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That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E. K. Johnston
Published: October 3, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendent of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

My Review: The futuristic setting of this novel that wasn’t a dystopia was very intriguing to me. Most of the futuristic novels that I’ve read have featured dystopian societies, so it was refreshing to have something that worked. I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives from the different characters, and became personally invested in their lives and experiences. I’d find myself hurting for Helena as she struggled to reconcile her identity, and rooting for August to do the right thing. In some way, all of the characters have to struggle to come of age and develop their identity based on who they want to be. 

However, I wish that this novel had placed a little more effort on the ending. While the rest of the novel had dealt with realistic challenges that an adolescent might face, the ending seemed rather contrived, and less realistic like the rest of the novel. The solution proposed at the end of the novel is not a solution that an adolescent in current society could replicate and learn from, which was disappointing.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book poses great questions about racism (or rather the eradication of racism), as well as questions of morality. It also would be great for discussions about the influence that society can have on your life verses the influence that you decide for your life. I think that this book would be a great addition to a classroom library for kids to enjoy, or a book to be used in a reading circle. It’s engaging and could lead to interesting discussions, especially about the futuristic government and setting of the novel, and the aforementioned topics of racism, morality, and societal influence vs self. However, I do think that other novels cover these topics in a better way, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for large classroom discussions.  

Discussion Questions: Is this novel a utopia? Dystopia? Does it fit either criteria?; How is race approached in this novel? Is there racism in the society?; What is the role of colonialism in this novel?; What is the role of the Computer? Do you think this is a good advancement?; What does the computer lack?; What morality questions does this novel pose?

We Flagged: “The Computer is sufficient if you want to know your future without taking into account your soul. I don’t mean in the eternal sense, but in the worldly. The Computer can tell you if your genes are prone to carcinoma or if you might be six feet tall, but it cannot tell you if you will enjoy dancing or if you will prefer cake to pie. I would argue that the latter is more important in terms of a long and healthy relationship” (p. 254).

Read This If You Loved: Matched by Allie Condie; Delirium by Lauren Oliver; The Luxe by Anna Godbersen; The Selection by Kiera Cass

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  RickiSig

**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Rohan Daniel Eason
Published September 5th, 2017

Summary: Step into a wintry forest where seven iconic fairy tales unfold, retold with keen insight and touches of humor.

There once was a frozen forest so cold, you could feel it through the soles of your boots. It was a strange place where some kisses broke enchantments and others began them. Many said witches lived there — some with cold hearts, others with hot ovens and ugly appetites — and also dwarves in tiny houses made of stones. In this icy wood, a stepmother might eat a girl’s heart to restore her own beauty, while a woodcutter might become stupid with grief at the death of his donkey. Here a princess with too many dresses grows spiteful out of loneliness, while a mistreated girl who is kind to a crone finds pearls dropping from her mouth whenever she speaks. With empathy and an ear for emotion, Emily Jenkins retells seven fairy tales in contemporary language that reveals both the pathos and humor of some of our most beloved stories. Charming illustrations by Rohan Daniel Eason add whimsical details that enhance every new reading.

Discussion Questions include: 

  • “Snow White”
    • At the beginning of the story, dwarves are included with witches and sprites, making them feel villainous. How is this
      different from the seven dwarves we meet later in the story? Do they fit the negative connotation or are they different
      from what the villagers assume?
  • “The Frog Prince”
    • After the frog leaves, Crystal is looking for him. Why does she miss his company? How is his company different from those of her ladies-in-waiting and family?
  • “Red Riding Hood”
    • What information that Red shared does the wolf use to his advantage? Do you think he would have successfully been
      able to get into Grandmother’s house without this information?
  • Author’s Note
    • Emily Jenkins explains her intention behind rewriting these stories in the simple way that she did. How did she adhere
      to the traditional stories while also putting her own spin on them?
  • Entire book
    • Consider the names of the characters throughout the book. How does each name give a clue to the character’s
      personality or looks?

Discussion Guide Created by Me (Kellee): 

You can also access the teaching guide through Candlewick’s website here.

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Someone Else’s Summer
Author: Rachel Bateman
Published May 9th, 2017 by Running Press Kids

Summary: Anna’s always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm’s summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever—which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm’s list along with her sisters best friend Cameron—the boy next door—who knew that Storm’s dream summer would eventually lead to Anna’s own self-discovery?

Review: I am a sucker for road trip books. I just love them so much, and a good road trip book to me is like the perfect book to read–especially if I am in a rut. Someone Else’s Summer is a really good road trip book. It has everything you expect: searching for identity, mishaps, high jinx, romance, and unexpected twists and turns; however, Someone Else’s Summer is not predictable or like any other road trip book. It has all the feelings of comfort with new adventures, characters, and conflicts. 

