4 Things That Make Me DNF a Book

I admit I rarely DNF books. I have about 30 books on my DNF list on Goodreads, which covers at least the last 10 years. Usually I think it won’t take me too long to finish a book, so I might as well just go for it. But when I do DNF a book, here are some of the reasons why.


The Voice/Prose Is Terrible

I seem alone on this issue, but sometimes the voice or writing of a book is so bad that I simply can’t stand reading. I don’t care how good the plot is or how interesting the characters are. If the writing is really choppy or awkward or otherwise painful to read, it’s a strong incentive for me to stop reading the book. (Though of course there are many I have finished reading that have awful writing, as well.)


The Book Is Boring

This is the most common reason I would stop reading a book. If the story and characters aren’t interesting, then the book needs to be majorly redeeming in some other way to keep me reading, like raising thoughtful questions or providing nuanced observations or society or something. Barring that . . . I am going to put the book down and move on.

The Book Thinks It’s Clever — But It’s Not

This is a major pet peeve of mine. If a protagonist is supposed to be brilliant/clever, or the book itself is positing that it’s clever in some way, then it had better be clever. It makes no sense to me when characters do things that are portrayed as genius or groundbreaking that are not at all, like when I read a book where the protagonist decided she was going to “disguise” herself by wearing colored contacts. Surely no one would recognize her if her eyes were a different color! It’s worse when the narrative voice and other characters praise this nonsense. I don’t need characters to be smart, but I don’t want to be told they’re smart when they’re not.


The Book Is Overly Preachy/Didactic

Making sure books, especially children’s and young adult books, send the “right” messages is very in right now, so obviously I don’t stop reading any book that has a moral message, but there’s a line where the messages are so repeatedly thrown in the reader’s face that I lose my interest in the story. I don’t need to narrator to point out on 20 occasions that a rich kid is privileged and should help the poorer kids; once or twice would be enough, if the author really thinks this needs to be stated explicitly instead of implied through the story itself.

What makes you DNF a book?


10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in July 2021

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. The Orangutan Librarian lists books you’ll need a box of tissues for.
  2. Michael discusses Black Widow and the Face of Family in the MCU.
  3. Zezee shares 5 hyped books she won’t read.
  4. Aria discusses whether having a good messages makes a book good.
  5. Doing Dewey reviews Fulfillment, a book about Amazon.
  6. Cam lists 5 hyped books she didn’t like.
  7. Alison reflects on what she learned about herself from a Literati Book Subscription.
  8. Nehal posts 7 mistakes you might be making as a new blogger.
  9. A Book Owl’s Corner lists 10 things she wishes writers would stop doing.
  10. Shanayah talks about finding time to read at university.

Highlights at Pages Unbound

Thoughts on the First Two Episodes of “The Mysterious Benedict Society” on Disney+

Mysterious Benedict Society Show Review

I absolutely love Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society, but I also haven’t read the first book in the series since 2013, so I don’t have strong memories of it. Mostly I remember clever children, recruited by a quirky but kindly man who use their wits and their friendship to solve puzzles that are actually puzzling (not always true in middle grade books) and ultimately save the world.

Does the show deliver on that? So far, yes, though not exactly in the ways I might have imagined.

I think translating the quirkiness of the book from page to screen is a tricky task, and the writers have done an amazing job with the show. It could have been corny or over-the-top, but they have struck a good note. Some things are strange, but they’re not patently ridiculous. I also actually laughed a few times, which I was not expecting.

I also enjoy most of the actors. Constance Contraire is a bit older than she is in the book (because it would be hard to cast a precocious two year old), but it works, and the writers have also made her a bit annoying and mean without giving her so many lines and chances to insult the other characters that the viewer would want to throw her off the screen. Reynie is a bit uncertain of himself, but I’m awaiting his character arc as he grows into the leader of their little group. Sticky is scared of things but willing to go through with them when necessary. The actor who plays Kate has an inclination to yell her lines, I guess in an attempt to embody Kate’s quick, confident, and no-nonsense attitude, but overall it’s fine.

