Walking With Miss Millie

REVIEW: Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundy

Summary


Alice does not want to be in Rainbow, Georgia. She wants to go home to Columbus, Ohio. How will her dad, who “hates” Rainbow, ever come back to them if they aren’t there?

But Alice’s grandmother is having memory issues. She needs help, so Alice and her mom and brother are in Rainbow for the foreseeable future.

Georgia in June, 1968, means hot and humid weather, “party” phone lines and racial tension. When Alice accidentally eavesdrops on her grandmother’s neighbor, Miss Millie, on the party line, she has to go apologize. That leads to daily walks with Miss Millie and her dog, Clarence. What starts as a burden becomes something Alice looks forward to as she gets to know their elderly African-American neighbor. And their talks help Alice learn some things about herself along the way.

Review


This story was perfection. The heart was present from page one. Alice is an earnest, thoughtful character. Like any good 10-year-old, she jumps to conclusions about folks at times, but she’s also teachable and honest. Miss Millie is wise. And the author does a terrific job of “showing” rather than telling how Miss Millie feels and what she thinks but doesn’t say. The entire cast of characters is fantastic, and I quickly fell in love with them.

The story centers on Alice and the move to Rainbow as well as what that move means to her relationship with her absent father. But it’s also about the evolution of race relations from the late 1800s to 1968. It’s about family and loss and faith. I cried several times in the story as the emotional pieces are pitched perfectly for the characters. I can’t recommend this highly enough!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Not Now Not Ever

REVIEW: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson

Summary


Elliot Lawrence Gabaroche is expected to go to either the Air Force Academy (like the Lawrence part of the family) or go into Law like her dad (which means attending a summer mock trial camp).

But “Ever” Lawrence has been accepted to Camp Onward, a camp for genius students where she hopes to win a scholarship to Rayevich College so she can join their science fiction literature program.

While everyone thinks Ellie is doing what THEY want her to do, she hops a train to Oregon as Ever to pursue her own plans for the future.

Ever doesn’t count on her annoying cousin, Isaiah, showing up at the same camp. They have to pretend to be twins so no one at the camp catches on to their secrets – her real name, his real age, and the fact that neither set of parents knows where they are. If their parents find out, both kids will lose their chance at the scholarship and setting their own course for the future. Ever also doesn’t count on meeting a great guy, making terrific friends, or stumbling into a mystery.

Review


This was excellent! The voice was outstanding. Ever is smart and sharp and so funny. I was truly sad when the book ended and there was no more Ever.

This is the second book published by the author, Lily Anderson, and I have loved both of them. The writing is fantastic. Lots of great voice and terrific humor. Anderson is an author I will put on a “must buy” list because I really enjoy her style.

The cast of characters is quirky and fun. The interplay between the kids on Ever’s team was a hoot. There were lots of great geeky moments. I kept reading passages aloud to my family because I was enjoying the book so much. The scene where the team gets together for the first time, and the counselors give them a taste of what is to come, is one of my favorites.

I loved Ever’s quest for her own path while feeling pressure and expectations from her whole family. The camp scholarship contest was a great plot – it brought interesting characters together and threw in some nice twists and a little mystery. Everything clicked perfectly for me in this book. (Some language)

Many, many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books for an electronic review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Reading this book was a delight!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Well That Was Awkward

REVIEW: Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

Summary


Gracie is a fairly typical 8th grader. She has a couple best friends and a larger circle of kids she hangs out with. Her parents are mostly okay, except they are overprotective. She can’t really go anywhere alone, she’s not allowed to have a pet, and she doesn’t feel like she can show anyone her true feelings. She’s smart, a reader, and she cares about charity, raising money for turtle rescues and book charities.

But things start to change in 8th grade. Gracie starts wondering about her parents and how they survived what happened to her sister. And she wonders what her role is in her family in light of her sister. Then there are the crushes. Gracie finds herself in a Cyrano DeBergerac-like role between her best friend Sienna and Gracie’s own maybe-crush AJ. And, in typical middle school fashion, there’s a stuck up mean girl and plenty of questions and doubts about physical traits and identity. When all of those pieces collide – family, friends, crushes, and mean girls, Gracie may find herself standing alone.

Review


I ADORED this! When I tried to summarize it, I realized how much is going on in this story! It’s hard to put it all together and keep it concise. But in the reading, it all hangs together perfectly!

