Reviews: April Adult Reads Part 1

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Half of my adult reads for the month of April 2017 ~ I had to break it up this month because there are so. many. books! Part 2 will come next Sunday 4/30/17. 

These are listed in order of date finished……..as always, there is a disclosure telling the source of each book and as always, no affiliate links.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead Books – March 7, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: 

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

OPINION: 5/5 (would give 10/5 for cultural importance if I could!)

BEST BOOK OF 2017. Not just “so far in 2017” but this should just BE the best book of the year! I’m giving it that label for 1) timeliness 2) writing style 3) having magic doors that in no way during the book feel magic – they read as border crossings (making magic seem not magical IS magical in literature) 4) being so right and true about so many different areas of life. Life, death, love, marriage, friendship, oh and of course immigration, migration and the refugee crisis. I will return to this book many times in the future to re-read the countless quotes that hit home for me. This is an incredibly fast read and is NOT a political tome. One of my favorite things about the book was Hamid’s writing style and his ability to make sentences into entire passages – I adore when writers flaunt the “shoulds” in writing and just do what works for the book. I may possibly feel this way due to my own disdain for following writing rules. Hmmm. BUT, if that’s the case, then it would also be an amazing book to use in writing classes to teach that rules don’t make high literature, stories do. Right? Because this book is high literature and is being touted as one of the best and most timely all over the place – rather than have lowly me try to do it full justice, please see these interviews and articles:  New York Times ~ The Atlantic ~ The Guardian ~ NPR

This was one of my March Book of the Month Club selections. I pay for the subscription.

The Other Half of Happiness by Ayisha Malik (Zaffre – April 6, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: 

Sofia Khan is just married. But no-one told her life was going to be this way . . .

Her living situation is in dire straits, her husband Conall is distant, and his annoyingly attractive colleague is ringing all sorts of alarm bells.

When her mother forces them into a belated wedding ceremony (elopement: you can run, but you can’t hide), Sofia wonders if it might be a chance to bring them together. But when it forces Conall to confess his darkest secret, it might just tear them apart.

A book to make you smile, laugh and cry, this is the story of a mixed-race marriage and a mixed-up family, for anyone who’s ever struggled to balance their pride with their principles, or stuck around to try to mend a broken heart.

OPINION: 4/5

Hilarious and heartwarming…..or maybe heartbreaking? The ending left me conflicted about whether to be sad or hopeful for Sofia…..hoping that means we get another Sofia book soon! I loved the diary-style writing and the richly development characters and relationships in this book ~ those two things don’t often go together but Malik managed it! My only regret is that I didn’t read the first book in the series (Sofia Khan is Not Obliged) before this one, although this stood alone just fine. I just would have been able to enjoy more of Sofia’s story if I read them in order! I look forward to seeing future books from the author.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s Press – April 11, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: 

On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.

But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.

Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.

Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan’s baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.

Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.

At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?

Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.

OPINION: 3/5

I’m a big fan of this author, especially the Rosato & DiNunzio novels. Due to that, I’ll read whatever she writes and am willing to overlook a lot of flaws that I would downgrade unknown authors for. This book was highly readable and filled with suspense, which kept me turning the pages and wanting to find out what happened next despite the highly unbelievable plot twists and action scenes. I’m all for suspending disbelief and just enjoying a story, which is what I definitely did with this one……released all semblance of reality and went along for the ride.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

At Mama’s Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White by April Ryan (Roman & Littlefield – December 15, 2016)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

In her first book, The Presidency in Black and White, journalist April Ryan examined race in America through her experience as a White House reporter. In this book, she shifts the conversation from the White House to every home in America. At Mama’s Knee looks at race and race relations through the lessons that mothers transmit to their children. As a single African American mother in Baltimore, Ryan has struggled with each gut wrenching, race related news story to find the words to convey the right lessons to her daughters. To better understand how mothers transfer to their children wisdom on race and race relations, she reached out to other mothers–prominent political leaders like Hillary Clinton and Valerie Jarrett, celebrities like Cindy Williams, and others like Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, whose lives have been impacted by prominent race related events. At a time when Americans still struggle to address racial division and prejudice, their stories remind us that attitudes change from one generation to the next and one child at a time.

OPINION: 4/5

Incredibly important nonfiction book on race and motherhood in America, leaning more heavily toward race. NOT a quick memoir or a light read. Ryan’s acknowledgement and celebration of the importance of mothers is woven throughout the entire book, especially single mothers and especially Black mothers. There is extensive research evident and a vast number of personal interviews quoted directly within the book, from figures such as President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Cory Booker and Wes Moore (a favorite author of mine) among many others. I had a few issues with some repetition of content (almost as if each chapter were a stand-alone essay) but I won’t let that take away from the importance of the message and content. Ryan’s analysis and condemnation of the n-word (both -er and -a endings) is very thorough and includes insight from sources both for and against the right for Blacks to use the word. Whites, obviously, are banned from its use regardless of ending, tone or intention. The chapter about “the talk” is reminiscent of the coverage Michael Eric Dyson gives the topic in his “Tears We Cannot Stop” – heartbreaking and vital for everyone in the US to know about. The coverage of the city of Baltimore was very interesting to me, as the only other knowledge I have of the city comes from Wes Moore’s book “The Other Wes Moore”. This book is recommended reading for all.

I checked this book out from the public library. 

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile (Penguin Books, February 6, 2014)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

Charley Bordelon, an African American woman and single mother is struggling to build a new life amid the complexities of the contemporary South.

