Reviews: April Adult Reads Part 2

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The rest of my adult reads for the month of April 2017 ~ I had to break it up this month because there are so. many. books! Read Part 1 HERE

Now, get your cup of coffee………and settle in to meet some new books!

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.

TheUndateableThe Undateable: Librarians in Love #1 by Sarah Title
(Zebra Shout MMP – Feb 28, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

One San Francisco librarian would rather check out a good romance than dare to experience it herself. Luckily, her own next chapter is full of surprises…

Melissa “Bernie” Bernard isn’t familiar with fame. After all, she works at a college library with hardly any visitors. But when a video of a marriage proposal in her stacks goes viral, it’s not the bride and groom who capture the Internet’s attention. It’s Bernie—caught rolling her eyes. Now, just as she’s ready to go into hiding and permanently bury her nose in a book, a handsome reporter appears with a proposal of his own…

If Colin Rodriguez doesn’t do something big to attract new readers, his boss will hire someone else to dole out dating advice. Determined to prove he’s an expert at romance—despite his own pitiful track record—he pitches a story: He will find dates for the undateable. Specifically, for the now-infamous, love‑hating librarian at Richmond College.

Even though Bernie doesn’t believe in happily-ever-afters, she’s not one to resist a good challenge. Yet with one disastrous date after another, she’s ready to give up. Until Colin proves he’ll do anything to find her the perfect match—even if it means putting himself up for the role…

OPINION: 4/5

How could a librarian like me not love this book? A fun, witty, sweet modern romance with enough sass and librarian-ness to make it different than most. Can’t wait for the next book in the series!

I purchased this book from Amazon.

TheFifthLetterThe Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
(William Morris – January 24, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: 

Nicola Moriarty makes her US debut with this stunning page-turner for fans of Jojo Moyes, Emily Griffin, Kate Morton, and Jessica Knoll, about four best friends on a relaxing vacation that turns devastating when old secrets are revealed, long-held grudges surface, and a shattering betrayal is discovered that shakes the foundation of their lives.

Best friends from high school, Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina had always looked forward to the vacations they spent together. But the demands of careers, husbands, and babies gradually pulled them apart, and now their annual getaways may be a thing of the past. Joni doesn’t want to lose her friends, and this year she’s coaxed them all back together for some fun at a beach house.

Late on a laughter and wine-filled night, the women dare one another to write anonymous letters, spilling her most intimate thoughts like they did as teenagers. But the fun game meant to bring them closer together turns painfully serious, exposing cracks in their lives and their relationships. Each letter is a confession revealing disturbing information. A rocky marriage. A harrowing addiction. A hidden pregnancy. A heartbreaking diagnosis.

Days later, Joni notices something in the fireplace—a crumpled and partially burned fifth letter that holds the most shattering admission of all. 

Best friends are supposed to keep your darkest secrets. But the revelations Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina have shared will have unforeseen consequences . . . and none of them will ever be the same.

OPINION: 4/5

I listened to the audio version of this book from Audible and really enjoyed it. Friendship, secrets, love and intrigue – this light and fast-paced book has it all! I didn’t know Liane Moriarty had author sisters, but she DOES! Nicola is the youngest and she also has another book coming in 2018 that I already marked as TBR in Goodreads. Regarding the audio version from Audible, I also have listened to (rather than read with my eyes) every one of Liane Moriarty’s books and there is just something about the Australian accent in the narration that make me love them even more….this book was the same in that regard. Recommended for anyone who likes LM’s books!

I used one of my Audible subscription credits for this book, paid for with my own funds.

slightly south of simpleSlightly South of Simple by Kristy Woodson Harvey
(Gallery Books – April 25, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION: 

Caroline Murphy swore she’d never set foot back in the small Southern town of Peachtree Bluff; she was a New York girl born and bred and the worst day of her life was when, in the wake of her father’s death, her mother selfishly forced her to move—during her senior year of high school, no less—back to that hick-infested rat trap where she’d spent her childhood summers. But now that her marriage to a New York high society heir has fallen apart in a very public, very embarrassing fashion, a pregnant Caroline decides to escape the gossipmongers with her nine-year-old daughter and head home to her mother, Ansley.

