Instagram, Middle Grade Review, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult

TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and a Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another roundup of mini-reviews! In light of recent events, I took a hard look at my reading habits and realized that while I certainly wasn’t reading all white authors, I wasn’t making a concerted effort to read and support Black authors–or to bring those books to my kids’ attention. So as a family, we are working to expand our reading lists, and today’s roundup reflects some of the amazing new authors I’ve discovered, along with a couple of books I already had on my TBR list.


How often do you start reading a book and immediately know it’s going to be one you truly love and will read again? That’s how I felt within the first few pages of TRULY MADLY ROYALLY by Debbie Rigaud. I’d had this book on my TBR list since it first came out, and now I’m just sad I didn’t read it sooner.

It’s about Zora Emerson, who’s just enrolled in a prestigious summer program, and unexpectedly clicks with Owen Whittelsey, prince of a small European country.

Basically, I loved EVERYTHING about this book. Zora is a strong teen girl who loves her community and doesn’t let obstacles keep her from going after her goals. The chemistry between Zora and Owen is adorable; their corny jokes are the best. And then there’s a great cast of additional characters—Zora’s best friend, Skye, Zora’s family, the kids at her program, and the new friends she makes at school. As a writer, I also loved the plotting—so well done! I’ll definitely add this book to my re-read list, PLUS I discovered Debbie Rigaud has other books available, so I’m going to check those out.

Read this book because it’s awesome. Also because it showcases a Black teen being awesome.


Is there a place you love so much you’ll read pretty much any book set there?

For me, that place is Paris. I’ve only been there once, but it was a magical visit, and I can’t wait to return, so if a book is set there, I’m on it! But when I read the description for THE PAPER GIRL OF PARIS by Jordyn Taylor, I was additionally intrigued by the dual timelines. The story’s about Alice in the present, who has just inherited a mysterious apartment that has been locked for more than 70 years. Once she enters, she discovers her grandmother had a sister, and the story flashes back to Adalyn during World War II, working in the French Resistance against the Nazis.

I loved how this book followed two distinct, heart wrenching family stories—Alice struggling with her mom in the present and Adalyn heartbroken over keeping secrets from her sister (Alice’s grandmother) in the past. The tension within each timeline and even between the two was fantastic. I found myself completely stressed out over Alice’s concern about what her great-aunt was involved in. Plus, there was a really sweet love story in the present and a deeper one in the past. The resolution was very satisfying.

I highly recommend this book, which came out in May. Such a fantastic read!


I got NEW KID by Jerry Craft for my kids to read (mainly my daughter, who loves graphic novels), and they both finished it within 24 hours. Actually, my daughter grabbed it with the words “My best friend read this!” and read it in less than three hours. My son then tore through it by the next morning, so that was a good sign I should read it too.

It’s about Jordan, whose parents enroll him at a prestigious private school where he’s one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. I loved Jordan’s character—his passion for art, love for his family, and struggle to figure out how to fit his different friends and worlds together. This book tackles many different aspects of racism, outright and careless, from other students AND teachers. By seeing it from Jordan’s viewpoint, it’s clear why ALL of those are hurtful and offensive. Even while there are many characters who don’t get things right, there are also hopeful moments throughout the book.

I especially loved the chapter titles and Jordan’s journal entries. I learned so much from this book, and I will definitely be picking up the companion novel, CLASS ACT, this fall.

This book is great to read and discuss with your kids. Also funny and a book kids will re-read.


DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone is about Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, always there to help a friend—none of which matters to the police officer who handcuffs him over a misunderstanding. Justyce begins studying the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and writing letters to him in a journal, seeking answers. One day, he’s riding in the car with his best friend with the music turned up really loud, sparking the anger of an off-duty cop in the truck beside them. Shots are fired.

I don’t want to get into what happens next because I encourage you to read the book yourself, but this book is extremely powerful and explores a number of different viewpoints and experiences. It delves into several aspects of racism, from daily encounters at Justyce’s school, to his black friend raised mainly in a white community, to the police bias. But it’s also more than just a look at race. It’s about friendship and falling in love and figuring out what you believe about the world and your place in it. It’s extremely well done and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas along these same lines.


