Tag: friendship

ARC Middle Grade Review: Extraordinary (2015) by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

ARC Middle Grade Review: Extraordinary (2015) by Miriam Spitzer FranklinExtraordinary by Miriam Spitzer Franklin
Published by Sky Pony Press on May 5th 2015
Genres: Friendship, Middle Grade, Realistic, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 256
Goodreads
four-stars

Last summer, Pansy chickened out on going to summer camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process. Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted. Extraordinary is a heartfelt, occasionally funny, coming-of-age middle grade novel by debut author Miriam Spitzer Franklin. It’s sure to appeal to fans of Cynthia Lord’s Rules and will inspire young friends to cherish the times they spend together. Every day should be lived like it’s extraordinary.

What I Loved:

The book’s depiction of the ups and down, the trials and joys of life in the 5th grade: I know Spitzer Franklin has worked as a teacher, and that she drew on her own experiences as a teacher in the writing of this book. I appreciated the portrayal of life in the classroom for Pansy, and the way she navigated her friendships—both old and new.

The adventurous antics of Pansy: Pansy is a delightful character! You can’t help but cheer for her as she seeks to become “extraordinary” for her best friend, who is set to have surgery in the near future. Pansy is certain Anna will return to her normal self and they’ll be able to pick back up as the best friends they were before Anna became ill. Pansy is motivated to become the top reader in class, to become good at ice skating, and to be the best girl scout she can be—all for her dear friend Anna. Through each of these endeavors, Pansy learns valuable lessons, and she changes a bit too.

The role of Pansy’s parents: Pansy’s parents play a significant role in her life in the story, and you don’t always see this in Middle Grade Fiction. Pansy’s parents encourage her as she strives to become “extraordinary” and they comfort her as she faces the sadness about who Anna has become because of her illness.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

The Desire to Be a Better Person for Those Around Us: Pansy’s motivation to become extraordinary for her best friend, who has recently suffered brain damage, is inspiring and reflects the great value she places on her friendship with Anna. Even though there are things Pansy wants to attempt that are scary (ice skating lessons & rollerblading to school, for example) she perseveres because the goal of making her best friend proud is more important.

Hope: Even when the reality of what we see doesn’t match what we hope for, we still hope. Sometimes things change and sometimes they don’t. But the act of hoping is itself important.

Being Thankful for What You Have: It’s easy to take for granted all the things we have—and that includes friendships. Pansy’s friendship with Andy is extremely important, but there are times in the story when she definitely forgets this, and runs after other opportunities and friendships that detract from her relationship with Andy. It takes some time, but Pansy learns something important about being thankful for what’s right in front of us.

Who Should Read This Book:

Spitzer Franklin has written a character driven book featuring all things relevant to upper elementary students—school, friendships, and new opportunities (ice skating, girl scouts, classroom competitions!). There are certainly some sad parts—the fact is that Pansy’s best friend has suffered a major medical condition, and she is not the same girl Pansy was best friends with before she became ill. Certainly, children today might have to go through something like this, whether it’s a serious illness with a friend or a family member or the death of a loved one.

I won’t lie—this book does have its heartbreaking moments, but it’s ultimately a hopeful story that illuminates the importance of being comfortable with who you are, being thankful for the good in your life, and relying on the love and friendship of friends and family when things don’t go the way you want them to go.

Extraordinary really made my think of my own 5th grade experience–and how well I remember that desire to fit in and have friends, and yet there was the tug to be my own person and stand up for myself too. This book reminded me of the variety of kinds of kids in any 5th grade class–there are the kids who are “mean” sometimes, the kids who try to get others to follow them, and the ones who are appealing just because they were comfortable with being themselves.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect, you know. You just have to do it on your own.”

The Final Illumination:

Extraordinary is a heartwarming and solid debut from Spitzer Franklin, reminding me of my own adventures in 5th grade and the tension between the balance you had to maintain between forming friendships and being your own person. I love that Pansy is not afraid of being unique—she’ll wear two different color shoes and she’ll risk falling down while rollerblading to school. She’s a good example for all of us who struggle with being confident in who we are, young and old.

