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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

REVIEW: How to Decorate a Christmas Tree, by Vikki VanSickle, Illustrated by Miki Sato

Available on October 10, 2023
A little girl shares the steps for the perfect tree trimming — a holiday picture book for fans of Pick a Pine Tree and The Little Christmas Tree.

In this charming Christmas tale, readers will follow along with the main character as she shares all the things that go into decorating a tree:

Hot chocolate
Taffy the cat
And, most importantly, family!

With stunning three-dimensional art by Miki Sato and a delightful story by wordsmith Vikki VanSickle, including a twist ending, this book will quickly become a Christmas tree decorating tradition of its own.

My 9 year old picked this out to read with me, so you get a bonus voice in this review.

My take: Delightful. It brought some Christmas spirit to an otherwise dreary day when we read this, as we talked about our favorite ornaments and how we decorate our tree and home. I LOVED the artwork and that they weren't flat. The writing is approachable for children of any age.

My daughter's. When we read a book, I ask her to tell me 3 things she really liked about it.
1. The pictures. You could see they were "made" and not drawn.
2. The cat all the way through. It was like a little story itself.
3. It made me think about our Christmas tree, and made me want to make my own ornaments like the ones in the book.

I asked her if she'd want me to buy a copy when it's published and she tells me that for someone her age, it's a "library book" (read and return), but she'd like to get one for her baby sister.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Penguin Random House Canada through the NetGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

REVIEW: Things in the Basement, by Ben Hatke

Find on Amazon

  It was supposed to just be a normal basement—  some storage boxes, dust, you know, the usual basement stuff. But when Milo is sent by his mother to fetch a sock from the basement of the historic home they've moved into, Milo finds a door in the back that he's never seen before. Turns out that the basement of his house is enormous. In fact, there is a whole world down there. As Milo travels ever deeper into the Basement World, he meets the many Things that live in the shadows and gloom...and he learns that to face his fears he must approach even the strangest creatures with kindness.

This book answers a question that I've long had---where do lost socks go? (Spoiler alert, moms, they do NOT become tupperware lids). The story, in and of itself, is fabulous.

A nearly wordless graphic novel with illustrations so rich and intricate you could spend hours pouring over it. Okay, so my daughter did. It's perfectly atmospheric--I mean, look at the cover! Hatke has masterfully create the world and the mood along with it. 

Teachers, I can see this being part of all kinds of lessons:

  • In art class, telling your story through images, how colors lend to a mood you want your reader/viewer to feel.
  • In reading class, that all important skill of using the pictures provided for context and to improve literacy. 
  • In a writing class, how images drive the story, or even as a prompt--how would you tell the story in words?  

Overall, adored this. Hatke had me years ago awith Zita, and he's delivered yet another gorgeous book.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from First Second Books through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

REVIEW: Actually Super, by Adi Alsaid

Isabel is having an existential crisis. She’s three years into high school, and everything she’s learned has only shaken her faith in humanity. Late one night, she finds herself drawn to a niche corner of the internet—a forum whose members believe firmly in one thing: that there are indeed people out in the world quietly performing impossible acts of heroism. You might even call them supers. No, not in the comic book sense—these are real people, just like each of us, but who happen to have a power or two. If Isabel can find them, she reasons, she might be able to prove to herself that humanity is more good than bad.

So, the day she turns 18, she sets off on a journey that will take her from Japan to Australia, and from Argentina to Mexico, with many stops along the way. She longs to prove one—just one—super exists to restore her hope for the future.

Will she find what she’s looking for? And how will she know when—if—she does

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Isabel is every teeenager, trying to sort out what she believes in, what is real, what is true, and how it all fits into what she knows of the world. She is brave and strong, and knows her own mind. 

Then it goes a little left field. I don't know of any 17 year old whose parents would let them drop out of before high school graduation and travel the planet all alone with no real plans or direction other than a dream. So, this part was enjoyable in the sense that it's a bit fantastical.

Characters were attractive and believable. The people Isabel meets on her journey are realistic and interesting. The way story builds and moves captured my attention and held it all the way through.

This one, I could see being a movie. The writing lends itself to that possibilty right away. It's escapist story, and a satisfying. 


