6 Favorite Indie YA Novels

Last week I shared What’s So Special About YA? and My Favorite 10 YA Novels. Today I want to share my favorite indie YA novels by some absolutely incredible authors. I have had the privilege to work with these ladies when I reviewed their works. The indie community is extremely supportive of one another, and it’s an honor to be friends with these incredible individuals. Here are my faves in no particular order.

Swimming Sideways by CL Walters. As I discuss in my review, this novel dives into the true realities that teenagers deal with today. This is book one of the Cantos Chronicles, a YA trilogy, told from three different perspectives, which makes it relatable to all readers. The plot does not sugar coat the struggles that Abby endures with social media, friendships, and family, making readers wish they could hug this character.

Twisted Games by Brenda Felber. Not only did I review this book, but I had the privilege of doing a virtual author visit with Brenda. Not only is this novel a mystery that takes place in Michigan, where most of my virtual students live, it’s also historical fiction, with a little bit of fantasy. In my opinion, this text is in a category all of its own because it is so unique and will captivate middle school readers. The plot is not super obvious, which I enjoyed, and it will leave readers wanting to read more.

Blood by Kirsten Krueger. I get so excited to talk about this author because we grew up in the same town. She was amazing and came to one of my teen writing club meetings last year and talk about her first novel, which I was excited to review. Kirsten does an incredible job of diving into her characters and making them come alive for readers. Since this novel is Harry Potter fan fiction, you get all of those incredible elements of Hogwarts and friendship.

I Am This Girl: Tales of Youth by Samantha Benjamin. When I read this book to write my review, I was immediately amazed at how raw the plot was. This text jumps into the world of teenage girls, bullying, family issues, and teenage sexuality. It is without a doubt a scary world, but it enlightens readers about the complexities of being a teenage girl in today’s world.

Bound in Silver by Marie Grace. As I stated in my review, this book is the total YA fantasy fangirl novel. I really can’t think of a better way to describe this text. As a total fangirl, this book got me super excited as I made connections to so many of my fave YA novels. The feel of this book is more mature, so I would recommend this one for students in eighth grade and up. This is book one in The Clock Keeper Chronicles, so I’m looking forward to what is to come for the characters.

Project Dandelion by Heather Carson. In my review, I mention that this YA dystopian book is about the potential end of life in the US. This quick read has a fast moving plot that focuses on survival with a hint of mystery as the characters question their changes in life more and more. Recently, I reviewed the second book, Project Dandelion Reentryand still can’t wait to hear what happens next.

Open Book Book Review

In the mid 2000s I was in high school and wanted nothing more than to be Jessica Simpson. She had this gorgeous Louis Vuitton purse and an insanely hot husband. Like most girls, I watched Newlyweds and have the DVDs still, which I will never part with. I was just like Jessica, the ditzy dumb blonde, and truthfully I can still have my moments. When she was getting divorced I was also dealing with the breakup of one of my high school boyfriends and felt connected to her, which sounds extremely lame saying this 15 years later.

About two weeks ago I started seeing that she was releasing a book on social media. To be honest, it’s been quite a while since I thought about her. I knew she was an extremely successful business woman with her Jessica Simpson Collection and that she was married with kids. But, I have to admit I was intrigued about her book.

Open Book, by Jessica Simpson, is truly a remarkable memoir that encourages readers to accept themselves and to never give up.

Right away I loved the writing style of this piece. In the very beginning, Simpson  explains the reasons for her authenticity and honesty in the future pages. I instantly trusted the writer and loved how she talked to the reader throughout the work. She speaks to readers as though she’s speaking with her best girl friends, creating a bond.

I knew Jessica grew up as a pastor’s daughter, but I never realized how devoted to her faith she really is. As a Jersey girl myself, families like the Simpson’s are not super common, so when she described her childhood I not only understand the power of her faith, but I can also appreciate and respect it. She truly believes she is doing God’s work through singing and helping others, and I can definitely see that. She is dedicated to supporting and honoring troops, children and women all over the world.

It’s pretty common knowledge that our childhood greatly impacts our lives as adults, and that is what happened to Simpson. She was touched inappropriately as a child for years by another girl and that experience has without a doubt shaped her into the person she is today. She is so honest and raw in expressing how this situation caused her anxiety and the need to be accepted, which ultimately led her to alcoholism. She does not make excuses for her behavior, but reflects on certain stages of her personal downfall by connecting all of the dots. Her explanations are crystal clear and allow readers a true peek into her world.

One of my favorite parts of the book was of course about her marriage to Nick Lachey. As a 16 year old girl in high school, I sympathized with Nick when he released his album What’s Left of Me, however, there are always two sides to the story. Hearing Simpson’s side for the first time in the book made me want to sit down and have a glass of wine with her. And, I have to admit, rewatch Newlyweds.

