Tag Archives: Publisher: Abrams

Noteworthy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Noteworthy by Riley RedgateJordan Sun is a scholarship student at the prestigious Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Jordan is a junior now and she has never been cast in a school play. Something her mother is quick to remember whenever she wonders if Jordan would be more valuable to the family closer to home where she can work while going to school.

The problem isn’t Jordan’s skill or talent. The problem is that Jordan’s height and deeper voice don’t fit the narrow mold of most female roles.

Jordan can’t change either of those things. But in a moment of desperation she realizes that she can use them by auditioning for The Sharpshooters–one of the school’s a cappella groups. The only problem is she’ll have to audition as a boy because the Sharpshooters are an all-male group.

Being found out could be devastating leaving Jordan shunned for the rest of her time at Kensington-Blaine and known forever as the girl who infiltrated an a cappella group. Basically the least impressive spy of all time. But the rewards are worth the risk with all of the school’s a cappella groups competing for a chance to accompany Aural Fixation on the European leg of their tour as show openers.

All Jordan wants is to prove to her school and her parents (and maybe herself) that she can thrive in a leading role. She’ll stay with the Sharps long enough to win the competition, nail the tour, and move on. Keeping the guys at arm’s length for that long should be simple. But as her friendships with the Sharps (and competition with a rival group) grow, the lies start to mount and Jordan realizes that sometimes you have to get close to people. Even if it means you might get hurt in Noteworthy (2017) by Riley Redgate.

Jordan is a first generation American and a low income student at her historically white and affluent at Kensington-Blaine. She struggles with the dissonance between her life at boarding school and her family’s struggles to make ends meet through part-time and retail jobs. Adding to that pressure are mounting hospital bills from her father’s recent hospital stay when his pre-existing health issues (he is a paraplegic) make a light cough so much worse. Still stinging from her breakup, Jordan also starts to acknowledge her bisexuality for the first time.

Despite being in a predominantly white school, Jordan’s circle of friends and acquaintances is thoughtfully diverse with characters coming to terms with parental expectations, school pressures, and their sexuality among other things. In the Sharps, Jordan quickly bonds with dry witted Nihal who is Sikh and one of my absolute favorite characters.

I so appreciate the way that Jordan acknowledges both her limitations as a poor scholarship student and also her privilege in being able to cross dress essentially on a lark–a decision she struggles with long before her secret is revealed (because of course it is revealed). While the middle is bogged down in numerous issues of varying important to the story, Noteworthy still ends suddenly and leaves readers wanting to see more of the Sharps (and maybe some payback for their rivals the Minuets).

Noteworthy is a thoughtful commentary on gender, agency, and ambition. By inhabiting the role of Julian, Jordan starts to realize how many limitations have been placed on her life–both through outside expectations from family, friends, and teachers as well as by herself. It’s only by hiding in plain sight as a boy that Jordan really gets the chance to shine and embrace her own dreams. Recommended for readers looking for a light contemporary with some meat on its bones and, of course, a cappella fans everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, The Victoria in My Head by Janelle Milanes, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

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The Princess and the Warrior: A Picture Book Review

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan TonatiuhMany prosperous suitors ask Princess Izta to marry them. She refuses them all. Instead it is a warrior named Popoca who steals Itza’s heart when he promises to be true to her and stay by her side.

The emperor is wary of such a match for his only daughter. But he promises that if Popoca can defeat the fierce Jaguar Claw that he and Itza will be allowed to marry. When victory is in Popoca’s grasp, the Jaguar Claw conspires to tell Itza that her true love has died. Grief stricken, Itza falls into a deep sleep that even Popoca cannot lift.

But true to his word, Popoca stays by Itza’s side forever in The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes (2016) by Duncan Tonatiuh.

The Princess and the Warrior is Tonatiuh’s reimagining of the Aztec legend of two volcanoes: Iztaccíhuatl, the princess who continues to sleep, and Popocatépetl, the warrior who spews ash and smoke, trying to wake his love.

Tonatiuh’s artwork is immediately recognizable with sharp line work and figures always shown in profile. This style, reminiscent of Aztec art itself, lends itself especially well to this story.

The text of The Princess and the Warrior draws readers in from the first page with a evocative language and a sense of urgency. The story is aptly retold in picture book form here with themes that will bring to Romeo and Juliet to mind for older readers.

