Books: The Cheapest Vacation You Can Buy

The Truth About AliceFrom Goodreads: Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.


This novel follows suit of the game telephone, showing just how much gossip promotes rumors and distorts the truth.  It’s a great novel depicting a form of bullying that’s not addressed as much as the physical or taunting kind, showing how lies for selfish gain, or to protect oneself, can ruin another, whether intentional or not.

The entire novel, save the last chapter, is told from the perspective of Alice’s former friends/frenemies.  Loner Kurt, football player Josh, former best friend and outcast Kelsie, and popular diva Elaine alternate chapters, spinning their tales and giving readers their “expert” take on events that, for the most part, none of them witnessed.  And as they slowly work towards the truth of the matter, admitting to lies and other deceits for the sake of their wellbeing, it becomes clear that the events Alice is blamed for are not quite the truth at all.

Everyone in this novel has secrets.  They hold grudges, make rash decisions, lie to protect themselves, and ultimately destroy Alice one way or another, and while some of them do it intentionally, others mean no harm, but their secrecy does just as much damage as those spreading lies.  It is said that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words… can never hurt us.  And yet, I think most people would agree that words do hurt, and they leave an unseen mark that can strip away one’s soul, and that is exactly what Alice is experiencing throughout the course of the year as the school runs rampant with gossip.

As much as I hated Josh, Kelsie, and Elaine (Kurt was perhaps the nicest and most understanding of all the characters), I loved the multiple perspectives.  And the theme, the bullying, makes this an intense read. While no one technically physically bullies Alice—they don’t even really talk to her—ostracizing someone and spreading rumors about them is just as bad, if not worse, than saying it directly to their face.  It’s a powerful statement that today’s generation really needs to hear and internalize, and I highly recommend this novel to tween readers and beyond.

The final chapter is told from Alice’s perspective, and it’s just… a perfect conclusion.  I love that the novel ends on a positive note, that there is hope, yet it doesn’t undermine the effects that bullying and ostracizing had on Alice, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  It’s realistic and, in my mind, the perfect conclusion to a great story.  Four stars.

4 stars

In exchange for an honest review, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and Roaring Brook Press have been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on June 3, 2014.

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V is for VillainFrom Goodreads: Brad Baron is used to looking lame compared to his older brother, Blake. Though Brad’s basically a genius, Blake is a superhero in the elite Justice Force. And Brad doesn’t measure up at his high school, either, where powers like super-strength and flying are the norm. So when Brad makes friends who are more into political action than weight lifting, he’s happy to join a new crew-especially since it means spending more time with Layla, a girl who may or may not have a totally illegal, totally secret super-power. And with her help, Brad begins to hone a dangerous new power of his own.

But when they’re pulled into a web of nefarious criminals, high-stakes battles, and startling family secrets, Brad must choose which side he’s on. And once he does, there’s no turning back.

Perfect for fans of The Avengers, Ironman, and classic comic books, V is for Villain reveals that it’s good to be bad.


I recently read Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain, and liked the MG read so much that I began looking for a YA novel of the same caliber, which I found in V is for Villain. This young adult novel is sure to grab the attention of boys of all ages, and I absolutely adore that it’s making its debut at a time when my high school students are enamored with all things Avenger. Trying to get my students to read is a task in and of itself, but with enticing reads like this one, where the focus is on the comic book world of super-powered entities, well, we have a winner.

While I will admit that some of the storyline itself was a little predictable, it is still an attention grabber and I foresee my students gobbling it up. Dealing with the topics of bullying, family values, and self-esteem, the novel also has great themes that deliver a punch, leaving readers with a good message overall, even if our hero, Brad, is a villain.

I thought Moore did a great job fleshing out his characters, and their plights and decisions were well thought out and written in a believable manner (super-powers aside). It is a great novelist to capture younger readers’ attention, and it takes an even greater writer to take a fictional realm and make it a reality for said readers. Moore has done just that, I am definitely hoping for a sequel. I can’t wait to hear what my students think of this one. Four stars.

4 starsI received this novel from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Releasing today:

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{February 20, 2014}   {Review} Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WonderFrom Goodreads: I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.


Auggie is “different,” but only on the outside.  Since birth, he’s had a facial deformity that’s kept him secreted away within the confines of his own home, right where he wants to be.  He’s been out in public, he’s dealt with the stares, he’s seen the horror in people’s expressions when they catch sight of him, and he’s witnessed his sister’s anger over other people’s uncouth nature.  And he doesn’t like it.  It much safer at home.  It’s much nicer, too, with his mother all to himself and a safety net to allow him to just be without the stigma that comes with his appearance.  But all that changes as Auggie hits middle school, pushed into the main stream public school at the urging of his parents, even though he really doesn’t want to be there.  And it seems, no one wants him there, either, aside from the principal.

