Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD by Jane Nickerson

I came across Jane Nickerson’s STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD on an agent website and decided to check it out. I’m so glad I did because it was the sort of book I didn’t know I was looking for but absolutely loved. I couldn’t put down this southern Gothic historical and was sneaking chapters during the car ride with my kids on spring break. Here’s the cover and description.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane NickersonWhen seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

And here are the five things I loved most.

1. The villain – STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD is a retelling of the tale of Bluebeard, and I confess I’m not familiar with it, so I went and looked it up (I totally should have waited until afterward so I wouldn’t have spoiled anything). But anyway, I really loved the character Ms. Nickerson created with Bernard de Cressac. He’s a perfect villain because of his charm. He puts a sort of spell on Sophie so that even while she knows he’s reeling her into a dangerous web, she keeps convincing herself he’s really not who she suspects. So well done!

2. The setting – I felt like I was in Mississippi with Sophie, experiencing the mosquitoes and the humidity, exploring the ancient abbey transported across the ocean. All of M. de Cressac’s extravagant touches came to life in each scene, and I was transported to another time. Gorgeous!

3. The tension – I wouldn’t call this a fast-paced book, and yet I was compelled to keep turning pages to find out how Sophie would handle each escalating tightening of the noose on her life. And while the tension was physical, it was more than that. Sophie had to decide how much of herself she would give up, walking on eggshells with M. de Cressac with each demand he made. While in today’s society, we might think it would be easy to walk away, it was not an easy decision for her.

4. Sophie’s growth – Sophie spends a significant portion of the book in self-denial, and while it was frustrating at times, it was also understandable based on her background and situation in life. I enjoyed watching her figure out the truth and come into her adulthood during the story, both in regard to standing up for her principles (there’s a subplot regarding slavery) and herself.

5. The mystery – The thread of mystery throughout the story was fantastic, as Sophie followed the clues about M. de Cressac and ultimately solved it. Going along with the Gothic theme, there were some supernatural elements, which were very well done and fit perfectly with the story.

There are two other books that follow STRANDS OF BRONZE AND GOLD, and I will definitely be reading these as well. Have you read these books? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: THE SECRETS WE KEEP by Trisha Leaver

Although I didn’t win this book through PitchWars like the last couple I reviewed, I did pick it up after learning about it from Trisha Leaver’s PitchWars mentor bio. As soon as I read the blurb, I was dying to read the whole book. Check it out.

The Secrets We Keep by Trisha LeaverElla and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook and her best friend, Josh, over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.

When–after a heated argument–Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options–confess her deception or live her sister’s life.

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

1. The premise – I am a sucker for anything involving twins. I don’t know why. One of my manuscripts is even about twins. But the idea of waking up and being confused and everyone thinking you are your twin and you think they’re happy it was you who died, plus you feel guilty, and then you’re in too deep … wow.

2. The secrets and lies – At the heart of this story is a mystery Ella must solve–a mystery about her sister, the secrets she was keeping and the lies she’d told. But she never would have known about them if she hadn’t embarked on her own journey of secrets and lies. I loved how twisted it all was.

3. The character arc – Ella doesn’t start out in the best place, even before the accident. Her sense of her own self-worth and how everyone around her sees her is very skewed, which is partially what leads her down the path of impersonating Maddy. But it’s only through being Maddy that she’s able to grow as Ella. I liked seeing how she came into her own.

4. The romance – It’s almost like there were parallel romances going on in the story. Not for Ella, but a glimpse at the romance Maddy had with her boyfriend and Ella’s realization of what she’d missed with her best friend. Because of Ella’s viewpoint at the beginning, I thought the Maddy/boyfriend side of the story was going to be shown very differently than it was. I really appreciated how learning about that romance ended up being almost a factor of Ella’s character growth.

5. The stakes/ending – This was one of those books where I couldn’t stop reading because I kept thinking, “This is so messed up, how can it possibly end well?” Those are some awesome stakes. And as for the ending, well, I’m not giving that away, but I was satisfied. I stayed up too late to get to it :).

