Sunday, December 6, 2015

2015 Books I'm Buying as Gifts this Season

I have been woefully neglectful of my blog this year, but have been wanting to share some of my favorite 2015 books. In the spirit of the season, I'm giving recommendations for titles that could make great gifts. Each title is one I am gifting to someone this winter.

~~~~~~~Picture Books~~~~~~~
TO THE SEA by Cale Atkinson
Sometimes Tim feels invisible at school-until one day, when Tim meets Sam. But Sam isn't just any new friend: he's a blue whale, and he can't find his way home! Returning Sam to the sea is hard work, but Tim is determined to help. After all, it's not every day you meet a new friend!
This picture book about the power of friendship by new talent Cale Atkinson is brought to life by charming, dynamic illustrations.
BERNICE GETS CARRIED AWAY by Hannah E. Harrison
Perfect for a new generation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day readers, this charming story about a grumpy cat gently shows how far a little sharing can go. Bernice is having a truly rotten time at her friend's birthday party. First, everyone else gets a piece of cake with a frosting rose. But not Bernice. Then, everyone else gets strawberry-melon soda. Bernice gets the prune-grapefruit juice. And it's warm. The last straw is the one lousy (squished) candy she gets from the piƱata. So when the balloons arrive, Bernice knows just what she has to do: grab them all. And then, poor cross Bernice gets carried up, up, and away. Luckily, she figures out just how to make her way back down to the party...and she brightens lots of other animals' days on her way.
Hannah Harrison’s gorgeous animal paintings come alive in her second picture book. Her “exceptionally polished” debut, Extraordinary Jane, received starred reviews from KirkusPublisher’s Weekly, and  School Library Journal. 
BEYOND THE POND by Joseph Kuefler
Just behind an ordinary housefilled with too little fun,Ernest D. decides that today will be the day he explores the depths of his pond.
Beyond the pond, he discovers a not-so-ordinary world that will change him forever.

~~~~~~~Middle Grade~~~~~~~
FIREFLY HOLLOW by Alison McGhee
{for the niece who loves animals and is starting to read longer books}
Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big? Delve into this lush, unforgettable tale in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and The Rats of NIMH, from the author of the New York Times bestselling Someday.
Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, refusing to listen to their elders, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from…a giant.
But Peter is a Miniature Giant. They’ve always been told that a Miniature Giant is nothing but a Future Giant, but this one just isn’t quite as big or as scary as the other Giants. Peter has a dream of his own, as well as memories to escape. He is overwhelmed with sadness, and a summer with his new unlikely friends Firefly and Cricket might be just what he needs. Can these friends’ dreams help them overcome the past?
Firefly Hollow is nothing short of enchanting, reminding us all that the very best friend is the one who wants you to achieve your dreams. Full-color tip-in illustrations and dozens of black-and-white drawing provide added glow.
THE WILD ONES by C. Alexander London
{for the nephew who likes adventure in his stories and will appreciate the humor and detailed world-building}
When a country raccoon used to a soft life winds up all alone in the big city, there's no telling what he'll do to survive -- and to save his fellow wild animals in the process.
Kit, a young raccoon, has lived his whole life under the Big Sky in the comfort of his parents' burrow. But when a pack of hunting dogs destroy his home and kill his parents, Kit finds himself in Ankle Snap Alley, a city in the midst of a turf war between the Wild Ones and the people's pets who call themselves The Flealess. There he follows the clues his parents left behind to uncover the secret that they died for–the existence of an ancient truce that gives Ankle Snap Alley to the Wild Ones. But The Flealess will stop at nothing to keep that secret buried forever–and Kit is in serious danger.   Perfect for fans of the Warriors, Spirit Animals, or Redwall series, this first book in the Wild Ones epic is sure capture young readers' imaginations and take them on a great adventure. 
CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate
{for the niece who is creative and still believes in magic}
In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.
ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson
{for the niece that has no fear and is starting to deal with friendship issues}
For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a heartwarming graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high through the power of roller derby. 
Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid's life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole...and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl. 

