Recently Read: Kate Messner’s Breakout & Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise

Review posts featuring a children’s lit title and young adult lit title don’t often (if ever!) appear on this site. However, after reading Kate Messner’s Breakout (the children’s title) and Sarah Crossan’s Moonrise (the young adult title) in succession, I thought it might be interesting to pair them together in a review. Both titles deal with the criminal justice system (incarceration, punishment, and the complicated responsibility of prison wardens) albeit in different capacities, degrees and vantage points. While weighty and controversial issues surrounding the justice system and prison system are never off the grid, I feel as though these reads- and the subjects they proffer for sincere examination- might be considered even more timely and significant. (Just a warning, there are some plot spoilers ahead in the reviews!).

In Kate Messner‘s latest middle grade novel Breakout– already receiving a number of positive critical reviews- multiple middle school characters tell the complicated story of what happened over the course of a summer in which two prison inmates escaped a high-security prison located in the heart of their small town of Wolf Creek. Best friends Nora and Lizzie, along with new classmate Elidee, through journal entries, recorded conversations, text messages, posters, new clippings, and recorded morning announcements (and the addition of Nora’s younger brother’s comics), track the events, aftereffects, and transformations of their community after the breakout of two maximum security prisoners. Breakout tackles and confronts a number of heavy-hitting issues, including privilege, spreading of misinformation, prejudice and racism (in and out of the prison), and what foolishness and fear can breed- or inflame. Elidee’s narrative is a standout here: her being a newcomer to town, her being a racial minority in Wolf Creek, and the the fact that her brother is serving time in Wolf Creek’s prison works to highlight the biases of even the most well-minded and well-meaning children and adults. Moreover, through Elidee’s narrative, Messner rather wonderfully ties in the brilliant and influential voices of Jacqueline Woodson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Nikki Grimes (among others): as Elidee finds Wolf Creek and its residents increasingly stifling, explicitly and appallingly racist at times, her study of lyricists and poets inspires her to write and try to make her own breakout from Wolf Creek. Breakout is definitely a read to get dialogue and self-reflection going; I can see elementary classes getting their teeth into this layered read. Well-written, absorbing and truly substantial in terms of content and subject matter, Breakout is a read that offers much for serious consideration.

Sarah Crossan‘s newest young adult novel Moonrise is a read that moved me to tears, and like Breakout, one that I keep thinking back on. Crossan, author of the acclaimed novels One, Apple and Rain, and Ireland’s new Children’s Literature Laureate, has written a novel in verse about a seventeen year old whose older brother receives the date of his execution while on death row in Texas. There is, as one might expect, a tremendous amount of sadness and brutality in this novel, as well as the pervasive atmosphere of desperation and tension that threatens to overflow at every turn. When readers meet Joe, we learn that he hasn’t seen his older brother Ed in ten years- since Joe was seven years old. While Joe and his older sister Angela have never forgotten about Ed and his incarceration, the prospect of his being put to death- even while serving time on death row in Wakefield, Texas- seemed unreal. But when Ed receives his date of execution, and chances for appeal are almost out, Joe makes the difficult trip to Wakefield. The reason for Ed’s incarceration is a slow reveal: the exploration into his making a false admission of guilt and claim of innocence becomes almost secondary to Joe and Ed’s reunion; their remembrances of a childhood fraught with a terrible parent; Joe’s memories of some moments of true happiness with Ed; and how Joe, Angela and Ed come to fathom the looming possibility of saying a final goodbye. Crossan’s writing is deceptively smooth and effortless- so much profundity is imbued in Joe’s often stark narrative. As with Kate Messner’s Breakout, Moonrise offers so much for contemplation here regarding fallacies and serious fractures within the justice and prison systems (and regarding those who work on the inside). Moonrise is a potentread, where the knowledge of unalterable, irrevocable character decisions and repercussions make for a haunting, unsettling read. Readers who have previously read and appreciated Crossan’s affecting work, readers of novels-in-verse, and those searching for contemporary, weightier YA, might especially be interested in seeking Moonrise out.

I received copies of Breakout and Moonrise courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. Thank you! Both titles have been published and are currently available. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Blog Tour Stop: Claire Legrand’s Furyborn!