Have you read THE SECRETS WE KEEP? I highly recommend adding it to your TBR list.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review & Pre-Order Giveaway: THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore

I’m thrilled to feature Anna-Marie McLemore’s THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS on the blog today and to give away a pre-order to one lucky winner! Anna-Marie and I were teammates in the first-ever The Writer’s Voice contest in 2012 (Team Krista), and we’ve stayed in touch ever since–which is why I was able to get in on an ARC tour for the book and read it early :). The book comes out Sept. 15, and I will definitely be adding it to my permanent collection! Here’s the gorgeous cover and description.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemoreFor twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The title – This may seem like a strange thing to love, but sometimes I read a whole novel and never figure out where the title originated. For this book, the title showed up on page two, and it completely grounded me in the story. Titles aren’t always powerful, but this one is.

2. The blend of magic and science – On the surface, this story is one of magic–not spells and transformations but an old, intrinsic magic that permeates these families. But at the same time, sciences plays an important role, and the two are woven together in a way I found quite fascinating as the story progressed. It’s unique and masterful.

3. The distinct voices – The story mostly alternates between Lace and Cluck, occasionally staying with one character for a couple of chapters. I loved how distinct the voices are. I wish I could share an example, but the scenes that I felt best exemplified this are quite long. It’s when each of them describe the other’s show. Lace goes into much more detail than Cluck, is more complimentary, and yet you still understand how much Cluck appreciates the mermaid show. Very well done.

4. The romance – I loved Lace and Cluck’s dialogue and wordplay, and if I hadn’t passed the ARC along to someone else, I would have found a passage to share for this :). But I also loved how the feelings built differently on each side, particularly as they each learn the other’s true identity at different points in the story. Imagine falling in love with someone and discovering later they’re your enemy versus knowing from the beginning they’re forbidden. I get shivers just remembering it!

5. The languages – I loved how seamlessly Anna-Marie wove in French and Spanish. Often the words were translated in an easy way, but sometimes they weren’t and it was entirely appropriate. There was a moment with Cluck’s mother where Lace said she must not have wanted her to know what she’d said since she didn’t translate. I never felt like the translations interrupted the flow of the narrative, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

I so love this book that I want to put it in someone else’s hands as soon as it’s available (remember, that’s Sept. 15!). As a result, I’m giving away a pre-order to one lucky winner. North America only, please. Click on the link below to enter.

Click here to enter the giveaway for THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS!

And come back next week, as I’m planning another giveaway. I know! Two in a row :)!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: TRUST ME, I’M LYING by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I started reading TRUST ME, I’M LYING on the plane back from Alaska, continued in the summer school carpool pickup line, and then breezed through the last 40 percent in a single night. I probably would have read that first 60 percent much more quickly if I hadn’t been trying to catch up from vacation. In any case, I am now anxiously awaiting the next installment of this series, which is accurately compared to Ally Carter’s Heist Society series.

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth SummerJulep Dupree tells lies. A lot of them. She’s a con artist, a master of disguise, and a sophomore at Chicago’s swanky St. Agatha High, where her father, an old-school grifter with a weakness for the ponies, sends her so she can learn to mingle with the upper crust. For extra spending money Julep doesn’t rely on her dad—she runs petty scams for her classmates while dodging the dean of students and maintaining an A+ (okay, A-) average.

But when she comes home one day to a ransacked apartment and her father gone, Julep’s carefully laid plans for an expenses-paid golden ticket to Yale start to unravel. Even with help from St. Agatha’s resident Prince Charming, Tyler Richland, and her loyal hacker sidekick, Sam, Julep struggles to trace her dad’s trail of clues through a maze of creepy stalkers, hit attempts, family secrets, and worse, the threat of foster care. With everything she has at stake, Julep’s in way over her head . . . but that’s not going to stop her from using every trick in the book to find her dad before his mark finds her. Because that would be criminal.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – I was hooked from the very beginning, and the voice is so perfect for the character. This might seem like a strange sample to share, but for some reason this particular paragraph stuck out to me as I was reading. It’s from an action scene, when Julep has just been rescued from a burning building, but you just get such a great sense of her character.

