Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang is a book I added to my TBR because a couple of people on Twitter were saying how amazing it was. Then I discovered it's published by Greenwillow so excitement rose. I got it from Edelweiss without even reading the synopsis. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and was not expecting a book that was quite so intense, dark, and sad. It's probably a good thing I didn't know because I probably would have put off reading it. Despite bringing all my parental nightmares to vivid life, this is a book that says and reveals important things about the teen experience. It's a book I think many parents are going to freak out about, but they should all read.
Liz Emerson is her school's most popular girl. Everyone knows her, most people hate her. The latter is well deserved. Liz is not a nice person. No one in this book aside from Liam, the boy who sees something else in Liz and is the one to find her car, is. Liz is the ultimate mean girl. She deliberately goes about trying to destroy other people. It is her way to prop herself up against the world and keep herself separate. But she is killing herself with this long before she attempts suicide through car crash. Each act, each destroyed life, every choice she makes that is about image rather than self, works to destroy her. In addition to Liz this is the story of her two best friends, Kennie and Julia, girls both swept up in the force of Liz's personality. They are just as unlikeable and broken as she is. Despite being the quintessential mean girls, all three of them are very real and human in their fears, doubts, struggles, and horrors. Through vivid imagery and prose, Zang brings to life their high school experience and the harsh reality that is being a teen. My heart broke for all three of them.
I usually don't like books that skip around in the way this one does, but here the format works perfectly. It moves from the timeline of Liz's accident and what occurs after to flashbacks of the months leading up to the accident (but not in order!) to some snippets from Liz's childhood. There is very linear movement. However, it was absolutely perfect in how it fully depicted all of the characters and still got the point of the story, which is a powerful one, across. The prose is vivid and emotive. Zang really makes you feel what her characters do causing a physical ache in places.
Yes, this is an excellent book, but it was not without its aspects that bothered me. I really grew to hate how often Liz's full name was used. Liz Emerson feels...Liz Emerson does....Liz Emerson wants... Enough already! The entire premise of the narration grated on me too. I didn't really see it as necessary and it was actually rather silly. This book has so much good going for it that it did not need to depend on a corny gimmick like that narration trick. The best parts of the story, in my opinion, were the ones where the narrator got lost and it felt like it was just third person. Then that annoying first person would pop up again and UGHHHH. This is a typical problem for me when this narration is used in any book. I'm not a fan of The Book Thief either, and my inability to buy the conceit of the narrative is a big reason why. It was less intrusive here, but still got in the way of my fully falling into the story. The final aspect that bothered me is the end. It does end on a rather hopeful note. One I found completely unbelievable. I know I always say I love a good depression to hope story. There are authors that do it extraordinarily well: Melina Marchetta, Trish Doller, Meg Medina. What makes those authors so good is how they show the characters climbing out of the darkness. It is an arc I can see. That wasn't as evident here.
Despite the things that didn't work for me, I do recommend this book, particularly for fans of contemporary YA who enjoy heartrendingly real stories.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, via Edelweiss. Falling Into Place is for sale on September 9th. (less)
Always, Abigail by Nancy J. Cavanaugh captured my attention because I saw in the synopsis that it it told through letters, journal entries, and lists. I love books like that and don't know that I've ever read one in the MG age category.
Middle School. Ugh. Who ever wants to have to do that again? For those currently in the thick of it, Always, Abigail is the perfect book. Abigail's voice is so perfectly honest and real. She comes across as genuine, vulnerable, and sympathetic. I was wondering how well the list/letter format would work in a MG. The tricky part of writing a book like that is that the voice has to completely reflect the character. The author can't sneak in or it becomes glaringly obvious. Cavanaugh avoided this pitfall nicely. As an adult reading this book, I wanted to shake Abigail quite a few times. She was being mean, cowardly, and downright silly about what she though was important. For a kid negotiating the minefield that is middle school society, Abigail will seem like a true reflection of their inner selves. She doesn't want to be a mean girl, but she doesn't want to be a social outcast. One would think a balance could be reached between those two, but it is easy to see how Abigail wouldn't see it that way. Everything feels so urgent and dramatic when you're 11. Gabby's character was also well done. The two girls truly bond, and that is seen clearly in their notes and activities. I loved Gabby's voice in her letters to Abigail, particularly that first one. She is subversively snarky and she is a brilliant foil for Abigail. The only characterization I wasn't happy with were Abigail's best friends, Allie and Cami, who she collectively refers to as Allicam. I really didn't understand why there needed to be two of them, when they were so easily conflated into one snotty unpleasant persona.
