Review: Hello Girls by Brittany Cavallaro & Emily Henry

When the world keeps kicking you and kicking you, and especially when that world is your own family, there comes a time when you say ENOUGH. For Winona and Lucille, each day has gotten rougher, whether it’s an abusive father or a neglectful mother and abusive brother. Enough is far more than enough.

HELLO GIRLS is the story of Winona and Lucille taking their strength into their own hands, stealing Winona’s grandfather’s Alfa Romeo convertible, and hitting the road to find whether that power will take them. From casinos to the fourth best truck stop in the U.S., through the fears and doubts and worries, they’ll have a lot to contend with, but always by their side is each other.

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Published: 6 August 2019

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Category: Young Adult/Contemporary

Best friends are forged by fire. For Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce, that fire happened the night they met outside the police station—both deciding whether to turn their families in.

Winona has been starving for life in the seemingly perfect home that she shares with her seemingly perfect father, celebrity weatherman Stormy Olsen. No one knows that he locks the pantry door to control her eating and leaves bruises where no one can see them.

Lucille has been suffocating beneath the needs of her mother and her drug-dealing brother, wondering if there’s more out there for her than disappearing waitress tips and generations of barely getting by.

One harrowing night, Winona and Lucille realize they can’t wait until graduation to start their new lives. They need out. Now. All they need is three grand, fast. And really, a stolen convertible to take them from Michigan to Las Vegas can’t hurt.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: drinking (underage), drugs/drugging people against their will, possible eating disorder related talk, poverty, parental neglect, abuse by a parent

Holy crap did this book go on a whirlwind. It was a fast read because I could Not. Put. It. Down! ❤

There’s a lot of bad stuff that happens in this book, let’s be honest about that right away. Winona has an abusive father who is the kind of man that has a very perfect public persona (the dude is a weatherman with his own theme song, for crying out loud). He’s emotionally, physically, verbally abusive. Any interaction with him in this book sent chills down my spine.

Lucille’s brother is a drug addict and a drug dealer. He works for even scarier people and steals from Lucille, among other despicable treatment. Add to this a (possibly) loving but entirely neglectful mother who sides with this scumbag of a brother and Lucille is also in a bad situation.

Their strength comes from within and from each other. The insane things they get up to, from stealing a car to running away to a few other illegal activities along the way, just left you never quite knowing what turn they’d take next. Even as it was obvious that certain things, certain people, would need to be dealt with at the end, it was still so invigorating watching Winona and Lucille, quite literally, take the wheel.

There was some stuff that wasn’t quite copacetic. At one of their stops along the ways, Winona and Lucille meet up with Silas. Long story short, needing money, they and Silas comes up with a scheme in which Silas lures strange men back to his hotel room under the premise that they’ll be sleeping with the girls, but then Winona and Lucille drug them. Silas then drags the men away and dumps them somewhere. The whole scheme being dangerous as hell aside, given that they’ve known Silas for a couple hours maybe, the drugging people against their will is pretty ick.

Aside from a plot hole/twist hole near the end that I can’t really figure out, I enjoyed the book overall. There was, aside from the aforementioned shit that these girls go through before the book even starts, heartbreak. Friends can suck, family can suck, hell, just being can suck.

Do people deserve second chances? That’s a hard question to answer. What Winona and Lucille have to figure out on this trip is what and more importantly who matter in their lives and where that path is going to lead them in a world that is constantly trying to box them in.

 

“We’re not the Virgin Mary, but we’re not the Whores, either. They tried to make us into them, to box us in, and maybe at some point we fit where they wanted us, but they pushed too hard and we’re not those girls anymore. I’m not. God, Lucille, people like Stormy and Silas and Marcus take whatever they want, and for years—for our whole lives!—we’ve just let them. Well, guess what? I want things. I want something that’s just mine, that I took and kept. Don’t you? I mean, honestly, Lucille, don’t you?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

Audiobook Review: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (Author), Philip Gabriel (Translator), George Blagden (Narrator)

If you’re a fan of road trip novels but ever wondered what it would be like if one of the participants was a cat, you may want to check out The Travelling Cat Chronicles. Satoru and Nana, companions for several years, must now set out in a silver van to find a new home for Nana. Visiting the homes of some childhood friends, histories unfold and how much of ourselves is imprinted on those we leave behind as we move on, through life and beyond, human or animal, is conveyed in this beautiful written, translated, and spoken novel.

