REVIEW: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton


In the world of Orléans, the Belles are a gift to the world from the goddess of beauty. The God of the Sky turned the humans of Orléans grey and ugly in a fit of anger. The Bells were sent to bring beauty back to the world.

Camellia is one of six Belles debuting this year. When each of the girls has displayed her skills to the queen at the Beauté Carnaval, the queen will assign the girls to the place where they will serve the people. Only one of them can be “the favorite” and serve the royal family and their most honored guests at the palace. And Camellia – Camille – is determined to win.

But nothing goes as Camille expects. There are secrets at the palace. And at the tea houses where the Belles serve. Even back at the home where they were raised. Secrets. Lies. Manipulations. Betrayals. Nothing has prepared Camille for the reality of her new life or what will be asked of her.


Wow! This book left me feeling stunned. It was nothing like I expected. It doesn’t look like a fantasy from the cover, but it very much is. There’s a lot of world building that went into the development of this story. It took me a little while to get the feel of it. It’s about beauty on one level – about being the best of the best. I think I was expecting something along the line of The Selection, but this is something entirely different.

I’m can’t exactly say I enjoyed this. I didn’t click with the main character. And characters are almost always what makes a book special for me. There are enough secrets and twists in this that it’s hard to feel like you really know the characters.  And Camille is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She’s not even sure who she’s going to be in the face of some events.

At the same time, the story was absolutely captivating. I was rooting for Camille against her foes. I was breathless as things accelerated toward the end. The finish left me at loose ends, wondering what could possibly happen next. Underneath the beauty pieces is a dark, twisty and suspenseful tale of madness, betrayal and manipulation. It’s brilliantly written. And while I feel no draw to a character or my usual feelings about a great book, I also know I will have to read the next book to find out what happens. (Trigger warning for assault)

Thanks to Netgalley and Freeform for the opportunity to read an electronic copy of this book for review purposes. While it was nothing like I was expecting, and at the same time it was excellent.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

She's Still There Wellness Revelation

REVIEWS: Two Self-Help Winners!

I’ve been having a hard time finding a day for these reviews, but I enjoyed the books so much, I didn’t want to push them off any longer. So today, you get two reviews. Happy Valentine’s Day! Show some love to yourself and check these out.

She’s Still There – Summary

Have you ever found yourself in a moment or at a cross roads and wondered “How did I get here?” And not in a good way! You had these plans, these dreams, these expectations. But nothing in your life looks like you thought it would.

Maybe you drifted. Maybe you took a short cut, lowered a standards, or took your eyes off the path and that changed your course. Maybe you got distracted. That temporary move, temporary job, “short season” of something has become your permanent location. Maybe circumstances outside your control have left you in a place you never intended to be. No matter how you got here, you can find your way back. The person you were once upon a time is still there. And Chrystal Evans Hurst wants to help you find her.

She’s Still There – Review

While this book is targeted to women in the title and in many of the examples, this really works for anyone. The book is broken into 6 sections with multiple chapters. Each chapter has reflection questions and Bible verses to go through. There are practical applications for every point from doing an assessment of your gifts and skills to ways of setting small goals to help you stay on track.

I read the book as part of a study with Proverbs 31. This included videos and Bible study ideas and conference calls. And all of that “bonus” content was great. But the foundation is the book, and it is all you really need to take a long look at your life and your current direction.

I found the book both challenging and encouraging. The writing is approachable. There’s a “me too” feel where the author shares from her own journey. She’s not perfect or an expert. She’s lived this and coaches from her place a few steps ahead of you. Great for personal study or for group study. I highly recommend this.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


The Wellness Revelation – Summary

The subtitle for this book is “Lose what weighs you down so you can love God, yourself and others.” For a diet/health/fitness book, this has a HUGE faith component.

There are 8 sections of the book, designed to lead the reader on an 8-week journey. Each chapter has five components, easily broken down for weekday usage if you choose. The first two sections include a chunk of information and encouragement and often an action step or two. There’s a set of Bible study questions in another section, reflection questions in the fourth, and a final “testimony” piece at the end.

