Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert

I first read something about FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES by Mary E. Lambert a couple of years ago, but it took me a while to get to it. The title initially caught my attention because I thought it would be about a family playing games together. While I do totally understand the title after reading the book, I’ll just clue you in that family game night’s a very small part of the book, so don’t expect rousing rounds of Monopoly and Catan (or whatever games your family plays). As for the catastrophes … those are what kept me turning pages. Here’s the description.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. LambertAnnabelle has a secret . . . a secret so big she won’t allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle’s sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends’ houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.

So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle’s sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents–one that might tear them all apart–and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.

Is it possible for her to clean up the family’s mess? Or are they really, truly broken?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I can’t say I’ve read any other books about hoarding. Seeing how the various members of Annabelle’s family dealt with her mom’s hoarding–from avoidance to excessive cheer to obsessive cleanliness–felt very real and at times heartbreaking. Throughout the story, I was very invested in the characters and how they interacted with Annabelle’s mom and each other as they tried to figure out how to make changes.

2. The friendships – At the beginning of the story, Annabelle is so afraid of how her friends will react to her house that she shuts them out. As the book progresses, she gradually lets her friends into her world, and her friendships change with her openness. It was a great picture of how friendship is built on the ability to trust and accept each other.

3. Annabelle’s family – Annabelle has issues with pretty much every member of her family, but she doesn’t know how to talk to them or express her feelings. Part of her character development in the story is learning not only how to let her friends in but to reach out to her parents and siblings as well. Yes, the house needs to be cleaned up, but so does the family. I really liked how there was a bigger picture there.

4. Annabelle’s acceptance of herself – Annabelle’s very focused on the fact that she is fine just the way she is and it’s everyone else who is broken. It’s not unusual for people to feel this way, and yet I appreciates that there was a theme in the book of accepting your faults and learning to deal with them.

5. The crush – Alongside the heavier topics was a really sweet first crush. I liked how it was a nice side story and didn’t add to the drama going on in Annabelle’s life.

I really enjoyed FAMILY GAME NIGHT AND OTHER CATASTROPHES. Have you read it? What did you think?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE START OF ME AND YOU by Emery Lord

So, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I really like humor and I’m likely to shy away from books that might seem depressing. I’d had more than one writer friend recommend Emery Lord books to me, and I’d been a bit leery when I read the descriptions, but I guess I was just in the right mood to pick up THE START OF ME AND YOU last week, and I am so glad I did. Despite the presence of quite a few sad moments (and the main character dealing with recurring grief), I absolutely loved this book. Here’s the description.

The Start of Me and You by Emery LordIt’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all.

But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Paige’s friend group – I love how close-knit and supportive Paige’s group of friends are, even when they aren’t on board with the choices one of them is making. It was a really great picture of how girls can build each other up and even let each other fail–because sometimes you need to do that–but still be there to help put the pieces back together. I also enjoyed how Paige expanded her friendships beyond these girls throughout the book.

2. Girl Scout cookies! – This might seem totally random, but I am a cookie mom, and so the interesting focus on Do-Si-Dos was hilarious to me. And yet … as random as it was that these cookies were a source of bonding for the two main characters, they also turned out to play a pivotal role in the climax of the story. And as a writer, I found it fascinating how they were planted early on and then showed up later. So, in reality, this point is as much about storytelling as cookies :).

3. Paige’s grandma – I loved the relationship between Paige and her grandma and all of its bittersweet facets due to her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. As someone who was very close to my own grandma, I could relate to how they shared secrets and dreams, and in general I enjoy reading books where there are multi-generational relationships.

4. Paige’s character growth – I think what made this story most compelling for me was Paige’s growth throughout the story. It starts a year after her boyfriend died, and she is still hurting, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect from the basic description. Yes, she cared about him, but they hadn’t dated long, so there is guilt that she doesn’t deserve to grieve as much as others and a bunch of other issues related to the way he died. She’s afraid to move forward for so many reasons–and in a lot of different areas. I liked that the story started at the point where she decides she has to make changes in her life but doesn’t quite know how.

5. The romance – Oh my goodness, the romance. I had a goofy grin on my face at the end of this book. It was just that sweet. For about half the book I wanted to reach in and grab Paige by the shoulders and be like, “Hey, girl, wake up!” But she had a whole journey to go through to figure things out. Also, there’s a rather perfect PRIDE AND PREJUDICE reference that just makes me swoon even more.

On a final note, when I went to Emery Lord’s website to grab the description for this book, I discovered she’s written a sequel that’s coming out this year, so that’s a bonus! I will definitely be checking that out.

Have you read THE START OF ME AND YOU? What did you think?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: MARIE ANTOINETTE: SERIAL KILLER by Katie Alender

Happy January! Sorry for the delay in putting up a review. I have been reading, but I’ve also been busy with some other news, as you may have seen from last week’s post. If you missed it, my debut book will be published in 2021!

