Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: Save the Date by Morgan Matson (2018)

Charlotte (called "Charlie") is about to finish high school and she is the youngest of the five Grant siblings, who have been the subject of their mother's family-oriented comic strip, Grant Central Station, since they were very young. Now, though, the comic strip is coming to an end, and the family home is being sold, so Charlie's sister's wedding weekend is the last chance for her and her brothers and sister to be together in their childhood home. Unfortunately, not everything about the weekend - or even the wedding - goes according to plan. Mike, one of Charlie's brothers, has been estranged from the family for over a year due to a falling-out with his mom. Danny, Charlie's oldest and favorite brother, shows up for the wedding with a girlfriend no one has heard about, and whom Charlie instantly dislikes. Charlie herself is also preoccupied with a love interest - Jesse, Mike's best friend, whom she kissed at Christmas and hasn't seen since. When the wedding planner skips town suddenly, and a substitute is called in, Charlie also finds herself partnering up with Will, the new wedding planner's nephew who clearly likes her, and whom she helps to combat the series of mishaps threatening her sister's wedding day bliss.

I can't remember the last time I read a young adult novel that I loved as much as I loved this book. It was a perfect blend of contemporary romance and family drama, and every single character charmed me and made it impossible to put the book down. The mother's comic strip, and specifically its coming to an end just after the wedding, gave the book the exact right feel of nostalgia and longing for the past that often accompanies planning for the future at the end of high school. I could completely empathize with Charlie's feelings, and with her desire for just a few more days of togethernness with her siblings before everything changes.

The problems with the wedding itself were also written really well. Though they were funny and somewhat unlikely, the author completely made me believe in them as real things that can go wrong during a wedding ceremony. I also appreciated that each of Charlie's brothers and her sister felt like real adults, but that their friendships with Charlie also felt plausible. They acted like siblings, not surrogate parents, and I don't think we get a lot of older siblings like that in teen fiction.

This year is not quite half over, but I already know this will be on my list of favorites come December. It's just such a heartwarming and pleasant book, and it was a great way to kick off my summer reading.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

ARCs on my TBR for Summer 2018

This week, Top Ten Tuesday is focusing on beach reads and summer to-read lists. I plan to continue checking books off of my Spring TBR since I still have about half of those to go, and I'm also hoping to revisit several Sarah Dessen books by listening to the audio versions. But for today's post, I'd like to share the ARCs I'm planning to read this summer that will be published between now and the start of Fall on September 22.


Italian Iced by Kylie Logan 

What it's about (from Goodreads): Hot pasta and a cold corpse make for quite a combination in the latest book in the Ethnic Eats mystery series.
Why I requested it: Cozy mysteries are hide to find in my libraries, so I like to take the opportunity to request a few new ones for review as my reading schedule allows. I haven't read any others from this series, but I liked the description of this particular mystery, which involves a murder victim with many enemies. 
When it comes out: June 26 

Midnight Snacks are Murder by Libby Klein

What it's about (from Goodreads): When her sleepwalking aunt is accused of committing murder, Poppy McAllister finds out there's no rest for the weary . . .
Why I requested it: I absolutely loved the first book of this series, Class Reunions are Murder, and Poppy's aunt was one of the best characters. I can't wait to see how she gets out of trouble in this second book. 
When it comes out: July 31 

If the Coffin Fits by Lillian Bell

What it's about (from Goodreads): When an unnatural cause of death finds one of her clients, Desiree must get to the bottom of the murder before she’s fitted for a coffin, herself.
Why I requested it: I loved the concept of this series from the beginning and requested the first book via inter-library loan. I'm so excited to get back into this universe. 
When it comes out: September 11 

Read and Gone by Allison Brook

What it's about (from Goodreads): Seven-million dollars' worth of missing gems bring Carrie Singleton's long-lost and larcenous dad back into her life and it's up to Carrie to clear his name. 
Why I requested it: I love a good mystery set in the library, and I really enjoyed the first book Haunted Library Mystery, Death Overdue, even though I am ordinarily not that into ghosts. I also love the festive Christmas-themed cover.
When it comes out: September 11


So Done by Paula Chase

What it's about (from Goodreads): When best friends Tai and Mila are reunited after a summer apart, their friendship threatens to combust from the pressure of secrets, middle school, and the looming dance auditions for a new talented-and-gifted program.
Why I requested it: There is no middle grade story I love more than one about the difficulties of female friendship in middle school. I also really like the cover art on this one.
When it comes out: August 14 

