What Light

I think there’s something wrong with me. Why, you ask? Well, I read another Christmas-themed book that made me feel all mushy inside. That book is Jay Asher’s latest, What Light.

Some of you know Jay Asher from Thirteen Reasons Why (which will soon be a Netflix original series) or The Future of Us (a collaboration with Carolyn Mackler). While What Light isn’t nearly as serious as Thirteen Reasons Why or as out there as The Future of Us, it is a good story and one that many teen readers will enjoy. And even though the book is set during the Christmas season, I think it’s much more than a Christmas book. It’s about first love, friendship, forgiveness, and atonement. Those concepts make this book accessible to a wide audience, regardless of whatever winter holiday one chooses to celebrate.

Every Christmas season, Sierra’s family packs up and moves from their Christmas tree farm in Oregon to a tree lot in California. It’s the only life Sierra has ever known, and, even though she misses her friends in Oregon, she loves the time she spends in California. After all, she’s got friends and traditions there too, and she dreads the day when her parents say that they’re closing the Christmas tree lot for good. (And that day may be coming sooner than Sierra wishes.)

Sierra wants to make the most of what could be her final Christmas in California. Her plans most definitely do not include getting involved with anyone. What would be the point? She’s packing up right after the holiday and heading back home. She doesn’t want to get her heart broken or deal with a long-distance relationship, so she tries to avoid any messy entanglements. “Tries” being the operative word. This year, Caleb throws all of Sierra’s plans out the window.

Sierra does her best to resist Caleb, but he sneaks past her defenses. Even when she learns that Caleb has some serious issues in his past, she works to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s such a good guy; surely he couldn’t be guilty of the horrible things people warn her about. Right?

As it turns out, Caleb did make a big mistake years ago, and he’s been paying for it ever since. He’s basically a pariah in town, and, even though he tries to make up for what he’s done, there are many people–Caleb included–who will not forgive him.

While Sierra has some reservations about getting too close to Caleb, she sees more in him than this one mistake. Can she convince her friends, her parents, Caleb, and others in her Christmas-time home that Caleb is a great guy and worthy of forgiveness? Can she and Caleb make a relationship work when so many things are stacked against them?

Read What Light by Jay Asher to learn how two young people battle rumors, distance, and even time to find their own Christmas miracle.

If it’s not already obvious, I really like What Light. I think it’s heartwarming, sentimental, and fun. At the same time, it deals with issues like suspicion, family upheaval, balancing romantic relationships with friendships, change, grace, and redemption. Jay Asher takes all of these things, adds a bit of Christmas spirit, and gives readers a book that delights even the most hard-hearted cynic. (That would be me.)

What Light is a great pick for middle grade, teen, and even adult readers. If you’re looking for a novel to round out your Christmas display/collection, give this one a try.

For more information on What Light and other books by Jay Asher, visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, or the Thirteen Reasons Why website.

What Child Is This?

Many of my friends would probably say that I’m something of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas. I don’t decorate my house (not even a Christmas tree), I’m not much of a fan of holiday music, the idea of watching Hallmark Christmas movies makes me want to retch, and I absolutely loathe crowds, parties, and shopping (unless it’s online).

I do, however, like searching for the perfect gifts for my loved ones, enjoying a nice, quiet meal with friends and family, watching a few select holiday movies (A Christmas Story, Elf, Love, Actually, While You Were SleepingDie Hard, etc.), and reading holiday-themed books. I’ll even admit to crying my eyes out over some of them. That includes my latest read, What Child Is This? by Caroline B. Cooney.

I picked up What Child Is This? because my school’s faculty book club (made up of the most awesome teachers in the building) decided to read holiday-themed books for our December meeting. I had a lot of titles to choose from, but I landed on this one primarily because it was available through Overdrive, and I had not read it before. Whatever the reason, I’m happy I selected this book, and it’s gone a long way in getting me in the Christmas spirit.

What Child Is This? tells a Christmas story from several different perspectives.

Liz is a teen girl who seemingly has it all. Her parents give her everything she wants or needs, and they pour lots of time and money into decorating for Christmas. Unfortunately, the true meaning of the holiday escapes them, and Liz doesn’t know if there’s anything she can do about it.

Tack is a guy with a great, supportive family. They all pitch in at the family restaurant, where they set up a Christmas tree featuring paper bells. These bells have the names and Christmas wishes–often the simplest of things–of kids who would otherwise go without on Christmas morning.

Allison, Liz’s older sister, is mourning the loss of someone truly precious to her. She doesn’t know how she can possibly celebrate the holiday this year, but she’s making an effort for her husband and her little sister.

Matt has been in the foster system for years. He’s currently living with the Rowens, an older couple who likes things quiet. Matt works hard so that he doesn’t disappoint them. He knows that, if this foster home doesn’t work out, his next stop is a group home. Things are okay with the Rowens, but Matt is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, nothing good ever lasts for him.

