Monday, August 21, 2017

Favorite Reads of 2017 (The Halfway Mark)

The year is already more than half over, and we have read so many great books already. It's time to share a few.

We didn't want to spill the beans too much on our Favorite End of the Year Reads, so Paige and I each picked five of our favorites. And let me tell you, sticking to just five was not easy.

JoLee's Top Five

Windwitch by Susan Dennard:
The series follow-up to Truthwitch is pretty spectacular. I liked this book so much because it just went in so many unexpected places. The characters and the world felt like they expanded tenfold in this addition to the series. I really, really hope that the series can maintain this quality.

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer:
This book is achingly good. It is full of heartache and hope and delivered so many emotions. The book is a cross between a more serious version of You've Got Mail and The Serpent King by Jeff Zenter--two things I love. (featured here)

Dead Wake by Erik Larson:
My favorite book club pick of the year so far.I love the way that Larson weaves together the stories of the passengers of the Lusitania, the men on Unterseeboot-20, and Woodrow Wilson's presidency in the days leading up to the ship's sinking.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan:
I've been recommending this book to everyone who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Set in England during the early years of World War II, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is a epistolary novel told through letters and journal entries with a decidedly female perspective.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor:
Laini Taylor writes the loveliest slow-burn fantasy. Her world-building is absolutely incredible. I'm absolutely fascinated by the world that she created in this book, from the Medieval Monastic feel to the god-slayers of Weep. (featured here)

Paige's Top Five

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor:
I've been looking forward to this book for a long time, but it had been long enough since I'd read the first two books in the series that I couldn't jump right in. I reread those and then devoured the conclusion. Ending a series is incredibly difficult, but this was beautifully written, the kind of story you fall into and can't get out.

Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno:
After reading, and loving, Katrina Leno's The Lost and Found, I was excited for this one. It did not disappoint. Ms. Leno writes beautiful magical realism. This book is infused with a feeling of possibilities and "what ifs." It was an achingly lovely read.

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi:
This companion novel to The Star-Touched Queen was beautiful and interesting. As a storyteller, I loved the power of story as highlighted throughout the book. This book also had so many great quotes that left me thinking about story and magic and possibilities. (featured here)

The Last Thing You Said by Sarah Biren:
In this book, Sarah Biren explores different ways people deal with grief. Some are healthy, some are not. All are true to life and fit her characters. The thing that landed this book on my favorites list are the "Trixies"--stories the main character tells about the best friend she lost. They are magical and sweet and lovely. (featured here)

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows:
This is the funniest book I have read in a long time and I have been recommending it right and left. The alternate world it takes place in is fabulous and the narration is tongue and cheek and oh so snide. It must be noted that the audiobook enhances the humor through a fantastic narrator with perfect comedic timing. (featured here)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Mental Health Matters

Last year about this time we did our first Mental Health Matters Reading on a Theme, and I'm happy to be bringing this topic back. One thing that I really like about the books in this post is that, in addition to featuring books with characters who are in the thick of things, we also are featuring characters who have their mental health issues fairly well managed and are able to have mental health as just one aspect of their busy, healthy lives.

Locked in the Library:
Due to a carpool mix-up and a sudden snowstorm, Autumn Collins is locked in the library for a weekend. And she's not alone. Dax Miller, who has the reputation of 10 Things I Hate About You's Patrick Verona, is trapped with her. But, like Patrick, Dax is not what he seems, and as Autumn opens up to Dax while she waits for her almost boyfriend Jeff to come rescue her, she begins to realize that she's not being herself with her friends. She certainly hasn't told them about her anxiety disorder and how anxious Jeff's daring antics make her. Kasie West always writes swoony stories, and the Utah setting made this story so much fun for me. By Your Side was out January 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Mourning Her Aunt:
Lottie's Aunt Helen is gone. She left Lottie with a stack of letters and a mystery. The letters push her outside her comfort zone and allow her to hold onto Helen a little longer. The more Lottie follows the instructions left in her aunt's letters, the closer she gets to uncovering Aunt Helen's greatest secret. Everything All at Once is achingly lovely. Katrina Leno beautifully captures the mind and heart of a character with severe anxiety and the added stress the death of a loved one brings. The possibility of magic permeates the novel and I loved the feeling of "well, maybe" that was embedded in the tone. Another win for Katrina Leno. Everything All At Once is out July 25, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Unhappy in Rehab:
After The Incident, Hunter is depressed and suicidal. His parents send him to Camp Sunshine, a rehab center for troubled teens. Hunter quickly falls in with Corin who is beautiful and confident and seems to actually like awkward Hunter. But she's also kind of scary. This slim volume really delivers. Sunshine is Forever is filled with black humor and raw pain. The way Kyle T. Cowan is able to mix the two is quite impressive. This book also made me think about treatment and how the people in charge of doling out advice are human too. Filled with mistakes, friendships, and new beginnings, Sunshine is Forever is out August 29th, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

