"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

30 May 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez

Spalding, Amy. The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles). Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Abby runs her own plus-sized fashion blog, so she is beyond excited when she is given an internship at a local boutique. Much to her surprise, though, there are going to be TWO interns this summer. Abby doesn't know Jordi very well, but as her fellow intern they spend a lot of time together over the summer. Abby realizes she likes Jordi as more than simply a coworker, and the two begin navigating the tangled world of dating in high school. Can Abby handle being the star of her show instead of simply someone's sidekick?

What I Liked: Lots of diversity, including intersectional diversity. Abby is a well-rounded main character with plenty of flaws, but her friends eventually call her out on those. Abby's friendship with Jax is wonderful and I love it in spite of my initial misgivings over Jax being a dudebro.

What I Didn't Like: This book could have used another major edit to remove some unnecessary side plots (I'm looking at you, Abby's older sister). Abby's relationship with her mother took a backseat to her mother's healthy eating blog, which isn't necessarily a problem except that Abby and her friends mock the healthy eating movement altogether to the point where Abby doesn't want to admit to having ordered a salad at a restaurant. Other readers have complained of bi-erasure, which is certainly apparent once a reader starts paying attention to it. There wasn't much discussion of fashion or the boutique owner's method of designing outfits or seasonal lines, etc., which didn't bother me much because I'm not into fashion, but since Abby likes it so much I was surprised it wasn't featured more. Abby complains that her friends are rich, but she gets to do an unpaid for fun internship in the summer and her mother's "job" is running a food blog while her father is her mother's assistant, so her family isn't exactly destitute. I absolutely agree with Abby that the $375 skirt she was pining for was too expensive, but I doubt I would have bought it even when she found it on "deep, deep discount" because there's no way it came down enough to be in my price range.

If you read this book as a fun, surface level beach read, it's perfect, but once you look beneath the surface, there are flaws that a solid edit would have remedied. The concept is fantastic, but the execution is definitely lacking.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: fat-shaming
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Dumplin', Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy

28 May 2018

The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Braden, Ann. The Benefits of Being an Octopus. Sky Pony Press, 2018.

Zoey doesn't usually finish her homework, and the kids on her bus don't sit next to her because they say she smells bad. But Zoey has to care for her three siblings after school until it's time for bed, and when her family has enough money for a trip to the laundromat, she makes sure her brother's and sister's clothes go in first. Zoey's social studies teacher is encouraging her to be involved in the school's debate club, but how can Zoey do that and take care of her family, too?

This book delves into an often-neglected area in children's literature: children who are poor and struggle every day to find food or time for their homework. There is a scene where Zoey is holding her baby brother and his diaper bag, but is across the street from the bus that drops off her other two siblings. One of them tries to run across the street to her and is nearly hit by a car, and all the adult drivers are yelling at her about taking better care of the kids and putting more clothes on the baby, etc. Meanwhile, poor Zoey (who is only 12 or 13, since she's in 7th grade) is trying to carry a diaper bag, a preschooler, a baby, and coax another preschooler to walk home with her.

This is the reality for a lot of kids, and they are not often featured in literature. Quite often we see the opposite - families who send their children to private schools or who can afford fancy vacations, etc. There are very, very few books about kids who are food insecure or who don't get to wear clean clothes to school every day.

I was glad for Zoey's teacher encouraging her to participate in the debate club and for doing it in a way that also let Zoey have her independence. I was glad for the somewhat-happy ending. I was a Zoey, and I had a few teachers like her social studies teacher who went above and beyond to help me, too, when I had to stay home from school because my younger sister was sick, etc.

Bottom line: this is not a happy book, but it is a hopeful book, and it is a necessary book. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: the school goes on lockdown because of gunshots in the parking lot; one character mentions that her mother's boyfriend brandished his gun in front of her; the main character's mother is verbally abused by her boyfriend
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Crenshaw, Maddy's Fridge

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

25 May 2018

White Rabbit

Roehrig, Caleb. White Rabbit. Feiwel Friends, 2018.

Rufus's half-sister, April, calls him late at night asking for help. When he and his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian, arrive at the party where April had been, they find a grisly murder scene. April swears she didn't murder Fox, although the knife in her hand and blood on her clothes tells a different story. April offers Rufus two thousand dollars to solve the mystery and clear her name. Thus the trio begin traveling through the night, searching for clues and talking to suspects, and Rufus finds that things aren't as simple as they seem.

This is a standard murder mystery/thriller story, with the addition of Rufus and Sebastian being LGBTQ+. The flashback scenes provide appropriate spacing and breathing room between intense scenes where the trio question suspects and try to suss out who is telling the truth. Most teens will probably not guess the ending before reading it. Unfortunately, most of the suspects use homophobic slurs in reference to Rufus and Sebastian, which could easily have been avoided even from the mouths of distasteful villains.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: murder, underage drinking and illegal drug use, language, homophobic slurs
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Night She Disappeared, The Killing Woods, The Girl Who was Supposed to Die

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

23 May 2018


Watts, Julia. Quiver. Frontlist, 2018.