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Published: 23 October 2018 (first published 1 November 2012)

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group

Category: Fiction/Cultural (Japan)/Contemporary/Animals

It’s not the journey that counts, but who’s at your side.

Nana, a cat, is devoted to Satoru, his owner. So when Satoru decides to go on a roadtrip one day to find him a new home, Nana is perplexed. They visit Satoru’s old friends from his school days and early youth. His friends may have untidy emotional lives but they are all animal lovers, and they also wonder why Satoru is trying to give his beloved cat away. Until the day Nana suddenly understands a long-held secret about his much-loved owner, and his heart begins to break.

Narrated in turns by Nana and by his owner, this funny, uplifting, heartrending story of a cat is nothing if not profoundly human.

Rating: 5 Stars

CW: car accident resulting in gruesome injury to an animal, death of parents, miscarriage, misogyny

The book is full of passages that may be quite familiar to many a cat lover, especially those that assist strays. When Satoru takes Nana in after a bad accident necessitates a lengthy recuperation, Nana assumes he’ll have to return to the streets. There’s a poignant moment, though, when he observes a look on Satoru’s face.

Satoru didn’t look worried so much as forlorn. The same way he seemed about the furniture and the rug. It’s not totally off limits, but still … That sort of expression. “Do you still prefer to live outside?” Hang on now—enough with the teary face. You look like that, you’ll start making me feel sad that I’m leaving. And then, out of the blue: “Listen, Cat, I was wondering if you would become my cat.”

While the story is told from the cat’s point of view, the moment in which this happens and Satoru hesitantly asks whether Nana might consider becoming *his* cat resonates in the heart of a cat loving reader. If you’ve ever left a treat outside or tried to endear a strange cat, there’s a familiar moment to this where you hope that they’ll stay and a familiar moment where you’re afraid they’ll go forever.

After the beginning, in which the union of Satoru and Nana is witnessed, five years pass. Their relationship is a close one, but a time comes when they must undertake the journey that gives Nana his titular name. It isn’t immediately clear while this journey, meeting these old friends of Satoru from three stages of his life, is necessary, lending the narrative a sense of overhanging foreboding.

As Satoru spends time at three potential homes, those of Kosuke, Yoshimine, Sugi & Chikako, and tries to decide whether they’d make a good home for Nana, details are revealed about his past and that of the potential caregivers. There are some dubious feelings to be had, such as the first stop with Kosuke, who considers adopting Nana as a way to reconcile with his wife and tempt her home after a separation.

He began to wonder if his wife, a true cat lover, might actually come home if he took in the cat. Perhaps if he told her he had adopted the animal but didn’t know how to look after it and begged her to help, perhaps she would come back solely out of sympathy for the cat.

The story he reminisces about with Satoru, however, reveals so much more than this first impression. The same could be said about each story. The book isn’t just about finding Nana a new home. It, through Satoru’s friendships, these potential new homes, is about the expectations our parents put on us, what we hold onto of those expectations into our adulthoods, even if there are toxic elements. It’s about learning to let go and move on to hopefully healthy futures and relationships.

The overall work was excellent, but there are moments where Satoru shows particular affection for Nana, as the quote above when he was saddened when it looked as though Nana would leave him for the life of a stray once more, or when Nana, when comforting Satoru’s aunt Noriko, acts out in a way that highlights just how much he understands the depths of human emotion.

“EEEEK! Nana! You did it again!”

I’d removed every single tissue from the box and was sitting quietly in the corner contemplating the result of my actions.

“You don’t use them, so why take them out?”

Good point. But as you focus on your anger and on tidying up the floor, don’t all your sad feelings begin to lift a bit?

“What a waste! What a complete waste!” Noriko muttered as she strutted around picking up the tissues, but then, as if letting out a soft puff of air, she laughed.

George Blagden, the narrator, does exceptional work when choosing the different voices for the cast, from a slightly superior tone for Nana to a raspy voice for an elderly man Satoru & Nana meet at a a service station while on one of their road trips. There was never any trouble distinguishing between the characters, human or animal, his tonal work was another thing.

