Publisher: Macmillan

ARC Mini Review: Book Scavenger (2015) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

ARC Mini Review: Book Scavenger (2015) by Jennifer Chambliss BertmanBook Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
Published by Macmillan on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Books & Libraries, Middle Grade, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Realistic
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-stars

For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it's the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game. Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold's new game--before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.

Ciphers! Games! Codes! A fun romp through San Francisco! This Middle Grade Debut has it all…

And guess what…I’m about to depart for San Francisco soon to attend ALA’s Annual Convention! So I’m sharing my thoughts about this book at the perfect time.

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Always moving and having to leave friends behind is hard. Making new friends all the time can be difficult too. In this story we have a family whose job it is to move—Emily’s parents keep a blog and record all their travels and adventures. Sure, that’s all fun and good, but at the end of the day, they have to pick up and go to a new place so they can keep everything on the blog fresh. Emily has grown a little weary of endlessly picking up and moving, saying goodbye to friends, and starting over at new schools. Now that the family is in S.F., she wishes they would stay put.

She meets James, her neighbor, who becomes a great friend and loves puzzles as much as she does. It becomes clear pretty early on that it will take both of them to crack the code[s] that will lead them to the “treasure” at the end of the hunt Book Scavenger creator Garrison Griswold has set up.

If you like puzzles, then you’re in for a treat—there are loads of puzzles to unfold and codes to crack.

Twelve year-old Emily and her new friend James are pretty busy as they race to find out what treasure lies at the end of their hunt once they get their first clue in the shape of a strange book discovered in a Bart Station. The kids are dismayed to discover that Garrison Griswold is lying in a coma somewhere in a San Francisco hospital after he is attacked. This makes her even more determined to figure out the puzzle behind her mysterious book. Adventures, danger, and various mishaps ensue! But trust me…you do want to set out on this scavenging hunt!

**The author has peppered references to parks and restaurants and other spots in San Francisco throughout the story, and those of you familiar with this California landmark will enjoy these references.

Who Should Read This Book:

This book reminded me so much of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library—which coincidentally is mentioned in the book. If you know a reader who is a lover of literature and books, then by all means give them this delightful new Middle Grade debut from Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. You may even find yourself wanting to develop your own Book Scavenger game or community. If you’ve ever heard of geocaching, Book Scavenging is a kind of similar activity, but you’ll find out all about its origins in a section at the end of the book.

Fans of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as well as Mr. Lemoncello couldn’t find a better middle grade mystery debut to pick up. There’s an extensive Afterword filled with lots of fun and intriguing information—about codes, Edgar Allen Poe, books, and San Francisco! This is a strong debut from Jennifer, and I’m excited to see what else she uncovers for us.

Did you read Book Scavenger? What did you enjoy most?!? And who’s going to be at ALA this weekend?

four-stars
What Katie Read

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer Mathieu

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer MathieuDevoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Macmillan on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Religious, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can't shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Even if you don’t usually read Contemporary YA, or fiction that focuses on religion in any shape or form, I would urge you to give Devoted a chance. Mathieu has crafted a beautiful story depicting a journey (of the heart) of a seventeen year-old MC (eighteen by the end of the book) I grew to love. This is probably another top read of mine for 2015 so far. It’s true–I loved this book and was kind of glum when it was over. But there’s a re-read in store for me soon and that makes me very happy!

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Once in awhile a book comes along that you’re left thinking about long after you turn the last page. That happened to me with this book. I was lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of Devoted via Netgalley. Thank you, Macmillan!

What I Loved:

Rachel’s Voice: Rachel’s character is one of the best things about this book—she maintains a sensitive and thoughtful nature throughout everything she goes through. You would think that after growing up within a restricting environment and being forced to attend church several times a week, that Rachel wouldn’t want anything to do with church after she leaves the community. However, this isn’t the case, and though others who leave her church end up never wanting to be a part of anything religious ever again, Rachel is curious about other denominations. She recognizes that not every church is the same—not ever religious community is oppressive and restricting.