Welcome to one of the stops for Raincoast Books blog tour for Claire Legrand’s Furyborn! Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a short Q & A with Claire!

Review: Furyborn (The Empirium Trilogy #1) by Claire Legrand
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: May 22, 2018 by Sourcebooks Fire
Book Description:

The stunningly original, must-read fantasy of 2018 follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world… or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed… unless the trials kill her first.

One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable-until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire’s heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world-and of each other.

Claire Legrand has critically acclaimed children’s fiction titles to her credit, including Some Kind of Happiness and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Furyborn, book one in the planned Empirium Trilogy, is young adult fantasy title with a deeply intricate, wondrous and explosive story.

With an opening chapter that is absolutely fierce and spellbinding in its mystery, Furyborn starts off with quite a bang and continues in this propulsive manner for the duration of its course. Post-opening, Furyborn is told in two alternating third-person narratives: one being that of Rielle Dardenne in the Second Age; the second being that Eliana Ferracora, of the Third Age. Rielle’s and Eliana’s stories are 1,020 years apart, but readers will come to know their exact bind by the end of the novel. Rielle’s life in the land of Celdaria is that of veneration to elements (sun, air, fire, shadow, water, metal, and earth), where casting of the elements (magic) is practiced and the long-dismissed prophecy of two human queens- one good and one evil- comes to light. Long foretold, it was thought that a Sun Queen and a Blood Queen- each with all the elements of magic- would rise and predict the future or end of the world. As we follow Rielle’s storyline, we’re taken along an unsettling journey as it is revealed that Rielle may hold the magic of all seven elements and will thus have to endure- i.e. survive- seven trials that the King and his advisors have created. With her extraordinary claim of being the prophesied Sun Queen- the good Queen that will protect the world from the savagery and vengeance of banished angels- Rielle’s life is forever altered, as are the lives of her best friends- the King’s heir Audric, and his bride-to-be, Ludivine. Eliana’s world, millenia after Rielle, is one where magic, prophecy and angels and the stories of the prophesied queens are thought of as mere remnants of old tales- completely fictitious. In contrast with Rielle’s life, Eliana’s is perhaps even more disturbing and dark. Making her living as an bounty hunter by working for the terrifying ruling Empire and ratting out supposed traitors to the Empire, Eliana’s life is completely derailed when a man named the Wolf traps her and forces her hand to join forces against the empire. As the two narratives get deeper and deeper, the relationship between Eliana’s present and Rielle become clearer- as do the seemingly gossamer connections between the two protagonists inexplicable, leviathan powers, the banishment of and venom against angels, and the catastrophic battles that have attempted to forever keep angels away from human life.

Legrand has carefully built up a pretty incredible world here especially given the fact that our main characters live in the crafted world of Avitas millennia apart. From dress, armor, weaponry, geography, not to mention the details of the seven elements, their respective saints and casts…there is so much to awe over and ingest here. Legrand also does a solid job in maintaining tension between Rielle’s and Eliana’s storylines; as the reader, we know we’re going to come to a massive reveal as to how they are actually connected (and why that has somehow survived centuries of time!). While readers might immediately or in short course of time figure out the exact link between Rielle and Eliana, the journey to get to the ultimate end (at least end of book one!) is fascinating. I would argue that Eliana’s storyline, and perhaps even her character, is the more nuanced and complex protagonist, especially as Eliana’s story with the Wolf moves forward and her loyalties and love for her beloved brother Remy and her mother Rozen are tested time and time again. Rielle’s storyline reminded me, in some capacity, of the trails and tribulations that Katniss goes through in the first of The Hunger Games– but it did not make it less intense. With so much packed in Furyborn, not everything is made sense of nor entirely cleared; some major questions are left unresolved, plot points left uncertain, and character choices left vague, but I was nonetheless held captive with the story start to finish (…I also imagine that the second and third books will illuminate any unanswered questions and issues!).

