BONUS REVIEW: Tune It Out by Jamie Sumner

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Atheneum Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


Lou and her mom are living out of their truck at a camp ground. Her mom is a waitress, for now. She’s certain that Lou’s singing will change their fortunes if she can get “discovered.” So Lou hasn’t been enrolled at school for the last year. Schools ask too many questions. And they need to easily be able to leave town when Lou’s big break comes.

Lou’s voice is as good as her mom thinks it is. But she has some quirks that can cause trouble in public situations. Lou doesn’t like to be touched or to have people watching her. Loud noises can startle her and set her off. A teacher at her last school said she was “on the spectrum.” Whatever it is, Lou feels like she is always one moment away from a meltdown no matter what she does.

An accident on a snowy night leaves Lou with a concussion – and a CPS caseworker. Her mom is being investigated for neglect, and Lou is being sent to Tennessee to live with an aunt and uncle she doesn’t know. How is she ever going to manage without the one person who actually gets her?

Review


This book for older middle grade readers (ages 10+) was AMAZING!

First of all, it’s a foster care/found family story which I always enjoy. I loved seeing Lou cared for, seen, and heard at both her aunt’s house and at her new school. She’s in a place where she’s safe and can thrive, and I loved it.

Then there’s Lou herself. She was one of the best protagonists I have encountered this year. She may not know why she has her “meltdowns,” but she knows herself. She knows what she can handle and what’s not going to work. At the same time, though, she’s determined to push through where she can to make the most of her new situation.

The other characters are excellent, too. After Well’s first scene, I was firmly in love with this book. He’s my favorite sort of character – fun, personable, charming, and a great friend. He has his own issues which keeps him relatable, especially to Lou. I also loved the school staff who, again, SEE Lou and GET her. There are great counselors/social workers in this, and Lou’s aunt and uncle are also great.

One of my favorite things in this is the way Lou’s understanding of her mom and their relationship changes over the course of the book. Lou loves her mom. But she also recognizes her faults. And in the end she stands her ground for what she needs.

This was an absolute treat. The kids feel old for 6th grade, but I loved them too much to care. Do not miss this one! You can read a brief review of one of the author’s other books here.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥*

*♥♥♥♥♥=Outstanding! Amazing!

REVIEW: The Places We Sleep by Caroline Brooks DuBois

[I received a physical review copy of this book from Holiday House in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


A novel in verse starring Abbey, a seventh grader in a new school in 2001. She’s trying to make friends, avoid the mean kids, and deal with her first period.

Abbey’s mom isn’t around to help her with her period. Planes flew into the twin towers in New York City and now her mom’s sister, Rose, is missing. Abbey’s mom has gone to help her brother-in-law with their kids while they wait for word on Rose.

Abbey’s dad is career-military. As the country tries to recover from the unthinkable, he’s preparing for deployment.

When the world seems changed forever, Abbey is trying to negotiate middle school while her family deals with the unimaginable changes in their day to day lives.

Review


This is a new-kid-in-school story, told in verse, and set with 9/11 as the backdrop. September 11th is an inciting incident. It changes the dynamics in Abbey’s home and in the world around her. It pulls her mom away and pushes Abbey to deal with her first period on her own. And it is why her father later gets deployed. There are threads on grief and war protests and racism against Muslims. But those aren’t the main focus of the story.

The focus is Abbey. It’s on her adjustment to a new school and to puberty. She considers questions of identity when it comes to her art. And she grows in her confidence to stand up when others are teased or harassed.

I have read other novels in verseThe Crossover (♥♥♥♥), Garvey’s Choice, Inside Out and Back Again (♥♥♥♥♥), Long Way Down (♥♥♥♥), Solo – and my reaction has been mixed. Some I love and others haven’t clicked. For me, I think it’s about how much I connect with the story being told and how the format enhances that story. And this one was fine, but didn’t grab me. I liked Abbey, and I cared about what happened with her family. But I wanted more. I think I wanted to go deeper on the emotions of Abbey’s story with 9/11. That just wasn’t the story the author chose to tell.

If you are building a collection of novels in verse, or you are looking for middle grade coming-of-age stories, be sure to check this one out. Abbey is a lovely character, and I think kids will like her. If you are looking for more stories that talk honestly with readers about menstruation, this could be a good choice. Abbey’s period really weaves through the whole book rather than just being a one-off incident. (Content Warning: 9/11, grief, deployment)

Rating: ♥♥♥*

*♥♥♥=Good/fine/solid

BONUS REVIEW: The Candy Mafia by Lavie Tidhar

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Peachtree Publishing Company in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


It’s been 3 years since Mayor Thornton banned chocolate and sweets from the town. Three years since the Farnsworth Chocolate Factory closed and the owner disappeared.

