Lake Effect

REVIEW: The Lake Effect by Erin McCahan

Summary


Briggs has an awesome job for the summer before he heads off to college to study law and business. He’s going to spend the summer at a house on the beach in South Haven, Michigan helping an elderly woman with household projects and transportation. He has no idea that so much of his summer will be spent at funerals, carting Mrs. B to one after another after another.

While Briggs is enjoying his summer at the Lake, he starts to see things in his life from a new perspective – his family’s money trouble, his relationship with his parents and grandmother, his friendships and his future plans. Neighbor, Abigail, intrigues him. South Haven locals razz him about his “tourist” status. And he will NEVER live down the cell phone incident at the funeral.

This summer is going to be different than anything Briggs imagined.

Review


Briggs was the highlight of this book for me. He’s extremely likable, even when he goofs up in memorable ways. He’s good natured about Mrs. B’s quirks (although some of that comes from how much he wants to keep his job). He’s let the hard ties in his life teach him skills and gratitude.

Briggs’ family dynamics were also very interesting. Even though most of the story takes place at the lake, the meat of the relationships are centered around Briggs’ relationships back at home. I enjoyed how all the pieces came together in the end. In fact, the last 100 pages are probably my favorites in the book.

A great summer read (or a reminder that summer will come again). A great teen story about family and relationships. (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Searching for Billy Shakespeare

REVIEW: Searching for Billy Shakespeare by Crista McHugh

Summary


Kate is a graduate student, studying Shakespeare and writing the dissertation for her PhD. When she catches her fiancé with another woman, her world is turned completely upside down.

Her friends come to her rescue, and she finds an amazing, rent-controlled apartment with “Princess Barbie,” Ari. In exchange for some cooking and cleaning, Kate gets a great apartment and a rent she can swing while she nurses the wounds of her broken relationship and finish her degree.

Kate was not counting on Ari’s brother, Gabe, to be part of her new life. At first, his middle of the night phone calls for his absent sister are an annoyance. But over time, Kate looks forward to talking to Gabe. His voice is sexy, and he truly seems to listen to her. He takes her work on Shakespeare seriously. As an actor, Gabe can use Kate’s help preparing an audition monologue. Gabe quickly becomes a bigger part of Kate’s life than she ever imagined.

Review


This was so fun! It’s a quick, romantic story of Kate’s evolution with a backdrop of Shakespearean references. Readers don’t have to know the references to enjoy the story.

Kate’s transformation is my favorite part of the story. She’s so unsure of herself at the start of the book that she’s in a long term relationship she doesn’t even enjoy. While she is devastated by her fiancé’s unfaithfulness, it is exactly what she needs to course-correct her own life. Throughout the book, people try to change Kate, usually for her own good. But Kate has to find her own way, her own style, and her own voice if she is going to feel confident in her own life.

We don’t get a lot from the other characters in this except Gabe. The rest generally serve to move Kate and Gabe forward. And I was satisfied with that. I really enjoyed this and would read other things from this author (some language, trigger warning for suicide).

Thanks to Netgalley and Season Publishing for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Loser's Club

REVIEW: The Loser’s Club by Andrew Clements

Summary


Alec is a reader. He loves getting lost in a story. He reads his favorite books over and over – and he has LOTS of favorites! You would think that Alec’s teachers would love Alec’s affinity for books.

They don’t.

Alec tends to read all the time and everywhere. Including in the middle of class. Like when he’s supposed to be doing an art project or listening to the teacher’s lesson. So Alec is in trouble at school. For reading. If he wants out of trouble, he has to pay attention all the time in every class.

Fortunately, Alec goes to an after school program every day for 3 hours. This is a perfect block of time for reading. But he has to choose an activity from an approved list. Reading alone is not one of them. So Alec starts a reading club. Not a book club to talk about books but a club for reading. For sitting quietly, all afternoon, to read. Alec figures if he calls it the Loser’s Club, kids won’t want to join. Because lots of kids usually means lots of noise and distractions. SO, if he can find one other reader to join his Loser’s Club, he’ll have his after school reading sanctuary. But who would want to join “the Loser’s Club?”

Review


I adored this book. The last few Clements books haven’t clicked for me like my old favorites – Frindle, No Talking, The Last Holiday Concert, etc. But this one fits in perfectly with those older treasures.

Alec is a fantastic character. His description of comfort books could have been written by me (actually, all of chapter 7 is delightful). I loved him as a young man trying to navigate middle school, and I loved him as a reader.