The journey is intentionally slow paced. It doesn’t address much with food until week 3, and the exercise kicks in in week 4. This is by design. The author spends two weeks setting a spiritual foundation, encouraging readers to approach food and movement from healthy places. And she reinforces this message in each workout, podcast and Facebook Live posting.

The Wellness Revelation – Review

I loved this whole process from the beginning. I loved the faith pieces that are part of every breath of the program. I read the book as part of an online course through Facebook, and every leader online encouraged participants to seek the Lord and follow His leading on food, on movement, on pacing and on how our past influences our present.

There’s enough material in the book and online (workouts, podcasts, etc) to make this process a full time job. I had to choose to be content to do what I could, to emphasize the parts that were encouraging to me and be okay when I couldn’t keep up with it all. I’ve become a fan of their online workouts at RevWellTV (available for a monthly fee) – there are different types of workouts, different instructors, and different skill/intensity levels. Something for everyone.

If you feel like now is the time to invest in your health, I can’t recommend this book and the people behind it highly enough.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


Date with Disaster

REVIEW: DC Superhero Girls: Date with Disaster! by Shea Fontana


Romance is in the air as the Super Hero High kids plan a dance and Batgirl sees her dad, Commissioner Gordon, on a date. Even Principal Waller has a boyfriend. Batgirl signs her dad up for a dating service because she doesn’t like the person he’s dating. But her plans to find true love for her dad backfire.

While the plans for the dance start coming together, and the kids start matchmaking for one another, there’s an explosion at STAR Labs. Dr Faulkner is hurt, and the mayor is trying to hide something. The kids will have to wait to put on their dancing shoes until they sort out what is really going on at STAR Labs.


This was a fun story that really held together well.  There was a nice level of tension from chapter to chapter leading up to the end. The STAR Labs piece was especially well done. The matchmaking was more of a means to an end. It got people into places where they need to be for other parts of the story to take place.

Poison Ivy and Lois Lane had expanded roles in this story which was a lot of fun. The rest of the girls worked various angles on the mystery. The guys – Flash and Cyborg in particular – were more involved in the dance portions of the story.

This will be great for fans of the other graphic novels in this series as well as fans of the Lisa Yee middle grade novels and other DC properties. This is my favorite book so far in this graphic novel series.

Thanks to Netgalley and DC Comics for the opportunity to read an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥


REVIEW: The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster


In the Chicago suburb of North Shore, excellence is the status quo. In the Breakfast Club era of their parents, kids fit into one of many stereotypes. But in North Shore, the teens meet them all. It’s not sufficient to be smart OR athletic. You must be both. And you have to be the best. Best on the team. Super involved in extracurriculars. And planning and prepping for an Ivy League college all through high school.

The kids of North Shore deliver on all of these expectations. Their test scores and rates of college admission are among the best. This in turn draws in more (wealthy) families who can give their kids everything money can buy.

But North Shore has a hidden dark side. These kids who seem to have every advantage can’t always keep up with the pressure. Two kids committed suicide this summer alone. How does North Shore respond? A couple days for grieving and then back to the grind.

How long can they keep this up? What will it take to stop the cycle?


Wow. I was drawn to this story about high-achieving, uber-pressured kids who step up to help one another when they lose one of their own. But it took awhile to get to that part of the story. While part of me wondered when the story would really kick into gear, another part was okay with the wait because the characters were interesting. The slow build gave me time to get to know them and care about them.

By the final third of the story, I had a hard time setting the book down. I kept thinking about the characters and wondering how everything would shake out. The ending was perfect. I would go back and read the last few chapters again. Once some of the main characters owned and shared their true thoughts and feelings about their losses, I was entranced.

This book talks about difficult subjects – teen suicide, drug use, abuse, mental health – honestly and authentically. There’s a LOT here that would be great for group discussion with teens. I read this right after As You Wish which made for an interesting pairing. There are many stark differences between the books, but the pressure on teens is a consistent theme in both. I highly recommend this book for older teens, young adults and adults, especially those who work with and care about teens.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Aliens Abroad

REVIEW: Aliens Abroad by Gini Koch


The Distant Voyager is the first manned long-range spacecraft for Earth. And it’s about to leave on its first mission. Kitty and the gang are there for a tour and Jeff’s big speech before the launch.

