All posts by Kasey

About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

Review: Not If You Break Up With Me First by G. F. Miller

Not If You Break Up With Me First by G. F. Miller

Not If You Break Up With Me First
G. F. Miller
Aladdin
Published June 4, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Not If You Break Up With Me First

Two friends who have unhappily found themselves in an accidental relationship try to drive the other one to call things off in this tongue-in-cheek middle grade romance.

Childhood friends Eve and Andrew are destined to be together— everyone says so, especially their friends and classmates who are all suddenly crush-obsessed. So when Eve and Andrew’s first eighth grade school dance rolls around and Eve, feeling the pressure, awkwardly asks Andrew to go with her, everyone assumes they are Officially Dating and Practically in Love. Overwhelmed, Eve and Andrew just…go with it.

And it’s weird. Neither of them wants this dating thing to mess up their friendship, and they don’t really see each other that way. But they also don’t want to be the one to call things off, the one to make things super awkward. So they both—separately—pledge to be the worst boyfriend or girlfriend ever, leaving it to the other person to break up with them. It would be genius…if the other person weren’t doing the exact same thing.

My Review

This is kind of How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, but make it middle grade and where they’re both trying to get the other person to break up with them.

What really makes this great is the writing. Some scenes are hilariously awkward. Others nailed middle school so perfectly, I felt like I had time-traveled. It’s silly, sometimes gross (fart jokes, etc), but it doesn’t skimp on heart.

The chapters alternate between Eve and Andrew’s points of view, so readers are in on each person’s plan to drive the other to dump them and why it seems like a good idea. Writing both viewpoints also shows us how much Eve and Andrew miss their friendship, what they value about one another, and their hurt feelings and loneliness.

The short chapters make this one an easy, quick read. This would work well for readers who aren’t quite sure they’re interested in romance books yet or readers looking for books about changing relationships in middle school or friend drama.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Representation
Eve and Andrew are white. Also of interest: Andrew plays quads on his school’s drum line. Eve loves science, specifically space, and compares lots of things to space phenomena. Eve’s parents separate during the story.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Brief crude humor.

Romance/Sexual Content
A boy and girl hold hands. Some mentions of kissing between other couples, but not on scene. At one point, someone asks a girl what her sexual identity is, and she responds that she doesn’t want to think about that yet, can’t she just be thirteen for now? A nice nod to kids who aren’t sure and resent the pressure of being asked as a way to explain why they aren’t dating or reject someone who asks them out.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
A prank war escalates, causing some hurt feelings and consequences when shool property is damaged.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.

Review: Where Was Goodbye? by Janice Lynn Mather

Where Was Goodbye?
Janice Lynn Mather
Simon & Schuster
Published April 30, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Where Was Goodbye

A teen girl searches for closure after her brother dies by suicide in this breathtaking novel from the author of Learning to Breathe and Facing the Sun.

Karmen is about to start her last year of high school, but it’s only been six weeks since her brother, Julian, died by suicide. How is she supposed to focus on school when huge questions Why is Julian gone? How could she have missed seeing his pain? Could she have helped him?

When a blowup at school gets Karmen sent home for a few weeks, life gets more things between her parents are tenser than ever, her best friend’s acting like a stranger, and her search to understand why Julian died keeps coming up empty.

New friend Pru both baffles and comforts Karmen, and there might finally be something happening with her crush, Isaiah, but does she have time for either, or are they just more distractions? Will she ever understand Julian’s struggle and tragedy? If not, can she love—and live—again?

My Review

If you know me, you probably know why this book would be difficult for me to read and review. I also think it’s a really important topic and one I want to see young adult literature cover and cover well, so I wanted to read it anyway.

Karmen’s quiet life at home in the Bahamas turned upside down the night her family learned about her brother’s death by suicide. As Karmen tries to piece together what happened and why, she hunts down people who knew Julian and the places he visited, including the cliffs where he ended his life.

At its core, Where Was Goodbye is a grief journey. It’s Karmen wrestling with unanswered questions. Her anger. Sadness. The emptiness around the dining room table. The growing distance between her parents.

People around Karmen react differently to grief as well. Her parents handle it in different ways, some causing additional harm to other relationships. Karmen’s best friend wants desperately to help, but doesn’t seem to understand what she’s going through. Instead, she reduces it to a clinical process.

I like that the author set the story in the Bahamas. I can’t think of anything else I’ve read off the top of my head that’s been set there. The setting is significant in a couple of places in the story, but many other scenes include quiet cues about Bahamian food and culture.

In the story, Karmen also learns to skateboard. She primarily uses the board for transportation and to connect with others.

Identifying with Karmen’s grief and her questions in the wake of her brother’s death felt easy. Her parents’ grief felt raw and real, as did Karmen’s. I like that the author was careful to avoid language and statements that stigmatize depression and suicide, though the story does include a few people harassing Karmen about her brother’s death.

