Middle Grade Review, Reviews, Young Adult Review

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and A Few Other Books You Should Read

I have quite a mix of books in today’s review roundup–YA time travel, adult dual timeline, contemporary middle grade, YA historical fiction, and YA contemporary. So that should offer a little bit of something for everyone!


The Opposite of Always by Jason ReynoldsAs soon as I finished OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS by Justin A. Reynolds, I knew it would be one of my favorite reads of the year (you can hold me to that in December). I mean, it’s a YA involving time travel, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone 😉.

But in case you aren’t familiar, OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS is the story of Jack and Kate, who meet at a party and instantly bond. Over the next four months, Jack falls for Kate, but she dies, and he’s zapped back to the moment he met her. He’s set on a Groundhog Day-type loop—only four months long!—trying to figure out how to save her. In addition, he’s navigating his relationships with his two best friends, Francisco (Franny) and Jillian, and messing things up with both them and his parents at different points.

First off, I love the question this premise poses: If you could do things over, how would you change your actions? But then, what ripple effects do your actions have on others? How many times does it take for you to get things right so that everything turns out the way it needs to? Justin A. Reynolds handles this all so brilliantly. I loved every single character. None of them were perfect—except maybe Jack’s parents. I do love it when characters have awesome parents. Jack makes a lot of mistakes and has a lot of growing to do. It just makes you think.


I posted last week that I love books with dual timelines, and I just finished a good one that happens to be—gasp!—an adult book. THAT SUMMER by Lauren Willig was actually my reward from the summer reading club through the St. Louis County Library last year, and I just now got to it because, well, adult books just aren’t my first choice anymore. But this one was fantastic.

The story alternates between 2009 and 1849. In 2009, Julia has just inherited a house outside London from a great-aunt she never knew. When she goes to start cleaning it out, she discovers a painting hidden in the false back of a wardrobe, and the story reverts to 1849 and Imogen, trapped in a loveless marriage but about to meet an intriguing painter.

The story skillfully switches between Julia trying to solve the mystery of the painting and following the actual story of Imogen. Quite often when I’m reading adult books these days they just seem so LONG, but this one flew by. The pacing between the two plots was fantastic, and both Julia and Imogen had compelling stories. I was rooting for both of them, hoping they’d get a happy ending. I won’t spoil it, though 😉.


From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae MarksI don’t read as much middle grade these days (only 10 out of 109 books in 2019), so when I do it’s usually something that has really caught my attention. I’d seen several people talking about FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON by Janae Marks, then I read the description and was immediately intrigued. I also knew my daughter would love it; throughout the book she kept stopping to tell me what she thought would happen next. I do enjoy when we read a book together! On to the description…

On her 12th birthday, Zoe receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who’s in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. She decides to write back, determined to uncover the truth, even though she has to hide the investigation from her mom and stepdad. They think she’s worried about her bakery internship and proving she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. Will she discover Marcus is lying?

I loved the letters between Zoe and Marcus, and I really liked Marcus as a character. From the description, I expected it to be Marcus trying to convince Zoe of his innocence, but it really was more that he just stated it and accepted where he was, while she was driven to prove it. The supporting cast of characters was fantastic, especially Zoe’s grandma and estranged friend Trevor. Both relationships are so well-drawn, as are her parents. It’s a story about family and friendship and not giving up on the search for justice, even when it seems like it’s too late. I encourage everyone to read this and then to give it to a young reader.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the baking—because that part is awesome too. 🧁


Hood by Jenny Elder MokeDo you have a favorite legendary character? I’ve always loved the tale of Robin Hood, starting with the Disney movie when I was a child. “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” is another favorite. Fun fact: I once sang “Everything I Do I Do It For You” at a wedding. Yes, I can totally claim the title of wedding singer 😉.

But back to the reason for this review, which is the recently released HOOD by Jenny Elder Moke. This latest Robin Hood retelling follows Isabelle of Kirklees, hidden inside a convent with her mother, Marien, since birth. At sixteen, Isabelle is arrested by royal soldiers for defending innocent villagers, and her mother helps her escape and sends her to find her father, Robin Hood.

The story is full of action, and I love how Isabelle is both a strong character but also experiences fear and makes missteps throughout the story. The surrounding cast of characters is also fantastic, focusing mainly on the younger members of the Merry Men but of course with appearances from those we’d expect from the traditional tale. I’m really hoping there will be more stories to come from the world of this re-imagining!


