Back again to share more of the books I've read recently. I'm pleased to say I read some excellent books these last couple of months, many of which will stick with me for quite some time.
Most were new releases, but there were a couple of older books in there (I couldn't resist reading The Remains of the Day after reading Klara and the Sun.) I tended to lean toward historical fiction, as I've been neck deep in revisions of my own middle grade manuscript these last few months, and didn't want to stray too far from that genre. As was the case in my last Reading Roundup post: while I love writing my own stories, I'm terrible at writing reviews. Know that I loved all of these books! The summaries below are provided by the authors/publishers.
Middle Grade Books:
Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods and chastises Apple for becoming "too American." When Apple's friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show her how special she really is.
The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman
On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work--Chernobyl--has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who've always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina's estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother's secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they've wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend's life? Would you risk your own?
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro's Cuba to New York City. Just when she's finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English--and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood's hopscotch queen--a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie's world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger and she comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.
A Place To Hang The Moon by Kate Albus
It is 1940 and William, 12, Edmund, 11, and Anna, 9, aren't terribly upset by the death of the not-so-grandmotherly grandmother who has taken care of them since their parents died. But the children do need a guardian, and in the dark days of World War II London, those are in short supply, especially if they hope to stay together. Could the mass wartime evacuation of children from London to the countryside be the answer? It's a preposterous plan, but off they go-- keeping their predicament a secret, and hoping to be placed in a temporary home that ends up lasting forever. Moving from one billet to another, the children suffer the cruel trickery of foster brothers, the cold realities of outdoor toilets and the hollowness of empty stomachs. They find comfort in the village lending library, whose kind librarian, Nora Müller, seems an excellent choice of billet, except that her German husband's whereabouts are currently unknown, and some of the villagers consider her unsuitable.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thannhà Lai
Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope--toward America. Inspired by the author's childhood experience as a refugee--fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama--this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration.
Klara And The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
The first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her ... offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?
Where the Stork Flies by Linda C. Wisniewski
Kat is at loose ends after her husband ditched her and their daughter followed suit. When a lost time traveler appears in her Pennsylvania kitchen, she grasps at the chance to give her life meaning by helping the woman find her way home. But a mysterious stranger insists they are together for a purpose. Slipping through a portal to an 1825 Polish village, Kat meets her own ancestors and discovers how her own mistakes derailed her life. Can she bring her new understanding of forgiveness and unconditional love back to the present and heal her family before it's too late?
The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is Kazuo Ishiguro's profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England. Stevens, at the end of three decades of service at Darlington Hall, spending a day on a country drive, embarks as well on a journey through the past in an effort to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving the great gentleman, Lord Darlington. But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington's greatness, and much graver doubts about the nature of his own life.
If you're interested in purchasing any of these books, please consider purchasing a copy from your local independent bookstores. Indiebound.Org and Bookshop.Org are two great places to find local bookstores and shop indie.
I'm currently reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson .. stay tuned for details and more books in Part 3! Drop me a line with your book recommendations.
It's been a while since I've posted a Flashback Friday, but the other day I started writing a blog post about why I chose to set The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler in the 1970s (post coming soon!) I'm sure it's a question that's baffled my children. The 1970s? But you didn't even have cell phones or the internet or Netflix or TikTok. It's true... which brings me to today's Flashback Friday and sort of an intro to my coming-soon-post about why I chose to write a story set in 1978:
My Kids Are Missing Out
Originally posted November 5, 2011
A while back, I was telling my kids again to pick up their wet towels (another post for another day), when I found myself saying, “I sound like a broken record!” It occurred to me at that moment that my kids don’t actually know what a “broken record” sounds like.... or any record actually.
I then started thinking about all the other things from my past my kids really have no idea about. Never mind the fact that they look at me like I have three heads when I tell them I didn’t have internet as a kid (or a computer for that matter.)
Anyway, at the risk of aging myself... here are some of the things my kids have missed out on:
The typewriter... It’s true kids – I had to type all my papers out on a typewriter – and not just any typewriter, I had to use a manual typewriter. For my high school graduation, my parents gave me an electric typewriter. Not only did it come with correction tape, but it beeped when I misspelled a word. Talk about high tech!
The rotary telephone... We dialed numbers – and they had funny loud rings. At some point, push button phones were all the rage. I don’t think we had one until I was in junior high (or maybe later). When the phone rang, we didn’t have caller ID. You found out who was calling when you answered (which made prank calling as kid a serious form of entertainment.) We also heard busy signals when we called someone and they were already on the phone. Call waiting? It was more like Call Back!
The aerial... There was no such thing as cable tv until I was in high school and even then, we didn’t have it (pay for television – are you crazy?) We had an aerial. What is an aerial you ask? Well – it was this dial thing that we turned, and it rotated the antenna on our roof in a particular direction so it would pick up (semi-clearly) one of the seven channels that we received. There were no remote controls either. In our house, we had to get up to change the channel (and turn the aerial.)
As long as we are talking about tv’s – how about:
The black and white tv... I had one in my room. It was only 9 inches and it wasn’t hooked up to the aerial, so I only could watch two channels. But it was all mine!
