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?

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 :).

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: STORY THIEVES: WORLDS APART by James Riley

Hello, MMGM! Long time no see. But my kids have been hounding me to read along with them more, so I expect I will be peeking back in more often.

Of course I can’t resist reviewing a James Riley book, and that is what would bring me back into the fold. I held off on reading the fourth book (PICK THE PLOT) in the STORY THIEVES series, mainly because I wasn’t super-excited about it being a choose-your-own adventure story. I don’t know why. I loved those books when I was a kid, and I know what a genius James Riley is at turning any preconceived ideas you may have on their head. And it was totally awesome, just like the rest of the series. But I’m still glad I waited until the paperback of PICK THE PLOT came out because it ended on a total cliffhanger, and then I didn’t have to wait to read the series finale, WORLDS APART. Side note: I was in the middle of another book when it arrived, and my ten-year-old beat me to it, so he kept telling me how awesome it was. Then, once I started reading, he needed constant updates about where I was in the story. I love how we can enjoy stories together!

Fair warning before you read this review, it includes SPOILERS for the earlier books. If you haven’t read them yet, you should stop before the description. Or just click over to my review for the original STORY THIEVES and start there.

Still reading? Okay then.

Worlds Apart by James RileyOwen and Bethany try to find their way back to each other after the fictional and nonfictional worlds are torn apart in this fifth and final book in the New York Times bestselling series, Story Thieves—which was called a “fast-paced, action-packed tale” by School Library Journal—from the author of the Half Upon a Time trilogy.

Bethany and Owen have failed. The villain they have come to know as Nobody has ripped asunder the fictional and nonfictional worlds, destroying their connection. Bethany has been split in two, with her fictional and nonfictional selves living in the separate realms.

But weirdly, no one seems to mind. Owen—and every other nonfictional person—have lost their imaginations, so they can’t picture their lives any differently. Then Owen gets trapped in a dark, dystopian reality five years in the future, where nothing is needed more desperately than the power to imagine.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The pacing – I read this book in two days. In fact, I was so into it, I stayed up really late to finish it, and then when I got ready to write this review, I was like, “Wait, did that really happen at the end?” Turns out I was so sleepy I missed a few things. But that just meant I got to read it again :). James Riley accomplished this fantastic pacing using the same technique he implemented in ONCE UPON THE END. For most of the book, Owen and Bethany were separated, and the chapters switched between their points of view, leaving the reader on a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. It made it very hard to stop reading.

2. All the characters – It was the perfect reunion of my favorite characters. Okay, there was one particular character I really would have loved to see again (mentioned in my STOLEN CHAPTERS review), but I can see how she wouldn’t fit here. I don’t want to give away who all does return, except that of course Kiel is included. I mean, he’s on the cover :).

3. The conflict – I can’t even explain exactly what Nobody has done if you haven’t read the book. They’re not trying to save THE world; they’re trying to save multiple worlds. It’s so meta James Riley pokes fun at it in the acknowledgements (one of the funniest parts of the books, actually).

4. Bethany’s character arc – Well, actually, I guess it’s two character arcs since there are two Bethanys? I sort of hated both Bethanys. My son and I had a rather heated discussion about this because he liked one of them. But I think the whole point of splitting Bethany was that she wasn’t meant to be two halves of herself, and I thought it was interesting that James Riley approached it with each half thinking they were better off alone (a plot point you discover in the first chapters).

5. The ending – Well, like I said, I had to read it twice to make sure it really happened the way I thought it did. This ending was completely crazy and yet satisfying. I’m still reeling a bit from one particular plot point that I can’t believe he left that way, but hey, it’s fiction.

Isn’t it?

If you really are just telling Owen and Bethany’s story, Mr. Riley, my son would love to go hang out with them sometime. I’ll keep their location secret :).

I can’t wait to see what James Riley writes next. We’re all fans in this house!

Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2017

As I began preparing this post, I was a bit shocked to see that I’ve read less than 100 books this year, although I have 11 days left, so I might be able to squeeze four more in :). However, one of the reasons I’ve read less in 2017 is that I returned to another passion–the violin. While I’ve been playing in my church orchestra for years, I missed playing classically. So in August, I joined a local symphony orchestra, and a number of hours I used to spend reading each week are now devoted to rehearsals and practicing my violin. So it’s a good reason for diverting reading hours!

The other factor is that I’ve been mixing in more adult books from my collection downstairs, going along with my post from August 2016 about the importance of reading just for fun, but incorporating these old favorites decreased the number of books I finished since adult novels are significantly longer.

