Books Reviews Young Adult

Book Review: Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin

Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters by Meredith Zeitlin Synopsis:

“Laugh-out-loud funny high school drama – perfect for fans of Lauren Myracle and Meg Cabot

Let’s say you’re fourteen and live in New York City. You’d think your life would be like a glamorous TV show, right? And yet . . . You don’t have a checking account, much less a personal Black American Express card. You’ve never been to a club, and the only couture in your closet is a Halloween costume your mom made from an old laundry bag.

In other words? You’re Kelsey Finkelstein – fourteen and frustrated. Every time she tries to live up to her awesome potential, her plans are foiled. Kelsey wants to rebrand herself for high school to make the kind of mark she knows is her destiny. But just because Kelsey has a plan for greatness . . . it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is in on it.

Kelsey’s hilarious commentary and sardonic narration of her freshman year will have readers laughing out loud – while being thankful that they’re not in her shoes, of course.”

If I were a teenager today I would probably be a lot like Kelsey Finkelstein.  Or at least want to be her friend.  The fourteen year old heroine in Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters, by Meredith Zeitlin is an endearing young lady with an acerbic wit and a knack for laughing off embarrassing moments.  To be sure, Kelsey has a healthy sense of her abilities and what she wants out of life; but not in a bad way.

Unlike many teen heroines, Kelsey does not seek the company of a vampire.  Nor does she use her acerbic wit to verbally attack anyone, unless they deserve it.   Kelsey has never killed anyone, nor has she covered up a murder.  She is not ruthless in her social climbing and doesn’t secret off to an unknown parallel universe.

What Kelsey does do, is get herself into embarrassing situations, much like any normal fourteen year old would.  Kelsey also dreams about boys, dates boys, talks about dating boys, talks with her besties about boys and disobey her parents (to see boys).

I like Kelsey. You can’t help but like her.  Zeitlin infuses the character with just enough positive self esteem to allow the character to laugh at her own flaws but not become so self absorbed that she has no room to consider other’s feelings.  I also like Kelsey because she’s Jewish.  While not so blatantly New York Jewish, like Fran in The Nanny, she’s enough to make her a positive multicultural character.

I would like to have seen a little more of Kelsey’s Jewish customs in the story, other than the quick mention of helping the family write Chanukah cards and a brief mention of cousin Lainie’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah. I feel as if exploring these details a little further would give Kelsey a little more depth, but that is merely my personal preference.

Cheers to Zeitlin for providing a protagonist that appeals to young women of other faiths and ethnicities.  Zeitlin’s Kelsey made me chuckle out loud.  She also reminded me not to insist on too many “mother-daughter” moments because that would be Typical Lame Parent Behavior.

Need an additional laugh? Check out the trailer!

I give this book 4 paws!




*DISCLAIMER: I received this book from the publisher to assist in my review. All opinions are my own.*

Stay tuned for my SPECIAL interview with Meredith Zeitlin! woo hoo!

Young Adult

New Segment: the UPSHOT! Inside Pam’s Book Thoughts

Introducing the UPSHOT. A brief video of books that are on my radar.

Stay tuned every Tuesday for the UPSHOT.

Have you read We Were Liars? What about Guardian?  Tell me what you think!


Did You Know An Unconventional Librarian is on YouTube?

Yep, you heard it right, I’m on YouTube! To be sure, you’ve prolly seen me reading a book or two right here on the blog. But did you know that sometimes I post things over on YouTube that don’t make it over to the blog?

Yep, like special readings and videos just for you.  Like this:

And others. Go to my channel and find out what’s up other there…

If you have kid friendly content on your channel, leave me your link and I’ll visit!

Adult Fiction Books

The Gods of Gotham Lyndsay Faye SPOTLIGHT

Gods of Gotham

I considered wearing a cowboy hat while writing this post, but I decided against it because…well, because.  I guess  because a cowboy hat is the closest item of clothing I could think of that might remind me of the newly formed New York City police department in 1845.  Yeah, I didn’t know that prior to that, Gotham had no police force either.

