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Reading Reviews and Recommendations: Week 1

My stack of library books for the week
Because this is my first time doing this, I'll start off with explaining how I'll generally run this column. Each Sunday evening (possibly early Monday depending on my reading schedule) I'll recap the books I read that week organized by what priority I would give them on your reading list. Along with a basic synopsis, I'll rank them 1-5 on Character, Plot, and Writing with brief explanations for each so you can get a feel for what the book is really like. I'm also going to add links to Amazon with the title to make it easier for you to get full synopsises and whatnot.  So without further ado:

1) All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (378 pages) To Buy Now: Click Here
Characters: 5 Finch might be one of my all time favorite characters. Between Finch and Violet, I could really see myself in this book. Niven makes them real people. Makes all the difference for the success of a story.
Plot: 5 This two delivers the perfect story to propel the two characters along on their journey.
Writing: 5 The icing on the cake was Niven's beautiful writing. Just wow!
To read more of my thoughts on this book check out my feature article: http://www.readingwritingandme.com/search/label/Standout%20Book

*Tie 2 & 3) Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (404 pages) To Buy Now: Click Here
 This is the story of a Carver who sends his friends a text right before the three boys get into a fatal car crash. It is found that Mars, the boy who was driving, was replying at the time of the crash. The reader watches as Carver tries to heal, rebuild his life, make peace with his guilt, and cope with possible prosecution.
Characters: 4 I liked Carver well enough. While I never found him outstanding, he was funny and entertaining, as well as honest, enough. He seems authentic to the teenage as well as male voice (from what I can tell). My favorite character, though, was Jesmyn. Zentner also handled allowing us to know the characters of the three boys killed in a tragic car accident well through flashbacks and shared memories. These characters were enjoyable, believable, well developed- they just didn't have that extra pop.
Plot: 4.2 I actually liked the plot quite a bit. Mixing "goodbye days" with each victim's family with scenes with Jesmyn, his sister Georgia, his lawyer, and his therapist Zenter creates a well rounded plot and story. Also, while this is a book about a tragic event and the struggle of the aftermath, the tone is sarcastic, almost, and nearly lighthearted. You won't need to pack your tissues.
Writing: 4 Zenter's actual writing ability (dialogue, descriptions, character thoughts...) is phenomenal. I also loved the varied chapter lengths that made the lengthier book feel like an easy enough project for two days. Why the four? It's more for the mechanics. Zenter has what I can only describe as an aversion to dialogue tags, it seems. And I agree, to a certain extent. It fosters a closer feeling of emersion in the story, but with long episodes of back and forth I found myself forgetting which line was who without an occasional casual reminder. Also, he uses flashbacks frequently interwoven in chapters with present action. The longer chapters are made up of divided scenes, which sometimes (though not every time) indicated a move to the past. While this was helpful for getting more of an idea about the three teens who died before the book starts, if you miss the marker in the middle of the page, it gets confusing. Some were great and no problem. Others, not so much.
Overall: An interesting study of coping with serious trauma as a teenager and how it affects relationships with people. Even though I never felt completely invested, it had an emotional depth and appeal that makes it worth reading.

Tie 2 & 3) To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han (353 pages) To Buy Now: Click Here
Despite what the product description says, this book is really about a girl who starts to "pretend date" (I'm not sure how to phrase that) the popular boy at her high school because they both have their odd reasons it will benefit them. When they start to develop real feelings for each other is when the problem arises. The are really just the catalyst to set off the plot points of the story (really only 5-10% of the plot). I know this sounds cheesy, but Han executes it remarkably. 
Characters: 4.6 I have to applaude Han for her characters. Laura Jean, the protagonist, feels like a complete, totally relatable person. Peter is shown to be more complex than what appears on the outside. Josh grows to be more than the boy next door, and Laura Jean's father and two sisters are definitely great editions too.
Plot: 4.3 The main storyline and subplots are all fun and authentic. While this isn't a particularly emotional or serious book. it is a fun story that involves increasing maturity, being yourself, dealing with adverse situations at school... (All in the least cheesy way possible. And all light hearted).
Writing: 4 Han's writing is easy and quick to read. She nails Laura Jean's voice. Though it does not stand out, it is not a negative point. This is a fun read that doesn't really (and I would imagine) isn't meant to evoke much deeper thought, emotion, or contemplation. But sometimes people really just need a good story to take them away. I will defiantly be reading the other books in this series.
Overall: This was fun and relatable. It made me laugh and smile. Despite not having much deeper thought attached to it, the book felt like a genuine look at a family that could be your neighbor. Great, easy read for teens.

*I understand that the numeric totals for the scores of these two books to not add up as equal, but they sit on the list as they do because I could not place one over the other. Each score really is only meant to be judged against other scores in the same category to show off what to expect of strength and weaknesses. 

4) Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum (329 pages) To Buy Now: Click Here
Jammie Holms is new to Los Angeles, her new school for snotty rich kids, and the snotty rich kid life in general. Uprooted from her average Chicago life when her father elopes with a wealthy film executive, Jammie has to learn to navigate her new life with no help from anyone, even her step brother Theo. Jammie makes her first friend in SN, an anonymous student at the school who emailed her. The exchanges go back and forth, and as time goes on, Jammie's desire to discover SN's identity increase. 
Characters: 3.4 Jammie was fine. She wasn't my favorite; she wasn't wasn't awful or offensive either. This pretty much goes for all the characters except for Ethan. He was the only character I felt was fully developed and complex.
Plot: 3 There were really two main goals that ran through the story. Feel secure and happy at her new school and in LA, and discover who SN is. The later comes in full force more in the second half of the book. The first of the two was far more successful and makes the book worth reading. The second was what landed the book at the bottom of my list. As soon as the real identity of SN is introduced as one of the high school students it becomes painfully obvious who SN is. This happens in the first 25%. Knowing this is fine for a while because its not Jammie's main focus yet, and it is interesting to see the subtle hints Jammie misses. Then at the halfway point, the author gives such incredibly obvious hints that she essentially tells us who he is (for those who hadn't figured it out). Of course, this is when Jammie starts to obsess over the topic and chooses the blatantly wrong guy to peg as SN. It got to the point where I was actually yelling at my book in frustration of her cluelessness. The move seems like it was to try to create dramatic irony, but I just found it frustrating.
Writing: 3.5 The writing was inoffensive, but not the standout detail. It was successful in delivering the story without creating unnecessary confusion. Made for a quick and easy read. I also loved the edition of the special formatting for texting/ emails.
Overall: This book was about average. If the discovery of SN had been handled better, this would have ranked far higher because I really did enjoy the other plot line.

This week had a lot of stiff competition. I enjoyed every single book I read and would recommend them all. Hopefully, I've inspired you to pick one or more of these up to add to your list too.
-Lauren

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