Title: Variant
Author: Robison Wells
Pages: 373
Publisher: HarperTeen
Published: September 26, 2011
Ranking: 4/5

Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

He was wrong.

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

            Maze Runner had a band of teenagers try to survive in a confined maze, where the risk for becoming a titular runner was to lose your life to the monsters of the maze. Quarantine involved the student body of a school becoming trapped in the school’s wreckage, leading to factions forming from cliques. And if we combine the two? Well, we get a nice little novel called Variant.
            Variant combines the school setting of Quarantine with the risks and fears present in Maze Runner, as our protagonist Benson is stuck at the student-run school, prevented from leaving by constant surveillance. Within Maxfield Academy, the students have split into Society, Havoc, and Variant, with each taking charge of different jobs, and banding together for school-wide games (three guesses which one Benson joins, and the first two don’t count). Let’s begin with the factions, as they are easily my favorite part of the setting. Each are based on how the teens think of their imprisonment, and have tense relations with each other. But overall, none of the groups are portrayed as absolutely wrong in their thoughts- though Variant is usually shown to be absolutely right. The school itself is interesting, as the mysterious organization in charge of the school handles the surveillance, the job system, and oddly organizes a type of credit store and schedules dances and paintball games. This creates the feeling that while the teens haven’t been abandoned, the organization is planning towards… something. This isn’t even getting into the individuals of the student body, as they range from trying to quietly deny the fact that they are trapped forever, to those that think they have free range to do whatever they want. Everything in the book is geared towards making Maxfield seem almost- almost- like somewhere you’d want to be, only to subvert it later.

            If you want a story with the same feel of Maze Runner or Quarantine, you may want to pick up this little story. See you all Friday!
          Hello again readers! It seems that movie adaptations keep catching my eye this month, though this week it's a bit lower profile than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and quite a bit earlier in development too. But after having found out the director who signed onto this 2016-release movie, I'm willing to give Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children a bit of attention here.
           Within the story of the novel, a teen named Jacob travels to Wales with his father to learn more about the history of his grandfather, who had recently been killed. When there, he discovers Miss Peregrine's orphanage, home to children with strange powers, one of whom was his grandfather. To keep the children safe, the orphanage was put into a time loop during World War II, leading to the children remaining their ages as long as they stay. A huge amount of interesting concepts, all blended together into an almost- but not quite- creepy narrative that landed on the Best Sellers list in 2012, and who do they get to direct this adaptation? Mister Tim Burton himself, of course! For those not quite familiar with Burton, he produced and directed several films, notably The Nightmare Before Christmas and the 2010 Alice in Wonderland movie. His style is known for it's darker and more fantastical aesthetics, while retaining some inherent quirkiness and humor. Both the setting- 1940s/present gloomy Welsh town- and the story of these strange children seem like they were pulled out of a Burton script themselves, and I'll be more than happy to see how Burton puts this book onto the big screen.
  Title: Independently Wealthy
Author: Lorraine Zago Rosenthal
  Pages: 336
 PublisherThomas Dunne Books 
               Published: December 2, 2014                  Ranking: 3/5    

Everything in Savannah's life should be perfect--but she can't ignore the questions and scandal surrounding her father's fatal accident. Her hopes of solving this mystery are shared by Caroline Stone--her newfound sister who is slowly becoming a friend. Savannah decides to investigate, although not everyone wants her to discover the truth. Her domineering older brother, Ned, has his own problems, including a lingering regret over his recent divorce, the constant pressure of running the Stone media empire, and managing a playboy bachelorhood. As Savannah's quest for justice becomes complicated and dangerous, she is led to Washington, D.C., an alluring stranger, and more surprises, trouble, and changes than she ever could have imagined.
This book is the sequel to New Money, but the review is fairly spoiler free!

It's nearly Christmas time and you know what that means! 

Exams! Stress! Nervous breakdowns while eating chocolate! (Or some combination of the aforementioned....) 

Of course, this also means I'm looking for some kind of an escape- an escape perfectly encompassed by the glittering, shining world of New York City around the Holidays, in other words, the world of Independently Wealthy. 

The novel feels a lot like the perfectly dressed Christmas trees look- something beautiful and nearly too perfect to be true. The story is enticing and attractive, full of upper society glamour, romance, and affluence that seems unreal to a girl in pajamas, buried under piles of notes. The book moves quickly, unwinding a mystery that has too many plot twists to let anyone guess the ending and too many subplots to allow anyone to get bored. But, like an elegant Christmas tree you might only find in a department store, the story seems untouchable and detached in some way. There's frequent over-narration that breaks the realism of the story and makes it seem more as if the author is painting a picture and hanging it on a wall than leading us into the heart of the novel. It also makes Savannah come off as a stock-character, someone a little too perfect to feel real. 

To be fair, though, the book keeps itself from the conventional 'chick-lit' cliches that seem to pervade novels with descriptions like these. Savannah, for all her distance, is an independent person. Someone you both want to support as well as befriend. It's never annoying to have to follow her along on the journey and her decisions make sense instead of coming out of the nonsensical left-field. She shines amidst the other characters. 

Independently Wealthy certainly isn't a bad read, and it didn't take me any effort to finish it, especially considering the superb pacing the author employs. It;s a good book to pick up around the holidays, though it might not stay with you when it's time to go back to the real world. 

--Sarah 


This book is a ARC given to me by Thomas Dunne Books! While I love getting free books and am eternally grateful to the author and the publisher, all above opinions are mine and mine alone. 

Both the synopsis of the book and the picture of its cover come from Amazon. I mean absolutely no copyright infringement and use both, with proper credit given, under fair use policies.  