When Charley unexpectedly inherits eight hundred acres of sugarcane land, she and her eleven-year-old daughter say goodbye to smoggy Los Angeles and head to Louisiana. She soon learns, however, that cane farming is always going to be a white man’s business. As the sweltering summer unfolds, Charley struggles to balance the overwhelming challenges of a farm in decline with the demands of family and the startling desires of her own heart.

OPINION: 5/5

I loved this book so much, and didn’t want it to end. Charley is an incredibly complex character who keeps you rooting for her, despite her all-too-human imperfections……..love is complex, adult parent-child relationships are hard, grief is brutal, and all mothers feel like they aren’t doing enough for their children. Charley’s brother Ralph Angel is desperately unlikable, but Baszile managed the almost-impossible of eliciting just a tiny bit of sympathy for him just when I wanted him GONE from the story. The setting of the tropical cane fields of Louisiana was perfect – both foreign and all-too American, as Charley experienced the southern racism her father had been so desperate to flee in his youth. Highly recommend this book.

I purchased this book at a local bookstore.

The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner (Little, Brown & Co – April 25, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: 

The discovery of long-buried secrets brings three generations of women together to Cape Cod for the summer homecoming of a lifetime.

Marin Bishop has always played by the rules, and it’s paid off: on the cusp of thirty she has a handsome fiancé, a prestigious Manhattan legal career, and her father’s hard-won admiration. But with one careless mistake at work, Marin suddenly finds herself unemployed and alone. Before she can summon the courage to tell her parents, a young woman appears, claiming to be Marin’s half-sister. Seeking answers, Marin agrees to join her on a soul-searching journey to Cape Cod, to meet the family she didn’t even know she had.

As the summer unfolds at her grandmother’s beachside B&B, it becomes clear that her half-sister’s existence is just the first in a series of truths that will shake Marin’s beliefs–in love, and in her own identity–to the core. Filled with shocking revelations, heartfelt romance, and resilient women banding together against the most unexpected twists of fate, THE FOREVER SUMMER is an emotionally resonant page-turner, and a delicious escape for any season.

OPINION: 4/5

Beach read alert! “The Forever Summer” has all of the qualities I require for addition to my “beach read” list ~ a group of women, family, a beach, an old beach house, a charming beach community, some sort of romance, some sort of drama, and a little sadness to cut the sugar factor. This is the time of year I look forward to all winter long – the release of the next installments from my favorite “beachy” authors ~ Elin Hilderbrand, Jane Green, Mary Alice Munroe, Jill Mansell, and many more. Jamie Brenner has officially been added to this list! This book brings some added complexity that make “The Forever Summer” much more than fluff, and the grief storyline (not spoiling it!) will definitely tug at your heart and make you wipe away tears. Sure, there are a few “really?” parts, but I’m the queen of suspending disbelief and rolling with a storyline, so I was able to shrug those off and enjoy the intent of the author. Highly enjoyed this book, and look forward to many more books from Jamie Brenner! And I will also be going back and reading “The Wedding Sisters” because somehow in the rush of 2016, I completely missed it. Go ahead and order this one and stick it right into your beach bag for the summer.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.


Find me on Goodreads for ALL of the middle grade, YA and adult books I read. All of my picture book reviews are on my Instagram ~ would love to see you there as well!

Weekly Bookish News: Week of 4/17/17

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As always, this is a duplicate of the newsletter I send my K-12 school district staff every Friday morning ~ a short and sweet round-up of literacy news and happenings that caught my eye, along with a few books to highlight and my elementary read alouds for the week. If you want to know about ALL the middle grade, YA and adult books I read, please hit me up on Goodreads! That’s where you’ll find the good, the bad and the ugly. All picture books are on my Instagram

Favorites from around the web:

American Indians in Children’s Literature Best Books of 2016 – AICL blog

Teaching with Hamilton – School Library Journal

25 Kids and YA Books that Lift Up Immigrant Voices – School Library Journal

Interstate Books4School – book purchasing site with AMAZING prices (found through Pernille Ripp’s blog)

Arab American Book Award Recipients (2007-2016) – TeachingBooks.net

Storytime: What Matters Most Cannot be Measured – Nerdy Book Club

New Y.A. Novels Tackle Crime and Its Consequences – New York Times

17 Books 4th, 5th and 6th Grade Teachers Should Have in Their Classrooms – Brightly

A few books to highlight:

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley ~ excellent picture book biography

Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh ~ great middle grade story collection from We Need Diverse Books

Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan ~ wonderful new YA perfect for art lovers, written in casual diary-style

Elementary Read Alouds for the Week

Grade Book 1 Book 2
4K Oops Pounce Quick Run by Mike Twohy
K The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (plus Emily Arrow video) Thump Quack Moo + Click Clack Surprise by Doreen Cronin
1 Froggy Rides a Bike by Jonathan London Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey & accompanying Scholastic News edition
2 Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman
3 Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
4 Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer Poems from Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander, et al
5 As Time Went By  by Jose Sanabria Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer

YA and Middle Grade Reviews: Week of 4/17/2017

File_001Reviews of an excellent new YA release this week, plus some backlist middle grade titles I finished recently!

YOUNG ADULT

Grendel’s Guide to Love and War by A.E. Kaplan (Knopf  – April 18, 2017)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Revenge of the Nerds in this tale of a teen misfit who seeks to take down the bro next door, but ends up falling for his enemy’s sister and uncovering difficult truths about his family in the process.