Mostly I’m stuck on Mr. Benedict himself. Tony Hale successfully plays him as eccentric while also kind, concerned about the children he has recruited for his mission. However, he simply doesn’t fit my image of Mr. Benedict from the novels. I certainly imagined someone much older, and so far I think there’s still room to portray Mr. Benedict as incredibly intelligent. He did figure out what The Emergency is, when no one else could, but his brief explanation doesn’t really highlight the fact the man is supposed to be a genius.

I admit I was a bit skeptical going into watching this adaptation. I also was surprised to even learn it existed, as I only began seeing some tweets from Disney+ a couple weeks before its release and saw no other marketing (and have seen no one discuss or review it since its premiere.) However, it’s really fun. It’s a pretty well-done adaptation so far, and I can’t wait to see more.


Thoughts on Prologues and Epilogues (Let’s Talk Bookish)

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

This week’s prompt: What’s the difference between having something as a prologue vs. a chapter 1? Is it too much to have both a prologue and epilogue? How does having one (or both) affect how readers perceive the story? Do you think epilogues have more value because they might tie up loose ends? Do prologues have more value because they can set the scene? Do you prefer having neither? (SUGGESTED BY FIVES @ DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE)

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Thoughts on Prologues and Epilogues


From reading thoughts from authors/agents/editors, I’ve gotten the impression that prologues are “not recommended” by industry professionals. (I haven’t seen much mention of epilogues, which I imagine is due to the emphasis on opening your book and hooking the reader – whether it’s an actual reader or an agent you are querying – so they don’t put the book down after the first two pages.) “Unnecessary” is probably exactly the word these people would use to describe a prologue. They prologues don’t add to the story, or are too vague, or just aren’t a “hook” for whatever reason. Personally, however, I like a good prologue. But the key point is “good.”

There are different types of prologues, and I am not a fan of prologues that seem to exist for the sole purpose of being the hook and apparently being more interesting than the actual start of the story. Often authors do this by writing some really dramatic and ambiguous scene that includes a battle or magic or something over-the-top that the reader can’t actually understand until it’s explained on page 250 of the novel. I hate this. I don’t want to read something like, “Smoke wafted into the air. The voices chanted Come, come, come! The witches danced around the fire. It was awakening!” only to cut to page one of the book that has nothing to do with witches and doesn’t tell me what’s awakening. This is lazy writing. Even lazier, however, was a book I read recently where the prologue was literally the climatic scene of the novel. It wasn’t exactly copied and pasted from later in the book, but it might as well have been. Apparently the real opening of the book was so boring that the author had to catch readers’ attention by putting the climax. It was bizarre, and I truly hope I never see this again.

But prologues can be good! If the prologue has actual informative value, not just vague atmospheric value, I am 100% in favor of them. The prologue should be clear; I want to actually know what’s happening in it. And it should tell me something I need or want to know about the story. Often this is something like a scene set 100 years before the main plot of the novel, but it doesn’t have to be.

Authors should just sit down and be very honest with themselves about the function of their prologue and whether the story can be told it.


In theory, I want to say I don’t have an issue with epilogues (and, again, I don’t know that I’ve seen a lot of writing advice or industry opinions about them), but the reality is that I’ve read very few epilogues that haven’t made the story fall flat for me.

I believe a strong and memorable ending can really make or break a book, and epilogues often are extra information about the characters tacked on to the story. The epilogue is separate precisely because it’s not part of the story, and it just weakens the end of the book. If authors really want to cater to fan questions about what the characters are doing 10 years later or something like that, perhaps it would be better as fun information on their author website or as part of an FAQ in the back of the book.

Of course, there can be good epilogues, as well; I just think I’ve been disappointed by epilogues even more than I’ve been disappointed by prologues.

What do you think?


10 Under the Radar Backlist YA Books that Are Worth Reading

Backlist YA Books to Read

New books come out every week, but there are also years’ worth of backlist books to read and enjoy! Here are some I recommend.

You can also read my list of 10 backlist middle grade books that deserve more attention here.


Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey

Dragonswood book cover

Dragonswood is a strongly crafted novel that will appeal to fantasy fans who love a good classic quest and imaginative worlds populated with magical species.  Carey deftly creates three distinct races in Dragonswood—humans, fairies, and dragons—giving each a rich history and defining characteristics.  Then, just as quickly, she demonstrates all are ultimately people with similar hearts, if different perspectives.