What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Random House Children's through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

REVIEW: The Only Astronaut, by Mahak Jain, illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier

On Sale June 6, 2023

A girl who loves solo space travel learns that having a partner can be even better. Avni loves being the only astronaut in her space station. She's in charge of when she takes off and where she goes. But space exploration can be a lot of work for one astronaut. It's time for a new mission: find an assistant. Avni crisscrosses the distant galaxies (her neighborhood) in search of the perfect partner. Does that even exist? Will Avni make space for a copilot or will it be mission impossible? Award-winning author Mahak Jain has crafted a witty and wonderful story about friendship, imagination and the thrill of a good adventure. Andrea Stegmaier's dynamic and highly detailed art uses line drawing overlays in orange, for Avni, and blue, for Aya, to cleverly depict the world as seen in each of their imaginations. It's a terrific representation of a child making room for both their own creativity and another's perspective. Avni's regular mantra, “An astronaut never gives up,” celebrates the power of perseverance and collaboration without compromising one's goals. This book highlights the character education concepts of teamwork, cooperation, adaptability and resilience. It also offers an invitation to children to use their imaginations and remain open to the exciting possibilities of exploration (as astronauts or aquanauts!).

I chose this title to review with my 9 year old daughter. She loves space, can't decide if she wants to do "pure science" or be an astronaut, or maybe a chef or a teacher or .......... *grin* Regardless, we enjoy reading together and she knows I review books. So, you get a two-for-one deal today!

Up first, her review. I asked her to tell me 3 things she really liked about the book.

1. The drawings. There was so much to look at! I liked the cat and the dog, and I liked how they showed the imagination pictures.

2. The adventure Avni and Aya went on, and how you could see there would be more adventures.

3. Avni made a friend with an imagination as big as hers!

Now, the mama/librarian/reading teacher review.

What a fun read! The story was cute and the illustrations made the book just perfect. I loved the mission log, the different possible assistants--and why they didn't work out! I absolutely ADORED that my daughter saw herself in the story (we've had a cardboard rocket ship or two in the living room!). 

I love the contrasting colors between Avni's imaginary scenes and Aya's, layered over the "real life" images. Even my 9 year old picked up quickly who was "seeing" which drawing. 

I'm all about sneaking in important lessons, like the blurb says--teamwork, perseverance, adaptability. Just what imaginative play should look like for kids that age.  

Even though I'm in a high school library, I'll be adding this to my collection. I can see it being used in an art class as you talk about perception in art. And I know it would be a delight in our future teacher program. 

 Overall, we both loved it and we cannot wait to get our hands on a print copy when it's released. 

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Kids Can Press through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

REVIEW: The Grimoire of Grave Fates, edited by Margaret Owen and Hanna Alkaf

Professor of Magical History Septimius Dropwort has just been murdered, and now everyone at the Galileo Academy for the Extraordinary is a suspect.

A prestigious school for young magicians, the Galileo Academy has recently undergone a comprehensive overhaul, reinventing itself as a roaming academy in which students of all cultures and identities are celebrated. In this new Galileo, every pupil is welcome—but there are some who aren't so happy with the recent changes. That includes everyone's least favorite professor, Septimius Dropwort, a stodgy old man known for his harsh rules and harsher punishments. But when the professor's body is discovered on school grounds with a mysterious note clenched in his lifeless hand, the Academy's students must solve the murder themselves, because everyone's a suspect. 

Told from more than a dozen alternating and diverse perspectives, The Grimoire of Grave Fates follows Galileo's best and brightest young magicians as they race to discover the truth behind Dropwort's mysterious death. Each one of them is confident that only they have the skills needed to unravel the web of secrets hidden within Galileo's halls. But they're about to discover that even for straight-A students, magic doesn't always play by the rules. . . .

18 authors, 18 students. One murder. Mass confusion for this reader.

The good: 

Each of the 18 authors did a great job with their part of the story. I'm not sure if it's good or bad that there wasn't any abruptly different, tell-tale difference in the writing styles. Each chapter flowed with the next as far as the "voice" of the storyteller.

The setting was really interesting. I'd like to read more stories set in this school

The characters were diverse--backgrounds and magic.

The overarcing story line carried through each part. No author contradicted something that had already been established by a previous one.