Libby is the oldest of her family's six children. They live on a remote farm where their mother home schools the children and their father works at his pest control business. They are a Quiverfull family, and thus they believe that the father is the head of the home just as god is the head of the church. Zo just moved next door to Libby. Zo's family is also home schooled, but Zo is genderfluid and her (when pronouns are used for Zo, they are always feminine, so I will continue that practice here) family is vegetarian, feminist, and socialist. Zo's father and mother share equally in parenting duties, neither one promising to "obey" the other one. When Zo and Libby meet, they become fast friends because they are close in age and there's no one else around for miles. But will they be able to overcome their differences and continue their friendship?

Having been raised in a family eerily similar to Libby's and now living much more like Zo, this book was absolutely right up my alley. I appreciated the way the author dealt with Libby's family's beliefs without ridiculing or belittling them. The descriptions of the way the fundamentalist family functioned - from the purity vows of the children to spanking Libby when she disobeyed - definitely rang true. Zo's family also seemed genuine and accurate. I was a bit disappointed that Zo's gender fluidity wasn't given more focus, but this wasn't a story of Zo coming out as gender fluid, and Zo didn't seem to be bothered with people reading her as female. The ending seemed a bit rushed, and while I was glad it was a happy ending, it seemed to be a bit too neatly tied up in a bow to be reality. If this is a stand-alone novel, though, and not the first in a series, it was good to give some closure to the readers. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Libby's younger sister has some rather "biblical" terms to use in regards to Zo's admission of a past relationship with a girl. Libby's father spanks her with his belt (and requires her to lift her nightgown for this beating). He also storms into the hospital and threatens violence toward several characters.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu; Evolution, Me, & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.

21 May 2018

This Story is a Lie

Pollock, Tom. This Story is a Lie. Soho Teen, 2018.

Peter is a math genius but also deals with an anxiety disorder; his sister has always been his rock, his protector. When they attend an awards banquet in honor of their mom and she is stabbed and Peter is kidnapped, Peter has to decide what is the truth and whom he can trust.

I can definitely recommend this book to teens who enjoy suspenseful stories that are action-packed and compelling to read. This was a difficult book to put down, even though I guessed at a lot of the plot twists before they happened. I don't think teens will likely guess the ending before it happens, and teens who enjoy crime procedural shows like Criminal Minds will likely enjoy this story as well.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: violence, bullying, language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Naturals, The Rules for Disappearing, Boy Nobody

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of reveiw.

18 May 2018

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Glaser, Karina. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

Four of the five siblings are at home for the summer, and they are about to tear each other's hair out when one of their neighbors is hospitalized and they decide to create a "secret garden" to help that neighbor recover upon their return home. Thus begins a summer of hijinx as they attempt to clean up a plot of land and acquire plants and tools on a very limited budget.

This is an adorably clean read, perfect for a summer family road trip or a classroom read-aloud. The four featured siblings are quite distinct from each other, yet united in their desire to help their neighbor. The story definitely has a Disney-esque happy ending, but that doesn't detract from the satisfactory story. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Lotterys Plus One, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, The Penderwicks
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

16 May 2018

The Gift of Dark Hollow

Larwood, Kieran. The Gift of Dark Hollow. Faber Faber, 2017.

The rabbits are at war with some evil borg-like creatures that take rabbits and turn them into monstrous part-machines. Podkin and his siblings are living in hiding, but they learn that there is a special gift that has been hidden. If they can acquire the gift, then they can forge some weapons and possible defeat their enemies. But there is a long journey between their hiding place and that of the gift.

This is a perfect gift for fans of fantasy involving talking animals such as the Redwall series. The story is intense at times but not overly violent or scary. There is some great world-building in this story and the characters are well-developed. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: minor fantasy violence
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Watership Down, Redwall, the Warriors series

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

14 May 2018



Colfer, Eoin. Illegal. Hodder Children's Books, 2017.

This is the tale of a boy and his brother as they traverse Africa in an attempt to find safety in Europe. With powerful illustrations, this story alternates between the current situation, as the boy travels with a group across the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy raft, and the previous situation, where the boy travels across Africa to find his brother and sister and reunite as a family. The graphic novel presentation makes this story accessible to a younger audience, and while the story isn't a happy one, it is told without undue amounts of graphic violence as well. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens and teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: War Brothers, Escape from Aleppo

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

11 May 2018

The Spy with the Red Balloon

Locke, Katherine. The Spy with the Red Balloon. Albert Whitman & Company, 2018.

Ilse and Wolf can work magic with their blood, but their experiments are put on hold by the second world war. Ilse is assisting the Americans in building a bomb, while Wolf is sent behind German lines to sabotage German plans for the same type of weapon. Will they be able to keep each other alive and also maintain their secrets?

This book has some great character development and world building and is a perfect book for those who enjoy reading about the second world war. There are other novels about this time period and other spy novels available, but the magical realism that is added into this novel makes it unique and interesting. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: the violence of war
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Wolf by Wolf, The Librarian of Auschwitz, Code Name Verity

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purposes of review.

