The Sky Is Everywhere

I became a Jandy Nelson fan about two years ago when I read the unbelievably moving I’ll Give You the Sun. (Read it. Seriously. And have lots of tissues at the ready.) I was in a weird mood this week, so I looked to one of her other books, The Sky Is Everywhere, to get me through. It worked.

I guess I needed a good cry–without resorting to cheesy holiday Hallmark movies–and The Sky Is Everywhere definitely delivered. It explored concepts like loss, grief, love, family, hope, and the power of words and music in a way that really resonated with me. I hope it will do the same for you.

Lennie Walker is going through the worst time of her life. Following the death of her older sister, Bailey, Lennie is completely adrift. She doesn’t know which way to turn, and she doesn’t know how to go on without the most important person in her world. She’s lost interest in almost everything. Her only solace comes in the form of poems she leaves on the walls, on scrap pieces of paper, all over town.

While Lennie struggles to reconnect to her life, she looks for comfort in the arms of Toby, her sister’s boyfriend. He seems to be the only person who truly understands her grief, and maybe both of them are seeking a piece of Bailey in each other. Lennie knows it’s wrong to be so wrapped up in Toby, but she can’t seem to help herself. (To be fair, neither can he.)

When a new guy enters the picture, though, Lennie’s world is once again thrown into chaos. Joe Fontaine brings sunshine into Lennie’s life for the first time in a while, and he seems to bring her back into the world of words, music, and living. She begins playing her clarinet again, talking to friends and family, and contemplating a future of her own. It’s both exhilarating and, on some level, agonizing.

A big part of Lennie feels guilty for feeling any kind of happiness when her sister is gone, and an even bigger part of her is guilty over her continued connection with Toby when she’s falling for Joe. She knows she must end whatever is happening with Toby before it destroys her relationship with Joe…but that may not be up to her.

As her romantic life flounders, Lennie must also deal with secrets her sister was keeping, her feelings on her absent mother, how she relates to her family, and even how she views herself. Who is she without Bailey? Can she find the girl she is now before she loses Joe, the boy who may just be the love of her life? It’s time for Lennie to find out.


The band geek and word nerd in me really loved the character of Lennie (even though I wanted to shake her a few times). I have a feeling a lot of readers out there may feel the same way. If nothing else, maybe Lennie’s taste in music and literature could inspire readers to explore–or at least revisit–the classics.

While I think The Sky Is Everywhere is an excellent book for teens and adults–especially music and book lovers or those who’ve ever been in love or experienced loss (doesn’t narrow it down much, does it?)–I do think it’s geared toward more mature readers. This book doesn’t shy away from what may be deemed “salty language” or frank talk of sexuality. Yes, I know that’s reality for many tweens and teens. Some mature middle grade readers may be okay with this book, but others may not. As usual, know your readers and recommend books accordingly.

If you’d like to know more about The Sky Is Everywhere and other books by Jandy Nelson, I encourage you to visit the author’s website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

With that, I’m going to wrap things up…which is the only wrapping I’ve managed to do. It’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t wrapped a single gift, so I guess I’ve got work to do. So long for now, and I’ll be back in a few days. Happy holidays to you all!

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.

The Great American Whatever

I had big plans for my long weekend. I was going to catch up on my favorite shows, take a few naps, read about half a dozen books, and forget about the election madness for a while. My crappy immune system, however, had other plans. I don’t know about you guys, but, in addition to not being able to sleep when I’m sick, I also don’t feel much like reading. I did manage to finish one book, though, and I’ll try to piece together my thoughts on it before my antihistamines make me loopy again.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle. Apparently, this novel is Federle’s first foray into YA fiction, but you’d never guess that while reading. This coming-of-age story is told with empathy, humor, sadness, and all that comes with growing comfortable in one’s own skin.

Almost-seventeen-year-old Quinn has been off the rails for months now. Ever since his sister Annabeth was tragically killed in a car accident, Quinn just doesn’t know how to go back to his old life. He’s given up school, any semblance of cleanliness, and his dream of being a screenwriter. None of it really means anything without Annabeth by his side.

Things begin to change one day, though, when Quinn’s best friend Geoff decides that it’s time for Quinn to get out of the house and start living again. In a very short time, Quinn cleans up (at least a little), gets a haircut, and goes to a college party. It’s at this party where he meets Amir, a guy who’s interested in Quinn for some odd reason.

In the week that follows, Quinn deals with his first romantic relationship, his guilt over his sister’s death, a reunion with an old friend and mentor, and a surprise that rocks everything he ever believed about his relationships with those closest to him. On top of that, he’s forced to confront the possibility of his future as a screenwriter, a future that he never truly thought possible after the loss of his sister.

How will things work out for Quinn? Could one week have the power to turn his life around?

There’s only one way to find out…


The Great American Whatever is a quick, entertaining read that is sure to delight film buffs and those who simply want a moving story.

