Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE by Lisa McMann (a middle grader review)

As promised, my middle grader has moved on to book two in THE UNWANTEDS series this week. As of now, he says he’s going to continue reviewing the rest of the series. However, I know he already finished re-reading all of them, so we’ll see if he decides to switch to something else he loves in the coming weeks 😉. But I’ll turn it over to him now.


Hello, everyone! Just to let you know, like all sequels, THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE (Book 2) will not make sense unless you’ve read the first book (THE UNWANTEDS). So, because of this, if you read this review it will spoil some of the things in the first book. If you have not read the first book yet (I gave you a week so you should have), then you need to right now. If you’ve read all of them and are just reading this as a refresher, then you should just read them yourself, that’s the best refresher. And re-reading lets you dive deeper and read in between the lines. (We learned about that in ELA this year.) If you have read the first book this week, then good job and you are allowed to read this before you read book 2, ISLAND OF SILENCE. If you truly want to read this and you’ve read THE UNWANTEDS, then I suppose you may if you wish. Now that that’s all over and only people who have read the first book are reading this, let’s begin!

The Unwanteds: Island of SilenceThe magical barrier between the dreary land of Quill and the fantastical world of Artimé is gone. Now residents from both places are free to mingle, but suspicions are high. The artistic warriors of Artimé struggle to forgive those in Quill who condemned them to death, while the Quillians attempt to recover from the shock of Artimé’s existence, the loss of their leader, and the collapse of their safe, orderly world. 

Alex Stowe has recovered from his wounds since his death-defying role in Artimé’s victory, but his confidence is shattered. He battles self-doubt after Artimé’s beloved mage, Mr. Today, makes a stunning request, which is further complicated by the mysterious arrival of two silent orange-eyed teenagers. Meanwhile in Quill, Aaron is devastated by his fall from grace. Spurred by rage, Aaron devises a masterful plan of revenge that will return him to power… If no one gets in his way.

So, it sounds interesting, doesn’t it? So now that Artimé has defeated Quill, both sides of the island are mostly at peace and are visiting each other. But, multiple people, including the Stowe twins, are having reservations about what happened. Aaron is now trying to re-take his position and climb higher, to lead Quill. And, he won’t let anything get in his way… Alex is completely unsure of himself. He feels like almost dying has highlighted all his vulnerabilities and therefore he is not good at magic at all and is the worst person at magic ever. Mr. Today wants to teach Alex more about magic because he can see that Alex is great at magic, but Alex won’t let him. Mr. Today devised a plan. To get Alex to learn more magic, he asks him to learn the magic to support Artimé while he goes on a vacation. But along the way things start to go horribly wrong and Artimé starts to get desperate…

THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE is an amazing book that I know you will enjoy. I hope you love it just as much as I have. Goodbye and happy reading!


I hope he does continue these reviews because book 2 was where I stopped reading this series, for whatever reason. However, he is going to camp the next few weeks–with temperature checks and masks and sanitizing and social distancing!–so we’ll see how he keeps up with reviewing. He’ll still be reading for sure 😀.

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…

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

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

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


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

Series Overview

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

What I Liked

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

End

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

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

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


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

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Middle Schooler Series Recommendation: Balance Keepers by Lindsay Cummings

As this is Memorial Day, I want to take a moment to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

And now I will turn the blog over to my son, who no longer needs an intro.


First of all, my mom is going to put middle schooler review instead of sixth grader review because we realized that I’m not going to stay in sixth grade forever, the school year is already over, so… yeah. That’s that. Also, is it correct grammar to say schooler? Is that even a word? Anyway… when my mom asked me to do a series review, I thought “What even is a series review”–and I still don’t know. But, I’m going to give it my best shot and please let me know if you liked it, or, even better, tell me how to do a real one.