The family Star Wars obsession was icing on the cake for me. SO many fun moments in the story centered around that. Alec’s own “Jedi mind trick” was outstanding fun.

While this is primarily about books and reading, it is also about friendship, dealing with bullies, responsibilities at school, growing up and dealing with reality outside of your favorite fiction. For me, this book was perfect. I highly recommend this for a family purchase, a library purchase and for all middle grade classrooms!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

I Am Harriet Tubman

BOOK NEWS: January 16, 2017

Today we celebrate and remember the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One way to honor his work is by reading his words as well as those of others who have worked for or who are currently working for justice, civil rights, and freedom not only in the US but around the world.

Here are some of the new books releasing this week:

Books for Kids


 

I Am Harriet Tubman – The latest picture book biography from Brad Meltzer. These are spectacular!
Love – A beautiful celebration of LOVE. I will not be surprised when this one wins a boatload of awards!
My Pillow Keeps Moving – Look at that cover! The cover alone would make me buy this book. This sounds like a sweet story – a dog tries to endear herself to the man who owns her by being everything he needs.
Princess Pulverizer Grilled Cheese and Dragons AND Worse, Worser and Wurst – Nancy Krulik is the author of the outstanding Magic Bone series which I loved sharing with my students who were branching out into chapter books. She has a new series out called Princess Pulverizer, and it looks fantastic! Princess Serena would rather be a knight than a princess. Check out this series for your fans of The Princess in Black.
Twin Trouble – Book 7 in the Ella and Owen series. Twin dragons, Ella and Owen, meet twin unicorns who do not get along.

Books for Older Kids/Teens/Young Adults


Ellie, Engineer – Ellie’s plans for her best friend’s birthday get so big, she has to recruit rival groups in the neighborhood to help her. This looks like a fun story with STEAM features.
Sing Like Nobody’s Listening – Pitch Perfect for the middle grade set. Two friends compete against one another in an acapella competition. This is the latest book in the MIX line from Aladdin.
Waking the Monsters – Hilo Book 4. My students and I were crazy for this graphic novel series. I’m so glad it is still going strong. I highly recommend this series.
Knock Knock! Who Was There? – Joke book from the folks at the Who Was/What Was/Where Is nonfiction series.
Love, Hate and Other Filters – An American-born Muslim teen looks for balance between parental expectations and her own dreams while also facing backlash for being Muslim after a horrific event that happens in another part of the country. If you have a goal of reading more diverse books this year – either diversity in characters or diversity in authors, consider checking this book out. It is on my library list.
Truly Devious – A new student at an elite academy plans to solve a cold case attached to the school, but the past won’t stay in the past. I have already  requested this from the library, and the early reviews are positive.

Books for Adults


Carnegie’s Maid – A poor farmer’s daughter assumes the identity of a missing woman for a chance to serve as a maid to the Carnegie family.
Isaiah’s Daughter – Fictionalized story of the adopted daughter of the Biblical prophet, Isaiah, who captures the attention of Prince Hezekiah. I am doing a study of the book of Isaiah right now, and I am intrigued by this story.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Guidebook: It’s All Connected – I believe this is the third volume in this guidebook series exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This book looks at Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD and how they fit into the larger Marvel Universe.

Taxonomy of Love

REVIEW: Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

Summary


Spencer meets Hope when they are both 13. He’s never met anyone like her. She loves to climb trees, she stands up to bullies, and she doesn’t freak out about the tics Spencer experiences because of Tourette’s.

They are neighbors. And best friends. And Spencer hopes it might one day be even more than that. But time takes a toll on the two teens. Personal loss. Misunderstandings. Other romantic relationships. Through it all, there is an ebb and flow in their relationship of closeness and distance. But Spencer holds onto hope that something more might develop. Someday. Or that maybe he could at least get his best friend back.

Review


Spencer and Hope are a delight. At times, I wondered where the story was going, but Spencer and Hope kept me engaged and turning pages.

Spencer is especially endearing. I loved that the Tourette’s was a fact of life and not just an issue to be used as a plot point. It was fully integrated into the story at many levels, most of them relational. The author did a terrific job with this.

The story takes place over 5 years – taking the kids from 7th grade through their senior year. The evolution in ALL the characters over time was really well done. As I read an electronic ARC, I was not able to see some of the taxonomy pieces the way they will look in the finished book. I am curious to see those in person. (Some language and other mature content.)