Katie is an eight-year-old girl who has hope that she’ll get a family for Christmas. Matt’s foster parents reluctantly took her in a while back, but they don’t have the energy or desire to meet the needs of a young girl. Katie holds onto hope that a real family is out there somewhere just waiting for her, and a Christmas miracle–or a wish on a paper bell–will finally bring them together.

All of these stories are about to collide, and, when all is said and done, everyone will see and feel the true spirit of Christmas.

What Child Is This? is a super-fast read, but it packs an emotional punch. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed quite a few tears while reading. It was a moving, inspirational read that made my Grinch-like heart grow a few sizes. (I’m still not going to decorate, though.)

This book has been around for a while (since 1997), but I urge you to give it a read if you haven’t already. I think it’s perfect for middle grades on up. There may even be a few upper elementary students who would like it. Nothing felt too dated in the book–save for one mention of occurring in the 20th century and a couple of references to radios with cassette tapes–so I think it’s totally accessible nearly 20 years after its initial publication.

For more information on this book and many others by Caroline B. Cooney, check out the author’s website, Facebook, and Pinterest.

The Grift of the Magi

While it’s not 100% necessary for you to read Ally Carter’s Heist Society series (Heist Society, Uncommon Criminals, and Perfect Scoundrels) before reading The Grift of the Magi, it is highly recommended. You may not fully appreciate the characters in this novella if you haven’t gotten to know them a bit through the series.

Last night, I got to dive back into the Heist Society series via a new holiday novella, The Grift of the Magi. Those familiar with the series already know that it centers around a group of savvy teen thieves (think a YA version of Ocean’s Eleven), and not much has changed in this latest story.

The Christmas season is growing closer, and someone has stolen a valuable donation from the Magi Miracle Network. The charity doesn’t want to go to Interpol about the theft, so they turn to Katarina Bishop, a girl known for stealing treasures and returning them to their rightful owners. This time, she’s charged with finding out what happened to the rare Faberge egg that was mysteriously stolen from the Magi Miracle Network, and she must do it before the charity’s upcoming auction.

Kat begins investigating both the charity and their infamous donation, and her search leads her to some familiar faces. Her boyfriend, Hale, for one. His beloved late grandmother founded the Magi Miracle Network, so he obviously has a stake in what’s going on. At first, Kat wonders if he could have had something to do with the theft, but it doesn’t take long for her to dismiss that notion. But she still wonders if someone close to her could be involved. It’s entirely possible…

As Christmas–and the charity’s auction–draws ever closer, the hunt for the Faberge egg leads Kat and company to the manor home of its donor. Something foul is afoot here, and Kat is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. She’ll need to use every resource at her disposal to uncover the truth, but even that may not be enough.

Will Kat find the egg and return it to the Magi Miracle Network? What else will she uncover in the process? Whatever happens, this is sure to be a Christmas that Kat Bishop will never forget…

This fast-paced novella combines the magic and wonder of Christmas with a fair amount of trickery and thieving. Not a bad combo, in my opinion. Like the novels that preceded it, The Grift of the Magi delivers memorable characters, twists and turns, and an exciting, eventful story. I highly recommend it to middle grade audiences and up.

It was so much fun revisiting the characters I came to love during the Heist Society series. I truly hope we’ll see more of them in the future.

For more information on Ally Carter, the Heist Society series, and her other wonderful books, visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest.

My True Love Gave to Me

When I heard the author lineup for My True Love Gave to Me, an anthology of YA holiday stories, I immediately knew that I would have to read what I was sure would be an outstanding collection. With favorite authors like Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White–among others–contributing short stories, I was hooked before I even started reading. And when I didn’t think anything was ever going to get me in the holiday spirit this year (Humbug!), this book managed to fill me with a bit of cheer.

My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of twelve holiday stories that kind of touch on everything: New Year’s, winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, and even Krampuslauf (something I’d never heard of before). There’s really something for everyone (except Festivus for the rest of us), and I think this would be a perfect gift for any teen reader…or adult reader who loves YA lit.

Now, I’m not going to go through each and every story here. That would take forever, and, honestly, it would probably spoil a couple of the stories for you. Instead, I’ll briefly highlight a few of my favorite stories from this collection.

My favorite story in the collection comes from the book’s editor herself, Stephanie Perkins. Her story is titled “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown.” This short story, like Perkins’ longer works, introduces readers to a true gem of a guy. North Drummond, like Étienne St. Clair, Cricket Bell, and Josh Wasserstein, is almost too good to be true, but that just makes me–and Marigold, his “love interest”–adore him more. He seems to really “get” Marigold, even though her life is less than traditional. He works to make her world a better one after knowing her only a short while. Every girl should be so lucky. (I’m militantly single, and even I felt my cold heart melting for North.) If you enjoyed Stephanie Perkins’ enchanting novels, you’ll likely feel the same way about this lovely story.

One of my other top picks from this collection was “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell. (If you follow this blog at all, this should come as no surprise.) This story involves two best friends who seem to just miss being together at midnight each New Year’s Eve. This year, though, things might just be a little different. (Since this is essentially a YA holiday romance anthology, you can probably guess what will happen. Even so, the story is heart-warming and brings on the feels.)

