Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
  • ISBN-10: 0553535641 Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (April 5, 2016), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
 Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Jessie's mother died of cancer recently, which changed everything.  But Jessie's life is uprooted when her father returns to Chicago with the announcement that he's eloped and that they're moving to Los Angeles.  Jessie is a junior in an expensive, competitive private school. The only other person she knows is her stepbrother who doesn't talk to her.  

Jesse somehow attracts the attention of two of the popular, bitchy girls in her class.  So, it seems as though the only people that do talk to her give her attitude and negativity.  Until she gets a message from Someone Nobody ("SN") that gives her advice on how to navigate the murky waters of Wood Valley High School and becomes the first real friend she has in Los Angeles.  But SN refuses to meet her and though she opens up to him/her, it could be a massive prank.

Jesse bounces back from the move, and using SN's advice does find friends to spend time with.  As Jesse makes her home in Wood Valley High School, things start to come together. She finds a job, stands up for herself, draws the attention of several guys that she could like.  Are any of these boys SN? How and when will she know?  And will meeting SN in person change things for the better?

Julie Buxbaum's writing takes a fun idea and turns Tell Me Three Things into a book that you'll want to read straight through and share with friends. It's honest, funny, and draws you in.  It reminds you of the good and bad bits of high school and the best parts of friendship.

About the Author:
1. Julie Buxbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Love and After You, and the soon to be released YA novel Tell Me Three Things and her work has been translated into twenty-five languages.  
2. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two young children, and an immortal goldfish, and once received an anonymous email which inspired her YA debut.
3. You can visit Julie online at and follow @juliebux on Twitter where she doesn't list everything in groups of three.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Not if I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Not if I See You First by Eric Windstorm
  • ISBN-10: 0316259853 - Hardcover
  • Publisher: Poppy (December 1, 2015), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.

The blurb:
The Rules:

Don't deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.

Don't help me unless I ask. Otherwise you're just getting in my way or bothering me.

Don't be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I'm just like you only smarter. 

Parker Grant doesn't need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That's why she created the Rules: Don't treat her any differently just because she's blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.

When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there's only one way to react-shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that's right, her eyes don't work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened--both with Scott, and her dad--the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.

I enjoyed Not if I See You First much more than I'd expected.  Parker Grant can be obnoxious, harsh, difficult and self-centered but she's a fighter.  When she was 7 she lost her mother and her sight.  At sixteen, her father died and her life was turned upside down.  Her aunt, uncle and two cousins have moved into her house and she's borne up well considering. 

She still gets herself to a nearby field to run every morning before school.  Being blind doesn't dictate her life, even if she does have some very strict rules about how other people can and should behave around her and respond to her blindness.  Parker holds onto these Rules tightly and deviations or violations are treated with utmost harshness.  Her best friend Scott was crossed out of her life when they were thirteen and though it seems that she hasn't looked back, she starts to rethink their friendship when Scott moves to her high school their junior year.

Not if I See You First is a story about friendship, loyalty, and learning to make sense of the most awful situations.  It's told by a cheeky, funny, bitchy, likable sixteen-year-old and will likely keep you up all night reading. 

About the Author:
Eric Lindstrom is a BAFTA and WGA-nominated veteran of the interactive entertainment industry. Not if I See You First is his debut novel. Eric invites you to find him online at and on Twitter @Eric_Lindstrom.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
  • ISBN-10: 0316260606 - Hardcover$17.99
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 5, 2016), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman's frantic plea to find a person--a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.

Hanneke looks like a poster girl for the Nazi party with her long limbs, blonde hair, clear skin, and good health.  Hanneke isn't a member of the Nazi party nor a Nazi sympathizer, when the story begins  her rebellion is limited to serving as a courier and procurer in Amsterdam's black market.   She works her job at the funeral home and continues with her deliveries; she knows she isn't part of the resistance, but sees her blackmarket work as subverting Nazi rules.   She's in mourning for the loss of her boyfriend who died fighting the German advance.

When one of her best customers asks her to search for a missing girl, Hanneke's first reaction is to refuse.  Searching for a missing Jewish girl while under Nazi occupation is a huge step from finding sausages and cigarettes, but Hanneke begins to care for about the missing fifteen-year-old.  Hanneke reaches out to friends and gets her first exposure to the Resistance and learns more about the dirty secrets of the occupation.  Hanneke finds it harder and harder to keep her old life together. 

Monica Hesse drew me into the story of Hanneke and her life under Nazi rule.  She gives us a glimpse into Amsterdam and the constraints that the Dutch faced.  When Hesse tells the story of the collaborators and the Resistance, she does it from the point of view of a practical, sympathetic, charismatic fifteen-year-old girl, Hesse makes this horrible time in history come alive in clear detail. Girl in the Blue Coat is a  lovely read!

