Instagram, Reading, Review, Young Adult

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!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: SCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE & LUCK by Jenna Evans Welch

Hello, readers! Where did the summer go?

In my case, I have a very good answer. On July 12, the Friday after my last post, I didn’t see a set of steps, went down, and broke my foot in an inconvenient spot that ended up requiring surgery. Just this week I am allowed to start putting weight on it again (yay!). I was able to keep up with some work despite the circumstances, but the blog unfortunately was neglected. However, my kids are back to school today, and so despite the fact I usually post reviews on Mondays, you all get one today!

A couple of years ago I gushed over LOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch, and I’ve just gotten around to reading the companion novel, LOVE & LUCK. Just as the first book made me long for a trip to Italy, I’m now itching to drive around Ireland. If I do, I may have to use this book as my guide :). Anyway, here’s the cover and description.

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans WelchAddie is visiting Ireland for her aunt’s over-the-top destination wedding, and hoping she can stop thinking about the one horrible thing she did that left her miserable and heartbroken—and threatens her future. But her brother, Ian, isn’t about to let her forget, and his constant needling leads to arguments and even a fistfight between the two once inseparable siblings. Miserable, Addie can’t wait to visit her friend in Italy and leave her brother—and her problems—behind.

So when Addie discovers an unusual guidebook, Ireland for the Heartbroken, hidden in the dusty shelves of the hotel library, she’s able to finally escape her anxious mind and Ian’s criticism.

And then their travel plans change. Suddenly Addie finds herself on a whirlwind tour of the Emerald Isle, trapped in the world’s smallest vehicle with Ian and his admittedly cute, Irish-accented friend Rowan. As the trio journeys over breathtaking green hills, past countless castles, and through a number of fairy-tale forests, Addie hopes her guidebook will heal not only her broken heart, but also her shattered relationship with her brother.

That is if they don’t get completely lost along the way.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ireland for the Heartbroken – I loved how this guidebook sent the characters to actual tourist sites but put a spin on each one. I also loved how it was talking to the reader and calling the reader names like “turtledove” and “love muffin.” It was like a straight-talking auntie who didn’t let the reader get away with wallowing–unless that was part of the assignment.

2. The sibling relationship – So, having read LOVE & GELATO, I expected this book to be mainly a romance, especially considering it still has LOVE in the title to go along with the other book. (The characters from the first book are in it.) However, the main relationship was between Addie and her brother, Ian, and the potential romance was secondary. Even though I’m a total sucker for a romance, I loved that this story focused on these two, especially since she was getting over a relationship.

3. Rowan – Rowan was just as delightful of a character as Ren in the first book. I was completely on board with him as a potential love interest for Addie, especially since he wasn’t at all pursuing her in that way and their friendship grew during the story.

4. The tension – I looked back at my review of LOVE & GELATO and was reminded how frustrated I was that a particular subplot kept getting dragged out and yet it also made sense that it wasn’t revealed until later. The same thing happened in this book, where I just wanted to know already! And yet it still also made sense to me that Addie wasn’t spilling everything. That’s quite a writing skill, to both frustrate and satisfy a reader at the same time :).

5. The setting – Like I said, this book made me want to go to Ireland, and quite honestly, it’s never been super high on my list before. But the descriptions of the places put an itinerary in my head, and it’s now right after Italy for me (I’ve already checked off England, Scotland, France and Australia).

Have you read LOVE & LUCK? If so, let me know what you thought! If not, you should check it out :).

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

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca

When I first read the description for Rajani LaRocca’s MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM during PitchWars in 2017, I was immediately intrigued–and so were an agent and editor. I mean, baking + Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; what’s not to love? The book released last month, and I picked it up right away, devouring it in a couple of days (yes, total food pun). Rajani graciously agreed to an interview here and has also offered up a copy of the book for one lucky winner (details at the bottom). But first, for those of you who haven’t heard about the book yet, here is the gorgeous cover and description.

Eleven-year-old Mimi dreams of winning a baking competition judged by her celebrity chef idol. But she loses her best helper when her food writer father returns from a business trip mysteriously unable to distinguish between delicious and disgusting. Mimi follows strangely familiar music into the woods behind her house, meets a golden-eyed boy, and bakes with him using exotic ingredients they find in the woods. Then everyone around her suddenly starts acting loopy.

Squabbling sisters, rhyming waitresses, and culinary saboteurs mix up a recipe for mayhem in this Indian-American mashup of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and competitive baking.