~~~~~~~Young Adult~~~~~~~
I'LL MEET YOU THERE by Heather Demetrios
{for the friend who is ok getting emotional with her romance reads}

If seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.
Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper. 
ALL-AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
{for the person who asks me what book I think everyone needs to read this year}
In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?
But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth. 
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir
{for the friend who wants the start of an epic story with strong characters and a fully realized alternate world}
Laia is a slave. 
Elias is a soldier. 
Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. 

What books are you buying as gifts this year?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

ALL-AMERICAN BOYS & Why My Students Needed to Read This Book


Title: ALL-AMERICAN BOYS
Authors: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster imprint)
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Number of Pages: 320
Source of Book: Bound Manuscript from Publisher
Recommended for: 7th grade & up

      In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.
      A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?
      But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
      Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

My thoughts:

I'm not sure my words will be able to adequately express the importance of this book and the urgency I feel to get it into hands of my urban teens specifically, and all teens generally. 

This is a book to start conversations, in our classrooms and with each other. It's a book to make you take a step back and look at bias in your own life. 

The power in this book lies in the stripped down simplicity-two boys, two views, one incident, which, through the honesty and realness of the characters who are dealing with complex issues of race, community, perceptions, stereotypes, and assumptions, is able to address a timely issue in a way teens will be able to relate to without feeling lectured at. 

Reynolds and Kiely have written a story that stays true to the teen voice and the inner struggle of trying to understand things that don't make sense, and wanting to change but not knowing how, wanting to fight for what's right in the face of outside pressures, and how that all impacts relationships with family and friends. 

It's a gut-wrenching book because of how easy it was for me to picture my own students' faces and voices in place of Rashad's & Quinn's, and in how it made me think about privilege while keeping the focus on these characters and the many real people who have been affected by racial incidents of police brutality. I especially appreciated that the two characters were the forefront, but had friends, teachers, and family who all affected their actions and decisions in a true to life way. 

It's honest, real, powerful, and oh so important. 

It's a book people need to read. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This book is so important I chose to use it as a shared read aloud with my 8th graders. We were lucky enough to have Reynolds & Kiely visiting Milwaukee on tour and our local independent bookstore, Boswell Books, facilitated having them visit our school. Jason visited my students last year, and they couldn't stop talking about how much they enjoyed the visit and asking when he would be coming back. There was such a strong connection from them for what he shared, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to host him again so soon, and for this book in particular. 

I've never heard a classroom full of 8th graders as quiet as when I've been reading this book.

We've already had powerful discussions about perceptions vs lies; how knowing someone's story can change our views; what our immediate reactions might teach us about biases; our anger, hurt, and fear about the realities of racism; how hard it can be to say what you're thinking with difficult topics; the way media portrays black youth; the difficulty of standing up for what's right; and how the way we present ourselves can impact opinions. 
I'm eager to see where time for deeper analysis will take these kids.

I'm so proud of the respect they've shown this topic and their willingness to embrace this book - they've been thoroughly engaged from the first page through the serious, funny, and relatable. I only get them for two years, we only read this book for two weeks, but I know the impact will last far beyond that.

Thank you Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely for writing this book that provokes thought, addresses perceptions and realities, and begs for discussion. 
My 8th graders may not yet realize or know how to thank you for all of this
...but it matters...they matter...they are seen...they are seeing...and this book shows them that.