“I shudder as I pass through the back door and into the crisp, ice-cold air of the alley. I cough and hack and wipe off black stuff, and all the while I’m breathing in the sweetest, most delicious scent of gradually decaying garbage and rat excrement. I’ve never been so happy to see an alley in all the days of my life.”

2. The romance – I love the way she’s all twisted up from the moment she meets Tyler. Isn’t that how teen romance is supposed to be? Plus, this gives me another opportunity to showcase the voice.

“Wait, what did I just say? Crap! I meant to say, ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘just a prank’ or anything else that would put him off. Not ‘it’s freaking dangerous and you should definitely be interested now.’ Is some errant part of my psycho-girl psyche trying to show off for him? Without permission? I mentally smack that part of me back in line. Unfortunately, it’s not in time to avoid piquing Tyler’s curiosity even more.”

3. The cons – I love a good caper. I don’t care if it’s believable or not, but for the most part, I bought the cons Julep and her friends pulled. Sure, some of them were outrageous, but that’s what makes it fun.

4. The mystery –  In addition to the cons, there was also a mystery woven throughout the story, a set of clues Julep’s father had left her to follow. Part of the fun was that the reader had no idea what they led to, so it was sort of a double mystery.

5. The twists – I actually chatted with Ms. Summer on Twitter, anticipating one of the twists, and she warned me there would be one everyone expects and several that would catch me by surprise. She was so right! For the last 10 percent of the book (I was reading on my Kindle), I was saying, “No! What? No! Seriously?” These were good twists, folks. Some planted and some not, but wow.

On that last point, I’m really holding my tongue (fingers??) here. If anyone wants to discuss, email me! But definitely check out this book.

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES by Kimberley Griffiths Little

I’ve been blindly pulling books out of my stash from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale (no peeking to see what’s next!), so I was especially delighted when I came out with Kimberley Griffiths Little’s THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES. You see, most of my warehouse sale finds are books that either look interesting to me or that I’ve heard about through the grapevine. This was one of only two books I picked up this year by an author I’d already read. And if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a fan of Kimberley’s books :). Now that I have read it, I’m wondering why I didn’t make it a priority sooner because it quickly became my favorite middle grade of hers so far. But on to the description …

The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths LittleWhen Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family’s tragic past — deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – Praising the voice isn’t a new compliment for the series, but it’s worth repeating because it jumps off the page from the opening paragraph.

“The second day of summer was a flapjack-and-bacon morning with enough sweet cane syrup to make your teeth ache. A glorious, heavenly day when you got no more homework due to for three whole months.”

2. The time travel – This might be why THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES is now my favorite of these books–because I have a soft spot for time travel. However, it’s done in a unique way here, giving Larissa a glimpse of her family’s tragic past, with clues that play into the mystery that affect their current circumstances. It’s very well done.

3. The theme of understanding – In WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME, we saw a story from the view of one of the “mean” girls, and this theme of understanding that there are two sides to every story continues in THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES. Not only does Larissa have to come to grips with her view of Alyson Granger, a girl she considers to be her enemy, she also has to shift her own attitude. I really loved seeing this growth. This passage stood out to me:

“I’d never said hateful words like that to anyone before. I wanted to hurt Alyson, but I never expected her to look so shocked. Upset, even. Words might hurt for a few minutes, but what they’d done to me what a thousand times worse.”

4. The mystery – Obviously I can’t read one of Kimberley’s books without talking about the mystery. I loved this one. Admittedly, I figured it out pretty early on, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable experiencing Larissa’s discovery. In fact, I was even more tense waiting for her to catch up. But hey, she hasn’t read the other books, so she doesn’t know all that backstory :).

5. The stakes – I mentioned the tension in regard to the mystery, but Kimberley’s pretty tough on Larissa. She stands to lose a lot if she doesn’t succeed, and she has to resolve some sticky emotional issues, too. It’s not the lighthearted read the cover may imply, but it’s sooo good.

