Review: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

One for the MurphysTitle: One for the Murphys

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: May 10th, 2012

Interest: Middle grade / Contemporary / Debut author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she’s learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she’s placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she’s blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It’s easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she’s there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determinded to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bullly and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she’s feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world.

I can’t find the right words to review this.  One for the Murphys is a fairly short book containing 224 pages, but it made me feel SO MUCH within those pages.  Lynda Mullaly Hunt has written a stellar debut.

One of the many things I like about One for the Murphys is that although it’s middle grade, I know many of my high school students will enjoy this.  Actually, I’d love to read this aloud to them even though I know I wouldn’t be able to do it without crying.  Carley has a mature voice despite being twelve; she’s experienced more trauma and turbulence in her short life than most adults do.  She’s rough around the edges, whip smart, and has more potential than she’s aware of.  Middle school and high school students alike will be able to connect to Carley.

I can’t write this review without bringing up Mrs. Murphy.  She’s patient, kind, and has a heart of gold.  She’s the kind of mom and woman my mom is.  The way Mrs. Murphy loves and cares for and understands Carley made me think of my mom because I know my mom would be the same way.  I wish more parents, whether they’re biological or not, would be written so strongly in young adult and middle grade novels more often.

My one critique about Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut is that some parts of timeline and story jump quickly.  I never really had a sense of how much time had pass, despite Carley marking off the number of days she’s been with the Murphys.  After one incident, which came out of no where, it was apparently the day before Easter.  And then it was Mother’s Day.  Little details like that caught me off guard when I was reading.  They were convenient to the movement of the plot and the character development, but they would have served the story better with a little more editing.

Quite a few of my friends have already read this, so if you’re one of the apparent few who haven’t, I hope you read One for the Murphys soon.  Carley and the Murphys are going to stay with me for a long time.  I took my friends’ advice when I read this, and I hope you’ll take this same advice: make sure you have a box of tissues handy while reading.

ALA Youth Media Awards–Adding to My TBR List

Some people get excited about the Oscars, I get excited about the ALA Youth Media Awards.  I was hoping to watch the awards with my students, but we had a snow day, so I enjoyed them at home in my pjs 🙂  Did you watch the awards as well?  Did you follow it on Twitter?  I had Twitter open as well as my Goodreads page.

To be completely honest, I’ve barely read any of the books that received awards and honors.  I’m proud of the few I did happen to read, especially The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate which won the Newberry Award!  I’m kind of happy that I haven’t read that many of the titles, however, because now I have so many books to look forward to reading.  I know many people were shocked, maybe even angry, that John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars didn’t even receive a Printz honor.  I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m a tiny bit glad it didn’t receive the award or an honor.  There, I said it.  I hope I don’t make any enemies over that statement.  I really enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, I did.  The reason I’m happy it didn’t make the cut is because it’s already received so much hype.  I love that the Printz committee has been choosing more obscure titles lately.  Those obscure titles are now going to find a wider audience of readers.  I’m excited for those authors and the readers who connect with those books.  I can’t wait to read the 2013 Printz titles and share them with my students.

If you weren’t following the awards, here’s a link to all of the winners.  The rest of today’s post is going to focus on some of the titles I’m really excited to read.  I’m even thinking about creating a Donors Choose project so I can add more of these titles to my classroom library.

Alex Award (I really want to read more adult titles this year):

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (Goodreads): In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Goodreads):

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Randolph Caldecott Medal:

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Goodreads): From the creator of the #1 NEW YORK TIMES best-selling and award-winning I WANT MY HAT BACK comes a second wry tale.

When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it’s a good thing that enormous fish won’t wake up. And even if he does, it’s not like he’ll ever know what happened. . . . Visual humor swims to the fore as the best-selling Jon Klassen follows his breakout debut with another deadpan-funny tale.

This is Not My Hat

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small (Goodreads): On a momentous visit to the aquarium, Elliot discovers his dream pet: a penguin. It’s just proper enough for a straight-laced boy like him. And when he asks his father if he may have one (please and thank you), his father says yes. Elliot should have realized that Dad probably thought he meant a stuffed penguin and not a real one . . . Clever illustrations and a wild surprise ending make this sly, silly tale of friendship and wish fulfillment a kid-pleaser from start to finish.

