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Book Review: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Publisher’s description

serious moonlightAfter an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, ApproximatelyMystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Look, the two main characters, Birdie and Daniel, are adorable, flawed creatures who solve mysteries, eat pie, and fall for each other (with many bumps along that road). I feel like you can booktalk this to your students/patrons/customers with just that summary and watch it fly off the shelves.

 

Birdie spent her childhood being raised by her mother (who got pregnant at 17) and her mother’s best friend, Mona. But when her mother died, when Birdie was ten, she went to be raised and homeschooled by her grandparents. Now her grandmother has recently passed away and, left with her more lenient grandfather, Birdie is finally enjoying a little freedom. Freedom for Birdie means getting her first job (overnights at a historic hotel in downtown Seattle), being left home alone, swearing, and, oh yeah, meeting and sleeping with a cute boy and then immediately fleeing in mortification. That’s the “awkward first encounter” the publisher’s summary refers to! Birdie writes it off as a mistake, a very unlike her thing to do, and hopes to never see him again. Besides, he’s probably forgotten all about her, right? Well, surprise! She does see him, he hasn’t forgotten her, and now they’re coworkers!

 

The universe is funny like that.

 

Birdie loves mysteries and Daniel loves magic tricks. Both are keen observers. Daniel thinks fate brought them back together and Birdie chalks it up to random chance. While they try to figure out how to act around each other, or if they can even be friends, they decide to team up to try to solve a mystery in their very hotel. They also go on cute dates like live action Clue, reveal parts of their pasts to one another, hook up, and have lots of misunderstandings/hesitations to work through. Their relationship feels so honest and real and lovely. When Daniel eventually reveals a secret about his past, he worries it will drive Birdie away, and for her part, Birdie wonders if she’s strong enough to support him or if he’s just another person she’s bound to lose.

 

Birdie grows a lot over the course of the story. Both Birdie and Daniel are surrounded by loving, supportive characters—grandparents, Daniel’s mother, Birdie’s godmother Mona—who help them navigate not just life in general but specifically their relationship together. They learn a lot of new things together, about their relationship, yes, but also things like Birdie’s narcolepsy diagnosis and the reveal of one of Daniel’s secrets. They’re sweet, supportive, and encouraging of one another. They make mistakes, are awkward, and are insecure.

 

I enjoyed this book so much. Trust me, you won’t have to work hard to move this book off your shelves. That cover! A quick summary! Happy ending! Romance! Mystery! Pie! Recommend this one widely.

 

And now I want pie. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534445284
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 04/16/2019

 

Post-it Note Reviews of YA Books: Rappers, movie lovers, musicians, survivors, and teens who create their own universe

IMG_3631I do my best to get a LOT of reading done, but can’t even begin to attempt to read all the books that show up here. Even if I quit my library job, I still couldn’t read them all.  I read just about every free second I have—sitting in the car while waiting for my kid, on my lunch breaks at work, sometimes even while I’m walking in the hall at work. A lot of that kind of reading isn’t super conducive to really deep reading or taking many notes. Or maybe I’m reading in my own house, but while covered in sleeping dachshunds, or while trying to block out the noise of kids playing. I might not get around to being able to write a full review, but I still want to share these books with you, so here are my tiny Post-it Note reviews of a few titles. I also do these posts focusing on books for younger readers. It’s a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary. 

 

 

 

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On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

 

This is the highly anticipated second novel by Angie Thomas, the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning The Hate U Give.

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Insightful, unflinching, and full of heart, On the Come Up is an ode to hip hop from one of the most influential literary voices of a generation. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; and about how, especially for young black people, freedom of speech isn’t always free.

(POST-IT SAYS: Like you need me to tell you this is a great read! Outspoken rapper Bri is complex and talented. A sharp look at stereotypes, activism, racism, and labels. A fresh, engrossing read.)

 

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This Book Is Not Yet Rated by Peter Bognanni

(Releases April 9, 2019)

In this enormously funny, smart, and moving contemporary YA novel, fighting for the thing you love doesn’t always turn out like in the movies.