Marriage is as personal as it can get. No one will ever know all of the details except the husband and wife. It’s very easy to bash the other, especially in the public eye, but to her credit, Simpson explains this chapter of her life with poise and grace. I do not look at Nick Lachey any differently than I did as a teenager. The woman has true class.

Regardless of what Simpson was experiencing in her personal life, she never stopped growing as a successful woman. She started the Jessica Simpson Collection and turned into a boss babe (woot woot!). She used her personal struggles to help others. When she was getting publicity for being “fat” she instead turned it around and made sure she was creating items that flattered all woman.

Simpson is very open and honest about her romantic relationships with John Mayer and Tony Romo. Like most women, she gets caught in the web of going back and forth with a guy. As a reader you want to yell at her that the guy is a jerk, but she wants to be loved so much that she can’t see it. It’s always easy for an outsider to see these things, but when you’re the one involved you don’t always realize what’s happening. I actually remember a segment from E! News where Jessica is in a box at the infamous football game to watch Tony Romo and she was wearing the pink jersey. My heart went out to her when Romo never publicly stood up and defended her.

One of my favorite parts is when Simpson talks about building her family. You can feel her giddiness as she tells the story about meeting Eric and their connection jumps off the pages. The love she has for her children is undeniable.

Simpson is truly a warrior. She is her own worst critic, but has a tremendous amount of self love and acceptance. Personally, I believe she is in incredible role model, especially as she juggles motherhood, marriage and business. Her strength contagious and motivates readers to be true to themselves.

To purchase the book click here.

Project Dandelion: Reentry Book Review

It’s been a little while since I read a YA dystopian novel, so I decided to get back to my true love. In July I reviewed Project Dandelion, and I was so excited when the author sent me a copy of the sequel.

Project Dandelion: Reentry, by Heather Carson, is a fabulous YA dystopian novel that reminds readers how important it is to fight for our rights.

The story picks up right where the first book left off. The group is heading towards Katrina’s dad’s cabin to seek safety and hopefully answers. The nuclear explosions have cleared and the world is covered in ash. Early on, the group encounters survivors who realize the teens are part of Project Dandelion and try to capture them. However, the survivors don’t know they are dealing with incredibly resourceful teens who manage to escape.

During their trek to the cabin, the group uses their survival skills to hunt, fish, build shelter, etc. They work together to stay alive and they don’t leave anyone behind. I love that even those this takes place in modern day, the kids aren’t helpless without the use of a cellphone. There is no Alexa for them to ask for help, and yet these teenagers are able to make it through.

There is a smidge of teenage love, but it reminds me of the relationship between Tris and Four in Divergent. Katrina and James are like a team, supporting one another and keeping on eye out for the other. They do kiss, but other than that there is no mushy gushy stuff going on. Personally, I admire teenage relationships like this because it teaches readers about the important aspects of what to look for in a partner.

Without giving too much of the plot away, we learn more about Project Dandelion as the story progresses. The new government wants to keep all of the chosen teenagers safe so they can help create a new society. While this sounds good in theory, it quickly becomes obvious that the teens will not have many choices in the new world. They will be forced to have children in a few years and do what the new government tells them.

Katrina, Dreya, Mia, James and Jayden continue to go against the crowd, as they did in the first novel, to fight for their rights. They want the right to make decisions about their own lives, such as when to have children and where to live. By working together, they demonstrate the power of teamwork and perseverance. They don’t let petty teenage drama cloud their judgements, and show how important maturity is.

As we know, there is no utopia without a dystopia, and this novel is a fantastic demonstration of this idea. It is a quick read with a few curse words, so I would recommend the text for eighth grade and up.

To purchase the book click here.

The Knowledge Gap Book Review

It’s no secret that I’m an education nerd. I’m drawn to all things literacy and curriculum. Over my last ten years in education I have seen a lot of different theories, standards, and curriculum come and go with no real answers about how to improve the knowledge gap.

The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix It, by Natalie Wexler, examines the struggles American schools face, how it affects students, and possible solutions.

As a reader, it usually takes me twice as long to get through a nonfiction education book because I need to take breaks. The writing styles of these texts are dry and I find myself taking social media breaks. However, I have to admit, Wexler did an absolutely incredible job making the content flow. I think a lot of that has to do with her breaking up the reading with real life examples from different classrooms, and history of curriculum in America. The change up in content definitely kept me engaged longer and allowed me to draw my own conclusions between the historical facts/accounts and the classroom examples.

While the title doesn’t mention literacy, this whole book truly dives into the deep end of reading and writing. As Wexler points out, reading and math tend to be the focal points in elementary classrooms because of state tests. Even though teachers may have science and social studies scheduled for once a week, it’s rare that those lessons happen because teachers feel the need to constantly hit on reading skills.

