Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins

Get ready, friends, because I think I might be on a bit of a middle grade spree coming up. Two writer friends just had middle grade books come out, so I definitely plan to feature their books in the near future, but I also happened to pick up RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins, and I absolutely adored it. I’ve featured several of Ms. Hawkins’ young adult books here on the blog, but this is the first middle grade book of hers I’ve read. It’s equally delightful. Here’s the cover and description.

Ruby & Olivia by Rachel HawkinsRuby is bold and opinionated, while Olivia has always been respectful and well behaved. But Olivia’s good-girl image is tarnished when she takes the fall for her twin sister’s misdeed. And now Olivia is stuck with Ruby all summer—at a community service day camp for troublemakers.

To kick off the spirit of service, the campers are tasked with cataloging the contents of Live Oaks, a historic mansion in their town. Sorting through objects in an old house sounds boring, and working together is the last thing the girls want to do, but the stuff is actually kind of cool. There’s everything from mink stoles to golf clubs to antique dolls . . . and . . . wait . . . is that doll watching them?

It isn’t long until little tricks—like mysterious music playing, doors slamming, and shadows rising—start to spook the girls. They’d like to think the other campers are pranking them, but they soon realize that this empty mansion might not be uninhabited after all. To solve the mystery at Live Oaks, Ruby and Olivia will have to put their old grudges aside and figure out how to be a team.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendship – These two girls are so different, and their path to friendship is further complicated by the fact that they have history–Ruby used to be close friends with Olivia’s twin sister, Emma. This friendship is messy and prickly and the girls both get hurt along the way, but it’s honest and real. It’s very well done.

2. The families – The dynamics in both family relationships are excellent and unique. Ruby is dealing with the loss of her grandmother and is very close to her mom, while Olivia has a sticky relationship with her twin after taking the fall for something she perhaps shouldn’t have, leaving her alone with her parents for the summer for the first time ever.

3. The humor – Humor is a staple of Rachel Hawkins’ books, and this one is no exception. Ruby is the main source in this case, as humor is her default, although Olivia steps up sometimes too, once she feels comfortable with Ruby.

4. The mystery – A spooky house with creepy dolls, taxidermied animals, and doors that randomly close? Yes, please! I loved how the girls decided to investigate.

5. The resolution – I really enjoyed the final resolution to the mystery. It wasn’t one of those stories where you could figure it out entirely on your own. There were hints where it was headed, but you had to wait until the end with the characters to find out what was truly going on, and it was a great payoff.

I will definitely be looking for other middle grade books from Rachel Hawkins. I know she has one other. If you’ve read RUBY & OLIVIA, what did you think?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons

I love entering giveaways, and I love it even more when I win–especially when the book shows up in the mail and I didn’t know I’d won. Best surprise ever! That’s what happened with THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons, and it arrived with a really cool swag pack (pictured below). I started reading this book on the last day of our cruise and had it almost finished by the time we got off the plane home. It’s a super fast-paced read. Well, let me give you the description first, and then I’ll get on to the review :).

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials—because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark—a senator’s son—and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for secret schools where kids are developing special skills, even if they’re conning people. What’s interesting about this one is that Brynn has to consistently confront her own sense of right and wrong–which isn’t so clearly defined to start with–and decide what her limits are.

2. The pacing – I already mentioned it above, but this book was a really quick read. The stakes kept ratcheting up in each new chapter, plus …

3. The twists – They just kept coming! I loved how layered this book was. It almost felt like the author had started at the end and layered all the clues on top of each other toward the front. That’s how well all the pieces fit together. It’s very well done.

4. The romance – The initial attraction, the uncertainty, the ex still somewhat in the picture, the complication of having other people you’re conning thrown into the mix–quite a lot to add into a teen romance. And this one gets a bit steamy.

