Tournament of Books, Round Three: Strange the Dreamer vs Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Woof.  Boy, those books were BRICKS.  Since this is Round 3, I’ll spare everyone the summaries and do my best to avoid spoilers.  As one does, in order to organize myself I made some lists.


Thoughts I had while reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee:


  • “OMG, Monty is the worst.  I hates him. Over-privileged white boy needs a smack in the face.”

  • “Percy, you delicate baby bird.  I just want to carry you around in my pocket.”

  • “Felicity, girl, you were born a couple decades too soon.  But, yay for women in science!”

  • “Smash the literal patriarchy, Monty!”

  • “For the love of god, just tell him how you feel!”

  • “OMG, Monty is the best.”

  • “God, that cover is awful.”


Thoughts I had while reading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor:


  • “Damn, that’s some beautiful prose.”

  • “A mysterious city named Weep?!  Yes, please! 14-year-old Lauren would live there in a heartbeat.”

  • “Is anyone else legit terrified of Minya?  Forget Sarai, the muse of nightmares. The vengeful, ghost-controlling, eternal 5-year-old will forever haunt my dreams.  Probably alongside, Interview with the Vampire’s, Claudia.”

  • “Go get your dream girl!  Literally!”


In the process of reading these MASSIVE books, I discovered some interesting truths about myself.

  • Fantasy and Science Fiction have always been my jam and I’m all for complicated and intricate universes, but I did discover that I need my world building to happen at a faster pace or I end up confused and disoriented.

  • I LOVE historical fiction.  Growing up, it definitely wasn’t my favorite and now I can‘t get enough of it.  I once read an article that stated that your taste buds change every 7 years (which is probably why I now like brussel sprouts).  I think the same goes for reading habits. I’m finding it refreshing to reflect on the past, consider the progress we’ve made (or haven’t made), and think about how we can do better.

  • I am an absolute sucker for redemption stories.  The harder the fall, the greater the rise.


Both titles have niche appeal, and as a librarian I have had no problem booktalking either of them to eager readers.  But like most people have said (in this tournament and in other reviews), the slow build of Strange the Dreamer is a pitfall I can’t ignore.  I know I’m in the minority of people who did not 100% dig Strange the Dreamer.  I’ve read countless reviews saying they, “never wanted it to end” but I kept thinking, “when is it gonna start?.”  Yes, it is beautifully written. Yes, I fell in love with the language and the setting and the characters but amidst all of that purple prose, I got completely lost in the timeline of events.  Don’t get me wrong, I am super excited for the second book but I will definitely have to begrudgingly re-read the first one to refresh my memory of events.

And the winner is…


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

So I pick, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, to move on to the next round.  Lee deftly tackles a myriad of topics that are so pertinent to modern-day culture.  Not only is it exciting (pirates) and scandalous (so much kissing), it’s an important read that will teach young people compassion and inspire them to stand up for what they care about.


Lauren Hilty is a Teen Services Librarian at the Grayslake Area Public Library.  She likes to add things that she’s already completed to her To-Do lists, just so she can immediately cross them out.  Sense of accomplishment for the win! Also, she would like to dedicate this blog post to Emma Quid, her Hazel Grace, who taught her how to be unapologetic about book choices and consumption of ice cream.

Back to Round Three, Bracket One

Onto Round Three, Bracket Three


Tournament of Books, Round Two: Long Way Down vs The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds and The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee are both unique Young Adult novels that capture diverse cultures.  Set in the San Francisco area, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is full of Chinese mythology, comic dialogue, high school humor and features a strong Chinese American female protagonist. Long Way Down is a verse novel that deals with gun violence in the African American community.


In Long Way Down, the beauty of the poetry, the placement of words upon each page and the gray graphics present a work of art.  The character of Will comes alive as the elevator descends and a ghost enters on each floor. Once I started reading I could not put the novel down. It was hard for me to get through The Epic Crush of Genie Lo since I found the characters annoying.

