Middle Grade Review, Reviews, Young Adult Review

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and A Few Other Books You Should Read

I have quite a mix of books in today’s review roundup–YA time travel, adult dual timeline, contemporary middle grade, YA historical fiction, and YA contemporary. So that should offer a little bit of something for everyone!


The Opposite of Always by Jason ReynoldsAs soon as I finished OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS by Justin A. Reynolds, I knew it would be one of my favorite reads of the year (you can hold me to that in December). I mean, it’s a YA involving time travel, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone 😉.

But in case you aren’t familiar, OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is the story of Jack and Kate, who meet at a party and instantly bond. Over the next four months, Jack falls for Kate, but she dies, and he’s zapped back to the moment he met her. He’s set on a Groundhog Day-type loop—only four months long!—trying to figure out how to save her. In addition, he’s navigating his relationships with his two best friends, Francisco (Franny) and Jillian, and messing things up with both them and his parents at different points.

First off, I love the question this premise poses: If you could do things over, how would you change your actions? But then, what ripple effects do your actions have on others? How many times does it take for you to get things right so that everything turns out the way it needs to? Justin A. Reynolds handles this all so brilliantly. I loved every single character. None of them were perfect—except maybe Jack’s parents. I do love it when characters have awesome parents. Jack makes a lot of mistakes and has a lot of growing to do. It just makes you think.


I posted last week that I love books with dual timelines, and I just finished a good one that happens to be—gasp!—an adult book. THAT SUMMER by Lauren Willig was actually my reward from the summer reading club through the St. Louis County Library last year, and I just now got to it because, well, adult books just aren’t my first choice anymore. But this one was fantastic.

The story alternates between 2009 and 1849. In 2009, Julia has just inherited a house outside London from a great-aunt she never knew. When she goes to start cleaning it out, she discovers a painting hidden in the false back of a wardrobe, and the story reverts to 1849 and Imogen, trapped in a loveless marriage but about to meet an intriguing painter.

The story skillfully switches between Julia trying to solve the mystery of the painting and following the actual story of Imogen. Quite often when I’m reading adult books these days they just seem so LONG, but this one flew by. The pacing between the two plots was fantastic, and both Julia and Imogen had compelling stories. I was rooting for both of them, hoping they’d get a happy ending. I won’t spoil it, though 😉.


From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae MarksI don’t read as much middle grade these days (only 10 out of 109 books in 2019), so when I do it’s usually something that has really caught my attention. I’d seen several people talking about FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks, then I read the description and was immediately intrigued. I also knew my daughter would love it; throughout the book she kept stopping to tell me what she thought would happen next. I do enjoy when we read a book together! On to the description…

On her 12th birthday, Zoe receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who’s in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. She decides to write back, determined to uncover the truth, even though she has to hide the investigation from her mom and stepdad. They think she’s worried about her bakery internship and proving she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. Will she discover Marcus is lying?

I loved the letters between Zoe and Marcus, and I really liked Marcus as a character. From the description, I expected it to be Marcus trying to convince Zoe of his innocence, but it really was more that he just stated it and accepted where he was, while she was driven to prove it. The supporting cast of characters was fantastic, especially Zoe’s grandma and estranged friend Trevor. Both relationships are so well-drawn, as are her parents. It’s a story about family and friendship and not giving up on the search for justice, even when it seems like it’s too late. I encourage everyone to read this and then to give it to a young reader.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the baking—because that part is awesome too. 🧁


Hood by Jenny Elder MokeDo you have a favorite legendary character? I’ve always loved the tale of Robin Hood, starting with the Disney movie when I was a child. “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” is another favorite. Fun fact: I once sang “Everything I Do I Do It For You” at a wedding. Yes, I can totally claim the title of wedding singer 😉.

But back to the reason for this review, which is the recently released HOOD by Jenny Elder Moke. This latest Robin Hood retelling follows Isabelle of Kirklees, hidden inside a convent with her mother, Marien, since birth. At sixteen, Isabelle is arrested by royal soldiers for defending innocent villagers, and her mother helps her escape and sends her to find her father, Robin Hood.

The story is full of action, and I love how Isabelle is both a strong character but also experiences fear and makes missteps throughout the story. The surrounding cast of characters is also fantastic, focusing mainly on the younger members of the Merry Men but of course with appearances from those we’d expect from the traditional tale. I’m really hoping there will be more stories to come from the world of this re-imagining!


