The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper


The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
(William Morrow – September 5, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeously-written required reading for fans of LITTLE WOMEN, THE OTHER ALCOTT is the “rest of the story” we have all been waiting for since childhood.

Thanks to the author for providing me with an advance copy of this novel for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

There are two types of people in this world – those who have read Little Women, and those who haven’t. And there isn’t a category for those who have read but didn’t love it, because those people simply don’t exist! For all of us in the first category, THE OTHER ALCOTT takes us into the “real” (but fictionalized by Hooper) adult world of the Alcotts, where Louisa is seeing success from the publication of LITTLE WOMEN (although she resents having to write such juvenile fare) and her younger sister May is desperate to be independent and work on her budding career as an artist. She isn’t happy about Louisa using her as a basis for the character of Amy and is reeling from critical reviews of her drawings in LW. May is the narrator of this novel, which takes us from 1868 to 1880 and is a sweeping epic including travel throughout England and Europe.

I can honestly not believe that this is a debut title from Hooper – the research is absolutely breathtaking in its thoroughness and I actually messaged her asking if she is an artist because I couldn’t imagine anyone other than a professional artist being able to write about art the way she does. There is an excellent Afterword and Discussion with the Author telling of Hooper’s motivation for the book’s inception, as well as an incredible amount of detail about the real Alcotts and art during this time period. Hooper also tells us exactly how much of this story is based on fact and which parts have been embellished for the story. There is a Discussion Guide included as well.

I highly recommend this title to fans of LITTLE WOMEN (or those interested in literary and art life in the late 1800s), and I also think it will be a very popular book club selection. I also can envision it being a really fun read for a mother-daughter book club with daughters reading LW and mothers reading THE OTHER ALCOTT! Bravo to Hooper for this stunning debut.

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Patina by Jason Reynolds


Patina
by Jason Reynolds
(Atheneum/SimonKids – August 29, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A perfectly written follow up to Reynolds’ middle grade smash hit GHOST, this title is narrated by Patina, another member of the Defenders Track team.

Thank you to Atheneum/Simon Kids for providing me with a review copy of this book – all opinions are my own.

I’ll start by saying to please read GHOST first, or encourage the kids/students in your life to read GHOST first. Of course, you CAN read PATINA first, and the story won’t be ruined, but then GHOST will be ruined for you and I 100% guarantee you that after reading PATINA, you’ll want to have read GHOST. So, if you haven’t read it yet, go grab yourself a copy of GHOST, settle in, read it, then come back to PATINA.

In GHOST, Reynolds introduced readers to a middle school boy nicknamed Ghost, who ends up joining the Defenders track team. It is an excellent story – go read the summary and reviews of it – I gave it 5 stars. It ends with Ghost running a track race……and seriously just ENDS. You finish the book not knowing how the race ends, and it is excruciating!

Patina picks up where Ghost left off, with Ghost’s race. This time, however, Patty (Patina) is narrating the story as another member of the Defenders. I absolutely fell in love with Patina, maybe even more than I fell in love with Ghost. I’m not sure if it’s because as a female protagonist it’s easier to relate, or if Reynolds just wrote her so exquisitely that it was inevitable, but I LOVE this character. You learn quickly that her family life is pretty complicated and she’s struggling a bit to assimilate to a fancier school and living with her aunt and uncle. As she describes being a caretaker for both her sister and her mother (I won’t tell you why – go read the book!) I could relate to her even as a 30-something adult – caretaking is a universal issue and it is heartbreaking when kids have to fill that role.

Patty is achingly sincere and sweet, but she has a tough side that comes out as a defense in certain situations, sometimes getting her into trouble. As she tries to reconcile her new academy school with her old public school, and describes the neighborhoods in the city she lives in, readers can tell just how aware of class she is. Race too, for that matter. Patty ain’t no junk, as she says, but running may be the only way to prove that.

This series is required for middle grade libraries and classrooms – my students just loved Ghost last year and have been eagerly awaiting Patina’s story. When I took my own kids to see Reynolds speak at a local library last winter, they were SO excited to hear him talk about the continuation of the Defenders team story – I can’t wait to see who the next Track book is based on! And there had better be a next book since this one ends……….just like that.

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The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw
(Sky Pony Press – August 2016)

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book to #kidlitexchange for review purposes – all opinions are my own. I did already have a copy in my school library as well.