The words in Long Way Down flow smoothly which showed a lot of effort on the part of the author. Writing poetry and causing an emotional response is not an easy task. I found the writing in The Epic Crush of Genie Lo jarring and disjointed.

The moods of both books are a study in contrasting tones. Although Genie and Quentin must battle ferocious demons the plot is spiced with humor and outrageous situations and the readers leaves with a feeling of lightness. Long Way Down slams the reader with its gritty realism and senseless violence. The ending took my breath away and left me with strong motivation to discuss the book with teen readers.

And the winner is…


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

The writing, style of presentation and impact are the factors that influence my choice of Long Way Down as the winner.  Long Way Down will stand the test of time as an outstanding work of Young Adult fiction.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Four

Onto Round Two, Bracket Six

Tournament of Books, Round Two: One of Us Is Lying vs Strange the Dreamer

OK, so this was a tough one.  It couldn’t be an easy decision where one book is definitely superior than the other.  But I guess that’s the woes of a round 2 reviewer. I won’t go into a long summary as you’ve already read through those in round 1.  I’ll just throw a few thoughts at you.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M McManus

51BgoE+i2UL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Let’s start with One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus.  First of all, I love that this book is a mystery/thriller type of story.  This is such an underrepresented genre in teen books. So right away, I was excited that I got to read this book.  Even more exciting is that is was great. I kept seeing reviewers describe this as a Breakfast Club-esqe book.  Let me stop you all right there.  Yes, the drama starts in detention.  Yes, the characters are pretty much your basic teen trope templates.  Simon, the victim, even mentions that the four fit into the predictable character categories of most teen movies.  But aside from those two similarities, this book is absolutely nothing like The Breakfast Club.  Throughout the investigation of Simon’s death, Bronwyn, Nate, Cooper, and Addy have the suspect light put on them for a variety of reasons, mostly circumstantial.  McManus manages to create a feeling of confidence and predictability that is shattered with each new piece of evidence. It’s an interesting feeling know that only the killer knows what truly happened.  The rest of the cast of characters are in the dark, same as you. There are some secondary plot points like trauma-fueled romances and unnecessary family drama that feel like filler and don’t really add much to the story.  I took another arbitrary point off for the nice, neat ending. McManus really wrapped this story up with a super shiny bow. I expected more devastation and destruction after such an intense investigation.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

strange the dreamerMoving on to Stranger the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.  This one has a bit of bias attached to it as I adore Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series.  Before getting into the plot details and the like, I will say that Strange the Dreamer has a more much literary writing style.  When comparing the two books, One of Us is Lying feels more like a mainstream psychological thriller while Strange the Dreamer is more like something that would get an Oscar nod and have a limited theater release.  Taylor writes very lyrically. Very rarely is she simply telling something. Her words paint a clear picture of this fantastical world.  Taylor also utilizes a few fantasy trope characters like McManus and her high school students. Lazlo is the outsider who is given a hero’s chance to save the day. Sarai is the beautiful outcast struggling with her identity that history states should be evil.  The book starts on the slow side, but eventually gains some momentum. There are also some predictable twists that astute readers can pick up on earlier than Taylor’s intention. A big plus for Taylor is that unlike McManus, she has a book 2 coming up so she didn’t need to create a tidy ending.  The ending of Strange the Dreamer is probably the most exciting part of the book, seeing how everything has come together to one point.  

And the winner is…

strange the dreamer

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

This was more difficult than I expected as these books are so different from each other.  When I’m not sure about how much I liked a book, I always ask myself if I would read the book a second time.  I think that One of Us is Lying is a one and done type of book.  I can see myself reading Strange the Dreamer multiple times and discovering new things about the story each time.  For that reason, I must choose Strange the Dreamer.

Brandi Smits is the Youth Services Manager at the Orland Park Public Library.  You can often find Brandi on Wednesdays dominating the bar trivia world. Most other days, she is engaging in fascinating book dates or working on cross-stitch projects.


