Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: PRIDE by Ibi Zoboi

It’s no secret I love PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I believe I’ve made it pretty clear it’s my favorite book, between my post about the original book and posts about retellings (BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS, EPIC FAIL, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries). Well, it’s not going to stop because amazing authors keep writing new takes on it, and I have another one today. PRIDE by Ibi Zoboi takes the classic tale to Brooklyn, specifically Bushwick, and it’s masterfully done.

Pride by Ibi ZoboiZuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The characters – Even though PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is my favorite book, I don’t go into a retelling expecting the characters to be exactly like Elizabeth and Darcy–more that they will capture the essence of them. I think Ibi Zoboi did this very well. Zuri is strong, with opinions that lead her to snap decisions about Darius, while Darius approaches her family with certain preconceptions and is protective of his brother–much like Darcy was protective of Bingley. But I loved the characterizations beyond these two. I felt entrenched in their world and learned much from them.

2. The poetry – Zuri’s poems throughout the book were gorgeous and moving. They took me deeper into her world and gave me a better understanding of how she felt about it.

3. The romance – Complicated and full of bumps along the way and yet just right in the end, the romance was lovely.

4. The setting – While I’ve read a number of books set in New York, I haven’t read many addressing the gentrification of a neighborhood like Bushwick. I felt Zuri’s hurt as her neighborhood changed, as well as her deep love for her home.

5. Zuri’s character arc – Zuri changed in so many ways during this book, which was important as change was something she feared at the beginning. The ending was bittersweet in some ways, and yet it felt necessary for her character growth. I really appreciated that.

Have you read PRIDE? What did you think?

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: FLASHBACK by Shannon Messenger

Today I’m thrilled to have my ten-year-old join me for a review of book seven in MMGM founder Shannon Messenger’s KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES series, FLASHBACK. We were especially excited about the release of this book because Shannon visited St. Louis last week, and we got to see her in person. I met her once before, when she came through for EXILE, the second book in the series, but it was my son’s first time meeting her, and he was ecstatic. I would share a picture–because he and his friend even went in costume and it was awesome–but I don’t post pictures of my kids publicly, so sorry. However, I am going to let my son take the lead on this review, because while I love these books, he has far surpassed me, reading the earlier books at least three times now. But first, here’s the cover and description, so if you haven’t read the other books in the series, SPOILERS AHEAD!

Still here? Okay then …

Flashback by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster doesn’t know what—or whom—to believe. And in a game with this many players, the worst mistake can be focusing on the wrong threat.

But when the Neverseen prove that Sophie’s far more vulnerable than she ever imagined, she realizes it’s time to change the rules. Her powerful abilities can only protect her so far. To face down ruthless enemies, she must learn to fight.

Unfortunately, battle training can’t help a beloved friend who’s facing a whole different danger—where the only solution involves one of the biggest risks Sophie and her friends have ever taken. And the distraction might be exactly what the villains have been waiting for.

On to the review, in the words of my ten-year-old super-fan. I did ask him to follow my five things format :).

This book is amazingly awesome, complex, and adventurously fun. But, warning: a lot of romance! Noooo! Well, it’s still really good.

Here are the things I loved most.

1. The alicorns – They are so energetic and exciting, and they’re always willing to help out Sophie and her friends just when they need them most. There’s some exciting drama with the alicorns in this book and I’m excited to see how it works out in the next book.

2. The Ballad of Bo and Ro – Once you read this book, this sentence will make a lot more sense. Keefe makes up this funny song, even though you don’t get to actually hear it, about the ogres Bo and Ro.

3. The butterbursts – Even better than custard bursts, mallowmelt, and rifflepuffs combined, found only in the secret teacher’s lounge of Foxfire, I would love to have these gooey treats and choose it over any dessert.

4. Tarina – A really cool and excellent bodyguard – a troll bodyguard – that helps Sophie with a tricky problem, Tarina is an awesome addition to FLASHBACK.

5. Meeting Shannon – Shannon Messenger is really, really nice. She loves cats and actually has a cat named Marty like Sophie in the first book. She hides cool meanings in the book, like Fitz’s name means “son of the king,” Sophie means “wisdom,” and Keefe means “good-looking.” I love what she said about how you should never let anyone tell you what you can’t read. Overall, I love her books, and I hope you read them.

So there you have it, a review from my ten-year-old. There are at least two more books expected in this series, although Shannon said at the event that a tenth is a possibility. After the cliffhanger at the end of FLASHBACK, we’re already anxious for book eight in the Mason house!

