Real by Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard Book Review

Author Information

Carol Cujec is an educator and author. Her latest book, written with Peyton Goddard, is a middle-grade novel, called Real, which invites young readers into the world of a girl with nonspeaking autism. Peyton wants kids to understand autism not as a disability so much as a different way of experiencing the world. Real is a groundbreaking story that celebrates the magic that happens when we value and include all people.

Carol lives with her family in southern California and enjoys yoga, cooking, playing guitar with her daughter and, of course, hiding out with a good book

Peyton and Two Mints

Peyton Goddard was born to Patrick and Dianne Goddard on December 26, 1974, in San Diego, California. She was the second of two children. From the age of three, Peyton was deemed unfit to attend classes with “normal” kids because of her inability to speak or control her physical movements or bodily functions.

For two decades, she was segregated in schools with no appropriate accommodations for her learning, which only exacerbated her movement challenges and led to increasingly restrictive placements and social exclusion. During her years in the special education system, she experienced the unrelenting traumatic stress of daily being unable to obey the commands of her instructors, who viewed her as purposely “non-compliant.” She was the victim of aversive restraints, punitive seclusion, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Unable to tell her parents of this abuse, she could express herself only through self-destructive behaviors.

However, on March 21 of 1997, Peyton’s life changed dramatically when she was introduced to an innovative communication strategy called Facilitated Communication (FC), which uses applied resistance to enable intentional movement and communication through a keyboard or computer. Among her first words, Peyton typed, “i am intlgent.” For the first time, she had a reliable method for communicating with others and has since been supported by numerous trained facilitators. Peyton was finally able to request a real education and within a year found the courage to begin telling her parents about her experiences of abuse and neglect during her youth.

Peyton enrolled in Cuyamaca College in the fall of 1998. Four years later, she graduated as the valedictorian with a nearly 4.0 GPA and an Associate’s degree in General Studies, becoming the first person using supported typing to graduate valedictorian from a U.S. college.

Since then, Peyton has become an advocate for inclusion in education and society. Her wisdom is sought after by educators, doctors, parents and community groups nationwide, who have invited her to deliver more than 75 presentations at conferences and universities on the subject of esteeming all people. In 1995, she was awarded the Collaborative Advocacy Award from TASH, an international organization promoting inclusion and supported participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life. In 2003, Peyton was awarded CALTASH’s annual Mary Falvey Outstanding Young Person Award.

Peyton writes passionately about her experiences and offers a rare perspective of autism by someone labeled as “low functioning.” In l993, even before she learned to communicate using a keyboard, she made a vow to herself (she calls it her I.O.U.) that the rest of her life would be devoted to “quietly changing this worrisome world.” She knows that children are dying in institutions and at the hands of parents who have lost sight of their child’s value. Her story has been featured in numerous publications such as the San Diego Union-Tribune and she recently co-authored the foreword of a book for K-12 educators entitled Collaborating With Students in Instruction and Decision Making (Corwin Press, 2010). Peyton has completed her book, co-authored with her mother Dianne and Carol Cujec, entitled i am intelligent: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey from Heartbreak to Healing. Peyton considers i am intelligent, along with her continued advocacy, the fulfillment of her I.O.U.

Book Description

My name is Charity. I am thirteen years old. Actually, thirteen years plus eighty-seven days. I love sour gummies and pepperoni pizza. That last part no one knows because I have not spoken a sentence since I was born. Each dawning day, I live in terror of my unpredictable body that no one understands.

Charity may have mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but with a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps, rocks, and howls unpredictably, most people incorrectly assume she cannot learn. Charity’s brain works differently from most people’s because of her autism, but she’s still funny, determined, and kind. So why do people treat her like a disease or ignore her like she’s invisible?

When Charity’s parents enroll her in a public junior high school, she faces her greatest fears. Will kids make fun of her? Will her behavior get her kicked out? Will her million thoughts stay locked in her head forever? With the support of teachers and newfound friends, Charity will have to fight to be treated like a real student.

Inspired by a true story, Real speaks to all those who’ve ever felt they didn’t belong and reminds readers that all people are worthy of being included.

You Can Find This Book At:

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ IndieBound ~ Book Depository

Review

Thank you to Shadow Mountain Publishing for the advanced copy in exchange for a honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: This is a review that I really wanted to sit on and not write immediately because I have mixed feelings about this book. I also didn’t want to much time to pass that I forgot my thoughts about the book or that my feelings would simmer down way too much.