**I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

**If you missed my interview with the author, you can find it here.

four-stars
What Katie Read

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman Blog Tour (Giveaway + Recipes!)

The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman Blog Tour (Giveaway + Recipes!)The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman
Published by Penguin on May 5th 2015
Genres: Cooking & Food, Humorous Stories, Middle Grade, Realistic
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

“A scrumptious gem of a story!”—Jennifer A. Nielsen, New York Times bestselling author of The False Prince for All Four Stars. In this charming sequel to All Four Stars, eleven-year-old foodie Gladys Gatsby now has her first published review under her belt and is looking forward to a quiet summer of cooking and reviewing. But her plans quickly go awry when her friend Charissa Bentley delivers Gladys’s birthday gift: a free summer at Camp Bentley. As Gladys feared, camp life is not easy: she struggles to pass her swim test and can’t keep the other campers happy while planning lunches. The worst part is she can’t seem to get away from the annoying new “celebrity” camper and sneak away for her latest assignment—finding the best hot dog in New York City. But when it turns out her hot dog assignment was a dirty trick by a jealous reviewer, Gladys’s reviewing career may be over forever.

I’m honored and excited to kick off the Official Blog Tour for the sequel to Tara Dairman’s All Four Stars: The Stars of Summer! After falling in love with Tara’s debut last year, I was jumping for joy when I received the ARC of its sequel, and I think you are going to adore this book!

In fact, you can enter a Rafflecopter Giveaway at the bottom of this post to win a SIGNED COPY of both All Four Stars and The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman!

AllFourStarsbyTaraDairman

Prepare to be entertained by Gladys and her family and friends yet again in this May 5th release from Putnam.

A sequel to the utterly delightful All Four Stars, Tara Dairman’s The Stars of Summer opens with Gladys’s birthday dinner in NYC at a Tapas restaurant where Gladys is faced with the task of reviewing the meal with her family and friends and jotting down her notes in secret. While in the restaurant restroom, Gladys discovers that there’s a $1000 dollar reward for cracking the identity of restaurant reviewer “G. Gatsby”!

Gladys’s mishap in the previous book—the crème brulee incident is thankfully behind her and she is able to use the kitchen once again. Readers open the story expecting Gladys will be able to cook and create her culinary delights once again.

But, there’s more in store for Gladys this summer than just typical time in the kitchen. And let me give you another hint: there’s a BOY involved! Just what Gladys needs…

side eye dalmations

When Charissa gifts Gladys with a free summer at Camp Bentley, Gladys’ summer plans quickly take on a nightmarish quality. No way does Gladys want to spend her days in the sun swimming or running relay races! Her newest assignment for the newspaper is also a bit strange—she will have to find the best hot dog in New York City!

It is no surprise that adventures for Gladys ensue in this equally charming sequel to Tara Dairman’s 2014 debut.

What I Loved

The Food: From the beginning of the book, your mouth will water. Whether you’re reading about items from the Tapas Menu at Gladys’s birthday restaurant such as Ham-Wrapped Roasted Asparagus and Griddled Polenta Cakes or her three-tired Strawberry Lime Birthday cake, you might not want to read this book while hungry.

Having a healthy obsession for cookbooks, I absolutely adore the fact that Tara’s books feature a healthy number of food references! Gladys isn’t afraid to take on a culinary challenge and I love that.

Though Gladys normally wouldn’t consider scouring the city for the “best hot dog,” her summer experiences lead her in this direction. I found this to be a fabulous aspect of the sequel, especially as it’s releasing in late spring and the summer is fast approaching.

The Laugh Aloud Moments: I don’t think you can read this book with a straight face.

Gladys’s antics (especially when you add her parents as well as her friends and a new kid named Hamilton Herbertson) infuse the narrative with the perfect ingredient of humor.

