April/May’s Too-Few Reviews

For a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 3,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Book: The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 2,330

Date Published: February 2014

Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books

How I Discovered this Book: Read the first book and found out it was a series when exploring on Goodreads. (As they say, backlist sells front list!)

Thoughts: Just as adorable as the first book, full of voice and humor, the tale of a child detective agency in a rural southern small town, with the added bonus mystery of a haunted historic inn with a real true ghost. If you haven’t read Three Times Lucky, get on it, then read this. If you have read Three Times Lucky, what are you waiting for??

Book: Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 2,883

Date Published: December 2014

Publisher: Delacorte Press

How I Discovered this Book: Young to Publishing Little Big Mouth promotion sent me an ARC.

Thoughts: A mash-up retelling of The Seven Swans (Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, take your pick) and Sleeping Beauty–though way more original material than retelling–this was an epic fairytale adventure story. Tension, emotional rollercoaster, one of the best romantic subplots I’ve enjoyed in a while, fairy-trained princess warrior on a mission to save her brother from soul-sucking ogres…need I say more?

Book: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,440

Date Published: March 2015

Publisher: HarperCollins

How I Discovered this Book: I feel like this book was ALL that Twitter was talking about for weeks before it published. I grabbed a copy as soon as I could get my hands on it–the hype was high.

Thoughts: Masterful. I read in an interview that this was intended to be a retelling of Persephone, but it’s so subtle, so original, so NEW that I didn’t catch on to the hint of a retelling without having it pointed out to me. Set in contemporary farming/small town Bone Gap, Illinois, there’s something odd, magical, and sinister going on. Told from four different perspectives–two brothers and two kick-ass ladies who save themselves from dire situations over and over again–I don’t know how to express how completely wonderful and perfect this story and these characters are. There’s a magical horse. And so many different forms of love. Honey-dipped s’mores (this sounds like an awesome idea, I must try it). And creepy creepy corn fields that dance and whisper in the night. I honestly haven’t loved a book as much as this since Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I know they’re set in totally different places–imaginary British island vs. land-locked midwest–but they FEEL like they’re in the same universe. That might not make sense, but read it and you’ll understand.

Book: The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 2,522

Date Published: September 2012

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

How I Discovered this Book: First introduced through the Cabinet of Curiosities, which Bachmann contributed short stories to. I enjoyed his stories in particular so much that I picked up a copy of his full-length work.

Thoughts: Poetic and amazing world building. It had me totally believing that fairies really did live in Edwardian England (perhaps they did!). Evil political schemes and half-fairy children being hunted down by a mysterious force combined to make a charming and page-turning adventure.

Book: Hexed by Michelle Krys

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 2,389

Date Published: June 2014

Publisher: Delacorte Press

How I Discovered this Book: Stumbled across this title on a blog post somewhere. Upon looking up the description on Goodreads, I was intrigued enough to get my hands on a copy.

Thoughts: A fun, snarky, spoofy story about a cheerleader who finds out she’s a witch with a family history of protecting a very important spell book. She experiences more death threats than I could count (okay, I can count that high, I just choose not to, hence, why I do not follow basketball) made by nasty enemy magicians hell-bent on killing the entire witch population while also trying to deal with her social life shredding to pieces. If you want a book with magic that has you biting your nails until the end, this be it!

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March’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Book: Kursed by Lindsay Smith

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 3

Date Published: March 3, 2015

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

How I Discovered this Book: I initially discovered the author Lindsay Smith through the lovely podcast series, First Draft (if you haven’t started listening to this and you are a writer and lover of YA/MG…start with Lindsay’s interview here). As a result, I started following Lindsay on Twitter. She tweeted that the prequel to her YA book/series Sekret was on sale for only $1.99 and I preordered it on the spot! I had been curious about her writing and this seemed as a good a place to start as any!

Thoughts: WWII Russia. Plus scientists. Plus PSYCHICS. Using mind powers to bend enemies to their will and have Nazis expose their research secrets and proceed with general bad-assery, I picked up this book soon after I finished binge-watching the Marvel/Captain America TV spin-off, Agent Carter, which was so perfectly spies meets superheroes meets awesome 1950s outfits and heels. I could TOTALLY imagine this little novella taking place in the exact same universe/time period as Agent Carter, but half a world away. What else could you ask for?! This taste definitely got me interested in picking up the first full book in the series.

