Audiobook Review: All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

Audio Review

All American BoysTitle: All American Boys

Authors: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

Narrators: Guy Lockhard & Keith Nobbs

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dloughy Books

Release Date: September 29, 2015

Source: Audio purchased by Audible

Interest: Authors / Contemp

Summary (From Goodreads):

In an unforgettable new novel from award-winning authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

Written in tandem by two award-winning authors, this tour de force shares the alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn as the complications from that single violent moment, the type taken from the headlines, unfold and reverberate to highlight an unwelcome truth.

Typically for an audio review I break up my post into two parts: the audio review followed by the book review. Today I’ve decided to break away from that. Rashad’s and Quinn’s stories prompted a number of questions to form as I listened to All American Boys, so I decided to list my questions instead of writing a formal review. I think the questions I kept asking myself speak volumes about the story and about our society. All of the questions I’m listing stem from moments in the novel.

  1. Why does American mean white? Why is does it seem like that’s the definition of our country?
  2. Who do you call for help when you witness a police officer doing wrong? Who else can help? Will other police officers come to your aid?
  3. Why aren’t the teachers discussing Rashad’s beating in their classrooms? Why do some teachers avoid openly discussing tough topics?
  4. Is it really “best” to leave it (it=Rashad’ beating / race issues / tough topics) at the gym door? Does this build a stronger team or weaken it? What does this actually communicate to the student athletes?
  5. Who’s on your team outside the gym door?
  6. Why in this day and age are there still “Invisible Men”?
  7. How do we define loyalty? Where do our loyalties lie? When is it necessary to redefine our definitions?

All American Boys is a novel that our country needs right now, which is why I hope teachers and librarians and parents read and share this book with teens. Today’s teenagers will be tomorrow’s leaders, so I hope Jason Reynold’s and Brendan Kiely’s novel lands in their hands.

Audiobook Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Audio Review

Dumplin'Title: Dumplin’

Author: Julie Murphy

Narrator: Eileen Stevens

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: September 15th, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: Audio purchased via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Audiobook Review: I listened to the audio for Dumplin’ because I was originally listening to the audio for Dorothy Must Die and it was randomly removed from Scribd. After some frantic searching (I HAD to find a new audiobook), I found the audio for Dumplin’. After a quick sample I knew I wanted to listen to it. The narrator, Eileen Stevens, has an easy and smooth voice and I loved the accent she used; I felt like I was really there alongside Willowdean in Texas. Stevens did an excellent job switching her voice for each of the female characters, but the male characters, however, too often sounded the same which made it difficult at times to follow the story. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed this listening experience and finished Julie Murphy’s newest release in a matter of days.

Book Review: First and foremost, all teenagers need access to this book. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed fat girl like Willowdean or not, teens are going to find themselves in her story. There were multiple times I felt myself nodding my head and thinking “Yep, I felt the same way, Willowdean. I worried about that or wished that, too.” Teens need to find themselves in the books they read and I’m sure they will when they read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.

Willowdean won me over because she’s authentic and honest with herself. She’s true to herself even when she has self-doubts. She’s quick-witted. Julie Murphy wrote a teen character who truly sounds and acts and thinks like a teenager. Just like Willowdean I was self-conscious about my body, especially around boys. Just like Willowdean I was snarky on the outside but not always so confident on the inside. I’m in my 30s now, but I know teens today will connect for many of the same reasons.

If you like books about friendships, read Dumplin’. If you like books with crush-worthy guys, read Dumplin’. If you like books with strained mother-daughter relationships, read Dumplin’.

I basically can’t say enough good things about Dumplin’. It’s been added to my Favorites shelf and will certainly be a favorite of 2015. Just like I want everyone I meet to read Winger by Andrew Smith and fall in love with Ryan Dean, I want everyone to read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy and fall in love with Willowdean.

Audiobook Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Audio Review

Walk on Earth a StrangerTitle: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Author: Rae Carson

Narrator: Erin Mallon

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release Date: September 22nd, 2015

Interest: Author / Fantasy / Historical Fiction

Source: Audible purchased via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

Audio Review: I couldn’t buy a physical copy of Walk on Earth a Stranger yet, but I really wanted to read it so I decided to download the audio via Scribd. I’m so thankful that I did because the audio is great and so is the story. Erin Mallon has a voice suitable for a sharp shooting girl who’s fleeing to the west. It’s just the slightest bit gritty and easy to listen to. Also, the audio is almost 11 hours long and I finished it within a few days because I kept finding excuses to keep listening. There were a few times I walked into work a little late so I could keep listening in the parking lot. And I did the same thing in my garage. I was thoroughly entertained.

