five and a half windows


Going Too Far is a lot more serious and intense than what I was expecting from Jennifer Echols, who has previously written romantic comedies. They’re awesome, but very different from this latest book, and she’s pulled it off beautifully; this is a fantastic novel about love, loss, life, and moving on. It starts when Meg and some friends head out onto a railroad bridge where it’s rumored that some kids died a few years ago, and are caught by a cop, who, it turns out, regularly patrols the bridge. He’s connected to it somehow, and John After, despite being a promising student when he graduated high school last year, can’t tear himself away from that bridge long enough to go to college twenty miles down the highway.

Meg, on the other hand, can’t wait to get out of their tiny Alabama town, go to college in Birmingham, and then see the world. She was excited about a spring break trip to Miami, the first time she’ll see the ocean, but that comes crashing down when she hears her punishment for trespassing onto the bridge: she’ll be riding with Officer John After on his night shift for a week, learning something about the law.

When their lives collide for a week, Meg and John will both have to face their pasts, complete with hard questions and even harder answers. 

I absolutely loved this book. Some books are solidly good, some are really great, and a very few are take-your-breath-away, can’t stop reading amazing, and for me, Going Too Far falls into the latter category. It’s powerful without being over-the-top, and reveals universal truths while still being a very personal story. The past haunts us all, and this book addresses wonderfully the hold that it has over us. It’s also a very good look into the complicated, real relationships between people, and the power of love (as cheesy as that sounds, it’s not). 

Speaking of the people, well, wow. Everyone in this book is believable, complex, and layered. The characters and their relationships are complicated, as people are. Meg’s voice, too, stands out as authentic and very fitting to the character. Everything feels real and moving and intense, but (and this is key), without ever feeling over-the-top, lifetime-movie-esque melodramatic, when it could have so easily strayed into that territory. I really, really can’t stress enough how much you all need to read this book. It’ll be out in March, but go ahead and preorder this one. You’ll devour it, you’ll love it, and it will stick with you.

Five and 1/2 windows out of six and a heart:

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I Know It’s Over is not an issue book. It may seem odd that I feel the need to preface my review with this, but teen pregnancy is pretty much the premise of this book, and that definitely makes it sound like a typical issue book, and it’s not. Yes, the charcters deal with the issue, but it’s not about the “issue,” or the cold generalizations that implies; it’s about the people. It’s about something that could really happen to almost anyone, and about two people who do have to handle this problem, and an unplanned pregnancy at sixteen is a huge problem.

Nick and Sasha are over by the time Sasha tells Nick, on Christmas Eve, that she’s pregnant. While it lasted, though, it was a good relationship, and Nick’s still holding on to what he and Sasha had. Now, that’s difficult and impossible as he tries to let Sasha make her own decisions, but still can’t help but be involved. That’s not the whole story, though; part of this book is also flashbacks to the beginning and duration of Nick and Sasha’s relationship. 

This book isn’t just about Nick and his relationship with and feelings for Sasha, or how they deal with the pregnancy. It’s also about Nick’s whole life, including the issues he has with his friends and family. 

C.K. Kelly Martin’s debut novel is a believable, readable, intense, and captivating story. It’s layered and complex and scarily relatable. To the reader, it feels like a story about real people, people who could be your friends or siblings or neighbors, not a book about an issue or a book with a lesson to teach, and that is truly impressive. The author does an amazing job with Nick, her protagonist, painting a vivid portrait of him and his life, and also capturing his voice perfectly–and it’s a feat, the way a grown woman is able to capture the voice of a sixteen-year-old boy! Martin’s writing style is honest and perfect for this story and character. I Know It’s Over is very, very good, and highly recommended. I can’t wait to read this author’s next book.

Make sure to check out C.K. Kelly Martin’s guest post on Reviewer X.

signature(P.S.: Signature? Yes? No? Get a new one?)

Katniss lives in what used to be the United States, but her world is very different from the one we inhabit. In this world, the continent is a country (or more of an empire, really) called Panem, split into 12 districts (once 13, but District 13 rebelled and was destroyed), with the first district being the capitol. Things seem to get progressively worse as the numbers of the districts increase. Katniss is from one of the far-out districts, where people starve to death.

One of the ways that the capitol reminds others of its dominance is the Hunger Games. These annual games can take place in any setting. They are televised throughout Panem, and everyone has to watch. It’s a fight to the death in some sort of wilderness setting, between two tributes (a teenage boy and a teenage girl) from each district, chosen by lottery. If any teenager in the poorer districts needs more food for herself or her family, she can get that–but she must pay with extra entries in the annual lottery.

Katniss has quite a few entries, and so is nervous. Her younger sister has only one. But it is Prim, her sweet, fragile sister, whose name is called, so Katniss finds herself volunteering, most likely giving up her life.

She’s got more going for her than she at first realizes, though. However, she’s up against Careers, tributes who have been training their entire lives for this. She’s up against the wilderness. She’s up against inhuman cruelty. Is it too much to survive? And on top of that, there’s the entire system that set this up. Will Katniss come out on top of the games? Will she outwit the others playing the game, or even its creators?

