Small Town Pride by Phil Stamper Book Review

Book Description

Jake is just starting to enjoy life as his school’s first openly gay kid. While his family and friends are accepting and supportive, the same can’t be said about everyone in their small town of Barton Springs, Ohio.

When Jake’s dad hangs a comically large pride flag in their front yard in an overblown show of love, the mayor begins to receive complaints. A few people are even concerned the flag will lead to something truly outlandish: a pride parade.

Except Jake doesn’t think that’s a ridiculous idea. Why can’t they hold a pride festival in Barton Springs? The problem is, Jake knows he’ll have to get approval from the town council, and the mayor won’t be on his side. And as Jake and his friends try to find a way to bring Pride to Barton Springs, it seems suspicious that the mayor’s son, Brett, suddenly wants to spend time with Jake.

But someone that cute couldn’t possibly be in league with his mayoral mother, could he?

Review

Thoughts and Themes: After having enjoyed two of Phil Stamper’s books when I saw this middle-grade book of his on Netgalley I knew I had to read it. I love that there are options for LGBTQ+ youth now because when I was in middle school I remember there were 3 books I read on repeat. I remember being in middle school and knowing something was different about me but not having the terminology or knowing girls could be queer, and books only had gay males in them.

I like that this book isn’t all happy for our main character regardless of the support that he does have from family and friends. I like that we see the reality of what it can be for someone to be queer in a small town. I also really like that we get a glimpse of how Jake’s online world is 100% accepting in the way he had hoped it would be. I think it was great to see that nowhere is 100% safe for LGBTQ+ people and how we navigate spaces that we might not be safe in.

Something else that I really enjoyed about this book was the talk that Brett has with Jake about anxiety. I love how he brings up reading books to figure out his sexuality and how much that helped him. I really liked how they talk about Brett going to therapy to help with his anxiety and how it just is a regular conversation between two friends.

Characters: In this book, you meet several characters through their interactions with our main character, Jake. You get to meet his parents, his best friend, and the guy he is crushing on, Brett. I really enjoyed all of the characters you get to meet throughout this book and Jake’s relationships with everyone.

I loved the relationship between Brett and Jake and how innocent their relationship is. I also really enjoyed how Jake just accepts that Brett isn’t out and understands what being out could mean for him. I like that he just takes Brett’s lead and while it does confuse him at times he does listen to others.

I also liked how Jake has many supportive people in his life, like his best friend and his parents. I loved seeing how supportive Jake’s parents are and I liked that Jake felt comfortable enough to tell his dad that he outed him before he was ready.

Writing Style: This book is told in the first person through the perspective of our main character, Jake. I really enjoyed getting the chance to read this story from his perspective because the main character read his age. I liked getting to be in Jake’s head and see how he feels about everything. I also thought it was great to see how the reaction to having a crush and what it is like to be his age and be out.

Author Description

Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. While it could be seen as a boring lifestyle to some, he kept himself entertained by playing the piano and writing stories that stretched his imagination. He has a B.A. in Music from the University of Dayton and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing from Kingston University.

When he first left his home state, he landed in Washington, DC with no job prospects, $800 in graduation money, and the promise of a walk-in closet to live in. Not long after—and he’s not totally sure how—he was jumping headfirst into a career in non-profit PR and sleeping in a real bed. He loved writing for a living, even if he was writing press releases and news stories… and hundreds of emails to annoyed journalists. But after a while, the dry writing started to get to him, so he thought he’d finally work on that book he always wanted to write.

Years later, Phil is now the bestselling author of The Gravity of Us, As Far As You’ll Take Me, and other queer books for kids and teens. He works in author development for a major book publisher in New York City, where he lives with his husband and their dog. Golden Boys, the first book in his upcoming young adult rom-com duology, comes out in February 2022. Small Town Pride, his debut middle grade novel, publishes in Summer 2022.

Jordie and Joey Fell from the Sky by Judi Lauren Book Tour Post

Book Description

Jordie and Joey Fell From the Sky by Judi Lauren

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Publishing Date: April 19, 2022

Synopsis:

Twin brothers Jordie and Joey have never met their parents. Maybe it’s because they aren’t from this planet?