On Wilde Island, there is no peace between dragons, fairies, and humans.

Wilde Island is in an uproar over the recent death of its king. As the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans begins to fray, the royal witch hunter with a hidden agenda begins a vengeful quest to burn girls suspected of witchcraft before a new king is crowned.

Strong-willed Tess, a blacksmith’s daughter from a tiny hamlet, wants more for herself than a husband and a house to keep. But in times like these wanting more can be dangerous. Accused of witchery, Tess and her two friends are forced to flee the violent witch hunter. As their pursuer draws ever closer they find shelter with a huntsman in the outskirts of the forbidden Dragonswood sanctuary. But staying with the mysterious huntsman poses risks of its own: Tess does not know how to handle the attraction she feels for him—or resist the elusive call that draws her deeper onto the heart of Dragonswood. 


Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Nameless book cover

Nameless is the most gripping and original take on “Snow White” that I have read.  The Disney version, with its silly dwarves and cute woodland critters, makes it tempting to approach the tale with something whimsical and light-hearted in mind, even in spite of the more gruesome aspects of the plot.  Or, unless you are Tolkien, the presence of dwarves alone can become problematic.  Serious, solemn dwarves have not been done better, though other authors such as C. S. Lewis have of course written them well.


When Camille was six years old, she was discovered alone in the snow by Enrico Vultusino, godfather of the Seven—the powerful Families that rule magic-ridden New Haven. Papa Vultusino adopted the mute, scarred child, naming her after his dead wife and raising her in luxury on Haven Hill alongside his own son, Nico.

Now Cami is turning sixteen. She’s no longer mute, though she keeps her faded scars hidden under her school uniform, and though she opens up only to her two best friends, Ruby and Ellie, and to Nico, who has become more than a brother to her. But even though Cami is a pampered Vultusino heiress, she knows that she is not really Family. Unlike them, she is a mortal with a past that lies buried in trauma. And it’s not until she meets the mysterious Tor, who reveals scars of his own, that Cami begins to uncover the secrets of her birth… to find out where she comes from and why her past is threatening her now.

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Keeping the Castle

Kindl’s parody of the Regency romance has appeal for those readers who enjoy Jane Austen but are not above having a laugh at some of the period conventions or the genre stock elements.  The careful inclusion of just about every stereotyped character from the evil stepsisters to the infuriating love interest, as well as some overused plot devices, heightens the absurdity and ensures readers find themselves smiling from the first page.  The humor is completed by the characters’ overly serious assessment of the situations in which they find themselves.


Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors–or suitors of any kind–in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There’s only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans . . .


Starflight by Melissa Landers


Space novels aren’t usually my genre. The fact that the characters are often necessarily stuck for days on a space shuttle makes a lot of these books sound pretty similar–and I won’t say that Starflight is a complete exception to that rule. However, the engaging plot, well-developed characters, and cute romance makes Starflight enjoyable enough to stand out from the crowd.


Life in the outer realm is a lawless, dirty, hard existence, and Solara Brooks is hungry for it. Just out of the orphanage, she needs a fresh start in a place where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She’s so desperate to reach the realm that she’s willing to indenture herself to Doran Spaulding, the rich and popular quarterback who made her life miserable all through high school, in exchange for passage aboard the spaceliner Zenith.

When a twist of fate lands them instead on the Banshee, a vessel of dubious repute, Doran learns he’s been framed on Earth for conspiracy. As he pursues a set of mysterious coordinates rumored to hold the key to clearing his name, he and Solara must get past their enmity to work together and evade those out for their arrest. Life on the Banshee may be tumultuous, but as Solara and Doran are forced to question everything they once believed about their world–and each other–the ship becomes home, and the eccentric crew family. But what Solara and Doran discover on the mysterious Planet X has the power to not only alter their lives, but the existence of everyone in the universe…

The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long

Quickly enough, I became truly captivated by the main characters.  Jenny is obstinate, but it makes her endearing rather than annoying.  She is absolutely determined to rescue her brother, and no man and no strange land is going to stand in her way.  She’s brilliant.  Jack is more complicated.  Is he good?  Is he bad?  Does he truly care for Jenny or is he just playing for his own rewards?  The constant questioning of his loyalty was really tugging at my heartstrings, and in fact was almost too stressful for something I was reading for fun, but it did keep me on the edge of my seat!  This is a case where you will be pretty sure you know what is going on, but you will never want to bet on it.  There is true suspense.


