Rating + Review: The Width of the World

I was so excited to find the third book in the Vega Jane series available to read on the OverDrive app right after I finished the second book. How refreshing to get to continue on in a series! This rarely happens to me. Even though I quickly completed the third book in the Vega Jane series, I ended up waiting a full week before writing my review for The Width of the World because I couldn’t figure out what to say about it. Why? Well, because even though there were a lot of plot holes and moments of “why are you doing that?!” and “shouldn’t you be doing this instead?” and “how did the character assume that?” I still really, really enjoyed this book! 

Goodreads Blurb:

This is it. Vega Jane’s time. She’s been lied to her whole life, so she breaks away from Wormwood, the only home she’s ever known, in search of the truth. She battles horrors to fight her way across the Quag with her best friend, Delph, and her mysterious canine, Harry Two. Against all odds, they survive unimaginable dangers and make it through.

And into a new world that’s even worse. Not because deadly beasts roam the cobblestones, but because the people are enslaved but don’t even know it. It’s up to Vega, Delph, Harry Two and their new comrade, Petra, to take up the fight against a foe that’s unrivaled in savagery and cunning. Not only is Vega’s life and the lives of her friends on the line, but whether she triumphs or fails will determine whether a whole world survives. 

Beloved author David Baldacci delivers a shockwave of destruction and shattering revelations in The Width of the World, book three in his instant #1 global bestselling Vega Jane series.

At first, I was not sure that I would like this book. When Vega, Delph, Petra, and Harry Two escape the Quag, I was momentarily reminded of the crushing let-down from the Divergent series when Tris escaped from her city and into the unknown. It was underwhelming. I thought, “Nooo! Don’t take all of this epic adventure and turn it into a lame experiment and dystopia!” Luckily, that’s not quite what happened here, so I was relieved. 

Another reason why I was initially cautious about this book was because in the second Vega Jane book, I felt that some of the plot points seemed too reminiscent of other literary sources. This third book felt that way, too. Certain scenes reminded me of events from Harry Potter, Star Wars, A Discovery of Witches, and even Beauty and the Beast. However, I still enjoyed this book so much. I read it quickly and was invested in Vega’s journey. 

The conflict in this book was very interesting, or as Vega puts it, “It really was quite brilliant. But more diabolically evil than brilliant.” The Maladons are manipulative and evil, all right, just not as blatantly as we had been expecting. I agree with Vega when she says, “I had to admit it was all very well planned. And yet the Maladons had had centuries to perfect what they were doing: unobtrusively enslaving an entire people while at the same time destroying all those who could rise up against them.” These Maladons are bad dudes, and Vega is so pure-of-heart compared to them. 

I cannot wait to find out what happens in the fourth installment of the Vega Jane series. This series has kept me on my toes the entire time, and I know Baldacci is saving some great twists for the final book.

This book almost deserves a 5 star rating, but I was annoyed at how Vega would get tunnel-vision and just focus on one thing – totally forgetting about lots of other things she should be thinking about. I don’t want to let any spoilers slip, but, what about her family? Learning more about the resistance? Warning other people about what’s going on? None of that seemed to be addressed, but I find it all rather important and obvious. I’m curious if other readers noticed this, too.

 

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Rating + Review: The Keeper

Like the first book in the Vega Jane series, The Finisher, I received this book as a gift from my Aunt Shannon. I don’t think I would have picked the series out for myself because the author, David Baldacci, typically writes adult thrillers that I associate with things that dads would like to read! Like authors Michael Connelly and Lee Child, David Baldacci just isn’t on my radar. I’m glad I decided to start this series, though, and I can’t wait to find out how Vega Jane’s adventure will end.  

Goodreads Blurb:

Master storyteller David Baldacci is back with THE KEEPER, the follow up to his instant #1 global bestselling and award-winning fantasy debut, THE FINISHER.

Vega Jane was always told no one could leave the town of Wormwood. She was told there was nothing outside but the Quag, a wilderness filled with danger and death. And she believed it – until the night she stumbled across a secret that proved that everything she knew was a lie.

Now just one thing stands between Vega Jane and freedom – the Quag. In order to leave Wormwood and discover the truth about her world, Vega and her best friend Delph must find a way to make it across a terrifying land of bloodthirsty creatures and sinister magic. But the Quag is worse than Vega Jane’s darkest imagining. It’s a living, breathing prison designed to keep enemies out and the villagers of Wormwood in. 