I asked my 8th graders to share initial thoughts after we finished the last page of the book. This is what they had to say:
"All-American Boys is amazing. I'm literally at a loss of words to explain how I feel. It was so powerful." (Larry)
"I think this book is really good. But there's more than just good. There is a deeper meaning to the book." (Harrison) 
"This book is so powerful. It has let everyone know about racism that has been going around lately." (Madelyn) 
"[The authors] produced a thoughtful way to write about what is going on these days."(Malik) 
"I feel this book had a goal to have you look at society different and it did..." (Alex) 
"I liked this book a lot! It is definitely a part of my Top 10. I think it is a different way to talk about police brutality. I am scared for my black family." (Aalisiyah) 
"All-American Boys was a really powerful story. Altogether the story was amazing." (anon) 
"This book gives the best inside look on black and white societies and perspectives of teenagers." (Kimi) 
"All-American Boys really affected me. Why are black people portrayed as the bad guy? I think this book shows that this is wrong. People appear to be more racist than they think. It's sad that not many people notice this." (Carlos) 
"I think most people can relate to this book." (Rosita) 
"These are things that are happening today, police brutality. It's not just in the book, it's in real life this stuff happens in real life. And it's not fair." (Roman)

Those reactions, and the discussions that will follow, are why I feel this book was so important to share with my urban students, and why I hope All-American Boys will be shared widely with students across the country.

Friday, September 11, 2015

LITTLE ROBOT Blog Tour & Giveaway


I'm so thrilled to be sharing Ben Hatke's newest book, LITTLE ROBOT with you today! It is a fabulous, charming story enhanced by its nearly wordless graphic format. Thank you to First Second for providing a review copy and a copy for giveaway!

     When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it's all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!
     #1 New York Times Bestselling author Ben Hatke brings his signature sweetness to a simple, moving story about friendship and overcoming fears that will appeal to readers of all ages.

My thoughts:
Ben Hatke's illustrations are charming, and this nearly wordless graphic novel with chapters is an entertaining read of friendship and determination. The story of a girl who goes on adventures with her tool belt and comes across a lost robot hooks the reader right away. Adventure begins and suspense is built when we see the robot ends up being hunted by a larger scarier robot trying to get him back. The main character's ingenuity with mechanics and fixing things has a great message. Not only are the illustrations just plain fun to look at, the story itself is a delight. I so appreciate that the young girl is a tinkerer and engineer. Little Robot is about exploration, ingenuity, technology, and friendship. A strong addition to a classroom graphic novel collection.





Ben Hatke writes fantastic, imaginative, engaging books. Check them all out!


Visit the other blog stops for more chances to win.

Blog Tour Schedule

Read Now Sleep Later, 8/31 http://www.readnowsleeplater.org/
Teen Lit Rocks, 9/1 http://teenlitrocks.com/
Cherry Blossoms and Maple Syrup, 9/2 https://innocencewalker.wordpress.com/
Bibliophilia, Please, 9/3 http://www.bibliophiliaplease.com/
The Book Monsters, 9/4 http://thebookmonsters.com/
Fly to Fiction, 9/5 http://flytofiction.blogspot.com/
Bumbles & Fairy Tales, 9/6 http://bumblesandfairytales.blogspot.com/
Stacked Books, 9/7 http://stackedbooks.org/
Ex Libris Kate, 9/8 http://exlibriskate.com/
The Book Rat, 9/9 http://www.thebookrat.com/
Working for the Mandroid, 9/10 http://www.workingforthemandroid.com/
Heise Reads, 9/11 http://www.heisereads.com/
The Hiding Spot, 9/12 http://thehidingspot.blogspot.com/
Fleen, 9/13 http://fleen.com/
Cuddlebuggery, 9/14 http://cuddlebuggery.com/


Monday, August 10, 2015

2015 #pb10for10 (Picture Book 10 for 10)

For the past couple of years, I've been participating in Cathy & Mandy's #pb10for10 event to celebrate picture books that are must haves for my classroom to share with students. Plus, I love seeing what books everyone else has on their lists-I always find new books to check out. 

This past school year, inspired by Donalyn Miller's #bookaday for teachers during breaks, I decided to start a #classroombookaday daily picture book read aloud with my 7th & 8th graders. I introduced it on my teaching blog, and then presented on it at #nErDcampMI. I'm super excited that so many teachers are joining in committing to reading aloud a picture book to their students each day of the school year! 
My #pb10for10 list this year is ten of 
my new favorite picture books that I am most excited to share 
with my classes when we get back to school in September.