Movies have always helped Ethan Ashby make sense of the world. So when developers swoop in and say the classic Green Street Cinema is going to be destroyed to make room for luxury condos, Ethan is ready for battle. And so a motley crew of cinema employees comes together to save the place they love:

There’s Sweet Lou, the elderly organist with a penchant for not-so-sweet language; Anjo, the too-cool projectionist; Griffin and Lucas who work concessions, if they work at all; and Ethan, their manager (who can barely manage his own life). Still, it’s going to take a movie miracle for the Green Street to have a happy ending. And when Raina Allen, Ethan’s oldest friend (and possible soul mate?), comes back to town after working in Hollywood—cue lights and music—it seems that miracle may have been delivered. But life and love aren’t always like in the movies.

This Book is Not Yet Rated is about growing up, letting go, and realizing love hides in plain view—in the places that shape us, the people who raise us, the first loves who leave us, and the lives that fade in and fade out all around us.

(POST-IT SAYS: Love, loss, growth, and grief are explored against the backdrop of saving a beloved institution. For 90s fans, think Empire Records. Full of quirky misfits, humor, heart, and movie references galore.) 

 

 

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You’d Be Mine: A Novel by Erin Hahn

 

Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things.

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen.

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

Erin Hahn’s thrilling debut, You’d Be Mine, asks: can the right song and the perfect summer on the road make two broken hearts whole?

(POST-IT SAYS: Fans of sweet, swoony romances will love this music-centered story full of chemistry, easy to like characters, emotional depth, and just enough drama. Follows a predictable but enjoyable path.) 

 

 

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Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover

(Releases April 9, 2019)

Best friends Matt and Cole grapple with their changing relationships during the summer after high school in this impactful, evocative story about growing up and moving on from a traumatic past. 

Surviving was just the beginning. 

Eleven years after a shooting rocked the small town of East Ridge, New Jersey and left eighteen first graders in their classroom dead, survivors and recent high school graduates Matt Simpson and Cole Hewitt are still navigating their guilt and trying to move beyond the shadow of their town’s grief. Will Cole and Matt ever be able to truly leave the ghosts of East Ridge behind? Do they even want to?

As they grapple with changing relationships, falling in love, and growing apart, these two friends must face the question of how to move on—and truly begin living.

(POST-IT SAYS: This look at what life’s like years after a school shooting is unique and as much about friendship as it is about trauma. FYI, the shooting isn’t detailed on the page. An unfortunately always timely topic.)

 

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Starworld by Audrey Coulthurst, Paula Garner

 

(Releases April 16, 2019)

 

In a novel in two voices, a popular teen and an artistic loner forge an unlikely bond — and create an entire universe — via texts. But how long before the real world invades Starworld?Sam Jones and Zoe Miller have one thing in common: they both want an escape from reality. Loner Sam flies under the radar at school and walks on eggshells at home to manage her mom’s obsessive-compulsive disorder, wondering how she can ever leave to pursue her dream of studying aerospace engineering. Popular, people-pleasing Zoe puts up walls so no one can see her true self: the girl who was abandoned as an infant, whose adoptive mother has cancer, and whose disabled brother is being sent away to live in a facility. When an unexpected encounter results in the girls’ exchanging phone numbers, they forge a connection through text messages that expands into a private universe they call Starworld. In Starworld, they find hilarious adventures, kindness and understanding, and the magic of being seen for who they really are. But when Sam’s feelings for Zoe turn into something more, will the universe they’ve built survive the inevitable explosion?

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Strong characters carry this moving look at the complex lives of teens. Great dual POV in this story about risk, connection, friendship, and identity. A warm, funny, and heartfelt escape from reality.) 

Book Review: Wreck by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Publisher’s description

wreckSometimes loss has its own timetable.

Set on the shores of Lake Superior, Wreck follows high school junior Tobin Oliver as she navigates her father’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Steve’s life as a paramedic and a runner comes to an abrupt halt just as Tobin is preparing her application for a scholarship to art school. With the help of Steve’s personal care assistant (and family friend) Ike, Tobin attends to both her photography and to Steve as his brain unexpectedly fails right along with his body.

Tobin struggles to find a “normal” life, especially as Steve makes choices about how his own will end, and though she fights hard, Tobin comes to realize that respecting her father’s decision is the ultimate act of love.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Full disclosure: Kirstin is my friend and I blurbed this book. For the tl;dr version of this review, here’s my blurb:

 

Kirstin Cronn-Mills takes readers on a provocative, unflinching, and emotionally-complex deep dive into mortality and loss while Tobin and her father grapple with almost unfathomable decisions. A wrenching and empathetic look at the tumultuous waters and seemingly bottomless grief that can interrupt an otherwise placid life.