Told through multiple perspectives, readers bare witness to the real pain that Auggie undergoes in one of the most unforgiving settings known to mankind in the United States: Upper Elementary/Middle School.  A place where children pretend to be adults, looking to fit in and pulling anyone down they can as they strive to reach the top of the popular chain.  A place Auggie has just entered against his own volition.

Extremely well written, readers hear the sides of all the major players, Auggie, his sister Olivia (Via), her boyfriend Justin, and Auggie’s best friend Jack, allowing us to learn the intricate thoughts and feelings of all the characters as they intertwine with one another. Their struggles are all very real, and while at times their thought process and actions enflame the reader, Palacio presents this novel as a true testament to the human race. Via finally enjoys anonymity at her new school, where no one associates her with her deformed brother and struggles with the idea of letting her new friends know of his existence. Auggie struggles to fit in, tired of the stares and the “plague” that seems to follow him throughout the school as he attempts to assimilate and loses the only friend he thought he had. Jack struggles to do what’s right, looking for friendships in the wrong places, finally being true to himself, and it’s just a beautiful compilation.

Overall, this novel is a great read for all ages–easy enough for MG readers and powerful enough that adults need to read it.  Four stars.

4 stars

I borrowed this novel from the library.

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The precepts (rules to live by) within Wonder

  1. “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”   —Dr. Wayne Dyer
  2. “Your deeds are your monuments.”   —Inscription on ancient Egyptian tomb
  3. “Have no friends not equal to yourself.”   —Confucius
  4. “Fortune favors the bold.”   —Virgil
  5. “No man is an island, entire of itself.”   —John Donne
  6. “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”   —James Thurber
  7. “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.”   —Blaise Pascal
  8. “What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.”   —Sappho
  9. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”   —John Wesley
  10. “Just follow the day and reach for the sun.”   —The Polyphonic Spree
  11. “Everyone deserves a standing ovation because we all overcometh the world.”   —Auggie Pullman

12658239From Goodreads: It started with a bad decision and ended with an obsession.

Seventeen-year-old best friends Beckett Smith and Chloe Baker can’t shake their reputations after taking risqué photos at a college party. The pictures are distributed to the North Lake High School student body sending the best friends to the bottom rung of the social ladder right before senior year. When Beckett and Chloe return to school, they find themselves ill prepared for the harassment and bullying that follows.

Beckett has an easier time being reaccepted than Chloe. And she’ll do anything to be part of her old clique and to get a second chance at a relationship with her ex-boyfriend, star running back Kale Fenton. But Beckett’s attempts at a normal senior year are at odds with Chloe’s increasingly anti-social behavior. As Chloe’s life spirals out of control she becomes obsessed with the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, also known as Suicide Bridge, a place known for the jumpers. And after everyone’s abandoned Chloe, Beckett is the only person who can prevent Chloe from making the jump.

Girl Over the Edge is a novel about best friends, damaged relationships, and the help that sometimes comes from unexpected places.


Cyber bullying has become an extremely fast growing phenomena with the advent of social media, and this is a story that shows just how devastating such a form of bullying can be.  Not only does the bullying in this novel come in viral forms, but also in the interactions and words of the characters within, which just adds fuel to the fire that online bullying stokes.  When I was in high school, bullying was face-to-face and through the rumor mill.  Today, one snap of a camera phone and a moment later, it’s uploaded to all types of social media and can spread so quickly that it’s beyond control.  Where bullies and those being bullied used to personally know one another, the internet has given way for bullies from all walks of life to harass others, especially through social media sites; and it happens a lot more than people let on.

Kinzer’s story is one of intense bullying, both cyber and face-to-face, and it also analyzes the human psyche.  How much bullying and hatred can one endure before it is too much? If given the chance to remove oneself from a bullying situation, who would say no?  This is the story of Chloe and Beckett, best friends whose lives begin to fall apart at the seams after a series of photos go viral during a college party.  And truthfully, those photos probably weren’t even sent with the idea of bullying or harassment in mind, but rather were sent as someone’s stupid idea of showing off to their friends, who then sent them to their friends… and this is how it starts.  Ultimately resulting in the loss of popularity and friends for Beckett, and the complete and utter harassment of Chloe, both young women experience hardship and heartache over the course of their senior year.  Beckett, however, used to have an “in” crowd, and as she was only in one picture, whereas Chloe has always been on the sidelines and was in multiple pictures, the two friends begin to slowly drift apart.  As an adult who works with teens, I want to say that this doesn’t happen, but that would be a lie.  I’ve seen ostracizing over many things that I would consider trivial, a small speck in the timeline that is life, but to a teenager, it is everything.  Think back to when you were a teen—or maybe you’re one now.  At this time of development, when you’re trying to find yourself, all that matters is really the here and now, and perhaps the schools you’ll apply to for college. We don’t tend to think about the future beyond that in any relative or realistic form, and so it’s hard to understand that yes, it does get better.  That there will always be bullies, but that we don’t have to listen to them or allow them to rule our lives, and while I know this, it’s a lot harder for teens in the moment to understand this.  And that’s what Kinzer looks at in her novel.