Jackpot by Nic StoneAfter reading DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone, which is quite a serious book, I wanted to try one of her other books. I was interested in the central question of JACKPOT: What would you do if you won the lottery?

After Rico, the main character, sells the jackpot-winning ticket, she enlists the help of wildly popular and rich classmate Zan to help her track down the ticket holder, who hasn’t claimed the prize.

JACKPOT is a quest to find the ticket holder, and there are a lot of fun elements, but it also takes a hard look at class and money, as well as frank discussions about race. So the book still ended up being more serious than I expected, but in a good way. I loved Rico’s younger brother, Jax, and Rico’s growing friendships during the book. There was also a really unique element with interlude chapters from inanimate objects—totally makes sense when you read it :). I stayed up until midnight to finish JACKPOT because I had to find out how it ended! Not going to give it away.


So that’s what I’ve been reading lately. How about you? Anything interesting I should check out?

Middle Grade Review, Reading, Reviews, Young Adult Review

TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and a Few Other Books You Should Read

It’s time for another roundup of mini-reviews! In light of recent events, I took a hard look at my reading habits and realized that while I certainly wasn’t reading all white authors, I wasn’t making a concerted effort to read and support Black authors–or to bring those books to my kids’ attention. So as a family, we are working to expand our reading lists, and today’s roundup reflects some of the amazing new authors I’ve discovered, along with a couple of books I already had on my TBR list.


How often do you start reading a book and immediately know it’s going to be one you truly love and will read again? That’s how I felt within the first few pages of TRULY MADLY ROYALLY by Debbie Rigaud. I’d had this book on my TBR list since it first came out, and now I’m just sad I didn’t read it sooner.

It’s about Zora Emerson, who’s just enrolled in a prestigious summer program, and unexpectedly clicks with Owen Whittelsey, prince of a small European country.

Basically, I loved EVERYTHING about this book. Zora is a strong teen girl who loves her community and doesn’t let obstacles keep her from going after her goals. The chemistry between Zora and Owen is adorable; their corny jokes are the best. And then there’s a great cast of additional characters—Zora’s best friend, Skye, Zora’s family, the kids at her program, and the new friends she makes at school. As a writer, I also loved the plotting—so well done! I’ll definitely add this book to my re-read list, PLUS I discovered Debbie Rigaud has other books available, so I’m going to check those out.

Read this book because it’s awesome. Also because it showcases a Black teen being awesome.


Is there a place you love so much you’ll read pretty much any book set there?

For me, that place is Paris. I’ve only been there once, but it was a magical visit, and I can’t wait to return, so if a book is set there, I’m on it! But when I read the description for THE PAPER GIRL OF PARIS by Jordyn Taylor, I was additionally intrigued by the dual timelines. The story’s about Alice in the present, who has just inherited a mysterious apartment that has been locked for more than 70 years. Once she enters, she discovers her grandmother had a sister, and the story flashes back to Adalyn during World War II, working in the French Resistance against the Nazis.

I loved how this book followed two distinct, heart wrenching family stories—Alice struggling with her mom in the present and Adalyn heartbroken over keeping secrets from her sister (Alice’s grandmother) in the past. The tension within each timeline and even between the two was fantastic. I found myself completely stressed out over Alice’s concern about what her great-aunt was involved in. Plus, there was a really sweet love story in the present and a deeper one in the past. The resolution was very satisfying.

I highly recommend this book, which came out in May. Such a fantastic read!


I got NEW KID by Jerry Craft for my kids to read (mainly my daughter, who loves graphic novels), and they both finished it within 24 hours. Actually, my daughter grabbed it with the words “My best friend read this!” and read it in less than three hours. My son then tore through it by the next morning, so that was a good sign I should read it too.

It’s about Jordan, whose parents enroll him at a prestigious private school where he’s one of the few kids of color in his entire grade. I loved Jordan’s character—his passion for art, love for his family, and struggle to figure out how to fit his different friends and worlds together. This book tackles many different aspects of racism, outright and careless, from other students AND teachers. By seeing it from Jordan’s viewpoint, it’s clear why ALL of those are hurtful and offensive. Even while there are many characters who don’t get things right, there are also hopeful moments throughout the book.

I especially loved the chapter titles and Jordan’s journal entries. I learned so much from this book, and I will definitely be picking up the companion novel, CLASS ACT, this fall.

This book is great to read and discuss with your kids. Also funny and a book kids will re-read.


DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone is about Justyce McAllister, a good kid, an honor student, always there to help a friend—none of which matters to the police officer who handcuffs him over a misunderstanding. Justyce begins studying the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and writing letters to him in a journal, seeking answers. One day, he’s riding in the car with his best friend with the music turned up really loud, sparking the anger of an off-duty cop in the truck beside them. Shots are fired.

I don’t want to get into what happens next because I encourage you to read the book yourself, but this book is extremely powerful and explores a number of different viewpoints and experiences. It delves into several aspects of racism, from daily encounters at Justyce’s school, to his black friend raised mainly in a white community, to the police bias. But it’s also more than just a look at race. It’s about friendship and falling in love and figuring out what you believe about the world and your place in it. It’s extremely well done and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas along these same lines.


This photo shows my expression when I finished reading AURORA BURNING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I had stayed up until 12:15 in the morning to finish the book, and it was a total cliffhanger! But still, the book was an amazing sequel to AURORA RISING, and I can’t wait for the finale!

If you aren’t familiar, the series is about a squad of misfits trying to save the galaxy from an ancient race that assimilates entire planets in its path. The characters are all hilarious, plus there are bonus romantic story lines and tons of action. If you don’t like cliffhangers, wait until the last book comes out to read these 😉.


Now that I’ve told you about some awesome books, I wanted to share a great resource. On June 4, I tuned in to the absolutely fantastic #KidLit4BlackLives Rally on Facebook Live, hosted by The Brown Bookshelf store. If you missed it, there’s a recording on The Brown Bookshelf YouTube Channel. The Brown Bookshelf has put on additional events since, and you can check those out on their Facebook page. One of my key takeaways has been that it’s important to read books that deal with racism directly, but it’s also vital to read and promote books that show Black kids and teens living joyfully.

If you have other book recommendations for me and my family, please pass them along!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

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

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


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

Series Overview

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

What I Liked

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

End

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

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

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


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

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Middle Schooler Series Recommendation: Balance Keepers by Lindsay Cummings

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reviews, Young Adult Review

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY and A Few Other Books You Should Read

Last week was a little crazy for my kids so I gave them a week off of reviewing, but I do hope to have a series review from my sixth grader next Monday. However, he will officially finish sixth grade this Thursday, so now I’m wondering if that means I have to start calling him a seventh grader. What do you think?

In any case, I have several young adult books to share with you this week. It’s quite a mix of serious and lighthearted contemporary, along with a historical mystery. I hope you find something you’d like to read!


If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauleyDo you tend toward lighthearted or serious books? I definitely prefer to laugh and in general shy away from books I fear could bring on tears. The exception is when I know the author—and it turns out a lot of my writer friends like to tackle serious topics!

IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY by fellow #PitchWars17 mentee Kyrie McCauley is yet another example of why it’s so important to read books outside your normal comfort zone.

The book is set in small-town Pennsylvania, which is being invaded by tens of thousands of crows. They don’t bother seventeen-year-old Leighton, who already lives in a house that inexplicably repairs itself every time her father loses his temper and breaks things. She’s focused on finishing out her senior year and deciding whether going away to college is worth leaving her sisters. While her father’s rage and the crows both increase, Leighton allows herself to get close to her charming classmate Liam. (Note that Kyrie includes a content warning on her website that the book includes realistic depictions of domestic violence that may be disturbing for some readers.)

Yes, this book tackles the very serious topic of domestic violence. It addresses how both the characters experiencing it and those who know about it—or suspect—respond, which is a very important conversation to have. It’s something we should be thinking about and aware of. So, yes, it’s hard, but if it’s a topic you can handle, then it’s worth reading.

But IF THESE WINGS COULD FLY is much more than an issue book. There’s sisterhood with all of its complications, first love with its mix of confusion and exhilaration, and a girl finding her internal strength. PLUS, there are the crows, which I’m not even sure exactly how to describe. There’s a sense of magic to the crows and yet Leighton also finds scientific explanations for much of what they do. It’s fascinating. Both the crows and the house are rich metaphors throughout the book.

I’m so glad I read this book and will be continuing to think about it. I definitely recommend it, with the caveat about the content if that may be an issue. What a powerful read!

