See You at Harry’s

You’d think I’d know by now not to judge a book by its cover. Well, I don’t, and the latest book to fool me is See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles. Let’s take a quick look at the cover:

This cover practically shouts, “Brain candy right here!” I mean, there’s ice cream on the cover, for goodness sake. Of course I thought I would be getting a light, fun read that would be a nice contrast to other, heavier books I was reading. Alas, that was not the case. (I probably should have paid closer attention to the blurb on the front cover and the synopsis on the back. My bad.) Now, that’s not to say that See You at Harry’s was bad in any way. It was wonderful, to be quite honest. It just wasn’t what I was expecting…and that’s a good thing. I re-learned an important lesson and got a moving, sob-inducing book in the process. Hooray for me.


Fern often feels ignored by her family. Her father’s main focus is on the family business. Her mom, when not helping Fern’s dad, is wrapped up in her meditation. Her sister Sara is taking a year off between high school and college and seems to delight in telling her siblings what to do. Her brother Holden spends most of his time hiding his true self from the world. Then there’s Charlie.

Charlie is three years old and the center of everyone’s world. Fern, who is probably Charlie’s favorite sibling, loves her little brother but finds him annoying at times. Sometimes, Fern wishes Charlie would just leave her alone and bother someone else with his dirty, sticky, loud, obnoxious self. Why can’t he ignore her like everyone else does?

Fern’s only solace is the time she spends with her friend, Ran. Ran is the epitome of cool, calm, and collected. His mantra of “all will be well” soothes Fern when things aren’t great–both at home and at school. Pretty soon, though, even Ran’s mantra won’t be enough to soothe what ails Fern…

When tragedy strikes Fern’s family–and Fern feels as if she’s to blame–life as she knows it begins to unravel. How can any of them go on when something so horrible has happened? At first, they can’t. Fern wonders how anyone in her family can stand to look at her when they know that this horrible accident is all her fault. She doesn’t see any way past what has happened, and she can’t fathom being happy after what has befallen her family.

But there is hope…

Fern, with the help of her friends and siblings, eventually realizes that, even though her sadness is often unbearable, she deserves to be happy. She can laugh and celebrate and love despite her tragic circumstances. Joy can be found even in the bad times. Fern and her family simply have to find a way to look for the light in the midst of the darkness.


I really hope I haven’t given away what happens in this book. That would just ruin everything. Suffice it to say that I cried ugly tears through the latter half of the book. (We’re talking wet shirt, foggy glasses, going through a whole box of Kleenex here. I was a mess.) So, if you’re looking for a good cry, See You at Harry’s may be the book for you.

In my most humble opinion, See You at Harry’s is a book suited to middle grade readers on up. I do think, though, that tween readers will have a very different reaction than will adult readers of this book. It might be interesting to compare the two reactions in a faculty-student book club. (If I worked in a middle school library, I’d strive to make this a reality.)

If you’d like to learn more about See You at Harry’s and other books by Jo Knowles, check out the author’s website. (Quite a few of her books are on my extensive TBR list.) You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Happy reading!

Published in: on October 19, 2015 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Saint Anything

This next statement may shock some of you. Until a few days ago, I had never read a Sarah Dessen book. I know, I know. It’s a true scandal for someone who loves YA literature as much as I do. The good news is that I have remedied that situation, and I’m now prepared to read everything that Dessen has ever written. Her newest book, Saint Anything, is outstanding, and if her other books are in any way comparable, I’m already hooked.

In Saint Anything, we meet Sydney, a girl dealing with the fallout of her brother Peyton’s mistakes. Several months ago, Peyton, after claiming that he was finally going to get his act together, had a few drinks at a party and proceeded to get behind the wheel of a car. On his way home, Peyton hit a kid named David Ibarra, paralyzing him for life.

Now, Peyton is in prison, and Sydney is left to deal with her guilt and shame over her brother’s actions. And with all of her parents’ focus on Peyton and his issues, Sydney wonders if they really see her. Even her decision to transfer to public school doesn’t seem to faze them. (They don’t appear to realize that Sydney’s decision was based partly on the financial burdens created by Peyton’s actions.) She’s invisible in her own home.