5. The ending – It’s the perfect ending to start off a series. I wanted more but didn’t feel like I was left on a total cliffhanger. I will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

If anyone out there reading this has taken a liking to that swag pack, let me know! I’m going to keep the book, but if you’d like the patch or Vale Hall letter/syllabus, I’d be happy to mail it to someone. Just send me a note in the comments or email me. First person to ask gets it, but please North America.

Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

ENCHANTÉE and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Hello, friends! I have returned from vacation, where I spent many hours reading, and once again I find I’ve built up a few mini-reviews on Instagram and even one on Twitter, so I’m going to compile them here. Before vacation, I was in a total daze from a combination of my first round of edits and serving as the cookie mom for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I’m actually planning a post about what happens after the book deal for later this week, but on to the mini-reviews!

Despite being far from eighteenth century France on the beach in Cozumel—or the Belize countryside, or my cabin in the middle of the Caribbean Sea—I felt completely entrenched in the setting of ENCHANTÉE thanks to the beautiful writing of Gita Trelease (at one point my kids were begging me to play Spades, and I was like, “No, there’s a duel happening!”). I thoroughly enjoyed how magic was mixed into the history of the French Revolution, plus there’s a lovely romance thrown in, along with the main character making increasingly terrible choices. The ending was quite satisfying as well. Highly recommend!


So, I picked up Brigid Kemmerer’s A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY because she’s a fellow Bloomsbury author and I had been hearing great things about this book. WOW, WOW, WOW! I was in the middle of my edits, and when I’m not on deadline, I usually stop working about an hour before the kids get home to read every day. I SOOO wanted to do that with this book, but I resisted because I knew I had to finish my edits before vacation. Instead, I ended up reading the last half of this book on a Friday night into Saturday. Oh my goodness, the twists, the romance, the stakes! If I hadn’t been so entrenched in edits and Girl Scout cookies, I would have written a full review here on the blog. (But, Michelle, you did have full reviews on the blog during those weeks, you might say. Guess what? All written and scheduled before Feb. 11.)


 

Somehow I read all of THE DATE TO SAVE by Stephanie Kate Strohm without realizing its connection to IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU, despite the fact the latter was one of my favorite reads in 2016. Let’s blame it on the 189 books I read in between—although it made soo much sense when I read the acknowledgments why certain aspects of the book seemed familiar. Like the interview format and variety of voices and the humor. Plus this one included a fun mystery. I recommend you read the two together, which is what I’ll do when I come back to them again in the future. And isn’t that the best sort of recommendation—that you want to read a book again?


I started reading LEGENDARY over Christmas break and actually finished it on Christmas evening, as the kids were all running around the house. As I expected, I am now on tenterhooks awaiting FINALE. LEGENDARY included all of the gorgeous writing and page-turning twists of CARAVAL (one of my favorite reads of 2017) but had a different sort of tone coming from the viewpoint of Tella instead of Scarlett. As a result, the romance was a bit more steamy, but it fit Tella’s character completely, and I’m quite curious to discover how the romances of both girls will conclude in the final installment. Not to mention all the other threads left hanging … Is it May yet??


I thoroughly enjoyed SEALED WITH A SECRET by Lisa Schroeder. A companion to MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS, which I reviewed in 2017, this book follows Phoebe through London as she tries to fulfill the steps of a magic spell she finds in an antique makeup compact. It’s full of friendship, sisterly struggles, other family dynamics, and London sights. I’ll be holding on to this one for my daughter to read in a year or two!


Okay, that’s it for now, but I may have a full review next Monday. We’ll see how the rest of the book I’m reading shapes up :). Happy reading, everyone!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: IN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody

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

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

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

Here are the five things I loved most:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character, Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2018

I considered waiting until next week to post the list of my favorite reads of 2018, but my kids will be home, so I really don’t think I’ll get much more reading done. I’m only at 79 books completed, down from 100 last year, but I read quite a few adult books this year (still trying to weed out some books from my shelves downstairs to make room). Interestingly, I did reread a few old favorites I decided not to keep, but most of the adult books I reread this year were ones that ended up staying on my shelves.