This photo shows my expression when I finished reading AURORA BURNING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I had stayed up until 12:15 in the morning to finish the book, and it was a total cliffhanger! But still, the book was an amazing sequel to AURORA RISING, and I can’t wait for the finale!

If you aren’t familiar, the series is about a squad of misfits trying to save the galaxy from an ancient race that assimilates entire planets in its path. The characters are all hilarious, plus there are bonus romantic story lines and tons of action. If you don’t like cliffhangers, wait until the last book comes out to read these 😉.


Now that I’ve told you about some awesome books, I wanted to share a great resource. On June 4, I tuned in to the absolutely fantastic #KidLit4BlackLives Rally on Facebook Live, hosted by The Brown Bookshelf store. If you missed it, there’s a recording on The Brown Bookshelf YouTube Channel. The Brown Bookshelf has put on additional events since, and you can check those out on their Facebook page. One of my key takeaways has been that it’s important to read books that deal with racism directly, but it’s also vital to read and promote books that show Black kids and teens living joyfully.

If you have other book recommendations for me and my family, please pass them along!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: EPOCA THE TREE OF ECROF by Kobe Bryant and Ivy Claire (a middle schooler review)

A couple of weeks ago, MMGM host Greg Pattridge at Always in the Middle informed me I was one of the winners of a box of 10 middle grade books for his 1,000th post giveaway. Since my son has been doing the MG reviews lately, I suggested he address the box to him, and today he’s decided to review one of those books.


EPOCA: THE TREE OF ECROF is an amazing read. It was written by Ivy Claire but was created by Kobe Bryant. I don’t exactly know the difference between written and created, but I think that Kobe Bryant came up with the idea and story while Ivy Claire wrote the book off of that idea. I would like to thank Mr. Pattridge for giving the book away; I had a lot of fun reading it. There were many things that I liked about it and I think you will too.

Set in an alternate classical world dominated by sports and a magical power called grana, EPOCA: THE TREE OF ECROF is the story of two children: the lowly born Rovi and the crown princess Pretia who uncover and battle terrible evil and discover their inner strength along the way.

EPOCA: THE TREE OF ECROF takes place at the most elite sports academy in the land, where the best child-athletes are sent to hone their skills. When Rovi and Pretia arrive, each harboring a secret about themselves, they begin to suspect that something evil is at play at the school. In the course of their first year, they must learn to master their grana in order to save the world from dark forces that are rising.

So, here are some of the things that I like about it.

  1. The pages are colorful. While this is not important to the story, it made me happy looking at unique, colorful pages instead of the regular white pages. This is what the pages look like.  ➩
  2. I liked the characters. The character building was great. They always had a motive. You felt like what they were doing was right in a way that even if it hadn’t happened to you, you understood.
  3. I like the setting. While there are a couple different places in the book, mostly it is on the island where the elite athlete academy is held. It has many strange and exciting things, yet are relatable and you can visualize exactly what they are.
  4. Everyone has this magical power to them, called grana. In a society based around sports, the more powerful grana you have, the more famous you are, the more achieved you are, the more known and loved you are. I have always liked the idea of superpowers, especially those special to you, so this was one of the most prominent points that stuck out to me during the read.
  5. I liked that it had sports. Even though some of the sports I hadn’t heard of or didn’t understand, I still appreciated what they put in there. I rarely get to read a good fiction book about sports.

I hope you enjoyed this review, and I hope that it causes you to read this amazing book. So, have a good day and happy reading!


Sounds like he needs some recommendations on books with sports. If you have some, please pass them along!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS by Lisa McMann (a middle schooler review)

While my son has read the entire Unwanteds series by Lisa McMann–including the spin-off books–several times, today he decided to focus on the first book for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.


The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann was a great story. It’s so good that I’ve read this series four times. There are seven books in the Unwanteds series. Today I’m going to review the first one. Despite being rather long, they are easy books to get into.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMannEvery year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.