So, the series I read was the Balance Keepers series by Lindsay Cummings. It is a trilogy that I really enjoyed and had a great time with. All three of them took me about four days to read; they were that good. It is about this wonderful world full of mystery and magic. These books are for everyone. If you like animals, there are magical companion creatures. If you like magic, well, I’ve kind of said magic over and over again, so there you go! If you love adventure, then this book is absolutely perfect for you! And, if you want a book with great friendships and character change, then this book has that too. And if you like all of that, like I do, then you need to stop whatever you’re reading and buy or check this book out from the library right now! Stop reading this, and read these books. The setting is at the core of the Earth, which is the gateway to the realms underneath the Earth’s crust that help balance what is happening on the surface. Here are some of the things I liked about the series:

  1. Well, what I said above: the animals, magic (:there’s that word again:), adventure, and friendships and character change. They all are relevant and put new, cool things into the story.
  2. The villain. At first you don’t realize there is a villain. But throughout the series… They start to reveal themselves…
  3. Its plot. The plot is complex, but in a good way.
  4. The entire series. What I mean by this is the end. You can look back at the entire series and think “That really makes sense now” and “Ohhhh… I get that now!” It just has a great ending.

So, now I am going to include individual book reviews for the books. I have them separate so that you don’t see any spoilers. Well, I’m not going to give spoilers, but if you read the 2nd book review before you read the 1st book, then it might accidentally spoil it for you. Also, I don’t want to overload you or myself, so these reviews are mini reviews and not complete full-sized reviews.

The Fires of Calderon by Lindsay CummingsWhen Albert Flynn follows a mysterious map deep into the woods, and then under the woods, he discovers he’s a Balance Keeper—someone with special magical skills for keeping harmony in fantastical underground worlds. Together with his teammates Leroy and Birdie, Albert must master his magical talents in time to stop the fires in the Calderon Realm from destroying New York City above.

The first book is amazing. At first, it seems like the character is a regular character, and the town is a regular town, but as the story progresses… Suddenly Albert, the main character, gets invited to a whole new world full of wonder and magic. I really am using the word magic a lot. When he gets to the Core, he gets to pick a tile. These tiles grant the user special powers and can only be used by that person. Albert gets a tile unlike any other, a tile that can do anything if he needs it to, but requires extreme concentration to wield. This will help him on all his journeys. Oh! Remember those realms I told you about? Well… there are three of them. Calderon, Ponderay, and Belltroll. These realms keep the world stable. But… when these realms go out of balance or something happens to them, then it affects the world above too. So, of course, when Albert happens to go down there, discover some new friends, and get a pet dog named Farnsworth that he loves, an imbalance happens. While Albert is new to the realms, and other more experienced people can come and stop this, Albert and his friends Birdie and Leroy get chosen because they prove themselves in the pit. The Pit is the training grounds for balance keepers. I will let you figure out exactly what happened on your own, but this is the overview of what happened.

The Pillars of PonderayAlbert Flynn is psyched to return to the Core, the magical world at the center of the earth where Balance Keepers fix problems in three underground Realms. Last term, Albert and his Balance Keeper teammates Birdie and Leroy saved New York by fixing the Calderon Realm and were crowned First Unit, aka the Coolest Kids in the Core.

Now Albert and his teammates have been called to the Core for an emergency training session…along with their archenemy, Hoyt. There’s a horrible Imbalance in the Ponderay Realm and they have only seven days before California will be swallowed by hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Worse yet, it’s rumored there’s a traitor among them who is causing all this chaos.

Will Albert, Leroy, and Birdie discover who’s been putting the Core—and the world above—in danger? Can they save Ponderay before California becomes an underwater wasteland forever?

