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My Progress:

10 / 30 books. 33% done!

2024 Literary Escapes Challenge

- Alabama (1)
- Alaska
- Arizona (1)
- Arkansas
- California (3)
- Colorado (1)
- Connecticut
- Delaware
- Florida
- Georgia (1)
- Hawaii
- Idaho (2)
- Illinois (1)
- Indiana
- Iowa
- Kansas
- Kentucky (1)
- Louisiana (1)
- Maine (1)
- Maryland
- Massachusetts (2)
- Michigan
- Minnesota
- Mississippi
- Missouri
- Montana
- Nebraska
- Nevada
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York (2)
- North Carolina (3)
- North Dakota
- Ohio (1)
- Oklahoma (1)
- Oregon (2)
- Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island (1)
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Tennessee (1)
- Texas (2)
- Utah
- Vermont (2)
- Virginia (1)
- Washington (2)
- West Virginia
- Wisconsin
- Wyoming
- Washington, D.C.*

- Australia (1)
- Canada (1)
- England (7)
- France (1)
- Indonesia (1)
- Ireland (2)
- Italy (1)
- Scotland (2)
- The Netherlands (1)

My Progress:

22 / 51 books. 43% done!

2024 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

My Progress:

15 / 50 books. 30% done!

2024 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

21 / 50 books. 42% done!

Booklist Queen's 2024 Reading Challenge

My Progress:

42 / 50 books. 84% done!

2024 52 Club Reading Challenge

My Progress:

38 / 52 books. 73% done!

2024 Build Your Library Reading Challenge

My Progress:

25 / 40 books. 63% done!

2024 Pioneer Book Reading Challenge

15 / 40 books. 38% done!

2024 Craving for Cozies Reading Challenge

My Progress:

9 / 25 books. 36% done!

2024 Medical Examiner's Mystery Reading Challenge

2024 Mystery Marathon Reading Challenge

My Progress

32.2 / 26.2 miles. 123% done!

Mount TBR Reading Challenge

My Progress

20 / 100 books. 20% done!

2024 Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge

My Progress:

55 / 104 books. 53% done!

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge

My Progress

42 / 52 books. 81% done!

Disney Animated Movies Reading Challenge

My Progress

54 / 165 books. 33% done!
Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Mysteries/Thrillers on My TBR With Houses and Water on Their Covers

Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is a simple one: Water. There are so many ways to go with this theme, but the first thing that came to mind for this mystery/thriller lover is books with pictures of houses on their covers. Have you ever noticed how many of them include water—usually crashing ocean waves—to enhance their moody, broody vibes? Not only does the inclusion of water create a sinister sense of isolation, but it also taps into the fear a lot of us have of the mysterious deep. These types of covers always send a thrilling little chill down my spine, which makes me instantly want to add the book to my TBR pile! There's just nothing like a (potentially) haunted house to pique my curiosity, whether the place is inhabited by actual ghosts or just ringing with the echoes of a secret past or whispering premonitions of an ominous future to come...

Before we get to that, though, take a minute to click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl and give some love to our fabulous TTT host, Jana. If you want to hop on the TTT party bus (and you do!), you'll find everything you need to know on her blog.

Top Ten Mystery/Thrillers on My TBR With Houses and Water on Their Covers

1. The Only One Left by Riley Sager—I'm still on the very long library waiting list for this thriller. It concerns a teenage girl who allegedly killed her parents and sister at their cliffside mansion in Maine. Now an elderly woman debilitated by a series of strokes, Leonora is finally "speaking" out about the crime by writing her story on an old typewriter. As her home health care aide reads the pages, they become increasingly alarmed. Is the old woman as innocent as she seems or is she as guilty as sin?

2. Lakeview House by Helen Phifer—In desperate need of a new start, Maddy Hart impulsively accepts a position as a live-in caretaker at an imposing house on the shore of Lake Thirlmere. She's never been there before, but something about the place feels eerily familiar. Maddy tries not to be spooked by all the creaks and strange noises she hears while she's cleaning out the house, but the more time she spends there, the more creeped out she becomes. Are the sinister stories she's been hearing about the home's last resident true? Is Maddy in some kind of danger? Isolated and alone, she fears the worst...