I would say that this book is written for a YA audience. (I would not put it in a middle school library.) It includes sexual situations, alcohol use, and profanity. As always, though, read the book yourself before making any judgments. You never know who may need a book like this one.

If you’d like more information on The Great American Whatever and other books by Tim Federle, you can connect with the author on his website, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.

With that, I will now leave you all to return to my weekend routine of coughing, sneezing, and praying for the ability to breathe easily.

 

And I Darken

Yesterday, Kiersten White’s newest book, And I Darken, was released into the world. I was lucky enough to get an early copy via NetGalley, but I didn’t manage to finish the book until last night. You know how it is–vacation, work stuff, naps–all of that got in the way.

Anyhoo, I did finish this first book in a planned trilogy last night, and I can say with absolute certainty that it’s unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. It is a batcrap-crazy ride, and I mean that in the best way possible. And I Darken defied all of my expectations, and I cannot wait to see what awaits the characters I encountered in this book.

So…what’s it all about? While some sources have And I Darken listed as fantasy, I wouldn’t be so quick to attach that label…at least to this first book. There is no fantasy involved…unless you maybe want to call alternate history a type of fantasy (which I don’t). This story takes place during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and it is the tale of the children of Vlad Dracul (the inspiration for Dracula, of course).

Now, in this telling, Vlad is not exactly the fearsome ruler of legend. He’s still in charge of Wallachia (part of Romania), but he’s weak and under the thumb of the Sultan. He essentially offers his children, Lada and Radu, as collateral to the Sultan.

Radu is a gentle, handsome boy who goes virtually unnoticed by others…unless they’re pointing out his apparent weakness. Forgotten by his father, Radu seeks solace in Islam and finds a measure of peace in his new circumstances.

Lada is fierce and sees being a woman as a liability. She knows that she is equal–if not superior–to any man. She is at once Radu’s protector and tormentor, and, even though she hates that her father has abandoned them to the Sultan, she remains loyal to her homeland of Wallachia.

Eventually, the siblings encounter another child who would become central to their lives. This boy is Mehmed, and he is the Sultan’s heir. Radu is immediately drawn to Mehmed, and the two quickly become friends. Radu is tormented by his feelings for Mehmed and confused about what those feelings might mean.

As for Lada, she soon becomes Mehmed’s confidante. He can drop his shields around her and simply be himself. Yes, he will be Sultan soon, but with Lada, he can simply be Mehmed. Lada resists getting involved with Mehmed. After all, attachment and emotion are signs of weakness. Her primary goal is survival…by any means necessary. As time passes, though, Lada and Mehmed grow closer, and Lada realizes he is becoming an essential part of her life. She does wonder, however, if she is equally important to him.

Set against a background of political maneuvering, betrayal, fighting, and even murder, Radu and Lada must decide what each of them are willing to lose to achieve their own ends. Will Radu be able to suppress his own desires and give up his only family to remain by Mehmed’s side? Will Lada abandon her goal of returning to (and ruling) her beloved Wallachia to form some semblance of a life with Mehmed (and his harem)?

Love and loyalty will be tested in these tumultuous relationships. What–or who–will be sacrificed in the process? Read And I Darken, the first book in The Conqueror’s Saga, to find out.


Like so many before it, this post doesn’t come close to capturing just how rich, dark, and satisfying this book is. (I almost feel like I just described a piece of dark chocolate.)

And I Darken is an intense read that makes a person think about just what they’d be willing to do to serve their own ends or even the good of those around them. Would you be willing to betray the person who means the most to you? Give up your family, faith, or future? Walk away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known? Kill? Those are just some of the things facing the characters in this book, and these situations and how they play out could lead to some very profound discussions.

Other discussions might come when talking about the characters themselves, especially Radu and Lada. In Radu’s case, there’s the issue of coming to terms with his sexuality in a time and place that didn’t even address anything other than heterosexuality. (Apparently, it’s okay to have multiple wives and concubines, but being gay is taboo. Another potential topic to explore there.) How have things changed since the time of the Ottoman Empire? Have things changed at all in certain parts of the world? Is being gay still considered being something “other” even in the so-called “modern” world? So many questions to ponder.

And then there’s Lada…

Lada is a warrior. She buries her feelings deep and displays very few outward signs of weakness. She is vicious and determined to get what she wants. She does whatever she must to survive and protect those she cares for, but she knows that her ultimate goals conflict with those of Radu and Mehmed, and she has to decide what to do about that. Lada is a complicated character, one who rarely even understands herself or her motivations, but she is absolutely fascinating to read about. Lada’s character could lead to many discussions on what it means to be feminine; how women have been viewed historically and in the present, especially as it pertains to fighting, defying expectations, and dealing with patriarchal societies; and even something like negative reactions when women put their own needs and desires first.

I’m curious to see what will happen with Lada in the next two books, and if she’ll truly become the brutal inspiration for a very different legend of Dracula. Should be interesting.

