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Unstoppable: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Hello!

Is there an author who, in your opinion, can do no wrong? That author whose books you always enjoy. Ally Carter is this author for me. Everything she writes is awesome — her Gallagher Girls series is one of my favorites and Heist Society is really fun too. I was really excited to hear about Embassy Row, her newest series, and had high expectations, so I read All Fall Down, the first book in the Embassy Row series and as I mentioned before Ally Carter didn’t let me down! She is unstoppable!

Overview

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things:All Fall Down by Ally Carter

1. She is not crazy.
2. Her mother was murdered.
3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her–so there’s no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door who is keeping an eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands. Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts. But they can’t control Grace–no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . .  and if she doesn’t stop it, Grace isn’t the only one who will get hurt. Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world all stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

My Thoughts

I had high expectations for All Fall Down, I was also nervous that I’d be disappointed because it wasn’t a Gallagher Girls novel, which are still some of my favorite books ever. As I started listening to the audiobook I was quickly rewarded with an interesting main character, and a plot full of family secrets and political intrigue, which is exactly what I was hoping for!

That interesting main character is Grace, who is carrying some deep wounds and insecurity. Grace knows her mother is dead, feels alone within her own family and is struggling to feel normal. On top of all that she is dealing with the fact that she is alone in her belief that her mother was murdered. Grace is definitely flawed – she makes some majorly questionable choices and hurts a lot of people while trying to prove she is capable and normal. Isn’t that what makes her interesting though?

One of my favorite things about Ally Carter’s novels is that they’re set in a contemporary time, but are located in a special place that makes the story feel more fantastical.Take the Gallagher Girls series, for example, which is set in today’s United States but takes place in a secret boarding school to train young spies (super cool right?). All Fall Down is similar in that the story happens in today’s world, but it is set in a fictional European country and even more specifically in the very unique setting of the Embassy houses. Because the story takes place in the embassies of many different countries, Grace’s story is placed in the middle of political intrigue and high society events, which makes it that much more captivating! I mean seriously mystery abounds…there are secret underground tunnels! For realz!

I am so relieved and happy that All Fall Down turned out to be a great start to what seems like a fun series! Ally Carter…she will not let you down! Book two, See How They Run, is set to release in January 2016 and I’m so excited I can’t wait!!excited

Have you read All Fall Down —What’d you think? Who, in your opinion, is that unstoppable author that can do no wrong? Please leave your comments below, I love reading them!

Details

Author: Ally Carter
Publisher: Scholastic Press (January 20, 2015)
Format: Audiobook
Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
Length: 8 hours and 32 minutes
Series: First in a series
YA/MG: YA

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Author Interview/Giveaway: Jessica Spotswood

Happy Monday! A special Monday!

In the miJessica Spotswooddst of the chaos that is my life right now I recently managed to read Sisters’ Fate, the final book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles trilogy by Jessica Spotswood (you can read my review here). This series is one of my favorites because I think magic and alternate histories are super cool…also romance. I like romance!

Due to how much I enjoy the Cahill Witch Chronicles, I’m super excited that today is a special day because we have Jessica Spotswood here with us answering some questions! Recently Jessica offered a free book to any blogger who wanted to host an interview and giveaway, and there was no way I was going to pass on the opportunity to chat a little with her…and giveaway a really fun read!

Interview

Q. Can you share with us 6 words that describe the Cahill Witch Chronicles for those who may not be familiar as familiar with them?
A. Sisters & witches & kissing! 
Q. I love the mix of alternate history and magic that you get when you read this series! What initially inspired you to write an alternate history mixed with fantasy?
​A. Thank you! ​My inspiration for the magical aspect was a dream I had in which my sisters and I (like Cate, I’m the oldest of three sisters) were fighting over a magical locket. The idea of writing about sisters with a powerful magical inheritance and exploring the mix of love and sibling rivalry really stuck with me. My inspiration for the alternate history was wanting to create a society – worse than today, or real history – in which powerful, clever, independent women were feared and scorned.

Q. The Cahill sisters are all so different. How you identify with one (or all) of the Cahill sisters?
​A. I identify most with Cate because I was in her head for three books; I know her best, know what she would do or say in so many situations. But I’m probably most like Tess – bookish, quiet, observant, good at school, always playing the peacemaker. Maura was hardest for me to identify with because she’s always picking fights, and I am so non-confrontational!