Book: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,830

Date Published: September 30, 2014

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

How I Discovered this Book: Similar to Lindsay Smith above, I discovered this author and book through the podcast First Draft. If you’re interested in Robin’s interview that got me hooked on picking up her book, try here.

Thoughts: Segregation-era Virginia, telling the story of the first black students who attend the previously all-white–and still very much wants to be that way–prestigious local high school. The scenes in this story were so interesting because though I studied segregation in a variety of history classes in my academic career and have experienced a lot of museum exhibits on the topic, I don’t think I’ve ever read a fictional account of the experience, the horrors big and small, from the perspective of children and young adults. Add to that complex situation the fact that one of the black and one of the white students start developing feelings for each other…and they’re both young women. Perfect book to pick up if the We Need Diverse Books campaign has you itching for something different.

Too Few Book Reviews: November/December

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Book: Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 998

Date Published: September 2013

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: Earlier in the fall, I attended the Women Who Write conference in northern New Jersey. The guest speaker was Chris Grabenstein, author of Escape from Mr. Limoncello’s Library, and coauthor with James Patterson on several other children’s books, including I, Funny. I enjoyed Chris Grabenstein’s talks (one on avoiding writer’s block and the  other on plotting) a lot and wanted to see how he plotted his books. So I checked out everything available in my local library’s audiobook archives. First I, Funny, then I moved onto this one.

Thoughts: This is an everything but the kitchen sink sort of book–there are pirates, storms, kidnappings, treasure hunting, history, siblings–with lots of adventure and cooky situations. I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if I were actually a young kid, which is fine, that’s the intended audience! It read a lot like a sitcom TV episode–fast paced, full of typical comedic situations, entertaining, but just about as memorable; the plot and characters made a fleeting impression on me. I’d more highly recommend these co-author’s other book I, Funny, which has a strong and unique voice, and is one of the better middle grade books I’ve read in a while.

Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

Book: Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 910

Date Published: July 2006

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: Sifting through the local library audiobook archives again, I surprised myself by finding a book by Cornelia Funke–in fact, an entire series–that I had never read or even heard of before! Imagine my delight! From Inkheart to The Thief Lord, she was one of my absolute favorite author’s as a kid.

Thoughts: Cute, funny, young middle grade with messy ghosts and old ladies with lots of personality and all of Cornelia Funke’s classic imagination. As a kid, I wanted to live in the world as Cornelia Funke imagined it. It’s nice to know that, as an adult, that feeling hasn’t really changed. Her stories are still just as magical now for me as they were then.

Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invisible Lightning Ghost! By Cornelia Funke

Book: Ghosthunters and the Gruesome Invincible Lightning Ghost! by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 487

Date Published: October 2006

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

How I Discovered this Book: See explanation above.

Thoughts: Book #2 in the series, just as cute and charming as the first.

August’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Since the 48-hour reading challenge in June, I’ve read three books that qualify.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 414

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

How I Discovered this Book: I discovered Annie’s blog when trolling WordPress for young adult writers blogs years ago, started following it, and have been looking forward to the release of her first novel ever since!

