Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody

I’ve been on quite the reading/review spree lately! Honestly, though, it feels fantastic, because for a while I felt like I had read quite a few books that I liked but didn’t wholeheartedly love and want to review. Anyway, the cover of IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody first caught my attention, but I’ve also read other books by the author and so knew I would be in for a good story, especially once I read the description. Here goes.

In Some Other Life by Jessica BrodyThree years ago, Kennedy Rhodes secretly made the most important decision of her life. She declined her acceptance to the prestigious Windsor Academy to attend the local public school with her long-time crush, who had finally asked her out. It seems it was the right choice—she and Austin are still together, and Kennedy is now the editor-in-chief of the school’s award-winning newspaper. But then Kennedy’s world is shattered when she walks in on Austin kissing her best friend and she wonders if maybe her life would have been better if she’d made the other choice. As fate would have it, she’s about to find out . . .

The very next day, Kennedy hits her head and mysteriously awakes as a student of the Windsor Academy. And not just any student: Kennedy is top of her class, she’s popular, she has the coolest best friend around, and she’s practically a shoe-in for Columbia University. But as she navigates her new world, she starts to question if this alternate version of herself is really as happy as everyone seems to believe. Or is it possible this Kennedy is harboring secrets and regrets of her own?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – What if you could see how your life would look if you chose differently? Everyone has something in their life that they wish they’d done differently–because no one makes perfect choices all the time. But the trick is: would you really be better off? It’s such an interesting question. I loved watching it play out.

2. Frankie – I love Kennedy’s little brother. He’s the perfect constant in both worlds. It’s adorable how he keeps asking her questions to try and figure out how he’s different in the other reality, when what neither of them realizes is that she needs him to be the same.

3. Kennedy’s dad – I also love Kennedy’s dad and the role he plays, particularly in the original version of her life, but the contrast in the second life is an important part of her character growth. I just appreciate it when parents are portrayed in a positive light, and Kennedy’s dad is a really great character.

4. The newspaper – Kennedy’s devotion to her newspaper, The Southwest Star, is admirable on a couple of levels. One, it’s something she’s super-passionate about. And two, it shows her determination and dedication to succeed. These qualities manifest in both realities but result in different outcomes.

5. The ending – I have to admit I wasn’t completely satisfied with one aspect of the ending on the relationship side, but overall I really liked how the ending resolved from the point of Kennedy growing as a person and figuring out where she’d made mistakes in both realities so she could be stronger where she ended up. Can you choose a different life? Well, I’m not going to tell you the answer to that. But you can definitely choose to be a better person.

Is there some choice in your life you wish you could see the other option play out? There’s a particular post-graduate scholarship I went for that I feel like I tried the wrong route. I don’t regret it because if I’d gone the other route and gotten it, I might not have moved back to Missouri and met my husband. But I guess I’ll never know. That could have been my IN SOME OTHER LIFE!

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: WHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson

Friends, I am so excited because today I get to share a book with you that I have a close personal connection to–WHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson. Kip and I have been critique partners since 2012, and so I’ve walked with her through this journey to her debut book. I couldn’t be more excited to see WHITE ROSE hit shelves next month (April 2), and I will be giving away a pre-order to one lucky reader.

From the moment Kip first told me about WHITE ROSE when we were sitting in a hotel room at NESCBWI in 2016, I was immediately gripped by the story. It’s compelling, heartbreaking, and moving. I could keep adding more adjectives, but instead, I’ll carry on to the description, followed by the interview, and let Kip tell you more about the book.

White Rose by Kip WilsonDisillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

1. This story is so powerful, and while you give an explanation in your author’s note within the actual book, could you share here why you felt compelled to tell Sophie’s story?

Back when I first learned about Sophie Scholl in high school German class, I was so inspired by her courage. A girl not much older than I was standing up to the Nazis? I was all over it. After reading everything I could about the White Rose over the years, I was further driven by a curiosity to really get to know who this girl really was, so I read more and more, went to Munich and Ulm on more than one occasion, and became frankly obsessed with the details of her life. She’s of course very well known in Germany, but here many people in the U.S. haven’t heard of her, and I’m convinced she’ll be a great inspiration to others as well, especially teenagers.

2. While WHITE ROSE is classified as historical fiction, it’s based on actual events and people. How did you balance staying as true as possible to Sophie and the other characters while adding voice and details to the story?

This was definitely the hardest part! In my original draft in verse, I was determined to stick as close to all the facts as possible, but one astute beta reader (the oh-so-wise Joy McCullough) noted that this was hindering me from getting at the heart of the story. Only after her critique was I able to let my firm grip on the facts relax a tiny bit and experiment with imagining what Sophie might have thought or felt in specific situations. The good thing is that because I’d already done so much research, I discovered I actually knew her well enough to be able to make this leap. This is what really brought me—and hopefully readers of the book—closer to Sophie.

