Middle Grade Review, Reviews, Young Adult Review

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and A Few Other Books You Should Read

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: EPOCA THE TREE OF ECROF by Kobe Bryant and Ivy Claire (a middle schooler review)

A couple of weeks ago, MMGM host Greg Pattridge at Always in the Middle informed me I was one of the winners of a box of 10 middle grade books for his 1,000th post giveaway. Since my son has been doing the MG reviews lately, I suggested he address the box to him, and today he’s decided to review one of those books.


EPOCA: THE TREE OF ECROF is an amazing read. It was written by Ivy Claire but was created by Kobe Bryant. I don’t exactly know the difference between written and created, but I think that Kobe Bryant came up with the idea and story while Ivy Claire wrote the book off of that idea. I would like to thank Mr. Pattridge for giving the book away; I had a lot of fun reading it. There were many things that I liked about it and I think you will too.

Set in an alternate classical world dominated by sports and a magical power called grana, EPOCA: THE TREE OF ECROF is the story of two children: the lowly born Rovi and the crown princess Pretia who uncover and battle terrible evil and discover their inner strength along the way.

EPOCA: THE TREE OF ECROF takes place at the most elite sports academy in the land, where the best child-athletes are sent to hone their skills. When Rovi and Pretia arrive, each harboring a secret about themselves, they begin to suspect that something evil is at play at the school. In the course of their first year, they must learn to master their grana in order to save the world from dark forces that are rising.

So, here are some of the things that I like about it.

  1. The pages are colorful. While this is not important to the story, it made me happy looking at unique, colorful pages instead of the regular white pages. This is what the pages look like.  ➩
  2. I liked the characters. The character building was great. They always had a motive. You felt like what they were doing was right in a way that even if it hadn’t happened to you, you understood.
  3. I like the setting. While there are a couple different places in the book, mostly it is on the island where the elite athlete academy is held. It has many strange and exciting things, yet are relatable and you can visualize exactly what they are.
  4. Everyone has this magical power to them, called grana. In a society based around sports, the more powerful grana you have, the more famous you are, the more achieved you are, the more known and loved you are. I have always liked the idea of superpowers, especially those special to you, so this was one of the most prominent points that stuck out to me during the read.
  5. I liked that it had sports. Even though some of the sports I hadn’t heard of or didn’t understand, I still appreciated what they put in there. I rarely get to read a good fiction book about sports.

I hope you enjoyed this review, and I hope that it causes you to read this amazing book. So, have a good day and happy reading!


Sounds like he needs some recommendations on books with sports. If you have some, please pass them along!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: ROYALS by Rachel Hawkins

When I finish a book with a huge grin on my face, it obviously deserves a review. But it’s more than that–I raced through Rachel Hawkins’s ROYALS in two nights, laughing out loud much of the time. I’m not surprised. I loved her Hex Hall and Rebel Belle series (and she’s also written a middle grade I’m sure we should all check out). Anyway, here’s what it’s about.

Royals by Rachel HawkinsMeet Daisy Winters. She’s an offbeat sixteen-year-old Floridian with mermaid-red hair, a part time job at a bootleg Walmart, and a perfect older sister who’s nearly engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy has no desire to live in the spotlight, but relentless tabloid attention forces her join Ellie at the relative seclusion of the castle across the pond.

While the dashing young Miles has been appointed to teach Daisy the ropes of being regal, the prince’s roguish younger brother kicks up scandal wherever he goes, and tries his best to take Daisy along for the ride. The crown–and the intriguing Miles–might be trying to make Daisy into a lady . . . but Daisy may just rewrite the royal rulebook to suit herself.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – From the opening pages, I just loved Daisy and how she describes everything. Here’s a particularly funny passage when she first meets Sebastian, her future brother-in-law’s younger brother.

He’s tall, his entire upper body is so perfectly v-shaped that I think geese probably study him to get their flight formation just right, and he’s wearing a gray long-sleeved shirt and jeans that were clearly crafted just for him, possibly by nuns who’ve devoted themselves to the cause of making boys look as sinful as possible so the rest of us will know just how dangerous they are …

The whole book is like this and it’s just perfect!

2. The banter/dialogue – I just wanted all of the characters to keep talking, all the time. Every word they said was so spot on. I especially love the interaction between Daisy and Miles, but really her parents were awesome, and so were all the Royal Wreckers (Sebastian’s friends). I just want to study and it and figure out how to do it myself :).