Now that you already went back and read the first one (Just Kidding-You don’t have to read it yet, if you need some more convincing, maybe the promise of these sequels will have you read them) let’s get on to the second one. The Pillars of Ponderay gets even better. Albert, Birdie, and Leroy are called back in an emergency to the core to train for Ponderay in the case they have to go in and fix it. However, Argon, the team who are their arch-nemesis, is there as well. Let me elaborate on Argon. Argon was another team that was competing in the pit to go into Calderon. And they were doing really good and winning. But when Albert and his team (called Hydra) beat them, team Argon was upset and they were never nice to each other since. So this would be like the last book except now, they are on a time limit of 7 days. They have little time and, worse, team Argon is beating them over and over in the pit. They have one last shot in the pit to win and go into Ponderay-and Argon gets confused as Hydra wins. So Hydra is feeling sure of themselves as they prepare to go into Ponderay. But then it was decided that as the second best, Argon would go with Hydra too. You see, even though Calderon was basically on fire all the time, Ponderay is more of a physical, energy sapping realm. While they go into Ponderay and start solving the imbalance, other things start to happen… Stay tuned for Book #3! Well, they do go to the surface, but it’s better for me to explain what happened during my overview of book 3.

The Traitor of BelltrollAlbert and his Balance Keepers teammates have been called back to the Core for immediate action! There’s a serious Imbalance in the fantastical underground Realm of Belltroll, and without intervention everything from New York to Yellowstone above could be swallowed by earthquakes. It’s clear the mysterious traitor who caused last term’s chaos is at it again, and with a vengeance.

Albert’s super-magical Master Tile helped fix the Ponderay and Calderon Realms in previous terms, but now it seems the Tile may be more trouble than it’s worth. Because if it’s Albert’s Tile the traitor is after, there will have to be a battle sooner or later, and only one of them can win…

So, if you’ve been reading the book description, you will find something very important that was mentioned in the book 2 and 3 descriptions. If you haven’t read them go back and read them now… it’s fine I’m writing this before you’re going to read it so when you do read it, it won’t matter to me… Alright. You found it? There is a traitor involved! So, there is a traitor. This traitor has been behind the scenes causing the imbalances and wants to steal the master tile to harness the power for himself. Also, as you can imagine, the traitor has gotten pretty mad that none of his earlier traps in the imbalances have worked, so he is truly putting everything he can to kill Albert and take the tile for himself. When the traitor kidnaps his friends to lure Albert in, Albert actually beats him! So, there is the Balance Keepers Series.


Wow! When I asked my son to write a series review, I had no idea he’d go into this much detail, but he sure made me want to read this series! (I actually did read the first book years ago, so it would be more accurate to say he’s made me want to go back and read the rest.)

He’s committed to write a review every week this summer, and as he said, we’ve decided we’ll now call these middle schooler reviews (Merriam-Webster confirms it’s a word) since he finished sixth grade last week. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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?

Instagram, Reading

30 Books in 3 Months Reading Challenge

Hello, friends! I know I’ve been sparse here on the blog, but this broken foot really messed with my schedule over the past six weeks. However, the end is in sight. Next week I get to start wearing regular shoes again. Yay!

One thing that didn’t lapse during my recovery was reading, thanks to plenty of time sitting :). At the beginning of summer, I decided to jump in on an Instagram challenge hosted by author Jessica Brody to read 30 books in 3 months. I wasn’t sure I would complete it in time as I got off to a slow start, but I’m happy to report that I finished the challenge a week early! Here’s a shot of the completed challenge.

I read an interesting variety of books over the summer, mostly young adult but a few adult and middle grade as well, including two books that were read-alouds with my kids. This challenge ended up being a pretty good example of how I approach my reading. I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this here on the blog before, but I have a system. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably learned that I have a system for everything :).

When it comes to reading, I rotate the following:

1. A library book – Since I don’t have a Goodreads account, my library wishlist sort of operates like a Goodreads TBR list. If the library doesn’t have a book, I request that they buy it, and they pretty much always do. I use the library to keep up on new books coming out, read backlists of authors I already like, and basically keep up on the market. When I really love the books I get from the library, I end up buying them later anyway 😍.

2. My box of books – I have a physical box of books under my desk that’s waiting to be read. It’s a combination of books I picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale last December, books people gave me for Christmas, books I’ve won in giveaways, books I picked up at author events or to support authors I’m connected with in some way, and, most recently, some books my editor sent me. I’ve managed to make a dent in this box since I took this picture, but I’m still considering sitting out the Scholastic Warehouse Sale this year since I know I’ll get a ton of books for my birthday (in November) and Christmas again.