That having been said, I was quite obsessive about the facts, and maintained a spreadsheet that lists each poem, the source or sources that informed it, and did multiple rounds of cross-checking. I did have to make some decisions without knowing certain facts (things that only Sophie herself would have known), and I made those based on what I had learned about her as a person and what I knew about the historical setting.

3. You decided to tell Sophie’s story in verse, a shift from previous manuscripts you’d written. What made you choose verse for Sophie? (An obviously perfect choice!)

Well, back in 2005, I wrote a completely different manuscript about the White Rose that was nonfiction, but it wasn’t working, and I ended up setting it aside for ten whole years. It was always there bubbling in the back of my mind though, so when a couple of verse novelists happened to mention to me in a chat that tragic, emotional subjects are often well-suited to verse, it was like a billion light bulbs going off in my head. Once I began writing WHITE ROSE in verse, I couldn’t believe I’d never tried it before. I have to admit, I’d always struggled to write in prose, but writing in verse was the first time that writing felt completely natural, so I knew I was on to something.

4. I love how the story alternates between timelines. It’s so seamless and provides a perfect forward momentum for the story. How did you determine where each scene would go?

 Thank you! Since you were one of the few people who saw the first draft, you probably remember that I initially drafted the story completely in reverse, starting at the end and making my way to the beginning. Unfortunately, this didn’t work—it was too confusing to readers. But I didn’t feel like a straightforward linear timeline would do the story justice either, and when one of my critique partners (the fabulous and brilliant Beth Smith) suggested two timelines, I began experimenting with ways I could make it work.

As far as where to place each individual scene, I really enjoyed figuring out this puzzle. I am a huge fan of index cards. I use physical ones, and move them around a board until it feels like the right order, but I’ve also used the Scrivener cork board in the past for the same thing. Either way, finding the right order was actually a lot of fun.

5. I appreciated how real the protagonists are. They aren’t just heroes charging to change the world automatically. They stumble and don’t always make perfect choices right away—I’m sure because they are based on real people. Was that an important consideration for you as you were writing?

This was actually one of my most important considerations. The thing is that Sophie and her brother and their friends were absolutely real people, who made mistakes and weren’t perfect. They were members of the Hitler Youth! And their initial motivations for resisting weren’t all that altruistic, either. They weren’t initially as concerned for Jewish people and others being persecuted by the Nazis as for themselves and what this war meant for them and their friends. However, what makes their story so compelling is that they’re proof that it’s never too late to change, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. After word began to leak out about the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes, Sophie and the others realized that their government was a criminal one and that the core of their fight wasn’t an intellectual one, but a moral one. In the end, their courage speaks for itself. They certainly knew what their consequences for their actions would be, and yet they did it anyway. So even if they weren’t your typical heroes, they became heroes to me at least in part due to the rocky path they took to get there.

Thank you, Kip!                                                                 Rafflecopter link

If you can’t tell, I absolutely adore this book, and I urge you all to go out and buy it yourselves! Or ask your library to order it. However, I will give away one copy (a pre-order) here on the blog. North America only, please. Leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. Open until next Monday, March 11. Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add WHITE ROSE to your TBR list!

 

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert

I first read something about FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert a couple of years ago, but it took me a while to get to it. The title initially caught my attention because I thought it would be about a family playing games together. While I do totally understand the title after reading the book, I’ll just clue you in that family game night’s a very small part of the book, so don’t expect rousing rounds of Monopoly and Catan (or whatever games your family plays). As for the catastrophes … those are what kept me turning pages. Here’s the description.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. LambertAnnabelle has a secret . . . a secret so big she won’t allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle’s sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends’ houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.

So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle’s sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents–one that might tear them all apart–and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.

Is it possible for her to clean up the family’s mess? Or are they really, truly broken?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I can’t say I’ve read any other books about hoarding. Seeing how the various members of Annabelle’s family dealt with her mom’s hoarding–from avoidance to excessive cheer to obsessive cleanliness–felt very real and at times heartbreaking. Throughout the story, I was very invested in the characters and how they interacted with Annabelle’s mom and each other as they tried to figure out how to make changes.

2. The friendships – At the beginning of the story, Annabelle is so afraid of how her friends will react to her house that she shuts them out. As the book progresses, she gradually lets her friends into her world, and her friendships change with her openness. It was a great picture of how friendship is built on the ability to trust and accept each other.

3. Annabelle’s family – Annabelle has issues with pretty much every member of her family, but she doesn’t know how to talk to them or express her feelings. Part of her character development in the story is learning not only how to let her friends in but to reach out to her parents and siblings as well. Yes, the house needs to be cleaned up, but so does the family. I really liked how there was a bigger picture there.