3. What Happened to the Bennetts by Lisa Scottoline—I've never read anything by Scottoline, but I'm intrigued by the premise of this one. Jason Bennett is a regular dad whose ordinary suburban life takes a wild, unexpected turn one night as he's driving his family home from a lacrosse game. They become victims of a violent carjacking that puts them in the center of a dangerous FBI case. Encouraged to go into witness protection, the Bennetts are thrown into an entirely new life. As their peace of mind slowly unravels, new facts in the case come to light, convincing Jason that it's up to him to get the justice his traumatized family deserves.

4. The Death of Us by Lori Rader-Day (available October 3, 2023)—Fifteen years ago, Liss Kehoe responded to a late-night knock on her door and was shocked to be handed a newborn. The baby's mother, Ashley Hay, then disappeared. Liss has raised the boy she thinks of as hers, always fearful that Ashley will return and demand her son back. When the missing woman's car is found submerged in a quarry pond on Liss' property almost two decades later, it provides more questions than answers. What really happened to Ashley? Was it suicide, an accident, or something much, much more sinister?

5. The Nesting by C.J. Cooke—Tom Faraday is an architect bent on finishing the home he's building on a fjord in Norway, even though that's where his wife took her own life. He hires Gaia to be a nanny for his two young children. Although she loves the kids, she senses that something is very off in the Faraday household. Odd things are happening, leading Gaia to believe that Mrs. Faraday's death did not come by her own hand...

6. You Never Know by Connie Briscoe—In spite of its mixed reviews, I'm curious about this thriller. It revolves around a deaf woman who is delighted when she meets the man of her dreams. Not only is he charming and successful, but Marcus is also fluent in American Sign Language. It doesn't take long, though, before he seems to become a completely different person. Some sleuthing on her part reveals that her husband's first wife is missing, presumed dead. Then, Marcus himself disappears. Who is the stranger she married, really? And where has he gone?

7. The Midnight House by Amanda Geard—This triple-timeline mystery revolves around Blackwater Hall, a graceful, secret-filled home in County Kerry, Ireland. Will a modern-day disgraced journalist be able to solve its mysteries?

8. Into the Dark by Fiona Cummins—Something odd has happened at beautiful, windswept Seawings. The home's occupants—two parents and two teens—have vanished. When a friend enters, she finds a radio playing, phones charging, cars in the garage, and no one home. A sinister message scrawled on one of the bedroom walls hints that something unspeakable has happened, but what?

9. The Engagement Party by Darby Kane—Twelve years ago, a young woman went missing from her posh school and one of her classmates, a boy no one really knew, took his own life. One text indicated there was a connection between them, which closed the case for the police. Now, a group of college friends have gathered on a private island in Maine to celebrate an upcoming wedding. Someone is using the party as a chance to force out the truth about what really happened a dozen years ago. As the tension ramps up, so does a storm that will strand them all with a killer who has already gotten away with murder once.

Dirty Laundry by Disha Bose—This cover is a bit of a departure from the others, but it's got a house and water so it counts, right? The story is about a group of moms in an Irish village whose lives are shattered when one of their own is found murdered in her home. Ciara's Instagram-worthy life seemed absolutely perfect, so who could possibly have wanted her dead? A whole lot of people as it turns out...

There you are, ten mystery/thrillers I want to read that have covers featuring a house and water. Have you read any of them? What did you think? Which others can you think of that fit with the theme? I'm always looking for recs! What did you do for this watery prompt? I'd truly love to know. Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog. I also reply to comments left here.

Happy TTT!

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Unique Amusement Park Setting + Engrossing Plot + Likable Characters = A Fun, Heartfelt Middle Grade Debut Novel

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 12-year-old Lauren Suszek is abandoned by her mother in an amusement park, she's not sure what to do. It's clear her mom isn't coming back and Lauren sure as heck doesn't want to go into foster care. With no other alternative, she decides to hide in the park until she can come up with a better plan. "Borrowing" a uniform and a name tag designating her as "Mouse," she sets about imitating an employee, albeit one who secretly lives inside one of the rides in Ghost Town. 

Things are going along rather swimmingly until a nosy girl starts poking around. Not only does Cat seem to know exactly who "Mouse" really is, but she's obviously determined to rat her out to the authorities. Lauren refuses to be caught. She's become an expert at hiding in plain sight. Will her camouflaging skills be enough to keep her out of trouble now, when it matters most? Or will Cat be able to trap the wily Mouse once and for all?