Tom Grendel lives a quiet life—writing in his notebooks, mowing lawns for his elderly neighbors, and pining for Willow, a girl next door who rejects the “manic-pixie-dream” label. But when Willow’s brother, Rex (the bro-iest bro ever to don a jockstrap), starts throwing wild parties, the idyllic senior citizens’ community where they live is transformed into a war zone. Tom is rightfully pissed—his dad is an Iraq vet, and the noise from the parties triggers his PTSD—so he comes up with a plan to end the parties for good. But of course, it’s not that simple.

One retaliation leads to another, and things quickly escalate out of control, driving Tom and Willow apart, even as the parties continue unabated. Add to that an angsty existential crisis born of selectively reading his sister’s Philosophy 101 coursework, a botched break-in at an artisanal pig farm, and ten years of unresolved baggage stemming from his mother’s death…and the question isn’t so much whether Tom Grendel will win the day and get the girl, but whether he’ll survive intact.

OPINION:

This brand-new YA deserves ALL the stars!

First, let’s talk about this whole Beowulf thing. I honestly knew NOTHING about this book when I started reading it – I didn’t even read the official blurb until after the fact. I requested it from NetGalley because as a school librarian I request every single middle grade and YA title and sample a gazillion of them, only finishing the ones that grab me within the first chapter or so. This one grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I laughed and I cried, sometimes simultaneously, and fell so deeply in love with Tom Grendel. But. I had no idea there was a Beowulf storyline, and to be honest, it wouldn’t have mattered because I have never read Beowulf (Oh come on. Have you?). Maybe I would have a completely different opinion of this book if I knew that story? Who knows, but what I do know is that none of my high school students have read Beowulf either, and I know a bunch of kids who I will immediately hand this book to. I’m sure there is added depth for those familiar with that body of work, but for those unashamed of our unfamiliarity with it, there is plenty of material to love. For those who want more information on that part of the storyline, there is back matter describing the author’s motivation regarding Beowulf (and which represents my complete knowledge of the topic).

A few of the things about this story that I especially loved:

1) Grendel’s respect for and kindness toward all of the older women he is surrounded by in his neighborhood. There were so many times I just wanted to hug him for being so sweet.

2) His aching grief for his mother, and his quest to really know who she was. The emotions were so raw and real, and made me cry.

3) His relationship with his father, a man traumatized by his military combat experiences. The fact that his entire feud with his neighbors is based on his attempt to save his father from PTSD episodes is absolutely heartbreaking.

4) Just how extremely FUNNY this book is! I don’t want to include spoilers, but some of the pranks were completely ridiculous and I loved the author’s descriptions and writing style during these scenes. Was everything believable? Not really, but I didn’t care.

Required reading for fans of John Green and Jeff Zentner.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

MIDDLE GRADE

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King (Arthur A. Levine – January 31st, 2017)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his house, in the last wild patch left, picking up litter and looking for animal tracks.

One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog, or maybe a small boar. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has ever seen a creature like this before, because there’s never been a creature like this before. The animal–Marvin Gardens–soon becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.

In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King tells the story of a friendship that could actually save the world.

OPINION:

This review needs to be in list form to highlight my love for this quirky and amazing middle grade book:

1) perfect way to approach environmental issues with the middle grade audience! Fans of “Hoot” by Carl Hiassen will love this, or fans of this story will love “Hoot” depending on their age/reading history.

2) excellent portrayal of how some kids handle bullying, and I loved how strong Obe and Annie were in the face of it. Not immune, but it did not break them

3) the author’s note makes clear how near and dear this issue of clearing farm land for development is to the author’s heart. That makes it even more special for the reader.

4) Obe’s parents are so imperfect and authentic, especially his mom’s regret over her lack of education and his dad’s love for Monopoly.

5) Marvin Gardens is the best animal character I have read in quite awhile, a feat most incredible given that he is a completely invented animal! King describes him so well that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I my kids found a MG living down by my own creek.

Highly recommend for grades 4-6 or as a read aloud for grade 3 and up. Would love to see this title on lists such as the Global Read Aloud due to the importance and urgency of the environmental issues. My 11-year-old daughter read it in a day and absolutely loved it.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders (Delacorte – August 2, 2016)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In this incredible, heart-wrenching story reminiscent of E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, Kate Saunders illustrates the power of war but the even greater power of family, and the love that carries us out of the darkness of despair into the light of hope.
 
The sand fairy, also known as the Psammead, is merely a creature from stories Lamb and Edith have heard their older brothers and sisters tell . . . until he suddenly reappears. Lamb and Edith are pleased to have something to take their minds off the war, but this time the Psammead’s magic might have a serious purpose.

Before their adventure ends, all will be changed, and the Lamb and Edith will have seen the Great War from every possible viewpoint—that of factory workers, soldiers and sailors, and nurses. But most of all, the war’s impact will be felt by those left behind, at the very heart of their family.

OPINION:

Required reading for anyone who has read Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (which I did as a child) – and this review by Betsy on Goodreads is a must-read! She does an amazing job of giving a ton of backstory and explaining why this book is so good. She writes exactly what I would have. I loved the book due to my nostalgia for the original story, but won’t be purchasing this for my school library.

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (WordSong – October 4, 2016)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Garvey’s father has always wanted Garvey to be athletic, but Garvey is interested in astronomy, science fiction, reading—anything but sports. Feeling like a failure, he comforts himself with food. Garvey is kind, funny, smart, a loyal friend, and he is also overweight, teased by bullies, and lonely. When his only friend encourages him to join the school chorus, Garvey’s life changes. The chorus finds a new soloist in Garvey, and through chorus, Garvey finds a way to accept himself, and a way to finally reach his distant father—by speaking the language of music instead of the language of sports.