The not so good: 

I didn't feel like any one character was particularly well-developed. DIverse, yes, but they didn't have a lot of individual depth. Occasionally, some detail would emerge that made me think "so what?" because it didn't further the story at all, to me. 

18 unique points of view was too much. And they marginally overlapped, if they did at all.

The plot wasn't smooth. Some of the POVs seemed to retell what another had already told us about. There were individual climaxes for each, making it hard to figure out where in the arc there was really a climax.


I can appreciate there was A LOT put into creating this single story arc anthology. It's an interesting treatment, I just think the slate of authors and stories within the story was too large.

Contributors include: Cam Montgomery, Darcie Little Badger, Hafsah Faizal, Jessica Lewis, Julian Winters, Karuna Riazi, Kat Cho, Kayla Whaley, Kwame Mbalia, L. L. McKinney, Marieke Nijkamp, Mason Deaver, Natasha Díaz, Preeti Chhibber, Randy Ribay, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Victoria Lee, and Yamile Saied Méndez

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Random House Children's/Delacorte Press through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, May 29, 2023

REVIEW: The Last Secret of the Secret Annex, by Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn

Anne Frank’s life has been studied by many scholars, but the story of Bep Voskuijl has remained untold, until now. As the youngest of the five Dutch people who hid the Frank family, Bep was Anne’s closest confidante during the 761 excruciating days she spent hidden in the Secret Annex. Bep, who was just twenty-three when the Franks went into hiding, risked her life to protect them, plunging into Amsterdam’s black market to source food and medicine for people who officially didn’t exist under the noses of German soldiers and Dutch spies. In those cramped quarters, Bep and Anne’s friendship bloomed through deep conversations, shared meals, and a youthful understanding.

Told by her own son, The Last Secret of the Secret Annex intertwines the story of Bep and her sister Nelly with Anne’s iconic narrative. Nelly’s name may have been scrubbed from Anne’s published diary, but Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl and Jeroen De Bruyn expose details about her collaboration with the Nazis, a deeply held family secret. After the war, Bep tried to bury her memories just as the Secret Annex was becoming world famous as a symbol of resistance to the Nazi horrors. She never got over losing Anne nor could Bep put to rest the horrifying suspicion that those in the Annex had been betrayed by her own flesh and blood.

This is a story about those caught in between the Jewish victims and Nazi persecutors, and the moral ambiguities and hard choices faced by ordinary families like the Voskuijls, in which collaborators and resisters often lived under the same roof.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a book I go back to again and again. I'm simultaneously fascinated with her story, through her eyes, and horrified that humans could treat others that way.

This story isn't Anne's. It's the story of Bep, one of her father's employees and Anne's good friend, who helped hide and care for the family when they went into the annex. We learn how it affected her daily life at the time, and after the war. How it ultimately changed the trajectory of her entire family, and even affected her children. For me, it deepened my understanding of the fear and stresses the war and the Holocaust itself took on those who lived under German occupation. 

This book would make a good companion read when studying The Diary of Anne Frank. It widens the perspective and brings to light the generational affects of what the helpers survived.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Simon & Schuster through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

REVIEW: My Murder, by Katie Williams


Lou is a happily married mother of an adorable toddler. She’s also the victim of a local serial killer. Recently brought back to life and returned to her grieving family by a government project, she is grateful for this second chance. But as the new Lou re-adapts to her old routines, and as she bonds with other female victims, she realizes that disturbing questions remain about what exactly preceded her death and how much she can really trust those around her.

Now it’s not enough to care for her child, love her husband, and work the job she’s always enjoyed—she must also figure out the circumstances of her death. Darkly comic, tautly paced, and full of surprises, My Murder is a devour-in-one-sitting, clever twist on the classic thriller.

Lou, young mother and wife, is cloned following her murder. She's aware of what happened, big picture, and that she is not her "original" self. She wasn't the only one cloned at that time, and is in a support group with the others who were--all victims of the same murderer. But Lou needs answers, closure maybe, for her "first" self.

The premise drew me in. Interesting speculative fiction, searching for the answers to your own murder. It's, well...a weird twist of an existential crisis. The world-building was done well. It's not set too far into the future as to be unrecognizable, and playing out the possibilities inherent in technologies to put it just beyond our current reach. I liked this story, but I have mixed feelings about it.