Book Review: I’m a big Rae Carson fan so I had high expectations for Walk on Earth a Stranger and I’m sure her other fans feel the same. Looking for epic world building? You’ll feel like you’re trekking into the wild west with Leah. Want to feel a crazy bond with the characters? I haven’t felt so close to a group of a characters in a very long time. I was hoping for more fantasy elements, but this is a stunning piece of historical fiction.

Did any of you play the Oregon Trail game in elementary school? I remember playing in my 4th or 5th grade social studies class and loving it. I clearly remember the wagon I built with my dad for our class project. Reading Walk on Earth a Stranger was like playing the Oregon Trail game on steroids. There’s an especially vivid buffalo scene that made my hair stand on end. I’m sure the audio helped, but I really felt like I was alongside Leah throughout the story. Her magic sense added an extra layer of excitement, but I liked the historical elements even more. For some reason I’m not always quick to pick up a historical fiction novel, but if they were all this entertaining I’d read more from the genre.

Let me tell you, I experienced so many emotions as I read this book. Some of the men in this book made my skin crawl. During the Gold Rush era women still weren’t respected and treated fairly. I love that Leah fights that and so do some of the other women she meets. It was also difficult listening to characters depict Native Americans in such a backwards and bigoted manner, but that’s sadly true to the time period. There were also a few moments that had me tearing up and had my heart swelling. There’s a good reason why Walk on Earth a Stranger is on the long list for the Young People’s Literature category for the National Book Award!

I wish I didn’t have to wait a year to read the second book in the series. I’m expecting more magic as the series progresses, so I know it will continue to be a fun series to read. Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is a must read!

Review: Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt

Dream Things TrueTitle: Dream Things True

Author: Marie Marquardt

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Diversity / Retelling

Source: e-ARC provided by the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

A modern-day Romeo and Juliet story in which a wealthy Southern boy falls in love with an undocumented Mexican girl and together they face perils in their hostile Georgia town.

Evan, a soccer star and the nephew of a conservative Southern Senator, has never wanted for much — except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two-years-old, excels in school, and has a large, warm Mexican family. Never mind their differences, the two fall in love, and they fall hard. But when ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) begins raids on their town, Alma knows that she needs to tell Evan her secret. There’s too much at stake. But how to tell her country-club boyfriend that she’s an undocumented immigrant? That her whole family and most of her friends live in the country without permission. What follows is a beautiful, nuanced, well-paced exploration of the complications of immigration, young love, defying one’s family, and facing a tangled bureaucracy that threatens to completely upend two young lives.

I really enjoy teaching Romeo & Juliet, so when Dream Things True was pitched as a modern retelling of the famous tragedy I knew I had to read it. Evan and Alma are certainly star-crossed lovers considering Evan comes from a wealthy family and Alma is and comes from an undocumented Mexican family. Alma’s story really captured my attention since I haven’t read many (any?) YA novels focusing on undocumented citizens.

Marie Marquardt brings to light an issue that many of us are aware of, but may not truly know how it affects people. Alma’s family is close-knit and loyal to one another; they look out for one another, even their families still in Mexico. Through Alma readers are able to see what life as an undocumented citizen is like. Marie Marquardt never makes this feel like an issue book, but the tension between politicians, American citizens, and undocumented citizens is evident. I’m looking forward to discussing this with my students as they read Dream Things True, especially since it’s not a topic we typically discuss in class.

The story of Alma, her family, Evan, and his family is a balanced one, but there’s an additional storyline added that deals with date rape. Honestly, I know why it’s included because it’s a good way to make a certain character more antagonistic, but it distracted me from the story. It felt excessive to me. I would have been completely find continuing to read Alma and Evan’s story without it or with a different storyline to layer the conflict.