Readers who adore the work of authors such as Leigh Bardugo, Stephanie Garber, Laini Taylor, or Kendare Blake might especially love all of the elaborate world creation, character dynamics and sheer ferocity of Furyborn. Fans of Claire Legrand’s previous titles, even those not so familiar with fantasy, might also want to check this book out, as Legrand’s writing is graceful and fluid no matter what genre she is writing in; the novel simply flies by. Look forward to two more books to come in the Empirium Trilogy!

 

Q&A with Claire Legrand

Q: Big congratulations on Furyborn! On your post for Furyborn on Goodreads, you note that it has been thirteen years that you have been working on the books- and that they are “the books of your heart”. Since 2012, when The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls came out, you have been busy with other multiple book releases. How was your work on The Empirium books impacted by experiencing the release of your other titles and/or with the changing receptiveness to young adult fantasy series?

Claire Legrand: Yes, Furyborn—and the Empirium Trilogy overall—is the story of my heart. I’ve been working on the series off and on since I was eighteen years old. During that time, there were sometimes months-long stretches when I wouldn’t even look at my Furyborn notes because I was busy with other projects. But it was always there, in the back of my mind, waiting patiently for my return. Each book I’ve written has taught me many new things about myself, both as a writer and as a person, and I don’t think I would have been able to make Furyborn the book it is now without the experiences of creating my other books.

Thank you so much for your time!

 

Be sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour:

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog post. All opinions and comments are my own. Author interview was arranged by Raincoast Books.

Blog Tour Stop: If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales

Welcome to one of the stops on the blog tour for author Leila Sales’ latest young adult novel, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say! Read on for my thoughts about this timely novel…

 

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. Thank you!
Publication: May 1, 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Book Description:

A novel about public shaming in the internet age, the power of words, the cumulative destructiveness of microaggressions, and the pressing need for empathy.

Before we go any further, I want you to understand this: I am not a good person.

We all want to be seen. We all want to be heard. But what happens when we’re seen and heard saying or doing the wrong things?

When Winter Halperin—former spelling bee champion, aspiring writer, and daughter of a parenting expert—gets caught saying the wrong thing online, her life explodes. All across the world, people know what she’s done, and none of them will forgive her.

With her friends gone, her future plans cut short, and her identity in shambles, Winter is just trying to pick up the pieces without hurting anyone else. She knows she messed up, but does that mean it’s okay for people to send her hate mail and death threats? Did she deserve to lose all that she’s lost? And is “I’m sorry” ever good enough? Decide for yourself.

“It was just a stupid joke!”

In this era of social media, how easy is it to declare hatred for someone for something they’ve posted? Or to dismiss them outright as an evil person unworthy of another chance? And just how easy is it to compose a post on social media that might inadvertently change the course of your life forever?

“You probably shouldn’t have posted it online, though…”

In If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, the latest contemporary young adult title from Leila Sales (Tonight the Streets are Ours), the author explores the breakneck speed and magnitude of internet shaming and the repercussions of a teen posting something gone unintentionally, horribly viral.

“…I’m asking, why did you put it up on the internet?”
And this was the humiliating part. Because there was no good reason for it. “I just hoped people might think it was funny,” I mumbled.

The morning after posting a comment online regarding the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the recently-announced winner, high school senior Winter Halperin wakes up to online pandemonium. Winter’s posted comment- just shared to her relatively small group of followers (i.e. mostly friends)- has gone viral thanks to an influencer’s share. Overnight, Winter Halperin has gone from (self-described) good girl, good student, good daughter, proud past winner of the National Spelling Bee, to a nationally known, supposedly evil, racist, thoughtless, spoiled individual who is now at the center of a maelstrom. An individual who is now at the receiving end of internet strangers making threats to her life, threats that she should be raped, threats that she should burn in hell. Winter has become, within a span of hours, a public disgrace and subject to a spectrum of harassment. As Winter tries to process what has even happened, and her parents and older sister try to assess and help, Winter’s previously comfortable life and life plans take one major hit after another. Winter experiences just how quickly the general internet public (as well as some friends) are able to vilify, condemn, and name-call (whether justified or not). The extent of the social media furor and outrage at Winter reaches a boiling point, leaving her college plans, and thus future plans, in relics. This is when Winter, to the initial skepticism of her parents, turns to Revibe, a ‘reputation rehabilitation retreat’ in Malibu, that seeks to help ‘victims of public shaming’.