When another kid at school tried to force Jordie to show him the “crop circles” on his back that prove he’s an alien, it was Joey who took the kid to the ground. And when the twins got kicked out of their foster home because Joey kissed the other boy who lived there, it was Jordie who told him everything would be okay. And as long as Jordie and Joey are together, it will be. But when the principal calls their current foster mother about a fight at school, the boys know she’ll be done with them. And, from spying in their file, they also know they’re going to be separated.

Determined to face the world side by side rather than without one another, Jordie and Joey set off to find their birth parents. From Arizona to Roswell to Area 51 in the Nevada desert, the twins begin a search for where they truly belong. But Jordie’s about to discover that family isn’t always about the ones who bring you into the world, but the ones who help you survive it.

Book Links

Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Indiebound

Review

Thoughts and Themes: I really enjoy reading middle-grade books so when I was given the chance to be on the book tour for this one I was quite excited. I really enjoyed this story and how so much is packed in not so many pages. This book touches on the foster care system, family, friends, belonging, and more.

This whole time you know that it is very unlikely that the boys are actually aliens but you are wondering what else could explain the things that Jordie is saying. I wonder if other adults may have picked up on the signs and knew what was coming before I did. I certainly didn’t see the explanation that happens at the end of the book and I was hurting right alongside Jordie as he learns information that was missing from his memories.

I really liked the adults that are included in the later portion of the book. I like how they show Jordie and Joey what it means to have a sense of belonging in the world and what it feels like to be wanted. I can’t give too much away but by the end of this story, you get a sense that Jordie and Joey both found what they were searching for at the start of this book.

Characters: There are several characters that you get introduced to in this story through their interactions with Jordie and Joey. You get to meet their best friend who goes along the journey with them in search of their birth parents. You get to meet their social worker who has tried her best to make sure they stay together. You get to meet some of the people whom Jordie and Joey cross while on this trip and more.

At first, I wasn’t too interested in any of the characters but once I got about 50% of the way I was invested in the well-being of Jordie and Joey. These boys have been through so much as they go from foster home to foster home and all they both want is a place in which they belong. Joey would do anything to protect his brother which includes keeping some memories locked away until he is ready to learn about them. I really liked how this book showed the love between these brothers and showed them being affectionate with each other. I also really liked how they were allowed to have feelings, they allowed each other to have real emotions and the adults in their lives also were prepared for that.

Writing Style: This book is written in the first person from the perspective of Jordie. The book also includes snippets from an online blog that Jordie follows regarding alien encounters along with information that he may have been searching for regarding other topics that become important later on in the story.

I really enjoyed this being told through Jordie’s perspective as he is missing memories from several years of his life. As he is missing those years so are you as the reader and that makes it so much more believable when he thinks that they came from aliens. I like how Jordie seems to be a lot younger than Joey and we learn why that is throughout the story. There are so many scenes in which my heart breaks for these boys and I just want to protect them the way so many others they meet want the same.

Author Information

Judi Lauren was born in the Midwest and misses those winters. She now resides in an area where the bugs are way too large. She has an unnatural obsession with Chicago, Dean Winchester, and Friends (the TV show.)

Judi is represented by Heather Cashman of Storm Literary Agency, where she writes books for kids and teens about family, friendship, and surviving impossible things.

In her spare time, she also works as an editor at Radish Fiction. You can connect with her on Instagram @judilauren.

Author Links

Website ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads

Tour Schedule

https://tbrandbeyondtours.com/2022/02/03/tour-schedule-jordie-and-joey-fell-from-the-sky-by-judi-lauren/

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass Book Tour Post

Book Description

Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary

Publishing Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

Rain Reign meets Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World in this heartfelt novel about a neurodivergent thirteen-year-old navigating changing friendships, a school trip, and expanding horizons.

Thirteen-year-old Ellen Katz feels most comfortable when her life is well planned out and people fit neatly into her predefined categories. She attends temple with Abba and Mom every Friday and Saturday. Ellen only gets crushes on girls, never boys, and she knows she can always rely on her best-and-only friend, Laurel, to help navigate social situations at their private Georgia middle school. Laurel has always made Ellen feel like being autistic is no big deal. But lately, Laurel has started making more friends, and cancelling more weekend plans with Ellen than she keeps. A school trip to Barcelona seems like the perfect place for Ellen to get their friendship back on track.  Except it doesn’t. Toss in a new nonbinary classmate whose identity has Ellen questioning her very binary way of seeing the world, homesickness, a scavenger hunt-style team project that takes the students through Barcelona to learn about Spanish culture and this trip is anything but what Ellen planned.