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live in a busy, magical amusement park? Maura Jortner has. Her debut novel,102 Days of Lying About Lauren, was inspired by a trip she took to Disney World in which she started imagining living inside the Haunted Mansion attraction. Although the park in the book is never named, it has all the sparkly enchantment of The Happiest Place on Earth. It's a fun setting for this heartfelt story. Lauren is a sympathetic heroine, but she's likable because she's hopeful, funny, and compassionate (even though dealing with other people's emotions triggers her own anxiety). She's also a giver, appointing herself as a park janitor so that she can give back to her adopted home, instead of just taking from it. Although I would have liked more details about how she survives on a day-to-day basis, there are enough there to make her situation believable. Ish. Would a 12-year-old (even one who looks like a 16-year-old) really be able to fly under the radar for so long without attracting any attention? Who knows, but it makes for a compelling story! Speaking of, there's plenty of action in the novel, which makes it a quick, exciting read. I buzzed through it in one evening. Lest you think there's no substance in 102 Days of Lying About Lauren, let me assure you that there's plenty. Both Lauren and her best park pal, Tanner, are dealing with grief and trauma that lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and sadness. They help each other cope. In the end, as part of the book's realistic but satisfying ending, trustworthy adults also step in to aid the kids.

Despite some heavy subject matter, 102 Days of Lying About Lauren is exciting, humorous, and buoyant. Because of its unique setting, likable characters, engrossing plot, and upbeat vibe, this is a book that young readers will love. I'm hardly its target audience, but I enjoyed the book immensely.

(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for scary situations and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love: I bought a copy of 102 Days of Lying About Lauren with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Mysteries I Want to Read (and Adore)

Self-help. Poetry. Celebrity tell-alls. Historical fiction. Mysteries and thrillers. Sci-fi/fantasy. Romance. Horror. We all have our favorite genres. Some of us stick to our tried-and-true ones, others of us read widely across a bunch of different genres. I tend to be the former, consuming mostly mysteries/thrillers and historical fiction, with occasional forays into ghost tales, dystopian stories, and narrative non-fiction. I feel like I've talked all of my go-to genres to death here on BBB, so I struggled to come up with something new and different for today's TTT prompt: Genre Freebie. (Top Ten Tuesday is, as always, hosted by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl.) Since nothing unique came to mind, I'm going to be boring and just riff on a genre I already talk about a lot. Sorry/not sorry. It's a great genre after all...

I've always loved historical fiction and mysteries, but I'm actually a bit new-ish to historical mysteries. As you will soon see, I particularly enjoy a juicy Victorian England/Scotland whodunit. I'm looking to expand my horizons, though, so hopefully you can help me out. I'm on the hunt for historical mystery series set between about 1800 and 1950 anywhere in the world. I prefer female sleuths, but I'm open to male ones as well. Mostly, I just want series with memorable characters, twisty mysteries, engaging writing, and without anything too graphic (think PG to PG-13). That's not too much to ask, is it? To give you a taste of what I like, here's a quick rundown of my current favorites:

A Rip Through Time series by Kelley Armstrong (Victorian Scotland)
Below Stairs Mysteries by Jennifer Ashley (Victorian England)
Myrtle Hardcastle series by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Victorian England.)
Lady Darby series by Anna Lee Huber (Victorian Scotland)
The Agency series by Y.S. Lee (Victorian England)
The Gilded Newport series by Alyssa Maxwell (Rhode Island, USA, 1890s)
Kinship series by Jess Montgomery (Ohio, USA, 1920s)
Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (Victorian England/Egypt)
The Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn (Victorian England)
Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer (Victorian England)

So, what recs do you have for me? Which historical mystery series do you love? Here are ten I have my eye on (images are of the first installment):

Top Ten Historical Mystery Series I Want to Read

1. Rachel Savernake series by Martin Edwards—Set in 1930s London, this series stars the intrepid daughter of a well-known hanging judge who has an uncanny knack for solving the murders that stump Scotland Yard. Convinced Rachel is more than she seems, journalist Jacob Flint follows the amateur sleuth hoping to discover the secrets behind her sleuthing success.

2. Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn—When the titular heroine and private inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane are brought together by the murder of Julia's husband, it becomes apparent that they make a good investigating team. Mysteries ensue. I believe this series is set in Victorian England.

3. Maggie Hope series by Susan Ella MacNeal—When Winston Churchill becomes prime minister in 1940, Maggie Hope is hired to be his secretary. Brilliant but overlooked because of her gender, Maggie's new position opens her up to an exciting array of unimaginable opportunities, including tantalizing mysteries begging to be solved.