The Quag will throw everything at Vega Jane. It will try to break her. It will try to kill her. And survival might come at a price not even Vega Jane is willing to pay. 

Master storyteller David Baldacci unleashes a hurricane of action and adrenaline that takes readers to the breaking point.

*Review contains minor, vague spoilers

Might be best enjoyed by readers who have already read the book!*

I had some real worries going into this book – mainly that the book would be incredibly limited and repetitive. Would it just be about staying alive in the Quag? Moments of calm and then constant battles for their lives? And just Vega, Delph, and Harry Two (a dog) for characters? How would this carry a whole book? Thankfully, Baldacci has crafted quite the adventure and quite the heroes, and I think I enjoyed this book more than the first one.

Vega Jane, Delph, and Harry Two continue their trek through the Quag in the second book, The Keeper. The book starts right where the first book in the series left off: at the bottom of a cliff. From the first page to the last, there are trials and creatures to defeat at every turn. Vega is a bit like Odysseus, being tested on a long, dangerous journey where forces outside of her control are trying to thwart her plan to see what’s beyond the Quag. Vega starts to feel like she’s been left behind in Wormwood, like she wasn’t worth saving, but then she comes to discover that she has the power to wield magic. Along with Vega’s magic, the incredible tools she collected in the first book (Destin, the Adder stone, and the elemental), plus Delph’s strength and uncanny sense of direction, and Harry Two’s selfless bravery, our heroes attempt to make their way through five circles of the Quag – a literal maze to keep anyone from getting in or out. The circles are designed to break your spirit and no one is supposed to actually succeed in escaping the circles.

While, thanks to a book provided by Quentin, Vega and Delph know that there will be many horrendous creatures that will stop at nothing to kill them, one of the most surprising things Vega and Delph come across is other people: a cruel, self-proclaimed king, the Keeper who (fittingly) wants to hold them captive, and some survivors living in the Quag who may or may not be trustworthy. The people are some of the trickiest challenges to navigate, but it was a relief that the entire book wasn’t just one terrifying creature after another.

At times, the book felt a bit juvenile because the writing was so…well, I’m not actually sure why I think this, but I do! Perhaps because it was such a fast-paced, action-packed book? Or because Vega actually thinks like a teenager? Also, some of the plot points felt borrowed from other sources. For instance, the five circles felt too contrived, and Vega’s magical incantations are sure to remind readers of other famous wizards (personally, I could have done without the wand-wielding magic – I liked how tough and fearless and smart Vega was without it). Luckily, the book is still incredibly fresh and unexpected. 

Even though Vega Jane learns some answers to questions she had about Wormwood and its past, there are still plenty of unanswered questions to uncover in the next book. I read this book several days faster than The Finisher because it was so dangerous, suspenseful, and surprising. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Rating + Review: They Both Die at the End

The Finisher (9)

Do you read the acknowledgments section in the back of the book? I do. For one, I’m usually not ready to part with a book once I’m done with it, so I read (most of) the extra content at the end, and two, I love seeing how so many of the authors I read all seem to be friends with each other. I imagine them having artsy get-togethers and interesting email conversations.  Well, while reading Becky Albertalli’s books (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Leah on the Offbeat, The Upside of Unrequited), I kept coming across Adam Silvera’s name in the acknowledgments and in interviews with Albertalli. Since I hadn’t read any of Silvera’s books, I decided to give this one a try. Maybe I’ll be adding the book Albertalli and Silvera wrote together, What if it’s Us, to my TBR list, too.   

Goodreads Blurb:

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

my thoughts

If you knew today was your last day, how would you choose to spend it?

That’s the premise for Adam Silvera’s novel, They Both Die at the End. Teens Mateo and Rufus both get the Death-Cast call on the same day, warning them that sometime within the next twenty-four hours, they will die. They won’t know how or when. They won’t be able to stop it. Mateo is a loner whose father is in a coma in the hospital, so Rufus needs someone to help him truly live on his final day. He uses the Last Friend app to find Rufus. Rufus has a group of people who care about him, but thanks to some bad choices he made earlier, he has to stay away from them or risk getting picked up by the cops. Together, Mateo and Rufus live and learn and love as the hours pass them by. They both become the best versions of themselves as the Death-Cast call looms over them.