If you’re new to my favorite reads list, these books weren’t necessarily published in 2017–I just read them in 2017. Also, I read fewer MG books, so I’m going to mix them in with the YA, and I’m not going to rank them. I’ll just list them in alphabetical order by author, with links to my reviews. I do love to alphabetize 🙂 …

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber  Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger   Nightfall by Shannon Messenger  

CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber – I love that a sibling relationship centers this book, but it also features a tension-filled romance, gorgeous prose, new twists in seemingly every chapter, and terrific pacing. Looking forward to the next book!

FOLLOW ME BACK by A.V. Geiger – I read this book in one day thanks to its unique format, gasp-out-loud twists, fantastic pacing, and an ending that has me anxiously anticipating the sequel. Actually, I just paused writing this post to pre-order it, and I’m sad it won’t arrive until June :(.

NIGHTFALL by Shannon Messenger – If you’ve been following my favorite reads lists, this one won’t surprise you. Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series consistently ranks among my favorite middle grade reads every year, and this year’s installment delivered with the same level of humor, adventure and intrigue. Can’t wait for the next one!

Once Upon A Kiss by Robin Palmer STORY THIEVES: SECRET ORIGINS by James Riley Geek Girl by Holly Smale

ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin Palmer – I am such a sucker for time travel books, but add in humor, friendship, and romance, and I’m sold!

STORY THIEVES: SECRET ORIGINS by James Riley – I don’t know why I don’t have a review of this book. I think I must have read it during a time when I was too busy to write one, but this whole series is amazing, and you can read my review of the first book here. In this third installment, James Riley delivered jaw-dropping new twists, and he amazes me with his continued ingenuity. The next book is choose your own adventure :).

GEEK GIRL series by Holly Smale – While I’m not ranking these books overall, I’m going to make an exception for this series and say it was my favorite read of the year. I picked up the first book at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale last December and didn’t get to it until the summer. Once I started reading, I COULD NOT STOP. And there are six books, plus novellas. And this became an issue because they are British and weren’t all available in the U.S., and I had to wait TWO WEEKS for books four and five and it was agony. Anyway, these books made me laugh and cry, which is very rare. I only cry over relationship drama, so I really cared about these characters. I’ll stop now. Just … you should read these.

Catalyst by Kristin Smith At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer

CATALYST and FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith – A futuristic world with genetically modified teens, a sizzling love triangle, and twists that just keep coming! This series is yet to be complete, and I can’t wait to see how it ends. Kristin was one of my mentors during Pitch Wars, so I was privileged to work with her one-on-one and to interview her about the books.

AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer – I love the famous-boy-falls-for-unimpressed-girl trope, plus there’s an inside look at life as a teen YouTuber and a great friendship story. Beth was my other Pitch Wars mentor, and she also granted me an interview about her fabulous book.

Lucky in Love by Kasie West Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

LUCKY IN LOVE by Kasie West – I predicted when I reviewed this book a couple weeks ago that it would make my list, and sure enough, here it is. An adorable romance, believable family dynamics, and a fun premise make this an excellent read. But really, Kasie West books make my list every year, so it’s no surprise :).

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon – A book I put off reading because I thought it would be depressing and I was SO WRONG. It has humor, a romance with fantastic tension, and a unique storytelling structure. It delivers on so many levels, and there’s even a movie to go with it :).

So that’s it. What were your favorite reads this year? Any of the same?

Giveaways, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review & Giveaway: FOLLOW ME BACK by A.V. Geiger

A couple of weeks ago I won a giveaway for A.V. Geiger’s FOLLOW ME BACK, and as I just read the book in a day, I think it merits a review. Also, for some reason they sent me two copies, plus swag, so I’m doing a giveaway! Details are at the end of the review.

Follow Me Back by A.V. GeigerAgoraphobic fangirl Tessa Hart doesn’t dare tell a soul about the traumatic incident that caused her to drop out of a prestigious summer program, the month after high school graduation. Instead she spends her days immersed in the online fandom of her pop star obsession, Eric Thorn. She knows it sounds crazy, but he’s the only one who seems to understand her, even love her…

That’s what he says over Twitter anyway: that he loves each and every fan. But the truth is he’s terrified of them. Ever since a super-fan murdered the lead singer of British boy band Fourth Dimension, he can’t shake the feeling he’s next. Murderous fangirls may be one in a million, but with 14 million Twitter followers, the odds aren’t in his favor.