“Here’s why [your apologies] didn’t work: because none of you were really apologizing. Or, I should say, you weren’t just apologizing. You were also explaining and defending yourselves. You were saying, ‘I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to do it, and it’s not my fault, and it’s not as bad as you think it is.'”

I would argue that the character of Winter might incite feelings of deep discomfort, anger, bewilderment, sympathy and intense dislike. The character’s course of actions, especially in the last third of the novel, are, shall we say, surprising. Sales has written a complex story here, and how the reader processes Winter herself is also complex. Intention is a core concept of this story: Winter expresses multiple times that she didn’t mean her comment to come across as racist or mean-spirited in any way, she just meant to be funny- and Sales offers no simple truths or answers on whether the lack of intent is enough. Is the fact that Winter claims she didn’t mean any harm enough to excuse her? Does her comment- argued by a journalist to be “pretty thoughtless” but not “outright malevolent” – warrant the backlash, threats, public vitriol, and major fallout? Is her feeling and saying sorry enough?

While it is made clear that Winter is indeed sorry for her comment, how Sales writes and leaves Winter’s apologies and final actions makes for fascinating, if not vexing, reading. We are left, in the end, with a feeling of unease. Is Winter’s forever-changed life warranted given her course of actions post-Revibe rehabilitation? Sales does not necessarily excuse or forgive Winter, nor does she make her out to be irredeemable and contemptible, leaving everything uncomfortably unsettled…which I suppose, in the end, might have been what the author was aiming for!

“…It will keep happening forever, as long as there are humans and the internet and anonymity…”

Sales is at her best in the novel when combing the grey, often difficult and fraught areas that Winter has to wade into- especially notable during the course of Winter’s time at Revibe.  The discussions and arguments involving intention, inherent privilege and internalized prejudice, sincerity behind apology, justified punishment and penance, etc.- all wrapped up in the chaos of social media fallout- are very well done and the standout here. The material is absorbing, quite compelling, and it is clear that Sales herself has spent much time thinking about these issues. In her acknowledgements, the author gives thanks to Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, YouTubers, writers and podcasters “who informed the ideas that appear in this novel”. Sales also makes it clear that “issues of privilege, microaggressions, and culpability are nuanced and complicated”, and recognizes that she “did not get everything right” in the novel. On the whole, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say proffers thought-provoking, if not sometimes contentious, subject matter up for discourse. Readers interested in exploring these topics further in a complicated, reflective, contemporary YA novel, or those who have previously read Sales’ other titles, might want to check this novel out.

Blog Tour Schedule!

April 29th- Page Turners Blog

April 30th- Books and Ladders

May 1st- Who Ru Blog & Evie Bookish

May 2nd- Fab Book Reviews

May 3rd- Good Books and Good Wine & Across the Words

May 4th- Alexa Loves Books

May 5th- The Book Bratz

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.

Coming Up: Blog Tour for Leila Sales’ latest YA & more!

The blog tour for Leila Sales’ latest young adult title, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, begins on April 29th and it will be stopping here on May 2nd! Do stop by and check out my thoughts on Sales’ contemporary, timely story.

I have had such a string of wonderful- truly excellent- reads lately: P.S. I Miss You; Be Prepared; Speak: The Graphic Novel; the picture book Petra. It’s looking like the streak might just be continuing! I recently finished reading K.A. Holt’s terrifically moving House Arrest, and am diving into the follow-up Knockout. Look forward to a new great picture books round-up post, as well as review posts talking about the latest books from Kate Messner & Matthew Forsythe, David Wiesner, Kyo Maclear & Julie Morstad, and more!

Graphic Novel Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Review: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, color by Alec Longstreth
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: April 24, 2018 by First Second
Book Description:

All Vera wants to do is fit in – but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range – Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

There are a few sub-genres of children’s books that I have long loved reading about: one being about adventures at boarding school, and the other being about experiences at camp. Maybe because I’ve only ever been to outdoor school once- and never summer camp!- I have always been curious to read about other kids camp experiences. And Vera Brosgol’s graphic novel Be Prepared, an autobiographical story about the author’s childhood experience at Russian summer camp, is all-around fascinating, unsparing, and touching.

