Letters to the Lost

REVIEW: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Summary


Juliet is still grieving the death of her mother. And that takes the form of frequent trips to the cemetery and writing her mother letters. She leaves the letters by her mother’s headstone. Juliet wrote letters as a kid when her mom was on the road for work. She keeps up the practice as she tries to deal with her loss.

Declan mows the lawn at the cemetery. It’s his community service after getting drunk and crashing into a building. Usually he just trashes the things left around the headstones when he needs to mow. But for some reason, one day he reads a letter he finds – and he write’s the author back.

One response leads to an exchange of letters and then an exchange of emails as two hurting teens find connection through writing and transparency with one other person in the world. They each find someone who understands them. Someone they can really talk to and say all the things they are holding inside. And they also find that this relationship may give them the help and courage to address some things out loud in their real lives, too.

Review


This was a delight! I read it through in one sitting and when I was done I wanted to start all over from the beginning.

I love these characters. Juliet and Declan are so broken and so endearing. They each so badly need someone to really see them and hear them. Someone who draws out the best in them. Someone who sees past the prickliness of grief and pain.

One of the messages of the story is that there IS help available. Each of the kids has friends and teachers or mentors who want to help. They have to learn to ask for that help sometimes – or to accept it when it’s offered.

This story gave me the same feeling as A List of Cages when I was done. The subject matters wasn’t as dark in this one, but it left me with the same warm feelings from seeing teens find a community that loves them, knows them, and shows up for them. Fantastic! (Some language)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Between Heaven and the Real World

REVIEW: Between Heaven & the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman

Summary


 

An autobiographical look at Christian music’s superstar, Steven Curtis Chapman. The book covers Chapman’s childhood, the start and growth of his music career, his marriage and family, and of course the tragic death of his daughter, Maria.

Review


This was outstanding! I started listening to Chapman’s music around the launch of his second album. It was fun to read about all the things that went on behind the scenes with his songs and tours as I attended many of those tours and own many of those songs.

This feels like a very honest book. Chapman is up front about hard moments in his upbringing and his marriage. He works at being transparent about his struggles – personally, professionally and spiritually.

Anyone reading this book who is familiar with the Chapman’s story knows that the book is moving toward the tragic death of their daughter, Maria, in 2008. And the story is as painful as you can imagine. But again, that honesty and transparency is on display. Steven shares the struggle to keep moving forward after their loss, their questions for God, and their pain.

This was an engrossing and moving read. If you loved his wife’s book, Choosing to See, I highly recommend this. This fills in some of Steven’s part of the journey, and it gives more current information about how the family is doing as they continue to miss Maria, and yet choose to keep trusting God day by day.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

It's Not Me, It's You

REVIEW: It’s Not Me, It’s You by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Summary


When Avery Dennis is dumped just a couple weeks before her senior prom, she is stunned. Avery is chair of prom committee! She’s ultra popular. She’s smart and pretty. She has had a boyfriend almost non-stop since the first day of middle school.

Avery Dennis does not get dumped!

But Fortune smiled on Avery because she was dumped at the same time she was assigned an oral history report for History. Maybe, if Avery can look back at her own history, specifically her dating history, she can figure out how she is now date-less right before the prom. It’s probably not the assignment her teacher had in mind, but this is important!

Review


Wow. I loved this book! I was intrigued by the premise. Honestly, I expected Avery to be something of a mean-girl diva type who goes through this process to see herself as others see her. But that’s not really Avery at all. She’s smart and earnest and genuine. Yes, she has shallow moments. But those make her even more endearing as you see her trying to gain insight and mature.

I had no idea this would be so FUNNY! Avery has such a fantastic “voice,” enhanced by the format of the book. All of the characters – the best friend, the exes, the lab partner, the nemesis – are all so well written. There are great sarcastic moments, pop culture references, and just funny moments between the characters as they relate to one another and respond to what they learn in the project.

I was so delighted by this story! I will absolutely read this again and tell everyone I see about how fun this was. And I will be checking out the author’s other works.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Bloom and Doom

REVIEW: Bloom and Doom by Beverly Allen

Summary


Audrey Bloom and her cousin, Liv, have made their dream of running a flower shop a reality. And the wedding side of their business is booming, especially as people find out about Audrey’s skill of pulling together flower arrangements that mean positive things like faithfulness, hope and friendship. But the business takes a hit when a potential groom is killed, their shop is implicated, and a friend of Audrey’s is arrested for the crime. Now Audrey is determined to find out what really happened to the groom and get her friend out of jail.

 

Review


This was terrific! The writing style and the characters felt comfortable and familiar. It was like I was reading a new story in a familiar series rather than the first in a new one. The characters at the flower shop were fun and interesting. I’m hoping for more information on some of the secondary staff in future books. The camaraderie at the store reminds me of another favorite series, the Bakeshop Mysteries by Ellie Alexander.