3. The humor – You’ve probably already figured out from my mentions in the voice and dialogue that humor is a huge part of this book, and it’s woven into the words themselves, but it’s also situational. Daisy gets herself into some crazy debacles, sometimes due to what she says, but also because she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was laughing non-stop.

4. The tabloid articles – Interspersed throughout the novel are short articles from royal-watchers that did a great job conveying background information about the various players in the story and moving the plot forward without having to show Daisy experiencing it. I really liked how these were used.

5. The romance – Love, love, love! I’m a sucker for hate-to-love romances and also another trope included here that I don’t want to mention because it isn’t brought up in the blurb. But this romance is so stinking adorable and really why I had the huge grin on my face at the end.

I can’t wait to see what Rachel Hawkins writes next because she’s batting a thousand for me. If you’ve read ROYALS, let me know what you thought in the comments!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: BLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen this tweet a little over a week ago:

But a tweet really isn’t enough gushing for Joy’s book. I was trying to remember exactly when I “met” Joy, and so I turned to my email (where I keep EVERYTHING). Anyway, I was reminded that Joy reached out to me during WriteOnCon in 2013. I knew it was a long time ago because she read my MG sci-fi, THE DEXELON TWINCIDENT, but wow!

Since then, Joy has done so much to give back to the writing community, and I’m thrilled to do even the smallest bit to promote her book. I read BLOOD WATER PAINT on a three-hour car ride from Springfield, Mo., to St. Louis, then carved out an extra half hour to finish when we arrived home. And then I had to go search online for extra information about the main character, Artemisia Gentileschi, who was a real person. I guess maybe I’d better share the description :).

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCulloughHer mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost. 

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence. 

Here are the five things I loved most about the book.

1. The art – I’ve always loved art. My favorite period is Impressionism, but I enjoy strolling through museums and exploring art through the ages. I loved reading Artemisia’s point of view as she tackled various subjects and attempted to solve challenges of perspective and color.

2. The structure – I expected this novel to be completely in verse, but it surprised me with narrative sections written in the voice of Artemisia’s mother. These stories of Susanna and Judith were perfectly woven into the broader story of what Artemisia was experiencing, giving her strength and comfort.

3. The verse itself – I was hooked from the very first lines.

Everything begins from here:

the viewing point,

the place where you stand,

your eye level.

That single point on the horizon

where all other lines

converge.

4. The message – What an amazing story of a young woman who doesn’t back down, continuing to defend herself even when she’s publicly ridiculed and physically tortured by the court. It made me heartsick to read what was done to Artemisia, and yet parts of her story–the ridicule and disbelief after a rape–are unfortunately not just a tale relegated to history.

5. The hint of the supernatural – Beyond the memory of her mother, Artemisia is not alone, but I don’t really want to give away anything more than that.

I highly recommend this book. However, as mentioned above, it does include a rape, and while it’s not described in detail, that could still be triggering for some. If you’ve read BLOOD WATER PAINT, I’d love to hear what you thought too.

Reading

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?

Reviews, Young Adult Review

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

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon

I think the fact I didn’t have much time to read during our trip, combined with my kids being gone for three days last week, put me into a reading frenzy. I read five books in the past week, including two full-length adult books. As I’m sure many of you middle grade/young adult readers understand, adult books seem so long when you’re used to MG and YA, but I still enjoyed them. Sometimes it’s nice to switch things up. I actually have a pile of them because several of the adult authors I still read–mostly romance :)–have had books come out in the past couple of months.

Anyway, I’ve been hearing about EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon forever and kept thinking I should read it, but I confess it wasn’t until I watched the movie trailer that I made it a priority. So glad I did!

Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonMadeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. She is content enough—until a boy with eyes the color of the Atlantic Ocean moves in next door. Their complicated romance begins over IM and grows through a wunderkammer of vignettes, illustrations, charts, and more.

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

 

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The mixed media – I loved the use of drawings, health logs, IMs, emails, etc. But I especially loved how Maddy looked at life as a science experiment and charted out each potential experience. My favorite was “Kiss Mechanics.”

2. The romance – I love how this romance builds from a distance at first. There’s physical tension, and it’s very well done, but it comes later. The relationship is built on them getting to know each other before they’re even able to be in the same room.

3. The humor – One of the reasons I delayed reading this book was that based on the premise, I mistakenly believed it was going to be a depressing read. It spans a range of emotions, but the one that took me by surprise was humor. There’s a whole sequence with a Bundt cake that’s just hilarious. I won’t spoil it by telling you anything more.