Without further ado, here are my favorite reads of 2018, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name. (It seems the most fair way to do it 😀). Most of these actually were published in 2018, but a couple are books I just got around to this year.

Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterNOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter – This book had me from the moment Ally Carter posted the deal announcement on Twitter with the blurb that it was a gender-swapped YA Romancing the Stone set in Alaska. I mean, how could that not be amazing? But then Ally Carter came to St. Louis, and I got to hear her talk about the book and started reading it while I waited in line for her to sign it, and I’m pretty sure I finished the rest of it within a day because it was so high-stakes I couldn’t put it down. Plus, the banter between the Maddie and Logan was so perfect. Basically, the more I’m writing about this book and remembering it, I’m pretty sure it was my favorite read of the year. Funny how that happens.


My Plain JaneMY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows – Despite the fact I’ve never read JANE EYRE (ducks away from Charlotte Brontë scholars and fellow English majors), I anxiously awaited this book because MY LADY JANE was my absolute favorite read of 2016. MY PLAIN JANE lived up to the previous collaboration by The Lady Janies, with a crazy mix of ghosts, pop culture references, author asides, and extra romance thrown into the classic JANE EYRE. I can’t wait to see what they do for MY CALAMITY JANE, and I hope their collaboration won’t end there!


Royals by Rachel HawkinsROYALS by Rachel Hawkins – I love to laugh, and this book had me laughing out loud throughout, plus I had a huge smile on my face at the end. Daisy’s voice was so spot-on, and that led to amazing banter with all of the characters, but I also just wanted all of them to keep talking. It was that sort of witty dialogue throughout. While this was a huge part of what made the book funny, the humor was also situational, so bonus points for putting the characters into crazy hijinks. And then there was the romance–just perfect!


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanCRAZY RICH ASIANS trilogy by Kevin Kwan – So I’m totally breaking my tradition here by including an adult series, but I have good reason. It’s been years since I’ve read anything new by an adult author. I read new middle grade and young adult authors all the time to stay abreast of the market, but the only new books I read by adult authors are by my old favorites, and I’ve even stopped reading some of them. But when I saw the preview for the movie version of this book, I thought it looked great, and as everyone knows, the book is always better than the movie. That definitely holds true in this case, although I loved the movie too. I had to keep reading through the rest of the series to see what happened to all of the characters, and I found it highly entertaining. It sort of reminded me of reading historical romance set in regency England, with all of the class differences, but a very different setting and a lot of emphasis on food. I am maybe the least adventurous eater on the planet, but I do love to read about it :). Also, if you have only seen the movie, I recommend you do read the books.


Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughBLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough – I read this book in a single day and then was so compelled by the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a girl who lived in seventeenth century Rome, I had to go look up more about her life. The verse, the art, the structure, the important message–it all merges together to make this book a must-read. Obviously many others agree, as it is winning and being nominated for awards left and right!

 


Story Thieves: Worlds Apart by James RileySTORY THIEVES: WORLDS APART by James Riley – Do I have a book by James Riley on my list every year? Pretty much and for good reason. Every single one of them is amazingly creative, hilarious, and leaves me wanting more. Sadly, WORLDS APART was the finale of the STORY THIEVES series, but James Riley has a new series coming out. I’m sure it will be equally fantastic. If you haven’t read the STORY THIEVES series, WHY NOT??

 


Fearless by Kristin SmithFEARLESS by Kristin Smith – This third installment in Kristin Smith’s Deception Game series is a fast-paced read that kept me anxious to find out how Sierra, Trey, and Zane would survive–and who they would end up with. If you haven’t read this series, start at the beginning with CATALYST and move on to FORGOTTEN before you pick up FEARLESS. Kristin writes jaw-dropping twists, swoon-worthy love interests, and page-turning action.


Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin TerrillHERE LIES DANIEL TATE by Cristin Terrill – It’s tricky to pull off a successful unreliable narrator, but Cristin Terrill does it masterfully. In fact, the main character in this book flat out says he’s a liar, and I still wanted to believe he was telling me the truth. The mystery, the twists, the family dynamics, and the ending–this book kept me clicking through pages non-stop, thinking I knew how things would go but not entirely sure and not entirely right either. I’m pretty good at figuring things out, so I love it when an author can fool me.


Nothing But Sky by Amy TruebloodNOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood – I love it when a fantastic story merges with learning something I never knew. That’s what happened for me with this wonderful historical. I can’t even imagine these young women who dared to walk along the wings of planes to entertain crowds in the 1920s with death-defying stunts. Amy Trueblood tells the story of Grace Lafferty gorgeously, with interesting historical tidbits sprinkled into her quest to reach the World Aviation Expo. Plus there’s romance. It’s one you don’t want to miss!


Earth to Dad by Krista Van DolzerEARTH TO DAD by Krista Van Dolzer – I loved this story of friendship and family set in futuristic Earth. More than anything, Jameson longs for a best friend, and when Astra moves in, he has that opportunity. I also love how well this book captures the feeling of maybe that’s so vital for middle grade readers. There’s an ever-present hope within the book, even when Jameson and Astra are facing some very tough truths. So well done.


So those are my ten favorite reads this year–so far :). Of the 79 books I’ve read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 38

Middle grade: 18

New adult: 1

Adult: 19

Non-fiction: 3

I can’t believe I read more adult books than middle grade! But unsurprisingly, the bulk of my reading remains young adult.

What were your favorite reads in 2018? Do we share any of the same? I’d love to discuss them with you!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: MY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows was my favorite read of 2016, so I’ve been anxiously awaiting their next book. They call themselves The Lady Janies, so their three planned books are all about famous Janes–the first, Lady Jane Grey; the second, Jane Eyre; and the third, Calamity Jane.

So, I’m going to be completely honest and admit that I’m a sad excuse for an English lit major on this one because I’ve never read JANE EYRE (ducks). I have the book on my shelf, but the one class where we discussed Charlotte Bronte, we read VILLETTE instead. I think my professor just wasn’t a fan of JANE EYRE. 🤷‍♀️ I’m not sure whether this helped me as I read or not, but just like with MY LADY JANE, mostly it left me more intrigued and looking up information about both Charlotte Bronte and her famous heroine. (After reading the synopsis of the classic, this version sure sounds like a lot more fun!) In any case, maybe I’d better just get into the review …

My Plain Jane by The Lady JaniesYou may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!) Or does she? 

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The pop culture references – I mean, why shouldn’t a pre-Victorian story include sly references to Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and several more twentieth (and twenty-first) century movies and books. Of course, they aren’t overt references. You could easily miss them if you aren’t familiar with key lines from these famous works (I’m sure there were some I missed!), but those that you do know will cause a chuckle.

2. The ghost world – I enjoy a good ghost story anyway, but I loved that this one included a royally sanctioned ghost-hunting society with agents who wore masks all the time and people just accepted that as normal. And how the ghosts all thought Jane was beautiful while the rest of the world saw her as plain and this ended up leading to an absolutely perfect twist. There’s also a really funny scene with Alexander relocating a ghost by bopping him on the head with a teacup …

3. The romance – This book includes the most adorable romance, and I don’t really want to say much about it to avoid spoilers.

4. The asides – I love how the authors would describe something in the character’s voice and then add their own thoughts in parentheses.

Most of the men of this era had a mustache or, at the very least, sideburns, but he had neither. Jane wouldn’t call him handsome. (In the pre-Victorian age, a truly handsome man should be pale–because being out in the sun was for peasants–with a long, oval-shaped face, a narrow jaw, a small mouth, and a pointy chin. We know. We can’t believe it, either.)

5. The ending – Like I said, I’ve never read JANE EYRE, but I did have a general idea about it. However, this story wasn’t just about her. I really liked how everything was tied up for not only Jane but the two other main characters and even the secondary characters.

Have you read MY PLAIN JANE yet? If not, you should definitely pick it up!

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?