Monday, February 22, 2021

FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA by Crystal Maldonado for #IMWAYR (It's Monday! What are you reading?)

(My attempt at a #bookstagram on Instagram! Find me there, @joannerossfritz)

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado (February 2021, Holiday House, for ages 12 and up)

What a warm and delightful read! 

An empowering novel for fat girls everywhere and brown girls everywhere, but also for all of us, because we're all human. And we all need to learn to cut ourselves some slack. 

Charlie (short for Charlotte) Vega, is a high school student, and a Latina in a mostly-white Connecticut town. She's smart and funny, loves fashion, and loves to write. 

She's also fat. 

Her best friend, Amelia, is thin and popular and could date anyone she wants. But Charlie has never dated anyone. The opening line drew me right in: "I imagine being kissed about a hundred times a day." 

Can Charlie learn not to compare herself to Amelia? Can she learn to get along with her mom, who used to be fat and then lost a lot of weight, and is always lecturing Charlie? 

Will Charlie ever have a boyfriend?

After a disastrous high school dance that Charlie was sort-of but not really invited to by handsome Cal (who really wanted Charlie to bring Amelia along!), Charlie is depressed about ever finding love. And then Brian, a nice guy in her Art class, starts talking to her. Could there be something there? 

First-person, present-tense narration gives this novel immediacy and warmth and liveliness. The diverse cast is refreshing. The voice is perfect -- Charlie's desires and worries come across as highly authentic. Reading this book is a lot like being back in high school. 

I got so caught up in Charlie's world I didn't want it to end. The last chapter brought tears to my eyes. (And the last line is gorgeous!) You will love this novel!

(Of course, I may not be totally impartial. Crystal is not only one of my fellow 21ders, but also a fellow Holiday House debut author, along with Kate Albus, author of A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON!)

#IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop hosted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts. Visit their blogs to see all the participants. You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter!

Monday, February 15, 2021

AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY by Cliff Burke, for #IMWAYR (It's Monday! What are you reading?)


An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke (May 18, 2021, HMH, for ages 8 to 12)

This is one of the funniest books I've read from The21ders, my debut group of MG and YA authors. But there's also a touching undercurrent of sadness running through it. 

Heartfelt doesn't begin to describe it.

Thirteen-year-old Theo's mom died two years ago, and he and his dad and his fifteen-year-old sister, Laura, still haven't really talked about it. Then Dad informs the siblings they're going on a road trip to go camping in the hottest park in Texas during the hottest part of the summer, with a promised surprise at the end. Neither Theo nor Laura want to go on this trip and would prefer to spend all their time in air conditioning and on their phones. 

What follows is hilarious, as one disaster after another befalls the family, from a broken cooler that turns their lunch to mush, to a vlogging teen hiker who tries to include Laura in his vlogs, to a bear in their campsite, to a naked elderly couple in the Hot Springs. But what you'll love most about this book is the spot-on dialog between the siblings and their father. Judicious use of dialog tags, and a finely-tuned ear for the way kids really speak makes this dialog sound like a real family squabbling and teasing each other. Plenty of snark. And I never lost track of who was speaking.

When Dad's "surprise" turns out to be a new girlfriend, Theo and Laura react as any grieving kids would. Long before the end, you'll fall in love with this family, and your heart will ache for them to finally talk about their feelings.

A winner in my book!

You can pre-order AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY from Bookshop!

Other pre-order info and more on Cliff Burke's website

#IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop hosted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor TextsVisit their blogs to see all the participants.

Monday, January 25, 2021

THE LAST SHADOW WARRIOR for #IMWAYR (It's Monday! What are you reading?)

First a quick health update (feel free to skip to the post below the photo if you prefer): Good news! The retina specialist says I don't need surgery on my blurry right eye. He also showed me what the swelling looks like in a picture of my retina (it looks like a wave!), and claimed it's a direct result of the laser treatment I had way back at the end of October, to correct my rising Glaucoma pressure.

This is just as I suspected, although my regular eye doc, who gave me the laser treatment, claimed that had nothing to do with the swelling! 

