Recent Reads / 03

Hello!

Happy Tuesday! How is your week coming along? I had a wonderful and restful long weekend with my family—it was just what I needed, especially now that my winter break has come to a close! I move back to Brown today for the new semester; classes start next week, but over the next few days, I’ll be in non-stop rehearsals for my next stage management project: an all-femme production of Julius Caesar in February.

I’m excited for the coming months, but I admittedly wish I didn’t have to swap my young adult novels for course textbooks. I may not be able to read as much as I did on break, but I can at least share a few reviews that have been sitting in my drafts! I did a similar format back in the summer, and I loved how it allowed me to highlight a few favorites from my recent reading pile. What books have you read (and would recommend!) as of late?

Recent Reads 03[1] To start, anyone in the literary world would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about Angie Thomas’ stellar debut, The Hate U Give, at this point. It has been on my feeds since it was published last February, it continues to dominate the NY Times Bestsellers list, and filming for its big picture adaptation has already begun! Such praise is wholly deserved. While I felt it was a touch too long, the areas that plod – and there are few – are readily made up with dialogue that immerses you in every scene, an authentic and touching family dynamic, and a plot that speaks to the injustice of police brutality. This is a book that the YA community needed years ago. I’m only glad it’s found such a large following now.

[2] For middle-grade readers, let me recommend Greenglass House, a wintery, adventure-filled mystery from author Kate Milford. It was the first book I read this year, and I can’t think of a better note on which to start. It’s modern, yet timeless, charming, yet distinct, existing in a world where winter storms are reason to share stories around the fireplace, inn guests are not who they always claim to be, and attics hold trinkets and decades-old secrets (If you couldn’t guess, Milford has a way with atmosphere). You can be sure that my next snow day will be devoted solely to reading the newly released sequel, if only because I’m anxious to return to main character Milo’s story.

[3] Have you read anything by Emma Mills yet? If you haven’t, can we remedy that? I myself waited until this past Christmas to read a book from the well-established YA author, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t check out one of her novels sooner. Foolish Hearts, her latest work, is nothing less than pitch-perfect contemporary. Following narrator and high school senior Claudia as she works on a school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it has a plot that had me grinning from beginning to end and characters that I want as my very own friends. If that all isn’t enough to convince you, grab it simply for the stunning cover. In short: love, love, love.

[4] Finally, another book I read on my winter break was Being Mortal, a thoughtful and sobering meditation on modern aging from surgeon Atul Gawande. In just under three hundred pages, he deftly switches from an explanation of nursing homes and current elderly care practices to recounts of his experience with patients nearing the end of life to finally, a reflection on his own father’s passing. At times, it felt intense, but that’s less a fault of Gawande’s skillful prose than a result of a culture that so rarely discusses death. If the subject piques your interest, I think you’d do well to read it alongside When Breath Becomes Air and What Makes Olga Run?. 

Have a terrific Tuesday!
Bella

Psst. In December, The Hate U Give was banned from school shelves in Katy, Texas. Fortunately, as I write this post, it’s back for students to read, but it nevertheless highlights how stories can be taken from and made inaccessible to the very readers who need them most. That in mind, and if budget allows, consider donating a copy to the campaign above and/or to your own local Little Free Library. It’s a book that deserves to be in the hands of high schoolers.

Twelve Anticipated Releases for 2017

Hello!

Top Ten TuesdayHappy Wednesday, friends! I won’t lie: between a draining cold and an abundance of mid-term projects, winter break is looking all the more appealing. I love the holidays, but I think the vacation is also an opportunity to refresh and plan for the year ahead. Of course, the new year is only what one makes of it, but nevertheless, I love the figurative fresh start the comes with the turn of the calendar.

Blame the avid reader in me, but one of the things I like to plan for most is my TBR list, adding to it the new novels released by my favorite authors. I’m not alone; one of the most popular topics in The Broke and The Bookish’s weekly feature, Top Ten Tuesday, happens to be this week’s prompt: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward To For The First Half Of 2017. I’m a day late, but I still wanted to share the novels I can’t wait to get my hands on in 2017 – I’ll talk books any day of the week :) I’ve limited this list to novels I don’t already own {that means the wonderful Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited isn’t included}, and the titles are listed in rainbow order, naturally. What books are on your TBR list?