I also had a stereo in my room that had an 8-track player along with a turntable for those broken records. I suppose we can add turntable needles to the list, and 45’s, and the little plastic inserts you had to put in the 45’s to make them fit on your turntable.
Oh and let’s not forget about the cassette player/recorder and cassette tapes... lots and lots of cassette tapes.
Since we’re talking about cassette tapes, how about -
The Walkman... I’ll never forget when those first came out. I saved all my money just to get one! That may have been my favorite thing ever.
I know there are plenty more, but I’m old and I tire easily, so I think I’ll take a nap now.... feel free to keep the list going in the comments!
I'm happy to report that a year or so after that post, my daughter asked for a turntable and started collecting record albums, so she does now in fact know what a broken record sounds like, but she and my other two children are still amazed (horrified) that I grew up with out cell phones and the internet.
P.S. All those cassettes? I still have them, safe and sound in my office in the same brown fake wood 70s/80s cabinets I kept them in as a kid.
Can you believe it’s already May? I feel like I’ve been waiting for May to arrive for forever, and now that it's finally here, I’m excited to announce that my newest middle grade novel, THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER (recommended for ages 8-13), is officially available for pre-order wherever books are sold (shipping and delivery November 2021.)
Also exciting— you can pre-order signed copies and enter to win some fun Danny Wexler swag!!
1. Pre-order through my local independent bookstore, Open Book Bookstore, and specify at checkout how you’d like your book personalized. You also automatically receive an entry to win a Danny Wexler swag bag consisting of stickers, bookmarks, and your very own super-secret spy notebook. Pre-order now through October 31st at:
2. Pre-order through the vendor of your choice and upload a copy of your pre-order receipt HERE to receive a signed bookplate for your book.
As always, thanks so much for your support!
Can you believe it's almost May? While last year felt like the year that never ended, this year feels to be flying by. Perhaps it's because I've been so busy writing new stories and preparing for the release of my latest one this fall.
But one thing I've been sure to carve out time for is reading, and before this year flies any further, I want to share some of the books I've enjoyed. Some are old, some are new, some are for young readers, and some are for adults. And while I love to write stories, I'm not the best at writing book reviews, so know that I've loved all these books.
Also, if you're interested in purchasing any of these books, our small, local independent bookstores could certainly use our support … especially now. Indiebound.Org and Bookshop.Org are two great places to find local bookstores and shop indie.
(All summaries below provided by publishers)
MIDDLE GRADE BOOKS:
From The Desk Of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks:
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he's forced to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. At first, the boys don't get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster; go to a school dance; swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with the turtles he collects. But as RJ's disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend's behalf before it's too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will's comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ's guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.
Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin
In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. In the evenings, her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon, who knows the answers to all of life's questions. Inspired by these stories, Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man on the Moon to ask him how she can change her family's fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest for the ultimate answer.
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
Cat’s Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman—but above all she must seek release form her haunting memories.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
A recent transplant to Paris, humorist David Sedaris, bestselling author of "Naked", presents a collection of his strongest work yet, including the title story about his hilarious attempt to learn French.
Black Boy Out Of Time by Hari Ziyad
One of nineteen children in a blended family, Hari Ziyad was raised by a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father. Through reframing their own coming-of-age story, Ziyad takes readers on a powerful journey of growing up queer and Black in Cleveland, Ohio, and of navigating the equally complex path toward finding their true self in New York City. Exploring childhood, gender, race, and the trust that is built, broken, and repaired through generations, Ziyad investigates what it means to live beyond the limited narratives Black children are given and challenges the irreconcilable binaries that restrict them.
The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. Then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.
The Secret Stealers by Jane Healey
Anna Cavanaugh is a restless young widow and brilliant French teacher at a private school in Washington, DC. Everything changes when she’s recruited into the Office of Strategic Services by family friend and legendary WWI hero Major General William Donovan. Then comes the opportunity: go undercover as a spy in the French Resistance to help steal critical intelligence that could ultimately turn the tide of the war. Dispatched behind enemy lines and in constant danger, Anna is filled with adrenaline, passion, and fear. She’s driven to make a difference―for her country and for herself.
I'm currently reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro - stay tuned for more in Part 2 as well as others from my growing TBR pile.
What are you reading?
Hello Friends and Fellow Book Lovers!
I hope you are all safe and well.
As you all probably know by now, I have a new children’s book coming out this year -finally!! THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER releases on November 1st, but for those who wish to pre-order, purchase links will be available starting May 15th. I’m excited to do some cool giveaways and promotions for it, including some Nate Rocks and Millie giveaways!
But I’m getting ahead of myself … To start, I’ve got a fun new cover, designed by the very talented artist, Zhen Liu.
While I was planning to wait until pre-orders started to show it off, Amazon beat me to it. The good news is, that means I get to show it off to you early!!
Do want to see it?
Are you sure?
I hope you love it as much as I do! If you’d like to help show it off too, feel free to spread the word! I'd be so grateful!
Also, in place of the cover reveal I'd originally planned in May, I'll be doing a pre-order kick off. If you're interested in participating, either on your blog or on social media, I’d be so happy to have you join in! Just sign up using this google form -> HERE <- I’ll send you everything you need! I’d love to have your help! (Really, really, please and thank you!!)
I’m so appreciative of your continued support!