I couldn't connect with Lou the way she was written. I do realize it may have been intentional that she was hard to connect with, because I think she was having a hard time connecting with herself. I may also be hoping that was the author's intent. I did, however, connect with her baby, who knew something wasn't exactly right with her momma.

The "thriller" aspect, per the publisher's blurb, isn't a thriller for me. It's a mystery, there's crime drama, but it doesn't "thrill" to me. A little more than halfway through the story, you discover that what Lou (and the reader) thought was the truth isn't quite that. It's not completely outside the realm of possibility from the get go. From that point, the story is rushed and comes together too quickly.

The whole book is part mystery drama, part deep character study. I needed it to lean one way or the other to be more than a 3 star read.

Thank you to NetGalley and RiverHead (Penguin Group) for the review copy. I am posting this review voluntarily.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Riverhead (Penguin Group) through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Book Review: Deep, by Melanie Boksted Horav

Ryler is a young resident of Deep Blue, an underwater colony that's home to the last survivors of a global environmental disaster. A disaster that wiped out humanity hundreds of years ago, leaving the surface air toxic and the last hope of humanity beneath the waves. After the devastating and unexpected death of his grandmother, Marna, who also happens to be the president of the colony, Ryler teams up with his friend Anna to uncover the truth behind her suspicious demise.

Their investigation takes them down a dangerous path, as they discover shocking secrets and a killer on the loose who will stop at nothing to keep the truth hidden. With time running out and their own lives on the line, Ryler, and his friends must race against the clock to solve the mystery and escape the clutches of an invisible enemy. Will they make it out alive?

I have to admit, I snagged this one to read based on the cover. I had a dream recently about Michael Crichton's Sphere, (which just went into my stack to be reread.) So, I was caught a little unaware by the story line. I wasn't expecting dystopian fiction, I guess. 

Not to say I didn't really enjoy this book. Because I really did. The world-building alone was enthralling. Without a map, an ocean colony could potentially be unwieldy to carry in one's head, but even with the detailed descriptions, was easily imaginable. I could "see" the houses, the garden, the engineering areas, etc. where scenes took place. The story is fast-paced and it draws you in quickly.

The characters are so well-done and interesting. Ryler and Anna (the leads) are relatable and deep. Supporting characters are just the ones that are needed in the spaces they arrive. I particulary like Red, who is rough-edged and brings an element that shows us that human nature is the same, even with and despite technological and sociological advances.

I do think that it's very obvious that this is intended to be a series. I often "get" this as a book is winding up, but thinking back over it, I feel like there's a lot left untended or unanswered. One of the characters mentions severe back pain often enough that it's part of the story line, but we aren't told more than that there's pain and medication for it. A few scene changes felt very abrupt. The story is going strong along an arc, and then stops because a character is distracted by something. It was unsettling, which maybe was the point.

Overall, I'm definitely going to find the next book because I want to know the answers to some things. It's a good story, and done well.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Enter Text Here through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

REVIEW: The New Guys, by Meredith Bagby

Find on Amazon

The never-before-told story of NASA’s 1978 astronaut class, which included the first American women, the first African Americans, the first Asian American, and the first gay person to fly to space. With the exclusive participation of the astronauts who were there, this is the thrilling, behind-the-scenes saga of a new generation that transformed space exploration

The story of NASA’s Astronaut Class 8, or “The F*cking New Guys,” as their military predecessors nicknamed them, is an unprecedented look at these extraordinary explorers who broke barriers and blasted through glass ceilings. Egos clashed, ambitions flared, and romances bloomed as the New Guys competed with one another and navigated the cutthroat internal politics at NASA for a chance to rocket to the stars.

Marking a departure from the iconic military test pilots who had dominated the space program since its inception, the New Guys arrived at the dawn of a new era of space flight. Teardrop-shaped space capsules from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo gave way to the space shuttle, a revolutionary space plane capable of launching like a rocket, hauling cargo like a truck, and landing back on Earth like an airliner. They mastered this new machine from its dangerous first test flights to its greatest achievements: launching hundreds of satellites, building the International Space Station, and deploying the Hubble Space Telescope.