At first, Sydney feels invisible at her new school as well, but that changes rather quickly. When Sydney encounters the Chatham family, she feels like she’s finally seen.

The Chathams are a close-knit family with their own share of issues. The family owns a local pizza parlor, and, almost immediately, they treat Sydney as one of their own. Layla soon becomes Sydney’s closest friend. Layla has no luck with guys, but she’s always searching for the one who will be true to her. (Also, she has a weird obsession with fries.) Then there’s Rosie, a recovering addict who is trying to get her figure skating career back on track. Mr. Chatham runs the pizza parlor and plays in a bluegrass band in his spare time. Mrs. Chatham struggles with multiple sclerosis, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her entire family in line. And then there’s Mac…

Mac is Layla’s older brother, and Sydney is drawn to his quiet, protective nature. Even though she knows it could damage her friendship with Layla, Sydney can’t seem to help growing closer to Mac…and he feels the same way. Sydney finally feels like there’s someone who really gets her, and she won’t let go of that without a fight.

After an argument with Peyton and discovering Sydney breaking a couple of rules, Sydney’s parents finally turn their attention to their daughter. (I say “they,” but I really mean “her mother.” She leads, and Sydney’s dad sort of follows along.) They don’t want her to go down the same path that Peyton did, and they seem to think that the Chathams have something to do with what they perceive as changes in their daughter’s behavior. (They don’t see their own lack of attention as a problem, in my opinion.) They tighten the reins on Sydney, talk about transferring schools, and basically try to keep Sydney away from anything that could be a “bad influence.” What they don’t realize is that the true danger to their daughter has been right under their noses all along.

Sydney knows her parents are being unreasonable, but she doesn’t know how to convince them that a couple of mistakes do not mean she’s headed for trouble. She’s tired of being punished for Peyton’s actions, and she’s unwilling to let go of the relationships that have come to mean so much to her. What can she do to make her parents finally see her? Can Sydney reconcile her own feelings about her brother while helping her parents to see her for herself? And how will her closeness with the Chatham family help–or hinder–her efforts? Discover the answers to these questions and many more when you read Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.


I adored this book. The characters were wholly relatable, and I honestly felt like the Chathams made me a member of their family as I was reading. I was charmed by that entire family, particularly Layla, Mac, and Mrs. Chatham. This family was a beautiful example of how a family should come together in tough times. That provided a perfect counterpoint to Sydney’s own family.

Sydney’s parents, blinded by the experiences with their son, were exasperating. At several points during the book, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack Sydney’s mom. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) I know she was dealing with a hard situation the only way she knew how, but it was still frustrating to read, and Sydney’s dad didn’t really help matters. When he was around, he meekly followed along with whatever his wife wanted, even though it was clear that he often disagreed with her. Neither of them paid enough attention to their daughter…until something happened that forced them to.

Saint Anything, which I think is suitable for both middle grade and teen readers, is a wonderful book about a girl discovering herself and what it truly means to be part of a family. The Chathams provide her with the love and attention she’s craved, but they also show her that every family experiences difficulties. Those connections help Sydney cope with what is happening at home. In her own family, Sydney comes to realize that her perceptions, of her brother and her parents, may not always reflect what’s really going on.

I hope you enjoy Saint Anything as much as I did. If you’d like to learn more about it and author Sarah Dessen, click here. You may also want to connect with the lovely Ms. Dessen on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

As for me, I’m now going to add every other Sarah Dessen book to my already staggering TBR pile. Wish me luck!


Greetings! This evening, I bring you yet another of the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff. This short yet powerful novel combines historical fiction with a bit of the supernatural, and readers end up with a moving tale of a young girl looking for a sense of family.

The year is 1944, and war continues to hold the world in its grips. Jayna knows it’s just a matter of days before her big brother Rob, the only family she has, will be deployed on a ship headed for the fighting in the Pacific. Jayna tries to put on a brave face, but she’s not happy about being separated from her brother once again, and she doesn’t want to live with Celine, their grumpy landlady, while Rob is away.

After Rob leaves for duty, Jayna is comforted by her turtle Theresa, cooking soup, and by an odd presence that seems vaguely familiar. Is this a ghost? If so, who is it, and what does it want with Jayna?

