Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Recommendation: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

A couple of weeks ago I had the most frustrating book-buying experience of my life. I might be exaggerating a bit in honor of this series’ main character … or maybe not. See, I bought GEEK GIRL by Holly Smale at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. As soon as I finished, I wanted to keep reading, so I checked out books 1.5 and 2 from the library, followed by 2.5 and 3. Then I hit a snag. The library had the novella that went between books four and five but none of the rest of the books. When I put in the suggestion for them to purchase the books, a note came back saying the books were not available for them to buy.

What? I’ve had the library deny a request before, but never saying they couldn’t buy a book. And I had to read the rest of this series, so I went on Amazon. I could order book four relatively easily, but books five and six were only available to order from England. (Same on ebay.) Did I mention Holly Smale is a British author? Anyway, I had to pay a premium for these books and wait two weeks to get them. (I’m not a patient person.) And the real kicker was that when I checked on my order two weeks later, Amazon suddenly had the books available on Prime. Argh!

Anyway, the books were so worth the wait! And it was interesting to read the British versions, without any of the language Americanized :). I guess I should get on to the review.

Geek Girl by Holly SmaleHarriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn’t quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she’s spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend’s dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realize that the world of fashion doesn’t seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

Here are the five things I loved most about this series.

1. Harriet’s facts – Harriet is full of facts she throws at people randomly. With a few exceptions, people are either annoyed or baffled by her facts. I found them interesting or funny, and they were always relevant to the story. I thought Ms. Smale did an excellent job weaving in Harriet’s thought process so the reader understood how Harriet’s brain worked. For example, from book five:

So, here are some statistically unlikely events:

  • Achieving an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 662,000
  • Becoming a canonized Saint: 1 in 20,000,000
  • Winning an Oscar: 1 in 11,500
  • Being hit by an asteroid: 1 in 700,000
  • Being voted President of the United States: 1 in 10,000,000

How do I put this?

They’re all more likely than Annabel allowing her eight-month-old daughter to start working as a fashion model.

2. The secondary characters – There are so many great characters to choose from–Harriet’s best friend, Nat; her stalker, Toby; her grandmother, Bunty; the models she meets on her travels. Every single character is uniquely and richly drawn.

2.5. The modeling – Yes, I slipped in a half-point. The books had novellas in between, so I’m adding in-between points. The inside look at the modeling industry was fascinating–the crazy shoots, the variety, and the fact that haute couture is nothing like what you see in a regular advertisement. It’s more like art.

3. The humor – It’s only appropriate to put humor after the point about modeling because many of Harriet’s modeling experiences result in situational humor. I found myself laughing out loud during every single book, even as I was shaking my head at Harriet, internally shouting at her to stop what she was doing immediately. Yep. They’re those kind of books–where you just can’t look away from the train wreck the character’s causing.

3.5. The settings – Through the course of six full-length books and three novellas, Harriet travels to Russia, France, Japan, Morocco, the United States, Australia–I’m missing some. And, of course, there’s plenty in and around London as well. Having traveled to a couple of the places she’s written, I felt like I’d traveled there all over again. And I want to visit the others. Fantastic!

4. The parents – I love Harriet’s parents. It’s explained early in the first book that Harriet’s mother died giving birth to her, and her dad remarried when she was young. Neither her dad nor her stepmom, Annabel, is perfect, but they are such a realistically drawn family. I loved watching them work through ups and downs through the course of the books.

4.5 Harriet’s growth – Some readers might find Harriet to be an unlikable character. She’s very high-maintence and has few friends as a result. She’s very inside her head and so literal that she constantly misses social cues, but that’s part of what makes her so interesting. During the course of the series, she has to recognize her shortcomings, and there are consequences for them. I liked how she grew up and adapted.

5. The romance – I left this for last because it was by far my favorite part of the whole series. I’m such a sucker for a good romance, and if an author manages to drag it out through this many books? Wow, that’s quite a feat. Let me just say that the fourth book, ALL THAT GLITTERS, broke my heart. I was seriously balling–which is very hard to make me do–and my kids came over and gave me hugs and then wanted to me to explain why. My nine-year-old son didn’t get it, but my seven-year-old daughter understood it was all about LOVE. (This is pretty much the way to make me cry–through relationship drama.) Anyway, I was very satisfied with the way the romance wrapped up. I was smiling at the end :).

Hopefully I’ve convinced you all to read this series, and I also hope you’ll be able to get your hands on all the books much more easily than I did!

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, Reading, Review, Young Adult

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.