OPINION:

Very, very short middle grade story in verse that is perfect for anyone who isn’t the person a parent is expecting – in this case, a dreamer/chess player/reader/singer rather than a football player. I really liked the messages about finding oneself, body acceptance and rejection of dieting, especially in reference to a male protagonist.


Find me on Goodreads for ALL of the middle grade, YA and adult books I read. All of my picture book reviews are on my Instagram ~ would love to see you there as well!

YA Review: Other Breakable Things

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I’m so honored to be a part of the Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour for Other Breakable Things, the brand-new young adult novel from Kelley York and Rowan Altwood!

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Purchase Links:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.ca | Entangled Publishing

Here’s the official description of the book, with my review to follow:

According to Japanese legend, folding a thousand paper cranes will grant you healing.

Evelyn Abel will fold two thousand if it will bring Luc back to her.

Luc Argent has always been intimately acquainted with death. After a car crash got him a second chance at life―via someone else’s transplanted heart―he tried to embrace it. He truly did. But he always knew death could be right around the corner again.

And now it is.

Sick of hospitals and tired of transplants, Luc is ready to let his failing heart give out, ready to give up. A road trip to Oregon―where death with dignity is legal―is his answer. But along for the ride is his best friend, Evelyn.

And she’s not giving up so easily.

A thousand miles, a handful of roadside attractions, and one life-altering kiss later, Evelyn’s fallen, and Luc’s heart is full. But is it enough to save him? Evelyn’s betting her heart, her life, that it can be.

Right down to the thousandth paper crane.

REVIEW:

I’ll be honest with you – I was comparing this book to John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars on a regular basis while reading. And that’s a wonderful thing, given how much I adored that book! Of course, Other Breakable Things is a very different story on many, many levels, but the whole “teens in love in spite of one teen on the verge of death” is the basis of both. Luc and Evelyn’s characters are both well-developed and there was no attempt to sweeten them up or glam Evelyn up to make her a more traditional female lead, and I really appreciated that. As Luc discovered, Evelyn being Evelyn is what made her beautiful.

The constant questioning about what makes life worth living (despite deteriorating health) and the suicide consideration makes this book a very emotional read. Evelyn’s struggles with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend (and the sexually-inappropriate nature of his attention to her) makes this a slightly grittier and much more authentic read than it could have been. Recommended YA reading and as a purchase for high school libraries.

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.


Find me on Goodreads for ALL of the middle grade, YA and adult books I read. All of my picture book reviews are on my Instagram ~ would love to see you there as well!

YA and Middle Grade Reviews: Week of 4/10/17

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Find me on Goodreads for ALL the middle grade, YA and adult books I read. All of my picture book reviews are on my Instagram ~ would love to see you there as well!

YOUNG ADULT

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (Balzer + Bray, April 11, 2017)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

From the award-winning author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda comes a funny, authentic novel about sisterhood, love, and identity. Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

OPINION

“I’ve never felt quite so 17” ~ that line pretty much sums up this perfect, quirky, and quietly hilarious YA coming-of-age story. I mean, I’m 20 years older than 17, but WAS 17 while reading this book….it took me back to the exquisite agony of a crush. Of growing apart from friends as we grew older. Of having to decide to drink or not drink in the name of fitting in. Of being trapped at a party when your driver decides to drink. Of feeling like you’re the only one not in a relationship, or making out, or having sex, or any of the myriad of things teens can obsess about.

The part that made me decide to give the 5th star, which I was on the fence about for a little bit, was Molly’s body acceptance. Molly isn’t stick thin, and while she does recognize this and struggle with the fact that she can’t picture HER body getting naked with a guy, she doesn’t want to lose weight. Not once does she wrestle with eating or not eating or obsessive exercise or diet. NOT ONCE. I adore that so much. She stands up for herself when a guy makes a jerky comment about her weight, and stands up to her grandmother’s fat-ist comments later in the book. I could go on and on about this – it’s my favorite.

Her friendship with Reid is adorable and their texts made me laugh out loud. As for all of the majorly diverse characters, I know Albertalli used sensitivity readers in the writing of this book to ensure the accuracy of her depictions of same-sex relationships. I respect that in so many ways, and also respect her right to write these characters. Required purchase for high school libraries, and required reading for anyone who was ever 17 or who will be 17 in the not-far future. Due to lots of sexual references, I would recommend for ages 13 and up.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

 

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers – April 11, 2017)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

1777. Albany, New York.
 
As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival those of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, Eliza can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

In the pages of Alex and Eliza, #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz brings to life the romance of young Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler.

OPINION:

Let’s be clear: the number one reason I was so excited about this book is because I listen to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat with my kids. The second reason is the author. With my fangirl lens disclaimer taken care of, I will say that I’m also a school librarian and made sure to read this book with Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” biography next to me, and used it for reference during my reading of “Alex and Eliza”. de la Cruz states clearly in her author’s note that this story is her fictional embellishment of this love story, and it certainly is, with 2 events toward the end of the story being invented. However, the majority of the re-telling DOES follow the timeline and historical locations of real events, sometimes to the point of overkill in details.