The quality of the recording was very good. The narrator, as stated, did well with his characterizations, but was also very good with enunciations, clarity, and so forth. There were no moments of scratchiness evident, making the listening experience very smooth. There was no background music, simply the voice of the single narrator telling the story in the quality as stated above.

There’s a scene where (pardon my crypticness for a moment, it would be too much of a spoiler to be more explicit) Nana is going through something quite emotional. That heartbreaking scene, where Nana is speaking out and the reader can understand the words while any human within the story cannot…the sheer importance and devastating nature of the scene, combined with the emotion that George Blagden puts behind his portrayal, makes it intense and heartbreaking.

Hiro Arikawa’s novel about the relationship between Nana and Satoru, about the lasting effect that each has not only on each other but those around them, is a fulfilling, amazing book that I could read again and again, even knowing that my heart will great wrecked each and every time.

 

My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. As we count up the memories from one journey, we head off on another. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.

 

 

 

 

I received an e-copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and secured my own copy of the audiobook. The quotes within are from the advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

Book Fairs of the World

What do book lovers enjoy doing almost as much as reading their favorite stories? Finding other people who love them just as much and talking about them. Dissecting our favorite stories, figuring out our favorite characters, untangling plot threads, and more are all part and parcel of being fans of the written word. One of the places that we can congregate with each other is at a book conventions/fairs.

The Kotobee Blog reached out to me recently about a post that they’d put together featuring book fairs from around the world. Six out of seven continents (there’s hope for Antarctica, but none so far!) feature at least a few books fairs throughout the year. By checking out this post, searchable worldwide chronologically or by clicking on the continent icon you’d like, you can see which are yet to come in the rest of 2019.

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Thank you once more to the staff at Kotobee for reaching out regarding this blog’s summary of International Book Fairs. It was a pleasure to peruse the post and see not only celebrations of books that took place and will take place near(ish) to me, but to book lovers around the world.

International Book Fairs 2019

Have you attended any of the fairs on the Kotobee Blog’s list? The closest I’ve come personally is Book Expo America (BEA) in New York, when I went to Book Con (the day after). One day, though, I hope to go to BEA itself. 😀 Please share your personal experience with book fairs, wherever in the world the experience took place, in the comment section down below.

Once again thank you to Reem and the people behind Kotobee for curating the International Book Fair post, as well as the graphic shared here today, so that you all can search for a possible new to you event to attend in the future. 🙂 Hopefully there will be many exciting reads making their ways into your bags at these fairs!

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

A YA Book Blog Tour – In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton

An intense, familiar, heart breaking novel about choice, morality, and family, In the Neighborhood of True is the story of Ruth, a young teen girl who is faced with a complex web of action, feeling, racism, and anti-Semitism when she and her family move to 1950’s Atlanta after the death of her father.

What is justice, right or wrong, and who is she to decide whether to stand up? Reading Ruth’s story as she figures out who she is, what her strength is and what she will do with it, is a mighty important tale from Susan Kaplan Carlton. I want to thank Brittani Hilles from Algonquin Books & Algonquin Young Readers for reaching out to me & giving me the chance to review this book.

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Published: 9 April 2019

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Category: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

A powerful story of love, identity, and the price of fitting in or speaking out.

After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both. Eager to fit in with the blond girls in the “pastel posse,” Ruth decides to hide her religion. Before she knows it, she is falling for the handsome and charming Davis and sipping Cokes with him and his friends at the all-white, all-Christian Club.

Does it matter that Ruth’s mother makes her attend services at the local synagogue every week? Not as long as nobody outside her family knows the truth. At temple Ruth meets Max, who is serious and intense about the fight for social justice, and now she is caught between two worlds, two religions, and two boys. But when a violent hate crime brings the different parts of Ruth’s life into sharp conflict, she will have to choose between all she’s come to love about her new life and standing up for what she believes.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: underage drinking, anti-Semitism

Taking place in 1959, there was a lot of particularly time period sentiments that were blood boiling in their existence. From Mr. Hank (Ruth’s grandfather) brushing aside his daughter, Ruth’s Mother, desire & passion regarding covering important news stories because his paper “needs men to hop on those stories”, to the decorum rules that Ruth and her peers are having drummed into them, there a quite a few occurrences of tongue biting in the reading of this book. These pale next to the religious bigotry that begin in vocal asides and snowball into horrible actions as the story continues.