I’ve been making a more concerted effort this year to read books by debut authors, and THE SILENCE OF BONES by June Hur is one that caught my attention early on. Set in 1800 in Joseon (Korea), the story follows 16-year-old Seol, indentured to the police bureau as a damo. She must assist a well-respected young inspector investigating the murder of a noblewoman. She forms an unlikely friendship with the inspector, but when he becomes the chief suspect, she might be the only one who can discover the truth—a challenging prospect in a time and place where a young girl is expected to be silent and obedient.

I’m always intrigued by a good mystery, but this book had the added element of a setting I’d never experienced before. I’ve read a lot of historical, but never in this specific part of the world. It was both interesting and frustrating to read Seol’s experiences. In addition to the investigation, Seol had a separate goal—to find her brother, who had left home a decade before and never returned. The two stories kept weaving together in unexpected ways. And the investigation itself ended up twisting in a number of directions, exploring both personal and political relationships. At times the book was quite harsh to read, but it was also very well done. I really enjoyed how well everything all fit together and the final resolution.


Moment of Truth by Kasie WestI read MOMENT OF TRUTH by Kasie West in less than 24 hours. It’s no surprise, since I’m a huge Kasie West fan and basically love every book she writes.

It’s about 16-year-old Hadley Moore, whose whole life is dedicated to swimming. And the story starts off with an important meet being disrupted by a guy dressed up as a Hollywood action hero crashing it. This masked hero has made a habit of going around town performing crazy stunts, but it’s the first time he’s messed with her. So of course she makes it her mission to discover who he is.

I really enjoyed the mystery of the masked character—and the eventual solution (which I totally figured out way before Hadley did). But as with all of Kasie West’s books, what I enjoyed most was the friendship, family, and love story. Hadley had a lot of self-discovery to go through in this story, and it wasn’t an easy path for her to follow. I’m also a sucker for a jokester love interest, but that’s all I want to say about that since even the description doesn’t say much about the love interest 😉.

I think I am STILL behind on Kasie West’s books. But hey, it’s something to aspire to as a writer—that readers can’t keep up!


What I Like About You by Marisa KanterI’ve wanted to read WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU by Marisa Kanter ever since I read the description and sample in PitchWars in 2017. It’s so gratifying when a book delivers on the premise, and this one totally does. I read the whole thing in a single day, while my family was participating in an at-home camping trip. I definitely belonged inside with a book while they were cycling 15 miles in the rain and camping in the front yard!

The premise of WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU is that three years ago Halle Levitt created a pseudonym when she started her cupcake-themed book blog. None of her online friends—including best friend Nash—know her true identity. When she moves in with her grandpa for senior year, she meets Nash in real life but is too scared to tell him who she is, embroiling herself in a love triangle with herself.

I really enjoyed how Halle grew during the story, learning what it means to be a friend and also working through her grief (a major plot involves the fairly recent death of her grandmother). Also, the take on books was really interesting. I’d love to see one of these cupcake cover recreations!


THE PERFECT ESCAPE by Suzanne Park truly was the perfect escape from all the craziness in the world. It’s about Nate Kim, a Korean-American teen who works at a zombie-themed escape room, and Kate Anderson, an aspiring teen actress with an over-controlling dad. Together, they team up for a survivalist competition for a huge cash prize.

I’m always up for a zombie story—real or imagined—and this one delivered. But it also dealt with a number of real-life family issues for both characters. They come from very different worlds, and yet they share a love for zombies and campy jokes, and their survival skills are the perfect complement for each other. Their love story isn’t an easy one, but it feels real. I really appreciated the resolution for everyone involved.


I just realized that four of these are 2020 debut books and two are PitchWars 2017 classmates! I can’t afford to buy every book I’d like to, but I’m trying to support other authors however I can during these times. I hope you are too!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Fourth Grader Review: THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM by Sarah Beth Durst

My sixth grader spent last week reading The Hunger Games trilogy, which isn’t really a fit for MMGM, so I recruited my fourth grader once again. One of the good things that has happened during stay-at-home orders is the availability of online content from authors. On April 9, a group of authors celebrated International Unicorn Day with live readings and interactive events. My daughter participated in several of these and has since discovered four new authors. Sarah Beth Durst is one of those, and here is my daughter’s review of THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM.


The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth DurstSophie’s favorite place in the world is the hidden shop beneath her parent’s bookstore where dreams are bought and sold to select and secretive strangers. Sophie is fascinated by dreams — weird, scary, or magical — in part because she has never had a single dream of her own.