Gracie tells the story in first person, so you get her stream-of-consciousness thinking, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Her “voice” is excellent! It has a funny, fast pace to it that really clicked for me. If this book existed when I was a teen, I would have read it over and over until it fell apart. I would have completely identified with Gracie.

I enjoyed the whole ensemble in this story. The development between Gracie and her parents is lovely and touching. I liked the evolution in the group of girls around Gracie, watching them wrestle with growing up and identity. And her other best friend, Emmett, is so cool and endearing.

This was an absolute delight! I hugged the book when I finished. I will be recommending this one often and reading it again in the future.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Names They Gave Us

REVIEW: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Summary


For Lucy, the hits just keep on coming. Her boyfriend put their relationship on “pause” for the summer so they can re-evaluate their relationship. Instead of spending the summer hosting church groups at her family’s church camp, Lucy’s mom asks her to counsel at Dayspring. Dayspring is a camp for kids who’ve experienced difficulties in life – teen pregnancy, grief, loss, family issues, and abuse. And Lucy feels like she HAS to do what her mom asks because her mom’s cancer is back. Not knowing what might happen to her mom, how can she say no to a request from her?

Working at Dayspring will give Lucy a chance to grow in ways she can’t even imagine when the summer begins. It’s a safe place to work through her crisis of faith and her feelings about everything happening in her life. And she will find a community she didn’t know she needed.

Review


Stellar. Outstanding. I almost don’t have the adjectives to describe how amazing this story is.

This is not a Christian novel, per se. It’s not published by a Christian publisher. It includes lifestyle pieces that a traditional Christian story wouldn’t address. But there is a DEEP faith core to this story. And it’s about faith in hard times. Where is God when tragedy strikes, when cancer returns? And for me, the faith pieces were right on target – from Lucy’s awkwardness in the face of things she has never encountered before and her earnest desire to be compassionate to the question of “Is it okay to be a Christian and be mad at God?”

Having lived through a similar situation of recurring cancer at a similar age to Lucy’s, I identified with her thoughts and feelings. Her wrestling felt genuine. There’s a scene towards the end with Lucy’s dad that just wrecked me. It was all too familiar – and so authentic. This book left me feeling known and understood.

I think this is an amazing book even if you haven’t faced the same things as Lucy because her story is told so well. There is some mature content in the book (language, teen pregnancy, drinking, sexual identity), so this is a good fit for older teens/young adults and adults. If I could give this more than five stars, I absolutely would. This was fantastic!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Greetings from Witness Protection

REVIEW: Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt

Summary


Charlotte Trevor is in 7th grade, oldest child of Harriet and Jonathan Trevor, big sister to Jackson. She’s an average student. She plays on the basketball team at school, but they’ve never won a game. She has a handful of good friends, but she tries to blend into the background.

That’s because Charlotte Trevor doesn’t exist.

None of the Trevors really do. Harriet and Jonathan and Jackson are in Witness Protection because Harriet testified against her mob family. Charlotte’s real name is Nikki. She’s been in foster care and out-of-home placements for years after her grandmother died. But the US Marshals think Nikki is book smart and street smart enough to pose as part of this family so they can become a family of four if anyone’s trying to find them.

But the rules for secrecy and safety are strict. And Nikki’s past is no joke. There’s a lot for her to overcome if she’s going to pull this off. Everyone’s lives depend on her getting this right.

Review


I have loved the idea of this book since I first heard the premise. But the actual execution of the story exceeded my expectations. There’s lots of humor and lots of heart to this story. I loved it from start to finish.

Nikki/Charlotte is a fantastic character. When you consider all she does to stay under the radar at her new school, you get the idea that she is wicked smart. She has some unhealthy coping mechanisms from her past, but her past doesn’t make her angry or keep her from making attachments to others. She’s confident and wise. She uses her past to help in her new “assignment” with the Marshals.

The story holds together so well. There’s the witness protection piece, the piece that focuses on Nikki’s past, and then the present piece of a 13-year-old girl (who comes off a little older) trying to negotiate a new family and a new middle school. I was thrilled with how it all clicked into place. I recommend this book highly!