Unfortunately, this will not be one of those Scholastic Warehouse Sale finds I give away as I’ll be adding this book to my Kimberley Griffiths Little collection. Have you read it yet? What did you think?

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: THE SHADOW CABINET by Maureen Johnson

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I posted a review. It’s not because I haven’t been reading any good books. I have. I just … haven’t been in a review mood? Mostly I’ve been so entrenched in revision mode that reviewing hasn’t broken through that focus–until now.

So. THE SHADOW CABINET is the third book in Maureen Johnson’s Shades of London series, and if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, you should! THE NAME OF THE STAR was one of my favorite reads of 2012, although I don’t have a review because I read it before I started this blog. The second book was equally mysterious and chilling, but I still didn’t review (probably because I was waiting for the third), so I’m making a point of reviewing this one. However, if you haven’t read THE NAME OF THE STAR and THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH, you should STOP READING NOW because there will be spoilers for those in the description below and my review.

Still reading? Okay …

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen JohnsonRory and her friends are reeling from a series of sudden and tragic events. While racked with grief, Rory tries to determine if she acted in time to save a member of the squad. If she did, how do you find a ghost? Also, Rory’s classmate Charlotte has been kidnapped by Jane and her nefarious organization. Evidence is uncovered of a forty-year-old cult, ten missing teenagers, and a likely mass murder. Everything indicates that Charlotte’s in danger, and it seems that something much bigger and much more terrible is coming.

Time is running out as Rory fights to find her friends and the ghost squad struggles to stop Jane from unleashing her spectral nightmare on the entire city. In the process, they’ll discover the existence of an organization that underpins London itself—and Rory will learn that someone she trusts has been keeping a tremendous secret.

And here are the five things I loved most:

1. The mystery – So many unanswered questions. What really happened at the end of THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH? Rory has to figure this out and then unravel a trail someone has left behind (trying to stay unspoilery here) in order to save the team. Each of these books has a self-contained mystery, and they’re all well-done.

2. The characters – I love how real these characters are. In particular, what struck me as I was reading is that often characters in this type of book–hero-type characters–will make the right choices all the time, the kind of choices that will save the world. The characters in this book sometimes make more reckless choices that seem right to them at the time but don’t end up being the best choices at all. Unfortunately, that’s often how things happen in real life.

3. The villains – Ms. Johnson introduces two completely new villains in this book, and they make everything the villain in the previous book did suddenly (ok, maybe not suddenly) make sense. The prologue is downright chilling in how cold-blooded these villains are. There are villains you have some empathy for, and there are villains you hope never know your name. Sid and Sadie fall into the latter category.

4. The trippiness – I just made up a word there, I know. There’s a definite seventies theme going on with this book, with the flashbacks forty years before to Sid and Sadie and Jane. I was barely alive in the seventies, so it’s not my time. And yet, I could see how it permeated this story, and I found it interesting. From the weird style of the villains to some craziness that happens toward the end of the book … yeah, I’ll just call it trippiness.

5. That it’s not the end – I went into this book expecting it to be the last one. I figured out at 602 of 661 (I was reading this in the Overdrive app on my phone) that there was no way the overall plot was wrapping up in this book, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Because more Rory! More mysteries! More psycho killers! Wait, that last part makes me sound a little bloodthirsty …

Who else has read this series? Are you anxiously awaiting the final book? Because I checked Maureen Johnson’s website, and she says there will only be one more …

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review: VARIANT by Robison Wells

I finally got to the last book in the box from the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. It’s a good thing I only have two and a half months to wait for the next sale! But unfortunately for all of you, I’m not giving this book away. It was just too good, and it’s earned a place on my permanent bookshelf. Ok, on to the description.

Variant by Robison WellsBenson Fisher thought a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

He was wrong.