The book concludes with an author’s note from Tonatiuh talking more about his creative choices for this book and the source material. The book itself is well-packaged from the dustjacket and case covers to the interior pages. Bold full-page spreads highlight action in battle scenes while smaller detail illustrations add momentum to the story.

The Princess and the Warrior is a fantastic addition to any picture book collection. An obvious recommendation for any fans of picture book versions of classic folktales and myths. Recommended.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Ada Twist, Scientist: A Picture Book Review

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and Dave RobertsLike her classmates Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere, Ada Twist is an unusual second grader. Ada is curious and full of questions. “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose?” All day, she peppers her parents with inquisitive questions.

When a noxious smell fills her house, Ada sets out to use the scientific method to figure out what is behind that foul odor. But in her search for answers Ada also ends up scaring the family cat and annoying her brother and parents. It’s not easy pursuing scientific discovery, but luckily for Ada she has her family’s full support once they stop to think about everything this girl dynamo has already discovered in Ada Twist, Scientist (2016) by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Dave Roberts.

Beaty and Roberts continue their delightful series of companion pictures that began with Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.

This time around Ada is inspired by scientists such as Marie Curie and, as her name suggests, Ada Lovelace. While I am very fond of this series, previous installments missed opportunities to include a more diverse cast of characters. The author and illustrator work to correct that here with Ada and her family. Ada is a thoughtful, intelligent, black girl and aspiring scientist–something we need to see more often in picture books (and other books for children and teens).

While Ada encounters some pitfalls on her way to becoming a scientists she remains curious and persistent. This story includes rhyming text that rolls trippingly off the tongue and cartoon-like illustrations filled with details to draw readers into the story. Ada Twist, Scientist is a smart story that is sure to inspire many young scientists. A winner for storytimes and one-on-one readings. Recommended.

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

Guess Who Haiku: A Picture Book Review

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob SheaIn Guess Who, Haiku (2016) by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea team up to create a really unique picture book.

Caswell plays with the Japanese poetic form of haiku to create several riddle type poems asking readers to guess which animal is being described including a cow, a bee, a horse, a bird, a frog, a fish, a mouse, a cat, and a dog. The poems work together to move the book along to different animals until the big finish where children are the subject of the final poem.

Bob Shea’s exuberant illustration style works well here to create bold pictures for the reveal of each animal. The design of the book also lends a zany bit of charm to this humorous title that reads a bit like a game show adventure.

The book finishes with an explanation of how haiku’s are written and a bit more about the form from Caswell. Large illustrations and a unique (smaller and more square) trim size make this an eye-catching book with lots of appeal.

After reading Guess Who, Haiku the only question is why we have not received the gift of a haiku picture book earlier. Make up for lost time and be sure to check this one out as soon as you can!

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah: A (Rapid Fire) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (2013)

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. FreedmanThis is one of those books that can skew as either middle grade or a younger YA. Either works and either is appropriate. Tara, our narrator, is a lot of fun with a breezy voice that sounds authentic and true without being bogged down in vernacular or otherwise “talking down” to the reader. I also loved that Tara had supportive, understanding, present parents as well as friends.

Although the story deals with Tara understanding the two sides of her heritage she is largely comfortable in her own skin. Which is huge. There is just so much to like here from the light, fun story to the cover model who looks just like you’d expect Tara to look. This is a story about acceptance and identity but also about more than that. Recommended.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

The Infinite Moment of Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren MyracleIn the summer after high school, Wren Gray thinks she is finally ready to go after what she wants. Even if what she wants is the exact opposite of what she has been working towards for her entire life. Even if what she wants is the exact opposite of what her parents want for Wren.

Charlie Parker, on the other hand, wants exactly one thing and one thing only: Wren Gray. Unfortunately the odds of her noticing him, let alone being actually interested in him, are pretty low.

Then high school ends and somehow, some way, Wren and Charlie meet. And both of them are interested. Unfortunately, it takes more than mutual interest–or even love–to create a lasting relationship. As Wren and Charlie finally get to know each other, neither of them are sure what the future will hold for them in The Infinite Moment of Us (2013) by Lauren Myracle.

Lauren Myracle is a wildly popular author. Her books are daring and edgy and completely unflinching when it comes to some difficult topics. That is part of why Myracle is also a perennial favorite for book banners who challenge her books.

