I See London, I See France

I See London, I See France by Sarah Mylnowski

Best friends Sydney and Leela have talked about backpacking around Europe together since they were little girls. They’ve dreamed of eating stinky cheese and macaroons in Paris, having tea in London, and seeing the famous statue of David in Italy.

And finally Sydney and Leela are making their dreams a reality. They are actually boarding a plane and escaping Maryland, a needy family, and a cheating ex-boyfriend. Everything is going to be perfect.

That is until Sydney spots Leela’s cheating ex boyfriend just a few rows from them … in the same plane…heading towards London.

From that moment on both girls expectations of this trip plummet. Now Leela is expecting her ex Matt to realize the error of his ways, and to drop her and Sydney’s plans so that they can travel with Matt.

While this isn’t part of the plan, and while she doesn’t necessarily mind traveling with Matt and his super hot friend Jackson, but she does mind the feeling that this isn’t going to be the trip of her dreams.

Will Sydney have the time of her life? Or will it be a trip she rather forget?

I See London, I See France, written by author Sarah Mylnowski, is a contemporary romp through Europe.

Mylnowski’s writing is solid and engaging. What it excels at is the fact her writing is full of vivid descriptions. As I read I easily was lost in thought, filling feeling as if I was experience the sights and sounds that Sydney and Leela experiences in each new country. When they visited London I was instantly transported to my favorite city. When they were in Amsterdam, I became excited for my own upcoming adventure. Besides the vivid descriptions, I truly appreciated Mlynoski’s knack for writing authentic dialog.

Going into I See London, I See France I was excited. This book, I knew, was going to be my perfect book. And it would have been perfect but I found that one key aspect fell short for me: the characters.

Sydney and Leela, at least for me, were not likable in the least. I found Sydney to be weak when she had the potential to be strong. And Leela …. I could go on and on listing the reasons why I didn’t like her as a character. In short I found her to be, not only selfish, but incessantly whiney.

I wanted to love both of these character. I wanted them to be the kind of characters that I could see myself within, and cheer on. Instead I often found myself shaking my head with annoyance and wanting to shake some sense into them.

A lot of their flaws I could have ignored, but what I couldn’t ignore was the fact that I felt that I didn’t see any growth. Both Sydney and Leela had opportunities to grow and develop into complex characters. I feel those opportunities went overlooked.

When I started I See London, I See France I thought this was going to be a story about friendship. But as pages turned into chapters I couldn’t help but feel that this was more a story about a friendship on the verge of dissolving. Honestly, that saddened me.

I See London, I See France was not my cup of tea. However, I’m glad I read it. I’m glad I had the chance to experience this book even if it did fall short for me.

Even though this book wasn’t my cup of tea, I urge you to read it and experience it yourself. I’d love for you to share your thoughts.

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Tyler Johnson Was Here

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Marvin Johnson isn’t the kind of guy who goes to a lot of parties. Instead he’s the kind of guy who hangs out with his two best friends, watching the classic television sitcom A Different World. And when he isn’t watching it, he’s quoting it.

But here it is Friday night, and instead of just hanging with his friends, he’s at a party, trailing his twin brother, Tyler.

Tyler can take care of himself, but he just doesn’t trust the crew he’s being hanging out with lately. So when gunshots ring out, Marvin runs as fast as he could. And he hopes that Tyler made it out too.

Even though Marvin can’t seem to find Tyler in the chaos,he’s sure he’ll be home. But when hours turn into days, Marvin knows that Tyler isn’t just missing. He knows something terrible has happened to him.

All it takes is a leaked video to confirm all of Marvin’s worst fears. How will Marvin keep Tyler alive? How will he keep from his mother being consumed in grief?

Tyler Johnson Was Here, written by author Jay Coles, is a contemporary read that packs an emotional punch. Similar to such stories as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Dear Martin by Nic Stone, author Coles has been his own unique stamp and viewpoint on writing about hate crimes.

Coles writing is strong, but direct. He doesn’t beat around the bush, but gets the hard hitting point. More than that, his writing paints a darkly vivid image of reality: that life is often unjust and cruel, but that we can rise above it all. But what I enjoyed most of all about Coles’ writing is the emotion in it. I couldn’t help but feel each and every word.

I truly appreciated Coles’ writing. And the story that he was telling.  But there was one, glaring aspect that I struggled with: his main characters. I thought, going into this book, that Marvin and Tyler Johnson were going to be memorable characters. But they weren’t. Sadly they fell flat. And that’s because I feel like I didn’t know them. This was a big flaw for me.

.While I really did enjoy reading Tyler Johnson Was Here, this was not my perfect book. Even though I couldn’t put this book down, I felt like I kept waiting. A big chunk of the plot was spent reading about Marvin’s search for Tyler – searching the neighborhood, the school yard, and all his local hangouts. At one point I felt as if it was chapter after chapter of just searching. I get it, but as a reader I felt it was unnecessary. It was easy to sum up what had happened.

These two facts are what kept Tyler Johnson Was Here from being a five star book for me. But even though the book had its flaws, it still is an important book. And it’s a book that I am happy to have read, because it is story that kept me emotionally invested. But more than that, it’s a story that isn’t only powerful, it’s also important.

(Cover image from Goodreads)

Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Once upon a time Carver Briggs was an average but happy teenager. But that was before. Before the panic attacks started. Before he had a lawyer. Before his three best friends – Mars, Eli, and Blake – tragically died in a car accident.

A cart accident that Carver caused.

As the only surviving member of sauce crew, Carver isn’t only wracked with grief, but also with guilt. After all, he has a lot to feel guilty about. It was the text message that he sent to Mars. Mars, who he knew would respond quickly. Mars who he knew was driving.

Carver holds himself responsible. So much so that, even though he fears it, feels that he deserves to go to prison. With the help of a new friend, a concern and compassionate therapise, a fast-talking lawyer, and several goodbye days Carver sees his role in their death. But more than, he sees his roles in their lives.

Is that enough to bring happiness? To stop the panic attacks? To keep him from becoming a convicted murderer?

Goodbye Days, written by author Jeff Zentner, is a contemporary book that, not only pulls at every heart string, but also urges readers to see that for every action, there is a reaction. And sometimes that’s reactions can be deadly.

Zentner’s writing isn’t only strong, it is downright beautifully. I would go as far as to say it’s lyrical even.  More than that it’s emotionally raw, and starkly real.  The start of each chapter will leave fresh tears falling.

Better than the writing are Zentner’s characters.  Main character Carver is flawed, and when readers first meet him, he’s broken. But the pain and grief he experiences is real. It’s that pain and that grief that make him relatable. It is those things that make him the kind of character that readers will genuinely want to see them come out on top.

But Carver isn’t the only great character. Zenter’s characters are so great, all of them play leading roles. I especially loved Carver’s older sister, Georgia. She was hard not to like. Georgia is endearing, she’s brutally honest, and she her love for her brother is boundless.  Georgia is the definition of family.

What is truly amazing was how Carver’s three best friends were handled. Even though Mars, Eli, and Blake died (the book opens with Carver at a funeral), readers will get to know them – not just through Carver’s memories and perspective, but because Zentner has made sure to give them their own voices.

I’m not going to lie to you all dear readers, I absolutely LOVED Goodbye Days. But it was super sad. I couldn’t help but shed a tear or two … almost every single chapter. Reading this book made me emotional – I was happy and sad, angry even. And I appreciated that. But more than that though, the reason why it made me so emotional was because it made me thing about my own experiences with grief. And sometimes that was hard to experience, especially since I read purely to escape.

I seriously can go on and on about Goodbye Days. I can’t say enough about it, but I will say this last thing: go and read it. Experience it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

(Cover image from Goodreads)

Middle Grade Monday: Isadora Moon Goes to School

Isadora Moon Goes to School by Harriet Muncaster

Meet Isadora Moon. She’s half-fairy and half-vampire. And her life is perfect! Her best friend is a pink stuffed rabbit that her fairy mother brought to life. She gets to breakfast – her most favorite meal of the day – twice. She can fly. And she loves watching the human kids walking to and from school everyday.

Perfect!

That is, under her fairy mom and vampire dad tell her that it’s time for her to go to school, just like those kids she watches everyday. But she won’t be going to any old school. Instead, they’re giving Isadora a choice: daytime fairy school or nighttime vampire school.

Unsure of both, Isadora tries both schools. And it turns out that she doesn’t like either. School just isn’t for her, or at least fairy school or vampire school isn’t for her.

Isadora has to go to school, but her parents are insisting on it. But which school. She doesn’t fit in either school. Will she ever find a school, a school perfect for a half-fairy, half-vampire?

Isadora Moon Goes to School, written by author Harriet Muncaster, is book one in a series about a lovable half-fairy, half-vampire.

Author Harriet Muncaster’s writing is simple, but strong. What makes it so is the imagination that has been woven into the story. More than that though, Muncaster’s writing is inviting. Readers will easily feel welcomed into Isadora’s half-fairy, half-vampire world.

Still, the descriptions and the illustrated details are fun. Both help readers not only see the story unfold, before their eyes and in their mind’s eye.

Isadora Moon is a true original. She is completely unique, and as a reader I personally loved how that unique-ness is celebrated throughout the entire book.  She is a true leader, and a relatable one at that. Young readers will see their own worries and struggles reflected in Isadora’s. But as great as Isadora is as a character, she isn’t the only stand out character in this book.

There are her parents: her fairy mother and her vampire father. While they fit their stereotypes, they also feel like they break their molds. Best of all is that they’re supportive and loving of Isadora. They are her biggest cheerleaders.

Overall, I thoroughly loved Isadora Moon Goes to School and I honestly feel that readers of all ages will too. Isadora is fiercely strong. Beyond that, I feel this book imparts an important message, and a message not just for the intended audience: be true to yourself, and that it’s okay to be different, and celebrate those differences.

Isadora Moon Goes to School is a super cute, super charming story that will leave readers wanting more.  By the time this book comes to close, they’ll be eager to get their hands on book two.

(And as an aside I absolutely love the black, white, and pink aesthetic!)

*Cover image from Goodreads

Middle Grade Monday: Graveyard Shakes

Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry

Victoria and Katia aren’t accustomed to life in a big city. All they’ve known is a home on a goat farm. Their home is a home where they were free to be who they wanted to be and free to do whatever it is they chose to do.

But when they’re accepted into a fancy boarding school, both of their lives suddenly change. Older sister Victoria is worried about fitting in, while younger sister Katia is worried about losing her individuality (she is the lone wolf type).

Faced with the first day jitters, Victoria sets out to make, not only a new life for herself, but new friends. And in doing so, she embarrasses herself in front of … everyone. In the hopes of making things better she decides to sign both her and sister Katia up for some school clubs.

While Victoria finds the possibility of joining the soccer team exciting, Katia isn’t thrilled at the prospect of joining Orchestra. So much so that she storms out of the audition and into an oncoming blizzard.

Within that blizzard Katia finds a group of ghostly friends that she feels let her be who she wants to be. They don’t tell her what to do, nor do they tell her who she should be. They’re happy with Katia just as she is. Or so she thinks they’re happy with her. But their ghostly motives are dark and sinister. Their motives not only put Katia in harm’s way, but also Victoria.

Will the sisters survive? Or will they be the newest residents of the graveyard?

Graveyard Shakes, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by Laura Terry, has all the chills and thrills for all adventurous readers!

What I personally loved about this graphic novel, besides the story itself, is how the story is told mostly through the illustrations. While this book isn’t wordless, it doesn’t necessarily rely on the text. Don’t get me wrong, Terry’s writing is strong, inviting, and imaginative. But more so are her lush illustrations.  The illustrations allow readers to step inside the mind and imagination of creator Terry.

The colors in each panel are vibrant and rich. More than that they lend to the underlying creep factor that is threaded throughout this book.

I feel like I could go one and on about the illustrations, especially since this is a graphic novel.  But I won’t. Instead I want to talk about another facet of this book that resonated with me as a reader. Main characters Victoria and Katia. While I loved how Katia strived to maintain her lone wolf status, and how she celebrated her individuality, I truly appreciated Victoria. At a young age I think we all go through that phase where, as much as we want to be an individual, we also want to fit in. I love how author/illustrator Terry explored that, and explored it in a way that was honest and relatable.

This facet let me, as an adult reader, reflect on that time period in my own life. And it made me think about how those formative years shaped the person I am today. I think younger readers will see a lot of themselves within both main characters. More than that, they will cheer for them.

Graveyard Shakes was a book I picked up at a local comic bookstore. It was a book I picked up because I was drawn to the beautiful cover. And after reading it, I’m so glad that I judge books by their covers, because this is one of the best ones I’ve read lately!

Undead Girl Gang

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

When high school witch Mila finds out that her best friend Riley has died by suicide, Mila is devastated. How is this possible? Riley isn’t, or rather wasn’t, the kind of girl who would kill herself, especially by drowning herself in the disgusting green lake.

But that’s what the police rule her death as.

Unable to accept it, and going with her gut instincts Mila turns to the one source that could help her crack the case of her friend’s murder: witchcraft.

With the help of an old spellbook, a tube of lipgloss, and the cover of night Mila somehow succeeds to bring back, not only Riley, but to also bring back two fellow classmates, June and Dayton, who died suspiciously just before Riley.

With a group of undead girls, and determination, Mila sets out to set the record straight. To prove that her best friend wouldn’t voluntarily leave her behind. But what she uncovers is more frightening than the three undead girls she’s harboring.

Will Mila crack the case? Or will she end up another victim?

Undead Girl Gang, written by author Lily Anderson, is a realistic read with a heavy paranormal/ghoulish twist. This book will have readers thinking deeply about friendships, and the lengths one will go to for said friendships.

Author Anderson’s writing is stunningly strong. It’s descriptive to the point where, as a reader, I was fully immersed and engaged in the plot that oftentimes it felt real to me. More than though, Anderson’s writing is real – from the dialog to the character interactions, everything felt organic and authentic.

Like her writing, I also found Anderson’s well crafted characters to be just as organic and authentic. Main character Mila is a true force to be reckoned one. She’s full of angst, girl power, and confidence. But those characteristics aren’t the only ones that make up this complex character. She’s also shy, vulnerable and emotional, and very aware of, not only who she is, but of the world and the people in the world around her. Even though she’s a flawed character, and even though sometimes as reader you won’t always understand her motives, the growth you will see in her is what makes her so likable and relatable.

I also love that author Anderson crafted a character like Mila and didn’t shy away from her being angry. She challenges the thought that girls and women shouldn’t be or get angry. And I love how she turned Mila’s anger into something constructive. More than that though, I love how she shows readers, especially female readers, that it is normal and it is okay to be angry.

But Mila isn’t the only great character to fill the pages of this book. Heck! She isn’t the only female character that oozes girl power. Though dead Riley, June, and Dayton are all fantastic representations of what girl power truly means – they believe in relying on themselves to solve the mystery of who is behind the female killing spree in Cross Creek, they stick together no matter what, and more than that they are capable of handling tough situations without the help of outsiders.

I loved all these aspects of these characters, but what I loved most is how, though the story, as a reader I had the chance to see their friendship go from complete and utter hatred of each other to loving and understanding.  And still, I loved how as I was reading it made me reflect on my own friendships, and the lengths I’d go to for my very own friends.