Nelle Faulkner is a private detective on summer break. Eddie deMenthe is her latest client, a candy bootlegger looking for someone who can find things. Precious things. Stolen things.

But Nelle’s case only gets more complicated. Someone breaks into her office. The police come to her house. And Eddie goes missing. Something in the secret chocolate trade is rotten. Something beyond just smuggling.

Review


This was fun. The premise was interesting – the candy ban, kids as smugglers. And then the larger secrets and motives that Nelle discovers as she investigates.

I liked Nelle and the other kids she ends up working with. The focus of the book was more on the action than character development. I would have enjoyed more on the characters. There were hints at the toll of the smuggling scheme on the kids; I would have loved to see that explored a lot more. I found that piece fascinating.

The mystery had a few twists – some I predicted and others that surprised me. I think kids will enjoy this story . Mystery fans will get a kick out of trying to solve the case before Nelle.

Like Nelle, I wanted more in the end, but overall the story is fun, and the solution is solid. This could be a fun read-aloud selection or good for use in a book club.

Rating: ♥♥♥½*

*♥♥♥½=Good+

REVIEW: Name Tags and Other Sixth-Grade Disasters by Ginger Garrett

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Lerner Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


Lizbeth and her mom have moved to the other side of Atlanta, which means a change of schools. Lizbeth is certain that, with the right, happy approach, she can pick just the right person to be her new best friend. And that will set her up for a great year.

Instead, she is placed in a classroom with an exhausted and distracted teacher and in a pod with kids called the “weirdos.” Lizbeth’s choice for a new best friend can’t get away from her fast enough. And the only kid who seems to “get” her also seems to be the resident mean girl.

Lizbeth finds herself helping her podmates with the mandatory school talent show while she’s also stuck doing all the work for a partnered science project. On top of all that, she has her quest to sabotage her dad’s latest girlfriend. Lizbeth figures that’s the best way to get her parents back together which will mean Lizbeth can get her old, perfect life back, too.

Review


The ending of this is stellar! There were some ups and downs for me along the way, but the ending was fantastic.

I had a mixed experience here with Lizbeth. She’s a funny, quirky kid, which I loved. She’s a lot to take early on. The scene of her trying to be Hailey’s friend at that first lunch period was almost painful. And when it comes to her dad’s girlfriends, frankly, she’s a bully. She’s mean. For every point she earns in my heart because she defends her podmates at school, she loses several for her horrible, hateful behavior with these women. And her parents don’t seem to do anything about it. This made it hard for me to like any of the family. And it made it hard to root for Lizbeth in the larger story.

With some time, though, Lizbeth starts to mature. She starts to see things from other points of view. She begins to get some personal insight. And that made up for some of the early ugliness in the story.

The art pieces in this were excellent. And the climax of the story was as well. I absolutely adored the end. There’s a lot here for readers to enjoy, and plenty to think about and talk through – labels, bullying, art, friendship, family, dealing with divorce, etc. This could prompt some meaty discussions both at home and in the classroom.

Rating: ♥♥♥½*

*♥♥♥½=Good+

REVIEW: Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Random House Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


Felix Rannells is a rule follower. Benji Porter is a rule exploder. Benji doesn’t just bend rules or break rules – sometimes he outright destroys them. They are the odd couple of their field trip pairings.

When Felix finds a wallet on the sidewalk during their lunch break, he wants to turn it in. Benji sees it as a chance to get some lunch since he left his at home by mistake. He insists he’ll pay the personal back. He even uses the $20 he takes to get Felix food, too.

Then the boys discover the wallet belongs to Laura Friendly, a billionaire. Benji insists that $20 to her is like a penny to normal folks. And they’re just “borrowing it.” Felix know they actually STOLE the money, but he doesn’t have $10 to pay back his half. And while Benji will be able to get money from his parents, Felix’s mom doesn’t have money just lying around. They are barely getting by as it is.

When Laura Friendly confronts the boys about the theft, Benji mouths off about his “penny” theory which gives the billionaire an idea. A penny, doubled, every day for a month is more than $5 million. She’ll give the boys that much money and they will have one month to spend it – with some restrictions. If they can pull it off, they will each get $10 million.

Review


This has a Brewster’s Millions feel to it (it’s a movie starring Richard Pryor from 1985), and I was here for all of it! I first encountered Stacy McAnulty’s work when I fell in love with her debut, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl. She’s an author I watch very closely because I never want to miss her latest release. You aren’t going to want to miss this one, either. When I read the plot, I was immediately sold. And the book did not disappoint.

