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American Panda by Gloria Chao. Reviewer: Janhvi M. ★★★★☆

I found this book to be very engaging, with a relatable but still interesting plot. The main character, Mei’s, conflict of being stuck between two cultures, would be very familiar to anybody who has family with ideas/culture that they disagree with, and her conflicts are written very poignantly and believably. The supporting characters were all very interesting in their own right, and there wasn’t a single one that felt flat or unnatural.

One of my favorite parts of this book was how masterfully the romantic subplot was done. It didn’t feel like an unnecessary addition that took away from the main plot, but rather one that added to Mei’s character and conflict which helped her to develop, besides also moving the overall plot forward.

My favorite part of the story however, was Mei herself. Her character is multifaceted and very well-developed. Which, combined with the fact that her journey is one of self-discovery, means that you never really stop learning more about her. Though I do think that there were some things that went a bit neglected at times. Overall, while this story is a very typical coming of age story, it’s very well executed and never boring.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. Reviewer: Nathaniel.

The Blind Side, written by Michael Lewis, is a non-fiction book about football and its effect on Michael Oher. I found this book to be very enjoyable. Although at first I was confused as to why the author was talking about Lawrence Taylor, his goal very quickly became apparent to me. This happened as Michael Lewis showed us Taylor’s effect on the very foundation of football. Reading about Michael Oher’s life story really puts into perspective the struggle that some people go through in some of Americas less affluent neighborhoods. The portions where Michael Lewis talks about the transformation of the NFL, and strategy in games, is both informative and simple. I am no expert in NFL formations and philosophies, but Michael Lewis explains it in a way that even I could understand the depth of. The use of two main storylines means that whether you read this book for the story, or for the evolution of the offensive lineman, there is something you can enjoy. I would recommend this book to any football fan who wants to gain a better understanding of one of the best offensive line prospects in college football history, or of the changing role of the offensive lineman in the modern era.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Reviewer: Anand R. ★★★★☆

Though Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is over 500 pages, I found this war drama a very easy and enjoyable read. I love books with a WWII Germany setting as I always wonder how everyday Germans of the time were impacted by Hitler’s maniacal ambitions. I loved the fact that Zusak chose many young characters, including the protagonist Liesel Meminger, as it helps see Nazi Germany from the perspective of teens and young adults. The other reason I loved this book was the detailed description of events and emotions, which made me feel as if I was actually in the scenes myself. Zusak portrays how Hitler’s propaganda deeply resonated with many youngsters like Hans Hubermann Jr., the son of Liesel’s foster father. Hans Jr.’s character helped me understand how many people in Germany ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ served up by Hitler and the Nazi regime. At the same time, through the characters of Liesel and her friend Rudy, Zusak shows how other youngsters just hated Hitler’s guts. While the underlying theme of the horrors of war and Hitler’s anti-Semitism run throughout the book, Zusak infuses enough humor, action, and even some romantic tension that made the book very enjoyable. One other thing that makes the book interesting is the use of Death as the narrator. Sounds weird, right?? Interestingly, Death is not some creepy, bony person wearing a dark robe and floating around with a weapon in hand. Rather, as a narrator, Death is quite reflective and, dare I say, likeable!

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Reviewer: Anand R. ★★★★☆

I thoroughly enjoyed reading J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The main reason this book was a fun read for me is the character of the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. A good chunk of the story is about a period of unbridled freedom and adventure that Holden gets to experience. I mean, which 16-year old gets to stay alone in a hotel, bar hop, flirt with women, drink like an adult, and be carefree without having to worry about the pressures of family and school? This alternate reality is quite fascinating. At the same time, Holden is not that different from most high schoolers in other respects. The rebel in him, his disgust with some of the “phoniness” of adulthood, and his desire to feel loved are all things that I can relate to. Although understandably off putting to some, in my view, Salinger’s use of blunt and offensive language makes Holden’s character better and realistic. At the same time, Holden is a troubled kid. He has a hard time bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood, flunks out of school a few times, and even has a mental breakdown, which only made me feel sorry for him. All of this combined to make the book hard for me to put down once I started reading it.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller. Reviewer: Riana J. ★★★★★

This Fantasy Fiction book was a thrill to read. This is one of those books with an anti-hero in it. Her personality was refreshing, unlike many Young Adult fiction characters who is either not sure of herself or too sure of herself. She was also self-sufficient, and there was no “damsel in distress” side of her. This girl knew her limits and had a strong personality but none of it was considered a weakness. This is not very often when it comes to girl heroes in Young Adult fiction. This book did not make the characters flawless either. The characters each had their flaws -making them very balanced. The story had many twists and turns and witty banter, making it hard to put down. The storyline was also very interesting with nothing in the book getting wasted. There are no unnecessary scenes and each thing the character does has a reason. Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone wanting a breath of fresh air in the YA fiction genre with well-developed characters, thrilling plot twists and lots of laughs in between.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. Reviewer: Riana J. ★★★★★