This is definitely a book to approach with care, but it may be helpful for anyone who knows someone who has thought about suicide or experienced depression.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Karmen’s brother has died by suicide. Karmen and her family are Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Karmen and her friend attend youth group at their church. Karmen ends up ducking out for the service.

Violent Content
References to her brother’s death and specifically how he died. A boy at school says something cruel to Karmen, referencing her brother’s death. Later, a tabloid reporter tries to pressure Karmen into talking about her family’s loss. One scene includes suicidal ideation and a description of a moment when someone nearly attempts to end their life.

Drug Content
Karmen goes to a bar with friends. She sips a drink they give her and realizes it’s alcoholic. One of her friends gets very drunk. Another person offers to drive the group a short distance. Karmen gets out of the car when it becomes obvious the driver is drunk.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Ghost Writers: The Haunting of Lake Lucy by Sandy Deutscher Green

Ghost Writers: The Haunting of Lake Lucy
Sandy Deutscher Green
Monarch Educational Services
Published May 14, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Ghost Writers: The Haunting of Lake Lucy

Your new pen pal has a grave secret.

A lakeside summer vacation is just what 13-year-old Jayce needs…except he’s convinced the ghost from his nightmares lives in the creepy house next door. But when he decides to team up with his twin sister to write a letter to the phantom neighbor, he’s shocked when THE GHOST WRITES HIM BACK! Now Jayce must uncover the dark secret of a cursed lake-or remain haunted forever.

Green’s Horror-In-Verse is sure to spook! You’ll be second-guessing the next time you check your mailbox.

My Review

I enjoyed the pairing of suspense and novel-in-verse. The spare verses supported and increased the intensity of the scenes. It added to the eerie feeling of the setting, too.

At different points in the book, a scene might be written in a different format, such as a haiku. I liked that the writing was playful like that and wondered if it might make this an interesting book to use in an upper elementary English Language Arts classroom because it contains examples of different kinds of poetry used within one longer project.

Jayce and his twin sister have an interesting relationship. The shadow of their closeness, probably from when they were younger, still lingers over them, but you sense that they’re growing into separate interests. The story captured that really well.

I enjoyed reading this and definitely think it would make a great addition to a seasonal reading list for fall or Halloween, so you’ll probably see me talking about it again in a few months.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Major characters are white, fraternal twins.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Jayce encounters what he believes is a ghost haunting a house on Lake Lucy. Strange, inexplicable, and sometimes sinister things happen around the house and lake.

Violent Content
Some brief instances of bullying. Situations of peril. Someone nearly drowns.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Burning Crowns by Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber

Burning Crowns (Twin Crowns #3)
Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber
Balzer + Bray
Published April 25, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Burning Crowns

Twin queens Rose & Wren survived the Battle for Anadawn and brought back magic to their kingdom. But danger lurks in Eana’s shadows.

Wren is troubled. Ever since she performed the blood spell on Prince Ansel, her magic has become unruly. Worse, the spell created a link between Wren and the very man she’s trying to forget: Icy King Alarik of Gevra. A curse is eating away at both of them. To fix it they must journey to the northern mountains—under the watchful guard of Captain Tor Iversen—to consult with the Healer on High.

Rose is haunted. Waking one night to find her undead ancestor Oonagh Starcrest by her bed, she receives a warning: surrender the throne—or face a war that will destroy Eana. With nowhere to turn and desperate to find a weapon to defeat Oonagh, Rose seeks help from Shen-Lo in the Sunkissed Kingdom, but what she finds there may break her heart.

As Oonagh threatens all Rose and Wren hold dear, it will take everything they have to save Eana–including a sacrifice they may not be prepared to make.

My Review

I’ve followed this trilogy since the beginning, so I’m really excited to have had a chance to read the conclusion. What a wild ride it was!

Wren and Rose share a connection, but they’re really different as people. I liked the way they related to one another but yet had their own values and approaches to ruling Anadawn. Each sister has her own romance underway from previous books, and those progress here, too. I’m not gonna lie, I kind of hoped one sister would make a different choice than she did, but I felt like the ending was satisfying nonetheless.

The romantic plot contains some of the most mature elements of the story. It does fade to black before characters go further than undressing, but the characters definitely have some lusty thoughts and desires. The rest of the story feels solidly young adult. Rose and Wren are both still figuring out how to step into their adult roles as queens. They’re falling in love for the first time. I felt like those components really anchored the story as a young adult fantasy.

Wren and Rose and their relationship stands at the center of the story. In this particular book, they face a threat from their shared ancestry, one they can only vanquish together.