Haunting and impeccably written for a middle grade audience, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM is a required purchase for middle grade libraries and classrooms. This story follows 12-year-old Yuriko and her family in the time period surrounding and including the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima at the end of Word War II. In addition to the storyline involving the war and bombing, Burkinshaw has included storylines involving friends and family secrets that provide richness and entertainment. Burkinshaw draws on the true experiences of her mother’s experiences as a child in Hiroshima for this book, making it an even more unique and compelling story for young and adult readers alike. Included in the back pages are an afterword that explains the genesis of the book, as well as a glossary of the Japanese terms used throughout the story and a list of statistics about Hiroshima.

THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM would be an amazing middle grade read aloud, and has possibilities for countless lessons surrounding the topics in the book. Just one example of this is propaganda – included as chapter headings in the book are headlines from news stories and propaganda posters being used in the city during this time period – this information is also woven within the book and provides excellent backstory to the political situation in Japan during this time period.

Burkinshaw also has a discussion guide for the book that can be requested on her website and provides Skype visits to classes reading the book.

I can not recommend this book highly enough – Yuriko and her family will linger with readers as evidence of the impact of the horrific atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the true nature of the devastation on residents of the city and surrounding areas.

GIVEAWAY

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The author is hosting an amazing giveaway now as well – you can enter here! Winners will be chosen on Thursday, August 31 2017 (US and Canada addresses only).

 

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
(Algonquin – August 2014)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Description from Goodreads

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Review

Okay, so I’m not really going to review this – I’m just going to gush over it. I was told I HAD to read it by commenters on my Instagram post about Zevin’s latest title Young Jane Youngso I immediately got it from the library. And……….

I LOVE THIS BOOK SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO MUCH and want to give it 10 STARS. I read it in less than half a day. What the hell was I doing in 2013 when this was published??? This is my new absolute favorite book about books – I read a library copy and am now going to be purchasing myself a copy for my “forever” shelf. I love the characters, I love the setting, I love the amazing commentary on books and literature, I love the dry humor, I love the HEART, I just love it all. If you were as lost as I was and missed this book, go get it NOW.

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The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas


The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
(Flatiron – August 29, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning, sweeping, mind-bending – this is a doorstop of a novel that touches on the very deepest core of motherhood and womanhood, while simultaneously showcasing the best short stories I have ever read…….as part of the story.

Thanks to Flatiron for providing me with an advance copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

“I viewed the consumptive nature of love as a threat to serious women. But the wonderful man I just married believes as I do―work is paramount, absolutely no children―and now love seems to me quite marvelous.”

These words are spoken to a rapturous audience by Joan Ashby, a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories.

When Joan finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision then, to embrace her unintentional family.

Challenged by raising two precocious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made.

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story about sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens of expectation and genius. Cherise Wolas’s gorgeous debut introduces an indelible heroine candid about her struggles and unapologetic in her ambition.

Review

Honestly, when I think of this book, I think of Joan Ashby being the author. Which is insane, because Joan Ashby is the protagonist. But. Intellectually I understand that Cherise Wolas wrote this – I mean, I KNOW that. But Joan Ashby as an author within this book is so superbly talented and we are so deep inside her head and we read SO MUCH of her work within the book, that when I look for this book in stores and the library I will surely be looking under “ASH” and not “WOL”. And that, my friends is masterpiece. Wolas has managed to deliver us into a fictional reality that transcends the boundaries of ordinary fiction – I have stopped myself a few times from trying to add Ashby’s books to my TBR list in Goodreads or ordering them on Amazon.

But wait. There’s definitely more to this story than just Joan’s stories. There’s the most honest and cutting and brutal commentary on motherhood that I have ever read – a commentary that isn’t a comfortable one, but is one that I am so happy has been exposed. There’s also the look into the very essence of being a writer and needing “a room of one’s own” – and I can surely relate given that I am attempting to write this review while being interrupted by 3 children as I sit in in the middle of a house in which I do NOT have a room of my own! There is also betrayal. And a marriage. And travel. And self-discovery. And so many things I adored.

As you can see, I can’t really review this. I just loved it. I want to buy Joan’s books. Or maybe I need Wolas to just write so. much. more. Highly highly recommend to anyone who writes. Or who loves literary fiction. Or who is a mother. Or who has a mother. So, basically EVERYONE. Read. This. Book.