This book was amazingly written. As a YA dystopian novel, I think it does a very good job. When the character was scared, I was scared, when the character was happy, I was happy. I felt like I was in the book write next to the character. There are also many twists and turns, it never gets boring. It is almost impossible to see where the book is going from the start. The book was also action-packed. From the start to the end, there is action. There is a little bit of gore in the book, so for those that may not be into this type of action, I would not suggest it. The romance side of it is not the focus so if someone is looking for a dystopian-romance I would not recommend it either. I personally loved this novel. It is very much like Hunger Games, without feeling like a copycat, so I would recommend it to anyone who likes reading the Hunger Games.

The Elite by Kiera Cass. Reviewer: Riana J. ★★☆☆☆

I really liked the first book of this series: The Selection, but I am disappointed with this one. There is no plot, it expands a little on their world but it felt like a filler. The Main character acted like a terrible person for most of the book, and it was frustrating to read. There is a love triangle, mind you one that none of the guys know about, that has lasted two books, and the main character just cannot seem to pick one. I understand that she has her struggles, but after a while it gets a little off. She is technically cheating on both guys but then gets mad when they do something. And then she forgets about them the minute they leave the room. Then there were two love triangles, and that just became too much. There is also a lot of crying. A lot. The Main character also makes mistakes that can easily be avoided. Is she really the person anyone would trust as a monarch? The characters are not well developed at all. They do not have much of a personality and even the scenes feel scripted. I am not even going to talk about the rebels. I find it funny that my favorite character ends up being one of the maids. Overall, this book was a real let down compared to the first one, and the only reason I would tell someone to read it is so they can just finish the series.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. Reviewer: Aarush.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is a superb book. The first installment of this iconic series has all the necessary elements of an amazing novel. Firstly, the characters in the book are very well represented. With just a few pages each character is described in lots of details and is flushed out. The appearance, motives, ideals, and philosophies of each character are creatively shown through the book with various situations and dialogue. The characters beg the reader’s sympathy and continue to make the reader want to learn more. The numerous exquisite details mixed in with the most creative scenarios results in an amazing read. The remarkable world of magic the book is taken place in opens up the endless possibilities for hooking adventures in the future. In conclusion, this book is very good for readers of all levels, adults and children. It does not take much to get hooked to the story. The book is structured and written amazingly along with amazing character descriptions that are very well developed. I am super excited to read the following books in the series given how great the first one was to me.

Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani. Reviewer: Riana J. ★★★★★

This book was probably one of the best stand-alone books I have read. It is not a part of a series yet the plot unfolded beautifully. So much action and adventure was packed into that book, with a satisfying romance side too. It was actually recommended to me by an 8th grade teacher, but I ended up taking it up in my own spare time. It never gets boring and is a relatively fast action book. The plot line was unique and had twists and turns one may not expect. The characters were well developed, too.

I want to talk a little bit about the romance in this story. The romantic sub plot was developed very well, and the romance that played out did not seem forceful. In stand-alone books, sometimes things can feel rushed or forced or incomplete, but this novel did a good job of preventing any feelings like that. Overall, I would recommend it to anyone that wants a quick yet thrilling read to pass time.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Reviewer: Vivian. ★★★★★

Kafka on the Shore by Japanese author Haruki Murakami is a story of prophecy, family, and love that follows the parallel stories of two main characters: the young, angsty Kafka Tamura and the lost, old Nakata whose paths eventually converge as Kafka’s search for his identity meets Nakata’s search for a missing cat. Music is a creative, recurring theme Murakami seamlessly works into the story, serving as a medium through which characters can express themselves and further the plot. Like a movie soundtrack, it subtly conveys the ambiance of the story. Although the book is written in the surrealist style with supernatural events, it can still feel grounded and relatable. The characters are imperfect yet endearing: each showcases a different perspective on the nature of life. Their relationships are real and organic: their lives are riddled with tragedy, shaping the way they think. On the other hand, the surreal aspect of the story showcases Murakami’s talent as a writer. His eloquent writing carries readers to another world of magic and destiny, where nothing is as it seems. The sensation of reading certain moments of the story can only be described as floating. Filled with metaphors and symbolism, the story takes twists and turns that all tie together in the end. The dream-like quality of Murakami’s storytelling, coupled with vibrant imagery and complex characters, make Kafka on the Shore a must-read.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. Reviewer: Samraj S. ★★★★★

