Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

love a la mode

Information

Goodreads: Love à la Mode
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: November 7, 2018

Official Summary

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

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Review

Cooking/baking shows are in, so it’s not surprising to see an increase in books based on the premise.  In Love à la Mode, protagonists Rosie and Henry are picked as two of twenty high school students to attend a prestigious cooking academy in France run by the famous Chef Laurent.  Things do not go as smoothly, as they planned, however, as they face struggles with cooking, academics, and romance.

Love à la Mode is such a wonderfully perfect contemporary novel.  It has, one might say, all the right ingredients: a fun premise, a gorgeous setting, close friendships, and a touch of romance.  Also, food. Lots and lots of delicious food.  I thought I would like Love à la Mode when I picked it up, but I didn’t predict exactly how much I would enjoy it or how excited I would be to see what happens next.

Besides the food, the books biggest strength is the characterizations (and then how that bleeds over into the portrayals of friendships, family relationships, romance, etc.).  A lot of times I read books and the supposed banter isn’t funny or it doesn’t read like something someone would actually say (or it’s like the Disney Channel, where maybe it’s a “witty” thing to say, but the character just comes across as kind of mean).  In Love à la Mode, the characters really are just funny and kind (and, sometimes, insecure, over-the-top, grumpy, and whatever else makes us funny.)  Honestly, this is the first book I’ve read in a long time where I actively wished that I knew this people and that would could hang out, and be friends ourselves.  I also thought these characters were realistically teens, when so often it’s easy to imagine the protagonists of YA novels as being in their twenties.

There was also a reasonable amount of conflict and struggles in the book.  Strohm does an excellent job of inserting realistic obstacles: a character’s struggle with meeting his parents’ academic expectations, a character’s struggle dealing with the pressure of being at this elite culinary school, a character’s semi-unjustified but kind of understandable jealousy of another guy.  There’s tension in the book, but it’s not over-the-top for the sake of drama; the events are things I can believe would happen to any teen everywhere.  Maybe I read too much YA fantasy where the entire world is in danger, but this is kind of refreshing.

There’s also a clear love and knowledge of food in the book, and there’s representation of a wide variety: both cooking and baking, simple foods and more artisanal foods, foods from different cultures, etc.  If you like food or like watching cooking or baking shows, there’s something for you here.

Love à la Mode is going to be one of the last books I read in 2018, and it’s a great way to end the year.  It will likely appear on some of my lists of favorites in the future.

5 stars Briana

How Buying Comic Books Can Benefit the Library

Previously, I wrote about how my library buys very few DC or Marvel comic books.  While they do purchase books like Hey, Kiddo or The Faithful Spy, superhero comics tend to be very few and very random–you will hardly ever find an entire series together.  But I believe that there is an audience for comic books at the library–and that adding more comic books to the library collection could benefit the library in the following ways.

Increase circulation.

This point may be obvious, but adding a new type of material to a library collection can increase circulation as people realize the library houses something they would like to read.  Furthermore, comics are fairly quick to read and they typically come in long series.  This means a patron coming in for a title like Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl could leave with five or more volumes if they wanted, just of that one title.  That’s really great for generating circulation numbers to show to the library board or government officials as library workers ask for more funding.

Bring New people in the door.

Once word gets out that the library has a fine collection of comic books, people who have never before been in the library might come to check them out.  After all, comic book series tend to very lengthy and thus very expensive.  Not every person can afford to buy every comic they want.  Once people are in the door, they may learn about other services they had no idea they have access to!

Introduce people to new parts of the library.

Comic books have wonderful crossover appeal among different age ranges, so housing them is a great way to get people into different parts of the library.  Adults going into the teen department or the children’s area for a comic book may realize there are resources and materials available for their families, their classrooms, their volunteer group, or their friends with families.  Teens going into the adult department for a comic book may find other titles they enjoy.  In other words, housing comic books could be a great way to make people realize that there are services they never knew about.

Create new comic book readers.