Ansley has always put her three daughters first, especially when she found out that her late husband, despite what he had always promised, left her with next to nothing. Now the proud owner of a charming waterfront design business and finally standing on her own two feet, Ansley welcomes Caroline and her brood back with open arms. But when her second daughter Sloane, whose military husband is overseas, and youngest daughter and successful actress Emerson join the fray, Ansley begins to feel like the piece of herself she had finally found might be slipping from her grasp. Even more discomfiting, when someone from her past reappears in Ansley’s life, the secret she’s harbored from her daughters their entire lives might finally be forced into the open.

Exploring the powerful bonds between sisters and mothers and daughters, this engaging novel is filled with Southern charm, emotional drama, and plenty of heart.

OPINION: 2/5

While this is most definitely marketed as, and is, a summer beach read, it’s not one I’d necessarily recommend when there are so, so, so many great ones in this category. My main issue with this book is the almost nonstop comments about weight and appearances, none of which are necessary to the storyline. The characters would be much more likable if these comments weren’t in the story, and for me, they completely overshadow the positive aspects of the book. I have a major soapbox to stand on regarding body positivity and acceptance, and the characters in this book are not people I would ever allow in my life, Caroline in particular. Ansley also includes comments about weight in her dialogue, and also includes a thought about Caroline’s breastfeeding and how she’s glad she never needed to do it because it wasn’t a think when she had children, and questioning the health benefits to the baby (another soapbox issue of mine).

All of this put together means I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to like this book as much as I had hoped to, but will be willing to try future books in the series and will hope that all of the snotty fat-shaming has disappeared from the dialogue in those books.

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

TheMothThe Moth Presents: All These Wonders
(Crown Archetype – March 21, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

From storytelling phenomenon The Moth, 45 unforgettable true stories about risk, courage, and facing the unknown, drawn from the best ever told on their stages
Carefully selected by the creative minds at The Moth, and adapted to the page to preserve the raw energy of live storytelling, All These Wonders features voices both familiar and new. Alongside Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, John Turturro, and Meg Wolitzer, readers will encounter: an astronomer gazing at the surface of Pluto for the first time, an Afghan refugee learning how much her father sacrificed to save their family, a hip-hop star coming to terms with being a one-hit wonder, a young female spy risking everything as part of Churchill’s secret army during World War II, and more.
High-school student and neuroscientist alike, the storytellers share their ventures into uncharted territory and how their lives were changed indelibly by what they discovered there. With passion, and humor, they encourage us all to be more open, vulnerable, and alive.”

OPINION: 5/5

Imagine every single amazing short story you have ever read, all compiled in one book…..and they are all TRUE!  I have been slowly savoring this book since I received it in March and I finally allowed myself to finish it. I love The Moth podcast and The Moth Radio Hour, so I knew what to expect from this book, but I’m still blown away. There is every kind of story possible here, from a concentration camp survivor to the author Jane Green recalling a rocky time in her marriage, humanitarian rescues from a refugee camp in Africa to author Meg Wolitzer telling how she met her best friend. This book is one I want to return to many times in the future.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

TheFWordThe F Word by Liza Palmer
(Flatiron Books – April 25, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

At once a funny, whip-smart sendup of Los Angeles culture and an irresistible love story, internationally bestselling author Liza Palmer’s The F Word is a novel about how sometimes who we become isn t who we really are.

We re all pushing some version of the life we want you to believe. It s all just PR.

Olivia Morten is perfect. Maybe her high-flying publicist job has taken over her life, but her clients are Los Angeles’ hottest celebrities. Maybe her husband is never around, but he is a drop-dead-gorgeous, successful doctor. Maybe her friends are dumb, but they know how to look glamorous at a cocktail party. And maybe her past harbors an incredibly embarrassing secret, but no one remembers high school right?

When Ben Dunn, Olivia s high school arch nemesis and onetime crush, suddenly resurfaces, Olivia realizes how precarious all of her perfection is. As she finds herself dredging up long-suppressed memories from her past, she is forced to confront the most painful truth of all: maybe she used to be the fat girl, but she used to be happy, too.

OPINION: 4/5

A fiercely real, funny and feminist story for any woman who realizes that food is glorious and happiness has nothing to do whatsoever to size or appearance. For those of us who have struggled to find or regain our sense of self and self love in this messed up world of diets, fanatic exercise, plastic surgery and a filtered portrayal to the masses. I really enjoyed this story and highlighted about 15 different passages that resonated with me. I found this book fantastically freeing.