One of Us Is Lying is a very suspenseful, exciting book. Right as readers open the book, they are bombarded with a series of events that keep the readers gripping the edge of their seats (or books). As the book goes on, we discover some of the secrets and thoughts of the main characters, and their connection to the events taking place. The [story] is very interesting, as it is told interchangeably from the points of view of the four different characters. This book will have the readers guessing, thinking, and will keep them in suspense until the very end. Readers will see a fiction in which gossip, depression, and violence dominates high school, and can compare this with their everyday lives and schooling experience. A must-read for Middle and High Schoolers, One of Us Is Lying looks into some of the ugly aspects of our lives.

Secret in the Stone (Unicorn Quest #2) by Kamilla Benko. Reviewer: Abhita G. ★★★★★

This book was so good I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the book had so many plot twists and it always made you want to read more. Secondly, I’m gonna dive a little bit into the book. So at the start of the book, Claire and her sister reach the gemmer school because Claire actually has magical powers. She is a gemmer, so she has to learn how to use her powers. So Sophie, who is Claire’s sister, thought that if Claire was a gemmer there might be a chance that she was also a gemmer. Soon, they are accepted into the school because when a stone guard was going to kill them he suddenly bowed down to Claire knowing that she was a princess. The gemmers wondered why the stone knight bowed down to her and decided to welcome her. But at the start, she doesn’t exactly fit in with the others at gemmer school.

Also, this is the second book so you might want to start off with the first one. I recommend you join Claire and Sophie on their adventure to awaken the unicorns and save the dying world of Arden.

Spies: The Secret Showdown Between America and Russia by Marc Favreau. Reviewer: Riana J. ★★★★★

I am not much of a nonfiction person, but this book blew me away. Written so much like a spy action thriller, there are twist and turns the readers won’t see coming. Many times, I found myself forgetting that these events actually happened. There were excerpts from interviews and books which made seeing things from their eyes all the more interesting. This book also does a good job of looking at both America’s and Russia’s side of the story. The book also did not end at the end of the Cold War. It looked at the spy agencies in present times, relating what happened then to what is happening now. At the end of the book, there were glossaries, keys, references, research materials and more. These would be very helpful for those that want to dig further into this subject. I had a blast reading this and I would recommend this book to anyone who wanted to read about the Cold War and to people who had never even heard about it before.

Tangled by Carolyn Mackler. Reviewer: Sarah M. ★★★★☆

I thought that this was a pretty good book. I think that the way the author wrote was unique. She varied the points of views, using four very distinctive narrators, Jena, Dakota, Skye and Owen. The format of the story, was comparable to R.J. Palacio’s, Wonder. They all meet in a resort named Paradise in the Caribbean. By using different characters, Mackler conveyed different themes, ideas and approaches to certain situations. She used lots of allusions and references, to make the book more understandable. It explored lots of ideas, coming of age and taking risks to even exploring ideas of death. The author also plays with the mood, there are drastic changes between each of the sections (narrator changes). [She] not only brings in many perspectives and raises awareness of the kinds of situations people go through but, really conveys the message of how people affect each other. She shows how people change each other.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Reviewer: Bran W. ★★★★★

A man reflects on his childhood of hunting ol’ coons with his two redbone coonhounds. I wouldn’t normally read a book about coon hunting, but when I looked up at the corner, I was already at page 61.

It’s a very feel-good book. The author set up the story, so we could follow along Billy’s journey to cure his “dog-wanting disease” and his hunts as the youngest coon hunter in the Ozark mountains. His dreams sound very stereotypical for a boy living in the countryside; however, Billy’s stubborn passion for living his dreams as a boy hunter swayed me. It reminded me of the way I wanted to live when I was younger: free, aspiring, and steadfast. This book would greatly appeal to any audience, in the simplistic way it’s told and the powerful story it brings.

The best parts of the story are the coon hunts. For those who wouldn’t even care about hunting raccoons, trust me, you would be surprised at how much skill it takes to catch one. The smart old coons know how to backtrack, swim upstream, escape through trees. However, Billy wouldn’t be called the protagonist for nothing. He trains his hounds to follow the trails, sniff the coon scents, bawl when they treed a coon (running a coon up a tree), and respond to his cries.

Coon hunting and camping in caves makes this book a perfect read for the summer. I was excited every time he embarked on another coon hunt, ready to be surprised by the wily, old coons and the ingenious hunting hounds.