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Not What I Hoped For: My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

Hello!

As a librarian I’m always on the look out for multicultural and diverse YA fiction as a general rule, but especially since my school is an International Baccalaureate school. I had high hopes for My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman, but in the end I was left disappointed.

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than herMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend Ben-o–who might also be her boyfriend–and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with that snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

Overall, My Basmati Bat Mitzvah was entertaining and sweet, but the writing was just average, which is where I was disappointed.

As a main character Tara is both sympathetic and extremely annoying at the same time. There is a lot going on in Tara’s life and while she’s balancing everything she’s having some serious questions of faith. I love how Freedman portrays this push and pull between cultures through the religious/faith side of things, because one’s spiritual faith is, I think, often overlooked in YA and MG fiction, which bothers me sometimes because I believe preteen and teen readers are often searching and trying to make sense of their spiritual surroundings. In this I believe that teen readers will appreciate and even see themselves in Tara.

And although many may also see themselves in Tara’s failings as well, I just feel that Freedman handled these weaknesses (ie: the things I found very annoying) irresponsibly. Tara had big anger issues and is willing to physically fight over nothing more than a glance from her “enemies”, and while I am incredibly aware that this is a common struggle for many teens, I hated the way Freedman wrote it and just kind of left it there. Tara didn’t ponder her actions and no one seemed to question it. I don’t mean to say that I expected some sort of moral lesson to wrap up Tara’s flaws, it was all just poorly written, in my opinion.

In the end although it was not as good a read as I had been hoping, I did purchase My Basmati Bat Mitzvah for my library because I think that most of Tara’s struggles and voice are real enough for readers to connect with and the subject matter is incredibly relevant for today’s world.

Author: Paula J. Freedman

Publisher: Amulet Books (October 1, 2013 )

Format: Hardcover

Length: 256 pages

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG/YA

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Reading Queue: October

The Reading Queue

Hi guys! Okay and it’s time again for our Reading Queue! The Reading Queue is a monthly event hosted by Books a True Story and myself to help us keep track of our reading plans for the month. We love to have people join us too, so you should sign up! How I Did In…
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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

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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

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Sadly, Not Much to Offer:The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

Welcome back friends!

I was lucky enough to met author Gordon Korman a few years ago, and he was such a friendly and humble individual! He’s one of my librarian crushes, I have to admit.  My students adore his books, mostly because he is a good storyteller and writes interesting and funny characters, but I was a little disappointed with The Hypnotists.The Hypnotists by Gordon Korman

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Jackson Opus has always been persuasive, but he doesn’t know that he’s descended from the two most powerful hypnotist bloodlines on the planet. He’s excited to be accepted into a special program at the Sentia Institute — but when he realizes he’s in over his head, Jackson will have to find a way to use his powers to save his friends, his parents, and his government.

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The world Jax (Jackson) lives in mirrors our own but with one big difference, some people have hypnotic powers. Overall, The Hypnotists was an interesting idea, but was also completely unbelievable and what it was lacking is the follow through to make be believe it.

The pacing of the story was quick and a lot of action happens, especially in the first few chapters where we meet Jax on a seemingly out of control bus speeding through the city streets. Adventure and action scenes like this are one of Korman’s strong points but unfortunately it’s the only thing that this book has to offer.

I’m sad to say that the majority of the characters, Jackson included, are not well developed, which is unusual for Korman. Jackson goes from being naive to knowledgeable and wavers between the two the whole time. I found myself more than halfway through the book when I suddenly realized that I just didn’t care about Jax or saving the world from evil hypnotists. Really. And because I had read so much of the book already, and I feel loyal to the author, from that point on I was skimmed the pages just so I could finish it.

I was disappointed in my usually awesome Gordon Korman, but The Hypnotists just doesn’t have much to offer the reader other than a few exciting action scenes and I wouldn’t make this book your introduction to Korman’s books. I do think some of my students will still enjoy anything written by this author because of his normally great track record, and the quick pacing might really appeal to reluctant readers, but I doubt that I’ll be doing much recommending of this one in my library, which is a shame.

Author: Gordon Korman

Publisher: Scholastic Press (August 1, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 232 pages

Series: First book in The Hypnotists series

YA/MG: MG

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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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Complex Relationships: Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper

Hello friends!

