The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

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I am always, always, always up for a good Sherlock Holmes retelling, and Eulberg’s Shelby Holmes story is a perfect middle grade entry into the Sherlock world.

In it, Shelby Holmes is a 9 year old sixth grader with all the brains, sass, and social awkwardness you’d expect from a character based on Sherlock, and John Watson has just moved into the building. John, whose military parents have just gone through a divorce, is in need of new friends and sort of falls into Shelby’s crime solving world when a classmate of theirs discovers that her prize-winning dog has been stolen.

Shelby and John are both well-written characters who work together in their own quirky ways, and they have depth to them that goes far beyond the crime to be solved. With John’s family situation and Shelby’s trouble making friends, there’s plenty here for readers to identify with and cheer the characters through.

The mystery itself is both clever enough to be worthy of a 9 year-old Holmes and solvable enough for a middle grade audience. The Great Shelby Holmes would be perfect for readers as young as 4th grade and I can see its appeal going up through middle school. Also, for those adults (like me!) who love Sherlockian literature, it’s a really fun look into the classic characters as modern day kids. Elizabeth confirmed for me that there will be at least two more Shelby Holmes books, and I’m already looking forward to them!

 

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Confession: I’ve wanted to read Tell Me Three Things for quite a while (because of the heart shaped waffles on the cover, to be completely honest), but it’s one that I wasn’t able to get my hands on in ARC form, so I (stupidly) waited to buy it and now I’m late for the party. If you, like me, missed it when it first came out… you gotta get it now.

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In this, 16 year-old Jessie is trying to figure out life without her mom (she passed away two years ago) and with an entirely new city and step family (her dad moved her suddenly from Chicago to Los Angeles when he eloped with his new wife). On top of all that, Jessie’s now attending a prestigious private school that is beyond difficult to navigate as the new girl.

So, when she receives an anonymous email from a classmate calling himself Somebody/Nobody (SN for short) in which he offers to be a spirit guide to help her adjust to the school, she reluctantly accepts his help out of desperation. When their initial anonymous exchange develops into a friendship, the mysterious SN is still reluctant to meet, even though he clearly knows who Jessie is and they’re developing real feelings for each other. They start asking each other to “tell me three things,” and so these great lists of things are included in their messages back and forth. The identity of SN isn’t revealed until almost the end of the book, and while I did have a good idea of who I hoped it would be, I was guessing until the end just like Jessie was. I was so happy with who it was that I actually went back through the whole book and reread their messages. They just made me happy.

It may sound simple and potentially sad (dead mom, etc.), but Tell Me Three Things is honestly one of the most engaging, emotionally beautiful novels I’ve read this year. It’s NOT sad – Buxbaum’s author’s note made it clear that she wasn’t aiming to write a book about the death of a mom but instead wanted that to be a part of the character’s story – but the way Jessie learns from and deals with her grief is a very real and compelling. The hope she finds in new friendships and eventually in her relationship with her dad is ultimately what the reader feels at the end of the story.

Because I’m a teacher and I can’t turn that part of my brain off when I read YA, I do have to say that I think it’s appropriate for upper high school ages. There’s some language, but it doesn’t feel excessive or showy – it’s mostly coming from grief and truly hard situations. The profanity didn’t bother me in this book like it does in some others. There’s also a significant subplot involving one of the main character making the very grown up decision of whether or not she’s ready for sex. Again, that story line can bother be in some books if it’s not treated with care, but it’s done pretty carefully here, and that’s a topic I wish parents would talk more about with their kids anyway.

It’s been a long while since I’ve read a book that has set in and stuck with me throughout several days like this one did. It feels to me like everything that a book written for teens SHOULD be – not cheesy, full of real life situations, hopeful, fun, relevant, and engaging.

Find Tell Me Three Things on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. Enjoy!