Be Prepared opens with a poignant vignette: we meet eight (almost nine) year old Vera attending her friend Sarah’s birthday party. Vera carefully notes all the American factors of the time that make her friend’s party perfect: Carvel ice cream cake, stuffed crust Pizza Hut pizza, cool party favours, and a sleepover. As a few girls point out Vera being from Russia, her lack of expensive doll-of-the-moment, and their own plans for various summer camps, Vera starts feeling more than left-out. Readers then see Vera attempt- as dauntlessly as anyone could- to recreate the same ‘cool’ American party for her own ninth birthday and watch as things falter. When Vera and her younger brother attend a service at their Russian Orthodox church, Vera learns about and begs her mother to let her go to Russian summer camp. Finally, Vera thinks, a place where she might actually belong, where her being Russian won’t be considered strange! She’s going to finally have that elusive summer camp experience!

Except, when Vera and her brother arrive at the ORRA- Organization of Russian Razvedchiki in America- camp, things are not exactly what Vera had been hoping for. As Vera meets her older, disparaging bunk mates, gets a glimpse at the terrifying- truly horrid- outhouse, less-than-friendly conditions and witnesses her brother seem to have a pretty awesome time of things, she despairs. We then follow Vera as she weathers through an big error in judgment as well as major upsets and frustrations with her fellow bunk mates, her brother, and her mother. Not all is horrible or lost though, as Vera inches her way to a friendship with a younger camper and makes a daring, utterly brave nighttime search and retrieval. With a touching opening and introduction to Vera and her family- and some of their Russian traditions- Brosgol settles readers in to the core of the camp story easily and smoothly. Vera’s time at the ORRA camp is absolutely compelling; raw, sometimes funny, and reveals Vera’s struggle of being and feeling Russian yet not Russian enough at camp. The selective colour palette of the graphic novel- black, white, various shades of greens- works so well here and highlights both the outdoor component and often bittersweet nature of the story. Be sure to read the entirety of the Author’s Note and Word of Thanks at the end, as it all adds even more resonance and insight to the graphic novel.

Overall, what a memorable story; a fantastic graphic novel that is beautifully illustrated and terrifically told. I read Be Prepared in one big gulp, I could not put this one down! Brosgol’s adventures in Russian camp are unlike anything I have yet read, and seeing her amalgamated experiences come alive on the page really make for an affecting, honest read. Any readers who have clamored for the work of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, or loved titles like Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Jimmy Gownley’s The Dumbest Idea Ever, or Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends might especially appreciate this title. Readers who have previously read and loved Brosgol’s storytelling and art in the Eisner Award-winning Anya’s Ghost or Caldecott Honor book Leave Me Alone! might want to check this one out! As Be Prepared ends on a wee bit of a cliff-hanger, I am wondering whether Vera Brosgol has plans for a companion novel? I for one would love to read more of her- and her family’s- story!

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I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Review: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: February 6, 2018 by Farrar Straus & Giroux
Book Description:

The critically acclaimed, award-winning, modern classic Speak is now a stunning graphic novel.

“Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless-an outcast-because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Since its publication in 1999, Speak, the first novel of critically acclaimed and award-winning author Laurie Halse Anderson, has been much talked about, challenged, dissected, and shared. Almost twenty years since it was first published and was a National Book Award Finalist, it has been adapted into graphic novel format, with illustrations by Canadian artist Emily Carroll (Through the Woods).

Through Anderson’s adapted text and Carroll’s artwork, readers not only see protagonist Melinda’s present day-to-day life, but also see the depiction of Melinda’s horror- the memories of a rape that was committed by an older student named Andy. Speak is a powerful novel and one that is very much about atmosphere and voice; it is also an uncomfortable, disturbing and essential read about a young woman’s sexual assault and aftermath (self-blame, victim shaming, repercussions (or lack thereof) for perpetrators of sexual assault, and more). This graphic novel adaptation brings all of that dialogue, emotion, conflict and utter terror forth. With Carroll’s striking illustrations, the contrast of Melinda’s quiet yet violent mental torment with that of her reality (her drudgery of school, parents, artificial friends) makes the reading experience even more raw and felt. For those who have read Anderson’s novel, you might experience even more discomfort and intense rage at seeing everything Melinda goes through- especially at the culminating scene that sees her rapist attack again. The graphic novel does absolute justice to its primary source; Anderson’s tone and style, and the significant weight of core subject matter(s) is never lost or lessened. Carroll is an impeccable fit here as illustrator; once you see her illustrations and how she has presented/captured Melinda’s story and the essence of Speak you will likely not be able to imagine a different pictorial representation.

