P.S. I Still Love You

Warning! Turn back now if you haven’t read To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. P.S. I Still Love You is not a stand-alone novel. You need to read the first book to fully appreciate the second.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s turn our attention to P.S. I Still Love You by the fabulous Jenny Han. This book as been on my TBR list since I finished the first book, and I finally got the chance to read it this weekend. (Thank you, Overdrive!) Like the first book, it is a quick, light read, and it thoroughly grabs the reader’s attention, especially if you love the first book. What’s more, the main character, Lara Jean, is Asian American, representation that is sorely lacking in a lot of contemporary YA romance. And this book, like its predecessor, is definitely a romance at its core.

Lara Jean Song Covey desperately hopes she hasn’t ruined things with Peter. Sure, at first they were just pretending to be into each other, but it soon became real for both of them. But now Lara Jean doesn’t know what to do. Maybe a letter, like the one that brought them together in the first place, will help the situation. It can’t hurt, right?

As it turns out, Peter is just as eager to start a real relationship as Lara Jean is. The two reunite, but their reunion isn’t as sweet as one would hope. Someone secretly videos what should have been a private moment between Lara Jean and Peter and plasters it all over the Internet. It goes viral. It becomes a meme.

Lara Jean is mortified. Peter is vowing to stop whoever posted the video, but the damage has been done…and Lara Jean is pretty sure she knows who’s responsible. Unfortunately, Peter has blinders on when it comes to the culprit (the vile Genevieve), and this incident is driving a wedge between him and Lara Jean.

Peter and Lara Jean are drifting apart–thanks largely to the machinations of Genevieve, Peter’s ex–but there’s another guy just waiting in the wings for Lara Jean’s attention…another guy who received one of her infamous love letters way back when.

John Ambrose McClaren seems to be the perfect guy. He’s smart, tall, respectful, handsome, and he’s interested in a lot of the same things as Lara Jean. Part of her really likes him and wonders what could come of a relationship…but another part of her still has feelings for Peter. What’s a girl to do when she’s torn between two guys?

Well, as is often the case, Lara Jean follows her heart. Who will it lead her to? Find out for yourself when you read P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han!


So…I don’t know that I liked this sequel as much as the first book, but I still found it to be a very entertaining read. Also, as I think I mentioned in my post on To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I related a bit to the character of Lara Jean. No, I’m not Korean, or girly, or a good cook, or at all interested in romance, but I’ve always been a “good girl.” Yes, I argue a bit with my parents, but we’ve always had a very good relationship, and, even as a teenager, I respected them and their rules. (Seriously. I broke curfew exactly one time, and I felt worse about it than they did. I doubt they even remember it.) It’s nice to see that reflected in modern YA literature. More often than not, teens are depicted as rebellious–even disdainful–of their parents (when the parents are in the picture at all), so I really appreciate it when I see something that resembles more of my own experiences.

As far as who Lara Jean should end up with in this book, I have a feeling that will be up for debate with a lot of readers. Will you be Team Peter or Team John Ambrose McClaren? (Yes, it is necessary to say his full name.) I won’t come right out and tell you who Lara Jean ends up with, but I will say that I am most definitely Team John Ambrose McClaren. In my most humble opinion, he’s a great match for Lara Jean. I doubt I’m the only one who feels this way.

Even though P.S. I Still Love You is a fairly light read, it does deal with issues like cyberbullying and deciding when it’s the right time to enter into a sexual relationship. I think some middle school students may be able to handle the situations as presented in the book, but others won’t. Know your readers before recommending this book or its predecessor to middle grade audiences.

If you’d like to learn more about P.S. I Still Love You or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, take a look at the author’s website. You can also connect with Jenny Han through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Rookie Bookie

It’s time, once again, to bring you one of the nominees for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Today’s post focuses on The Rookie Bookie by L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias Moskowitz.

This book is an interesting, quick read that will appeal to both math and sports enthusiasts, but I’m not sure how many upper elementary school students (the target audience for the SCCBA nominee list) will be able to follow all of the economics, statistics, and sports strategy talk presented in this book. I think they’ll enjoy getting to know the characters and seeing how they get into and out of trouble, but I think this book may be more suitable for middle grade readers than many of my little ones.

