Middle Grade Review, Reviews


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 :).

Reviews, Young Adult Review

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?

Reviews, Young Adult Review

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?

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

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.

Interviews, Reviews, Young Adult Review

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!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Middle Grade Review, Reviews


A couple of weeks ago I read a post on humor by author Kami Kinard and promptly requested three of the books referenced in her post. Ms. Kinard was actually promoting her second book, but as I hadn’t read the first in the series, I had to read it first and found it thoroughly delightful. Here’s the description for THE BOY PROJECT.

The Boy Project by Kami KinardWildly creative seventh grader, Kara McAllister, just had her best idea yet. She’s going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara’s project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy’s bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara’s research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it…

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – It is so spot on! Now, I know not every twelve-year-old is a drama queen, but a lot of them are. I don’t remember this, but my mom loves to tell this story about me making her walk behind me in the mall. Sorry, Mom! Anyway, here’s a sample from the opening paragraph:

“I am starting this experiment because I have no choice. Well, I have no choice unless you consider being a lifelong boyfriendless social outcast destined to die alone a choice. Which it isn’t.”

Ah, to be twelve, when everything is the end of the world!

2. The scientific method – I loved the way Kara organized her boyfriend search as a science project, including modifying her hypothesis and her research methods when they didn’t return the results she expected. It was a sneaky way to slip in something educational in a way that would be interesting to a middle school girl. I especially loved Kara’s note cards. I wonder how many readers might try this now …

3. The romance – I pretty much knew from the beginning who Kara would end up with, but that was okay. It was still fun to watch her stumble through and figure out how to get to that point. And hey, this is middle school romance, where everything is awkward and confusing and hard to define.

4. The friendship – Kara may have stumbled in the romance area, but she really got the friendship part right. Yes, she had a few moments of grumbling when something in particular happened that I won’t reveal, but she understood what was most important, and I really liked that about her.

5. The adults – I really liked the way adults were handled in this book. They were definitely present, and yet they weren’t set into stereotypes. The parents were involved and cared what happened without being intrusive into the story. And the teachers ran the gamut from taking things personally and getting too involved to being an inspiration and showing genuine caring. I thought they were very true to life.

I didn’t mention the humor above–mainly because it was more of an overall thing and I couldn’t find a good snippet to include as an example–but it definitely is another point to recommend the book. As I mentioned in the intro, there’s a second book in this series that follows Kara’s best friend, Tabbi. I plan to pick that one up, too!

Did you have any crazy ideas to find a boyfriend or girlfriend in middle school? Or maybe you were one of those kids who always had one …

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman

It’s only been two weeks and I have another MMGM. Can you believe it?

I’ve been waiting to read ALL FOUR STARS ever since October 2011, when it was entered in the same Secret Agent contest as my first middle grade manuscript. That first page is pretty similar to what I remember :). About six months after that–after Tara Dairman had signed with her agent and had a publishing deal–she offered critiques for all of the entries on Krista Van Dolzer’s Writer’s Voice team for my second manuscript, so I’ve had more than one encounter with her, although she might not realize it. In any case, I’m excited to review her book today. Here’s the blurb.

All Four Stars by Tara DairmanMeet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated, but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world. But to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret. Easy as pie, right?

And here are the five things I loved most about ALL FOUR STARS:

1. The food – I’m not a foodie by any stretch of imagination. In fact, I’m a pretty picky eater (although nowhere near as picky as Gladys’s friend Parm), but I loved living vicariously through Gladys and her descriptions of exotic foods. Hey, if you can have adventures through books, you might as well experience new foods through a book!

2. The parents – Poor Mr. and Mrs. Gatsby. They have no idea what to do with their daughter’s hobby. Seeing them through Gladys’s eyes is comical, and yet by the end of the story, she comes to appreciate them more.

3. The friendships – At the beginning of the book, Gladys is so wrapped up in cooking she doesn’t care much about friends. The cooking ban forces her to branch out and make new friends, which she finds in surprising places. I really enjoyed what she learned about finding things in common with the most unexpected people.

4. The disasters – The book starts out with a disaster, and they keep piling up. Nothing seems to go right for Gladys–with the exception of the fluke that gets her the reviewing job–and this provides some excellent humor in the story. There were several laugh-out-loud moments.

5. The ending – All I can say about this is that the ending fit perfectly with everything else that happened in the book. Ahhh, Gladys!

Have you read ALL FOUR STARS yet? What did you think?

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Review & Giveaway: PARTNERS IN CRIME by Kim Harrington

Today I have another of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale finds to share with you for MMGM–and to give away! Here’s the description for the first book in Kim Harrington’s Sleuth or Dare series, PARTNERS IN CRIME.

Partners in Crime by Kim HarringtonWhen best friends Darcy and Norah have to create a fake business for a school assignment, they come up with a great idea: a detective agency! Darcy loves mysteries, and Norah likes helping people, so it’s a perfect fit.

But then their pretend agency gets a real case. Someone is missing, and it’s up to Darcy and Norah to take on the search. Unfortunately, there’s someone else out there who doesn’t want the two detectives stirring up any trouble….

With the help of hidden clues, spy gadgets, and trusted friends, can Darcy and Norah crack the case in time?

Here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The mystery – I’ll be honest and say I figured out the mystery early on, but I don’t think the target age would, and it was still fun to watch the clues fall into place for Norah and Darcy.

2. The friendship – Norah and Darcy are very different and sometimes annoy each other, but they draw on their similarities to keep their friendship strong and overcome the differences.

3. The parents – I like it when the parents are present and involved. In this book, there were three very different sets of parents–the overprotective, the family centered, the more permissive. It was a very realistic portrayal of how parenting differs and how that affects the kids, especially at an age where they’re exploring boundaries.