the-last-of-augustFirst on my list is Brittany Cavallaro’s The Last of August, the sequel to her humorous modern take on Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Charlotte. In this installment, detective duo Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson team up once again to solve a case on their winter break: what secrets lie behind Charlotte’s uncle’s disappearance? {the title hails from character August Moriarty}. The novel comes out on Valentine’s Day, so I think I’ll be buying it as a personal treat. {out February 14}

this-would-make-a-good-story-somedayIf you haven’t yet read The Misadventures of Family Fletcher, let me be blunt: you’re missing out. A sweet family-centered contemporary at its finest, the Family Fletcher – and its sequel, The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island – make me smile, as the next book from author Dana Alison Levy, This Would Make a Good Story Someday, is sure to do as well. Who can resist a summer road trip story, complete with rambunctious siblings and embarrassing parents? Not me, that’s for certain. {out May 16}

yours-trulyAs if I needed another reason to look forward to the new year, Heather Vogel Frederick is releasing a new novel, the companion to the adorable Absolutely Truly. Book Two, named Yours Truly, sounds just as heart-warming: someone sabotages the town’s annual maple festival and it is up to Truly to find out why. I’d move to Pumpkin Falls in an instant – consider it the literary version of Stars Hollow – and so, I’m oh-so excited to revisit Truly and the entire Lovejoy gang. Is it bad to admit I’ve already carved out a spot for it in my bookshelf? {out January 31}

dreamland-burningWhile I haven’t read Jennifer Latham’s debut, Scarlett Undercover, one look at the cover of her sophomore release, Dreamland Burning, and I was sold. Further research into the synopsis has me even more excited: tying together two different settings – one from today, the other from 1921 – the protagonist attempts to uncover the truth behind a brutal murder. Early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive – fingers crossed I’ll soon be able to add my own to the bunch! {out February 21}

first-class-murderYou may sense a growing trend: I love me any mystery or middle grade fiction. Robin Stevens’ delightful series, Wells & Wong Mysteries, then, is a match made in heaven, as young sleuths Daisy and Hazels go about England solving various cases. In their third installment, the detectives find themselves solving a murder upon the Orient Express; my UK friends may have already read it, but I’ll be patiently awaiting its release in April. It couldn’t come soon enough! {out April 4}

the-names-they-gave-usEmery Lord has yet to disappoint: Open Road Summer had my heart swelling; The Start of Me and You remains a favorite; and When We Collided beautifully explored a topic not often seen in YA. Her success is sure to follow in her next release, titled The Names They Gave Us. From the synopsis, it sounds like yet another story using Lord’s winning combination: family and friend dynamics, a blossoming romance, and a summery setting. I’m already counting down the days until it hits shelves. {out May 16}

the-pearl-thiefWhen it comes to YA historical fiction, there’s only one author I continually recommend: Elizabeth Wein, the writer behind World War II narratives Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. She returns to the same characters in the prequel, The Pearl Thief, sharing just how Julie satisfied her taste for adventure as a teen before the war. Like any bookworm, I’ll never pass up the chance to revisit a beloved protagonist. In other words? It’s only a matter of days before I preorder my own copy. {out May 2}

ramona-blueAfter reading the delight that is Dumplin’, I’m convinced that Julie Murphy can craft female narrators like no other author; her protagonist, Willowdean Dickson, is sassy, funny, and all-around wonderful, as Murphy’s next main character, Ramona, is likely to be as well. Furthermore, if anyone can delicately handle the topic of sexual fluidity, it’d be Julie Murphy. To put it simply? Ramona Blue sounds like a winner. May, come sooner please. {out May 17}

flying-lessons-and-other-storiesEntering into the new year, I hope the literary community can agree on one thing: diverse books are not only needed, they deserve to be celebrated. For that reason, I’m looking forward to picking up Flying Lessons and Other Stories, an anthology by the founded of We Need Diverse Books, Ellen Oh, in the coming year. With contributions from authors like Tim Federle, Jacqueline Woodson, and newcomer Kelly J. Baptist, it’s sure to be a stellar collection. I personally can’t wait. {out January 3}

history-is-all-you-left-meIf Adam Silvera made me cry with his debut, More Happy Than Not, I can only imagine the emotions that will arise with the release of History is All You Left Me. Exploring themes of loss, love, and mental illness, the book follows the protagonist as he enters a downward spiral, “losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices.” Fortunately, it’s mere weeks until it comes out, so I’ll be devouring Griffin’s story before I know it, tissues in hand. {out January 17}

always-and-forever-lara-jeanIf you’re searching for some sweetness and sincerity to add to your reading pile, look no further than Jenny Han, whose To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is as cute as they come. What was originally planned as a duology has grown into a trilogy – to the delight of fans everywhere, myself included – so as to allow the chance for Lara Jean to go to college and decide what that means for her relationships. More of Lara Jean, Peter, and the Song family? Who could say no? {out April 4}

bad-romanceFinally, while it’s only been two years since Heather Demetrios’ last release, I’ll Meet You There, I feel as if I’ve waited forever for the publication of her third novel, Bad Romance. Not only does it sport an eye-catching cover, it also has a compelling synopsis: the main character’s life changes, for better of for worse, when she meets Gavin and they enter a relationship. I’ll be grabbing a copy soon after I graduate – what craziness. {out June 13}