A terrifying thought is that there are echoes of sexist & religiously intolerant practices, if not worse ones, in our current atmosphere. It was saddening to read about the past & realize what’s changed and what we only think has. From larger scale things to the micro acts throughout, Carlton took care to craft a story that didn’t neglect the layers of life.

Ruth, the main character and whose lense everything is filtered through, is a complicated girl. She is a teenager going through complex emotions that would be hard enough at any time in history but especially so given the events, historical and personal, going on around her.

As the daughter of a Jewish father and a mother who converted from Christianity, there’s a pull as to what she should be loyal to. When her family, after the death of her father, moves from New York City to her mother’s hometown of Atlanta and into the guest home of her grandparents, there’s an entire atmosphere of anti-Semitism to contend with. Ruth wants to belong, a reasonable thing, but what will that cost?

There are choices she has to make along the way that show what she may or may not be betraying in regards to her own moral compass, consciously or not, as well as what she’s not really seeing going on around her (i.e. hearing about integration protests on the radio but dismissing them when she realizes the report doesn’t contain any names she recognizes).

Carlton’s characterization strength extends to setting. From details regarding fashion to the way Mr. Hank has a wireless set up to receive news reports in his home, the 1950’s were exquisitely portrayed on the page. Once sunken into the story, admittedly as explained above there were the difficult choices and topics to contend with, but as well written as the book was, it was one that on multiple sides made it one that I didn’t want to put down.

 

General Q&A With the Author

 

1. How did you write TRUE? All at once or did you outline the story?

I’m not an outliner, and it took me a long time (a year, if I’m being honest) to find the beating heart of this book. Once I figured out what the story was about—falling so in love with a boy, or a place, that you risk losing yourself…and learning to stand up for what you believe in even when it’s hard and heart-breaking—I wrote straight through.

 

2. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? Which of your characters do you most identify with, and why?

I love my main character Ruth. She’s shallow and she knows it (obsessed with fashion and frippery and the magazine Mademoiselle) but she’s discovering that she also runs deep. A couple of years ago, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote a great essay for ELLE defending why smart women can love fashion. And I love that (and her). We are all so much more than one thing.
3. What gave you the idea for TRUE?

The roots of the story are deeply personal. Our family had just moved to Atlanta and joined a synagogue. We were still new to town when our youngest daughter announced she’d learned that the classroom she spent every Sunday morning in had been the site of a bombing 50 years before. That stayed with me—the idea that the walls that held these kids had once been blown apart. In the Neighborhood of True is a response to that bombing in 1958, retribution for the rabbi’s involvement in civil rights. The book is horrifying timely in a way I never could have imagined. You can draw a line from Atlanta in 1958 ….to Charlottesville in 2017….to Pittsburgh in 2018…to Christchurch two months ago.

 

So, there’s that important seed of the story. And then, as I was writing Ruth and her various lies of omission about her religion, I remembered my college boyfriend asking me to not tell his grandfather that I was Jewish…he just wanted the man to like me, he said. And, unbelievably, I agreed. That’s the question I found myself puzzling over—why was I so quick to hide who I was for this boy I loved?

 

4. Do you have a favourite scene, quote, or moment from TRUE?

It takes my main character, Ruth, a long time to find her voice in Atlanta, circa 1958. At first she’s so seduced by the dresses and the debutante parties (and a dimpled boy) that she keeps quiet about who she is.

On Ruth’s first official date with Davis, she’s trying to figure out how much of herself to reveal. I like this scene between them after seeing the movie Vertigo.

“I like Hitchcock,” I said.

“Me too. Bet you like one of the Janes—Eyre or Austen.”

“Please. Give me some credit. I like . . . I love . . . Truman Capote.” Actually, Sara liked Truman Capote. But last year, Mademoiselle had published one of his short stories, so that was something.

“I should read him then.”

The thought of Davis doing something because I loved it was sort of exhilarating. “I don’t really love him,” I said, wanting to tell the truth when I could. “I just read one story of his about Christmas, and it was depressing as dirt.”

“Ah, so in the neighborhood of true.” Davis one-dimpled me. “That’s what we say when something’s close enough.”