Q. So, Maura just
makes me so angry but I also empathize with her—she really is interesting. If you were ever to rewrite the story from Maura’s perspective what do you think would surprise us about her story? Sisters' Fate by Jessica Spotswood
A. I hope it would be surprising how easy it is to identify with her. She makes a lot of terrible mistakes, but she has a very big heart and big dreams and is really just so full of wanting that she gets in her own way. Also, remember: she’s only fifteen. I bet most of us can think of a time when we acted out of jealousy or ambition and regretted it later.

Q. I’ve heard that you had to completely rewrite book 2, Star Cursed, from scratch. Did you have any similar stressful situations while writing Sisters’ Fate or did wrapping up the series come easier?
​A. No, fortunately writing Sisters’ Fate was much easier! I knew how I wanted the book to end, and at the end of Star Cursed, the stakes were already so high in the relationships between Maura and Cate and Cate and Finn, and tension was already at a breaking point both in the convent and in the city, so it was fun to get to ignite all of that. 

Q. What are you working on now that the series is finished?
​A. I just finished editing an anthology, Petticoats & Pistols, which will be out next April! It’s historical YA – fifteen short stories about American girls throughout history, from pirates to protestors and belles to bank robbers. My authors are amazing: J. Anderson Coats, Andrea Cremer, Y.S. Lee, Katherine Longshore, Marie Lu, Kekla Magoon, Marissa Meyer, Saundra Mitchell, Beth Revis, Caroline Richmond, Lindsay Smith, Robin Talley, Leslye Walton, and Elizabeth Wein. And I just finished writing my first contemporary YA, Wild Swans, which will also be out next April! It’s about a girl dealing with her mother – who abandoned her when she was two – coming back home with the two half-sisters she’s never met. She also falls in love with a tattooed poet.

Q. I know you’re now working in a library (me too!), so you’re surrounded by books all the time. What have been some of your favorite books that you’ve read so far this year?
​A. Yay libraries! My favorite books so far this year have been All The Rage by Courtney Summers (such an important, searingly angry book about rape culture); The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (creepy gorgeous and a master class in voice); ​The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace (a fabulous fantasy which I loved so much I blurbed); and Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt (which I also blurbed – the heroine Penny has an incredible journey).

Q. Okay, this is totally random I know, but I follow you on Instagram and Twitter and I need to know where on Earth do you get all of those adorable dresses that you’re always wearing?!
​A. Thank you! Mostly they are from Modcloth! ​I love a good quirky print.

Giveaway

Have you already read Jessica’s Cahill Witch books? Whether you have or have not, you should still enter the giveaway…because nothing is better than a free book!

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Satisfyingly Fun: Sisters’ Fate by Jessica Spotswood

Hiya!

Moving Sale

Our first yard/moving sale earlier this month.

So, things are getting pretty chaotic around my house! We make our big trans-Atlantic move in less than three weeks and the house is a mess of boxes, not to mention all the stuff we’re selling! Selling most of your things is strange in two ways. First getting rid of it all has mad me understand that yes, it is all just stuff that can be replaced. However, I have also seen myself go all “Gollum” about certain objects! For example, I have these two naked New Kids on the Block dolls (Joe and Donnie for those of you interested) from childhood and Husband gently tried to get me to throw them away. I responded in a very “precious my precious” kind of way and now, needless to say, they are safely inside a box that has been taped up and is going on our shipping pallet.

Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos and NKOTB doll hoarding, however, I managed to find time to read the concluding book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles, Sisters’ Fate! I had been looking forward to this final installment in the series for so long and I’m glad it was able to be my relaxing read in the midst of the transition and change!

Sisters' Fate by Jessica SpotswoodOverview

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.

My Thoughts

I am not specifically drawn to witches when reading but definitely to any storyline where characters have special magical abilities. I can’t help it! I just am a little obsessed with fantasy! Spotswood’s alternate history series mixed with fantasy is one of my favorite because its just a fun read and a good conclusion to the series. Honestly, sometimes I am let down by the concluding book in a series (ahem… we shall not name some of those infamous let downs here), but none of that happened with Sisters’ Fate. This installment picks right up where book two left off—I would have freaked if it hadn’t—which means that there is pretty much a ton of things happening at all times! We have secret meetings, memory erasing, romance, fighting, angry mobs, prison breaks, fires, pestilence…and did I mention romance?! *winky winky*

Interestingly enough Sisters’ Fate doesn’t read like your average final installment. There wasn’t this sense of things being closed down throughout like in most final books in a series. In fact I found myself wondering just how Spotswood would end everything because there was so much going on! I even checked Goodreads to double check that it was, in fact, the last book. This a unique quality for the end of a series because it shows that Spotswood didn’t check out of the storyline early — she instead continued to bring the same action that we found in the first two books and doesn’t begin tying things up until the last quarter of the story. In the end, some relationships were healed and some weren’t. Some loose ends were tied and some were not and I enjoyed that it wasn’t all tied up in a pretty package!