The title and Death-Cast calls at the beginning of the book means that the reader is on edge through the entire story. There is an ache in your chest because as you get to know more and more about the characters, you also know that time is running out for these teens. Will they be the exceptions? Will they somehow be able to make enough changes or take care of each other so well that neither of them dies? The suspense keeps the book moving along.

That being said, I didn’t looove this book. It’s more like a 3.5 or 3.75 and I’m generously rounding up to 4. It has suspense and characters I cared about, but the characters didn’t really seem like a love-match to me. It felt more like a relationship of convenience. If you knew you were going to die, wouldn’t you want to be loved? Mateo and Rufus don’t really have the luxury of being picky! Would they have chosen each other under different circumstances? I’m not sure.

The relationships that I found more believable were their friendships. Mateo’s friend Lidia is a teen mom who already lost her boyfriend. It seems unfair that she’s losing another branch of her support system. Rufus’s friends Malcolm, Tagoe, and Aimee, have already helped Rufus cope with the loss of his family and it’s clear they love each other. They offer the best support that they can. I like books with great friendships, so I think I would have liked this book more if there was more time spent on friendship rather than on a forced romance.

In all, They Both Die at the End is a solid YA contemporary/sci-fi-ish read. While it’s never explained how Death-Cast knows it will be your final day, the concept is interesting and I could suspend disbelief enough to jump into the story. The book also made me wonder what I would do if I knew it was my last day. This was my first Silvera novel, but I think I would be open to another one.

my thoughts (5)

Rating + Review: On the Come Up

Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give, sure was a writer’s dream. It was a hit with readers, garnering 275,000 Goodreads ratings (with an amazing 4.55 star average), and was even turned into a movie starring Amandla Stenberg. Like a lot of other people, I was looking forward to another novel by Thomas. With a voice that’s genuine and timely, her young adult fiction is finding traction with readers who are interested in reading diverse voices.

Goodreads Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

On the Come Up is a standalone novel from the author of The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas. This book stars Bri Jackson, a high school junior who wants to become a rapper so she can help her family out financially. She lives with her mom and older brother, Trey, but they barely make ends meet. Sometimes they go without power or visit food drives to get groceries. Bri attends a nice school outside of her neighborhood, but feels targeted there by the security guards and teachers because she’s black. Bri plays on the idea of what everyone assumes about her and raps about what she’d really like to do to the security guards at her school. The song gains Bri some quick fame, and the reader goes along with Bri through the ups and downs of navigating life as a young black girl when your dreams can be dangerous.

Overall, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did (THUG is like a 4.25 stars and OTCU is a 3.8 stars, rounded up!). I struggled to get into this story at first. There was a lot of slang and vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with and had to stop and think about. For instance, “I throw my snapback on, pulling the front down enough so it can cover my edges” or “She’s beside her Cutlass, getting it in. Milly Rocking, Disciple Walking, all of that, like she’s a one-woman Soul Train line.” It took me out of the story a bit, even though this language is also what helped make it authentic. And unlike THUG, I didn’t find the characters quite as endearing. They didn’t feel quite as fleshed out for me as Starr and her family did. Even the descriptions of people and places didn’t feel as well-done in this book, but perhaps I’m remembering THUG incorrectly. Bri makes rash decisions and doesn’t consider the consequences until later. She makes a lot of careless choices, so it was hard to be sympathetic towards her at times. Despite this, I was definitely rooting for Bri and her family. I wanted them to beat the odds and make it – while also recognizing that many of their difficulties weren’t their fault but rather systematic racism.

On the Come Up is still an enjoyable read, even with a few criticisms. For instance, it was really cool to see Bri come up with her rhymes. She would hear a word or phrase and be reminded of other concepts or rhyming words and turn it into lyrics, or bars. I liked seeing this word play. I also really liked Bri’s mom, Jay, and a conversation she has with the school superintendent. Jay is a strong, smart woman. Even with flaws and a past, she brings a lot of wisdom to Bri’s life. If only Bri would listen! Guess that’s what happens when you’re a teenager, though.

While there is plenty to unpack with this book – racial profiling, inequality across housing and education, gang violence, hip hop culture, guns for white people vs. guns for POC, police brutality – the package is so neat and tidy that you don’t realize that’s what you’re reading about. Angie Thomas has definitely hit on something special and relevant with her first two books. She’s carving out a niche in contemporary YA using diverse perspectives that everyone can enjoy and learn from.