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Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz
(Starscape – August 29th, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful message about the the power of speaking up in this middle grade novel for book lovers and librarians!

Thanks to the author for providing me with an advance copy of this novel for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That’s when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate’s mom thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

Review

As a school librarian, I am surely more than a little prejudiced in loving this story so much – a story of a parent getting a huge number of books removed from the school library without following proper procedure because the school board is bending to her will. AND a story of a student fighting back by creating a library of banned books in her locker to share with her classmates. I love the storyline of Amy Anne struggling to find her voice and actually speak up about things that bothered her, and finding her place in her chaotic family.

I do wish that the story would have been based on 6th or 7th graders, however, rather than 4th graders, given the higher level of the text and the locker premise. I feel like the lockers would resonate more with the middle school crowd rather than elementary and increasing the age of the students would allow the story to be appreciated more fully by a much wider age range of students. This story would definitely be appreciated by middle schoolers, but due to the 4th grade setting, most will probably stay away. In addition, some of the racial references, while I understand their intention, felt a little clunky.

There is also a great Common Core-aligned discussion and activity guide included at the end of the book.

Highly recommended for school libraries and classrooms, and a definite read aloud for 4th and 5th grades.

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Cover Reveal for The Battle of Junk Mountain by Lauren Abbey Greenberg

I am so excited to get to host the cover reveal for this April 2018 middle grade novel by Lauren Abbey Greenberg!

The book sounds amazing and I can not WAIT to get to read it soon. 

About the Book

The Battle of Junk Mountain by Lauren Abbey Greenberg
(Running Press – April 2018)


Twelve-year-old Shayne Whittaker has always spent summers on the Maine coast, visiting her grandmother Bea and playing with her BFF Poppy. Both Shayne and Bea are treasure seekers, in their own ways: Bea trolls flea markets and garage sales for valuable finds, while Shayne revels in golden memories of gorging on lobster rolls, searching for sea glass, and weaving friendship bracelets with Poppy.

This summer, though, everything has changed. Poppy would rather talk about boys than bracelets, and Bea’s collecting mania has morphed into hoarding. Only Linc, the weird boy next door who is obsessed with the Civil War, seems to care about her. Turns out Linc’s coveting a treasure of his own. What begins as the worst summer of Shayne’s life becomes the most memorable as she learns when to hang on, when to let go, and how to find treasures in unexpected places.

About the Author

Lauren Abbey Greenberg was a freelance writer/producer for many years and worked on a ton of cool projects such as TV spots for Discovery Kids, educational videos for National Geographic, and a film for Mount Rushmore National Memorial. She is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and has written stories for Highlights for Children and Knowonder! She lives in Maryland with her husband, children, and dog, but has spent summers in Maine for the last twenty years. The Battle of Junk Mountain is her first novel. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @LAGreenberg1

Lauren’s thoughts about the cover:

The designer at Running Press Kids put a lot of careful thought into this cover, and I’m absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out. Many of the details are clues about the story, from the medal dangling out of the box to the masking tape title across the top. I also love how the girl carries the pile of junk all by herself, which symbolizes the weight of the problems the main character, Shayne, faces. The golden sunset with a hint of fog in the background perfectly captures summer on the Maine coast. Can’t wait to share this coming-of-age story with all of you!

Are you ready for it???

I absolutely LOVE IT and think it will definitely appeal to the middle grade readers at my schools!

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Isn’t it amazing? 

Add this one to your Goodreads TBR lists or go ahead and pre-order it!

 

 

Things that Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari

Things that Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari
(Balzer + Bray – August 22, 2017)

Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing me with an advance copy of this book for review – all opinions are my own.

Oh, how I love this book! I read it in one morning and halfway through reading it I messaged the author and told her my very personal reasons for just why I loved it so much ~ reasons that I won’t go into here, but reasons that give me an insider’s opinion on just how RIGHT this book is.

THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU is at first glance a middle grade novel about a girl heading into middle school and dealing with the typical agonies of friendship and fitting in. And is that, in a perfect way, but it is also a searingly real look at living with a sibling with an eating disorder and the way diet culture pervades young girls’ lives. Maschari has completely nailed how to write about this topic in an non-preachy way, without making anorexia appealing to readers…….which so many novels about eating disorders do. We want books on this topic, but we do NOT want books that introduce this disease in an appealing way to more children. This book treats anorexia as the horrible disease that it is and heartbreakingly conveys the impact it has on entire families.

