Review: Chirp

DSC_0242Chirp, by Kate Messner (2020)

First line: “Mia hadn’t realized how much she missed the mountains.”

After several years away, Mia and her family are moving back to her hometown to be closer to her grandmother as she recovers from a stroke and prepares to sell her business. At least, that’s what they thought the plan was. In reality, Gram has no intention of selling her cricket farm, not if she can help it. Despite the fact that Mia would prefer to spend her summer just helping Gram at the farm, Mia’s mother insists she join a couple camps to keep busy. Mia begrudgingly enrolls in Launch Camp, where participants work on developing their own inventions or business plans like her favorite show Deal with the Sharks, and Warrior Camp, where kids get to work out at a special training gym for her other favorite show, American Warrior Challenge. Warrior Camp happens to be in the same warehouse as Gram’s farm, so she’ll be close by to help out. It also shares warehouse space with a gymnastics gym, a fact that makes Mia very uncomfortable when she discovers its proximity.

Until an accident last year that severely broke her arm, Mia was an avid gymnast with Olympic dreams. But all that changed when she fell off the beam. She tries to push down all memory of that day and what happened, but it becomes harder and harder as the summer goes on. Fortunately, she does make friends with a girl who happens to be at both her camps, and they decide to use their time at Launch Camp to come up with ways to save Gram’s cricket farm. The problems seem stacked against her: even though she seems to be recovering well from her stroke, things keep happening at the farm that have Gram talking about sabotage. If one more thing goes wrong, she will be forced to sell… unless Mia and her friend can figure out who is behind it.

As their investigation picks up, Mia is forced to confront some secrets she’s kept buried for the last year. Secrets that are very much connected to why she finds it difficult to trust and why she cringes passing the gymnastics gym.

The story here is fine – the mystery is fairly predictable, and the friendships seem a bit too easy from my experience of middle school girls. But where this book shines is in Messner’s portrayal of Mia’s real and complicated internal life. Mia has a lot pent up inside her and these feelings feel incredibly authentic – at times heartbreaking:

“Even though she was older and taller now, she felt smaller somehow. As if her body was growing like it was supposed to, but inside, the rest of her was shrinking.”

Further, she has smart, strong, inspirational women around and behind her that give her the safety to express those feelings:

“‘Sometimes courage is quiet,’ Gram said. ‘You were brave to speak up today, Mia. But you were brave before that, too. Sometimes getting up in the morning and being you, no matter what’s happened to you and no matter what anybody says, is the bravest, most defiant thing a woman can do.'”

I think this book will touch many of its readers and will provide them with the courage to express things they’ve been burying. That’s what literature is meant to do for its readers, and this does it so well.

This book comes out next week, February 4th! Go order yours now!

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Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books via NetGalley for the eGalley in exchange for an honest review. 


New to NetGalley


Yesterday, I signed myself up for NetGalley. For those of you who haven’t heard of NetGalley, it’s a website where librarians, booksellers, reviewers, and bloggers can request free eGalleys (electronic Advanced Reader Copies — also known as ARCs) for not-yet-published books. It’s a way for publishers to get buzz going for their new books on Goodreads, Bookstagram, and the book blogosphere, so their opening weeks can be the best they can be. For us, it’s a way to get our hands on those pre-published books before the rest of the world!

Signing up was easy — I found the website easy to navigate, and it provided me with enough information at each step so that I felt confident in what I was doing. It suggests providing yourself with a bookish biography, including linking any social media/websites you use to review, so publishers are more likely to grant your requests. And then the fun starts — browsing through all the books!!

I went a little crazy, I’ll admit. And I didn’t even realize I was doing it. They make requesting so easy! You simply press the “request” button, check what it was that drew your attention to this book (cover, author, description, buzz), and you’re done! By the time all was said and done, I’d requested 9 titles. A few of them I had heard of, but mostly they were ones that just looked good! I wasn’t expecting much, because I had signed up with a similar website called Edelweiss  a few weeks ago, and had been denied every request I made.

But lo and behold! By 9 pm last night, one publisher had already granted my request! I clicked the “send to Kindle” button, and *poof*! I now have a copy of Chirp, by Kate Messner in my Kindle app! This is when I got a little panicked… I suddenly noticed that its publication date is Feb 4. Like less than two weeks away.

Now, because publishers are granting you early access to their titles, they’d like to get a little out of it. Once you’ve read their books, NetGalley provides space for you to review them, ideally before publication, so that it gets that pre-order buzz. It keeps track of how many books you’ve been given access to compared to how many reviews you leave, and it says on the site that the  goal is to keep your “feedback ratio” above 80% in order for publishers to continue giving you books. I’m pretty sure it still counts toward your feedback ratio, even if your review comes after publication, but seeing as this is my first eGalley, I want to put my best foot forward! So, alas, my current eBook read is put on hold (sorry The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue!), and Chirp takes priority. It’s a shortie, so I don’t see it taking me too long, and so far, 3 chapters in, I’m really liking it!

