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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Sunny Rolls The Dice” by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Watercolor by Lark Pien

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Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
Series: Sunny #3
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Too cool for school . . . or the least groovy girl in the grade?

Sunny’s just made it to middle school . . . and it’s making her life very confusing. All her best friend Deb wants to talk about is fashion, boys, makeup, boys, and being cool. Sunny’s not against any of these things, but she also doesn’t understand why suddenly everything revolves around them. She’s much more comfortable when she’s in her basement, playing Dungeons & Dragons with a bunch of new friends. Because when you’re sword fighting and spider-slaying, it’s hard to worry about whether you look cool or not. Especially when it’s your turn to roll the 20-sided die.

Trying hard to be cool can make you feel really uncool . . .

 

My Review:
Now this is what I have been waiting to read in this series: the middle school / middle grade aspect of Sunny’s life. She’s such a cute character that I really wanted to know more about her life in late 70s Pennsylvania. You definitely get a better sense of the kind of person Sunny is – she’s a pretty cool person.

Sunny faces two conflicts: growing up and staying true to herself. Sunny is who she is but she’s concerned that who she is and what she likes is not the way to go. Everyone young and old can relate to this universal internal conflict and peer pressure.

I liked seeing Sunny play Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve never played the game but learning about it was fun. It seems like a fun game to play.

Again I’m in love with the art and the cultural references. Sunny Rolls The Dice was definitely a step in the right direction. I hope there are more books about Sunny in the future.This is a great middle grade series and graphic novel.

 

More Sunny series:
Sunny Side Up – book 1
Swing It, Sunny – book 2

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous” by Keith Calabrese, Illustrated by Juana Medina

Full Title: Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma

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Genre: Picture Book
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: In the tradition of School’s First Day of School, debut author Keith Calabrese and Pura Belpré Award winner Juana Medina share a sweet, universal story about a clever little girl whose shoes are nervous about the first day of school.

Today is a big day! Today, Lena starts kindergarten. She is very excited. But there’s just one problem…

Lena’s shoes are nervous.

Lena doesn’t want to miss out on her first day of school, but she can’t go without her favorite shoes! How can she convince them to be brave?

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My Review:
What a neat story about first day of school anxiety for kids! What makes this story stand out from other books on this topic is that the author has personified Lena’s outfit. It presents a two-fold meaning: Lena’s shoes are nervous or Lena is acting out her nervousness through her shoes. A well-placed juxtaposition.

I loved the art style chosen. No perfect lines but swift hand-drawn-like illustrations perhaps to add to the nervous feel of the story. I liked that not every spread was full color. Some pages where black and white with the most important parts colored.

Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous is one creative, universal metaphor told in a unique way.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Doctor’s Family Reunion” by Mindy Obenhaus

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Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance, Christian Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: His Instant Family

Family means everything to Dr. Trent Lockridge. Growing up without a father, he always yearned for a family of his own. One long-ago  summer in Ouray, Colorado, he thought  he might build a future with beautiful  Blakely Daniels. But when he abruptly fled town, he broke her heart and left behind more than memories. Years later, Trent is shocked—and overjoyed—to learn he’s a father. He’d like to earn back Blakely’s love and trust— but it won’t be easy. And the clock is ticking. He’s got only a few weeks to prove that, this time, he’s here to stay…forever.

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My Review:
The Doctor’s Family Reunion was a charmingly romantic story of second chances and the power of faith.

Blakely is a well rounded, likable character. She has spent the last decade as a single mother while running the family tour business. But she still struggles and stresses, even more so once Trent suddenly comes back into her life. She has a hard time letting go and allowing others to help her out so she can have a chance to breathe.

She has been let down before in the past so it’s stubbornly hard for her to trust Trent (which is understandable). Trent seems honest, loyal (to a fault) and honorable – a real man of his word. From an outside perspective he is the total package and not the type of person to “dine and dash.” I do think he could have tried a little harder with Blakely before shit hit the fan. I was getting impatient waiting for him to confess to her.

Ouray, Colorado seems like such beautiful place. The author described it in such a way that made me want to go see this place in real life – the perfect destination vacation!

Mindy Obenhaus is a talented romance writer and storyteller. I am so glad I found her books. I can’t wait to read more by her!

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[My 200th] Book Review: “Glow of the Fireflies” by Lindsey Duga

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Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Briony never planned to go back to the place she lost everything.

Firefly Valley, nestled deep within the Smoky Mountains, is better kept in her past. After an unexplained fire gave Briony amnesia, her mother disappeared and her dad moved them to Knoxville.

But now her grandmother needs a caretaker and Briony’s dad volunteers her to help. The moment she returns, her whole world shifts. She feels a magical connection to this valley, as if it’s literally part of her somehow.

And when she meets a hot guy who claims he was her childhood friend but now mysteriously keeps his distance, Briony starts piecing together her missing past…and discovers her mother didn’t leave to start a new life somewhere. She’s trapped in the hidden world within the valley.

Now, Briony will do whatever it takes to rescue her, even if it means standing up against dangerously powerful nature spirits. Even if it means giving up her first love.