A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction
The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she’s lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice–and not just her own.

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

A beautiful story, Echo North is one of those rare books that reminds me of why I love YA fantasy and why I love fairy takes in particular.


Echo Alkaev’s safe and carefully structured world falls apart when her father leaves for the city and mysteriously disappears. Believing he is lost forever, Echo is shocked to find him half-frozen in the winter forest six months later, guarded by a strange talking wolf—the same creature who attacked her as a child. The wolf presents Echo with an ultimatum: If she lives with him for one year, he will ensure her father makes it home safely. But there is more to the wolf than Echo realizes.

In his enchanted house beneath a mountain, each room must be sewn together to keep the home from unraveling, and something new and dark and strange lies behind every door. When centuries-old secrets unfold, Echo discovers a magical library full of books-turned-mirrors, and a young man named Hal who is trapped inside of them. As the year ticks by, the rooms begin to disappear, and Echo must solve the mystery of the wolf’s enchantment before her time is up, otherwise Echo, the wolf, and Hal will be lost forever. 


The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

The Friday Society is the perfect book for any reader looking for an adventure full of girl power.  Cora, Michiko, and Nellie are fantastic protagonists with great personalities and a wide variety of unusual skills.  Alone, each one of them is talented, capable, and uniquely charming: Cora is an intelligent lab assistance, Michiko is a deadly warrior, and Nellie is a glamorous magician’s assistant/escape artist.  Together, the three form a perfectly balanced team, bound by their sense of justice and desire to break the boundaries placed on women and make a difference in their world.


Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.


Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper

Salt & Storm cover

Kendall Kulper’s Salt & Storm is a masterpiece witch book.  With an elaborately developed system of magic and a rich history of witches and their tenuous relationship with the normal people they help, Salt & Storm approaches the topic of witchcraft with insight and realism.  In Salt & Storm, magic can earn one power and respect—but it also comes with a price.  Protagonist Avery, who has dreamed of becoming the Prince Island witch since her childhood is willing, determined, to pay that price and more.


Sixteen-year-old Avery Roe wants only to take her rightful place as the witch of Prince Island, making the charms that keep the island’s whale men safe and prosperous at sea. But before she could learn how to control her power, her mother, the first Roe woman in centuries to turn her back on magic, stole Avery away from her grandmother. Avery must escape from her mother before her grandmother dies, taking with her the secrets of the Roes’ power.

When Avery awakens from a dream foretelling her own murder, she realizes time is running short—for her and for the people of her island, who, without the Roes, will lose their ships and the only life they know.

With the help of Tane, a tattooed harpoon boy from the Pacific Islands, Avery plots her escape from her mother and unravels the mysteries of her mother’s and grandmother’s pasts. Becoming a witch may prevent her murder and save her island from ruin, but Avery discovers it will also require a sacrifice she never expected—one she might not be able to make.


The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn

Shinn weaves an engaging and believable fantasy that is both imaginative and grounded.  Her world is replete with good and lovable characters and those who are not so good, but may be redeemable.  The strands of the tale themselves seem to know when to twist, resulting in events truly unexpected but never jarring that will keep readers loathe to put the novel down.  The end is loose, yet satisfying, as answers have been found but not all adventures yet played out.  This is a masterpiece tapestry, richly colored and expertly woven.


Damiana is safe-keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things they dare not share with anyone else, knowing that Damiana will keep them to herself. One late night, a mysterious visitor from the city arrives with an unusual secret for the Safe-Keeper—a newborn baby. Damiana, who is expecting her own child, agrees to take the foundling. She names him Reed and raises him side by side with her daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children grow into teenagers, they must come to terms with who they are—and who they may be.


Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Love a la Mode

Love à la Mode is such a wonderfully perfect contemporary novel.  It has, one might say, all the right ingredients: a fun premise, a gorgeous setting, close friendships, and a touch of romance.  Also, food. Lots and lots of delicious food.  I thought I would like Love à la Mode when I picked it up, but I didn’t predict exactly how much I would enjoy it or how excited I would be to see what happens next.


Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.