The school setting of the book is incredibly realistic. I liked how Abigail's homeroom teacher operated, and that she was rather clueless at times but also an inspiration. Far more realistic than teachers are often portrayed. I also liked how real the behavior of the kids on the bus was, and how the nothing was done to stop it. Everything in the book is very true to life. When the time comes for Abigail to make a choice, there is no cheesy made-for-TV-hero moment either. And the way she loses her temper in the slightly crazy way girls her age so often do, not really accomplishing much but making herself feel better, was the perfect touch.
I enjoyed Always, Abigail very much and can not wait to share it with my daughter (who I know will love it).
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, via NetGalley. Always Abigail is available for purchase now. (less)
This book is really slow moving and awkwardly written. I lost interest rather quickly which is sad because I wanted to like it so much. THAT SYNOPSIS!...moreThis book is really slow moving and awkwardly written. I lost interest rather quickly which is sad because I wanted to like it so much. THAT SYNOPSIS! Why is this not more interesting???(less)
Here I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but m...moreHere I am, continuing my way through Jennifer Echols's backlist. I remember Chachic and Maureen raving about Such a Rush when it first came out, but my library didn't have it so it wasn't a high priority for me. Big mistake. Boy is this book good.
Here is what I love so much about Echols's writing: her characters are messed-up real people. The have faults and flaws aplenty, and those will sometimes outweigh their finer traits. They are just so real. Leah and Grayson exemplify this perfectly. Leah is the product of a teenage pregnancy and her mom has never come around to the idea of being the responsible adult. Leah decided she did not want to be her mother and made goals for herself. She is desperate and vulnerable in so many ways. She is one mistake away from losing everything she wants for her future. She wants out of the trailer park. She wants into college. She wants to fly. People who are desperate and vulnerable often don't make the best decisions when they feel threatened. This is certainly true for Leah. She has lines she will not cross, but they are not the same lines people who live comfortable lines would have. It is easy to judge and look down on her as a character, but that would come from a high place of privilege that doesn't realize how true poverty and drive to escape it can warp one's decision making processes. Grayson is there to take full advantage of this, but in true Echols's fashion there is more to him. I should never like a manipulative boy as much as I do Grayson, but it's because there really is so much more to him. He is blackmailing Leah. Holding her future over her head to get her to do what he wants. He doesn't ask her to do anything awful though and he pays her well for her flying skills. Asking her to date his brother is an idiotic move, one he holds on to way longer and with far more tenacity than he should. But this is where I think Echols really succeeded with his character. For all his maneuvering and taking over a business, running it and learning how to take taxes out of paychecks, he is still just an 18 year old boy. One who is heartbroken, confused, and desperate to arrange what's left in his life in a way that makes him feel his heart is safe and secure. Does he pick the dumbest plan on the planet to accomplish this? Oh yeah. But again I say, 18 year old boy. It is incredibly realistic.
The romance in this book made me nervous when I first heard about it, and played a part in my not wanting to rush it to the top of my TBR. I was afraid this was going to turn more melodramatic than necessary. And while there was some melodrama involved, it didn't manifest itself in quite the way I thought it would. Also all of the melodrama fit the story, made sense to who the characters were, and never seemed too much for me. All of the chemistry and heat in the book come from Leah and Grayson. Alec and Leah's relationship is practically a non-starter from the start for several reasons, the main one being neither one is trying that hard. Leah isn't at all okay with faking an interest in Alec, particularly when she likes Grayson, and Alec has is own reasons. In addition to the romance in the book, there is also much focus on Leah's relationship with her only friend, Molly. Leah has a completely undeserved reputation that causes most girls to hate her guts. Molly is different, but their relationship is a fraught one.
Echols tackles some weighty themes in this book too. Leah's poverty is a very real thing, as is the neglect she suffers under mother's lack of care. She has raised herself, but there is a limit to what she can do. She becomes highly upset at some of the prying and poking Alec and Grayson do into her life and why she does some of the things she does. Privilege has a hard time seeing how hard true poverty can really be. Through Leah's interactions with people at school there is also some treatment of slut-shaming and how hard society can be on girls. Leah is a beautiful and sexy girl. Men and boys are drawn to her and tend to want to help her. She is much hated for this, but she honestly is oblivious to her affect on the male sex. Despite her reputation, Leah's only ever had sex with one person. Like I said she has lines she doesn't want to cross to mess-up her plans. Plans that do not involve teenage pregnancy. Another thing I like about Echols's books is that they are very sex positive. Of her three books I've read, the female mc's have been a virgin, a highly picky non-virgin, and a girl who is neither a virgin or picky. All of them are view sex as a positive thing though, something they want to experience and enjoy. Their standards are different, what they are looking for is different. In Leah's case she doesn't want to get pregnant and her focus on other things. I really like the way Echols weaves this into her stories and shows so many different and realistic ways teenage girls live their lives and make their choices.
Still loving exploring this author's work and can't wait to read more.