Thoughts: This was, no exaggeration, the best (and most realistic) contemporary YA book I’ve read in a long time. I feel like most contemporary YA falls into one of two categories: either the characters experience something Truly Terrible and Horrifying–like a drug addiction, a violent life-changing car accident, or cancer, etc.–or the conflict of the novel is developed out of a few high-school specific obstacles like “my boyfriend dumped me,” or “I’ve lost my best friend and I don’t know why.” These, of course, are all valid plotlines that appeal to many readers. But, personally, I don’t strongly relate to these experiences and don’t enjoy reading them as a general rule; as a result, I haven’t really enjoyed that subgenre of YA for a few years now. I didn’t realize what was MISSING in my life and what I WANTED DESPERATELY from a YA novel until I finished this book and was like, YES. THIS. YES. While main character Alex deals with some normal high school troubles–liking a boy, driver’s ed (which, by the way, isn’t discussed ENOUGH in YA, learning to drive is a huge momentous moment and stresser in the teenage years), etc.–the focus of the book is on her mom’s mental break down. She thinks she’s Amelia Earhart and nothing and nobody will convince her otherwise. Alex’s home life is in shambles as the family tries to struggle through this hardship. While a common complaint I have about YA is that the parents simply disappear from the story, the family is the front and center of this book. Which is so accurate to the actual teen experience! I don’t know about you, but the drama and events of high school were a minor portion of my life during those years. I spent most of my lifetime at home with my family, on weekends, after school, during the summer. What they did and what happened at home dominated my life and colored my experiences out of the home. Family problems just don’t dissipate when you walk out the front door–my freshman year, my dad had a massive heart attack and later was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer; my concerns about his health were constant worries for me. For personal reasons, I really appreciated and related to this book. It is beautifully written, the relationships complicated and artfully drawn. It’s gritty, honest, heartbreaking, true. An absolute must read.

Book: Summerfall: A Winterspell Novela by Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 14

Date Published: August 26th, 2014

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: I won an ARC of Claire’s first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, through YA author Nova Ren Suma’s blog a few years ago as a giveaway. I loved the book and started following Claire’s blog, and kept informed of each new book release. Her first two books were middle grade fiction, which I love, but I was particularly excited for her first YA book, Winterspell, due out September 30th, and jumped on this prequel as soon as it published.

Thoughts: I loved the world–it’s the land of Cane, where fairies, humans, and mages all coexist…though not peacefully!–and the descriptions of the fairy culture were tantalizing. The clothing, dress, hairstyles, etc….loved it. However, it seems that this prequel was the origins story, sort of, of the main character in the forthcoming Winterspell. This prequel was therefore the story of how the main character’s parents met, fell in love, etc. Personally, I didn’t really like their love story, though, so I’m glad that Winterspell will have the world I like so much but a whole new set of characters for me to meet and enjoy their new adventures. Can’t wait for the full-length novel in less than a month!

 

 

 

Book: The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachman, Katherine Catmull, Emma Trevayne, and Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 78

Date Published: May 27th, 2014

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

How I Discovered this Book: By following Claire Legrand’s blog, I discovered that she had started a new blog with other writers (I had read co-creator Katherine Catmull’s Summer and Bird prior to this and LOVED the writing, so was extra excited about this collaboration effort) called The Cabinet of Curiosities where they weekly post creepy little short stories. This book developed out of that.

Thoughts: A collection of short stories for a middle grade audience, this collection appealed to me right away because I like short stories, but there are almost never collections of them focused on a YA audience, let alone a middle grade one. The book ended up being a fun collection of a huge variety of story ideas, full of an impressive amount of imagination, a variety of monsters, unpleasant magic, and horrible things, perfect for readers who like stories that don’t end happily ever after!

 

48 Hour Reading Challenge Finish Line

Start Time: 9:30 am, Friday, June 6th

Finish Time: 9:30 am, Sunday, June 9th

Hour Breakdown: 

Friday: 9:30-10:30 am: (1 hour); 1:15-2:15 pm: (1 hour)

Saturday: 12:45-1:15 am: (1/2 hour); 12:15-1:15 pm: (1 hour); 1:30-4:30 pm: (3 hours); 5:50-10:10 pm (4 hours, 20 minutes)

Sunday: 7:30-9:30 am: (2 hours)

 Total Hours: 12 hours, 50 minutes

Total Books Read: 2.5

Total Pages Read: ~700

REVIEWS!

Book: Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,234

Date Published: August 10, 2010

Publisher: Candlewick

Format: Audiobook

This is probably going to be the strangest sentence I ever typed, but this book was a cross between Feed by M.T. Anderson and the movies Failure to Launch and Pretty Woman. Set in a not too faraway future, where teenagers use the internet so much that they’re starting to suffer from “dissociative disorder,” robot female companions have been invented to help the boys develop “real” relationships and reconnect with reality and, hopefully, their moral consciousnesses. It was an interesting idea–I was still thinking about the plot line days afterwards–but not really my cup of tea, mostly I believe because of how similar the futuristic setting was to Feed, another good book (for others) but set in a world I didn’t really enjoy visiting.