8 Adult Books with Teen Protagonists

While young adult novels are books with teen main characters, not every book with a teen protagonist is a YA novel. There’s a long tradition of authors writing books about teens that are for adults, addressing themes in a way they feel will resonate more with older readers, or dealing with themes more graphically than is typical for children’s books.

Here are several books featuring teen protagonists that are actually published as adult books.

You may also like my post: Miscategorizing Adult Books as YA.

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

A Russian-inspired story about a girl who sees things others can’t and who must face her fears to protect those she loves.


At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snow drifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical debut novel from a gifted and gorgeous voice. It spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent.

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Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

With a thoughtful look at the relationship between a girl and her stepmother, Bashardoust shows that retold fairy tales are not just for children.


Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.

Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The main character starts off married in this book, but it hasn’t stopped readers from calling it young adult.


Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A classic science fiction book (ok, series) about a boy who finds himself in the midst of a war her never imagined.


Andrew “Ender” Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate. The result of genetic experimentation, Ender may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in a war against an alien enemy seeking to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw Ender into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when it begins. He will grow up fast.

But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. While Peter was too uncontrollably violent, Valentine very nearly lacks the capability for violence altogether. Neither was found suitable for the military’s purpose. But they are driven by their jealousy of Ender, and by their inbred drive for power. Peter seeks to control the political process, to become a ruler. Valentine’s abilities turn more toward the subtle control of the beliefs of commoner and elite alike, through powerfully convincing essays. Hiding their youth and identities behind the anonymity of the computer networks, these two begin working together to shape the destiny of Earth-an Earth that has no future at all if their brother Ender fails. 

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The Poppy War book cover

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

The book opens with Rin training, in a school setting that might actually seem familiar to YA readers from books such as Tamora Pierce’s classic Tortall novels. However, once Rin leaves the Academies, she faces atrocities and challenges she never could have imagined.


When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

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A Deadly Education

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education is set in a school for magic, where danger lurks around every corner. Protagonist El is in her junior year, hoping to pass her classes and live long enough to make it to her senior year. The only problem is that graduating will be deadlier even than staying in school. Dark academia.


A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was constantly referred to as YA by readers when it was first released, to the point that over 2,000 Goodreads readers currently have it shelved as young adult. It, however, was published as an adult book and has deeper world building and slower pacing than is common in YA. (And it’s an excellent read!)


Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. 

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Mistborn book cover

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

The publisher did issue a YA version of the Mistborn series, hoping to reach a new audience, but while protagonist Vin is a teenager, the series is very much an epic adult fantasy in the vein of Sanderson’s other books.


When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late. 

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Honorable Mentions

Classic books that feature teen protagonists, which were published before YA was really a marketing category. These books are technically categorized as adult books, but often assigned in high schools.

  • A Separate Peace
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Romeo and Juliet


10 Programs and Services That Would Make Me Visit the Library More Often

We are passionate supporters of public libraries here at Pages Unbound. But there are still awesome services and programs I would love to see libraries provide! Here are ten cool ideas that would get me in the library doors.

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Cat Cafe

I love cats, so what’s not to love about the cat cafe? In this program, shelters bring some cats to the library, where patrons can read/visit with their feline friends. And, hopefully, some cats will be adopted by the end!

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Library Subscription Box

Some libraries have started offering subscription boxes to make these more accessible to people who may not be able to afford to subscribe to something like OwlCrate. However, most of these programs seem to be geared towards teens in an effort to make reading cool. I support making reading cool. I also think, however, that it would be cool for adults to be able to get in on the fun!

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Library of Things

I really love the idea of libraries loaning out everything from power tools to baking pans to seeds. Not everyone wants to buy a specialty item that they might use one time, so libraries of things can be quite helpful for the person who, say, needs a bundt pan one time or just does not want to buy 20 puzzles for their child who soon tires of the same toys. They also help with sustainability so people do not have to buy a bunch of things they do not intend to use often.

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Read to a Dog (for Grown-Ups)

These programs are usually targeted towards children, who can gain reading confidence by reading to a furry friend who won’t judge them for any mispronounced words or other mistakes. But I would totally go to the library to read to a dog–and I’m sure many other adults would, too!

