Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes

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I have a secret. Like Annabelle’s Mom in Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, I have trouble throwing things away. I frequently worry that we will need or have a use for something that others would typically just toss out. It hurts when my husband insists that we don’t need to keep a shoebox with the other 47 we have stored “just in case” the kids need one for a diorama.

So I’ve been looking forward to Mary Lambert’s Family Game Night with anticipation . . . and a little bit of fear.

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The newspapers fell on my sister at breakfast this morning.

A fabulous first line for a novel. It had me sucked in from that moment on. . .

I just sat there, waiting to see if today would be the day the newspapers finally fell. It was the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile that came crashing down. The newspapers are organized by weather report, and since it’s almost June, Mom has been adding to the “highs in the mid to upper 70s” pile every day. Lately she’s had to stand on her tiptoes in order to reach the top, and this morning—before she could even add to it—it was already swaying from side to side, back and forth. It looked like a Jenga tower right before someone loses, and today Leslie was the loser.

Annabelle Balog has just finished Seventh Grade. She flirts with boys, texts with her friends, and tries to ignore the mess at home when she is away. She also has a Five-Mile-Radius Rule—she refuses to let anyone from school come within five miles of her house. Her mother is a hoarder, and none of her friends know.

After the newspapers fall on Annabelle’s sister, their parents have a fight of monumental proportions. Her father storms out, announcing that her mother knows what he expects while he’s gone. With that, the household is turned upside-down.

While dealing with this crisis, Mary Lambert’s novel illuminates various emotions and reactions that can exist in a household where one member hoards. Annabelle is embarrassed by her mother and her home, and has reacted to the condition of the rest of the house by refusing to allow any clutter in her room (on the other extreme). She protects her own space from clutter almost religiously, having discovered that her mother will sneak items into her room while she is not home.

Annabelle’s siblings—poor younger sister Leslie, who started the book covered with mildewy newspapers, and older brother Chad—respond to their mother’s lifestyle in different ways. Leslie has nightmares about people dying in piles of clutter, and Chad spends as little time at home as possible.

Annabelle’s mother, who is faced with her husband’s ultimatum, is the character I sympathized with the most throughout the novel. Ms. Lambert adeptly shows the altered priorities of a hoarder in some of the interactions involving Mrs. Balog.

For example, when Leslie is knocked into her cereal bowl by a stack of newspapers, her mother rushes into the kitchen:

“What happened?” Her voice cut through the sound of the running water. I turned to watch Mom fly into the kitchen. It may not look like it, but Mom can really move when she wants to. “No! No, no, no,” she said, rushing to Leslie’s side. But instead of wrapping Leslie in her arms, she started gathering her newspapers.

“Which pile fell?” she demanded.

Things haven’t gotten as bad at our house as they have at Annabelle’s (there are no leaning towers about to collapse on us). But I still acutely felt Mrs. Balog’s pain and discomfort at the thought of making any changes in response to her husband’s demands. I wanted to reach into the book and hug her and tell her that she would be okay.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is Mary Lambert’s first novel, but hopefully we’ll see many more where this came from! You can find out more about Ms. Lambert (including whether her own mom was a hoarder) at

Now, I think I’ll go recycle the 14 years’ worth of law magazines I have stored in my back bedroom because I’ve been convinced “I’ll read them someday” . . .

Have you read any great books lately?

Greetings from Witness Protection – GIVEAWAY!!!

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What would it be like to leave everyone and everything you know and begin a brand-new life? Have you ever dreamed about running away and starting all over?

Greetings from Witness Protection

Foster kid Nicki Demere is given this choice when U.S. Marshals show up at her group home. Their offer: she will be placed with a family that cannot send her back. She will leave behind her juvenile record and start anew. The only catch: she has to leave immediately, without saying goodbye to any of her friends, and she will be giving up any hope that her long-lost father will come back for her.

Oh yeah, and the family she is placed with is in Witness Protection because they are hiding from one of the most notorious mob families in the country. If the mob finds them, they will undoubtedly kill them all.

One of Nicki’s biggest tasks is to make sure they remain “under the radar.” She has to stay out of trouble, but not be notable. She has to keep her grades down at a B- average (which means she needs to do her homework twice—once correctly, and then again with enough answers wrong to maintain her average). And, most of all, she has to take care of her new younger brother, who is angry about the Witness Protection situation and resents Nicki’s presence in his family.