“But I can’t possibly know if all churches are the same if I’ve ever been to one in my whole life.”

Rachel loves to read! This may be one reason why she develops a desire for more than what her family and church community offer her. When her father discovers her reading one of her favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, she is reprimanded:

“ ‘I looked through this book, Rachel, and it troubles me. It involved magic and time travel, among other questionable things.’ ”

Well, if I was there, I would have said something to Mr. Walker. I would have asked him where in the Bible is time travel referenced as being “questionable” or wrong. If you ask me, I think time travel would probably be one of God’s favorite activities. Come on, Mr. Walker!

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Look at Rachel’s interior response to this situation—to the loss of her beloved book:

“But there’s another deeper part of me that wants to jump up and cry out. To tell Dad that in the book, Mrs. Who quotes Scripture, telling the children that the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And that Meg saves her brother because she loves him and light wins over darkness, and isn’t that something? Doesn’t love of family count as good? As godly? And doesn’t Proverbs say that the heart of the righteous studieth how to answer? Doesn’t that mean that pondering, wondering, questioning is all right? That books that make us think should be allowed?”

Rachel’s unvoiced response is beautiful and sensitive and wise. She understands things on a deeper level, and shows insight that her father would do well to hear. It’s interesting because A Wrinkle in Time was one of the four books I focused on in my master’s thesis—a thesis looking at spirituality in four British and American works of fantasy. I even connected themes in these four books with several Biblical retellings for children, to show how the spirituality in these fantasy books can be connected with the spirituality in sacred texts. Needless to say, you can tell that I applauded Rachel’s thoughts on A Wrinkle in Time!

The positive faith aspects: Even though it’s clear that Rachel has been living with a community that restricts women and is extremely legalistic, when Rachel leaves the community, she doesn’t turn her back completely on her faith. In other words, she maintains a faith—a faith that is her own, and that doesn’t necessarily look the way that the “religion” of her community looked like. I appreciated this—because the author didn’t create a simply construction that reflected a girl leaving an oppressive religious culture and completely forgetting about her own spirituality. Rachel still communicates with God, and express interest in church communities that are different than her own. I felt that Mathieu’s treatment of this aspect of the story was well-done and memorable.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

This book depicts a spirituality that is not necessarily positive for those who are practicing it—especially the females. The MC, Rachel, desires to do more than what her religious community deems worthy for a woman. Rather than just stay at home and bear children, Rachel considers there is more to life than this, at least for her. However, her desire as a woman within her community is not one she is supposed to have, and when she voices this desire, problems arise.

It probably seems normal to many of us that as they grow older girls should have choices, and they should have the freedom to make choices. However, Rachel Walker’s community doesn’t think this way, and this lack of control over her own destiny becomes almost oppressive. Her journey towards breaking away from this kind of oppression is one I (and probably most readers) celebrated in the book, and as the narrative progresses, Rachel becomes more confident and begins to understand that though her family and a religious community might try to hold her back, God doesn’t necessarily do the same.

“What if God is saying Rachel, what is it you plan on doing now that I’ve gifted you with this mind and this heart and this itch to know about the deepest parts of the ocean and the highest crests of the mountains and the darkest edges of space?”

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoy Contemporary YA, give this book a chance. Even if you aren’t religious or even if you’re anti-religious, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy (I hope!) this story. It’s a fantastic new release from an author that I will be watching to see if she might write about any of the other characters in Devoted. I’m really hoping for that!

What did you think of Devoted? Are there other Young Adult books dealing with religion or spirituality that you think I should check out?

five-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

ARC Review: The Secrets We Keep by Trisha LeaverThe Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver
Published by Macmillan on April 28th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Death & Dying, Family, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Siblings, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Goodreads
four-stars

Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy's shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she's chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy's world.When--after a heated argument--Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy's death and everyone's grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy's life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options--confess her deception or live her sister's life.