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Pop Culture Events (for Grown-Ups)

All the cool Marvel trivia nights and so forth seem to be for teens, but adults like pop culture, too! Adult programming at my library often seems really niche or educational, but adults like having fun and meeting people just as much as anyone else.

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Board Game Night (Also for Grown-Ups)

Yet another program typically offered for families or for teens, but not strictly for grown-ups who want to come by themselves and meet new people. A lot of adults love strategy games, card games, and party games, though, and making friends gets a lot harder as one ages and is not hanging out every day with the same group of people. It would be great if the library had a low-key event like this where I could socialize, since I’m not into the bar scene.

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Bookmobile Stops Close to Me

There is something incredibly magical about stepping onto a tiny truck full of books. If the bookmobile stopped anywhere in my vicinity, I would definitely want to check it out, and I’d probably be able to get my friends to come, too.

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Arcade Game Night

Who doesn’t love retro arcade games? Typically bars seem to offer arcade game nights, but I’m sure libraries could get in on the fun and attract large crowds, too!

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Community Projects

Libraries tend to offer more participation opportunities to kids, who can write reviews everyone can read, or have their books “published” on the shelf, or do artwork to be displayed. But I think adults would love to interact more with the library, too! It would be so fun if they could have a book display curated by patrons, an art project collaborated on by the community, and so on.

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Summer Reading for Adults

Libraries tend to go all-out for summer reading for kids to help combat summer slide. But why not get adults in on the fun? Kids are pretty smart, and they will recognize when they are being given incentives to read, but their parents and other adults in the community seem to be able to go through life without ever cracking open a book. Why not get adults reading as role models for the community, while also doing something fun for the adults who are already avid readers and big library supporters? I’d definitely be showing up all summer if I had the chance to win cool prizes for doing something I already love to do–read!

What services would you like to see at the library?

*Inspired by Briana’s 20 Discussion Post Ideas for Your Blog in 2020

10 of My Least Favorite Classics

Generally I like classics; I would call them one of my favorite book categories to read, and I can find something interesting about nearly all of them. However. . .I have to admit that some are duds. Here are 10 classics I just didn’t enjoy.

Read the list of 10 of my favorite classics here.

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Wieland and Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist by Charles Brockden Brown

This book is, frankly, a bit weird, and the primary adjective I associate with it is “dry,” even though it’s supposed to be Gothic and should be a bit creepy and keep readers on the edges of their seats wondering what’s happening. This is a great example of why I don’t read much early American literature.


The Awakening by Kate Chopin


I know this is widely lauded as a feminist story, but personally I’ve never connected with it. The protagonist commits adultery and then kills herself when the relationship ends. I guess the question of whether the suicide is “liberating” or an abandonment of her life and her children, etc. is supposed to be provocative, but I don’t think it works as well as Chopin probably hoped.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

It’s been a really long time since I’ve read Heart of Darkness. I picked it up in high school because I like classics, but the primary thing I remember about it was that I was bored out of my mind. On one hand, I’d like to do a reread of it to see if my opinion’s changed; on the other hand, why reread a book I didn’t like in the first place???


The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

Not the best Holmes novel. I strongly dislike that the story ultimately has two parts: the first where Holmes and Watson go about solving their case and the second where a man relates a long story explaining basically “how the case came to be,” or events that happened years before the story that subsequently led to the pearls, the disappearance of the father, etc.  

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I wrote a whole post about how I “don’t get” Madame Bovary. I understand other readers see something of interest here and subtle themes, but I mainly see another book about a woman committing adultery and being bored with her life, which also makes me bored reading about her life.

Brave New World by Aldoux Huxley

Brave New World

I “get” this book and what it’s trying to do and have read it several times. However, the problem of writing about a world/life that is flat is that the story itself must also be somewhat flat, must also be bit about the pointlessness of it all.  None of the characters have ever been truly compelling to me, precisely because they don’t experience much opposition or shocks to their worldview and subsequently don’t experience much growth. There’s a message to that, too: the book takes the pessimistic view that no one really can grow.  They can feel they ought to, but too much of history and culture and freedom of choice has been destroyed for them to know how to.  That’s interesting philosophically, but it doesn’t necessarily make for an engaging plot or characterization.


Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

I read this book TWICE, and I didn’t even remember I’d read it the first time until Goodreads informed me; that’s how unmemorable I found this story. I couldn’t even tell you what the main plot is now that I’ve read it again (though the review I wrote asserts there isn’t much of a plot, which may be why). I’m sure Somerset Maugham wrote something interesting, but this definitely wasn’t it for me.


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Another book I read in high school and have little actual memory of, besides disliking it. I honestly couldn’t even say what it is about.


The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

See above, except I actually picked this one up again recently, get about a chapter in, and quit because I still didn’t like it.


A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Part of me feels odd including this book because I actually read it multiple times as a child, and I saw the various film adaptations a number of times, as well. In theory, it’s really a good premise for a book! A modern guy gets swept to the past, to King Arthur’s Court, and has to figure out how to belong (or to invent cool modern technology without inciting too much jealously, suspicion, etc.). Perhaps my main gripe is that I’ve simply never been fond of Mark Twain’s style in general, at least for fiction. I find some of his speeches and essays amusing, but I’m not a huge fan of his novels.

Why I Never Liked The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Why I Hate The Rainbow Fish

Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish is a picture book classic, read to children every year by excited parents, grandparents, and teachers. Telling the story of a fish who has a bunch of beautiful rainbow scales that the other, plainer fish envy until Rainbow Fish decides to give away all of his glittering scales except one, the story is presented as a lesson on sharing. And, bonus, the illustrations are beautiful, with actual shiny metallic scales on every page.

I have always hated this book.

The Rainbow Fish ranks high with The Giving Tree on my list of books that well-meaning adults think demonstrate good morals and teach children to help and share with others. But the actual text of The Rainbow Fish never came across as a feel-good story to me, but rather as a disturbing tale where a fish is bullied into literally pulling off pieces of his body to “share” with other who are jealous of him.

Rainbow Fish is, of course, not without his own faults. He starts the story vain of his own unique glittering scales; he seems to think himself a bit better than the other less beautiful fish and spend a lot of time hoping other fish will admire him. It’s easy to see why other fish, even if initially drawn by his beauty, might not find it fun to hang out with him. Once the other fish start badgering him to ask him to give them some of his rainbow scales, however, they are the ones who are in the wrong.

One could argue that the book is just a metaphor, and readers needn’t be disturbed by the fact that fish are literally asking for pieces of the Rainbow Fish’s body — and that Rainbow Fish ultimately gives in to their demands. This is clearly weird and rude and invasive, and if someone started asking me to give them locks of my hair because they thought it was just so lovely and they wanted some of it to make a wig so they could look lovely, too, I would be rightfully creeped out and maybe look into getting a restraining order out of fear this person would jump me with a pair of scissors.

However, if one replaces the rainbow scales with something more innocuous, like chocolate chip cookies, I don’t think the book is teaching a good lesson. The fact that someone has something I don’t have, or has more of something I do have, may mean they are in a position of privilege — but it doesn’t mean I have a right to ask to them to share. If someone comes to my workplace with a giant bag of bagels, it’s a bit rude of me to walk up to them and demand a bagel (if we don’t have the kind of close relationship where this would be reasonable request). It’s even worse for me to ask for a bagel, be told no, and then proceed to ask that person for a bagel every single day in the hopes they will change their mind. Oh, and also ostracize them because they won’t give me the bagel I keep asking for.

But this is the lesson the book teaches: That the other fish have the right to be angry that Rainbow Fish has pretty scales they don’t. That they have the right to ask him every day to give them his scales. That Rainbow Fish does the right thing when he does rip his own scales off his body to give them away. Sharing is one thing, but boundary stomping and demanding people give you their stuff simply because you want it is another! (Especially because rainbow scales aren’t a necessary like food or shelter.)

I know some critics have accused this book about being about socialism, but that’s not my concern. I think it’s a greater problem to read this book as a “lesson” for children when it celebrates the idea that you can demand people give you their stuff and you have the right to harass them in perpetuity until they don’t. Also, if people ask you to give them things you own, up to parts of your own body, the nice thing to do is comply! Yes, Rainbow Fish was a jerk, and he learns by the end of the book that beauty isn’t everything and being kind is more important, but the way he learns this is completely wrong, and I would be happy to never see this book again, even more so to never see it read in a classroom.