YA Review: MY LADY JANE by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

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Me at the Tower of London in 2007. It’s a very dark place!

All you have to do is read the dedication to know this book is going to be awesome:

For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door.

And for England. We’re really sorry for what we’re about to do to your history.

Well, I’m not! Because then I wouldn’t have read this awesome revisionist history of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England. Admittedly, before I read MY LADY JANE, I had only a passing memory that Lady Jane Grey existed (although I have been to the Tower of London, so I’d heard her story at some point). I’ve now thoroughly refreshed my memory after reading this delightful story. But I guess I should share the description for those of you who haven’t heard about it yet.

My Lady Jane by The Lady JaniesThe comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.

 

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The way the authors revised history – The actual story of Lady Jane Grey, queen for nine days, is quite tragic. She was a victim of a power struggle and really didn’t have a chance. What’s interesting to me is how the authors took the central historical issue –religion–and turned it into a magical conflict. Because why shouldn’t Catholics and Protestants become Verities and Edians (animal shape shifters)? Obviously it’s not such a straightforward swap, but essentially that’s how they revised the history, and it’s completely brilliant!

2. The prologue – Yes, I love the prologue! Because it sets the stage for the story so perfectly. You know how the description above compares this story to The Princess Bride? It’s such a great comparison because the authors speak to the reader. From the very beginning, the reader is encouraged not to take it too seriously, and yet, even though you expect things can’t end well for the characters based on the actual history, you’re hoping they’re going to fix it.

3. The dialogue – I particularly love the banter between Jane and Gifford, but the dialogue throughout the book is excellent. Here’s an example from shortly after Jane has discovered her new husband Gifford is an Edian who transforms into a horse every day.

“No horse jokes,” he said.

“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book–unharmed!–I will give you a carrot.”

He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”

“Neigh.”

“Was that a horse joke?”

I almost gave humor it’s own separate point, but since you can see it in this point about the dialogue …

4. Edward – In the history books Edward dies young, leaves his crown to Jane (who becomes the tragic heroine and now gets a book named after her), one sister (Bloody Mary) takes over, and then his other sister (Elizabeth) becomes one of the best-known monarchs in British history. I like this version of Edward, a dying teenager who cares about his best friend, Jane, and has never known anything other than being a coddled king but would like to experience life if he could only get around his death sentence. I was rooting for him to escape the machinations of the court, but I wouldn’t dream of telling you whether he does🙂.

5. The romance – I was cautious about the romance considering the setup. Things did not look promising for our characters, but in the end I was very pleased with how the romance played out in this book. And that’s all I’ll say so as to avoid spoiling it.

Definitely pick up MY LADY JANE. And since I loved this book so much, I obviously need to read the other books these authors have written. Any recommendations on where to start?

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YA Review: P.S. I LIKE YOU by Kasie West

I don’t know where the month of August went reading-wise. I guess I spent it reading that romance novel series I mentioned in my post about reading just for fun🙂. I have to admit that as much as I was enjoying my romance novels, it’s quite a long series and I started longing for YA again, so I took a break in the middle to binge-read a YA series I’d never read before–the Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart. I’m not going to review it because Ruby’s boy-crazy antics sort of drove me crazy, even though I couldn’t stop reading for four books, so … I have to admire Ms. Lockhart for keeping me engaged despite my frustrations with the character. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure. But the purpose of this post is to rave about a book I absolutely adored. I expected to because I’ve loved every other book of Kasie West’s. I’m so glad P.S. I LIKE YOU lived up to the long wait for a new Kasie West book!

P.S. I Like You by Kasie WestSigned, sealed, delivered…

While spacing out in Chemistry class, Lily scribbles some of her favorite song lyrics onto her desk. The next day, she finds that someone has continued the lyrics on the desk, and added a message to her. Intrigue!

Soon, Lily and her anonymous pen pal are exchanging full-on letters — sharing secrets, recommending bands, and opening up to each other. Lily realizes she’s kind of falling for this letter writer. Only who is he? As Lily attempts to unravel the mystery, and juggle school, friends, crushes, and her crazy family, she discovers that matters of the heart can’t always be spelled out…

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I mean, Kasie West basically found a way to turn You’ve Got Mail into a YA novel, without going the obvious route of texting. I’m sure there’s a way that could have worked, too, but I really liked the letters. Actually, they could be a whole point themselves, but I’ll let them tag along with this one. I loved how the anonymity of the letters allowed Lily and her pen pal to know each other on a deeper level without the usual insecurities you have face to face.

