Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Recommendation: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

A couple of weeks ago I had the most frustrating book-buying experience of my life. I might be exaggerating a bit in honor of this series’ main character … or maybe not. See, I bought GEEK GIRL by Holly Smale at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. As soon as I finished, I wanted to keep reading, so I checked out books 1.5 and 2 from the library, followed by 2.5 and 3. Then I hit a snag. The library had the novella that went between books four and five but none of the rest of the books. When I put in the suggestion for them to purchase the books, a note came back saying the books were not available for them to buy.

What? I’ve had the library deny a request before, but never saying they couldn’t buy a book. And I had to read the rest of this series, so I went on Amazon. I could order book four relatively easily, but books five and six were only available to order from England. (Same on ebay.) Did I mention Holly Smale is a British author? Anyway, I had to pay a premium for these books and wait two weeks to get them. (I’m not a patient person.) And the real kicker was that when I checked on my order two weeks later, Amazon suddenly had the books available on Prime. Argh!

Anyway, the books were so worth the wait! And it was interesting to read the British versions, without any of the language Americanized :). I guess I should get on to the review.

Geek Girl by Holly SmaleHarriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn’t quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she’s spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend’s dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realize that the world of fashion doesn’t seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

Here are the five things I loved most about this series.

1. Harriet’s facts – Harriet is full of facts she throws at people randomly. With a few exceptions, people are either annoyed or baffled by her facts. I found them interesting or funny, and they were always relevant to the story. I thought Ms. Smale did an excellent job weaving in Harriet’s thought process so the reader understood how Harriet’s brain worked. For example, from book five:

So, here are some statistically unlikely events:

  • Achieving an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 662,000
  • Becoming a canonized Saint: 1 in 20,000,000
  • Winning an Oscar: 1 in 11,500
  • Being hit by an asteroid: 1 in 700,000
  • Being voted President of the United States: 1 in 10,000,000

How do I put this?

They’re all more likely than Annabel allowing her eight-month-old daughter to start working as a fashion model.

2. The secondary characters – There are so many great characters to choose from–Harriet’s best friend, Nat; her stalker, Toby; her grandmother, Bunty; the models she meets on her travels. Every single character is uniquely and richly drawn.

2.5. The modeling – Yes, I slipped in a half-point. The books had novellas in between, so I’m adding in-between points. The inside look at the modeling industry was fascinating–the crazy shoots, the variety, and the fact that haute couture is nothing like what you see in a regular advertisement. It’s more like art.

3. The humor – It’s only appropriate to put humor after the point about modeling because many of Harriet’s modeling experiences result in situational humor. I found myself laughing out loud during every single book, even as I was shaking my head at Harriet, internally shouting at her to stop what she was doing immediately. Yep. They’re those kind of books–where you just can’t look away from the train wreck the character’s causing.

3.5. The settings – Through the course of six full-length books and three novellas, Harriet travels to Russia, France, Japan, Morocco, the United States, Australia–I’m missing some. And, of course, there’s plenty in and around London as well. Having traveled to a couple of the places she’s written, I felt like I’d traveled there all over again. And I want to visit the others. Fantastic!

4. The parents – I love Harriet’s parents. It’s explained early in the first book that Harriet’s mother died giving birth to her, and her dad remarried when she was young. Neither her dad nor her stepmom, Annabel, is perfect, but they are such a realistically drawn family. I loved watching them work through ups and downs through the course of the books.

4.5 Harriet’s growth – Some readers might find Harriet to be an unlikable character. She’s very high-maintence and has few friends as a result. She’s very inside her head and so literal that she constantly misses social cues, but that’s part of what makes her so interesting. During the course of the series, she has to recognize her shortcomings, and there are consequences for them. I liked how she grew up and adapted.

