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!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE by Morgan Matson

Happy New Year!

I finished reading my first book of 2018, and I loved it! I’ve had SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE by Morgan Matson on my to-read list forever (it came out in 2014), so I was excited to snag a copy on my annual trek to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. Here’s the description.

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan MatsonThe Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell. But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend.

Apple Picking at Night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Um…

 

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendships – Really this novel is all about friendship in its various forms–girl friendships, girl/guy friendships, guy friendships. And then it’s about the more specific friendships Emily forms with Sloane, Frank, Dawn, and even goofy Collins. I loved how unique and complicated each of these relationships were.

2. The list – The list Sloane leaves for Emily is both fun and scary, as you can see just from the few listed in the description. As a teenager, I would have said a resounding “Nope!” to a few of them. However, I completely bought into Emily’s reasoning for pursuing the list, despite it seeming to go against her personality.

3. Emily’s growth – Tying in with the previous point, I loved how Emily grew during the story and discovered who she was without Sloane.

4. The tension – There was so much tension threading through this story. From the growing romantic tension to the increasingly unanswered questions about Sloane, I found it completely gripping.

5. The flashbacks – It’s tricky to get flashbacks right, but they’re very well-done in this novel. Every snippet gave the reader another glimpse into Emily and Sloane’s story, another clue either to why Sloane might have left or why she’d suggested a particular item for the list.

I thoroughly enjoyed SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE and will definitely be checking out other books by Morgan Matson. I’m open to suggestions on what I should read next!

Middle Grade, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2017

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

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

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

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catalyst by Kristin Smith At First Blush by Beth Ellyn Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d be sharing more about my Pitch Wars’ mentors’ books, and today I’m thrilled to host Beth Ellyn Summer with an interview about AT FIRST BLUSH. Even better, I’m giving away a copy of her book, and Beth is adding on swag–makeup and a signed bookmark! First, here’s the description.

At First Blush by Beth Ellyn SummerWho would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

And here are Beth’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most.

I love the inside look at life as a YouTuber, especially since it’s becoming more common for teens to have channels. Did you experiment with your own channel? Talk to YouTubers? How did you research?

This was definitely a case of binge-watching tons of beauty tutorials and calling it research! I’m deathly camera shy so making my own channel was never an option. YouTube beauty videos have this really fun, sleepover-with-your-best-friends vibe that’s so addictive. I spent months studying how gurus interacted with their subscribers, how they conducted giveaways and handled dramas and scandals. What shocked me most was just how much hate these girls deal with on a daily basis. When pop stars and movie stars get hate, they can avoid social media and Google. But YouTubers literally make their living off interacting with subscribers, so reading hateful comments is all part of a day’s work. I admire anyone who can look past all that to do what they love and make a career out of it.

Lacey’s makeup expertise is so ingrained it’s obvious it originates with you. After reading this book, I feel like I’m probably doing it all wrong and should go watch some tutorials myself. Any tips for those of us who might be in a makeup rut? Who should we watch since Lacey Blushes is fictional?

So, confession: I was always pretty terrible at makeup. Like, awful. My mom did my makeup for me up till college. But then one day I realized I’ve got to figure this out for myself, and I got really hooked on tutorials! These girls made it look so easy, and it’s because of YouTube tutorials that I learned the key to flawless makeup application: a thorough and moisturizing skin care routine, and the right tools. I didn’t realize that you need good quality brushes (you can get really inexpensive ones), otherwise the products don’t apply well. Good brushes are game changing.

My advice if you’re in a makeup rut (and I literally just dragged myself out of one) is to experiment with new brands. Also: play with vibrant eyeliner colors! I have a tough time working with colorful eyeshadows on my lids, and I never have the patience to blend properly, so I tend to stick with my usual neutrals. By adding a pop of teal or turquoise or purple eyeliner, it takes things up a notch without going too far out of a comfort zone.