P.S. I Like You by Kasie West

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In P.S. I Like You, aspiring musician and generally awkward Lily Abbott falls into an anonymous pen pal relationship with a fellow Chemistry class sufferer. She and the pen pal hit it off and Lily’s having fun wondering who it could be… if only she could get her best friend’s ex, Cade Jennings, to leave her alone she’d be happy. Somehow they end up in verbal battles everytime they’re near each other. When Lily finally discovers the identity of her letter writer, she’ll have to take a step back and figure out how she really feels about everything. As usual, this book is not JUST a contemporary romance – there are family issues and big dreams and lots of real, relatable themes for teens. 

It’s no secret that I love everything Kasie writes, but I swear she gets better and better with each book she writes. I started reading P.S. I Like You one evening and couldn’t put it down… I did eventually fall asleep, but finished the story quickly the next morning and thought about Lily and Cade all day long.

I found this excerpt on GoodReads and had to share. Enjoy it, and check out this book!

“I nodded toward Cade’s wrist. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fun. I get a man bracelet.”

I smiled. “I don’t think you get to keep it. She’s just using you as her model.”

“Her model?”

“It’s a fact, not a compliment.”

“Because if you gave me a compliment you might have a stroke.”

I laughed. “Probably not a stroke, but my brain would definitely revolt in some way.”

He didn’t laugh along with me, just looked at the cording on his wrist.

“Oh, stop, you don’t need me to tell you that you’re hot to know that it’s true.”

“Are you okay? Did that hurt your head?” Cade asked.

I kicked his foot with mine and he laughed.

“So you think I’m hot?” Cade’s eyes sparkled.

“Doesn’t every girl?”

It surprised me when his cheeks turned a light shade of pink. I wasn’t sure why that embarrassed him in any way. I was positive he already knew it. He ran one hand through his hair. Then he said, almost too quiet for me to hear, “You’re not every girl.”

― Kasie WestP.S. I Like You

The Selection Series and a HUGE Giveaway from OwlCrate!

the selectionI’ve heard people describe The Selection series as The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games, which is a pretty accurate description in terms of the entertainment value of the series, but it’s really so much more than that. For one, the “bachelor” in this case is a gorgeous prince (and don’t most of us dream of that at least a little bit?) looking for his bride. For another, the main character, America Singer, is far more amazing than most of the backstabbing women we love to hate on The Bachelor.

In the world of The Selection, there’s a caste system in place designed to keep the peace in an unsteady future (though not a crazy sci-fi future) through a hierarchy of its people. Royalty are 1s, nobles are 2s, and so on and so forth, with wealth and power reducing with each step down. America Singer, a 5, has grown up in a family with very little resources. She’s had a secret love with a childhood friend, Aspen, that has little hope of surviving because he’s a 6 and she’s expected to marry higher. When the royal family announces a Selection to find Prince Maxon a princess, America registers in the hopes of being chosen and having the chance to earn some money (the girls are compensated for their time) for her family. She is shocked to find herself among the 35 candidates chosen to come live in the castle as Maxon chooses a wife.

The 35 girls make both friends and enemies while largely staying out of the politics of running a country, but America isn’t like most girls. She’s feisty and intelligent and catches Maxon’s eye right from the beginning. America is driven by a desire not just to improve her own family’s situation, but to shed light on the weaknesses of the caste system and how it negatively impacts the lower levels. I absolutely loved her character for her strength and determination.

There is bit of a love triangle happening between America, Aspen, and Maxon, but it’s very well done and I love the resolution of it. I enjoyed the dreaminess of the royal setting and the realistic feeling of the political climate, and I am always, always, always a sucker for a story that showcases a teenager standing up for what’s right in an effort to make their world a better one. I should also mention that this is a pretty clean series as far as content goes; I’m totally comfortable having this in the middle school library, though its appeal reaches much higher in age groups.

