Every Saturday, I host a feature called Kid Konnection -- a regular weekend feature about anything related to children's books. This week, I'm going to feature a fun book in a new YA series by one of Booking Daughter's and my favorite authors.
Summary: Fifteen-year-old Isabelle Scott loves her life by the boardwalk on the supposed wrong side of the tracks in North Carolina. But when tragedy strikes, a social worker sends her to live with a long-lost uncle and his preppy privileged family. Isabelle is taken away from everything she's ever known, and, unfortunately, inserting her into the glamorous lifestyle of Emerald Cove doesn't go so well. Her cousin Mirabelle Monroe isn't thrilled to share her life with an outsider, and, in addition to dealing with all the rumors and backstabbing that lurk beneath their classmates' Southern charm, a secret is unfolding that will change both girls' lives forever. -- Poppy
A little over a year ago, Booking Daughter I had the pleasure of meeting Jen Calonita at my favorite independent bookstore Aaron's Books when she was touring to promote the last book in her SECRETS OF THE HOLLYWOOD LIFE series. She was so much fun and I loved hearing her stories about Hollywood personalities and her approaches to writing her young adult (and middle grade) novels. Booking Daughter came home from this event equally charmed by Jen, and she immediately had to read everything Jen has written. She loves her books!
So when I discovered that Jen has started another new young adult series, we were both thrilled. First, because there is another "Jen" book, and second because we know there are more in the works! The first book is titled BELLES, and based on the description, it sounded like a winner to me. I read it right away and loved it, but sadly, Booking Daughter hasn't had the chance yet with all of her spring activities. I keep telling her it's a must-read book, and I know just devour it... once she finds a few spare hours.
While I did really enjoy BELLES, I know I'm not exactly the target audience; however, I do know that I would have loved this book as a tween or teen. BELLES is exactly the type of book that my daughter and her friends will love; and as a mother, I am just so excited that Jen writes books like this. Not only are they entertaining and filled with lots of fun characters (both nice and naughty), but they are clean... and have good messages.
BELLES tells the story of Isabelle and Mirabelle, two very different girls whose lives are unexpectedly thrown together when Isabelle is forced to move in with Mirabelle after a family tragedy. Both girls are from North Carolina but couldn't be more different. Isabelle is from the wrong side of the tracks, while Mirabelle lives a life of luxury. The girls don't have a lot in common, and Mirabelle is less than thrilled when she has to help her cousin Isabelle integrate into her school. Isabelle learns the hard way that girls, including Mirabelle, can be very cruel. However, when a shocking family secret is revealed, both girls find that their lives will be forever changed.
I have a feeling that tween and teen girls will just adore BELLES. The story is very entertaining, and they will be able to relate to many things in this novel. Initially, I think they will be drawn to Isabelle and her plight as an underdog; however, as the story progresses, I think some will find that they understand Mirabelle and her dilemmas with her family and peer pressure. Both girls are extremely interesting and complex characters, and I think girls will be anxious to discover what the future holds for both of them.
In addition to liking and relating to the characters, there are many universal teen issues that will resonate with readers. For example, BELLES addresses parent issues, grief, teen insecurities, friend and boy problems, school stresses, mean girls and bullying, and peer pressure. You can see that there's a little bit of something for everyone. But what makes this book so special is that all of these issues are wrapped up in a very entertaining story. And that's what makes this book such a wonderful pick for teen and/or mother/daughter book clubs -- it's fun and it addresses some serious (and very real) issues.
I really can't stress enough how much fun BELLES was to read. Highly recommend to teen and tween girls... and their moms!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.
And now for a quick Q&A with Jen:
And now for a quick Q&A with Jen:
Booking Mama: BELLES is the first book in your new young adult series, and I think tweens and teens are going to love it. What was your inspiration for this book and the characters?
Jen Calonita: I loved the idea of two very opposite girls tackling life in very different ways and seeing how their methods influenced each other. Izzie has such spunk and pride and Mira is such a lady. It is cool to see how they play off each other and deal with their problems. Emerald Cove is practically a character of its own. The parties, the wealth, the mindset...it was so much fun to write.
Booking Mama: In addition to your successful series SECRETS OF MY HOLLYWOOD LIFE and now BELLES, you've also written a few stand alone books. Do you find it easier to write these stand-alone books or the ones in a series?
Jen Calonita: I like writing series. I think my brain is wired to think of stories told over time. I like getting to know characters through several stories. I love how Kaitlin grew over the six books in SECRETS and I hope readers will get to have the same experience with Mira and Izzie in BELLES.
Booking Mama: In SECRETS OF MY HOLLYWOOD LIFE and BELLES, you wrote about two very different settings -- Hollywood and North Carolina. Do you have personal experiences with either of these locations or did you write about them solely based on research?
Jen Calonita: Hollywood is a world I knew well. I was an entertainment editor for five years for a teen magazine and I spent my days interviewing teen stars. Some of the ones I interviewed influenced the character of Kaitlin and her story. I drew on many of my experiences for that series and it was so much fun to write about. BELLES required research. I have always loved the South, but never lived there. I spoke to a lot of friends who live there or went to college there. The heart of BELLES though is two girls and how they both navigate the affluent world of Emerald Cove.
Booking Mama: Can you give us any hints about what you're working on? I'm assuming that there are more BELLES books in the works, but are you also working on another book?
Jen Calonita: My life is all about BELLES right now! There are four books planned and I am in the middle of editing book three and outlining book four. I can't wait for readers to get to read book two, Winter White, this October. The girls are dealing with cotillion and a town rite of passage that goes with it.
Booking Mama: I know you are in a book club because I responded to one of your tweets about a potential book. What is the one book that generated the best discussion in your group?
Jen Calonita: Well, I just started a book club among moms in my town so we are only on the second book now! But in my other book group for teens I would have to say The Hunger Games got people talking the most. We discussed the themes and characters for almost two hours. I love when a book brings out that much emotion in people.
Booking Mama: When I have the chance, I always ask authors this question. What are some of your favorite books and/or authors? What is currently on your nightstand?
Jen Calonita: My nightstand is overflowing! In addition to my Nook (I just downloaded Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You), I have Kieran Scott's latest, This is So Not Happening, a bunch of Jackson Pearce's books (because we are touring together), The Help (already read it but love it too much to stick it in a drawer) and a few Sarah Dessen novels I have long wanted to read.
Thanks so much to Jen for taking time to answer a few of my questions. I'm very excited that there will be another Belles book in just a few months!
Giveaway alert: I have a copy of BELLES and a special Belles lip gloss to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before May 18th at 11:59 p.m. ET. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!
If you'd like to participate in Kid Konnection and share a post about anything related to children's books (picture, middle grade, or young adult) from the past week, please leave a comment as well as a link below with your name/blog name and the title of the book! Feel free to grab the little button too!