Making new friends and letting go of old ones is never easy, but Ellen might just find a comfortable new place for herself if she can learn to embrace the fact that life doesn’t always stick to a planned itinerary.

Book Links

Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Indigo ~ Indiebound

Review

Thoughts and Themes: I was so thrilled when I saw this book was coming out because it has an Autistic main character and a non-binary side character. I was so excited to sign up for the tour for this book and so happy that I was admitted onto the tour. This is a book that I winded up hugging when I was done with this book because of how much it made me feel seen.

I really liked how throughout this book Ellen is teaching others what it means to her to be Autistic and Isa is teaching others what it means for them to be non-binary. I liked how each of them breaks things down for each other, and how they both allow each other to have questions but are honest if the questions are too much.

Something else that I really enjoyed about this book is how Ellen is exploring who she is and how her teammates just allow for this exploration while Laurel seems to not be on board with these changes. I really loved how Ellen just freely said that she thought Meritzcell is cute without thinking what others would say but then we see how madison’s reaction changes how Ellen navigates these feelings.

There is so much that I could say about this book because of how much I really loved it and all the little pieces that make up this book. I liked that the book was about Ellen’s trip to Barcelona and we see how her being Autistic affects this trip but it isn’t completely centered on this part of who she is.

Characters: In this book, you get to meet several characters through their interactions with Ellen. You get to meet Ellen’s dad, her best friend, Laurel, and her teammates, Andy, Gibs, and Isa. You also get to briefly meet some of Laurel’s teammates and new friends, Madison and Sophie-Anne.

I really loved everyone on Ellen’s team and how they supported her throughout her time in Barcelona and how they just seemed to understand her. I was frustrated with Laurel throughout this book because it seemed that she didn’t really know Ellen or care about her since she had these new friends and Ellen didn’t really fit into that new life. I really enjoyed that Ellen’s teammates accepted her for who she is but still hold her accountable when she does something to hurt her teammates.

I really enjoyed Ellen’s relationship with her dad and how he is around but not really interfering in Ellen’s exploration of the city. I like that he treats her in the same manner that he treats the other students on the trip. I also really liked the conversations that they have about faith and how Ellen goes to her father to discuss what she did to potentially ruin her friendships.

Writing Style: This book is written in first person through the perspective of Ellen which I thought was great. I liked to see how she was experiencing this trip through her perspective rather than what others thought was happening. I thought it was great to know things based on what our main character actually thought was going on rather than have outside input.

Author Information

A. J. Sass (he/they) is an author, editor, and competitive figure skater who is interested in how intersections of identity, neurodiversity, and allyship can impact story narratives. He is the author of Ana on the Edge, a Booklist Editors’ Choice 2020 and ALA 2021 Rainbow Book List Top 10 for Young Readers selection, and Ellen Outside the Lines (Little, Brown, 2022), the co-author of Camp QUILTBAG* with Nicole Melleby (Algonquin, 2023), as well as a contributor to the This Is Our Rainbow: 16 Stories of Her, Him, Them, and Us (Knopf) and Allies: Real Talk about Showing Up, Screwing Up, and Trying Again (DK US & UK) anthologies. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his boyfriend and two cats who act like dogs.

Author Links

Website ~ Twitter ~ Instagram ~ Goodreads ~ Facebook

Anticipated Releases March 2022

So of course some of my anticipated releases are books that I already read because I want to have a finished copy of them but also because I want the world to get a chance to read them. This list is books that I haven’t gotten a chance to read but are some of my most anticipated reads for this month.

My anticipated reads that I have read this month include Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore, Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters, All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown, and Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass. Reviews for each of these books are to come throughout the month of March.

And They Lived . . . by Steven Salvatore 

From the author of Can’t Take That Away comes a sex-positive, fairytale-inspired YA novel that celebrates first love and self-acceptance, perfect for fans of What If It’s Us.