One Cool Friend

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (Goodreads): The Twilight Zone comes to the carrot patch in this clever picture book parable about a rabbit who fears his favorite treats are out to get him. Jasper Rabbit loves carrots—especially Crackenhopper Field carrots.

He eats them on the way to school.

He eats them going to Little League.

He eats them walking home.

Until the day the carrots start following him…or are they?

Celebrated artist Peter Brown’s stylish illustrations pair perfectly with Aaron Reynold’s text in this hilarious eBook with audio that shows it’s all fun and games…until you get too greedy.

Creepy Carrots!

Stonewall Book Award (This list helps satisfy my book gap challenge. I’m also very happy that Drama and October Mourning made the list!):

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz (Goodreads): In the wake of the post-9/11 sniper shootings, fragile love finds a stronghold in this intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer. It’s a year after 9/11. Sniper shootings throughout the D.C. area have everyone on edge and trying to make sense of these random acts of violence. Meanwhile, Craig and Lio are just trying to make sense of their lives.

Craig’s crushing on quiet, distant Lio, and preoccupied with what it meant when Lio kissed him…and if he’ll do it again…and if kissing Lio will help him finally get over his ex-boyfriend, Cody.

Lio feels most alive when he’s with Craig. He forgets about his broken family, his dead brother, and the messed up world. But being with Craig means being vulnerable…and Lio will have to decide whether love is worth the risk.

This intense, romantic novel from the author of Break and Invincible Summer is a poignant look at what it is to feel needed, connected, and alive.

Gone, Gone, Gone

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Goodreads): A lyrical novel about family and friendship from critically acclaimed author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

William C. Morris Award (I’ve already featured other books on this list that I’d like to read):

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby (Goodreads):

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a
menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze!
But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among
the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister
watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave.
Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s
disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and
like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.

Wonder Show

Michael L. Printz Award:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Goodreads): Oct. 11th, 1943–A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.
When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.
As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?
Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.

Code Name Verity US

The White Bicycle by Beverly Brenna (Goodreads): The White Bicycle is the third stand-alone title in the Wild Orchid series about a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome. This installment chronicles Taylor Jane’s travels to the south of France where she spends a summer babysitting for the Phoenix family. Including flashbacks into Taylor’s earliest memories, along with immediate scenes in Lourmarin, a picturesque village in the Luberon Valley, The White Bicycle results in a journey for independence both personal and universal, told in Taylor’s honest first-person prose.

The White Bicycle

In Darkness by Nick Lake (Goodreads): In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free …

In Darkness

There are plenty more books I’m looking forward to reading, but these titles are at the top of my list.  Which titles did you miss and look forward to reading?


Book Trailer Thursday (95)–Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I’ve been reading tons of rave reviews for Seraphina, so I’ve been looking forward to reading it.  I even bought myself a copy with one of my Christmas gift cards.  I like the cover, the concept, and the book trailer.  I started reading Rachel Hartman’s debut the other day, though, and I think Seraphina is better suited for a weekend when I’m not distracted.  So far it’s pretty dense, but it’s interesting.  Have you read it yet?  I’d love to know what you think!

SeraphinaSummary (From Goodreads): Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina’s tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they’ve turned the final page.

Flash Reviews (20)

Personal EffectsTitle: Personal Effects

Author: E.M. Kokie

Source: Finished copy received at ALAN Workshop

Summary (From Goodreads):

After his older brother dies in Iraq, Matt makes a discovery that rocks his beliefs about strength, bravery, and honor in this page-turning debut.