Mitch Sloan is the new kid at school, and he doesn’t have the best luck when it comes to fitting in. At his old school in California, he was bullied for being a nerd. He doesn’t want the same thing to happen here in Indiana, so Mitch tries out for the football team and attempts to tone down his love of math, money, and correcting people.

One person who seems to connect with Mitch immediately is Jamie, a girl who loves sports as much as Mitch does. She examines strategy just like he does, and he finally feels like someone finally gets him…and he absolutely does NOT have a crush on her.

One day, Mitch and Jamie take their love of sports to the next level, and they bet on a pro football game. Mitch uses his love of strategy and statistics to skew the bet in his favor, and, though Jamie is upset at first, an idea begins to take shape. What if they can get other kids at school to bet on some games? Mitch and Jamie could serve as middle-men–or bookies–and make a little money with no risk to their own wallets. What could possibly go wrong?

Pretty soon, kids are lining up at Mitch’s locker to make bets and receive their winnings. Mitch and Jamie are making money, their “customers” are having fun, and Mitch feels what it’s like to be popular. He kind of likes the feeling, even though he wonders just how many of these people are really his friends.

Eventually, this business begins to spiral out of control, and Mitch and Jamie find themselves in more trouble than either of them have ever been in. (Who knew that operating a middle school gambling ring was against the rules?) Can their friendship recover from this huge mess? And can they find a way to redeem themselves in the eyes of their parents, their classmates, their teachers, and the whole school?

Answer these questions and many more when you read The Rookie Bookie!


I think The Rookie Bookie is a good fit for readers who enjoy football, particularly those interested in fantasy football or anyone who grew up in a town where high school football is a community-wide event. I also think this could be used as a novel study in a math class. It could help students with real-life applications of statistics and finance. Additionally, this book could teach some life lessons, like the importance of honesty, what it means to be a true friend, using talents to help others, dealing with bullies, and owning up to one’s mistakes and trying to make amends. 

While I do think The Rookie Bookie is more suited to middle grade readers, I know some of my older readers (4th and 5th graders) will enjoy it. Hopefully, they won’t decide to start up an elementary school gambling ring. We shall see.

Every Exquisite Thing

I don’t quite know how I feel about my latest read, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. This book, which will be released next month, is the first Matthew Quick book I’ve read, but I doubt it will be the last. (Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has been on my TBR pile for quite a while.) Even though I’m still pondering what I think about the book, the most important thing is that it did make me think. I have a feeling many other readers will feel the same way.

Nanette O’Hare is a girl who has it all together. She’s a good student, a star soccer player, and a rule-follower. She thinks she knows exactly what path her life is going to take…until her favorite teacher introduces her to The Bubblegum Reaper, a book that changes everything Nanette believes about herself and the world around her.

Nanette quickly becomes obsessed with The Bubblegum Reaper and its author, and, for the first time in her life, she questions the path she’s on. What if she doesn’t want to play soccer? What if she doesn’t want to hang out with her superficial friends? What if she doesn’t want to go to college? Suddenly, it’s okay to ask these questions and break free from everything she’s supposed to do.

While Nanette is rebelling against the life others have chosen for her, she’s joined by Booker, the reclusive author of The Bubblegum Reaper, who never wants to talk about his only published work; Alex, another fan of Booker’s novel, a boy who maybe takes the whole “rebel against the norm” thing too far; and Oliver, a kid who is tormented at school and needs someone to fight for him. Nanette believes she’s found kindred spirits in all three of these people, especially Alex.

Nanette and Alex grow closer, united in their rebellion against the status quo. But what will happen when Alex begins to lose himself, when he gets into trouble that he can’t talk his way out of? How will Nanette cope? Will she lose herself, too? Will she revert to the girl she once was–just going through the motions of “normal” life–or will she find a way to remain true to herself?