Jackpot by Nic StoneAfter reading DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone, which is quite a serious book, I wanted to try one of her other books. I was interested in the central question of JACKPOT: What would you do if you won the lottery?

After Rico, the main character, sells the jackpot-winning ticket, she enlists the help of wildly popular and rich classmate Zan to help her track down the ticket holder, who hasn’t claimed the prize.

JACKPOT is a quest to find the ticket holder, and there are a lot of fun elements, but it also takes a hard look at class and money, as well as frank discussions about race. So the book still ended up being more serious than I expected, but in a good way. I loved Rico’s younger brother, Jax, and Rico’s growing friendships during the book. There was also a really unique element with interlude chapters from inanimate objects—totally makes sense when you read it :). I stayed up until midnight to finish JACKPOT because I had to find out how it ended! Not going to give it away.


So that’s what I’ve been reading lately. How about you? Anything interesting I should check out?

Middle Grade Review, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult Review

TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and a Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another roundup of mini-reviews! In light of recent events, I took a hard look at my reading habits and realized that while I certainly wasn’t reading all white authors, I wasn’t making a concerted effort to read and support Black authors–or to bring those books to my kids’ attention. So as a family, we are working to expand our reading lists, and today’s roundup reflects some of the amazing new authors I’ve discovered, along with a couple of books I already had on my TBR list.


How often do you start reading a book and immediately know it’s going to be one you truly love and will read again? That’s how I felt within the first few pages of TRULY MADLY ROYALLY by Debbie Rigaud. I’d had this book on my TBR list since it first came out, and now I’m just sad I didn’t read it sooner.

It’s about Zora Emerson, who’s just enrolled in a prestigious summer program, and unexpectedly clicks with Owen Whittelsey, prince of a small European country.

Basically, I loved EVERYTHING about this book. Zora is a strong teen girl who loves her community and doesn’t let obstacles keep her from going after her goals. The chemistry between Zora and Owen is adorable; their corny jokes are the best. And then there’s a great cast of additional characters—Zora’s best friend, Skye, Zora’s family, the kids at her program, and the new friends she makes at school. As a writer, I also loved the plotting—so well done! I’ll definitely add this book to my re-read list, PLUS I discovered Debbie Rigaud has other books available, so I’m going to check those out.

Read this book because it’s awesome. Also because it showcases a Black teen being awesome.


Is there a place you love so much you’ll read pretty much any book set there?

For me, that place is Paris. I’ve only been there once, but it was a magical visit, and I can’t wait to return, so if a book is set there, I’m on it! But when I read the description for THE PAPER GIRL OF PARIS by Jordyn Taylor, I was additionally intrigued by the dual timelines. The story’s about Alice in the present, who has just inherited a mysterious apartment that has been locked for more than 70 years. Once she enters, she discovers her grandmother had a sister, and the story flashes back to Adalyn during World War II, working in the French Resistance against the Nazis.

I loved how this book followed two distinct, heart wrenching family stories—Alice struggling with her mom in the present and Adalyn heartbroken over keeping secrets from her sister (Alice’s grandmother) in the past. The tension within each timeline and even between the two was fantastic. I found myself completely stressed out over Alice’s concern about what her great-aunt was involved in. Plus, there was a really sweet love story in the present and a deeper one in the past. The resolution was very satisfying.

I highly recommend this book, which came out in May. Such a fantastic read!


I got NEW KID by Jerry Craft for my kids to read (mainly my daughter, who loves graphic novels), and they both finished it within 24 hours. Actually, my daughter grabbed it with the words “My best friend read this!” and read it in less than three hours. My son then tore through it by the next morning, so that was a good sign I should read it too.

It’s about Jordan, whose parents enroll him at a prestigious private school where he’s one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. I loved Jordan’s character—his passion for art, love for his family, and struggle to figure out how to fit his different friends and worlds together. This book tackles many different aspects of racism, outright and careless, from other students AND teachers. By seeing it from Jordan’s viewpoint, it’s clear why ALL of those are hurtful and offensive. Even while there are many characters who don’t get things right, there are also hopeful moments throughout the book.

I especially loved the chapter titles and Jordan’s journal entries. I learned so much from this book, and I will definitely be picking up the companion novel, CLASS ACT, this fall.