BEYOND THE POND by Joseph Kuefler
I finished reading the F&G of this at ALA at actually wished I was still in school to read to kids.

MARILYN'S MONSTER by Michelle Knudsen, ill. Matt Phelan
Thank you, Franki, for introducing this book to me! Another one I was wishing I had middle schoolers around to read it to right away. Pair with Beekle.

WILD ABOUT US by Karen Beaumont, ill. Janet Stevens
I think this one will be my first day of school read aloud this year to talk about being ourselves and being accepting of others' differences and why it makes them special.

THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH by Julia Sarcone-Roach
If they don't understand unreliable narrator after this...

FLOAT by Daniel Miyares
Loved PARDON ME last year, & Miyares' new wordless book is oh, so lovely!

THIS IS SADIE by Sara O'Leary
Some students might need this story.

I'M TRYING TO LOVE SPIDERS by Bethany Barton
A great example of fun voice in informational writing + it's hilarious!

THE DAY THE CRAYONS CAME HOME by Drew Daywalt, ill. Oliver Jeffers
My students love the crayons, and I so loved this new one!

NINJA BUNNY by Jennifer Gray Olson
Last year's NINJA! by Aree Chung made my students' top 10, so this will be a hit.

I adore the look of this book & am eager to discuss the grass isn't always greener theme with my students.

And a bonus book..
because I already read it to my students last year, but it's a new favorite (for my students and me), so I want to make sure people know about it!
TO THE SEA by Cale Atkinson


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Most Popular Books in My Classroom 2014-2015

I can't believe how little blogging I've done this spring, but sometimes life gets in the way. Even with busy plans for summer, I'm hoping to get back to it more in the next couple of months, especially since I have lots of books to talk about.
Because the end of the school year is at hand this week, I've been working on inventory and weeding of my classroom library. As I was working on that, I was looking over the checkout reports and noticing that some books were checked out much more often than others, which is always a good thing to note. I always find it interesting to see how each year's class can have such a different personality when it comes to the most popular books each year. This is especially evident in the impact of author visits - last year's class had a visit from Lisa McMann and the Visions series, along with her standalone titles, were very popular with the whole group. This year's class had a visit from Jason Reynolds and a writer-in-residence three day writing workshop with Kevin Emerson, and they each got to choose one of his books, hence the extra popularity of three of his books. Visiting in person makes a difference in getting students excited about reading their books.
So, here it is, 
the most popular books with my 7th graders this school year 
(in random order):

ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth

THE TESTING & INDEPENDENT STUDY (series) by Joelle Charbonneau

THE NATURALS & KILLER INSTINCT (series) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes


LEGEND (series) by Marie Lu

THE MAZE RUNNER & THE DEATH CURE (series) by James Dashner 
(perhaps the movie release had something to do with this also)

THE PROGRAM, THE TREATMENT (series) by Suzanne Young


THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT by Jason Reynolds

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander

HOW IT WENT DOWN by Kekla Magoon


PIVOT POINT by Kasie West

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US by Kasie West

WINGER by Andrew Smith

THE FOURTH STALL by Chris Rylander


BREAKOUT by Kevin Emerson

EXILE by Kevin Emerson

THE LOST CODE by Kevin Emerson


I AM NUMBER FOUR by Pittacus Lore

SIDEKICKS by Dan Santat

SISTERS by Raina Telgemeier



Thursday, March 26, 2015

BREAKOUT by Kevin Emerson


Title: BREAKOUT
Author: Kevin Emerson
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 24, 2014
Number of Pages: 304
Source of Book: ARC from author in exchange for honest opinion
        When Anthony's angst-ridden rock 'n' roll lyrics go viral, he's unwittingly cast as the school rebel. The truth is, he's not trying to be anyone's hero. 
        Anthony Castillo needs a new life. His teachers are clueless autocrats except for Mr. Darren, who’s in charge of the rock band program. The girls at school are either shallow cutebots or out of his league. And his parents mean well, but they just make things worse. It’s as if Anthony is stuck on the bottom level of his favorite video game, Liberation Force 4.5. Except there is no secret escape tunnel and definitely no cheat code. 