Oh wait! There was so. much. more that I loved about this book! I loved Emily’s innocence and her adoration of the world of Unicorn Chronicles, and the fact that her teacher introduces her to Anastasia Krupnik may just be my favorite thing on earth. The issue of divorce is a large part of the story, and that was so so real to me as well. She just wants her family back! Don’t we all, as middle schoolers AND adults, want life to be the way it was before things got hard?

As Emily struggles to make herself a better person and fit in, she realizes that what she thought she wanted may not be so appealing as she dreamed it would be. I can’t recommend this book enough – it is a required purchase for middle school libraries and classrooms.

GIVEAWAY!

One lucky winner will receive a copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU (U.S. addresses).

PLUS!

One grand prize winner will receive a Crafty Unicorn Kit!  The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here.

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Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE and THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide, visit http://jenmaschari.com/.

Y Is For Yesterday by Sue Grafton

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Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
(Putnam – August 22, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been in love with the Kinsey Millhone series since I started with A IS FOR ALIBI in the mid-90’s – this series is an absolute nostalgic favorite of mine.

Thanks to Putnam for providing me with a galley of this title for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

When you have reached book #25 in a series that you have been reading for over 20 years, writing a review isn’t really necessary. It’s more of a letter to an old friend – a friend who has been with you for decades and whom you will stick with no matter what, despite any ups and downs. That’s what this series is for me. I have been immersed in Kinsey Millhone’s private detective career and the world of Santa Teresa, CA for so long that sometimes I forget that they aren’t real. The fact that the books take place in the 80’s, and ALWAYS have, makes me so happy and I adore reading about Kinsey typing up her case reports on her typewriter and using her landline and NO INTERNET. This all just adds to the nostalgic feeling I have for the series. The funniest thing to me now is that when I started reading these books in my teens, Kinsey being 30-something was OLD…….and now she’s my age! I read her entirely differently now that we are peers and I appreciate her even more so now.

This latest mystery has a LOT going on, with a completely new case mingled with an older one, and due to the nature of the series, I wouldn’t really recommend trying to start the series with this newest book. Go back and get a copy of A IS FOR ALIBI, put away your cell phone, and immerse yourself in a simpler time…….and get ready for the entire alphabet of mysteries! It also just hit me that there will only be 1 MORE KINSEY BOOK and I just don’t know what to do with that – it’s the end of an era for sure.

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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin


Young Jane Young
by Gabrielle Zevin
(Algonquin – August 22, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Feminist, timely and uniquely constructed, this novel is a commentary on motherhood, womanhood and politics.

Thanks to Algonquin for the review copy of this title – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Young Jane Young’s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.
 
How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.
 
A novel about a world that continues to want to define what women are and what they can, and cannot, do, Young Jane Young follows three generations of women, plus the wife of the Congressman. Told in varying voices through e-mails and even a Choose Your Own Adventure section, it captures not just the mood of this particular, highly charged moment but is an accessible, witty, smart take on the double standards that are alive and well and waiting to trip up ordinary and extraordinary women alike.

Review

I don’t often read the word “slut” in books and still keep reading – this is a word that I DETEST and I will publicly call out a book for portraying slut-shaming as okay. However, this book is ABOUT slut-shaming and the insanity of it, and THAT is okay in my world. YOUNG JANE YOUNG tells the story of a congressional intern who had an affair with a congressman, but it’s actually mainly the story of how the public outcry impacts the other women in her life – her mother, her daughter, and the wife of the congressman. I loved that the book was narrated by these different women, and also that different sections were in formats such as email and a Choose Your Own Adventure story.

Zevin’s essay about this book in the Algonquin Reader gives insight into her experience as a child with the double standards in politics, and also speaks to the current climate for women in politics – basically, a woman putting on a suit does NOT magically make her equal to men in the eyes of the voting public.

I really, really enjoyed this book and read it in one day – I love the motherhood focus and getting into the heads of all of the different female characters. Highly recommended as a light read for readers interested in feminism and politics!

This book was covered on NPR Weekend Edition too! Check it out here.

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