When the shop’s dreams are stolen and her mother and father go mysteriously missing, Sophie must unravel the truth to save her parents. Together with her best friend — a wisecracking and fanatically loyal monster named Monster — she must decide who to trust with her family’s carefully-guarded secrets. Who will help them, and who will betray them?

THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM is a story that takes place in a shop and a house. The main character, Sophie, lives there in the shop, and there is a house in the upper levels. In the house, they go on an adventure. The setting is important. I like how the setting is not all over the place, there are two main settings. The shop and the house. Dun dun daaaaa!!!! (Mysterious music plays.)

Sophie is cautious and smart, yet also very brave. Sophie will face things that some kids do not know about. Sophie’s friend, Monster, is a monster. He is protective and funny. He is probably my favorite character. The people in this story are amazing!!!

The story overall is awesome. It involves action, fights, monsters and friends. I could go on about what awesome things it has. I would recommend this book. It made me fall in love with the characters and the friends. If you like all the things I listed, you will like this book. I loved it!! (This is when everybody reads this book.)


Ha! Is this when you go read the book? I hope so!

To learn about other middle grade books, visit the Marvelous Middle Grade blog hop at Always in the Middle…

Reviews, Young Adult Review

10 BLIND DATES and A Few Other YA Books You Should Read

I intended to have another MMGM this week–this time from my fourth grader–but some other school work took precedence, and my sixth grader didn’t have another one prepared to jump in. However, I’ve been catching up on my own reading and realized I’d piled up quite a few mini-reviews. So here are a few young adult books I really loved. If you’d like to see these reviews as I post them, you can follow me on Instagram at @michelleimason.


10 Blind Dates by Ashley ElstonI’ve been intending to read 10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston for months. I finally started it last week—and finished it within a day. The story’s about Sophie, who stays home from Christmas break to be with her boyfriend—only he breaks up with her. Her huge family decides to console her by setting her up on 10 blind dates (giving her Christmas Eve and Day off). I was already on board from this setup alone, but here are the five things I loved best about it.

1. The dates! From participating in a nativity to bowling in costume, these dates were hilarious and sometimes cringe-worthy. I loved how creative they were and couldn’t wait to see what the family members would come up with next.
2. The guys – I half-expected every guy picked out to be awful, but that wasn’t the case at all (I mean, some were). It was a really great representation of different types of guys.
3. The love interest – If you pick up this book, the description does not give anything away about who she ends up with, so I won’t here either, but the chemistry was fantastic.
4. Sophie’s family – So crazy but also wonderful. Also, I really loved the dynamic with her cousins and how she regained her closeness with them throughout the book.
5. Sophie’s sister – There was a more serious side plot going on with Sophie’s sister on bedrest, about to have a baby. I think sometimes writers are afraid to include a serious note in a romantic comedy, but it added a really great balance to the story. After all, that’s how life is.

So, that’s my take on 10 BLIND DATES, a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. If you’ve read it too, let me know your thoughts!


Lovely War by Julie BerryI really enjoyed the unique storytelling of LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry. It’s a YA historical with a fantastical twist, told from the viewpoints of Aphrodite and other Greek gods. Interestingly, the gods are in the time of World War II, looking back on two love stories from World War I. Hazel, a shy pianist, meets James, an aspiring architect, right before he ships off for the front. Aubrey, a talented jazz musician and part of an all African-American regiment, meets YMCA volunteer Colette, who has lost her entire family and first love to German brutality. I loved the short chapters and back and forth between the gods debating the importance of love, war, and music versus the actual stories of these young people living through an unspeakable time.

Every one of these characters was compelling. I was drawn to their stories and hoping they would have happy endings, even while I expected the worst in a brutal war that took so many lives. I really appreciated how this story was told and highly recommend it.


I kept seeing this book all over Instagram, and the title alone was enough to make me want to read it. I’m a total sucker for clever titles. But then I read the description, and TWEET CUTE by Emma Lord is basically like YOU’VE GOT MAIL.

Pepper runs her family fast food chain’s Twitter account, and when the chain steals Jack’s family deli’s grilled cheese recipe, he engages in a Twitter war with her. Meanwhile, at school, they’ve never gotten along, but start getting to know each other and maybe even fall for each other. Add in an anonymous app they’re talking to each other on, which the reader is clued into.

I seriously couldn’t put this book down. I read it in a single day, despite currently drafting a book, starting eLearning with my kids, and everything else that goes with all of us being home. So that should tell you something about this book. It’s smart, fun, fast-paced, and a great escape from the anxiety and worry around us. Check it out!