History lesson aside, let’s focus on the love story here, which was very enjoyable! I can’t think of a better way to entice teenagers to read about US History than this book, with an accompanying lesson on historical fiction and how to decipher fact from fiction thrown in for good measure. I would recommend this for middle and high school libraries. When I think about current YA and the sweeping military stories included in even the most fantastical stories, this fits right in. The only difference is that it’s based on real people! Hamilton fans can rejoice in that, and “Hamilton? Who” readers can enjoy it as a stand-alone piece of fiction 🙂

Recommended for fans of Richelle Mead’s “Glittering Court” and The Winners Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski.

I received a digital ARC of this book for review – all opinions are my own.

MIDDLE GRADE

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar (Nancy Paulsen Books ~ April 11, 2017)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In this unforgettable multicultural coming-of-age narrative—based on the author’s childhood in the 1960s—a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie’s plight will intrigue readers, and her powerful story of strength and resilience, full of color, light, and poignancy, will stay with them for a long time.
 
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English—and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen—a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

OPINION:

This middle grade #ownvoices novel about a Cuban-Jewish immigrant in the 1950s is a poignant story of fitting in and recovery. Ruthie Mizrahi is based on the author as a child, and the emotions of the real-life trauma are unmistakable in the story. This is a powerful tale and readers will feel all of Ruthie’s pain, sorrow, and joy as she works her way through the year – from accident to body cast to bed-ridden to discovering art and finally recovery. Her friends and neighborhood are a depiction of the melting pot that America truly is, and it is a delight to have this authentic and culturally diverse book to add to middle grade shelves. Recommend for all elementary and middle school libraries.

*my one and only objection to anything in this book is a small one, but worthy of mention from a current school librarian and former special education teacher. Ruthie mentions and objects numerous times during the book to being placed in the “dumb” class in school because of her beginning English skills. While I understand this was the term used at the time in the 1950s, I do cringe a bit thinking of this word being used during a read-aloud of this book in schools, or having students encounter this word and depiction of special education while reading independently. If I were reading this to students, I would either 1) discuss how “dumb” was used during that time period, but now we all know that that is not what special education classes are, or 2) replace the word during read-alouds. In my mind, this is worth mentioning to students during booktalks and such.

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC of this title for review, all opinions are my own.

One Hundred Spaghetti Strings by Jen Nails (Harper Collins – April 11, 2017)

OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Since Steffy was little, she and her older sister, Nina, have lived with beloved Auntie Gina. But when Steffy and Nina’s dad comes home to live with them, everything changes.

So Steffy does what she does best: She cooks her way through the hardest year of her life. But sometimes her life feels like a kitchen-sink meal—too many ingredients that don’t quite work. All Steffy wants is for her family to be whole again. Can her recipes help bring them back together?

Steffany Sandolini is…

1 cup perseverance

2/3 cup listening skills

2 tablespoons talent

1 teaspoon loyalty

A dash of stubbornness

And more ingredients she hasn’t thought of yet. How will she mix them all together?

OPINION:

Steffany grabbed my heart right away and did not let go through the entire book. This emotional food-centric middle grade story deals with sisterhood, family, alcoholism, and traumatic brain injury without being teach-y or preach-y about any of them. The topic of alcoholism is not covered nearly enough in the middle grade world these days, and I welcome this addition. There are so many kids dealing with this in their lives, and knowing that they are not alone is so important.

I absolutely adore these foodie characters, and this book will be snatched up by fans of last year’s hits – Kat Yeh’s “The Truth About Twinkie Pie” and “The Thing About Leftovers” by C.C. Payne. All three of these books are different enough that they are not derivative, but will each touch readers in a different way. Another favorite of mine to add to that reading list (a bit older) is Joan Bauer’s “Close to Famous”. The fact that this book is written by a school librarian is apparent, because Nails so clearly knows her intended reader. Highly recommended for grades 4-7.

I received a digital ARC of this title for review ~ all opinions are my own.

Guest Post: Multicultural Easter Picture Books

books for youngestI am honored to have my very first guest writer on the blog today! Charlotte Riggle, the author of the children’s book Catherine’s Pascha was kind enough to do a MAJOR round-up of books celebrating the Christian holiday of Easter. We are sharing these with you now so those of you who celebrate this holiday will have time to track some of them down to share with the littles in your life!

And before we get to the books, I’d like to invite any other interested writers to guest post for me on any other cultural or religious book-related topic! Just shoot me an email at theloudlibrarylady at gmail dot com. This is not a Christian-focused blog by many means, and I welcome writers and topics of all faiths and cultures! 

Multicultural Easter Picture Books

Written by: Charlotte Riggle

For over two thousand years now, people have celebrated Easter with great joy and a dazzling variety of traditions. And it seems natural that the joy and the traditions would find their way into picture books.

It would be natural, but it’s not common. I’ve managed to track down sixteen multicultural Easter picture books that have been published since 1950. I’m sure there must be more; if you know of others, I hope you’ll let me know!

The Best Multicultural Easter Picture Books

Chicken SundayIf I could have just one multicultural Easter picture book, it would be Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco. The book is a masterpiece. The main characters are a Ukrainian-American girl and her two best friends, who are African American boys. The boys’ grandmother and a Jewish hatmaker are also important to the story.

The children want to buy the boys’ grandmother a new Easter hat. The hatmaker thinks they’re the children who have been throwing eggs at his store. It’s not fair. But the grandmother tells the children they need to earn his trust. Which they do, using pysanky eggs.