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Movies, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SWAP by Megan Shull

Last fall I watched a Disney TV movie called “The Swap” and thought, Wow, I wish I could read that as a book. Turns out it was based on a book! (Also, have I mentioned before how it’s my dream to have one of my books made into a Disney TV movie? Because, honestly, that’s the type of book I write.) Anyway, when I spotted Megan Shull’s THE SWAP at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, I immediately threw it in my shopping cart. (Yes, a literal shopping cart.) Interestingly, the movie was aged up from middle school to high school, but I can understand why. The story is completely appropriate for middle grade readers, BUT it is not a book I’d recommend to younger kids reading up due to some of the gender-swapping content. For example, my six and eight-year-old kids watched the movie and thought it was hilarious, but my son would be freaked out reading about the boy in the girl’s body learning about a girl getting her period for the first time.

Yeah. Not ready for that talk. Moving on. Here’s the description for the book.

The Swap by Megan Shull

ELLIE spent the summer before seventh grade getting dropped by her best friend since forever. JACK spent it training in “The Cage” with his tough-as-nails brothers and hard-to-please dad. By the time middle school starts, they’re both ready for a change. And just as Jack’s thinking girls have it so easy, Ellie’s wishing she could be anyone but herself.

Then, BAM! They swap lives – and bodies!

Now Jack’s fending off mean girls at sleepover parties, while Ellie’s reigning as The Prince of Thatcher Middle School.

As their crazy weekend races on – and their feeling for each other grow – Ellie and Jack begin to wonder if maybe the best way to learn how to be yourself is to spend a little time being somebody else.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The premise – I already had a thousand scenarios of how this premise would play out in a book after I watched the movie, and it was different in the book. References to puberty aside–and really, how could that be avoided?–it’s all handled very tastefully and hilariously.

2. The voices – I have to be honest here. Half the time, I had no idea what Jack’s brothers were saying. They have their own language, but I applaud Ms. Shull. I think she actually exaggerated it for the purpose of showing how different the two characters are, but it works.

3. The character arcs – It’s hinted at in the description, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that Ellie and Jack discover themselves by being someone else. I love how they learn more about who they are inside while they’re taking a break from being themselves on the outside. It’s rare to get a glimpse of how others see you, but that’s what the magic of this story allows.

4. Ellie & Jack’s relationship – Not only do they get to know themselves, but they also get to know each other, since they’re living each others’ lives for a weekend. It was fun to watch how close they become, and how they can use that knowledge to help each other.

5. The humor – I tried to find a good example to post, but they’re all too long. Mostly the humor is situational and related to Ellie or Jack being completely confused about what’s going on in the other’s life and having to wing it. I was laughing out loud through much of the book.

I highly recommend this one, but as I said, if you have a younger MG reader, be aware there is talk of bodily functions related to puberty–for both boys and girls–in case you haven’t had those discussions yet.

Reading, Review, Young Adult

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.

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE SLEEPOVER by Jen Malone

I’ve had THE SLEEPOVER since the NESCBWI Conference this spring, when I finally got to meet Jen Malone in person. I’ve reviewed several of her books and even interviewed Jen for her debut, AT YOUR SERVICE. (Also see my reviews for YOU’RE INVITED and WANDERLOST.) I planned to jump right into this book as well, but I took it along on our family lake vacation in June, and when my kids saw the cover, they demanded I read it aloud to them. As you can imagine, doing a book as a read-aloud doesn’t happen every day or even every week with everything else going on in life, so we just finished it last week. Anyway, here is the cover that so excited them. You can see why they had to know what it was about, right?

The Sleepover by Jen MaloneIn this tween version of the movie The Hangover, Meghan, Paige, and Anna Marie are super excited for the Best. Night. Ever. The sleepover they’re planning can be nothing short of EPIC. There will be junk food, there will be crazy-scary horror movies, and there will be karaoke smack-downs. Not even the last minute addition of Anna Marie’s socially awkward, soon-to-be-stepsister Veronica can dampen their spirits.

But nothing prepares them for the scene that greets them when they awaken the next morning: the basement is a mega disaster zone, Meghan’s left eyebrow has been shaved off, her “pillow” is the prized-possession hoodie of the class rebel who lives next door, and–heavenly heckweasels!–what is the deal with the slew of tiny ducklings in the bathtub!?

Worst of all, Anna Marie is missing. As in completely and totally gone-zo. Now the remaining girls have to piece together what exactly happened the night before, in the hopes it will lead them to their missing friend before the parents arrive for pick-ups. If she’s not waiting safe and sound when that doorbell rings, heads will roll and their social life as they know it will cease to exist. Trouble is, none of them can remember anything of the prior evening past that hypnotism trick performed by the two-bit magician Veronica arranged in an effort to impress the other girls.

The clock is ticking, the clues are weird and weirder, and one thing is certain: last night got a lot wilder than karaoke and make-your-own-sundae.