There is not much more I can say in conclusion other than to highly recommend this title. This is a do-not-miss; as significant and moving as its original source, with Carroll’s vivid, sometimes unsettling illustrations providing additional impact to Melinda’s story. As noted above, Anderson’s novel is coming up to its twentieth anniversary next year; since I first read it in the early 2000’s for a university class on children’s literature, I feel as though it has stayed forefront in readers’/YA attention (even more so since I have been a librarian). As other reviews have suggested, Speak: The Graphic Novel does indeed bring Anderson’s classic to a new and/or different audience; there is also much to discover and revisit in this adaptation even if you are already familiar with the novel. Readers acquainted with Anderson’s novels, fans of Emily Carroll’s unique, horror-veined work, or those who are interested in consequential graphic novels might especially appreciate this excellent- important- read.

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I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Blog Tour Stop: Amy Spalding’s The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)!

Welcome to one of the stops on the Thomas Allen & Son’s blog tour for Amy Spalding latest contemporary young adult title, The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)!

Read on for my thoughts on the book, my thoughts about burgers (yes!), more about Amy, and …the link to The Jordi Perez Prize Pack giveaway! The giveaway closes in about two days, so Canadian residents, enter away!

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
Publication date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Available in Canada through Thomas Allen & Son
Goodreads link

Description:

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She also unwittingly becomes friends with Jax, a lacrosse playing bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in Los Angeles, and she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is. Just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight. Instead of feeling like she’s landed a starring role, Abby feels betrayed. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image others have of her?

 

Sometimes (or perhaps a lot of the time!), you need a true confectionary, romantic, delight of a book. Happily, Amy Spalding’s recent YA release, more than met my need for that kind of read. In The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles), we follow the first person narrative of seventeen year old Abby Ives as she steers her way through a summer of a busy internship at clothing boutique, balancing new and old friends, issues with her health-obsessed mom and oh yes, a romance (and first relationship!) with fellow intern, Jordi Perez.

There are numerous focal points in The Summer of Jordi Perez as we can read from the book description, and Spalding navigates them all well. At the core of the story, however, we have the focus on Abby’s internship at fashion boutique Lemonberry and how her relationship with co-intern Jordi (who also goes to Abby’s high school) grows into a significant relationship. As readers get to know Abby, we hear about her history of romance, or lack thereof. While her friends have been dating or attracting attention and in relationships, Abby confesses to feeling like that sidekick in a rom-com- the best friend who proffers dating advice, quippy comments, is cute but definitely not the star. While her best friend Maliah, her sister Rachel, and new friend Jax claim Abby to be delusional about that fact- Abby is supremely stylish, fashionable, runs a talented and popular plus size fashion blog +style, and beautiful- Abby is pretty adamant about her sidekick status being permanent. If she’s a star, then where is her love interest? We learn that the one girl that Abby had really ever been interested in (but just quietly), is actually in a relationship with a boy; that leads to Abby basically writing off the idea of crushing on or dating any girl in real life. But then, along comes fellow intern Jordi Perez, talented photographer, casually stylish, adorable, and very much interested in Abby. I pretty much fell immediately in love with Abby and her narrative voice, her candor, as well as reading about her growing friendship with Jax. And perhaps most importantly of all, the relationship and romance between Abby and Jordi? It is is so beautifully and warmly written, one cannot help but feel a heartfelt connection with how Spalding writes about both glorious and devastating moments in getting to know and love someone- and being able to come to terms with their unintentional mistakes.