Tiny details in the illustrations reveal a lot about the characters. The girl says she and the boys aren’t the same religion; they’re Baptist. She doesn’t say what her faith is, but in her home you can see icons and a lampada; she’s Eastern Orthodox. The hatmaker has a number tattooed on his arm. He is a Holocaust survivor.

Details like that enrich the story for older readers without making it too complex for little ones.

Books that Show Easter Celebrations in Other Cultures

seven books 2There are a handful of other books that provide a rich multicultural story.

Perhaps the most unusual of these books is Sawdust Carpets by Amelia Lau Carling. The book is about a Chinese family who has immigrated to Guatemala. The mother doesn’t read Spanish very well; the children can’t read Chinese. Their relatives in Antigua have both the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Chinese goddess Kuan Yin in their prayer corner. And the children help create the beautiful, ephemeral sawdust carpets for the Good Friday processions through the streets of the city.

The Dance of the Eggshells/Baile de los Cascarones is a brightly colored bilingual book set in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Libby and her brother, J.D. join their grandparents for the celebrations that follow Easter day. There are eggs filled with confetti, traditional costumes, and traditional dances, shared with a dash of history and a pinch of sibling conflict. Although the writing isn’t as polished as Chicken Sunday or Sawdust Carpets, it’s a delightful book.

Miz Fannie Mae’s Fine New Easter Hat, by Melissa Milich, is a warm and gentle story set in a rural African American community in the time that horse-drawn wagons shared the roads with cars, and people got their milk delivered to their door every morning. The story is narrated by Tandy, Miz Fannie Mae’s daughter, who speaks in a rural African American vernacular. The church service on Easter Sunday features fine new hats for all the women, enthusiastic preaching, a starling, and a miracle.

Tekla’s Easter by Lillian Budd was published in 1962. It’s the story of a little girl celebrating Easter in Sweden. There are bonfires and witches, traditional costumes, and a boat ride to the mainland for church on Easter morning. After church, the family’s Easter dinner includes storytelling and lots of eggs.

Piccolina and the Easter Bells by Pauline Priolo was also published in 1962. It’s set in Sicily, at a time when people traveled by horse and carriage rather than by car, and chickens and pigs roam the streets of the village. Piccolina is a tiny girl who wants to be tall. And there was a custom in Sicily that children who were lifted high in the air when the Easter bells rang on Holy Saturday would grow tall in the coming year. A Traveller boy is part of the story; Priolo refers to him as a gypsy boy. Many people consider the word offensive, although it’s unlikely that the author meant any offense. Nevertheless, it’s important to mention when you read the story with children.

Catherine’s Pascha is the Easter picture book that I wrote for my own children, because I couldn’t find enough stories about children celebrating Easter. In this book, a little girl celebrates Easter according to the Orthodox Christian tradition, in the middle of the night. There are candles and processions, incense and icons, and shouts of “Christ is risen!” in many languages. And after the service, there’s a party that lasts until sunrise. The pages are framed by illustrations of Orthodox churches from all over the world.

Emma’s Easter by Lisa Bullard is geared toward younger readers than the other books. It’s a simpler and more familiar story. The family colors Easter eggs on Saturday. On Sunday is church, an Easter egg hunt, and dinner with the extended family. The story is remarkable only because Emma is a biracial child; her father is black, and her mother is Russian. Emma’s Russian grandmother brings kulich, a traditional Russian Easter bread, to Easter dinner. Sadly, the book doesn’t mention that the Russian grandmother was probably up all night at Easter services before coming to dinner with Emma’s family.

The Oldest Multicultural Easter Picture Book

The Egg TreeThe oldest multicultural Easter picture book I could find was The Egg Tree, by Katherine Milhous. The book, which shows a Pennsylvania Dutch Easter, is the only Easter book ever to have received a Caldecott Medal. On that basis alone, it belongs in every collection of Easter books. But I’ll have to admit I’m not crazy about it; the story seems fragmented, and the illustrations are uninspiring.

Russian Easter Stories

Russian storiesThe next three books are modern fairy tales set in Russia during the Easter season.

Marushka’s Egg, by Elsa Okon Real, isn’t really an Easter story. It’s a Baba Yaga story, complete with the hut on chicken legs. But it begins on Easter morning, with Marushka going to the market to buy an egg for her mother’s Easter bread.

The Magic Babushka, by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes, also features a Russian witch. But this is a good witch, the shape shifter Baba Babochka. (As far as I know, Baba Babochka is Tildes’s creation. But she certainly has the feel of a folk character.) The story is filled with pysanky eggs, the tsarina’s court, and magic. Oh, and love.

In Rechenka’s Eggs, by Patricia Polacco, an old woman, Babushka, lives alone in a cozy house full of warm rugs and warm quilts. She has icons on the wall and tea in her cup. She keeps herself busy in the long winter nights by making pysanky eggs. When a goose is injured by hunters, Babushka takes her in and names her Rechenka. Babushka cares for Rechenka until it’s time for the Easter festival, and time for Rechenka to fly away. But there are miracles to see before Rechenka leaves.

Diverse Easter Books for the Youngest Readers

books for youngestAll four of these books feature simple rhyming text and standard Easter conventions.

Bunny Day is a sturdy board book with photos of happy babies with flowery hats, jelly beans, Easter eggs, and bunnies. Most of the little ones in the book are white, but it does include black children, and one Asian child on the cover. The photographer is Michael Scott; the writer is Pascale Lapin (but you have to read the copyright notice on the back of the book to find the writer’s name!)