4. Baskerville Hall series by Ali Standish—The first installment of this brand-new middle-grade series won't be available for a few more weeks, but I've got an ARC I'm excited to read. It imagines what might have happened if a young Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was recognized for his deductive brilliance and invited to attend a special school for gifted children. Spoiler alert: he and his schoolmates (including a boy named Jimmie Moriarty) find all kinds of mysteries to explore. 

5. Louise Falk series by Liz Freeland—It's 1913 and 20-year-old Louise Falk has traded her Pennsylvania upbringing for the bright lights of New York City. Solving a murder that happened in her Greenwich Village apartment proves she has an aptitude for investigation. Soon, she's moving all over the city to sniff out criminals. 

6. Verity Kent series by Anna Lee Huber—In post-World War I England, grieving widow Verity Kent is pulled into a mystery surrounding the death of her husband. Solving that one leads her to reluctantly take on more cases to help family and friends.

7. The Brontë Sisters series by Bella Ellis—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are smart, creative, and plucky women who are eager to use their talents for endeavors beyond keeping house. When a neighbor's disappearance leads them to launch their own amateur investigation, they realize that they make a fine team of detectors—even society frowns on them doing something so unladlylike.

8. Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens—This middle-grade series is set in an English boarding school in the 1930s. It stars Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, who set up a secret detective agency to investigate crimes among their friends and classmates.

9. Mrs. Jefferies series by Emily Brightwell—Another series set in Victorian England (I just can't resist!), this one just sounds delightful. Mrs. Jefferies is the eagle-eyed housekeeper of a prominent Scotland Yard inspector. Her insights are the real key to his success as an investigator. 

10. Victorian Book Club series by Callie Hutton—Set in Bath, England, in the 1890s, this series stars a female mystery author who solves real-life mysteries along with the members of her book club.

Phew! There you go, ten historical mystery series I already adore and ten I want to read (and adore). Which others would you recommend? What did you do for your genre freebie list today? I'd love to know. Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog. I also reply to the comments you leave here.

Happy TTT! 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: The Last Ten Physical Books I've Acquired

Edited to add: I'm in the middle of commenting on all of your blogs, but I keep encountering an error that says "An appropriate representation of the requested resource could not be found on this server. This error was generated by Mod_Security." I have no idea what this means or how to fix it! Very frustrating. If you made a TTT list and added your link to the general list and you do not have a comment from me on your post by the end of today, then your blog is giving me this error. 

I'm a little late to the party today, but I didn't want to miss Top Ten Tuesday, even if I'm going to go rogue with the topic. What's new, right? The prompt du jour is a great one—Top Ten Characters From Different Books Who Should Team Up (or date, be friends, etc.). For some reason, I have a tough time with character-based prompts. It's probably because I'm old and my aging memory just can't keep a bunch of story people in my head. Unless they really stand out, I'm probably not going to remember them very well. Since I couldn't think of a creative way to twist this topic, I decided to just be lazy with today's list and go with the Ten Last Physical Books I've Acquired (but only those I haven't mentioned on the blog already). How does that sound?

As always, this fun weekly meme is hosted by Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl. If you've never joined in, you totally should! All the instructions are on Jana's blog.

Ten Last Physical Books I've Acquired 
- in no particular order -

1. The Messenger by Megan Davis (Thank you, Pegasus Books!)—When Alex Giraud moves to Paris to live with his dad, he has trouble fitting in with the kids at his posh boarding school. Feeling suffocated by his controlling father, Alex finds belonging with a street smart new friend. The boys plan a robbery that goes horribly wrong, leaving Alex's dad dead and him and his friend in prison for murder. When Alex is released, he has only one goal: find out who really killed his father. 

2. Kneaders: A Celebration of Our Recipes and Memories by Colleen Worthington (Thank you, Shadow Mountain Publishing!)—If you live in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, or Utah, you may have heard of Kneaders Bakery & Cafe. It's a chain out of Utah that sells yummy breads, baked goods, soups, sandwiches, etc. This giant cookbook is filled with some of their delicious recipes and the stories behind them, which were compiled by popular author Ally Condie

3. North of Nowhere by Allison Brennan (Thank you, St. Martin's Press!)—Kristin and Ryan McIntyre have been hiding from their father, a powerful mobster, for the last five years. When he discovers their whereabouts, the siblings run for their lives, barely escaping in a small plane. The pilot crash lands in the Montana wilderness. With a violent storm fast approaching, Kristin and Ryan find themselves on the run in a remote forest with dangerous enemies hot on their trail. How will they survive?

