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!

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!

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 :).

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: P.S. I LIKE YOU by Kasie West

I don’t know where the month of August went reading-wise. I guess I spent it reading that romance novel series I mentioned in my post about reading just for fun :). I have to admit that as much as I was enjoying my romance novels, it’s quite a long series and I started longing for YA again, so I took a break in the middle to binge-read a YA series I’d never read before–the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart. I’m not going to review it because Ruby’s boy-crazy antics sort of drove me crazy, even though I couldn’t stop reading for four books, so … I have to admire Ms. Lockhart for keeping me engaged despite my frustrations with the character. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure. But the purpose of this post is to rave about a book I absolutely adored. I expected to because I’ve loved every other book of Kasie West’s. I’m so glad P.S. I LIKE YOU lived up to the long wait for a new Kasie West book!

P.S. I Like You by Kasie WestSigned, sealed, delivered…

While spacing out in Chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk, and added a message to her. Intrigue!

Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters — sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery, and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I mean, Kasie West basically found a way to turn You’ve Got Mail into a YA novel, without going the obvious route of texting. I’m sure there’s a way that could have worked, too, but I really liked the letters. Actually, they could be a whole point themselves, but I’ll let them tag along with this one. I loved how the anonymity of the letters allowed Lily and her pen pal to know each other on a deeper level without the usual insecurities you have face to face.

2. The backstory – Wait, what, you’re saying? I’m not sure I’ve ever listed backstory as something I love in a book before, but it’s so relevant in this one. These characters have some major hangups that prevent them from moving forward. Without that backstory, this would be a short story instead of a novel. It’s very well done. *slow clap*

3. The friendship – I love Lily and Isabel’s friendship throughout the book. It’s solid at the beginning, and yet there are still some obstacles they have to figure out how to deal with to make sure they stay solid.

4. Lily’s family – They’re big and crazy, but they also love each other. I especially enjoyed Lily’s parents, who ask their kids to vote on who makes a better necklace or pie. And all of the sibling dynamics rang true, with both the love and frustrations of being one of four kids.

5. The romance – I already mentioned the letters, but obviously that’s not all there is to the romance. I don’t want to risk giving anything away, so I can’t gush too much. Suffice it to say the romantic tension is off the charts.

I really loved this book, maybe even more than THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND. Or not–it’s so hard to choose. Fortunately Kasie West’s next book is coming in February, so it’s not that long of a wait. If you’ve read P.S. I LIKE YOU, what did you think?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED by Kristin Rae

I really enjoyed Kristin Rae’s debut, WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN, so I expected to like her latest, WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED, but it turns out I liked it even more. So that means I need to gush about it here with a full review.

What You Always Wanted by Kristin RaeTheatre girl Maddie Brooks has always had high standards for guys. But she has yet to find one who can live up to the classic Hollywood heartthrobs, especially the dreamy song-and-dance man Gene Kelly. When Maddie begins to carpool with Jesse Morales, her new neighbor and star pitcher of the baseball team, she’s struck by his wit, good looks, and love for his family—but a guy so into sports is definitely not her style. Then Maddie discovers that Jesse was raised as a dancer and still practices in the community theatre’s dance studio to keep in shape. Perhaps her perfect dream guy exists after all! But when it becomes clear that baseball—not dance—is Jesse’s passion, can Maddie find a way to let her dream guy go and appreciate the charms of the amazing guy in front of her?

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The old movies – I wouldn’t call myself a classic movie buff, although I have a small collection. I haven’t seen all of the movies referenced in the book, but it doesn’t matter. Maddie’s passion for Gene Kelly and her descriptions are enough to carry the reader through. It was a unique but completely believable obsession for her to have.

2. Maddie’s perfect guy – I loved that Maddie had this picture of the perfect guy in her head. But I also loved the question at the center of the story–how Maddie had to grow throughout the story and realize that it’s fine to adjust that image.

3. Maddie’s confidence – Often confidence is something a character has to earn during a story, but in this case Maddie has it in spades, and I liked that about her. Maddie doesn’t back down when faced with a bully or a challenge. It earns her instant friends–and perhaps an enemy.

4. Maddie’s character growth – I alluded to this a bit with the perfect guy point, but Maddie also grows in adjusting her dreams. She has so many strong opinions about who she’s supposed to be and what she’s supposed to do, and she has to take some strong knocks to figure out there are shades of gray.

5. Maddie’s parents – There is a whole subplot with Maddie’s parents that I can’t say too much about here or risk giving something away, but I really liked them. They were dealing with a challenge, and they approached it with grace and optimism, no matter how Maddie reacted. Yay for positive parents!

Have you read WHAT YOU ALWAYS WANTED? What did you think?

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: COUNTING THYME by Melanie Conklin

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Melanie Conklin’s COUNTING THYME for what seems like forever. We’ve been Twitter friends for years, and she even read a partial of one of my manuscripts once (thanks again, Melanie!), after which she recommended I read THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas. Love the whole series! In any case, COUNTING THYME completely lived up to my expectations, and I’m thrilled to review it for MMGM.

Counting Thyme by Melanie ConklinWhen eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – Yes, there’s a reason her name is Thyme, and it’s explained. But this title has multiple meanings and I love the play on words. It’s just perfect on so many levels.

2. Thyme’s family – I loved every member of this family, from Thyme’s mom trying to hold everyone–including herself–together, her dad maintaining some fun where possible, her sister acting out, and her brother surviving. And where did that leave Thyme? That central question invested me from page one.