Content Warning: mentions of underage smoking and drinking, some sexual content (less)
I read Jennifer Echols's Biggest Flirts earlier this year and fell in love. It was my first Echols book and I immediately decided I needed more. I knew Major Crush, while out of print, had recently been rereleased on e-book and so I bought it right away. Unfortunately, I just got around to reading it last week. I know two things: I need to read all of Echols's back list and I love books about marching bands.
Virginia cherishes her role with the band and the time she spends with it. She is a great drummer, a dedicated drum major, and good friend to those she feels close to. She has a definite sense of who she is and what she wants to do. She is the first female drum major in the school's history and she wants to do well. Her problem is that Drew is a big something she wants, but feels she will never have because he hates her. Drew is the responsible one. He takes a lot of pride in it. But he also works really hard to break free and do the opposite of what people are telling him to when he has the chance. Drew is a legacy drum major-his dad and all his brothers had the position. Virginia intrigues him because of her sense of self and her free spirit. The two are opposites enough that sparks fly and it is wonderful. I love hate to love stories full of tension and this is a wonderful one. It is one of Echols's earlier works, and I could see a big difference in the writing between this and Biggest Flirts, but it is still incredibly good.
At first I was a little put off by the band director, but I feel like his character grew. Also, I can see a young 22 year old new teacher making the exact errors he does in dealing with the students. His suggestion that Virginia buy a short skirt and boots for her uniform was inappropriate, but he's not the first male teacher to do something so sexist, she's not the first teenage girl to shrug and go along with it, and I feel they both reached a reasonable understanding of things by the end.
Major Crush is a fantastic romance and a great band story. I really liked all the supporting characters as well. Both Drew and Virginia's friends are a lot of fun. I appreciate how the mistakes each character makes are very typical of teenagers and play into the reality of the story well. There are some dramatic moments, but they are moments anyone can see actually happening. The book is full of humor too which is always a plus.
I'm really looking forward to digging into the rest of Jennifer Echols's backlist. I already have Such a Rush checked out from the library and can't wait to get to it. (less)
I probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured...moreI probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured it might be a better, more fun update of the same concept. It's only short because it is the first in a series. (If I had known that, I wouldn't have read it.) That in itself is not enough to make me dislike a book as much I disliked this one. So what are my reasons? It begins like one of the WORST made for Disney Channel movies. The parents are ridiculously clueless. The kids, newly brought together by their parents' marriage, are self-absorbed and obnoxious. It even has the famous two boy and one girl formula that Disney uses for everything and each of them fit into some caricature-the smart snotty one, the super geeky quirky one, and the stoic brave level headed one. There is little to no character development done beyond that. The plot trips along in an absurd manner until halfway through the family is stranded on an island after the boat begins to sink in a storm and the Captain dies. The island is all kinds of mysterious, but we can't tell exactly what kinds yet. It is hinted in just a few short pages that there are possible ghosts, weird people-chasing-weather-phenomena, and animals the likes of which one would find residing with Dr. Moreau. Then the book ends. Just. Like. That. Like this is a TV pilot and they want you to be sure to tune in again next week to see what happens next. I know that works great for TV shows, when you only have to wait A WEEK. But nothing makes me angrier than when books do it, because the next book isn't coming out next week. It's an even dirtier trick to pull when you do it with a book. The parents, being the type of people they are, haven't clued in to the strangeness of the island yet. So what is the sensible thing for the kid who has experienced the strangest aspects to do? Lie about it, of course! Even when it means contradicting his step-sister and making her look like an idiot. Needless to say, despite the best efforts to get me to read the next book with that cliffhanger ending, it will not be happening.
I read an ARC received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter. (less)
There are quite a few stylistic elements here that tend to annoy me a great deal, the episodic nature of the plot, how it just sort of ends with no re...moreThere are quite a few stylistic elements here that tend to annoy me a great deal, the episodic nature of the plot, how it just sort of ends with no real closure, and the tropes that are often overused in MG realistic fiction. The fact that I liked it as much as I did despite these things says a lot about the quality of the writing and character development in the book. Albie is an excellent every-kid narrator. The whole concept of being an "almost" is one so many can relate to and his voice is absolutely perfect. He tells his story exactly the way a child in his situation would (which is why the episodic plot makes sense even if it's not my favorite thing to read) and his observations are spot on and conveyed exactly like a fifth grader would do it. One of my favorite parts after a classmate calls Albie a "retard" and the principal makes an announcement that the word is "outlawed" at the school: But Darren Ackleman doesn't call me "retard" anymore. Moron. That's what he called me on Thursday. Moron. Numbskull. Bozo. Idiot. Stupid little rat. Marblehead. Freak. Dum-dum. Hopeless. Lamebrain. Crybaby. F-minus. Dummy That's what he called me on Friday, and every day since. Dummy. Dummy. Dummy. Darren Aclkleman doesn't cal me "retard" anymore. But I think maybe it's not words that need to be outlawed.