This book is great to read and discuss with your kids. Also funny and a book kids will re-read.


DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone is about Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, always there to help a friend—none of which matters to the police officer who handcuffs him over a misunderstanding. Justyce begins studying the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and writing letters to him in a journal, seeking answers. One day, he’s riding in the car with his best friend with the music turned up really loud, sparking the anger of an off-duty cop in the truck beside them. Shots are fired.

I don’t want to get into what happens next because I encourage you to read the book yourself, but this book is extremely powerful and explores a number of different viewpoints and experiences. It delves into several aspects of racism, from daily encounters at Justyce’s school, to his black friend raised mainly in a white community, to the police bias. But it’s also more than just a look at race. It’s about friendship and falling in love and figuring out what you believe about the world and your place in it. It’s extremely well done and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas along these same lines.


This photo shows my expression when I finished reading AURORA BURNING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I had stayed up until 12:15 in the morning to finish the book, and it was a total cliffhanger! But still, the book was an amazing sequel to AURORA RISING, and I can’t wait for the finale!

If you aren’t familiar, the series is about a squad of misfits trying to save the galaxy from an ancient race that assimilates entire planets in its path. The characters are all hilarious, plus there are bonus romantic story lines and tons of action. If you don’t like cliffhangers, wait until the last book comes out to read these 😉.


Now that I’ve told you about some awesome books, I wanted to share a great resource. On June 4, I tuned in to the absolutely fantastic #KidLit4BlackLives Rally on Facebook Live, hosted by The Brown Bookshelf store. If you missed it, there’s a recording on The Brown Bookshelf YouTube Channel. The Brown Bookshelf has put on additional events since, and you can check those out on their Facebook page. One of my key takeaways has been that it’s important to read books that deal with racism directly, but it’s also vital to read and promote books that show Black kids and teens living joyfully.

If you have other book recommendations for me and my family, please pass them along!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Last week was a little crazy for my kids so I gave them a week off of reviewing, but I do hope to have a series review from my sixth grader next Monday. However, he will officially finish sixth grade this Thursday, so now I’m wondering if that means I have to start calling him a seventh grader. What do you think?

In any case, I have several young adult books to share with you this week. It’s quite a mix of serious and lighthearted contemporary, along with a historical mystery. I hope you find something you’d like to read!


If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauleyDo you tend toward lighthearted or serious books? I definitely prefer to laugh and in general shy away from books I fear could bring on tears. The exception is when I know the author—and it turns out a lot of my writer friends like to tackle serious topics!

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY by fellow #PitchWars17 mentee Kyrie McCauley is yet another example of why it’s so important to read books outside your normal comfort zone.

The book is set in small-town Pennsylvania, which is being invaded by tens of thousands of crows. They don’t bother seventeen-year-old Leighton, who already lives in a house that inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things. She’s focused on finishing out her senior year and deciding whether going away to college is worth leaving her sisters. While her father’s rage and the crows both increase, Leighton allows herself to get close to her charming classmate Liam. (Note that Kyrie includes a content warning on her website that the book includes realistic depictions of domestic violence that may be disturbing for some readers.)

Yes, this book tackles the very serious topic of domestic violence. It addresses how both the characters experiencing it and those who know about it—or suspect—respond, which is a very important conversation to have. It’s something we should be thinking about and aware of. So, yes, it’s hard, but if it’s a topic you can handle, then it’s worth reading.

But IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY is much more than an issue book. There’s sisterhood with all of its complications, first love with its mix of confusion and exhilaration, and a girl finding her internal strength. PLUS, there are the crows, which I’m not even sure exactly how to describe. There’s a sense of magic to the crows and yet Leighton also finds scientific explanations for much of what they do. It’s fascinating. Both the crows and the house are rich metaphors throughout the book.

I’m so glad I read this book and will be continuing to think about it. I definitely recommend it, with the caveat about the content if that may be an issue. What a powerful read!

I’ve been making a more concerted effort this year to read books by debut authors, and THE SILENCE OF BONES by June Hur is one that caught my attention early on. Set in 1800 in Joseon (Korea), the story follows 16-year-old Seol, indentured to the police bureau as a damo. She must assist a well-respected young inspector investigating the murder of a noblewoman. She forms an unlikely friendship with the inspector, but when he becomes the chief suspect, she might be the only one who can discover the truth—a challenging prospect in a time and place where a young girl is expected to be silent and obedient.