First and foremost I did actually enjoy this book and couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what would happen to Charity and also how the story would develop. I think this is a great middle grade story for disabled children to relate to, and for educators to read and gain a different perspective. I love that this story is an own voices story so that adds a lot of value to the narrative.

There are discussions that do need to take place around this book as you read and when you are done with it though. I do think that this is one of those that you can’t just read and put aside and not think about what you just read. There were several themes that I got from this book that so far I haven’t seen in other reviews so I am unsure if I read the book wrong. I also have yet to read a review from another autistic reader so that could be the reason the book wasn’t criticized

For me, one of the things that I kept settling on was the idea that this book perpetuates that as long as a disabled child could learn then they are valuable to society. Autism occurs on a spectrum and this book kind of made it seem like depending on where you are on the spectrum dictates what you deserve from society. I was really frustrated with the plot focusing on how everyone thought Charity was dumb but actually she’s the smartest person at that school. It felt like oh because of this now she’s valuable and we can take on other disabled kids if they are like Charity. It really is hard to put my thoughts surrounding this into words and I would love to flesh this out with other Autistic people to see what they took away from the book.

Something else that didn’t sit right with me was how easily the people who abuse Charity were left off the hook by others and also by Charity. I really didn’t like how they made it seem like Charity has to be full of grace and forgiveness for others because “oh they just don’t know any better.” I really would’ve liked to see her actually express the original thoughts she had towards people who were abusive and ableist towards her.

There are some scenes in this book that really feel like inspiration porn, such as the scene at the end of the story as well as the scene where they bring up Jaz as part of the court. These scenes felt like they were tokenizing the disabled students as well as saying “if they can do it so can you.” It was just so frustrating to see this happen and not have anyone comment on it. In the start of the story, Charity would comment about the ableist things that others were doing but that stopped happening once she was able to express herself through her keyboard.

Characters: This is the easy part of this review to write because there are so many characters in this book that are loveable. There are also plenty of characters in this story who I just didn’t like and still didn’t like at the end. I really love the group of friends that Charity has at her school and love how different they all are from each other. I liked that we get to see different disabilities through each of these characters. I also liked how we got to see Charity interact with neurotypical people as well in school and at home.

I really loved Charity’s parents and how her mother always adovated for her until she was able to speak for herself. I liked that they did have Charity’s mom take a step back once Charity could speak and she only helped her express herlsef rather than speak for her. I also loved how her dad was supportive of everything she wanted to do and just wanted to help her do all she could.

There are several characters who are ableist towards Charity and they change once she is able to speak. My opinion of these characters did not change even after they were accepting of Charity because it showed that she wasn’t important to them until she could contribute like they did. It showed that disabled peoples weren’t going to be allowed to participate in society or be accepted unless they were able to contribute in the same way that those without intellectual disabilities can.

Writing Style: This story is written in first person and is told through the main character’s perspective. I really enjoyed this style of writing because we got to see what Charity was thinking before she was able to speak. I liked that we were able to also see her thoughts that were not said out loud. I also really liked that her actions were included as well as the random animal facts that were going through her head. It was interesting to see her thought process throughout the whole story.

Summer of L.U.C.K. by Laura Segal Stegman

Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author Information

Laura Segal Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., was released in September 2020 by INtense Publications and will be followed by a sequel in 2021. Having grown up in Southern California with parents who valued reading, she remains spellbound by kidlit. Some of her favorite middle grade novels, then and now, are The Diamond in the Window, Ellen Tebbits,
All of A Kind Family, Wonder, A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Miraculous. Laura’s non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York, and her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine and Christian Science Monitor, among others. A long-time publicity consultant, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations and
non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama. Laura and her husband live in Los Angeles and part-time in New York City. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater.

Book Description

Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices. As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.

You can Find this book at:

Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ BookShop ~ IndieBound

Review

Thoughts and Themes: I think that this book is great for middle grade readers ages 10+. The fantasy elements to this story were really great and I loved the message that it taught in the end. I think this is a great book for young readers to read on their own or for a parent to read with their child. I also liked that this is a story that adults could enjoy and find things to take away as well.

