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.

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.

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs Book Review

Thank you to Harper Collins Kids for the advanced copy of the book in exchange for my review.

Summary: Lydia knows more about death than most thirteen-year-olds. Her mother was already sick when her father left them six years ago. When her mother dies, it is Lydia who sits by her side.

Fully orphaned now, Lydia follows the plan her mother made with her. She uproots to rural Connecticut to live with her “last of kin.” Aunt Brat, her jovial wife Eileen, and their ancient live-in landlord Elloroy welcome Lydia. Only days after her arrival the women adopt a big yellow dog.

Lydia is not a dog person—and this one is trouble! He pees in the house, escapes into the woods, and barks at things unseen. His new owners begin to guess about his unknown past.

Lydia doesn’t want to cause trouble for her new family—and she does not mean to keep secrets—but there are things she’s not telling . . .

….like why the box of “paper stuff” she keeps under her bed is so important…

….and why that hole in the wall behind a poster in her room is getting bigger…

…..and why something she took from the big yellow dog just might be the key to unraveling his mysterious past—but at what cost? 

Thoughts: Last year I was able to read a lot of middle grade books that really enjoyed them so I was hoping the enjoy a lot this year as well. Unfortunately I just haven’t been reading as much physical books as I would like to and I don’t really enjoy middle grade as audiobooks. I’m glad that I picked this one up though since it seems to have taken me out of the reading slump that I had been in.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book, both the animals and the humans that were included. I really enjoy having dogs in books because I think that they bring something out of the people that I really like. I like when there is a similarity between the dog and the humans which in this case was how they were both brought in around the same time. I think that fact adds to how Lydia relates to this dog and how she views herself in this home.

I liked how we saw Lydia develop through the course of the book and how her relationship with the yellow dog and her new humans change. I like how you watch her grow up and how the people around her change. I thought it was important to hear her thoughts around coming to a new place and feeling like she didn’t belong, I liked seeing her struggle with the idea of making this new place her home and how that scene near the end solidifies for her what this new place means.

I really enjoyed the themes and topics that were discussed throughout the book such as friendship, death, and family. I really enjoyed how the book discusses a different type of family structure and how Lydia comes to terms with her new family.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy middle grade or have children ages 10+. I think it’s a great book for kids ages 10-14.

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

Pet Book Review

Goodreads Summary:

Pet is here to hunt a monster.
Are you brave enough to look?

There are no more monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. With doting parents and a best friend named Redemption, Jam has grown up with this lesson all her life. But when she meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question-How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

Thoughts: I picked this one up since I was looking for a good short read and it did not disappoint. I wanted to make sure that I read books by black people or that featured black people this month.

I loved all of the characters involved in this story and how their relationships developed. I liked how much you got to know these characters in a short amount of time. I really enjoyed that Jam was selectively non verbal and how that was shown throughout the story. I also enjoy how there was brief mention that she is transgender but that wasnt the focus of the story, it was nice to have a trans protagonist but have the story be about something other than her gender.

I really like the idea of Angels and monsters in this book. I thought it was such a nice change from what were used to. I also really like how it was the children who were able to see the monsters for what they were. I think it was great to have them play such a large role in the rescue.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy reading middle grade or young adult, and those of you who are looking for good lgbtq+ representation.

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