Beckett is not my favorite, but I get her just the same.  Have your parents ever told you to stay away from so and so because of x, y, and z?  Mine did.  Now just think about a teenager who’s lost all her popular friends, her spot on the cheer team, her boyfriend… but she could get it all back if she just lost that one friend… what side would you choose?  Truthfully, most of us would pick letting go of the one, and that’s what Beckett does, though not consciously.  Yes, she is selfish, and she should have seen the warning signs and been there for Chloe, but at the same time, Beckett can’t be blamed alone for what happens.  Friends do drift apart, and Chloe doesn’t help the situation with her obsessions, closing herself off, and refusing to obtain help when it’s given.  So, while Beckett really isn’t my favorite, I won’t blame her.  Nor will I blame Chloe, because she gets the brunt of it all, and she handles it quite well on the inside, until she can’t anymore.  And this is exactly what Kinzer is trying to show her readers: an amazing look at two young teenage girls on the brink of going over the edge.

Kinzer has written an extremely life-like story full of believable characters, whether we want to admit that or not.  As adults, we sometimes want to say that these things don’t happen because we didn’t experience it in our lives, or because we believe we experienced bullying growing up and so we know what it’s like.  But this cyber bullying is something completely new that is very real, and the responses from the characters in this novel, especially those who feel entitled, are also extremely real, and while this novel deals with a difficult topic, I do think it has some amazing teachable moments and a great theme that all, both young and old, need to hear.  I highly recommend this novel to all, but especially teens.  Five stars.

5 stars

I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.

17378990From Goodreads: Cassandra fears rocking the family boat. Instead, she sinks it. Assigned by her English teacher to write a poem that reveals her true self, Cassandra Randall is stuck. Her family’s religion is so overbearing, she can NEVER write about who she truly is. So Cass does what any self-respecting high school girl would do: she secretly begins writing a tarot-inspired advice blog. When Drew Godfrey, an awkward outcast with unwashed hair, writes to her, the situation spirals into what the school calls “a cyberbullying crisis” and what the church calls “sorcery.” Cass wants to be the kind of person who sticks up for the persecuted, who protects the victims the way she tries to protect her brother from the homophobes in her church. But what if she’s just another bully? What will it take for her to step up and tell the truth?


I really enjoyed this novel, and I actually found it much more interesting that the synopsis itself makes it out to be.  Not only is it about bullying, a hot topic in the nation right now, but it also  deals with over zealous religion (borderline cult), intolerance and homosexual relations, advice columns, and the philosophical question of right and wrong.  Honestly, I think this novel is extremely well written and while I wasn’t sure if I would really like it going in, I came out of it absolutely in love with Hoole’s writing style and characterization.

The novel begins with Cassandra attempting to take a survey during which time she realizes she’s completely boring.  She has no great answers to any of the questions, not like her friends or even her sister, and so she struggles to make herself stand out.  As the novel unfolds, each chapter is titled with one of the questions from the survey, launching into what Cassandra does in order to be different, and in my opinion, this technique really worked well.

Cassandra Randall has spent much of her life as part of an extreme religion/cult society within her small town, thanks to her overzealous parents.  But, as her church and its members only make-up about half the town’s population, and as Cassandra continues to witness the vast differences between her life and those of others outside the church, she decides it’s time to put her foot down and rebel.  After all, Cassandra doesn’t tend to believe anything her church is spouting, at least, she hasn’t for a while now, anyway.  I once knew someone who had a family similar to Cassandra’s, and it’s a bit scary to think about.  The extreme strictness and labeling of everything outside the Bible as evil is a bit much, in my opinion, and having actually known someone in a situation similar to Cassandra’s made it easy for me to connect with her.  I understand her mindset and the need to rebel, which is ultimately what Cassandra is doing through her tarot reading and blogging, and while that may seem a bit extreme, it is indeed the perfect rebellion, even if she doesn’t actually tell her parents about it…

What I really loved, from the very beginning, was the characterization and voice of Cassandra.  She is extremely unique and, like all high school students, struggles to find her identity.  And while aspects of the novel may be far-fetched, I still really liked the overall message, especially as it isn’t neatly tied up with a bow at the end.  Cassandra still has to grapple with her actions, her parents, her beliefs; and she has to own up to her actions, but in the end, it’s an extremely engaging story that I highly enjoyed and definitely recommend.  Five stars.

5 stars

Flux books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an this recent release, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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