5. The romance – I left this for last because it was by far my favorite part of the whole series. I’m such a sucker for a good romance, and if an author manages to drag it out through this many books? Wow, that’s quite a feat. Let me just say that the fourth book, ALL THAT GLITTERS, broke my heart. I was seriously balling–which is very hard to make me do–and my kids came over and gave me hugs and then wanted to me to explain why. My nine-year-old son didn’t get it, but my seven-year-old daughter understood it was all about LOVE. (This is pretty much the way to make me cry–through relationship drama.) Anyway, I was very satisfied with the way the romance wrapped up. I was smiling at the end :).

Hopefully I’ve convinced you all to read this series, and I also hope you’ll be able to get your hands on all the books much more easily than I did!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: WILL IN SCARLET by Matthew Cody

Earlier this year our school librarian was thinning out the shelves to make room for new books, and I quickly scooped up a book by a familiar author. I’d read two books by Matthew Cody before–POWERLESS and THE DEAD GENTLEMAN–and I’d been meaning to read WILL IN SCARLET. I mean, who doesn’t love a Robin Hood story? Anyway, it completely lived up to my expectations, and I’ll be passing it along to my son, too. Here’s the cover and description.

Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will Scarlet is on the run.

Once the sheltered son of nobility, Will has become an exile. While his father, Lord Shackley, has been on the Crusades with King Richard, a treacherous plot to unseat Richard has swept across England, and Shackley House has fallen.

Will flees the only home he’s ever known into neighboring Sherwood Forest, where he joins the elusive gang of bandits known as the Merry Men. Among them are Gilbert, their cruel leader; a giant named John Little; a drunkard named Rob; and Much, an orphan girl disguised as a bandit boy.

This is the story of how a band of misfit outlaws become heroes of legend – thanks to one brave 13-year-old boy.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The history – I love how the setting comes to life in the story through both Will and Much’s points of view. The reader gets a clear sense of what it was like to live in the twelfth century, and I especially appreciated how Will goes from his privileged life of nobility to seeing the plight of the serfs and wanting to do something about it.

2. Will himself – I really enjoyed Will as a character. He felt very true to me as a thirteen-year-old trying to be a man–particularly in a time when you had to be a man much sooner–and yet still with so many of the sensibilities of a boy. I loved his sense of justice and how that played out in multiple plot lines.

3. Much – Much, the other POV character, was also fantastic. I mean, I’ve mentioned before that I love when girls disguise themselves as boys, right? But this story wasn’t a romance; it was Much finding a way to keep herself alive. I loved her spunk and her fierce determination to prove herself.

4. The action – This story is full of action–hunting wolves, sword fights, sneaking into castles–everything you’d expect from a tale involving Robin Hood. Only Will is the one initiating most of the action rather than the legend. The action isn’t without cost, but it’s exciting!

5. The pacing – As soon as I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. The pacing is fantastic, with Will and Much jumping from one adventure to another. A definite page-turner!

I highly recommend WILL IN SCARLET for anyone who loves a good adventure story. If you’ve read it, let’s discuss in the comments!

Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder

I love anything to do with Paris, so I was predestined to love this book. I even have a picture that looks very similar to this cover. Wow, I’m really young in this picture. It’s from 2007, before kids, although just barely as I realized I was pregnant while we were there. Anyway, one of the lovely side effects of reading MY SECRET GUIDE TO PARIS by Lisa Schroeder is that it led me to pull out my photo album and relive the trip with my six-year-old, who has now decided that she must go to Paris like the main character in the book. As much as I would love to take her, that’s a trip you should be a little older to appreciate. But I’m sure you’re ready to hear about the actual book, so here’s the cover and description.

My Secret Guide to Paris by Lisa SchroederNora loves everything about Paris, from the Eiffel Tower to chocolat chaud. Of course, she’s never actually been there — she’s only visited through her Grandma Sylvia’s stories. And just when they’ve finally planned a trip together, Grandma Sylvia is suddenly gone, taking Nora’s dreams with her.