Did I mention another request was approved this morning? Eeeee!!! Luckily, this one isn’t published till August, so I have some time. I really need to pay better attention to release dates next time!

Are you on NetGalley or Edelweiss? Any tips for this newbie? What upcoming releases are you excited about?

Review: Beartown


Beartown, by Fredrick Backman (2016)

First line: “Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.”

Phew, this was a doozy. Which you can pretty much tell from that opener.

This is my first Backman novel, and I can say pretty confidently that I’ll be back for more.

Above all else, Beartown is a hockey town. All the kids grow up playing hockey on the frozen lakes and ponds, and those who don’t, wish they did. Once the players are old enough, they are on the junior team, the senior team, and then eventually the A-Team of the Beartown Hockey Club, and the whole town tracks their seasons religiously. This year, it’s the junior team everyone is paying attention to, however, largely due to star player Kevin. No one has ever seen anyone like him, and the town is convinced that this year the junior team is going to the national finals, and if they do, junior coach David will be made the A-team coach, pushing out old-timer Sune. There’s a lot riding on 18-year-old Kevin’s shoulders. But Kevin’s a machine, and he can take the pressure.

Before the finals, the juniors have to win the semi-final match, and it’s this match that will trigger a violent incident that will leave the whole town reeling. No one wants to believe it, believe her. After all, what’s the word of a 15-year-old girl against the word of a god?

Backman is somewhat of a master of the powerful paragraph, as you can tell from the opening lines. This line grabbed me especially:

“…The girls will survive this. They’ll be able to deal with it. That’s what he’s afraid of. That that’s what’s going to make the rest of the world go on thinking that everything is okay.” [page 250]

He takes the typical reaction, the trope, the more obvious response, and turns it on its head in a way that makes you see it in a whole new light.

His narrative style is built with short sections, sometimes a few paragraphs, sometimes a line, never more than a couple pages. Each section focuses on the perspective of a different character, and there are a BUNCH. I started this book as an eBook (which I primarily read in the dark after early morning feeds), and I felt a bit lost by the quick introductions to so many characters. I think I would have done better starting this on paper, which is how I ended up reading most of it. By switching perspectives so frequently, you’re never bored, and the urgency of the plot increases. He builds suspense, intrigue, drama that keeps you turning the pages long after you would normally be going to bed. (Let’s just say I left laundry in the washing machine for a day and a half and had to rewash it.)

Without giving too much away, I thought the ending — while still keeping me guessing — felt a bit contrived, which (in addition to my initial confusion with characters) kept this one just shy of five stars. Definitely want to check out its sequel.

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2020 Challenge update: This one is ticking the “Famous Author You’ve Never Read” box for me.


Reading Off the Shelf

img_20200117_103929As most people reading this can probably relate to, I have a real book buying problem. I just love to do it. Now that I don’t get to buy books as a part of my job, I feel like it is taking an even bigger part of my brain space Must buy more books.

When I buy new books, they’re very often ones I’m really excited about, ones that have been on my TBR for a while. (In fact, for a while I put myself on a ban from buying any books that weren’t already on my TBR, to curb impulse buying.) And yet, as soon as I get them, they end up on one of many bookshelves in my home, and they stay there. For perhaps eternity.

The vast majority of the books on my shelves are unread. Part of this is because of my book-owning philosophy. I treat my home library like an extended public library: generally when I’m done with a book, I’m ready for it to move on and out. Unless it’s one I LOVVVVEEED, it’s out of here. Really, my local used bookstore is like my library. I buy books there, keep them until I read them, then return them to get store credit to buy new books. The ones that don’t get bought back get taken to Goodwill or the closest Little Free Library on our square. I’m okay with the system I’ve established.

However. There are so many books I’ve been desperate to read right here in my home! In the picture above, there are 114 books that I haven’t read. 114! I had no idea that bookcase held so many. I didn’t actually count the ones I had read, but it’s definitely under 50. Probably closer to 30. And that’s only one bookcase in my home! There are more! So even though I am a compulsive library holds-system user and love to browse the library shelves and bring home way too many books, I also want to take advantage of the terrific titles right here on my own shelves. To help me with that, I’m adding another reading challenge for myself this year: to read one book that I’ve owned prior to 2020 each month.

Seems doable. Not totally confident that I’ll be able to manage even that, but what’s January for if not to set goals?

What are your reading goals this year?

Challenging Myself in 2020

Since this is the first year in a long time that I am not reading with a specific purpose, I wanted a way to direct my reading a little bit, so was happy when I ran across a fun looking challenge on Pinterest the other day. I pinned it to look more closely later, and when I got back to it, I was surprised and excited to find it was from The Booklist Queen, former co-founder of the Pingel Sisters blog. Not long ago, I was introduced to the Pingel sisters on the Sarah’s Bookshelves Live podcast, but I hadn’t had a chance to explore her website until now! This challenge, though lengthy, seems doable and will give me some direction in the new year. I’m excited to see how many I tasks I can complete!