When Jayna receives the devastating news that her brother is missing in action, this “ghost” leads the girl back to their house and to an old box in a closet. There Jayna finds an old blue cookbook and the address of a Brooklyn bakery called Gingersnap (which happens to be Jayna’s nickname).

Jayna, though scared and unsure, sees the bakery’s name as a sign, and she packs up her turtle, the blue cookbook, and most of her belongings and sets off for an uncertain future and a grandmother she’s never known. Jayna is accompanied by the voice of her ghostly companion, and she eventually arrives in Brooklyn. What she finds there, however, may not be exactly what she expected.

Jayna is very confused about her current circumstances and what will happen to her should her brother never return. She likes being in Brooklyn and the friends she’s made, but what if Rob never comes back to her? What if he’s gone forever? Jayna seeks out her ghostly friend to give her some measure of help, but she doesn’t know if that will be enough to keep her brother safe or to preserve the little family she’s made for herself in Brooklyn.

What will become of young Jayna in this time of turmoil? Read Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff to find out!


Many of my students may pick up Gingersnap for the length (only 160 pages), but I hope they stick around for this heart-warming story. In just a few pages, Patricia Reilly Giff gives readers a fairly realistic look at what life may have been like for a young girl during World War II. We see how a family can be torn apart by war, how a girl will do whatever she must to survive and thrive, and how scarcity and rationing can have a huge effect on not just a family’s meals but also keeping a business going.

Peppered throughout Gingersnap, readers see Jayna’s soup recipes. These recipes reflect exactly what Jayna is going through, and the instructions are at once charming, funny, and reminiscent of many recipes created by kids–or my own mother, a woman who makes soup by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into a pot and cooking until it tastes right. (Whatever she does, it works. My mom’s soup is the best.)

Even though the ending of this book is a tad predictable, I still appreciated Jayna’s journey. She learned quite a bit about herself, her family’s past, the war going on around her, and what it really feels like to be part of a family and the community around her. And even though everyone around her had their own reasons to be cynical and angered by the circumstances of war, they were all kind and caring, and they showed Jayna just what it meant to be there for one another in difficult times.

As for the “supernatural” bits of Gingersnap, neither I nor Jayna are sure if a ghost was at work. It’s possible. This part of the book is definitely open to interpretation, and the discussions about this presence could be quite interesting.

I think Gingersnap is a great read for those in third grade on up. (Yes, even middle schoolers and teens will find something to enjoy.) This book could lead to further research on World War II and the fighting in the Pacific, and it would be a good novel study presenting a different view of the war. (As my fellow educators likely know, most novels with a WWII-focus tend to center on the fighting in Europe and/or the Holocaust.)

I’ll Give You the Sun

Sometimes, when it takes me a while to finish a book, it’s because I just couldn’t get into it. (See my previous post.) Other times, however, my reasons are more complicated. My latest read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, took me about six weeks to get through, but the problem definitely wasn’t that I couldn’t get into it. Just the opposite, in fact.

I’ll Give You the Sun–like the works of John Green, Gayle Forman, and Rainbow Rowell–is one of those books with the power to completely take over everything, causing me to forget to sleep or eat and making me resent going to work. So, I had to force myself to only pick up this book when I could devote all of my attention to it…and I was finally able to do a lot of that this weekend. I consider it a weekend well spent…even with all of the ugly crying going on.

This amazing book tells the story of Jude and Noah, twins who have been torn apart by heart-breaking circumstances. Told in alternating perspectives–the earlier years by Noah and the later years by Jude–this story allows readers to see both sides of a tarnished (yet still beautiful) coin.

Through Noah’s eyes, we see Noah and his obsession with the pictures in his head, the enigmatic boy next door, and his fear that both he and his art are simply not good enough. We see Jude, her wild ways, and Noah’s confusion over why she’s drifting away from him. We also see the pain of being different, Noah’s struggle to find–and accept–his own identity, and how secrets big and small have the power to rip a boy’s soul to pieces.