Go figure, huh?

So, here we are with this delightful book by my bestie Lyndsay Faye, The Gods of Gotham which was published in 2012.  It’s just been re-released in paperback and am I glad!  Now more people can enjoy the tale of officer Timothy Wilde, the reluctant police officer.  He does the wrong thing but for the right reasons.  You kinda hafta love the poor sod as he can’t really help himself.  He’s a police officer in a world of poor people just trying to earn a day’s wages so they can stay alive.  Unfortunately, these days wages often include prostitution, theft, murder, and other sorts of vagaries.  And here’s young Wilde, just barely one step above them.  Enter a small child covered in blood with an outrageous story that sends Wild discovering the truth, about himself and the community of immigrants with whom he lives.

Fortunately,  the hen (Lyndsay) has decided to cap in with me and have a  palaver about the book and life.   I asked her a few questions:


LYNDSAY FAYE: No.  I’m a very wiry, highly strung person with a heartbeat like a hummingbird’s.  Coffee makes me nervous and irritable.  I drink massive amounts of tea, however, preferably floral or aromatic teas like Earl Grey or green jasmine.  If I do drink coffee, it’s going to be at around four in the afternoon. My beautiful husband is a massive coffee snob, loves trying swanky blends, but I can’t taste the difference.  Ask me a question about beer and I can be much more articulate.

UL: I don’t require coffee drinking so much as much as I require your desire to bring me a cup, so that’ll do.   Do you like donuts or cookies? Do you dunk?


courtesy The Donut Plant
courtesy The Donut Plant


LF: I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but open a package of chips in front of me and it’s all over.  That being said, I can be tempted by the rose flavored donuts from The Donut Plant, which feature rose water pudding, rose water glaze, and an edible candied rose petal, or else their tres leches donut. That was an incredibly specific answer, my apologies.  But go to The Donut Plant if you are in NYC.  I am deeply serious about this instruction.  I don’t dunk because it’s extremely unlikely for me to be drinking coffee at the same time as eating a donut at The Donut Plant (go to The Donut Plant).  Their matcha green tea donut is also pretty wild.

UL:  Oh my heavenly stars.  I have got to get to this donut place! Now, where was I? How did your series get started?

LF: I wanted to see what day one, cop one of the NYPD looked like.  And I wanted an un-Sherlockian hero, one who wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t believe himself to be talented at crimesolving and is reluctantly dragged into it all.  Like, a tiny scrapper who solves things largely due to raw talent and intuition.  Enter Timothy Wilde.  I also wanted to play with an extremely unreliable narrator, and Tim can be completely blinkered when it comes to his loved ones–typical human condition, really.  Everyone loves him because he’s so well-intentioned, but really he’s a complete arse.  I love that little ball of pent-up angst.

UL: I wouldn’t really say Tim is an arse.  Ok maybe he is but he’s a bene bloke.  I like him.  What was your first book?

newDScoverLF: Thank you for asking.  It was not, as countless reviewers would have it, The Gods of Gotham–it was a pastiche pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper.  I adore Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.  They have my heart.  So my first book, Dust and Shadow, is a dark adventure exploring the most beautiful literary friendship of all time, mixed with the historical true facts of the Ripper murders.

UL: Gripping stuff. Have you ever thought of putting a ukelele playing librarian into your book?

LF: I have, but I’ve hesitated because I feel as if the ukelele-playing librarian should take center stage rather than being a guest star, so I’ll have to complete the Timothy Wilde novels before embarking on a new series featuring that protagonist.

UL: Maybe so but how fun would it be if she turns up dead or in a cranky-hutch? Could be interesting…? Share with us how your obsession with Sherlock (of the Benedict Cumberbatch type) came to be.