“My heart didn’t stand a chance. I loved it from once upon a time all the way to its joyfully complex ever after.” – New York Times bestselling author Becky Albertalli


Chase Arthur is a budding animator and hopeless romantic obsessed with Disney films and finding his true love, but he’s plagued with the belief that he’s not enough for anyone: he’s recovering from an eating disorder and suffers from body dysmorphia fueled by his father, and can’t quite figure out his gender identity. When Chase starts his freshman year of college, he has to navigate being away from home and missing his sister, finding his squad, and contending with his ex-best friend Leila who is gunning for the same exclusive mentorship. If only he can pull together a short for the freshman animation showcase at the end of the semester.

Then Chase meets Jack Reid, a pragmatic poet who worships words and longs to experience life outside of his sheltered world. But Chase throws everything into question for Jack, who is still discovering his sexual identity, having grown up in close-knit conservative family. Jack internalized a lot of homophobia from his parents and childhood best friend, who unexpectedly visit campus, which threatens to destroy their relationship. Chase will have to learn to love–and be enough for–himself, while discovering what it means to truly live. 

So This Is Ever After by F.T. Lukens 

Carry On meets Arthurian legend in this funny, subversive young adult fantasy about what happens after the chosen one wins the kingdom and has to get married to keep it…and to stay alive.

Arek hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he completed the prophecy that said he was destined to save the Kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler. So now that he’s finally managed to (somewhat clumsily) behead the evil king (turns out magical swords yanked from bogs don’t come pre-sharpened), he and his rag-tag group of quest companions are at a bit of a loss for what to do next.

As a temporary safeguard, Arek’s best friend and mage, Matt, convinces him to assume the throne until the true heir can be rescued from her tower. Except that she’s dead. Now Arek is stuck as king, a role that comes with a magical catch: choose a spouse by your eighteenth birthday, or wither away into nothing.

With his eighteenth birthday only three months away, and only Matt in on the secret, Arek embarks on a desperate bid to find a spouse to save his life—starting with his quest companions. But his attempts at wooing his friends go painfully and hilariously wrong…until he discovers that love might have been in front of him all along. 

The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta

A stunning YA fantasy inspired by ancient Mesoamerica, this gripping debut introduces us to a lineage of seers defiantly resisting the shifting patriarchal state that would see them destroyed—perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir.

Indir is a Dreamer, descended from a long line of seers; able to see beyond reality, she carries the rare gift of Dreaming truth. But when the beloved king dies, his son has no respect for this time-honored tradition. King Alcan wants an opportunity to bring the Dreamers to a permanent end—an opportunity Indir will give him if he discovers the two secrets she is struggling to keep. As violent change shakes Indir’s world to its core, she is forced to make an impossible choice: fight for her home or fight to survive.

Saya is a seer, but not a Dreamer—she has never been formally trained. Her mother exploits her daughter’s gift, passing it off as her own as they travel from village to village, never staying in one place too long. Almost as if they’re running from something. Almost as if they’re being hunted. When Saya loses the necklace she’s worn since birth, she discovers that seeing isn’t her only gift—and begins to suspect that everything she knows about her life has been a carefully-constructed lie. As she comes to distrust the only family she’s ever known, Saya will do what she’s never done before, go where she’s never been, and risk it all in the search of answers.

With a detailed, supernaturally-charged setting and topical themes of patriarchal power and female strength, The Lost Dreamer brings an ancient world to life, mirroring the challenges of our modern one.

For the Record by Monique Polak

A middle-grade novel thoughtfully explores the realities of parents’ divorce

Twelve-year-old Justine’s parents are recently divorced. She and her little sister, Bea, go back and forth between their parents’ homes in Montreal. Their mother, whose anxiety manifests as the need to control, believes that their father and beloved half-sister are a bad influence on Justine and Bea. So, she enlists Justine in collecting evidence that would lead to getting sole custody.

Justine accepts her mother’s view of her father at first and begins writing detailed notes about his behavior: He doesn’t stick to Bea’s strict bedtime. He’s late dropping them off at school. He makes sandwiches with white bread. But when Justine crafts an outright lie for her mother’s court case, she starts to question her mother’s behavior, and her own.

This thoughtful, supportive look at parental alienation and its impact on children tenderly balances this difficult topic with moments of joy, love, and connection. Throughout the book, Justine’s clever, unique voice guides readers as she navigates complicated family dynamics and summons the courage to tell the truth, no matter the consequences.