I read the first book in this series, A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY, last year and loved it. I loved this one even more.

I found it interesting that with the exception of a couple of brief chapters, this book is written from two completely different points of view, leaving the reader wondering what’s happening with the two original characters. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I was quickly drawn into the stories of Grey and Lia Mara. They are both incredibly well-developed characters facing really tough choices. But I also really appreciated the secondary characters. With a couple of them, I wasn’t sure whether I should be rooting for them too or not. I was turning pages quickly to find out!

But really, in general I was turning pages quickly to get to the end of this book. I was reading this at a time when I had very little reading time due to other commitments, and this book made me snatch time whenever I could to find out what would happen next. I was so worried the characters would make the wrong decisions—and that they might not have any other options. The stakes are so well done. I can’t wait for the finale. Well done, Brigid Kemmerer!
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Also, super excited this book is from my publisher, Bloomsbury 😍.


I love getting so sucked into a book that I read it long into the night, which is what happened to me with THE AFTERLIFE OF HOLLY CHASE by Cynthia Hand. There was one night I had 100 pages left at 11:15 and almost went for it. But I do have kids to wrangle in the mornings :).

I read this book right before Christmas, and it was a perfect read during that time. A Scrooge retelling, it follows Holly Chase, who was visited five years ago by the three Ghosts and didn’t mend her ways, so she died. Ever since, she’s been working for Project Scrooge as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past, and she stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on without her. She’s pretty miserable, until the latest Scrooge is unveiled as a seventeen-year-old boy with a story very similar to her own and she embarks on a quest to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake she did.

I loved how Cynthia Hand approached this retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic tale, updating it for a modern audience. Holly was an interesting character to me because she wasn’t very likable for much of the book—but then, she was a Scrooge, so that makes sense. Her character arc is what makes this book great. One of the reasons I couldn’t put the book down was that I wasn’t sure how it would all end, but I finished it satisfied. Even though the holidays are now over, I still highly recommend this book. If you aren’t up for reading off-season, grab it and hold on until this December!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: THE CHANGELINGS by Christina Soontornvat

Yes, you read that right–I have another review of a Christina Soontornvat book this week. I’m going to just turn this completely over to my sixth grader today instead of quoting his review, but first, I’ll explain that we met Christina last year at OMG BookFest, and he picked up a signed copy of THE CHANGELINGS. He always has a row of about 20 new books waiting to be read because books are all he asks for at Christmas and his birthday, but he loves to go back and re-read books. So even though he reads 4-5 books a week, probably 3-4 of those are re-reads. Anyway, after reading A WISH IN THE DARK, he pulled out THE CHANGELINGS, and here is his review. Everything below the line is from him 😀.


I loved The Changelings. The Changelings is my favorite book I’ve read this month. Here is the preview…

The Changelings by Christina SoontornvatAll Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes. A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offer to help, but she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl who looks like a ghost, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.

That sounds exciting… Doesn’t it? Well it gets better. I couldn’t put it down. Izzy as a character is amazing. She starts out wanting/needing adventure more than anything else. But when her sister goes missing, well, that quote on the cover just about sums it up: “Everything seemed boring…until now.” It causes her to realize how much she can do to help as she mysteriously goes down a hole. Kind of like Alice in Wonderland, right? She grows to realize who she really is.

Another thing that I like about this book is the other characters she meets along the way. She meets a band of rebels, named Lug, Dree, and Selden. They each bring to the story in their own unique way. Lug provides comic relief to the fullest with his ability to make others laugh. Dree gives the story a skeptic so everyone doesn’t go off the rails and ruin what they are doing. She also is a very good friend once Izzy has her trust. Selden is more gruff and mysterious. He keeps everyone from killing themselves. He begins to become more trusting and open. Selden has the best character development of all of them.

And a final thing that I like is the setting. Faerie is magical. It is covered in huge forests, rivers, mountains, and overly large boneyards. (That last part scares me, we aren’t told why it’s there!) But the people are magical too. It’s not that they have magic (though some of them do), but there is almost every fairy creature imaginable. You name it, it’s there.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Changelings. After reading The Changelings, try the next one, In a Dark Land.

See spoilers below:

 

 

YOU ACTUALLY THINK I WAS GOING TO GIVE YOU SPOILERS!?!? NO WAY!!!!