Curating a collection can be a way to help new readers approach comic books.  After all, comic books can be very intimidating.  Which ones are good? Which ones are teen friendly?  Where should a new reader start? Having a well-organized collection focused on titles the community will find interesting can be a safe way for people to start their comic book adventures.

It can also simply a way for people to realize, hey, comic books exist!  After all, where else do you see comics regularly besides a comic book store?  (Though I have heard that Barnes and Noble has expanded their comic book section.)  Simply providing access to readers may help them realize they love comic books!  And isn’t finding readers something they love part of every library’s mission?

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Information

Goodreads: Dry
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: Oct. 2018

Summary

The drought in California has seemingly lasted forever, but no one expected the taps to run dry–except, perhaps, for Alyssa’s weird prepper neighbors.  But now Alyssa’s neighborhood is descending into chaos as one-time friends turn on each other for one life-saving sip of water.  With her parents missing, Alyssa, her brother, and some unlikely allies set out on their own to find one drop to drink.

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Review

Dry is a fast-paced thriller that raises ethical questions about the impact of humans on the environment even as it takes readers on a whirlwind journey across California and into the darkness of human hearts.  Though the book clearly feels itself relevant, the story never becomes overbearingly earnest.  Rather, it allows the action to make readers question themselves, both about whether they could survive a tap-out and about how they might be contributing to one.

As with Scythe, Dry switches among multiple perspectives in order to examine the effects of a major drought on the lives of vastly different individuals.  Alyssa is an “average” teen, just living her life with her parents and younger brother until the taps run dry.  Keldon, her next door neighbor, is the son of preppers, widely educated in survivalist skills and in the use of weapons.  They are joined throughout the book by characters ranging from the self-sacrificial to the fearful and selfish to the depraved and ugly.  The Tap-Out, like any life-or-death situation, apparently reveals the true selves of individuals, raising some to heroes and revealing others to be little more than rabid animals.

Intertwined with questions of how individuals react to hardship is the message that things are getting dire: climate change is real and it could have devastating effects.  The story never says so explicitly, but the fact  is that the water has run out and there are constant reminders that everything done to prevent such a catastrophe was too little too late.  Readers cannot help but wonder how close the real world is to a similar situation, and how their own wastefulness, ignorance, or apathy may be contributing to one.  Chillingly, however, the book ends on a positive note, with no real solutions presented and no guarantee that the Tap-Out will not happen again, either in fiction or in fact.

Dry will appeal to fans of Neal Shusterman, as well as to readers who love thrillers, survival stories, and post-apocalyptic literature.  With its fast-pace and provocative premise, it is a must-read YA.

4 stars

Why Do We Read?

“Why do we read?” is one of those perennial questions asked of students by English teachers.  After all, time is finite and choosing to spend time with books means choosing not to spend time doing other things.  So the question “Why do we read?” might more specifically be asked, “Can we justify spending our time reading instead of doing something else–something else more useful, more uplifting, more selfless, more something?”

Readers have proposed various answers to this question over the years.  On occasion, I hear a student excitedly advance one or more of these answers, pleased at last that they have realized why they were enrolled in that annoying English class in the first place.  And yet, I admit that sometimes the traditional answers do not quite satisfy me.  Over and over again I find myself asking myself, “Why do we read?” and never concluding that reading is necessarily a better pursuit than a number of others I could take up.  Below, I examine some of the traditional answers to the question “Why do we read?” and explain why that answer never feels like the final answer.

For Information

One of the most basic and obvious reasons people read is to learn information or education themselves.  For example, people might choose to read a book on the American Civil War to learn more about history, on personal finance to make more successful investment choices, or on design in order to decorate a room.  However, people can also learn information by watching videos or documentaries, by listening to a podcast or a lecture, by speaking with a friend or family member, or by experimenting themselves.  Reading is a great way to get information–but it does not follow that we  must read in order to be educated or knowledgeable.