To be fair however, sometimes I did get annoyed with the back and forth bickering between Maura and Cate…and even sometimes Tess. Maybe this is normal for sisters? I don’t know because I don’t have any. It did seem as though a spat between Cate and Maura punctuated every cool action the storyline had for us and at times I felt like some of the arguing could have been reduced, but it does all play a roll wrapping the story up so I guess I really shouldn’t complain. Either way, the sisterly arguments, while maybe annoying at times, didn’t seriously interfere with my enjoyment of seeing the Cahill sisters’ stories come to conclusion.

Don’t read Sisters’ Fate unless you have read the first two books in the Cahill Witch Chronicles, or else you’ll be utterly and totally confused. But, if you did read and enjoy Born Wicked and Star Cursed than I definitely think you’ll find this to be a satisfying end to a fun trilogy!

Want to win this book? Check back tomorrow morning for my interview with author Jessica Spotswood and a giveaway of Sisters’ Fate!

Details

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Publisher:G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (August 14, 2014)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 368 pages

Series: Third/Final book in The Cahill Witch Chronicles

YA/MG: YA/MG

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An Art History Mystery! Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Hiya!

It was recently announced that Under the Egg, a debut by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, is on the 2015-16 South Carolina Junior Award Book list! I read it this past fall and I  can tell you that this art history mystery definitely deserves the recognition!

Overview

When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgeralddiscovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

My Thoughts

Two topics of history that my students are always interested in are World War II and the Holocaust. Under the Egg is a middle grades mystery with quirky characters that includes a little bit of WWII, Holocaust, and art history tidbits in it. These history tidbits are definitely an intriguing side story to the WWII narrative, one that might not be known to many middle grade readers.

One thing that makes Under the Egg such a fun book is the quirky characters and friendships formed between them. Theo, our main character, is not your average thirteen year old – she has been raised mostly by her grandfather, who has recently died, has a mother who requires more care than Theo can give, and because of her family’s financial situation worries about how to make ends meet and wears the strangest clothes. Theo doesn’t realize that she’s lonely until she meets Bodhi, the daughter of two movie stars who lives in the neighborhood, who is also quirky and also lonely. The friendship that unfolds between Bodhi and Theo while they attempt to solve the mystery of the painting is one of the things that makes this book so special because neither girl realized just how much they needed companionship. The supporting cast of characters are also eccentric and each (An Episcopalian priest, the local diner owner and a helpful librarian) play an important role in uncovering the truth behind Theo’s painting. Characters like these are just plain fun to read!

Overall Under the Egg is a really quick read. I finished it in less than a day because I was so fascinated by the painting’s puzzle. Middle grade readers who are interested in World War II history or those who are just looking for a quality mystery with a witty, smart, and resourceful heroine will most definitely enjoy this one. Also if fans of other art related mysteries like Shakespeare’s Secret, Masterpiece, and Chasing Vermeer will find Under the Egg just as entertaining!

Details

Author: Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Publisher: Dial Books (March 18, 2014)
Format: Hardcover
Length: 247 pages
Series: Standalone
YA/MG: MG

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Immense Like: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Hello!

I just recently taught a lesson in my library to a digital arts class about book cover design. One of the things we discussed was the things that draw us individually to book covers and I shared with them about my love for covers with pretty gowns on the front.  It’s a sign of how girly I really am! I am almost always drawn to a cover that has a gorgeous dress on the cover whether it be fantasy, historical fiction, or another genre.

Knowing this, it’s no surprise why I first picked up A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.

