Category Archives: 4.5 stars

Thomas’s Top Ten 2015 Reads

Friends, welcome to my top ten books out of the 103 I read this year! Because I stopped posting the book reviews I write on this blog, I included a link to each book’s full review on Goodreads to force you to get an account yourself. You will see lots of books about mental health as well as feminism, and I have to say, choosing between the top ~15 stellar works of nonfiction I read almost slayed me to bits. Now, without further ado: Continue reading

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

Is it every gay guy’s duty to get out of the closet? Rafe doesn’t want to deceive people, but he hates being “that one gay kid” back in his hometown. When he moves from Boulder, Colorado to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he keeps his homosexuality a secret and pretends to like girls – soon enough, he’s part of the jock pack, and he really likes it. But being openly straight isn’t as easy as Rafe thinks, and he feels the pressure when he develops feelings for his teammate Ben, who might be the only guy who really understands him. Continue reading

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Proxy by Alex London

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

Going along with my idea of book reproduction in my review of Speechless, Proxy would be the child of Uglies by Scott Westerfeld and Legend by Marie Lu. It blends fast-paced action with a well-fleshed futuristic world, complete with characters that are rife with wit and passion.

Knox has never felt consequences before. Continue reading

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

I felt like I found the fountain of youth with Eleanor & Park, but at the same time, it made me feel so darn old. Here’s a monologue of my thoughts while reading pages 70-71 (which can be shifted around just a little bit to apply to the rest of the book): Continue reading

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Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

I liked this book better than Anna and The French Kiss.

There, I said it.

Maybe it’s because of the story’s setting. While Anna had her amorous affair in plush Paris, Lola’s took place in the cool and stylish city of San Francisco. Her story – the story of an up-and-coming fashion designer and her feelings for the boy next door – took center stage to the setting. With Anna, I think Perkins dedicated more time to perking up her surroundings.

It could definitely be because of the character development. Continue reading

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Blackout by Mira Grant

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

“Sometimes the hardest thing about the truth is putting down the misassumptions, falsehoods, and half-truths that stand between it and you. Sometimes that’s the last thing that anybody wants to do. And sometimes it’s the only thing we can do.” – Georgia Mason.

When I write book reviews, I usually save my recommendation of the book until the end. But Blackout, and the Newsflesh trilogy itself, should not be put off until the end. Feed, the first book in the series, is a novel that I would recommend to almost anybody – the book and the entire series encompasses zombies, blogging, politics, and a gamut of themes and morals. It’s absolutely amazing. So, before I get into Blackout, I highly recommend that you check out Feed, if you haven’t already. It will blow your mind.

Mira Grant does not lose any steam in this final installment of the Newsflesh trilogy. Continue reading

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Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard the idea of unconditional love outside the context of religion. In theology class, I always hear about God’s love, about his loving us even though we’re sinners. But the idea that real live parents could be unconditionally loving is completely foreign… How can anyone be loved not for what they do but for who they are? Isn’t who you are defined by what you do?”

There are some books that really hit home. Books that you can relate to, so that when you’re reading them you feel a personal connection to the characters or to the events occurring. For me, Bitter Melon was one of those books. In many ways this book doesn’t deserve such a high rating – the romance was awkward and the protagonist a bit unbelievable at times – but because of how much I empathized with Frances, the main character, I loved the book anyway.

Frances Ching’s goal is to attend Berkeley and become a doctor. That may not be her goal as much as it is her mother’s, but for her the two are interchangeable. That’s the case until Frances accidentally enrolls in a speech course and ends up loving it – for the first time, she’s discovered a passion that solely belongs to her. However, her affection for public speaking conflicts with what her mom wants her to do. Despite Frances’s past obedience to her mother, she decides to take a risk and starts making her own choices in life. This leads to a collision between Frances’s own dreams and her mom’s hurtful – and in the end, Frances will only be able to choose one.

I know how it feels to be in Frances’s position. To be afraid of disobeying your parents even if it’s the right thing to do, to be afraid of acting on your own when it goes against their wishes, to be afraid of them in general. Every time Frances’s mom compared her to one of her friends, called her stupid or fat, or hit her mercilessly, my heart ached. That’s why seeing Frances grow into her own person by the end of the novel amazed me. Every time she told herself that it’s okay to be imperfect, I cheered. There was one dramatic scene at the end where I cried unabashedly, because I knew it was something I should do but I don’t have the strength to do… yet.