Ever since his brother, T.J., was killed in Iraq, Matt feels like he’s been sleepwalking through life — failing classes, getting into fights, and avoiding his dad’s lectures about following in his brother’s footsteps. T.J.’s gone, but Matt can’t shake the feeling that if only he could get his hands on his brother’s stuff from Iraq, he’d be able to make sense of his death. But as Matt searches for answers about T.J.’s death, he faces a shocking revelation about T.J.’s life that suggests he may not have known T.J. as well as he thought. What he learns challenges him to stand up to his father, honor his brother’s memory, and take charge of his own life. With compassion, humor, and a compelling narrative voice, E. M. Kokie explores grief, social mores, and self-discovery in a provocative first novel.

Flash Review:

Personal Effects is a strong debut, so strong that I’m looking forward to reading more of E.M. Kokie’s books.  Matt is a a well-written character with a believable male voice; Personal Effects will appeal to both my male and female students.  I loved watching his character grow and I enjoyed the supporting characters as well.  I do think there’s slightly too much focus on T.J. and the answers Matt discovers.  I appreciated this part of the story, but I wanted more from Matt at the end of the book and less of T.J.  T.J.’s story overshadows Matt’s towards the end.

Also, is it just me or is the “tough military dad” trope getting old?  I understand why Matt’s dad is written this way and how it’s necessary to the story, but overall I’m bored with it, especially with all of the military YA being released.  There has to be some kind military fathers out there, right?

Overall, Kokie has written a solid and enjoyable book that I know my students will love.

Ask the PassengersTitle: Ask the Passengers

Author: A.S. King

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

Flash Review:

There’s a reason A.S. King is one of my favorite authors and Ask the Passengers is a prime example.  She really knows how to write true, honest characters that resonate with readers.  Astrid is a wonderful character who wants to send love to people, even to the passengers on the airplanes above.  She’s loyal to her friends and patient with her family even when they treat her poorly.  Readers will connect with Astrid because she’s so easy to like and understand.

What I really like about Ask the Passengers is the way Astrid looks at love.  She doesn’t want to be defined as a lesbian because 1. she doesn’t know if she really is or not, and 2. she wants to be able to love who she loves; she doesn’t think there needs to be a label.  In this case, Astrid is trying to figure out who she is while also trying to figure out when/if to tell her friends and family.  There’s pressure on both ends which really drives the story and develops both Astrid and the supporting characters.  I love it when more than just the main character shows growth; A.S. King wrote many of the supporting characters as more than static characters.

I absolutely loved this book and hope it gets more acclaim than it already has.  If you haven’t read any of A.S. King’s books, Ask the Passengers is a great place to start.


As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Love and Other Perishable ItemsTitle: Love and Other Perishable Items

Author: Laura Buzo

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Release Date: December 11th, 2012

Interest: 2012 Debut Author / Contemp / Aussie YA

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

Love is awkward, Amelia should know.

From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.

Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

Through a year of befuddling firsts—first love, first job, first party, and first hangover—debut author Laura Buzo shows how the things that break your heart can still crack you up.

I hope Laura Buzo is working on another YA novel and publishing it in the United States soon.  Love and Other Perishable Items is a smart and sweet literary debut that I can’t wait to recommend to my students.

I love character driven novels and the development of Amelia and Chris did not disappoint.  Amelia is a well-written 15 year old, and I think I’m a good judge of this considering I teach sophomores all day long.  She’s smart, awkward, confused, and sometimes very self-involved.  Watching her grow into herself really made Love and Other Perishable Items an enjoyable experience because even when she said and did some cringe-worthy things, I could see her learning from it.  I didn’t expect to read from Chris’s point of view, but I’m so happy Laura Buzo gave us his perspective.  Since he’s so much older and more experienced than Amelia, it’s good to see how he’s reacting and what he’s really feeling.  I love his journals and how brutally honest he is in them.  It wasn’t too long ago that I was 21 and wondering how my life was going to turn out.  Like Chris, I contemplated life after college and whether my degree was right for me.  It doesn’t seem like six years is that wide an age gap, but the differences in experiences and feelings and thoughts between ages 15 and 21 are vast.  It was so smart for Laura Buzo to let us see Chris from more than Amelia’s eyes.