The mystery was well-written. The circle of possible suspects and motives grew wider and wider as the story developed, giving me several things to puzzle through while I read. In the end, I’d say I figured out only half of the puzzles in the story. I was able to feel both successful and surprised in the end.

There are two more books in this series, and I am eager to read both of them soon. Book 2 is For Whom the Bluebell Tolls.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Zenn Diagram

REVIEW: Zenn Diagram by Wendy Bryant

Summary


Eva (pronounced like a slang “ever”) is a math genius. But that’s not the most unusual thing about her. The most unusual thing is that she gets flashes of insight about people when she touches them or things that belong to them. Their hidden emotions and worries, their history – all pushes into Eva. It happens so often, Eva never touches people. She doesn’t hand people things or shake hands or even hug. If she does, she gets overwhelming “fractals” of emotion. Except from Zenn.

Zenn is one of the guys Eva tutors in math. Usually she can touch a kid’s calculator and get a mini-fractal that tells her where the student is struggling. It’s a brilliant gift for a tutor! But she gets nothing from Zenn’s calculator. Nothing from his phone or from his clothes or from his skin. But what she gets from the old army jacket he wears is enough to drive her to her knees. What’s Zenn’s story? And why is he the only person Eva can touch?

 

Review


I was hooked on this book after the first page! As Eva talked of her favorite graphing calculators with sharp, self-deprecating humor, I knew this character could be someone really special. And she is. Eva and Zenn made this book for me. I laughed out loud many times and read several snappy, sarcastic sections aloud to my husband. Eva’s “voice” is fantastic!

I have enjoyed several stories that live 90% in a realistic world but with the main character experiencing some magical quality. This is a stellar example of that story style. I didn’t need to know definitively how or why Eva is this way to completely enjoy watching her figure out how to live her life with these fractals.

The story’s plot-hinging, big-reveal moment caught me off guard in the best way. Clever plotting. And I couldn’t put the book down after that because I didn’t want to wait to see how things ended.

This is the sort of book I will read again. Eva is now one of my all-time favorite characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this story! (language and some mature content)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Mr. Churchill's Secretary

REVIEW: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Summary


Maggie Hope is a bright mathematician, living in London in 1940. World War II has begun, and the British are resignedly waiting for Hitler to focus his attack on them as his troops march across Europe.

While Maggie is more than qualified to be one of the Prime Minister’s personal staff, as a woman, she doesn’t even get a chance to try. She settles for a typist’s job for Mr. Churchill.

But so much more is going on around Maggie! A dead typist, IRA bombings, spies, coded messages and secret plots. Will Maggie’s smarts and her determination be enough to save the day?

 

Review


Wow, I liked this book! I have had the first few books in this series in my TBR pile for years. The covers are gorgeous, and I can’t resist them. But I just wasn’t getting around to reading them! I don’t generally read historical fiction, and I think I was a little afraid the story wouldn’t live up to my expectations from the covers.

I shouldn’t have worried. While I don’t know a ton about World War II from a British perspective, I followed the story without any difficulty. I loved Maggie and her friends. The descriptions of her work were great fun to read. The mystery was top notch. This isn’t the usual “Who killed him?” sort of mystery. The reader sees the plots as they start forming. But there are good twists and lots of “will they make it?” suspense.

I am looking forward to reading more from this series! Book 2 is Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Jack and the Geniuses

REVIEW: Jack and the Geniuses: At the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye and Gregory Mone

Summary


Jack and his siblings, Matt and Ava, are former foster kids, emancipated and living on their own. Jack and Ava are twelve; Matt is fifteen. Ava and Matt are geniuses. Jack is smart in his own way. They have a social worker who checks on them weekly, but otherwise, they are on their own. Until they meet Hank.

Henry Witherspoon is a famous scientist and inventor. He’s so impressed by the kids , he invites them to join him on an expedition to Antarctica. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for the kids. But when they get to the South Pole, one of Hanks’ friends on the base has gone missing. Jack starts nosing around for clues and information. Did the scientist dart off on a whim as she had done before? Or had she made a scientific breakthrough that someone else wanted to keep hidden?

 

Review


This book was all sorts of fun! First, it’s a mystery at its core. The case was interesting, and the sleuthing was believable.

Second, it’s a unique setting. I learned all sorts of things about Antarctica while I enjoyed a great story.

Third, since Bill Nye the Science Guy is one of the authors, there’s great science material in the story and in the end materials (plus an experiment!)

Fourth, there’s Jack. I loved Jack! As the “normal one,” people in the story didn’t expect much from him. But Jack is smart in his own ways. Even with a lot of baggage (several failed foster placements), he’s a personable, confident kid. He knows who he is and where he fits in with his siblings. And he contributes most of the humor in the story.  I’m not sure the emancipation of twelve-year-olds is believable, but it was easy to look past, and the story is worth it! This is a smart, funny and all around FUN story. Can’t wait to read more!! (Book 2 will be out later this year.)