The New Guys depicts these charismatic young astronauts and the exuberant social and scientific progress of the space shuttle program against the efforts of NASA officials who struggled to meet America’s military demands and commercial aspirations. When NASA was pressured to fly more often and at greater risk, lives were lost in the program’s two biggest disasters: Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003).

Caught in the crosshairs of this battle are the shuttle astronauts who gave their lives in those catastrophes, and who gave their lives’ work pursuing a more equitable future in space for all humankind. Through it all they became friends, rivals, lovers, and ultimately, family.

I'm not usually a fan of overview, storytelling collective biographies, but this was so well done I couldn't put it down. It's as engaging as the best novel and just exactly right in terms of research and history. It's a literary memorial to the astronauts wre called upon to not only rocket into space, but to help design and build the Space Shuttle fleet.

It's like looking through a window in time, learning about each of the The New Guys, names that any NASA officianado recognizes with little effort, from Sally Ride to Ron McNair, and the people who shaped the program all along the way. It was both intriguing to discover what road they took to space, and awe-inspiring how they drove themselves to reach the heavens.

This is a beautifully woven story of the iconic women and men who touched the stars, the challenges getting there, the heartbreak when we lost those in Challenger and Columbia, and the history of a government program that is made of the dreams of us all.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from William Morrow through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

REVIEW: These Deadly Words, by Nichole Heydenburg

Find on Amazon

All Camille Monroe wants is a quiet place to work on her novel. Hoping for inspiration, she retreats to a cabin in Asheville, with only her dog Brody as company.

Leah Strauss thought the summer after high school graduation would be amazing, but when her boyfriend Vincent suffers an untimely loss, her dream of the perfect summer is destroyed. Attempting to cheer up Vincent, Leah’s twin sister Ava and her boyfriend Noah join them on a road trip.

When a snowstorm strikes the mountains while Leah and her friends are hiking, they struggle to find their campsite. After becoming lost in the woods, they stumble across a cabin and seek shelter from the storm.

As the days pass, the guests feel increasingly unsafe in the stranger’s cabin. Camille seems to know all their secrets, and she doesn’t want them to leave. Who is this dangerous writer and what does she want from them? Their biggest problem quickly becomes escaping the cabin alive.

Fast-paced, quick-read, absolutely thrilling!  

4 likeable teenagers, one lonely woman in a cabin who honestly seems not only harmless but likeable herself. The premise is believable--4 older teens out on a camping weekend get caught in a snow storm. It's a captivating story, and if I hadn't known this was a thriller, I wouldn't have imagined the turn it would take as I started reading.

The eerie atmosphere as the storm settles in and how easily Camille (the cabin owner) just lets them take over her space set me on a little bit of an edge. The dual point of view storytelling built the "anxiety" for me---which do I trust? Can I trust either of them? There was just an overall feel of Stephen King's Misery (which I know others noticed) felt kinda old school horror-flick to me. Add all that to my feeling of claustrophobia on behalf of the characters!

Two or three little spots where I'm wishing there was more detail or information, but overall a book that will make me seek this author's work out.

What do you think??
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from the Author through the BookSirens connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

REVIEW: No Two Persons, by Erica Bauermeister

No Two Persons

 Alice has always wanted to be a writer. Her talent is innate, but   her stories remain safe and detached, until a devastating event   breaks her heart open, and she creates a stunning debut novel.   Her words, in turn, find their way to readers, from a teenager   hiding her homelessness, to a free diver pushing himself beyond   endurance, an artist furious at the world around her, a bookseller   in search of love, a widower rent by grief. Each one is drawn into   Alice’s novel; each one discovers something different that alters   their perspective, and presents new pathways forward for their   lives.

 Together, their stories reveal how books can affect us in the most   beautiful and unexpected of ways—and how we are all more       closely connected to one another than we might think

One book. One Author. Nine Readers. Ten reactions, ten responses, ten connections. Ten different ways the book spoke directly to them. It's a truly innovative and creative storytelling. 
Bauermeister put into ten stories that which all readers know--we may read the same book, but we won't read the same story in it. That's the one of the most amazing thing about books, right?You and I will never respond to a book in the same way. 