I’m always intrigued by a good mystery, but this book had the added element of a setting I’d never experienced before. I’ve read a lot of historical, but never in this specific part of the world. It was both interesting and frustrating to read Seol’s experiences. In addition to the investigation, Seol had a separate goal—to find her brother, who had left home a decade before and never returned. The two stories kept weaving together in unexpected ways. And the investigation itself ended up twisting in a number of directions, exploring both personal and political relationships. At times the book was quite harsh to read, but it was also very well done. I really enjoyed how well everything all fit together and the final resolution.


Moment of Truth by Kasie WestI read MOMENT OF TRUTH by Kasie West in less than 24 hours. It’s no surprise, since I’m a huge Kasie West fan and basically love every book she writes.

It’s about 16-year-old Hadley Moore, whose whole life is dedicated to swimming. And the story starts off with an important meet being disrupted by a guy dressed up as a Hollywood action hero crashing it. This masked hero has made a habit of going around town performing crazy stunts, but it’s the first time he’s messed with her. So of course she makes it her mission to discover who he is.

I really enjoyed the mystery of the masked character—and the eventual solution (which I totally figured out way before Hadley did). But as with all of Kasie West’s books, what I enjoyed most was the friendship, family, and love story. Hadley had a lot of self-discovery to go through in this story, and it wasn’t an easy path for her to follow. I’m also a sucker for a jokester love interest, but that’s all I want to say about that since even the description doesn’t say much about the love interest 😉.

I think I am STILL behind on Kasie West’s books. But hey, it’s something to aspire to as a writer—that readers can’t keep up!


What I Like About You by Marisa KanterI’ve wanted to read WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU by Marisa Kanter ever since I read the description and sample in PitchWars in 2017. It’s so gratifying when a book delivers on the premise, and this one totally does. I read the whole thing in a single day, while my family was participating in an at-home camping trip. I definitely belonged inside with a book while they were cycling 15 miles in the rain and camping in the front yard!

The premise of WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU is that three years ago Halle Levitt created a pseudonym when she started her cupcake-themed book blog. None of her online friends—including best friend Nash—know her true identity. When she moves in with her grandpa for senior year, she meets Nash in real life but is too scared to tell him who she is, embroiling herself in a love triangle with herself.

I really enjoyed how Halle grew during the story, learning what it means to be a friend and also working through her grief (a major plot involves the fairly recent death of her grandmother). Also, the take on books was really interesting. I’d love to see one of these cupcake cover recreations!


THE PERFECT ESCAPE by Suzanne Park truly was the perfect escape from all the craziness in the world. It’s about Nate Kim, a Korean-American teen who works at a zombie-themed escape room, and Kate Anderson, an aspiring teen actress with an over-controlling dad. Together, they team up for a survivalist competition for a huge cash prize.

I’m always up for a zombie story—real or imagined—and this one delivered. But it also dealt with a number of real-life family issues for both characters. They come from very different worlds, and yet they share a love for zombies and campy jokes, and their survival skills are the perfect complement for each other. Their love story isn’t an easy one, but it feels real. I really appreciated the resolution for everyone involved.


I just realized that four of these are 2020 debut books and two are PitchWars 2017 classmates! I can’t afford to buy every book I’d like to, but I’m trying to support other authors however I can during these times. I hope you are too!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

10 BLIND DATES and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

I intended to have another MMGM this week–this time from my fourth grader–but some other school work took precedence, and my sixth grader didn’t have another one prepared to jump in. However, I’ve been catching up on my own reading and realized I’d piled up quite a few mini-reviews. So here are a few young adult books I really loved. If you’d like to see these reviews as I post them, you can follow me on Instagram at @michelleimason.


10 Blind Dates by Ashley ElstonI’ve been intending to read 10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston for months. I finally started it last week—and finished it within a day. The story’s about Sophie, who stays home from Christmas break to be with her boyfriend—only he breaks up with her. Her huge family decides to console her by setting her up on 10 blind dates (giving her Christmas Eve and Day off). I was already on board from this setup alone, but here are the five things I loved best about it.