LF: Oh, I’m obsessed with every incarnation of Sherlock Holmes.  I was ten, my dad told me to read “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” good night Vienna.  Over time, Sherlock Holmes has stopped being a hobby for me and turned into a lifestyle choice.  I’m a part of the Baker Street Babes podcast on the subject, I’m an Adventuress of Sherlock Holmes (we meet monthly), I write regular short pastiches for the Strand Magazine, the theme song for the Granada Holmes series played at our wedding, I’m a Baker Street Irregular, I host several Sherlockian events per year included a benefit for Wounded Warrior Project with the Babes.  It’s madness. I love it.  And I do adore Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch, the man is a complete lovemuffin.

UL: Agreed. He is yummy. If you could have any superpower what would it be?

LF: Flight.  Definitely flight.  I have flying dreams sometimes and they make me very happy.

UL: Me too! What makes you happy?

LF: Flying dreams.  Cheese.  Salty snacks.  My garden.  Cooking for people I care about.  Sad love songs.  Hero stories.  Really filthy filthy dirty jokes.  Swearing.  Whiskey.  Gin.  Pretty dresses.  Audrey Hepburn.  Moon River.  Watching the Love in an Elevator music video.  Watching the Bad Romance music video.  Sherlockians.  Travel–especially the UK, Ireland, Thailand, Spain, France, Belgium, and Belize when I’ve been to those places.  My cats Grendel and Prufrock.  Walking purposelessly through the streets of New York with my husband.

UL: Anything else you wanna tell us?

LF: I have an abnormally long tongue.  I can stick it in either nostril.

UL:  Helpful skill when the zombies come, I’m sure.

So HEY folks, how fun was that??

Lyndsay’s new book drops in a few short days and while Lyndsay will be partying without me on the 18th, I’ll be reviewing Seven for a Secret, the latest escapades from my buddy Timothy Wilde! Stop back on the 19th for my review and a fun GIVEAWAY!!




Books resources

I’m Here to Help by SF Chapman

I’m featuring a book and an author today that sounds like an interesting read: the book is called I’m Here to Help by SF Chapman.

Here’s a synopsis of the book:

Seventeen-year-old Renita discovers some subtle inconsistencies in her birth certificate that put
her mother Sharon’s long held account that she was adopted into doubt. Sharon decides that it is
finally time to tell Renita about both the laudable good deeds and the lamentable oversights that
had led them to the current situation.
Using a series of old framed photos that have hung for years in the living room, Sharon slowly
reveals the complex set of events involving a star-crossed trip to Mexico, a very young stowaway
Hispanic baby sitter named Juliana, the untimely death of Sharon’s husband, the unexpected
pregnancy of Juliana, the eventual birth of Renita to Juliana and finally Juliana’s struggle with
clinical depression that leads to her suicide.
Through some sketchy paperwork filled at the county recorder’s office, Sharon was listed as
Renita’s mom.

Doesn’t that sound interesting? What would you do if you found some inconsistencies in your birth certificate? Me? I’d prolly question everything. And then eat some donuts. But that’s just me. Did I mention I have a niece named Renita? The story’s not about her, btw.  Pretty sure. At least, it better not be.

ANYWAY, If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered whether books were like newborns. You have to nurture them and feed them and help them grow.  Chapman discusses it for me. Let’s listen in, cuz it’s very insightful:

The Literary Newborn

Early in July of 2011 when I was writing the first few chapters of my novel entitled I’m here to help, I was struck by an amusing analogy: Novels are just like newborns.

I chuckled back then as I scribbled out that phrase on a 3 x 5 card, which for me is a slightly more permanent way of retaining literary bits and pieces than using notepads or post-its.

Novels are like newborns; it is a poetic little gathering of amiable words. Perhaps they will find themselves clustered together in the center of song someday.

Being a father of two kids and one of the oldest of twelve siblings, I have been subjected to an uncommonly large number of newborns.

