I liked Constanze — I thought she was a fascinating, plucky old woman :D. I didn’t know what to make of the Goblin King, although I found his personality intriguing.

I really like the concept. I’d heard of der Erlkönig before — I’ve read the poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After finishing this book I looked a bit into the history of der Erlkönig, and I like what Jae-Jones has done with this story.

I got a bit frustrated in the middle, with Liesl’s choices. [ After all Liesl has done to save her sister and break free, after all she knows about the lies and the mischief of the Erlkönig, she was just going to give up and become his bride? Okay, I get that she lusts after him, and that she wants to be “desired” by someone…, and of course she wants to save the world, but how can she trust him?

How does she know it’s not a scam — the whole story about how he needs a bride to prevent the world from falling into an eternal winter? And even if that were the case, why does she need to decide that now, when she’s about to win her freedom and win the King of Mischief’s little game?

It would have made more sense for her to get out of the Underworld, win the game, win her freedom, and then consider his offer to marry her — with a clear head, a night’s sleep, and no games involved. It seems he’s laid his cards on the table. Why not take a day/week/month to see if what he said is really true? And to consider her own feelings in the matter? And make sure her sister is really in safety?

It just seems to me that a character, who has been rather clear-headed, smart, and brave up until now is just acting like a foolish wimp. (hide spoiler)]

Two-thirds through, the story was moving much too slow for my tastes and I was afraid I might not finish. Luckily, it picked up quite significantly at the end. It ended as I predicted, but there were still some surprises.

The writing is beautiful — descriptive and metaphoric — I especially appreciated all the music metaphors.

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Published February 7th 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books

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