I really enjoyed that this story teaches kids to embrace themselves and their differences. I like that it also shows the positive effect that friendship can have on someone and how your friends are there to support you when things are hard. I liked that the three children each had something different that they had to overcome yet these things brought them together.

Characters: There are three main characters, Darby, Justin, and Naz. You are also introduced to Mr. Usher and his children throughout the story. I really liked how Mr. Usher was introduced to the story and how these children build a relationship with him. I liked how the friendship between the children and Mr. Usher is developed and how he is used as a way to support them.

I also really liked the interactions that the children have with others at their camp. I thought it was great to see them overcome their challenges not just with each other but with other children. I liked that we got to see two settings in this story and not just the portion with Mr. Usher.

Writing Style: This story is told in third person and gives you three different main view points along with side viewpoints as well. It also goes back and forth from the present times and showing you some of the past with Mr. Usher’s children. I thought that it was great to see each of the children’s perspectives and see how different they were from each other yet how similar they were. I did find the pieces with the adults to be a little distracting from the rest of the story and could see children not being intrigued by those portions. I think that there isn’t too much of it though which was a plus for me and the parts that the adults interact with the children make the story come together.

Seacity Rising: A Tale of Unwatery Adventures by Elika Ansari Book Review

Author Information

Meet the Author: Seacity Rising by Elika Ansari | Meet The Authors

About Elika Ansari: I am a writer, social scientist, and humanitarian professional. I have been working with NGOs across Greece for the past two years, and as such I have had the (mis)fortune of hearing many touching stories about hardship and perseverance. I try to focus my writing on globally relevant issues with the hope of one day making a difference through the stroke of the pen (or click of the keyboard), however small that may be. I have published 100+ reviews, articles, short stories and essays, and my debut children’s book, ‘Seacity Rising: A Tale of Unwatery Adventures’ was published on June 6th, 2019 by Black Rose Writing, and is being distributed worldwide.

Her other works has featured on The Underground Reporter, Your Middle East, Quantum Fairytales, Wordhaus, Tricycle, BlazeVox, ThreeWeeks Unlimited Media. She is also the accredited writer of the award-winning documentary film, ‘The Legacy of Menla’. As a speaker of four languages and someone who has lived in over 10 countries throughout her lifetime, the question she dreads the most but gets all the time is ‘Where are you from?’. Ansari currently lacks a stable home, but writing often provides the safe haven she needs.

Book Description

When the underwater animals of Seacity pond learn that their home is in danger, they decide to investigate further by doing something no one has ever done before – go up to land to seek the answers they need. An unlikely team of two royal turtles, a genius goldfish and a timorous frog are then assembled to embark on a series of adventures. Whether they are racing the fastest tortoise on earth, falling in love with travelling mice theatre, or bringing peace to warring ant colonies, each unique experience is taking the group of friends closer to the heart of what is really going on. But will they make it back in time to save Seacity before the Winter’s Slumber?

Review

Thoughts and Themes: While reading this book I had to keep in mind the age that it was written for. This book is written for a middle grade audience and I think that the story is well done for that population.

This book was difficult to get into because there was little action going on and a lot more introduction of the setting and characters. I found that the pacing of this story was too slow and we had too much of getting to know the animals in the pond and not enough development of the plot. This made it hard to stay interested in what was happening and nothing to keep me tied to want to know what would happen next.

Something that I did like about this book was the themes that it touched upon. I liked that it talked about friendship, confidence, teamwork, and environmental issues. I think this is a great book to use with early middle grade readers to introduce the consequences of the ways that we treat our environment. This is a great book to use in a science classroom to introduce many environmental issues and how those issues affect other live creatures.

Characters: The main character of the story is Babak the frog who comes across a mysterious message that he gets to the king. He goes on an adventure with some other creatures that live in the same habitat as him. I really liked each of the characters that are introduced throughout this story. I think that they each added a different perspective on things and liked how they worked together to accomplish their tasks.

I liked that this book introduced additional characters beyond the ones that were on the journey with Babak the frog. I really liked getting to see the main characters interact with other creatures that they were not familiar with. I also liked the differences between them knowing sea creatures and then meeting these land creatures.

Writing Style: This story is told in third person and tells you what animals would say about the changes going on around them if we were able to understand them. This story has images included throughout the story which add a nice touch as you are reading. The only thing that I had a hard time with when reading this story was the long chapters. I thought that these chapters were a little long for the age that it was intended for and found myself forgetting what was happening.

