Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: The Jack Blank Series by Matt Myklusch (a middle schooler review)

My son read another whole series this week! I’ve actually read this one too, and it’s fantastic. Let’s see what he has to say.


So now that I know how to actually do a series review, I don’t think I’m going to do mini reviews. Last week it took me 4 hours to do the review and I don’t have that time. But, this time I am going to highlight some of my favorite things. So, here’s my overview of the series.

Series Overview

The Jack Blank series is a trilogy by Matt Myklusch. It is about a boy named (guess what!) Jack Blank. The book names in order are: THE ACCIDENTAL HERO, THE SECRET WAR, and THE END OF INFINITY. In these books, Jack Blank finds himself to be in a horrible orphanage only to be taken by surprise when he turns out to be from this magical place called the Imagine Nation and has superpowers. But then, things really start to happen… I’ll leave you at that! This is a review, I’m required by law to get you to read the book. So if that means I stop talking about it at certain points to hook you, then that’s okay! I have to do my job. Anyway… let’s get on to my “What I Liked” paragraph.

What I Liked

  1. I really liked the characters. In this book, Jack, as a character, is amazing. He’s just the right person to keep the story moving, and he reacts very well to everything happening around him. And, for people like me, he is agreeable with his actions even when sometimes they get him in trouble. It’s not like you’re thinking “[Grumbling voice] Oh Jack, why ever did you do that.” Also, another character, Smart, who you meet just as he gets to the Imagine Nation, is really good at making Jack’s life hard and causing the needed problems along the way. Skerren and Allegra are some of my favorite characters in the whole of all the books. They are people Jack meets and are skeptical at first, but become great friends.
  2. I liked the plot. Now, for this one, I’m not going to go into too much detail because I don’t want to spoil the book. But I will say that you’re already getting surprised in the 3rd chapter.
  3. I don’t know what to say. It’s just a great book. I think I’m going to stop before I strain my brain too hard trying to find specific things that don’t give anything away and start to give things away.

End

So, I forgot to do my job throughout it so… you really need to read this book. And that’s not just me saying that because of a so called “Job” that I think I’m important enough to even have a job. But go read this book right now. So, thank you for giving me your time to read this review! Bye!

The Accidental Hero by Matt MykluschJack Blank doesn’t know who or where he comes from. He doesn’t even know his real last name. All Jack knows is his bleak, dreary life at St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost. Everything changes one morning when Jack receives two visitors. The first is a deadly robot straight out of one of Jack’s favorite comic books, that tries its best to blow him up. The second is an emissary from a secret country called the Imagine Nation, where all the fantastic and unbelievable things in our world originate, including Jack.

Jack soon discovers that he has an amazing ability— one that could make him the savior of the Imagine Nation and the world beyond, or the biggest threat they’ve ever faced.


A little different from last week’s review, but having read this series, I’ll just add that it is full of twists, and it would be very easy to give too much away, so I can understand his hesitation.

Character, Instagram, Reading, Review, Young Adult

10 BLIND DATES and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

I intended to have another MMGM this week–this time from my fourth grader–but some other school work took precedence, and my sixth grader didn’t have another one prepared to jump in. However, I’ve been catching up on my own reading and realized I’d piled up quite a few mini-reviews. So here are a few young adult books I really loved. If you’d like to see these reviews as I post them, you can follow me on Instagram at @michelleimason.


10 Blind Dates by Ashley ElstonI’ve been intending to read 10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston for months. I finally started it last week—and finished it within a day. The story’s about Sophie, who stays home from Christmas break to be with her boyfriend—only he breaks up with her. Her huge family decides to console her by setting her up on 10 blind dates (giving her Christmas Eve and Day off). I was already on board from this setup alone, but here are the five things I loved best about it.

1. The dates! From participating in a nativity to bowling in costume, these dates were hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy. I loved how creative they were and couldn’t wait to see what the family members would come up with next.
2. The guys – I half-expected every guy picked out to be awful, but that wasn’t the case at all (I mean, some were). It was a really great representation of different types of guys.
3. The love interest – If you pick up this book, the description does not give anything away about who she ends up with, so I won’t here either, but the chemistry was fantastic.
4. Sophie’s family – So crazy but also wonderful. Also, I really loved the dynamic with her cousins and how she regained her closeness with them throughout the book.
5. Sophie’s sister – There was a more serious side plot going on with Sophie’s sister on bedrest, about to have a baby. I think sometimes writers are afraid to include a serious note in a romantic comedy, but it added a really great balance to the story. After all, that’s how life is.