Overview

Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Walleroverwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

My Thoughts

Historical fiction is a genre that I usually always enjoy, being the history nerd that I am and I was pretty much immediately a fan of A Mad, Wicked Folly when I began listening to the audiobook. The story introduces us to Vicky, a student in Paris taking secret art classes to further her love for drawing. Vicky makes a choice regarding her art which immediately sends her back to her enraged parents in England who swiftly engage her to a wealthy man still willing to have her. In the meantime we see the political atmosphere in England, specifically London getting more and more tense as the Women’s Suffrage Movement is gaining speed. What I love about this book is that you see Vicky’s small-scale revolution in her own private life set up against the backdrop of a much larger, although similar, social revolution.

As a main character Vicky is believable, if not naive. Throughout the whole book Vicky is struggling. She wants to please herself and pursue her own interests and talents, but is stuck in the mire of society’s constraints. Her actions are often incredibly naive, but who can really blame her when all she knows is the way in which is brought up which was in a world of black and whites. As Vicky begins to mature she starts to see that the world is full of grays as well and that decisions and right versus wrong is not always so cut-and-dry. I liked her immensely!

What I also liked immensely is the romance! Ohhhh the romance! There is a small love triangle in A Mad, Wicked Folly and it is pretty common with its rich guy versus poor guy theme, but that doesn’t alter how enjoyable it is. This romance was one of the sweetest I’d read in a while and was one of the best things about this book!

I also have to say that I learned so much from this book! After finishing it, I immediately went online to find more information regarding the Suffragist Movement in the United Kingdom! There were parts of the suffragette experience examined in this story that sickened and shocked me and I had to figure out what was fiction and what was fact. In my mind, if you’re lead to research more about a specific topic after finishing historical fiction, the author has done his/her job! Tidbit: the title of the book was inspired by a quote from Queen Victoria calling politicians to speak out against Woman’s Suffrage…interesting!

See?! There is more to A Mad, Wicked Folly book than a pretty gown on the cover! There is have romance, suffragettes, Victorian England, art, and self discovery! Due to the detailed and pretty disturbing accounts of specific suffragette experiences, I (highly) recommend this one to fans of YA historical fiction who are 8th grade and older. I just liked this whole book immensely!

Details

Author: Sharon Biggs Waller

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (January 23, 2014)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library Audio)

Length: 11 hours and 13 minutes

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: YA

 

 

 

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How It Should Be Done: Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Hello!

In high school photography was kind of my thing. I took a photography class and was even the head photographer of my yearbook staff for a few years. There were even these little freshman boys who had lockers near mine and used to call me “Camera Girl”…I loved it! I’d read Cynthia Lord before but was really interested in Half a Chance when I realized that Lucy, the main character, was an aspiring photographer!

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet Half a Chance by Cynthia Lordhis high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own.

Half a Chance is one of those middle grades novels that deals with difficult topics, but does it exactly how it should be done. Often times in middle grades fiction difficult topics are dealt with using a heavy hand, but Cynthia Lord manages to handle hard subjects with a perfect mix of sweetness and gentleness. What we see is Lucy struggling to get her father’s attention and help her new friend Nate’s family come to terms with their grandmother’s growing illness. All of this difficult stuff is approached through Lucy’s camera lens and creates a book that isn’t heavy handed in it’s struggles.

Lucy is your quintessential middle school girl who is constantly riding that line between self discovery and lack of confidence. Her father is this world renown photographer who is rarely home, she is the new girl in town who is starting to have a crush on her new friend and who isn’t too sure about the girl across the lake who hasn’t been very welcoming. I understand Lucy in the midst of all of this and she’s a very likable character.

The summer lakefront setting just adds to the gentle way Lord approaches Lucy’s story. The morning sunrises over the lake and the haunting calls of the loons (who play a major part in the story) create that kind of hazy summer setting that always seems to find itself in coming of age stories. It makes me wish I spent summers in a lake house!

I would highly recommend Half a Chance to any middle grade readers looking for a quick contemporary and even to parents interested in finding a way to open the conversation about an ill grandparent.

Author: Cynthia Lord

Publisher: Scholastic Press (February 25, 2014 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 218 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

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One of the Best: Doll Bones by Holly Black

Happy Sunday everyone!

Writing reviews when I truly enjoyed/loved a book can either be difficult (fear of too much gushing) or really easy (the love just flows). Writing my review for Doll Bones by Holly Black was incredibly easy. This book is that good.

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Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining Doll Bones by Holly Blacka magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity.

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If you asked me for one of the best titles to introduce you to middle grades fiction, Dolly Bones would be the book I pressed into your hands. Everything about this book is well done. This is quality middle grades fiction right here people!