Love and Other Perishable Items is, I think, for “smart” readers.  And I mean that in terms of readers looking for something more literary and maybe something that will make them think.  I plan on handing this to my John Green fans.  I think fans of Arlaina Tibensky’s And Then Things Fall Apart would enjoy this book as well.  It’s full of wit and humor, but the lack of major conflict in Chris and Amelia’s lives may make some readers question the point.  I’ve faced this when my YA Lit students read Looking for Alaska; some complain that nothing happens and all they do is talk (in the Before).  The readers who “get” this will appreciate Laura Buzo’s book.  Some of them, I hope, will be drawn to read the classics Chris and Amelia read and discuss.  I do feel the need to add, since many of my readers work with middle school students, that this is a book for high school students.  Sex is discussed in a mature way, not so much explicitly, but in a way that mature readers would understand.

I can this being a “quiet” book in terms of the amount of hype it receives, so I’m really excited that Love and Other Perishable Items is a William C. Morris shortlist book.  Like I said, it’s a strong debut, so I hope it receives more attention and a larger audience.  I know I’m happy I read it 🙂

Flash Reviews (19)

Meant to BeTitle: Meant to Be

Author: Lauren Morrill

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads): Meant to be or not meant to be . . . that is the question. 

It’s one thing to fall head over heels into a puddle of hazelnut coffee, and quite another to fall for the—gasp—wrong guy. Straight-A junior Julia may be accident prone, but she’s queen of following rules and being prepared. That’s why she keeps a pencil sharpener in her purse and a pocket Shakespeare in her, well, pocket. And that’s also why she’s chosen Mark Bixford, her childhood crush, as her MTB (“meant to be”).

But this spring break, Julia’s rules are about to get defenestrated (SAT word: to be thrown from a window) when she’s partnered with her personal nemesis, class-clown Jason, on a school trip to London. After one wild party, Julia starts receiving romantic texts . . . from an unknown number! Jason promises to help discover the identity of her mysterious new suitor if she agrees to break a few rules along the way. And thus begins a wild goose chase through London, leading Julia closer and closer to the biggest surprise of all: true love.

Because sometimes the things you least expect are the most meant to be.

Flash Review:

More than anything else, the cover of Meant to Be drew me to this book.  I’ve been wanting to read it since first seeing it, so I was really excited when one of the girls in the book club I run chose it as our next book.  We discussed Lauren Morrill’s debut before Christmas break and the majority of the girls loved it.  I, on the other hand, didn’t quite love it.

I completely understand why my girls loved it so much.  It’s cute, it takes place in London, and there’s both swoony and funny scenes.  For some reason those pieces didn’t carry me through like they normally might.  I couldn’t connect with Julia or Jason at all.  Julia’s obsession with following all the rules and then so easily breaking them felt forced and unrealistic.  The plot didn’t feel strong enough either.  I needed more from it than just texting a mysterious guy and then worrying about Jason.  The ending puts everything together and saved the book for me, but I wish there had been more in the middle to make me enjoy Meant to Be that much more.

What She Left BehindTitle: What She Left Behind

Author: Tracy Bilen

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Source: Finished copy received from the author

Summary (From Goodreads):

“Don’t even think of leaving… I will find you,” he whispered.


Sara and her mom have a plan to finally escape Sara’s abusive father. But when her mom doesn’t show up as expected, Sara’s terrified. Her father says that she’s on a business trip, but Sara knows he’s lying. Her mom is missing—and her dad had something to do with it.

With each day that passes, Sara’s more on edge. Her friends know that something’s wrong, but she won’t endanger anyone else with her secret. And with her dad growing increasingly violent, Sara must figure out what happened to her mom before it’s too late…for them both.

Flash Review:

What She Left Behind is a great mystery that I’m sure will hook some of my reluctant readers.  It has fairly short chapters which keep the story paced well and will appeal to many of my students.  So many of them won’t stop reading until they read the end of the chapter, so I’ll sometimes spot them flipping through a book before they read it to see how long the chapters are.

The beginning of Tracy Bilen’s debut is gripping as Sara remembers threats her father made towards her mother; it’s obvious right away that this is a violent home.  I was tense through the beginning and Sara and her mother plan their escape and when Sara suddenly finds herself without her mother.  The fact that Sara’s dad won’t recognize her brother’s death is even worse and adds more tension to the story.