So, that’s my take on 10 BLIND DATES, a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. If you’ve read it too, let me know your thoughts!


Lovely War by Julie BerryI really enjoyed the unique storytelling of LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. It’s a YA historical with a fantastical twist, told from the viewpoints of Aphrodite and other Greek gods. Interestingly, the gods are in the time of World War II, looking back on two love stories from World War I. Hazel, a shy pianist, meets James, an aspiring architect, right before he ships off for the front. Aubrey, a talented jazz musician and part of an all African-American regiment, meets YMCA volunteer Colette, who has lost her entire family and first love to German brutality. I loved the short chapters and back and forth between the gods debating the importance of love, war, and music versus the actual stories of these young people living through an unspeakable time.

Every one of these characters was compelling. I was drawn to their stories and hoping they would have happy endings, even while I expected the worst in a brutal war that took so many lives. I really appreciated how this story was told and highly recommend it.


I kept seeing this book all over Instagram, and the title alone was enough to make me want to read it. I’m a total sucker for clever titles. But then I read the description, and TWEET CUTE by Emma Lord is basically like YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

Pepper runs her family fast food chain’s Twitter account, and when the chain steals Jack’s family deli’s grilled cheese recipe, he engages in a Twitter war with her. Meanwhile, at school, they’ve never gotten along, but start getting to know each other and maybe even fall for each other. Add in an anonymous app they’re talking to each other on, which the reader is clued into.

I seriously couldn’t put this book down. I read it in a single day, despite currently drafting a book, starting eLearning with my kids, and everything else that goes with all of us being home. So that should tell you something about this book. It’s smart, fun, fast-paced, and a great escape from the anxiety and worry around us. Check it out!


I read the first book in this series, A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY, last year and loved it. I loved this one even more.

I found it interesting that with the exception of a couple of brief chapters, this book is written from two completely different points of view, leaving the reader wondering what’s happening with the two original characters. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I was quickly drawn into the stories of Grey and Lia Mara. They are both incredibly well-developed characters facing really tough choices. But I also really appreciated the secondary characters. With a couple of them, I wasn’t sure whether I should be rooting for them too or not. I was turning pages quickly to find out!

But really, in general I was turning pages quickly to get to the end of this book. I was reading this at a time when I had very little reading time due to other commitments, and this book made me snatch time whenever I could to find out what would happen next. I was so worried the characters would make the wrong decisions—and that they might not have any other options. The stakes are so well done. I can’t wait for the finale. Well done, Brigid Kemmerer!
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Also, super excited this book is from my publisher, Bloomsbury 😍.


I love getting so sucked into a book that I read it long into the night, which is what happened to me with THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE by Cynthia Hand. There was one night I had 100 pages left at 11:15 and almost went for it. But I do have kids to wrangle in the mornings :).

I read this book right before Christmas, and it was a perfect read during that time. A Scrooge retelling, it follows Holly Chase, who was visited five years ago by the three Ghosts and didn’t mend her ways, so she died. Ever since, she’s been working for Project Scrooge as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past, and she stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on without her. She’s pretty miserable, until the latest Scrooge is unveiled as a seventeen-year-old boy with a story very similar to her own and she embarks on a quest to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake she did.

I loved how Cynthia Hand approached this retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, updating it for a modern audience. Holly was an interesting character to me because she wasn’t very likable for much of the book—but then, she was a Scrooge, so that makes sense. Her character arc is what makes this book great. One of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down was that I wasn’t sure how it would all end, but I finished it satisfied. Even though the holidays are now over, I still highly recommend this book. If you aren’t up for reading off-season, grab it and hold on until this December!

Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner

Hi everyone! With my kids home from school, I’ve invited them to participate in reviews. First up is my sixth grader with a review of MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner. This book just came out last week, and as I’m sure you can imagine, debuting during quarantine is quite challenging. We are excited to help spread the word about this awesome book!