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

ImpossibleFortressThe Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
(Simon & Schuster – February 7, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

A dazzling debut novel—at once a charming romance and a moving coming-of-age story—about what happens when a fourteen-year old boy pretends to seduce a girl to steal a copy of Playboy but then discovers she is his computer-loving soulmate.

Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.

Do you remember your first love?

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.

The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

OPINION: 4/5

As a completely nerdy child of the ’80s, I loved this book. This one is for those of us who remember playing LOGO as the only game available in the computer lab in elementary school, the ones who typed on typewriters as a hobby, and the ones who have at least once in their lives forgotten to eat, sleep or shower because of a coding problem. While I have never come close to the level of coding in this book, I can appreciate the obsessive nature of it and loved how imperfect Will was. Did he do stupid things? Totally. Was he a 14-year-old boy? Yes. Do those things naturally go together? Of course. I loved the wholehearted geekiness of this book and bow down to Rekulak for making Mary the better coder of the two main characters. This was a very fast read, and one that I won’t soon forget.

This was one of my April picks from Book of the Month Club, which I pay for. 

ChoicesWeMakeThe Choices We Make by Karma Brown
(Mira – July 12, 2016)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

Following her bestselling debut novel Come Away with Me, Karma Brown returns with an unforgettable story that explores the intricate dynamics between friends and mothers

Hannah and Kate became friends in the fifth grade, when Hannah hit a boy for looking up Kate’s skirt with a mirror. While they’ve been close as sisters ever since, Hannah can’t help but feel envious of the little family Kate and her husband, David, have created—complete with two perfect little girls.

She and Ben have been trying for years to have a baby, so when they receive the news that she will likely never get pregnant, Hannah’s heartbreak is overwhelming. But just as they begin to tentatively explore the other options, it’s Kate’s turn to do the rescuing. Not only does she offer to be Hannah’s surrogate, but Kate is willing to use her own eggs to do so.

Full of renewed hope, excitement and gratitude, these two families embark on an incredible journey toward parenthood…until a devastating tragedy puts everything these women have worked toward at risk of falling apart. Poignant and refreshingly honest, The Choices We Make is a powerful tale of two mothers, one incredible friendship and the risks we take to make our dreams come true.

OPINION: 5/5

This book ripped my heart out – I had tears running down my face for pretty much the entire second half, although the first half had a lot of heartbreak as well…….friendship, marriage, infertility, surrogacy, life and death decisions ~ this book has ALL of it. And it’s written in Karma Brown’s won’t-let-you-go style that has me anticipating her next book (COMING SOOOOOON!) just that much more! Her first book is still fresh in my brain, and this one won’t be letting go of me anytime soon. Required reading for fans of women’s emotional fiction.

I used one of my Audible subscription credits for this book, paid for with my own funds.

AnythingisPossibleAnything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
(Random House – April 25, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout comes a brilliant latticework of fiction that recalls Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity. Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout s work.

“As I was writing My Name Is Lucy Barton,” Strout says, “it came to me that all the characters Lucy and her mother talked about had their own stories—of course!—and so the unfolding of their lives became tremendously important to me.”

Here, among others, are the “Pretty Nicely Girls,” now adults: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband, the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. Tommy, the janitor at the local high school, has his faith tested in an encounter with an emotionally isolated man he has come to help; a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD discovers unexpected solace in the company of a lonely innkeeper; and Lucy Barton’s sister, Vicky, struggling with feelings of abandonment and jealousy, nonetheless comes to Lucy’s aid, ratifying the deepest bonds of family.

With the stylistic brilliance and subtle power that distinguish the work of this great writer, Elizabeth Strout has created another transcendent work of fiction, with characters who will live in readers’ imaginations long after the final page is turned.

OPINION: 5/5

Stunningly crafted collection of linked stories that can best be described as riveting, meandering, and shocking. These stories are all based on characters from Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton (which somehow I missed reading) but the book is 100% capable of standing alone, as evidenced by my 5-stars. I wavered between 4 and 5 since so often while reading I was cringing and being flustered at the rawness of what I was reading, but Strout’s ability to capture the darkness of the human character is outstanding. I just don’t always WANT to know this darkness, which is why I understand this book won’t be for everyone.