Thirteen-year-old Alex tries his hardest to be stoic when his fate is announced as Unwanted, even while leaving behind his twin, Aaron, a Wanted. Upon arrival at the destination where he expected to be eliminated, however, Alex discovers a stunning secret–behind the mirage of the “death farm” there is instead a place called Artimé.

So, the Unwanteds is about the twins Alex and Aaron Stowe. This book is basically about Alex learning to have feelings, for the people of Quill are supposed to suppress their feelings, as well as learning to be creative. It is also, however, about Aaron as he tries to fit in as a Wanted without feelings, dreams, or anything that the Quill leader, High Priest Justine, doesn’t like. Which is especially hard while he struggles with a connection with Alex, who he thinks is dead. Alex is changing as he learns that the “Death Farmer,” whom he now knows as Mr. Today, has actually saved all their lives as he brings them into his colorful world full of music, art, and laughter. But, a shadow hangs over it all, because if Artimé is found out, Justine will surely kill them all for tricking her all this time.

The reason I keep coming back to this book is the world building. Artimé is an amazing and wonderful world. Also, I like the characters. Especially Alex. He is awesome.

I know this review was shorter, but sometimes short and sweet is the way to go! I really liked figuring out all the things when I first read it, so I don’t want to ruin the extra surprise for you when you read the book. (By the way, you really should read the book.) Also, after I’ve reviewed all of them, I’m thinking about just talking about what I liked best about the whole series, so some of the stuff in this book might be talked about then. I hope you liked this review! Bye!


Hmm. Sounds like he might be planning to review more of these books. I guess we’ll see in future weeks, although I won’t hold him to it as I expect by the end of next week he’ll already be on book five or six 🤣.

To learn about other middle grade books, visit the Marvelous Middle Grade blog hop at Always in the Middle…

Reviews, Young Adult

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Last week was a little crazy for my kids so I gave them a week off of reviewing, but I do hope to have a series review from my sixth grader next Monday. However, he will officially finish sixth grade this Thursday, so now I’m wondering if that means I have to start calling him a seventh grader. What do you think?

In any case, I have several young adult books to share with you this week. It’s quite a mix of serious and lighthearted contemporary, along with a historical mystery. I hope you find something you’d like to read!


If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauleyDo you tend toward lighthearted or serious books? I definitely prefer to laugh and in general shy away from books I fear could bring on tears. The exception is when I know the author—and it turns out a lot of my writer friends like to tackle serious topics!

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY by fellow #PitchWars17 mentee Kyrie McCauley is yet another example of why it’s so important to read books outside your normal comfort zone.

The book is set in small-town Pennsylvania, which is being invaded by tens of thousands of crows. They don’t bother seventeen-year-old Leighton, who already lives in a house that inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things. She’s focused on finishing out her senior year and deciding whether going away to college is worth leaving her sisters. While her father’s rage and the crows both increase, Leighton allows herself to get close to her charming classmate Liam. (Note that Kyrie includes a content warning on her website that the book includes realistic depictions of domestic violence that may be disturbing for some readers.)

Yes, this book tackles the very serious topic of domestic violence. It addresses how both the characters experiencing it and those who know about it—or suspect—respond, which is a very important conversation to have. It’s something we should be thinking about and aware of. So, yes, it’s hard, but if it’s a topic you can handle, then it’s worth reading.

But IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY is much more than an issue book. There’s sisterhood with all of its complications, first love with its mix of confusion and exhilaration, and a girl finding her internal strength. PLUS, there are the crows, which I’m not even sure exactly how to describe. There’s a sense of magic to the crows and yet Leighton also finds scientific explanations for much of what they do. It’s fascinating. Both the crows and the house are rich metaphors throughout the book.

I’m so glad I read this book and will be continuing to think about it. I definitely recommend it, with the caveat about the content if that may be an issue. What a powerful read!

I’ve been making a more concerted effort this year to read books by debut authors, and THE SILENCE OF BONES by June Hur is one that caught my attention early on. Set in 1800 in Joseon (Korea), the story follows 16-year-old Seol, indentured to the police bureau as a damo. She must assist a well-respected young inspector investigating the murder of a noblewoman. She forms an unlikely friendship with the inspector, but when he becomes the chief suspect, she might be the only one who can discover the truth—a challenging prospect in a time and place where a young girl is expected to be silent and obedient.