I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, Amulet books, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Amulet, for the opportunity!

Rating:♥♥♥♥♥

Wrong Side of the Paw

REVIEW: Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Summary


Do you ever feel like a mouse, running on a wheel, constantly moving but actually going no where? Do you ever feel like your life is an empty bottle of salad dressing or empty gallon of milk when you have a week to go until pay day? You’re trying to shake or squeeze out every last bit of energy or time or effort because it is all you have and you don’t know where you can scrounge up any more?

Maybe, rather than striving to do it all or being the go-to person or taking care of everyone else, God would rather we just “abide.” Maybe while we are running and pushing and climbing, Jesus is waiting nearby with everything we need, already there.

Jennie Allen, founder of If: Ministries shares her heart and her experience in discovering that Jesus is enough – all we ever need. She encourages readers to shift their thinking, recognizing that some of the stress and striving is less about God and more about themselves. She wants readers to live free of the things that weigh people down.

Review


This book has been the perfect fit for me in this season of life! I was underlining and highlighting and writing in the margins from cover to cover. As soon as I finished, I wanted to start all over again. I wanted to pull out all the key parts, Bible verses and activities and then spend time with them, little by little to apply them to my life in a way that would make an impact.

The author uses great metaphors to make her points. She uses several passages from the gospel of John, but tells them from the perspective of someone IN the story, adding some stirring details to the Biblical narrative. Jennie offers exercises to help readers take action on what they read. She stresses the extravagant love and abundance of God. She highlights God’s “streams of enoughness” like streams of connection, rest, risk and hope.

I can’t recommend this highly enough. There is going to be a Bible study book to go with this called Proven that will release in April. I did an online Facebook discussion with the author over three weeks which was great. I’m sure you can go to her page and watch the videos again. But I think going through each chapter, week by week with a small group, would be an even better way to really dig into the material!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Wrong Side of the Paw

REVIEW: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

Summary


The first time Adam met Julian, he was in 5th grade and Julian was in 2nd. They were reading buddies. The second time, Julian became Adam’s foster brother. Julian’s parents had been killed in an accident. Adam and his mother took him in. And they loved him, evident by the pictures of him still on the mantle after all these years.

Adam is assigned to Julian once again his senior year. Julian, now living with an uncle, keeps skipping appointments with the school counselor. As her aide, Adam is sent to track Julian down.

Each time that Adam comes into Julian’s life, he makes such a difference. As kids, he introduced Julian to the books Julian loves even now, books he reads over and over despite his struggles with dyslexia. In foster care, Adam and his mother gave Julian a safe place to start healing after a tremendous loss. But this time, Julian is going to need Adam more than either of them can imagine.

Review


Oh, this book…. I almost can’t put words to this. Julian breaks my heart. Even his walk shows how much he wants to disappear and not be noticed. No one at the school seems to want to be bothered with him. Adam is the opposite. Everyone loves him! Everyone knows him! He just naturally knows how to relate to people. He sees everyone – just when Julian needs to be seen.

There are parts of this story that are so fun – especially Adam and his friends (I love Charlie!!). But there are also these tender moments where the same boisterous group of seniors show up for Julian, this random freshman to most of them, in amazing ways.

Then there are ugly-crying moments in this, too. There are dark moments – powerful moments – that are even more powerful because of the relationship that has been growing between Adam and Julian through the story. Wow, this was just fantastic.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

For me this is definitely a book for older teens/YA due to mature content (predominantly violence/abuse) and language.

Wrong Side of the Paw

REVIEW: Talons of Power by Tui T. Sutherland

Summary


Wings of Fire, book 9. Darkstalker, released from his 2000 year captivity, seems like a really nice dragon. Humongous and powerful, sure. But also charming, and exceedingly helpful. Maybe he’s just misunderstood….

But Turtle doesn’t think so. He senses something is just not right. If he can keep himself hidden, safe in the background, maybe he can discover the truth. And if necessary, maybe he can save the day…. But Turtle knows he’s no hero. He has failed too many times. But what if he’s the only one with any chance to make a difference?

Review


I can’t stop thinking about this one. So many things were revealed and so many new questions were raised. Major cliffhangers at the end! Wow. This was excellent!

I have loved this series since book 1. Discovered it one year during book fair while I was teaching, I couldn’t stop talking about it. When I go back and re-read, book one is actually the “weakest” book in the series for me. They just get better and better. In fact, I am enjoying this second five-book arc even more than I loved the first five.

I re-read the first three in this arc before starting Talons of Power. I’m so glad I did because it affirmed for me how much I wanted to know Turtle’s story. His character starts the arc in the background, quiet and mysterious and unassuming. Which made me curious. He’s such a great part of Escaping Peril, I was thrilled to be able to go from that story right into this one. If I had to do it all over again, I would have also re-read the “legends” book Darkstalker since he is such a major part of this story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

If you haven’t read these before, start with The Dragonet Prophecy. These are best read in order.