Thanks to Netgalley and Amulet books for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this book!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Another One Bites the Crust

REVIEW: Another One Bites the Crust by Ellie Alexander

Summary


Book 7 in the Bakeshop Mystery series. Jules, her mom and the Professor are back from their cruise. The renovations at Torte are in full swing. And the new season of The Shakespeare Festival is kicking off with Antony and Cleopatra. Unfortunately, the star has become a problem. His ego is out of control. He even refuses to use his real name and insists on being called “Antony.” Lance, the artistic director, is convinced “Antony” is causing trouble for him with the Board of Directors, too. It’s made Lance a man on the edge.

When Lance stumbles across Antony’s dead body, the evidence says Antony finally pushed Lance over that edge to murder. Juliet knows Lance would never do that. He might be a drama king, but he would never kill someone. The Professor recuses himself from working the case because of his friendship with Lance. The detective who gets the case is by-the-book and has no feel for the town or people of Ashland. Juliet is going to have to start sleuthing again if Lance is going to have a chance to enjoy the new season at the theater.

Review


Jules and the gang at Torte are some of my favorite characters in fiction. It’s so easy to fall back into a rhythm with them every time I read a new book in the series. The dynamics between the characters are fun, and the renovations at Torte have the potential to set up some great stories in the future.

The mystery in this one didn’t click for me. Lance felt like the most logical suspect all the way through the book. I never got a good sense of other suspects with strong motives. The solution was almost as big a surprise to Jules as it was to me.

The characters are so delightful (well, Lance started to get on my nerves) that it offset my disappointment with the mystery. There are some fun tidbits and possible hints of things to come in future books. The very end was especially fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how those pieces play out in the next book. Till Death Do Us Tart releases in August of 2018; the cover is gorgeous!

Thanks to the author, Ellie Alexander, for the Advanced Reader Copy of this book to review. I won it on a social media contest she hosted.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Darkness of Dragons

REVIEW: Darkness of Dragons by Tui T. Sutherland

Summary


Darkstalker is everything Qibli feared. Only an animus-spelled earring keeps him safe from Darkstalker’s manipulative magic. Winter accepts Darkstalker’s charm at face value. Moon is Darkstalker’s friend.  Turtle is in Darkstalker’s dungeon, and Kinkajou is protected but can’t stop Darkstalker alone.

How can dragonets with no magic defeat the invulnerable Darkstalker? If only Qibli had magic! He would do the magic the right way. He’d protect Queen Thorn and be so successful his family would HAVE to love him. He could even use his magic to make sure other dragons liked him.

With the Nightwings growing more powerful because of Darkstalker’s magic, the Jade Mountain dragonets may be powerless to stop the coming destruction. Can Qibli get the magic he’s sure would save the day? Or is he destined to play a different role in this prophecy?

Review


This is book 5 in the second set of books in the Wings of Fire series – and it is terrific! I LOVED Qibli’s story. It made me appreciate his character even more than I did from the first four books in the set. Qibli’s story is one of identity – a theme I love. Qibli is longing to make a difference – to prove to his family that he has value. The love of his friends and his queen is not enough to fill the hole inside him. This leads to all of his internal wrestling over magic.

There’s a ton of action in this story with Qibli’s backstory, Turtle’s rescue, and the prophecy finale. All of it is fascinating. The author has announced another five book set, which will pick up where this one left off. I am thrilled! I still remember when I first discovered this series, and it has gotten better with each subsequent book!

There were interesting tidbits in the epilogue regarding the five main dragons from this series as well as some of the other major characters. A satisfying conclusion to this story arc. There’s a new graphic novel of the first book in the whole series – The Dragonet Prophecy. I highly recommend this series for middle grade readers!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Harley Quinn at Super Hero High

BOOK NEWS: January 9, 2018

I don’t know about where you live, but where I live it has been brutally cold. Perfect weather for staying in and reading. Here are some of the new books releasing this week:

Books for Kids


   

Grandma’s Purse – Adorable-looking book celebrating the magic of grandmothers and the treasures they keep in their purses.
Klondike, Do not Eat Those Cupcakes – Klondike the seal can’t stop thinking about the cupcakes for his sister’s birthday party. No matter how hard the narrator tries to distract him, Klondike gives in to temptation. What will happen now that there are no cupcakes for the party? This also looks adorable! Covers like this get my attention every time.
Mae Among the Stars – Picture book biography of Mae Jemison, astronaut.
The New LiBEARian – Story time at the library takes a fun twist when there’s a bear at the librarian’s desk. This sounds terrific!
Write to Me: Letters from Japanese-American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind – Children sent to internment camps after Pearl Harbor send letters to their librarian while they are gone. This looks like a great way to introduce this part of American History to children. I’d love to read this one!
Abigail Adams, Pirate of the Caribbean – Book 2 in the Mixed-Up History series where historical characters take a break from their lives to try a new adventure. These sound fantastic! Targeted to readers in the lower elementary grades who are starting to explore chapter books.
Dog Diaries: Susan – Book 12 in this series looks at Queen Elizabeth II’s corgi, Susan. I haven’t read the books in this series, but this particular one sounds fascinating!