Let me make it clear: children with parents coming from strict cultures still appreciate them. Frances is aware of how much her mom has sacrificed for her and obviously does her best to repay that debt. Also, she and I both know that our parents only want the best for us – that’s why they push us so hard. Yet when that familial love manifests into abuse, there’s something wrong. You should never have to beat your kid or make them hate themselves to convey how much you love them. Never.

Overall, a powerful and moving novel. Not flawless, but the sheer strength of Chow’s storytelling made those minor negative aspects almost disappear. Highly recommended to teens who have helicopter or tiger parents, and for others who simply want to understand those that do.

Thanks goes to The Dubious Seeker for recommending this book to me.

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Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

Blood Red Road takes place in a post-apocalyptic time period where the world is covered in deserts ravaged by dust storms. Eighteen-year-old Saba has spent her entire life in Silverlake, a secluded wasteland with only three other inhabitants: her twin brother Lugh, her annoying nine-year-old sister Emmi, and her insane father Pa. She’s relatively content until four horsemen arrive and abduct Lugh, leaving her without the light of her life. Now she must venture outside of Silverlake into a dangerous world in order to bring back Lugh at any cost.

Ah, brain candy at its finest. Blood Red Road doesn’t aim to inspire or change the way you think, rather, it’s pure adventure. And what an adventure it is. Cage fighting, human sacrifice, and killer worms three times the size of humans – what else could you ask for?

I re-read the first page of this book a couple of times, thinking “wow, two typos already? that’s surprising…” It took a little time for me to adjust to the writing style, but after the first hundred pages I didn’t even notice the lack of grammar. I applaud Moira Young for keeping the tone consistent throughout the novel. Can you imagine the difficulty of writing a 400+ page novel without proper grammar? That almost scares me as much as the hellwurms.

Does this book live up to what its book jacket offers? “Searing pace”, check. “Poetically minimal writing style”, check. “Relentless action”, check. “Epic love story”… I wouldn’t use the word “epic”, but it was passable. So somewhat check.

If you’re like me and about to begin school, I’d set this one aside for when you have some free time. It’ll be near-impossible to put it down.

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Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to America, they are forced to reside in a cheap Brooklyn apartment with no heating and a copious amount of mice and roaches. To survive their horrible living conditions and financial struggles Kimberly works with her mother at a sweatshop in the afternoon while attending school in the daytime. Despite her initial inability to speak English, Kimberly works her way up to the top of the class in order to secure a better life. But when she meets Matt, a compassionate boy who also works at the sweatshop, she’ll choose between everything she’s worked so ambitiously to achieve and her first love.

I’m not a stranger when it comes to immigrant experiences – my mother and father were both immigrants, and the stories they share with me motivate me to work harder. But seriously, cockroaches? I remember one dreadful description of when Kimberly could feel the mice racing across her body as she slept… gross. Yet, even though she’s not allowed to have friends over and spends all of her time studying and working, Kimberly doesn’t whine and give up. She does everything in her power to succeed, and she does. That’s one reason why I fell in love with her voice.

That’s not to say she’s an over-achieving robot. Kimberly, as well as the other characters in this book, are relatable – Kimberly herself succumbs to peer pressure and other adolescent issues. I was rooting for her and felt personal satisfaction whenever she aced a test or rose above her cultural confusion.

My only complaint is that some of the romance that didn’t involve Matt seemed unnecessary to the plot. I understand that it was included to show how Kimberly is just like any other girl, but I doubt she would’ve had time to hang out with guys after school when her mother needed her at the sweat shop.

Overall, a 4.5. Jean Kwok has crafted a fantastic debut novel that portrays the struggle of a Chinese girl growing up in the US.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Cover via apsbookweekblog.edublogs.org

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

This is a difficult book for me to review. I’ll keep it short and simple by saying that though The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has flaws, it resonated with me and I was very moved by it. The presentation of Auschwitz through Bruno was powerful in that it forces readers to draw their own conclusions and meanings based on John Boyne’s simple storytelling.

Not a book for everyone, but I liked it.

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