A New Crush: 
Molly is a champion crusher. She has had 26 crushes, all unrequited because all were secret. But when her twin sister, Cassie, meets a new girl and starts a relationship, she all but disappears, and Molly decides it's time to change her strategy. But who should be crush number 27? In The Upside of Unrequited, Becky Albertalli has created a fun story with a great main character. I really liked Molly--I liked that she had anxiety, but it didn't control her; I liked her relationship with her sister (we are a sister blog, after all); and I really liked watching her find her way and learn to take risks. The Upside of Unrequited was out April 11, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Bad Break-Ups:
After finding her boyfriend and her best friend making out, Everly's anxiety condition worsens. She meets Gabe in her therapist's waiting room, and the two strike up a friendship that has potential to be something more if Everly is ready. What I really liked about Our Broken Pieces was that Everly's experiences with a cheating boyfriend and friendship breakup felt like real high school problems. Gabe is about as good as they come, and his situation was heartbreakingly true to life. Sarah White is a mental health professional and the therapy was treated very authentically. One heads up, this book did get a little steamier than I was expecting. Our Broken Pieces is out August 8, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

By Your Side, Sunshine is Forever, and Our Broken Pieces reviewed by JoLee.
Everything All At Once and The Upside of Unrequited reviewed by Paige.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Girls Disguised as Boys

The "Girl Disguised as a Boy" motif is one that never gets old for me. I'm so excited to bring back this Reading on a Theme. It's one we haven't had the chance to feature since 2014 (post here).

Arabella Ashby is a tomboy with a talent for mechanics. Her happy life on Mars comes to an end when her mother takes her back to earth for an education in how to be a young woman. A family misfortune has Arabella scrambling for a way to get back to Mars. Her solution is to disguise herself as a boy and get a job aboard the trading ship Diana. Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine is a fun steampunk space adventure. The setting is a clever alternate version of the Regency era where the Napoleonic wars have spread to the skies. Arabella is a plucky heroine who is smart and capable and not willing to sit idly by as duty dictates. I'm excited to read the sequel, Arabella and the Battle for Venus, out this July.

Iolanthe Seaborne is an elemental mage. She can control water, earth, and fire. Prince Titus VII is looking for the elemental mage prophesied to help rid the world of the Bane and release the people from the shackles of New Atlantis. Once Titus finds her has to hide her, so he takes her to his all-boys boarding school in non-magical 1883 England and disguises Iolanthe as Fairfax. Now he just has to convince her to help him change the world. The Burning Sky is full of everything I love most about the fantasy genre: a colliding of two worlds, complex political intrigue, prophecy, cool training facilities, and a terrifying villain. See why we love Sherry Thomas's series. It's perfect for anyone really missing Harry Potter.

Jordan Sun is tired of getting nowhere in the acting program at her prestigious art school. There just aren't a lot of parts for an Asian Alto II. When a spot opens up in a men's a cappella group, she decides to audition, disguised as a boy. I was excited to read Noteworthy because it sounded so fun. A cappella, a girl disguised as a boy, what could be better? I found the book had depths I wasn't expecting and tackled weighty issues. It wasn't the light read I anticipated, but it was rich and reflective. Riley Redgate's Noteworthy has a little bit of everything and was well worth the read. Noteworthy was out May 2, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.