Through Jude’s eyes, readers see what the twins are like just a few short years later. Jude is no longer the wild child of the bunch. That honor goes to Noah. Jude is now the withdrawn, artistic twin, and she wants to find some way to reach her brother and force him to really be his true self. All the while, Jude is also wrestling with her own ghosts and seeking a measure of peace in her life.

What could have caused such a drastic personality switch in these once-close twins, and is there any way to heal the wounds of the past and move toward a happy future?

With the help of a couple of people with odd connections to the twins’ past, there may be hope for these two siblings to once again find each other. The journey will not be without its painful revelations, but, if they can make it through to the other side, they may just find everything they thought they’d lost.


As so often happens with books that grab me and won’t let go, this post doesn’t begin to do I’ll Give You the Sun justice. I laughed, I cried, and I roared at the vindictiveness of siblings, twins who claim to love each other more than anything. I’ll Give You the Sun was an intense, emotional roller coaster, and I honestly wasn’t ready for the ride to end. That may be another reason I took my time with this one. On some level, I knew that this book would be one to savor.

For more information on author Jandy Nelson and this amazing book, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

*This amazing book is being touted as one of the great new YA reads, and I totally agree with that. I would, however, caution some librarians, teachers, parents, and others that recommend books to young people that I’ll Give You the Sun does explore some mature themes–sexual identity and alcohol abuse being two of them. Those themes may be par for the course for many teen readers, but I doubt I’d recommend this book to anyone below the high school level…unless that reader showed incredible maturity. Of course, you know the young people in your lives better than I do, so do what you will.*

How to Steal a Dog

Sometimes my job as an elementary school librarian forces me to pick up books that I normally wouldn’t. My latest read is one of those books. It’s How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor, and it’s one of the titles selected for my district’s Battle of the Books competition this year. I can’t really quiz my kids on the book if I haven’t read it myself, so I devoted much of last night to reading this one.

Normally, I shy away from books with dogs on the cover. I blame Old Yeller for this. It’s difficult, however, to work in an elementary school and stay away from “dog books” completely. They’re everywhere. (There are two on this year’s Battle of the Books list and more on the South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominee list.) Luckily, How to Steal a Dog wasn’t quite as painfully heart-wrenching as most. It did have its emotional moments, but it didn’t leave me with a crying-induced headache at the end. That’s a good thing.

Georgina Hayes needs to find a way to make some quick money. Her dad left Georgina, her mom, and her little brother with almost nothing, and they’ve been living in their car for way too long. They need a home, but Georgina’s mom is working two jobs and still struggling to make the money needed to make a deposit on a house or apartment. Georgina knows there’s got to be a way to help her mom, but what is this young girl supposed to do?

Well, after seeing a reward poster for a missing dog, Georgina gets the bright idea to steal a dog. But it can’t be just any dog. It has to be a quiet, friendly dog. A dog that is loved by its owner. A dog that someone would pay a lot of money to get back.

Georgina writes down her dog-theft plan in her notebook, and, with the help of her little brother Toby, she puts her plan into action. She finds the perfect dog, nabs him, and waits for the reward posters to go up. But nothing really happens the way Georgina wants it to. She feels guilty about what she’s done, and the dog’s owner may not have enough money for a big reward. This sticky situation is quickly spiraling out of control, and Georgina doesn’t know which way to turn.

Can Georgina turn things around and get the money she and her family need? Will she do the right thing, or will she see her dognapping through to the bitter end? What will happen to make Georgina face all the wrongs in her life and do what she must to make things right? Read How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor to find out!


On a rather serious note, How to Steal a Dog, like Almost Home by Joan Bauer, shines a light on something that gets way too little attention…homeless children. When most people think of the homeless, they envision older people who live on the streets. They don’t realize that some of those people have children, children who still have to go to school, do their homework, and deal with social pressures…all while worrying about where they will sleep at night, if they’ll get a shower this week, or where their next meal is coming from. For me, I think this book made me more aware of what my students may be going through outside of the school walls. Not all of them have a nice house to go home to every day. Not everyone has a mom and a dad there every night to help with homework. Some kids don’t have that extra money needed for class parties, club fees, or even school lunch. That’s something that many educators–myself included–don’t really think about enough. My hope is that How to Steal a Dog will make other readers reflect on these issues and maybe–just maybe–foster just a little more empathy for those around them.