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My Review:
Glow of the Fireflies is a must read, new young adult fantasy book. I adored the story, loved the characters, and thought the writing was captivating.

The cover is absolutely gorgeous and, I will admit, was what first piqued my interest. I love fireflies; they’re so pretty. Combined with the aesthetically pleasing artwork and you get one resplendent cover art.

It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen deeply in love with a story’s plot. Glow of the Fireflies was put together so well. I like how the book starts out so seamlessly innocent inciting incident and then quickly turns into chaos.

Briony thought she might get some answers to questions that have haunted her for years. Well she gets that and so much more than she (or the reader) could have ever guessed. Once Briony and Alder, her long-ago childhood friend, come to a major decision, it took too long to get to something new. Things got repetitive.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by all the plot twists but I was and pleasantly so. Glow of the Fireflies had the right amount of tension, the right amount of danger, and the right amount of romance. This was a good read that I wish there had been at least another 30-50 pages more of. The book is a magically perfect YA fantasy standalone novel. I want to read more books by Lindsey Duga.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Dragons Love Tacos” by Adam Rubin, Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

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Genre: Picture Books
Series: Dragons Love Tacos #1
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Dragons love tacos. They love chicken tacos, beef tacos, great big tacos, and teeny tiny tacos. So if you want to lure a bunch of dragons to your party, you should definitely serve tacos. Buckets and buckets of tacos. Unfortunately, where there are tacos, there is also salsa. And if a dragon accidentally eats spicy salsa . . . oh, boy. You’re in red-hot trouble.

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My Review:
Who wouldn’t want to read a book about two totally amazing yet completely polar opposite things: dragons and tacos? Dragons are one of my favorite magical creatures and tacos are super yummy, so this book was a lot of fun to read.

I loved learning about why dragons love tacos of all things. The dragons vary in all sizes and shapes and colors and vibrant personalities. Dragons Love Tacos is so ridiculous and silly, the writing creative and detailed, that I’m sure it will become an instant favorite for children.

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Book Review: “Pumpkinheads” by Rainbow Rowell, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks

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Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Romance, Graphic Novel
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Deja and Josiah are seasonal best friends.

Every autumn, all through high school, they’ve worked together at the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world. (Not many people know that the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world is in Omaha, Nebraska, but it definitely is.) They say good-bye every Halloween, and they’re reunited every September 1.

But this Halloween is different—Josiah and Deja are finally seniors, and this is their last season at the pumpkin patch. Their last shift together. Their last good-bye.

Josiah’s ready to spend the whole night feeling melancholy about it. Deja isn’t ready to let him. She’s got a plan: What if—instead of moping and the usual slinging lima beans down at the Succotash Hut—they went out with a bang? They could see all the sights! Taste all the snacks! And Josiah could finally talk to that cute girl he’s been mooning over for three years . . .

What if their last shift was an adventure?

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My Review:
I’d seen this book all over bookstagram and became curious about it, especially since it was a graphic novel written by Rainbow Rowell. I’d only read one book by her but I had  feeling this would be a good read. And it was.

Pumpkinheads follows the same format as your traditional summer romance story but instead takes place at a pumpkin patch. The setting right away set it apart from other stories. It’s Deja and Josiah’s last season at the pumpkin patch before they go off to college and Josiah’s last chance to confess to his crush. The adventure that ensues just to find this person is wild and funny. The night becomes a wonderful memory that’ll last forever.

The appeal is further enhanced by Hick’s stunning illustrations. I don’t think the story could’ve have been told any other way. Her art paired with Rowell’s exceptional storytelling brought the story to life.

While both characters are likable, I like Deja more than Josiah. I connected with her more because of her vibrant personality and she didn’t spend page after page moping.

If you haven’t yet, Pumpkinheads is a must read. You’ll be absorbed into the story instantly and have a grand time reading.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Cherry Lane” by Rochelle Alers

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Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
Series: Cavanaugh Island #5
Rating: 4 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: A place to call home . . .

In New York City, attorney Devon Gilmore devoted all her time and energy to fast-track her career. She lost her boyfriend . . . but found herself with a surprise baby on the way. To begin a new life, Devon needs a place to settle down-a place like Cavanaugh Island, where the pace is slow, the weather is fine, and the men are even finer.

From the moment David Sullivan meets Devon, he knows he can’t fight the laws of attraction. Whether it’s helping fix up the old cottage she just bought on Cherry Lane or working together on a pro bono legal case, he can’t help feeling a little protective. But will the most eligible bachelor in town be ready for an instant family? Only if he can convince Devon to put her heart on the line one more time-for all time.

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My Review:
Cherry Lane is a sweet, romantic story that I didn’t mind the insta-love. A pleasant read for sure.

I found myself hooked right away because of the South Carolina setting and Devon’s character. The book is rich with details so vivid I felt like taking a trip to Charleston, South Carolina myself. I wish Cavanaugh Island really existed because I would visit that small-town place too. Cavanaugh Island sounds and looks homey and the people are super friendly.