My one issue with this story is that I needed a little more action or build up in the middle of the book.  The beginning caught my attention right away and the ending is even more intense, but the middle dragged a bit.  I’m not sure what would make it better, to be honest.  Maybe the relationship between Sara and Alex could be stronger.  Even though the middle was a bit slow for me, I think my students will really like this.

Since I know many of the people reading my blog are teachers and librarians, you’ll be happy to know that What She Left Behind is in paperback.  I know I always appreciate being able to buy a new release in paperback; my bank account appreciates it, too 🙂

As always, thank you for the Flash Reviews idea, GreenBeanTeenQueen!

Top Ten New To Me Authors of 2012

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

I’ve read some pretty fantastic books this year written by some pretty fantastic authors.  I love reading debut novels, so many of the authors featured on my list are debut authors.  I’d love to know which “new to you” authors of 2012 are your favorites!

1. Trish Doller–I’ve been raving about Something Like Normal since I read it this spring.  It’s a stunning debut and I absolutely CAN’T WAIT until Trish’s new book, Where the Stars Still Shine, releases next year.

2. Matthew Quick–I know his YA debut released in 2011, but I didn’t read one of his books until this year when I read Boy21.  This is another book that I rave about on a regular basis.  I love Boy21 so much I’m reading it out loud for the second time this year since I have a brand new group of students this trimester.

3. R.J. Palacio–I was late to jump on the “Everyone needs to read Wonder!” bus, but peeps, Everyone needs to read Wonder!  I’m so impressed by how Palacio wrote this book and has been able to reach so many readers across age levels.  I have sophomores reading Wonder and singing its praises.  I’ve been telling teachers I work with to buy it and read with their kids.  I will buy R.J. Palacio’s next book without a doubt.

4. Tammara Webber–Sigh…I LOVED Easy.  I hope Tammara Webber writes more New Adult novels because I had the worst book hangover after reading Easy.  I want more of her books!

5. Jessica Brody–I’m way late on this one!  I was asked to be part of the 52 Reasons to Hate My Father blog tour, so I was lucky enough to receive a copy to read.  And it was so much fun to read!  Since adding it to my class library, a few of my students have requested that I buy more of Brody’s books which I’m happy to do because I want to read all of them.

6. Jordan Sonnenblick–Again, he’s been around for a few years, but only this year have I been aware of his books.  I read Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, and since then I’ve been reading more and more of his books.  They’re great as audio and great as a traditional read.  His writing is engaging and his stories are heartwarming.

7. Jessica Spotswood–I bought Born Wicked on a whim and then read it straight through.  I’m usually hesitant to read historical fiction, but Jessica Spotswood wrote her debut in the best way.  Her historical fiction is romantic, magical (hence the witches), and engaging.  The language of the time isn’t overdone, but balanced and easy to read.  I can’t wait to read the sequel; I wish I didn’t have to wait until this summer!

8. Miranda Kenneally–I’ve read both Catching Jordan and Stealing Parker and love them both.  They’re incredibly popular in my classroom which made me eve more excited to find out that Kenneally is signed on to write six more books with Sourcebooks.

9. Rae CarsonThe Girl of Fire and Thorns released in 2011, but I didn’t read it until this summer.  I love Rae’s writing style and the characters she’s included in this high fantasy trilogy.  The sequel, The Crown of Embers, just released this fall and its been receiving lots of rave reviews.

10. S.J. Kincaid–I read Insignia last fall, but it didn’t release until this summer.  S.J. Kincaid is an exciting new voice in YA with the Insignia trilogy.  It’s exciting and refreshing and full of guy-appeal.

Review: This Is Not A Drill by Beck McDowell

Title: This Is Not A Drill

Author: Beck McDowell

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Release Date: October 25th, 2012

Interest: Debut Author / Realistic Fiction / Blog Tour

Source: ARC received from the author for blog tour

Summary (From Goodreads):

Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD

When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them–a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he’s denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children’s fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.

What I Liked:

  • The suspense and characters.  Emery and Jake are developed well enough to distinguish who is speaking when.  The different font and the names at the beginning of the chapters helps, but the characters voices are developed enough to know the difference.
  • Reading from both Emery and Jake’s point of view keeps This Is Not A Drill gender neutral, which I always love.
  • The fast pace.  Despite the circumstances, the situation doesn’t take up that much actual time, so the quick pace really fits the plot.  The action gets started soon after the book starts which will capture and hold my students’ attention.
  • Brian Stutts’ background.  Learning his background adds a layer of understanding when, as the reader, you don’t want to understand him and feel bad for him.  He’s expected to be this evil person when really he’s suffering.  It’s hard to look at Stutts as a suffering, wounded character.

What I Disliked:

  • The background romance between Emery and Jake.  It took away from the suspense of the shooting and didn’t feel like it added any important depth to the story.  I know the characters better now, which I always appreciate in a story, but I don’t know if it was really necessary.  I found myself skimming those parts.  It just didn’t work for me as a reader.
  • The length. It’s unusual for me to criticize a book for not being long enough, but I think This Is Not A Drill would be an even stronger book if it was a little bit longer.  After all the suspense and build up, the ending felt rushed.

Overall, I think my students will enjoy Beck McDowell’s debut.  Despite not caring for the romance between Jake and Emery, I think my students will enjoy it.  They always want to know more about the characters, so I know they’ll appreciate it.  This is definitely a great book to add to your library/classroom and hand off to your students, especially your reluctant readers.

Book Trailer Thursday (87)–Blind Spot by Laura Ellen

I realize it’s Friday (yay!) and not Thursday, but I had a blog tour post yesterday instead of my regular book trailer post.  I’m excited that Laura Ellen has a book trailer for her debut Blind Spot because not only does it sound like a great book, but because she’s also been touring in Michigan.  (I love it when authors spend time in Michigan!)

Summary (From Goodreads):

There’s none so blind as they that won’t see.

Seventeen-year-old Tricia Farni’s body floated to the surface of Alaska’s Birch River six months after the night she disappeared. The night Roz Hart had a fight with her. The night Roz can’t remember. Roz, who struggles with macular degeneration, is used to assembling fragments to make sense of the world around her. But this time it’s her memory that needs piecing together—to clear her name . . . to find a murderer.

This unflinchingly emotional novel is written in the powerful first-person voice of a legally blind teen who just wants to be like everyone else.

Students Wants to Know Beck McDowell

Photo courtesy of media kitMy students and I are happy to be part of Beck McDowell’s blog tour for her debut novel This Is Not a Drill.  Many of my students are fans of realistic fiction and aspiring authors, so they always appreciate the opportunity to interview an author.  Thank you so much, Beck, for asking us to be part of your tour!

Summary of This Is Not a Drill (From Goodreads):

Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD

When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them–a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he’s denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children’s fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.


** Check out the rest of the tour stops **
** Follow Beck on Twitter **
** Beck’s Website **
** This Is Not a Drill released on October 25th **


  • What made you choose this title for the book?
    You’re the first person who’s asked that. Good question, Felicia. I really don’t think I’m very good at titles, but in this case – we do SO many drills at schools, we always assume it’s another drill when the alarms (especially fire alarms) go off. So the words, “this is not a drill” kinda sent chills through me – like you’re lulled into a sense of false security by all the boring PRACTICES and then – bam – you realize THIS is the REAL thing and your life is in danger.


  • Do you know someone with PTSD?
    Yes, a few who were diagnosed and lots who were undiagnosed. I’ve talked with many students who still suffer from a traumatic event from the past.  I’ve seen how keeping a secret, especially in the case of physical or sexual abuse, can keep you from living a full, happy life – until you’ve said it out loud and dealt with it. And post-traumatic stress can follow a car accident, a serious injury, a natural disaster, the death of a loved one – lots of things other than fighting in a war. What makes it so scary with military victims is that they are reluctant to get help – for fear it will damage their careers in a field where physical and mental toughness are perceived as critical traits for success. And when it goes untreated, it often manifests itself in dangerous ways.