This book came to me as part of the YA Reads Debut Authors Bash blog tour. And… it can come to you if you win this GIVEAWAY. I have a signed copy of Greetings from Witness Protection for one lucky winner!!!

Greetings from Witness Protection was so much fun to read! It was such a novel idea to have the main character living in Witness Protection—something I’ve never seen in children’s literature. Nicki still deals with the everyday problems of being in Seventh Grade—peer pressure, mean kids, boys—but then has the Witness Protection excitement layered on top.

I have two avid readers at home, but lately it has been tough to get my ten-year-old to read anything that doesn’t have “Harry Potter” or “Wimpy Kid” in the title. We were on a long drive in the car one night and he had nothing to read, so I nonchalantly said, “you could read my book, I guess,” hoping he’d pick it up. The rest of the drive was filled with comments like “ha! listen to this…” and “I wonder…” Then I had to fight him just to be able to finish the book!

Jake Burt keeps the action high throughout the book, which meant I read well into the nights turning “just one more page” or “one more chapter.” He has included a nice little twist at the end, which you’ll have to read the book to discover!

Jake Burt is a writer and a Fifth Grade teacher living in Connecticut (probably not in Witness Protection!). He can be found online at There’s also an interesting discussion between Mr. Burt and Mr. Schu, the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic at this fabulous blog.


Have you read any great books lately?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire – GIVEAWAY!!!

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This is the second of four posts I’m doing at the end of this year as part of the Debut Authors Bash blog tour! I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but it’s definitely on my TBR shelf! Lucky for all of you, I am offering a GIVEAWAY for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Susan Tan’s upcoming book, as well as an adorable crocheted rainbow unicorn (SO JEALOUS!!!).

Cilla Lee Jenkins

Since I haven’t read Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire yet, I’m going to share the official description of the book from the Goodreads page:

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is 50% Chinese, 50% Caucasian, and 100% destined for literary greatness! Introducing an irresistible new character who shares stories about a new sibling, being biracial, and her destiny as a future author extraordinaire in this middle grade novel.

Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best—herself! And Cilla has a lot to write about: How did she deal with being bald until the age of five? How did she overcome her struggles with reading? How do family traditions with Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins differ from family traditions with her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye?

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire is a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.

Sounds awesome, right???

Book Two in the Cilla Lee-Jenkins series continues the tale of Cilla’s work as an author, this time as she sets out to write “a Classic.” At the same time, it promises to tell tales of Cilla’s struggles to “be more Chinese” and of learning to share her best friend.

cilla lee jenkins 2

About the Author:

Susan Tan has worked with children’s books since the age of 14, when she was a Page in the children’s room of the Concord Public Library. She went on to study English at Williams College and earned her PhD at the University of Cambridge in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. While in graduate school, she began to write a children’s book of her own which became her debut novel, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire.

Cilla is based on Susan’s own experiences growing up in a mixed-race family, and deals with the questions, challenges, and many joys that navigating different racial and cultural identities can bring. A second book in the Cilla series titled Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is A Classic is scheduled for release in 2018. Susan was the 2015 Gish Jen Emerging Writers Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston and currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

You can follow her on Twitter (@susansmtan), or on her website,

DON’T FORGET TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY!!! Don’t let me keep that RAINBOW unicorn!

Rainbow Unicorn

Have you read any great books lately?

Braced – GIVEAWAY!!!

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Remember Seventh Grade? Not just the fun stuff, but also the awkwardness, the self-consciousness, all that stuff that came along with puberty? Now imagine all of that with one more layer on top.


Rachel Brooks is your typical Seventh Grader. She loves soccer, she texts her friends nonstop, she is embarrassed by her parents, and she is starting to get interested in boys. She also has scoliosis.

So far, her scoliosis has simply meant doctor’s appointments twice a year with her spine doctor. Even the appointments have become pretty routine to Rachel. But this time, instead of sending her off to return again in six months, the doctor announces that the curve in her spine has gotten much worse and she will need to wear a back brace. Twenty-three hours a day for six months to a year, until her spine stops growing.