Now, this IS a series, but the good news is that the final book came out recently so you can easily binge-read them all this summer. From The Selection, the girls are narrowed down to a field of eight in The Elite, and then even further in The One. The story of the next generation is continued in two additional books, both of which are also out, so you don’t have to wait for those either. I definitely recommend reading all the way through to the end – Kiera Cass is an excellent writer and she wrapped the whole series up amazingly in the final book, The Crown.

Now, OwlCrate: Another thing I’m loving right now is subscription boxes. It’s just fun to have a happy thing show up in my mail box alongside the bills and junk mail, you know? So, I’ve done some research on YA Lit boxes and found one I’m really excited about – OwlCrate. I love their boxes, which are built around a monthly theme and include one great YA title and related swag. And guess what June’s theme was? ROYALTY. It’s perfect.

So, the wonderful people at OwlCrate have decided to give THREE of those Royalty boxes away over on SheReads, so GO THERE and enter! Winners will be chosen by the end of the week, so hurry!

2016 Debut Authors Bash: Jenna Evans Welch and Love & Gelato!

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I have SO MUCH LOVE for Jenna Evans Welch’s debut, Love & Gelato! Go read my previous review if you want, or just trust me that it’s awesome. (And make sure you read through to the bottom of this post for a chance to win a copy!)

One of my very favorite things about this book, though, was the Italian setting, which is downright magical in the way that Jenna brings it to life on the page. I asked her to share a bit about the process of writing a book with an American teen in a foreign setting, and about her inspiration for the setting. So, without further ado, here’s Jenna!

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Hello YA Blog World, and thank you Melissa for spotlighting me on your blog!

On May 3 I had a lifelong dream come true–my first YA novel LOVE & GELATO was released. After working on it for years (I wrote the first draft over seven years ago) it has been thrilling to hear from people who are actually reading it!

Here is a little bit about my book: LOVE & GELATO is a contemporary YA novel about a 16 year old girl named Lina who loses her mother to a fast moving illness. Before she dies, Lina’s mother makes her promise to spend some time with Howard, a man she met on a study abroad in Italy many years before. When Lina arrives in Florence she learns two things about Howard: one, he happens to be the caretaker for an American cemetery, and two, he’s her father. Of course this brings up a whole world of questions for Lina, namely: why didn’t her mom tell her who Howard was? Why did she keep her from him? And perhaps most troubling, why is she with him now? With the help of her mother’s journal, Lina starts exploring the city and piecing together her parents’ love story while (of course) getting entangled in her own.

The inspiration for this story was definitely personal. When I was 15-years old, my adventurous parents packed up me and my four younger siblings (plus about 300 duffel bags) and moved us to Florence for a year. We lived in a little house in Tuscany, and I attended high school in a tiny international school housed in an old villa. During that first year I drove a scooter, ate mass quantities of gelato, and made friends from all over the world. It was absolutely magical. When that first year was up I begged my parents to let me stay for a second year on my own–and amazingly, they did.

Those two years a very big deal to me. Leaving my comfort zone for a place with people from all over the world expanded my world exponentially and I have thought about that experience on a daily basis ever since. So when I decided I was going to go for it–fulfill my lifelong dream of writing a YA novel–it only made sense to write about a teenage girl discovering Italy.

My goal during this whole process was to write the book that I was looking for as a teenager. I wanted adventure, humor, romance and mystery–but most of all I wanted to be transported somewhere magic, and my hope is that LOVE & GELATO does just that.

Thank you for spotlighting my book!

With lots of love (and gelato), Jenna

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Now, ENTER TO WIN a copy of LOVE & GELATO (US only): Rafflecopter giveaway

AND go buy yourself a copy, because when we’re talking about love and gelato, who wants to wait and see if they win? Go get it!

Check out Jenna’s author page on Goodreads, too, where you can ask her questions and stay connected with her latest news.

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2016 Debut Authors Bash: R.S. Grey and CHASING SPRING!