Booklist Queen's 2020 Reading Challenge

I will be keeping track of my challenge progress over on the Challenges page and will post about it from time to time. Thanks Rachael for putting this together! Head over to her site to get more information, sign up for her weekly newsletter, and find a bookmark with all the tasks.

Review: Look Both Ways

img_20200111_153217Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds (2019)

First line: “This story was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky.”

I’ve read a lot of Jason Reynolds. Novels, poetry, stories in various collaborative collections. And after all I’ve read, this is my very favorite. In his Track series he showed his skill at authentic, hilarious conversation and voice. In his YA novels, he showed the depth of experiences that young people go through that they often don’t get credit for. In his poetry, he showed his ability to pack power into the shortest lines.

This collection of ten interweaving stories brings all of those skills together into a masterpiece. It follows middle school students on their walks home after school, and each story is so fully developed that you know and understand and love these characters within the 20 pages of their story. Each story respectfully demonstrates the full life that young teens have, including their struggles, humor, complicated family lives, fears, compassion, and friendships. I wanted to hug every one of these characters and feel lucky to have gotten to peek into their lives.

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Update: So excited to wake up this morning to the news that Jason has been named the new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature!!! He is taking over the role from the queen, Jacqueline Woodson, and I cannot imagine someone more worthy. If you have a chance, watch this interview with the two of them at last year’s National Antiracist Book Festival in D.C.

Winter TBRs

IMG_20200109_121422I have never been good at TBR lists.

Oh, I’m good at making them. My Goodreads To Read list is currently 161 books long, and that’s after I culled it a few months ago. But generally, I’m a mood reader, picking out my next read by sitting in front of my bookcase and reading the first paragraphs of any that catch my eye. Or whichever library holds come in next.

This year I would like to read more of those books on my shelves, books I have received as gifts or found at the used book store or added to my Amazon cart to be able to buy my $3 add on item. But I know that I will be swayed by Bookstagram and my favorite book podcasts, and I will continue to request items from the library, which will then jump ahead of those that I already own. With that in mind, I am going to try to see if I can pull together a stack of books that I plan to focus on in the next few months. This way I can still incorporate some of my books on the shelf among the newer titles. Here are the ones I aim to tackle this season!


The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong (2000)

I’m actually one chapter into this one, but I know it’s going to be with me for a while. A good friend and I have a keen interest in religions of the world and have been reading books related to these topics for over five years together. This is our latest and a repeat author we’ve previously enjoyed. Although it’s 20 years old, its subtitle, “A History of Fundamentalism” seems relevant still today.


The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, by Garrett M. Graff (2019)

I have been hearing so much about this book. It’s all over Bookstagram and has an incredible 4.75 rating on GoodReads. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a rating that high. I just listened to an interview with the author on Sarah’s Bookshelves Live, and it only made me want to read it sooner.

img_20200109_121443.jpgLove Poems for People with Children, by John Kenney (2019)

After the serious nature of the previous selection, I know I’ll need something light to clear the air, and I know this one will take up the cause perfectly. My mom gave this to me for Christmas, and the few poems I read at the beginning had me giggling and passing the book to my husband. HIGHLY RELATABLE.

Untitled presentation(1)Wayward Son, by Rainbow Rowell (2019)

Rowell is one of my very favorite authors, (she just GETS me!) and I reread the first book in this series (Carry On) last month to remind myself what happened, but unfortunately had to return this library book before I had a chance to read it! I have it on hold again, so hopefully it will come back to me soon!

img_20200109_121505.jpgFor Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, by Ntozake Shange (1997)

I know nothing about this “choreopoem” except that evidently there’s a Tyler Perry movie adaptation featuring Janet Jackson. Last year, my cousin-in-law started gifting me books of hers for Christmas, which I love, and this was one of this year’s presents. I’m excited to see what it has to offer.


Twenty-One Truths About Love, by Matthew Dicks (2019)

I remember hearing about this one on the From the Front Porch podcast back in the fall, and when I saw it on the library shelf, I snagged it on instinct. I mean, look at that cover. I’m likely to be swayed by a stack of books. This one is written entirely in list format, which Annie says surprisingly doesn’t get old. We shall see. In any case, it will be a light note after the previous one (making assumptions from both titles).

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This Was Our Pact, by Ryan Andrews (2019)

This one came up on the most recent episode of From the Front Porch, in their Favorite Books from 2019 lists, and evidently has (at least?) 4 starred reviews from those major review sources I used to look at all the time for that job-o-mine. I love me some middle grade graphics, so it seemed like a good plan to request this one from the library. En route!

IMG_20200109_121457Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

This is one of those that has been taking up residence on my bookshelves for years and there is zero reason I haven’t read it yet. Eleven of my GoodReads friends have rated it 4 or 5 stars, several recommendation sources consider it one of their favorite books of all time, and the premise is completely up my alley. By pulling it off the shelf and adding it to this stack, I’m hopeful that THIS WILL BE THE TIME I will finally crack its spine.

Alright! There we go! A new stack for a new year of great reading! What are you planning to read this season?