When is A Hiatus Not a Hiatus?

… okay, this is kind of a trick question. I’m still on hiatus.

But I did want to let you all know that THINGS ARE HAPPENING behind the scenes here at Be a Better Booktalker. I’ve been reading more books and coming up with more booktalk candidates. I dusted off the BaBB mailbox, and wanted to extend my warmest “thank you SO SO MUCH” to my supporters and my heartiest Bronx cheer to everyone who sent me spam.

I can definitely say that the website will be up and running again. I can’t give you a definite date yet, only tell you that the wheels are turning.

Thank you all for your support and your patience. Stay tuned!!!!!

My Favorite YA Books of 2016


And … we’re back!  To celebrate the start of the new year, here’s a new in-depth episode featuring a list of my favorite YA books of 2016.  Here you’ll find lots of titles that made many other top 10 lists, as well as other books that didn’t make as many lists but which I thought were awesome and which definitely deserve some love!

Here are the titles I selected as my favorites of 2016.  Listen to the episode to find out why!


Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

With Malice by Eileen Cook

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston

When We Collided by Emery Lord

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Breakfast With Neruda by Laura Moe

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace


How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman with adaptation & artwork by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

The Gods Lie by Kaori Ozaki

Paper Girls 1 by Brian K Vaughan

I Hate Fairyland Vol 1 by Skottie Young


Diary of a Tokyo Teen: A Japanese-American Girl Travels to the Land of Trendy Fashion, High-Tech Toilets and Maid Cafes by Christine Mari Inzer

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings

Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes


Booktalk: Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes

Ten Days a Madwoman cover

When I first saw a copy of Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes that had been returned to my library, I jumped at the chance to read it.  I’ve been a huge fan of Nellie Bly for years, and while a lot of attention went to her “Around the World in 80 Days” stunt, I was always much more fascinated by the stunt that got her foot in the door and her name in the headlines: faking insanity to write an expose of what it was really like inside a lunatic asylum.  It’s a great story about women’s history and New York history, and it will definitely appeal to readers who like nonfiction stories that are “ripped from the headlines!”


Nellie Bly wanted to get her name in the paper.  Specifically, she wanted to become a reporter for one of the many newspapers in New York City.  But even though she’d already been a reporter in Pittsburgh, when she went to the New York newspapers, every single one said no.  At the end of the 19th century, most newspapers didn’t hire female writers.  If they DID hire women, there were only a few topics that editors wanted to hear about.  Topics like how to clean your house, or how to be more fashionable.  But Nellie Bly wanted to report on something REAL.  She wanted to report on something, uncover something, discover the truth about something … but first, someone had to give her a chance.

Finally, the editor of a newspaper called The World gave her that chance.  He asked her if she could pretend to be insane and get herself committed to the lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island.  If she could do that, then THAT would be a story.  After she got out of the asylum, she could write about what conditions were really like there.  She could be the person who could reveal to the world what it was like in that dark, secret, and dangerous place.

But for Nellie to write this story, a couple of things had to happen first, and each one was risky.  First, she had to act crazy enough in public to get sent to the asylum.  She had to fool a lot of people, including doctors, to make them believe that she was really crazy.  If that part of the plan worked, then she had to survive in the asylum until she was rescued.  The other patients might be dangerous, and the staff might be dangerous, too.  And then if she survived … well, then she needed to be rescued.  Nellie had no control over that part of the plan.  The newspaper staff would try to rescue her when she’d been in the asylum for a week, but they weren’t quite sure how they were going to do it.  Nellie was literally putting her life in the hands of her new employers to get a story.

But she decided that getting the story was worth the risk.  Getting a job was worth the risk.  And being taken seriously as a reporter was worth the risk.  She had no idea how much this decision would change her life, her career, and the careers of all the women who followed in her footsteps.

Booktalk: Uncaged by John Sandford & Michele Cook

Uncaged cover

Here’s a suspenseful story for teens from John Sandford, an author who’s famous for writing suspenseful stories for adults.  Uncaged is the first in a series of books that Sandford wrote with his wife Michele Cook, about a brother and sister who get in over their heads trying to escape from a corporation that will do anything to stop them.