Historical Fantasy:
Mariko, the daughter of a noble samurai, is on her way to the imperial city to meet her betrothed when her convoy is ambushed and she is left for dead. Determined to discover who ordered her death, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan disguised as a boy. Life among the Black Clan is invigorating and opens Mariko's eyes to life beyond the confines of her home and sex. Mariko continually has to remind herself that these men are her enemies, not her friends. And yet, secrets are everywhere. Who are these bandits really? Flame in the Mist begins a great second series for Renee Ahdieh filled with interesting and complicated characters, a gorgeous setting, and a heady romance. I do wish I understood the magic system a bit better. Perhaps more will be revealed in the second book.

Historical Fiction:
Samantha and her father are the only Chinese people in their tiny village and many are none too happy they're there. So when Samantha's father dies in a fire, her life is put in jeopardy. With the help of a runaway slave, she heads west. She and Annamae disguise themselves as boys and join a group of cowboys on their way across the country. Stacey Lee is a beautiful writer. The images she paints are incredible. I really appreciated the friendship between Sammy and Anna. They take great care of each other throughout the book. Under a Painted Sky is an excellent historical fiction that captured the struggles and triumphs of life on the Oregon trail. P.S. More Westerns.

Arabella of Mars, The Burning Sky, and Flame in the Mist reviewed by JoLee.
Noteworthy and Under a Painted Sky reviewed by Paige.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Highly Anticipated Books for the Second Half of 2017

These Highly Anticipated posts (more here) are always really fun for me to do. I like digging into the lists of what's coming out in the next few months and determining what I really am excited about with no strings or obligations attached. So here we go, the second half of 2017. Any of these on your list?

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab:
Technically this one is not a second half of the year book, but I didn't read the first book in the series before I wrote my first Highly Anticipated post of the year, and it's definitely highly anticipated.

Lucky in Love by Kasie West:
If I'm completely honest, Kasie West's books have a lost a bit of their shine for me, but I'm still looking forward to reading this one. (Kasie West's other books here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levine:
Arabella of Mars was such a fun steampunk space adventure. I'm looking forward to the second in the series.

The Dire King by William Ritter:
The conclusion of Will Ritter's marvelous debut series that began with Jackaby. I hate to see it end! (series featured here, here, and here.)

There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins:
I've loved all things Stephanie Perkins, and I'm curious to see how she tackles a new genre: horror. (Stephanie Perkins other books featured here, here, and here.)

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore:
A new Kristin Cashore!! I love the Graceling Trilogy with a fervor, and I feel like I've been waiting forever for Ms. Cashore's next book. So thrilled it's almost here. (Graceling featured here and here.)

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake:
The sequel to the fantastic Three Dark Crowns.

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud:
Of course the next Jonathan Stroud is on this list. I think it's the series finale. Sob. (The many mentions here.)

Among the Red Stars by Gwen C. Katz:
Another book about the Russian Night Witches! How lucky am I to get two in one year. (See here.)

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston:
Set in a near-future world where the British Empire never fell. I'm intrigued.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater:
A new Maggie Stiefvater. And it's set in my home state of Colorado! (All my love for Maggie Stiefvater here. All my love for The Raven Cycle here.)

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway:
After the gloriousness of Emmy & Oliver, I am completely sold on anything by Robin Benway. (Emmy & Oliver here and here.)

The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan:
I adore the Magnus Chase series.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer:
A new Marissa Meyer with super heroes and secret identities. (All my love for the Lunar Chronicles here. Heartless here.)

Lock & Mori: Final Fall by Heather W. Petty
I flew through the second book in this trilogy. And this one's the final book in the series. (The rest in the series here and here.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Few Thoughts: On Reluctant Readers

Reluctant readers are the subject of many discussions by educators, writers, and parents and that’s not going to change anytime soon. We all want to know how to help someone find joy in reading. We believe reading will enrich a life, as it has enriched ours. We love reading and we want others to love it too.

I don’t know that I have anything new to add to the discussion, except my own experience as a recovering reluctant reader.

It seems unthinkable to me now—a parent, teacher, and storyteller—that there was a time when I didn’t do much reading. My mom says I stopped reading for fun around third grade and she had no idea why. I don’t know why either. I’ve thought of several possible reasons as I look back (did I discover it wasn’t cool or get frustrated when a book was too advanced for me?), but I honestly don’t remember the actual reason.

