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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Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

When your puppy chews up a book jacket, you really do have to be creative……

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo
(Knopf – August 22, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A striking debut and a fascinating commentary on marriage, polygamy and fertility, set in Nigeria between the 1980s and 2008.

Thanks to Knopf Publishing for providing me with a finished copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

Review

STAY WITH ME is powerful and grief-stricken, filled with Nigerian proverbs and rituals surrounding fertility and parenting. It wasn’t a happy read by any means, but reading Yejide’s story brought the heartbreaking reality of infertility and polygamy to life and exposed me to Nigerian culture that I have not read or learned about before this book. Woven throughout the story are political events and commentary that add another layer of richness to the narrative.

This novel was a bit disconcerting at times because narrators switched with no indication, making it a book that needs to be read with a close eye. There is also one part of the plot that seemed a bit beyond belief, but I’m willing to overlook that given the overall strength of the book.

Recommended for fans of literary fiction and world cultures, this book will surely open eyes and provoke a desire to read more stories with a Nigerian setting.

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How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

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How to Disappear
by Sharon Huss Roat
(Harper Teen – August 15, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my top 5 YA books of 2017 and a mandatory read for parents, teachers and administrators, this story of social anxiety, depression and the lure of social media to replace real life is frighteningly real.

BOOK DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads)

Vicky Decker has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight, quietly navigating the halls of her high school undetected except by her best (and only) friend, Jenna. But when Jenna moves away, Vicky’s isolation becomes unbearable.

So she decides to invent a social life by Photoshopping herself into other people’s pictures, posting them on Instagram under the screen name Vicurious. Instantly, she begins to get followers, so she adds herself to more photos from all over the world with all types of people. And as Vicurious’s online followers multiply, Vicky realizes she can make a whole life for herself without ever leaving her bedroom. But the more followers she finds online, the clearer it becomes that there are a lot of people out there who feel like her— #alone and #ignored in real life.

To help them, and herself, Vicky must find the courage to face her fear of being “seen,” because only then can she stop living vicariously and truly bring the magic of Vicurious to life.

In this beautiful and illuminating narrative, Sharon Huss Roat shines a light on our love of social media and how sometimes being the person you think you want to be isn’t as great as being the person you truly are.

REVIEW

I just want to first give a shoutout to a fellow school librarian Carli Sauer (@the_loudlibrarian on Instagram) for bringing this book to my attention pre-publication – I immediately pre-ordered it for my HS library after reading her “READ THIS BOOK” review of it, and then when it showed up on release day I completely inhaled the entire book that very evening.

HOW TO DISAPPEAR is a book about social anxiety, depression, friendship, dating and most of all, social media. The isolation of today’s teens due to social media, and the ability to create an entirely new identity using it. Instagram is the focus of the book and Roat has written the world of likes, followers and obsessive fixation on it to an absolute T, with the female protagonist Vicky being an incredibly relatable character. I was nodding along with so much of the book and toward the end was reading with tears streaming down my face while I raced through the pages to discover the outcome.

This release of story is perfectly timed for the beginning of a new school year and needs to be read by every adult in every teen’s life. Parents, teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, administrators. Teens will love it and relate to it too, of course, but they are already well aware of the world Vicurious inhabits – not all adults are.

In addition, these two articles were published right before the book was released and I read them before I even read the book – they speak of the REAL issues that the book addresses and the timeliness of the text, and are also mandatory reads for adults working with and raising teens:

THE ATLANTIC: Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?

SLATE: Smartphones Haven’t Destroyed a Generation


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Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge

Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
(Simon Schuster – August 15, 2017)

Thank you so much to the author for providing #KidLitExchange with a finished copy of this book for review purposes! All opinions are my own (as always).

“What goes around, comes around”……Karma Khullar’s namesake has her on a quest to fit in and stop the teasing from her 6th grade classmates, while still maintaining her sense of self.

Reading KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE took me instantly back to middle school, to reading and identifying with ARE YOU THERE GOD, IT’S ME MARGARET, and to just wanting to understand why I didn’t fit in perfectly with everyone else. For this generation’s tweens, Karma will be THEIR Margaret. While they may still be chanting “I must, I must, increase my bust”, they will be able to identify with Karma and her quest to rid her face of facial hair and reconcile her racial, cultural and religious identities with those of her classmates. I adored Karma and my heart ached for her as she strove to understand why she was being taunted and why her best friend wouldn’t stand up for her. Her father’s new role as a stay-at-home parent while her mom is working more and more as a university professor really doesn’t help matters, either.

Required purchase for middle school libraries and classrooms as we fight to teach kids that “….sometimes the silence hurts worse than the teasing.” (p. 161)

Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge by Kristin L. Gray


Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge by Kristin L. Gray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heartwarming and feisty, Vilonia is a breath of fresh air in the middle grade genre!

Thanks to the author for providing @kidlitexchange with a finished copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

You can almost hear and feel the country twang in this sweet and sassy middle grade (mid-to-late elementary) novel about baseball-loving, obituary-writing and pet-dreaming Vilonia Beebee. Her determination to help her family during her mother’s depression and prove that she is responsible enough for a pet make for a wonderful story that will appeal to a wide audience. It’s also an ode to the classic BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo.

This story would be an excellent read aloud in grades 3-5 and should be handed to any child who is like Vilonia and is dying for, aching for, dreaming of the pet their parents won’t let them have. Depression is treated with rose-tinted glasses, which fits the mood of the novel, but may seem unrealistic to children whose parents have descended much deeper into it than Vilonia’s mother did. However, it is a welcome inclusion of an issue that isn’t always shown in this genre. The obituary-writing is just so sweet and such an unusual twist – I loved that! Other topics dealt with are grief and military deployment of a parent. The sour cream pound cake recipe at the end of the book is a wonderful bonus!