NetGalley, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE À LA MODE by Stephanie Kate Strohm

I’ve read a couple books by Stephanie Kate Strohm now–in fact, IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU was one of my favorite reads in 2016–so I was thrilled when Disney-Hyperion approved my NetGalley request to read an ARC of LOVE À LA MODE. I mean, they’re attending culinary school in PARIS–this book checks off so many boxes for me, and fortunately it delivers. First of all, here’s the description.

Love A La Mode by Stephanie Kate StrohmTake two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The meet cute – Rosie and Henry’s meeting on the plane to Paris is just so adorable. I enjoy the sparks-flying, rub-each-other-the-wrong-way kind of setup as much as the next reader, but it’s refreshing to read about two characters who immediately connect because they have something in common and genuinely like each other.

2. The developing romance – I have to admit I got frustrated sometimes with the two protagonists as the story proceeded because they wouldn’t just TALK TO EACH OTHER about what was going on. However, I also felt it was completely believable, and so even thought it was frustrating, this falls into the category of something I love about the story. It felt real to me that these two characters were struggling through life and didn’t quite know how to share it.

3. The food! – I’m not an adventurous eater myself, but I love reading books about cooking. It’s my way of branching out into more interesting foods, and this book definitely delivers on that front. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the pastries, and I just want to fly to Paris right now and visit Chef Petit’s boulangerie …

4. The friendship – The friendships both Rosie and Henry developed were an integral part of the book, and I loved how well-developed the characters were.

5. The family – Both Rosie and Henry had complex family situations that led to them studying at the École. In Henry’s case, his relationship with his mom and what she expected of him exhausted him mentally and physically. I really appreciated the unexpected depth this added to the story.

LOVE À LA MODE comes out Nov. 27 (hey, that’s my birthday!), and I do highly recommend it. I haven’t been posting as many reviews lately because I’ve been busy with writing stuff, but this one really stood out to me as a fun read. Hopefully I’ll have others soon. Thanks again to NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the read!

Character, Reading

On Sequels Ruining the Original

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, ever since an eagerly awaited sequel came in the mail this summer and from the first few pages had me going, “Whaaat?” I’m not going to call out this book specifically, which is part of the reason I waited so long to post about it (since I do list everything I read here on the blog).

In any case, I really loved the first book of this duology, enough that it has a review here, and I even pre-ordered the sequel so I wouldn’t forget about it. The first book left off on a total cliffhanger, but almost immediately the second book veered off in this completely disturbing direction. The further I read, the less engaged I was with the main characters. Based on everything they’d experienced in the first book and how the author had set them up, I found myself checking out more and more. By the end of the second book, the first book was completely ruined for me too, because with the cliffhanger ending of the first, you really can’t keep one without the other–a real bummer!

I’ve noticed this sequel issue with more than books. I had another experience recently that I wish I could erase, and I will totally call this one out. It was the musical “Love Never Dies,” which is a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.” I love Phantom. I sang one of the songs as a solo in our senior showcase in high school, and the stage production is always amazing. I was skeptical about a sequel, but I should have avoided it entirely because it was extremely disturbing on so many levels. Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom all acted in ways that seemed at odds with their behavior in the first musical, and there were plot points that really warped events in the timeline of “Phantom” as well. If you have the opportunity to see “Love Never Dies,” DON’T. (This might be the first negative review I’ve ever written on my blog, but I’m still traumatized a month after watching it.)

Finally, while it isn’t exactly a sequel, I recently stopped watching the second season of a very popular TV show for the same reason the first book I mentioned bothered me so much. I binge-watched the first season. The characters were engaging, and the mystery kept me wanting to discover the solution. As I began watching the second season, I was increasingly disappointed. The mystery wasn’t so believable, and the characters started making decisions that didn’t line up with how they’d been established in the first season. It finally reached the point where I just didn’t want to follow their journeys anymore.

So why this rant about sucky sequels? As writers, I think we must be careful about the promises we make to readers in our books, and if we do write sequels or series, we must be consistent. As I mentioned above, what turned me off most was when the characters were inconsistent. I understand characters might change, but if they’re behavior goes completely off the rails, you have to make me believe it or I will check out as a reader/viewer.

I’ve never written a sequel myself, but that’s partially why I felt it was important to document these thoughts. Perhaps somewhere down the line an opportunity will arise where I’ll have a story that isn’t finished after one book. If it does, I want to remember the importance of character constancy and maintaining the essence of the first book. I think those are the keys to turning readers into true fans.

Have you had any experiences with sequels that have turned you off a book or other media series?

Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Interview & Signed Hardcover Giveaway: EARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer

I’m thrilled to once again host my friend Krista Van Dolzer for her third middle grade book, EARTH TO DAD. With each book, she gives a glimpse into a new world, from the 1950s in THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, to contemporary middle school in DON’T VOTE FOR ME, and now the future! Krista has graciously offered a signed hardcover to one lucky reader, and you definitely want to get in on this giveaway, but first, let me tell you about the book.