Many thanks to the folks at Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. It was a treat to read this book!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

The Perfect Score

REVIEW: The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

Summary


As their sixth grade year begins, these five kids have a lot going on:

  • Gavin loves football but isn’t so hot on school. His dad dropped out to take over the family business, so Gavin thinks that is his destiny, too, unless football gives him another choice.
  • Randi’s whole life is about gymnastics. And early on she enjoyed that. But now she’s practicing 6 days a week, including three hours on school nights. But she’s somehow supposed to keep her grades up, too. And her mom wants her to ace the CSAs (state standardized tests) so she can be placed in the highest levels in 7th grade.
  • Natalie is the teacher’s pet of the class. She’s never really had friends before but things may be starting to change this year. Once she has friends, what is Natalie willing to do for them?
  • Scott is crazy smart but also something of a naive goof ball. He doesn’t realize some of the guys in his class aren’t teasing him because they like him. They are mocking him.
  • Trevor doesn’t care about much more than cutting up with his friends at school and steering clear of his older brother and his crew at home. Those guys have always told Trevor he was a mistake. And Trevor has started to believe them.

In the middle of these individual stories, there’s the larger story of a class of 6th graders, their teachers/administrators, and the state standardized tests. As the kids lose more and more of what has made the year special to make space for test prep, they become more and more desperate to ace the test and put it behind them. Whatever it takes.

Review


Wow, this was FANTASTIC! I loved all the kids – well, the punkish one won me over in the end. Their concerns and actions felt genuine. I cared about them from the first page. The adults were fantastic, too – not perfect by any means. But they felt real, and they were trying to do the right things (even when they failed to).

I loved the author’s previous series about another teacher, Mr. Terupt, and his students. But because it’s so special, I worried that this wouldn’t live up to it. My worry was unnecessary. This was a delight to read from start to finish. Buyea does an awesome job with this format of a handful of kids telling the story. Each has a distinct voice and style. It’s great. There’s so much more nuance to the story than just the test at the center of the plot. Every part of it worked for me. I was thrilled to hear that he’s already been working on a sequel.

Many thanks to Delacorte books and Netgalley for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Sisters of Sugarcreek

REVIEW: The Sisters of Sugarcreek by Cathy Liggett

Summary


Lydia lost her husband, a volunteer firefighter, in the fire at Faith Community Church. But even more, she lost her anchor to everything. Henry was a private man. He did everything around the house himself except cook and garden, which Lydia did. They didn’t have neighbors over often, and they never lingered after church. They lived a quiet life, and Lydia was often alone. Without Henry, she’s adrift and feeling out of her depth.

Jessica lost her Aunt Rose in the fire. Rose had raised her as a child when she lost her parents. She welcomed her back as a young pregnant woman when her marriage fell apart. Now Jessica owns Rose’s craft store, Rose’s Knit One Quilt Two Cottage. But Jessica doesn’t knit or quilt. She’s not prepared to run a store like this. She’s definitely in over her head.

Liz is grieving Rose’s death, too. Her best friend and partner in “crime.” Rose and Liz had started a secret encouragement ministry, leaving food and handcrafted items for folks in need of a little hope. She talks Jessica into helping her keep it going. And Lydia is going to be their first recipient.

Review


This was delightful. Each of the three main characters was strong and interesting in her own right. There wasn’t a part of the trio that sagged. The pieces of their stories wove into each other’s well. The romantic pairings were obvious from the outset, but I enjoyed the story so much I didn’t care if that was predictable.

I have not had a lot of luck with finding Christian fiction I love. I have a few “go to” books that I read over and over, but otherwise I find the stories or characters can be flat or the message feels heavy-handed. This was NOT the case here. The faith pieces made sense where they entered the story. It felt natural. I didn’t feel like the author was trying to make a point. She just told a great story about people of faith.

This was excellent. I will be adding it to my small collection of Christian Fiction mainstays and telling others about this great story!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying

REVIEW: Mabel Opal Pear and the Rules for Spying by Amanda Hosch

Summary


Mabel’s parents are spies. Specifically, they  are “Cleaners.” They go in after another spy leaves a problem in the course of their work. Mabel loves that they do such cool, important work. But she likes it even better when they’re home. Then, she and her mom work in the family’s collectible spoon museum. Her dad works on phone lines in Mount Rainier National Park. When her parents are home, her Aunt Gertie doesn’t have to leave Mabel “pity” cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

When Mabel’s parents get called away on a new mission, Aunt Gertie doesn’t show up to stay with Mabel. She wakes up to her horrible Uncle Frank and Aunt Stella and torturous cousin, Victoria, instead. Mabel’s own spy senses know something is really wrong. Gertie has been arrested. Frank and Stella are beyond desperate to get into the spoon museum, and a Washington Border Patrol agent insists that Mabel’s family members are thieves. Mabel will have to follow her 36 Rules for a Successful Life as an Undercover Secret Agent to figure out what is really going on!