4. Annabelle’s acceptance of herself – Annabelle’s very focused on the fact that she is fine just the way she is and it’s everyone else who is broken. It’s not unusual for people to feel this way, and yet I appreciates that there was a theme in the book of accepting your faults and learning to deal with them.

5. The crush – Alongside the heavier topics was a really sweet first crush. I liked how it was a nice side story and didn’t add to the drama going on in Annabelle’s life.

I really enjoyed FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES. Have you read it? What did you think?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE START OF ME AND YOU by Emery Lord

So, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I really like humor and I’m likely to shy away from books that might seem depressing. I’d had more than one writer friend recommend Emery Lord books to me, and I’d been a bit leery when I read the descriptions, but I guess I was just in the right mood to pick up THE START OF ME AND YOU last week, and I am so glad I did. Despite the presence of quite a few sad moments (and the main character dealing with recurring grief), I absolutely loved this book. Here’s the description.

The Start of Me and You by Emery LordIt’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all.

But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Paige’s friend group – I love how close-knit and supportive Paige’s group of friends are, even when they aren’t on board with the choices one of them is making. It was a really great picture of how girls can build each other up and even let each other fail–because sometimes you need to do that–but still be there to help put the pieces back together. I also enjoyed how Paige expanded her friendships beyond these girls throughout the book.

2. Girl Scout cookies! – This might seem totally random, but I am a cookie mom, and so the interesting focus on Do-Si-Dos was hilarious to me. And yet … as random as it was that these cookies were a source of bonding for the two main characters, they also turned out to play a pivotal role in the climax of the story. And as a writer, I found it fascinating how they were planted early on and then showed up later. So, in reality, this point is as much about storytelling as cookies :).

3. Paige’s grandma – I loved the relationship between Paige and her grandma and all of its bittersweet facets due to her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. As someone who was very close to my own grandma, I could relate to how they shared secrets and dreams, and in general I enjoy reading books where there are multi-generational relationships.

4. Paige’s character growth – I think what made this story most compelling for me was Paige’s growth throughout the story. It starts a year after her boyfriend died, and she is still hurting, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect from the basic description. Yes, she cared about him, but they hadn’t dated long, so there is guilt that she doesn’t deserve to grieve as much as others and a bunch of other issues related to the way he died. She’s afraid to move forward for so many reasons–and in a lot of different areas. I liked that the story started at the point where she decides she has to make changes in her life but doesn’t quite know how.

5. The romance – Oh my goodness, the romance. I had a goofy grin on my face at the end of this book. It was just that sweet. For about half the book I wanted to reach in and grab Paige by the shoulders and be like, “Hey, girl, wake up!” But she had a whole journey to go through to figure things out. Also, there’s a rather perfect PRIDE AND PREJUDICE reference that just makes me swoon even more.

On a final note, when I went to Emery Lord’s website to grab the description for this book, I discovered she’s written a sequel that’s coming out this year, so that’s a bonus! I will definitely be checking that out.

Have you read THE START OF ME AND YOU? What did you think?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, NetGalley, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE REVENGE OF MAGIC by James Riley

I’ve loved every book James Riley has written. Both the Half Upon a Time and Story Thieves series are wonderfully unique and hilarious, and so I was very excited to see the announcement of his new series, The Revenge of Magic, for–count ’em–SEVEN books. Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing and NetGalley for letting me get an advance read on this book. It comes out March 5, and while the tone is a bit different than that of James Riley’s previous books, it is a fantastic story full of twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and hungering for the next book.

The Revenge of Magic by James RileyThirteen years ago, books of magic were discovered in various sites around the world alongside the bones of dragons. Only those born after “Discovery Day” have the power to use the magic.

Now, on a vacation to Washington, DC, Fort Fitzgerald’s father is lost when a giant creature bursts through the earth, attacking the city. Fort is devastated, until an opportunity for justice arrives six months later, when a man named Dr. Opps invites Fort to a government run school, the Oppenheimer School, to learn magic from those same books.

But life’s no easier at the school, where secrets abound. What does Jia, Fort’s tutor, know about the attacks? Why does Rachel, master of destructive magic, think Fort is out to destroy the school? And why is Fort seeing memories of an expelled girl every time he goes to sleep? If Fort doesn’t find out what’s hiding within the Oppenheimer School, more attacks will come, and this time, nothing will stop them!

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Fort’s father – Since I read an advanced reader copy, I can’t give you any quotes for this book, but please believe me that Fort’s father is entirely quote-worthy. The book begins with Fort and his father touring the Lincoln Memorial, while Fort’s father tells anyone within hearing distance about the wonderful feats Fort will accomplish someday. It’s both embarrassing for Fort and completely endearing. As the story progresses, Fort continues to hear his father’s voice in his head, as a sort of bolstering presence.