4. Madeline’s growth – I really felt for Madeline as a character–to be trapped in your home for your whole life and to know that leaving could cost you your life. What kind of a decision is that? The end of this book wasn’t the point–it was watching her decide what it meant to live.

5. Madeline’s spoiler book reviews – These sort of go with the mixed media above, but as I was paging through deciding what to highlight, I kept chuckling at them. Example:

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND BY LEWIS CARROLL

Spoiler alert: Beware the Queen of Hearts. She’ll have your head.

There’s so much more I want to discuss about this book, but I will ruin it for you if you haven’t read it yet, so GO READ IT! And then come back and discuss it with me. Now I’m anxious to read Ms. Yoon’s other book, since I loved this one so much.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Hello there!

Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever been away from the blog this long. Sorry about that. Almost immediately after I finished drafting, I started working on a revision that has completely consumed me. And as for reviewing, well, I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. It’s not that I haven’t read anything good. I have, it’s just that I’ve been so focused on revising that reading–and thus reviewing–haven’t been a priority.

Until now. Because this book? It was so fantastic that I wanted to get back to it while I was revising, so obviously it deserves a review. And since it’s been sooo long since my last review (Oct. 17! Yikes!), I’m not waiting until my usual Monday.

It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate StrohmAvery Dennis is a high school senior and one of the most popular girls in her class. But a majorly public breakup with the guy she’s been dating causes some disastrous waves. It is right before prom and Avery no longer has the perfect date. She runs the prom committee, how could she not show up with somebody?

Post-breakup, Avery gets to thinking about all of the guys that she has ever dated. How come none of those relationships ever worked out? Could it be her fault? Avery decides to investigate. In history class she’s learning about this method of record-keeping called “oral history” and she has a report due. So Avery decides to go directly to the source. Avery tracks down all of the guys she’s ever dated, and uses that information along with her friends, family, and even teachers’ thoughts, to compile a total account of her dating history.

Avery discovers some surprises about herself and the guys she’s spent time with just in time for prom night.

Here are the five things I loved best.

1. The format – I love unique formats, and this one was especially unusual, told as a record of Avery interviewing her past boyfriends, with assistance from her best friend, her lab partner, and various people around them. I especially enjoyed her editor’s notes, commenting on what people had said as she gained new perspective on her own past.

2. The voices – It’s hard enough to master one or two voices, but this book had maybe twenty? I didn’t go through and count them :). But they’re all unique, and there’s heart in so many of them. I love how Avery’s best friend, Coco, is obsessed with JFK; her lab partner, Hutch, is full of science references; and his friends are all into the tabletop role-playing games.

3. The humor – I laughed out loud so much at this book, and that’s a main reason why I had to review it right away. There were many passages that got me, but here’s one I made a special note of.

HUTCH: Let the record show that this clown made a horrible kissing noise that was audible over a transcontinental phone connection, like a cartoon chef presenting a plate of tortellini.

4. The boyfriends – I loved all the boyfriends, especially the one in the band, the Italian, and the one with the secret hobby. Each one showed how Avery grew, which I think was the point of the project for her :).

5. The romance – I came across this book on a list of romantic comedies, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying there’s a romance. I love how the process of cataloguing Avery’s failed relationships gives the reader an inside look at a developing relationship. It’s absolutely adorable!

By the way, I picked this up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, along with an unusually large stack of books. I bet I’ll have many more reviews from my haul in the coming months! And if I don’t have another review before the end of the year, I will definitely post a roundup of my favorite 2016 reads before the end of the year.

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: SECRETS FROM THE SLEEPING BAG by Rose Cooper

I came across this book as I was looking for stories set at camps, and I really enjoyed it. SECRETS FROM THE SLEEPING BAG is actually the third book in a series, but you don’t need to read the others first. Here’s a brief description:

Secrets from the Sleeping Bag by Rose CooperDuring four weeks at Camp Krakatow (pronounced Crack-A-Toe), Sofia Becker writes all the juiciest information in her notebook, so she can continue her blog when she returns home. S’mores, crafts, bug juice, water sports, boys(!) . . . Sofia doesn’t want to forget one second of sleepaway camp!

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The format – I loved the way this was written as a journal with her doodles throughout. As a result, it doesn’t really have chapters. It has snippets of things that happen at camp, with illustrations on the side. Sometimes the drawings show Sofia talking to someone with conversation bubbles. Sometimes they illustrate something she learned at camp. Often they are funny asides, almost like footnotes.