I appreciate when a story, especially a middle grade novel makes me laugh, and The Stars of Summer is no exception. My hope is that you find Chapter 14: A (Hot) Dog Day of a Summer as funny as I did.

The Curriculum Connections: Both All Four Stars and The Stars of Summer are excellent choices for titles in the upper elementary classroom. Whether chosen for individual reading by students or featured as a whole class read-a-long, Tara’s books feature colorful characters, engaging plots, and humorous antics that I think would especially engage this age group.

Its culinary aspects made me think—what about including the book as part of a Home Economics/Language Arts hybrid lesson plan?

It would depend on the school’s curriculum, but I love the idea of giving students the chance to read the book and then to learn to cook some of the recipes referenced in either All Four Stars or The Stars of Summer.

The New Twists and Challenges for Gladys: Whether it was learning to swim, navigating a summer camp kitchen with the bossy Mrs. Spinelli, dealing with a boy who “might” like her, or combing the streets of New York City for every hot dog stand in sight, Gladys has her share of new adventures and lessons to learn. Gladys is as endearing a character in the sequel as she was in All Four Stars. The addition of new characters supplies welcome challenges and tension to a narrative that, to be honest, I couldn’t put down.

Reasons to Read The Stars of Summer

-You read All Four Stars and have fallen in love with Gladys and her culinary adventures.

-You need a story to get you in the mood for summer.

-You’re fascinated by the idea of the search for the perfect hot dog in New York City.

-You’re hungry for a delightful contemporary Middle Grade read about an ambitious twelve year old whose adventures and interactions will entertain you and keep you chuckling.

View Spoiler »

The_Stars_of_Summer_cover

Now, this tour stop wouldn’t be complete without at least a few gourmet hot dog recipes. I hope that Gladys would approve of these, and I have selected a few I found through my online search for some more “creative” hot dogs. Here’s one interesting tidbit—I started searching for hot dog recipes before I had finished my reading of the book. I inadvertently highlighted a hot dog recipe I wanted to include that actually shows up in the book—the Sonoran Hot Dog!

Enjoy!

If you have recipes to share, please do so in the comments below!

HOT DOGS WITH CHEDDAR AND SAUTEED APPLES

CAPRESE DOG

(Mozzarella, Basil, & Tomato!)

BACON WRAPPED SONORAN HOT DOGS

(Beans, Tomatoes, Onions, Cilantro, Avocado!)

HOT DOGS WITH DAL & RED ONION RAITA

(Lentils, Red Onion, Yogurt, Mint, Serrano Chile!)

If you missed my first interview with Tara, you can explore it here. Also, if you aren’t familiar with All Four Stars, you can read about it here.

**Thank you to Kristin Rae for a beautiful blog tour button!

BIO: Tara Dairman is the author of ALL FOUR STARS, which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Mighty Girl Top Book of 2014 for Teens and Tweens. She is also a playwright and recovering world traveler. She grew up in New York and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her husband and their trusty waffle iron.

Tara Dairman headshot
Photo Credits: Tiffany Crowder @ Crowded Studios: http://www.crowdedstudiosphoto.com/

Book buying links:

Penguin: http://www.penguin.com/book/the-stars-of-summer-by-tara-dairman/9780399170690

Indiebound: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780399170690

Powells: http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780399170690-0

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Stars-Summer-Tara-Dairman/dp/0399170693/ref=la_B00IK6WU4U_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412958767&sr=1-2

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-stars-of-summer-tara-dairman/1120421974?ean=9780399170690

BAM: http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Stars-Summer/Tara-Dairman/9780399170690?id=6117508412118

Indigo (Canada): http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-stars-of-summer/9780698173675-item.html?ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=2

Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Stars-Summer-Tara-Dairman/9780399170690

Social media links:

Website: http://taradairman.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TaraDairman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TaraDairmanAuthor

Instagram: http://instagram.com/allfourstars/

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

five-stars
What Katie Read

YA Contemporary Review: The Start of Me and You (2015) by Emery Lord

YA Contemporary Review: The Start of Me and You (2015) by Emery LordThe Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing USA on March 31st 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it's never too late for second chances. It's been a year since it happened-when Paige Hancock's first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school. . .and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her-the perfect way to convince everyone she's back to normal. Next: Join a club-simple, it's high school after all. But when Ryan's sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Illuminations:

ATTENTION: Strong recommendation for New Emery Lord YA ahead!!