This is excellent and has all of the elements about Kantra's Carolina series that I love. Patrick is an amazing father and that is always a sexy chara...moreThis is excellent and has all of the elements about Kantra's Carolina series that I love. Patrick is an amazing father and that is always a sexy characteristic for me. Katie is driven and insecure, but also knows how to speak her mind and has a lot of courage. I really enjoyed how the two of them learned to compromise and fit their worlds together. My only quibble is that he though the phrase "lady doctor" in his head a little too much.
And then there is Jack, Patrick's son. Kantra writes kids so darn well. I am always super excited to find adult authors who can do this because an alarming number of them can't. It is like they have never been around a child or something. But Kantra manages to do it well no matter what age she is writing (4, 10, 16=they all ring true).
So now I have another series to read. Well played, making this one free for a while. The next one will be mine soon....(less)
I'm really glad this wasn't the first James book I read because I like the others so much more, but this one is still a cute fun story. The character...moreI'm really glad this wasn't the first James book I read because I like the others so much more, but this one is still a cute fun story. The character development is not as good as her later works, and I still don't know why Taylor was so convinced Jason wouldn't do exactly what her fiancee did to her. (less)
When I discovered what Don't Call Me Baby by Gwendolyn Heasley was about, I immediately wanted to read it because I like books that explore online dynamics and family dynamics. A book with both seemed a perfect fit for me and this one does both fairly well.
I have never understood the world of mommy-blogs. To be perfectly honest, they creep me out. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who don't get why people blog about books either, but at least I don't have to talk about MY KIDS on the book blog. (I know I do occasionally but only briefly and I always ask permission first.) I was perfectly prepared going in to completely side with Imogene and not her mom. No surprises there, that is what happened. Meg is absorbed with her blog (the entries she writes are super obnoxious). It has taken over her life. She has lost sight of who her daughter is and what she wants. Every little thing they do revolves around the blog in some way. Imogene does not respond in the most mature manner to her mother's blogging. She is young and her voice definitely reflects that. At her school the 9th graders are still in junior high and not at the high school yet. She has had a fairly sheltered life which causes her to sound even younger. Her best friend Sage is the daughter of a blogger too. Her mom runs a vegan/organic eating blog. Sage rebels by gorging herself on junk food from the mall food court on a regular basis and eating sugar from any source she can get it. Together the girls launch their own blog to counteract their moms. Imogen grows a lot over the course of the book and discovers things about herself, her mom, and the complications of life. While Meg is an example of how not to deal with a teenage daughter, she really does love Imogen and they don't have a terrible relationship. The way their situation was resolved is believable and makes sense. My favorite character is Imogene's grandmother (Meg's mom) who lives with them. I really enjoyed the inter-generational interactions and conversations from this.
The book is an interesting inspection of online versus offline life, the motives people may have for sharing what they do online, and the benefits of unplugging it all for a little bit. There is also an interesting look at who is really more obsessed with social media, teens or their parents. All of this is good stuff even if it is not as well executed in places as it might have been. Mostly though it is a book about family and relationships. What I enjoyed the most were watching the interactions between the three generations of women in this family and how they loved each other despite their differences. It is certainly worth a read if these are things that interest you and I am now interested in picking up Heasley's other novels.(less)
I didn't like this one as much as the others in the series. The plot felt pieced together with no real cohesive whole and I didn't connect well with e...moreI didn't like this one as much as the others in the series. The plot felt pieced together with no real cohesive whole and I didn't connect well with either of the characters. I also though it was lacking in the banter/dialogue area which was the strength of the other books. (less)
I've liked the plot of this one the most so far. I loved how it was a simple story about balancing life, love, and ambition. I adored Cade (he's my fa...moreI've liked the plot of this one the most so far. I loved how it was a simple story about balancing life, love, and ambition. I adored Cade (he's my favorite hero thus far too). Some of my favorite parts of this book were the ones between him and Zach. Overall this is just really well done. Reading all these back to back so quickly, makes one pick up on the things James likes to reuse. Well then. (I'm not ever saying those two words together again.)(less)
I liked that this one didn't have the drama of danger and a villain with too much page time. On the other hand, this one felt like it had a...more3.5 stars
I liked that this one didn't have the drama of danger and a villain with too much page time. On the other hand, this one felt like it had a lot more backstory for both characters that needed filling in. It does have all the things I like about James's other novels: smart, hard-working, sensible people falling in love with lots of great banter and sexual tension. (less)