All in all, I enjoyed the series, and I’m glad I read all the way to the end. I think readers who are just outgrowing Disney fairytales would like the Twin Crowns series.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Representation
Minor characters with brown skin. Two minor female characters are in a romantic relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. In two scenes, characters undress one another, and the scene fades to black.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have magic. Wren and Alarik performed forbidden blood magic in an earlier book, which bound them together under a curse. A cruel past queen raises humans and animals from the dead, creating an undead army.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Battle scenes. References to torture. Descriptions of desecrated graves.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Spring 2024 Backlist Reading Check-In and Life Update

Life Update: It’s Been Wild

Whew. It has been a tough few months, y’all. Wowza. I had to take an unplanned break from reading because things got too overwhelming. And the weird thing is, there wasn’t a gigantic, immediate crisis at any point.

My kids hit some big milestones and needed extra support. My partner was traveling for work. It meant additional output from me, but nothing that I would have called unmanageable.

Except that it was. Which, thankfully, prompted me to get medical advice. I’ve had some low-key, annoying, but not dangerous, issues going on for a while. I thought by now, I’d be getting relief from new meds and treatment. But that didn’t seem to be happening. In fact, I felt worse.

Anyway, thankfully, I spoke with a nurse who not only really heard what I was saying but also pretty easily connected the dots and asked me to immediately stop the meds I was on. It turns out the medicine made me feel worse. Fortunately, there are other medicines to try, so I’ll start something new this week and hopefully continue feeling better.

So, yeah. I’ve been feeling a lot less than myself since December, but it happened so gradually it was hard to notice until now, looking back. At any rate, I am starting to feel better (aside from this head cold I’ve picked up), and I hope to get caught up on my reading in the next few weeks.

Spring Backlist Reading Check-In

Let’s move on to why we’re all here: books!

Most of these backlist titles I listened to as audiobooks. The only exception is the graphic memoir by Colin Kaepernick. I’ve found audiobooks to be a great way for me to work through my backlist since I’ll listen while I’m driving or folding laundry.

One of my goals this year is to read classic literature by women and/or BIPOC. I’m counting The Color Purple by Alice Walker and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou toward that goal.

Another of my goals is to read some of the nonfiction titles I’ve had my eye on for a while. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann and The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater will count toward that goal– and they were both absolutely excellent!

Some of these books will appear on my Beat the Backlist and Read Harder challenge pages, too.

Note: This post contains affiliate links that don’t cost you anything to use but help support this blog. Thanks for using them to do your shopping!

Spring 2024 Backlist Reading

Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game by Colin Kaepernick, Eve L. Ewing, and Orlando Caicedo

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: I actually read this because I came across a pretty scathing review of the book that struck me as… well, problematic at best. I wanted to read the book and see if that context made the reviewer’s comments make more sense. It didn’t, but I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s nuanced and thoughtful and focuses on Kaepernick’s life as a middle school and high school student and the challenges he faced.

Published March 7, 2023 | My Review to Come


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Hunger Games #0) by Susanne Collins

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: Oof. I am glad I read this one, but I struggled. It’s kind of President Snow’s origin story. Taking a character that people so despised and writing a story in which he appears sympathetic has to be a huge writing challenge. There were parts that I thought were great and characters I liked. Overall, I’m glad I read it, but not sure it is something I’d ever revisit. (Though I did reread WUTHERING HEIGHTS this year, so who knows!)

Published May 19, 2020 | My Review to Come


The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: This is an absolute must-read. I loved the way the book is structured. Slater knows exactly when to zoom into the details and when to zoom out to show the system surrounding the people in the book. I’m still reeling from the book and can’t stop recommending it to everyone I can think of.

Published October 17, 2017 | My Review to Come


Vengeance of the Pirate Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My Thoughts: It was fun to revisit Alosa’s pirate world again and follow a ship of mostly female sailors, but this one was kind of a miss for me overall. I couldn’t really get into the romance. It felt like he didn’t respect her boundaries because he knew what she needed better than she did. Could legitimately be my perception of the characters. I wish I’d connected with the story more.

Published November 7, 2023 | My Review to Come


Killers of the Flower Moon: Adapted for Young Readers: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: I discovered this YA adaptation while browsing for a new audiobook from my library. As soon as I started listening, I was hooked. I knew only the vaguest bits of history around the edges of these events. I kinda remember the Teapot Dome scandal and J. Edgar Hoover’s rise to the head of the FBI, but I knew nothing about the shocking murders of the Osage people and the racist practices that not only led to them but often protected the wrongdoers rather than the people being harmed. This is an absolute must-read.

Published November 16, 2021 | My Review to Come


We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: This one has been on my reading list for a while, so I was excited to finally pick it up. I love the big city (Washington DC) to small town (Bardell, GA) vibes and the layers of mystery perfectly folded together in this book. It’s also an incredible intergenerational story about trauma, grief, and the way that we connect to our history. Some parts were hard for me to read, but the story as a whole really moved me. This book will stay with me a long time.