 

5. If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?

I would tell my younger self not to be so judge-y. My first drafts are a hot mess. I wonder a thousand times an hour if there’s anything of worth on the page. And I’m kind of slow. I have to write all the way to the end to figure out what I’m trying to say. But then the revision starts, and I cut all the dreck, and things start looking up.

 

6. What is on your current TBR pile?

Sooooo many books, but here are my top five!

 

  • White Rose by Kip Wilson (a gorgeous novel in verse about Sophie Scholl and a nonviolent resistance group that challenged the Nazis)

 

  • Internment by Samira Ahmed (every single writer I respect has been raving about this novel set in the near-future with internment camps for Muslim-Americans)

 

  • Bright Burning Stars by AK Small (ballet and Paris—yes, please)

 

  • The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (this historical fiction about first loves and fate is technically an adult read but easily crosses to YA – set in both 1950s Tehran and present-day Boston)

 

  • It’s a Whole Spiel edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman (cannot wait for this anthology with Jewish characters who are diverse in sexuality, race, and level of observance)

 

7. Do you write to music? If so, what artist were you listening to while writing TRUE?

The opening lines of the song 24 Frames by Jason Isbell made me think of Ruth: “This is how you make yourself vanish into nothing/And this is how you make yourself worthy of the love that she/Gave to you back when you didn’t own a beautiful thing.”

In a more vintage mood, I also made a Spotify playlist for TRUE – songs that Ruth (and Gracie and Davis) would have listened to and loved….and it really inspired me as I was trying to imagine the twists and turns, political and otherwise, of 1958

Great Balls of Fire — Jerry Lee Lewis

Sh-Boom — The Crew Cuts

Love me Tender — Elvis Presley

At the Hop — Danny and the Juniors

Wake Up Little Susie —The Everly Brothers

Blue Suede Shoes — Carl Perkins/Elvis Presley

In the Still of the Light — Five Satins

St. Thomas — Sonny Rollins

Rock Around the Clock — Bill Haley and His Comets

Tutti Fruitti — Little Richard

That’ll Be the Day — The Crickets

I Walk the Line — Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Twos

Why Do Fools Fall in Love — Teenagers

You Send Me — Sam Cooke

 

About the Author

 

Susan Carlton Credit Sharona Jacobs_HR

Susan Kaplan Carlton currently teaches writing at Boston University. She is the author of the YA novels Love & Haight and Lobsterland. Her writing has also appeared in Self, Elle, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. She lived for a time with her family in Atlanta, where her daughters learned the finer points of etiquette from a little pink book and the power of social justice from their synagogue.

Instagram | Twitter | Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

Review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Fans of political intrigue and machinations, secrets and deceit along the lines of Game of Thrones and the Earth Kingdom Ba Sing Se in Avatar the Last Airbender will find a deliciously well-written story in Joan He’s debut.

Hesina is in turmoil after the death of her father. With a country to run, a mysterious death to uncover, and so much uncertainty about both, what is she to do with so few allies in a court full of corners that hide troubles waiting to bite her in the back?

Bringing together her representative (Akira), her adoptive siblings (Lillian & Caiyain), her brother (Sanjing), and others, Hesina will face much darkness and worry, without and within, in her quest for justice.

 

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Published: 9 April 2019
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Category: Young Adult/Fantasy

Tyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant and alluring investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: death of a parent, scenes involving cutting (voluntary & involuntary), execution by burning/hanging, blood (some scenes potentially gorey)

This is a hard review to write because I so want to just shout about it. The last few chapters had me yelling at my phone because of the developments that kept coming. Let me say now that Joan He is my favorite writer for cliffhangers and chapter endings. They were SUPERB and not just one, oh no. Chapter after chapter and I kept coming back for more, no matter how much my heart started hurting and my brain started twisting around all these new surprises.

The court intrigue from numerous angles, coupled with the trial regarding the murder of Hesina’s father, was pretty interesting. There were some what I think of as “side quests”, like Hesina going on a voyage for political negotiation with a neighboring country, that seemed a bit confusing. It felt like added some slowness to the pacing, though in hindsight the meeting was necessary. It wasn’t that the writing itself became affected, but at that stage the plotting choice made it seem like the story wasn’t sure what it wanted to be: a court drama, an epic travel tale, etc.

