August 2021 Reading Recap

Miss Print's Reading Recap

Planned to Read:

  1.  Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  2.  Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
  3.  Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer
  4.  Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long
  5.  Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman
  6.  Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick
  7.  The Last Legacy by Adrienne Young
  8.  Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

Read:

  1.  Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon (audio)
  2.  Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (audio)
  3.  They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman (audio)
  4.  Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long
  5.  If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy
  6.  Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson (audio)
  7.  Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman
  8.  Lobizona by Romina Garber (audio)
  9.  Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki
  10.  The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  11. Kaleidoscope by Brian Selznick

Recap Video:

You can also see what I read in July.

Charming As a Verb: A Review

All kids are charming as an adjective. Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger has always been charming as a verb.

It’s a skill that has served him well as he smiles and Smiles his way through his various hustles on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Henri is a straight A student on scholarship at the elite FATE academy where he manages to keep up with his affluent friends and stay on top of academics. He is also, secretly, the owner (and sole dog walker) at Uptown Updogs.

As the child of Haitian immigrants, Henri is used to facing a lot of pressure. His father works as the superintendant of their building, his mother is close to becoming a firefighter after leaving her career as a paralegal. Henri himself is, hopefully, on his way to Columbia University–the dream he and his father have been chasing for as long as Henri can remember.

Everything seems to be falling into place until two obstacles land in Henri’s path. First, his alumni interview at Columbia does not go well making him question his eventual acceptance which had previously seemed inevitable after all of his hard work. Then Corinne Troy, his classmate and neighbor, threatens to blow Henri’s dog walking hustle apart. In exchange for keeping his secret, Corinne demands that Henri help her loosen up before own Ivy League dreams are ruined by a recommendation pointing out her “intensity.”

Henri reluctantly agrees only to realize that Corinne might actually be kind of fun. And cute. As he and Corinne grow closer, Henri grows more frantic to ensure his acceptance at Columbia. After working so hard, for so long, Henri is pretty sure he’ll do anything it takes to get in. What he didn’t count on is the people he might hurt along the way in Charming As a Verb (2020) by Ben Philippe.

Find it on Bookshop.

Charming As a Verb is, for lack of a better word, a charming story. Henri is just the right blend of calculating, sympathetic, and totally oblivious as he navigates the challenges of senior year and the college application process–not to mention his confusing feelings for Corinne, the one girl he can’t seem to charm with an easy Smile. Henri makes a lot of bad choices along the way (reader, I screamed at him while reading) but those decisions make his growth by the end of the story all the more satisfying.

While Henri is the linchpin holding this novel together, the supporting cast and evocative New York settings really make the story shine. Henri’s best friend Ming, a Chinese student adopted by Jewish parents, offers a contrast to Henri’s scrimping and saving while also providing rock solid support for Henri throughout his questionable decisions. It’s rare to find male friendship depicted so purely and it’s great to see. The fellow members of the debate team (and the debate competitions themselves) also add a lot of humor to the story while showcasing more of life at FATE Academy.

Henri’s complicated relationship with his family–especially his father whose Columbia dreams have shaped so much of Henri’s life thus far–is handled beautifully in this story as all of the Haltiwangers find their ways back to each other by the end of the story in a final act filled with hard conversations and a lot of love.

Charming As a Verb delivers on all fronts, cementing Ben Philippe as a go-to author for characters who are as sardonic as they are endearing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Admission by Julie Buxbaum, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forrest, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, Again Again by E. Lockhart, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

Week in Review: August 28

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

I am the tiredest. That’s it. That’s the update.

The Girl From the Sea: A Graphic Novel Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox OstertagFifteen-year-old Morgan Kwon is counting down the days until she finishes high school. Once she graduates Morgan will be able to start her real life at college where she won’t have to worry about her divorced mom or her moody younger brother, Aiden.

Best of all, Morgan won’t have to keep any more secrets–like the fact that she’s gay. Even with a supportive family and a great group of friends, Morgan isn’t sure how anyone will take that news. She isn’t sure she wants to find out.

Everything changes one night when Morgan falls into the water. Saved by a mysterious girl named Keltie, Morgan starts to wonder if she doesn’t have to wait for her real life to start after all.