Unexpectedly (although, par for the course in Kitty’s life), the ship takes off early with Jeff, half of the Presidential Cabinet, Kitty, their kids, and a good portion of their extended family on board. The ship’s AI is uncooperative at best, there are signs of sabotage, and no one on board seems to be able to control their course – or change it.

Whoever is controlling things knows Kitty – the “Warrior Queen” – is a protector. If she can help a person – or a planet – in need, she will. And there are several races in dire need of rescuing. So while she might have been a reluctant participant at first, Kitty is on board for saving the day. Because if Kitty can’t help, the whole galaxy might not survive.


Wow! This was so fun! First of all, this is my favorite book series for adults. So any addition to the series, any book with these characters, is going to be one I am eagerly anticipating. Second, most of the book takes place in previously unknown parts of the galaxy. There are tons of new alien species and planets and galactic politics to explore. Third, there are at least four major events in the book. Reading this felt like binge watching a favorite show or binge reading a favorite book series all in one sitting. I got through the first event and still had hundreds of pages to go! I waited for this book for a long time. The wait was completely worthwhile.

Most of my favorite characters were along for the ride on this trip, so I enjoyed the little tidbits added to their stories. Continuing one of my favorite things from Alien Education, the kids play an important role in this book. In fact, the chapters where their role is really expanded I read twice. There’s a nice balance between the expected interplay and relationships from the series and all the new characters. In fact, to me the book felt weighted toward the new characters and events which gave this a fresh feel. I feel like this book and the next (Aliens Like Us) are going to have the same “interlude” feel that Universal Alien and Alien Separation did earlier in the series. It will advance the characters and the big picture, but it will keep the series from feeling like it is following a pattern.

Kudos to Gini Koch for this fast, fun, and fresh addition to the series. It’s everything I have come to expect from her in the last 6 years since I discovered the series. Many thanks to Netgalley and the folks at DAW (Penguin/Random House) for the opportunity to review an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My personal copy will be arriving any time now so I can start a re-read right away. Goodreads shows at least 4 more books coming in the series; I have all of them on my wish list and have pre-ordered Aliens Like Us so I don’t miss a moment of the action. If you love science fiction (with a little steamy romance thrown in ), I think you should follow my lead. If this is a new series to you, start with book one, Touched by an Alien, and carve out some serious reading time. This is a series you don’t want to miss.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Marabel and the Book of Fate

REVIEW: Marabel and the Book of Fate by Tracy Barrett


The celebration of Prince Marco and Prince Marabel’s 13th birthday is a big deal. Moreso for Marco as the Book of Fate says he is the Chosen One. Sometimes Marabel feels like an afterthought.  She has to hide that she is taking fencing lessons because her father thinks it is a waste of time. On the day of the party, Marabel see something suspicious during the screening of party guests, but no one takes her seriously.

Just before the clock strikes 13:13 – the moment of Marco’s birth – at the party, Mab, the queen of the Evils of the Desolate Barrens reveals herself and kidnaps Marco.

Marabel is determined to go after her twin, but the king orders her to stay out of the way and locks her in her room. Marabel, her maid and best friend, Ellie, and Floriano the unicorn sneak out of the castle anyway to track down Queen Mab and rescue Marco, no matter what dangers the Barrens hold.


This was a delight from start to finish. I loved that the author acknowledged the usual fairy tale clichés right from the beginning. The tone of the book was fun from page one.

My heart broke for Marabel. She had a great relationship with all her siblings, but she was shunted to the side – or forgotten – over and over again. Her twin had to remind the king it was her birthday, too! None of this made Marabel bitter or mean. She’s a smart, kind and determined girl. All of those qualities helped her on her quest.

This reminded me of the Hero’s Guide series (by Christopher Healy) or the Wide-Awake Princess series (by E.D. Baker) in tone. I adored both of those series. Marabel’s story fits in with them perfectly. If you have fans of either of those series, I think you can had them this book confidently.