I have a thing for best friend turned lovers stories and this one is so good. I also really enjoyed that it was about an older couple also dealing wit...moreI have a thing for best friend turned lovers stories and this one is so good. I also really enjoyed that it was about an older couple also dealing with things like their children getting married and moving on with their lives. I'm nowhere near that phase of life yet, but I can imagine it isn't going to be easy. I enjoyed how Mack and Anne balanced and smoothed each other out. I have always liked the character of Mack in the other chocolate books. He's such a great dad and it was fun to get to see more of his personality than just the father role. It was also fun to see all the other couples playing and having fun together at the wedding. And Sylvain! The Chocolate Thief is my least favorite of all Florand's books and I didn't fall for him as a hero as much as the other chocolatier, BUT I have fallen for him more and more in each novel he has shown up in. Man does he know how to snark at and discombobulate the other heroes in the best way. Loved what he did with Mack and the chocolate. :) (less)
I read Something About You a while ago and enjoyed it but didn't love it. I recently reread it to remind myself of why I didn't seem to like James's n...moreI read Something About You a while ago and enjoyed it but didn't love it. I recently reread it to remind myself of why I didn't seem to like James's novels as much as everyone else I know. In doing this I also remembered how much I liked the good stuff: the banter, intelligent, successful characters who behave like the adults they are, and how the romantic and sexual tension builds. I decided I needed to read A Lot Like Love sooner rather than later. I ended up liking this one more. I appreciate Jordan's character especially in this. Man this girl is the queen of snark. And Nick is the perfect match for her. I'm also a huge sucker for the pretend relationship that turns real trope so this was probably a guaranteed win for me. The same thing that bothered me about the first book in the series (the amount of time spent following the villain around as he plots) bothered about this one too. It isn't enough to turn me away from these though. I'm well and truly hooked now and sense a binge read coming on. I'm already thinking longingly of the next installment. (less)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson is one of those books that had a lot of excitement and promotion leading up to its release. Those books always make me wary. While I really wanted to read it, I worried about it not living up to my expectations. Well, that was a groundless worry. I LOVED this book and my only regret is I'm not teaching in the fall and won't have a roomful of MG kids to book-talk it to.
This is a realistic fiction book that has absolutely no grounding in reality, which is not at all a bad thing, because readers love those books. I was going to say kid readers but decided that was condescending and untrue. I love those sort of books too (and not just ones written for kids) as do a number of other adults. The romance and mystery genres make the money they do because people love this type of book so much. I don't think the MG category has nearly enough of them that are as well written as this one is.
The concept is basically Ocean's Eleven for kids and it is all kinds of fun. There is a corrupt principal and cocky popular kid to take down and the school's clubs to save. It will take a crack team of super-smart friends to save the school's election from being stolen from the students. Does this middle school actually exist anywhere? One that has this many actively participated in funded extracurriculars and a student government with actual power? No. No it doesn't, not in the realm of public schools anyway. HOWEVER, it is the middle school every kid fantasizes about going to. One where there will be a place for them somewhere and they will be able to practice agency over their own lives. And what kid doesn't love a story where the kids get to outsmart the principal? Johnson clearly gets his audience.
The cast is diverse, which is obvious from the cover, but I don't just mean that it is racially diverse. These kids all have distinct interests and personalities. Leading them all is Jackson Greene, president of the Botany club, basketball super-star, and Earl Grey tea drinker. His grandfather was an excellent con-man, and armed with his wits and his grandfather's rules for staging a con, Jackson has perpetrated some schemes that the entire school population still talks about despite his new course on the straight and narrow. After his last job resulted in losing one of his best friend's, the girl he also happened to have a crush on, he is staying out of it. But Gaby is the one who will lose if he doesn't intervene, and for her he is willing to take on a new job. Even if she doesn't want him to. Gaby is a brilliant leader and amazing basketball player. I really liked how she balanced out Jackson and how she handled the many tricky situations she found herself in from confronting jerks to being honest with a boy about her feelings, to telling her friends what she thinks. Gaby never betrays or backs down from who she is. Each member of the team Jackson assembles to run the heist are equally distinct and rounded. Charlie is Gaby's brother, Jackson's best friend, and the editor of the school paper. Bradley is the eager, excited, office helper who is the inside man. Hash is a tech geek, Star Trek fan, and highly nervous around girls. Megan, the pretty cheerleader, is also a tech genius who is a passionate gamer and also speaks fluent Klingon. I appreciated what the author did with all these characters. While Hash is fairly stereotypical for a tech geek he still has a distinct personality and is foiled by Megan, who is not a stereotypical tech geek or cheerleader. The subtle message that comes across is that each person is not one thing, but total of all things that make them who they are. Each character highlights this in their own way but never in a manner that makes it THE MESSAGE.
Interspersed through the book are also some clever commentaries on society. Some of these kids will get and some will go over their heads, but the way Johnson wove them in to the narrative was smart. From how easy it is to corrupt an election process, to the school secretary who can't tell students in any non-white race apart, to the power brokering of the kids with money in the school, Johnson has brought out some interesting issues. The truly miraculous thing? He does all this character development, plotting, and theme building in 226 engaging pages. How? He has pretty much mastered the art of showing and not telling.