Nora is crushed. She misses her grandmother terribly, but she still wants to see the city they both loved. So when Nora finds letters and a Paris treasure map among her Grandma Sylvia’s things, she dares to dream again…


She’s not sure what her grandma wants her to find, but Nora knows there are wonderful surprises waiting for her in Paris. And maybe, amongst the croissants and macarons, she’ll even find a way to heal her broken heart.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. Nora’s grief – I realize it’s odd to say Nora’s grief is something I loved about the story, but the reason I list it here is that I appreciated how well-drawn her grief was in the story. Grief is such a complicated emotion, and it hits everyone differently. You can be crying one minute and the next wanting to enjoy something you used to do with the person you lost. It’s handled well here.

2. The treasure map – I loved the places Nora’s Grandma Sylvia sent her around Paris, and when I do return someday, I’ll have to re-read this book so I can check out the ones I didn’t know about. It’s fun to see Nora experiencing Paris with her grandma even though she can’t be there with her.

3. Phoebe – Isn’t it great when two people meet and they just click? Even better when it’s a friendship. I loved how Phoebe encouraged Nora to be strong and carry through on what she already wanted to do. And I’m excited to see Phoebe has her own story :).

4. The mother-daughter bond – I really enjoyed watching how Nora’s relationship with her mother changed during the story, but also how her perception of her mother’s relationship with her grandmother changed. There was some growing up Nora had to do during the course of the story, but twelve’s old enough for that.

5. The buttons – I loved the jar of buttons Nora’s grandmother had given her. She carried one with her every day, and it always seemed to connect to something that happened. In the end, the buttons had a deeper meaning for Nora, but I won’t give that away.

Basically, I’m dying to return to Paris now, and I’m years away from it, but at least this book gave me a taste. I guess I’ll go read Phoebe’s story and relive the London portion of that same trip :).

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: LOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch

dsc06233Happy New Year! I’m a few weeks late, but I have excellent excuses–er, reasons. I was across the country for the first week of the year, doing things like attending my first Defense Against the Dark Arts class. (And, no, I’m not too old for Hogwarts.) Then I spent two weeks furiously revising so I could send my manuscript off to readers. Now that the MS is out of my hands, I can relax, and the timing is perfect, because last week I read a delightful YA book that I have to share with you. (Side note: on the adult side, if you’re a Meg Cabot fan, I also highly recommend THE BOY IS BACK. Could not stop laughing as I read that one–in a single evening!) But back to the YA … it’s another of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale purchases, LOVE & GELATO by Jenna Evans Welch. I’d been hearing a lot about this book, and from the first few lines, I was sucked in. Here’s the description.

img_3322Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Here are the five things I loved most about the book.

1. The romance – It’s right there in the title: LOVE. So obviously the romance has to be amazing, and it is. What I like about it is how there’s really more than one romance going on in this story–Lina’s and her mom’s. And actually, there’s an interesting parallel, but I won’t spoil it.

2. The journal – I both loved and hated Lina’s mom’s journal. I hated it because she took SO LONG to read the entries. Obviously if she’d read the thing all at once the story would have been over and she’d have had no mystery to solve, but it drove me crazy. At the same time, I believed her reticence to read her mother’s words and her drive to try and discover what had happened in her mother’s past on her own. Thus the love/hate relationship with the journal.

3. Howard – Lina comes to Italy expecting to hate Howard for not being involved in her life, but he’s nothing like she imagined. I loved watching their relationship develop and how it showed the growth of a family.

4. The dialogue – I’m a sucker for snappy dialogue, and this book has it in spades. It’s great between all of the characters, but here’s a snippet between Lina and Ren. They’ve just met, and after a conversation about how Lina always wins at games, Ren challenges her to a race to his house to meet his mom.

He stopped in front of a set of curlicue gates and I help him push them open with a loud creak.

“You weren’t kidding. Your house is close to the cemetery,” I said.

“I know. I always thought it was weird that I live so close to a cemetery. And then I met someone who lives in a cemetery.”

“I couldn’t let you beat me. It’s my competitive nature.”