For Culture

Some people read because they want to be seen among the cultured.  They want to be able to speak about the latest literary fiction at a cocktail party, to be able quote Shakespeare to impress others, or to recite poetry to a lover.  Or maybe they just want to know what Harry Potter is because everyone else seems to know.  However, it seems to me that culture can be acquired in myriad ways.  Maybe going to wine tastings or art museums or just watching Shakespeare plays would also make a person cultured.

To Become Better People

Readers like to talk about how reading places a person in another’s shoes and allows them to see the world from another perspective.  Studies have even suggested that reading literary fiction (but not genre fiction or non-fiction) improves the ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling, leading to increased empathy.  And yet, it is fairy obvious that there are some readers who are not necessarily very empathetic or kind while there are many non-readers who are.

To Gain Critical Thinking Skills

Many activities involve and teach critical thinking.  Finding your way home when your car is broken and you have no cash requires critical thinking.  Playing a board game requires thinking.  Making a costume for the school play requires critical thinking.  Planning your garden requires critical thinking.  Yes, reading teaches critical thinking, but it holds no monopoly.

To Gain Communication Skills

Reading can teach communication skills.  But non-readers often are very effective communicators, too.  They seem to learn from interacting with people.  And many are highly effective at code switching, changing their communication style based on the group they find themselves in.  Again, reading is useful to teach communication skills, but it does not follow that non-readers are doomed to inarticulate ramblings.

For Entertainment or enjoyment

This final reason for reading is actually the most compelling to me, though it is the one answer to “Why we read?” that I would expect to hear least advanced in the halls of academia.  It does not exactly justify funding the English department, after all.  However, I find it the most compelling because presumably people choose to get information by reading or to become cultured by reading or to try to understand people through reading–and not through other means or activities–because they enjoy it.  They could go to wine tastings or the art museum or to that party, but they would rather stay home and read today.

Conclusion

I suspect that most people read for a combination of the reasons above.  Still, I always feel uncomfortable when one or more of these reasons is advanced in a way that suggests that readers are superior to non-readers.  I know many non-readers who are highly intelligent, curious, empathetic, and personable.  They seem to be getting on fine!  So, in the end, I think answering the question, “Why do we read?” is very personal.  I may need to know for myself that reading is a valuable use of my time, but it does not follow that those who do not read are not making valuable uses of their time–or indeed, that they would not like to read, if only they had the time.  “Why do we read?”  Each person must answer for themselves.

The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

Information

Goodreads: The Glass Sentence
Series: The Mapmakers Trilogy #1
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

The Great Disruption of 1799 threw the world into chaos.  Some areas moved into the future, some into the past, and some became a mix of old and new.  Sophia Tims’ parents are explorers, dedicated to bringing the world together through travel.  But they disappeared eight years ago, leaving Sophia with her uncle, the famous cartologer Shadrack.  When Shadrack is kidnapped, Sophia must use the maps to find an old ally, save her uncle, and save herself.

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Review

“The day New Occident closed its borders, the hottest day of the year, was also the day Sophia Tims changed her life forever by losing track of time.”

The Glass Sentence is an immersive fantasy adventure set in a world unlike any other.  In 1799, the Great Disruption occurred, throwing some geographic areas into the future and some into the past.  Now, explorers travel the earth, hoping to make contact with other civilizations so as to bring the world back together.  Wonders unfold on every page as readers are introduced not only to distant lands and distant times, but also to creatures, people, and objects that border on the magical.

Any fan of fantasy will likely be delighted to open the pages of The Glass Sentence simply because of the detailed world-building.  It is true that the premise of the story seems very confusing and maybe not even explainable.  However, this uncertainty is part of the world.  People no longer understand their own reality.  But explorers and cartographers believe it is only a matter of time before they do.  In this, The Glass Sentence celebrates the spirit of scientific inquiry.

If readers were to have complaints about The Glass Sentence, I imagine that it might be that some will find the world-building too complex.  Readers do not only have to keep track of different locations and their relative time periods, but also have to follow the politics of New Occident.  The politics are, in fact, very timely–they mirror our own as the residents of New Occident buy seats in government and then debate issues such as closing the borders to “dangerous” foreign individuals.  However, the level of detail here means that readers have to pay attention and read carefully.