Review


I was hooked after the first chapter! Mabel has a terrific “voice.” She’s smart. She’s a reader. She puts her family first (even if it means distancing herself from potential friends in order to protect her secrets). The first chapter introduces us to a lot of the main players and sets up the story without feeling like an information dump. The author does a fantastic job of moving the reader forward, balancing new questions with backstory in just the right portions.

The mystery is great. Mabel’s response to the events feel realistic for a kid her age. There are several questions left unanswered, so I hope that means there will be a sequel!

This book made me giddy! It was a perfect book for me – a smart and resourceful main character, a terrific mystery, and a fun, engaging story. I loved it from start to finish. The Nathan Fillion reference in the back matter solidified this author in my “favorites” department.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Capstone for providing an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Duels & Deception

REVIEW: Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey

Summary


Miss Lydia Whitfield of Roseberry Hall inherited her family estate upon the death of her father. As she was a minor at the time, her uncle and his family moved to Roseberry to supervise the estate and help Lydia, her mother and her sister. Uncle Arthur fancies himself the master of the estate despite Lydia’s capabilities, and as such he tries to make  ridiculous changes, forcing Lydia to call in her attorney. The attorney sends his apprentice, Robert Newton.

Robert is able to help Lydia deal with her uncle and protect the estate from his rogue ideas. He also helps her begin to outline a marriage agreement with Lord Aldershot, the man Lydia’s father had informally selected for her to marry. But before they can solidify the agreement, Lydia is kidnapped. While Robert is able to rescue her and they fabricate a story to salvage her reputation, the kidnappers escape and Lydia is still in danger. Working with Robert, Lydia might have a chance at saving her future. But what will she do about Lord Aldershot when her heart seems to be set on Robert?

Review


I loved this! I rarely read historical fiction. The rules for women in this time period are frustrating to the point of distraction for me. But in this case, Lydia is fortunate to have circumstances and people around her who let her voice carry weight. She doesn’t have to hide her intelligence and wisdom for anyone, even when she knows it will cause trouble.

The characters were terrific. I would happily spend more time with them if there is ever a sequel to this book. Lydia is a strong, bright young woman. Her resourcefulness is outstanding. Loved her character! The mystery was well plotted and kept me turning pages to see what would happen next. I was able to guess the culprit, and I was delighted with how everything wrapped up in the end.

Even though historical fiction isn’t my first choice, I enjoyed this so much I want to check out the author’s previous book, Love, Lies and Spies. This is definitely an author I will keep an eye on in the future! In fact, I just found out that she will have a new book out in the spring of 2018, Suitors and Sabotage! It is already on my 2018 wish list!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Van Gogh Deception

REVIEW: The Van Gogh Deception by Deron R. Hicks

Summary


A twelve-year-old boy is found in the National Gallery. No one knows who he is or where he came from. The boy remembers nothing – not his name and nothing about how he got there.

The boy is placed in a temporary foster home. He goes by the name Art because the name “Arthur” is in his coat. He knows a crazy amount of information about famous artists and their paintings, so the family goes back to the Gallery to see if anything trigger’s Art’s memory.

But they have no idea that someone is watching them, determined to find Art before he gets his memory back and foils their plans.

When they make their move on Art, they get his foster sister, Camille, too. Soon the kids are on the run with no idea who to trust or why they are being pursued.

Review


This was awesome! I loved everything. The energy and adventure worked for me. I thought the kids’ responses were realistic (although they seemed a little older than their stated ages) for the story. I loved the QR codes embedded in the story so the reader could SEE the art they were discussing in the story. Such a clever idea!

Art and Camille are a lot of fun. Art is bright and curious and determined. Camille is fiercely loyal. They make a great team, and I’d love to see them take on another mystery together.

I feel like I learned things about the art world while having a great time with a terrific story. This reminded me of FRAMED by James Ponti with the art tie-in, but this has it’s own features to love. I’d definitely give this to FRAMED fans, mystery lovers, and art lovers. This would be a perfect addition to home, school and classroom libraries – and even art classrooms. This is a book I will be telling folks about for the rest of this year!

Thanks to Netgalley and HMH Books for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