Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner

Hi everyone! With my kids home from school, I’ve invited them to participate in reviews. First up is my sixth grader with a review of MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner. This book just came out last week, and as I’m sure you can imagine, debuting during quarantine is quite challenging. We are excited to help spread the word about this awesome book!

First of all, Arianne sent out some amazing pre-order gifts, and last I heard, she still had some extras available due to canceled events. You can see details on her Instagram here. But here’s a picture of my son with the book and swag, followed by a description of the book.

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are doomed. Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he goes to great lengths to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

And now I’m going to hand this review over to my sixth grader. He’s going to switch up the format from my usual five things, so here we go…

All right. MY LIFE AS A POTATO was an amazing book. I couldn’t put it down, and I finished it in a day. Ben is a seventh grader that moves to the school in Idaho. He makes you feel what it is like to be a new kid in a new school where things are different, even if you’ve never been a new kid before. Ben gives the story the feeling that it actually is real and influences the story in so many ways.

It made me laugh when he dressed as Steve the Spud, fell down, and rolled into the cheerleader pyramid, and all the cheerleaders screamed as they fell on top of him. That’s just one example of the funny stuff that happened in the book.

It was an always-be-yourself moral, but it was more about having good friends by your side who won’t care what you’re doing. It’s important to be yourself and if your friends are good, they’ll support you no matter what. I really liked that moral.

Arianne Costner really helped the story come to life by using description that made you feel like you were in the story.

I can’t wait to read this book myself! I’ll be bringing you more sixth grader reviews–and maybe a fourth grader review or two–while we’re at home. Thanks for stopping by!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Review: The Agency by Y.S. Lee

So, I’ve had a little time to read lately…

But in all seriousness, one of my reading goals for this year was that if I read the first book in a series and liked it, I would go ahead and read the rest of the series instead of getting distracted by other books on my TBR in between. Anyway, the series I started a couple of weeks ago has been out quite a while (the first book came out in 2010), but I’m really glad I chose it off my library wish list. (There are currently 125 books on there, so it’s not surprising some of them are from 10 years ago.)

I know I usually post reviews on Mondays, but seriously, who knows what day it is anyway? 🤣

So, today’s review is for The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, set in Victorian London. It’s listed as YA historical, although it feels more adult after the first book, as she jumps ahead many months in each one. Granted, I often feel that way about YA historical, since teen characters at that time were essentially treated as adults anyway. But here are the covers, followed by the description of the first book to give you a taste.

A Spy in the House by Y.S. LeeThe Body at the Tower by Y.S. LeeThe Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. LeeRivals in the City by Y.S. Lee

 

Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she’s rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary acquires a singular education, fine manners, and surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency – an elite, top-secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results – and at seventeen, Mary’s about to join their ranks.

With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of lady’s companion to infiltrate a rich merchant’s home with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem – least of all Mary.

Here are the five things I liked most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for spy novels, and I also really love books set in Victorian London, so it was a double whammy for me. It was interesting that Mary’s situation added the intrigue of having been condemned to death for stealing.

2. The romance – Ms. Lee does an excellent job stretching this romance out over four books. The characters are 17 and 19 in the first book, and I kind of lost track by the end of the last book, but I think about two years had passed. James Easton is the perfect foil for Mary.

3. Mary’s character growth – While this description doesn’t give a hint of some of the issues Mary has to deal with, I don’t think it’s spoiling things too much to say that Mary is half-Chinese but has passed as fully English with few questions. A significant part of her character arc throughout the four books is accepting who she is.

4. The historical details – I love it when I read a historical novel and feel like I’m truly living in that time. From the mundane to the huge (construction of Big Ben), these books were so well-researched. I’ve read a lot of books set in Victorian England, and I learned new things :).

5. The mysteries – I really enjoyed the mysteries in each book and how they wrapped up. Truly fun reads!

What have you been reading lately?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MG Review: WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR by Ally Carter

I can’t believe it’s already March and I haven’t posted a single review this year! But it has been a very busy year. If you saw my other post with the mention of my best friend, she has moved to a rehab hospital, and there are further updates on the GoFundMe page started by her parents. She still has a long road ahead but is improving!