I highly recommend these beauty channels: Emily Noel, Lisa Eldridge, Pixiwoo, Ingrid Nilsen, Tanya Burr, FleurDeForce, Carrie Rad. I have so many favs but I learn the most from these girls!

I love how Lacey and Cynth’s friendship is portrayed in the book. What suggestions do you have for writing a great friendship?

I’m the biggest sucker for strong friendships in YA. I think a good best friend helps a MC figure themselves out, but I really love it when the friends learn something new about their friendship within character arcs. My favorite way to write a best friend is to make them a polar opposite of my MC. It usually makes for some laughs, all while helping the MC step out of comfort zones. I usually take conversations and silly moments I’ve had with my own best friends and play off that!

Lacey grows so much in the story, figuring out what she wants to stand for and what she wants out of her YouTube career. Did you plan out her arc in advance, or did she reveal herself to you along the way?

I’m a pantser, so a lot of Lacey came to me as I was writing her. But I always knew Lacey would come to the conclusion that dreams can change, and she’d want to do something different from YouTube. I just kept thinking…what would it be like to have a girl who dreams of being a big YouTuber and the true conflict comes when she does get everything she wished for?

The romance! The famous boy who just wants a girl to like him for himself is one of my favorite tropes. I love that he cooks and has major weaknesses where his family is concerned. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one, but was there a particular inspiration for Tyler coming from a family boy band?

Ha! Haha. Yes! My favorite thing about post-publication has been reading the guesses from bloggers and readers about who Tyler Lance is based on! It was kind of a huge mix in my head, to be completely honest. I’m a Hanson girl. I grew up going to their shows, and with walls covered in their posters, and I still adore them. I’m really just fascinated with family bands in general. I watched a feature on R5 once where the focus was solely on Ross Lynch and I just wondered…what would happen to the family if the band broke up? There’s some Jonas Brothers and R5 influence in Simply Complicated as well. Despite all the family drama stuff, I also took plenty of inspo from Harry Styles. I based Lacey and Tyler’s romance off of the media firestorm that was Taylor Swift and Harry Styles’ relationship, and Taylor’s 1989 album was my At First Blush playlist. Hardcore Swifties will probably notice references to Out of the Woods and Style!

Thank you, Beth!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away an e-book of AT FIRST BLUSH, and Beth is adding on an e.l.f. shimmering facial whip and signed bookmark. United States only. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a18/?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: DEAR POPPY by Ronni Arno

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

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

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

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

Here are the five things I loved most:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin Palmer

I’m a sucker for time travel books. In fact, there’s a trunked novel you won’t see mentioned under my writing tab. I wrote it before I had any idea what I was doing, and it happened to be an adult time travel romance. It was truly horrible, but like all first novels, I learned a lot from it. Recently I had an idea for another time travel story, and I might just write it eventually … but the point of this post is to rave about Robin Palmer’s ONCE UPON A KISS.

ONCE UPON A KISS by Robin PalmerIt’s 1986 and sixteen-year-old Zoe Brenner’s world revolves around Depeche Mode, Judd Nelson, exercise-obsessed parents, and her best friend Jonah. Then one day, in a freak Fun-Dip choking accident, Zoe falls unconscious, and awakens in the year 2016. So much has changed, and Zoe needs Jonah to help her make sense of it all. But in this life, Zoe is the most popular girl in school, and she soon realizes this Zoe doesn’t associate with nerds like Jonah.

As Zoe juggles new technology, attempts to hide her enthusiasm for poet blouses, and manages to keep her super jock boyfriend at bay, she tries to rekindle her friendship with Jonah and use her popularity for a good cause. Will she ever get back to 1986? And more importantly, does she want to?

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The time travel – Yes, I already said I love time travel as a premise, but I liked the way it was done in this book. There’s just a freak accident, and everyone in Zoe’s life is displaced in a different year with different situations–except the characters still experienced a lot of the same childhood incidents for her to recall. It requires suspension of disbelief, but I was happy to go with it!