Easter Sparkling Surprise is a board book by Elizabeth Spurr. The story follows a black girl and a red-headed boy on an Easter egg hunt. As the title suggests, it has lots of sparkle on the illustrations. An almost painful amount of sparkle, in fact. The girl wears pink and purple; the boy wears green and beige. I imagine this book would delight most three-year-olds.

Painted Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies (with text by Toni Trent Parker and photographs by Earl Anderson) is printed on card stock, and has a padded cover. It’s not quite a board book, but sturdier than a regular book. Like Bunny Day, it features photos of happy little ones. But the children in Painted Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies are preschoolers, not babies. And every single one of them is black.

Easter by Mirian Nerlove shows a black family celebrating Easter with an Easter egg hunt, church, and Easter dinner with the extended family. When the family goes to church, there’s a four-page digression that tells of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

About Charlotte Riggle

IMG_2688_pp_blueCharlotte Riggle is a picture book author who lives near a volcano, loves multicultural books, and writes every morning on the train. Her first book, Catherine’s Pascha, was a finalist in the USA Best Books Award in 2015. Her second book, The Saint Nicholas Day Snow, will be out later this year. You can find reviews of all the books she’s mentioned in this story on her website, and you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Weekly Bookish News: Week of 4/3/17

WeeklyBookishNewsImage

As always, this is a duplicate of the newsletter I send my K-12 school district staff every Friday morning ~ a short and sweet round-up of literacy news and happenings that caught my eye, along with a few books to highlight and my elementary read alouds for the week. If you want to know about ALL the middle grade, YA and adult books I read, please hit me up on Goodreads! That’s where you’ll find the good, the bad and the ugly. All picture books are on my Instagram

Favorites from around the web

Without School Librarians, We’re on a Dystopian Path – Chicago Tribune Opinion piece

Teen Readers Share the Last Book They Loved – Barnes and Noble blog

Daily poems from author Jason Reynolds for Poetry Month

Mr. Schu’s Picks for Best of 2017 – Pinterest Board of picture and middle grade books

7 Books to Read During Sexual Assault Awareness Month – Penguin Teen

6 Must-Read YA’s Starring Muslim Protagonists – Barnes and Noble blog

A few books to highlight

Oops Pounce Quick Run: An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy – award-winning picture book for primary grades

Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman – funny picture book by the author of Wolfie the Bunny – NEW to my library

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander (and many others) – NEW excellent picture/poetry book

King of the Bench: No Fear – NEW middle grade (for fans of Timmy Failure and Diary of a Wimpy Kid)

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon – read this excellent YA before the movie comes out in May!

Elementary Read Alouds for the Week

Grade Book 1 Book 2
4K I Am (Not) Scared by Anna Kang
K And then It’s Spring AND Egg Fletcher and the Springtime Blossoms by Julia Rawlinson
K Oops Pounce Quick Run by Mike Twohy They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
1 Froggy Rides a Bike by Jonathan London Oops Pounce Quick Run AND Egg
2 Egg by Kevin Henkes Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
3 TESTING
4 Booktalk new Bad Kitty books
5 Famous by Naomi Shihab Nye

YA Reviews: Week of April 3, 2017

This week welcomes some excellent new YA titles to the world! Of all the advance reader copies for this week’s releases that I read, these are my favorites…………reviews below:

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Get it Together, Delilah by Erin Gough (Chronicle Books, April 4, 2017)

Get It Together DelilahI’ll start with this being on Barnes and Noble’s “23 of Our Most Anticipated LGBTQA YA Books of 2017” list. Then I’ll add in that it was originally published (titled “The Flywheel”) in Australia in 2014 to much acclaim. This already sets it up as one to look for! This is an intensely readable book, one that you will just fly through, although that would be my only issue with the book as well – it’s a little shorter than I would have liked. Although the characters were well-developed, I wouldn’t have minded MORE of them. More backstory, more information about Delilah’s discovery of her sexuality from a younger age, more on her parents’ marriage earlier on. All the events of the book are laid out well, and the account of the bullying in school and her counselor’s reaction just made my heart break. The bullying depicted in this story make it so apparent why a student in Delilah’s situation might in fact drop out of school. The romance between Delilah and Rosa is as sweet and tender as any YA romance I have read. Highly recommend for all school library collections. Stated as Grades 9 and up, but I would be okay with younger – only some minor sexual content.

Here is the official book description:

Seventeen-year-old Delilah Green wouldn’t have chosen to do her last year of school this way, but she figures it’s working fine. While her dad goes on a trip to fix his broken heart after her mom left him for another man, Del manages the family cafe. Easy, she thinks. But what about homework? Or the nasty posse of mean girls making her life hell? Or her best friend who won’t stop guilt-tripping her? Or her other best friend who might go to jail for love if Del doesn’t do something? But really, who cares about any of that when all Del can think about is beautiful Rosa who dances every night across the street. . . . Until one day Rosa comes in the cafe door. And if Rosa starts thinking about Del, too, then how in the name of caramel milkshakes will Del get the rest of it together?

I received a digital ARC of this title for review- all opinions are my own.

