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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.

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