The Half-Orphan’s Handbook by Joan F. Smith Book Review

Author Information

Joan F. Smith is author of The Half-Orphan’s Handbook and the forthcoming It Ends with December. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, and has written articles for The Washington Post and The Mary Sue on destigmatizing discussions around mental health and suicide prevention. Joan works in higher education and is a dance instructor. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

Joan is represented by Kerry D’Agostino at Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Book Description

It’s been three months since Lila lost her father to suicide. Since then, she’s learned to protect herself from pain by following two unbreakable rules:

1. The only people who can truly hurt you are the ones you love. Therefore, love no one.

2. Stay away from liars. Liars are the worst.

But when Lila’s mother sends her to a summer-long grief camp, it’s suddenly harder for Lila to follow these rules. Potential new friends and an unexpected crush threaten to drag her back into life for the first time since her dad’s death.

On top of everything, there’s more about what happened that Lila doesn’t know, and facing the truth about her family will be the hardest part of learning how a broken heart can love again. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan’s Children’s Publishing Group for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.

TW: suicide mention, suicide, death, addiction

Thoughts and Themes: I knew this book would be heavy as I went into reading it just because of the subject matter that it tackles. Its hard for me to talk about this book without revealing too much personal information but this book hit close to home for a lot of reasons.

I liked how the book went through a lot of the feelings that come along with grief and how it explores guilt along with loss. I thought that this book really showed how guilt factors into grief quite well and did it in a way that was still sensitive to the manner.

This book felt healing for me and made me feel a lot less alone than I have felt in a while. I liked how the story points out that healing isn’t linear and how much work goes into it. I liked that we got to see each person deal with grief differently, and all ages deal with grief as well. I liked that we even have adults in this book that are dealing with grief and it is all different forms of grief.

I cried for a good while after reading this book and the author’s note, I also messaged the author to say thanks for this book which is something I never do because I’m too scared to do that. There are books that I relate to, books that make me feel seen, books that help me heal from things, but rarely does a book do all of those things. This book felt like it was sent to me to say “hey I got you” much like Lila gets these people at camp to make her feel that way.

Characters: Through this story we are introduced to multiple characters as they interact with our main character, Lila. We meet Lila’s brother, Sammy, Madison, Winnie, Noah, Deese and Jeff. I really liked all of the characters that we get to meet and loved all the relationships that are shown throughout this book.

While we do get a romance between Lila and Noah, I thought that was a side of the book and not the main portion of it. I liked how their romance developed and the emotions that LIla has to face to allow someone to be with her. I thought it was good to see her grapple with those feelings and struggle to let herself have feelings for someone. I think this really showed how much she was holding onto the past and not letting herself move forward with her life since her dad wasn’t there anymore.

I like how we get to see each character’s backstory and the reason for the way that they act towards others. I thought it was good to finally get Madison’s feelings out and the truth about Noah out as well. I liked how this was handled and how Lila is forced to see that she isn’t the only one dealing with a loss. There were times where Lila was annoying because of her attitude and the way she treated others but there was an understanding that each of them had their reasons.

Writing Style: This story is told in first person point of view through Lila’s perspective. I really enjoyed having the story be told by Lila as a narrator because you find things out just as she does. I thought it was great to be there with her as we find out details about her father and then find out things about Noah. I think that made the story a lot more impactful because you for a minute are Lila.

Camp by L.C. Rosen Book Review

Author Information

Lev Rosen is the author of books for all ages. Two for adults: All Men of Genius (Amazon Best of the Month, Audie Award Finalist) and Depth (Amazon Best of the Year, Shamus Award Finalist, Kirkus Best Science Fiction for April). Two middle-grade books: Woundabout (illustrated by his brother, Ellis Rosen), and The Memory Wall. And two young adult novels: Jack of Hearts (and other parts) (American Library Association Rainbow List Top 10 of 2018) and Camp (School Library Journal Best Books of 2020, Elle Magazine Best Books of 2020). His books have been translated into different languages and sold around the world, nominated for awards and featured on many best of the year lists.

Lev is originally from lower Manhattan and now lives in even lower Manhattan, right at the edge, with his husband and very small cat. You can find him online at and @LevACRosen

Book Description

Sixteen-year-old Randy Kapplehoff loves spending the summer at Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. It’s where he met his best friends. It’s where he takes to the stage in the big musical. And it’s where he fell for Hudson Aaronson-Lim – who’s only into straight-acting guys and barely knows not-at-all-straight-acting Randy even exists.

This year, though, it’s going to be different. Randy has reinvented himself as ‘Del’ – buff, masculine, and on the market. Even if it means giving up show tunes, nail polish, and his unicorn bedsheets, he’s determined to get Hudson to fall for him.

But as he and Hudson grow closer, Randy has to ask himself how much is he willing to change for love. And is it really love anyway, if Hudson doesn’t know who he truly is? 


Thoughts and Themes: I read this one as it was a pick for one of the book clubs that I am a part of. It was one that was already on my shelves so I was glad to have a reason to read it.

This story reminded me of the time that I went to Trans camp and how that made me finally feel at home and at ease with who I am. I love the idea of LGBTQ+ kids getting a space where they are free to be who they are amongst others who are also like them.

When I first started this book there were so many times that I was annoyed with it and the stereotypes that were being shown. It felt that the whole thing was stereotypes and trying to go through so many tropes in a few pages. I was also worried that we would see a lot of stereotypes and problematic behavior without any commentary on it. I was pleased that this shifted mid way through the book as Randy gets called out for his plan and things between him and Hudson shift as the truth is revealed.

I liked that this book focuses on toxic masculinity within the gay community as well as internalized homophobia. The book doesn’t straight out say that that’s what it is addressing which is something that I like. These topics get addressed through conversations that Randy has with Hudson and conversations that he has with his friends. I like that there isn’t a sudden shift in the way Hudson’s parents think because it makes the story relatable.

I teared up at the conversation that Connie has with Randy about Hudson and his parents. It was just so real and relatable. I really felt for Hudson as he shifts back into someone his parents are more comfortable with for his safety and well-being back at home.

Characters: I really enjoyed all of the characters that you meet throughout this story even if Hudson and Randy would annoy me at times. There were times that I just couldn’t stand Randy at the beginning of the story and halfway through as well. My feelings towards Randy shift as he develops as a character and begins to understand where he went wrong.

I love that each of these characters learns more about themselves as the story goes on and we learn more about them. I love that they change throughout the course of this book and they aren’t one dimensional. I really enjoyed the side characters throughout this book and thought that they really added complexity to the story. I like the side story between George and Brad, as well as Ashleigh and Paz.

Something else I loved is that we get a demisexual character in this story. I have yet to read a book that has a demisexual character so it was really nice to see my sexuality represented.

Writing Style: The story is told in first person through the perspective of Randy which is something that I like because we don’t really get into the other’s thoughts. I like that when there is problems occurring we only get to see Randy’s side and feelings because it makes you angrier with him. I think it is good that we don’t get to really sympathize with Hudson until later on and we don’t find him a likeable character immediately. Well at least I didn’t find him likeable as it seemed he was trying to trick Randy into something Randy wasn’t ready for.

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


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.