The Great Greene Heist is a perfect read for anyone who loves con stories, school stories, friendship stories, or just stories in general. (less)
Knightley & Son by Rohan Gavin is a perfect read for budding mystery enthusiasts who may not be quite ready for Sherlock Holmes. I was drawn to this book not only because of the mystery, but also because of the father/son dynamic that the synopsis promised.
This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
Darkus and Alan both bear a strong resemblance to iconic detective Sherlock Holmes. Darkus is socially awkward, but mature and super polite. Both he and his father have a strong observation skills, and Darkus is particularly good at deducing through rational thought. Alan is a bit off his game having been asleep for four years. This gives Darkus an advantage over his father making him the hero. Kids love it when this device is used in their books, and Gavin does a good job with it. At the same time Darkus and his father have a continuously developing relationship that is interesting in itself. Alan was an absent workaholic prior to falling into his long sleep, and he firmly believes that keeping his distance from his son is the best thing for him. In the years his father has been asleep, Darkus decided to become as much like him as possible in order to impress him when he woke up. Alan is impressed, but also chagrined, chastened, and a bit incredulous. Alan is not at all a likeable character. At one point he even says, "She was distracting, Doc. As female counterparts often are." This is an attitude that shines through his entire life, including his dealings with his ex-wife. Darkus fortunately doesn't seem swallow his father's anti-women in the business sentiments. The girl in question here is Darkus's stepsister, Tilly, who is a marvelous character. She needed to be in the book more, and will hopefully be featured more prominently as the series continues.
The mystery is a fun one featuring a mysterious book that is causing people to commit heinous crimes. Alan believes a sinister organization is behind it all. As the case continues, it becomes clear that something with a lot of muscle and little conscience is behind it all. It is one of those mysteries that is a race agains time. It is an engaging read. I know several of my students will be highly interested in it.
One thing I really liked was that the Britishisms were not Americanized. THANK YOU!
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Bloomsbury USA Children's, at ALA Midwinter. Knightley & Son is available for purchase now. (less)
This is a fun fluffy story that takes place on a reality TV show for seniors in high school who have culinary ambitions. Any one who has ever watched...moreThis is a fun fluffy story that takes place on a reality TV show for seniors in high school who have culinary ambitions. Any one who has ever watched The Food Network will recognize the set-up and they will know exactly what is going on. I was really enjoying the first half of the book. It was fun and the easy banter between Nora and Christian was snappy. He was a little too much of a jerk and I felt the whole hate to love thing was starting with a little too much hate, but I was enjoying myself. Then the hate part of the relationship kept going on and on and on. And on. As a result I never really believed in the relationship so by the time the happy ending came around it was anticlimactic. Still it is a fun premise and mostly well done, particularly for a debut novel. I will certainly read the next book the author writes. (less)
I really love this series and this is my favorite so far. Luke is a wonderful hero. He is a fantastic father and there is nothing sexier in a guy than...moreI really love this series and this is my favorite so far. Luke is a wonderful hero. He is a fantastic father and there is nothing sexier in a guy than that. Kate is a complex heroine. She has a difficult and troubled past, and is a bit stand offish and quiet as a result. But she is mission focused and wants to the right thing for her clients. These things actually make her a perfect fit for Luke. I really like their interactions. They have a great chemistry and I think I enjoyed the dialogue in this one more than the others.
I was concerned going in about how everything would work out with Taylor given the hints about what causes her nightmares and behavior, but Kantra handled this part of the story both realistically and without it being as bad as it could have been.
Again, the whole Fletcher family makes the story even better. I adore these characters and hope we continue to see more of them as the series continues. I am impressed by how well Kantra writes both Taylor and Josh. Often in adult novels authors have a difficult time getting kids voices right. They either make them too old or too young sounding. Or some bizarre combination of the two. But Taylor and Josh are both spot on. (And I still think Josh would make a great YA book hero.)(less)
I have a soft spot for stories about people who reunite after years apart and this is a good one. I really liked both Meg and Sam as characters too. I...moreI have a soft spot for stories about people who reunite after years apart and this is a good one. I really liked both Meg and Sam as characters too. I identified with Meg's need to achieve and be independent, and while I found her attitude about her boyfriend sometimes frustrating, it was completely understandable. I like how Sam is a man unafraid to face past mistakes. I also loved how clear it was that is charming confidence did not mean he didn't have massive insecurities to deal with. He's an interesting parallel to Meg's nephew, Josh (son of Matt from first book), and I enjoyed how that was touched on a bit. I like how the stories of all the Fletcher family continued to be important. The conflict between Meg and Sam in the end was one that worked well in the context of there story and had a quick enough turn around and a compromise from both parties involved that it made me ridiculously happy. I preferred this one slightly to the first book, mostly because of how much I really liked Meg and Sam. As in Carolina Home, this is so much more than a romance. The Fletcher family is an intricate part of this story as well and I love seeing this family interact. Sam's family also plays a big part in his life and those scenes were excellent as well.