 

When Tobin’s father, Steve, is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), everything changes. ALS is a progressive, degenerative disease. While some things may slow the progression of the disease, there is no cure. ALS involves paralysis, eventually affecting breathing and swallowing. It’s junior year and Tobin should be hanging out with her few friends, preparing her photography portfolio for scholarships for art school, working at her aunt’s thrift shop down in Canal Park in Duluth, and just going about life as she has come to know it. But the diagnosis throws everything into disarray. Steve’s disease is rapidly changing his body and his brain. Ike, a family friend and former Army medic, moves in to be Steve’s personal care assistant. Tobin’s mom took off years ago, so it’s really always just been Tobin and her dad. They know that before long, Steve will die, leaving Tobin in the care of her aunt until she’s no longer a minor, then on her own.

 

The question becomes what do you do in the time between getting a devastating and terminal diagnosis and actually dying? For Steve, he continues to socialize, help work on the marathon committee, and writes a book of advice to leave behind for Tobin. For Tobin, she tries to bury her heart deep in Lake Superior, which feels like the only way she can keep going and cope with this horrible situation. To complicate matters further, there’s a box in their house that’s haunting her. Inside that innocuous-looking box is pentobarbital, a barbiturate that Steve intends to take a high dose of to end his life, on his terms, when the time is right. And if he’s physically unable to do so on his own, he’s asked Tobin to be the one to administer the medicine.

 

Yep. Oof.

 

For both Tobin and her father, their lives are nothing like what they had imagined them to be like. The grief that comes with accepting this diagnosis and Steve’s eventual death is heart-wrenching. Having lost my own father very suddenly in a car accident, I don’t know if there is a “good” way to have a parent die—unexpectedly, where you have no time to prepare, or slowly, where you have lots of time to anticipate and watch someone ail. I think it’s terrible no matter what the circumstance. For Steve, his personality changes are ROUGH. He vacillates between loving and his usual self to angry, mean, hateful, and uncontrolled. It goes with the territory with ALS, but that doesn’t make it easy for Tobin to experience or easy to read. No matter how hard Tobin tries to protect her heart, she can’t. The grief, the waiting, the unpredictability, the potential to have to help her father die—it’s all too much. Trying to have no feelings about something that causes BIG feelings is impossible. We know where this story is going and how it will end. It is an unrelentingly sad plot, punctuated by brief moments of joy, whimsy, and always by plenty of love. 

 

Undoubtedly, the narrative of death with dignity–that is, the right for terminally ill people to die on their own terms—will create passionate feelings about this book and possibly some controversy. That said, the plot makes it clear why this can be a compassionate act, why someone would choose this option. Steve and Tobin’s story is filled with lots of nuance, empathy, support, and love. This is a moving exploration of mortality, family, and impossibly difficult decisions.

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781510739031
Publisher: Sky Pony
Publication date: 04/16/2019

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring a psychic, an alien cat, scientists, a girl with ADHD, a homeschooled girl, and campers

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

 

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Far Away by Lisa Graff

A book about life, loss, and the secrets families keep, reminiscent of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, by National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff.

CJ’s Aunt Nic is a psychic medium who tours the country speaking to spirits from Far Away, passing on messages from the dearly departed. And CJ knows firsthand how comforting those messages can be — Aunt Nic’s Gift is the only way CJ can talk to her mom, who died just hours after she was born.

So when CJ learns that she won’t be able to speak to her mother anymore, even with Aunt Nic’s help, she’s determined to find a work-around. She sets off on road trip with her new friend Jax to locate the one object that she believes will tether her mother’s spirit back to Earth . . . but what she finds along the way challenges every truth she’s ever known. Ultimately, CJ has to sort out the reality from the lies.

National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff has written a poignant, heartfelt novel that explores the lengths we go to protect those we love — and the power secrets have to change our worlds.

