Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

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 😀.

Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

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.

Character, Kid Review, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

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!

Character, Instagram, Reading, Review, 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!

Character, Reading, Review, 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, PitchWars, Reading, Review, Young Adult

My Favorite Reads of 2019

My reading was back up this year. I finished 101 books, with a good mix of young adult, middle grade, and adult. I’ll include the breakdown at the bottom of the post. But on to the fun part–my ten favorite reads of 2019! They’re listed in alphabetical order by author.

In Some Other Life by Jessica BrodyIN SOME OTHER LIFE by Jessica Brody – This book is from a couple of years ago, but I just got to it in 2019. I love books that consider the question of what your life would be like if you’d made a different choice. This particular story follows Kennedy as she discovers what her life would have been like if she’d gone to a prestigious private school instead of staying at the public school. That decision has ramifications for many people in her life, and I loved seeing it play out.


Finale by Stephanie GarberFINALE by Stephanie Garber – The first book in this series, CARAVAL, was one of my favorite reads of 2017, and the finale (😉) makes it on the list for 2019. I was fortunate enough to meet Stephanie Garber when she came through town, and since I was the last person in the signing line, I started reading. The book kept me completely gripped and up late reading, not completely sure how it would all turn out. It’s the best kind of anticipation.


Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffILLUMINAE by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – I don’t know why I hadn’t read this book before. It’s one of those that I’d seen everyone talk about and I just hadn’t gotten to. Now that I have, I totally get why it’s so popular. I read this book in less than 24 hours. I loved the unique dossier format. I loved the characters. I loved how the stakes just kept getting higher and twisting in new directions. I haven’t had a chance to get to the other two books in the series yet due to general life craziness, but they are very high on my list for 2020!!


Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani LaRoccaMIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM by Rajani LaRocca – 2019 has been an exciting year for my fellow 2017 PitchWars mentees. It’s been fun to watch books that were in the contest out in the world. With its premise of baking meets A Midsummer Night’s Dream, MIDSUMMER’S MAYHEM was one of the PitchWars books I was most looking forward to, and Rajani totally delivered. I loved how well the plot of the Shakespeare play was incorporated into the modern world and seamlessly explained for a middle grade audience. And the baking throughout the story just made my mouth water. I can’t wait for Rajani’s next book!


Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara RutherfordCROWN OF CORAL AND PEARL by Mara Rutherford – I’d been anxious to read this book since I first read the description. Nor and her identical twin sister, Zadie, live on the floating village of Varenia. 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. I do love a good twin story! 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. 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. I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel!


Scars Like Wings by Erin StewartSCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart – So I’m that reader who will generally shy away from a book if I think it will make me cry, and I was afraid that would be the case with SCARS LIKE WINGS, but it surprised me in the best possible way. It’s about burn survivor Ava, who lost her parents and was severely burned in a house fire. Now she’s going back to school. The very first line set the tone for the book: “One year after the fire, my doctor removes my mask and tells me to get a life.” I could tell from that opening that there would be more than just sorrow in the story, and I’m so glad I read this book. It’s hard at times, but even so it’s one I’d read again.


Across a Broken Shore by Amy TruebloodACROSS A BROKEN SHORE by Amy Trueblood – With her second book, Amy once again delivers a well-researched historical novel with a strong young female character who stands up for herself believably within her time. The story follows Willa, whose family expects her to be a nun, but who feels called to a career in medicine. It’s set against the backdrop of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1936. I love how well Amy portrays Willa’s family and her struggle to meet family obligations while also staying true to herself. Amy is a wonderful friend to the writing community and to me personally. If you haven’t already read this book, add it for 2020!


The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van DolzerTHE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer – I love how Krista captures the middle grade voice so well, and this book was extra-fun thanks to being set in the unique location of a math camp. I was privileged to read an early copy, and she let me work out the logic problem included ahead of time. Yes, I was a total math geek in school and you might have even found me on the math team in junior high :). But definitely check out this book. I mean, if nothing else, the cover should sell you on it.


Fame, Fate and the First Kiss by Kasie WestFAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS by Kasie West – Somehow I didn’t have a Kasie West book on my list of favorites last year after her being on my list for several years in a row, but this year she’s back on there with FAME, FATE, AND THE FIRST KISS. I loved that the frame of the book was the character making a campy zombie movie based on a book series. As usual, the dialogue and romance were top-notch, as well as the supporting cast of family and friends. I know I’m behind on one of Kasie West’s 2019 releases, so maybe that one will end up on my 2020 list.


