Nooks & Crannies

Greetings, earthlings. I realize it’s been a while since my last post, and the reason for my absence can be explained in two words–book fair. Yes, my spring book fair pretty much consumed my life for about ten days, and I barely had the energy to drive home from work and fall into bed, much less form coherent thoughts about what I was reading. But I was reading during this stressful event, and I bring you my thoughts on my latest read today.

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson was recently named as a nominee for the 2017-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. It’s being marketed as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue, and I’d say that’s a fairly fitting description. It’s funny, perplexing, sometimes infuriating, and rather entertaining. I look forward to discussing this book with my students and getting their take on this engrossing and somewhat convoluted mystery.

Tabitha Crum never expected a piece of paper to change her life. But when she and five other children are invited to the estate of the Countess of Windemere, she knows some type of change is coming. Maybe that’s a good thing. After all, her life thus far has been anything but grand. Her parents barely tolerate her presence, her only friend is a mouse named Pemberley, and her future may involve washing dishes at the local orphanage.

When Tabitha arrives at Hollingsworth Hall, she quickly realizes that all is not what it seems…and her inner detective comes to life. She and the other five children have been invited here for a very specific reason–something that rocks them all to their cores–but the eccentric Countess appears to have more sinister motives for this invitation. And when, one by one, the children begin disappearing, Tabitha knows she–and her trusty mouse, Pemberley–must investigate all of the strange happenings around her.

What–or who–could be to blame for this unfolding mystery? Could the rumored ghosts that inhabit the manor truly exist? Is the butler responsible, or could it be the Countess herself? Whatever’s going on, Tabitha is determined to get to the bottom of it, but even she may be unprepared for what she uncovers.

Secrets will be revealed, and those secrets could have the power to change Tabitha’s life and the lives of those around her. What will Tabitha discover in the nooks and crannies of Hollingsworth Hall? You’ll have to see for yourself…


As is the case in many children’s books similar to this one, most of the adults in the book are absolutely horrendous. This is especially true of Tabitha Crum’s parents. I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and give both of them a good shake. Truly horrible people. The same is true for many of the other adults depicted…and some of their kids as well. (The apple doesn’t fall far, does it?) Luckily, those bad apples ultimately get what’s coming to them in the end, so karma (or the Golden Rule, if you prefer) is, in my opinion, a big deal in this book.

I think Nooks & Crannies is a great selection for upper elementary and middle grade readers–or anyone who likes a good mystery, really. I also think this book might make for a good class read-aloud. A book like this one is sure to keep kids engaged and eager for more.

If you like Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, or Sherlock Holmes, you’ll find something to love in Nooks & Crannies. I found this book to be charming, thrilling, delightfully whimsical, and absorbing. I’m hoping my students feel the same way. (If I do my job well promoting the book, I’m sure they will.)

To learn more about Nooks & Crannies and Jessica Lawson, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Sometime next week, I’ll put together a book trailer for this book. If you’d like to see it when I finally post it, visit my YouTube channel.

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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.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before has been on my radar for a few months, and I finally made time to read it this week. (I actually devoured it in less than 24 hours.) This wonderful book by Jenny Han introduces readers to Lara Jean Song Covey, a somewhat fanciful sixteen-year-old girl who gets over her crushes by writing them letters. She writes the letters and then moves on with her life. But when the letters actually get sent, Lara Jean’s life gets kind of complicated…

Lara Jean is a devoted sister, a loyal friend, and a reliable daughter. She’s not much of a rule-breaker, she doesn’t go to many parties, and she’s kind of invisible at school…and she mostly likes it that way.

Lara Jean does have some secrets, though–secrets those closest to her know nothing about. Lara Jean has had five crushes in her life. In order to move past these crushes, she writes each boy a letter, addresses it, and places it in an old hat box under her bed. No one knows about these letters except Lara Jean, and she has no intention of every mailing the letters…especially since one of them is written to her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh.

One day, Lara Jean realizes that the hat box under her bed is missing, and the letters she’s written to her crushes have actually been mailed out. When she understands what’s happened, Lara Jean panics and worries about what all of this could mean for her. A couple of her former crushes are no longer around, so she’s not terribly concerned about them…but some of them confront her about what she wrote, and that’s where things get a little messy.

In order to save face around Josh, Lara Jean devises a plan to make him think that she’s totally over whatever feelings she may have once had for him. She conspires with Peter, also one of her former crushes, to make everyone think that they’re now together. It’s a win-win situation, really. Lara Jean can avoid a big confrontation with Josh, and Peter can make his ex-girlfriend jealous. What neither Lara Jean nor Peter count on, however, is how this fake relationship will affect both themselves and those around them.

Lara Jean is growing closer to Peter, and she’s beginning to wonder if maybe he has some feelings for her. What started as a fake relationship may quickly be evolving into something real. Does Peter actually care about her, or is he still just using her to make his ex jealous? Does Peter, who knows the whole story of the letters, believe she still has feelings for Josh? How does Margot, Lara Jean’s beloved older sister and Josh’s ex-girlfriend, figure into this mix?