**I received this e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the book.

What I Loved:

The Plot: I was intrigued by this concept of a twin switching places with her sister the moment I read the blurb on Goodreads for The Secrets We Keep. This was a book that I knew I would get sucked into. And I did—you know I’m a fan of fantasy and science fiction, but I love a good realistic novel that reflects complex and well-developed characters facing issues that seem almost impossible to overcome. In many ways, the problems that Ella faced in this story were huge.

For how long can you live a life that isn’t yours?

The Relationship Between Ella & Josh: You’re going to love Josh! You can imagine he’s crushed when “Ella” dies, and I won’t give anything away, but you can imagine how difficult it would be for Ella to act like she doesn’t miss her friend. Since she “becomes” Maddy, she is forced to act differently around Josh, and this has its consequences.

The Pacing: The pacing of this story was spot on for me. I probably could have finished this book in a day, but wanted to stretch it out a bit, so read it over a week in January. Loved it!

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The Mystery: After assuming Maddy’s identity (and her boyfriend as well) Ella soon discovers that Maddy may have been harboring some secrets. Ella is determined to get to the bottom of what Maddy was hiding—very quickly you realize that Maddy’s boyfriend is determined to keep these secrets undercover. This aspect of the story kept me reading, and I was combing the pages closely, trying to figure out what Maddy had been involved in before she died…

Illuminations of Spirituality in The Secrets We Keep:

Of course, you know I would have to bring up potential spiritual aspects in the book, and I found several that could definitely lead into more extensive discussions.

The intense bond between sisters. Sometimes sisters can finish each other’s sentences or know what the other is thinking. Since Maddy dies, there obviously isn’t the opportunity for the two to have any interaction, but the fact that Ella is willing to sacrifice her own identity in order to allow Maddy to “live” points to something in her that is still deeply connected to her twin.

This leads me to another dimension—Ella denies herself in order to embody Maddy for those around her. Though in some cases, “denying oneself” from a spiritual perspective might be a positive thing, it’s not always good. And this is definitely one instance where Ella’s choice to do so was detrimental to her and other people (even though she thought she was atoning for what she had done). Ella is just as important and valued as Maddy and has every right to live her life as herself.

Seeking forgiveness. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is forgive ourselves. There can be a spiritual component to this because we often have to go beyond ourselves in order to do this. This is a challenge for Ella, and as I read the book, I remember thinking, “Come on, girl, you’ve got to forgive yourself! You and everyone around you will be happier once you’ve done this.” Of course, it’s not always easy. But I enjoyed reading about Ella’s journey in light of this.

Who Should Read This Book:

I couldn’t help but think of both Before I Fall and Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver after I read this. Yes, these books are quite different than Leaver’s, but they all treat tensions among friends and VG and TSWK both illuminate the strength of bonds between sisters. There have been a handful of YA titles that deal with the strong bond between sisters, and I don’t think I’ll get tired of them anytime soon. Even though one sister dies at the beginning of the book, the narrative illuminates a realistic relationship with all the ups and downs that a sisterly connection endures.

The Final Illumination:

One journey we all have to go on for ourselves is the journey of finding our identity—figuring out who we are. I was intrigued by the way this novel engaged with that idea, and no matter what your age, the issue of identity is a relevant one. Of course, this time of finding identity is especially significant for young adults, and the way that Ella comes to terms with her identity is beautifully drawn in The Secrets We Keep.

I’m definitely looking forward to more YA Contemporary from Trisha Leaver, but seeing as she writes other genres besides Contemporary, I’ll be certain to look out for any titles she writes in the future.

Also, I’m lucky enough to be in a writing critique group with Trisha, so you can bet I’ll be reading her future work!

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You can visit Trisha’s website here.

You can tell I loved this book! What about you? Have you read The Secrets We Keep? Or are you planning to?

four-stars
What Katie Read
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