First of all, Arianne sent out some amazing pre-order gifts, and last I heard, she still had some extras available due to canceled events. You can see details on her Instagram here. But here’s a picture of my son with the book and swag, followed by a description of the book.

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are doomed. Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he goes to great lengths to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

And now I’m going to hand this review over to my sixth grader. He’s going to switch up the format from my usual five things, so here we go…

All right. MY LIFE AS A POTATO was an amazing book. I couldn’t put it down, and I finished it in a day. Ben is a seventh grader that moves to the school in Idaho. He makes you feel what it is like to be a new kid in a new school where things are different, even if you’ve never been a new kid before. Ben gives the story the feeling that it actually is real and influences the story in so many ways.

It made me laugh when he dressed as Steve the Spud, fell down, and rolled into the cheerleader pyramid, and all the cheerleaders screamed as they fell on top of him. That’s just one example of the funny stuff that happened in the book.

It was an always-be-yourself moral, but it was more about having good friends by your side who won’t care what you’re doing. It’s important to be yourself and if your friends are good, they’ll support you no matter what. I really liked that moral.

Arianne Costner really helped the story come to life by using description that made you feel like you were in the story.

I can’t wait to read this book myself! I’ll be bringing you more sixth grader reviews–and maybe a fourth grader review or two–while we’re at home. Thanks for stopping by!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MG Review: WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR by Ally Carter

I can’t believe it’s already March and I haven’t posted a single review this year! But it has been a very busy year. If you saw my other post with the mention of my best friend, she has moved to a rehab hospital, and there are further updates on the GoFundMe page started by her parents. She still has a long road ahead but is improving!

I didn’t quite get this review together in time to submit it for MMGM, but I still wanted to post it today. It’s no secret I love Ally Carter’s books, so when I discovered she was writing a middle grade book, I was super excited my kids would finally be able to read one of them. I took my son, who just turned 12, to her signing here in St. Louis on March 1. It was the first tour stop for WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR. My son was totally in this picture, but he doesn’t like having his picture posted, so I cropped him out, and he was the one holding the book :). But on to the review!

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally CarterApril didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – This book is described as Annie meets Batman, and it’s an absolutely perfect description. I was hooked on that alone.

2. The pacing – Here’s how quick a read this book is: We bought it on March 1, and both my son and I have finished it already. When we met Ally, she particularly asked if I’d let her know how he liked it (guessing she doesn’t have a lot of 12-year-old boy readers), and he loved it. As soon as he was finished, he handed it to me and asked me to read so we could talk about it after. We’re both now anxious for the next one :).

3. Gabriel Winterborne – So, I haven’t been on Twitter a lot the last few months, but some of the other Ally Carter fans in the audience had, and I guess Ally had already prepped them with her love for Gabriel. Honestly, my son was a bit uncomfortable with that part of the book discussion ;). Basically, Gabriel has been presumed dead for 10 years and is hiding out for reasons you discover during the course of the story. He’s broody and tough but also cares a lot more than he wants the kids to know. I totally got his appeal :).

4. The kids – I loved this group of kids who became April’s family as she got to know them. From Sadie the inventor to Tim the protector and Colin the grifter, they were all great additions to the team and her family. Oh, and we can’t forget sweet Violet the artist.

5. The mystery – Quite a bit was wrapped up in this book, but there was a mystery from the very beginning that never was solved, and I loved how the very end of the book left more than one point open. I’m definitely ready to read more!

I love that Ally Carter has branched into middle grade. I’m sure this is going to be passed on to my daughter as well before long. Looking forward to the next one!

Middle Grade, PitchWars, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2019

My reading was back up this year. I finished 101 books, with a good mix of young adult, middle grade, and adult. I’ll include the breakdown at the bottom of the post. But on to the fun part–my ten favorite reads of 2019! They’re listed in alphabetical order by author.

In Some Other Life by Jessica BrodyIN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody – This book is from a couple of years ago, but I just got to it in 2019. I love books that consider the question of what your life would be like if you’d made a different choice. This particular story follows Kennedy as she discovers what her life would have been like if she’d gone to a prestigious private school instead of staying at the public school. That decision has ramifications for many people in her life, and I loved seeing it play out.