A Long Line of Cakes by Deborah Wiles

What it's about (from Goodreads): Emma Lane Cake has five brothers, four dogs, and a family that can't stay put. The Cake family travels from place to place, setting up bakeries in communities that need them. Then, just when Emma feels settled in with new friends . . . they move again. Now the Cakes have come to Aurora County, and Emma has vowed that this time she is NOT going to get attached to ANYONE or ANYTHING. Why bother, if her father's only going to uproot her again? But fate has different plans. And so does Ruby Lavender, who is going to show Emma Lane Cake a thing or two about making friendship last. 
Why I requested it: The Aurora County All-Stars, which is set in the same universe as this book, was on my Spring TBR, and I really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to reading this fourth book of the set. I also think it has a great cover, even if it's not illustrated by Marla Frazee like all the others.
When it comes out: August 28

Naomis Too by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

What it's about (from Goodreads): A heartfelt, sweet, social justice-themed ode to blended and unconventional families—perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia, Lisa Graff, and Sara Pennypacker. 
Why I requested it: I really enjoyed the first book, Two Naomis,  and was pleasantly surprised to learn there will be a sequel. I also love the way the titles of the two books mirror each other. I'm a little nervous that "social justice-themed" means "preachy and in-your-face political" but I'm willing to risk it to see how these characters are doing.
When it comes out: September 11

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Favorite Classic Children's Books for Summer

There are many great "old school" children's books set during summer vacation. Here are some of my favorites.

The Magic Summer by Noel Streatfeild (1966)

What it's about: With their parents gone for the summer, the four Gareth children - Alex, Penny, Robin, and Naomi - move into Reenmore with their great-aunt Dymphna, who expects them to cook, clean, and entertain themselves without any of the comforts they are accustomed to having at home.
Why it's great: Aunt Dymphna is a fabulous larger-than-life character, and the lessons about resilience and self-reliance learned by the Gareths are great for promoting free-range childhood.
Recommended for: ages 7-12.
Read my review. | Borrow the book from Open Library. 
Note: This book's original UK title is The Growing Summer.

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1938)

What it's about: When Garnet Linden finds a thimble at the start of the summer, it almost seems to lead her into some good luck, including an end to a drought, the arrival of a new friend, and a series of other wonderfully memorable adventures.
Why it's great: This story has great secondary characters and Garnet's simple day-to-day adventures are an inspiration to kids who stay close to home for the summer but still want to make some good summertime memories.
Recommended for: ages 7-10.
Read my review. | Borrow the book from Open Library.
Note: Thimble Summer won the Newbery Medal in 1939.

In Summer Light by Zibby O'Neal (1985)

What it's about: During a bout with mononucleosis, Kate, who has been away at boarding school, moves home for the summer, where she faces the demands of her artist father while also developing a strong fondness for Ian, the graduate student who is staying with the family to conduct research on her dad.
Why it's great: The lyrical and atmospheric writing make this book stand out as special, The coming-of-age plot is also something to which many adolescent girls can relate.
Recommended for: ages 13 & up.
Read my review. | Borrow the book from Open Library.

The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (1970)

What it's about: During a summer filled with uncertainty about her own place in the world, Sara's brother, Charlie, who is developmentally disabled and nonverbal, goes missing, causing her to worry she has lost him forever.
Why it's great: Byars demonstrates a real sensitivity toward vulnerable kids in all of her books, but it comes through strongest in this one. Though the appropriate terminology surrounding disability has changed since this book's publication, the story is still respectful of both the trials of puberty and the dignity of those with developmental disabilities.
Recommended for: ages 10-14.
Read my review. | Borrow the book from Open Library.
Note: The Summer of the Swans won the Newbery Medal in 1971.

Canadian Summer by Hilda van Stockum (1948)

What it's about: When the Mitchell family (including five children: Joan, Patsy, Peter, Angela, and Timmy) must relocate suddenly for Father's job, they move to a rustic lakeside building without any amenities, which troubles Mother initially, but ultimately leads to a fun and adventurous summer for the whole family.
Why it's great: This book is the second of a trilogy van Stockum wrote about characters based on her own children. The story is perfect for encouraging kids to spend more time in nature and to become less reliant on technology and other modern-day conveniences.
Recommended for: ages 8-12.
Read my review. | See the book on Amazon.

The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh (1965)

What it's about: This companion novel to Harriet the Spy follows Beth Ellen ("Mouse") through a summer in which she must deal with her flaky absentee mother and the domineering Harriet, who enlists her help in finding out who is leaving nasty notes around town.
Why it's great: This is a great way for readers who find Harriet grating to enjoy Fitzhugh's writing without having to try too hard to like Harriet herself. It's also a compelling mystery with a surprise ending and a sophisticated piece of writing that only Louise Fitzhugh could have written.
Recommended for: ages 11-15.
Read my review. | Borrow the book from Open Library.