One of the main ideas is that using balanced literacy, leveled readers, and guided reading are not helping students improve their reading comprehension skills. The Reading Wars are discussed briefly, with both sides being explained. However, it is crystal clear that phonics based explicit instruction will help the majority of all students learn to read, including those who are English Language Learners, classified with a learning disability, etc. As a reading teacher I was doing a happy dance with the evidence supporting phonics instruction.

Of course, one can’t discuss balanced literacy without mentioning Lucy Calkins. Wexler makes a fantastic argument against the literacy guru that there are indeed flaws in this reading model (and writer’s workshop, too). Readers even “saw” examples in the sections where Wexler observed classrooms using this concept.

But, if balanced literacy is not helping students, then what will?

The author’s #1 point in the 263 pages, is that in order to improve reading comprehension, students need to have more background knowledge, which can only be accomplished by exposing early elementary students to science and history. Yes, some students have social studies where they learn about members in the community, but they need world and US history.

Students have a thirst for knowledge and want to be challenged. Obviously we don’t want students feeling overwhelmed and shutting down, but the classroom teacher is there to guide students. Students can handle advanced vocabulary if they are seeing it in content-rich curriculum. The point of the Common Core was to have American students build on their knowledge from year to year, which a content-rich curriculum does.

Wexler also mentions Daniel Willingham. For my loyal readers you know that I LOVE this man and his book Raising Kids Who ReadIn The Knowledge Gap, Willingham is referenced for his contributions to education and the cognitive psychology. Yay!

Finally, Wexler’s last point was about teaching writing. I will admit during college and student teaching I was always told to teach that writing is a process. I have never used Lucy Calkin’s writing units, but would instead make up my own assignments/tasks with fellow colleagues. The author mentions Judith Hochman, who experimented with a teaching method that started with sentences and taught mechanics at the same time, and has seen great success. Not only has this approach been proven to improve student writing, it has also increased reading comprehension and the ability to critique information they are learning. Hochman and Wexler authored The Writing Revolution, which offers a road map for educators.

WOW!

I have so many parts underlined and marked in this book that there is no way I can share them all in a blog post. However, I would love to share my favorite line.

“…the transformation from a focus on comprehension skills and reading levels to one on content and knowledge is beginning to take hold.” (Wexler 259).

Education is changing. The Common Core sparked that change and caused a lot of educators to look at their teaching methods. As the education world continues to evolve, we need to remember that even though we live in a digital age where students can Google anything, we still need to be providing students with information. Knowledge rich curriculum makes sense for today’s readers. If we want to see changes in our students we have to start looking at the elementary school classrooms.

I recommend this amazing book for superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, teachers and anyone thinking about entering the world of education.

To purchase the book click here.

 

The Ones That Got Away Book Review

Even though I love YA and children’s books, every once in a while I like to change things up and read an adult book. This is my third review for BLKDog Publishing, and I have to say the books from this company just get better and better. The Ring  and I Am This Girl were both fantastic reads.

The Ones That Got Away, by Lisa Hill, is a charming adult novel about love, family, secrets, and mental illness.

Tilly lives with her mom, Elaine, and her gran, Lil. After an amazing opportunity is offered to her by her estranged aunt, Ruby, Tilly decides to leave her fiancé and job to live by an aunt she’s never met, with her next door neighbor Archie, who is like a grandfather to her.

As the story follows this family we learn a great deal about Gran’s dementia, and the family’s history of mental illness. Ruby opened a home for those with mental illnesses using money from her divorce settlement. Ruby is an extremely well put together woman, who is blunt, caring and genuine. Ruby became pregnant with Elaine years ago, and since abortions were illegal at the time, Ruby gave Elaine to Lil and her husband Stan to raise. When Elaine became pregnant with Tilly, Ruby came back and told Elaine the truth about being her mother, and Elaine did not believe her. To thicken the plot even more, Archie, the next door neighbor, really is Tilly’s grandfather, but no one knows that except Archie and Ruby.

Can you tell this intricate plot just keeps getting better and better?

Along with a crazy family tree, there’s also a lot of focus on mental illness. Dementia runs in the family, but as the story goes, we also learn of an ADHD diagnosis, depression, and anxiety. Readers also uncover some deep family secrets that are based on mental illness.

While family members do use pills to help cope with their struggles, they also partake in various therapies, especially Tilly. Her determination to not take medication and to try and change her habits really help her become a new woman. She has clarity and a purpose, and even begins her own business.

Along with family secrets and drama, there are also a few little love stories going on. I’m hesitate to discuss these because they are so intertwined with secrets and the past. Just know that they are all brilliant and will fill your heart with joy.

With mental illness being such a big topic right now, I truly love how Hill gave such a realistic portrayal of life with one of these illnesses. Society is so accustomed to believing that a pill can fix anything, when in reality that is not the case. I love how Hill embraced such a difficult topic and made it relatable for all readers. Personally, I really enjoyed seeing how family and friends feel and handle situations caused by mental illness, especially because I don’t have any of my own experiences to connect with.