I’m always intrigued by a good mystery, but this book had the added element of a setting I’d never experienced before. I’ve read a lot of historical, but never in this specific part of the world. It was both interesting and frustrating to read Seol’s experiences. In addition to the investigation, Seol had a separate goal—to find her brother, who had left home a decade before and never returned. The two stories kept weaving together in unexpected ways. And the investigation itself ended up twisting in a number of directions, exploring both personal and political relationships. At times the book was quite harsh to read, but it was also very well done. I really enjoyed how well everything all fit together and the final resolution.


Moment of Truth by Kasie WestI read MOMENT OF TRUTH by Kasie West in less than 24 hours. It’s no surprise, since I’m a huge Kasie West fan and basically love every book she writes.

It’s about 16-year-old Hadley Moore, whose whole life is dedicated to swimming. And the story starts off with an important meet being disrupted by a guy dressed up as a Hollywood action hero crashing it. This masked hero has made a habit of going around town performing crazy stunts, but it’s the first time he’s messed with her. So of course she makes it her mission to discover who he is.

I really enjoyed the mystery of the masked character—and the eventual solution (which I totally figured out way before Hadley did). But as with all of Kasie West’s books, what I enjoyed most was the friendship, family, and love story. Hadley had a lot of self-discovery to go through in this story, and it wasn’t an easy path for her to follow. I’m also a sucker for a jokester love interest, but that’s all I want to say about that since even the description doesn’t say much about the love interest 😉.

I think I am STILL behind on Kasie West’s books. But hey, it’s something to aspire to as a writer—that readers can’t keep up!


What I Like About You by Marisa KanterI’ve wanted to read WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU by Marisa Kanter ever since I read the description and sample in PitchWars in 2017. It’s so gratifying when a book delivers on the premise, and this one totally does. I read the whole thing in a single day, while my family was participating in an at-home camping trip. I definitely belonged inside with a book while they were cycling 15 miles in the rain and camping in the front yard!

The premise of WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU is that three years ago Halle Levitt created a pseudonym when she started her cupcake-themed book blog. None of her online friends—including best friend Nash—know her true identity. When she moves in with her grandpa for senior year, she meets Nash in real life but is too scared to tell him who she is, embroiling herself in a love triangle with herself.

I really enjoyed how Halle grew during the story, learning what it means to be a friend and also working through her grief (a major plot involves the fairly recent death of her grandmother). Also, the take on books was really interesting. I’d love to see one of these cupcake cover recreations!


THE PERFECT ESCAPE by Suzanne Park truly was the perfect escape from all the craziness in the world. It’s about Nate Kim, a Korean-American teen who works at a zombie-themed escape room, and Kate Anderson, an aspiring teen actress with an over-controlling dad. Together, they team up for a survivalist competition for a huge cash prize.

I’m always up for a zombie story—real or imagined—and this one delivered. But it also dealt with a number of real-life family issues for both characters. They come from very different worlds, and yet they share a love for zombies and campy jokes, and their survival skills are the perfect complement for each other. Their love story isn’t an easy one, but it feels real. I really appreciated the resolution for everyone involved.


I just realized that four of these are 2020 debut books and two are PitchWars 2017 classmates! I can’t afford to buy every book I’d like to, but I’m trying to support other authors however I can during these times. I hope you are too!

Instagram, Reviews, 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!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE CHANGELINGS by Christina Soontornvat

Yes, you read that right–I have another review of a Christina Soontornvat book this week. I’m going to just turn this completely over to my sixth grader today instead of quoting his review, but first, I’ll explain that we met Christina last year at OMG BookFest, and he picked up a signed copy of THE CHANGELINGS. He always has a row of about 20 new books waiting to be read because books are all he asks for at Christmas and his birthday, but he loves to go back and re-read books. So even though he reads 4-5 books a week, probably 3-4 of those are re-reads. Anyway, after reading A WISH IN THE DARK, he pulled out THE CHANGELINGS, and here is his review. Everything below the line is from him 😀.