2. The backstory – Wait, what, you’re saying? I’m not sure I’ve ever listed backstory as something I love in a book before, but it’s so relevant in this one. These characters have some major hangups that prevent them from moving forward. Without that backstory, this would be a short story instead of a novel. It’s very well done. *slow clap*

3. The friendship – I love Lily and Isabel’s friendship throughout the book. It’s solid at the beginning, and yet there are still some obstacles they have to figure out how to deal with to make sure they stay solid.

4. Lily’s family – They’re big and crazy, but they also love each other. I especially enjoyed Lily’s parents, who ask their kids to vote on who makes a better necklace or pie. And all of the sibling dynamics rang true, with both the love and frustrations of being one of four kids.

5. The romance – I already mentioned the letters, but obviously that’s not all there is to the romance. I don’t want to risk giving anything away, so I can’t gush too much. Suffice it to say the romantic tension is off the charts.

I really loved this book, maybe even more than THE FILL-IN BOYFRIEND. Or not–it’s so hard to choose. Fortunately Kasie West’s next book is coming in February, so it’s not that long of a wait. If you’ve read P.S. I LIKE YOU, what did you think?

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Sometimes You Should Just Read for Fun

This summer I started and set aside four young adult novels in a row. They were all books I thought I should read for one reason or another. An agent I was interested in querying represented the book. A writer I respected wrote the book. A writer I respected recommended the book. Or dozens of writers on Twitter were raving about the book. And yet when I picked it up, I just couldn’t get into it. It was an unfortunate coincidence that this happened four times in a row. Often even if I’m not loving a book, I’m still engaged enough to read through to the end. But these just weren’t for me, and that’s ok. It’s called subjectivity, and it’s a real thing that we’re so often on the receiving end of as writers. It’s not surprising we experience it as readers, too.

I was so burned out on trying new books that might disappoint me, I turned to my trusty bookcase downstairs. I don’t keep a book unless I intend to read it again. IMG_2894All 608 of these … ok, yes, I know exactly how many books are on these shelves, and this is where you might start to think I’m a little crazy. My husband certainly does! The thing was, when I went down to decide what to read, I realized I always go back to the same books, despite the fact I’d once loved each of these books enough to want to read them again. So I decided to catalogue them all in a spreadsheet. And since I’ve been tracking what I read on this blog since 2012, I added a column marking that so I wouldn’t fall back on the same old favorites before I gave another book a chance again.

What have I discovered from this so far? Well, I used Random.org to tell me what I should read, and I started an older trilogy from one of my favorite romance authors. I … didn’t love it anymore, so I decided it could be removed from the shelves (leaving room for new books to love!). But the next series it told me to read has been a revelation on the joy of  losing myself in the words. It’s a historical romance novel series, so it’s completely different from anything I’d write. I’m five books into it, and I’m just enjoying the stories and the characters (who are delightfully unique in each book!). It’s true I can’t completely shut my writing mind off even with these books, but it’s nice not to be thinking about the market or who represents the author or how I would write a review for the book.

Because sometimes you should just read for fun.

And if you have fun making spreadsheets for your books, that’s just a side benefit🙂.

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Procrastination, Thy Name Is Michelle

I’ve had brainstorming a new project on my to-do list for weeks. It’s remained there while I’ve crossed off everything around it and found other tasks to busy myself with. It’s gotten to the point of being downright ridiculous. But this is not a new problem for me. Three years ago I listed Procrastination as the first step in my drafting process. It’s not a joke. It’s a very real hump I must trudge over before I start working on a new project.

Do you love drafting? Good for you! I wish I did! Unfortunately I’m on the side of preferring revision. Seriously. Loooove revision!

I’m finding it even harder to get over the procrastination hump this time because it’s been so long since I wrote something completely new–almost two years. (Yikes!) My most recent project is a rewrite of an earlier manuscript, so although it included a significant amount of new content, I wasn’t starting from scratch. If only there were a way the draft could always magically appear on the page …

But as much as I’d rather fix words that already exist, I’ve had an itch to work on something new, and an idea has been tugging at me. It’s still a fledgling idea. I don’t have a clue what to do with it yet. That’s why I need to brainstorm. So consider this my call for accountability. I will plan out this new story, and barring any new distractions that would be a really good excuse for returning to one of my other projects (I’m sure anyone browsing my blog can figure out what would be considered an acceptable distraction), my goal will be to start drafting Oct. 1.