More good news: those steroid drops I've been using three times a day since mid-December are really helping! (So my eye doc got that part right!) There's still a fist-size portion of blurriness in my vision but I can manage to read despite this (although my eyes tire easily, so I can't read for long, which drove me nuts when I received the ARC below in the mail). I have to keep using the drops for three more weeks and then taper off for a month.

Now, as we wait for the announcements of the ALA Youth Media Awards, it's onto today's post! Another exciting debut novel from #the21ders!

The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity (Scholastic, April 6, 2021, for ages 8 to 12)

What a thrilling page-turner! You'll be staying up late to finish this one. This book has it all -- three friends banding together to face the enemy, Viking folklore and history, one exciting adventure after another, and lots and lots of humor and heart. The chapter endings will blow you away!

Abby is still grieving for her dead mother, a descendant of Viking warriors, who died fighting a Grendel. In the gripping first chapter, a shadowy creature attacks Abby in the home she shares with her father in North Carolina. Was it a Grendel? She and Dad pack quickly and head for Minnesota, for a school, Vale Hall, where Dad can teach and Abby can be safe. But Dad is badly hurt in a car accident, caused by a demonic motorcycle rider,  just as they arrive at Vale Hall. With Dad unconscious in the hospital, Abby must navigate her new school, find a cure for her father, and at the same time convince the school's headmaster and the Viking Council that Grendels really do exist!

Luckily, she makes friends immediately with Gwynn, a secret Valkyrie, and Grimsby, an endearing (and funny!) boy who's assigned to be Abby's guide to Vale Hall. Together, they fight a sea monster in the school pool, a Dark Valkyrie who plays Bingo for their souls, and much much more. I learned a lot too. Knattleikr is an ancient Viking ball game, similar to lacrosse. Svefnthorn (or Sleep Thorn) can be found in centuries of Norse literature.

The strong friendship between Abby, Gwynn, and Grimsby, the fast-pace, the thrilling adventures, and above all, the unexpected flashes of humor (Hmm, Vale Hall = Valhalla?) make this a winner in my book. Kids will love this and it makes a great read-aloud. Thanks to the publisher for letting me read an ARC. 

You can pre-order this exciting book from Bookshop, right here!

#IMWAYR is a weekly blog hop hosted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts. Visit their blogs to see all the participants.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

A week ago today...

It's a new year, and it's also my debut year! 2021 should be a wonderful year. 

But it didn't start out so well, did it?

As everyone knows by now, on Wednesday, January 6th, insurrectionists (i.e. Trump followers who refused to accept the fair and accurate vote count that made Joe Biden our next President) stormed the US Capitol building, where lawmakers were gathered for the usually-ceremonial act of counting the Electoral College votes. This violence ultimately resulted in five deaths and excessive damage. 

Were you glued to the news as I was? 

Normally, I never watch TV news, but from 3 pm to 7 pm, I couldn't tear myself away from CNN, watching with growing horror, sickened that something like this could happen at all in our country. 

And, yes, that day also happened to be my cover reveal day

Obviously, this minor news was soon eclipsed by the raging mob that took over the Capitol for a few hours. We still need answers about why this was allowed to happen, why the Capitol Police were overwhelmed so easily and why it took the National Guard so long to get there and quell the riot. 

I sincerely hope there is no more violence before Biden is sworn in next Wednesday. And especially not during the Inauguration!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Too many books, too little clarity #IMWAYR

It's Monday! What are you reading?  

The kidlit version of #IMWAYR was started by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts. You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter. 

Unfortunately, no, this is not what I'm reading at the moment. 

If only I'd ordered the audio version of some of these lovely books, I'd be listening to them right now! My vision is still blurry. The ophthalmologist says it's an "unexplained swelling in the retina" of my right eye. The prednisolone eye drops that I have to use three times a day are actually helping or I wouldn't be able to type this. But reading is still difficult and tiring. I have an appointment with the retina specialist in January. I figure it can't be too serious or they wouldn't make me wait a month!