The Goodbye Summer by Crosby Bonsall (1979)

What it's about: Allie, who lives with her mom in a boarding house, is troubled by endings and goodbyes until she meets a new boarder, Wanda Lenya, who helps her come to terms with this difficult part of life. 
Why it's great: This novel by the author of such beloved easy readers as Mine's the Best and The Day I Had to Play with my Sister is a little-known quirky gem, perfect for kids who struggle with change, and for those who like offbeat protagonists. 
Recommended for: ages 10-14.
Read my review. | Borrow the book from Open Library.

When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson (1967)

What it's about: Anna, who struggles to make friends at boarding school, spends her summer with her foster mother's friends in Norfolk, where she meets Marnie, a finely dressed young girl who quickly becomes her best friend, and then leaves suddenly one night, leaving Anna to wonder whether she ever existed.
Why it's great: For readers who like magical realism and lots of twists and turns in their books, there is none better than this beautifully written tale. The writing is gorgeous, and the story has a way of sticking with you for a long time after it's been finished. 
Recommended for: ages 10-14.
Read my review. | See the book on Amazon.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite classic children's books about summer?

Monday, June 11, 2018

The RAHM Report for 6/11/18

Last week, I was traveling home from North Carolina on Monday and didn't have a chance to post, so the books I'm sharing today are the ones I've finished since May 28th. I'll also be out of town next weekend and probably won't get to post, so my currently reading list is really what I'll be working on for the next two weeks.

What I Finished Reading

  • Goodbye, Chicken Little by Betsy Byars ⭐⭐
    (finished reading 5/29/18)
    It's been a while since I read anything for the Author Love challenge, so I borrowed this from Open Library so I could check it off my list. It wasn't my favorite book by Byars, probably because it opens with a child witnessing a death but doesn't get very emotional about it. It felt strange to me. My review will be up on the blog soon. 
  • The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/5/18)
    This is a heartwarming story about a small-town little league team. I cried near the end. This is probably my favorite of the original Aurora County trilogy. I'm excited to read my ARC of the newest book, A Long Line of Cakes, a bit later this summer. 
  • The Twin Test by Rula Sinara ⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/5/18)
    It took me a while to get into this one because I have to be in the right mood for a romance novel. When I got into it, though, I was impressed by the depiction of the setting (Kenya) and by the author's portrayal of the hero's eleven-year-old twin daughters. My review is on Goodreads.
  • Front Desk by Kelly Yang ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/6/28)
    I heard so many positive reviews of this book in the week that it was published that I was worried it would not live up to the hype. Thankfully, it was everything the reviews promised and more, and I actually stayed up until nearly 2am because I couldn't put it down after just one chapter. I will post a review here on the blog in the next couple of weeks.
  • Lakeside Cottage by Susan Wiggs ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/6/18)
    I enjoyed this romance novel, mostly because there was a lot more to it than romance. I especially enjoyed Callie, the runaway foster child the central couple befriends. I'll review this one on Goodreads.
  • Save the Date by Morgan Matson ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/7/18)
    I don't read a lot of YA, but boy did this book hit the spot. This wound up being as much a family story as a romance, and I absolutely loved it. I will probably review this one on the blog since it's likely to make my favorites list at the end of the year.
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, audiobook read by  ⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/8/18)
    Literary fiction is usually hit or miss with me. This was compelling enough to read to the end, but some of the metaphors were painful. Review coming this week on Goodreads.
  • A Little Way of Homeschooling by Suzie Andres ⭐⭐⭐⭐
    (finished reading 6/10/18)
    My husband recommended this to me, and I zipped through it. We plan to homeschool, not unschool like the families profiled in the book, but there were still some useful ideas. 

What I'm Currently Reading

  • The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
    This book keeps taking a backseat to quicker reads but I am making steady progress. Now that Gamache has arrived in Three Pines and started to investigate the murder, I'm getting more invested in the story and it's moving more quickly. 
  • The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis by Max Shulman
    This book is so light that I have been picking it up and reading just one story at times when I don't have the energy for anything deeper. I'm enjoying the humor, and I plan to track down some of the episodes of the old TV show to see how they compare.
  • Our Library by Phyllis R. Fenner
    This is a 1939 book about school libraries. It's fascinating reading. Some things haven't changed in 80 years; others have changed a lot. I'm almost done with the book and will probably finish it today. 
  • Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen, audiobook read by Stina Neilsen
    I am planning to revisit Sarah Dessen's books this summer by listening to them in audiobook format. Though I might go back and do That Summer and Someone Like You later on, I decided to start with this one, which was included in the list of books for which Dessen was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards award in 2017, and which I have not re-read since I was a teenager.
  • Back Yard Angel by Judy Delton
    I discovered this series through @yearlingreads on Instagram and found all of the books on Open Library. I'm only a few pages in, but I like the writing so far.
  • The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio (ARC)
    I started this right after finishing Save the Date, but realized I needed more time to let that one digest before starting another ARC. I hope to get back into it later this week, since it comes out tomorrow.
I'll be linking up today with Unleashing Readers/Teach Mentor Texts and Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Reading Through History: By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman (1963)

Jack, a young boy whose parents have died, lives in Boston with his Aunt Arabella. When Aunt Arabella loses all her money, Jack and the family butler, Praiseworthy, sail off to California to seek their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Though Praiseworthy is a bit out of place amongst the other miners, his cleverness and ingenuity at every turn ensure that both he and Jack survive their adventure and have a great time in the process.