5. The setting – There’s the fact that this book is set in Italy, which of course makes me want to go there, but it’s made even more interesting by plopping Lina into a cemetery–much too soon after the death of her mother. See, Howard’s the caretaker for the Florence American Cemetery, a memorial for World War II veterans. As a result, instead of drawing Lina in with its gorgeousness like you’d expect, it’s a source of conflict. It’s very well done.

Maybe I would have mentioned the gelato as one of my favorite things if I could’ve tasted it, but I did find the flavor Lina was dying over in the book at my local grocery store. I’m sure it will be a pale substitute to what I’d get in Italy, but I’m still anxious to try it.

Have you read LOVE & GELATO? What did you think?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman

I love books–and movies, for that matter–that play with time and space. When I came across the description for TWO SUMMERS by Aimee Friedman, I was intrigued by the premise. How much difference can one decision make? I really liked the way this story explored the question.

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanONE SUMMER in the French countryside, among sun-kissed fields of lavender…

ANOTHER SUMMER in upstate New York, along familiar roads that lead to surprises… 

When Summer Everett makes a split-second decision, her summer divides into two parallel worlds. In one, she travels to France, where she’s dreamed of going: a land of chocolate croissants, handsome boys, and art museums. In the other, she remains home, in her ordinary suburb, where she expects her ordinary life to continue—but nothing is as it seems.

In both summers, she will fall in love and discover new sides of herself. What may break her, though, is a terrible family secret, one she can’t hide from anywhere. In the end, it might just be the truth she needs the most.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The title – I so love a clever title, and you can’t get much more perfect than this one. Because her name is Summer and it’s summertime, so she’s experiencing two summers and there are two Summers in the two realities. Anyway, I’m sure you got it before I explained it :).

2. The descriptions – I loved the descriptions, particularly of France (a country I’d love to visit again), but also of her home town, and the way Ms. Friedman would slip in the slightest hint each reality could be a dream.

The wind rustles the leaves on a lemon tree above us. I feel detached from the table, separate, watching myself having a conversation with this handsome French boy. That can’t be me, I think hazily. It’s another Summer. One who isn’t scared. Over Jacques’s shoulder, I notice a tableful of girls blatantly staring at us, their mouths half open. I totally understand their shock. I share it.

3. The friendship – In both realities, Summer experiences the uncertainty of a changing friendship. It’s much more confrontational in the Hudsonville storyline, but it’s still there in the Provence storyline. On the other hand, there’s another relationship that’s much more prominent in the Provence storyline, but explaining that would give away a major plot point.

4. The romance – There are two very different romances happening in the two storylines, and yet I found them both sweet in their own unique ways. As with the other point, I’m really holding back here so I won’t give anything away.

5. The ending – I loved the ending of this. The story is set up as: here’s what could happen if she goes to France or doesn’t go to France. Certain events happen on certain dates no matter what, and then you get to the end and … well, it’s just brilliantly done. Enough said.

Have you read TWO SUMMERS? What did you think?

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE Interview & Giveaway!

If you don’t know I participated in The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012, then you’re probably new around here :). But the reason I bring it up–again–is because one of the entries from that contest is now a real, live book! I had the privilege of reading Erin Petti’s THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE after the contest (although I think the title was slightly different then), and I’ve been so thrilled to watch Erin’s journey to publication. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy to one lucky winner, but first, let me introduce you to Thelma Bee.

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma BeeEleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

I asked Erin to answer questions about my five favorite things–with a little help from my eight-year-old son, who actually snatched this book and read the finished copy before me :).

1. I love Thelma’s interest in science and the use of the scientific method throughout the book. What made you decide to make this a focus for her character?

It may sound silly, but I think that Thelma kind of told me about herself. Since beginning drafting (about a hundred years ago) her voice was always strong and I knew she wanted to investigate things – this led pretty naturally into a scientific disposition. Once that groundwork was laid, her notes became a really helpful tool in telling the story!