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

1. I love how you wove Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my favorite of his plays!) into MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, particularly how Mimi’s older brother was starring in the play so that explaining it to the reader was so seamless. When you first conceived the idea of mixing Shakespeare and baking, was it clear to you that incorporating the play within the story was the way to go, or did you have to work to get to this solution?

I figured that most young readers (and many adult readers!) wouldn’t be familiar with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I knew I’d have to explain the story in order to set the stage properly, so to speak. When I first conceived of my book, I knew that Mimi’s older brother would acting be in a production of the play and that Mimi would learn about it through him. The challenge for me was to keep the references relatively short and interesting while still giving readers a taste of Shakespeare’s humor and beautiful language, and to allow Mimi to learn about the most important components of the play at different times. One of my favorite scenes in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM involves two characters hurling Shakespearean insults at each other; it was so much fun to write!

2. I also love Mimi’s family and how you implemented the story lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream within the love lives of her siblings—although my favorite was probably Henry and how technology played a part in his, er, love story. Shakespeare would have loved it :). How did you go about modernizing Shakespeare for a middle grade audience?

One of the most appealing aspects of Shakespeare’s plays is how he captured universal emotions. The conflicts of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—between friends (two of whom are as close as sisters), between parent and child, and between men and women—are echoed in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM, as is the idea of magic unintentionally gone awry. But my book, while it is inspired by Shakespeare’s play, isn’t a straight retelling. I envisioned MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM as more of what might happen after Shakespeare’s play was over. I wondered how the fairies would act now, and how they’d seem to a modern-day girl. That’s how I brought Shakespeare’s story into our world and made it relevant to kids today.

3. I’ve read a lot of books that include baking, but Mimi’s approach was  completely unique, with the use of herbs and spices you don’t usually think about for pastries. What was your inspiration for her creations?

I love using herbs and spices in cooking, and as I’ve become a more confident baker over the years, I’ve tried to introduce the same types of adventurous flavors into my baking, too. Like Mimi, my ultimate inspiration was to take other desserts, including some favorites from my own childhood, and turn them into baked treats.

4. I loved the two main friendship story lines–and I don’t want to spoil either of them–but it would be great if you could speak a little to how you approached writing realistic friendships for this age, when it’s often hard to find confidence in your friendships.

Middle grade readers are in that in between space where they are still really connected to their families, but they are also growing more independent and navigating friendships without the help of their parents. They are figuring out who they are and what they believe in and making their own decisions about right and wrong, but they are still at the mercy of the adults in their lives, and they often have no say in those adult decisions. In writing this story, I went back to how it felt as a kid to have a best friend, lose that friend, and go about the painful business of finding your way forward. There’s also a tension between being vulnerable to new friends and holding back out of fear of getting close to someone who might hurt you—and I also tried to portray that in MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM.

5. I loved the portrayal of Mimi’s family and how she felt a bit lost within their success and yet during the book she was finding her place with her siblings, and it was clear they loved her. What tips do you have on writing strong and nuanced family relationships?

I knew from the beginning that Mimi’s family was a happy family with a lot of love, so I started with that foundation. I also know that there is competition, misunderstanding, and strife in even the happiest relationships. I played that up as much as I could, with the parents and the older siblings being so preoccupied with their own pursuits that it was easy for Mimi to feel a bit forgotten, and to be the only one who notices that there is something really wrong with her dad.

Thank you so much, Rajani!

Definitely go pick this book up. Not only did I love the book, but my 11-year-old son read it within 24 hours, even choosing it over watching a movie. If that isn’t a glowing recommendation, I’m not sure what is :).

Rajani is also offering a copy of the book to one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter for additional entries. The giveaway will close at 12 a.m. on Monday, July 15.

NOTE: THE GIVEAWAY HAS NOW ENDED.

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

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd

Last week I promised I would feature additional middle grade books by writer friends, and I’m so pleased to host Gail Shepherd here on my blog for MMGM. Gail and I met nine years ago through a critique partner match-up on a blog and swapped chapters on middle grade novels we were working on at the time. I can’t believe it was so long ago! As soon as I read THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, I reached out to Gail to ask her for an interview, and she graciously answered my questions and has also offered up a signed ARC and some swag for one lucky winner. Details are at the bottom.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail ShepherdLyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?

Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, Grandma Lady starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie’s daddy.

Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center, comes to stay with Lyndie’s best friend, Dawn. He’s as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, his optimism is infectious. But it goes against everything Grandma Lady insists upon.

And here are Gail’s answers to five questions about the book.

1. I loved how seamlessly you wove history into the story–through a school project, research about D.B., a visit to the history museum, etc. How did you decide which historical accounts to include and the best ways to do so?