As I look back on some of the best middle grades books I’ve read (and coming of age tales in general) I’m noticing a major commonality between them; that perfect yet strange mix of realism and fantasy mixed together (think the Sandlot with “the beast” for example). When a book succeeds at weaving both the realistic and fantastic together what you get is a blindingly beautiful portrayal of that preadolescence stage in life where you’re stuck in limbo between childhood and the teen years. The characters, Zach, Poppy and Alice are each exploring (in different ways) their new teenage interests, yet are still clinging to the comforts of childhood, like imagining and playing games. This struggle is exemplified so flawlessly well on the cover. I love how this cover sets the stage for a coming of age story (yes the kids are on a physical and emotional journey) set in and spurred on, by the atmosphere of a ghost story.

Another major factor in this whole coming of age theme is realizing that adults, specifically your parents, are human being with flaws. We see this primarily in the strained relationship between Zach and his father. Because it hurts so much to realize that his dad isn’t perfect Zach longs for the days when his father wasn’t there; its easier to ignore him than face the truth. When in reality this often painful father/son relationship is caused by a hurt man doing the best he knows how with a son he doesn’t quite understand. There is just so much truthful emotion going on here!

There are some slightly creepy goings on in Doll Bones, but it is completely appropriate for middle grade readers and up (perhaps even a mature fifth grader) who crave a good adventure tale. The audiobook would make for a good family listen as well, so if you haven’t read Doll Bones yet, please get it added to your (or your reader’s) TBR stack; you wont be disappointed.

Author: Holly Black

Publisher:  Margaret K. McElderry Books (May 7, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 5 hours and 15 minutes

Narrator(s): Nick Podehl

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:

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Excessively Diverting: Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore

Hi!

Who doesn’t enjoy Downton Abbey-like upstairs/downstairs drama?!

Okay, there are probably some people out there who don’t enjoy it like I do, so if it’s you then Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshore is most likely not the book for you.

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The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems. Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world Manor of Secrets by Katherine Longshorebeyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn’t sure she possesses the courage — or the means — to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.

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Take one guess as to why I was immediately drawn to Manor of Secrets.

Here, I’ll help you out: 1. pretty gown, 2. the word “manor”. Either guesses would have worked. Both signs point to “YES” for Tina! My reading preferences are pretty predictable.

Overall, Manor of Secrets was a fun and amusing read and sometimes you just need an uncomplicated story to tumble into for a while. Although there were definitely weaknesses, I enjoyed the story so much I can overlook them. For the most part the writing fell much more on the “telling” instead of “showing” side of things and the plot twist was spotted clearly from a mile away! Additionally, other than a few basic descriptions of the manor and the characters, there was nothing strong about the setting, it is kind of invisible. The book really could have taken place in any British manor house in any historical era because it was lacking in anything that specified this was 1911.

The relationship that grows between Charlotte and Janie is the story’s strong suit. Although the characters themselves are nothing new (we have a poor-little-rich-girl constrained by her upbringing and a rags-to-riches Cinderella), the friendship that is being forged between the two makes for interesting growth in both girls. You have Charlotte learning (a little bit) about the seriousness of world and how her actions can affect others, while Janie is learning more about what family really is. Add in all of the secrets, flirtations, and deception going on amidst Charlotte and Janie’s growing friendship and you have a book that is so excessively diverting you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

As mentioned earlier, I can overlook the weaknesses in Manor of Secrets because the story is just so fun and I’m always interested in the whole upstairs/downstairs thing. If there was a sequel planned, which I don’t think there is, I would definitely pick it up although I don’t think I’d rush to get my hands on it. In the end, I can identify some of my students who would really enjoy this read, mostly middle school girls who already enjoy Downton Abbey and books with pretty dresses on the cover.

Author: Katherine Longshore

Publisher: Point (January 28, 2014)

Format: e-galley

Length: 320 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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Ups and Downs: The Flame in the Mist by Kitt Grindstaff

Welcome back BookTasty Friends!

I’ve been working pretty hard to get caught up with my book reviews, because as of now I’m still a month or two behind! *GASP* I just read so much faster than I can write a review, which isn’t really a problem! haha

Today’s review is for fantasy read, The Flame in the Mist by Kitt Grindstaff.

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Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and features Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.

Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaffand lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma’s past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen, gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.