The Girl who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill Book review

Book Description

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

Review

Thoughts and Themes: I heard about this one on bookstagram and booktok so when I saw it at the library I immediately picked it up. It took me a while to get into this book because it is a slow story and it doesn’t really pick up at any point throughout. I am glad that I stuck with it though because it is such a beautifully written book and I loved the world that this book takes you to.

I really enjoyed the world-building in this book and how this takes place throughout the book rather than just at the start of the story. The fact that we learn more as we read kept me immersed in this story and made me want to read more. I loved getting to learn more about the Protectorate and how that town came to be as well as the forest as Xan, Luna, Glerk and Fyrian make their way through different parts of this forest.

I loved that this whole story has a lot to do with misunderstandings and lack of communication. I thought it was great that throughout we see the mess that is caused by a lack of communication between people. I was so angry that so much of this was due to something that could’ve easily been solved but that is reality when problems occur due to communication.

Another theme that I really enjoyed in this book is found family. I loved Luna’s family with Xan, Glerk, and Fyrian and how important each one of them was to each other. I liked seeing their relationship strengthen over the course of the book and seeing how Glerk grows to love Luna.

Characters: In this book, there are several characters that you get introduced to as there are a lot of main characters. While this book centers around Xan and Luna, there are other characters that are quite important to the story as well as those who are important in their lives. Glerk and Fyrian are a part of Xan and Luna’s family and you get to know a lot about them throughout this story. You also get to meet Antain, a man who lives in the protectorate and is set on freeing his people from the witch. There is also the “madwoman” who is Luna’s mother and has gone mad with grief after her baby was taken as a sacrifice to the witch. Then there is our villain who I can’t say much about because that would ruin our story.

I loved all of the characters that you get to meet throughout this book and really enjoyed the relationships that they develop with one another. I loved Xan as Luna’s grandmother and how strong their bond with each other is throughout this book. I also really liked Fyrian’s playful nature and his relationship with everyone in the family.

I liked getting to learn about the people of the Protectorate and how they interacted with one another. I liked seeing the relationships they had with one another and why those relationships were important to this town.

Writing Style: This story is told in the third person and it gives you several perspectives. This story follows Xan, Luna, Antain, people of the Protectorate, and at some times Glerk and Fyrian. At first, I was not a fan of this story bouncing around between which characters I was reading about but by the end, I loved getting to see things from so many different viewpoints.

Most times an all-knowing narrator throws me off because I find the story not as interesting but this narrator was good. I liked that the narrator knew everything but didn’t reveal everything to us all at once. The narrator allowed our characters to slowly find things out for themselves and as they encountered new things so did we.

Author Information

Kelly Barnhill is an author and teacher. She won the World Fantasy Award for her novella The Unlicensed Magician, a Parents Choice Gold Award for Iron Hearted Violet, the Charlotte Huck Honor for The Girl Who Drank the Moon, and has been a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award, the Andre Norton award, and the PEN/USA literary prize. She was also a McKnight Artist’s Fellowship recipient in Children’s Literature. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her three children and husband. You can chat with her on her blog at www.kellybarnhill.com

Dead Wednesday by Jerry Spinelli Book Review

Book Description

Worm Tarnauer has spent most of eighth grade living down to his nickname. He prefers to be out of sight, underground. He walked the world unseen. He’s happy to let his best friend, Eddie, lead the way and rule the day.

And this day–Dead Wednesday–is going to be awesome. The school thinks assigning each eighth grader the name of a teenager who died in the past year and having them don black shirts and become invisible will make them contemplate their own mortality. Yeah, sure. The kids know that being invisible to teachers really means you can get away with anything. It’s a day to go wild!

But Worm didn’t count on Becca Finch (17, car crash). Letting this girl into his head is about to change everything.

Review

Thoughts and Themes: When I read the description of this book I thought that this was an interesting way to try to teach children the importance of responsibility. I think the idea of dead Wednesday is great but not to instill fear in these students but to teach them why they need to be precautious and think twice about the dangerous things they may engage in while in high school.

Something that I liked about this book was the moment in which Becca shares her story of how she died. I thought Worm’s reaction to that was well-done and the build-up before she dies creates a lot of emotions for the reader. I think Worm getting to spend time with Becca and hear her story beyond what the card he got for Dead Wednesday made a big different in how that event impacted him. I think that this also shows the flaws in Dead Wednesday as the other kids are seeing it as a get away with everything day vs seeing that the “Wrappers” were actual people who had loved ones.