Read Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick to witness how a book changes one girl’s life, helps her find her voice, and makes her really look at the world around her and begin to find her own place in it.


When I was reading this book, I sympathized with Nanette, worried about her, and kind of wanted to be her. When she finally asserted herself and demanded that others see the “real” her, I cheered…and wished that I could do the same thing. When Nanette was both drawn to and repelled by Alex and his almost manic sense of rebellion, I wanted to shout at her to run away from what would surely be a destructive relationship. (In many ways, I was absolutely correct.) When she did what was expected of her, I did a bit of internal screaming, raging at her to wake up and live her own life. Suffice it to say, this character–the whole cast, really–elicited a lot of feelings, and most of them weren’t particularly comfortable.

Throughout the course of this book, I wanted those around Nanette–especially her parents–to see just how lonely she was and find some way to truly understand her. While that only sort of happened, Nanette did gain a greater understanding of herself. She was no longer content to simply do what everyone expected of her. Yes, some people got hurt, some judged her, and even those closest to her didn’t get why she was, in their eyes, throwing everything away. Nanette didn’t care. She eventually learned to live her own life instead of the one others wanted her to live. That’s something that many adults–myself included–still struggle with.

I guess, thanks to putting my thoughts into this post, I’ve realized just how much I really did like this book. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky book, and it’s not something you can read and never think about again. This book, like The Bubblegum Reaper, makes readers think and examine their own lives and who they’re living for. To some adults, that’s a dangerous concept to present to teen readers (and may explain why The Catcher in the Rye is still one of the most banned books around).

I do think Every Exquisite Thing is a book for mature teen readers. It deals with some adult situations and language that the vast majority of middle grade readers (and some teens and adults) are not ready to handle. This is a novel that invites some fairly intense philosophical questions, so be prepared for that.

For those that want to learn a bit more about Every Exquisite Thing, which will be out on May 31st, and other novels by Matthew Quick, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Wild Swans

Thanks to NetGalley, I was fortunate enough to read an early copy of Wild Swans, the latest novel from Jessica Spotswood. I finished the book late last night, and, while I’m paying for it today (seriously, there is not enough coffee to get me going), the time I spent reading this riveting book was well worth it. It is a great example of contemporary YA fiction, and I think many libraries that serve teen readers will be adding it to their shelves.

Ivy Milbourn knows a little something about pressure. Her grandfather drives her to be the best (at nearly everything) and live up to the Milbourn family legacy. But what legacy is that? Using her talent to achieve success? Dying too young? Or abandoning her family?

A few Milbourn women took care of those first two things, and Ivy’s own mother handled the last. Ivy wants to be successful–without being driven crazy–but she also wants to prove that she’s nothing like her mother, a woman she hasn’t seen since she was two years old. Ivy is looking for a way to stand out, but she’s constantly tormented by her own feelings of mediocrity.

Well, this summer, which Ivy thought was going to be relatively pressure-free, may just be the one that breaks her and forces her to really examine what it means to be a Milbourn woman. Ivy’s mother, Erica, has come back home…with Ivy’s two little sisters.

Ivy doesn’t quite know how to handle her mom’s sudden reappearance, especially when faced with Erica’s blatant animosity. Why does her mom hate her so much? What could a two-year-old have possibly done to earn so much loathing, and why does this virtual stranger seem to delight in making Ivy miserable now? What’s more…why does Erica insist that Ivy’s sisters never know of their true relationship?

As if this huge mess with her mom and sisters is not enough, Ivy is also dealing with a changing dynamic between her and her best friend, a potential love interest (who is also one of her grandfather’s students), and the continuing struggle to both live up to and break free of her grandfather’s expectations and the Milbourn family legacy.

Will Ivy be able to handle all of the burdens on her young shoulders? Will she crack under the pressure or find some way to rise above it all while remaining true to herself?

Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood.


Any reader who’s ever dealt with family pressure will find something to relate to in Ivy. (Doesn’t narrow the audience down much, does it?) Ivy didn’t always handle things in the best way, but she did experience quite a bit of personal growth throughout the course of the book. She learned to speak up for herself and let others know how they made her feel. It wasn’t easy, but Ivy came to realize that it was necessary. That’s a lesson that many adults–myself included–have yet to learn.