Not a beach read, not a nicely wrapped book of happiness, but a book that makes you think and one that will linger in your mind. Strout is a literary fiction master.

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

StartupStartup by Doree Shafrir
(Little, Brown – April 25, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running and may turn his brainchild into a $1 billion dollar business–in startup parlance, an elusive unicorn.

Katya Pasternack is hungry for a scoop that will drive traffic. An ambitious young journalist at a gossipy tech blog, Katya knows that she needs more than another PR friendly puff piece to make her the go-to byline for industry news.

Sabrina Choe Blum just wants to stay afloat. The exhausted mother of two and failed creative writer is trying to escape from her credit card debt and an inattentive husband-who also happens to be Katya’s boss-as she rejoins a work force that has gotten younger, hipper, and much more computer literate since she’s been away.

Before the ink on Mack’s latest round of funding is dry, an errant text message hints that he may be working a bit too closely for comfort with a young social media manager in his office. When Mack’s bad behavior collides with Katya’s search for a salacious post, Sabrina gets caught in the middle as TakeOff goes viral for all the wrong reasons. As the fallout from Mack’s scandal engulfs the lower Manhattan office building where all three work, it’s up to Katya and Sabrina to write the story the men in their lives would prefer remain untold.

An assured, observant debut from the veteran online journalist Doree Shafrir, Startup is a sharp, hugely entertaining story of youth, ambition, love, money and technology’s inability to hack human nature.

OPINION: 3/5

Startup is an engaging tech-y read that sucked me in and kept me glued to the page. As a geek who reads a lot about startups and the tech world, I really enjoyed the storyline. I especially liked the discussion of women in tech and lack of minority representation – this is all real, and there are numerous reports out showing what an issue it is. All of that led to my 3 stars, but what kept me from adding more is the “now” of it – given the speed at which tech moves, this book will be outdated in less than a year. An example of an excellent book that is tech-y about social media, etc, is The Circle by Dave Eggers – by NOT naming company/app names, you can keep a book relevant for much longer. I liked the “older”-in-tech view from Sabrina, which was reminiscent of the movie “The Intern” (which I loved) and is also something I have seen elsewhere. As a 36-year-old mom, I also could relate to Sabrina’s storyline more than anyone else’s in the book.

I appreciate that Safrir is writing from a place she knows dearly, and do not question the authenticity of her experiences – I just wish she could have made the story more timeless. And writing about this story online is actually making me feel incredibly meta 😉

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

MarlenaMarlena by Julie Buntin
(Henry Holt – April 4, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

An electric debut novel about love, addiction, and loss; the story of two girls and the feral year that will cost one her life, and define the other’s for decades

Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blond hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts—first drink, first cigarette, first kiss—while Marlena’s habits harden and calcify. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now, decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.

Alive with an urgent, unshakable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull oneself back from the brink.

OPINION: 4/5

Marlena combines all of my nightmares about children living with addiction and sexual abuse and poverty and neglect and wraps them all up into the most unforgettable and depressing book I have read in a long time. Honestly, I quit reading this book 5 different times, but forced myself to finish because 1) it was a Book of the Month title and I wanted to do it justice and 2) I had read many rave reviews and needed to find out for myself why others were raving.

I’m very happy I did finish this book, because Buntin did an excellent job of portraying addiction and meth and an aptly described “feral year” without in any way glamorizing it or tying it all up with a happy ending. For the masses of Americans living in the exact way described in this book (lives I have small glimpses into as a public school librarian), this is a heartbreaking testimonial to their reality. For those lucky enough to have escaped the horrors of addiction, this is one of the most powerful empathy-building books I have ever read. I withheld the 5th star because I reserve those for books I want everyone I know to read, and I really don’t want to purposefully inflict the misery I endured while experiencing this story. I look forward to reading more of Buntin’s books in the future – she is a masterful writer.

This was one of my April picks from Book of the Month Club, which I pay for. 


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 4/24/17

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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

Also, a last minute addition that wasn’t in my district newsletter – just a note that my latest School Library Journal Review is online now as part of the May 2017 XPress Middle Grade roundup – it’s for a middle grade novel titled The Test. I am not allowed to post the text of those reviews anywhere, so follow that link if you are interested in seeing the review!