Other than that issue I enjoyed Dream Things True. I liked making connections to Romeo & Juliet and wondering as I read which scenes and characters my students would recognize. I also appreciate that readers can read this book and not connect it in any way to Shakespeare’s famous tragedy; nothing is lost if a reader isn’t familiar with the story.


Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide Notes from Beautiful GirlsTitle: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls

Author: Lynn Weingarten

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Mystery / Contemp

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Gone Girl meets 13 Reasons Why in this stylish, sexy, and atmospheric story about friendship packed with twists and turns that will leave you breathless.

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn’t believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else-before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, tying them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June’s boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this-things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth…which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

Sexy, dark, and atmospheric, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls will keep you guessing until the very last page.

I’ve been on a mystery kick this summer for some reason, so I decided to give Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten a shot. Simon & Schuster sent me the ARC months ago and it’s been in the back of my mind since I first saw the cover. I’m happy I finally gave it a try because I really enjoyed it.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls takes an interesting look at friendships and relationships. We find out early on that June’s former friend Delia has killed herself, but we don’t know why or why the two girls are no longer friends. June is dating a guy named Ryan and there’s also a hint that he may be part of the reason why the girls’ friendship ended. A couple chapters into the novel the point of view switches  to third person and we get a glimpse of June and Delia as friends. I wasn’t expecting this switch, but it adds an interesting layer of mystery to the story.

These flashbacks of sorts help us see Delia as a character and another side of June. June doesn’t act the same way when she’s with Delia; she often came off as needy and insecure in these scenes. I would describe Delia as a taker and June is very much a giver and a people pleaser. June loves how different Delia is and that Delia wants them to be the best of friends who share everything. As the story progresses it’s easy to see that their friendship isn’t healthy, it’s actually quite toxic. June is wrapped up in Delia, even more so once she learns of Delia’s suicide, and this is when we see just how easy it is to be blind to what’s right in front of you. Delia has an unhealthy hold over June; they are very much co-dependent.

Honestly, it was hard to really like any of the characters in this novel, but that didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying it. And when I say that it’s hard to like them, it’s because they’re not good people. The characters are written well, but they’re awful to one another and those close to them. In this regard, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is very much like Gone Girl. I loved that book, but those characters are horrendous. I want to go into this more, but Lynn Weingarten wrote a book that’s difficult to review without revealing major spoilers.

Recently I was watching VH1 early in the morning since nothing good was on TV while I played with Jack and the music video for “Cool for the Summer” by Demi Lovato came on. I love the song, but I had never watched the video before. As I watched it, I instantly thought of Delia. She’s wild, shameless, and daring. If anyone else has read this book, please let me know if you think this is off-base or if you agree. I watched the video again before I started writing this review and I still feel the same way.

Anyway, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a page turner for sure.  It will keep you guessing until the final page. When I finished my instant reaction was “I need to discuss this ending with someone ASAP!” I have spoken with two friends about it, but I’m still not sure what I think. I’m leaning mostly towards one idea, but there’s still a small part of me that thinks something else could have happened. Read it and let me know what you think!

Similar Reads: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, You by Charles Benoit

Review: Jesse’s Girl by Miranda Kenneally

Title: Jesse’s Girl

Author: Miranda Kenneally

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Author / Contemp / Series

Source: eARC provided by the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?

Miranda Kenneally, thank you for writing such good books! Okay, I had to get that out of my system so I could start writing this review.

But seriously, Miranda Kenneally writes such good books. She really does. And they get better every time. I really enjoy that the majority of the Hundred Oaks series features girls playing sports since we need more books like that, but it was refreshing to read about a Hundred Oaks character who’s a musician instead.

Before I get into why I like the musical side of Jesse’s Girl, I want to point out that while this is part of a series and though it references Jordan from the first book Catching Jordan, this could be read on its own. I like to point this out since I know many librarians and teachers read my reviews and students often ask me about the order of these books. And if one student has been waiting patiently for Catching Jordan to come back so she can start the series, I know I can hand this one or even Breathe, Annie, Breathe to her while she waits.

To the musical side of Jesse’s Girl. Many parts of it reminded me of Where She Went by Gayle Forman. Jesse is a passionate musician much like Adam, but he’s also troubled and doubting himself like Adam does. Maybe it was the country music aspect, but I also found myself thinking of Open Road Summer by Emery Lord while reading Jesse’s Girl. Both books are sweet and honest and down to earth.