I enjoyed the different voices, each was unique and came from such different places. No character came across as flat, all were carefully crafted and multi-faceted. Each person was markedly changed by one book, written by a person who just needed to get the story out of her head and heart and on paper. I don't know that I've ever considered so carefully how a book speaks to its author before.

The most important voice, in my mind, is that of the book itself. Theo (the book in the stories) is honestly the main character, interacting with its author and each reader, ultimately connecting some the people who connected with it.

This is book club/literary club material. I highly recommend it, and am honestly heading over to pre-order a hardback copy for my shelf so I can revisit it again and again.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from St. Martin's Press through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

REVIEW: Tell Me What Really Happened, by Chelsea Sedoti

There are stories about the woods around Salvation Creek, about the people who have gone missing. Now their friend is one of them. A riveting, fast-paced YA mystery told entirely through first person police interviews of four teens over the course of a few hours.

It was all her idea. They would get away from their parents and spend the weekend camping. Down by Salvation Creek, the five of them would make smores, steal kisses, share secrets.

But sometime around midnight, she vanished.

Now the four friends who came back are under suspicion―and they each have a very different story to tell about what happened in the woods.

The clock is ticking. What are they hiding? Who is lying? Dark truths must come to light if their friend is to be found...

Told entirely through first-person police interviews, this riveting mystery asks: what really happened that night?

I love a good thriller, and I love when it centers around a cast of characters that has a little something for everyone, like The Breakfast Club. Sedoti pulled that off quite well. Her character development is some of the best I've ever written and I could "hear" the voices quite quickly and easily in my head.  This will make an amazing audiobook---and I'd love to see it as a movie.

Four unreliable narrators telling the story of a fifth in their party who has disappeared. All are guilty of something, but no one really knows what. There were twists and turns, and some expected bits, but overall, I was captured by this read and had to know just what happened to Maylee.

The storyline unfolds during the four separate, and long interrogations held in the police station. The quick change between narrators made the story move more quickly than a strictly linear telling would have. Often, in YA, there's a lot of "drama" that, for me as an avid YA reader, takes away from the story and characters. Not in this book. It was very like listening to my students talk about things, with the occasional asides that are related but not moving the story forward much. I was convinced right up until the end that I knew what had happened and who was to "blame." I was wrong. 

Being YA, there is some language and a few sexual overtones--nothing overt or explicit, just touched on. 

My only "eh" is regarding the ending. It seemed very abrupt to me, initially. I mean, we were rolling along and the pieces fell into place, and was done. I don't normally go for an ending like this at all, but I think the fact that my minds keeps wandering to it and wondering how it played out made it work, probably as intended.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from SOURCEBOOKS Fire through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

REVIEW: Someone is Always Watching, by Kelley Armstrong

Blythe and her friends — Gabrielle, and brother and sister Tucker and Tanya — have always been a tight friend group, attending a local high school and falling in and out of love with each other. But an act of violence has caused a rift between Blythe and Tucker . . . and unexpected bursts of aggression and disturbing nightmares have started to become more frequent in their lives. 

The strange happenings culminate in a shocking event at school: Gabrielle is found covered in blood in front of their deceased principal, with no memory of what happened.  

Cracks in their friendship, as well as in their own memories, start appearing, threatening to expose long-forgotten secrets which could change the group’s lives forever. How can Blythe and her friends trust each other when they can’t even trust their own memories?

Psychological thrillers are a particular weakness of mine. This one checks all my boxes. I honestly don't think I've read anything by Armstrong before, but I'll be seeking her out if I ever see the end of my TBR stack.

Blythe and her friends are relatable and familiar. I mean, I work in a high school and I can "see" these characters in my hallways. Thinking back, not one was described in enough detail to form a picture for me, but I think that added to their development because they could be anyone I encounter any day of the week. Their reactions to the things that happen in the story are real. 

Armstrong doesn't pass us information in bits in pieces. She starts right away with Gabrielle and a dead school principal. And then that's covered up. It rolls on from there. The story unfolds around the characters. It's both a thriller and very cloak and dagger. Who do you trust, when you aren't sure you can trust yourself?