2. Her lists – From why she doesn’t want to go to camp, to the items in her “secret survival kit,” to the rules for having more than one crush, Sofia loves to make lists, and they were great for giving insight into her character.

3. The desire to reinvent herself – This is such a universal truth for kids in middle school. They’re still figuring out who they are, and they continually reinvent themselves during the process. Sofie sees camp as a way to make herself popular.

“No one will know if you’re popular. It’s like summer camp erases all your middle-school history for those four weeks. Which means you can be anyone you want. Yes! You can reinvent yourself! So I’m going to totally popularize myself this summer.”

Of course, things don’t go exactly the way she plans, resulting in my next point …

4. The humor – A lot of funny stuff happens to Sofia. Most of the time it’s her own fault, but she’s good about laughing at herself. Like when she boasts about swimming and then gets a cramp, or when she picks up tissue paper with glue all over her hands. A lot of girls would just cry in embarrassment, but she shrugs it off and turns it into a funny journal entry. She also has a tendency to accidentally fling around food, which has some hilarious results.

5. The prank war – Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved THE PARENT TRAP, but I loved that this book featured a prank war between two cabins. It’s funny how it escalates with each side getting more creative and the pranks getting more elaborate. I also loved how the counselor got in on it once she got pranked. What’s camp without a good prank war? (Although as much as I enjoyed reading about it, I’m glad I was never part of one :).)

This was a quick, fun read that I highly recommend. It would appeal to reluctant readers, too. Has anyone read the other books in this series? I’m sure they’re just as much fun!

Reading, Writing

Emails, Footnotes and Tweets: When Authors Experiment with Format

I’m always impressed when an author pulls off a unique format. I’ve read quite a few books lately that stray from the standard narrative format and thought I’d share. Maybe they will inspire you to try something new!

The journal entry. The journal/diary entry is probably the most common detour I’ve seen from the expected structure. You see it in everything from THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK to THE PRINCESS DIARIES series. Now that I think about it, this format is rather popular in middle grade books. I recently read SECRETS FROM THE SLEEPING BAG by Rose Cooper. In addition to text entries, it also included drawings. THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA has a similar format, although it’s presented as “case files” instead of as a journal.

I've Got Your Number by Sophie KinsellaFootnotes. In I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER by Sophie Kinsella, the character inserts footnotes into the narrative. On the first page, you see the little 1, look at the bottom and see Poppy’s explanation that she’s discovered footnotes and aren’t they fun? The footnotes are scattered throughout the book, and they’re pretty brilliant. What an excellent way to throw in asides and extra backstory. You could skip over them if you wanted–they are footnotes, after all–but there’s something engaging about them. I am so itching to try this, but I haven’t figured out how to do it in a middle grade/young adult novel yet.

Strikethroughs. I’m sure Tahereh Mafi isn’t the first author to use this editing mark in her final product, but her execution of it in the SHATTER ME series is brilliant. I love the way it conveys to the reader what’s going on in the character’s head–both the thoughts and the way she’s trying to conceal them from even herself. It reveals an extra piece of her to the reader. Interestingly, Rose Cooper also used this device a bit in SECRETS FROM THE SLEEPING BAG. In that case, it was more to show the character rethinking the way she wanted to describe something.

THE BOY NEXT DOORMixed formats. Meg Cabot’s Boy series is a study in mixed formats. The first book, THE BOY NEXT DOOR, is told entirely in emails between various characters. BOY MEETS GIRLS adds letters, to-do lists, online chats, the text of voice mails, flyers, office correspondence, journal entries, notes taped to doors–basically anything written. And the final book, EVERY BOY’S GOT ONE, throws in notes on a PDA, receipts, airplane tickets, notes passed between two characters, menus, and more. I’m sure it sounds crazy if you haven’t read these books, but it totally works. As an aside, I’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER also incorporated text messages. I’m sure Meg Cabot would have, too, if they’d been more prevalent when she wrote the Boy series.

Tweets. Talk about capitalizing on an emerging trend. Teresa Medeiros wrote GOODNIGHT TWEETHEART when Twitter was really picking up speed. The book isn’t entirely written in tweets, but I’d say it’s probably 70 percent. It’s already so important to make each word count, but when each person has to fit their side of the conversation into 140 characters, it amps up the pressure. I imagine she must have written the book with Twitter open to count her characters. I admit there were a couple of times I counted the entries that looked longer. She didn’t go over!

What interesting formats have you encountered in your reading? Any others to add?