Storm was the opposite of Anna, but she was Anna’s very best friend, no matter how much they’d grown apart in high school, so when Storm dies, Anna knows she has to do something to honor her friendship with her sister, and it had to be something like what they did as kids. One of the things Storm liked to do was make to-do lists; however, her very last one is one that Storm will never be able to finish–so Anna decides she needs to. And it is only right that Storm’s best friend and the boy next door, Cameron, accompanies her. 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are readers out there that need this book. They may be dealing with grief or struggling with their identity in high school or making a transition between friends. They’ll need Anna’s story. There are other readers out there that will want this book. They may love romance or road trips or sad books. They’ll want Anna’s story. This book has a home in classrooms and libraries where these readers can find it.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think Anna felt she needed to finish Storm’s to do list?; Did the ending surprise you? Was there any foreshadowing to the reveal at the end?; How did you feel about Anna’s friend’s reactions to Anna’s choice? Did Anna deal with the situation well? Why do you think she changed so quickly?

Flagged Passages: “Hours later, the rain still pattered a steady rhythm on the roof as a shrill ring pulled me from sleep. Mom and Dad insisted on keeping a landline with receivers throughout the house, even though we rarely use it. The ancient, corded phone blaring just outside of my bedroom door should have been my first indication something was wrong; I should have known right away. That’s the way it always happens in the movies–there’s intuition, a feeling deep in the gut. I had none of that, just a mild irritation at whoever was calling. And the constant, insistent rain.

Then my world ended with Mom’s ear-breaking scream.”

Read This If You Loved: Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely; Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown; The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle; Jess, Chunk, and the Road to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark; The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider; Cadillac Chronicles by Brett Hartman

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**Thank you to Valerie at Running Press for providing a copy for review!**

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Star-Crossed
Author: Barbara Dee
Published March 14th, 2017 by Aladdin

Summary: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

Review: I really, really, really enjoyed this book. First, it made me like Shakespeare more than I did before. Second, I think that it dealt with sexual identity in a gentle and realistic manner. 

I must admit that Shakespeare is a fear of mine because I just never have felt like I got him the way I should as an English Lit major and English teacher; however, it is what it is. When I see Shakespeare plays, I am always transported into the story and understand what all the hoopla is about, but reading it cold, I just never get it. I worried that a story about a middle school putting on Romeo and Juliet would let the Shakespeare bog it down, but it did the opposite–it helped this story be what it is. The reader learns to love Shakespeare as Mattie learns to love him. And since we are in class and at rehearsals with Mattie, we also get to be part of some of the lessons about the play thus helping the reader understand the text as well as Mattie is supposed to. It was brilliantly intertwined.

Mattie’s feelings toward Gemma are obvious to the reader before Mattie even realizes what they are, but that felt truly realistic to me because if you are someone who has already crushed on boys, feeling the same way towards a girl could be confusing, but Dee never makes it seem like what Mattie seems is anything but natural which is beautiful to see in a middle grade novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to being in classroom, school, and public libraries, sections of the story could definitely be used in conjunction to a reading of Romeo and Juliet. Some of the discussions of the play, both during Mattie’s English class and during play rehearsals, would be great jumping off points for similar discussions in the classroom.

Discussion Questions: What clues did Dee include that Mattie’s feelings for Gemma were deeper than she first realized?; If your class was putting on Romeo and Juliet, who do you think would be best to play each character? Explain.; What allusions to Romeo and Juliet did Dee include within the text?; Have you ever read a text that affected you the way Romeo and Juliet effected Mattie?

Flagged Passages: “But that afternoon, when I got home from Verona’s and locked myself in my bedroom to read Romeo and Juliet, something happened to me. It was kind of like a thunderbolt, I guess you could call it. Because as I was reading, I stared speaking the words out loud, feeling the characters’ emotions as if they were mind. I didn’t understand every word, and a few times I skimmed when certain characters (specifically, Mercutio and Friar Lawrench) got speechy. But the idea that Romeo and Juliet had a secret love they had to hid from their families, even from their best friends–it was a story so real I could almost see it happening in front of me.

And wen I got to the end, when Juliet discovers that Romeo is dead, and kisses his lips, and they’re still warm, I did the whole scene in front of the mirror, including the kiss. My eyes had actual tears, and I thought: It’s like this play is happening TO me. Inside me. 