1. The dates! From participating in a nativity to bowling in costume, these dates were hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy. I loved how creative they were and couldn’t wait to see what the family members would come up with next.
2. The guys – I half-expected every guy picked out to be awful, but that wasn’t the case at all (I mean, some were). It was a really great representation of different types of guys.
3. The love interest – If you pick up this book, the description does not give anything away about who she ends up with, so I won’t here either, but the chemistry was fantastic.
4. Sophie’s family – So crazy but also wonderful. Also, I really loved the dynamic with her cousins and how she regained her closeness with them throughout the book.
5. Sophie’s sister – There was a more serious side plot going on with Sophie’s sister on bedrest, about to have a baby. I think sometimes writers are afraid to include a serious note in a romantic comedy, but it added a really great balance to the story. After all, that’s how life is.

So, that’s my take on 10 BLIND DATES, a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. If you’ve read it too, let me know your thoughts!


Lovely War by Julie BerryI really enjoyed the unique storytelling of LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. It’s a YA historical with a fantastical twist, told from the viewpoints of Aphrodite and other Greek gods. Interestingly, the gods are in the time of World War II, looking back on two love stories from World War I. Hazel, a shy pianist, meets James, an aspiring architect, right before he ships off for the front. Aubrey, a talented jazz musician and part of an all African-American regiment, meets YMCA volunteer Colette, who has lost her entire family and first love to German brutality. I loved the short chapters and back and forth between the gods debating the importance of love, war, and music versus the actual stories of these young people living through an unspeakable time.

Every one of these characters was compelling. I was drawn to their stories and hoping they would have happy endings, even while I expected the worst in a brutal war that took so many lives. I really appreciated how this story was told and highly recommend it.


I kept seeing this book all over Instagram, and the title alone was enough to make me want to read it. I’m a total sucker for clever titles. But then I read the description, and TWEET CUTE by Emma Lord is basically like YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

Pepper runs her family fast food chain’s Twitter account, and when the chain steals Jack’s family deli’s grilled cheese recipe, he engages in a Twitter war with her. Meanwhile, at school, they’ve never gotten along, but start getting to know each other and maybe even fall for each other. Add in an anonymous app they’re talking to each other on, which the reader is clued into.

I seriously couldn’t put this book down. I read it in a single day, despite currently drafting a book, starting eLearning with my kids, and everything else that goes with all of us being home. So that should tell you something about this book. It’s smart, fun, fast-paced, and a great escape from the anxiety and worry around us. Check it out!


I read the first book in this series, A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY, last year and loved it. I loved this one even more.

I found it interesting that with the exception of a couple of brief chapters, this book is written from two completely different points of view, leaving the reader wondering what’s happening with the two original characters. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I was quickly drawn into the stories of Grey and Lia Mara. They are both incredibly well-developed characters facing really tough choices. But I also really appreciated the secondary characters. With a couple of them, I wasn’t sure whether I should be rooting for them too or not. I was turning pages quickly to find out!

But really, in general I was turning pages quickly to get to the end of this book. I was reading this at a time when I had very little reading time due to other commitments, and this book made me snatch time whenever I could to find out what would happen next. I was so worried the characters would make the wrong decisions—and that they might not have any other options. The stakes are so well done. I can’t wait for the finale. Well done, Brigid Kemmerer!
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Also, super excited this book is from my publisher, Bloomsbury 😍.


I love getting so sucked into a book that I read it long into the night, which is what happened to me with THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE by Cynthia Hand. There was one night I had 100 pages left at 11:15 and almost went for it. But I do have kids to wrangle in the mornings :).

I read this book right before Christmas, and it was a perfect read during that time. A Scrooge retelling, it follows Holly Chase, who was visited five years ago by the three Ghosts and didn’t mend her ways, so she died. Ever since, she’s been working for Project Scrooge as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past, and she stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on without her. She’s pretty miserable, until the latest Scrooge is unveiled as a seventeen-year-old boy with a story very similar to her own and she embarks on a quest to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake she did.

I loved how Cynthia Hand approached this retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, updating it for a modern audience. Holly was an interesting character to me because she wasn’t very likable for much of the book—but then, she was a Scrooge, so that makes sense. Her character arc is what makes this book great. One of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down was that I wasn’t sure how it would all end, but I finished it satisfied. Even though the holidays are now over, I still highly recommend this book. If you aren’t up for reading off-season, grab it and hold on until this December!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

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?