When it comes to music and Maya, I really enjoyed how independent and adventurous she is. Although she’s scared to attempt any solos, she wants to put herself out there and branch out. She wants to try different sounds and genres of music. I’m not much of a musician, but I know it’s not always easy to leave your comfort zone no matter the situation. I can’t imagine it’s any easier for an artist, especially a musician, who’s being judged right there in the moment while performing. This made Maya an admirable character.

Maya’s a great protagonist and she has a fun cast of secondary characters who support her. Catching Jordan has maintained the spot as Favorite Hundred Oaks Book since I read it, so I’m not surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed reading more about Jordan and her life this far in the future. I’m also a fan of Maya having supportive parents. Those are sometimes hard to find in YA even though many teens have great relationships with their parents and siblings.

If you still haven’t introduced yourself to Miranda Kenneally’s books, I hope you change that soon. They’re great books to read during the summer (or any time of the year). And my students absolutely adore them, so if you’re working with teens make sure you get your hands on this one.

Review: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The FixerTitle: The Fixer

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Mystery/Thriller

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

This thriller YA is Scandal meets Veronica Mars.

Sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick has spent her entire life on her grandfather’s ranch. But when her estranged sister Ivy uproots her to D.C., Tess is thrown into a world that revolves around politics and power. She also starts at Hardwicke Academy, the D.C. school for the children of the rich and powerful, where she unwittingly becomes a fixer for the high school set, fixing teens’ problems the way her sister fixes their parents’ problems.

And when a conspiracy surfaces that involves the family member of one of Tess’s classmates, love triangles and unbelievable family secrets come to light and life gets even more interesting—and complicated—for Tess.

Perfect for fans of Pretty Little Liars and Heist Society, readers will be clamoring for this compelling teen drama with a political twist.

I forgot how much fun it is to read a good mystery until I read The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This is going to be a class favorite this upcoming school year.

I’ve only watched the show Scandal a handful of times, but I know enough about the show that fans will enjoy The Fixer. The political intrigue is there, as well as the personal backstories. The suspense is paced well and nothing was ever in-your-face obvious about how the story would end. In fact, one element of the plot really surprised me.

Something I really appreciate about Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s latest release is that there isn’t a strong love element. I thoroughly enjoy a good love story, but it’s refreshing to read a book without love at the forefront of the story. And while I encourage my students to see books not as books for girls or books for boys, but as books for readers, I do understand that many of my boys don’t want to read a romance. Not all of my girls want to read a romance. I know those students will be thrilled to read The Fixer and know that they can focus on the fun of the mystery.

As much as I enjoyed the mystery, I really enjoyed the characters and their relationships in this story. Tess is tough and independent like her older sister Ivy, but despite their similarities they have a tense relationship. Watching their relationship grow and evolve was a definite highlight for me. Tess’s friends really made The Fixer shine. The friendships allow readers to see Tess as a champion for the underdog, Vivie and Henry in particular. Asher really brings out Tess’s quick wit.

If you’re looking for a fun page-turner, then look no further than The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Other reviews of The Fixer:

The Fixer easily becomes one of my favorite reads this year. Without doubt, this book is joining my Top Ten Favorite Reads of this year.” ~Young Adult Hollywood 

“It’s fast paced, tense, brilliantly plotted and filled with a whole host of intriguing characters.” ~The Review Diaries

Blog Tour Book Review: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom


Click here for blog tour info (reviews / giveaways / related posts)

Don't Ever ChangeTitle: Don’t Ever Change

Author: M. Beth Bloom

Publisher: HarperTeen

Release Date: July 7th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / New Adult

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

Eva has always wanted to write a modern classic—one that actually appeals to her generation. The only problem is that she has realized she can’t “write what she knows” because she hasn’t yet begun to live. So before heading off to college, Eva is determined to get a life worth writing about.

Soon Eva’s life encounters a few unexpected plot twists. She becomes a counselor at a nearby summer camp—a job she is completely unqualified for. She starts growing apart from her best friends before they’ve even left for school. And most surprising of all, she begins to fall for the last guy she would have ever imagined. But no matter the roadblocks, or writer’s blocks, it is all up to Eva to figure out how she wants this chapter in her story to end.