So, I tried to get my kids to help me write the review, but when I asked them what they loved best, they were basically giving away the whole story. My attempts to guide them back to more general points unfortunately annoyed my eight-year-old so much he refused to tell me his favorite things anymore, so I’ll just tell you the things I think we all loved best :).

1. The pranks – You can tell from what they found in the morning that the pranks they got up to overnight involved ducklings, shaving off Meghan’s eyebrow (yikes!!), and then there’s a whole thing with a hedgehog … Suffice it to say we couldn’t stop laughing.

2. The mission – Their efforts to figure out what happened the night before and why they can’t remember what happened the night before are as hilarious as the actual events. I love how this provides the forward momentum for the story.

3. The crush – Meghan’s crush on Jake is the most adorable thing ever. And I love how it’s just sweet and confusing and exactly right for her age. Oh, and there’s one scene that’s so excruciating my son was hiding his face on the couch and howling.

4. Veronica – I think Veronica might be one of my favorite characters ever. She completely owns her wackiness, and every time she spoke, I waited for something brilliant to come out. Like this:

Veronica blushes and sticks out her chest a little. “I completed the Junior Hardy Boys Detective Certification Course.”

Um, oooooookayyyyyyy.

“Well, since I don’t know how to respond to that, I’m just going to move on,” Paige says, gripping the banister. “Okay, so let’s be superquiet, girls. Stick together and do not make a noise.”

“I also take ninja lessons,” Veronica whispers when we reach the top stair.

And then there was the squirrel. Believe me, it’s hilarious!

5. The villain – Who caused all of this mayhem? Well, I’m not going to tell you, but I thought the resolution was brilliant. In fact, my son listed what happened in the last five pages as one of his favorite things about the book. Too bad it’s one of those spoilers :).

Go read this book! You will be laughing–and cringing–throughout. And as you should be able to tell from my review, my son found it just as entertaining as my daughter.

Character, Reading, Review, Uncategorized, Young Adult

YA Review: MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

img_0929
Me at the Tower of London in 2007. It’s a very dark place!

All you have to do is read the dedication to know this book is going to be awesome:

For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door.

And for England. We’re really sorry for what we’re about to do to your history.

Well, I’m not! Because then I wouldn’t have read this awesome revisionist history of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England. Admittedly, before I read MY LADY JANE, I had only a passing memory that Lady Jane Grey existed (although I have been to the Tower of London, so I’d heard her story at some point). I’ve now thoroughly refreshed my memory after reading this delightful story. But I guess I should share the description for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet.

My Lady Jane by The Lady JaniesThe comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.

 

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The way the authors revised history – The actual story of Lady Jane Grey, queen for nine days, is quite tragic. She was a victim of a power struggle and really didn’t have a chance. What’s interesting to me is how the authors took the central historical issue –religion–and turned it into a magical conflict. Because why shouldn’t Catholics and Protestants become Verities and Edians (animal shape shifters)? Obviously it’s not such a straightforward swap, but essentially that’s how they revised the history, and it’s completely brilliant!

2. The prologue – Yes, I love the prologue! Because it sets the stage for the story so perfectly. You know how the description above compares this story to The Princess Bride? It’s such a great comparison because the authors speak to the reader. From the very beginning, the reader is encouraged not to take it too seriously, and yet, even though you expect things can’t end well for the characters based on the actual history, you’re hoping they’re going to fix it.

3. The dialogue – I particularly love the banter between Jane and Gifford, but the dialogue throughout the book is excellent. Here’s an example from shortly after Jane has discovered her new husband Gifford is an Edian who transforms into a horse every day.

“No horse jokes,” he said.

“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book–unharmed!–I will give you a carrot.”

He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”

“Neigh.”

“Was that a horse joke?”

I almost gave humor it’s own separate point, but since you can see it in this point about the dialogue …

4. Edward – In the history books Edward dies young, leaves his crown to Jane (who becomes the tragic heroine and now gets a book named after her), one sister (Bloody Mary) takes over, and then his other sister (Elizabeth) becomes one of the best-known monarchs in British history. I like this version of Edward, a dying teenager who cares about his best friend, Jane, and has never known anything other than being a coddled king but would like to experience life if he could only get around his death sentence. I was rooting for him to escape the machinations of the court, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you whether he does :).

5. The romance – I was cautious about the romance considering the setup. Things did not look promising for our characters, but in the end I was very pleased with how the romance played out in this book. And that’s all I’ll say so as to avoid spoiling it.

Definitely pick up MY LADY JANE. And since I loved this book so much, I obviously need to read the other books these authors have written. Any recommendations on where to start?