When I penned I’m here to help last year, I had already completed four other novels. I was certainly familiar with the long, slow process of nurturing a narrative along from a wispy notion to a wobbly collection of chapter summaries, then onward to a rough but promising first draft and eventually, after many stern admonishments from my three editors, a refined piece that could be sent out into the uncertainties of the world and stand on its own merits.

Producing a novel, or at least the initial writing of the chapters, is a thankfully brief undertaking that’s often quite similar to having a newborn in the house.

Novels and newborns can be particularly demanding. Both become inexplicably fussy at times. I’ve discovered that sleep seems to cure the crankiness, at least for a while.

Babies and half-done books have a fascinating sparkly effervescence at times; often when you least expect it. Infants will sometimes coo delightfully while you exhaustedly change their diapers at 3 AM. The words of a partially completed novel will occasionally spring off the page and be far more descriptive and compelling than you had imagined earlier when you had scribed them.

One “carries” around newborns and novels in an all-consuming way. If you are not physically lugging an infant, you are certainly thinking about the wee one. When you are not tapping away at the keyboard, you are mentally tussling with plot twists and dialogue.

Manuscripts and munchkins will both rudely awaken you at night and require your undivided but weary attention when you’d really rather be in bed.

Thankfully, for me at least, the all-nighters spent with restless babies and nascent novels have been brief. When it is over and I look back fondly at the effort that went in those early months with my son and daughter or my various literary projects, I rather miss the protracted struggle.

Chapman is a very busy papa as he has two human  children, plus numerous post apocalyptic novel babies.  Let’s follow him on Twitter: @SF_Chapman Facebook: SF Chapman  and GoodReads: SF Chapman to see how his novel babies grow up!

Thanks for visiting SF, this looks like a good read!

Books Reviews

Girl Gone – From Left to Write

It’s From Left to Write Book Club day and once’d again I’m doing a video review! YAY!!  I happen to know for a fact that thousands ok many ok a few enjoy my video reviews.  I like being able to express myself this way and sometimes a video review feels right!

So, we read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  Here’s my review. Don’t hate me cuz I did it one take.  (i know right?)


In case you missed the book cover in the vid cuz my camera cat has bad aim, here it is

This post is inspired by mystery thriller GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. They may not have the perfect marriage, but after Amy goes missing, Nick becomes the number one suspect. Can he discover what happened before it’s too late? Join From Left to Write on June 12 as we discuss Gone Girl. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I give it 4 paws for a pure thrill ride from start to finis!

Books Reviews

A Christmas Screwup

I recently attended one of the most interesting book club meetings ever.  To be sure, the opinions are usually quite mixed but generally friendly.  Last night’s discussion, however, was completely different.

I was about the only person in the group who enjoyed the book.  I thought it a fun, light, silly poke at Christmas movies and mankind.

I was in the minority (not a new feeling, for sure).  As the discussions heated up we noticed a few disturbing points and it seemed as if everyone had read a different book. We noticed discrepancies in:

  • the main character’s hometown (Chicago or Minneapolis)
  • the wealth of the main character (wealthy or not)
  • an epilogue (have or have not)
  • method of transport (commercial or private airline)
  • own or not own a condo
  • owner or employee of a power drink company

Are you starting to understand?  Our discussion of the book turned from “I love how crazy gun toting Liz got her comeuppance” (me) to “wait a minute, Sparrow lives in Chicago not Minneapolis!!!” (everyone)

It turns out that the version I read, the first image, is the latest out in time for Christmas 2011. An original version published in 2009 the image in red, offers a slightly different story.

All of this leads me to wonder: What the heck was Keillor thinking?

To be sure, Keillor’s found great success with A Prairie Home Companion and many Lake Wobegon tales.

So, if a writer is so successful, how did  this book become such a hack?  Did he slack off on purpose? Was it put together hastily? Did he have interns or assistants write it?

Or was it a prank, a very bad publicity stunt?

I don’t know the answer but as our book club wrangler said: you will probably never run into this kind of situation again.

I hope not.

What do you think?

I’m linking up to  Serenity Now’s bloggy reading party.