Characters: Throughout this book you get introduced to several characters through their interactions with the main character, Worm. You get to meet his best friend, several of his classmates, the girl that he is assigned for Dead Wednesday, Becca, and his family.

I really liked reading as the friendship between Becca and Worm develop even as we know that this couldn’t possibly last. I liked that Becca thought that she was there for him but then realizes that she’s there because she needs his help. I think that Becca was there for both of them, they needed each other’s permission to just be.

I also liked the friendship between Worm and his best friend, Eddie, and then when we get to see the contrast of that friendship to Worm and Becca, and even Worn and Monica. I think it was great to see how he considered Eddie his best friend but he was never really himself around him, and was always considering this kid’s interests and not his own.

Writing Style: This story is told with a third person narrator through Worm’s perspective. I liked that the whole story was through Worm’s perspective because of how young and innocent he is. There is a lot that the reader sees and knows before Worm comes to those realizations, and I love that aspect of this book. I love this aspect because it is meant for a younger audience so I think younger children will realize things when Worm does but adults will see further ahead.

Author Information

When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children’s book author, live in Pennsylvania.

A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi Book Review

Book Description

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most. 

Review

CW: Classism, Poverty, Chronic Illness (Diabetes), absent father, theft

Thoughts and Themes: I picked this one up at the library but it was taking a while for me to get into it so I tried it as an audiobook and really enjoyed it. I like that the audiobook has two distinct voices for each of the girls which makes it easier to tell them apart.

There was a lot that I really enjoyed about this book but my favorite are the scenes in which Sakina and Mimi are teaching each other about their culture. I love how Sakina is hesitant at first to allow Mimi into her world and how Mimi doesn’t understand why Sakina responded to her in a way she deemed rude. I liked when Sakina would ask Mimi things about America and Mimi got to explain what was familiar to her and felt like she belonged somewhere.

I also really enjoyed the moments in which Mimi realized how different Sakina’s life was from her and the different expectations that were put on each of them. I also like that both of the girls are keeping things from their families and they trust each other with this information. It was nice getting to see them talk each other through things that they were struggling with.

Characters: This book centers around our two main characters, Sakina and Mimi, and through them you get to meet several other characters in this book. You get to meet both of their families as well as some other people they interact with while they are both navigating Pakistan.

I really liked getting to know both of our main characters and liked reading as their friendship develops. I thought it was great that at first they both needed something from each other which is why they were speaking to each other but that develops into more. I thought it was great that Mimi felt like she could open up to Sakina and share her feelings with her.

I also do enjoy getting to know each of the girls apart from each other and getting to see them act their age when they are with each other. There are times in which the girls are interacting with adults that you forget that they are still kids because they have been forced to grow up quickly because of the struggles their families are going through. I liked getting to see them react like children though and get to see them allow each other feelings that were messy and complicated.

Writing Style: This book is told in the first person through the dual perspectives of Sakina and Mimi. Sakina is a girl who works for Mimi’s mother’s family in Pakistan and lives in poverty, and Mimi is an American girl who is visiting her rich grandparents in Pakistan. I really enjoyed getting the chance to see this story unfold through both of their perspectives because when you first start reading you think that they are so different from each other and come from two different worlds. It isn’t until you keep reading and get to see them interact that you realize that they have some things in common.

Author Information

Saadia Faruqi is a Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist. She writes the children’s early reader series “Yasmin” published by Capstone and other books for children, including middle grade novels “A Place At The Table” (HMH/Clarion 2020) co-written with Laura Shovan, and “A Thousand Questions” (Harper Collins 2020). She has also written “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope & Courage from Pakistan” a short story collection for adults and teens. Saadia is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim art, poetry and prose, and was featured in Oprah Magazine in 2017 as a woman making a difference in her community. She resides in Houston, TX with her husband and children.

What about Will by Ellen Hopkins Book Review

Book Description

Twelve-year-old Trace Reynolds has always looked up to his brother, mostly because Will, who’s five years older, has never looked down on him. It was Will who taught Trace to ride a bike, would watch sports on TV with him, and cheer him on at little league. But when Will was knocked out cold during a football game, resulting in a brain injury–everything changed. Now, sixteen months later, their family is still living under the weight of the incident, that left Will with a facial tic, depression, and an anger he cannot always control, culminating in their parents’ divorce. Afraid of further fracturing his family, Trace begins to cover for Will who, struggling with addiction to pain medication, becomes someone Trace doesn’t recognize. But when the brother he loves so much becomes more and more withdrawn, and escalates to stealing money and ditching school, Trace realizes some secrets cannot be kept if we ever hope to heal.