    Right now a lot of my former students are having nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD after surviving the tornadoes that killed a number of University of Alabama students in Tuscaloosa last year. I just want to encourage ANYONE who’s suffering to look up the symptoms and treatment options online and seek out a professional in your community. You are NOT alone and there IS help for you!


  • How long did it take for you to write the book and get it published?
    THIS IS NOT A DRILL took about a year, and then there was a year of revision with my wonderful editor, Nancy Paulsen, at Penguin. I was really lucky to find a terrific agent (Jill Corcoran) and a top-notch publisher within just a few days of sending out the manuscript, but that followed a long process of rejection with my first book and a run of bad luck with my second, a non-fiction called LAST BUS OUT, which I eventually published as an e-book and then a paperback. There’s more information about that process on my blog at if anyone’s interested in the details.


  • Why was his son taken away?
    When there’s a divorce, there’s often a custody battle – one parent who doesn’t want the other to see the kids. In this case it’s obvious that Patrick’s mother has good reason to fear that Patrick won’t be safe with his dad; he’s so emotionally troubled that she assumes he can’t properly care for their son. School administrators are usually alerted when this happens, and they’re generally very careful to make sure any parent who checks out a child has the legal authority to do so. When Stutts goes directly to the classroom, we can assume that he knows the office won’t allow him to take Patrick out of the building. And Patrick’s behavior shows that he’s suffering from his father’s problems and the conflict he’s caused at home – as we see how withdrawn he is in class.


  • How long did you research information on this subject?
    I always take LOTS of notes and do a ton of research before starting a book. Some topics are easy to look up online and, because my next book (now in edits with Penguin) features a New Orleans cemetery, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Williams Research Center in the French Quarter. Since I’m an English major/Journalism minor, research is fun for me (especially right now because I’m researching voo-doo practices!)  Jared, your question made me realize that, in addition to the specific research for each book, writers are ALWAYS researching EVERYTHING. Every conversation, every visit to another place, every book we read is full of ideas that might spark another book or part of a book. It’s a fun way to approach life!


  • Did you find it easier to write from a guy’s point of view or a girl’s?
    It’s very odd, but I actually prefer writing in guy voice. Maybe it’s because of a natural tendency writers have to tune in more to people who are different from us so we can learn more. I love guy humor and in teaching, I found that high school guys are more likely to be brutally honest  – which I prefer to trying to figure out what someone really thinks. No offense to girls. I will be the first to admit I do the “silent-treatment” girl thing now and then of “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” I try not to generalize, but there are some key differences in the way we’re put together – emotionally as well as physically. To be honest, I might not like that kind of truthfulness in my girlfriends (“Does this dress make my butt look big?” “Yes.”) that I find so charming in guys!
  •  Do you feel that dialogue is important to your character’s development throughout the book?
    Great question! I LOVE writing dialogue. You’ll notice that it’ a BIG part of the book. I just learn more through listening to what people say than through hearing or reading descriptions of their lives and characteristics. I’ve been told my style is a cross between screenplay-writer and news reporter – and I’m fairly happy with that assessment. I think readers would rather “listen” to a character than read about him. Do you agree?

Whole Class:

  • Why did you decide to write about this topic?
    I never worried about violence in my classroom when I taught, but I had nightmares about it several times, so I knew it was a topic my subconscious needed to address – that fear of how I’d react in a crisis and whether I’d be able to keep my students safe. Also, when my nephew was in second grade, he told me the teacher said if they were in the bathroom and heard a “lockdown” over the intercom, they should lock the stall door, sit on the toilet, and pull their feet up so if a bad man came in, he wouldn’t know they were there. It was so heartbreaking, thinking about him – or any little kid – hiding there, alone and terrified. But I knew it was probably a good thing to tell them. It makes me sad to think that now we have to tell kids to drop to the floor and cover their heads if gunfire erupts in a school or a mall or a movie theater. But the reality is that the more we do to prepare them for the kinds of terrible things that we know can happen any day in our crazy world, the safer they are.
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