Shay Remby and her brother Odin have had a hard life for the last several years, and now it’s getting worse.  First both of their parents died, and they spent a lot of time going in and out of foster care.  They were living separate lives but secretly keeping in touch on Facebook.

Then Shay gets a message from Odin saying that something bad just happened, and he is in a LOT of trouble.  It turns out that he was part of an animal rights group that broke into a lab to free the animals and ruin the experiments.  But what they found weren’t the kind of experiments they expected, and the company that runs the lab will do anything it can to silence them.  Odin escaped from the lab with some flash drives, a computer, and a very special dog.  He didn’t realize it when he rescued it, but the experiments they were doing on this dog make it very valuable … and very dangerous.

Shay, Odin, and X the dog all have a price on their heads, and they’ll have to be strong, smart, and lucky if they want to escape with their lives.

Booktalk: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Trouble is a Friend of Mine cover

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly has lots of different layers that move in and out of sync with each other.  Zoe is a believable, nuanced character who is experiencing frustration with her family, her school, and with the quirky boy who shows up on her doorstep.  It’s kind of a story about friendship, kind of a story about romantic tensions, and kind of a story about a missing girl and her possible connection to another missing girl.  It’s sort of a realistic fiction story, but it has enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing!


Zoe Webster is a 16-year-old girl who was living a normal life in Brooklyn until her parents got divorced, and then she and her mother had to move to a small city in upstate New York.  She had to leave her friends and her school behind, and then start her life over again feeling completely alone.  Except she wasn’t alone for long, because a boy named Digby showed up on her doorstep on the first day of school.  Digby sounded like he knew all about her.  He sounded like he’d been watching her.  And he also sounded like a jerk.

This is the story of a girl named Zoe who unwillingly becomes friends with a boy named Digby, a strange boy with an even stranger reputation.  He’s definitely a bad influence, and he definitely gets her into trouble.  But he also gets her to help him solve a mystery involving the kidnapping of a local teenage girl.  He lets her into his world and his secrets.  And he shakes up her life in ways she never expected.

Booktalk: Jackaby by William Ritter

Jackaby cover

Jackaby by William Ritter is an awesome mix of historical fiction, suspense, and magic.  And since we’re in Women’s History Month, I should also mention that it features an awesome kick-ass heroine!


Abigail Rook is new to the United States, and she’s new to detective work.  But she needs a job to keep a roof over her head, and that’s why she answered the ad to be an assistant for investigative services.  She didn’t realize until she went to inquire about the job that “investigative services” wasn’t a company but instead it was one man, R.F. Jackaby.  And she didn’t realize until she arrived at her first crime scene that there was a reason Jackaby had used the line “strong stomach preferred” in the ad.  The sight and the stench of a dead body, especially the body of someone who was killed so violently, would make most women faint.  But Abigail Rook isn’t most women.

Abigail has no idea that the kinds of crimes she’ll help to solve will be caused by both men and monsters.  She has no idea that Jackaby has the unique ability to see creatures that no one else can see.  She has no idea that working with Jackaby means that her life will be in more danger than ever before.  And she also has no idea about what happened to Jackaby’s LAST assistant.

Booktalk: The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

Boy in the Black Suit cover

Jason Reynolds was already a published author when he skyrocketed to YA fame with his 2014 novel When I Was the Greatest.  With 2015’s The Boy in the Black Suit, he once again takes a sensitive, realistic, and powerful look at the life of a troubled teenage boy in an urban setting.  Give this book to any teens you know who could appreciate a realistic fiction story about death, grief, identity, families, and friendship.


After Matt’s mother passed away, his life went in some unexpected directions.  Unfortunately, most of those directions were bad.  Many of the kids and teachers at his school stopped talking to him or avoided him, almost like his mother’s cancer was contagious.  Then his father started drinking again, and life at home got even worse.  Matt felt like he was more alone than he’d ever been before.