Ciel Book Review

Summary: Ciel is excited to start high school. A gender non-conforming trans kid, Ciel has a YouTube channel and dreams of getting a better camera to really make their mark. Ciel can always rely on their best friend, Stephie, a trans girl who also happens to be a huge nerd. But their friendship begins to feel distant when Stephie makes it clear she wants the fact that she’s trans to be less visible now that they’re in high school. While navigating this new dynamic with Stephie, Ciel is also trying to make a long-distance relationship work with their boyfriend Eiríkur, who just moved back to Iceland. Add to the mix a cute swim star named Liam, and Ciel’s life is becoming more complicated by the minute!

Thoughts and Themes: Thank you to Netgalley and Second Story Press for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review.

I find it important when reading middle grade to keep in mind the audience it was written for. In this case this book is written for ages – and it is very apparent throughout the book which is a great thing. Something that did throw me off about this book was how many opportunities this book had to go deeper into certain topics but it only touched the surface. I think it would have been better if it focused on one thing and not many little things going on in Ciel’s life.

Something that is brought up in this book is the difference in experiences between a non-binary and a binary trans person. Through Ciel and Stephie’s experiences in school and with their friends you see the difference in how they interact with the world and also with each other. I think that the distinction between the two is important to include because it is not just a different experience but also they each view their trans identity differently.

Something else they show by having these different characters is the difference between a trans person who is clearly trans and one who is stealth. J think that this distinction is important to dhowcase in order to show the privilege someone has in others not knowing you are trans. I recognize there are many layers that go into how someone is seen by society and the way they wish to be seen yet I find it important to recognize the privilege that can come with society thinking your cisgender.

I like how Ciel is also an YouTube and how that plays a role in their life. I thought it was important to view their reaction to negative comments and transphobia online. I thought their response was good for their age and love the way they explain those comments to their brother.

There’s several instances of transphobia throughout the book yet most of these moments explain why they are wrong. There were moments in which Ciel would explain to the reader why something was transphobic or they would try and insert themselves in those moments to correct someone.

While I did enjoy this book a d find it good the intended age range, I do feel like the end is unfinished. There was no real plot and the problems that did arise didn’t really solve themselves. The end felt like there was more of the story that needed to be told and so many of the problems that arose were either dismissed or not fully solved.

Characters: I like each of the characters that are introduced into the book and like that a majority of the main characters are transgender. Ciel is a latinx non binary person, Stephie is a trans girl, and Liam is a trans boy. I found each of the characters likable but would have liked to see a little bit more of their development.

Writing style: I like how Ciel explains a lot of the terminology that they use as words are introduced into the book. I thought that was a great way to educate the audience without distracting from the story. I also thought it was a good way to introduce identities as they appeared in the story through the different characters.

You can pre-order this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library coming September 15th.

Rick by Alex Gino Book Review

Summary: Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that … understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

As they did in their groundbreaking novel George, in Rick, award-winning author Alex Gino explores what it means to search for your own place in the world … and all the steps you and the people around you need to take in order to get where you need to be.

Thoughts and Themes: I finished this book all in one day as I could not pull myself away from it. I love how lighthearted this book is and I think it is a great read for children ages 9-13. While the book is intended for that age I also think that adults would enjoy this book and that they could learn from this book.

This book took me back to my middle school years and it was so easy to remember moments during those years. This is a book that I would have loved during those years as I spent every day in a teacher’s classroom or the library. I remember wanting to read LGBTQ+ books in middle school and having one shelf to pick from so I loved how the students wanted to add those books to their library.

I like that this book touches on friendship and what that entails. I thought it was great that Rick built this relationship with his grandpa in which he explains to him what kind of people he should surround himself with. I love that he never pressures Rick to throw away his best friend but everyone waits for Rick to make his own decision regarding Jeff.

Characters: Throughout the book you get introduced to several characters which I mostly enjoy. This book has asexual and questioning representation through the main character, it has a side character who is transgender, and many queer side characters.

There is only one character that I had a hard time with even if I understood why he had to be that way. I could not stand Jeff and how much of a jerk he was throughout this whole book.