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R.S. Grey is no stranger to the adult romance market, but this February she published Chasing Spring, her first YA novel. I snatched it up as soon as it was out and devoured it in a day, and I couldn’t have loved it more. I had to put it in the library at school… and quickly got additional copies because the teenage girls loved it so much that it had a pretty long waiting list.

On Instagram and twitter and everywhere else, Rachel’s fun and smart and adorable, and Chasing Spring made me love her writing so much. The way she flawlessly built the story, with deep and intriguing characters who are passionate and romantic, is really something. I also love how Chasing Spring serves as a reminder that, even though parents make mistakes, teenagers are not defined by their parents’ actions or doomed to repeat them. As you can tell, I really like this book (and its gorgeous cover, which Rachel made herself).

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So, I’m happy to get to host Rachel with a quick interview about Chasing Spring. Make sure you read through to the bottom for a chance to win a signed paperback of Chasing Spring! And, of course, go buy it! Don’t even wait for the giveaway.

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  1. Welcome, Rachel! For any readers who haven’t read Chasing Spring yet, can you introduce us to Lilah and Chase by telling us five words they’d use to describe each other?

5 words Lilah would use to describe Chase: loyal, kind, stubborn, talented, and bright (as in blindin)
5 words Chase would use to describe Lilah: head-strong, intelligent, beautiful, mysterious, and intriguing
  1. Chasing Spring was a big departure for you when compared to your other adult titles. What made this story one that just had to be told, even though it was so different?

This story was in my head for two years before I finally published it. I worked on it in between my adult novels, and I used it as a sort of buffer between stories. Often times between writing romantic comedies, I feel the need to write something with a little more depth and emotion.
  1. Please share a favorite quote from Chasing Spring – one that you think really represents what the book is all about.

“Does the ending even matter? Shouldn’t the middle be the happy part? It’s the biggest chunk of our life, and yet no one ever asks if two people had a happy middle. They care too much about the ending.” R.S. Grey, Chasing Spring

  1. I absolutely love the cover for Chasing Spring. It’s beautiful. Can you talk about the process of creating that cover?

Creating the cover for a book is a long process for me because I don’t settle on a finished product until it feels right. The cover for Chasing Spring took multiple attempts. I tried out covers that featured models and then finally settled on one that looked sweet, but on closer inspection had a touch of darkness to it.
  1. Where do you see Chase and Lilah now, post-Chasing Spring? How about in 10 years? Is there anything they’d want to say to their potential future readers?

I purposely left this open for the reader. With YA books, I don’t like to outline what will happen to the characters in ten years, because they’re still teenagers with so much growing up to do. I wanted there to be a happy ending without anything too explicit tied in.

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Now, GO ENTER TO WIN a signed, paperback copy of CHASING SPRING: a Rafflecopter giveaway! (US addresses only.)

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

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I have all the love in the world for well-written YA books involving an American teen travelling to a place I’d love to go, and Love & Gelato absolutely did NOT disappoint.

When Lina’s mom dies as a result of a quick-moving cancer, she feels obligated to fulfill one of her mom’s final wishes: that Lina would go to Italy and spend some time getting to know the country and the man who Lina has been told is her father, though she’s never actually met him. Obviously, because she’s grieving her mom’s death and in a foreign country and surrounded by people she doesn’t really know, there’s a huge adjustment period for Lina.

But, of course, Italy works its magic (the architecture, the pizza, and the gelato) and Lina meets a cute foreign boy, Ren, and his group of friends that she starts to explore the country with. She’s also given a journal that belonged to her mom while she studied abroad in Italy, and as she gets into it she realizes it’s the story of her mom and dad’s romance. With the help of Ren, she tracks down and finds answers for the mysteries contained in her mom’s journal, including the truth about her dad.

Lina finds love and adventure along the way, and the story is really just beautiful. It also left me really, really wanting to go to Italy… But I had to settle for making some Italian food. Love & Gelato comes out next week, so make sure you check it out! Find it here on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore.