Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018.

Looking back, I see that I spent a big chunk of my reading time in 2018 with authors already familiar (and much loved), but I did manage to try a bunch of new ones too. Here’s a selection of my favorites:

1) Kristin Hannah — loved The Great Alone! I just picked up a copy of Firefly Road to try next.

2) Christina Lauren — who would have thought I’d enjoy their contemporary romances so much?

3) Susan OrleanThe Library Book was fascinating. Must read The Orchid Thief!

4) Celeste Ng – I read Little Fires Everywhere with my book group, and am looking forward to reading Everything I Never Told You.

5) Josh MalermanUnbury Carol was so strange and wonderful. I’ve read another book and a novel by him so far in 2019, and can’t wait for his new book, Inspection, coming out this spring.

6) Madeline MillerThe Song of Achilles was beautiful. Can’t wait to read Circe with my book group this summer.

7) Jennifer Ryan – I loved The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, which was a debut novel. I hope this talented author releases another book soon — her writing is terrific!

8) Jenny Han – Got totally hooked on the Lara Jean books after watching To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix. Should I read her other books too?

9) Neal Shusterman — how had I not heard of him before? I loved Scythe and Thunderhead, and thought Dry was pretty good as well.

10) Jasmine Guillory — yet another contemporary romance writer. I read two of her books in 2018. Between those and the Christina Lauren, maybe I need to stop saying that I don’t read romance?

Are you a fan of any of these new-to-me authors? Are there any of their works that you’d particularly recommend?

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Thoughts:

I don’t think there’s anything I can say about The Hate U Give that hasn’t already been said. Released early in 2017, The Hate U Give has generated a tremendous amount of buzz, has been nominated for and won numerous literary awards, and won the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Young Adult Fiction and Debut Author. Now that I’ve finally read the book, I can add my voice to the raves and say with certainty that all the praise is absolutely deserved.

The Hate U Give is a raw, unfiltered look inside a life and a world that people of privilege never see. It’s an eye-opening, upsetting, deeply human look at the costs of violence, prejudice, and brutality.  Main character Starr leads us through her double life, letting us see the conflicts she faces on a daily basis as she tries to navigate her neighborhood and her school. The entire book is engaging and impossible to put down. Where it really excels is by showing us, through the power of fiction, what the lives behind the headlines look like, and how the victim of violence is too often labeled a thug or a criminal when what truly matters is the person’s life being unjustly ended.

I’m so glad that I finally read The Hate U Give, and will be pushing it on my family and friends. Everyone should read this book.

I’m really looking forward to the movie version as well.

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The details:

Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: February 28, 2017
Length: 453 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Thoughts:

What a lovely book!

The Bear and the Nightingale reads like an extended riff on Russian fairy tales. While the main character Vasya (Vasilisa) is rooted in real life, with a family, a home, and the realities of harsh Russian winters, her life is filled with hints of magic. Set in the medieval Russian era, the book shows the harmony that exists between the people and the traditional spirits, even as their outward lives are governed by the Church. The women of the house leave offererings for the domovoi and other guardian spirits, but only Vasya is gifted with the ability to see and converse with them. When a new, ambitious priest arrives and forces the people to stop their offererings to the spirits, things go from bad to worse.

The writing in The Bear and the Nightingale is pitch-perfect, with a rhythm that evokes fairy tales and magical beings. It feels throughout that we’re listening to a folktale, and so the mood is sustained from moment to moment, even in the more mundane scenes of household chores or treks through the snow.

Vasya is a wonderful character, unwilling to accept the only two paths — marriage or convent — available to a young woman at that time. Through her independence and strong will, Vasya forges a new future for herself, even at the risk of gossip, ostracism, and physical danger.

It took me a little while to find the thread of the main plot, as the opening chapters feel a little scattered and disconnected. Once we meet Vasya, the story really comes together and develops more momentum. All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable read.

Note: I didn’t discover until I’d finished the book that this is the first in a projected trilogy. The Bear and the Nightingale reads as a stand-alone, and felt quite complete at the end. Still, I’ll look forward to revisiting these characters and this world.

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The details:

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale
Author: Katherine Arden
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fiction – fairy tales
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Blog Tour, Guest Post, & Review: When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens

Thank you, Sourcebooks, for inviting me to part of the blog tour celebrating the release of When Audrey Met Alice!

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WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE
By Rebecca Behrens
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
February 2014
Ages 9 -12

First daughters just want to have fun.

Thirteen-year-old First Daughter Audrey Rhodes is convinced that living in the White House is like being permanently grounded. While her parents are off saving the world, Audrey Rhodes spends most of her time pining for friends back home, sulking about security restrictions, and suppressing the crush she’s developing on Quint, her only DC friend. After the Secret Service cancels the party she planned, Audrey is ready to give up and become a White House hermit.  What good is having your own bowling alley if you don’t have anyone to play with?

Audrey is ready to give up and spend the next four years totally friendless—until she discovers Alice Roosevelt’s hidden diary beneath the floorboards and starts asking herself…What Would Alice Do? But not everyone is on board with Audrey’s attempts to be more like Alice—especially not her mother’s super-stern Chief of Staff. Will meeting Alice bring Audrey happiness—like the freedom to attend the school trip and possibly a First Boyfriend—or a host of new problems?

The former First Daughter’s outrageous antics give Audrey a ton of ideas for having fun…and get her into more trouble than she can handle. A fun, smart middle grade debut that brings a fascinating historical character to vibrant life and showcases relatable tween issues like fitting in, first crushes, and finding your own way, the White House hijinks of these First Daughters is a story readers won’t want to miss!

I’m thrilled to be participating in the blog tour for this terrific new book aimed at middle grade readers! Author Rebecca Behrens was kind enough to share her thoughts on a question I posed:

What would Alice find most confusing about the lives of girls in the 21st century?

Here’s Rebecca’s response:

Photo from Wikipedia: Roosevelt family in 1903 with Quentin on the left, TR, Ted, Jr., “Archie”, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel.

It’s only been a little over a century since Alice Roosevelt moved into the White House and became perhaps the most famous girl of the turn of the century. But how times have changed! What would Alice find most confusing about the lives of girls in the 21st century?

Alice lived at a time when girls weren’t allowed to go out with dates, and they had to have chaperones even at dances. According to Alice, “There were always watchful eyes to check on one. Woe betide the girl who emerged from the conservatory at a dance with her hair slightly disheveled. As one’s hair tended to fall down at the best of times it was frightfully difficult trying to keep up appearances.” Alice would be surprised by the dating girls do today—but I think she’d consider it a great thing. From an early age, Alice was fixated on finding a husband, because that was her ticket out of her parents’ home and into the world. If she watched a show like Girls, I think she’d be amazed (and occasionally shocked) at the romantic lives of young women. But she would love how young women can live independently, and how much agency they have in their romantic lives.

Athletics for young women weren’t common in Alice’s youth. She had fun roughhousing with her siblings, swimming, and she reportedly did some yoga—but girls didn’t play on soccer teams or run track. I think Alice would be shocked by all of the athletic opportunities for girls today. Considering what a vivacious person she was—and competitive—Alice would want to start competing, too.

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Photo from Wikipedia: Alice Lee Roosevelt, hand-tinted photograph taken approximately 1903

Considering how strict and modest social standards for clothing were at the turn of the century, Alice would probably find some recent fashion trends bizarre. “Buttoned-up” was the style, literally—Alice wasn’t allowed to visit a friend’s home anymore after that girl emerged from a car with a couple buttons undone! Jeggings and flip flops would seem very revealing and casual to Alice. Clothes in Alice’s time were meant to be lasting and beautiful. Alice wouldn’t know what to think about ironic fashion choices, like trucker hats or grandpa sweaters—anything that wasn’t meant to last and impress would seem like a waste of money. But I think Alice would always understand when someone uses clothing to make a statement, like Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga. After all, Alice herself was an early fashion icon—the most popular dress color when she lived in the White House was “Alice Blue,” after the shade of her eyes—and she loved the attention that brought.

Alice once said of her beloved Auntie Bye that if Bye had been a man, she would have been president, not her brother Theodore. At the turn of the century, there were very limited opportunities for women in politics and government—women couldn’t even vote yet! I think Alice would be surprised and thrilled about the number of female lawmakers today.

Finally, when Alice was a teenager, part of her fame came from her sharp wit and her willingness to be outspoken. Most of her peers were seen and not heard. I think Alice would find the many ways that girls can make their voices heard today—online and off—a little confusing, and a lot refreshing.

My thoughts:

When Audrey Met Alice is such a delight! The author does a wonderful job of weaving together a modern girl’s life and the diary of Alice Roosevelt, making both pieces of the story equally engaging and charming. Audrey is a bright, friendly 8th-grader who loves her parents, but she’s isolated from peers and even from her mom and dad once they move into “1600”. Hurray for progress — it’s Audrey’s mom who is President, and her dad — in addition to “First Gent” responsibilities — is a scientist whose research is intense and time-consuming. It’s hard to find time to just chill as a family when you’re busy running the country and trying to cure cancer — but that means that Audrey is left to wander the halls and miss her old life. Sure, the kids at her new school seem friendly at first — but do they like her for herself, or do they just want the glamor of hanging out with the First Daughter?

When Audrey stumbles across a hidden diary belonging to Teddy Roosevelt’s outspoken daughter Alice, Audrey finds inspiration both for improving her own life — and for getting into even further mischief. Alice wants to help her father and be a part of his world, but she also craves adventure and excitement, and she’s not one to listen just because she’s told to behave a certain way. As Audrey reads in Alice’s diary:

… my father simply said, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I can’t possibly do both.”

Audrey’s scrapes may seem tame in comparison to some of Alice’s more out-there escapades (such as wearing a green garter snake around her neck at state dinners or being photographed betting on horses at a time when girls did not do such things), but then again, Alice didn’t have non-stop Secret Service protection, sneaky paparazzi, and ubiquitous social media scrutiny to contend with.

Alice preaches the mantra of “To Thine Own Self Be True”, and proclaims that she is someone who wants to “eat up the world”. As the book progresses, Audrey starts to think in terms of WWAD? — What Would Alice Do? — and becomes determined to find a way to be a good daughter and at the same time make a difference and be true to herself.

My review in short? I loved this book! Audrey is an easy-to-relate-to main character. She has the same hopes, fears, and worries as a typical girl her age — but as the President’s daughter, she has to deal with middle-school drama with Secret Service agents at her side and state protocol officials looking over her shoulder. Audrey narrates with humor and self-awareness; she’s not faultless, and she knows when she messes up — but she means well, and it’s fun to see her apply her WWAD philosophy in ways that are surprising, funny, and with decidedly unpredictable outcomes.

I highly recommend When Audrey Met Alice. I think this would be a terrific read for middle school and young high school students. It’s well-written and a lot of fun — and might even inspire a girl or two to think more about the power of girls to change the world!

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For more information, visit the Sourcebooks page for When Audrey Met Alice, where you’ll find additional resources about the real Alice Roosevelt, including downloadable material for kids and for educators,

About the Author:

Rebecca Behrens grew up in Wisconsin, studied in Chicago, and now lives with her husband in New York City, where she works as a production editor for children’s books. She loves writing and reading about girls full of moxie and places full of history. When Audrey Met Alice is her first book. Visit her online at www.rebeccabehrens.com.

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

  The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

From Amazon:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

Why do I want to read this?

I don’t just want to read this — I’m dying to read this! The story of two magical creatures from distinctly different cultures and traditions sounds amazing, and I’ve heard so many good things about this book already. I love stories about golems, and introducing a golem and a jinni in old New York sounds too good to be true. As both magical and historical fiction, this sounds like something I’ll love.

Full disclosure: Over the weekend, I discovered that I still had an unused but almost expired Groupon for a local bookstore, so I ran right out and picked up a copy of The Golem and the Jinni. It’s so pretty! The cover is gorgeous is person, and the page edges are dark blue — the whole thing just looks so special! My problem now is that between work demands and some upcoming travel, I won’t have time to enjoy this book until mid-July at the earliest.

So what’s on your wishlist this week?

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!