I loved Felix and Benji from the start. Even though they are very different guys, there’s something endearing about each of them. Felix is very aware of his family’s financial situation, and he wishes they had a little more breathing room. Benji generally has whatever material things he needs, but he’s looking for significance, and approval from his parents. Through the novel, not only do they each grow individually, but they also grow to be friends. I loved watching their journey.

Ms. Friendly is a fascinating character. Not much like her name, though. The boys learn a lot with her challenge, and I think she grows to like them. I loved watching her relationship with them over the course of the story.

I think this would make a fun classroom read-aloud or a book club selection. Anyone who has ever daydreamed what they’d do with a million dollars will be able to identify with these boys and their secret financial challenge. I loved how it played out over the month and how it wrapped up in the end. This is my favorite sort of middle grade novel – kids you love in fascinating circumstances who learn and grow over time. Do not miss this one! (LGBTQ+)

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½*

*♥♥♥♥½ – Loved it! Would read again!

BONUS REVIEW: The Long-Lost Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Olympic Athlete by Tim Collins

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and North Star Editions in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


Alexander is an nonathletic boy with big dreams. He wants to be a renowned hero. There’s even an oracle who says he will one day.

Then Alexander gets the chance to help Dracon who is travelling to the Olympics. Alexander is sure he can learn to do well in the various activities Dracon will do  in the Pentathlon. But he’s just awful at all of them.

This is especially bad news when Dracon falls ill and can’t compete. What will Alexander do in a contest against skilled, adult men? And why did Dracon get sick at the worst possible time?

Review


There are several other books in this series, but this is the first I have read. The diary format for this means everything is told after the fact, so some of the action is lost in the retelling. But the advantages – getting Alexander’s take on events and his thoughts and feelings – outweigh the disadvantages.

The story is reasonably engaging, although possibly predictable for some readers. There’s a slow build up to the big action of the story, but the final contest and the resolution were enjoyable.

Kids who love the Olympics and are missing the games this year might enjoy this story and the extensive end notes on the Olympics. There are also mid-chapter notes, but they are placed in a way that they are informative instead of interrupting the flow of the story. I really appreciated that detail.

Hand this to fans of diary-format stories as well as fans of the Olympic games. (As Olympians competed in the nude, illustrations include some bare backsides.)

Rating: ♥♥½*

*♥♥½ = Mostly solid to solid

REVIEW: Virtual Unicorn Experience by Dana Simpson

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary and Review


In the latest comics collection/graphic novel starring Phoebe and her best friend Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, Phoebe explores life without her phone, unicorn court, and the science museum. She also hangs out with Lord Splendid Humility and her human friends Max and Dakota. Phoebe also learns about unicorn self-esteem, the Unicorn Investigative Agency, and the cut throat world of unicorn theater. She even gets to enjoy having a unicorn tail for awhile.

This collection is full of sass and sarcasm, unicorns and laughs. I completely enjoyed this one! One moment I was heartbroken for Marigold, and then the next I was laughing with her. I loved the full range of topics and adventures the two protagonists have together. This is one of my favorite books in the whole series.

This is book 12 in this long-running series! You can see my reviews of some of the other books here. You’ll also see posts where I talk about what makes Marigold a “memorable protagonist” and why I put this series in my list of “Must Have Graphic Novels” for kids in 2018. Hand this book – and the whole series – to graphic novel fans, unicorn fans, and kids who love smart and sassy characters!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

REVIEW: Star Wars The Clone Wars: Stories of Light and Dark

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Disney LucasFilm Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


These are 11 short stories from the Star Wars Universe that take place during the Clone Wars. The stories are told from the perspective of one character. Every story is adapted from one or more episodes of the Clone Wars TV series – 3 from season 1, 1 from season 3, 5 from season 4, and 2 from season 5.

Review


When I started the first story, “Sharing the Same Face,” I was struck immediately by how familiar everything seemed. Sure enough, after some research on Wookiepedia, I turned on the first episode of the series, “Ambush,” and followed along. Yes, there were extra bits of Yoda’s musings on clones and individuality, and their engineering to follow orders. But essentially the story was one I had watched in the show.

I read through six of the eleven stories this way – looking for an episode with a similar descriptions and watching along while reading – before realizing that every short story was based on the show. (Readers can look up the title of each short story on Wookiepedia, and it will list the episode(s) involved.) That’s when I stopped reading.

Somewhere along the way I missed that these were adaptations rather than original stories. And I was disappointed.

Taken alone, the adaptations are good. There’s a reason Star Wars is such a huge property. These are great characters and stories. And I liked the tidbits of personal content or thought processes that were included. But for the stories I read, the new, original material was only a small bit of the whole story.