(POST-IT SAYS: The unique premise of a medium connecting with spirits/the dead will catch readers’ attention. Full of adventure, mystery, questions, and twists, this is a moving story of family and truth. Ages 9-12)

 

 

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Klawde (Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series #1) and Enemies (Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series #2) by Johnny Marciano, Emily Chenoweth, Robb Mommaerts (Illustrator)

 

#1: Klawde is not your average cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s about to become Raj Banerjee’s best friend. Whether he likes it or not.

Klawde had everything. Sharp claws. Fine fur. And, being the High Commander of the planet Lyttyrboks, an entire world of warlike cats at his command. But when he is stripped of his feline throne, he is sentenced to the worst possible punishment: exile to a small planet in a quiet corner of the universe… named Earth.

Raj had everything. A cool apartment in Brooklyn. Three friends who lived in his building. And pizza and comics within walking distance. But when his mom gets a job in Elba, Oregon, and he is forced to move, all of that changes. It’s now the beginning of summer, he has no friends, and because of his mother’s urgings, he has joined a nature camp.

It’s only when his doorbell rings and he meets a furball of a cat that Raj begins to think maybe his luck is turning around…

Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj and Klawde’s perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water begin to find their footing in strange new worlds.

 

#2: Klawde is not your basic cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s also Raj Banerjee’s best friend.

Klawde and Raj are back! As summer turns to fall, our favorite warlord cat remains in his pitiful exiled existence. But Raj has an even scarier prospect than cosmic exile: starting at a new school.And if things didn’t seem complicated enough, both cat and human are confronted with two figures from their past they did not expect to pop up in Elba, Oregon…Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj’s and Klawde’s perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water continue to find their footing in strange new worlds.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Super enjoyable new series. We hear the story from the perspective of both Raj and Klawde. The illustrations add a lot to the story. Fun, silly, and hilarious with wide appeal. Ages 8-11)

 

 

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Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship by Cynthia Platt, Rea Zhai (Illustrator)
(May 21, 2019)

 

In this fun young-middle-grade novel with STEM appeal, Parker really wants to win the school Science Triathlon—but first she’ll have to figure out how to keep her BFF from being stolen. Budding scientist Parker Bell really wants to win the school Science Triathlon and follow in the footsteps of her idols, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and astronaut Mae Jemison. She’s sure that if she teams up with her trivia whiz BFF, Cassie, they will dominate the Science Bee, Egg Drop, and Animal Adaptation Presentation. When Cassie invites her new friend, Theo, to join their team, Parker is worried—that Theo won’t help them win and might steal her best friend. As the three work together, Parker learns that you don’t have to be the best to be a real scientist and a good friend.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Science-minded readers will especially enjoy this story of friendship and competition. Good STEM focus, lots of humor, and emphasis on teamwork. Ages 7-10)

 

 

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Focused by Alyson Gerber

 

Clea can’t control her thoughts. She knows she has to do her homework . . . but she gets distracted. She knows she can’t just say whatever thought comes into her head . . . but sometimes she can’t help herself. She know she needs to focus . . . but how can she do that when the people around her are always chewing gum loudly or making other annoying noises?It’s starting to be a problem–not just in school, but when Clea’s playing chess or just hanging out with her best friend. Other kids are starting to notice. When Clea fails one too many tests, her parents take her to be tested, and she finds out that she has ADHD, which means her attention is all over the place instead of where it needs to be. Clea knows life can’t continue the way it’s been going. She’s just not sure how you can fix a problem that’s all in your head. But that’s what she’s going to have to do, to find a way to focus.In a starred review, Booklist called Alyson Gerber’s first novel, Braced, “a masterfully constructed and highly empathetic debut about a different kind of acceptance.” With Focused, she explores even further how, when life gives you a challenge, the best way to face it is with an open mind, an open heart, and the open support of the people around you.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: A welcome addition to the small field of books about characters with ADHD. A deep and compassionate look at not just ADHD but other common middle school issues. I’ll be handing this well done book to my own 7th grader with ADHD. Ages 10-13)

 

 

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Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

 

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a sensitive and accessible book about the challenges of fitting in when you know you’re a little different.On the last night of summer, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a routine call. They’re supposed to rescue a wild rabbit from a picket fence, but instead they find a little bunny. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night.The next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time after years of being homeschooled. More than anything, Emma wants to make a best friend in school.But things don’t go as planned. On the first day of school, she’s paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can’t stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he’s obsessed with animals. Jack doesn’t fit in, and Emma’s worried he’ll make her stand out.

Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit. But will their new friendship keep Emma from finding the new best friend she’s meant to have?

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a beautiful and sensitive book about being different and staying true to yourself.

(POST-IT SAYS: A tender examination of fitting in, making friends, embracing differences, and being yourself. Any story based around an animal flies off the shelves at my school. An easy book to recommend widely.)

 

 

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Camp by Kayla Miller
(April 23, 2019)

 

Raina Telgemeier and Frazzled fans, rejoice! Author-illustrator Kayla Miller is back with Olive in this emotional and honest story about navigating new experiences, learning to step outside one’s comfort zone, and the satisfaction of blazing your own trails.Olive and Willow are happy campers!
Or are they?Olive is sure she’ll have the best time at summer camp with her friend Willow – but while Olive makes quick friends with the other campers, Willow struggles to form connections and latches on to the only person she knows – Olive. It’s s’more than Olive can handle! The stress of being Willow’s living security blanket begins to wear on Olive and before long…the girls aren’t just fighting, they may not even be friends by the time camp is over. Will the two be able to patch things up before the final lights out?

Look for more of Olive’s adventures in Click!

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Public, elementary, and middle school libraries NEED this book, as well as Miller’s first bookl, Click. Point fans of Telgemeier to these visually appealing looks at friendship. SO GOOD. More, please! Ages 8-12)

Book Review: Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne

Publisher’s description

night music2Music has always been Ruby’s first love. But has it ever loved her back?
Slip behind the scenes of the classical music world one hot, anything-can-happen, New York City summer.

Ruby has always been Ruby Chertok: future classical pianist and daughter of renowned composer Martin Chertok. But after her horrendous audition for the prestigious music school where her father is on faculty, it’s clear that music has publicly dumped her. Now Ruby is suddenly just . . . Ruby. And who is that again? All she knows is that she wants away from the world of classical music for good.

Oscar is a wunderkind, a musical genius. Just ask any of the 1.8 million people who’ve watched him conduct on YouTube—or hey, just ask Oscar. But while he might be the type who’d name himself when asked about his favorite composer and somehow make you love him more for it, Oscar is not the type to jeopardize his chance to study under the great Martin Chertok—not for a crush. He’s all too aware of how the ultra-privileged world of classical music might interpret a black guy like him falling for his benefactor’s white daughter.

But as the New York City summer heats up, so does the spark between Ruby and Oscar. Soon their connection crackles with the same alive, uncontainable energy as the city itself. Can two people still figuring themselves out figure out how to be together? Or will the world make the choice for them?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first note for this book was “Ack! This book is SO LOVELY immediately.” That’s pretty much how I felt throughout the read. Later I wrote, “Their banter! I love them!” I’m old. My reading tastes haven’t really ever changed and probably won’t ever. I like realistic stories with strong characters, good banter, and lots of emotions. This book hits all three.

 

Oscar has all the reasons in the world right now to be egotistical and insufferable. He’s a composer and conductor whose YouTube video went super viral. The music world is treating him like a genius superstar. He’s spending his summer training with one of the greatest living composers, Martin Chertok.

 

Ruby Chertok comes from a family of talented, famous classical musicians. Until recently, she thought this was her path too, until a less than stellar audition at her father’s school makes her break up with music. She needs to distance herself from that world, from her famous last name.

 

So when Ruby and Oscar meet, neither of them are looking for a relationship. Oscar is supposed to be completely focused on composing and the last person Ruby needs to get involved with is a musical protege studying under her father. But, of course, life makes its own course. With their attraction rather immediate, we know they will get together before too long, but both have so much else going on that they need to deal with. First love is great, but it’s hard to juggle that enormous thing with Oscar’s sudden fame/career and Ruby’s complete fixation on what on earth she will do with her life if not be a classical musician. She hopes to spend the summer figuring out her life (an ambitious summer project when you’re 17). Does she even have the option to travel her own path? Her whole life has been music. Now, without her, she needs to find other ways to fill her days—she takes up running, reconnects with an old friend, hangs out like a regular teenager, and, of course, falls for Oscar. Their relationship is beautiful and intense and profound, but it’s not without its issues. Both could come off looking like opportunists here. And dating Oscar certainly ropes Ruby further into the world of classical music, not exactly giving her the distance she expected this summer. And if she’s Oscar’s muse and his girlfriend, will this get in the way of forming her own new identity? 