The brace is hard plastic with cushioned padding inside, and spans from Rachel’s armpits to her hips. It hurts where it rubs against her skin and creates blisters that might scar. Rachel can’t fit into any of her old clothes because of the bulk of the brace. Even with bigger clothes, Rachel is certain everyone can see the lumps and bulges of the brace.

My heart broke over and over as I read Rachel’s struggle to find peace with this new reality that she finds herself in. Alyson Gerber captured the middle grader’s self-consciousness with remarkable skill and accuracy.

I do not mean that to suggest that Braced is all about tears and sadness. To the contrary, Rachel shows astounding determination in the face of her challenge. Before her doctor determined that Rachel would need to wear a brace, Rachel was having a promising start to the year on her soccer team. So she decides that even with the brace, she will play soccer, and she and her friends work toward that goal. Her friends help pick clothes that will flatter her, and provide support as she goes to school in the brace each day.

Readers will see themselves in Rachel or gain inspiration from her. While Rachel’s situation is fairly unique, her feelings are not. Kids will recognize the feeling of being different and the certainty that everyone is looking at or talking about them. This might be because they wear a back brace, because they are in a wheelchair, or because they: wear glasses; wear braces; are too short, too tall, too fat, or too thin; or any number of other reasons why they feel insecure. No matter how large or small the reason, at this age, anything can feel insurmountable, and that is why Rachel’s story is so encouraging.

I have no idea how I missed this fabulous debut novel when it came out earlier this year! I am so glad that Ms. Gerber decided to participate in the 2017 Debut Authors Bash so that I could discover Rachel Brooks and Braced.

Ms. Gerber’s website is Her News page includes a description of how wearing a back brace impacted her growing up and a link to the Barnes & Noble blog, where she discusses her experience at summer camp in a back brace. Ms. Gerber includes links to websites with more information about scoliosis on her website as well as in the Author’s Note in Braced.

I am excited to be participating in this year’s Debut Authors Bash! Over the next two weeks, I will be sharing three more new novels by debut authors (either with full reviews or just some details about the books).

And… most exciting of all… there are giveaways for most of these books! Not just here on 2 Cooks Crafting Books, but at many of the other bloggers’ sites as well! So check out #17DABash on Twitter to find other debut authors featured this month (and maybe snag some of their books!).

Ms. Gerber is giving away a copy of her book, Braced. This giveaway is open to winners from the US and international locations.


Where I Found You – plus GIVEAWAY!!!


Let’s travel to the other side of the world for a little YA romance this week…

The images from the tsunami that devastated multiple countries off the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004 are pictures that few can forget. For the people of Indonesia, however, the tsunami was more than mere photographs and videos. It completely swept away entire villages, destroyed homes and businesses, and killed an estimated 220,000 people. Although many of the casualties were children, the tsunami also left many children orphaned.

About now, you’re probably asking what happened to the YA romance I promised. I’m getting there…

Our protagonist, Sienna, is afraid of flying and the ocean, and has no desire to jump on a plane and fly for many hours over the Pacific Ocean to stay at an orphanage (technically, a pesantren, or school) in Indonesia. But her dad really wants to help kids who are suffering from the emotional trauma of the tsunami, so Sienna agrees to swallow her fears (with the help of a sleeping pill) and go along.

What Sienna doesn’t count on (yep, the romance part!) is meeting Deni while she’s at the orphanage. Deni is one of 200 orphans at the pesantren who came from the refugee camps in Aceh province. He’s striking, confident, a leader of the kids. He cares about the other children and stands up when he believes they are not being treated properly, even though he knows it makes the pesantren’s owner dislike him. Sienna is drawn to Deni immediately, and each time she sees him, her attraction grows.

This is a fascinating read. Aside from the adorable and steamy romance, there are a lot of other great aspects to this book. Many YA readers will be too young to remember the tsunami images the way adults do, so this may be their introduction to this devastating moment in history. Ms. Kling has sprinkled just enough detail about what happened, what a tsunami is, and how it impacted Indonesia to educate readers without them feeling that they are being “taught.”