I finished the one in a sitting. It grabbed me and wouldn't let me go until I had the answers, and it wasn't what I expected at all.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Penguin Random House Canada/Tundra Books through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

REVIEW: The Eden Compound, by L. Blaise Hues

Star-student Kathryn Speer has her future all planned out until Shardul comes to the school. Since she’s competing with him for top marks, she can’t decide if she should despise or date him.
When Kathryn’s rich uncle extends an invitation to study genetically modified tigers at his compound, Kathryn sees it as an opportunity to impress Shardul and give her a leg up on college applications.
Then Shardul goes missing, and her GPA suddenly loses its importance as she considers using her skills and the tools at The Eden Compound to find Shardul and bring him home.
But once she’s there, she realizes he’s not the only one in real danger.

Creepy and science fiction. This is a definite win. A bit of romance, but done in a way that isn't either over the top or needlessly intense. It's, well, innocent romance, which we need to see more of in YA lit.

Kathryn (not "Kat," not ever "Kat") is top of her class and focused on staying there. She's likeable, especially for this former AP student who chose academics over other teenage life in school. Shardul comes to town, and she suddenly has not only a rival but someone she is frankly entranced by. The feeling is clearly mutual, but Kathryn is fighting it. Both are incredibly relatable, even for the non-nerdy sort. Other characters weren't as lovely--Kathryn's uncle who is clearly demented. Bryce who I have a love-hate feeling about. 

The story itself is believable. Genetic modification science, remote location, people getting too involved in their own science and damn the consquences. This is a Michael Crichton story for the modern YA reader. 

I only had one moment of confusion or "um..wait..." There's a scene where Kathryn is talking to Shardul and Bryce enters the room. It's written as if she hasn't seen him since arriving on the island. Yet, she's had multiple encounters with him specifically, one just a few pages before. It's an editing glitch. 

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from the author through the BookSirens author/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

REVIEW: Coronation Year, by Jennifer Robson

Available April 4, 2023
It is Coronation Year, 1953, and a new queen is about to be crowned. The people of London are in a mood to celebrate, none more so than the residents of the Blue Lion hotel.

Edie Howard, owner and operator of the floundering Blue Lion, has found the miracle she needs: on Coronation Day, Queen Elizabeth in her gold coach will pass by the hotel’s front door, allowing Edie to charge a fortune for rooms and, barring disaster, save her beloved home from financial ruin. Edie’s luck might just be turning, all thanks to a young queen about her own age. 

Stella Donati, a young Italian photographer and Holocaust survivor, has come to live at the Blue Lion while she takes up a coveted position at Picture Weekly magazine. London in celebration mode feels like a different world to her. As she learns the ins and outs of her new profession, Stella discovers a purpose and direction that honor her past and bring hope for her future.

James Geddes, a war hero and gifted artist, has struggled to make his mark in a world that disdains his Indian ancestry. At the Blue Lion, though, he is made to feel welcome and worthy. Yet even as his friendship with Edie deepens, he begins to suspect that something is badly amiss at his new home.

When anonymous threats focused on Coronation Day, the Blue Lion, and even the queen herself disrupt their mood of happy optimism, Edie and her friends must race to uncover the truth, save their home, and expose those who seek to erase the joy and promise of Coronation Year.

Reading the title, I thought "ooo...a novel about Queen Elizabeth." No, this history adjacent. UK Royal Family adjacent. And a mystery and love story to boot. It's built on the hopes of change and a national rebirth of sorts that came with coronation of a new monarch. It's a new era, and only good things are possible.

Robson immerses us in the time period. The day to day grind of running a 400 year old family-owned hotel and its staff as a woman in the 1950s. The struggles of holding on to tradition and values, while moving forward into the new age. Facing bigotry and racism in the post-war world. She also showcases the idea that families can be created from those you do life with when you've lost your biological one.

The characters are relatable and both complicated and simple in their development. It was a delightful read, and I hesitated to end the story because I was so comfortable in it. 

It's a bit of a niche title for a high school libray, but I have a group who enjoys mysteries that are few steps above a cozy mystery, and another group that likes period stories. I could see some scenes being conversation starters for SEL lessons or history topics.

What do you think??

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook galley from Enter Text Here through the netGalley publisher/reader connection program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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