I didn’t quite get this review together in time to submit it for MMGM, but I still wanted to post it today. It’s no secret I love Ally Carter’s books, so when I discovered she was writing a middle grade book, I was super excited my kids would finally be able to read one of them. I took my son, who just turned 12, to her signing here in St. Louis on March 1. It was the first tour stop for WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR. My son was totally in this picture, but he doesn’t like having his picture posted, so I cropped him out, and he was the one holding the book :). But on to the review!

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally CarterApril didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – This book is described as Annie meets Batman, and it’s an absolutely perfect description. I was hooked on that alone.

2. The pacing – Here’s how quick a read this book is: We bought it on March 1, and both my son and I have finished it already. When we met Ally, she particularly asked if I’d let her know how he liked it (guessing she doesn’t have a lot of 12-year-old boy readers), and he loved it. As soon as he was finished, he handed it to me and asked me to read so we could talk about it after. We’re both now anxious for the next one :).

3. Gabriel Winterborne – So, I haven’t been on Twitter a lot the last few months, but some of the other Ally Carter fans in the audience had, and I guess Ally had already prepped them with her love for Gabriel. Honestly, my son was a bit uncomfortable with that part of the book discussion ;). Basically, Gabriel has been presumed dead for 10 years and is hiding out for reasons you discover during the course of the story. He’s broody and tough but also cares a lot more than he wants the kids to know. I totally got his appeal :).

4. The kids – I loved this group of kids who became April’s family as she got to know them. From Sadie the inventor to Tim the protector and Colin the grifter, they were all great additions to the team and her family. Oh, and we can’t forget sweet Violet the artist.

5. The mystery – Quite a bit was wrapped up in this book, but there was a mystery from the very beginning that never was solved, and I loved how the very end of the book left more than one point open. I’m definitely ready to read more!

I love that Ally Carter has branched into middle grade. I’m sure this is going to be passed on to my daughter as well before long. Looking forward to the next one!

Character, Instagram, Reading, Review, Young Adult

THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS and a Few Other Books You Should Read

Hello there! I had an incredibly busy November and beginning of December–so busy that it sadly took me three weeks to read a single book. I was stealing chapters in small blocks, and that just made me so sad. Despite the fact it took me so long to read that one book, I wanted to tell you about it and a few others I shared on my Instagram in the past couple months that you should also check out.


The Library of Lost Things by Laura Taylor NameyTHE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS is the story of Darcy Wells, who lives lost in books. It’s an escape from the reality of her mother’s hoarding, which is about to become even more of an issue thanks to a new property manager. Add in Asher Fleet, a boy with a complicated past who starts hanging out in the bookstore where she works, and she suddenly has to start living even more outside her books.

I read this book while I had a ton going on in my own life (I didn’t even have time to get a nice photo before I had to return it to the library, sadly), but every time I picked it up I was pulled back into Darcy’s story. I especially loved her relationship with her best friend, Marisol. I also enjoyed the subplot with both Shakespeare and PETER PAN in the background and, of course, the romance. There were a lot of deeper family issues going on as well that I think will really resonate with teens. Definitely pick up this book!


I’d been anxious to read CROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL by Mara Rutherford since I first read the description. Nor and her identical twin sister, Zadie, live on the floating village of Varenia and spend their days diving for pearls. But every generation, the most beautiful girl is chosen to go marry the crown prince of Ilara and move to land. Zadie is chosen, but when she’s injured, Nor goes in her place and finds leaving home is so much more complicated than she could have imagined.

This book was completely engrossing from the first page, and the stakes kept changing and getting higher. I really loved how it was almost like two stories—the first half a story of sisters and the second full of intrigue on land with danger and romance. It could have felt very disconnected, but it was all tied together very well. Nor is a strong female character I was rooting for throughout the story, and while the love story was great too, it didn’t take over from her main goal, which is protecting her home. Perhaps the most telling point about how well this kept me engaged is that at the same time I was reading this, I had the option to read a book I’d been waiting for a year and I finished this first. I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel!


Are there books you’ve seen other readers shout about that you just haven’t gotten around to reading?

That’s how I was about ILLUMINAE. I wasn’t opposed to reading it, but just from looking at the cover I couldn’t tell what people were so excited about and so while I added it to my TBR, I wasn’t in a hurry to read it.