I wanted to own it. I wanted to eat it, as if it were chocolate layer cake.” (p. 68-69)

Read This If You Love: Shakespeare, Middle grade novels about school life and identity 

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**Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book and to Barbara Dee for reaching out to me!**

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the sun is also a star

The Sun Is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
Published: November 1, 2016 by Delacorte

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

My Review: This book shines brightly. It is more than a love story. The description of the text doesn’t quite do it justice. While reading Nicola Yoon’s words, I thought of politics, I thought of the universe, I thought of science, and I thought of culture. Natasha and Daniel have a lot of baggage, and their family histories have formed who they are. Both are strong characters who want to be better than some of the mistakes their family members have made. I appreciated the depth of this text.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I love talking about immigration in the classroom because it is a great opportunity for powerful discussions. I would love to talk about Natasha’s situation and students’ opinions about it. This might allow students an opportunity to look at immigration laws and how they impact others.

Throughout the text, Yoon provides snippets of other characters’ lives. These snippets impact the narrators, and it would be interesting to discuss how each snipped changes the way we read the story.

Discussion Questions: Is Natasha’s father entirely wrong in his approach to life? Can you find some redemption in his poor decisions?; Do you believe in fate? How can we tie this story to science?; Does Natasha’s family deserve to go home? Do you think they should be allowed to stay in the United States of America?; What role does Daniel’s father play in the development of the story?

Flagged Passage: “There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.”

Read This Book If You Loved: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon; Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell; The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu

 

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  RickiSig
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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

arabian-nights

Tales from the Arabian Nights: Stories of Adventure, Magic, Love, and Betrayal by Donna Jo Napoli
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Illustrator: Christina Balit
Published October 11th, 2016 by National Geographic Children’s Books

Summary: Classic stories and dazzling illustrations of princesses, kings, sailors, and genies come to life in a stunning retelling of the Arabian folk tales from One Thousand and One Nights and other collections, including those of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The magical storytelling of award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli dramatizes these timeless tales and ignites childrens’ imaginations.

Review: This short story anthology of Arabian mythology was fascinating, captivating, and beautifully written and illustrated. The layers of themes and stories built upon each other to create a collection that is a wonderful introduction to true traditional literature.

One thing that I at first struggled with but then ended up loving was how stories overlapped with stories. The main story was that a young woman was telling her husband a story every night to keep him in suspense so that he keeps her alive for another night. So within her story, she is telling stories. Then sometimes the characters in her stories, to help her add suspense and cliffhangers, will tell stories. So that meant at times the story you were reading was a story within a story within a story. Sounds confusing but the way it was explained and implemented allowed for the tactic to do what the young woman hoped it would do for her husband–I just had to keep reading!

I also, in my ignorance, had not read any Arabian traditional literature as I only knew the pop culture versions, so I loved learning about the culture and history through their folk tales.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Greek mythology is taught throughout school; however, there are folk tales and mythology from so many other cultures. I would love to see more Arabian folk tales taught during mythology units (and why not more folk tales and mythology from other cultures as well!). Donna Jo Napoli along with Christina Balit already have anthologies for Egyptian and Norse (and Greek), so those are a good place to start!

Discussion Questions: What are some themes you see throughout all of the tales?; How are the stories you were familiar with different than the popular culture versions you knew?

Flagged Passages: 

arabian-nights-illustration

“Princess Budur unfoldedthe letter and her own ring dropped into her palm. She read the letter. At last! She planted her feet against the wall and strained until the iron around her neck snapped. She pulled the curtain aside and threw herself into Qamar al-Zaman’s arms. On that day they were wed.” (p. 72-73)

Read This If You Love: The Arabian Nights by various and other Middle Eastern or Asian stories and folk tales, mythology

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Karen at Media Masters Publicity for providing a copy for review!!**

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top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

 Today’s Topic: Ten Books To Read If Your Book Club Likes Romance

Kellee

These are some of my favorite YA romance novels!

1. and 2. Openly Straight and Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

openly honestly-ben

Everyone needs a little bit of humor (and well-crafted plot & characters!) mixed with their romance!

3. Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely

last-true-love-story

This is a love story to love stories.

4. and 5. Olivia Twisted and Olivia Decoded by Vivi Barnes

Olivia Twisted Olivia Decoded

Oh, Z. There is just something so fascinating with a bad boy who isn’t that bad but bad enough.

6. Winger by Andrew Smith

winger

Oh, Winger. Such truth in what is on a 14-year-old’s mind.

7. Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

life in outer space

Nerdy boy + awesome girl should equal cliche, but in this novel it equals warm and fuzzies.

8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

There are two romance stories in Fangirl, and they are both swoony.

9. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

aristotleand

Aristotle and Dante’s story fills your heart.

10. Tyrell by Coe Booth

tyrell

I wouldn’t exactly call this book a romance novel, but it is a novel that is awesome that happens to have some romance in it. Maybe the book club needs a bit of a different type of romance 🙂

Which romance novels would you recommend? 

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