Favorites from around the web:

A few books to highlight:

We’re All Wonders by RJ Palacio – new picture book companion to the classic “Wonder”

Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – new picture book perfect for introducing fiction writing & storytelling

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson – new middle grade mystery with a main character who has severe OCD

Bang by Barry Lyga – new provocative YA novel about learning to live with your worst mistake

Elementary Read Alouds for the Week

Grade Book 1 Book 2
4K Goodnight Numbers by Danica McKellar
K Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer
1 Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Dusky Rinker Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer
2 Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds Otis and the Tornado by Loren Long
3 Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds One by Kathryn Otoshi
4 Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds 3 Wishes for Pugman by Sebastian Meschenmoser
5 Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds Booktalk One Last Word by Nikki Grimes

Nerdy Book Club: #ownvoices, Windows and Mirrors

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Big News! I have another post on The Nerdy Book Club blog right now ~ head on over and check it out! It’s about #ownvoices and windows and mirrors in young adult books, as related to the new YA novels American Street, Piecing Me Together and The Hate U Give.

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Hope you enjoy it!

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 4/25/17

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A round up of an amazing new YA release this week, plus some great backlist!

Between Two Skies by Joanne O’Sullivan (Candlewick – April 25, 2017)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

Hurricane Katrina sets a teenage girl adrift. But a new life — and the promise of love — emerges in this rich, highly readable debut.

Bayou Perdu, a tiny fishing town way, way down in Louisiana, is home to sixteen-year-old Evangeline Riley. She has her best friends, Kendra and Danielle; her wise, beloved Mamere; and back-to-back titles in the under-sixteen fishing rodeo. But, dearest to her heart, she has the peace that only comes when she takes her skiff out to where there is nothing but sky and air and water and wings. It’s a small life, but it is Evangeline’s. And then the storm comes, and everything changes. Amid the chaos and pain and destruction comes Tru — a fellow refugee, a budding bluesman, a balm for Evangeline’s aching heart. Told in a strong, steady voice, with a keen sense of place and a vivid cast of characters, here is a novel that asks compelling questions about class and politics, exile and belonging, and the pain of being cast out of your home. But above all, this remarkable debut tells a gently woven love story, difficult to put down, impossible to forget.

OPINION:

One of my favorite YA titles of the year.

I have always been fascinated by the city of New Orleans and the area surrounding it, and am forever changed by seeing the devastation Katrina caused the entire coastal area. I remember so clearly exactly what I was doing when the news of Hurricane Katrina came, when we heard what was coming toward the Gulf Coast in August 2005. I was hugely pregnant and home with my husband and his high school best friend, who had lived in New Orleans for years and was visiting his parents near us in Wisconsin. We watched the TV coverage non-stop and spent so much time with our friend as he was displaced from his longtime home. We experienced the “Katrina-refugee” story through him, a 30-something affluent single adult who was fortunate enough to have a safe and comfortable place to live while the storm raged and the clean-up took place. We listened to him as he told us about his friends and their stories, and looked at the pictures he sent us of his house and the ravaged places we had visited when we went to see him several years before. We returned to New Orleans several years later to attend his wedding, and marveled at the rebuilding that had brought the city back to a semblance of normal, but mourned the loss of so much else.

I have read numerous books about Katrina and post-Katrina Louisiana, but I have never before read a book about Katrina from a teenager’s perspective. I am so very happy that when I did, it was this one. Evangeline captured my heart and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished the book, less than 18 hours later. I first heard about this title from a post by the author on the Nerdy Book Club blog, and immediately requested it from Net Galley to review for my library. I am so happy to have had the additional insight from the author during that pre-reading experience, and thoroughly agree with her that “stories that place the intricacies of the heart at their center” have a place on the shelves. “Between Two Skies” is the perfect story to explain the horrors of Katrina and the beauty of the bayou to a generation of teens who barely remember the tragedy, or who have never visited this area of the US – much like stories like “Nine, Ten” and “Towers Falling” bring the horror of 9/11 told through a sensitive lens to a new generation. These stories need to be told, and YA and middle grade fiction is how these stories will best reach children of today and tomorrow.

