The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak

Author: Brian Katcher 
Pages: 336 
Publisher: Katherine Tegen
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): It all begins when Ana Watson's little brother, Clayton, secretly ditches the quiz bowl semifinals to go to the Washingcon sci-fi convention on what should have been a normal, résumé-building school trip. 

If slacker Zak Duquette hadn't talked up the geek fan fest so much, maybe Clayton wouldn't have broken nearly every school rule or jeopardized Ana’s last shot at freedom from her uptight parents. 

Now, teaming up with Duquette is the only way for Ana to chase down Clayton in the sea of orcs, zombies, bikini-clad princesses, Trekkies, and Smurfs. After all, one does not simply walk into Washingcon. 

But in spite of Zak's devil-may-care attitude, he has his own reasons for being as lost as Ana - and Ana may have more in common with him than she thinks. Ana and Zak certainly don’t expect the long crazy night, which begins as a nerdfighter manhunt, to transform into so much more…

My Summary: Ana and Zak have nothing in common. Nothing at all. In fact, the first time they speak to each other, Zak makes a sexually suggestive comment and Ana responds by embarrassing him in front of hi band of nerdy friends. And when Zak joins the quiz bowl team, it's all Ana can do to keep herself from throttling him. 

On their way to a tournament, Zak can't seem to keep his mouth shut about Washingcon, entrancing Ana's younger brother Clayton (a nerd in the making). So when Clayton runs off to the convention, Ana enlists Zak's help to find him and bring him back before their absence is discovered. After all, it's Zak's fault her brother is missing.

What starts as a night with someone she can barely tolerate in a sea of weirdos dressed in costumes soon turns into one of the best nights of Ana's life. And although Zak loves Washingcon, being there with Ana has made it the night of his life. But what happens when they can't find Clayton, and find themselves accidentally stumbling upon the darker side of the con?

My Thoughts: I waited so long to get my hands on this novel that anything but perfection would probably have disappointed me. Fortunately for me, Ana & Zak delivers in every single way. 

First off, that cover is amazing. I love it! And it ties in really well with the story itself, so you know it's a winner. Props to the design team because I was lusting after this book after catching a glimpse of the cover - before I'd even read the summary. 

Ana and Zak were such fun characters. They were both very well written and incredibly relatable. Ana's determination to find her brother and keep him from getting in trouble was touching, and Zak's determination to help her was even more so. I don't think I've ever shipped two more different characters, but Katcher somehow made it happen. The back-and-forth between Ana and Zak really made the novel, and the situations they managed to get themselves in had me laughing out loud. 

I liked the way Ana and Zak's imperfections were out in the open - he was a jerk, she was obsessed with winning and way too uptight - and the way you could see that they sort of smoothed out each other's rough edges. 

I also really enjoyed the whole Con aspect. I've always wanted to go to ComicCon, but this novel cemented it for me. The hilarity that ensues - especially the epic fight scene - made the novel a tiny bit ridiculous but still really fun to read. 

Final Thoughts: If you're a fan of quirky characters and hilarious contemporary reads, I definitely recommend this novel!

Top Ten Clues You're Clueless

Author: Liz Czukas 
Pages: 289 
Publisher: Harper Teen 
Format: Paperback 
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Top Five Things That Are Ruining Chloe’s Day:

5) Working the 6:30 a.m. shift at GoodFoods Market

4) Crashing a cart into a customer’s car right in front of her snarky coworker Sammi

3) Trying to rock the “drowned rat” look after being caught in a snowstorm

2) Making zero progress with her crush, Tyson (see #3)

1) Being accused—along with her fellow teenage employees—of stealing upwards of $10,000

Chloe would rather be anywhere than locked in work jail (aka the break room) with five of her coworkers . . . even if one of them is Tyson. But if they can band together to clear their names, what looks like a total disaster might just make Chloe’s list of Top Ten Best Moments.

My Summary: Chloe has been working at GoodFoods Market since she moved to town a few months ago. It's a boring job, and it's definitely not intellectually stimulating, but it pays well. 

And on a completely unrelated note: her coworker Tyson is gorgeous.

Arriving at 6:30 in the morning on Christmas Eve for her last shift before the holidays begin, Chloe hopes the day will pass quickly and without incident. After all, it's almost Christmas. How bad could things get?

Unfortunately for Chloe, the answer is horrible. Along with her fellow teen coworkers, she's suspected of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the charity collection box. 

Locked in the break room against their wills, Chloe and her coworkers - who might as well be complete strangers, for all she really knows about them - must band together and figure out a way to clear their names before all of their Christmases are ruined.