4. The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton (bought from Barnes & Noble)—This biographical historical novel concerns the Kindertransports, which moved thousands of kids out of Nazi-occupied countries for their safety. It stars Truus Wijsmuller, a real Dutch Resistance worker who risked her life over and over to smuggle out thousands of Jewish children. 

5. Where the Water Takes Us by Alan Barillaro (Thank you, Candlewick Press!)—In this debut novel, a young girl is sent to live with her grandparents while her mother deals with a difficult pregnancy. Ava usually loves her time at their lake house, but she's so worried about her mom that she can't relax or shake the feeling that something is going to go terribly wrong. When Ava discovers a pair of orphaned birds, she makes a deal with fate: she'll save the birds in exchange for the health and safety of her mom and her baby twin siblings. Can she hold up her end of the bargain? Will fate do the same?

6. The Peach Seed by Anita Gail Jones (Thank you, Henry Holt!)—A debut novel, this is a second-chance romance involving a man and a woman whose lives were irrevocably changed—and divided—when a peaceful protest they were involved in went wrong. When the two encounter each other again, they must reckon with their pasts, presents, and futures.

7. Cold Pursuit by Nancy Mehl (Thank you, Bethany House!)—This book, the first in a new series, is about an ex-FBI profiler in need of a fresh start. She gets it in St. Louis, where she opens a private investigation business with her former partner at the FBI. A grieving mother still searching for her son who disappeared four years ago brings them their first case. Although they presume the boy is dead, their investigation becomes increasingly baffling. Someone clearly doesn't want them to pursue the case. Does that mean there's a chance their missing person is still alive? Or that his killer will do anything to get away with murder? Either way, the private eyes are in for a dangerous run.

8. I Did It for You by Amy Engel (Thank you, Penguin Random House!)—Fourteen years ago, Greer Dunning's sister was murdered. When a similar killing occurs, despite the fact that the man convicted of her sisters' murder has already been executed, Greer returns to her hometown to investigate. She refuses to give up until she finds out what really happened to her sister.

9. At the Coffee Shop of Curiosities by Heather Webber (Thank you, Tor/Forge!)—Two grieving women find solace in the friendship they form at a coffee and curiosity shop in small town Alabama. Can they make peace with their individual pasts in order to move on to promising futures?

10. A Traitor in Whitehall by Julia Kelly (Thank you, St. Martin's Press!)—It's 1940 and Evelyne Redfern is living a tedious life consisting of long hours at a London munitions factory and not much else. Her only escape is the mystery novels she races through in her few leisure hours. When a chance encounter with an old acquaintance gives her the chance to change things up by working as a secretary in Winston Churchill's cabinet war rooms, she takes it. Then, one of her colleagues is murdered. A shocked Evelyne launches her own amateur investigation to figure out who killed the young woman.

There you go, the last ten physical books I've acquired. Have you read any of them? Which character pairings did you come up with for your list today? I'd truly love to know. Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy TTT!

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: And the Award Goes To...

Good Tuesday morning from rainy Arizona! I don't get to say that very often, but I woke up to loud thunder rumbles and now we've got rain. Yay! We need the moisture, plus the cooling effect. (It's ONLY 88 degrees outside right now.) Let's hope the stormy weather sticks around all day.* It's a nice change from the unrelenting sun and heat. Channeling my inner Al Roker, I just have to ask, "How's the weather in your neck of the woods?"

Today's TTT prompt is a great one: Top Ten Books I've Read/Want to Read Because of Top Ten Tuesday. I've added dozens, probably hundreds, of books to my TBR list over the many years that I've been participating in this fun meme. Unfortunately, though, I am absolute rubbish at remembering who recommended waht or even where I first heard about a certain title. I need to be better at this because I know there's nothing more satisfying than someone telling me they read a book I recommended and loved it. 

Since today's topic (wonderful as it is) would overtax my aging memory way too much, I'm going to go rogue. Book awards time is fast approaching. In past years, I've been involved in the CYBILS Awards as well as two different award programs for books produced by members of my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints): the Whitney Awards and the Association for Mormon Letters (AML) Awards. I'm not sure yet which I'll be a part of this year or in what capacity, but I will at least be nominating titles. Middle grade fiction is my favorite genre to read for awards season, so I'm going to give you eleven that I'm planning to read because they seem like worthy contenders for these book awards.

