Not books: twenty one pilots concert!


A video posted by Sara (@sknewhouse) on



This is entirely and absolutely unrelated to books of any kind, but I just wanted to share that I got to see my favorite band, twenty one pilots, play a massive, 18000 seat arena last night. It was amazing and incredible and they put on such a great show.  (And now I’m going to be stalking their tour dates so that I can get better seats for next time!)

ARC review: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Goodreads   Amazon

At first glance, you probably wouldn’t expect Adam and Julian to be friends. Adam is eighteen. A senior. Outgoing, handsome, well-liked. An all-around good guy. Julian is fourteen. A freshman. A frightened little boy who misses the parents that died when he was young. A boy who hides, who tries to not catch anyone’s attention, who wears outdated clothes that don’t fit.

At first glance, you wouldn’t know that Adam and Julian used to be foster brothers. They were kept apart for years by the uncle who eventually took Julian in, but now, at the same high school, they’ve found their way back to each other. Adam’s job is to get Julian to his school psychologist appointments. Julian makes it his daily mission to avoid them.

It’s clear that something’s off. I suspected child abuse in the first few chapters. I didn’t expect, though, to have my heart ripped out of my chest once everything became clear. This book was not what I expected. This book is not something I would have ever imagined would be published by Disney-Hyperion. But this book is also so, so important. I cried. I finished the book and just stared at the wall, unable to form any coherent thoughts.

The writing is stunning. I can’t believe this was a debut! The characters were so well-developed. There wasn’t a single plot thread left unfinished. I gave this book four stars only because it took me awhile to get interested. But once I did, it was so worth it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Best of 2016: Writing

Sometimes a book is written so well that it just takes your breath away.  The characters are fleshed out, there are no plot holes to be found, and the pacing is so even and amazing that you just can’t believe it.  I read 120 books in 2016, and these ten are, in my opinion, the best written:


genre: mystery, thriller, horror, paranormal, suspense
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: young adult contemporary, mental illness
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: new adult, contemporary romance, road trip
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: romance, poetry, adult or young adult (I’m not really sure)
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: contemporary romance, women’s fiction
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: young adult, science fiction, fantasy, fairy tale retelling
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: new adult, contemporary romance
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: young adult, contemporary romance, lgbt, coming of age
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: young adult, social issues, abuse
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon


genre: young adult contemporary, coming of age, mental illness
add it on goodreads // buy it on amazon

What are the best-written books you read in 2016?

Book review: Lucy & Linh by Alice Pung

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Lucy Lam never expected to win a scholarship to Laurinda. Really. That honor was supposed to go to Tully, but for some reason, the admissions committee preferred Lucy’s essay. So there she is, the inaugural recipient of Laurinda’s newest scholarship, the one intended to pull minorities out of despair and thrust them into the privileged life enjoyed by its students.

But, the thing is, Lucy doesn’t mind her life. She likes Christ Our Savior, her accepting, diverse high school. She likes her friends, and even though outsiders might see them as uncultured or rough around the edges, she doesn’t. She likes that where she comes from, everybody understands what it’s like to be a first-generation Australian whose family is struggling to get by. Stanley, her suburb, could be considered a bad area, but Lucy likes how she knows everybody and how everybody helps each other out.

Laurinda is different. Although everybody wears the same uniform and is theoretically on equal footing, Lucy couldn’t be more different from her new classmates. Whereas a big bag of hamburgers and fries from McDonalds was a great sleepover snack for her old friends, her new classmates would be appalled. While her old friends loved helping Lucy babysit her little brother, her new friends (quite literally) turn up their nose at the prospect of hanging out with a baby. And although Lucy was universally seen as intelligent and involved at Christ Our Savior, at Laurinda, she’s sent to remedial English and chided for not involving herself in enough extracurriculars. And, quite unlike Christ Our Savior, Laurinda is unofficially controlled by three beautiful, insanely privileged girls known as the Cabinet.

Brodie, Amber, and Chelsea rule the school with nearly absolute power. It’s not so much that the girls are cruel – although they certainly can be – but more that they’re influential. A well-placed remark can make or break someone’s reputation. A seemingly offhand comment about a teacher can sway the whole class’ perception. A common conversational topic can become a weapon in their hands, and none of it is accidental. The Cabinet knows exactly what to say, how to say it, and the exact circumstances in which to mention it to inflict maximum damage. Lucy notices this immediately, but her fellow classmates think that she’s insane.

Lucy never expects that she, of all people, would be invited into the Cabinet, but the girls take a special interest in her. Despite her resistance to joining their inner circle, Lucy quickly finds herself absorbed in the politics of high school. Living under the Cabinet’s scrutiny suffocates Lucy. She finds herself ashamed of her neighborhood, her home, her family, and her life. As she begins to bury those parts of herself more and more, she finds that she can hardly recognize who she’s become. All those parts of herself that she used to be proud of are hidden, but walking away from the Cabinet and becoming her true self again isn’t so simple.

It actually took me almost a week to read this book, but that’s not because I wasn’t interested. In fact, I was invested in Lucy’s story from the first few pages. But this book, for me, isn’t one of those books that you marathon. You don’t sit down and power through, staying up until the wee hours of the morning to finish. Instead, the book made me think. After every chapter or two, I set my Kindle down and thought about what was happening. And for that reason, I think that this book would do really well in a classroom setting. I’ve talked before about how I hated literary analysis in school, but I think that this book would be fascinating.