2. The illustrations are fantastic. How did you determine THELMA BEE would be an illustrated book?

I love the illustrations, too, thank you! I had no idea that the book would be illustrated. Even after I signed with Mighty Media and had conversations about the direction of the book – it was a real surprise to me when I saw the care that they took integrating all the internal drawings. Kris Aro McLeod is a gifted artist and I feel so lucky that we got to work on this together!

3. The supporting cast of characters—from Alexander to Izzy to Eugene—is so strong. Did you plan out each of these characters in advance, or did they come to you as you were writing?

In my outline, I planned most of the characters, but Menkin was a surprise to me. She just showed up in one scene as I was drafting and became an important part of the story.

4. I love the setting. It’s so spooky and well drawn! How did you research the area, and/or is it familiar to you?

Thank you! The town of Riverfish, MA, is based on the town of Maynard, MA, where I lived when I began drafting. Thelma’s house on the river was my house on the river! The area around Maynard, Lincoln, and Concord, MA, is rich in woodlands and history. It was a giant inspiration!

5. The ending is satisfying and yet leaves the story open for more. Do you have additional adventures in mind for Thelma? My eight-year-old particularly wants to know the answer to this question!

First, a big-huge thank you to your 8-year-old for reading! This is so new to me still and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to imagine a kid connecting with my characters. And yes! More Thelma on the way. A draft of book two is with the publisher right now, and we should be hearing more about Thelma’s adventures very soon! The problems get a little bigger, Thelma learns more about who she is, and RVPS might even get some new members!

That’s great news about additional Thelma Bee adventures!

Now on to the giveaway. I will send a copy of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE to one lucky winner. North America only please. To enter, click on the link below or leave a comment. I’ll choose a winner next Monday, Oct. 17.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Whether you win or not, I hope you all check out THELMA BEE!

 

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Well, I already told you this recommendation was coming in my favorite reads of 2015 post. I actually ended up finishing two of the three books before the end of the year, so it’s probably a good thing I gave The Selection series an honorable mention for 2015. It wouldn’t be quite fair to list it for 2016, except I guess the series isn’t technically over, but for the purpose of this review, I’m covering the original trilogy. Anyway, as is usually the case when I review a series, here are the cover and description for the first book:

The Selection by Kiera CassFor thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Here are the five things I loved most about the series.

1. The world – Yes, it’s another dystopian setting, but I found it interesting that this future reverted to a monarchy. The politics of it were quite disturbing, and after finishing the series, I can understand why Ms. Cass decided to show what happens in the next generation. I’m definitely interested in reading on for not only the characters but to see how things play out in the world.

2. The romance – Actually, I’m putting this on here even though I kind of hated it, too. Maybe that was the point! I just wanted the characters to get over their issues and get together, but then it might not have been a series :). In any case, I liked the way they grew together. It certainly wasn’t insta-love!

3. The premise – So, I’m actually not a fan of The Bachelor, and perhaps that’s why I struggled a bit with the romance side of the story, but even so I was drawn into the premise of the girls competing for Prince Maxon. I think what I liked even more was that America wasn’t initially there for him and had to be coaxed into the race. Besides, I’m always up for a story where girls get makeovers–I think it’s that whole Cinderella fascination.

4. The friendship – Going into the story, I wondered how the relationships between America and the other girls would be handled. The friendships evolved throughout the books, and they were just as important as the romantic relationship as far as America figuring out who she would be. That really added to the overall depth of the series.

5. America’s growth – Perhaps my favorite part of the whole series was how America grew into someone worthy of not just Maxon but Illea. She starts out a rather selfish person–although not without her positive qualities, of course–and slowly learns what it means to be a princess. I liked that she created her own definition for that title.

I will definitely be reading THE HEIR and the upcoming THE CROWN, so perhaps these books will still make it onto my 2016 list of favorite reads. It’s still early! In any case, I highly recommend the series. Are you a fan of The Selection series? If so, let’s chat!