About the Author:
Monica Hesse is a features writer at The Washington Post, where she writes widely-shared longform pieces and has covered royal weddings, dog shows, political campaigns, and White House state dinners. Monica has talked about those stories and others on NBC, MSNBC, CNN, CSPAN, FOX, and NPR. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and their dog.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson

Audacity Jones to the Rescue by Kirby Larson
Ages 8-12 years. Grade Level 3-7.
  • ISBN-10: 0545840562 - Hardcover $
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (January 26, 2016), 224 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Audacity Jones is an eleven-year-old orphan who aches for adventure, a challenge to break up the monotony of her life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls. Life as a wayward girl isn't so bad; Audie has the best of friends, a clever cat companion, and plenty of books to read. Still, she longs for some excitement, like the characters in the novels she so loves encounter.

So when the mysterious Commodore Crutchfield visits the school and whisks Audie off to Washington, DC, she knows she's in for the journey of a lifetime. But soon, it becomes clear that the Commodore has unsavory plans for Audie -- plans that involve the president of the United States and a sinister kidnapping plot. Before she knows it, Audie winds up in the White House kitchens, where she's determined to stop the Commodore dead in his tracks. Can Audie save the day before it's too late?

Audacity Jones ("Audie") adjusted well to life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls.  Miss Maisie founded the school after being left orphaned and with a large fortune and her unorthodox method of raising girls includes a lack of emphasis on academics.  Audie regularly finds herself subject to discipline and is locked in the Punishment Room regularly.  But Miss Maisie's Punishment Room is her father's former library and a place of sanctuary and escape for Audie. 

When the Commodore, a public official and donor to Miss Maisie's School, comes seeking a volunteer for a dangerous mission, he ends up leaving with eleven-year-old Audacity Jones.  Her assignment takes her to the White House under President William Howard Taft.  While Audie finds some suspicious behavior, she's not sure what might be afoot.  During the time of her White House visit, there are two Taft children at the White House: Taft's niece Dorothy and Charlie Taft.  Audie makes an impression on the two youngsters but it's her old friends from Miss Maisie's Home for Wayward Girls that come forward to help Audie save the day.

An adventure story and historical fiction, Kirby Larson gives us a fun new series with Audacity Jones to the Rescue.

About the Author:
Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky; its sequel, Hattie Ever AfterThe Friendship DollDear America: The Fences Between UsDuke; and Dash. She has also written a number of picture books, including the award-winning Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle. She lives in Washington with her husband.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

Real Tigers by Mick Herron
  • ISBN-10: 1616956127 - Hardcover $26.95
  • Publisher: Soho Crime (January 19, 2016), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
London's Slough House is where disgraced MI5 operatives are reassigned to spend the rest of their spy careers pushing paper.  But when one of these "slow horses" is kidnapped by a former soldier bent on revenge, the agents must breach the defenses of Regent's Park to steal valuable intel in exchange for their comrade's safety.  The kidnapping is only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the agents uncover a larger web of intrigue that involves not only a group of private mercenaries but also the highest authorities in the Security Services.  After years spent as the lowest on the totem pole, the slow horses suddenly find themselves caught in the midst of a conspiracy that threatens not only the future of Slough House, but of MI5 itself.

I'm new to the Slough House series, Real Tigers was my first exposure to Slough House and its operatives, but I enjoy espionage novels and thrillers.

Set in present day London, Real Tigers focuses on the operatives of Slough House the day that one of their own is kidnapped by a private security firm. It's not clear why Catherine is taken as she doesn't deal with confidential information or active files. The entire group of Slough House is relegated to projects that no one is interested in and have little actual intelligence value. Their members are MI5 operatives who can't be dismissed but are being bored/worked until they're ready to quit. The members are each aware of their fall from grace and carry their penance in different ways. Catherine's capture brings Slough House together as the members work to bring her home, tapping into skills long left dormant. Jackson Lamb leads Slough House which is staffed with recovering alcoholic Catherine Standish, Marcus Longworth who is a gambler but the only one of the group with strong fighting skills, Rodney Ho who is an obnoxious computer hacker/genius, drug dependent and equally obnoxious Shirley, gorgeous Louisa recovering from the loss of her partner, and River Cartwright whose last disastrous operation still haunts him.

Real Tigers delivers political intrigue, espionage, and excitement as the Slough House team work together facing plots within plots.

About the Author:
Mick Herron was born in Newcastle and has a degree in English from Balliol College, Oxford.  He is the author of eight other novels, Down Cemetery Road, The Last Voice You'll Hear, Why We Die, Smoke and Whispers, Reconstruction, Slow Horses, Dead Lions, and Nobody Walks, as well as the novella The List.  His work has been nominated for the Macavity, Barry and Shamus Awards, and he won the Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel.  He lives in Oxford and works in London.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams & Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams &  Lauren Willig
  • ISBN-10: 0451474627 - Hardcover
  • Publisher: NAL (January 19, 2016), 384 pages.  
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewer program. 

The blurb:
1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel's portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room? 

The Forgotten Room, set in alternating time periods, is a sumptuous feast of a novel brought to vivid life by three brilliant storytellers.


If you were to ask who might like The Forgotten Room, I'd mainly recommend it to other women who enjoy historical fiction and love stories. The novel follows the stories of three women who live very different lives in the Pratt Mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan: Olive Van Alan who works in service to the Pratt family during the Gilded Age (1890s); Lucy Young who takes a job in a law firm in Manhattan in the 1920s and resides at the women's only residence, Stornaway House; and Dr. Kate Schuyler (1940s), a young woman doctor treating US servicemen during World War II at Stornaway Hospital in New York City.