Also, because the book is mainly set in Indonesia, Ms. Kling shares many details about daily life in that country, from wearing hijabs to only using the RIGHT hand for things to different religious and cultural beliefs. Again, Ms. Kling masterfully does this all without the feeling that we’ve moved out of the YA romance genre and into a non-fiction tome.

In case I missed anything really important, here’s the publisher’s synopsis of the book:

After her mother’s plane went missing over the Indian Ocean, seventeen-year-old Sienna Jones gave up everything she loved about living in California. No more surfing. No more swimming. No more ocean, period. Playing it safe, hiding from the world, is the best call.

Until her dad throws down the challenge of a lifetime: spend the summer with his humanitarian team in Indonesia, working with orphans who lost everything in a massive tsunami.

The day they arrive, Sienna meets a mysterious boy named Deni, whose dark, intense eyes make her heart race. Their stolen nights force her to open up and live in a way she thought she couldn’t anymore. When she’s with Deni, she remembers the girl she used to be…and starts to feel like the woman he sees in her.

A woman he wants for his own.


But when Deni’s past comes looking for him, Sienna’s faced with losing another person she loves. She can’t do it. Not again.

Fortunately, this time, she has a plan.

Ms. Kling explains in the Forward to her book that her husband is a cross-cultural psychiatrist who traveled to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami and met orphans like those at Sienna’s pesantren. Deni was inspired by a boy Ms. Kling’s husband met, named Usul, who outran the tsunami on his moped. Ms. Kling’s website is

You can win a copy of Where I Found You by entering this GIVEAWAY. If you are too excited to wait until the giveaway ends, the book is also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher, Entangled Publishing.

Have you read any great books lately?


The 57 Bus

WOW! This is a book that will change your life! A teenager falls asleep on the bus and wakes up to find that their skirt has been set on fire. Before the fire can be extinguished, they suffer third degree burns over approximately 22% of their body, primarily on their legs.

The 57 Bus.jpg

The 57 Bus tells the true story of Sasha and Richard, who both grew up in Oakland, California. Author Dashka Slater skillfully shares their stories in a way that will have you staying up throughout the night to keep reading. Unlike many non-fiction books I’ve read, where there is a distance between the subjects of the book and the reader, it was easy to get lost in the world of 2013 Oakland.

Following a brief preview of what is to come on the 57 Bus, Ms. Slater introduces us to Sasha. In November 2013, Sasha was in their senior year of high school at a small private school. After years of questioning their gender, Sasha had told their parents in the winter of 2012 that they identified as genderqueer. Sasha is agender—neither male nor female—and prefers the use of “they” and “their” as opposed to “he,” “she,” “his,” or “hers.”

Once Sasha had clarified their gender identity, they selected a new name and asked their parents and close friends to call them Sasha instead of Luke. They began wearing a skirt along with their already eclectic outfit of top hat (or other hat), tweeds, vests, bowties, and sometimes even fighter-pilot goggles.

Ms. Slater takes great care to make the readers fall in love with Sasha, then switches to the story of Richard. Richard was with his cousin and a friend when he got on the 57 Bus on November 4, 2013. Richard’s friend gave Richard a lighter, and encouraged him to light Sasha’s skirt on fire. Richard did it.

Knowing what Richard did to Sasha, and having already spent 1/4 of the book growing to love Sasha, it was a shock to meet Richard. I wanted to dislike Richard. But Ms. Slater expertly brings us within Richard’s world.

Richard’s mom was fourteen when she had him. She had big dreams for her son. And he was determined to make them happen. He had been in trouble, but unlike many kids who got in trouble, he wanted to escape trouble and graduate from high school.

Richard attended Oakland High School, which was not the best school in Oakland, but was not the worst either. There was a security guard posted at the front gate. Richard reached out to Oakland High’s attendance compliance officer and asked to join her intervention program to be sure he could complete his goals. Richard was special. He was funny. He made people laugh and played games and practical jokes. This event shocked all who knew him.

Even if you are not typically a non-fiction book reader, I highly recommend this book. It reads like a work of fiction, and a fascinating one at that!

Author Dashka Slater is a journalist, novelist, and children’s book author. She has written six children’s books, including Escargot and The Antlered Ship. Her website,, has many resources, including teacher’s guides for some of her children’s books, and discussion questions for The 57 Bus.

Have you read any great books lately?