It’s always nice when a book pleasantly surprises you. I didn’t go into reading Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

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On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can take only a bow and arrows, his handcrafted tomahawk, and the amazing metal knife his father Ghost Hawk by Susan Coopertraded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is only ten when his father dies, but he has already experienced the warmth and friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren’t as accepting of the native people. When he is apprenticed to a barrel-maker, John sees how quickly the relationships between settlers and natives are deteriorating. His friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

The intertwining stories of Little Hawk and John Wakely are a fascinating tale of friendship and an eye-opening look at the history of our nation. Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper also includes a timeline and an author’s note that discusses the historical context of this important and moving novel.

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I started Ghost Hawk, expecting to be underwhelmed, but quickly realized that I was turning page after page to find out what would happen next. I was completely riveted to this story of an unlikely friendship between two boys from vastly different worlds. Woven between this story of friendship is the turbulent history between colonial New Englanders and the Native Americans of the region detailing one of those difficult and change ridden era in American history. The complexity of the relationship between these two wildly distinct cultures is handled well here. Cooper doesn’t over simplify the overlapping layers of mistrust and kindness, but it is also written appropriately for middle grade readers to grasp to basic themes.

However, I do wonder if this is truly a book geared towards middle grades readers. It is already a struggle to get my students to pick up a historical fiction title, and there is at times a slowness to the story (that isn’t a negative thing just an observation). Due to the sometimes complex themes, I don’t know if any of my students would enjoy and completely understand the whole story and context of Ghost Hawk while reading it independently. I feel like it would be best read, and enjoyed, in a guided group setting (for middle school readers at least) so that they can discuss the story and it’s depth with other readers.

When I read other online reviews of this story, most people complained that they lost interest once the narration switches primarily to John’s life, instead of Little Hawk’s. It seems that people thought the pacing slowed done and the story just kind of plodded along, but I totally disagree. Maybe it’s because of my own preferences with regards to historic events, but I enjoyed reading about the Puritans and John’s experience so much more and this book became more interesting to me as it progressed. I was especially intrigued by the “rebel” Puritan and his breakaway colony, so much so that I’ve spent some extra time researching a little more about it.

In the end Ghost Hawk is a hauntingly beautiful story of friendship and tolerance of those who are different than ourselves. These themes are as important for adults to be reminded of as well as younger readers, so I think that readers of all ages (who enjoy historical fiction) will get something out of this book.

Author: Susan Cooper

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (August 27, 2013)

Format: Hardcover

Length: 336 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

Buy the Book:

 

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Reading Queue: July

The Reading QueueHi there!

This is me on summer vacation.The Office Dance

I love it. I love it. I love it!

So, what is this Reading Queue?  The Reading Queue is a monthly event hosted by me and Books: A true story where we share our reading plans for each month. You can check out other participating blogs and see what others are reading and maybe find someone reading the same thing as you!  Please feel free to contact me in the comments if you’d like to join and/or if you have questions!

 How I Did In June

Tomorrow is July and have I told you how much I enjoy my summer break? A LOT! But as for June…June was a month of insane traveling. Seriously, I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be! The week following the last day of school, I chaperoned a five day field trip to Disney with about sixty sixth graders which was really fun, yet utterly exhausting! Then my husband and I went on a whirlwind trip to Savannah and Florida to see family and friends. I did manage to finish six books though. But overall…yeah…not a whole lot of reading happening!

The One by Kiera Cass Belles by Jen Calonita The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

The One by Kiera Cass

Belles by Jen Calonita (audiobook)

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher

Winter White by Jen Calonita A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Winter White (Belles #2) by Jen Calonita (audiobook)

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

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My July Reading Queue

I plan on getting a lot more reading done this month mainly because we’re not traveling and have no major plans. YAY!

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landin by Sheila Turnage Curveball by Jordan Sonnenblick Wild Born by Brandon Mull

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Spirit Animals: Wild Born (Book 1) by Brandon Mull

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods Every Day After by Laura Golden Codename by Chris Rylander

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

Every Day After by Laura Golden

Codename Zero by Chris Rylander

Don't Even Think About it by Sarah Mlyonowski Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey 

Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mylonowski

Dead Weather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey

Champion by Marie Lu Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Champion (Legend #3) by Marie Lu

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

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Okay! Which should I read first?! I need your input because my July Reading Queue is quite ambitious. :)

What books are on your Reading Queue for July? We’d love it if you’d link your TBR or Reading Queue up with ours!