It is not clear that what ties the women together nor how the men that they are drawn to share a tie to the Pratt Mansion, the uncertainty and mystery continues throughout the novel. The complicated histories, the unusual love stories and the obstacles that each of the women face are skillfully intertwined and result in an unusual mix of love stories. I thoroughly enjoyed The Forgotten Room even as I was trying to decipher the clues that the authors skillfully embedded.

About the Authors:

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of The Sound of GlassA Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, among other novels.

Beatriz Williams is the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Life of Violet Grant, A Hundred Summers, and Overseas.

Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lure of the MoonflowerThat Summer, and The Other Daughter, among other novels.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam, & Interview by Ilona Bray (NOLO) and Project Citizenship (Boston)

Finally, I've been a permanent resident for five years and can apply for naturalization.  Friends and family members that have undergone the naturalization process have told me that this last leg is easier than the process of getting permanent residency.  While I used an immigration lawyer for the conversion of my working visa to that of a dependent spouse with a working visa and my husband and I hired an immigration lawyer to help us obtain our permanent residency, we have decided to apply for naturalization directly.  

I checked the USCIS website, reviewed the instructions for the N-400 form, and checked my local library for the NOLO book that might help guide us through the process.  Fortunately, the 2014 version of Ilona Bray's Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview was readily available.  Going through the book gave me more certainty and confidence as I prepared our application.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview by Ilona Bray
ISBN-13: 978-1413320633 - Paperback $29.99

  • Publisher: NOLO; Seventh edition (September 30, 2014), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The blurb:
For a green card holder, taking the next step to U.S. citizenship offers a host of benefits.  But the application process itself can be long and confusing.  With Becoming a U.S. Citizen, you can save months or even years.  Best of all, you'll know that you are taking each needed step in the most efficient way.

Learn how to:
Make sure that you're eligible for citizenship
Understand the risks and rewards of applying
Fill out application forms
Study for the citizenship exam
Interview successfully
Deal with any setbacks

Becoming a U.S. Citizen also shows you how to take advantage of special benefits and procedures if you have a disability, are in the military or are the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

We're preparing to apply for citizenship and I'd read this book after having filled out the forms.  I fully expected to have to prepare a draft version of our application, review and revise it as needed.  I worried that I would spend too much time reviewing and revising -- weeks or months -- out of fear of making a mistake.

I found Ilona Bray's straightforward description of the process and pitfalls helpful particularly because she offers a practitioner's practical advice.  I've read other reviewers mention that you can get the same advice elsewhere, but since my own sources were limited to the instructions on how to fill out the N-400 form and Ilona Bray's book, I was relieved to find the information organized and readily available in an easy to find format.

As we opted not to hire an attorney to review our application, I wanted more than the government website and instructions to help guide me through the application and waiting process.

If you have possible issues with your application, you'll need to discuss the specifics with an attorney. But if you meet all the requirements and just want to make sure that your application is filed completely and that the process goes smoothly, Becoming a U.S. Citizen is worth reading, keeping on hand, and referring to throughout the process. I found several tips and suggestions that have helped me in preparing my  N-400 application. The tips are the sort that an immigration law practitioner might give you but fortunately without spending several thousands of dollars on an immigration lawyer.  

I was fortunate enough to attend a Project Citizenship workshop at Goodwin Proctor LLP while in Boston last week.  They were able to answer questions that I came across after reading Becoming a U.S. Citizen and trying to fill out the application.  These small questions had me stymied and I wasn't confident that I was finding the right answers on the internet.  I won't go into all of them, particularly since my application is still pending.  But here are a few of the items that they helped me with:
  • I couldn't figure out why the application's barcode populating when I filled out the N-400 form using Adobe on my MacBook.  I tried different browsers, but none of them worked.  But if you use PC, you'll avoid this problem.
  • My first name is so long that I can't type it all in the box provided.  The Project Citizenship volunteers/experts had me just write in that portion.  Simple straightforward fix, but I had been worried about this.
  • I was worried about the periods that I hadn't worked.  I had been busy volunteering and working for our family but hadn't been paid.  Becoming a U.S. Citizen advises answering "unemployed but performed paid work" but I wasn't certain how to describe the work.  The Project Citizenship volunteers/experts first reassured me that the periods of unemployment do not count against one's application -- this was a huge relief and helped me move forward preparing my application.  They also helped me describe the unpaid work briefly. 
It made a huge difference to have two lawyers review the draft N-400 application and prepare my application.  Another attorney and a Project Citizenship expert further reviewed the application for quality control before they considered it ready to submit to USCIS.  The Project Citizenship workshop took around 3 hours and I left with a certainty that my application was ready for submission and examination.  

About the Author:
Ilona Bray began practicing immigration law because of her concern with international human rights issues.  She is the author of Fiance & Marriage Visas and U.S. Immigration Made Easy, both published by NOLO.