But wow! Just wow! I read this book in less than 24 hours. The pacing never let up, from the opening pages. I cared about the two main characters right away, but I also cared about everyone else. This is even more impressive considering the book is written like a dossier, with sort of instant messages, emails, reports, schematics, and more. I loved how there were personal stakes but then there were multiple outside sources of danger. I seriously wasn’t sure how the book was going to end, right up until I got there.

So now I need to read the other two books, I guess. I have a couple other things on my plate to read, but I won’t be putting it off long because I want to know what else is coming!


It’s not often that I reach the end of a book and gasp out loud, but it happened with THE OPPOSITE OF HERE by Tara Altebrando. The book’s about Natalie, whose parents take her and her three best friends on a cruise for her birthday. Her boyfriend died in a car accident months ago, and everyone just wants her to start living again, but she doesn’t want to be on a cruise—until she meets a guy on the first night. But then the guy disappears and things get increasingly weird.

I could not put this book down, which might have had something to do with there not being chapters, just section breaks. But also, it was just very well done from a suspense standpoint. I was constantly theorizing about what had happened in the past—both with an incident she hinted at and a situation with one of her friends—in addition to what was happening on the boat with the guy. And then the ending completely blew my mind! I don’t mean like a resolution of a couple of chapters but the last two pages. I actually said “What?!” out loud and went back and reread it.

I will now be going to check out other books by Tara Altebrando, because I love it when a book is really able to play with my mind that way. Also, this is another Bloomsbury book.


My time has freed up again, so hopefully I’ll be back to reading more regularly again. I sure have missed it! What great books have you read lately?

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

YA Interview & Giveaway: ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood

I’ve had a crazy month and so haven’t had time to post here on the blog, but I had to make time to shout about Amy Trueblood’s new book, ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE. It released on Nov. 5, and I’m going to give away a copy to one of you lucky readers, but if you don’t win, please please please go out and get it for yourself anyway!

I had the privilege of reading an early version of this book, and I loved it then, but when I read the final version–wow! Just like with NOTHING BUT SKY, Amy invested an incredible amount of time and energy into researching the historical time period for ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE, and she also delivers a powerful young woman who stands up for herself believably in that time. Here’s the cover and description, followed by the interview.

Across a Broken Shore by Amy TruebloodThe last thing eighteen-year-old Wilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy wants is to be a nun. It’s 1936, and as the only daughter amongst four sons, her Irish-Catholic family is counting on her to take her vows—but Willa’s found another calling. Each day she sneaks away to help Doctor Katherine Winston in her medical clinic in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

Keeping secrets from her family only becomes more complicated when Willa agrees to help the doctor at a field hospital near the new bridge being built over the Golden Gate. Willa thinks she can handle her new chaotic life, but as she draws closer to a dashing young iron worker and risks grow at the bridge, she discovers that hiding from what she truly wants may be her biggest lie of all.

And here are Amy’s answers to my five questions!

1. I love how rich and nuanced Willa’s family is. Yes, they have a lot of expectations for her, but it’s obvious there are many layers behind those expectations, as well as past hurt that informs the views of each character. How did you ensure each family member was unique and contributed to the family dynamic in their own way? Do you have a favorite MacCarthy brother?

One of my big goals with the MacCarthy boys was to have their views evolve over time. The only way I felt I could do this coherently was to have each of them yearn for something more for their lives like Willa. This allowed me to not only share their struggles, but also allow them to identify with Willa in a way they never had before.

I started out loving Paddy (and I still do), but Nick became a favorite toward the end of the book. He loves Willa very much and he struggles the most with accepting the change he knew was coming.

2. I love how this book weaves a story into an interesting slice of history–the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. What is your favorite fact–or the most interesting–that you were able to include? On the flip side, what’s something you wanted to include but couldn’t fit in?

After doing so much research, I knew I wanted to include some reference to the “Halfway to Hell” club. This was what a group of 19 workers called themselves after each one had their own harrowing experience with falling into the safety net tethered below the bridge.

I do highlight some of the safety measures used on the bridge, but I would have loved to include more of them in the story. For example, one of the biggest safety issues developed early on in the construction. Men who worked inside the steel towers starting getting very sick. Their hair and teeth were falling out at alarming rates and people couldn’t figure out why. They brought in experts and discovered that the heat of the metal rivets against the lead paint they were using gave off toxic fumes, which caused the rampant sickness. After this was discovered, men working inside the towers were required to wear air respirators.