I recommend this book for anyone with a connection to mental illness, or if you’re looking for a book filled with family secrets and an intricate plot. This is definitely a great mom read.

To purchase the book click here.

The Tooth Fairy’s Tummy Ache Book Review

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the author to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

I truly feel honored when I get to work with authors multiple times. I love watching the success of their books and all of the children these amazing individuals are impacting. In May I reviewed Lori Orlinsky’s first book Being So Small (Isn’t So Bad After All) 

The Tooth Fairy’s Tummy Ache, by Lori Orlinsky, is a fun, creative picture book that teaches readers about the importance of honesty.

The story starts off with a little girl who accidentally swallows her tooth during her snack. She starts to panic when her she realizes the Tooth Fairy won’t visit unless there is a tooth, so the little girl places a popcorn kernel under her pillow. The Tooth Fairy pays a visit and takes the kernel, but when she gets back to her workshop she notices the “tooth” is a little off. While her fairy friends are helping her examine the tooth, the kernel begins to pop and a mountain of popcorn fills the workshop. The Tooth Fairy opens her mouth and eats some of the popcorn only to wind up in bed with a tummy ache. While the Tooth Fairy is in bed, she thinks about what will happen if she can’t collect lost teeth. She suddenly realizes that the little girl must have lied about the “tooth”.

I love that this picture book is a hardcover. It’s super sturdy and just feels like a good read aloud book. The illustrator, Vanessa Alexandre, did an incredible job creating adorable visuals. I’m a fan of the she included little teeth accessories on the Tooth Fairy and in the workshop.

What really caught my attention with this text is its ability to explore a world that readers don’t often think about. When we think of the Tooth Fairy we just know she comes and leaves money under a pillow in exchange for a tooth. But, what does she do with the teeth? This story answers so many questions in a fun and engaging way, touching on concepts I’ve personally never thought about, such as making dentures for older people.

And to make the story even better, Orlinsky throws in a  fantastic life lesson about the importance of honesty. As adults, we know that lying often has consequences, even if they happen years later. The originality of using a popcorn kernel as a tooth was perfect (and I honestly never thought of that), because it shows kids that while a replacement may look like the real thing, it never will be. The Tooth Fairy teaches young readers that it is always important to tell the truth, even if you are scared.

I would definitely recommend this book for kids in preschool through 2nd grade. I also think it can be used to for character education to discuss the concept of honesty.

To purchase the book click here.

Cami Kangaroo Has Too Many Sweets Book Review

I can’t believe this is my first review of 2020! Even though we are only in the first full week of January, there has been quite a lot happening in the world. The fires in Australia are beyond devastating and heart breaking. As a literacy blogger, I wanted to help bring awareness to this tragedy through books.

Author Stacy Bauer has written some fabulous picture books about Cami Kangaroo. She is currently doing a fundraiser where 100% of her royalties will be donated to saving Australian wildlife. This includes her picture books and stuffed animal kangaroos. It is my pleasure to help support this incredible author by sharing a review of one of her books.

Kangaroos

Cami Kangaroo Has Too Many Sweets, by Stacy Bauer, is a charming picture book that shows readers why healthy eating is important.

Cami is an extremely relatable character for young readers (and adults). She thinks about eating sweets and sneaks ice cream, cupcakes, and sprinkles while her mom isn’t looking. Cami locks the door of her playroom to eat ice cream, hides candy wrappers behind her dresser, and finds brownies in the microwave. She is a determined little kangaroo.

While Cami thinks she is getting away with her creative snacking ways, her mom is right behind her. Mom puts locks on the freezer door, puts sweets on the top shelf, and moves the lock from the playroom door to the pantry. She warns Cami that eating too many sweets will result in cavities, especially when she has a dentist appointment soon.

At the dentist it is revealed that Cami has four cavities. She finally realizes the importance of eating healthy and that it is important to listen to her mom.

As a mom, I love how Cami’s mom was characterized. She is always aware what Cami is doing and tries to help Cami curb her sweet tooth. In all honesty, I had a text to self connection when her mom moved the locks. As a little girl, my mom took my doorknob off of my bedroom door because I would always lock my sister out. Cami’s mom did a similar action so that Cami couldn’t lock the playroom door.

I was also a HUGE fan of the illustrations! Rebecca Sinclair, the illustrator, provided great visuals for the text. My personal favorite was the one of Cami eating ice cream in the playhouse in the toy room because as a kid I would have loved to have one of those.

I would recommend this book for readers in preschool through second grade. I see it being used to support health curriculum topics in schools or for homeschool.

Please help save Australian wildlife by purchasing a book or stuffed kangaroo. For more information on this fundraiser please click here.

To purchase this book click here.

To purchase a stuffed kangaroo click here.