At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summers (Bloomsbury SPARK, April 4, 2017)

AtFirstBlushLet’s start this with a plea to Bloomsbury Spark to get this ebook into paper publishing ASAP – I guarantee it would be a huge hit in my high school library! I would hand it to every single girl who loves the “Anna and the French Kiss” series by Stephanie Perkins, as well as the Morgan Matson et al fans. It is compared to The Devil Wears Prada in the blurb, and I completely concur. As an adult reader who adores Lauren Weisenberger, Sophie Kinsella and other frothy, feel-good chick lit, I was completely captured by this story and fully appreciated the timeliness of the YouTube, vlogging, Instagram and Twitter storylines. That’s happening NOW, and as I just read in a piece about YA lit being the genre to change the world, YA can be NOW much more easily than adult lit can. Yes, technology may change in the near(ish) future, but YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter are not going to be dying soon enough that this book won’t enjoy a few hot-selling years on the shelves before Summer gets her next book out. The main character in this book, Lacey, is a tech-savvy female YouTube sensation and shows an amazing amount of tech skills, emotional strength and moral fortitude in this story ~ these are the characters we want teen girls to see and read! While this isn’t necessarily a hard-hitting piece of social journalism, it truly IS a snapshot of teen culture today that wrestles with the line between social media and true selves and the need to balance these. I read this book in less than 24 hours and would love to be able to get it into my library, but for now will just tell students about it and tell them to spend the $3.82 it costs on Kindle right now…….if they will be willing to read it in digital. I hope they will, but I also hope it gets put into a gorgeous shimmery pink trade paperback version sooner than later.

Here is the official book description:

Finding the perfect lip gloss? Easy.
Finding your way in the world? A whole lot harder . . .

Who would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject, musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

Fans of Zoella’s Girl Online will fall right into the world of this YA The Devil Wears Prada and stay hooked from the first blush to the last glossy kiss.

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold (Carolrhoda Lab TM, April 1st 2017)

WhatGirlsAreMadeOfPICWhat Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold is hands-down the most feminist book I have ever read. And the most unflinchingly graphic YA book I have ever read. There are pages and pages of quotes I would love to share that just cut to the feminist core, but technically I can’t share them here because I read an uncorrected proof of the book. Once I get a final copy, I will update to share some of them!

This is the one and only book I have read that talks about every single thing that we (speaking as a parent, teacher and librarian) like to pretend that teen girls don’t think about or do, but if we think back to our time as teens………we thought about and possibly did as well. We just didn’t have this exquisite/disgusting, beautiful/disturbing, truthful/magical book to read to articulate the thoughts we had about entering womanhood and all the inequities and contradictions involved in that rite of passage. The magical realism stories between chapters are strange and disturbing, but at the same time incredibly symbolic and poetic. As the mother-daughter relationship got more and more complex as the past was revealed, I realized there was never once (that I can recall) a interaction between Nina and her father. Telling to be sure. Descriptions of virgin martyrs and twisted tales of saints are blended in throughout the story, including horrifying stories told to Nina as a child by her mother, leading readers to understand just why Nina may be the Nina she became. I appreciated the message of service and cried at the descriptions of the impossibility of unconditional love (which I disagree with, by the way).

As I wrestled with and appreciated the extremely blunt and graphic language (including detailed naming of reproductive organs and descriptions of orgasms and an abortion) within this book, I was attempting to decide whether or not I could place “What Girls Are Made Of” in my high school library…….and then I remembered that I bought and read and handed “Asking for It” by Louise O’Neill to senior girls. Because it was amazing and it won a huge award this year. And if I could hand that book to high school kids, I can hand this book to young adults. Mature ones. Is this YA like Sarah Dessen is YA? No. But neither is Angie Thomas and THUG is winning every star and award out there. And high schoolers are lining up to read it. Would I hand this to middle school girls? Not necessarily, but I’d be fine with my own daughter reading it in middle school.

What Girls Are Made Of deserves awards, even if adult readers like to think girls like these don’t exist. They do. They are ALL girls.

Here is the official book description:

When Nina Faye was fourteen, her mother told her there was no such thing as unconditional love. Nina believed her. Now she’ll do anything for the boy she loves, to prove she’s worthy of him. But when he breaks up with her, Nina is lost. What is she if not a girlfriend? What is she made of? Broken-hearted, Nina tries to figure out what the conditions of love are.

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC of this book for review – all opinions are my own.

Speed of Life by Carol Weston (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, April 4, 2017)

speedoflifePICReading Sofia’s story brought me instantly back to my days of pouring over YM and Seventeen magazines in the early 90s ~ all of the angst and uncertainty combined with absolute hope that growing up would make life easier, and that magazines and advice columns could decode the entire process. This book is about grief, to be sure, but it’s at the same time an incredibly happy book, as Sofia manages to miss and remember her mom so poignantly while finally experiencing a whole new life. I loved the authenticity the author’s educational background in Spanish brought to the story, and Sofia’s connection to her and her mother’s shared Spanish heritage gave the story additional depth. Growing up, death, divorce and moving on are all difficult topics, but Weston manages to write them in a way that leaves readers smiling and hopeful. VERDICT: Highly recommended for grades 6-10.

Here is the official book description:

Sofia lost her mother eight months ago, and her friends were 100% there for her. Now it’s a new year and they’re ready for Sofia to move on.

Problem is, Sofia can’t bounce back, can’t recharge like a cellphone. She decides to write Dear Kate, an advice columnist for Fifteen Magazine, and is surprised to receive a fast reply. Soon the two are exchanging emails, and Sofia opens up and spills all, including a few worries that are totally embarrassing. Turns out even advice columnists don’t have all the answers, and one day Sofia learns a secret that flips her world upside down.

SPEED OF LIFE is the heartbreaking, heartwarming story of a girl who thinks her life is over when really it’s just beginning. It’s a novel about love, family, grief, and growing up.

Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.