3. I loved the 1930s medical advice you shared on Instagram leading up to the book’s release. Out of that research, what medical practice/advice has stood the test of time?

This is a great question. I think one of the things that struck me most was the early discovery of issues with bacteria. Even in the 1930s textbooks I studied, there were many, many chapters devoted to keeping bacteria at bay not only in wounds but when cleaning instruments. One thing that still floors me though is that back in the early twentieth century doctors were still using their bare hands to treat patients. Gloves were only used for surgery. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that disposable gloves were introduced and used more regularly.

4. While the book focuses mainly on Willa deciding what she wants to do with her life, really there are several characters trying to figure out their place in the face of parental and societal obstacles. What do you want readers to take away from that?

There is the universal theme of following your dreams of course, but for me this book also challenges the role we play in our families. If you have several siblings it seems like each one is always cast in a certain role. The oldest becomes the pseudo-parent. The middle child is often overlooked, and the final child gets the moniker of being the “baby”. With this book, I wanted to question and challenge those familial roles. Force each sibling to see their brother or sister in a light outside what was the normal family order.

5. Is there anything you learned about the 1930s or San Francisco during that time that you wish you could have experienced firsthand?

I would have loved to have seen the Sutro Baths in its heyday. Even by 1936 it was in disrepair, but I think it would have been interesting to see how the water flowed into the pools from the Pacific Ocean just outside. To walk along the promenade overlooking the pools and see all the animals and birds housed in the glass exhibits scattered throughout the building. I imagine it was quite the experience!

Thank you, Amy!

If you can’t tell, I love 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 here on the blog. North America only, please. Leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. Open until next Monday, Dec. 2. Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add ACROSS A BROKEN SHORE to your TBR list!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: SCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart

Back in May, I was supposed to go to New York and have lunch with my editor and agent. There were crazy storms going on around New York City, and my flight got cancelled three times in a row. Finally we had to give up on the trip. The next week, I received a surprise package from my editor–four ARCs she’d picked up at BEA along with a lovely note saying she hoped we’d get another chance to meet up. I have a trip scheduled in less than a month, so fingers crossed there are no weather events–or injuries ;)–in the meantime!

Anyway, one of the ARCs she sent me was SCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart, which releases on Oct. 1. from Delacorte/Random House. I admit I was a bit intimidated by the subject matter, afraid it would be a book that’d make me cry. Instead, this book surprised me in the best possible way. It’s not without sorrow and hardship, but it also has humor and is full of perhaps my favorite emotion of all–hope.

Scars Like Wings by Erin StewartAva Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn’t need a mirror to know what she looks like–she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be “normal” again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends–no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn’t have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn’t afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she’s going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

Here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The first line – I could tell from the very first line that this book was going to be more than the tearjerker I’d feared.

One year after the fire, my doctor removes my mask and tells me to get a life.

This first line sets up the tone of the whole book. It clearly shows the reader this isn’t going to be an easy story, but at the same time, Ava hasn’t completely lost her sense of humor. Because obviously that isn’t exactly what the doctor said.

2. The premise – As I mentioned, this premise intimidated me at first. I expected the character’s life to be hard–and of course it is–but there is so much more to this story. I appreciated experiencing the viewpoint of a burn survivor, including not only the physical but emotional scars that come with it, as well as the hope for moving forward.

3. Musical theater – Wizard of Oz! Wicked! These two musicals play a big part in the story, but there are countless other musical theater references thrown into the book. I love how singing and acting play a part in Ava starting to accept who she is now.

4. Asad – Ava doesn’t know what to make of Asad when she first meets him, ultimately chalking up his demeanor to being clueless, but that’s what I loved about him. He didn’t fit into a set box, including the boxes Ava had created to explain how people usually reacted to her. He remains a great character throughout, never quite sticking to what you expect of him.

5. Ava’s family – Here’s one area where the story is quite heart-wrenching (although not the only one). Ava lives with her aunt and uncle, who took her in after Ava’s parents and cousin, their daughter, died in the fire. It’s a relationship fraught with anguish and missteps as they continue to figure out how their new family fits. As challenging as this part of the story was, I loved it too, because it felt real to me.