My Thoughts: This was such a fun read! It felt like I had just begun when I checked how many pages I had remaining and realized I was five pages from the end. Chloe was an extremely relatable main character, and her friends were each unique, complex, and well-written. I loved Chloe's habit of list-writing - not gonna lie, I do it constantly too - and the fact that she messed up. A lot. Main characters who never mess up are almost impossible to connect with, so Chloe's mistakes made it easy to like her. She was also incredibly awkward and quirky, which always makes me love a character even more. 

The mystery aspect was really fun, although I more enjoyed the way the coworkers connected with each other throughout the night. It felt very Breakfast Club, but not in a cliche way. Each one of Chloe's coworkers brought another element to the group, and by the end of the night it was hard not to love every one of them.

Czukas definitely has some insight into the mind of a teenager. The humour was spot on, and I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times. 

Final Thoughts: This was a very quick read, but it was cute and fun and had everything you could want in a contemporary YA novel. I recommend it to fans of romance, as well as fans of Sarah Dessen. 

The Night Gardener

Author: Jonathan Auxier 
Pages: 350 
Publisher: Amulet Books 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious specter and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives.

My Summary: Molly and Kip have not had easy lives. After leaving Ireland during the famine and being separated from their parents, the two children have no choice but to search for work. Luckily, Molly is able to secure a position as a maid in a grand Victorian mansion, and life begins to look a little better.

Starving and tired, they come upon their future home to find that their employer appears to be hiding more than a few secrets. And these secrets are not only affecting his entire family, but Molly and Kip as well. With nowhere to go and no way to escape what is happening to them, the children decide there is only one thing to do: discover the secrets their employer is hiding, solve the mystery, and save not only their lives, but the lives of the family that took them in. 

My Thoughts: I had no idea what to expect when I picked this novel up in the grocery store, but I was certain that it would be just what I needed to get out of my reading slump. There's something about the combination of middle grade novels and Gothic mysteries that gets to me every time, and this book was no exception - the way that the eerie settings and the suspense are woven together so seamlessly pull you back to that age where you were sure there were ghosts and monsters lurking behind every closed door. 

Auxier's writing pulled me into Molly and Kip's story and had me on the edge of my seat, hoping for the best for them. I felt a lot of Edgar Allan Poe coming from this novel as well, which definitely added to my love of the story. Stories themselves seem to take on a life of their own and become characters themselves, as Molly and Kip soon learn. 

The atmosphere of this novel was expertly crafted, and the plot twisted and turned beautifully. I adored every minute I spent enchanted by The Night Gardener

Final Thoughts: Go out and get yourself a copy of this amazing book as soon as possible. Read it in the dark - under the covers - and prepare to be creeped out. 



Author: Lauren Oliver 
Pages: 408 
Publisher: HarperCollins 
Format: Hardcover 
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads): Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do. 

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought. 

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

My Summary: Heather has grown up watching the seniors in her tiny town compete in Panic: a high-stakes game where winning means getting the hell out of Carp, and losing could mean losing everything. She's never wanted to compete before - she's smart, and she knows it isn't worth the risk - but everything is falling apart, and winning Panic would ensure that Heather and her sister can escape their disastrous home life. 

Dodge has been training for Panic since the day his sister entered four years earlier. He's determined to win no matter what the cost, and nothing is going to stop him - not even his new-found friendship with Heather, or his crush on her beautiful best friend.

Because Dodge isn't playing Panic for the money - he's playing for revenge. 

My Thoughts: I'd heard about Panic before, but I'd never had the chance to pick it up. A few weeks ago I was strolling through Barnes & Noble and spotted the hardcover tucked behind a few copies of Vanishing Girls. I pulled it out, finally intent on buying it - and couldn't have been happier about my decision. I hadn't noticed until after I checked out, but the book was signed by Lauren Oliver. Total score, right? I was pumped to read it after that, but I was slightly nervous because I didn't want to be disappointed after all that build-up. 

I really shouldn't have been worried, because Lauren Oliver never fails to impress. 

I fell in love with Panic less than twenty pages in. Heather's voice and the unique premise had me hooked, wondering how the heck such a dangerous game could be played and how it was supposed to end well for her. There were so many heart-wrenching moments and Oliver's writing is haunting. The way her sentences fit together and the words flow like prose hook me every time I pick up one of her novels.

One of my favourite things about Lauren Oliver's novels is that you never really know who to root for, and it's almost impossible to predict how things are ultimately going to play out. I didn't like Dodge in the beginning, and halfway through the second last chapter I still didn't know how I felt about him. Same goes for Heather and Bishop (okay, not so much Bishop. He was a sweetheart despite his flaws). Heather's growth throughout the novel was inspirational, and her resolve to take care of her sister no matter the cost had me teary-eyed more than a few times.

Final Thoughts: I recommend this novel to fans of contemporary lit as well as action. Faced-paced and full of suspense, this is one book you definitely don't want to miss.