(I'm still far more interested in Josh and Thalia than is probably normal for an adult reader. I can't help it. I love YA and I work with high schoolers and now I'm FASCINATED by the idea of a YA novel set in the Outerbanks, that's not a summer vacation story, but about the kids actually growing up there. Set in winter so we just avoid the whole summer tourist dynamic. Someone please make this happen.)
Very much looking forward to reading Carolina Man which comes out Tuesday! I usually save my adult fiction reading for Friday nights, but I may be tempted to squeeze this one in on release day if my review schedule allows for it. This may be a case where I decide to say forget the stupid schedule. (less)
I have so many friends who enjoy Higgins' work, but this is the third book of hers I've read and I'm giving in to the fact that it's just not for me....moreI have so many friends who enjoy Higgins' work, but this is the third book of hers I've read and I'm giving in to the fact that it's just not for me. Her heroines make the most ridiculous decisions. I seriously can not take these people seriously.(less)
The Swap by Megan Shull takes a classic trope and gives it a slightly new spin. Usually in a body-switching plot the point is to learn that your life is not as bad as you think it is and other people have it just as difficult. In The Swap it is more of a case of the individuals learning to unlock their potential and let go of their insecurities. It was a nice change, but unfortunately there are several drawbacks to how it played out.
Ellie and Jack are both talented kids with some insecurities and fears holding them back. Ellie has recently been dumped by her best friend, who is behaving in the nastiest way possible. As a result, Ellie wants to withdraw from her life. No more soccer. No more sleepovers. Nothing. Coming close on the heels of her father leaving her and her mother, this is a particularly difficult time for Ellie. Jack is referred to by several of the girls in his school as The Prince (he has no idea). He is cute, athletic, and an all around decent guy. His main problem is his father, who is super strict, withholds praise, and has withdrawn emotionally since the death of his mother. Switching bodies leaves Jack and Ellie with a chance to help change the other's life, and learn a little themselves at the same time. Ellie's mom and Jack's brothers are great supporting characters and the way each kid reacts to their "new family" is sweet and endearing.
For the most part this book is cute and fun. I especially enjoyed how it did NOT take the romantic turn the synopsis made me think it would. This was a pleasant surprise. I almost didn't read it due to that "and their feelings for each other grow" line, so I'm happy that their feelings were different than I had assumed they would be.
I do have some fairly strong issues with the book though. The idea of a gender switch is fun, and there is so much the author could have explored thematically there, but all that potential is wasted on over-blown gender stereotypes. The guys in this book are GUYS, who practically speak a different language as far as Ellie is concerned. She doesn't understand 75% of what they say. Really???? The portrayal of the girls isn't much better. They play a mean game of soccer (Yay for athletic equality!), but the way they talk to each other is....not like anything I've ever heard. Almost like they are all tween TV show character rejects. Because they are too over the top even for those characters. I work with middle school and high school students and have NEVER heard groups of kids talk to each other the way both the girls and boys here do. Even when I'm simply just listening to them and not taking with them. It was corny as all get out. Then there was the portrayal of the bullies. The obnoxious boy Jack has to contend with is given a nice backstory and some nuance. There is good closure there. The mean girl Ellie has to deal with-her former best friend-is just a typical mean girl caricature. As are her minions. The end is ridiculously perfect. Not only is it wrapped up with a bow, but the bow has curlicues and glitter thrown on for good measure There is just so much wasted potential with the themes that it ruined my enjoyment of the book overall.
As a teacher I would not give this to a student any younger than 6th grade. It is definitely a MG book, but it is for upper middle grade. There is a lot of talk of periods and a mention of a morning erection. I think both these things would make the book potentially horrifying for many younger MG readers. It is one where I definitely recommend knowing your younger students/patrons/children in your life before you hand it to them. Know what they are comfortable with and are mature enough to handle.