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The twist – I’m not giving anything away by saying there’s a twist. It’s right there on the cover in a blurb by James Dashner: “The twist behind it all is my favorite since ENDER’S GAME.” So I was already looking for a twist as I was reading, but oh boy, was it good. And I had a lot of theories, but I didn’t figure it out.

2. The mystery – There’s the twist, but that’s just the beginning of the mystery Benson has to unravel. It just creates more questions for him to answer, and he takes a sleuthing approach as he tries to solve it all.

3. The stakes – From the moment Benson steps inside Maxfield Academy, things keep getting increasingly worse for him. A lot of it’s on him–he isn’t willing to go along with the rules. He wants out and will do whatever it takes to escape, and that has some serious consequences. Mr. Wells doesn’t go easy on him.

4. The pacing – This book was a quick read. I didn’t want to put it down, and I was eager to find out what would happen next.

5. The ending – Ahh! A cliffhanger! But a really good one. Thank goodness I didn’t read this book when it first came out because I can go pick up the sequel right away.

Have you read VARIANT? Did you figure out the twist? Don’t read the comments if you don’t want to be spoiled!

Reviews, Young Adult Review

YA Review and Giveaway: THE GRIMM LEGACY by Polly Shulman

Based on the cover and description, I actually thought THE GRIMM LEGACY was a middle grade book when I picked it up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, but it turns out it’s YA. It does read on the younger side, but I’m all for finding those gems that appeal to the tween crowd who are ready for YA but not the edgy kind. This book definitely fits that description, and I have a paperback copy to give away, so look for details at the bottom of this post.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly ShulmanWhat if fairy tale magic really existed?

Lonely at her new school, Elizabeth takes a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make new friends as well as pocket money. The Repository is no ordinary library. It lends out objects rather than books—everything from tea sets and hockey sticks to Marie Antoinette’s everyday wig.

It’s also home to the Grimm Collection, a secret room in the basement. That’s where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales:  seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles and has a will of its own.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before they’re accused of the crime themselves—or the thief captures them.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The fairy tales – You’re not surprised, are you? I always love books with fairy tales. It’s why I picked this book up in the first place. But this one takes a different twist. Instead of retelling fairy tales, it’s using objects from fairy tales–and not necessarily the most famous objects, although there is one in particular that makes frequent appearances.

2. The premise – I love the concept of her working in a library. I worked in a library myself during college, and I like the idea of a library that deals in items other than books. Also, the pneumatic tubes are very cool, particularly a certain incident that happens involving a shrink ray …

3. The mystery – Who’s behind the thefts? Is one of the other pages involved? Who can Elizabeth trust? The clues are planted carefully and just when you think you have something figured out, a new twist comes along.

4. The magic – To be honest, I think this is part of what made the book read a little younger for me, and yet if a teenager were truly confronted with real magic, wouldn’t they act like a kid? Heck, I’d probably act like a kid! It’s like when you go to Disney World and everything’s just, well, magical. This book had that feel to it, with the characters experiencing that child-like wonder of discovering a new world.

5. The relationships – While at times the story read young, the relationships were so spot on. The girls all in love with the basketball star. The boys all in love with the beautiful girl. Elizabeth and Aaron snapping at each other in a flirting ritual everyone else saw but they didn’t. Ah, teenagers!

Also, there’s a companion novel, THE WELLS BEQUEST, that I haven’t yet read, but I plan to. It features one of the characters’ younger sisters.

Ok, on to the giveaway. I have a paperback copy of the book I’d love to pass along to one of you. Enter by clicking on the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Review & Giveaway: PARTNERS IN CRIME by Kim Harrington

Today I have another of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale finds to share with you for MMGM–and to give away! Here’s the description for the first book in Kim Harrington’s Sleuth or Dare series, PARTNERS IN CRIME.

Partners in Crime by Kim HarringtonWhen best friends Darcy and Norah have to create a fake business for a school assignment, they come up with a great idea: a detective agency! Darcy loves mysteries, and Norah likes helping people, so it’s a perfect fit.