I haven’t read a lot of Myracle books but she is absolutely wonderful at all of her events and, really, I wanted to love this book because  I respect Myracle immensely for making hard choices and for never shying away from hard subjects in her books.  I was so excited going into it.
The Infinite Moment of Us is a charming, sexy story of first love and all of the challenges and thrills it entails. It’s a story about walking into the unknown that is life after high school. It’s a story about a boy with a troubled past and a girl with everything going for her.
Then everything falls apart.
Let me start by saying that The Infinite Moment of Us is an honest, thoughtful meditation on first love and growing up. All of  the pieces are handled well in Myracle’s skilled hands and the story has a lot of appeal. I am most certain that this book is going to rock a lot of worlds and many people are going to love it. Much as I wanted to be, I am not one of those people.
Wren is one of the most frustrating heroines I have recently encountered. She is proactive. She has agency. She knows what she wants. In theory she is everything you want in a heroine. Unfortunately in reality she is just irritating. Wren comes from a privileged family. She is making a daring, bold decision to defy her parents in order to do what she wants. While that is admirable and incredibly hard, with Wren it also came from such a place of privilege that it was impossible to ignore.

Myracle hints that Wren’s parents are suffocating but readers don’t see enough for it to really be convincing (this is a recurring problem because the novel is short–336 pages hardcover). Similarly, everything Wren does seems to be meant to suggest that she is strong and proactive and responsible. Unfortunately in most cases it instead comes across that Wren is a rich girl who wants the world to reshape itself to better suit her needs–particularly when it comes to her boyfriend Charlie.

I suppose it makes sense but a central conceit of The Infinite Moment of Us became the idea that one character had to give up something to be with the other. There was no middle ground. No compromise. It became a question of all or nothing. It was deeply troubling–maybe in part because Wren and Charlie are so relatively young–that there was this expectation of either of them having to give something up to be together.

Wren and Charlie together also alternated rather rapidly from being adorable together to being, well, strange. I still haven’t been able to pinpoint why but as the story progressed I became vaguely uncomfortable with almost everything Wren and Charlie said to each other from him calling her baby to their talking about feeling like a “man” and a “woman” because of being with the other. It all started to feel unsettling the more I read.

To add to an already significant assortment of issues, Myracle made some very strange choices with the book’s antagonist. I cannot say more because of spoilers but suffice it to say that the last eighth of the novel takes a very bizarre and completely unexpected turn.

I’ve heard this book described as a modern version of Forever. And it reminded me very much of some other novels I have read. Unfortunately The Infinite Moment Of Us was not quite as well done as those other novels. This book had all of the potential to be wonderful, and I’m sure with the right reader it will be. Sadly, I was left at the end with a sense that for me as a reader the entire story was largely pointless.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Forever by Judy Blume, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

The Popularity Papers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Popularity Papers by Amy IgnatowLydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang. Julie’s dads consider Lydia part of the family. Julie knows all about Lydia’s crazy goth sister Melody. Together the girls make a decision to venture into the unknown as they try to crack the mysterious code of popularity in fifth grade.

With Lydia acting as chief experimenter and Julie recording their (mixed) results, the girls are confident they will succeed where others have failed. The only problems: Lydia winds up with a bald spot early on, Julie unexpectedly becomes the object of Roland Asbjørnsen’s affections, all of their parents are mad (a lot). Worse, the more Julie and Lydia learn about the popular girls, the farther apart they seem to grow.

Lydia and Julie might be on the verge of being popular, but they’re both starting to wonder if their friendship will survive in The Popularity Papers (2010) by Amy Ignatow.

The Popularity Papers is Ignatow’s first novel as well as the first book about the ongoing adventures of Lydia and Julie.

Ignatow expertly combines drawings and handwritten notes and observations to create a book with a mixed-media feel as the girls pass letters, notes, and the book itself back and forth to tell their story. By combining the girls’ exchanges with first-person accounts from both Lydia and Julie, Ignatow makes sure the concept behind her fun plot never becomes overdone.

The Popularity Papers is also funny, plain and simple. Filled with clever jokes and entertaining illustrations, this is a smart book that will appeal to readers young and old (provided they can get past the youngish-looking cover). A great choice for anyone looking for a laugh The Popularity Papers also houses my favorite ever love poem, a funny re-writing of a popular movie song, and possibly the best illustration of Thor of all time.

Possible Pairings: Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Alice, I Think by Susany Juby, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, Drama by Raina Telgemeier