Another character that is introduced in this book is Rick’s grandpa, Grandpa Ray, who I really enjoyed. I loved the interactions between Rick and his grandpa and how Rick developed as a character through those interactions.

Another character who I really enjoyed was the teacher who was the advisor to the Rainbow Spectrum. I thought it was so important that he went back and apologized for his error and did the research about pronouns. I thought it was a great way to show the proper response to making an error and how to move forward after that.

Writing Style: This book is told in third person and through the perspective of Rick and what is happening in his world. I like that each chapter is short and it transitions to the next very easily. I also like that there is one central plot to the story and other things occur throughout the book that add to that plot.

You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.

Here in the Real World Book Review

GoodReads Summary: Ware can’t wait to spend summer “off in his own world”—dreaming of knights in the Middle Ages and generally being left alone. But then his parents sign him up for dreaded Rec camp, where he must endure Meaningful Social Interaction and whatever activities so-called “normal” kids do.

On his first day Ware meets Jolene, a tough, secretive girl planting a garden in the rubble of an abandoned church next to the camp. Soon he starts skipping Rec, creating a castle-like space of his own in the church lot.

Jolene scoffs, calling him a dreamer—he doesn’t live in the “real world” like she does. As different as Ware and Jolene are, though, they have one thing in common: for them, the lot is a refuge.

But when their sanctuary is threatened, Ware looks to the knights’ Code of Chivalry: Thou shalt do battle against unfairness wherever faced with it. Thou shalt be always the champion of the Right and Good—and vows to save the lot.

But what does a hero look like in real life? And what can two misfit kids do? 

Thoughts: Thank you HarperCollins and Balzer + Bray for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review. Since I really enjoy audiobooks and reading middle grade books I decided to listen to this one on audio while following along with the book.

Something that I look for when reading middle grade is that the characters read their age. If I am going to recommend books to middle graders I want them to be able to relate to the characters and the things that they are going through. I have several cousins that are in the middle grade age range and love being able to recommend things to them which is why I read this genre.

I really enjoy the level of imagination and wonder that was included in this book. The book is recommended for grades 3-7 which is ages 8-12, and I think that the level of imagination and wonder that these characters have is great for that age. I like how these two kids are the outcasts of their age group and don’t feel like they fit in anywhere. This lack of belonging strengthens their friendship with each other and makes these two kids understand each other better.

Something else that I enjoy in middle grade is that there are always parents there even if they only play a small role in the book. While there is brief mention of the parents in this book they give you a sense of why the characters act in certain manners. I love how the characters relationships with their parents explain so much of what they do when their parents are not around.

I think that this book is perfect for kids who are new to chapter books as each chapter is about 4-5 pages and they keep your attention. This would be a great book for a parent and their child to take turns reading.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, or look for it at your local library.

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter Book Review

GoodReads Summary: Rex Dexter is itching to have a dog. He was practically born to have one. His name is Rex, for crying out loud. It’s a dog’s name. Any pooch is preferable, but a chocolate Labrador is the pinnacle. The best of the best. The dream of all dreams.

When Rex’s B-Day for Me-Day finally arrives, his parents surprise him with a box. A box with holes. A box with holes and adorable scratchy noises coming from inside. Could it be? Yes! It has to be! A . . . a . . .

Chicken?

Pet poultry?

How clucky.

One hour and fourteen minutes later, the chicken is dead (by a steamroller), Rex is cursed (by the Grim Reaper), and wild animals are haunting Rex’s room (hounding him for answers). Even his best friend Darvish is not going to believe this, and that kid believes everything.

Rex’s uninvited ghostly guests are a chatty, messy bunch. And they need Rex to solve their mysterious deadly departures from the Middling Falls Zoo before it happens again.

But how?

Thoughts: Thank you to Little Brown Young Readers and The Novl for the advanced copy of this book.

I was excited to read this because it looks like a book my cousin would like. Before sending it his way I made sure to read it so that I could properly recommend it and I’m glad I did.

The characters in this book had me laughing on every page. I like how this book is a mystery that the characters are all trying to solve and there’s a reason for them being in Rex’s life. Each of the animals have a distinct personality that makes you love them and enjoy solving this mystery with them. I like that even the characters who don’t speak much have something unique about them.

I really like how short each chapter is because it can hold the attention of younger children. Each chapter brings something new to the story, be it a clue, a character or more background. It is easy to get through the chapters and they all transition well into each other. I like that you can put this book down at the end of a chapter and pick it back up later or the next day and continue reading.