Kid Review, Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Sixth Grader Review: MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner

Hi everyone! With my kids home from school, I’ve invited them to participate in reviews. First up is my sixth grader with a review of MY LIFE AS A POTATO by Arianne Costner. This book just came out last week, and as I’m sure you can imagine, debuting during quarantine is quite challenging. We are excited to help spread the word about this awesome book!

First of all, Arianne sent out some amazing pre-order gifts, and last I heard, she still had some extras available due to canceled events. You can see details on her Instagram here. But here’s a picture of my son with the book and swag, followed by a description of the book.

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are doomed. Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he goes to great lengths to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

And now I’m going to hand this review over to my sixth grader. He’s going to switch up the format from my usual five things, so here we go…

All right. MY LIFE AS A POTATO was an amazing book. I couldn’t put it down, and I finished it in a day. Ben is a seventh grader that moves to the school in Idaho. He makes you feel what it is like to be a new kid in a new school where things are different, even if you’ve never been a new kid before. Ben gives the story the feeling that it actually is real and influences the story in so many ways.

It made me laugh when he dressed as Steve the Spud, fell down, and rolled into the cheerleader pyramid, and all the cheerleaders screamed as they fell on top of him. That’s just one example of the funny stuff that happened in the book.

It was an always-be-yourself moral, but it was more about having good friends by your side who won’t care what you’re doing. It’s important to be yourself and if your friends are good, they’ll support you no matter what. I really liked that moral.

Arianne Costner really helped the story come to life by using description that made you feel like you were in the story.

I can’t wait to read this book myself! I’ll be bringing you more sixth grader reviews–and maybe a fourth grader review or two–while we’re at home. Thanks for stopping by!

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MG Review: WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR by Ally Carter

I can’t believe it’s already March and I haven’t posted a single review this year! But it has been a very busy year. If you saw my other post with the mention of my best friend, she has moved to a rehab hospital, and there are further updates on the GoFundMe page started by her parents. She still has a long road ahead but is improving!

I didn’t quite get this review together in time to submit it for MMGM, but I still wanted to post it today. It’s no secret I love Ally Carter’s books, so when I discovered she was writing a middle grade book, I was super excited my kids would finally be able to read one of them. I took my son, who just turned 12, to her signing here in St. Louis on March 1. It was the first tour stop for WINTERBORNE HOME FOR VENGEANCE AND VALOR. My son was totally in this picture, but he doesn’t like having his picture posted, so I cropped him out, and he was the one holding the book :). But on to the review!

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor by Ally CarterApril didn’t mean to start the fire. She wasn’t the one who broke the vase. April didn’t ask to go live in a big, creepy mansion with a bunch of orphans who just don’t understand that April isn’t like them. After all, April’s mother is coming back for her someday very soon.

All April has to do is find the clues her mother left inside the massive mansion. But Winterborne House is hiding more than one secret, so April and her friends are going to have to work together to unravel the riddle of a missing heir, a creepy legend, and a mysterious key before the only home they’ve ever known is lost to them forever.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – This book is described as Annie meets Batman, and it’s an absolutely perfect description. I was hooked on that alone.

2. The pacing – Here’s how quick a read this book is: We bought it on March 1, and both my son and I have finished it already. When we met Ally, she particularly asked if I’d let her know how he liked it (guessing she doesn’t have a lot of 12-year-old boy readers), and he loved it. As soon as he was finished, he handed it to me and asked me to read so we could talk about it after. We’re both now anxious for the next one :).

3. Gabriel Winterborne – So, I haven’t been on Twitter a lot the last few months, but some of the other Ally Carter fans in the audience had, and I guess Ally had already prepped them with her love for Gabriel. Honestly, my son was a bit uncomfortable with that part of the book discussion ;). Basically, Gabriel has been presumed dead for 10 years and is hiding out for reasons you discover during the course of the story. He’s broody and tough but also cares a lot more than he wants the kids to know. I totally got his appeal :).

4. The kids – I loved this group of kids who became April’s family as she got to know them. From Sadie the inventor to Tim the protector and Colin the grifter, they were all great additions to the team and her family. Oh, and we can’t forget sweet Violet the artist.

5. The mystery – Quite a bit was wrapped up in this book, but there was a mystery from the very beginning that never was solved, and I loved how the very end of the book left more than one point open. I’m definitely ready to read more!

I love that Ally Carter has branched into middle grade. I’m sure this is going to be passed on to my daughter as well before long. Looking forward to the next one!