Even setting aside the obvious themes of privilege and bullying, there’s a ton of material here. The Lam family’s immigration to Australia first seems like an incidental piece of the plot but turns out to be very important. Everything comes back to it. Lucy’s mother speaks only a few words of English. She earns her living through long hours spent sewing in the family’s garage. Lucy’s father works in a factory. Both of her parents work hard to make sure that their children have a good life, but it leaves little time for anything else. In fact, Lucy ends up doing the majority of parenting of her little brother, something her new friends can’t even begin to understand. I imagine that sitting down to really analyze the deeper impact and meaning of the things that happen in this book would be fascinating.

Alice Pung has created a really well-written, insightful look into what happens when a young girl is taken out of her comfortable, familiar life and inserted into a crazy world of privilege and backstabbing. It’s only a few days into 2017, but I can almost guarantee that Lucy and Linh will be on my list of favorites this year.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

Note: Lucy and Linh was originally published in Australia as Laurinda.

#mmdreading: an immigrant story

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated or hidden gem books

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  Whether it be higher ratings, more exposure, or just more appreciation, today’s theme is all about those books that just deserved better.  I had to go back to 2015 for this topic since I didn’t read too many underrated books in the last year.

Take a look through my choices and let me know which underrated books you’ve enjoyed recently, or if you disagree with any of my picks.

Sometimes people don’t want to read books because of the themes.  Sometimes they even go so far as to rate them really low without even reading them.  I don’t understand this, but it’s pretty common on Goodreads.  So here are four books about social issues that I think deserve either a much higher average rating or much more exposure.

What We Saw is a retelling of sorts. Much like the Steubenville rape case, the teens in this book have witnessed the sexual assault of their classmate while standing by and doing nothing.  Was it her fault?  She was drinking, after all. She had been flirting with the boys. But she never said yes. The teens in this book dissect the issue of consent in what I think is honestly a brilliant way.

Joyride doesn’t seem like it’s going to be one of those “issue books,” but then it sneaks in there. I think that this book is even more relevant now than it was back when I read it in 2015, with our President-elect’s impending inauguration on Friday.  This book is about two siblings trying to fly under the radar after their parents’ deportation. Although the children are both citizens, without an adult to raise them, they run the risk of being sent to foster care until they’re of age.

It’s pretty common knowledge that a lot of adults are freaked out by the idea of teenagers having sex, even if they themselves had a lot of sex when they were teenagers. The thing is, I think it’s really important to expose teenagers to sex-positive attitudes so they don’t see their feelings as dirty or wrong, and so that they know how to handle them.

Cherry is about four teenage friends who make a pact to lose their virginity.  But that’s not really what it’s about.  It’s more about an open, honest, frank discussion between four girls about consent, masturbation, LGBT relationships, and figuring out when you’re ready for that next step.

Firsts, on the other hand, is about a teenage girl who does her male classmates a “favor” by helping them get over their first, fumbling, awkward time between the sheets, in hopes that they might give their girlfriends a nice first time. This book has a whole discussion of this behavior without ever settling on a position.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  It’s up to the reader to decide.

Originally I was just looking for books with a low average rating, but then I stumbled across some books with despicably low review counts.  I thought I might as well include these obviously hidden gems.

You’re probably really sick of me talking about Seven Ways to Lose Your Heart. I mean, it’s been on like every list I’ve posted for the last two months. (I’m probably exaggerating, but at this point, I’m not even sure.)  I just can’t believe that a book this amazing only has 45 ratings on Goodreads. Please, please, please go read this book. It’s so good!

The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things was one of my favorites of 2015. I remember very little of the plot, but I do remember very clearly how it made me feel. More people deserve to feel that way, and I am shocked that this book only has about 2500 ratings on Goodreads.

From the cover, you’d think that The List is one of those stereotypical new adult books in which the girl falls for a dark, daring, mysterious jerk.  It’s really not.  It’s about an extremely sheltered young woman who heads to college and is encouraged by her roommate to try new things. Somehow, less than 300 people have read this gem of a book. I blame the cliched cover.

Finally, here are four books that deserve much better average ratings than they have.  I think this is the true spirit of today’s topic, but I haven’t read too many books recently that I thought deserved much higher ratings than they got.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World is a great story of a town that floods and how its teenage residents deal with it.  When I read this ARC, it seemed like everybody was hyping it up.  I thought the book was amazing, but somehow it only has 1700 ratings and a paltry 3.4 average on Goodreads. It deserves better.

Clearly, the problem with Armada is that everybody expected and anticipated a sequel to Ready Player One. And I get that, I really do.  But Cline made it clear that Armada was its own story, and I think that a lot of people were disappointed by that.  Yes, RPO was great. But so is Armada, in its own way.  It’s certainly better than its 3.4 average rating would have you believe.

And, lastly, we have You Know Me Well.  One of my favorites of 2016, it’s about a teenage boy and girl near the end of their high school experience who unexpectedly meet up over a weekend and find they have much more in common than they would have thought. And it’s not a romance! I just can’t believe that a book by an author as well-known as David Levithan only has 4700 ratings.  And not only that, but also that a book this great doesn’t have at least a 4-star average.