Review

CS: Addiction, Suicide Attempt, Sexist comments

Thoughts and Themes: I don’t recall reading any other books by this author but I am familiar with the books. I picked this one up because of the synopsis and since it is written in prose, I knew it would be a quick read which is what I was looking for. I am really glad that I picked this one and can’t wait to read more from this author.

This book deals with several tough topics such as absentee parents, prison, addiction, rehab, and more. I believe that they do this in a way that is appropriate for the age range that it is intended for.

In this book, we get to see not only how opioid addiction affects Will but also how it affects those around him such as his brother, Trace, and the rest of his family. In this book you get to see how Trace is trying to hold everything together and fix things that are out of his control, you get to see how his brother’s addiction is impacting him and how he feels throughout the progression of this addiction.

This book also shows the importance of having a support system in place for all ages. Through this book, you see the importance of Trace having a support system so that he doesn’t try to carry everything on their own. We get to see how important Will has a support system is and what happens when he pushes that support system away. We also get to see Trace realizing how important it is for his dad and grandfather to not be alone as he and his brother get older. We also see how Trace cares for Mr. Cobb as he realizes how he must feel being alone now, and also how he feels for Cat since she’s new to town and alone.

Characters: In this book, you get to meet several characters through their interactions with Trace. You get to meet his dad, his dad’s girlfriend, Lily, his friends, Bram and Cat, his brother, Will, his neighbor, Mr. Cobb, and a few others briefly.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the friendships between Trace, Bram, and Cat. I really appreciate how Cat is able to relate to Trace because her brother went down a difficult path that unfortunately leaves him in prison. I thought that being able to see Cat and Trace have this connect them shows how books that deal with these topics need to exist for younger children because they also deal with tough subjects. I liked how Trace points out the importance of having friends that supported him and never left his side throughout Will’s addiction.

Something else that I really enjoyed about this book was the adults who were a part of Trace’s life especially as his parents were absent. I understood his dad’s need to work and how that affected the amount of time he had for his children. I really liked the role that Mr. Cobb plays in this story and how he is a trusted Adult for Trace. I thought it was great to see how much Trace learns from Mr. Cobb and how much realizations come from this time he spends with him. I also like the way Lily fits into Trace’s life and how she doesn’t force him or Will to embrace her or think of her as a new mother.

Writing Style: This book is written in prose and told in first person through the perspective of Will’s younger brother, Trace who is 12 years old. I really enjoy books that are told in prose as you get to see a story be told in a different manner. I also really enjoyed getting this through Trace’s perspective because we get to see how addiction affects a child and what he needed during this time.

Author Information

Ellen Hopkins is the New York Times bestselling author of CrankBurnedImpulseGlassIdenticalTricksFalloutPerfectTrianglesTilt, and Collateral. She lives in Carson City, Nevada, with her husband and son. Hopkin’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest pages get thousands of hits from teens who claim Hopkins is the “only one who understands me”, and she can be visited at ellenhopkins.com.

Like most of you here, books are my life. Reading is a passion, but writing is the biggest part of me. Balance is my greatest challenge, as I love my family, friends, animals and home, but also love traveling to meet my readers. Hope I meet many of you soon!

The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton Book Review

Book Description

Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His father has long ago left, leaving him imprisoned until he is old enough to set out on his own. If there’s any hope he has, it’s to be the greatest chef that ever lived… just like his father.

One night, a band of magicians begins to arrive to participate in a secret meeting — a Prospect Selection Procedure to determine the most talented magicians in the world, judged by their leader Dr. Thallonius. Seth has one task: to make Dr. Thallonius the greatest dessert he’s ever tasted. Then, maybe he will help Seth find a way to freedom.

But when the doors to the private meeting open, and Dr. Thallonius lay dead on the floor, the group blames the dessert, which means that it’s Seth who will pay the price. But Seth knows he’s innocent, and only has so much time to eliminate each suspect and prove his innocence.