Was I ever surprised at how much I loved The Start of Me and You…

The book opens after Paige has lost her boyfriend, who was killed in a swimming accident, and she’s still working through her grief. But she determines to put her best foot forward with the new school year, and she wants to open her heart again. Maybe to a new relationship. Ryan Chase shows up, and seems to be the guy Paige hopes to be pursued by. But a surprising decision to get involved with “Quiz Bowl” (trust me—you’ll love it!) introduces Paige to new friendships and faces. What ensues is fantastic—though Paige may not see it at first.

Paige, Max, Ryan, Tessa, Kayleigh, Morgan…these are characters I came to care about, and Lord describes an amazing friendship among the girls. Sure, they have their bumps along the road in their friendship (and that makes it more realistic) but this group of girls has been through thick and thin, and they’re intentional about being there for one another.

“In friendship we are all debtors. We all owe each other for a thousand small kindnesses, for little moments of grace in the chaos.”

Emery Lord’s dialogue: I love it. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where I was so aware of how fantastic the dialogue was between characters. In a way, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a hangout between friends. The banter wasn’t choppy, but authentic and humorous at times. This was definitely a strong point in the book for me.

Paige’s relationship with her grandmother is another connection in the book that is extremely significant for her. It’s lovely to watch how her grandmother encourages her, and helps her to gain insight into those situations and relationships in her life that are a bit tricky to navigate. There’s the situation with Paige’s parents—though divorced, they begin dating! This requires a lot of adjusting for Paige, but in fact, it’s another opportunity for her to grow.

Who Should Read This Book:

Here’s a confession. I haven’t read Open Road Summer. I know! I’m sure you’re shocked—apparently this debut of Lord’s is fabulous and most people became solid fans of the author after they read it. I have every intention of reading this now that I’m finished The Start of Me and You. This is a fantastic YA Contemporary that features endearing characters you can’t get enough of, a storyline that builds gradually into a satisfying resolution, and themes readers can relate to (even if they’re older!).

I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary—you’ll see I tend to stick to fantasy and historical fiction in the YA realm, though in Middle Grade I read more Contemporary. Because of this, there are still a lot of the YA Contemporary “greats” I need to read.

I would say, though, that if you do read this genre, you’re probably already familiar with this author, or you’re going to be. Emery Lord depicts appealing but flawed characters we grow to care about. Her settings are vivid, and at least in this one, there are lots of visits to coffeeshop bookstores! That alone makes me excited…

The Final Illumination:

I have to admit to you—I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this YA read depicting the journey of a girl as she works through the death of her boyfriend, deciding to open her heart to friendship, love, and new experiences. Though the story’s pace is slow at first, I didn’t want to stop reading. And as the narrative progressed, I began to speculate on who would end up with whom, but that didn’t take away from the pleasure I found in watching it all play out.

This book is strong and authentic in its depiction of relationships among friends and between boy and girl. If you’re looking for a story that has drawn refreshing and endearing portraits of relationships in different stages–whether friendships or blossoming romance, this is the book for you.

I grew to really love Paige as a character—to watch her craft her “perfect plan” for the new school year, and to then see how this plan unfolded, bringing surprises and unexpected twists along the way. I have to admit that I was sad when I turned the last page of the story—I had grown to love the trips to the bookstore café, the friends dropping by with coffee, the movie nights with the entire gang. This is a fabulous book, readers—please do pick this one up when it releases on March 31st!

five-stars
What Katie Read
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