Reviews, Young Adult Review

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?

Interviews, Reviews, Young Adult Review

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.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW and A Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another mini-review roundup!

As a music lover, I was immediately intrigued by SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW by Maurene Goo, about a K-pop star, an industry I know absolutely nothing about. I loved Lucky’s character right from the beginning—a girl who was passionate about her music career but trying figure out how to regain her love for it within its current confines.

Jack, on the other hand, was both appealing and completely frustrating to me. I thought the fact that he was a tabloid photographer was completely unique. I spent much of the book wanting to reach into the pages to shake him for his intentions toward Lucky, but at the same time, I sort of understood his cynicism. Mostly, I was hoping he’d make the right decisions in the end.

I also really enjoyed traveling around Hong Kong with the characters. It’s not a place I’ve really thought much about visiting, but I’m definitely intrigued now! Also, this was the first Maurene Goo book I’ve read, but I’ll definitely be making her others a priority now.


After reading LISTEN TO YOUR HEART by Kasie West, I’m wondering if I should give podcasts a try. The premise is that Kate Bailey would rather be out on the lake than making connections with people, but when her best friend convinces her to join the school podcasting class, she ends up as the host, doling out advice to anyone who calls in. Further complicating things, her best friend’s crush, Diego, starts calling in, and she finds herself falling for him, both on the phone and in person.

What surprised me about this book is that I wasn’t totally sure where all the relationships were going, even up to the end. There was this niggling thought that maybe Kasie West was going to throw in a big twist. Did she? Well, I’m not going to tell you that! I also liked how working on the podcast caused Kate to consider that there might be other options for her life than she’d always thought—that at least she should explore them. As usual in Kasie West’s books, there was a great supporting family cast.


Although Brigid Kemmerer has had books out in the world for quite a while, the first one I picked up was A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY. I learned about it when I signed with Bloomsbury, and Brigid nicely reached out to me to welcome me as a fellow author. I loved that book, and so when this new YA contemporary came out, I moved it to the top of my TBR list as well.

In CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT, Rob is dealing with the fallout of his father committing fraud and stealing from everyone in town, then attempting suicide. Maegan is facing the consequences of cheating on the SATs and causing 100 kids’ scores to be invalidated, plus issues with her older sister at home. There are so many tough topics being addressed in this story, and I really wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out. There were a lot of gray areas for the characters to navigate through, and they didn’t always make the wisest decisions, but there was so much heartache behind them. I loved how these characters surprised me in ways I didn’t anticipate.


I was intrigued by PAST PERFECT LIFE by Elizabeth Eulberg from the first time I read a description: When Ally Smith applies to college, she discovers she’s not Allison Smith at all but has been missing for 15 years. I really don’t want to give too much away about who took her or who’s looking for her because the cover copy doesn’t say very much more than this. However, what I really love about this book—and what made me think and evaluate—was how conflicted and real Ally’s feelings were about everyone involved. I’d be very curious how a teen approaches this book, because as a mother, it was much more difficult for me to put myself in her shoes than normal.

I read this book in two days. It’s so gripping. In addition to the obviously emotional family dynamics going on, there are fantastic friendships and a sweet romance. Definitely pick this one up!


Royalty plus a European setting? PRINCE IN DISGUISE by Stephanie Kate Strohm already ticked off two of my favorite things in a book before I even started reading. It’s about Dylan, the younger sister of former Miss Mississippi Dusty, who fell in love with a “Prince in Disguise” on reality TV, and now they’re going to Scotland for her Christmas Eve wedding.

Here are five things I loved about the book:
1. The castle – I am so there for anything set in a castle, particularly if there are secret passages.
2. The Disney references – I love all things Disney, so the frequent nods to Disney movies and characters just made me smile, especially the scene involving Frozen.
3. Kit and Heaven – NOT a couple but the best friends of the groom and Dylan, respectively, these two are fun characters both individually and when they interact with each other.
4. The literary references – Not only is the book full of Disney references, the love interest, Jamie, is constantly quoting classic poets and writers. Be still my heart!
5. Jamie – He is so sweet! He quotes poetry and rides horses and maybe is a little too good to be true, but is just what Dylan needs.


Let me know if you’ve read any of these books or have suggestions based on them. I always love to discuss!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

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!

 

 

Middle Grade Review, Reviews, Young Adult Review

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?