        Fed up, pissed off, and feeling trapped, Anthony writes his first song for his rock band, the Rusty Soles. His only problem: Arts Night. If he exercises his right to free speech and sings his original lyrics—where his own bombs will drop—he and his band will be through. 
       The clock is ticking. Time for Anthony to pick his battles and decide what’s really worth fighting for.
There is something about this book that struck a chord with me as a middle school teacher. Anthony reminded me of students I have currently and had in the past who feel misunderstood by their teachers...and seeing events from his perspective makes me want to do better by them. For this reason, I think Breakout is a book that teachers should read (especially Emerson's author's note about the inspiration for this character).

Breakout will appeal to the boys in my classroom, but also some of the girls who want to get into the head of the boys and figure out what they're really thinking. But the best audience for this book will be the musicians or kids who feel misunderstood. They will relate to the main character and root for him as they go along on this twelve day journey with Anthony, to Arts Night when his band will play for the school, to figure out how to stand up for what he believes and be true to himself.

At it's heart, this is a book about perspectives and words and choices and wanting to be heard and being true to our feelings. That f-bomb word is a major factor in this book (although the actual word is never written out), but it's about so much more than just one polarizing word and a choice about whether to use it during a performance or not. The power of one word comes more from the intent behind it and the purpose for using it - it's about the emotion that caused that word to come out, as Anthony figures out and defends.

All of that being said, there were some specific references to things woven throughout that at times felt a little overused to me, but they did all end up connecting together at the end in a way that made sense. This could be more because I do not play video games, and so these references throughout would connect more with the intended teen audience who have more familiarity with them.

Kevin Emerson has again written a novel that is an ode to the music-loving teen, a call to action for teachers to understand their students, a story with universal themes of acceptance and finding one's own strength and figuring out what's right that will resonate with many readers, and rocking good writing that teens will relate to and devour. 

Although Breakout is a different tone (and gender of main character) from Emerson'Exile, it is one to hand to students who enjoyed his writing and the music-centric elements.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Author on My Favorites List - Emery Lord

image from Emery's website
I adored Emery Lord's debut novel, Open Road Summer, and was thrilled to hear she had a second book coming. I was even more thrilled when I was asked for my address to have an early copy of The Start of Me and You sent to me. I adored Emery's second book also, and even though it's very different in feel, it maintains that same lyrical beauty to the writing that I was enamored with in her first book. And I love the gorgeousness of her books covers. Emery Lord is, without a doubt, a new author on my favorites list. If you haven't read her books yet, what are you waiting for? You can read the synopsis and my thoughts for each of them below.

Title: OPEN ROAD SUMMER
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Number of Pages: 352
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher (Thanks Bloomsbury!)
After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence. This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

Love this book so, so much! Read it in one day because I couldn't stop until I knew how it ended. It's a special book...well-written, honest characters, sass, romance, music, and heart.


Title: THE START OF ME AND YOU
Release Date: March 31, 2015
Number of Pages:
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher (Thanks Bloomsbury!)
Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love & second chances.
       It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for a year, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?
       Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.
I am so in love with Emery Lord's books! Her writing is beautiful, her stories are quietly powerful, and they are so full of honesty and truth and hope that they make me want to be better. Hope for relationships, hope for the future, hope for teens just starting to figure themselves out. I adored Open Road Summer and immediately knew that I had found a new author to add to my favorites/must-buy list, and although The Start of Me and You is very different, it solidified for me that I was right on that first assessment of Emery Lord's potential as an author of contemporary realistic stories with sweet romances and the importance of friendships and family. Here stories are character-driven, and the characters are done so well. The Start of You and Me has elements to character that are so deftly layered in Lord's hands that I felt as if these characters were my own friends. There is such a realness to her character building that the issues and circumstances of her characters resonate with the reader. The Start of Me and You resonates with elements of grief, divorce, siblings, family suffering with Alzheimers, friendships, crushes, dreams for the future, going for what you want, not seeing the person right in front of you, and pushing yourself to be the best you. What I adore about Emery Lord's stories is that they aren't just about the boy-the boy is there, but it's about the girl figuring herself out first before being ready for a boy. And it's about a great, nice boy-the kind that you would want the girls you care about to end up with. Beyond the nice guys, Emery Lord writes wonderful girl friendships in a way that makes me want to buy her books for my best friends, and hand them to my students to see what supportive girl friendships are really all about. I can't wait to see what Lord will write next, but in the meantime, I'll be recommending this book (and her last one) over and over again!