  Title: Love by the  Morning Star
Author:  Laura L. Sullivan
  Pages: 320
 PublisherHMH Books for Young Readers
               Published: June 3, 2014                   Ranking: 2/5    

Upstairs, downstairs, and in which lady’s chamber?  

On the brink of World War II, two girls are sent to the grand English country estate of Starkers. Hannah, the half-Jewish daughter of a disgraced distant relative, has been living an artistic bohemian life in a cabaret in pre-war Germany and now is supposed to be welcomed into the family. Anna, the social-climbing daughter of working-class British fascists, is supposed to be hired as a maid so that she can spy for the Nazis. But there’s a mix-up, and nice Hannah is sent to the kitchen as a maid while arrogant Anna is welcomed as a relative.

And then both girls fall for the same man, the handsome heir of the estate . . . or do they? 

In this sparkling, saucy romance, nearly everything goes wrong for two girls who are sent to a grand English estate on the brink of World War II—until it goes so very, very right!
            This book is an interesting case study of what not to make into a plot. In trying to be funny and original, Love By The Morning Star fails at both, and even it’s colorful cast can’t save it.
            Hannah and Anna find themselves mixed up at Starkers estate where the former was the (not really) Jewish niece of the late Lady Liripip, while the latter is a title-less girl from London. Each takes the others’ place, finding love and navigating their positions as best they can. And with that summary, we have the first problem. The entire plot is based on the misconception that Hannah is Anna and vice-versa, with no one bothering to correct anyone, or even asking for clarification of statements. While Anna realizes this quickly- and reasonably tries to stay in her position of luxury- Hannah, even when thinking that this treatment is too cruel for a relative, never brings up the fact of her identity with anyone out of sheer pride, and never even clears up any facts when they would help her. And that statement of the two maybe/maybe not falling for the same man? It’s true, completely, no question. Anna never even speaks to her supposed love interest, and she only reveals that she finds him extremely attractive. Meanwhile, our first male character Teddy thinks he only has one girl after him, even when his interactions are so different that it’d be ridiculous for it to be the same person, and Anna’s love interest provides the worst attempt at milking the romance mix-up for humor possible. The other characters at least are more interesting, though they do have the odd trend of increasing in sexual tendencies and jokes the more benevolent they are, and also never figuring out the switch. The latter problem makes the whole cast seem like a moron, as even the old lord whose met Hannah’s mother can’t recognize who her daughter is.

            With a plot less dependent on complete idiocy by everyone, the setting and humor may have been able to shine, but not with this misconception covering everything up. See you all on Friday!

--Lucy
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, is a well-known 19th-century novel with several adaptations both in theater and the big screen. But why should we talk about all of those, when we can have a side of zombies with our English classic?

            Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published in 2009 and “written” by Seth Grahame-Smith, who placed the zombie elements and refurbished plot into the original novel, leading to an England now beset by the “sorry stricken” and the Bennet daughters becoming skilled warriors as well as proper ladies. This remake was licensed for a movie the year it came out, but had a bit of trouble with the directors having to keep leaving production. The adaptation started filming this September, and is hoping to be released next year. Let’s start with the fact that we are getting to see classy ladies chopping down zombies. At first seeing the book, I thought that it was a pretty funny/cool concept from the get-go, and now we see all that in fancy action scenes. Another wonderful thing about this release is more exposure to the original novel. While it’s already one of the defining pieces of English literature, this movie expands the audience, while also changing enough from the original to offer a different experience. Whether you’re here for the romance or the undead, this new release will be a real treat!
The Way We Bared Our Souls by  Willa Strayhorn 
Release Date: January 22, 2015

Five teenagers sit around a bonfire in the middle of the New Mexico desert. They don’t know it yet, but they are about to make the biggest sacrifice of their lives.
Lo has a family history of MS, and is starting to come down with all the symptoms.
Thomas, a former child soldier from Liberia, is plagued by traumatic memories of his war-torn past.
Kaya would do anything to feel physical pain, but a rare condition called CIP keeps her numb.
Ellen can’t remember who she was before she started doing drugs. 
Kit lost his girlfriend in a car accident and now he just can’t shake his newfound fear of death.

When they trade totems as a symbol of shedding and adopting one another’s sorrows, they think it’s only an exercise.

But in the morning, they wake to find their burdens gone…and replaced with someone else’s.

As the reality of the ritual unfolds, this unlikely group of five embarks on a week of beautiful, terrifying experiences that all culminate in one perfect truth: In the end, your soul is stronger than your burdens.

The Prey by  Tom Isbell
Release Date: January 20, 2015

After a radiation blast burned most of the Earth to a crisp, the new government established settlement camps for the survivors. At one such camp, the sixteen-year-old "LTs" are eager to graduate as part of the Rite. Until they learn the dark truth: "LTs" doesn't stand for lieutenant but for Less Thans, feared by society and raised to be hunted for sport. They escape and join forces with the Sisters, twin girls who've suffered their own haunting fate. Together they seek the fabled New Territory, with sadistic hunters hot on their trail. Secrets are revealed, allegiances are made, and lives are at stake. As unlikely Book and fearless Hope lead their quest for freedom, these teens must find the best in themselves to fight the worst in their enemies.







Twisted Fate by  Norah Olson
Release Date: January 20, 2015

Two sisters. One mysterious boy. 
Ally and Sydney couldn't be more different—one shy, the other popular and outgoing—and when a new boy moves in next door, tensions between the sisters escalate. Graham is attractive, peculiar, and perhaps a little dangerous, and both girls are drawn to him in ways they can't quite explain. As each girl's relationship with Graham unfolds, the more complicated the truth becomes—until a shocking encounter turns their sleepy coastal town upside down and questions everything the sisters thought they knew about themselves and each other.
Told in alternating points of view by a wide cast of characters, Twisted Fate is a tensely wrought psychological thriller, perfect for fans of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.
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