Just another bump in the road that has been 2020. I'm sure you are looking forward to 2021 as much as I am! This year has been mostly horrible but with some wonderful moments (like joining #the21ders in June and getting to know some of my fellow debut authors! And reading some of their wonderful e-arcs before my vision went blurry). 

What I AM reading (slowly) is a physical ARC of another of The21ders' debut novels, GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE by Yvette Clark, coming May 4, 2021 from HarperCollins.  I'm not very far into it yet, because I can't read more than a chapter a day, but I'm already in love with Yvette Clark's writing and her main character, Kitty. 

You can preorder it from the publisher or other book sources. Here's a link to Yvette's website with handy preorder buttons (although I wish they included Bookshop or Indiebound). Or if you preorder it from your local independent bookstore, they will love you forever! And it may help them stay in business during this ongoing pandemic.

What are YOU reading?

And since I won't post again for a while, Happy New Year!

Monday, December 7, 2020

THE NIGHTMARE THIEF by Nicole Lesperance for #IMWAYR

Hi, everyone! First, please forgive me for joining #IMWAYR -- and then disappearing for three weeks. I've been dealing with headaches and blurry vision, so reading has become difficult. The good news: I had a CT scan of the head and neck, and a follow-up video visit with my neurosurgeon. She says my brain is in great shape! (Yes, contrary to popular opinion, I do have a brain...) No new aneurysms, and the coils, clip, and shunt are all working properly. 

As for the blurry vision, I have an ophthalmologist appointment at the end of this week. Keep your fingers crossed that it's not serious. I feel as if my prescription changed suddenly. 

In the middle of all this, I finally received page proofs from my editor and had only ten days to read through them. So I had to discipline myself to stay off social media, stay off the computer for other reasons, and read 25 pages a day of my proofs for those ten days. I've never been so happy to have written a novel in verse. So few words on the page!

From now on, I will try to continue to participate in #IMWAYR, but probably only every other week. And it may take me a few days to read your posts, so please be patient with me. 


The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance (coming January 12, 2021, Sourcebooks, ages 8 and up)

What a fascinating novel! It's both deliciously creepy (oh, that villain! Oh, those nightmares!) and heartwarmingly touching at the same time. This book will rank right up there with Coraline by Neil Gaiman, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and Savvy by Ingrid Law. And the writing is so imaginative and so visual I could totally see this book as a movie.

Set in the fictional New England town of Rockpool Bay, this delightfully whimsical tale of magic and dancing and dreams will pull you in from the first page. Maren Partridge is learning from her grandmother how to create dreams, which her family sells in their shop, Typewriters and Dreams. There are lots of other magical products in Rockpool Bay: singing bubbles, edible fireworks, roses that grow back as soon as they're picked. But Maren's family's dream shop is the only one in town.

Then a mysterious woman enters the shop and wants to buy a dozen nightmares. Maren's grandmother will only sell three nightmares at once. 

The other hard and fast rule: dreams cannot be given to someone without their consent. 

Maren's older sister, Hallie, is in a coma after a car accident, and Maren decides to break the rules and give her sister a nice dream, hoping it will awaken her from her coma. But the mysterious new customer happens to witness Maren's transgression and bribes her into stealing nightmares for her from the shop.

As the mysterious woman's true purpose becomes clear, the story becomes so compelling, you won't want to stop reading. Because of my vision issues, I could only read a little at a time, and it was driving me nuts! And the best news of all: there's a sequel!

This book will arrive in one month. You can pre-order it from Bookshop.

Here's Nicole's website

Sunday, November 15, 2020

More Wonderful Debut MG Novels from #the21ders! for #IMWAYR

 Hi Everyone!

It's been a couple of bizarre weeks here in the US, with the votes finally counted, and the outgoing president refusing to concede to the newly-elected (and rightfully-elected) one! 

I handle the anxiety by reading, as usual. I decided to join #IMWAYR, hosted, as far as I can tell by Book Date! And I just found out there's one for Kidlit at Unleashing Readers! Yes, I know it's Sunday, but hey, most people won't read this post until tomorrow, right?

Here's my second installment of reviews of upcoming debut novels by my fellow MG 21ders. These are books I've been privileged to read already (usually via e-arcs from the publisher and Edelweiss+ or Netgalley).  In case you missed it, my last review post is here.