I recommend this to those of you who have children who are being introduced to chapter books or are looking for something to read with their kids. This is the perfect book to read with your kids or a great way to introduce a child to chapter books. It’s a great transition from picture books to books with less images.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, or look for it at your local library.

Tunnel of Bones Book Review

GoodReads Summary: Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.

She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.

When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger.

And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever.

Thoughts: I decided to listen to this one on audio since I had read the first book of this series in that method. The narrator in this series has a nice soothing voice which makes this book easy to listen to when I want to tune out the world. Something else that is great about listening to this series rather than reading it is how quickly I can get through them, it makes you feel like you are getting through a lot reading in a short amount of time.

I like how events of book one are referenced often throughout the start of this book so you know it is going to be building off of that story. I like that this is true sequel but you probably could also read it as a stand alone. While things from book one are referenced they are still explained clearly enough that you would understand if you haven’t read book one.

Something I enjoy about this book as well as the first book is that the descriptions are elaborate. I can see the scenes that are being described throughout the story and love that you can follow where they are at. I love hearing as Jacob and Cassidy’s friendship develops and changes.

Something else that I enjoyed about this book is that you are getting to know the parents more than in the first book. The first book mentions them and what they do but not much about why or who they are aside from their ghost show. I also enjoy how you get more information about Jacob throughout the book and the connection he has with Cassidy.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy reading paranormal books that are not meant to be scary or books about friendship.

You can find this book at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, or look for it at your local library.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington Book Review

Summary: Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies. 

Thoughts: Thank you to Harper Collins and Katherine Tegan Books for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review. I decided to follow this one along as I listened on audio which was great.

I have not read a book about baking yet so this was a nice change. I really liked how the whole book was more complex than just being about Zoe’s baking. I like how it includes her feelings about her dad being in jail and how this complicates her story. I liked how it turned into a story about family and friendship more than just baking. It’s a story about trust, hope, and more.

Something I really enjoyed in this book is how supportive all of her family is. Its really sweet to hear about how all of them pitch in to try and help her meet her goals. I love how it started with them all being supportive of her baking and wanting to help her get what she wanted out of baking and then it shifts to it being about them supporting her regarding her dad.

I love the relationship that Zoe has with her grandmother and how the grandma is understanding of Zoe wanting to communicate with her dad. I like that the grandma explains things to Zoe regarding her dad and tries to help her stay connected with him. I really enjoyed how the grandma stepped in to explain herself regarding Zoe’s dad and to defend her actions to her daughter.

Its really heartbreaking to watch as Zoe learns about injustice and racism through her grandma’s words. It was interesting as Zoe learns about her father and how the justice system worked against him. Its such a moving story to see how she grows up quickly because she is black. It was great to see Zoe never give up on her dad even when obstacles got in her way, and how she always believed the best of him even if she had never met him.

I recommend this to those of you looking for a book with a black main character and black author. I also think that children ages 11 and up would enjoy this book. Its a great book to introduce racism, injustice and the prison system to middle aged children.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, or look for it at your local library.

The List of Things that will not Change Book Review

Summary: After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.

When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”

As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy.

Thoughts: Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

I really enjoy when middle grade books feature a character that acts their age and in which you can see their growth as they mature and encounter different obstacles. This was something that I felt was captured well in this book, I think it was great to see how Bea changed over time and how she recalled a lot of the big events in her life.

Something else that I enjoyed in this book was the way that emotions were captured and handled. I enjoyed the moments that Bea has with her therapist, Miriam, as it gives a great way to handle certain emotions and I think it begins to normalize therapy for those who are reading this. I like that this book addresses mental health and in a way it addresses anxiety and normalizes worrying to a certain extent.

Something else that I really enjoyed was the way Mission not accepting his brother due to his sexuality was handled. I think the homophobia in this book was handled well and it was appropriate for the ages it is written for. It was written in a way that is realistic but also in a way that shows compassion and how you will have people who support you and those are the ones who matter.

I think this is a great book for grades 3-7 in which children may be facing difficult feelings and challenges in their life. It’s nice to see that nothing in this book seems trivial and the therapist never dismisses Bea’s feelings.

You can get this book at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, or look for it at your local library.