Considering this blog post is another distraction from the brainstorming, I’d better get to it!

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YA Review: DREAM A LITTLE DREAM by Kerstin Gier

I can’t believe it’s been more than a month since I reviewed a young adult book, but that’s all right. I enjoyed catching up on the middle grade, too. Today I’m reviewing a book I picked up because I thought it might work as a comp title for my violin story, and the magic side of it does, so bonus! But also, I thoroughly enjoyed it, so here goes.

Dream A Little Dream by Kerstin GierMysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv’s dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she’s in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.

The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They’re classmates from her new school in London, the school where she’s starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what’s really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn’t possibly know–unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute….

 

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

1. Liv’s pull into the boys’ world – Based on the description, you can see this dream world is nothing to joke about. There’s some serious stuff going on there, but Ms. Gier does an excellent job convincing the reader Liv would continue exploring it despite the danger. Her drive to solve a mystery no matter what overrides her self-preservation, and it kept me engaged even when I wanted to shout, “Get out while you can, Liv!”

2. The literary quotes – As Liv is a fan of Sherlock Holmes (thus the mystery focus), by far the most quotes are from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but Liv also loves poetry, and both she and the boys quote from various poets throughout the book. It was originally written in German, so there are also references to German poets and folk songs. Oh! And after she sees Hamlet, there’s a quite funny dream involving it …

3. The secondary characters – From Liv and her sister Mia’s Christmas-loving au pair Lottie, to full-of-himself Jasper (who she labels Shaving Fun Ken), to Persephone Porter-Pergrin chattering non-stop until she freezes at the sight of Jasper, each character is so well-drawn. I also enjoyed how Ms. Gier used the dream doors to represent the characters in the fantasy world.

4. The swoon-worthy boys – While the description makes it seem like all four of these boys are to be admired, really only two of them deserve attention from a personality standpoint. One of them–Grayson–is off-limits as Liv’s future stepbrother, which leaves Henry. He’s cocky, obnoxious, and continually leaves Liv guessing–which is probably why I loved him. Some readers might not like this kind of boy, but I generally do. Note that Liv tends to be rather cocky and outspoken herself, so it’s a good fit. I enjoyed the romance side of the story, and since it’s planned as a trilogy, I’m interested in seeing where it goes.

5. The ending – I wasn’t sure how this book would leave room for further stories, but it managed to tie up the main story and then end with rather a cliffhanger. However, it wasn’t the kind of cliffhanger I found frustrating. I’m anxious to read the next book but not foaming at the mouth🙂.

Overall, I thought this book was a unique take on dreams, and I really enjoyed the setting. Have you read DREAM A LITTLE DREAM? What did you think?

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MMGM: RUBY REINVENTED by Ronni Arno

I can’t remember the last time I had two MMGMs in a row, but here we are! When I attended NESCBWI this spring, I met several middle grade writers, and I’m still working my way through the books I acquired. One of those books, RUBY REINVENTED, I picked up because I’d read a blog post by author Ronni Arno that included a blurb at the end. So blog tours definitely work! Also, the author herself is absolutely delightful.

Ruby Reinvented by Ronni ArnoWhen 12-year-old Ruby Miller learns that her BFFs are only friends with her because of her famous parents, she finds a place far from celebrity-crazy Hollywood–a Maine boarding school.

In her panic to distance herself from her star-studded folks, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful lying to her weird but wonderful roommate Summer (the first real friend Ruby has ever had), but not awful enough. In fact, now that nobody’s comparing her to her remarkable parents, Ruby can finally let her unique talents as a dress designer take center stage.

But when Ruby finds herself connecting with a boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parents’ Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret… without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her own fashion show.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. Ruby’s lie – Wait, you’re probably thinking, you love that she lies? Well, no, I don’t love that she lies. What I love is how this lie changes her. It’s awful that she lies, but the lie is what leads to her discovering what’s truly important–and it’s not completely what she expects it to be.

2. The parents – Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows I like to highlight parents, and I particularly like the two sets of parents featured in this book. First we have Ruby’s parents, who are mega-stars. They love Ruby but perhaps have as much to learn as she does. And then there are Summer’s parents, who give Ruby a glimpse of a different kind of family, without paparazzi and handlers. I like how both are handled in the book.