As much as I liked this book and most of the main and supporting characters, I have to say that I loathed Erica. (Kudos to the author for making me despise someone so much.) This woman’s behavior was absolutely atrocious for the vast majority of the book. Erica is definitely a character that readers will love to hate, and they’ll cheer when Ivy finally confronts her. Even though there is a hint of redemption for this troubled woman by the end of the book, she still comes off as the villain of the piece…as she should.

Wild Swans, which will be released on May 3rd, is a good fit for teen readers. I wouldn’t recommend it for middle grade readers, simply because there is some frank talk of sexual situations, a lot of underage alcohol use, and a fair amount of swearing. (Having worked in a middle school, I’m not stupid enough to think that some middle school students don’t have experience with that stuff, but I am certain that they’re not mature enough to deal with a lot of it.) This is a book for high school libraries and YA collections.

If you’d like more information on Wild Swans and other books by Jessica Spotswood, check out the author’s website as well as her Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Goodreads pages.

Saving Kabul Corner

Last night, I finished yet another of the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. The book was Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai. This book is a companion novel to Shooting Kabul, but you definitely don’t need to read the first book to appreciate the second. The two stories stand on their own. (I haven’t read the first book, but I may change that after reading Saving Kabul Corner. I liked it more than anticipated.)

Before I give a synopsis of Saving Kabul Corner, let me say that I love that this book is on the SCCBA list for next year. It gives readers the opportunity to look at a realistic representation of Afghan-American culture, something that some of them only see portrayed negatively–whether on the news or in conversations they hear. Maybe it will help them to be more empathetic. At the very least, I hope this book will start some conversations, and I am thrilled to bring it to the attention of students, parents, and my fellow educators.

Life was going great for twelve-year-old Ariana until her perfect cousin Laila moved in. Where Ariana is kind of a tomboy who loves television and origami, Laila is the perfect Afghan girl. She speaks Farsi, Pukhto, and English, she cooks, she helps out at the family grocery store, and she has impeccable manners. Ariana doesn’t see how she can possibly measure up, and she’s not too happy that she has to share her room, her school, and now her friends with Laila.

Things go from bad to worse for Ariana (and the rest of her family) when another Afghan grocery store moves into their shopping center. The adults are tense due to this competing store, and there’s talk of a family feud that goes all the way back to Afghanistan. That talk only intensifies when both stores are vandalized. Neither family claims responsibility for these actions. What could possibly be going on?

Ariana, curious by nature, begins to gather clues as to what’s happening with the rival stores, and she eventually enlists the help of cousin Laila (who’s not as bad as Ariana first thought), her best friend Mariam, and Wali, the son of the other grocery store’s owner. These four kids investigate who could have something to gain by destroying the two stores. What they find will surprise everyone.

Can Ariana and company solve this mystery, save their family businesses, and somehow restore peace to their families? Find out when you read Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai.


I think Saving Kabul Corner could shine a light on a culture that many American readers may not be familiar with. I admit that I knew very little about Afghan culture before reading this book. Now, however, I want to know more. I’m hoping that my students feel the same way. This book could serve as a tool for understanding and appreciating differences–and similarities–instead of allowing preconceived notions or fear color how people are treated.

Not only does Saving Kabul Corner educate readers about Afghan culture, it also highlights the political climate in Afghanistan, now and in the past. This book does not shy away from talking about how women are treated in Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and the current circumstances in the country. Many who read this book may just want to do further research about Afghanistan, its volatile history, and how America has impacted the country and its people, both positively and negatively. (An author’s note at the end of the book provides further information.)

Aside from all of the cultural and political stuff, Saving Kabul Corner is a good mystery reminiscent of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and even Scooby-Doo. (There are no dogs in this book, though. That’s a good thing, in my opinion,) I recommended this book to several of my mystery-loving students today, and I’m sure they’ll enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together as much as I did.