Finale by Stephanie GarberFINALE by Stephanie Garber – The first book in this series, CARAVAL, was one of my favorite reads of 2017, and the finale (😉) makes it on the list for 2019. I was fortunate enough to meet Stephanie Garber when she came through town, and since I was the last person in the signing line, I started reading. The book kept me completely gripped and up late reading, not completely sure how it would all turn out. It’s the best kind of anticipation.


Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book before. It’s one of those that I’d seen everyone talk about and I just hadn’t gotten to. Now that I have, I totally get why it’s so popular. I read this book in less than 24 hours. I loved the unique dossier format. I loved the characters. I loved how the stakes just kept getting higher and twisting in new directions. I haven’t had a chance to get to the other two books in the series yet due to general life craziness, but they are very high on my list for 2020!!


Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani LaRoccaMIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca – 2019 has been an exciting year for my fellow 2017 PitchWars mentees. It’s been fun to watch books that were in the contest out in the world. With its premise of baking meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM was one of the PitchWars books I was most looking forward to, and Rajani totally delivered. I loved how well the plot of the Shakespeare play was incorporated into the modern world and seamlessly explained for a middle grade audience. And the baking throughout the story just made my mouth water. I can’t wait for Rajani’s next book!


Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara RutherfordCROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL by Mara Rutherford – I’d been anxious to read this book since I first read the description. Nor and her identical twin sister, Zadie, live on the floating village of Varenia. Every generation, the most beautiful girl is chosen to go marry the crown prince of Ilara and move to land. Zadie is chosen, but when she’s injured, Nor goes in her place. I do love a good twin story! This book was completely engrossing from the first page, and the stakes kept changing and getting higher. I really loved how it was almost like two stories—the first half a story of sisters and the second full of intrigue on land with danger and romance. Nor is a strong female character I was rooting for throughout the story, and while the love story was great too, it didn’t take over from her main goal, which is protecting her home. I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel!


Scars Like Wings by Erin StewartSCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart – So I’m that reader who will generally shy away from a book if I think it will make me cry, and I was afraid that would be the case with SCARS LIKE WINGS, but it surprised me in the best possible way. It’s about burn survivor Ava, who lost her parents and was severely burned in a house fire. Now she’s going back to school. The very first line set the tone for the book: “One year after the fire, my doctor removes my mask and tells me to get a life.” I could tell from that opening that there would be more than just sorrow in the story, and I’m so glad I read this book. It’s hard at times, but even so it’s one I’d read again.


Across a Broken Shore by Amy TruebloodACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood – With her second book, Amy once again delivers a well-researched historical novel with a strong young female character who stands up for herself believably within her time. The story follows Willa, whose family expects her to be a nun, but who feels called to a career in medicine. It’s set against the backdrop of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1936. I love how well Amy portrays Willa’s family and her struggle to meet family obligations while also staying true to herself. Amy is a wonderful friend to the writing community and to me personally. If you haven’t already read this book, add it for 2020!


The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van DolzerTHE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer – I love how Krista captures the middle grade voice so well, and this book was extra-fun thanks to being set in the unique location of a math camp. I was privileged to read an early copy, and she let me work out the logic problem included ahead of time. Yes, I was a total math geek in school and you might have even found me on the math team in junior high :). But definitely check out this book. I mean, if nothing else, the cover should sell you on it.


Fame, Fate and the First Kiss by Kasie WestFAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West – Somehow I didn’t have a Kasie West book on my list of favorites last year after her being on my list for several years in a row, but this year she’s back on there with FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS. I loved that the frame of the book was the character making a campy zombie movie based on a book series. As usual, the dialogue and romance were top-notch, as well as the supporting cast of family and friends. I know I’m behind on one of Kasie West’s 2019 releases, so maybe that one will end up on my 2020 list.


White Rose by Kip WilsonWHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson – Kip is my longtime critique partner and I’ve already shouted about this book quite a bit this year, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it makes my list of favorite reads. From the moment Kip first told me about WHITE ROSE when we were sitting in a hotel room at NESCBWI in 2016, I was immediately gripped. The story of Sophie Scholl, a young German college student who challenged the Nazi regime during World War II as part of The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group, it’s compelling, heartbreaking, and moving. It’s beautifully told in verse, and as a result it ends up being a pretty quick read, yet you’ll want to go back and read it more slowly to absorb it all over again. Others evidently agree, as it’s been named a School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019.


So those are my ten favorite reads this year. Of the 101 books I read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 63

Middle grade: 10

Adult: 25

Non-fiction: 3

The high number of adult books is due to me continuing to weed out books from my shelves. Found quite a few this year I won’t be keeping to make room for more YA :).

Do we have any of the same favorites this year? Let me know in the comments!

Character, Instagram, Reading, Review, Young Adult

THE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS and a Few Other Books You Should Read

Hello there! I had an incredibly busy November and beginning of December–so busy that it sadly took me three weeks to read a single book. I was stealing chapters in small blocks, and that just made me so sad. Despite the fact it took me so long to read that one book, I wanted to tell you about it and a few others I shared on my Instagram in the past couple months that you should also check out.


The Library of Lost Things by Laura Taylor NameyTHE LIBRARY OF LOST THINGS is the story of Darcy Wells, who lives lost in books. It’s an escape from the reality of her mother’s hoarding, which is about to become even more of an issue thanks to a new property manager. Add in Asher Fleet, a boy with a complicated past who starts hanging out in the bookstore where she works, and she suddenly has to start living even more outside her books.

I read this book while I had a ton going on in my own life (I didn’t even have time to get a nice photo before I had to return it to the library, sadly), but every time I picked it up I was pulled back into Darcy’s story. I especially loved her relationship with her best friend, Marisol. I also enjoyed the subplot with both Shakespeare and PETER PAN in the background and, of course, the romance. There were a lot of deeper family issues going on as well that I think will really resonate with teens. Definitely pick up this book!


I’d been anxious to read CROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL by Mara Rutherford since I first read the description. Nor and her identical twin sister, Zadie, live on the floating village of Varenia and spend their days diving for pearls. But every generation, the most beautiful girl is chosen to go marry the crown prince of Ilara and move to land. Zadie is chosen, but when she’s injured, Nor goes in her place and finds leaving home is so much more complicated than she could have imagined.

This book was completely engrossing from the first page, and the stakes kept changing and getting higher. I really loved how it was almost like two stories—the first half a story of sisters and the second full of intrigue on land with danger and romance. It could have felt very disconnected, but it was all tied together very well. Nor is a strong female character I was rooting for throughout the story, and while the love story was great too, it didn’t take over from her main goal, which is protecting her home. Perhaps the most telling point about how well this kept me engaged is that at the same time I was reading this, I had the option to read a book I’d been waiting for a year and I finished this first. I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel!


Are there books you’ve seen other readers shout about that you just haven’t gotten around to reading?

That’s how I was about ILLUMINAE. I wasn’t opposed to reading it, but just from looking at the cover I couldn’t tell what people were so excited about and so while I added it to my TBR, I wasn’t in a hurry to read it.

But wow! Just wow! I read this book in less than 24 hours. The pacing never let up, from the opening pages. I cared about the two main characters right away, but I also cared about everyone else. This is even more impressive considering the book is written like a dossier, with sort of instant messages, emails, reports, schematics, and more. I loved how there were personal stakes but then there were multiple outside sources of danger. I seriously wasn’t sure how the book was going to end, right up until I got there.

So now I need to read the other two books, I guess. I have a couple other things on my plate to read, but I won’t be putting it off long because I want to know what else is coming!


It’s not often that I reach the end of a book and gasp out loud, but it happened with THE OPPOSITE OF HERE by Tara Altebrando. The book’s about Natalie, whose parents take her and her three best friends on a cruise for her birthday. Her boyfriend died in a car accident months ago, and everyone just wants her to start living again, but she doesn’t want to be on a cruise—until she meets a guy on the first night. But then the guy disappears and things get increasingly weird.

I could not put this book down, which might have had something to do with there not being chapters, just section breaks. But also, it was just very well done from a suspense standpoint. I was constantly theorizing about what had happened in the past—both with an incident she hinted at and a situation with one of her friends—in addition to what was happening on the boat with the guy. And then the ending completely blew my mind! I don’t mean like a resolution of a couple of chapters but the last two pages. I actually said “What?!” out loud and went back and reread it.

I will now be going to check out other books by Tara Altebrando, because I love it when a book is really able to play with my mind that way. Also, this is another Bloomsbury book.


My time has freed up again, so hopefully I’ll be back to reading more regularly again. I sure have missed it! What great books have you read lately?

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE & LUCK by Jenna Evans Welch

Hello, readers! Where did the summer go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the five things I loved most:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: FINALE by Stephanie Garber

I have a bit of a book hangover as I’m writing this because I stayed up until after midnight to finish reading FINALE, the final book in Stephanie Garber’s best-selling Caraval series. I’m not surprised, though. Each of the books in this series have been impossible to put down, so when I learned Stephanie was coming to town, I made a point of getting to her event, even though I had a commitment for one of my kids right before. As a result, I was the very last person in line to get my books signed, but it was worth it, and I now have a complete signed set of Caraval books. If you haven’t read this series, then you’re in luck because it’s now finished and you won’t have to wait for any of them like I did :). Start with CARAVAL, next comes LEGENDARY, and then FINALE.

Finale by Stephanie GarberA love worth fighting for. A dream worth dying for. An ending worth waiting for.

It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.

With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.

Welcome, welcome to Finale. All games must come to an end…

If you haven’t read the first two books, you might want to stop here because this review could be spoilery.

Still here? Okay …

Here are the five things I loved most about FINALE.

1. The twists – I saw some of the twists coming in this book, but I think that’s because I’d already read the first two books in the series and was anticipating them. Stephanie Garber still managed to surprise me with quite a few twists, though, and it’s what makes these books so hard to put down.

2. The love triangle – Honestly, I’m not always a huge fan of love triangles. I usually have a really clear idea of who the character should end up with and just want them to decide already. However, there was enough frustration with all points of this triangle for me to be okay with the ongoing indecision and the final resolution worked for me.

3. The Fates – If you’ve read LEGENDARY, you probably, like me, expect the Fates to be all evil in this book. A lot of them definitely are, but I enjoyed how nuanced they were as characters overall. That’s really all I want to say to avoid spoiling anything about that.

4. The quest – While there wasn’t a Caraval in this book, there was still a quest to complete, and just like in Caraval, the rules kept changing and the stakes kept ratcheting up.

5. The ending – You know how when you pick up certain books you have a pretty good idea how they’re going to end? With this book, I really wasn’t sure. I was only about sixty percent on how the love triangle would turn out and wasn’t placing any sort of bets on where things were going with Valendia. I loved that Stephanie Garber was able to keep me guessing and leave me satisfied with the ending.

Have you read FINALE yet? What did you think?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons

I love entering giveaways, and I love it even more when I win–especially when the book shows up in the mail and I didn’t know I’d won. Best surprise ever! That’s what happened with THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons, and it arrived with a really cool swag pack (pictured below). I started reading this book on the last day of our cruise and had it almost finished by the time we got off the plane home. It’s a super fast-paced read. Well, let me give you the description first, and then I’ll get on to the review :).

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials—because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark—a senator’s son—and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for secret schools where kids are developing special skills, even if they’re conning people. What’s interesting about this one is that Brynn has to consistently confront her own sense of right and wrong–which isn’t so clearly defined to start with–and decide what her limits are.

2. The pacing – I already mentioned it above, but this book was a really quick read. The stakes kept ratcheting up in each new chapter, plus …

3. The twists – They just kept coming! I loved how layered this book was. It almost felt like the author had started at the end and layered all the clues on top of each other toward the front. That’s how well all the pieces fit together. It’s very well done.

4. The romance – The initial attraction, the uncertainty, the ex still somewhat in the picture, the complication of having other people you’re conning thrown into the mix–quite a lot to add into a teen romance. And this one gets a bit steamy.

5. The ending – It’s the perfect ending to start off a series. I wanted more but didn’t feel like I was left on a total cliffhanger. I will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

If anyone out there reading this has taken a liking to that swag pack, let me know! I’m going to keep the book, but if you’d like the patch or Vale Hall letter/syllabus, I’d be happy to mail it to someone. Just send me a note in the comments or email me. First person to ask gets it, but please North America.