When a plan to alienate his fans instead leads Eric to befriend @TessaHeartsEric via a fake Twitter account, the two form a bond that neither could have imagined. For Eric, Tessa is the one honest voice in a sea of fakery. For Tessa, her mysterious online friend might just give her the courage to let go of her traumatic past and untangle herself from the world of online fandom and celebrity obsession. But this is no fan-fiction fairytale come to life. Dark secrets from Tessa’s past surface, and the fanatics in Eric’s fandom get a little too close for comfort. When the two arrange to meet IRL, fake identities are revealed and what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish, turns deadly.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The unique storytelling format – The story is told through a combination of police transcripts, Twitter DMs, and traditional narrative. They’re woven together perfectly, so that you’re given just enough information in the present to wonder what happened in the past before you read about it. And with this being a thriller, that’s no easy task!

2. The pacing – While I alluded to pacing above, it’s worth breaking out as its own point. I did not want to put this book down. With every chapter, there was something new revealed, some new piece of information that kept me anxious to read on and discover either what was about to happen in the present or what had happened in the past.

3. The romance – I loved how the relationship developed between Tessa and Eric, even if she didn’t know who he was. In general I like the trope of characters who fall in love from a distance, and I appreciated how it wasn’t all smooth sailing, with misunderstandings that had to be worked out.

4. The twists – I said “What!” out loud more than once reading this book. Not every twist caught me by surprise, but there were a couple, and I love it when that happens. Well done!

5. The ending – Whoa! That’s really all I want to say about it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I am now dying to read the next book in this series. It’s the kind of situation where I hate that I read the book right when it came out because now I have to wait a whole year :(.

To win FOLLOW ME BACK, plus a tote and bookmark, click on the Raffelcopter link below. North America only, please. The giveaway will be open until Aug. 2. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: DEAR POPPY by Ronni Arno

With the NESCBWI Conference having happened over the weekend, it seems appropriate for me to review a book by an author I met at last year’s conference. No, I didn’t go again–it’s a bit of a trek for me–but I’m pleased to have found many authors last year whose books I will be picking up as they come out. Ronni Arno is one of those. I thoroughly enjoyed RUBY REINVENTED, and her second book, DEAR POPPY, is equally delightful.

Dear Poppy by Ronni ArnoWhen twelve-year-old Poppy moves to the country, she discovers a secret stash of letters that give her a unique connection to her late mother in this M!X novel about friendship, first crushes, and family drama.

City girl Poppy has always wanted a best friend, but never felt enough of a connection with anyone to gain BFF status. Even without a BFF, Poppy is horrified when her father decides to move her and her older brother out to the family farm. Away from her beloved city and away from memories of her late mom—a fresh start for everyone.

And after a weird first week at her new school, Poppy is convinced she is destined for a boring year—until she finds a stack of letters from 1985 hidden in the barn of the old farmhouse that they move into. Even better? Those letters are addressed to Poppy…from her mom. Poppy doesn’t know what supernatural event brought these letters to her, but she doesn’t care. All she knows is that she finally has the connection she yearns for. Plus, her mom seems to understand everything that Poppy is going through: not quite fitting in, the desire to put down roots, and the heartbreak of losing a loved one. Has Poppy discovered the friend—and acceptance—she’s always wanted?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The opening – The contrast of the first two sentences immediately drew me in, so I’m going to share them here. I think they not only show you a lot about both Poppy and her brother, but they also demonstrate something about the nature of grief, which is a theme in the book.

My brother is smiling so hard I think his cheeks are pinned to his ears. This would be fine, of course, if we weren’t at my grandad’s funeral.

2. Poppy’s dad – I love how Poppy’s relationship with her dad changes throughout the book, as he transforms from Old Dad to New Dad (also love that she makes that distinction). It’s a tough lesson that sometimes parents take a long time to come out of their grief, but it’s a true one.

3. The letters – The letters from Poppy’s mom were so perfectly timed to what was happening in Poppy’s life and a perfect example of how middle school is the same whether it’s 1985 or 2016. (Wow, this sounds a lot like my last review for ONCE UPON A KISS, except swapping out high school for middle school.)

4. Britt and Brody – I love how there is so much depth to these two characters. You see the surface of the cute popular boy who doesn’t like confrontation and the rebel outcast who’s all about trouble, but when they’re at home the twins have a lot of the same interests–including Poppy and gardening.

5. The resolution – Poppy has a very clear idea of why she’s in the country and how everything should turn out. As a reader, I had a different idea of where the story was headed. I won’t tell you who was right, just that the ending was very satisfying :).

I will definitely be picking up Ronni Arno’s next book. Actually, the next one on her site is an anthology featuring another favorite author of mine, Jen Malone. Looking forward to BEST. NIGHT. EVER!