Books for Older Kids/Teens/Young Adults


All Three Stooges – The friendship between two comedy-loving boys is threatened when one loses his father and starts to withdraw.
The Case of the Perilous Palace – Book 4 in the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series. I read the first book in this mystery/history/science fiction series and loved it. I would like to catch up on it some time. This final book in the series has the girls breaking into Kensington Palace to find the princess’ missing sketch book/diary. This one sounds terrific!
Harley Quinn at Super Hero High – Book 5 in the Super Hero High series, Harley investigates a carnival that comes to town where things aren’t quite what they seem. I’m looking forward to this addition to a fun middle grade series.
The Terrible Two Go Wild – Book 3 in this fantastic series about two pranksters. In this book, the boys are targeted by a group of bullies. My students and I thoroughly enjoyed the previous two books in the series. I’m eager to read this next installation.
Nice Try, Jane Sinner – A struggling girl who gets expelled from high school enrolls in a completion program at the local community college and goes on a student-run reality show so she can move out of her house. This has been getting a LOT of positive buzz already. I’ve already requested it from the library.
A Taxonomy of Love – This covers the ups and downs of friendship between a boy with Tourette’s and the girl who moves into the neighborhood and becomes his best friend. I’ll be reviewing this one later this week.
Unearthed – Two teens stow away to an ancient planet to pursue their own goals and discover alien secrets. Dystopian science fiction fans should check this one out. I know I will be!

Books for Adults


Deadly Summer – Book 1 in the Darling Investigations series about a former TV child-star who tries to revive her career with a reality TV show where she tries to solve local crimes. When she stumbles across a very real murder, things change quickly. This sounds terrific!
A Meddle of Wizards – Book 1 in the Fledgling Magic series about a sick young woman who is whisked away to a mysterious land to fight a wizard. This sounds completely quirky – and right up my alley!
The Questionable Behavior of Dahlia Moss – Book 3 in the Dahlia Moss Mystery series. Talk about quirky! I’m not even sure how to summarize the stories in this geeky mystery series, but I do know that I have book one high on my library list! I hope to dig into this series soon.
Star Trek Boldly Go Vol 2 – I adore this comic book series. If you are a fan of Star Trek, especially the new cast, consider checking out this graphic novel series. I never miss an issue! This particular collection focuses on a diplomatic murder and a group of Starfleet cadets.
Girl Positive: How Girls Are Shaping a New World – Stories of young women making a difference! Both a celebration of what is happening today as well as advice and information for readers as they consider their own place in the world.
Trade Your Cares for Calm – The latest from Max Lucado in his series of materials about anxiety.

List of Cages

SATURDAY SMORGASBORD: My 2017 Favorites

I read a lot of books every year.  I like to keep track of what I read every year and see how it stacks up to years before. Here are some of my reading statistics for 2017.

2017 Stats


Through the course of 2017 I read 308 books.  There were 26 more that I started but did not finish.

Of those 308, the break down for target audience is

  • 127 adult
  • 98 middle grade
  • 63 teen/young adult
  • 10 picture books/early readers
  • 9 transitional chapter books
  • as well as 19 graphic novels for various ages

The genre breakdown (some books are counted in two categories) is

  • 77 mystery
  • 73 realistic
  • 72 fantasy
  • 35 science fiction
  • 18 romance
  • 17 non-fiction
  • 6 Christian fiction
  • 5 Christmas
  • 4 historic fiction
  • 3 memoirs/autobiographies
  • 2 dystopian
  • 3 suspense

This year most of the books I read were from the library (104). I read 59 books from my To Be Read shelves (which are overflowing), as well as 58 advanced reader copies from publishers. I also re-read 47 favorites this year.

I read more fantasy and nonfiction last year and more realistic fiction and science fiction this year. And I can see what difference not teaching has made in my reading. Last year I read a lot more picture books and early readers. This year there were more books for teens and adults.