I wanted to love this book, but sadly the minuses outweighed the pluses for me. (less)
Finding Ruby Starling is a novel about finding who your are and your place amidst the pains of growing up like most MG books. It is unique in that it...moreFinding Ruby Starling is a novel about finding who your are and your place amidst the pains of growing up like most MG books. It is unique in that it throws in twin sisters who never knew the other existed. Ruth, who is adopted, finds Ruby online and they begin an exchange of emails that changes their lives forever. This is an epistolary novel, told through the emails the girls send each other, their friends, and their parents. There is some boy drama and quite a bit of angst about figuring out how they fit together. All of it is good, but a little long. There were a lot of e-mails I skimmed quickly. The read genuinely like 13 year old's emails, and that includes a lot of totes and ridic and the like. I found the amount Ruth used these words to be thoroughly annoying, but that won't bother everyone. I enjoyed this and would recommend it to any lover of realistic MG fiction. (less)
I thoroughly enjoyed this. I really liked that it is not just a romance between Allison and Matt, but a family story through and through. All of the c...moreI thoroughly enjoyed this. I really liked that it is not just a romance between Allison and Matt, but a family story through and through. All of the characters are important here and they all have interesting and layered personalities. I loved both of the kids especially. Allison is a teacher and I am really picky about how teaching is done in books as a teacher myself. I was quite pleased with this one and loved how Allison's students were represented realistically. And as an avid reader of YA, I have to say I would love to get a book from the point of view of Thalia or Josh. That would be a great book. The setting here worked well for me too. I love the Outerbanks. (less)
Originally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods is a new acquisition at my local l...moreOriginally poste here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods is a new acquisition at my local library that caught my eye. I checked it out despite the crazy amount of ARCs I currently have to review and was excited when I found a slot where I could actually slip it into the schedule. It is a heartwarming story of family and identity and I'm glad that I found it.
Violet is a typical MG age girl. She longs for a kitten, fights with and loves her family, enjoys spending time with her friends, and likes to ice skate (but is not overly ambitious about it or talented at it). All this makes her an easily accessible character for any reader. Her voice is strong and pulls you into the story right aways, making her sympathetic even if you have no way of identifying with her particular struggle. I found the way Woods set up Violet's conflicted feelings and struggle with her heritage to be believable and subtle. She does this by presenting different scenes where aspects of Violet's daily interactions, the prejudices and questions she has to deal with, are revealed clearly. Her frustration with it is palpable. This just makes her all the more relatable and her situation seem that much more important and real.
The plot is a slow one. This isn't a book with a lot of action. It is about a girl figuring out her place in her family and the world, and focuses more on character. What is nice, is that Woods doesn't drag it out. She keeps the prose, while beautifully worded in places, from being too philosophical or didactic. She tells her story in such a way that a reader in the target audience can maintain interest despite the lack of intense action. There are places where I found the prose to be a little awkward, particularly in certain conversations. Yet there are places where true brilliance shows through in the prose too.
This is a perfect book to give a reader who likes realistic fiction, particularly stores about friendships and family. (less)
Honestly what attracted me to A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget was the cover. That cover attraction proved to be really strong because I usually do not jump on books whose descriptions begin with: "A moving middle-grade story about love, loss, and the unlikely places we find home." Because that usually screams guidance-counselor-fiction-looking-for-grown-up-readers-who-will-force-it-on-kids to me. I try to avoid those. I'm so happy that I didn't avoid this one because it does not read like those books at all and I adored it.
Poppy makes so many decisions that are not well thought out or anywhere close to being good. She is impulsive and headstrong, a dangerous combination. And more than one time over the course of the novel danger is exactly what it lands her in. Poppy is also a girl with a huge heart and a desire to keep a place for herself in the world. Her life is spiraling out of control and she wants to regain balance. Fortunately for her the impulsive decisions and danger bring a police detective, his mother, a lonely girl, and a dog in need of love into her life. She changes them and they change her and it is a lovely story to read, one about relationships, cause and effect, and discovery. The characters and their relationships are at the core of this novel. Poppy and her grandmother are close and her grandmother works hard to do what is best for her. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the relationships develop between Poppy and Trey and Marti. Trey is the detective in charge of Poppy and Marti is his mother. The relationship between Trey and Marti is a wonderful one as well. Relationships between an adult and their parent are often not seen much in MG fiction unless central to a generational story involving the child so it was refreshing to see. It is not focused on, but it is there and it is a great thing. One thing I really appreciated about this book is all the adults behaved the way you would expect adults to behave. They were adults. That is something that shouldn't be quite so rare in MG fiction, but is.
There is a whole lot of dramatic action in this plot, some of it violent and full of terror. It causes the book to get off to a crazy start and sucks you in until the very end. I had a very hard time putting it down. It is a book about relationships, home, and family, but there is also a murder investigation going on and a suspect on the loose with the protagonist right in the middle of all that. It makes for an engrossing read. I felt that the drama was not overblown though, it was exactly realistic enough and kept the danger at a distance that is close enough to see as real, but not frighten a child reader. I will also add that this book had its sad moments. I'm not a crier when I read, but this book had me tearing up. I did think the plot and end were predictable (then again I'm an adult reader with years of experience), but the emotions behind the end were strong and conveyed in a perfect non-sappy way.
A Million Ways Home is a great choice for those who enjoy realistic fiction, thrillers, animal stories, or just darn good books.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Scholastic Press, via NetGalley. Million Ways Home goes on sale August 26th. (less)