Kelie is pretty and funny. She helps Morgan see Wilneff Island in a new light. She’s also a little strange. But by the time Morgan learns the truth about Keltie, she knows she’ll do whatever it takes to help Keltie. Even if it means revealing some of her own secrets in The Girl From the Sea (2021) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Girl From the Sea is a summery standalone graphic novel illustrated in full color.

The story closely follows Morgan as she balances summer fun with her friends (including clever pages of texts between the group of girls interspersed throughout the book) alongside getting to know Keltie. This sweet story of first love and embracing yourself is rounded out with hints of environmentalism and selkie folkore that Morgan and Keltie unpack together as Keltie reveals her secrets.

Tight plotting, carefully detailed illustrations, and fully realized characters make The Girl From the Sea a graphic novel that readers will want to revisit again and again.

Possible Pairings: The Lucky List by Rachael Lippincott, Bloom by Kevin Panetta, You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

All Our Hidden Gifts: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O'Donoghue Unlike her successful and much older siblings, Maeve Chambers has never been known as an exemplary student. While Maeve and her former best friend Lily O’Callaghan both made it out of the slow reading class where they met, school is still a struggle for Maeve. A lot of things are a struggle for her when “sometimes frustration and rage surge through [Maeve], sparking out in ways [she] can’t predict or control.”

Adrift at her Catholic school, St. Bernadette’s, where she struggles to keep up with classwork and make new friends after her estrangement from Lily, Maeve is familiar with detention. “The story of how [Maeve] ended up with the Chokey Card Tarot Consultancy can be told in four detentions, three notes sent home, two bad report cards, and one Tuesday afternoon that ended with [her] locked in a cupboard.” After locating a mysterious deck of tarot cards while cleaning out said cupboard, Maeve discovers an unexpected knack for interpreting the cards for herself and classmates earning a certain notoriety (and some pocket money) as her reputation grows. Every card is easy to learn and understand except for one: The Housekeeper–a card that has no known meaning in any tarot guide Maeve can find.

What starts as a mysterious extra card soon invokes disastrous results when Maeve is goaded into offering a reading to Lily in front of their entire class. The Housekeeper’s appearance leads to harsh words between the former friends before Lily’s sudden disappearance.

Without a clear explanation for what happened to Lily, Maeve knows she’s an obvious person of interest in the case. As she tries to understand what happened to Lily and if it connects to the sudden increased popularity of a local fundamentalist group called the Children of Brigid, Maeve realizes that she, and the Housekeeper card, may have played a bigger role in Lily’s disappearance than she realized.

With help from Lily’s older brother Rory (Roe to those closest to him) and new friend Fiona, Maeve will have to uncover the truth behind the Housekeeper and her own affinity for magic if she wants to bring Lily home. Maeve describes Fiona as having an Irish first name, an English last name (Buttersfield), brown skin from her Filipina mother and limited “patience for other people’s bullshit” as many people try to fit her into various boxes. Most of the rest of the cast is presumed white.

All Our Hidden Gifts is Caroline O’Donoghue’s YA debut and the projected start of a series. Find it on Bookshop.

Black and white illustrations by Stefanie Caponi of different tarot cards–including the infamous Housekeeper–are included throughout the novel. Readers will learn tarot basics along with Maeve as she begins to interpret cards while readers familiar with tarot will recognize key symbology and common card meanings. Readers especially well-versed in tarot might also recognize the cover artwork by Lisa M. Sterle, the artist behind the Modern Witch Tarot deck and guide journal.

O’Donoghue folds many different elements into this often sprawling narrative that tries to unravel the dual mysteries of Lily’s disappearance and the Housekeeper card while also tackling increased intolerance throughout the Irish city of Kilbeg as escalated by the Children of Brigid and their eerily savvy American leader, Aaron. Mysticism and folklore add another layer to this already packed story as one character asserts “every culture you can think of has some version of the White Lady” whether or not she is called the Housekeeper.