You're in for more treats, as all of these MG novels are most impressive! And... all of these wonderful books are available for pre-order! I've included links to the publishers (just click on each title), and also links to Bookshop this time (if available). When you order from Bookshop it helps Indie bookstores everywhere. Thank you!

The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman (April 6, 2021, Farrar Straus and Giroux/Macmillan)

What a delightful tale! This is a fantasy reimagining of A Little Princess, but even if you're not familiar with that classic, you'll still enjoy this gorgeously-written, fast-paced story set in 1890s New York City, instead of England. The main characters are Emma, a rich girl, and Izzy, a servant at the academy where Emma's wealthy father enrolls her to learn how to kindle her magic. In the impressive world Colman has created, children must learn to kindle their magic at the age of 12, before it snuffs out at age 13. But only the rich can afford to pay for this education.

Compelling and fast-paced, this is a joy to read. The author has created a fully-realized magical world, with clever details, the perfect villain, loyal friends, and social commentaries that are timely today. Plus, BEST. OPENING. LINE. EVER!

Order from Bookshop

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar: The Chronicles of Astranthia # 1,  by Payal Doshi (May 2021, Mango and Marigold Press)

A compelling MG fantasy adventure, with gorgeous, evocative language and highly-imaginative elements. Rea and her twin brother Rohan are about to turn 12 in Darjeeling, India. They live with their mother (Amma) and grandmother (Bajai) and life is sometimes difficult. Amma and Bajai seem to pay more attention to Rohan, and Rea is jealous. On the night of their 12th birthday, their mother and grandmother warn them to stay in the house, but Rohan slips out to meet his friends, and Rea follows him, along with her friend Leela. Then Rohan goes missing and Rea and Leela search for him. With advice from a fortune teller, they enter another world, Astranthia, a place of magic, flowers, and fairy folk. Queen Razya is deliciously evil, the perfect villain, right up there with Maleficent. If you enjoy portal fantasies, you will love this imaginative tale.

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler (January 12, 2021, Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)

A beautifully-written and moving story about a young girl's grief for her father, a famous artist, who died a year ago. He was known mostly for his asterisms, paintings of made-up constellations, one which represented himself and one his wife. He had planned to paint one of Georgia, but then he died. 

When Georgia's mother starts putting together a retrospective exhibit on Georgia's dad for the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, she brings home stacks of papers. Georgia finds a previously-unknown sketch of herself at age 10, and discovers something amazing on the back. Around this same time, she gets into a fight with her best friend, Theo. He urges her to enter an art contest for students, the one he's entering. But Georgia is no longer sure if she wants to be an artist like her dad. She's no longer sure of anything.

This touching story of Georgia's twelfth year, and the compelling MG voice, will draw you in from the first page. The art mystery itself will intrigue you. Art, Science and Astronomy all come together in this brilliant contemporary novel.  

Thanks, a Lot, Universe by Chad Lucas (May 11, 2021, Amulet Books/Abrams)

I love this novel! 

Told in alternating first person points of view, this delightful story of Brian and Ezra, two boys turning thirteen and learning to navigate the often-confusing world of adolescence, will pull you in from the first page. When you reach the inciting incident (quite early on), you'll be hooked until you finish reading! No spoilers here, though.

Many one-sentence paragraphs help make the pace lightning-fast. I read this in two days, which is some kind of miraculous record for me. Especially since I was reading the e-ARC on my laptop. (No, I don't own a Kindle!)

The most diverse cast I've seen in many years of reading MG, and it's all handled in a smart, sophisticated way. Brian's social anxiety (which he calls his Super Awkward Weirdness Syndrome) comes across perfectly, and the way Ezra learns to accept his own nature is endearing. The humor, especially in the dialogue, is wonderful! Chad Lucas is a writer to watch out for. I can't wait to read whatever he writes next!

Up next for me, two more debut 2021 MG novels, An Occasionally Happy Family by Cliff Burke, and The Nightmare Thief by Nicole Lesperance. 

What have you read lately?