Readers who are Star Wars fans who like novelizations of the movies might enjoy these retellings. There are plenty of very positive reviews for this book. I don’t know if readers who aren’t somewhat versed in the Clone Wars show will be able to follow all of the stories here because some reference characters, places, and events that aren’t in the main 9 films. But readers who already love the show may enjoy this look at those stories. There is an audience for this book.

That audience is not me, though. I wanted new stories with my favorite characters. Or new stories that endeared other characters I didn’t already love to me. I wanted to see the Star Wars Universe expanded. It’s why I read Star Wars and Star Trek novels. If I had bought this and then discovered it was only adaptations of episodes I have already seen (some multiple times), I would have felt betrayed.

For readers who understand what this is, and who are eager to read it, I think this could be a 3 or 3.5 star book – or more. I personally didn’t find a lot of new insights in this. So for me it was a 2 star read, which means “finished (or not), but didn’t like, not a good fit”

Rating: ♥♥

BONUS REVIEW: Mask by Kate Hannigan

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and Aladdin in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


At first glance, Josie, Mae, and Akiko look like normal girls. But in reality, they are the Infinity Trinity. Thanks to some special artifacts – a cape, a mask, and some boots, the girls are superheroes.

Akiko’s family has been taken to an internment camp because of World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor. But she gets word her mother has gone missing from the camp. And she’s not the only person missing. Several superheroes, like Zenobia, have gone missing as well.

As the girls start looking for Akiko’s mother, they run into a new villain on the scene, a clown called Side-Splitter. Side-Splitter is setting off bombs around San Francisco and trying to destroy American Naval vessels. The Infinity Trinity have their hands full with this guy!

Review


I love the creativity and uniqueness of this series. This is a re-imagined WWII story where superheroes are real. The racial issues of the time – like the internment camps – are present. Real historical figures are mentioned. The real role of women in the war is also reflected in the story. As with book 1, there are extensive end notes that let readers know which parts of this fantasy tale are anchored in reality.

The final art for the graphic novel sections of the book were not available in my review copy, but there were descriptions of what will be included in the final art. I think readers will enjoy this fun feature to this series. I love the creativity of including comic panels – this is a superhero story after all – into a prose novel.

While there is a lot about this series that I love, I struggled with the pacing of this story. There were several sections that dragged for me. In this story there are several times where the girls are puzzling out coded messages, and it’s hard to put action into moments when they are listening and thinking. There are fight scenes, of course, but this particular story also has quieter moments of thinking, of empathizing with Akiko as she stresses over her mom’s role in the Side-Splitter’s plans, etc. The great features I have already mentioned, though, make up for the slower sections of the story telling for me.

There are several unresolved threads here, including the missing superheroes, to lead readers to book 3. These books should definitely be read in order. Be sure to check out the first book in the League of Secret Heroes series, Cape.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

BONUS REVIEW: Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge by Grace Ellis

[I received an electronic review copy of this book from Netgalley and DC Comics in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.]

Summary


Lois Lane is ready for the best summer ever. She is working on her video channel and hopes to make a #FriendshipChallenge video with her BFF Kristen that goes viral. But Kristen wants to focus on the local bike race and getting ready to go away to camp for the first time.

When a rival bike shop springs up near their neighborhood store, the owner is convinced the new rival wants to rig the race. She shows the girls a threatening note, and then her fireworks for the big race are stolen. Lois is certain she and Kristen can solve the mystery. In fact, Lois is already sure she knows who did it – Izzy, the new girl in town.

Review


Lois is a LOT to take in this book. I was exhausted by her as I read. She’s an intense person, earnest. She has big ideas and big plans. And she easily gets tunnel vision. She isn’t trying to be a bad friend, but she tunes out anything Kristen says and anything that doesn’t fit her ideas of what is going on or what is important.

Lois is so over the top I don’t think readers will have any trouble seeing the friendship red flags in the story. The bigger question is will readers like Lois enough to stick with her through the book in the hope that she will learn and grow? Thankfully that does happen. Lois starts to see how she is behaving, and then she decides to make some changes.

I liked Henrietta/”Henri,” an older, mentoring, voice-of-reason sort of character. Not only does she try to speak into Lois’ friend issues, but she also shows Lois how journalism is like detective work. She also explains the importance of journalistic integrity – letting the facts drive the story rather than squishing the facts to try to make them fit into the story you decided to tell. Which is exactly what Lois is doing with Izzy.

Readers who enjoy graphic novel friendship stories might give this one a try. If you are looking for more Lois Lane stories, I HIGHLY recommend the Lois Lane series for teens by Gwenda Bond. I loved it!

Rating: ♥♥♥