Have the most wonderful Wednesday!
Bella

Pros and Cons / Poison is Not Polite

Hello!Pros and ConsWhen it comes to my middle grade reads, I’m all about the mystery genre. From the fast-paced, high-action adventures of Spy School to the suspenseful, puzzling cases of The Red Blazer Girls, mysteries, I’ve found, are an easy cure for any and all reading slumps. Poison is Not Polite, the charming sequel to Robin Stevens’ Murder is Bad Manners, is the latest to join my long list of favorites, proving yet again that sometimes all a burnt-out bookworm needs is a good story with which to spend the afternoon. I wanted to sneak in a review before the month came to a close, but before I do, let me ask: what are you currently reading?

Poison is Not Polite

A tea party takes a poisonous turn, leaving Daisy and Hazel with a new mystery to solve in the second novel of the Wells & Wong Mystery series.

Schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are at Daisy’s home, Fallingford, for the holidays. Daisy’s glamorous mother is throwing a tea party for Daisy’s birthday, and the whole family is invited, from eccentric Aunt Saskia to dashing Uncle Felix. But it soon becomes clear that this party isn’t about Daisy after all—and she is furious. But Daisy’s anger falls to the wayside when one of their guests falls seriously and mysteriously ill—and everything points to poison. It’s up to Daisy and Hazel to find out what’s really going on.

With wild storms preventing everyone from leaving, or the police from arriving, Fallingford suddenly feels like a very dangerous place to be. Not a single person present is what they seem—and everyone has a secret or two. And when someone very close to Daisy begins to act suspiciously, the Detective Society does everything they can to reveal the truth… no matter the consequences. {Goodreads}

P R O S
Inspiring, distinct young sleuths The enthusiastic Daisy Wells and the inquisitive Hazel Wong are faced with quite the case: what to do when a dinner guest falls sick and dies? Anyone else would call the authorities, but Daisy and Hazel, detectives they are, decide to look for the truth themselves. Their friendship could be overlooked in favor of moving the mystery along were it not for Stevens’ talent in characterization; her main characters come off as a relatable pair of best friends, albeit a pair with a knack for solving cases, rather than the other way around.

A colorful and well-developed ensemble cast of characters Daisy and Hazel are joined by many family members and friends who have just as significant of a role in shaping the story: Aunt Saskia, who has a secret up her sleeve, Miss Alston, who doesn’t act like the governess she claims to be, and Lord Hastings, who has a fondness for bad jokes, among others. This eccentric ensemble plays a pivotal part in the mystery – they all have motives, only some have alibis – and their different personalities add yet another layer to the whodunit. Furthermore, though the number of characters first seems overwhelming, Stevens takes care to develop each supporting member with as much care as she does Daisy and Hazel.

An engaging, if somewhat predictable, mystery From the classic red herrings to the gloomy, anything-could-happen weather, this story is an homage to traditional mysteries à la Agatha Christie or Clue. With or without the well-written case, I could easily see budding detectives and avid readers devouring this book in one sitting, but even I found it hard to put it down once I was invited into Fallingford Mansion – a testament to the novel’s addictive nature if I ever saw one. In addition, what the mystery lacks in shock-factor is further made up with in its final scene, where Stevens brings the case to a realistic close while also setting the foundation for the next adventure of Daisy and Hazel.

An abundance of charm and humor As she does in Book One, Stevens weaves her trademark British charm throughout the narrative, a task easier said than done with such dreary topics as arsenic poisoning, sudden death, and old mansions. It’s a delicate balance to walk, but Stevens does it with little issue, writing from the eyes of Hazel in a case-book style. It’s a subtle technique, but the resulting, humorous quips are too charming to escape notice. For added smiles, Hazel shares British terms and phrases that may be unrecognizable to American readers in a glossary – it, in addition to the Wells Family Tree, is a delightful treat that only deepens my love for all things Wells and Wong.

C O N S
+ Use of a common setting and plot makes it less memorable than the first book Finally, the only area where I believe the book falters is in its memorability. Poison is Not Polite uses a number of common mystery tropes – too much? – that I fear it loses the impact of the first book. It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise excellent read, one that I’ve already begun recommending to friends. Meanwhile, I’ll be awaiting the release of the third book, First Class Murder; April couldn’t come soon enough.

Have the most wonderful Thursday!
Bella