Earth to Dad by Krista Van DolzerThe distance between Earth and Mars is more than just physical.

No one knows that better than eleven-year-old Jameson O’Malley. When Dad left for Mars, Jameson thought technology would help shorten the millions of miles between them, but he’s starting to realize no transmission can replace his father.

When a new family moves onto Base Ripley, Jameson makes an unlikely friend in Astra Primm, who’s missing a parent of her own. But as their friendship grows stronger, Jameson starts seeing the flaws in his own family. Mom is growing distant, and something is wrong with Dad. He’s not sending transmissions as frequently, and when he does there are bags under his eyes.

Soon Jameson realizes there’s more to the story than he knows–and plenty people aren’t telling him. Determined to learn the truth, Jameson and Astra embark on a journey exploring life, loss, and friendship that will take them to the edge of their universe.

Here are Krista’s answers to questions about the five things I loved most.

1. The premise of an asteroid sending Earth off-orbit so it’s steadily moving toward the sun is intriguing. How did you research the science of what that might be like?

Suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time clicking around NASA’s website (and quite a few other scientific organizations’ websites, too). 🙂 First, I looked for ways to put Earth’s future in jeopardy. Then, once I decided to give Earth a decaying orbit, I looked for ways to mess with the solar system’s equilibrium. As it turns out, Jupiter plays a pretty crucial role in holding the rocky planets in place, so if you mess with Jupiter, there’s at least a decent chance that you’ll mess with Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, too.

2. I love the friendship angle of the story, how more than anything what Jameson longs for is a best friend. What made you decide to focus on that as the central relationship in the story?

I tend to write children’s books with lots of adult characters, so to balance out that imbalance, I hone in on the relationships between my child characters. It worked especially well in this case, since I wanted Jameson to learn how to live a richer, fuller life and that’s what his friendship with Astra is all about.

3. I love the variety of your stories, how you’ve written historical (THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING), contemporary (DON’T VOTE FOR ME), and now futuristic. How do you put yourself in the mindset of kids from each of these different time periods?

I certainly try to vary my characters’ vocabularies so they don’t sound anachronistic, but beyond that, I don’t really think about it overtly. Kids are kids are kids, whether they’re living in 1952 or 2047. Though the trappings of their lives might change, kids from every age and walk of life probably still worry about the same sorts of things: finding friends, dealing with parents, and figuring out where they belong.

4. Astra is such a fun character. Did you develop her independently of Jameson, or were you particularly thinking of her as a foil for Jameson?

I’m so glad you liked Astra! I must have a soft spot for spunky tween girls. 🙂 I definitely wanted her personality to contrast with Jameson’s, so in that way, yes, I did write her as a foil for Jameson. They have so many things in common, but they process those experiences in such different ways.

5. I love the feeling of MAYBE throughout the book. As an adult, there were several scenes I read thinking “there’s no way this will work, but maybe … ” What tips do you have on retaining that optimism that kids have as they’re reading while still keeping the plot believable?

One thing I always remember is that kids’ brains aren’t fully developed—I don’t think a person’s brain is considered to be fully developed until, like, age twenty-two—so something that might seem completely ludicrous to me might seem plausible to a twelve-year-old (or, you know, a twenty-one-year-old). I think that gives us writers a certain amount of leeway when it comes to plotting. 🙂 That said, we did end up cutting and/or tweaking several scenes just to boost their plausibility. Maybe if the book becomes a runaway best-seller, I’ll have to share the scene in which Jameson steals a spacesuit…

Oh, I’d like to read that scene!

And if you’d like a chance to read EARTH TO DAD, you can enter by commenting below. For extra entries, click on the Rafflecopter. North America only, please. Open until next Monday, Sept. 17.

Whether you win the giveaway or not, definitely add EARTH TO DAD to your TBR list!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Hello, MMGM friends! It’s been a bit since my last flurry of reviews and even longer since my last middle grade review, but I was in the revision cave and then at the Lake of the Ozarks enjoying time with my family. On the way back, I started THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by Ammi-Joan Paquette and ended up finishing it that evening. Despite the fact it deals with a sad topic, it was a quick and engaging read that I couldn’t put down. My ten-year-old son also read it a few days later and enjoyed it as well. But on to the description.

The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan PaquetteMarty has always loved to hear his father tell the story of the Train of Lost Things: a magical engine that flies (yes, flies!) all around the world, collecting children’s lost objects. Then one day, Marty loses his most precious possession–a jean jacket packed with memories–which was given to him by his dad, who’s now very sick. Marty is devastated. He thinks the Train of Lost Things is just a story–but what if it’s real? Marty embarks on a desperate adventure to find the train, which is now his only link to the irreplaceable jacket.