Overall, The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) is a genuine treat of a novel. Featuring an array of bright and funny characters, including a fantastic lead narrator, and a bustling yet focused story that flows from beginning to end, there is so much to appreciate about this YA title. Readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Becky Albertalli, Julie Murphy, Jenny Han, Nina LaCour, or more unique contemporary YA might especially love this wonderful, lovely read.

Burger Talk
One of the plot lines in the book involves Abby and Jax trying to decide on the best burger in LA for a new app…and as part of the tour, us lucky participants get to share a little bit about our love of burgers and what our favourite burger is! Now, I have to admit, I love a GOOD tasty burger that hits the spot- though I don’t consider myself too picky or any kind of burger connaisseur! I was torn between the Five Guys bacon cheeseburger with everything (minus mushrooms) and the California Burger at Milestones which has been a fave for years. In the end, I went with the California Burger! Mmmm…I think it might be the toasted bun and the avocado on the burger which makes it all WORK…so good. Also, many moons ago, when Mr. Fab and I were in the earlier stages of dating, I introduced him to Milestones and we had many an awesome brunch and lunch dates happily munching away on California burgers and fries. Happy memories there as well! Some pics below of the burger taken on a recent lunch outing with Mr. Fab!

 

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Photo by Robyn Von Swank, from author’s site

About Amy Spalding:
Amy Spalding has a B.A. in advertising and marketing communications from Webster University, and an M.A. in media studies from the New School. Amy studied longform improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. By day, she manages the digital media team for an indie film advertising agency. By later day and night, Amy writes, performs, and pets as many cats as she can. She grew up in St. Louis, but now lives in the better weather of Los Angeles.

Follow Amy:
Website: https://www.theamyspalding.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/theames
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmySpaldingWrites/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thatames/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5768552.Amy_Spalding

 

Tourwide Giveaway!

The winner will receive:
1. 1 hardcover copy of The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding
2. 1 pack of FujiFilm Instax Mini Film
3. 1 $5 gift card for Five Guys (Canada)

Details:
– Canada Only (full rules found in the T&C on Rafflecopter)
– Giveaway ends Wed. Apr. 11th @ 12AM EST
– Winner will be drawn randomly through Rafflecopter, contacted via email and will have 24 hours to claim their prize

Link to the giveaway on Rafflecopter!

 

I received a digital copy of this title courtesy of Thomas Allen & Son in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own. Thomas Allen & Son is providing the prize pack for the winner. Publicity information has been provided by the publisher.

Coming Up: Blog Tour for Amy Spalding’s The Summer of Jordi Perez!

I am excited to be participating in Thomas Allen & Son‘s upcoming blog tour supporting author Amy Spalding‘s latest buzzed about YA release, The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)!

Take a look below for the blog tour information- you’ll see that there’s not only the promise of reviews and burger pics (yup!), but there is also a very cool prize pack Canadian residents can enter to win! The Jordi Perez Prize Pack includes: one hardcover copy of The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles); one pack of FujiFilm Instax Mini Film; and one $5 gift card for Five Guys Canada.

How can you participate and enter the giveaway? Follow the tour! Be sure to check out the tour stops for info on how to enter- the tour starts Tuesday, April 3rd! The blog tour stops here at Fab Book Reviews on April 9th- the second to last stop. You can also follow the blog tour on Twitter with the hashtags #TheSummerofJordiPerez and #JordiPerezBlogTour. Enjoy and good luck!

Must Read Monday (78): YA titles from Emily X.R. Pan, Nic Stone, Melissa Albert & more!

Welcome to the second 2018 edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: all about young adult titles! I’ve mentioned this before, but YA is one genre that kind of fell off my reading radar over the last year or two. Not for lack of wonderful, unique, game-changing and critically acclaimed titles! More a factor of time (hello, life!) and how focused my study and reading in middle grade, early fiction and picture books has been lately! So in a rambling way, what I’m trying to say is: I am BEHIND on YA titles and hope to carve out more time to get back into exploring all these wonderful teen lit titles I’ve been reading and hearing about! I’m featuring a slew of novels this week; look forward to more YA titles to be featured in coming Must Read Mondays. Also- any recommendations for YA you’ve loved lately, please leave a suggestion in the comments!