But then their pretend agency gets a real case. Someone is missing, and it’s up to Darcy and Norah to take on the search. Unfortunately, there’s someone else out there who doesn’t want the two detectives stirring up any trouble….

With the help of hidden clues, spy gadgets, and trusted friends, can Darcy and Norah crack the case in time?

Here are the five things I loved most about this book:

1. The mystery – I’ll be honest and say I figured out the mystery early on, but I don’t think the target age would, and it was still fun to watch the clues fall into place for Norah and Darcy.

2. The friendship – Norah and Darcy are very different and sometimes annoy each other, but they draw on their similarities to keep their friendship strong and overcome the differences.

3. The parents – I like it when the parents are present and involved. In this book, there were three very different sets of parents–the overprotective, the family centered, the more permissive. It was a very realistic portrayal of how parenting differs and how that affects the kids, especially at an age where they’re exploring boundaries.

4. The age rang true – The obnoxious boys, crushes, popular kids–everything fit with that in-between middle school age. Norah’s voice was just right for a seventh grader, and the situations rang true.

5. The ending – This book ended with the perfect blend of tying up the main mystery and leaving enough of an ongoing storyline to make me want to read the next book. There currently are two others in the series. I’ll be checking them out!

So, who wants to read PARTNERS IN CRIME? I’m giving away my paperback copy. North America only, please. To enter, just leave a comment by noon on Sunday, April 27. I’ll post the winner next Monday. Good luck!

Note: This giveaway has ended.

Middle Grade Review, Reviews

MMGM Series Recommendation: Real Mermaids Series by Helene Boudreau

Hey look! It’s only been two weeks and I have another MMGM!

This one is thanks to my Disney World reading spree. I read the first book in the Real Mermaids series a few years ago, but my local library didn’t have the second book. I requested it, along with the subsequent installments, and finally read that second book last year. But then my reading list piled up, and I didn’t finish the others. When I was browsing the ebook section of the library to stock up for vacation (it’s much easier to carry a single Kindle than several physical books!), I discovered they now had the last two books electronically, so I was able to finish the series on my trip. Yay! To avoid spoiling, I’ll only include the description from the first book.

Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe RingsFreak of nature takes on a whole new meaning…

If she hadn’t been so clueless, she might have seen it coming. But really, who expects to get into a relaxing bathtub after a stressful day of shopping for tankinis and come out with scales and a tail?

Most. Embarrassing. Moment. Ever.

Jade soon discovers she inherited her mermaid tendencies from her mom. But if Mom was a mermaid, how did she drown?

Jade is determined to find out. So how does a plus-size, aqua-phobic mer-girl go about doing that exactly? And how will Jade ever be able to explain her secret to her best friend, Cori, and to her crush, Luke?

This summer is about to get a lot more interesting…

Here are the five thing I loved most about this series:

1. The premise – I know there other mermaid books out there, and certainly other books where a girl finds out she’s not who she thinks she is, but this one felt different. I think it has to do with how Jade doesn’t embrace her new identity with arms wide open. She’s a reluctant mermaid, and yet she does what’s necessary to help the people she loves.

2. The awkwardness – You get a glimpse of the awkward situations Jade encounters in the description above, but the part it doesn’t mention? She has to call her dad into the bathroom to help her, plus the whole thing is related to female issues. Talk about embarrassing! And something like this crops up in every book.

3. The friendship – Ah, the ups and downs of friendship in middle school and beyond. Jade and Cori have to navigate everything from changing priorities to mean girls to figuring out when to take sides in a friend vs. boyfriend debate. They work through it all in a sometimes sloppy way but remain friends in the end.

4. The mysteries – In each book, there is a mystery Jade has to solve in order to save/protect people she cares about. Jade’s a reluctant detective at first, but midway through the series she becomes pretty adept at following the clues.

5. Jade’s growth – It’s interesting to see how Jade changes as the books progress. She ages during the story from middle school to high school, and she matures as well, learning how to judge people by more than surface appearances. She also becomes more confident in herself without completely eliminating her insecurities. It’s a very honest portrayal.

Who else has read this series? What did you like most about it?