A fantasy like The Glass Sentence is always a precious find.  Carefully crafted with a highly original premise and a cast of lovable characters, this book is the kind that will have readers eagerly reaching  for the sequels.

4 stars

Ten More Young Adult Books with Male Main Characters

What if It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

Seventeen-year-old Ben has just broken up with his boyfriend, but has to see him every day in summer school.  Sixteen-year-old Arthur is in New York City for a summer internship.  When they meet at the post office, it seems like destiny.  But can a chance meeting lead to true love?

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Elfin historian Brangwain Spurge has been catapulted into the goblin kingdom in order to deliver a recently uncovered artifact as a gesture of goodwill between the two nations.  His host, goblin archivist Werfel, is excited about this unique opportunity to compare notes with a fellow lover of history.  However, the two are about to find themselves in the middle of an international crisis when misunderstandings escalate into preparations for war.  An intriguing story about how different people can view the same events in markedly different ways.

The Frontman by Ron Bahar

Seventeen-year-old Ron is caught between the desires of his strict Israeli immigrant parents and his own dreams.  He wants to date a non-Jewish girl and he maybe wants to start his own band, instead of pursuing medicine.  But how can a teen find his way when everything seems in conflict?  A semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story set in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius Kellner is used to being a disappointment.  His father, he knows, wishes he were tough enough to handle both the school bullies and his clinical depression.  Then his family takes a trip to visit family in Iran.  At first, Darius is skeptical he will fit in.  But then he meets Sohrab, who makes him feel understood for the first time.  And now he’s not sure how he will ever return to his old life in the United States.  A moving look at a teenager trying to find his place in the world.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Todd lives in a town of men and, thanks to the Noise, he can hear all their thoughts, as well as those of his dog.  But when he flees his town, he stumbles upon a most remarkable thing: a girl.  And he can’t hear her thoughts at all.  The first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy.

Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

The mysterious death of a professor draws together three strangers from Oxford, John, Jack, and Charles.  Informed that they are now the Caretakers of an atlas of imaginary lands called the Imaginarium Geographic, the three set sail for the Archipelago of Dreams, where all the places of myth and literature exist.  Chaos threatens the Archipelago, however, as the Winter King seeks the throne.  A fast-paced fantasy adventure that will appeal to fans of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Will just watched his older brother die.  And he’s pretty sure he knows the guy who shot him.  So it’s time to follow the Rules.  The most important Rule?  Get revenge.  But as Will takes the elevator down to find his target, he is joined by a series of spirits who tell him their stories.  It seems that the Rules solve nothing and only continue the cycle of violence.  And suddenly Will has a choice: follow the Rules and end up like Shawn, or ignore the Rules his family has passed down for generations.  A novel told in verse about the futility of gun violence.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds

Miles Morales is struggling. His Spider-Man powers have been acting up and he was just suspended from school for walking out of class to use the restroom. He’s just not sure he can do it anymore. What good is a hero who can’t even graduate?  A gripping, character-driven novel.

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

One day shortly after midnight, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive the call: today is the day they die.  With fewer than 24 hours to make life meaningful, they find themselves drawn together by the Last Friend app.  Hopefully, they can find peace and create a little adventure before it is too late.  A poignant look at what it means to die–and what it means to live.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister is struggling with racism at his new school and journaling to Martin Luther King, Jr. in an attempt to figure out his thoughts.  But then he and his friend are out driving when an angry cop pulls a gun. And his world changes just like that.

Looking for more YA with male main characters?  Check out our first list.

The Whispers by Greg Howard (Blog Tour with Author Q&A)

Whispers Banner

About the Book

A middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

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The Whispers

Author Q&A

1. If you had one sentence to convince someone to read The Whispers, what would you say?

Fairies, hobgoblins, and mystery, oh my!