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Publication: May 30, 2017 by Greenwillow Books
Book Description:

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Publication: October 17, 2017 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

 

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert
Publication: January 30, 2018 by Flatiron Books
Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

 

American Panda by Gloria Chao
Expected publication: February 6, 2018 by Simon Pulse
Book Description:

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

 

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Expected publication: March 20, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

 

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
Expected publication: March 27, 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him.

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

 

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter
Expected publication: March 27, 2018 by Scholastic Press
Book Description:

Maddie thought she and Logan would be friends forever. But when your dad is a Secret Service agent and your best friend is the president’s son, sometimes life has other plans. Before she knows it, Maddie’s dad is dragging her to a cabin in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.

No phone.
No Internet.
And not a single word from Logan.

Maddie tells herself it’s okay. After all, she’s the most popular girl for twenty miles in any direction. (She’s also the only girl for twenty miles in any direction.) She has wood to cut and weapons to bedazzle. Her life is full. Until Logan shows up six years later . . .And Maddie wants to kill him.

But before that can happen, an assailant appears out of nowhere, knocking Maddie off a cliff and dragging Logan to some unknown fate. Maddie knows she could turn back- and get help. But the weather is turning and the terrain will only get more treacherous, the animals more deadly.

Maddie still really wants to kill Logan.
But she has to save him first.

 

Best of 2017, Part 1: Children’s Lit, Young Adult, Adult Fiction & more!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful, safe and lovely holiday season, whatever your celebrations may be!

I am rather late in posting this, but I wanted to get in my 2017 reading highlights before the end of the year. In no particular order, here are my book selections for part one, hope you enjoy!

 

Children’s Fiction/Middle Grade:
The Goat by Anne Fleming
Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes by Mary E. Lambert
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling
Greetings From Witness Protection by Jake Burt
Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge
Greenglass House (Greenglass House #1) by Kate Milford
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Howard Wallace, P.I. by Casey Lyall
Shadow of a Pug (Howard Wallace, P.I #2) by Casey Lyall
Ghost (Track #1) by Jason Reynolds
The Cat Stole My Pants (Timmy Failure #6) by Stephan Pastis
Royal Crush (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess #3) by Meg Cabot
Roll by Darcy Miller
The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
Jolly Foul Play (Murder Most Unladylike #4) by Robin Stevens
Mary Anning’s Curiosity by Monica Kulling
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter
Olga and the Smelly Thing from Nowhere (Olga #1) by Elise Gravel
Catstronauts series by Drew Brockington (graphic novel)
Wallace the Brave by Will Henry (graphic novel)
Lint Boy by Aileen Leijten (graphic novel)
Bird and Squirrel on Fire (Bird & Squirrel #4) by James Burks
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illus. LeUyen Pham, color by Jane Poole (graphic novel)
Phoebe and Her Unicorn in the Magic Storm (Heavenly Nostrils, #6) by Dana Simpson (graphic novel)
Grandfather and the Moon by Stéphanie Lapointe, illus. Rogé, translated by Shelley Tanaka

 

Young Adult:
The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith
The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman
Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail (YA/MG crossover)
The Dead Inside by Cyndy Etler (YA non-fiction)

 

Adult Fiction & Mysteries:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Nine Lessons (Josephine Tey Mystery #9) by Nicola Upson
Hunting Hour (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #3) by Margaret Mizushima
Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Forgotten City (A Claire Codella Mystery #2) by Carrie Smith
The Boy is Back (Boy #4) by Meg Cabot

 

Adult Non-Fiction, Humour and Other:

Big Mushy Happy Lump (Sarah’s Scribbles #2) by Sarah Anderson
It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot
I Hate Everyone Except You by Clinton Kelly
Texts From Dog II: The Dog Delusion by October Jones
Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting by Brian Gordon
Onward and Downward: The Twenty-Second Sherman’s Lagoon Collection by Jim Toomey

 

Note: Some titles appearing on this list may have been published in previous years; titles on this list are ones that I read in 2017. Some titles appearing on this list may also have been provided by publishers in exchange for honest reviews; this has no bearing on making this list. These are my personal selections.