This book got off to a slow start for me, and at first, I wasn't sure where things were headed. Once I got past the early scenes of the book when the main characters are stowed away on a ship, however, things really picked up. Praiseworthy is a wonderful character and the plots he hatches in order to escape from trouble, raise money, and care for Jack are so clever and fun to read about. His devotion to Arabella - and the reasons behind it - also give the entire story an unexpected emotional impact that I found very satisfying.

For some strange reason, back in 2015 when I was reading 52 historical fiction novels in chronological order by setting,  I chose Fleischman's Bandit's Moon instead of this book as my Gold Rush read. While Bandit's Moon was okay, it was nowhere near as funny or as memorable as this excellent novel, which is more on par with Fleischman's Newbery medal book, The Whipping Boy. In both of these books, Fleischman creates a really strong central relationship that drives the plot and encourages the reader to look at human nature in a different way.

There is a film adaptation of this book: Disney's The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, released in 1967. It's an enjoyable film in its own right, but it deviates quite a bit from the book, changing Praiseworthy's name, making Arabella Jack's sister instead of his aunt, and adding more complicated plot points that increase the number of action scenes and change the entire ending of the book. The book is more subtle, and more clever, and I think it's important to read it all the way through and enjoy its nuances before bothering with the movie.

All in all, I am really surprised by the number of Goodreads reviews that call this book dull. It was far from boring, and I think kids who are fascinated by the Gold Rush and the Wild West will love it even more than I did.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The RAHK Report for 6/1/18 (New Books Edition!)

Over the past few months, we have received a variety of books for review. Today, I want to share what we received and how the girls enjoyed them.

You're My Little Cuddle Bug by Nicola Edwards

This sturdy board book is a sweet love note from caregiver to baby in which little insects snuggle with their loving grown-ups. Each page features a cut-out insect, which is raised slightly so that babies can reach out and feel the shape. Both Jumping Joan (7 months) and Little Bo Peep (2.5 years) love this book and seem to enjoying hearing it repeatedly. Jumping Joan is drawn to the insects' faces, while Bo Peep seems to like hearing the names of the different bugs. We liked this one so much, we wound up recommending it to friends who have a 9 month old.

Colorama: From Fuchsia to Midnight Blue by Cruschiform

This book introduces the many shades of each color of the rainbow. The left-hand side of every spread is a giant block of color (like an over-sized paint sample) and the right-hand side shows an object in that shade, along with a little explanation. I was originally hoping to have Miss Muffet (age 4.5) look at this book during nap time, but she has shown very little interest. I think it's a fun concept, but it seems like more of a coffee table book for grown-ups than something kids are going to spend a lot of time on.

Adventures in Science: The Human Body by Courtney Acampora

This kit from Silver Dolphin Books was very well-received by Miss Muffet. It includes a paperback book, a poster of the human body with stickers showing each body system, fact cards, and a plastic model of a skeleton. Miss Muffet loved placing the stickers on the poster and she frequently asks to play with the "bone statue." Though the fact cards and book are geared toward an older audience, we found plenty to interest Miss Muffet and to satisfy some of the questions she had about things like blood and digestion. The skeleton is now on display in our living room, and we will be keeping him around for future homeschooling activities.

In the Rain by Elizabeth Spurr and Manelle Oliphant 

Bo Peep took a special liking to this book, which shows a little girl having fun outside her home during a rainstorm. We had a lot of rain this spring, so it reflected a lot of what Bo Peep was seeing in her real life. She also enjoys telling the story to Jumping Joan, who isn't that interested in the pictures or story, but is always happy to stick a corner of the cover in her mouth.

Dr. Seuss's 100 First Words

This oversized board looks appealing at first glance, but it quickly becomes apparent that at least some of the artwork is not Dr. Seuss's original work, but new art made by another illustrator in his style. The new pictures do not have the character or charm of Seuss's many beloved illustrations, and the whole concept for the book seems like a mediocre homage rather than a new Dr. Seuss book. Miss Muffet and Bo Peep have both had access to the book for weeks now, but neither has given it more than a quick glance. They enjoy word books and they love Dr. Seuss, but this book just didn't make a connection.