I was a junior in high school, driving home from a doctor’s appointment with my mom when she asked the question that changed things: What do you like to read? I told her I liked Harry Potter because there was no long exposition. You jumped right into the story and it had your attention right away. That’s when Mom suggested Mary Higgins Clark.

I started with Where Are the Children and it definitely jumped right in and caught my attention, but it was All Around Town that hooked me. I read at least ten Mary Higgins Clark books that summer, which was a big number for someone who didn’t read for pleasure. The next summer, I read everything my parents handed me, including Dune and Rebecca.

Here’s what I learned from this experience. First, it doesn’t have to be great literature. I guarantee that at that point, Dickens and Austen would not have worked for me. I needed to get back into the swing of reading, to remember what it felt like to get lost in a good book. For me, that meant reading something fairly easy, that caught my attention on the first page.

Second, it’s all about what the person likes to read. As I’ve looked back, I wonder if some of my problem was that I wasn’t trying to read the right kinds of books for me. Most of what was available to me was realistic fiction. I wonder if there had been more fantasy options for young readers at the time (or in my house), if it would have been easier for me to come back to reading. It’s possible I was more of a fantasy and mystery reader as a kid and we simply didn’t know.

Third, it doesn’t have to be a book. I got American Girl magazines in the mail as a youth and I read those cover to cover. Sometimes finding what the person loves to read is less about finding the right book and more about finding the right medium.

If there’s a reluctant reader in your life, ask them what they like to read and do what you can to find something to fit their preferences (feel free to peruse our blog if you need suggestions). 

My name is Paige and I am a recovering reluctant reader.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pair It With: Saints and Misfits and That Thing We Call a Heart

In this Pair It With I've brought together two books that feature Muslim-American teens. Both books are own voices and feature main characters who fall in very different places on the faith spectrum. I really loved both.

 Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Publisher / Year: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - June 13, 2017

Genre: YA Contemporary

Source: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Janna Yusuf is not sure she fits in anywhere. As an Arab Indian-American hijabi teenager she definitely stands out at school. And her divorced parents, Flannery O'Connor obsession, and crush on a non-Muslim friend from school, make her wonder about her place in her tight-knit Muslim community as well. One thing she does know is that her best friend's cousin is a monster masquerading as a saint, but will she have the courage to say something? Will anyone believe her when he seems so perfect on the outside?

I loved this debut from S.K. Ali. Saints and Misfits is a classic coming-of-age story. Anyone can relate to Janna's tale because her struggles over who she is and who she wants to be are a universal part of growing up. At the same time, I really enjoyed reading a story set within a Muslim community. S.K. Ali so effortlessly brings the reader into Janna's world. The contemporary YA scene is branching out more and more with diverse characters and viewpoints, and this story is such a lovely addition to that direction and an important one as well. I'm always happy when I find a book that treats faith and faith communities with realism and respect.

Janna's story works so well because she is so honestly herself.She's a fantastic narrator with a strong voice and a distinct personality. Saints and Misfits is populated with side characters who the reader can't help but love. And I really enjoyed watching Janna reassess her initial impressions of many of them.

Also, I absolutely love the cover of this book. The ombre and the script are gorgeous, and I am so happy that they put a hijabi teen on the cover. 


That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Publisher / Year: HarperTeen - May 9, 2017

Genres: YA Contemporary

Source: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble 

Shabnam Qureshi is a Pakistani-American teen growing up in New Jersey. As the story begins, Shabnam's relationship with her best friend Farah is rocky. The reason is that Farah started wearing hijabi without discussing it with Shabnam. Shabnam, who is Muslim but not particularly religious, is worried that this means that she and Farah might be growing apart, and she struggles to understand why Farah would make such a big decision without discussing it with her first. Does this mean they aren't as close of friends as Shabnam thought?

Shabnam then begins a relationship with Jamie, a boy who scores her a job at his aunt's pie shack. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating, and Shabnam falls for him pretty hard, but Farah is less certain about Jamie's intentions.

That Thing We Call a Heart is a complicated book in the best way. Shabnam is not a wholly likeable character. She makes some pretty hurtful decisions and can be self-centered. Farah can be judgmental and lack understanding, and Jamie has suspicious motives. These flaws make Sheba Karim's characters feel like real people who are making real mistakes.