I look forward to discussing this book with my Battle of the Books team. I think they–and many of my other students–will have a lot to say about Georgina’s desperate situation and what they may have done differently.

For more information about How to Steal a Dog and other books by Barbara O’Connor, check out the author’s website.


Last year, at YALLFest 2013, I heard a charming, entertaining author speak*, and I’ve been meaning to pick up her books ever since. That author is Myra McEntire, and I finally made time to dive into Hourglass, her first novel, this weekend. It didn’t take long for me to get sucked into the world created by Ms. McEntire, and I can hardly wait to read more. (There are now three books in the Hourglass series, and I plan to devour the others during my upcoming holiday break. Woohoo!)

*I should also note that Ms. McEntire was so entertaining that I recommended her as a guest author at the annual conference of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. Wonder of wonders, she accepted SCASL’s invitation, so I’ll get to see her once again in March!

Emerson Cole is not exactly a typical seventeen-year-old girl. In fact, almost nothing about Emerson is what one would consider “normal.” When her name pops up, “crazy” is the word most often used to describe this troubled girl.

And why is Emerson so troubled? Nothing big, really. She simply sees ghosts of the past nearly everywhere she goes, she’s traumatized by her parents’ deaths, and she’s recently decided to go off her meds because they make everything feel all fuzzy. Emerson has tried nearly everything to help herself cope with the strangeness that is her life, but she’s never really thought about embracing what makes her different. At least, not until Michael enters her life…

Michael Weaver, a guy not much older than Emerson herself, works for an organization known as the Hourglass, and he’s been hired by Emerson’s older brother to help her through some of her issues. What her dear brother doesn’t know, however, is that the mysterious Michael hasn’t come into the picture to make Emerson “normal;” he’s here to show Emerson the true depth of her power.

Soon after meeting Emerson, Michael explains that her encounters with ghosts are much more than what they seem. They are, in fact, ripples in the fabric of time, and Emerson has the unique ability to actually travel to the past, even change things if she wishes to. Michael wants to help her do just that.

Emerson is soon dealing with some fairly unbelievable information, things that make her question everything she thought she knew about herself and the universe. And as if that’s not enough, she’s also confronting some pretty inconvenient feelings for Michael. There’s this weird electrical charge whenever they touch, and their pull toward each other is undeniable, but Michael rebuffs her at every turn. Why? Is it simply because her brother hired Michael to help Emerson? Or are there other things–other people–getting in the way of a possible relationship between Emerson and Michael?

As Emerson learns more about herself, her abilities, her past, Michael, and the secretive Hourglass organization, she comes face-to-face with some truths that are at once horrific and seemingly impossible. Does she really have the power to change her fate and that of those around her, or have other forces already manipulated Emerson’s life and abilities to achieve their own ends?

Well, as they say, time will tell…


Hourglass really puts a different spin on the whole time travel concept, and it’s one that I think a lot of readers will enjoy. There’s way too much time travel fiction out there that just glosses over the physics behind the concept. This book doesn’t do that. It actually takes a look at things like the space-time continuum and how changing one thing in the past could have devastating consequences in the present and future. The science nerd within me is rejoicing over this…and trying to decipher what the book’s conclusion could mean for time itself.

Aside from all of the time travel stuff, Hourglass has a flawed, totally relatable protagonist. Emerson is far from perfect. She has huge errors in judgement all the time, but I truly believe that her heart is in the right place. She wants to do the right thing, but it’s not always clear how to do that. And when she finds herself floundering, she does what so many YA characters don’t–she talks to the adults in her life, tells them the truth about her situation, and listens to (even if she doesn’t always follow) their advice. Also, she’s like a mini-ninja, so that makes me like her even more.

So, we’ve got time travel, and we’ve got a likable main character. What am I forgetting? Oh yeah! The totally infuriating (in a good way) love story! The push-pull between Emerson and Michael was both wonderful and exasperating. Every time I thought they were about to confess their feelings for each other, I was thrown for a loop. (So was Emerson, by the way.) I didn’t know which way to turn, or even which way I wanted to turn. And when another swoon-worthy guy entered the picture, I was even more confused. Who should Emerson really be with? Should she be with anyone? It’s all very confusing…for both Emerson and the reader. And the book’s resolution, while it does kind of resolve this one big thing, also makes it clear that Emerson’s immediate future will likely be anything but moonlight and roses.