Against this larger backdrop, Maeve tries to understand her–and the Housekeeper’s–role in Kilbeg’s unrest while navigating her new friendship with Fiona. Maeve’s fledgling romance with Roe–who sees his pronouns and gender identity as negotiable as he works on expressing his truest self with his chosen name and genderqueer fashion—adds some sweetness to an otherwise grim story trying to find Lily.

Flashbacks to the events leading up to Maeve and Lily’s falling out contrast with the tense present as the story builds to a dramatic conclusion that readers can only hope will be followed with a second book.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno, These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Week in Review: August 21

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

Work is just the worst right now. We have achieved one week with Bella. She has taken a surprisingly short amount of time to be completely spoiled.

One Great Lie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“She will imagine a ghost library of all the other books that aren’t there, and will never be there. All the voices and stories of women behind one kind of wall or another. Voices and stories stolen by thieves.”

One Great Lie by Deb CalettiWinning a scholarship to a writing workshop should be a dream come true for Charlotte Hodges. The workshop is led by Luca Bruni, Charlotte’s favorite author of all time at his private villa in Venice.

Being in Venice also gives Charlotte the chance she’s longed for to look into her ancestor Isabella Di Angelo. For generations, Charlotte’s family has held onto the knowledge that Isabella wrote a very famous poem that’s taught in just about every school now. A poem that’s always been attributed to a man. Without concrete proof, the true authorship is more family lore than fact. Charlotte hopes this summer she can change that.

Arriving in Venice, Charlotte finds the city more picturesque than she could imagine. But the villa is also more secluded–isolated, really. Bruni is even more charismatic in person. More brilliant. But he’s also much more erratic and, as Charlotte and the other young women on the retreat begin to realize, much more unsettling.

With help from an Italian grad student named Dante, Charlotte begins to uncover the truth about Isabella and the stolen poem. But as some secrets are revealed, Charlotte will have to decide if she wants to speak out about others about Bruni in One Great Lie (2021) by Deb Caletti.

Find it on Bookshop.

One Great Lie is written in close third person following Charlotte’s perspective. Charlotte is white as are most characters although there is some diversity among the other students at the retreat. Each chapter in the book is prefaced with a brief epigraph detailing a different female writer from the Renaissance and the reasons why her works are not as well known as they should be or, in many cases, as they could be.

From the beginning the prose is so charged–the foreshadowing so deliberately ominous–that are immediately drawn in waiting for the ground to fall out from under Charlotte; knowing that it’s only a matter of time before a writing retreat that seems too good to be true is proven to be just that.

Charlotte’s work dismantling her admiration for Luca Bruni after witnessing his predatory behavior firsthand connects well to Charlotte’s efforts to prove Isabella’s authorship of a poem previously attributed (and stolen by) a prominent male Renaissance poet. Themes of feminism play out in both plot threads as Charlotte sees firsthand the damage Bruni has wraught while researching the ways her ancestor Isabella’s poem was stolen.

A sweet romance with Dante and Charlotte’s growing love for Venice tempers the otherwise tense narrative.

One Great Lie is a tautly paced novel filled with evocative settings and suspense as Charlotte unearths the truth and tries to right an historical wrong.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Baby and Solo: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Baby and Solo by Lisabeth PosthumaRoyal Oaks, Michigan, 1996: After being in and out of mental hospitals for years, seventeen-year-old Joel Teague is almost Normal. He hasn’t had any visible signs of What Was Wrong With Him since he was fifteen, he goes to therapy, and he even has a new prescription from his therapist: Get a part-time job. While Joel’s overbearing mother is wary of the advice, Joel’s father is hopeful. So is Joel, as he puts it, “Maybe all that remained between me and being Normal again was providing goods or services to my peers for minimum wage for a while. It was worth a try.”

Enter ROYO Video where Joel is soon working part-time and well on his way to becoming the “Doogie Howser of the video store corporate ladder.” In a store where every employee goes by the name of a movie character, Joel is more than ready to become Solo, short for Han Solo Star Wars—Joel’s favorite movie and a movie that’s been forbidden in his home since the Bad Thing Happened. With the new name, Joel also gets a tabula rasa (clean slate) to try making friends, working, and proving he is totally capable of being Normal.