Book: The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 593

Date Published: May 20, 2014

Publisher: HarperTeen

There’s that argument that there are only a few stories that can be told and we retell them over and over again. From the first page, it was clear that this book was one of the “boyfriend breaks up with me, I want him back, but by the end of the book I’m going to realize he was wrong for me and fall in love with the right boy,” variety. The title is a spin off of The Art of War, the summer reading title that Lainey ends up pulling advice from to fight for her boyfriend back (cute and clever, no?) But this book was so much more than a standard YA romance. It was so detail-rich–the setting in a suburb of St. Louis, the goth/rock subculture, the really fleshed-out relationships with best friends–that it was full of plot twists, turns, and surprises that I totally wasn’t expecting from what I never anticipated. Mizz Creant’s House of Torture (and Pancakes) for example? With tons of torture-themed breakfast options? With probably one of the “baddest” and dearest “bad boy” character I’ve read in a long time, I was really impressed by how complicated the emotions and world building was. Besides the slight technicality of the main character’s age (she’s a rising high school senior) which actually didn’t affect the plot or characterization in any meaningful way, I would actually say that this doesn’t feel like YA, but New Adult. Personally, I imagined all of the summer shenanigans that went on to be more believable for characters just finishing their freshman year of college, or even older. (Perhaps this is based off personal experience, as I wouldn’t have really been able to relate to many of the things that happened in the book–drinking parties, dance clubs, etc.–until I was a more mature and experienced college student.) I actually think this is a selling point for this book, though, for those readers who desperate for some YA books with older themes, as there isn’t much out there on the New Adult market yet.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 188

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

I actually started this challenge mostly to read this book, but, as I often do, I kept putting off the book I most wanted to read because I wanted to save the most guaranteed feeling of book-enjoyment until the end. As a result, I only got 50% through, though! Annie Cardi is a lovely writer whose blog I’ve followed for years, all the way back before this book was a book and the WIP title was still Queen of Glass, I believe. I’ve enjoyed her blog and her short fiction and as a result I was eagerly anticipating this book for years! Annie was also the one who introduced me to the 48-hour reading challenge, so I thought it would be a fitting tribute to read during the event. So far, the book is lovely. I’m in love. But I’ll have to save the review for my next post.

I think I’m going to keep reading the stack of under-reviewed books I have set aside for the next few weeks. I’m itching to read them all and am a little disappointed that I didn’t make it through more books this weekend or get more reading time in. I ended up having a busier weekend–and probably the most perfect summer weekend–than I expected. A beach day with my best friend, who I haven’t spent time with in too long. A backyard projected screening of Up with my sister and friends. A flea market adventure, some time spent at the pool, and the release of the third season of Sherlock all combined in the same 48 hour period! It’s hard to regret not reading more, with so many amazing things happening.

It was a great weekend, for both adventures and reading, and I’m so glad I participated. Until next year!

The Reviews Are In!

Byberry and my book served as the cover story for Philadelphia CityPaper a few weeks ago. How neat is this artist’s interpretation of the underground tunnel system that served the hospital in its heyday?

Byberry State Hospital has been out for two months this week (it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long already!) and it’s been getting some great reviews in the local Philadelphia newspapers. Thought I’d share!

Byberry State Hospital . . . tells the real-life horror story of Northeast Philadelphia’s notorious mental institution, shuttered since 1990, in a meticulously detailed narrative and 200 historical photographs. Jones’ balanced portrait of life at Byberry State Hospital ranges from photos of therapeutic art and music classes to graphic evidence of wards where patients spent all day naked in grotesquely unsanitary, overcrowded conditions.”

Dan Geringer, Philadelphia Daily News, “New Book Delves into Terror at Byberry Hospital.”