Speaking of future books, I have no idea what the title of book two will be. I’m assuming it will be released about this time next year, but that’s just a guess at this point.

If you’d like to learn much, much more about And I Darken, please visit the book’s official website. I’ve only explored it a little, but it has lots of information to offer, including character descriptions, a book trailer (which I’ve also included below), an author bio, and more.

Lastly, for those wondering if And I Darken is a good pick for the middle grade crowd, I would have to say no. While this book is extremely compelling, I think many of the themes and situations are more suited to a high school crowd. As always, though, read it for yourself to determine if it’s a good fit for your students/patrons.

Being Sloane Jacobs

After recent events, I decided that I needed to read something on the lighter side of things. Thanks to the list of 16-17 South Carolina Junior Book Award nominees, I was led to Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill.

I like to read as many of the SCJBA nominees as possible to see if any are okay for the upper elementary crowd. While I don’t think Being Sloane Jacobs is a good fit for elementary libraries–it’s definitely more suited to middle grade and teen readers–I do think it has tons of potential for a Disney Channel movie. (Seriously. If someone’s not on this already, they really should be.) Combine The Parent Trap with doses of The Mighty Ducks and The Cutting Edge, and you’re close to this entertaining read.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

In Washington, DC, we have Sloane Emily Jacobs, a girl who knows something about stress. After a disastrous fall years earlier, she’s making her return to competitive figure skating. But Sloane isn’t sure that she has what it takes anymore. She doesn’t know that spending time at a Montreal skating camp this summer will help with her nerves…but it could provide a much-needed break from her overbearing mother and her secretive father, a senator who will do almost anything to hold onto his position.

In Philadelphia, we have Sloane Devon Jacobs, a tough hockey player trying to get back into her groove. She’s somehow lost the ability to score, so she’s taking her frustrations out on other players. Her coach arranges her attendance in a summer hockey camp in Montreal, hoping to help Sloane with her aggression issues and prepare her to impress scouts in the coming year. Sloane doesn’t want to give up her summer, but she won’t deny she needs to escape the fact of her mom’s absence and her dad’s supposed indifference. Maybe this camp will be what she needs.

As luck would have it, these two vastly different girls with the same names meet in a Montreal hotel, and it doesn’t take long for a wild plan to emerge. No one at either camp knows much about Sloane Jacobs, so what if they just switched places? Each Sloane Jacobs would get a fresh start, a chance to be someone completely new, and they could avoid all of the expectations that have been weighing on them. Should be easy, right?

At first, things seem to be okay, but these two girls soon realize that there’s more to this switch than just changing wardrobes. Sloane Emily has to toughen up and learn the basics of hockey. She has to tap into her aggressive side, stand up to bullies, and show that she’s got what it takes to be part of a team. Sloane Devon realizes that figure skating isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s murder on every part of her body, and now she doesn’t have pads to cushion the blow every time she falls on the ice. And that’s just the skating. She also has to deal with a particularly vicious mean girl who sees her (or the other Sloane) as a threat.

And if keeping stories straight and learning new sports isn’t enough, both girls have potential romances brewing. Sloane Emily meets a hockey player–emphasis on the word player–who vows she can trust him. She wants to, even knowing that she’s hiding her true self from him. As for Sloane Devon, she runs into an old friend from home at a neighborhood pub. She knows there could be a potential relationship there, but what would he think if he knew she gave up hockey for figure skating this summer? How could he possibly understand something so out of character for her?

Both girls are learning a lot about themselves this summer, and, as it turns out, both are stronger than they ever realized. They have the drive to succeed in totally new sports, and they’re growing comfortable with their new personas. But what will happen when the truth comes to light? Will they lose all they’ve worked for this summer, or will they use their experiences to become entirely new versions of Sloane Jacobs, girls with the confidence to face anything that comes their way?


Even though both girls in this book had to deal with some big issues–chief among them an alcoholic mom and a dad caught in an affair–I found Being Sloane Jacobs to be a light, fun, and somewhat stressful read. Will the girls be caught? When? What will happen after that? Like I said…stressful. But in a good way. I was eager to turn the pages (or swipe the screen) to see what awaited each girl next and to see how each of them handled the switch. I think middle grade and teen readers will feel the same way.

The school librarian in me is usually looking for life lessons in the books I read. If I could point to just one in this book it would be empathy. On the outside, these two girls have nothing in common aside from their names. It takes actually walking–or skating–in the other person’s shoes to see that not everything is as simple as it seems. Having money doesn’t mean having a worry-free life. Living outside of the spotlight doesn’t mean everything is simple and hunky-dory. Each girl learns a great deal about the other during this whole process, and I think each of them emerges as a more compassionate person.

Like I said before, I think Being Sloane Jacobs would make an excellent Disney Channel movie, and I think you’ll agree when you give this book a read.

If you’d like more information on this book and others by Lauren Morrill, you can connect with her on Twitter or her website.

Happy reading!

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.

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.