Please consider nominating books for both the CYBILS and the Whitneys. (The AML Awards doesn't accept nominations—all titles published by Latter-day Saints that fit the contest parameters are considered nominees.) The CYBILS public nomination period runs from October 1 to October 15, after which author/publisher nominations open. Nominations are already open for the Whitney Awards. If you've read a novel by a Latter-day Saint author that was (or will be) published between November 1, 2022, and October 31, 2023, nominate it here. You may not think you know of any authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but you do: Brandon Sanderson, Shannon Hale, Kasie West, Julie Berry, Amy Harmon, Brandon Mull, Jennifer A. Nielsen, Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner, Sarah M. Eden, Ally Condie, and many more.    

As always, Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the lovely Jana over at That Artsy Reader Girl. Click on over to her blog and give her some love.

Top Ten Eleven Middle Grade Books I'm Planning to Read in Anticipation of Book Awards Season
- in no particular order -
- Asterisks indicate books that are eligible for the Cybils Awards, the Whitneys, and the AML Awards - 

1. Lasagna Means I Love You by Kate O'Shaughnessy—I just started this epistolary novel which is written in a series of letters from a grieving 11-year-old to her Nan, who has recently died. With no one else to care for her, Mo is thrust into the foster care system. She finds strength and healing in learning to cook and collecting family recipes from others, while secretly hoping one of her long-lost relatives will come out of the woodwork and share one from her family. Oh, and maybe adopt Mo while they're at it...

2. Morning Sun in Wuhan by Ying Chang Compestine—Written by a woman who grew up in Wuhan, this novel is about 13-year-old Mei, whose life in the city is turned upside down when COVID hits. As in the previous book, she's grieving the loss of a loved one and finds solace in cooking. Anxious to help with a situation that's fast growing desperate, Mei seeks to spread light in a dark situation. 

3. 102 Days of Lying About Lauren by Maura Jortner—When 12-year-old Lauren "Mouse" Suszek is abandoned by her mother at an amusement park, she knows the key to avoiding being dumped in foster care is to stay hidden. Then, a stranger named "Cat" comes looking for Lauren. Mouse's happiness depends on her avoiding "rescue"—or does it?

4. No Matter the Distance by Cindy Baldwin*—Taking care of her cystic fibrosis dominates Penny Rooney's life, but she doesn't want the disease to define her. Struggling to find herself beyond her CF, Penny discovers new purpose and identity in helping a sick dolphin make its way from the creek where its stuck back to its ocean home.  

5. Sincerely Sicily by Tamika Burgess—This debut novel stars Sicily Jordan, a proud Black Panamanian tween. When she starts attending a new school where no one knows her, she finds herself having to defend her dual ethnicity for the first time. Even some of the people close to her are questioning her seemingly divided loyalties. How can Sicily show them all that she's not one thing or another, but proud and happy to be both?

6. The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine by Katherine Marsh—With a deadly pandemic sweeping the world, Matthew's father is stuck overseas, and his 100-year-old grandmother has just moved in with him and his mom. The 13-year-old is miserable. When he discovers a mysterious old photo in his grandma's things, he becomes intrigued by her past and the shocking family secrets she's been hiding. 

7. The Nightmare House by Sarah Allen*—This horror story is about a young girl who is crippled by nightmares about The Fear Maker, a red-eyed monster who lives in the woods, where he sucks out human souls and leaves his victims with hollow, empty eyes. When she starts seeing these hollow-eyed people in the real world, Penny Hope knows the only way to make it stop is to confront The Fear Maker. It's a terrifying prospect and she's a shaking ball of anxiety and terror. How can she possibly triumph against such a formiddable foe?

8. What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski—I always love a good mystery and this one sounds compelling. It stars Anna Hunt, the new girl at East Middle School. A podcast enthusiast, she immediately sniffs out an intriguing story right at her school and decides to make her own podcast about it. Last year, Rachel Riley was the most popular kid at East Middle; now she's Public Enemy #1. What happened? None of her classmates will talk, so Anna has to dig deep to find out the truth.