And I absolutely can't wait for Emery Lord's next book, When We Collided, coming from Bloomsbury in 2016. She is for sure a new author on my favorites list which makes her an automatic must-buy for any new books she writes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Blog Tour: The Winner's Crime - Interview with Marie Rutkowski

Title: THE WINNER'S CRIME (sequel to THE WINNER'S CURSE)
Author: Marie Rutkowski
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint)
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Number of Pages: 352
Source of Book: ARC from Publisher
        Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.
        The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.
        As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

My thoughts on The Winner's Curse
A page-turning read and smart fantasy book with a unique premise. I really enjoyed this one, and am dying to know what will happen next! The main character is likeable and intelligent and fun to read about. At times, it did feel to me as if I was reading an older book (the main character is 17 but I often seemed to forget that). The commentary on war and strategy and slavery and people's perceptions intrigued me. I will definitely be recommending this one.

Thanks to Macmillan, Marie is here today to answer some questions.

What do you wish you could go back and say to your young adult self?
--Find a way to take violin lessons. Read The Outsiders. Your best friend will always be your friend (not that you doubted it). Trust your instincts (you already do; I just want you to be confident about it). It will all be ok. You will really be able to look back at some of the sad parts and smile. I promise. A lot of your dreams will come true.

What do you hope teens take away from your books?
--Emotions are complicated, and it’s absolutely common (whether we’re aware of it or not) to feel more than one thing at the same time, even if those feelings seem to contradict each other.

--Also, that it’s worth thinking about how the world shapes who you are, and how you can shape the world.

What was your favorite book (or kind of books) to read when you were in high school? And now? 
--I loved fantasy. I was really into Robin McKinley and Ellen Kushner, for example. But also, around the time I was 16, I began to read adult literary fiction and particularly loved Toni Morrison, E. Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, and others. And I had long loved classics by writers like Jane Austen and LM Montgomery. And I had a longstanding thing for Shakespeare.

-- I still love everything I loved then. I read a lot more YA now (there wasn’t as much of it then. Or at least, that’s my impression. I could be wrong. I definitely read and enjoyed Lois Duncan and Judy Blume and others….but it just seems like there’s more out there now for people who love YA). My recent favorite wasI’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. George Saunders’s short stories are new to me, and they’re sometimes horrifying but also so hopeful, so optimistic about the human spirit that I can’t look away.

If you could leave right now to visit any city in the world, where would you go?
I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat.
(Side note from me: I've been there, Marie. It's a must see once in your life kind of magical, spiritual place. I hope you make it there someday!)
Angkor Wat (from my trip there in 2008)

What do you wish you'd been asked for this blog tour? (and, what is your answer?)
Maybe “What do you think when you hear people describe Kestrel as a ‘strong’ female character, or as a ‘weak’ one?”

I’m interested in this question because of how people, when they use “strong” or “weak” to talk about young female characters, make assumptions about what “strong” and “weak” mean. I think there are different ways of being a strong woman, and it doesn’t necessarily involve physical strength or even action. Here are some things I think makes a strong young woman: determination, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, bravery, intelligence, a loving heart, being a true friend….Kestrel isn’t all of these things, but she possesses some of these qualities. She has weaknesses, absolutely, but I think of her as a fundamentally strong person.

Thanks for having me!


Check out the other stops on the blog tour each day to find our more of what Marie has to say.
 
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