 

There’s a lot more going on, too, that starts to come to light as the story unfolds, including financial questions about the music school and a push for the school to sell its “diversity” with Oscar as the face of that. But how genuine is their commitment to diversity? And why are their rewriting Oscar as some poor kid from the rough streets of DC instead of who he really is—an affluent kid from the suburbs?

 

This look at pressures, identity, first love, and the desire to be seen is heartfelt and moving. This great romance with a lot of depth is an easy one to recommend widely to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780735228771
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/19/2019

Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Publisher’s description

oppositeDebut author Justin A. Reynolds delivers a hilarious and heartfelt novel about the choices we make, the people we choose, and the moments that make a life worth reliving. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and John Green.

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I picked this up initially because I love the cover. Then I read the summary, and as someone who obsessively quotes Groundhog Day, the premise sold me. Reliving the same chunk of time over and over? Bring it on!

 

This completely enjoyable story asks what you would do differently—or the same—if you got a second chance. Or a third, fourth, or twentieth chance. Jack and Kate are only just really getting to know each other, to fall for each other, when Kate dies from sickle cell anemia. Upon hearing the news, Jack rushes from his house, falls down the stairs, and BAM! time starts over again. Suddenly, he’s back at the party where he first met Kate. Kate is clueless as to who he is (though she has a weird feeling that she already knows him), or that they have somehow respawned, but Jack remembers everything. Jack wonders why he’s reliving this time loop and blows off so much to be with Kate, whose time may or may not be limited in this run. When she dies again, Jack really buckles down, trying to figure out how he is supposed to do whatever it is he’s back here to do. Jack has to figure out what risks he should take and try to foresee what the consequences might be. It’s terrible to lose someone over and over, but he’s determined to figure out how to change that. And it’s not like he has a choice—he keeps getting tossed back through this loop no matter what changes he makes. He starts to wonder if he can save everyone—or, heck, if he can even save anyone.  He’ll make mistakes and different choices each time, but is he doomed to spend eternity living the same few months and always losing Kate?

 

This is a fun love story that features strong friendships, great parents, humor, and heartbreak. I loved Jack’s voice, the excellent banter, and the complex and caring relationships he has with Franny and Jillian, his best friends. This warm, smart, unique debut will have an easy wide appeal. I suspect, like me, readers will be drawn to it when they spy the great cover and once they start reading it, they’ll want to race through the whole thing and see if Jack can break the loop and find a happy ending. Or an ending, period. Readers who can suspend their disbelief and just go with the time loop premise will love this character-driven look at choices, consequences, and possibilities. I can’t wait to see what else Reynolds writes. 

 

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062748379
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2019

Book Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal.

 

manic pixieThe Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project by Lenore Appelhans (ISBN-13: 9781541512597 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/05/2019)

 

Gr 9 Up—Members of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy) Trope fight for the right to exist—in fiction and in their own lives—in this entertaining send-up of literary conventions. Riley, one of the few Manic Pixie Dream Boys residing in TropeTown (a place filled with familiar literary devices, situations, and characters), has been sent to behavioral therapy for deviating from the expected quirky fun he is supposed to bring to a novel. There he meets Zelda and other whimsical Manic Pixie Dream Girls who have been sent to therapy to learn to embrace their Trope. As a group, they would like to be taken seriously, but since the TropeTown Council has decided their type is problematic, they may be retired. With only a few days to avert their demise, they work hard to show the Council how charming, creative, and vibrant they are. Their plan is complicated by other potential futures, like planting in a novel (staying for good), seeing where the Termination Train may really lead, or accepting the small bit of freedom that being a Trope in TropeTown allows them. Appelhans’s metafictional story asks if Tropes can live authentic lives, if they are doomed to live out other people’s stories, or if they can steer their own path. Affable Riley’s quest to be seen beyond labels and stereotypes and his desire for agency are feelings to which many Readers in Reader World will relate. VERDICT Recommend this well-crafted book to voracious readers of YA who will appreciate the satire.

Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

 

 

heroineHeroine by Mindy McGinnis (ISBN-13: 9780062847195 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019)

★ 03/01/2019

Gr 9 Up—All it takes is one prescription to kick-start a student athlete’s frightening descent into opioid addiction. After surgery following a car accident, Ohio softball phenom Mickey Catalan is prescribed OxyContin for pain. When she starts to run out of the Oxy she relies on to get through her physical therapy, she gets pills from a dealer, through whom she meets other young addicts. Mickey rationalizes what she’s doing and sees herself as a good girl who’s not like others who use drugs (like new friend Josie, who uses because she’s “bored”). Mickey loves how the pills make her feel, how they take her out of herself and relieve the pressures in her life. Soon she’s stealing, lying, and moving on to heroin. Her divorced parents, including her recovering addict stepmother, suspect something is going on, but Mickey is skilled at hiding her addiction. A trigger warning rightfully cautions graphic depictions of drug use. In brutally raw detail, readers see Mickey and friends snort powders, shoot up, and go through withdrawal. Intense pacing propels the gripping story toward the inevitable conclusion already revealed in the prologue. An author’s note and resources for addiction recovery are appended. This powerful, harrowing, and compassionate story humanizes addiction and will challenge readers to rethink what they may believe about addicts. VERDICT From the horrific first line to the hopeful yet devastating conclusion, McGinnis knocks it out of the park. A first purchase for all libraries serving teens.

TLTer Karen Jensen also discusses and highly recommends Heroine by Mindy McGinnis in this previous TLT post.

Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher’s description

we set theIn this daring and romantic fantasy debut perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Latinx authors Zoraida Córdova and Anna-Marie McLemore, society wife-in-training Dani has a great awakening after being recruited by rebel spies and falling for her biggest rival.

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.

Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.

And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.

Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I WANT THE NEXT BOOK! NOW! And after you read this, you will too.

 

Freshly out of the Medio School for Girls, 17-year-old Dani is now the Primera to a promising young politician from a wealthy and respected family. Dani understands her role as Primera, one of two wives in the household, means she will run the home and be her husband Mateo’s equal. She quickly learns that secretive and cold Mateo, who is being groomed to run for president, views her as little more than a personal assistant. She’s not thrilled to be placed with Carmen, an enemy from school, who is Mateo’s Segunda, the second wife. Together, they all live in the heart of the capital, where luxury abounds. Money and power are important in the inner island, and Mateo’s family has both. But not far away, things are very different. Long ago, a wall was built around the inner island, and those suffering on the other side know nothing of the riches afforded to those lucky enough to be inside the wall. Dani knows intimately what life is like there and the risk many take to cross the militarized border that has a shoot-on-sight policy. Now part of the island’s elite, she is appalled at the wealth and resources taken for granted here. Life as a Primera could be extremely dull—be responsible and think of nothing more than supporting your husband—but Dani never gets to experience that.

 

Dani becomes involved with La Voz, a resistance group. The road to her involvement is complex—first she’s blackmailed, then she’s spying, and eventually she has to choose were her allegiances are. Their repeated message of “if we’re not all free, none of us are free” begins to really eat away at Dani, making her think hard about her past, the wall, her role as Primera, and what action she could take to affect change. Dani is supposed to exist to bring order and stability to the home (with Carmen there for warmth and beauty), but with her eyes opened more than ever to the injustices and resistance movement, she knows she needs to act. Being a spy is a complicated enough idea on its own, but throw in the fact that Dani isn’t sure who she can trust, from La Voz to her new family to Carmen, and it’s a real mess full of potential spies, liars, and double agents. As she struggles with her place now, she discovers many surprising revelations about Carmen, not the least of which is that they both have feelings for each other that go well beyond just being a paired Primera and Segunda. But as Dani untangles all of the prejudice, privilege, lies, and hatred around her, she wonders who, if anyone she can trust. And as her roles both at home and within La Voz continue, she worries that every part of her life is now a lie. How and where is Dani the most useful? And what price for freedom?

 

A tense cliffhanger that reveals secrets and sets up book two will leave readers (me!) desperate to see what happens. This well-written book has great world building, strong characters, and so much intrigue. A smart and engrossing read full of twists and turns. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062691316
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/26/2019

Book Review: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason

Publisher’s description

art of losingThe Art of Losing is a compelling debut that explores issues of addiction, sisterhood, and loss.