Perfect for fans of E. Lockhart, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell, Don’t Ever Change is a witty, snarky, and thought-provoking coming-of-age young adult novel about a teen who sets out to write better fiction and, ultimately, discovers the truth about herself.

I’ve decided to switch up my review style for this post and focus on reasons why teens might enjoy Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom.

1. I consider Don’t Ever Change as a new adult novel (although it’s still YA) because Eva has just graduated from high school and most of her conflicts stem from her preparing for college and wanting more life experiences. This is a book I’ll hand to my seniors this coming school year since I’m sure many of them will relate with Eva.

2. Eva is a writer and wants to improve as a writer. So many of my students read and write fanfic, they journal,  and they work on their own novels. I know many of them struggle with wanting to improve as writers, but they also don’t necessarily want to know what they’re doing “wrong”, much like Eva.

3. Eva is worried about losing her friends when they all move on to college, so she’s trying desperately to keep their friendships close. I can’t tell you how many times I hear my seniors talk about “the last this” and “the last that.” It’s hard moving away from friends and not knowing if those relationships will stick.

4. There were times as I was reading Don’t Ever Change and thought it felt a little hipster-ish. It was something about the voice. I’m not saying E. Lockhart or David Levithan are hipsters (not by any means!), but the voices of some of their characters fit that of Eva’s, as the summary says. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and the Ruby series by E. Lockhart seem like good comparables. Their characters are witty and upbeat and smart.

5. The cover will definitely pull in some of my readers. I polled my students about book covers and many of them stated that they like covers that stand out and that have brighter colors. Don’t Ever Change utilizes both of those criteria.

Getting Caught Up: Spring Reading

I haven’t been keeping up with my book reviews, but I have been reading as much as I can. Now that I’m on summer break it should hopefully be easier to read more and blog more. I figured now is a good time to fill you all in on some of the books I read this spring.

I’m going to write brief reviews and am including the Goodreads link so you can see the summary.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley (Goodreads): Novels featuring war, soldiers, boot camps, and more have been really popular lately for obvious reasons. When I learned about Rites of Passage I was instantly intrigued because Sam McKenna is a girl joining a previously all male military school. As I’m sure you can imagine, Sam is faced with more than her fair share of conflicts. Because of this I was often mad, dismayed, and frustrated while listening. Sam’s a strong and independent character, however, so I completely admired her and how well she fought to overcome the many obstacles she faced. There’s also an element of romance in the story, which definitely had me swooning from time to time. Rites of Passage is going to be a big hit in my classroom next school year.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Goodreads): The first thing I need to mention, is that middle school libraries should consider adding Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir to their collections if they haven’t already. I always recommend reading a book first before adding it to a classroom or library, especially at the middle school level, but this memoir is set during Maya’s 8th grade year. She learns so much about self-esteem, friendships, family, and finding herself that readers of any age will relate. I haven’t bought a physical copy yet, but I will this summer so I can share this with my students next school year.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads): I’m afraid to admit this: I couldn’t get into Throne of Glass. I met Sarah at a dinner during NCTE in the fall, though, and after talking to her I had a good feeling I was going to enjoy A Court of Thorns and Roses. I was not wrong! Feyre is fierce and intelligent. I loved that she goes after what she wants and that she’s so loyal and protective of her family. There is a heavy amount of romance in Maas’s first installment of this series; I found myself blushing as I read one particuarly steamy scene while reading during class. Fantasy lovers who are looking for more mature fantasy while still hanging out in the world of YA will thoroughly enjoy this. The imagery is lush, there’s plenty of action, and the story is engrossing. I can’t wait to read the second book!

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Goodreads): It’s been at least a month since I finished reading this, and I still don’t know where to begin my review. I own all of Nova Ren Suma’s books, but this is the first I’ve read. Her writing is beautiful and vivid and really pulled me into the story. The story itself is so richly layered, I had to purposely slow down my pace so I could take it all in. Honestly, it’s a difficult book to explain without giving too much away. Readers who enjoy magical realism, mystery, and character driven novels will enjoy The Walls Around Us.