At the store, Joel finds routine work surprisingly comforting as he gets to know his motley assortment of coworkers including sexy manager Jessica (Scarlet at the store) who claims “Scarlett O’Hara’s her favorite movie character” but lacks “the decency to spell her name with both t’s,” The Godfather—an Asian girl who “had presence in the way someone ballsy enough to call herself ‘The Godfather’ should,” and Nicole/Baby (from Dirty Dancing).

What starts as a routine job quickly becomes something more as Joel discovers the potential for real connection with his coworkers—especially Baby who is dealing with her own Something Wrong With Her while introducing Joel to the ins and outs of the video rental world and improving his film education one movie viewing at a time in Baby and Solo (2021) by Lisabeth Posthuma.

Find it on Bookshop.

As Joel becomes friendlier with Baby, he realizes that getting to know her might also involve letting her get to know him—including What Was Wrong With Him even after establishing his clean slate—a risk he isn’t sure he’s willing to take. As he notes, “It’s a lot of responsibility, knowing the entire truth about a person, and I was too busy trying to become what I might have been to get involved in What Was Wrong with someone else.”

This character-driven novel slowly unspools the intensely mutual (and notably platonic) friendship between Solo and Baby as they share their vulnerabilities and help each other through a tumultuous year including a pregnancy and continued mental health struggles. When new employee Maverick (Andres in real life) joins the ROYO video team, Joel is also forced to confront his own internalized homophobia courtesy of his mother and his family history with The Bad Thing That Happened and partially led to What Was Wrong with Joel.

Joel’s first-person narration is wry and straight to the point with careful asides hinting at his years “in and out of the psych ward” and how they impacted him (one notable example being that Joel is “hard to scandalize” now) alongside practical advice from his years of therapy that he shares with both readers and other characters processing complex emotions including grief and loss. After years of keeping people at a remove, Joel is terrified of connection, even as he craves it—a push and pull that continues throughout the story as Joel begins to understand that “if you want to experience healthy intimacy in relationships, you’re going to have to be emotionally vulnerable with someone at some point.”

As the title suggests, Joel and Baby are the central point of this story but they are far from the only worthwhile characters. The mostly white cast is fully developed and well-realized. 1990s pop culture, movie references thanks to the video store setting and an in-theater viewing of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and day-to-day retail struggles including quirky customers, a mandatory Secret Santa exchange, and more highlight Joel’s new reality while he hints at The Bad Thing that happened and works to find closure with What Was Wrong.

Whether or not readers were around for the 1990s and the pre-streaming world of video rental, Baby and Solo is a universal and timeless story of friendship, growth, retail employment and the ups and downs of all three.

Possible Pairings: Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes, The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, Nice Try Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Week in Review: August 14: In which I become a pet owner

Blog Posts of The Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Instagram Post of the Week:

How My Week Went:

What a week. I had all the stress and all of the fatigue from work. The big event this week: my mom and I adopted a dog. Bella is an 8 month old Terrier mix. She is very smart, very sweet, and can be very stubborn. We’re all still getting used to each other.

Author Interview: Debbie Rigaud on Simone Breaks All the Rules

Debbie Rigaud author photoDebbie Rigaud’s debut novel featured a swoon-worthy couple reminiscent of everyone’s favorite royals if they were teens: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, of course. Her latest contemporary YA Simone Breaks All the Rules features one of the funniest protagonists you’re going to meet in 2021, new friends, an end-of-high-school bucket list, and lots of prom goodness. I’m so happy to have Debbie here to answer some questions.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Debbie Rigaud: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I remember being a toddler scribbling gibberish on paper to mimic my eldest sister’s neat handwriting. Though I was an early reader, writing was my jam. I kept journals—one of bad poetry—as a tween and wrote sketches and short scripts for my cousins to perform. I continued journaling through high school and beyond, and wrote for the school paper in college. My first job after graduation was an editorial internship at Time Inc. in NYC. I worked at several magazines, and because I’d been staffed at teen magazines like Seventeen and loved for writing for young readers, I was approached to contribute a novella to a YA anthology published by KimaniTru. From there, I got an opportunity to write a Simon Pulse Romantic Comedy. Though this was followed by a gap of years before I published any fiction, it was these earlier works that led to the TRULY MADLY ROYALLY and HOPE series book deals. Thanks to TMR, I was able to pitch SIMONE BREAKS ALL THE RULES, which feels like my debut because this is my first work of non-assigned fiction. It’s my conception and it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for at least a decade.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Simone Breaks All the Rules?