Things did get better, though, and Descendant of the Crane because so engaging that it was difficult to put down. Hesina was such a solid character, so well built with her humanity. She had strength, she had weakness, she had so many qualities that built her up into a person that, even with so much put upon her, from a murder trial to betrayals being uncovered and more, she still tried. There were outside forces making her question her very being and still she was doing her best.

I wanted so much for her to succeed as things were going along because you could see that she was a person who could have faith put in her, even if there were others that ended up feeling differently.

The supporting cast was equally as interesting, whether it was Lillian and her good humor and love of Hesina, Sanjin’s bullheaded loyalty, Caiyan’s intelligence, Rou’s utter sweetness. Then, however, there were the shadowy figures of the court: Xia Zhong (Hesina’s Minister of Rites); her own mother. If I as a reader were wary of these people surrounding her, how on earth must have Hesina have felt, trying to govern Yan while dealing with all of these loving and/or suspicious people? It’s enough to wreck the best of us!

Fans of intrigue, of twists, and of mysteries will find such a well woven story that they’ll likely want to go back and start reading Descendant of the Crane all over again once the last page is complete. All the better to pick up every last juicy, well crafted clue Joan He wove into her debut novel.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

A Rockstar Book Tour: The Samantha Spinner Series by Russell Ginns

For fans of middle grade adventure stories like The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Name of this Book is Secret, Samantha Spinner is the new character you’ll want to read about in this series of adventures. From the first, with what seems like an unfair inheritance from a beloved uncle (a rusty old umbrella), to the next, with another mysterious gift (purple sunglasses???), you never know what might be a clue to a fantastic trek across the globe.

 

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Title: SAMANTHA SPINNER AND THE SUPER SECRET PLANS (Samantha Spinner #1)

Author: Russell Ginns

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Published: 27 February 2018

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Category: Middle Grade/Mystery/Adventure

For Samantha Spinner, it just isn’t fair. Her uncle Paul disappeared, and here’s what he left:

Samantha’s sister got a check for $2,400,000,000.
Samantha’s brother got the New York Yankees.
And Samantha…got a rusty red umbrella with a tag hanging off of its worn handle. The tag says “Watch out for the RAIN.” Thanks, Uncle Paul.

Even harder for Samantha to understand is, after all the strawberry waffles they’ve shared, how could Uncle Paul leave without saying goodbye? The answer is simple. Sam knows in her heart that uncle Paul is in danger. If only he’d left a clue…

Well, if Sam’s Uncle Paul taught her anything, it’s that not everything is exactly what it seems. Which is why we should pay close attention to that rusty red umbrella, and never trust a monkey at a hula-hoop contest.

The RAIN is coming and whether she likes it or not, Samantha Spinner is about to find herself mixed up in some super-puzzling, super-dangerous, super-secret plans. And if she’s brave enough, she might just find Uncle Paul.

 

 

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Title: SAMANTHA SPINNER AND THE SPECTACULAR SPECS (Samantha Spinner #2)

Author: Russell Ginns

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Published: 27 February 2018

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook, eBook

Category: Middle Grade/Thriller

Get ready for more round-the-world adventure with Samantha Spinner and her brother, Nipper, in the second book in this hilarious, puzzle-packed series filled with super-secret messages! Perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and classics like Holes.

When Samantha Spinner’s uncle Paul disappeared, he left presents for his nieces and nephew. Samantha’s sister, Buffy, got $2,400,000,000. Her brother, Nipper, got the New York Yankees. Samantha got . . . a rusty old umbrella.

Wow! So unfair, Uncle Paul.

Well, it seemed unfair — until Samantha discovered that the old umbrella holds the plans for a super-secret network of transit systems that covers the globe. It’s the ticket to danger and adventure beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

But Uncle Paul is still missing. And Samantha just received a new gift from him: a pair of strange purple sunglasses. Are they another powerful present? A clue to his whereabouts? Or just a bad fashion choice? Samantha and Nipper need to figure it out fast, because . . . here comes the SUN!