Devon is a very successful entertainment lawyer and I love seeing what she’s done for herself despite coming from a stifling home life. She’s pretty funny when she wants to be and, like David, I’m always surprised by the things that come out of her mouth. She’s incredibly humble and gracious. She’s also really talented, which I wish that was brought to the forefront more.

Of course, David is a charmer – really the total package of a handsome southern gentleman. He too is a successful lawyer so I liked that he had that in common with Devon. I wish we could have seen more of his quirky, nerdy side because those were such bright moments and interestingly contrasted with what one normally thinks a lawyer to be like.

Really, Devon and David are literally the perfect couple and do have their moments of contention with one another. This is important because I really can’t find any actual flaws in their characters.

The lack of flaws or any real conflict/antagonist was practically non-existent. The scum that is Gregory – Devon’s last boyfriend – doesn’t show up until towards the very end where you’ve pretty much settle with the notion of an obvious happily ever after already wrapped up in a nice neat bow. I really thought what Gregory could bring to the story should have come up sooner. The minimalism might as well have not been there because it soured the ending.

Despite the unsatisfactory ending, Cherry Lane was a good book and romance read. I would definitely read more books by Rochelle Alers.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Just Ask!” by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Rafael López

Full Title – Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

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Genre: Picture Books, Children’s Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Feeling different, especially as a kid, can be tough. But in the same way that different types of plants and flowers make a garden more beautiful and enjoyable, different types of people make our world more vibrant and wonderful.

In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges—and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.

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My Review:
Just Ask! embodies the idea of “sharing in our similarities, celebrate our difference.” Rich in color, bold in storytelling, this book offers an emphatic glimpse into children with disabilities and how they navigate the world. It teaches us to be patient and kind and to ask questions to improve understanding.

The illustrations are just gorgeous. They spread across page after page in bright colors and charming details. You feel at peace when looking at the pictures as the community comes to life. The characters are diverse, courageous, and happy in who they are. The make uniqueness cool.

Just Ask! is a must read for all ages; I highly recommend it!

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Awkward” by Svetlana Chmakova

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Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
Series: Berrybrook Middle School #1
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Cardinal rule #1 for surviving school: Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.

Cardinal rule #2 for surviving school: Seek out groups with similar interests and join them.

On her first day at her new school, Penelope–Peppi–Torres reminds herself of these basics. But when she trips into a quiet boy in the hall, Jaime Thompson, she’s already broken the first rule, and the mean kids start calling her the “nerder girlfriend.” How does she handle this crisis? By shoving poor Jaime and running away!

Falling back on rule two and surrounding herself with new friends in the art club, Peppi still can’t help feeling ashamed about the way she treated Jaime. Things are already awkward enough between the two, but to make matters worse, he’s a member of her own club’s archrivals–the science club! And when the two clubs go to war, Peppi realizes that sometimes you have to break the rules to survive middle school!

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My Review:
Awkward was a fantastic read! I loved it a lot and energetically read it in one sitting. The book takes simple unofficial “cardinal” rules of middle school and amplifies them through expressive illustrations, relatable characters, and humor.

I don’t find Peppi awkward but rather imperfectly perfect. I connected with her on a personal level, acutely viewing the turmoil between the two clubs through her eyes. She’s a cool, friendly person, and performs as a uniquely ideal main character for a middle grade story. I don’t think I would have adored the story as much as I did if the MC had been different.

I also found Peppi and Jaime’s interactions super cute. Two ordinary remarkable people on the fringes of middle school social circles who are talented and friendly. It’s sweet.

Wonderful story. The illustrations are phenomenal and hilarious. I would highly recommend this book ad author. I look forward to reading more by Chmakova.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: “Just Jaime” by Terri Libenson

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Genre: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel
Series: Emmie & Friends
Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

ABOUT: Friends. Frenemies. Middle school…

The last day of seventh grade has Jaime and Maya wondering who their real friends are.

Jaime knows something is off with her friend group. They’ve started to exclude her and make fun of the way she dresses and the things she likes. At least she can count on her BFF, Maya, to have her back . . . right?

Maya feels more and more annoyed with Jaime, who seems babyish compared to the other girls in their popular group. It’s like she has nothing in common with Jai anymore. Are their days as BFFs numbered . . . ?

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My Review:
Another fantastic read from Terri Libenson! Navigating friendships is a timeless, relatable endeavor.

I like that Jaime is her 100% authentic self through everything that happens and even acknowledges her flaws and how her actions might have affected others. Briana just wanted to fit in – appearances really matter at this age – and I liked that by the end she (and Jaime too) is changed for the better.

The author executes the realism of the conflict through well described and drawn internal/external conflicts. The reappearance of past characters was a nice surprise. And, of course, Libenson’s illustrations dazzled and delighted me.

I read this book in one sitting and I can’t wait to read her next book, Becoming Briana, when it comes out next year! Libenson writes great books and is a wonderful storyteller and illustrator. She expertly captures the essence of middle school life in all it’s great and terrible glory.