Recommended for:

  • Readers who enjoyed The Hate U Give (or moviegoers who enjoyed the same title)
  • High school English teachers looking for diverse perspectives to expose their students to
  • Readers who prefer to read fiction, but still want to learn about race in America
  • People who like hip hop music, spoken word poetry, and rap battles

Because You’ll Never Meet Me

Not gonna lie: I picked this book to read because the cover and title caught my eye. I even posted about its cover in a post during NaBloPoMo 2016 here. Finally, almost two and a half years later, I got around to reading it! I hope you’ll consider giving this YA contemporary/sci-fi book a chance, too.

Goodreads Blurb:

Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz’s weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times-as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him. But when Moritz reveals the key to their shared, sinister past that began years ago in a mysterious German laboratory, their friendship faces a test neither one of them expected.

Narrated in letter form by Ollie and Moritz-two extraordinary new voices-this story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances blends elements of science fiction with coming of age themes, in a humorous, dark, and ultimately inspiring tale is completely unforgettable.

In Because You’ll Never Meet Me, two teenage boys write letters to each other as they navigate life with unusual medical conditions. Ollie lives with his mom in a cabin without electricity in the woods of Michigan because he’s allergic to electricity. When he even comes close to electricity – be it power lines, televisions, cell phones, cars, or batteries – he encounters life-threatening seizures. He’s gregarious, except that he has very little contact with people because people come with so much electrical baggage. Meanwhile, Moritz lives in Germany and wishes he could live in the woods like Ollie because then he wouldn’t have to deal with people’s stupidity and cruelty. Moritz was born without eyes or eyelids or eyebrows. You can imagine how that might make him a target for bullying at school. But Moritz has exceptional hearing. He can basically “see” everything (except for color) with echolocation. Oh, and he also has a pacemaker because he died once. If these two pen pals ever met, they would seriously harm one another.

While the unfortunate medical conditions make this book feel like a Fault in Our Stars or Everything, Everything, this book is very different because, well (I hope this isn’t a spoiler), it’s not a romance! The book is written as letters – which I’m not the biggest fan of – however, it did serve a purpose here as this is the only way Ollie can talk to Moritz. He can’t call him on a phone or facetime him, or even email. Those all require electricity. So, thankfully, the letter writing isn’t just a gimmick, but I still prefer to be right in the action, not hearing about it later. That being said, the book is well-written thanks to our main characters being well-educated and fans of language. Their vocabularies are varied and complex, but not in a pretentious way (well, maybe sometimes for Mo, but Ollie usually teases him about it). Ollie and Mo have their own voices and read as two very different characters. The writing was quite rich for YA and very enjoyable.

The book becomes stranger as it goes on, (is it sci-fi? Is it just a child’s recollection?) but it’s alluring because the boys’ budding friendship is so sweet and there is such feeling written into the characters.

Recommended for fans of:

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Every Day by David Levithan

Dear Martin

I’ve been a fan of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy since the beginning. And while I’ve missed an episode or two throughout the 15 seasons, it never fails to make me laugh and cry and have lots of “feels.” One of the scenes that touched me the most was in last year’s “Personal Jesus” episode in which Dr. Bailey and her husband Ben give their son Tuck “the talk” about how to act if he’s ever approached by police. Since he’s black, his mom tells him, “Your only goal is to get home safely.” He “can’t climb through windows, throw rocks, play with toy guns and never, ever run.” It was an emotional conversation and illustrated the point that for people of color, it’s not a given that their children will return home safely or that police officers are there to protect them. Grey’s Anatomy was bigger than a television show on that night, and fiction can work in the same way. I think books provide a great way for us to learn and empathize with lives that are different from our own. After reading The Hate U Give last year, I kept seeing Dear Martin as recommended reading, so it seemed like another good opportunity to learn about the reality of race in America. 

Goodreads Blurb:

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.


I really wanted to like this book. It discusses real-life, important issues. It had such great reviews and hype. But…it just wasn’t done very well.