2. What was your favorite scene to write in The Whispers?

Honestly, I think it’s the scene in which Riley helps his Grandma make her famous 5-4-3-2-1 Fruit Salad. There isn’t anything flashy or necessarily exciting about that scene, but boy does it take me back. So often as a kid, I helped Grandma make her fruit salad while Granddaddy sat in his recliner in the living room watching television. I wrote Riley’s grandparents as carbon copies of my own so that scene is very vivid and nostalgic to me.

3. Riley’s dog plays an important role in The Whispers. Can you tell us about some animals that have been memorable or influential in your life?

In The Whispers, Tucker is part guardian angel and part spirit guide to Riley. You get the sense that Tucker knows exactly what’s going on even if Riley doesn’t, and he’s desperately trying to help Riley find the answers he seeks.

There was a real Tucker in my life, and he was exactly as described in the book—a black and tan, one hundred twenty-pound Rottweiler-Shepherd mix. He was a wise old soul, and hands-down the greatest dog in the history of dogs. Smart, loyal, loving, gentle, intuitive—he was special, and a rescue. But I had Tucker as an adult, not as a kid. He passed away about twelve years ago.
And as a kid, we once had a beautiful German shepherd named King who followed us everywhere, looking out for us. I remember many days exploring the woods behind our house with King right by my side.

4. Riley seems to have strong opinions on snacks. What are some of your favorite snacks, and do you snack while writing?

Riley definitely knows his snacks! I was a big snacker as a kid as well, but I’ve always been a potato chip guy. I’ll leave the Flamin’ Hot Funyuns to Riley. We also ate a lot of Nature’s Candy, as Riley calls it—the nectar of honeysuckle blooms, boiled peanuts, berries found in the woods, and sugar cane cut right off the stalk. Since I write from 4AM to 6AM every day, my only writing snack is coffee. Sometimes I’ll get crazy and have a protein bar. But hands down my favorite snack since childhood is potato chips.

5. How do you approach writing what some people might see as “tough topics” for middle grade readers?

I don’t really approach tough topics any differently. You have to write from a genuine place for kids without worrying about what people will think, or if someone will have a problem with it. Kids can spot a lack of conviction a mile away. Especially when it comes to writing for and about queer kids, I feel I owe them authentic portrayals of LGBTQ characters because when I was young, I never saw myself in literature, or televisions shows, or movies. That kind of underrepresentation can make a kid feel immensely lonely and invisible. It’s better today, but middle grade fiction still has some catching up to do in comparison with other genres such as young adult.

Even topics dealt with in The Whispers such as religious oppression, trauma, grief, and mental health, you just have to write it raw and honest and then let your editor guide you during revisions. I’m lucky to have an editor who isn’t afraid of tackling tough topics in middle grade fiction. The fact is, there are kids out there dealing with these issues right this very minute. So, if something isn’t too much for them to handle, it shouldn’t be too much for us to write about.

6. Has your work in the music business influenced your writing in any way?

I came to Nashville to be a songwriter right out of college, so if you told me all those years ago that today I would be writing children’s fiction, I would never have believed you. There’s a lullaby in The Whispers that’s pretty important to Riley’s journey. Originally, I used the lyrics to Billy Joel’s, Good Night, My Angel for the lullaby Riley’s mom sings to him. But after some early reads, my friends encouraged me to use my own words and write the lyrics myself, which ultimately, I’m so glad I did. It made it more honest and personal.

Also, I create playlists and compilations a lot in my music industry job, so I always like to make them for my books as and after I write them. Here is The Whispers Playlist with music I feel captures the heart and spirit of Riley’s story. Enjoy!

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Greg Howard

About the Author

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Week One

Week Two

  • January 21 – Bookish Bug – Review + Creative Instagram Picture
  • January 22 – A Bronx Latina Reads – Review
  • January 23 – Buttons Book Reviews – Author Q&A
  • January 24 – The Hermit Librarian – Review + Book Aesthetic
  • January 25 – Andy Winder – Author Guest Post:  The Whispers is a middle grade novel that features a queer protagonist. What influenced you to write LGBTQ middle grade and what are some of the positives or challenges of writing in this genre? Do you have any LGBTQ middle grade book recommendations?