Back to Round Two, Bracket Two

Onto Round Two, Bracket Four

Tournament of Books, Round One: Strange the Dreamer vs Upside of Unrequited

The two books I read were Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor and The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. Both of these books have been on my radar, so I’m glad I had an excuse to read them. I was obsessed with the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Taylor, and I adored Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda by Albertalli. I couldn’t wait to dive into these and devour them.

Devour them I did.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

strange the dreamerStrange the Dreamer follows an orphan, Lazlo Strange, who ran away from the monks he was staying with and found himself in the library. Lazlo became a librarian, as one does, with an obsession of this distant city that he can’t remember the name. It’s right on the tip of his tongue, but it seems to have been erased from his, and everyone else’s, memory. The only name that comes out is “Weep”. Lazlo becomes enamoured with everything to do with Weep. He studies the origins, the folk tales, and even teaches himself the language. Lazlo forever stays in the library, until the day he doesn’t.

The Godslayer, a mysterious warrior, comes from the city of Weep searching for philosophers, mathematicians, alchemists, all of the greatest that neighboring cities have to offer. He’s looking for the best of the best to go back with him and solve a problem. What the problem is, these recruits do not know. They’ve been promised they will know once they look upon the city. Lazlo is one of the lucky few who embark on this journey.


  • Taylor’s writing borders purple prose, which might turn some people off. However; it’s pretty poetic and beautifully written
  • Build-up is amazing
  • Insane character development

  • Pretty hefty book, with over 500 pages.
  • Was not aware that this was a first in a two-book series, so now I have to wait to see what happens
  • Might be written with a tad too much detail for people who are not interested, and want more action throughout

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

upsideThe Upside of Unrequited brings us back to reality with a realistic, contemporary, fiction. Molly Peskin-Suso and her twin sister, Cassie, are both trying to figure out love and dating. Cassie has had no problems getting girls to notice her. She’s the life of the party, the outgoing, confident, one. Molly is the more reserved twin, who has had 26 crushes with no partner as a result – not even a kiss.

Things get a little crazy once a new girl enters Cassie’s life. Molly is trying to come out of her shell, put herself out there. There’s a super cute hipster she has her eye on, but then there’s this guy she works with who is obsessed with all things Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. She can’t have crushes on both at the same time, can she? Maybe it’s something more; maybe these crushes will be the ones that turn into something more than a crush.



  • Positive character and portrayal of a heavier girl
  • LGBTQ characters who are not stereotypical
  • Characters of color represented who are not stereotypical

  • Molly bases a lot of her self-worth on what others, specifically boys, think about her
  • Super boy-crazy – if you’re into that, then it’s all good. If you’re not, there’s an overwhelming amount of obsessing.
  • This is a tad bit dated, even though it came out in 2017. Teens don’t use Facebook; there were a couple other dated references that I found as well. (Yes, it’s a super minor thing.)

As I’m sitting here, I’m still having a hard time picking which one to move on in the bracket. I enjoyed both of them, though they had their issues.

And the winner is…

strange the dreamer.jpg

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I think I’m going to have to go with Strange the Dreamer. While it is a bigger book, and stylized, I couldn’t get over Molly’s obsession with boys and being in a relationship. I would have preferred if Molly discovered herself and realized she doesn’t need a partner to validate who she is. There were a few “awww” moments, but I had a hard time looking past the superficial need to be with someone. It’s important for teens to know they don’t have to have a partner before they exit high school; it doesn’t make them more or less of a person.

Strange the Dreamer is simply beautiful. Taylor is a poetic writer with the ability to transport you to a different world without feeling like the rug has been pulled from under your feet. I love all of the character developments, and felt a connection with them, including the side characters. I was just so involved and wrapped up in this story. It’s adventure, fantasy, love, revenge, loss, all the things you’re looking for in a hard-to-put-down book. The characters are dynamic and interesting, the plot held my attention, and the build-up was epic, and I am super psyched for the next installment.

Megan is a Teen Services Advisor at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. When she’s not studying for her Masters in Library Science at the University of Alabama or working, she’s either working out or binge watching Netflix.


Back to Round One, Bracket Four

Onto Round One, Bracket Six