Highly recommended for middle grade classrooms and libraries.

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How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas


How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
(Crown Publishing – August 15, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quirky, French, intellectual and like no other story I have read in recent memory.

Thanks to Crown Publishing for providing me with a free finished copy of this book for review purposes – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn’t quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist–she’s already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle’s Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don’t, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them if he doesn’t run away from home first.

Isidore’s unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.

Review

You know how sometimes you just fall into a book and mark almost every single page and feel like this book was written FOR you? That’s how I felt with this one. I had zero expectations going into it and was pleasantly surprised to be so captivated by this coming-of-age story narrated by a French preteen boy. I mean, who’d have thought this was my genre? I absolutely loved this family with all of their self-recognized pretentiousness, PhDs, dissertation defenses, their father they refer to as “the father”, and most of all their mother. Oh, the mother. She is my new parenting hero with her gazillion kids and blatant love for them mixed in with benign neglect (this term being used in the most loving way). She says all the things I want to say in the way I want to say them – she’s perfect.

And the children as a group reminds me, strangely, of my favorite childhood fictional family – The Melendy’s of the Elizabeth Enright series. You know, THE SATURDAYS, THE FOUR STORY MISTAKE, etc. And if you don’t know that series, well, that might explain it if you don’t love HOW TO BEHAVE IN A CROWD as much as I do. I folded corners over on the majority of the book for passages I want to go back and savor and quotes I need to remember.

This was a very personal favorite read for me, and I know it’s definitely not for everyone. But if you know and love (or know and hate) academia, and love France and innocent/astute observations on life, death and knowledge, grab a copy of this. If you’re like me, you’ll want it on your forever bookshelf.

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How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

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How to Find Love in a Bookshop
by Veronica Henry
(Pamela Dorman Books – August 15, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sweet, happy, innocent romance, BOOKS, a quiet English village ~ it all adds up to my perfect feel-good story

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers–a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s loyal customers have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage–she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Review

Thank you to Pamela Dorman books for providing me with a finished copy of this title for review – all opinions are my own.

HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is one of those cozy sweater books….a cup of hot tea on a rainy night books….a book that just makes you believe that all is right with the world and let’s you sink into the pages and forget about real life. Emilia and the world of Nightingale Books are an absolute joy to read about, and I’m adding this to my list of favorite books about books……and bookshops. Some books are hard to review because your feelings are visceral and almost inexplicable. That’s how I feel about this one – it’s a personal love for a new favorite story.

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves reading, the English countryside and sweet stories – there’s no mystery or intrigue or drama or literary tricks. Just straight-up happy.

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Blog Tour: The Queen of New Beginnings

Blog Tour (14)

I’m so happy to be a part of this blog tour – I loved this book and was excited to find a new author to follow! 

Book Description

The Queen of New Beginnings by Therese Loreskar
(Bombshell Books – July 31, 2017)

Available from Amazon as a Kindle book and paperback and included in the Kindle Unlimited subscription!

Queen cover 1.1This is the follow-up title to THE QUEEN OF BLOGGING series, but can definitely be read as a standalone!

Kajsa lives in a large house in Stockholm along with her three children and their dog. Since coming clean about lying on her popular blog she no longer has any work. Not only that but she has kicked her husband out because of his sex addiction.

 While her husband is in rehab trying to fix his little problem, Kajsa’s mother in law is thrown out of her retirement home and comes to live with her daughter in law. Then Kajsa receives an unexpected offer to move to a fashionable part of London. But having to look after her mother in law makes life complicated.  Can Kajsa rid herself of her baggage and make a fresh start with her children in England?

This laugh-out-loud comedy looks at the daily struggles we all face with our families and asks if starting again is ever really possible.

Review

Thanks to Bombshell Books for providing me with a digital review copy of this book – all opinions are my own. 

I am an absolute sucker for books written in diary-style and short, stream-of-thought style. This story is written in this exact was and was an incredibly fun read! Kajsa is a riot and narrates the story of her crazy family in both a hilarious and heartfelt way – a way that makes you realize that underneath her funny narrative, she really cares about and wants the best for all of them…….even her mother-in-law! I also loved that she never actually called any of her children by name in her narrative – it was an amusing quirk.

If you like Bridget Jones and reading about the insanity of modern motherhood, this is a great choice for you!

Author Bio

Author Therese Loreskar (2)Therese Loreskär started her career in 2010 as a Swedish author. She self-published her first novel which was very well received and quickly sold out!
 In 2014 she signed up to a publishing house. Her novel called “The Queen of Blogging” was released and the feedback was overwhelming! People referred to the book as a modern “Bridget Jones” and couldn’t get enough of the main character, Kajsa. The next book “The Queen of Blogging 2” was released shortly after to all the reader’s delight.
 Therese has since then published 4 bestselling children’s books as well. She often does tours at different schools and talks about her books. The children love her visits and Therese always enjoys talking to her little readers.
 “The Queen of Blogging 1 & 2” have also been recorded and launched as audiobooks in addition to paper backs in Sweden. Her biggest dream is to have “The Queen of Blogging series” made into films, and she secretly keeps a list in an old drawer of presumptive actors that would do the characters in her books justice.
 Her never-ending energy for writing and entertaining people with her characters is her biggest trait.
 Therese lives in the countryside along the west coast of Sweden. She has a rather big and busy household, with (one) husband, two children, one deaf cat, five hamsters and a grandmother.
 When she’s not busy making up stories and writing silly things, she enjoys the nature, people, history, redecorating the house without asking anyone for permission, and all other kinds of creativity.
Links:
Instagram @loreskar