2. Cyrus – Cyrus, the student who practices clairvoyance, is the perfect foil for Fort. Every insult and strange look just slides right off him. Plus, he’s just awesome, and the rest of the kids don’t even recognize it. I expect he will continue to become more awesome as the series continues.

3. How the magic isn’t as expected – What I love most about James Riley’s books is that you’ll be reading and you think you know how things are going to work, and then he throws in a twist that turns everything around so you have a completely different perspective. THE REVENGE OF MAGIC is no exception to this rule, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, Fort has to rethink both his own goals and the overall strategy against the beings who attack (sorry, purposely vague).

4. The secrets – Everyone is keeping secrets from everyone else in this book. Some of them are because they’ve been told to keep secrets, others out of fear or to repress bad memories, but the end result is chaos. Fun times! Actually, since this is the first of seven books, I think the secrets are necessary. I expect there will be many more reveals.

5. The ending – I was not surprised to find James Riley leaving this book on a cliffhanger. It was like–bam!–here’s something for you readers to hold on to until the next book arrives. Very well done, Mr. Riley.

I did mention at the beginning of my post that this book’s tone was different from his others, and so I do think I should address that. One of my favorite things about his other books is the humor, and that’s not a big part of this one. It’s not completely devoid of humor, but it’s not a main focus like in the other books, I think because Fort is dealing with grief and anger during this book. Humor would seem out of place. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it does come into play as the series progresses. Regardless, I still very much enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: MARIE ANTOINETTE: SERIAL KILLER by Katie Alender

Happy January! Sorry for the delay in putting up a review. I have been reading, but I’ve also been busy with some other news, as you may have seen from last week’s post. If you missed it, my debut book will be published in 2021!

In any case, today’s review is for Katie Alender’s MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER, which I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. One of the reasons I love the warehouse sale is that I find books that have been out a while to feature and hopefully bring back to readers’ attention. It also gives me the opportunity to find new authors I sometimes miss. Here’s the cover and description for MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER.

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie AlenderColette Iselin is excited to go to Paris on a class trip. She’ll get to soak up the beauty and culture, and maybe even learn something about her family’s French roots.

But a series of gruesome murders are taking place across the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours museums and palaces, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks suspiciously like Marie Antoinette.

Colette knows her popular, status-obsessed friends won’t believe her, so she seeks out the help of a charming French boy. Together, they uncover a shocking secret involving a dark, hidden history. When Colette realizes she herself may hold the key to the mystery, her own life is suddenly in danger . . .

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The setting – It’s in France! Um, how many books have I reviewed on this blog that are set in France? I don’t even know. Probably enough to make it a category :). In any case, I love that they visit Versailles and the catacombs (I’d rather do that one in a book) and the Eiffel Tower. I’m just biding my time vicariously until I can return for real.

2. The history – Is it real history? Well, not really, but like many twists on history, there’s enough of the real history in there to make me curious and go look it up, and there was an author’s note in the back telling you which part was for real and which part was made up. I love it when an author takes something from history and says: But what if …

3. The ghost – And for this book, the author said, but what if Marie Antoinette came back as a ghost and started killing people? I don’t think I’m giving anything away here. It’s in the title, people. I’m just not going to tell you why because that’s the mystery you have to unravel as you read.

4. Colette’s character arc – There’s a moment at the beginning of the book where Colette’s brother does something nice for her and she basically says she’ll owe him. He says, “You don’t do nice things for people because you want to get something from them. You just do nice things to be nice.” She doesn’t understand this concept at all, and it’s a very important lesson for her to learn, not only as a person but for her final confrontation with the queen.

5. The relationships – I loved how this book was very much about friendship and how it should look and how Colette’s view of it changes as she grows. But I didn’t just label this point “friendships” because her other relationships change as a result too.

This book was a fun murder mystery sort of book on the one hand, but there was real character development happening that edged it into a read I will come back to again.

Have you read MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER? What did you think?

Writing, Young Adult, Your Life Has Been Delayed

My Debut Book, YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, Is Coming in 2021!

I’m thrilled to announce that my debut book, YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, will be published by Bloomsbury in winter 2021, followed by a second untitled young adult book in 2022. I’m so excited to be working with Allison Moore. Here’s the announcement that ran in PW Children’s Bookshelf.

There are so many people who have helped me along this writing journey, and I’ll be listing all of them when I write that all-important acknowledgments page in the actual book. But for now, thank you to my amazing agent, Elizabeth Bewley. When we started working together in October, I didn’t expect her to find a home for DELAYED quite this quickly, but I believe strongly that things happen when they are supposed to, and I’m very excited to be partner with Bloomsbury and Allison Moore. I can’t wait to share YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED with all of you. If you aren’t familiar with publishing, 2021 may seem very far away, but I expect it will fly by (pun intended) for me.

As usual, I’ll be sure to keep you updated as I continue on this publication journey. No more delays–except in the actual book :).