On one terrible night, 17-year-old Harley Langston’s life changes forever. At a party she discovers her boyfriend, Mike, hooking up with her younger sister, Audrey. Furious, she abandons them both. When Mike drunkenly attempts to drive Audrey home, he crashes and Audrey ends up in a coma. Now Harley is left with guilt, grief, pain and the undeniable truth that her now ex-boyfriend has a drinking problem. So it’s a surprise that she finds herself reconnecting with Raf, a neighbor and childhood friend who’s recently out of rehab and still wrestling with his own demons. At first Harley doesn’t want to get too close to him. But as her sister slowly recovers, Harley begins to see a path forward with Raf’s help that she never would have believed possible—one guided by honesty, forgiveness, and redemption.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

One terrible night throws Harley’s entire life into chaos and makes her reevaluate her relationships, beliefs, and goals. The little summary up there from the publisher does an adequate job of hitting the highlights of the action of the plot, but since this is very much a character-driven story, about change and growth and moving forward, it doesn’t capture the powerfully emotional and resonant connections, struggles, and healing that make up the story.

 

While Harley’s sister Audrey is in a medically-induced coma following a car accident caused by Harley’s boyfriend, Mike, who was driving drunk, Harley is left to figure out her feelings toward both her sister and Mike (who she busted hooking up together at a party) as well as figure out who she is now that she’s no longer Mike’s Girlfriend. She had let herself become defined by her relationship with him over the past few years, losing herself and her real interests in the process. To her surprise, she starts hanging out again with her neighbor, Rafael, who she used to be really close with but now never talks to. Raf tells her he’s recently out of rehab, though he’s not totally convinced yet that he’s actually an alcoholic or an addict. Given Mike’s history of drinking, and that he’s now attending court-mandated rehab, Harley is a little wary of Raf, but quickly gets over any misgivings when she realizes that he still just totally gets her. He’s open, honest, thoughtful, talented, interesting, and not at all certain about his future. He’s also at a bit of a loss right now, just like Harley, because he’s broken ties with his old friends, who aren’t conducive to his recovery. Harley may worry that he’s a mess, and Raf may think that about himself, but he’s not. He’s just trying to figure some stuff out while beginning to understand that sobriety is a lifelong struggle. Harley has her own stuff to be dealing with—she feels guilty about what happened to her sister, feels a little lost without being with Mike anymore, and while she loves hanging out with Raf and is starting to realize her deeper feelings for him, she doesn’t think she should get to be happy right now.

 

Audrey’s progress while in the hospital is extremely slow. She wakes up for a bit a few times before finally coming fully out of her coma. Audrey has a lot of gaps in her memory, including no idea what happened the night of the party. Harley hasn’t even told her parents what actually happened and how Audrey ended up getting a ride home with Mike and not Harley. It’s all so complicated and painful, especially given Mike’s history of drinking and cheating, and the fact that Harley stuck around through all that. She has minimal interaction with Mike post-accident, including a visit to him at rehab while he is supposedly making amends. But unlike Raf, who has some missteps but is committed to sobriety, Mike hasn’t learned much from the accident, rehab, or Audrey’s coma, and goes right back to his partying ways. Thank goodness Harley cuts her ties with him and works through her own stuff in the company of Raf. They both start to understand more about themselves, like Raf likes to avoid reality and Harley is used to stuffing away her feelings. They both have a lot of insecurities (as does Mike) and Harley has trust issues. But she asks to see a therapist to start to work through everything, with the goal of learning how to stand up for herself and say what she actually feels. Together with Raf she learns that both recovery and just overcoming things in general is not an uninterrupted straight line. Life is complicated and messy, but both Raf and Harley are coming to understand that they can change the narrative and move forward, learning from their past and experiences but also not letting them define them.

 

I burned through this book because Mason presents engaging characters who go through real journeys in the course of the story. There is much to relate to here, including working through problems, redefining yourself, taking accountability, and learning forgiveness. There’s a lot of depth to the story and the characters, for the most part, are nuanced and imperfect but willing to work, change, and move on. This realistic look at addiction and its impact on lives is somber but ultimately hopeful. This well-written debut has lots of layers and will be an easy one to recommend to fans of contemporary YA. 

 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781616959876
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 02/19/2019