There’s plenty of adventure, some magic (but a lot more smarts), and some fantastic creatures (the dragon, Hotshot, is my favorite). There’s a thread of girl-power through the story. I loved that none of it was at the expense of the male leaders. The wrap up was terrific. I’d read more stories with Marabel and her friends!

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read an electronic copy of Marabel and the Book of Fate for review purposes.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

SW Original Trilogy

SATURDAY SMORGASBORD: Must-Have Graphic Novels for Kids

Recently a teacher friend asked me for my list of “must-have” graphic novels for her classroom (5th and 6th graders). Graphic novels are fun for a lot of kids. While some folks feel like it’s not “real reading,” that is not really true. With graphic novels, students get to practice thinking through the sequencing of a story. Visual learners get a lot of material to work with as they read the pictures as well as the text. Graphic novels can give extra support to kids who are still working on word decoding because the pictures support the text. They can introduce kids to material they might not try otherwise, but they explore because of this format. And for kids who feel like reading is a chore, graphic novels can make reading feel like fun.

Here is the list I gave her for my personal “must have” graphic novels:


Some of the most popular graphic novels for this age group are autobiographies. Raina Telgemeier is maybe the best known for telling her personal stories in this format. When I was teaching, her books were always checked out from the library from the first day of check outs to the end of the school year. Many kids think of biographies and autobiographies as dry books that someone will have to force them to read. These books challenge that impression. You can read my review of Real Friends here.


I personally read a lot of fantasy, so these graphic novels are ones I read and enjoy. Wings of Fire: The Dragonet Prophecy and The Lightning Thief are both based on novels. The Wings of Fire book series is 10 books long to date, with book 11 releasing this summer. The Rick Riordan mythology books have been around for years. Three of the original Percy Jackson books have been released as graphic novels, too. His entire Egyptian mythology series, The Kane Chronicles, as well as two books in the Heroes of Olympus series have been released in this format as well. HiLo is an original series that I fell in love with when I was teaching. I’ve reviewed the DC Super Hero Girls GN series here on the blog before. I received the Star Wars graphic novels for Christmas (one volume for the original trilogy, another for the prequels, and a stand alone book for The Force Awakens). I love the art style in these and I know my students would have loved these too.


Some of my students had the idea that nonfiction books were a drag. Thankfully there are a lot of visually appealing nonfiction books being introduced for kids, including these two series of graphic novels. Science Comics covers a variety of topics from dogs to dinosaurs to volcanoes and rockets. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales cover different time periods in history. Readers will find some swearing in these books as the author directly quotes some historical figures. This series has covered Harriet Tubman, Nathan Hale, World War II and other topics.


These final recommendations were “maybes” for my friend. The Action Bible is a graphic novel of the Bible which we had in the school library. I thought it was a great way to get reluctant students to check out the Bible for themselves (I taught at a Christian school). Binky the Space Cat is targeted for a younger reader than my friend is teaching. But the stories I think still work for older elementary students. My younger readers zeroed in on Babymouse and the Lunch Lady graphic novels and sometimes missed Binky. I still love this series and think it is great for kids of any age. I have blogged about Phoebe and her Unicorn many times. These are more comic strip books than graphic novels that tell essentially one story from start to finish. The quality and humor make them perfect for the older elementary crowd. Finally, there is a graphic novel for A Wrinkle in Time. I have not read it (yet!), but with the movie releasing later this year, it could be a terrific addition to a classroom (or home) library.


REVIEW: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett


Greer is a new student – a scholarship student – at St. Aidan the Great School, or STAGS boarding school. It’s not easy to be the one who sticks out at a new school. But Greer isn’t one to try to be something she’s not. So she keeps her head down and tries to stay out of trouble. At least she doesn’t stick out like Shafeen, the only minority student at STAGS, or Chanel whose money is too new for the blue bloods at STAGS.

Greer’s luck seems to be changing when she receives an invitation to a weekend of “huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’.” Sure, it seems weird that it’s just the Medievals – the prefects and popular kids – plus Greer, Shafeen and Chanel. And there are no adults besides the servants. And there was that one girl who told her not to go…. But it’s an invitation from Henry de Warlencourt! He’s so handsome. And he welcomes Greer so warmly. While she doesn’t know anything about hunting, shooting or fishing, she’s sure it’s just going to be a nice weekend away from school. What more would it be?