9. Burglars and Bluestockings by Julie Berry*—Sequels rarely (never?) seem to win awards, but I don't care. I love Berry's Wishes and Wellingtons series. It's about an orphan girl who finds a djinni in a sardine can, opening up possibilities for her life that she never dreamed of. Even still, there are still things girls just aren't allowed to do in 1897. In this third installment, Maeve takes a field trip to Oxford and sees women attending college, inspiring a whole new dream to take shape in her mind. Before her imagination can even start firing up, though, thieves come for her djinni. Can she stop them? Can magic help her realize her many dreams and ambitions, despite all the restrictions in her life?

10. The Labors of Hercules Beal by Gary D. Schmidt—Although he's named after a legendary hero, Hercules Beal is anything but. He's scrawny, lonely, and just not very...heroic. So, when he's tasked with replicating Hercules' Twelve Labors for a school assignment, he's not exactly enthusiastic. As he plugs away at it, though, he discovers that he's stronger and more capable than he ever realized. 

11. Half Moon Summer by Elaine Vickers*—Two 7th graders embark on a grueling half-marathon that will test their grit, determination, and friendship. Along the way, it also just might be the thing that gives them both the hope they need to tackle the challenges they're facing in their individual lives.

There you are, eleven middle-grade books I'm excited to read in anticipation of the upcoming awards season. Have you read any of them? Which titles do you think will be contestants in the CYBILS and other upcoming book award programs? I'd truly love to know. Leave me a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor on your blog.

*Yeah, no such luck. It's bright and sunny again, although it's only 90 degrees outside, plus some humidity (which we only get during monsoon season).

Happy TTT!

Monday, August 07, 2023

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Cartoonist Pens Gut-Wrenching, Powerful Graphic Memoir

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Once I started reading The Talk, a graphic memoir by Darrin Bell, I couldn't put it down and it's a heavy book—in more ways than one. The title refers to the vital discussion parents must have with their Black children about racism. For boys, especially, this includes instructions on how to act calm, respectful, and non-threatening in any confrontations they have with the police, no matter how unfair or ridiculous the situation might be. Bell, who is bi-racial, was raised in East Los Angeles in the '80s and '90s by his white mother. His parents were divorced, his Black father largely absent from his life, so it was his mom who explained how things were for people with Darrin's skin color. The talk was prompted by the 6-year-old's request for a squirt gun, a plea that ended in his acquisition of a neon green toy that (despite his mother's warning) led to a terrifying run-in with a police officer that deeply traumatized the little boy. 

As the book explains, Bell continued to experience acts of blatant racism as he grew up, including being shadowed while shopping, getting shut down by teachers, name-calling from his peers, accusations of plagiarism, profiling by police, and more. He sought solace and escape in his art, where he found his voice as a political cartoonist/satirist. His pointed, provocative, and often controversial ruminations on politics, injustice, prejudice, racism, and more have earned him both accolades and death threats over the years. In 2019, he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, the first Black person to do so. 

It's easy to see why Bell's work has earned so much attention. The illustrations in The Talk are top-notch, loose but also vivid and compelling. No less so are his words, which pair with his pictures to create an immensely powerful story. For me—the white mother of an adopted, bi-racial child—the most poignant, heart-wrenching chapter in the book is the final one, in which Bell's 6-year-old son asks his dad about George Floyd. Not having planned to deliver "the talk" until the boy is a bit older, Bell is forced to shatter his child's innocence by talking about the hard truths of living while Black. It's excruciating to read, especially since, in the cartoon face of Bell's child, I see mine. 

The Talk is many things: raw, angry, gut-wrenching, timely, impactful, and, yes, hopeful. Surprisingly, it's also funny in parts. I laughed out loud when Bell recalled his mom marching to his school in her bathrobe and curlers to confront the principal. Embarrassed, he pled, "Mom? Couldn't you at least get dressed before ruining my whole life?" While most of the book is very serious, there are moments like these that occasionally lighten the mood. Mostly, though, The Talk is a hard-hitting denunciation of racism and injustice. Like Bell, I also hope that the issues he addresses in the book can be overcome so that our Black children can live in a world that is safer, kinder, and more empathetic toward them. One step in that direction is to read this excellent book, take its message to heart, and use it to confront our own prejudices in order to create a better world for all of its people.

(Readalikes: Surprisingly, I haven't read a lot of other books like this. I should. Which do you recommend?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, disturbing subject matter, and mild innuendo/sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of The Talk from the generous folks at Henry Holt and Company in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
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