I loved The Changelings. The Changelings is my favorite book I’ve read this month. Here is the preview…

The Changelings by Christina SoontornvatAll Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offer to help, but she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl who looks like a ghost, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

That sounds exciting… Doesn’t it? Well it gets better. I couldn’t put it down. Izzy as a character is amazing. She starts out wanting/needing adventure more than anything else. But when her sister goes missing, well, that quote on the cover just about sums it up: “Everything seemed boring…until now.” It causes her to realize how much she can do to help as she mysteriously goes down a hole. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland, right? She grows to realize who she really is.

Another thing that I like about this book is the other characters she meets along the way. She meets a band of rebels, named Lug, Dree, and Selden. They each bring to the story in their own unique way. Lug provides comic relief to the fullest with his ability to make others laugh. Dree gives the story a skeptic so everyone doesn’t go off the rails and ruin what they are doing. She also is a very good friend once Izzy has her trust. Selden is more gruff and mysterious. He keeps everyone from killing themselves. He begins to become more trusting and open. Selden has the best character development of all of them.

And a final thing that I like is the setting. Faerie is magical. It is covered in huge forests, rivers, mountains, and overly large boneyards. (That last part scares me, we aren’t told why it’s there!) But the people are magical too. It’s not that they have magic (though some of them do), but there is almost every fairy creature imaginable. You name it, it’s there.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Changelings. After reading The Changelings, try the next one, In a Dark Land.

See spoilers below:

 

 

YOU ACTUALLY THINK I WAS GOING TO GIVE YOU SPOILERS!?!? NO WAY!!!!

Reviews, Young Adult

YA Series Review: The Agency by Y.S. Lee

So, I’ve had a little time to read lately…

But in all seriousness, one of my reading goals for this year was that if I read the first book in a series and liked it, I would go ahead and read the rest of the series instead of getting distracted by other books on my TBR in between. Anyway, the series I started a couple of weeks ago has been out quite a while (the first book came out in 2010), but I’m really glad I chose it off my library wish list. (There are currently 125 books on there, so it’s not surprising some of them are from 10 years ago.)

I know I usually post reviews on Mondays, but seriously, who knows what day it is anyway? 🤣

So, today’s review is for The Agency series by Y.S. Lee, set in Victorian London. It’s listed as YA historical, although it feels more adult after the first book, as she jumps ahead many months in each one. Granted, I often feel that way about YA historical, since teen characters at that time were essentially treated as adults anyway. But here are the covers, followed by the description of the first book to give you a taste.

A Spy in the House by Y.S. LeeThe Body at the Tower by Y.S. LeeThe Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. LeeRivals in the City by Y.S. Lee

 

Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she’s rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary acquires a singular education, fine manners, and surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency – an elite, top-secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results – and at seventeen, Mary’s about to join their ranks.

With London all but paralyzed by a noxious heat wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of lady’s companion to infiltrate a rich merchant’s home with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem – least of all Mary.

Here are the five things I liked most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for spy novels, and I also really love books set in Victorian London, so it was a double whammy for me. It was interesting that Mary’s situation added the intrigue of having been condemned to death for stealing.

2. The romance – Ms. Lee does an excellent job stretching this romance out over four books. The characters are 17 and 19 in the first book, and I kind of lost track by the end of the last book, but I think about two years had passed. James Easton is the perfect foil for Mary.

3. Mary’s character growth – While this description doesn’t give a hint of some of the issues Mary has to deal with, I don’t think it’s spoiling things too much to say that Mary is half-Chinese but has passed as fully English with few questions. A significant part of her character arc throughout the four books is accepting who she is.

4. The historical details – I love it when I read a historical novel and feel like I’m truly living in that time. From the mundane to the huge (construction of Big Ben), these books were so well-researched. I’ve read a lot of books set in Victorian England, and I learned new things :).

5. The mysteries – I really enjoyed the mysteries in each book and how they wrapped up. Truly fun reads!

What have you been reading lately?

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

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!

Instagram, Reviews, 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?

Instagram, Reviews, Young Adult

SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW and A Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another mini-review roundup!