White Rose by Kip WilsonWHITE ROSE by Kip Wilson – Kip is my longtime critique partner and I’ve already shouted about this book quite a bit this year, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it makes my list of favorite reads. From the moment Kip first told me about WHITE ROSE when we were sitting in a hotel room at NESCBWI in 2016, I was immediately gripped. The story of Sophie Scholl, a young German college student who challenged the Nazi regime during World War II as part of The White Rose, a non-violent resistance group, it’s compelling, heartbreaking, and moving. It’s beautifully told in verse, and as a result it ends up being a pretty quick read, yet you’ll want to go back and read it more slowly to absorb it all over again. Others evidently agree, as it’s been named a School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019.


So those are my ten favorite reads this year. Of the 101 books I read, here is the breakout:

Young adult: 63

Middle grade: 10

Adult: 25

Non-fiction: 3

The high number of adult books is due to me continuing to weed out books from my shelves. Found quite a few this year I won’t be keeping to make room for more YA :).

Do we have any of the same favorites this year? Let me know in the comments!

Character, Instagram, Reading, Review, 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?

Character, Instagram, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review, 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?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: FINALE by Stephanie Garber

I have a bit of a book hangover as I’m writing this because I stayed up until after midnight to finish reading FINALE, the final book in Stephanie Garber’s best-selling Caraval series. I’m not surprised, though. Each of the books in this series have been impossible to put down, so when I learned Stephanie was coming to town, I made a point of getting to her event, even though I had a commitment for one of my kids right before. As a result, I was the very last person in line to get my books signed, but it was worth it, and I now have a complete signed set of Caraval books. If you haven’t read this series, then you’re in luck because it’s now finished and you won’t have to wait for any of them like I did :). Start with CARAVAL, next comes LEGENDARY, and then FINALE.

Finale by Stephanie GarberA love worth fighting for. A dream worth dying for. An ending worth waiting for.

It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.

With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.

Welcome, welcome to Finale. All games must come to an end…

If you haven’t read the first two books, you might want to stop here because this review could be spoilery.

Still here? Okay …

Here are the five things I loved most about FINALE.

1. The twists – I saw some of the twists coming in this book, but I think that’s because I’d already read the first two books in the series and was anticipating them. Stephanie Garber still managed to surprise me with quite a few twists, though, and it’s what makes these books so hard to put down.

2. The love triangle – Honestly, I’m not always a huge fan of love triangles. I usually have a really clear idea of who the character should end up with and just want them to decide already. However, there was enough frustration with all points of this triangle for me to be okay with the ongoing indecision and the final resolution worked for me.

3. The Fates – If you’ve read LEGENDARY, you probably, like me, expect the Fates to be all evil in this book. A lot of them definitely are, but I enjoyed how nuanced they were as characters overall. That’s really all I want to say to avoid spoiling anything about that.

4. The quest – While there wasn’t a Caraval in this book, there was still a quest to complete, and just like in Caraval, the rules kept changing and the stakes kept ratcheting up.

5. The ending – You know how when you pick up certain books you have a pretty good idea how they’re going to end? With this book, I really wasn’t sure. I was only about sixty percent on how the love triangle would turn out and wasn’t placing any sort of bets on where things were going with Valendia. I loved that Stephanie Garber was able to keep me guessing and leave me satisfied with the ending.

Have you read FINALE yet? What did you think?

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons

I love entering giveaways, and I love it even more when I win–especially when the book shows up in the mail and I didn’t know I’d won. Best surprise ever! That’s what happened with THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons, and it arrived with a really cool swag pack (pictured below). I started reading this book on the last day of our cruise and had it almost finished by the time we got off the plane home. It’s a super fast-paced read. Well, let me give you the description first, and then I’ll get on to the review :).

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials—because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark—a senator’s son—and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for secret schools where kids are developing special skills, even if they’re conning people. What’s interesting about this one is that Brynn has to consistently confront her own sense of right and wrong–which isn’t so clearly defined to start with–and decide what her limits are.

2. The pacing – I already mentioned it above, but this book was a really quick read. The stakes kept ratcheting up in each new chapter, plus …

3. The twists – They just kept coming! I loved how layered this book was. It almost felt like the author had started at the end and layered all the clues on top of each other toward the front. That’s how well all the pieces fit together. It’s very well done.

4. The romance – The initial attraction, the uncertainty, the ex still somewhat in the picture, the complication of having other people you’re conning thrown into the mix–quite a lot to add into a teen romance. And this one gets a bit steamy.

5. The ending – It’s the perfect ending to start off a series. I wanted more but didn’t feel like I was left on a total cliffhanger. I will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

If anyone out there reading this has taken a liking to that swag pack, let me know! I’m going to keep the book, but if you’d like the patch or Vale Hall letter/syllabus, I’d be happy to mail it to someone. Just send me a note in the comments or email me. First person to ask gets it, but please North America.