Lara Jean will soon have to face the realities of all of her relationships–those with Peter, Josh, and her sisters. What will she do once everyone knows the truth? We’ll just have to see…

_______________

I found To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to be a fast, fun read that definitely gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Even though I thought Lara Jean’s voice was a tad grating at times, I felt that her character was realistic. It’s a nice change from all of the rule-breaking party girls in a lot of contemporary YA. Teens who respect their parents, like to stay in at night, and follow rules need to see themselves in fictional characters, too, and I was happy to see such a character in this story…even though she did play fast and loose with the truth from time to time. (Even us good girls can relate to that, though.)

I do have to admit that the end of this book nearly sent me into a panic. I kept glancing at the page count at the bottom of my ereader and wondering how in the world I was going to get a happy ending with so few pages remaining. And, while the ending was somewhat satisfying, it did leave things kind of open…which makes sense when one realizes there’s already a sequel.

The next book featuring Lara Jean and company, P.S. I Still Love You, is already out, and it is near the top of my lengthy TBR list. I can hardly wait to see what happens with Lara Jean and Peter.

For those wondering if To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would be a good fit for middle school library collections, I’d have to say that it may be okay for upper middle school. There is some language, alcohol use, and talk of sexual situations, but there is nothing terribly graphic. In truth, Lara Jean could actually serve as something of a role model for some readers. She sees a lot of this stuff going on around her, and while she does feel some pressure to fit in, she remains true to herself and her values. Do with that what you will.

If you think To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before sounds like the book for you, I encourage you to learn more about in on Goodreads or the author’s website. You can also connect with Jenny Han through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Enjoy!

The Red Pyramid

When I was in the third grade, I went on a field trip to view a museum exhibit on Ancient Egypt.  Since then, I’ve been completely captivated by the subject, particularly Egyptian mythology.  I think it’s fascinating to study how ancient cultures, and not just those in Egypt, created gods, goddesses, and entire belief systems to explain the world around them.  (I think I’ve mentioned before that I also have a fondness for Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology.  Fun stuff.)  Anyway, my latest read, The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, delves into Egyptian mythology, and Riordan gives this world as much life as he did for Greek mythology in the Percy Jackson series and the Romans in The Lost Hero.

In The Red Pyramid, we meet estranged siblings Carter and Sadie Kane.  When their mother died, the siblings were split up.  Carter traveled the world with their archaeologist father while Sadie lived with their maternal grandparents in London.  This Christmas, though, the brother and sister will be reunited for what they think will be an uneventful holiday with their father.  They could not be more wrong.  And it all starts when they blow up the British Museum.

As you can imagine, an explosion in a popular museum is a pretty big deal.  It’s an even bigger deal when the explosion causes your dad to be imprisoned in a sarcophagus and several gods to be released into the world.  It seems that dear old Dad was up to something, and it’s up to Carter and Sadie to figure out what’s going on and set things right before the world devolves into complete chaos.  But how?  How can two kids who barely know each other unite to stop Set, one of the gods who was released, from destroying all of North America?

Well, Carter and Sadie aren’t exactly normal kids (as you may have guessed).  They are descended from pharaohs, and have the potential to be very, very powerful, especially when it becomes clear that a couple of Egyptian deities have taken up residence in their heads.  Carter and Sadie are also being assisted by their Uncle Amos (who may or may not be on their side), the cat goddess, Bast (who Sadie always knew as Muffin, a beloved pet), a magical baboon named Khufu, an albino alligator called Philip of Macedonia, and a few gods, goddesses, and magicians that have agendas of their own.

Carter and Sadie must stop Set from completing construction on his red pyramid before sunrise on Set’s birthday.  If they don’t, the pyramid will become a magical force that will ensure the spread of chaos and desolation across the continent and eventually all over the world.  Can Carter and Sadie, two kids with very limited knowledge of their magical heritage, possibly defeat such a powerful force?  What sacrifices will they have to make to even the odds?  Will Carter and Sadie (and their lovely assistants) be able to restore balance to the world, or will chaos reign forever?  Read The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan to find out!

I truly enjoyed how Riordan melded the modern world to Ancient Egypt in this book.  It was interesting to read about how the Egyptian belief system evolved, and devolved, over time and how Carter and Sadie were charged with restoring it to its former glory.  I appreciated how many of the gods and goddesses were viewed as neither good nor bad.  Each being had both flaws and redeeming qualities.  Additionally, I liked how Carter and Sadie grew closer together throughout the book.  They were at their most powerful when they were united.  I also loved the subtle allusion to the events in the Percy Jackson series at the beginning of the book.  (It’s one of those blink-and-you-miss-it kind of things, so be on the lookout.)

As I’m sure you probably know, The Red Pyramid is the first book in a series, The Kane Chronicles.  The second book, The Throne of Fire, is already out, and I plan to read that within the next couple of weeks.  The third book in the series is scheduled for a spring 2012 release.  If you’d like more information on this series or author Rick Riordan, visit http://www.rickriordan.com/my-books/kane-chronicles.aspx.  Have fun!