The complications in That Thing We Call a Heart also have to do with Shabnam's position when it comes to faith and culture. Shabnam is very disconnected from Islam and Pakistan. The theme of The Partition of India and refugees that runs through the book is one way that Shabnam begins to open her mind up to her heritage (albeit with lots of starts and stops and missteps).

I love that Sheba Karim tells the story of a girl like Shabnam. People are all over the map when it comes to faith of any kind, and Shabnam's voice is one I appreciated.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Reading on a Theme: Teens on the Internet

There are all sorts of creative things you can do on the internet, like run a book blog, for instance. Today we've rounded up five books about teens with large online followings. Check out what these teens have created, how they navigate fame on the internet, and come to grips with the way their online persona bleeds into their daily life.

Beauty Vlogger:
YouTuber Lacey Robbins' dream is to get a sponsor, and she seems closer to her dream than ever when she lands an internship with On Trend Magazine in New York City. As driven as she is, Lacey is not thrilled when she learns the celebrity contributor for her issue is Tyler Lance of former boy band and bad boy fame. As work gets more complicated, Lacey begins to question her assumptions about Tyler and sponsorship. At First Blush is so much fun. If you like makeup, YouTube, or celebrity romances, this is definitely the book for you. Although light and fun, Beth Ellyn Summer really made me think about self-made celebrity. At First Blush is out April 4th, 2017. Review copy from NetGalley.

Fantasy Podcaster:
Frances, known online as Toulouse, is thrilled when she is invited to do an art segment for her favorite podcast, Universe City. The creator of the show is a complete mystery, but she has been a fan since it's inception. As she becomes involved with the show, a friendship with Aled Last begins and many mysteries begin to unfold. Radio Silence--the name of the narrator of Universe City--is a book about dreams, and friendship, and finding your own way. The tone of the book is subdued, but intense, and I felt it mirrored the tone of Universe City. I enjoyed the transcript excerpts and they way they lined up with the story of Frances and Aled. Alice Oseman created a haunting story of friendship and strength. Radio Silence was out March 28, 2017 in the U.S. Review copy from Edelweiss. 

Photoshopping Instagrammer:
With severe social anxiety, being unseen is often the only way for Vicky to get through the day. Lonely after her best friend moves away, Vicky invents Vicurious (herself in disguise) and photoshops her into scenes she wishes she were a part of. As she uses Vicurious to reach out to the lonely of the internet, her followers skyrocket and she realizes no one is truly alone. I really enjoyed following Vicky's journey in How to Disappear. She learned a lot of things as Vicurious, my favorite being that no one has a perfect life, and it was very satisfying to learn along with her. I was amazed at how Sharon Huss Roat's novel really stuck with me. How to Disappear is out August 15, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Web Comic Creator:
Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of the hugely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She may be famous online, but in real life she's a nobody. Misunderstood by her athletic family and uncomfortable with social interaction, most of Eliza's friends are online. That begins to change when she meets Wallace, an outsider who loves Monstrous Sea as much as she does. The biggest problem is that he doesn't know she's the creator. I loved Francesca Zappia's debut, and I thought that Eliza and her Monsters was every bit as good. Eliza's difficulties navigating her life online and in-person felt so true to life. Also, I really thought Monstrous Sea sounded really interesting. I'd love to read it. Eliza and Her Monsters is out May 30th, 2017. Review copy from Edelweiss.

Fashion Blogger:
Alterations is a retelling of the movie Sabrina. Stephanie Scott's Sabrina character, Amelia Blanco, is an aspiring fashion designer with a huge online following. She lives with her mother and grandmother in the service apartment of the wealthy Laurenti family. Amelia's longtime crush, Ethan Laurenti, doesn't notice Amelia until he sees how much she's changed after a summer internship in New York. By this time, Amelia has agreed to help Ethan's twin brother, Liam, with a fashion app. Cue lots of confused feelings. I really enjoyed the Miami setting and all the fashion in this book. Liam was really sweet. The crazy reality TV show was amusing. This is such a cute read.

At First Blush, Eliza and Her Monsters, and Alterations reviewed by JoLee.
Radio Silence and How to Disappear reviewed by Paige.

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