If you’re looking for a riveting YA read, I urge you to give Hourglass a try. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

For more information on Hourglass, its sequels, and Myra McEntire, check out the author’s website, Goodreads, and Twitter. Ms. McEntire is also a contributing author in the holiday anthology My True Love Gave to Me, so you may want to give that fabulous book a read as well!

The Spindlers

This one has been on my to-read list for quite some time, and I finally got around to it this weekend. The Spindlers, an upper elementary/middle grade novel from acclaimed author Lauren Oliver, is a fantastical tale that brings to mind such classics as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and even The Chronicles of Narnia. It is rather scary at times, making it a perfect recommendation for younger readers looking for a spooky, Halloween read, but it also explores themes like hope, forgiveness, and perseverance.

Like Liesl & Po, The Spindlers is another great children’s novel from Lauren Oliver!

Something is very wrong with Liza’s little brother, Patrick. Last night, he was his usual happy-go-lucky self. This morning, though, Patrick is different and wrong, and Liza is certain of what happened. The evil spindlers, spider-like creatures from Below, have stolen Patrick’s soul. It’s the only explanation. So what is Liza to do? Well, she’s going to rescue her brother’s soul, of course!

Liza braves the dark and finds an entrance to Below in her basement. Armed only with a broom, Liza enters this strange world in search of Patrick’s soul, but nothing could have prepared her for what she would face. Almost immediately, Liza encounters Mirabella, a talking rat who wears a wig, makeup, and a skirt made out of newspaper.

Mirabella helps Liza navigate this strange new world, with all of its dangers and mysteries. Mirabella introduces Liza to troglods, nids, lumer-lumpen, nocturni, and several other creatures that inhabit Below. Some of those creatures are helpful. Others…not so much. The trick is knowing which is which.

As Liza and Mirabella travel through Below, they are getting closer and closer to the spindlers’ nest…and to the captive souls within. The journey is becoming more perilous, but Liza is determined to rescue her brother before it’s too late.

Will Liza be able to get past her own fear of the the spindlers to do what she must? Who can she rely on when help is needed? Can Liza rescue her brother’s soul–and her own–before the spindlers get the best of her? Journey Below for these answers and more when you read The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver.


I plan to recommend this book to my 3rd-5th graders who can’t get enough of spooky stories. The Spindlers has just enough scary stuff to keep them on the edge of their seats but not so much that it will give them nightmares (I hope).

I think anyone who reads The Spindlers will draw parallels to other works of fantasy, particularly those mentioned at the beginning of this post. The resemblance to Alice in Wonderland is likely the most apparent, and that may just be the hook needed to entice young–and older–readers to pick up this book. Further discussions on the similarities and differences between the two stories could prove to be rather interesting.

For more information on The Spindlers and other fabulous books by Lauren Oliver, check out the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

No One Needs to Know

Like many fans of YA literature, I like a good love triangle. I’ve read books with bitter enemies, best friends, and even siblings fighting over the same person. It’s usually two guys competing for the love of a girl, but my latest read kind of turned that on its ear. In No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace, we do see two siblings with feelings for one girl, but this book features twins, one male and one female, vying for the attention of the same person. It’s an interesting dynamic, and one, to my knowledge, that hasn’t received a lot of attention in contemporary YA lit. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Olivia seems to have it all. She’s rich, she’s a gymnastics star, and she’s beautiful.  But Olivia is struggling. Her twin brother, Liam, is pulling away from her, her parents don’t seem to care about her unless it’s convenient for them, gymnastics doesn’t hold the appeal it once did, and anxiety is taking over her life. Even her best (and only) friend, Ava, can’t be counted on to be there when Olivia needs her. Olivia feels all alone in the world, but that’s about to change…

Zoey is the school pariah. A mistake during her freshman year made her a target of the school’s resident mean girl, Ava, and Zoey’s been public enemy number one ever since. Add in the fact that she’s one of the lone scholarship kids at a prestigious all-girls school, and it’s easy to see how Zoey would feel alone in a crowd. Not to mention that she has worries that her classmates just don’t. While keeping up her grades, Zoey must also take care of her little sister, keep things running at home while her mom works her fingers to the bone, and hold down a part-time job. These rich kids don’t know how good they’ve got it.