09 May 2018

Definitely Daphne

Charles, Tami. Definitely Daphne. Stone Arch Books, 2018.

Annabelle is tired of moving and starting over in new locations, and when her military family relocates to the United States and she has to start attending a public school instead of being homeschooled, she isn't sure how she'll fit in with other middle school students. Her therapist suggests that she start a vlog detailing her exploits, and thus Daphne Doesn't is born. Her blog goes viral and soon Annabelle is secretly popular, because she still hasn't told anyone that it's her blog. But some of her classmates are beginning to suspect things. Will Annabelle be able to keep her secret identity a secret, and does she actually want to?

This is a sweet, safe story for tweens to read. Annabelle struggles with being the new kid and with making friends, particularly when one of her frenemies turns out to be a fellow military brat whose father has been deployed for a year. I love that Annabelle has her own style and sticks with it, even if it isn't what is popular at her school. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Book Scavenger, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, Brave

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

07 May 2018


Jayne, Hannah. Copycat. Sourcebooks Fire, 2018.

Addison loves the Gape Lake series, so much so that she has a blog dedicated entirely to the books. When she receives an email from the author asking her to be part of a blog tour, she is ecstatic.

And then the murders began.

Seriously, after that life and art imitate each other as Addison tries to find the solution to the mystery as the body count rises in her hometown.

This book will probably be plenty suspenseful and interesting for teen readers, but I figured out the solution way too early for the suspense to truly be suspenseful. Additionally, the first third of the book or so was rather stilted and clunky; it took a while for the writing to smooth out and become suspenseful. I would give this book to fans of thrillers, especially those who read things quickly and need another book to fly through as they wait for the next book in their beloved series, but this isn't a stand-out title.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: murder (and consequently corpses)
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.

04 May 2018

Boy Erased

Conley, Garrard. Boy Erased. Riverhead Books, 2016.

This is Garrard Conley's story of his time in an outpatient program through Love In Action (LIA), a "restorative therapy" program meant to turn gay kids into straight kids. Conley grew up in the American South, aka the Bible Belt, and as such was highly involved in Baptist-esque Christian values that pervade nearly everything in that part of the country. After he was raped in college, his rapist called his parents and outed him; the result of this is his brief visit to the LIA program before he decided it was baloney and chose to leave the program.

I was so excited to read this story because, like Conley, I too was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church. I, too, knew I was gay but kept it hidden because I knew what my church thought about that, so I had the internalized homophobia to the degree that only fundamentalists experience. Not only was my gayness wrong, but it was so wrong it could ACTUALLY CONDEMN ME TO HELL, regardless of my current relationship with Jesus or the fact that I had never acted on my feelings. I, too, came to the conclusion that I needed help with healing from my "same-sex attraction (SSA)." I, too, attempted to use a program like LIA, although mine was entirely online.

So what I can tell you is that his description of the way they treat people at these programs - from dress codes to strict rules to emphasis on finding the source of a person's gayness - rings entirely true. The idea that you just need to pray harder or try harder or want to be straight more in order to be healed by God - this is what was pounded in my head, too. Like Conley, I too decided that this was a lie fed to me by the church, although it took me a good deal longer than Conley.

I feel for Conley in his feeling that he needed to choose: abandon his sexuality and his new found ideas and things he's learned outside his church circle, or abandon his family/faith/church community, the community he grew up in.

So why only three stars? The book itself jumps around from Conley's time in LIA to the time beforehand, including a large portion of time he spent with his father. It's too long to tell his story, and the middle of the book focuses almost exclusively on the past, when I was reading to understand how LIA would be similar to the program I went through. If Conley had followed a typical memoir timeline by starting with a brief peek at his LIA time, then reversing to his childhood and zipping through to the LIA visit again, this would have made sense. But all of that could have been maybe two chapters, not the entire center of the book.

Overall, this is a good book, but not a GREAT book.

Recommended for: adults, particularly those who were raised as Christian fundamentalists
Red Flags: lots of homophobic language
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Does Jesus Really Love Me?, Rapture Practice, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate

02 May 2018

Running with Lions

Winters, Julian. Running with Lions. Duet Books, 2018.

Sebastian is excited for his senior year until his old frenemy, Emir, shows up. Determined not to let Emir ruin his last year on the soccer team, Sebastian sets out to befriend him, and their friendship turns into something more.

What I Liked: The teens in this story are out and proud, so there's no kids hiding their sexuality or being bullied by the rest of the team, etc. etc. The sports theme would make this a popular read with teens who might not pick it up otherwise. It's a good slice of life story that would make a perfect afterschool special.

What I Didn't Like: The third person narrative really got to me, because this is supposed to be a romantic story, but it's hard to follow what's going on when I can't see inside the main character's head. That doesn't mean this isn't a good book, but rather that it isn't a book for me.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: none
Overall Rating; 4/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purpose of review.