4. The age rang true – The obnoxious boys, crushes, popular kids–everything fit with that in-between middle school age. Norah’s voice was just right for a seventh grader, and the situations rang true.

5. The ending – This book ended with the perfect blend of tying up the main mystery and leaving enough of an ongoing storyline to make me want to read the next book. There currently are two others in the series. I’ll be checking them out!

So, who wants to read PARTNERS IN CRIME? I’m giving away my paperback copy. North America only, please. To enter, just leave a comment by noon on Sunday, April 27. I’ll post the winner next Monday. Good luck!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Review & Giveaway: JUNIPER BERRY by M.P. Kozlowsky

I’m so excited to jump back into MMGM today. I’ve been on a bit of a YA kick lately, so it was great to return to middle grade.

A few weeks ago I did a poll to see which of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale finds I should read and give away next. JUNIPER BERRY was the winner, so here we go!

Juniper Berry by M.P. KozlowskyThe house was a mansion, the lake was a pool, Kitty was a dog, and Juniper Berry was an eleven-year-old girl. Such is life for young Juniper: a series of contradictions. She is the daughter of the world’s most famous film stars, and yet she is alone. She lives on a palatial estate, but she feels trapped. And even though she is closer to her mother and father than anyone, she couldn’t feel more distant from them. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Berry have been cold and disinterested and cruel, not at all themselves lately. And lonely, imprisoned Juniper and her equally beset friend, Giles, are determined to find out why.

On a cold and rainy night, she follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets bound in a balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – This has to be one of the most creative and creepy premises I’ve read in middle grade. And when you find out what is going on with the balloons … well, let’s just say I will never look at a balloon the same way again.

2. Juniper’s hope – I loved the way Juniper was able to hold onto her memories and stay hopeful despite her rather bleak existence.

3. The parents – M.P. Kozlowsky found a unique way of taking the parents out of the picture without killing them off. At the same time, their condition was quite horrifying for Juniper, and it made her quest even more emotionally impactful.

4. The friendship – I assumed from the book description that Juniper and Giles were already best friends. Instead, we get to see the friendship develop, and I really enjoyed that.

5. The illustrations – I don’t read many books with illustrations, but I’ve found that when a middle grade book includes them, they’re just perfect, and that was the case here.

I want to share JUNIPER BERRY with one of you! To enter for a paperback copy, leave a comment by noon on Sunday, March 30. I’ll announce the winner on Monday, March 31. United States and Canada only, please.

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review & Giveaway: SUITE SCARLETT by Maureen Johnson

I know many of my middle grade friends drop by here to check for an MMGM on Mondays. Today I have a young adult review instead, and it comes with a giveaway, thanks to the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. I’ve really enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, so when I saw another of her books on the bargain shelf, I picked it up expecting to love it, and I did. Here’s the description for SUITE SCARLETT.

Suite Scarlett by Maureen JohnsonScarlett Martin has grown up in a most unusual way. Her family owns the Hopewell, a small Art Deco hotel in the heart of New York City.

When each of the Martins turns fifteen, they are expected to take over the care of a suite. For Scarlett’s fifteenth birthday, she gets both a room called the Empire Suite and a permanent guest named Mrs. Amberson. Scarlett doesn’t quite know what to make of this C-list starlet and world traveler. And when she meets Eric, an astonishingly gorgeous actor who has just moved to the city, her summer takes a second unexpected turn.

Before the summer is over, Scarlett will have to survive a whirlwind of thievery and romantic missteps. But in the city where anything can happen, she just might be able to pull it off.

Here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The romance isn’t the focus – This book definitely includes romance, but it isn’t the main focus of the story, and I liked that about it.

2. The family – I love how real the family is in this story. Often in YA the family issues that come up surround the parents, but in this one, the parents are happily married. The issues come up with the sibling dynamics. In particular, I appreciated how honest Scarlett is about her younger sister Marlene, who had cancer at a young age and is now a terror who rules the house. Scarlett doesn’t tiptoe around her dislike of her younger sister, even while acknowledging how awful it is what happened to her.

3. Mrs. Amberson – What a great character! She’s the kind of larger-than-life character who takes over everyone’s life. I wouldn’t want to know her in real life, but it sure is fun to watch how she makes everything spiral out of control in Scarlett’s world!

4. The theater – It’s not apparent from the description, but a central part of the plot for this story is a play Scarlett’s older brother is in that eventually involves Mrs. Amberson as well. I love the theater anyway, so the backstage look into how things work in New York was quite interesting.

5. Scarlett’s ideas – At first reading, it seems like Mrs. Amberson’s schemes are driving the action in this book, but on further reflection, Scarlett’s not just being pulled along. She comes up with a number of outrageous ideas on her own. And while they generally work out for the greater good–mainly the good of her brother, Spencer–she ends up having to face her own personal consequences. I guess my point is that I like how she’s the one driving the action, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.

So, as soon as I read this book, I had to go out and get the sequel, SCARLETT FEVER, which, I might add, did not really end! I anxiously went out to find a third book, and it doesn’t yet exist. However, Maureen Johnson’s FAQs say that a third book is planned. I hope it still is, even though the fact that the first two books came out two years in a row and the second one was four years ago worries me. I want more Scarlett!

I was tempted to keep this book for myself, but I’m going to share it with one of you instead. To enter the giveaway for a paperback copy of SUITE SCARLETT, leave a comment on this post by noon on Sunday, Feb. 16. United States and Canada only, please. I’ll announce the winner on Monday, Feb. 17. Good luck!

Note: This giveaway has ended.