To Marty’s shock and delight, he learns that the train is real! But it’s also gone out of control. Instead of helping return the lost items, the train has become an ever-growing heap of toys, trinkets, and memories. Along with Dina and Star, two girls he meets aboard the train, Marty sets about to learn what’s going on and to help put it right. And hopefully find his jacket in the process.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The jacket – What a wonderful idea to create a jacket full of memories, every pin and patch a representation of an activity Marty and his father had done together. My heart dropped with Marty’s when the jacket went missing.

2. The magic – I love the concept of a place where all the lost treasures go. Who hasn’t lost something at some point, something you’ve never been able to find again, no matter where you looked? It’s nice to think it might be out there, waiting for you.

3. The descriptions – I’ve read several of Ammi-Joan Paquette’s books now, and I always love her descriptions. Here’s an example of Marty climbing up to the top of the train.

It was a weird feeling, hiking up a tiny curlicue staircase on a moving mystery train. The steps were so narrow that Marty almost had to take them sideways. The whole thing was a bit like watching–no, like being–a fizzy bubble zooming up the inside of a bottle. Like he said, weird. With an extra dose of super weird on the side. Especially because he got to the top faster than he expected, and before he knew it his head and shoulders had oozed right through the opening window hatch, and then he was half in and half out of the train, and for a second his eyes blurred over because it was literally the craziest thing he had ever experienced.

4. Marty’s journey – Marty was such an authentic character to me. I felt so deeply what he was going through with his dad as well as the distance he felt from his friends. I appreciated how his adventure on the train helped him.

5. The ending – I expected this story to be sad based on the premise, but I was very satisfied with the resolution of the story. Now, my son had one more thing he wanted to happen at the end, but overall he was good with it too.

Have you read THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS? What did you think?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: HERE LIES DANIEL TATE by Cristin Terrill

As I sat in the airport, silently weeping at the fact I was leaving Disney World behind, I picked up a book for the first time since we’d arrived at the most magical place on Earth. (I think I could live there, guys. That’s how much I love Disney World.) Anyway, thank goodness for this book, because I was immediately drawn into the twisty tale of Cristin Terrill’s HERE LIES DANIEL TATE. Here’s the description.

Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin TerrillWhen ten-year-old Daniel Tate went missing from one of California’s most elite communities, he left no trace. He simply vanished.

Six years later, when he resurfaces on a snowy street in Vancouver, he’s no longer the same boy. His sandy hair is darker, the freckles are gone, and he’s initially too traumatized to speak, but he’s alive. His overjoyed family brings him home to a world of luxury and comfort he can barely remember. In time, they assure him, he’ll recover his memories; all that matters now is they’re together again.

It’s perfect. A miracle. Except for one thing.

He isn’t Daniel Tate.

He’s a petty con artist who accidentally stumbled into the scam of a lifetime, and he soon learns he’s not the only one in the Tate household with something to hide. The family has as many secrets as they have millions in the bank, and one of them might be ready to kill to keep the worst one buried.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The unreliable narrator – It’s really hard to pull off a successful unreliable narrator, but Ms. Terrill does it extremely well. So well that in the opening pages the narrator says he’s a liar and I still wanted to believe him. I found myself three-fourths of the way through the book, still wanting to believe he was lying about particular plot points and that the ending would turn out differently than I suspected. That’s some masterful writing!

2. The mystery – Wow! I’d like to say I figured out everything because I’m usually pretty good at spotting clues, but I was surprised along with the narrator at the complete picture revealed at the end. I had parts of it but not everything. I’m a suspicious reader, so I was impressed!

3. The family dynamics – The Tates are so complex I won’t even attempt to describe them, but I really loved how Ms. Terrill delves into the multiple sides of each character. Nobody is all good or all bad. They are well-developed, multi-faceted characters who feel deeply and make choices–whether right or wrong–based on those emotions.

4. The character development – It was fascinating to watch the narrator caught in his own con and how it changed him as a person. Up to this point, he’d lived his life entirely for himself. What decisions would he make now that he’d lived the life of Daniel Tate?

5. The pacing – Like I said, I couldn’t put this book down. I started reading it on the plane, and I finished it the next evening, staying up until midnight because I had to see how the mystery unraveled and what happened to all the players. The ending was not exactly what I expected and yet entirely perfect for the book.

Have you read HERE LIES DANIEL TATE? What did you think of the ending? Since I asked, anyone who hasn’t read yet beware of the comments :).