2. The friendships – The switch in Zoe’s circumstances force her to examine how she previously focused her entire life on Jonah. While that relationship was important and she’s fighting for it in the new reality, there are other people she’s overlooked, and she learns the value of expanding her circle.

3. The commentary on popularity – The groups may be different in 1986 and 2016, and Zoe may be at the bottom or the top, but she finds it’s equally hard to mix things up either way. Does she make a difference? Guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!

4. The pop culture – I was a child in the eighties–not a teenager–so the New Wave music references were lost on me (I need to go watch a YouTube video of “I Melt with You”), but the beauty of this book is that you don’t have to have experienced the eighties to enjoy the references. It’s not about nostalgia–it’s about experiencing the decade through Zoe and figuring out where she fits in. I really enjoyed it.

5. The humor – I was laughing throughout the book, mostly because of the situations. There’s a whole thing with a hot dog that’s crazy, but also because of the way it’s set up–like the popular kids being named after serial killers (Brad Bundy and Andrea Manson). Plus, Zoe’s parents make exercise videos, which was hilarious when it was Discosize in the eighties and even funnier when it’s Holla Your Way to Health in the present–like they’re always a bit behind the times.

I’m definitely going to check out some of Ms. Palmer’s other books. If you’ve read any of them, let me know which one I should read next!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder

I love anything to do with Paris, so I was predestined to love this book. I even have a picture that looks very similar to this cover. Wow, I’m really young in this picture. It’s from 2007, before kids, although just barely as I realized I was pregnant while we were there. Anyway, one of the lovely side effects of reading MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder is that it led me to pull out my photo album and relive the trip with my six-year-old, who has now decided that she must go to Paris like the main character in the book. As much as I would love to take her, that’s a trip you should be a little older to appreciate. But I’m sure you’re ready to hear about the actual book, so here’s the cover and description.

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa SchroederNora loves everything about Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to chocolat chaud. Of course, she’s never actually been there — she’s only visited through her Grandma Sylvia’s stories. And just when they’ve finally planned a trip together, Grandma Sylvia is suddenly gone, taking Nora’s dreams with her.

Nora is crushed. She misses her grandmother terribly, but she still wants to see the city they both loved. So when Nora finds letters and a Paris treasure map among her Grandma Sylvia’s things, she dares to dream again…


She’s not sure what her grandma wants her to find, but Nora knows there are wonderful surprises waiting for her in Paris. And maybe, amongst the croissants and macarons, she’ll even find a way to heal her broken heart.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. Nora’s grief – I realize it’s odd to say Nora’s grief is something I loved about the story, but the reason I list it here is that I appreciated how well-drawn her grief was in the story. Grief is such a complicated emotion, and it hits everyone differently. You can be crying one minute and the next wanting to enjoy something you used to do with the person you lost. It’s handled well here.

2. The treasure map – I loved the places Nora’s Grandma Sylvia sent her around Paris, and when I do return someday, I’ll have to re-read this book so I can check out the ones I didn’t know about. It’s fun to see Nora experiencing Paris with her grandma even though she can’t be there with her.

3. Phoebe – Isn’t it great when two people meet and they just click? Even better when it’s a friendship. I loved how Phoebe encouraged Nora to be strong and carry through on what she already wanted to do. And I’m excited to see Phoebe has her own story :).

4. The mother-daughter bond – I really enjoyed watching how Nora’s relationship with her mother changed during the story, but also how her perception of her mother’s relationship with her grandmother changed. There was some growing up Nora had to do during the course of the story, but twelve’s old enough for that.

5. The buttons – I loved the jar of buttons Nora’s grandmother had given her. She carried one with her every day, and it always seemed to connect to something that happened. In the end, the buttons had a deeper meaning for Nora, but I won’t give that away.

Basically, I’m dying to return to Paris now, and I’m years away from it, but at least this book gave me a taste. I guess I’ll go read Phoebe’s story and relive the London portion of that same trip :).