In any case, today’s review is for Katie Alender’s MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER, which I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. One of the reasons I love the warehouse sale is that I find books that have been out a while to feature and hopefully bring back to readers’ attention. It also gives me the opportunity to find new authors I sometimes miss. Here’s the cover and description for MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER.

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie AlenderColette Iselin is excited to go to Paris on a class trip. She’ll get to soak up the beauty and culture, and maybe even learn something about her family’s French roots.

But a series of gruesome murders are taking place across the city, putting everyone on edge. And as she tours museums and palaces, Colette keeps seeing a strange vision: a pale woman in a ball gown and powdered wig, who looks suspiciously like Marie Antoinette.

Colette knows her popular, status-obsessed friends won’t believe her, so she seeks out the help of a charming French boy. Together, they uncover a shocking secret involving a dark, hidden history. When Colette realizes she herself may hold the key to the mystery, her own life is suddenly in danger . . .

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The setting – It’s in France! Um, how many books have I reviewed on this blog that are set in France? I don’t even know. Probably enough to make it a category :). In any case, I love that they visit Versailles and the catacombs (I’d rather do that one in a book) and the Eiffel Tower. I’m just biding my time vicariously until I can return for real.

2. The history – Is it real history? Well, not really, but like many twists on history, there’s enough of the real history in there to make me curious and go look it up, and there was an author’s note in the back telling you which part was for real and which part was made up. I love it when an author takes something from history and says: But what if …

3. The ghost – And for this book, the author said, but what if Marie Antoinette came back as a ghost and started killing people? I don’t think I’m giving anything away here. It’s in the title, people. I’m just not going to tell you why because that’s the mystery you have to unravel as you read.

4. Colette’s character arc – There’s a moment at the beginning of the book where Colette’s brother does something nice for her and she basically says she’ll owe him. He says, “You don’t do nice things for people because you want to get something from them. You just do nice things to be nice.” She doesn’t understand this concept at all, and it’s a very important lesson for her to learn, not only as a person but for her final confrontation with the queen.

5. The relationships – I loved how this book was very much about friendship and how it should look and how Colette’s view of it changes as she grows. But I didn’t just label this point “friendships” because her other relationships change as a result too.

This book was a fun murder mystery sort of book on the one hand, but there was real character development happening that edged it into a read I will come back to again.

Have you read MARIE ANTOINETTE, SERIAL KILLER? What did you think?

Character, Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2018

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

 


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

 


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


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


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


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


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

Young adult: 38

Middle grade: 18

New adult: 1

Adult: 19

Non-fiction: 3

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

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

NetGalley, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE À LA MODE by Stephanie Kate Strohm

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the five things I loved most.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, I’d like to read that scene!

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

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

Character, NetGalley, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS by Tiffany Schmidt

I recently joined NetGalley and was thrilled to be approved for my first ARCs of books coming out later this spring. One of those books was BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS by Tiffany Schmidt. I’d already heard about it somewhere else, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where. In any case, as soon as I read the description, I was sure I would love this book, and I was right.

Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany SchmidtBoys are so much better in books. 

At least according to Merrilee Campbell, 15, who thinks real-life chivalry is dead and there’d be nothing more romantic than having a guy woo her like the heroes in classic stories. Then she, her best friend, Eliza, and her younger sister, Rory, transfer to Reginald R. Hero Prep–where all the boys look like they’ve stepped off the pages of a romance novel. Merri can hardly walk across the quad without running into someone who reminds her of Romeo.

When the brooding and complicated Monroe Stratford scales Merri’s trellis in an effort to make her his, she thinks she might be Juliet incarnate. But as she works her way through her literature curriculum under the guidance of an enigmatic teacher, Merri’s tale begins to unfold in ways she couldn’t have imagined. Merri soon realizes that only she is in charge of her story. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that first impressions can be deceiving…

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I love the premise of living out the story of a classic book, and I thought Ms. Schmidt executed it very well. I was a bit leery of the Romeo and Juliet story line, but then I fall into the category of that not being a favorite despite loving Shakespeare in general. However, as the story progressed, I was satisfied. And then came Pride and Prejudice, made even more perfect by the fact that Merri was reading it as she experienced it and so didn’t already know what to expect. So well done!

2. The hint of magic – Maybe some readers would find it cheesy, but I thought there was just the right amount of magic in the story, leaving me wondering how much the characters themselves directed and how much was magic.

3. The friendships – A delightful cast of characters surrounded Merri, but I especially enjoyed her two best friends and her struggle to balance them. On top of feeling torn between the two friends, there was the added tension of her boy best friend having feelings for her that she had to delicately rebuff. I liked the way it was handled on all fronts.

4. Merri’s growth – Just as Pride and Prejudice is about Elizabeth learning to see many people in her world differently, Merri has to realize her prejudices toward certain characters are either unwarranted or skewed. It was nice that the similarities weren’t just in the romance.

5. The romance – I mean, since I mentioned the romance, I have to bring it up. I loved how it developed, particularly since Merri starts out longing for a romance and learning she doesn’t necessarily want the sort of romance you read in a book.

BOOKISH BOYFRIENDS releases May 1, and I highly recommend you pick it up!