When Zoey and Olivia are paired up for a class project, both girls get the opportunity to really see “how the other half lives.” And when Zoey begins dating Olivia’s brother, Liam, she’ll realize that these rich kids don’t have it quite as easy as she once believed. Olivia will also see just how badly Zoey has been treated, and these two unlikely friends will grow closer than they ever thought possible…so close that the two eventually fall for each other.

Olivia knows that Liam is growing serious about Zoey, and she doesn’t know how to reconcile that with her growing, unexpected feelings. She knows that Zoey feels the same way about her, but neither of them wants to hurt Liam. How can these two girls hope to be together when it means hurting someone they both care about?

As Olivia and Zoey navigate the tough waters of this new relationship, they’ll have to decide what’s really important to them. Is being together more important than anything? More important than friendships or family? What will they have to give up to be together…and will it be worth it in the end?


No One Needs to Know is a quick read, and I think it’s a good addition to LGBTQ young adult lit collections. Even though the characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, I did care about them, and I wanted Olivia and Zoey to find some way to be together.

*Spoilers* In the end, though, I thought it was a little too easy. I doubt I would have been quite as understanding as Liam was. I get that he wanted his sister to be happy, but I felt there should have been a bit more conflict when the big reveal occurred.

Given that I read an uncorrected galley of this book (courtesy of NetGalley), I’m confident that most of the grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors will be corrected before the book’s release on September 8th. I’m also hoping that a decision will be made on what Zoey’s little sister’s name is. In one sentence, she’s Charlotte. In the next, she’s Carolyn. Pick one!

I know many school libraries are wary of including a lot of LGBTQ literature in their collections, but this is one that shouldn’t cause any kind of ruckus. The relationship between Olivia and Zoey never gets graphic, and it is, at its heart, a very sweet love story. That’s more that can be said about many books featuring heterosexual couples!

If you’d like to learn more about No One Needs to Know and author Amanda Grace (also known as Mandy Hubbard), visit either of these websites: or

Published in: on April 20, 2014 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy!

Warning! If you haven’t read Steve Cotler’s Cheesie Mack Is Not a Genius or Anything and Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel, stop now! Go to your nearest library, check out those books, read them, and then come back. Go ahead…I’ll wait.

*plays Jeopardy theme*

All done? Okay then…let’s get to it!

Last year, I had the privilege of hosting an author visit at my school with the wonderful Steve Cotler. (For details about the visit, click here.) During the visit, Mr. Cotler let my students know that they could expect more adventures from his hilarious protagonist, Cheesie Mack. Well, I finally got around to reading the third installment in the Cheesie Mack series this weekend (before my students got their hands on it, and I never saw it again). The book is Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! I know my students will be just as enamored of this book as they were the first two books in the series. (I seriously can’t keep them on the shelves.) They’ll love Cheesie’s humor, love of lists, fierce battle with his sister Goon (June), friendship with Georgie, and his first days in middle school!

Ronald “Cheesie” Mack is about to enter a new world…middle school. Luckily, he’s got his best friend Georgie by his side, but how can Cheesie and company make an impression on students and teachers who are totally new to them? Cheesie thinks he may have the answer. Run for 6th grade class president!

But there may be a problem. Cheesie’s friend from elementary school, Lana, also wants to run for president. (You may recall that Lana is most definitely NOT Cheesie’s girlfriend!) Cheesie doesn’t want to hurt Lana’s feelings, but he does want to be known as something other than “June’s little brother.” What’s a kid to do? Well, Cheesie comes up with something that will satisfy almost everyone…

During all of the class election craziness, Cheesie also has to deal with his horrible sister, joining the school’s cross-country team, and generally learning to survive middle school. He encounters everything with the humor, wit, and intelligence that have gotten him out of jam after jam. The question is…will it be enough this time?