Published November 29, 2022 | My Review to Come


Once Upon a Broken Heart (#1) by Stephanie Garber

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: It’s been a long time since I’ve read CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, but I enjoyed it so much, that I knew I wanted to check out this series. Now that all the books in the series have been released, I think this is one I could seriously binge my way through. It’s got the same dangerous magical feel that CARAVAL had for me, and I think I like the forbidden love angle the story has going on. I’ll definitely read on for book two.

Published September 28, 2021 | My Review to Come


The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: I can’t believe this came out in 2018! Have I really been saying I’m going to read it for six years?! Wowza. Anyway. It took me until probably the halfway mark of this book for me to decide that I really liked it. I think at the beginning, I kept waiting for the story to start? I expected Alice to spend 75% of the book in the Hazel Wood or Hinterland itself instead of the pace the actual story takes.

Published January 30, 2018 | My Review to Come


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: One of my goals for this year is to read some classic literature written by women and/or BIPOC, so this will be one on that list. It’s the first in a series of autobiographies that Angelou wrote, focusing on her life from the ages of three to sixteen. I think this is the first book I’ve read that talks about the experience of segregated life from a Black perspective. It’s haunting and beautiful.

Published April 21, 2009 (Orig. 1969) | My Review to Come


The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

My thoughts: Some depictions of abuse in this book made it tough to read at times, but wow. Beyond those moments (and maybe also in spite of them?) it’s such a beautiful story about sisterhood and the strength women draw from relationships with one another. It’s about the power of community and the value of holding space for one another. Helping each other. I really enjoyed this book, and it’ll stay with me for a long time.

Published December 10, 2019 (Orig. 1982) | My Review to Come


Have you read any backlist titles lately?

If you’re participating in a backlist reading challenge this year, please let me know! If you have a page or post where you list the books you’ve read, please feel free to put a link to it in my comments. I’d love to check it out.

Have you read any of the books on my Spring 2024 Backlist Reading list? If so, please let me know what you think about them in the comments!

Review: I Wish You Would by Eva Des Lauriers

I Wish You Would
Eva Des Lauriers
Henry Holt & Co.
Published May 21, 2024

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About I Wish You Would

In this drama-filled love story, private confessions are scattered on the beach during a senior class overnight and explosive secrets threaten to tear everyone apart, including best friends (or maybe more?), Natalia and Ethan.

It’s Senior Sunrise, the epic overnight at the beach that kicks off senior year. But for Natalia and Ethan, it’s the first time seeing each other after what happened at junior prom―when they almost crossed the line from best friends to something more and ruined everything. After ghosting each other all summer, Natalia is desperate to pretend she doesn’t care and Ethan is desperate to fix his mistake.

When the senior class carries out their tradition of writing private letters to themselves―what they wish they would do this year if they were braver―Natalia pours her heart out. So does Ethan. So does everyone in their entire class. But in Natalia’s panicked attempt to retrieve her heartfelt confession, the wind scatters seven of the notes across the beach. Now, Ethan and Natalia are forced to work together to find the lost letters before any secrets are revealed―especially their own.

Seven private confessions. Seven time bombs loose for anyone to find. And one last chance before the sun rises for these two to fall in love.

My Review

I really needed a candy romance book right about now, so I was really glad to find this one on my list. The short chapters make it especially binge-able, and the tension between the two estranged best friends makes it easy to keep reading well past bedtime (which I did.)

I like that Natalia is an artist and that her art impacts the story. There are moments when she describes how she’s feeling in terms of art or color. Ethan, by contrast, drifts into sharing strange facts when he’s stressed, which is really cute.

Almost the whole story takes place during an overnight camping trip for the rising senior class at Natalia’s and Ethan’s school. The first couple of chapters take place a few months before, and the last chapter takes place long afterward, functioning sort of like a prologue and epilogue.

The romantic plot of the story holds a lot of tension, with Natalia and Ethan recalling a kiss from months earlier that neither is sure whether the other regrets. The senior camping trip marks the first time they’ve seen each other in a while, and it creates a kind of forced proximity. The secret letters part of the story added some interesting components and quirky side characters and subplots.

Fans of J.C. Cervantes will probably like this quick, intense love story.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Representation
Natalia is Latine on her mom’s side. Includes minor characters of other races and gender identities/sexual orientations.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly frequently. One character uses transphobic language and deadnames a nonbinary character.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. A boy and girl remove their tops while kissing. References to sex. References to romance between a girl and nonbinary character.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Two boys get into a fistfight. One character uses transphobic language and deadnames a character. References to sexual coercion, mostly off-scene. In one scene, a man boxes a girl into a corner, bracing his arm on the wall over her, and makes some comments with sexual undertones.

Drug Content
One teen character gets inexplicably drunk at the campout.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.