This was a slow-building story with a punch. The author does a great job of telling you something is coming that is going to rock the reader’s world while also letting the story unfold in its own time. Sometimes authors try this and it’s obnoxious, and you just want them to stop dropping hints and get on with it. But the author made this work for this story. As Greer dropped hints of what was coming, it amped up the tension for me and kept me turning pages. I liked Greer. The film references she makes are entertaining and communicate some extra layers to the story.

It’s hard to say I “liked” the book exactly. I liked trying to figure out what was really going on. The last section, though, made the whole book click for me. It made me sit up and start reading faster in order to see the whole picture. It left me wide-eyed and saying “wow” in the end.

If you enjoy school stories that set up on-the-fringe students against some sort of popular clique/mean girls group, definitely put this on your reading list. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte Press for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥


Dog Dish of Doom

REVIEW: Dog Dish of Doom by E. J. Copperman


Kay Powell just wants to get her client, Bruno, this role in Annie on Broadway. Bruno has the skills to be an excellent Sandy! Kay is an agent for animals for TV, stage, and movies. And this role could be the beginning of a big career for Bruce. But his owners are a bit of trouble.

Well, Louise is okay – almost to the point of disinterest. But Trent is worse than any stage mom. He thinks Bruno can “do more” and that director Les McMaster is a “hack” and a has been. It’s so bad that Les will only work with Bruno if Kay is the one to bring him to the theater. He doesn’t want Trent or Louise there at all.

Imagine Kay’s surprise to read of Trent’s murder the next day, or to find a detective on her door step. Since Kay understands the theater world, she may be the only one who can figure out what happened to Trent.


This was a terrific mystery. I loved the premise – agent to the stars! Animal stars. And Kay’s relationship with Bruno and her own dogs was lovely. I enjoyed the full cast – the quirky parents, the potential love interest, and the business partner/assistant. I would happily read more books with this ensemble.

The mystery was great. There was a lot going on, even or especially after the murder. Lots of questions about motives and secrets kept me guessing all the way to the end.

This is great for cozy fans and fans of animal stories. Also for readers who enjoy a creative set up and interesting cast of characters, both human and animals.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Upside Down Magic Dragon Overnight

REVIEW: Upside Down Magic: Dragon Overnight


Nory and the Upside Down Magic (UDM) kids are taking a field trip to Dragon Haven, a sanctuary for injured and orphaned dragons. The only thing that can dampen their excitement is the fact that they aren’t the only school group at Dragon Haven. What if the other kids are snobby? What if they make fun of the UDM kids and their “wonky” magic?

Andres is getting weary of the struggles that come with his magic. He feels like the leash that keeps him from floating away is a punishment. The leash makes him feel like a baby. People forget about him – or the “brickpack” he needs to stay on the ground. When will he ever have a chance to be independent?

Nory is in for some surprises on this field trip, too. While everyone is feeling nervous about the other school of kids, Nory has extra pressure. The kids are from Sage Academy – her dad’s school! And her dad is on the field trip. How will he treat her? What does he think of her Upside Down Magic?


Identity is one of my favorite themes in books. And the Upside Down Magic series does a great job exploring that theme for young readers. While Nory is the main character for the series, each of the other kids gets a book where their story is explored. This time it’s Andres’ turn. He’s a flyer but not in the usual way. He flies all the time. Only ceilings, a leash, and a backpack full of bricks protect him from floating away. But those things also make him dependent on others and limit his freedom. I was frustrated by how often the adults charged with Andres’ care neglected his needs or forgot about him. But at Dragon Haven, Andres gets to shine and it is so enjoyable.

The setting for this story was fantastic. Lots of creative dragon types for this world. And the setting also let the UDM kids interact with another group of kids. I enjoyed how things played out with the two groups.

In some ways this story is simple. But the setting and the identity pieces made it enjoyable for me. Fans of the series will enjoy this addition and getting Andres’ story.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