Dear Martin tells the story of Justyce McAllister, high school senior, as he questions what it means to be a young black man in a world where it’s always trying to bring you down. He might be from a rough part of town, but he’s going to make something of himself. He attends a fancy, mostly-white school and is Ivy-League bound. But week after week, he hears about kids who look just like him who are gunned down by police officers, and even experiences a run in with police himself. He starts writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way to channel his anger and become more aware.

Early on, I realized that this is one YA book that actually feels young adult. There’s no subtlety or layers. The author leads us right to the point rather than allowing the reader to formulate questions and opinions. On top of that, nothing new is really brought to the table. It’s a collection of thoughts and arguments – that we’ve all heard before – with a loose story attached. I was quite unimpressed, but figured at only 200 pages, it was still worth it to power through. I’m glad I did because halfway through the story, the writing – or at least, the storytelling – gets much better. There’s a cohesive plot and the reader develops actual feelings for the characters. Basically, the second half of the book feels completely different than the first half.

At the end of the book, the author notes that she was interested in “examin[ing] current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings,” however, I’m not sure how successful she was in this because she shares hardly any details about MLK. Where were the stories and speeches and examples of what he did? This would have been really useful considering the main character is writing to “Martin” and asking for his advice. Even the main character questions why he bothered to write to him: “What was my goal with the Be Like Martin thing? Was I trying to get more respect? (Fail.) Was I trying to be ‘more acceptable’? (Fail.) Did I think it would keep me out of trouble? (Epic fail.) Really, what was the purpose?” That was my question, too. The letter writing was a gimmick that didn’t really serve a purpose.

Despite my criticism of the book, I do think it could be important for a younger audience who may be new to thinking about race issues. For more experienced readers, I think there are better books to read about this topic.

The Finisher

My third book of the year wasn’t one I picked out on my own. Instead, it was a birthday present from my Aunt Shannon. She sent me the first and second book in the Vega Jane series, and while at first I was reluctant – the blurb reminded me too much of The Giver, one of my favorite books – I quickly realized that while there are hints of other books, The Finisher is its own thing. Dystopian, yes, but also fantasy – and since those are some of my favorite genres, I ended up really enjoying this book and I look forward to reading more of the series.    

Goodreads Blurb:

Welcome to Wormwood: a place where curiosity is discouraged and no one has ever left.

Until one girl, Vega Jane, discovers a map that suggests a mysterious world beyond the walls. A world with possibilities and creatures beyond her imagining.

But she will be forced to fight for her freedom. And unravelling the truth may cost Vega her life.


With (alleged) dangers encroaching on their village, the government council declares that a wall must be built to provide protection. While this seems absurd to many people in the village, the council insists that foreigners “outliers” – which they know absolutely nothing about – are out to get them. This frightens the majority of people so badly that the wall gets built in a hurry.

Vega Jane, almost 15 sessions old, realizes this for the sham it is. She goes off in search of answers, discovering that her village of Wormwood holds many secrets and lies.

If it wasn’t for all the magic – fantastic and terrifying creatures, objects with special powers, hidden rooms, and cryptic messages – one might think this story was politically motivated. This book was published in 2014, so I’ll give Baldacci the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard not to read through our current lens in 2019.

This YA fantasy – a first for author David Baldacci – hits on a lot things right:

– Tough, cool heroine who is insanely brave ✔

– Characters with moral ambiguity: are they good? bad? I can’t decide yet ✔

– Tons of magical twists and turns and suspense ✔

– A quest that seems daunting to complete ✔

There were just a few cons for me:

1) The people of Wormwood – called Wugmorts, or Wugs – think they’re the only village and only people. Really? How do any of them believe this? Their history has a lot of holes. How can Vega be the first to question this?

2) The creatures are so terrifying, but also, incredibly difficult to picture. I couldn’t quite “suspend my disbelief” for some reason. They felt forced and too over-the-top.

3) Vega never gets an answer about anything. Just riddles or more questions. This makes for frustrating reading. I hope the next book will provide more explanation (but I’m worried that it won’t).

Overall, this was a fun and fresh read. While it will remind readers of other books they’ve read, it holds its own because it sort of combines the feel of a dystopian book – teenage rebel on a mission to learn the truth and overthrow the status quo – with fantasy elements.

Also, it may seem like I’m rating all the books the same…but that is a coincidence! I’ve been lucky so far this year to be reading books that are pleasantly enjoyable. I promise that not every book I read gets a 4 star rating!