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

Wishing Day by Lauren Myracle (Harper Collins ~ May 1, 2016)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

On the third night of the third month after a girl’s thirteenth birthday, every girl in the town of Willow Hill makes three wishes.

The first wish is an impossible wish.
The second is a wish she can make come true herself.
And the third is the deepest wish of her secret heart.

Natasha is the oldest child in a family steeped in magic, though she’s not sure she believes in it. She’s full to bursting with wishes, however. She misses her mother, who disappeared nearly eight long years ago. She has a crush on one of the cutest boys in her class, and she thinks maybe it would be nice if her very first kiss came from him. And amid the chaos of a house full of sisters, aunts, and a father lost in grief, she aches to simply be…noticed.

So Natasha goes to the willow tree at the top of the hill on her Wishing Day, and she makes three wishes. What unfolds is beyond anything she could have imagined.

OPINION:

A magical middle grade story that is perfect for readers looking for just a little bit of magic, a little bit of sadness, a little bit of romance, and a little bit of suspense. I really enjoyed this story and know it will be a hit in my libraries with students in grades 4 – 7. Those students who love realistic fiction, but aren’t always wanting the gritty reality being written about so much now. Those students who like magic, but don’t want JUST magic. Oh, and the COVER! This is one of my all-time favorite middle grade covers – it’s just gorgeous. I really appreciated the depression storyline and the sweet and innocent romance/crush angle. The family dynamics were touching and Natasha was a well-developed character. The ending was abrupt, but that is often the case in a story that is designed as the first in a series. I can’t wait to read Darya’s story in the next book in this trilogy!

The publisher donated this book to my library for review – all opinions are my own.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg (Chronicle Books – September 9, 2014)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

Originally published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2013, under the title, My Life as an Alphabet. Candice Phee isn’t a typical twelve-year-old girl. She has more than her fair share of quirks, but she also has the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to make sure everyone around her is happy. That includes you. Because you’ll laugh out loud reading this charming, lovable novel. Candice’s task is no easy feat when she’s dealing with a pet fish with an identity crisis, a friend who believes he came from another dimension, an age-old family feud, and a sick mom. But she is on a mission! Her methods might be unique, but Candice will do whatever it takes to restore order to her world and make sure everyone is absolutely, categorically happy again.

OPINION:

Candice Phee is just as quirky as this book is, and I love them both. I really enjoyed the way the book was organized into chapters for Candice’s alphabetical autobiography project – that was a first for me. The part that made me the happiest about this book, however, is how twice Candice is referred to as being autistic or on the spectrum and she just responds with “I’m me”. That makes me so happy! Her parents are so imperfect and their emotions (and mother’s depression) are so raw – that part of the story will hit home for many readers. In spite of that, there were so many parts of the book that made me laugh out loud – a great balance. I wouldn’t say that this book is for every middle grade reader, and I would definitely trend older or least toward more mature readers with my recommendations simply due to the vocabulary and all of Douglas’ talk of multiple dimensions and tesseracts. I believe the last time I even saw the word tesseract was when I read “A Wrinkle in Time” in 5th grade, and would definitely recommend this book fans of that series. Also recommended for anyone who loves stories about not fitting in and being true to oneself.  This is a quick, very satisfying read. **Note: the only thing I did NOT like about this book is the use of the “R” word used multiple times by a classmate taunting Candice. While it is recognized in the story as being unkind, I’d prefer not to see the word in print.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed (Nancy Paulsen Books – March 24, 2015)

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION:

This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?
 
Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

OPINION:

Absolutely riveting and sobering story of a Pakistani-American family and an arranged marriage, set in both Florida and Pakistan. My heart ached for Naila the entire time I was reading. This is a must-read not just for YA fans, but for anyone looking for (or needing) a window into this culture. One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the author’s note in the back pages about the impetus for this book, and the reality of arranged-by-force marriages even within the US, including resources listed for organizations to help women in this situation. Saeed, as a founder of We Need Diverse Books, is an incredibly important figure in literature. Just added Love, Inshallah (a story collection she contributed to) to my TBR shelf.


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!

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!

First Nerdy Book Club Post

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Big News! I have a post on The Nerdy Book Club blog right now ~ head on over and check it out! It’s all about great picture book series for read-alouds and what grades I use them with in my library. Hope you enjoy it!


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.