Moving on from the characters, as a person who doesn’t read a whole lot of mystery, I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on in this small town alongside Mila and her undead girl gang. To say that there were so many twists and turns I didn’t see coming would be an understatement. Anderson has truly created a story that will keep readers guessing and terrified.

There is a whole lot to love about Anderson’s latest novel Undead Girl Gang. It was a five-star book for me, a feat that I feel is very rare for me. It was the perfect blend of realisticness and ghoulish horror. And it had a bit of something for everyone – from laugh out loud moments to downright scary ones.

Seriously, what more could you ask for in a book!?

(Cover image from Goodreads)

 

Ramona Blue

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Ramona Blue is a tall. She is one of the few openly out people in all of Eulogy, Mississippi. And while her life has been uprooted after Hurricane Katrina, she and her family are surviving the best way they know how.

But even though she knows that there are bigger and greater things for her out there in the world, she is happy. And nothing is going to challenge that.

That is until Freddie, a boy she was friends with as a child, suddenly reappears in her life. Freddie challenges Ramona in ways she never thought possible. He challenges her in their morning swimming practices at the local Y. He challenges her to think of even bigger and greater things for herself and her life outsider of her small town and her growing family. But more than that, he challenges her to love differently.

Ramona isn’t necessarily ready to welcome these challenges. And quite frankly, she’s scared of accepting those changes. But with senior year coming to a close, she’s forced to face those realities, those challenges, and those changes.

Ramona survived one disaster. But will she survive the disaster that has been brewing her entire senior year?

Ramona Blue, written by author Julie Murphy, is a realistic read that will pull at readers heartstrings.

Author Murphy is a true superstar. And just like her, the writing that fills Ramona Blue is too. Murphy’s writing is strong, it is emotionally charged, and above all things it is smart. So much so that it will make readers think about life, about love, and about aftermath of disasters.

As a reader I appreciate a good character driven book. Ramona Blue was definitely that kind of book for me. I immediately liked Ramona and put all my faith in her as a reader. She is a fantastic character, and one that readers of all ages can learn from and through. Ramona is strong and smart. She is caring, loving, and is loved. She is determined. And even though she isn’t as confident as she should be, she believes in her friends, her family, and the life that she’s created for herself.

She is definitely flawed, but honestly so. She’s messy, and stumbles to the point of falling, but she learns and picks herself up. And deep down, I got the sense that she’s angry — angry at the fact that her sister’s lazy boyfriend is living with them, angry that her friends will all be moving on and moving away after graduation, angry at her mother that abandoned her. And all that anger is real and is justified. It was nice to see a female character accept and embrace that.

Besides Ramona, Murphy has created an unforgettable cast of characters that readers will easily love. There’s Hattie, Ramona’s older sister who is pregnant and in constant need to be taken care of. There’s Freddie, long lost friend who challenges, not only what Ramona thinks, but also how she feels. And still, a quieter character that I wish had more page time was Ramona’s hard working dad who loved his girls like no other book parent has. He’s solid and stable, just what his daughters need and deserve.

Ramona Blue is a special book. Especially for me. Why? Because it made me think. When Hurricane Katrina hit the southern region of the United States it was devastating for places like Louisiana. And I’m sure you know that too. But what author Murphy does is make readers realize that Louisiana wasn’t the only place affected. Much smaller cities in many Southern states were also devastated. I learned a lot about this, and from this book.  I truly appreciated that how Murphy’s book made me think, made me see, and made me understand how this natural disaster still affects people and communities to this very day, all these years later. In short, Ramona Blue is an important book.

I’ve read Murphy’s other books, and while this is very much a Murphy book, it’s different. In all honesty, it’s a difficult book to read. There is a sadness to this book (and I mean that in the best way) that readers will immediately feel. But with that sadness comes a sense of hope, and Murphy has excelled at injecting hope into this story, her characters, and her readers.

There’s a lot to love about Ramona Blue. And if you have already read this book, you already know that. But if you haven’t, I urge you to. Take this journey alongside a blue haired girl named Ramona. You too will love this book!