Praise for Samantha Spinner and the Super Secret Plans, Book 1 in the Samantha Spinner series: 

“A winning mix of fast-paced action, fascinating facts, bathroom humor, and hidden puzzles . . . [that is] sure to please action-loving middle-grade readers.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Full of adventure and survival . . . [and with] characters [who] are likable, realistic, and well rounded . . . [Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans is] great for [readers of] series like The 39 Clues.” –School Library Journal

 

Excerpt from Samantha Spinner and

the Spectacular Specs

 

“Look here!” Samantha shouted from under the kitchen table. “Now!”

She shoved a chair out of the way with one foot to make room for her brother.

“What? Where?” said Nipper, bending down quickly.

He misjudged the height of the table and banged his head.

“That hurt,” he said, rubbing his forehead and inching in beside her. “You forgot to say duck.”

“All right,” she replied. “‘Duck.’ Now look here.” Samantha removed the purple sunglasses Uncle

Paul had given her. She put them on Nipper’s face and pointed at a table leg.

PSST?” Nipper asked.

“That’s right,” she answered, taking the glasses from him and putting them on again. Through the octagonal lenses, she saw four yellow letters glowing on the leg:

 
P

S

S

T

 

“And watch this,” she told him.

She reached out and grabbed the leg where it met the table.

“Gotcha,” said Samantha.

Click!

A section slid downward, revealing an opening. It hissed as a stream of air rushed into the hollow leg.

“Whoa,” said Nipper. “A second secret pneumatic tube.”

Samantha nodded. They had already found one pneumatic tube under the table when she’d gotten the glasses. She pointed at that hissing table leg on her right with one hand.

“Into Seattle,” she said.

She pointed at this new opening with her other hand. “Out of Seattle,” she said, and let out a big, satisfied sigh.

At long last, this was a major breakthrough.

When Samantha’s uncle Paul disappeared, he left presents for his nieces and nephew. Samantha’s sister, Buffy, got $2,400,000,000. Samantha’s brother, Nipper, got the New York Yankees. Samantha got an old rusty umbrella. Of course, it seemed terribly unfair—until Samantha started taking a closer look at things. She discovered that the umbrella was a super-secret map of the world! Samantha and her brother traveled to France, Italy, and Egypt, and defeated the RAIN—the Royal Academy of International Ninjas. They even rescued the Mona Lisa. But Uncle Paul was still missing.

Then a mysterious pair of sunglasses arrived with a note.

 
Watch out for the SUN.

—Horace

 
For Samantha, this was proof that Uncle Paul was alive.

She also had a sketch of an obelisk that she’d copied from a picture she found in the Temple of Horus in Egypt. When she discovered the obelisk was a monument in New York City called Cleopatra’s Needle, Samantha suspected that Uncle Paul was alive and also in New York.

Then a message came from her older sister. Buffy had written to tell the family that she had moved to Manhattan to work on a play with help from “the famous Broadway producer Horace Temple.”

After that, Samantha knew that Uncle Paul was alive, in New York . . . and with Buffy Spinner.

Unfortunately, Samantha couldn’t get there. The magtrain she’d found with the Super-Secret Plans didn’t go to New York, or anywhere near it. Her parents promised they would visit New York after school ended in a month, and no amount of asking could make them go sooner.

So, since she couldn’t explore New York, she explored Seattle with the purple glasses.

First, she’d used them to inspect her umbrella—the Super-Secret Plans. They didn’t do anything special. She’d searched Uncle Paul’s apartment above the garage, and around the house. Nothing. Everywhere she’d stared, things turned purple, but that was it.

When she went to the mailbox at the end of her street, she’d found her first clue. She stared at the outside of the box through the glasses and saw glowing yellow letters just like the ones on the legs of her kitchen table:

 
PSST

 
But that was a dead end, too. Next, she’d spent days searching the secret magnetic railway station beneath the mailbox. She’d found nothing. She’d doubled down and explored every wall, floor, and object in their house. Still no clues.

Why did Uncle Paul have to be so mysterious about everything? And why didn’t he just come home?

Which had brought her back to the kitchen table, where she’d received the glasses in the first place.

“We’re going to find Uncle Paul now,” she told Nipper. “I’m sure of it.”

Samantha took out a slip of paper and scrawled a note with a pen.

 
Paul/Horace:

Where are you?

 
She stuffed the note into the opening in the “out of Seattle” leg. A gust of air caught it, and it shot down and out of sight.