 

2017 Favorites!!


I read a lot of books every year. I often don’t remember all the details, but I remember how they made me feel. I remember which books follow me throughout the year – how I feel when I see them in the bookstore or library or online. These are the ones I want to go back and read again. These are the ones I recommend over and over and over.

You can see my list of favorites from 2016 here. Last year I had five middle grade books, two YA books, and three books for adults (all fiction). When I went back through my list of the 300+ books I read in 2017, I came up with 50 that were candidates for the best of the year. I whittled that list down to ten – only one middle grade this time, five YA books, two adult fiction books and two nonfiction. And here they are:

10. Nothing to Prove – A fantastic non-fiction book. I hope to read it again this year and complete the Bible study that goes with it. You can read a little about this here and my full review here.

 

 

 

9. Barking Up the Wrong Tree – I loved this romance book, second in a series. I reviewed the third and final book in the series earlier this week. You can read my review of book one here. Book 2 is even better than the first! I enjoyed the chemistry between the main characters.

 

 

 

8. Draw the Circle – This is a forty day prayer journey. This is one I will go back to again and again. You can read a little about this book here. I’ll be doing a full review later in 2018.

 

 

 

7. Alien Education – This is book 15 in the Alien series by Gini Koch. This is my favorite fiction series. I included book 14 in my list last year. Book 16 releases in February. I just finished a re-read of the whole series, and I was struck again by how fun this particular book is. I know it is because so much of the story centers on the kids. I can’t wait to see what happens next!  You can read my thoughts about this book here.

 

 

 

6. The Names They Gave Us – This book stuck with me all year because there were so many times in it where I felt known and understood in the description of the main character. You can read my review here.

 

 

 

5. It’s Not Me, It’s You – This book was not at all what I expected – in all the best ways! I loved the unusual format and the terrific characters. I actually have two books by this author on my list for 2017! You can read my review here.

 

 

 

4. Greetings from Witness Protection – This has a fantastic premise and the main character is a delight. I hope there will be more books with these characters. You can read my review of this one here.

 

 

 

3. Letters to the Lost – Another fantastic book for teens and young adults. I am chomping at the bit for her new book that comes out this spring since this one was so great! You can read my review here.

 

 

 

2. Prince in Disguise – This was a late addition to my list as it came out in December. Reading it was like eating a favorite dessert. I savored each page, giggling. The writing is so smart and the characters are delightful. This is the second book I have on my list from Stephanie Kate Strohm. You can read my full review here.

 

 

 

#1 – A List of Cages – Oh, this book. Whenever I see it I think about how the characters impacted me. They have followed me all year long. It’s a difficult read, but worth every tear and every tissue. You can read my review here.

 

 

 

As always, if you are looking for even more fantastic books, you can always check out my Five Star Reviews to see all of my favorites! I had a hard time choosing only 10 from all the terrific books in 2017. I have high hopes for great reading in 2018!

 

Teen Titans Vol 1 Damian Knows Best

REVIEW: Teen Titans Vol 1: Damian Knows Best by Benjamin Percy

Summary


Damian Wayne. Son of Batman. Grandson of Ra’s Al Ghul. Heir to the League of Assassins – until he chose his father’s path instead.

Batman. Absentee father. Damian spends his 13th birthday with his butler. His grandfather sends him a gift that he has been marked for death. Great birthday.

Starfire. Raven. Kid Flash. Beast Boy. All with powers that could make them heroes, but flawed and trapped by their own pasts. Together, as a team, they could be so much more than they have been alone. But trust is hard to come by. And it’s hard to build trust while a team of assassins is trying to kill you.

A ragtag set of heroes will find out if they have any hope of becoming a team.

Review


I really enjoyed this! I’m not much of a DC Comics person, but our family loves the Young Justice series that was on TV several years ago. And I like the idea of the characters on Teen Titans Go, but the stupidity of the show makes me want to beat my head against a wall. But this storyline was smart and enjoyable. I really enjoyed the characterization in this graphic novel. I felt like I had enough information about each character to enjoy the story and not feel like I was “behind” already. I’d like more backstory, but I’m also fascinated by how this group might band together to eventually become a team. And there is plenty of conflict potential still there for future stories.

The art is beautiful. I’m extremely picky about the art styles I enjoy. I’ll give up on a good story if the art doesn’t work for me or becomes a distraction. This art is terrific and really worked for telling this story well. I would definitely read more in this series. Volume 2 should release in March. (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