3. Books from my existing collection – I also rotate in books I’ve already read. With so many new books to read, this might seem like an odd thing to do, but there are a couple of reasons that I re-read books I already own. First, I am running out of room on my shelves downstairs and I’ve been trying to weed out any books I don’t want to keep anymore. But every time I re-read something I really love, it’s good for me as a writer, even if it’s not a young adult novel. A couple of years ago, I discovered that I was re-reading the same books all the time and catalogued them all in a spreadsheet. I’ve been tracking my reading since 2012, so I input the last time I read each book since 2012–and continue to add dates as I read books on those shelves or add new books. So now, when I’m ready to read something down there, I use Random.org to tell me which book/series I should re-read next, and I make sure it isn’t one I’ve read too recently. As you can see from my initial graphic, this summer I ended up re-reading The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. I don’t remember the last time I read it, but it was fun to return to it.

So, that’s my system. Sometimes I adjust it if several library holds come in at once or I pick up new books for my box that I just really want to read right away. I’d love to hear if you have a reading system!

Also, have you participated in any reading challenges recently? If so, how did you do?

 

Instagram, Middle Grade Review, Reviews, Young Adult

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

Reviews, Young Adult

YA Review: FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West

One of my goals for May was to really figure out Instagram, which obviously is an ongoing process, and so I’ve been participating in a challenge. (If you’d like, you can follow me there @michelleimason.) One of the prompts early in the month was to post about an author you admire, and I chose Kasie West because I’ve loved all of her books and often featured them in my favorite reads of the year. However, when I went over to my bookshelf, I realized I was actually behind on her latest. There was one I’d read from the library and just hadn’t added to my permanent shelf yet, but she had two more books out that I hadn’t read yet. My TBR list is crazy, folks. I keep an ever-growing wish list at my local library (currently at 135 books), plus I have a stack of physical books I’ve either purchased or were gifted to me (currently at 13), plus I like to mix in re-reads as I’ve been trying to weed books out of my shelves downstairs to make more room–and often I still end up keeping the books I re-read since there was a reason I kept them in the first place. It’s a good thing I read fast!

But on to the Kasie West book! I sped through FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS in two days. It’s a companion novel to LOVE, LIFE, AND THE LIST, which I also enjoyed, but that one made me cry, which is not my favorite thing, so I’m going to bump this one up higher on my Kasie West list 😀.

Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her. 

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The zombie movie – I love that throughout the book there are snippets of the script from the zombie movie they’re making and that it’s so campy. It’s also fun how Lacey’s zombie makeup is incorporated into multiple aspects of the story–the mystery, her acting, and the romance.

2. The dialogue – Kasie West is a master at dialogue. I always love the banter between her characters, and this book is no different. For example:

“I have to convince audiences everywhere that a zombie loves a zombie hunter. So far, it’s not happening. So far, the only thing future viewers care about is that I’m not someone else.”
“How do you know this?”
“The internet.”
“The internet?”
“Well, people on the internet. Mainly Grant’s fans.”
“You know what a wise philosopher once said?” he responded.
“What?”
“You have to shake it off. Shake, shake, shake it off.”
I smiled a little. He did know how to tell a joke. “Because the haters are gonna hate?”
3. The romance – I mean, what would a Kasie West book be without a swoony romance? And FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS didn’t disappoint me in this area either. I loved how the romance developed between Lacey and Donavan.

4. The mystery – This part surprised me, even though the description talked about there being someone disrupting the set, I’ve never seen this sort of element in a Kasie West book, and I really enjoyed it. It fit perfectly with the whole movie set, and I loved how it was all resolved at the end.

5. The family/friendships – Normally I’d separate these two things out, but I’m down to my last point, so here we go. Lacey’s complicated relationship with her dad, plus the changing relationship with her mom, were really well done. I also really enjoyed how she navigated the new friendship with Amanda, and it was fun to see Abby and Cooper from LOVE, LIFE, AND THE LIST again.

Have you read FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS? What did you think?