Review

Thoughts and Themes: I saw this at the library and winded up picking it up based on the cover and I’m glad that I did. I really enjoyed the murder mystery in this one with the magic thrown in there as well.

There were moments in which I thought I had it figured out but then something would throw you off the trail that you originally were on. I think that children ages 8+ would really enjoy reading this one and trying to put everything together. I also really enjoyed the way that the magic system was explained in this book as it was easy to follow and I can’t wait to learn more about it.

The ending of the book surprised me, not in who actually committed the murder but more so in the things that we find out about Seth. I had suspected other things about him but not what was revealed. I can’t wait to read more to see what happens to him and what else he discovers about himself and his past.

Characters: In this story, you get introduced to several characters through their interactions with Seth as well as with each other. I really enjoyed getting to learn about each of the mysterious characters who were there for the prospect and what “magic” each of them possessed. I also really enjoyed getting to learn more about Seth and loved his relationship with Nighttale, the talking cat.

Something that did throw me off while reading this is I don’t believe we got an age for Seth, is he a kid? Is he an adult? He read like a teenager figuring out things but then there were times that he read like an adult as he talks about leaving the place. I wasn’t so sure about a lot of things with him and the only reason I got an idea of what he looked like was the front cover.

Writing Style: This story is written in the third person through the perspective of Seth which made for a great story. I liked that Seth was very naive about a lot of things and that he really didn’t know much so everyone around him had to teach him things. I liked how Seth was oblivious to so much of the things around him and how patient the others are with him.

Author Information

Nicki is a former bookseller, and still lives in Oxfordshire where she ran a bookshop for more than ten years. She remains passionate about books, bookshops and anything that celebrates reading for pleasure and writes a regular Mystery Journal celebrating all things crime fiction for young people.

Nicki Thornton’s ‘wickedly funny and wildly original haunted whodunit’ The Last Chance Hotel, was selected as Waterstones Book of the Month October 2018 and has gone on to be an international bestseller, being translated into fifteen languages. Nicki Thornton’s debut won the 2019 Ealing Junior Book Award, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019, was shortlisted for the 2019 CrimeFest Best Crime Novel for Children, the 2019 Oxfordshire Book Award Best Junior Novel, Shortlisted for the Warwickshire 2019 Junior Book Award and longlisted for the Specsavers National Book Awards 2018.

January 2022 To Be Read

I had planned on finishing some of these during the last few days of December but just didn’t get around to it. I am about 80% into The Bone Spindle so I’m hoping to finish that before the end of this weekend. I also started Beasts of Prey a while ago but my library rental ran out so I had to put a hold on it again and it just came in. My reading goals for this year are a little different since I know school will pick up this year. I just hope to get through 1 e-book, 1 physical book, 1 audiobook, and 1 recommended from a friend off the 12 Challenge.

The Bone Spindle

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and All the Stars and Teeth.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark.

The Last Chance Hotel

Seth is a kitchen boy at the remote Last Chance Hotel. His father has long ago left, leaving him imprisoned until he is old enough to set out on his own. If there’s any hope he has, it’s to be the greatest chef that ever lived… just like his father.

One night, a band of magicians begin to arrive to participate in a secret meeting — a Prospect Selection Procedure to determine the most talented magicians in the world, judged by their leader Dr. Thallonius. Seth has one task: to make Dr. Thallonius the greatest dessert he’s ever tasted. Then, maybe he will help Seth find a way to freedom.

But when the doors to the private meeting open, and Dr. Thallonius lay dead on the floor, the group blames the dessert, which means that it’s Seth who will pay the price. But Seth knows he’s innocent, and only has so much time to eliminate each suspect and prove his innocence.

Beasts of Prey

Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome and magical creatures to pay off her family’s debts and secure their eventual freedom. But the night her loved ones’ own safety is threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand–and the consequences are dire.

As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six–an elite warrior–and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, a fire upends his plans. In its midst, Ekon not only encounters the Shetani–a vicious monster that has plagued the city and his nightmares for nearly a century–but a curious girl who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani down and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani and selling it for a profit could be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon–each keeping their true motives secret from the other–form a tentative alliance and enter into the unknowns of the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.

In this much-anticipated series opener, fate binds two Black teenagers together as they strike a dangerous alliance to hunt down the ancient creature menacing their home–and discover much more than they bargained for.

The Wicker King

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.