Finally, I have to talk a bit about “Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter. This was the only story in the book that actually made me cry. The basic premise is this: Mysterious girl exchanges plane tickets with someone else, pretends to be someone she’s not (in order to hide from her own life), gets found out, and ultimately finds something she never knew she needed. Such a moving story that I had to grab a couple of tissues. There was a romantic element to this one, but, at least for me, this particular story was about the love that can be found with friends, family (not always blood relatives), and people who deeply care about what’s really best for those they love.

Those were just three of the stories that really spoke to me. Truthfully, there’s not a stinker in the bunch, and every story resonated with me in some way.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Krampuslauf, or no holiday at all, this collection is an outstanding, moving, entertaining read for anyone who believes in the power of love…in all of its many forms.

Let It Snow

What’s a single gal to do when she feels like crap and has so much to do that she can’t see straight?  If you guessed “watch a Snapped marathon, feel sorry for herself, and read a YA holiday romance anthology,” you’re right (and you probably have my house bugged and are now bored to death).  Yep, that’s my Sunday in a nutshell.  I had a short break when my mom brought me some ginger ale and sang “Soft Kitty,” but that’s it.  At least I can add another finished book to my list.  (For those who are wondering, this latest book brings my yearly total to 346.  Only 20 to go before I reach my goal for 2012!)

Let It Snow, a holiday romance anthology by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle, has been in my to-read pile for quite some time.  (I don’t know why I didn’t get to it before now.  You’d think that I would have devoured it immediately with this selection of authors.  Alas, you would be wrong.)  I guess I was in the mood for something kind of light this weekend because it suddenly seemed like I absolutely had to read this book.  It could have had something to do with the holiday theme of the book.  (I doubt it, though.  I’m kind of a Scrooge this year.)  At any rate, I finished reading Let It Snow earlier today, and I must say that it is a delightful, romantic holiday read.  Each of the three stories in this book are interwoven, and each author brings their trademark humor to the tales.  I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions (which only made my tummy hurt more, but that’s okay).  I love Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle, and, if it’s even possible, this light-hearted book made me love them even more.  They may have even succeeded where my family and friends have failed thus far.  I may now–gasp–have a little Christmas spirit.

The first story in this anthology is The Jubilee Express by Maureen Johnson, and it involves a girl who is being forced to take a train to Florida because her parents have been arrested.  (Not for murder, robbery, or anything like that.  It’s actually pretty funny.)  Unfortunately, a freak snowstorm stops the train in its tracks somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina.  Jubilee–who is not an aspiring stripper despite her name–just has to get off this train, or she will likely strangle the fourteen cheerleaders stranded with her.  She sets off on her own and ends up at a Waffle House, of all places.  It is here that she meets Stuart, another kind of lost soul who convinces Jubilee to take a close look at her relationship with her seemingly perfect boyfriend back home.  She does, and she doesn’t really like what she discovers.  But will she discover something else–perhaps the guy of her dreams–in this massive storm?

In John Green’s A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle, Tobin, JP, and the Duke (who is actually a girl named Angie) are on a quest to get to the Waffle House.  It seems that fourteen cheerleaders have made their way to the establishment, and the first group of people who make it to the restaurant will be invited to play Twister with the girls.  As you might imagine, the Duke (again, a girl) is not enthused by this idea (even though her love for hash browns is well-known), but Tobin and JP seem to be all for it, so off they go to the Waffle House.  The snowstorm that has hit town threatens to put a damper on their adventures, but the trio is determined to party with cheerleaders.  Actually, JP is determined.  Tobin and the Duke are getting kind of resigned to the idea…until they begin to realize that they don’t need a bunch of cheerleaders to make them happy this Christmas.  Maybe what they’ve needed all along is…each other.

Finally, The Patron Saint of Pigs by Lauren Myracle, follows Addie, who may or may not be a bit self-absorbed.  She did something horrible, and it led to the breakup of the most important relationship she’s ever–or will ever–have.  Her beloved boyfriend, Jeb, seems to have given up on her, and Addie’s supposed friends have let it be known that they think Addie is a drama queen who only cares about herself.  Now Addie has to prove everyone wrong.  Surely she’s not as bad as everyone’s making her out to be, right?  If only she could prove that she’s at least trying to change…Well, she may get her chance, and it may involve angels, Starbucks, and teacup piglets (which are just about the cutest things I’ve ever seen).  Will Addie get her own Christmas miracle, or is she doomed to be wrapped up in her own problems forever?

I’ve probably told you too much about the stories in this anthology (which might explain why I don’t review many anthologies).  These stories just made me sort of happy, and I wanted to share that.  With authors like the ones featured in this book, you know you’re getting loads of humor and excellent writing, but even I wasn’t prepared for how mushy-gushy I felt after reading these stories.  They also helped me forget about feeling like crap for a while.  When a book has the ability to make a reader forget about a truly horrible stomach bug, you know it’s a good one!

If you love YA fiction and are looking for an excellent holiday read, you should definitely give Let It Snow a try.  (And yes, it’s totally appropriate for middle grade readers.)