Find out how Cheesie, Georgie, and a charming cast of characters make it to the finish line when you read Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! by Steve Cotler!


While I think Cheesie Mack Is Cool in a Duel is probably my favorite in the series, I think this third installment is pretty awesome. I know my students will devour it, and I anticipate requests to have Mr. Cotler visit my school again.

In case you were wondering, it is absolutely necessary to read the first two books before reading Cheesie Mack Is Running Like Crazy! Mr. Cotler doesn’t take a lot of time rehashing old events. He–or Cheesie–just directs readers to the first two books…or the books’ companion website, (The website is pretty cool and only adds to the awesomeness of the entire series, in my opinion.)

Speaking of the series…the fourth Cheesie Mack book, Cheesie Mack Is Not Exactly Famous, will be out in February of 2014. The fifth book, currently untitled, should be out next summer.

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , ,

Just One Wish

It’s no secret that my favorite genres–books, movies, TV shows–are fantasy and science fiction. Occasionally, though, I like to mix things up and read some realistic fiction. A few days ago I began reading Just One Wish by Janette Rallison, a book that’s been in my to-read pile for a few years. Despite the title (which one may think indicates some sort of magical wish fulfillment), this is a work of realistic fiction. There’s only one problem. I found the entire premise of the book to be just as outlandish as most of the fantasy I read. I get that the main character wants to do something a little out there for her sick brother, but how she went about it and the results are just too far-fetched for me. Also, when I pick up a book with a cover like the one you see below, I expect sunshine and rainbows at the end. That didn’t exactly happen.

Annika Truman’s six-year-old brother, Jeremy, is about to undergo surgery to remove a brain tumor. Annika is desperate to give him hope, so she comes up with a story about a genie who will grant a couple of Jeremy’s wishes–as long as his final wish is to make it through his surgery okay. She thinks that Jeremy will wish for the most sought-after toy in the world, a Teen Robin Hood action figure, which she’s already bought him. Unfortunately, Jeremy has something else in mind. He wants to meet the real Teen Robin Hood…as in the actor who plays the character. What’s Annika to do now? She’ll do just about anything to make Jeremy happy…so she hits the road to track down one of the most popular teen stars in Hollywood.

Apparently, when you’ve got a will of iron and a loyal best friend backing you up, it’s amazingly easy to find a celebrity. Annika and her friend get up to some pretty crazy shenanigans in their quest to find Teen Robin Hood, better known as actor Steve Raleigh. Here’s the kicker:  They succeed.

Annika’s methods aren’t entirely legal, and trouble ensues, but Annika finally gets the chance to ask Steve, who is even more gorgeous than he appears on TV, to help her little brother. All he has to do is take a little time out of his very busy schedule to visit with a sick kid. Happens all the time, right?

But what if Steve says no? What if Annika has spent all this time–time she could have been spending with her little brother–for nothing? And what if Steve agrees to help? What then? Will it be enough to give Jeremy–and, more importantly, Annika–faith that everything will turn out okay? What if this one wish just isn’t enough? Read Just One Wish by Janette Rallison to learn how far one girl will go to bring hope to a situation that is beyond her control.

As I said before, I found this book to be entirely unbelievable…except the end, which was way too believable. If you’re going to give me a story that makes me suspend reality and think that a seventeen-year-old girl could disappear for a weekend–without her parents having a clue what’s going on–to find a popular celebrity and get him to visit her brother, you could at least give me the ending that I want. And what is up with the schmaltzy romance that, in my opinion, is just as unlikely as almost everything else in this book? It just didn’t make sense to me, but maybe that’s because I’m looking at this from an adult perspective. I’m sure teens want to think that simply meeting a favorite celebrity would be enough to make them fall in love. (Okay, okay…I’ll admit that I have a serious crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, and I’m holding onto the hope that he’ll sweep me off my feet one of these days. I’ll get off my high horse now.)

At any rate, this book wasn’t for me. There was very little about it that I thought was realistic. Feel free to disagree, but, as for me, I think I’ll move on to reading about something more likely to happen…like an alien invasion. Peace out.

Published in: on June 12, 2013 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 260 other followers