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Suzanne Collins’ latest book. I had heard that The Hunger Games was one of the best books of the year. And you know what? Sometimes that amount of buzz can mean a disappointing experience when actually reading the book. That’s not the case here, though.

I loved the characters. Katniss is a fantastic heroine, and the other characters were all quite interesting, too. I loved the romance. I loved the nonstop action. I loved Suzanne Collins’ picture of the future, with its eerie and frightening parallels to the present. I loved the suspense. I simply could not get enough of this book. And, luckily, it’s supposed to be the first in a trilogy! How much luckier could we get? I absolutely can’t wait to read the next two books. In six words: Adventure, romance, futuristic, suspense, pure awesomeness.

Surely fans of young adult literature who do not live under rocks know John Green, and most probably love his books, so expectations for his latest, Paper Towns, will certainly be high. I adored Looking For Alaska and loved An Abundance of Katherines almost as much. So I was a little uncertain about reading this book, because I’d be seriously disappointed with anything less than totally brilliant with John Green’s name on it.

But Paper Towns does not disappoint! It reminded me of both of John Green’s previous books, and I know there are people who loved one and not the other, so everyone should find this book to be amazing (as it is).

In Paper Towns, Quentin Jacobsen has lived next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman in the same Orlando subdivision since they were two years old. As children, they played together, until one day when they were nine. That day, Margo and Quentin discovered a body in a nearby park. Neither of them knew this man, Robert Joyner, who killed himself in a public park leaving a body for two children to find, but this discovery changed their relationship. That night, Margo came to Quentin’s window, and they stood there for a long time. After that night, though, they took divergent paths in life.

Now Margo and Quentin are high school seniors. They still live next door to each other, and Quentin still thinks Margo is amazing and gorgeous, but they don’t speak. Their lives do not overlap. Margo is beautiful and popular and impulsive and adventurous. Quentin is something of a nerd, too analytical to be spontaneous or adventurous, and he continues to love Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So many crazy stories are told about Margo, too crazy to be true–but with Margo, they all turn out to be real.

One night, a few weeks before their high school graduation, Margo shows up at Quentin’s window again, and before he knows it, they’re off on a crazy night of revenge and adventure that involves dead fish, blue spray paint, blackmail, and breaking into Sea World, among other things. (Fun fact: I was actually reading this book (rather obsessively) on the night that these events supposedly happened!) It’s certainly a night to remember, and Quentin is certain that things between him and Margo will be different now–but when he gets to school the next day, Margo is gone. Nobody knows where she is. But all hope is not lost–Margo has left clues for Quentin, and he hopes they’ll lead him to her. In the process of searching for Margo, though, Quentin realizes that she wasn’t who he always though she was–and maybe he’s not who he thought he was, either.

It’s kind of hard to summarize this book, because, really, there’s little else like it and it doesn’t follow a prescribed formula for plot or anything, but Paper Towns is nothing short of brilliant. The only thing I didn’t like were the covers, but that’s hardly John Green’s fault, is it? There are two covers for this book, and they do reflect both sides of Margo’s personality, I guess, but I just don’t love them. I also don’t think they really reflect the whole story. But, other than that, I completely adored this book. It’s an intelligent, interesting novel that I literally could not put down. Oh, I forgot to mention–there is also a road trip! A crazy, intense road trip! I love books with road trips.

I couldn’t get enough of these fantastic, often quirky characters. They were real and three dimensional and diverse and fascinating, from Radar, an obsessive editor of Omnictionary whose parents own the world’s largest collection of black Santas, to Lacey, who turns out to be far more than she first appears to be. I wanted to spend more time with all of them than these 300 or so pages.

Paper Towns is a smart, thoughtful, funny, and hopeful novel that really epitomizes John Green’s brilliance. It has razor-sharp wit, fantastic writing, originality in spades, truth, and, well, everything that makes for a truly unbelievably wonderful novel. It will be out in October, at which point you must do everything in your power to get a copy immediately.

Jenny Davidson‘s first YA novel, The Explosionist, takes place in an alternate version of Edinburgh in 1938. Sophie’s world diverges from our own when Napoleon wins at Waterloo in 1815, though there are other discrepancies that cannot be traced back to that battle–most importantly, the paranormal element of this book. Spiritualism is alive and well in this world, and actually real and sometimes state-sponsored. It’s quite possible to speak to the dead here, though not everyone can do it, and there are certainly plenty of frauds and skeptics.

Sophie is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her Great-aunt Tabitha in Edinburgh. Oh, how to explain this book! All of the political intrigue (to which Sophie is privy–often by eavesdropping–because of her great-aunt’s high status) and the ways in which this world differs from our own would take pages to explain properly (which is why you’re lucky there’s a lengthy novel about it). Suffice to say, Sophie and her friend Mikael soon find themselves involved in various mysteries and plots on which the fate of Scotland and the rest of the world hangs. Seances, explosions, terrorist groups, murder, politics, and various other things are involved. This world (like our own in 1938, though for different reasons) is on the brink of a war that will shape the coming years, a war that could be avoidable.