There were two main thematic threads I wanted to tease out in Lyndie B’s story: The first was the idea of how countries and communities become divided by politics or ideology—I mean, obviously this is still a contemporary question. So there’s a natural fit with the Vietnam War and the American Civil War, where a country is at war with itself. And then the second thematic question was about how families get fractured, or heal themselves from fractures. So the research on D.B.’s family history fit well with that theme.

Those two themes intertwine and are related—in both the Vietnamese war and the American Civil War, particularly in Tennessee, families often split—some sided with the Confederacy and others with the Union. The idea of families split apart runs through the book, of course. D.B. was abandoned by his mom. He’s taken away from the foster family he loves. He’s lost touch with his uncle. And Lyndie’s family is coming apart at the seams in quite a different way—her father and mother are at odds, Lyndie is not getting along with her grandma. But also, other people in the community had fathers or brothers who were lost in the Vietnam War, like Lyndie’s nemesis, Pee Wee, and the homeless woman, Bernadette. Really, the entire community (a kind of family writ large) has been fractured by the war. So the research fell naturally along those thematic lines.

It’s a particularly interesting question to me, how we heal or bridge our differences in a family or community so that we can thrive.

2. The friendship storyline is so believable, particularly for Lyndie’s age, how she allows her grandmother’s attitude to influence her insecurities about her best friend. What made you decide to tap into that aspect of MG friendship?

Little kids bond without a lot of baggage. When you’re six or seven or eight, you just tend to like people unless they rub you the wrong way or they’re mean to you. But at eleven or twelve, like Lyndie, you’re just beginning to lose your innocence around friendship. You start to be influenced by social pressures. Lots of “best” friendships split up at this age (mine certainly did)—often because we’re aware of how others are seeing us.

Lyndie is coming of age, and part of her job in growing up is to figure out how much truth there is in what she’s being told—she’s struggling with it. She’s struggling with her own insecurities, too. She doesn’t see herself as a “good person” in the way her best friend Dawn is. She doesn’t always know what’s right. So she’s subject to a lot of self-doubt that can interfere with the purity of her friendships.

3. The family dynamics are also very believable and heart-wrenching, from private, organized Lady and gentle Grandpa to tormented Dad and broken-hearted Mom. How did you determine what characteristics to give each of these family members to make this family what it is?

Lyndie’s grandma, Lady, was always very real to me. She’s the one character who really didn’t change much in revision. Maybe because I come from a Southern family. Some of my relatives are very iron-willed, judgmental, upright, dignified, exacting, in this way, so she came to me naturally. As for Lady’s husband, Grandpa, I wanted him to be the one person that Lady could feel safe with, taken care of. He’s a hint that even Lady has vulnerabilities.

I made Lyndie’s father and mother political opposites (Daddy a war veteran with PTSD, Ma a former hippie peace protester) so we could see that it is possible to love across a political divide, even though it’s not always easy.

4. The story’s setting a decade after the Vietnam War brings to light the issues faced by soldiers who fought in the war and families who lost soldiers to the war—both immediately and due to trauma afterward. What made you decide to set a story at this time, and how did you research it?

I grew up with the Vietnam War in the background, running on the TV, in every newspaper. Families I knew had brothers and fathers going away. That war has shaped my world view in a very deep way. I became an adult in the 1980s, and my memory of the time is very sharp. So those two things together influenced the setting and time period. I did a ton of research—every book I could get my hands on—The Things They Carried, Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, and many others, plus books on PTSD and trauma—The Evil Hours was the one that really shook me. Not much of the research made its way directly into the book. But the background was necessary so I could understand Lyndie’s daddy.

5. I loved the feeling of hope at the end, for Lyndie’s family and friendships. What do you hope your readers leave the book feeling?

Oh, my. Well, that the truth is worth pursuing, even if it feels hard. I do entirely believe that. That families and friendships can be resilient, they can recover from great stresses. That our country and our communities, like the flag on the gate at Lyndie’s grandma’s house, are worth caring for, worth fighting for.

But there are lots of ways to care and lots of ways to fight—you don’t have to physically go to war, necessarily. History has taught us what a dead end that can be. Caring for your country can mean being honest about its history. Caring for your family can mean being honest with each other. I want readers to feel that we can get better. And that it’s worth trying.

Thank you so much, Gail!

As I mentioned, Gail has offered a signed ARC, plus swag (book plates, bookmarks, pins), for one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment here or click on the Rafflecopter for extra entries.

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?