Then Matt got a new job to help pay the bills, and that job saved his life.  Which is a little weird, because his new job was all about death.  You see, Matt’s new job was working at a funeral parlor, helping people who had just lost loved ones of their own.  He started wearing a black suit every day to school, and that got him even more weird looks than before.  But even though Matt had been feeling so depressed because of his mom, his dad, and his friends, working at the funeral parlor and attending the funerals of strangers starts to reopen his heart in ways he never expected.

Booktalk: Invincible by Amy Reed

Invincible cover

Are you and your teens looking for #sicklit books?  Are you looking for books that are filled with happiness and sadness and sickness and romance and dashed hopes?  Would you like to read one of my top tearjerker contenders of 2015?  Well, check out Invincible by Amy Reed, and get ready to be crushed by ALL THE FEELS.

Seriously, though.  This book made me cry so much that it was embarrassing.



Evie knows that her days are numbered.  She has to deal with the cold hard fact that she’s living in the cancer ward, that she’s NEVER going to get better, and that she’s nearing the end of her life.  She’s growing apart from the people she used to know, and the girl she used to be.  As each day passes, she’s pulling further and further away from her friends, her boyfriend, and even her family.  Because she isn’t that pretty, popular, loving girl anymore.  She’s not the Evie that they used to know.  Now she’s a different girl altogether, a girl who hangs out with other sick kids like Caleb and Stella in the cancer ward.  Now she’s a girl who’s waiting to die, or a girl who’s waiting to see which of her friends die first.

But here’s the thing — Evie doesn’t die after all.  She gets better.  On the one hand that seems like the best news in the world.  But on the other hand … it isn’t.  Because Evie already spent a huge part of her life saying goodbye to everyone who used to be important to her.  The more time passes, Evie is going to realize that she’s not the same person she used to be.  And that living can be even harder than dying.

Evie gets her life back.  But what kind of life is she going to have?  And what kind of person is she going to be?

Booktalk: The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino

Nerdy Nummies Cookbook cover

I’m always on the lookout for nonfiction books that I can share with teens, and I’m ESPECIALLY on the lookout for “show and tell” format books that I can use to engage my audience no matter what their reading / attention level.  I found this book in my library’s adult collection, but I instantly knew that it would be a big hit with teens.

When presenting this booktalk to a class, I would first make sure that I’d marked the pages I wanted to show with sticky notes or page markers, and then I would show each picture to the class while I talked.  When booktalking a title like this I’d recommend marking pictures that look interesting to you, and then seeing if you can find something interesting to point out about each one.  If I’m addressing a large class but trying to show everyone a page in a particular book, I usually end up trying to find something to say to fill the silence while I walk from one side of the room to the other.

The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook is based on Rosanna Pansino’s very popular YouTube channel, so you can engage your audience even more by directing them to the videos for fun recipes that they can watch online.


Maybe you’re a nerd.  Maybe you’re a geek.  Maybe you’re into fantasy, science fiction, math, science, outer space, gaming, and more!

This unique cookbook is based on Nerdy Nummies, the internet’s most popular baking show.  You’ll learn how to make basic recipes like apple pie, pound cake, red velvet cake, brownies, cookies, and royal icing.  And then you’ll learn how to adapt those recipes to make very unusual, cool, and photogenic treats that you’ll just HAVE to show off!

You can use this book to learn how to make recipes like:

Chemistry Lab Cake

Periodic Table of Cupcakes

Moon Cake

Earth Cake

Unicorn Poop Cookies (because OF COURSE unicorn poop is made of rainbows!)

Loch Ness Cupcakes

Robot Brownie Pops

Zombie Brain Cake

Video Game Controller Cookies

Wi Fi Cheesecake

Smart Cookies

Comic Book Cookies

Nerd Bird Cupcakes
You can let your imagination and your taste buds run wild with this one-of-a-kind cookbook!

My Favorite CR & YA Books of 2015

Baba Yagas Assistant coverThe Truth About Jellyfish coverDumplin cover


Hi again, patient listeners!  My apologies for the delay in this episode, but I was sick for over a week and it took a while for my voice to come out of “Marlene Dietrich mode” and get back to normal.

Here are the books I recommended in this episode:


Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer

Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff

Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin


The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks  [booktalk HERE]

Placebo Junkies by JC Carleson [booktalk HERE]

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle

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