“[The book] focuses on the rarely discussed positive aspects of a facility, infamous for all its shortcomings. And this is a good thing. While tales of violence, neglect, abuse, and mismanagement have become the hospital’s legacy, little is said or remembered of the hundreds of staff members, volunteers, and directors who did their best to help the helpless and forgotten people in their care. Here, instead, the reader is treated to images of picnics, performances, art and music therapy—and even Byberry’s own Boy Scout troop. Open houses and tours were an attempt to educate the community while gaining support for the hospital. Jones concludes the book with a look at the abandoned crumbling structures in their final days, shot by Hidden City contributor Chandra Lampreich. Byberry State Hospital allows the reader a glimpse behind the walls and fences into a rarely seen and less understood world.”

Ethan Wallace, Hidden City Philadelphia, “Two New Books Provide a Fitting Eulogy to Byberry State Hospital.”

I was also interviewed by Patrick Rapa at the Philadelphia CityPaper for an article exploring “What Did We Learn From Byberry?”

If you haven’t picked up a copy of the book yet and are still interested it’s available for purchase, as Mr. Geringer so helpfully pointed out, at “Smith’s Hardware on Torresdale Avenue near Disston in Tacony, at Walgreens on Bustleton Avenue near Byberry Road in Somerton, at SEPTA headquarters’ gift shop on Market Street near 12th, and at all area Barnes & Noble stores.” And if you’d like a signed copy, you can order it from me through the site (see the order button in the right hand margin).

(Image Credit: Philadelphia CityPaper.)

I Love Free Books

How many of you use Goodreads? [counts hands]

How many of you enter into those Goodreads giveaways? [counts hands]

If you didn’t raise your hand for one or both of the above questions, CHANGE THIS RIGHT NOW. If you love books–which I assume you do, if you’re reading this, because I talk about them quite a bit on the blog and I can only imagine that would be annoying for non-book lovers–you obviously also love free books, right? With reading habits as ferocious as ours, free books (and bookstore gift cards!) are pretty much the best gifts of all time.

Goodreads has wormed its way even deeper into my heart by gifting me two free books in the past two weeks! They weren’t gifts, really, I won them by entering the giveaways, but they FEEL like gifts!

Happy Birthday to me.

I won this one two weeks ago and got the book in the mail on Friday. Excited!

According to Goodreads, Family Pictures

New York Times bestseller Jane Green delivers a riveting novel about two women whose lives intersect when a shocking secret is revealed. From the author of Another Piece of My Heart comes the gripping story of two women who live on opposite coasts but whose lives are connected in ways they never could have imagined. Both women are wives and mothers to children who are about to leave the nest for school. They’re both in their forties and have husbands who travel more than either of them would like. They are both feeling an emptiness neither had expected. But when a shocking secret is exposed, their lives are blown apart. As dark truths from the past reveal themselves, will these two women be able to learn to forgive, for the sake of their children, if not for themselves?

I got the email this morning that I won a copy! What a good way to start off a Monday!!

Also according to Goodreads, Mila 2.0

Mila 2.0 is the first book in an electrifying sci-fi thriller series about a teenage girl who discovers that she is an experiment in artificial intelligence.

Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past —that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.

Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.

Mila 2.0 is Debra Driza’s bold debut and the first book in a Bourne Identity–style trilogy that combines heart-pounding action with a riveting exploration of what it really means to be human. Fans of I Am Number Four will love Mila for who she is and what she longs to be—and a cliffhanger ending will leave them breathlessly awaiting the sequel.

(PS: Mila 2.0 has a free prequel, if you’re interested in reading it. I’m going to pick it up as I anxiously await the book in the mail.)

Of course, I’m going to prioritize these two books and read them as quickly as possible so I can get my review up on Goodreads as quickly as possible. The whole point of the giveaways is to generate some buzz before the book goes on sale so readers can get excited and run to the book store the first day it’s available. (Family Pictures goes on sale March 19th and Mila 2.0 goes on sale March 12th.) I owe them the review, for being kind enough to send the book along, though I don’t owe them a good review. If I didn’t like the book, I’ll say so (in a completely professional and “this is just my opinion” way, because I’m not a Goodreads bully), but I’ve been reading the already posted reviews and I’m pretty confident I’m going to enjoy them, especially the Mila 2.0 book.

[happy dance]

Reading time!!

PPS: Be my friend on Goodreads! I love sharing and getting book recommendations :]