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Fantasy is most definitely my favorite genre. I just love the idea of different worlds where magic is the norm! Because so many of my favorite books are fantasy, so I was excited to pick up The Flame in the Mist. In the end this book had it’s ups and downs. I didn’t love it, nor did I totally hate it either.

First of all the pacing of Jemma’s story is pretty slow, which was a struggle for me because the book is well over 400 pages (which makes for a long audibook!). It’s not that I don’t have the attention span for slowish story-lines, but Jemma makes two perilously long journeys that just felt like they dragged on and on at times. These journeys were necessary and many significant events occurred on them both, but I found myself thinking that the story could have been condensed a bit to make it seem less sluggish.

Jemma is one of those characters that are, from the beginning, pretty easy to cheer for. Her life has been full of so many secrets and betrayals relating to her detestable family that the reader turns every page with the hope that the Agromonds will get what’s coming to them. Although Jemma is easy to root for however, she isn’t that multifaceted a character, which makes the cast of secondary characters all the more exciting because they all (mostly) are surprisingly complex, especially some of Jemma’s family members. In fact, I believe that one of this book’s strongest qualities is it’s characters. Also, let’s not forget about Jemma’s two sidekick rats, Noodle and Pie – I loved them!

The Flame in the Mist is definitely a middle grades fantasy novel, but will appeal to older fantasy lovers as well. As with most fantasy novels magic is a common theme in this story, but there are times where I wonder if some of the said magic is too dark and creepy for younger middle school readers. Although this wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, it was still a fun audiobook to listen to and it kept me entertained.

Author: Kitt Grindstaff

Publisher:  Delacorte Press (April 9, 2013)

Format: Audiobook (Listening Library)

Length: 13 hours and 29 minutes

Narrator(s): Rosalyn Landor

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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People Are Like Plants: Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Bonjour!

Today is my Husband’s birthday! I think he’s pretty awesome so Happy Happy Birthday to him!

HusbandOkay, on to more bookish things! Since my school is an International Baccalaureate World School, I’m always on the lookout for titles that have a global focus. TSerafina's Promise by Ann E Burghis is why I had high hopes when I started reading Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg.

Serafina has
a secret dream.

She wants to go to school
and become a doctor
with her best friend, Julie Marie.

But in their rural village
outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti,
many obstacles
stand in Serafina’s way–
little money,
never-ending chores,
and Manman’s worries.

More powerful even
than all of these
are the heavy rains
and the shaking earth
that test Serafina’s resolve
in ways she never dreamed.

At once heartbreaking and hopeful,
this exquisitely crafted story
will leave a lasting impression
on your heart.

Serafina’s Promise gets points for being a beautifully written novel. But it also get’s points for having an international (non USA) setting, and extra points for being a novel in verse! This book has it all…a librarian’s dream!

This book is set up into three clearly cut parts. To start out, we meet Serfina a preteen Haitian girl living in extreme poverty. Serafina is responsible for hiking to gather the family’s daily water provision but we quickly learn that she deeply desires to go to school and one day become a doctor. I’m impressed with the way Serafina is written because it’s impeccably realistic. Serafina is very innocent, yet she struggles with jealousy toward her friend who can afford to go to school. She deeply loves her family and sick baby brother yet is resentful towards her worried mother’s strictness. Despite living in a different setting Serafina’s realistic character allows teens from more privileged circumstances to connect with her.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the setting. The descriptions of Serafina’s home, the flood scenes, and the city details after the earthquake, it is clear that this story takes place in Haiti, not just any random developing nation. The Haitian Creole words sprinkled in throughout the verse only add to that already strong sense of place. Sometimes non English words in a story can distract the reader, but these fit in well and are usually easily understood based on context, however there is a Haitian Creole glossary in the back of the book to help with this further (*the educator in me cheers in delight!*).

And to make this book that much better, while reading I stumbled upon a few short lines that immediately became one of my favorite quotes ever. To set the scene Serafina is working on a garden with the help of Gogo, her grandmother who praises Serafina’s hard work with the plants.

“Gogo’s word make me feel taller.

People really are like plants -

kind words make them grow.”

Serafina’s Promise is one that is strongly recommend to middle grade readers because it is such a sincere and well written story. I also think it could be a very powerful book in a classroom or book group setting, so teachers and librarians…have at it!

Author: Ann E. Burg

Publisher: Scholastic Press (September 24, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 304 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

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