Like I said, this is a difficult book to explain, but not difficult to finish–I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! There’s suspense and intrigue and mystery and adventure and even a bit of romance. I was caught up in it all from the beginning, and now I absolutely cannot wait for a sequel–which is too bad for me, as this book isn’t even out until July, so there’ll be quite some time before any continuation of the adventures of Sophie and Mikael. I admire the way Jenny Davidson ended this in just the right place–readers are anxious to find out what happens next, and there’s no doubt that, barring exceptional circumstances, there will be a sequel, but there’s still a decent enough ending place so that the book actually ends rather than just stopping the way some series books do.

The Explosionist is an amazing book! Jenny Davidson is such a talented writer, able to make more than 450 pages absolutely fly by. The complicated twists and turns of the plot are never overwhelmingly confusing, but just enough to keep your brain busy. I quite enjoyed all of the characters, who were refreshingly real and human. This is an unputdownable, read-it-in-one-sitting kind of book, a remarkable feat for one so long. And remarkable really does describe this novel! I was so impressed and completely in awe of Jenny Davidson’s skill the whole time I was reading it. And when I finished, my first thought was of course a desire for more! Seriously, read this book. If you have any way of doing so, get ahold of a copy now, and if not, well, you’ll just have to wait for July.

The Surrender Tree is a verse novel based on the actual events and actual historical figures in the Cuban struggle for independence (despite the publisher’s classification of this one as non-fiction, it is definitely historical fiction). It is a story I was not too familiar with, so I did learn some history, or at least refresh my memory of these events.  It is about Rosa, a slave freed by an owner who rebelled against Spain and said that freedom only existed when everyone shared in it. She healed the injured during Cuba’s three wars for independence, hiding out in the mountains and forests and caves, healing not only the sick and injured Cuban rebels, but also the Spanish soldiers–anyone who needed healing.

There are also poems told from the perspectives of the other people in Rosa’s life, but she is the common thread of the story and narrates her fair share of it. The book covers almost all of her life, but only briefly does it cover her childhood, and soon after she grows up and gets married, so I’m not certain what makes this book classified as middle grade or young adult (the back of the ARC says middle grade, the publisher’s catalog says young adult,  both mysteriously say non-fiction). I’m not sure you could find many young readers for it, especially younger than high school. The poetry is beautiful and breathtaking and more than just sentences with line breaks–and how many teenagers enjoy poetry? I do, and most of the ones who will read this will because we love language and words, but most of our peers are not big fans of poetry.

Despite the problems with nailing down an audience, this really is an amazing book. The story itself is fascinating (especially to someone who, like myself, enjoys history), but it Margarita Engle’s brilliant use of language that really makes this book shine. The poetry is just gorgeous and nearly every word is perfect. This certainly would not have been such a captivating story told another way. The Surrender Tree is a powerful, emotional portrayal of one amazing woman’s part in Cuba’s struggle for independence. Margarita Engle is an extraordinary talented writer, and I highly recommend this book.

Stephanie Kuehnert’s debut novel, I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, is a painfully honest, raw, heart-wrenching story about a mother who is running from guilt and a daughter who just wants to bring her home.

Emily Black has grown up without a mother. Her mother, Louisa, left Emily and her father, Michael, when Emily was an infant. Her father has always told her that Louisa left to follow the music, to find the next great thing. He raised Emily on music. They listened to records and he taught her to play the guitar, and when she got to be old enough, Emily and her best friend Regan, spent every night they could at a local club where they heard great music (and did other things that her father would have stopped if he’d known about them).

When she got older, Emily figured the only way to bring Louisa home, if she were following the music, was to be the next great thing. And so Emily and her band, She Laughs, stop being spectators and start actually playing the music, hoping all the while that it will bring her mother back to her, not knowing the reasons Louisa left are far deeper and more complicated than what she’s been told.

 I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone is a brilliant first novel about music and life and love and family and friendship and growing up. It follows both women–Emily and Louisa–as they both try to deal with their separation, with never having known each other. Both stories are told from a distance, Emily’s in first-person and Louisa’s in third. It feels kind of like both stories are being told after the fact, being looked back on from some indeterminate later point.

This is an unputdownable book. I really could not stop reading! It’s so real and emotional and it really just blew me away. In I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, Stephanie Kuehnert creates wonderful, believable characters, and gives readers a fascinating glimpse into the punk rock scene as Emily is living it. This is at times a hard book to read because Stephanie Kuehnert is able to make readers really feel the book, and there are some real, serious, painful things happening.

Stephanie Kuehnert is an unbelievably talented writer. Her debut is a smart, touching, intense and emotional novel that readers will absolutely love. It will be released in July, at which point I suggest you get your copy immediately. It’s certainly a new favorite of mine!