3. The crush – Ruby is so adorable with her crush on Connor, all mixed up with her guilt over not being honest with him. I really appreciated how they got to know each other and the resolution to their story.

4. The friendships – There’s a reason friendship is the focus of so many MG books. Many kids base their worth on their friendships at this age. Ruby certainly does at the beginning of the book. While that’s not healthy, it’s a new friend who helps Ruby see her own value and gain confidence in herself. By the end of the story, I had hope for Ruby’s future friendships and how she’ll view her place in them.

5. The fashion – I loved that Ruby was passionate about fashion and had learned how to create her own designs with her nanny, Ellie. As a side note, her relationship with Ellie was also very sweet. The descriptions of the dresses really came to life, and the way they fit into the overall story was perfect.

If you haven’t read RUBY REINVENTED, I recommend you pick it up!

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MMGM: THE SEVENTH WISH by Kate Messner

If you’re part of the kidlit community, perhaps you’ve heard about author Kate Messner being uninvited from a school because of the content of her latest book, THE SEVENTH WISH, which addresses the story of a young girl whose older sister becomes addicted to heroin. If not, you can read about it here (there’s also an update at the bottom). As a parent, I understand the desire to shield your child from what may seem like a far-off reality. But as someone who’s already had to explain addiction to my six and eight-year-old in at least basic terms because they’ve seen the consequences of it, I understand the importance of a book like THE SEVENTH WISH. Am I going to give it to my children  now? Of course not. But with the right preparation and discussion, and when they’re old enough, yes. This book is entirely appropriate both to show kids why they should avoid addictive substances and to help a child close to an addict.

The Seventh Wish by Kate MessnerWhen Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s cold winter lake, she’s hoping the perch she reels in will help pay for a fancy Irish dancing solo dress. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day offers her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down.

Charlie catches the fish again and again, but each time, her wishes go terribly and hilariously wrong. Just when things are finally starting to turn around, a family crisis with her older sister forces Charlie to accept the fact that some of the toughest challenges in life can’t be fixed by wishing.

 

Instead of my usual five things I loved most about the book, I’m going to do five reasons you should read this book.

1. Charlie’s honesty – Even before her sister’s addiction surfaces, Charlie feels secondary in her family, and she struggles with her own reactions to that. I loved how honest she was about herself and where she fit into everything. She’s angry with Abby, even while her heart is breaking. My heart was breaking, too.

2. The theme – It says it right there in the description, so I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by sharing it. You can’t wish away your problems. Every time Charlie makes a wish, it gets twisted up somehow. I especially like the wish about the boy, but I won’t spoil that.

3. The truths – Some of this goes along with the honesty, but there was a particular passage toward the end that really hit home for me.

Instead of showing those videos with the greasy-haired people in D.A.R.E. classes, they should show kids like Abby. Soccer forwards and calculus students, student council presidents and homecoming queens and big sisters. They should show those people lying to their families and sitting ashamed in the hospital, tugging on their sleeves to hide the marks on their arms, struggling to breathe, crying when they have to tell the truth. That because they broke a promise they made in fifth grade, nothing can ever be the same.

Wow. On another note, there’s a teacher in Maine who received an advanced copy of the book last October and worked with her school’s D.A.R.E. officer to create a program using the book. Her post about it and the video at the end of the kids speaking to their future selves is so powerful.

4. Charlie’s friends – I love how unique each of them is. Drew with his gross facts. Catherine with her flour baby. Dasha with her coding. Charlie has a solid group of friends to support and distract her.

5. The dancing and the fishing – Yes, these are two completely different things, but they end up being tied together for Charlie. She needs money to buy her Irish dancing dress, so she goes out ice fishing with Drew and his grandma to earn more and becomes a rather proficient fisherman. Well, then there’s that magic fish … The point is, there’s more to the story than what happens with Abby.

I hope more schools will find ways to incorporate THE SEVENTH WISH and other books like it. Addiction is an important topic, and more kids are affected by it–even at an early age–than they may realize. Yes, educators should be cautious about what they give kids to read at what age. I’m all for that. But if you pair a book like this with a curriculum discussing the topic, it would be so beneficial.

Ok, I’m going to step off my soapbox now. Have you read THE SEVENTH WISH? What are your thoughts?

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