Excerpt copyright © 2019 by Russell Ginns. Published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

 

 

About the Author

 

Russell

Russell Ginns is a writer and game designer who specializes in puzzles, songs, and smart fun. He has worked on projects for a wide variety of organizations, corporations, and publications, including Sesame Workshop, Girl Scouts of America, Nintendo, and Scientific American. Russell lives and writes in Washington, D.C.

He is the author of Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans and Samantha Spinner and the Spectacular Specs. To learn more about him, visit samanthaspinner.com and follow @rginns on Twitter.

 

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

 

 

Giveaway Details

 

3 lucky winners will win a finished copy of SAMANTHA SPINNER Series (US Only)

 

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

 

 

 

Tour Schedule

 

Week One:

3/25/2019

Lifestyle of Me – Review

BookHounds YA – Excerpt

3/26/2019

Lone Tree Reviews – Review

A Dream Within A Dream – Excerpt

3/27/2019

Nerdophiles – Review

For the Love of KidLit – Spotlight

3/28/2019

Brooke’s Library – Review

Literary Gold – Spotlight

3/29/2019

Feed Your Fiction Addiction – Review

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – Excerpt

Week Two:

4/1/2019

Rhythmicbooktrovert – Review

Kelly P’s Blog – Excerpt

4/2/2019

Christen Krumm, Writer – Review

❧Defining Ways❧ – Excerpt

4/3/2019

Adventures Thru Wonderland – Review

The Hermit Librarian – Excerpt

4/4/2019

Savings in Seconds – Review

Twirling Book Princess – Excerpt

4/5/2019

Two Points of Interest – Review

Dazzled by Books – Excerpt

 

 

 

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

Review: Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Middle school can be tough and with big changes in her life, Willow clings to the familiar: her love of learning and what her mother taught her about nature, including everything she knows about her mother’s favorite magnolia blossoms that grow in their backyard.

But there’s still a lot to deal with and one day she runs away into the woods where she meets Pilu, a nature spirit who lives in the very magnolia grove that Willow’s visited countless times. Will helping Pilu find her way home and reconcile with her mother help Willow deal with the hurt inside herself? Find out in Pilu of the Woods.

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Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads | Indiebound

Published: 16 April 2019

Publisher: Oni Press

Category: Sequential Art/Fantasy/Middle Grade

A heartwarming story of friendship, loss, and finding your way home from debut author/illustrator Mai K. Nguyen!

Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods.

There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.

But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: bullying, death of a parent

The art, first and foremost, sets a wonderful tone for the book. It’s beautiful rendered from the humans/humanoids creatures in the book to the various nature scenes. Combining that with seamless scientific facts regarding the plants that Willow encounters along her journey with Pilu, such as how mushrooms grow and how a fairy ring is formed, was really interesting.

The tension was very real between Willow and her older sister, Linnea. Their relationship reminded me a bit of Lilo and Nani what with the sibling dynamic, though their father was around and spoken of often by Willow, such as how he taught her about nature. Linnea’s caretaker role, though, and her scenes with Willow highlight the early stress that the family is feeling before the first page due to her behavior, how she was trying to keep the stress of Willow’s school problems their father, and she reacted to yet another phone call from Willow’s teacher regarding her punching a bully.

This segue into Willow’s running into the forest, meeting Pilu, and starting her journey to bring Pilu home, to learning more about herself, was heartbreaking even as it was a necessary catalyst for the rest of the story.

I like the conversation the book brings up about “little monsters” (bad thoughts/feelings). Willow and Pilu have an important conversation about how they (the monsters) can be so loud, “louder than your heart”, and can be set off by anything and only brought back by saying terrible things. That feeling might be familiar to many readers because who hasn’t said something in anger?

Talking about emotions, being open about the things that made one upset, whether it is loneliness or a significant loss, and giving a sort of embodiment to them, became a starting point of realization for how to deal with feelings for Willow and Pilu. This situation, the monsters and the keeping them bottled up, was an analogy that is a good one to translate to the real world and talk to young readers in a way that makes sense to them, especially if they don’t understand outbursts or why they feel angry.

There’s an enjoyable re-readability quality to Pilu and I look forward to reading it again in the future when the finished copies are published. The artwork, the prose, all of it deserves a place on shelves and in hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.