As a music lover, I was immediately intrigued by SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW by Maurene Goo, about a K-pop star, an industry I know absolutely nothing about. I loved Lucky’s character right from the beginning—a girl who was passionate about her music career but trying figure out how to regain her love for it within its current confines.

Jack, on the other hand, was both appealing and completely frustrating to me. I thought the fact that he was a tabloid photographer was completely unique. I spent much of the book wanting to reach into the pages to shake him for his intentions toward Lucky, but at the same time, I sort of understood his cynicism. Mostly, I was hoping he’d make the right decisions in the end.

I also really enjoyed traveling around Hong Kong with the characters. It’s not a place I’ve really thought much about visiting, but I’m definitely intrigued now! Also, this was the first Maurene Goo book I’ve read, but I’ll definitely be making her others a priority now.


After reading LISTEN TO YOUR HEART by Kasie West, I’m wondering if I should give podcasts a try. The premise is that Kate Bailey would rather be out on the lake than making connections with people, but when her best friend convinces her to join the school podcasting class, she ends up as the host, doling out advice to anyone who calls in. Further complicating things, her best friend’s crush, Diego, starts calling in, and she finds herself falling for him, both on the phone and in person.

What surprised me about this book is that I wasn’t totally sure where all the relationships were going, even up to the end. There was this niggling thought that maybe Kasie West was going to throw in a big twist. Did she? Well, I’m not going to tell you that! I also liked how working on the podcast caused Kate to consider that there might be other options for her life than she’d always thought—that at least she should explore them. As usual in Kasie West’s books, there was a great supporting family cast.


Although Brigid Kemmerer has had books out in the world for quite a while, the first one I picked up was A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY. I learned about it when I signed with Bloomsbury, and Brigid nicely reached out to me to welcome me as a fellow author. I loved that book, and so when this new YA contemporary came out, I moved it to the top of my TBR list as well.

In CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT, Rob is dealing with the fallout of his father committing fraud and stealing from everyone in town, then attempting suicide. Maegan is facing the consequences of cheating on the SATs and causing 100 kids’ scores to be invalidated, plus issues with her older sister at home. There are so many tough topics being addressed in this story, and I really wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out. There were a lot of gray areas for the characters to navigate through, and they didn’t always make the wisest decisions, but there was so much heartache behind them. I loved how these characters surprised me in ways I didn’t anticipate.


I was intrigued by PAST PERFECT LIFE by Elizabeth Eulberg from the first time I read a description: When Ally Smith applies to college, she discovers she’s not Allison Smith at all but has been missing for 15 years. I really don’t want to give too much away about who took her or who’s looking for her because the cover copy doesn’t say very much more than this. However, what I really love about this book—and what made me think and evaluate—was how conflicted and real Ally’s feelings were about everyone involved. I’d be very curious how a teen approaches this book, because as a mother, it was much more difficult for me to put myself in her shoes than normal.

I read this book in two days. It’s so gripping. In addition to the obviously emotional family dynamics going on, there are fantastic friendships and a sweet romance. Definitely pick this one up!


Royalty plus a European setting? PRINCE IN DISGUISE by Stephanie Kate Strohm already ticked off two of my favorite things in a book before I even started reading. It’s about Dylan, the younger sister of former Miss Mississippi Dusty, who fell in love with a “Prince in Disguise” on reality TV, and now they’re going to Scotland for her Christmas Eve wedding.

Here are five things I loved about the book:
1. The castle – I am so there for anything set in a castle, particularly if there are secret passages.
2. The Disney references – I love all things Disney, so the frequent nods to Disney movies and characters just made me smile, especially the scene involving Frozen.
3. Kit and Heaven – NOT a couple but the best friends of the groom and Dylan, respectively, these two are fun characters both individually and when they interact with each other.
4. The literary references – Not only is the book full of Disney references, the love interest, Jamie, is constantly quoting classic poets and writers. Be still my heart!
5. Jamie – He is so sweet! He quotes poetry and rides horses and maybe is a little too good to be true, but is just what Dylan needs.


Let me know if you’ve read any of these books or have suggestions based on them. I always love to discuss!