If you’d like more information on Saving Kabul Corner and other books by N.H. Senzai, visit her website or Twitter. As for me, I think I’ll now add Shooting Kabul to my staggering TBR pile.

Happy reading!

 

El Deafo

This weekend, I dove into another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, El Deafo by Cece Bell. (It’s also the April book for my faculty book club…which meets this week.) It was wonderful, and I look forward to talking to both students and colleagues about it.

To my knowledge, El Deafo is the first graphic novel to ever make it to the SCCBA list, and I’m hoping that it will encourage many educators–some of whom don’t consider comic books and graphic novels to be “real” books–to really embrace these types of books and use them in their classrooms.

Not only is El Deafo a graphic novel, it is also a memoir. It truly is Cece Bell’s story. This story–which depicts young Cece as a rabbit–tells of how she lost her hearing and adapted to the world around her. It shows her difficulties fitting in as well as her triumphs. It’s hilarious at times and heart-breaking at others, and anyone who sees himself/herself as different will relate to Cece in some way.

But you don’t really need me to tell you about this book. Let’s hear from the author herself…

I think El Deafo is a great book for introducing a variety of concepts. Some of those may include:

  • telling stories in a variety of formats
  • exploring the relationships between art and writing
  • memoirs
  • accepting/celebrating differences; tolerance
  • empathy
  • self-confidence
  • handling conflict

In short, El Deafo is an awesome book, and I’m thrilled it made it onto the 16-17 SCCBA nominee list!

To learn more about this amazing book and author Cece Bell, visit her website. You can also connect with her on Twitter.

The Girl I Used to Be

A few minutes ago, I finished reading The Girl I Used to Be, the newest offering from YA suspense author April Henry. This book comes out on May 3rd, and, while I have a couple of issues with it, I do think it will be a good fit for mystery lovers and reluctant readers.

Olivia Reinhart hasn’t always been the girl she is now. Once upon a time, she was Ariel Benson. When she was just three years old, her mother was brutally murdered, her father disappeared, and Ariel was somehow left at a Walmart miles away. For the longest time, everyone thought her father must have killed her mom, but new evidence has come to light indicating that’s not what happened. It seems that Ariel’s dad was killed at the same time as her mom, and the killer was the one who took Ariel to a place he/she knew the little girl would be found.

Now, Olivia/Ariel is returning to her hometown for her father’s memorial service, and she decides to stick around to find out what really happened to her parents. She tells no one who she is. After all, if the killer is still around, she doesn’t want to be his next victim.

As Olivia spends more time in this small town, she learns more about her parents and their friends, she finds herself experiencing flashes of memories, and she begins to form theories on who may have committed such a heinous crime. But she can’t do too much snooping around or people will get suspicious as to her true identity. That’s where Duncan comes in.

Duncan, a childhood friend who recognizes Olivia as Ariel almost immediately, offers to help Olivia get the information she so desperately needs. No one will question a local kid curious about this horrible event and what’s going on with the investigation now. Together, the two begin to piece together a puzzle, but even they aren’t prepared for the truth.

Can Olivia figure out what happened to her parents before the killer strikes again? Is she destined to be the next victim? Find out when you read The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry.


Even though this book kept my interest, I kind of felt like it moved too fast. There wasn’t a ton of build-up, and the big reveal was too abrupt for my taste. Also, I figured out “whodunit” pretty early on, and I was sort of disappointed to learn that I was right. I think a few more chapters and red herrings would have fleshed the book out a bit and made it much stronger.

Another issue I had was the somewhat forced, out-of-nowhere romance between Olivia and Duncan. I just didn’t buy it. Maybe I’m alone in that and in the sentiment that not every book needs a romantic arc.

Aside from all that, though, I did think The Girl I Used to Be was an entertaining book, and it will find its place in many libraries that serve middle and high school readers. It’s a quick read that will appeal to mystery lovers, most especially those who’ve read the author’s previous works.

If you’d like more information on The Girl I Used to Be (which drops on May 3rd) and other mysteries by April Henry, check out the author’s websiteTwitter, and Facebook.