Debbie: Like Simone, I am a child of Haitian immigrants who grew up in a strict but loving household, and I longed to read joyful and humorous stories about this experience. Yes, tossed in there are bitter feelings about all the many rules I grew up with, I was careful not to vilify strict parents or paint them with flat, broad brushstrokes. This was an opportunity to highlight the nuances, the complications, the backstories and, yes, the hilarity of growing up with overprotective immigrant parents. When I thought of the relatives who had had their proms arranged irl, I had my angle to writing such a story.

Miss Print: The story really gets started as Simone connects with Amita and Kira when the girls make their senior playlist of all the things they want to do before high school ends. Their list includes things like traveling to New York City, going dancing, and Simone’s number one item: choosing her own prom date. What kind of things would have made it onto your own senior year bucket list?

Debbie: Going to the college of my choice—I was obsessed with NYU. I got in but could not attend because the tuition was too steep for my family. My second choice, which I was also very passionate about, was FIT. Yes, once upon a time, I fancied myself an aspiring fashion designer. I have zero talent in that area, so it seems wild that I could even consider a career in fashion. But I had the sketch book with wonky illustrations as evidence of that time. Also, like Simone, I really wanted to go away for college, but—deep sigh—alas, I commuted instead.

Miss Print: Without getting into spoilers, a lot of Simone Breaks All the Rules is focused on Simone’s plans for prom (especially compared to her mother’s plans for prom). So, of course, I have to ask: Can you tell readers anything about your own prom experience?

Debbie: I went to two proms—when I was a junior I was a senior boy’s prom date. And that boy then accompanied me to my senior prom the following year. Yes, this was a sort-of boyfriend. But by my senior year, he was not my boyfriend, but kept his promise to accompany me. Let’s just say, I could’ve done without him accompanying me to my prom. I remember hanging more with my friends than with him that night. Womp, womp.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would Simone and your other characters be handling the pandemic?

Debbie: Being house-bound is Simone’s area of expertise. She and her crew of late bloomer friends are called HomeGirls for a reason. You’d be surprised how industrious you can be when confined to your home and its environs. For this reason, I am great at lots of parlor games and curbside activities, like Double Dutch, dancing, creative arts, chatting on the phone. Everything but cooking and baking, it seems. I think Simone would handle the lockdown with relative ease. And her mom, who is a worrywart would be pleased that her kids are some place safe where she can keep an eye on them. As we’ve all been coming out of lockdown, it feels like we’re all breaking out of our protective cocoons and being social butterflies, a la Simone!

Miss Print: Simone is such a fun character and, in a lot of ways, it feels like her story is just getting started. Will readers be seeing more from you about Simone–or her cousin Gabby–in the future?

Debbie: You know, that’s not a bad idea. I’d have to plead—er, talk with my editor and agent. If the book continues to perform well, I’d have a case for this. So, here’s where I make an appeal to readers to please pick up Simone, request it at your library and ask a friend to do the same! :)

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Debbie: I feel like I kicked my career off way behind the starting line because I didn’t have the full reading lives that most authors seem to have. I had reams and reams of journals, and even some bad fashion sketches, but I can’t ramble off a long list of influential classic books from childhood. Every author podcast interview I’ve listened to, there’s a lot of early voracious reading memories shared. At first, this made me feel mad inadequate during panel discussions. So what I say to aspiring authors is to start where they are. You can start here and now. Read what interests you, read what authors and readers you trust rave about, read in and out your genre. You can’t change the past, but appreciate all the influences that touched your journey and developed your writing. For me that was magazines, hip hop lyrics, TV, yes, books—though not many I recall by name—and, most especially, my family’s oral storytelling. Bottom line: so long as you make it count, it all counts and it all matters!

Thank you again to Debbie for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Debbie’s books on her website.

You can also read my review of Simone Breaks All the Rules here on the blog.