Audiobook Review: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno

Audio Review

99 DaysTitle: 99 Days

Author: Katie Cotugno

Narrator: Allyson Ryan

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: April 21st, 2015

Interest: Contemp

Source: eARC received from the publisher / audio received via Scribd

Summary (From Goodreads):

Day 1: Julia Donnelly eggs my house my first night back in Star Lake, and that’s how I know everyone still remembers everything—how I destroyed my relationship with Patrick the night everything happened with his brother, Gabe. How I wrecked their whole family. Now I’m serving out my summer like a jail sentence: Just ninety-nine days till I can leave for college, and be done.

Day 4: A nasty note on my windshield makes it clear Julia isn’t finished. I’m expecting a fight when someone taps me on the shoulder, but it’s just Gabe, home from college and actually happy to see me. “For what it’s worth, Molly Barlow,” he says, “I’m really glad you’re back.”

Day 12: Gabe got me to come to this party, and I’m actually having fun. I think he’s about to kiss me—and that’s when I see Patrick. My Patrick, who’s supposed to be clear across the country. My Patrick, who’s never going to forgive me.

Audiobook Review: I decided to read 99 Days via audio despite having the eARC mostly because of how much easier it is for me to listen to audiobooks at this stage in my life. I’m trying to keep up with blog tour reading requests and my own personal reading desires, so sometimes I’ll take the easiest route and experience a book via audio. Also, I’ve recently been contacted by Scribd to give their platform a free one month trial and figured, why not? Katie Cotugno’s book was right there and I’ve been wanting to read it. The stars aligned and I made it happen.

At first I wasn’t quite sure about Allyson Ryan as the narrator. She doesn’t really sound like a teenager to me and sometimes her voice went a little flat, but somehow that worked for Molly’s character. Molly is sometimes a tough character to like so it worked for me that I didn’t always like Ryan’s voice. A number of people have abandoned this book because of the content and characters, so I think those readers should give the audio a try. It’s not my favorite audiobook because of the narrator, but I enjoyed the story itself.

Book Review: Like I said, 99 Days has been receiving a lot of criticism, mostly because the story features characters who cheat on one another. Honestly, I don’t think those reviewers are being fair. I 100% understand being against cheating, but I think we have to recognize and remember that even though it’s ugly and messy, it happens more often than we’d like it to. For that reason, I think Katie Cotugno deserves more credit for writing this book. She could have written another story about a guy or a girl getting cheated on, but instead she wrote it from the point of view of the person being unfaithful. This is a young adult novel and young adults are going to connect with Molly, Patrick, and Gabe for one reason or another. Every reader deserves to find her or himself in a book even if that book contains subject matter that some readers don’t like.

Do the characters in this novel make poor choices? Yes. Do they make poor choices over and over again? Yes. For me, this heightened the story and made those characters stand out on the page. I like flawed characters; they’re interesting and engaging. So many times I cringed over Molly’s decisions, but I also recognized that she’s just finished college and is at an age when she’s going to make mistakes. I think one of the best parts about her story is that she learned from those mistakes. Her entire summer was about figuring out who she is and how and who to love. She needed to figure out how to make friends and how to trust her mother again. She needed to figure out what she wants out of college. Molly figured out much of those problems, but it wasn’t a neat and tidy process that resulted in a gift with a big fat bow. She stumbled, she lost friends, and she learned some important lessons about life and relationships.

Personally, I couldn’t stand Patrick for most of the book and could not understand Molly’s attraction to him. Gabe has a little more going for him, but even he didn’t always seem right for Molly. Molly struck me as an insecure teen trying to find her way and in need of positive attention. I know teens like Molly and I know they’ll appreciate what Katie Cotugno wrote.

I do, however, like Molly’s close friend Imogen. She’s the type of friend I think most people desire because she’s loyal and honest.  She stands by Molly and sticks up for her as Molly endures endless slut-shaming, but she also calls Molly out when she thinks she’s making a huge mistake. People need friends like that in their lives because they keep us balanced. I’m glad Cotugno wrote Imogen’s character the way she did.

Another element to the story I enjoyed is the summer atmosphere. I can’t wait for summer and warm weather and reading on my deck, so listening to 99 Days while I drove to work in the morning literally brightened my day. It felt like summer while I read this even though the temps weren’t quite summer-ish.

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