3. The friendships – There were multiple friendship stories happening within the book: Thyme and her best friend back home, Thyme and the girls at school, Thyme and the boy at school, Thyme observing the friendship between the girls at school. I liked how Thyme had to sort out these friendships and discover how she fit into each one.

4. The sound production team – How cool that Thyme found a project in the midst of everything else she was going through. I enjoyed reading about her experiments finding everyday objects that would make the desired sounds for the play. It was an interesting subplot that also fit very well into the overall story as she had to decide where this Thyme project fit into her family.

5. Mrs. Ravelli and Mr. Lipinsky – I loved both of these characters. They were polar opposites, and yet they both played critical roles in helping Thyme adjust to life in New York and giving her purpose. Plus, they’re both extremely well-written characters. I’d really like to try that cake Mrs. Ravelli baked for the Owens …

If you haven’t read COUNTING THYME yet, I suggest you do so. I have a feeling this one will be getting some award attention.

Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review, Interview & Giveaway: FALLS THE SHADOW by Stefanie Gaither

Two years ago, I read the QueryTracker success story for Stefanie Gaither’s FALLS THE SHADOW and thought, “Wow! I have got to read that!” Well, fast-forward two years and I’ve finally had the chance. And, bonus, Stefanie agreed to answer my questions about the five things I loved best and has offered to send a signed copy to one of you lucky readers. Details are at the end of the post. But first, here’s the cover and description for those of who you didn’t read that query :).

FALLS THE SHADOW by Stefanie GaitherWhen Cate Benson was a kid, her sister, Violet, died. Two hours after the funeral, Cate’s family picked up Violet’s replacement. Like nothing had happened. Because Cate’s parents are among those who decided to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth—which means this new Violet has the same smile. The same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all of the same memories as the girl she replaced.

She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.

At least, that’s what the paparazzi and the anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that. She’s used to defending her sister, too. But Violet has vanished, and when Cate sets out to find her, she ends up in the line of fire instead. Because Cate is getting dangerously close to secrets that will rock the foundation of everything she thought was true.

And here are Stefanie Gaither’s answers to the questions I posed about the five things I loved most:

1. I love this premise. I’m sure you’ve been asked before, but where did you come up with the idea for a world where clones are a reality?

Part of it was the science geek in me wondering about that sort of world, but there were personal reasons for wanting to tell this story, too; as someone who had lost quite a bit of close family by the time I was Cate’s age, I can really relate to that desire that some of the people in this world have to give their loved ones an immortality through cloning.

2. Yay for parents who aren’t dead! And yet … there were definitely complicated family dynamics. I’m curious: did you plan Cate’s parents and their histories in advance (in particular her mother’s), or did that develop with the plot?

I had an idea of what Cate’s relationships with her parents would be like from the beginning, but as the story progressed, I had to think more and more about how those relationships came to be so that it would (hopefully) read more realistically. And that involved a lot of thinking about what her parents had been through, which led to backstory, which, of course, ultimately influenced the plot. So, I guess you could say it all sort of developed simultaneously? I’m not much of a linear thinker when I’m writing, so it’s hard to say which details came first.

3. The relationship between Cate and Violet was fascinating. Obviously the story’s from Cate’s point of view, but how much did you get inside Violet’s head to figure out how she would react in various situations?

A lot. Fun fact: when I first started writing the book, it was actually a dual pov that switched between Cate and Violet’s narration. There were a few scenes later on, too, that I at least partially drafted from Violet’s pov so that I could try to see things through her eyes. It was especially challenging with her because she’s essentially two people—the old Violet and the new one—and those two people are constantly warring in her head. So I spent a lot of time in that head, trying to figure things out.

4. I loved all the action! What kind of research did you have to do for the fight and chase scenes? Or are you secretly a ninja?

I may have been known to dabble in ninja-ry every now and then :). But other than that, most of the research I did for those scenes had to do with the weapons used, and medical stuff re: what would actually happen if someone, say, stabbed you in the stomach. There was some hands on stuff, too; when I’m writing out an action scene, I like to act it out to help myself visualize it. My poor husband usually gets roped into the act too. But he’s usually a good sport about me kicking him around and putting him in chokeholds, at least ;).

5. And I have to mention the romance, of course. I loved the way you threw Cate and Jaxon together in a life-or-death situation, and yet there’s history on both sides. How did you decide what kind of guy would coax Cate out of the shadows?

It was all a matter of knowing Cate first and foremost, and knowing how she would react to different people and personalities and different kinds of attempts to, as you put it, “coax her out of the shadows”. I couldn’t see her, for example, opening up to a guy she just met, because she’s too guarded for that. So I decided they had to have some sort of history, and as much of a pre-established connection as the quiet Cate would have allowed. And I couldn’t see her opening up to someone as loudmouthed as say, Seth, either. She has enough drama in her life dealing with Violet, so it made sense to me that she would seek comfort in someone like Jaxon, who to me is ultimately (even in spite of a few mistakes) the strong, steady and sweet type. Basically, it just comes down to seeing her as an actual person, and thinking about what other sort of actual person would complement her best.

Thanks, Stefanie, for stopping by! I love these answers. If anyone wasn’t already dying to read this book based on the description, I bet they are now!

And on that note, to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of Stefanie Gaither’s FALLS THE SHADOW, click on the Rafflecopter link below. North America only, please.

Rafflecopter Giveaway

Next week I’ll have another interview–with Kimberley Griffiths Little and her new young adult novel, FORBIDDEN–so be sure to come back for that one!