So, I said that this story surprised me because it wasn’t just a tearjerker, but I do still feel like I need to point out it tackles some tough subjects, such as bullying and depression. However, ultimately I left the story feeling hopeful for the characters, and for me, that made it a book I’d read again.

Definitely check out SCARS LIKE WINGS when it comes out in a couple of weeks!

 

 

Character, Instagram, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review, Young Adult

THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE and A Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another roundup of my Instagram mini-reviews! I have a feeling my reviews are going to be trending this way more over the next year and a half as I approach publication, but I will still do some full reviews as I have time. If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, you can find me at www.instagram.com/michelleimason. Here we go!

I picked up THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE by April Henry at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale in December and finally got to it last week (I am sooo behind on my TBR pile I may not go to the sale this year). This book was a super-quick read, and it kept me guessing throughout, which is the perfect sort of suspense. The premise is that a girl wakes up in a cabin to hear one man tell another to finish her off. She has no memory of how she got there or who she is. The journey to figure all of that out is full of twists and turns that had me finishing the book in a day.


I kept seeing people post about AURORA RISING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, and while I’ve never read THE ILLUMINAE FILES (don’t worry, it’s on my TBR now), I was intrigued. I’m so glad I picked this book up! It reminded me of Star Wars (thus the costumes in the background), with its ragtag crew blasting through space. Basically, the night before he gets to choose his crew after graduation, star pupil Tyler goes out on his own and ends up rescuing Aurora, who’s been in a cryo chamber for 200 years. As a result, he ends up with the crew nobody wanted, and a crazy mission ensues involving Aurora and the mystery surrounding her.

I loved the adventure. I loved the romantic tension with multiple couples. I loved the snappy banter. I loved the unexpected twists. So, yes, I’ll be going back to read the other series by this author duo, and I can’t wait for the next book in this series.


Halfway through PIE IN THE SKY by Remy Lai I was ready to pull out my baking supplies and start mixing cakes. Specifically, I wanted to bake both the Nutella cream cake and triple cookie cake the brothers make in the book. Also, check out the amazing illustrations!

But another thing I love about this book is the discussion I had with my son after *he* finished it—because he totally ran off and read it before me. There are many great themes in PIE IN THE SKY. It’s about a family that immigrates to Australia, and the older brother, Jingwen, really struggles learning English. He compares his experience to living on Mars, and baking the cakes helps him cope, even though it requires lying to their mom, who has forbidden them to bake while home alone. My son and I discussed the brothers’ decision to keep the cake-baking from their mom, as well as how Jingwen classifies different types of lies in the book. It’s a poignant story about dealing with grief but also includes humor and well-developed family dynamics.


Why, you might wonder, have I placed the book ROMANOV by Nadine Brandes among a tower of Dr. Pepper cans? Because Dr. Pepper is my comfort drink, and the truth is, this book is amazing, but I needed some comfort while I was reading. I love Anastasia retellings, but this book is nothing like the cartoon or even the Broadway musical, where the execution of the Romanov family takes place in the past. The first half of the book is dedicated to Nastya and her family’s captivity, leading up to the execution, and it’s hard to read, especially because it’s not just a fantasy. While ROMANOV is a work of fiction, it’s based on history, and if you read the accounts of what happened to the Romanov family (as I did to prepare myself), it’s truly horrific. Thus the Dr. Pepper.

That being said, ROMANOV is beautifully written, and I loved how Nadine Brandes wove magic, faith, and forgiveness into the story. As with any time I read historical fiction, it made me examine a time in history more closely. It made me think and discuss and grieve. Definitely worth the read!


I’m always up for a great contemporary YA, and JUST FOR CLICKS by Kara McDowell lived up to my hopes for a quick, fun read with some unexpected twists thrown in. The premise is that twins Claire and Poppy are social media stars thanks to their mom’s viral blog. Now they have to decide whether they want to continue in the spotlight. Throw in a new guy who’s lived off the grid and doesn’t know about the blog, a manufactured relationship, hidden family secrets, and all sorts of hijinks ensue. Family drama plus an adorable romance made this a great read for me.


Have you read any of these? What else have you been reading lately that I should check out?