Love, Laughter, and Life

Adventures With a Book Lover


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Book Report: THE BOY WHO GREW DRAGONS by Andy Shepherd #BeeAReader

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The Boy Who Grew Dragons

Written by Andy Shepherd

Illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Yellow Jacket, An Imprint of Little Bee Books; 2020

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Thank you, Yellow Jacket Books, for this review Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Boy Who Grew Dragons. I’m happy to announce that I totally enjoyed reading this middle grade novel.

Honestly, I can’t say enough about this fun read. Dragons with explosive poop, an unsuspecting boy and his friends, an interesting gardening experience, trouble with neighbors, and adventures galore provided a very entertaining read of The Boy Who Grew Dragons.

Why I Love This Book:

~ Dragons! Tiny dragons who bond with humans, drop explosive poop, and get into trouble. Books with imagination always catch my attention.

~ A mysterious tree in the garden grows funny (weird) fruit. Dragon fruit tree? Is there not a real life fruit called dragon fruit? Does that fruit also grow dragons? I digress.

~ Tomas is a believable, interesting main character. I enjoyed all of the characters, even the not-so-nice neighbor.

~ The cover and internal illustrations are fantastic and perfectly compliment the story. Yes, this middle grade novel is illustrated with funny, clever, and enticing artwork.

~ Great writing and engaging story

 

I think young readers will devour The Boy Who Grew Dragons.

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Yellow Jacket Blurb:

This hilarious middle-grade novel with illustrations throughout sees Tomas discover that he can grow dragons in his own garden!

When Tomas discovers a strange old tree at the bottom of his grandfather’s garden, he doesn’t think much of it. But he takes the funny fruit from the tree back into the house and gets the shock of his life when a tiny dragon hatches! The tree is a dragon fruit tree, and Tomas now has his very own dragon, Flicker!

While Tomas finds out that life with Flicker is fun, he also finds that it is very…unpredictable. Yes, dragons are wonderful, but they also set fire to your toothbrush and leave your underwear hanging from the TV antenna. Tomas has to learn how to look after Flicker—and quickly! And then something extraordinary happens: More dragon fruits appear on the tree! Now it’s official, Tomas is growing dragons.

 

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Book Report: JELLY by Jo Cotterill #BookBirthday

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Jelly

Written by Jo Cotterill

Yellow Jacket (an imprint of Little Bee Books); January 7, 2020

 

Happy Book Birthday, Jelly!

I LOVE Jelly! This is a great story about a large girl who figures out how to cope with rude comments about her size. Humor and excellent impressions of others keeps everyone laughing, but deep in her heart, she hides her true feelings. This is also a coming of age story. I loved the writing, the setting, the poetry (!!!), and the music. Not everyone has to fit in the same package or do the same things to belong. Honesty with family and friends is worth the risk. I love the way school, friendship, and home life is all tied up in one exciting bunch. Excellent read!

Thank you, Yellow Jacket, for the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of Jelly to review.

As an adult who struggled with being the chubby kid at school, Jelly resonated with both my younger and more mature self.

 

Why I LOVE This Book:

~ The personality of Jelly is fantastic. This is someone I would love to meet in real life. Her story rings true.

~ The struggle with being overweight and how Jelly is treated by others is sadly life-like. Bullies are everywhere and Jelly learns how to deal with mean comments by reacting with humor. But beneath it all, she is hurt and is hiding her true self.

~ The courage and honesty of Jelly as she changes how she interacts with others and shares her real feelings is refreshing.

~ I love that Jelly writes in her journal to process life. I love the way she expresses herself through poetry.

~ Fantastic friendship, family, and school dynamics

~ The story!

~ I really enjoyed Jelly. Readers will see themselves in the many characters and hopefully learn to treat others kindly, no matter what size.

Happy Book Birthday, Jelly!

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Amazon Blurb:

Twelve-year-old Jelly hides her true self behind her humor and keeps her true thoughts and feelings locked away in a notebook. Can she find the courage to share who she really is?

Angelica (Jelly for short) is the queen of comedy at school. She has a personality as big as she is, and everyone loves her impressions. But Jelly isn’t as confident as she pretends to be. No one knows her deepest thoughts and feelings. She keeps those hidden away in a secret notebook.

Then her mom’s new boyfriend, Lennon, arrives. He’s kind and perceptive, and he is the first person to realize that Jelly is playing a part. Jelly shares her poetry with him and he convinces her to perform one of her poems as a song at the school talent show. Can Jelly risk letting people see the real her? What if it all goes wrong?

  • Age Range: 10 – 14 years
  • Grade Level: 4 – 9

 


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Book Report: The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia

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The Memory Keeper

Written by Jennifer Camiccia

Aladdin, An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division; 2019

 

I received a copy of The Memory Keeper through Natalie Aguirre’s blog Literary Rambles. Thank you, Natalie and Jennifer!

I enjoyed reading The Memory Keeper. The cover is very attractive and captured my attention while also giving me a place of setting. The characters are really fun and engaging. I learned SOOOO much about brains in this book. Do not be turned off by that statement. This is a far cry from medical descriptions of brain information. Jennifer expertly wove brain facts into the story. Each chapter begins with a new bit of information relevant to that chapter, and then off we go!

The story of Lulu, a young girl with HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) and her grandmother, who might be beginning to suffer from dementia OR memory-related stress incidents, is a great read.

Why I Loved This Book:

~ The characters are fantastic.

~ I learned so much about brain science (in a fun, non-textbook sort of way).

~ Mystery, danger, intrigue!

~ I liked the friendship factor.

~ Dysfunctional family. Who doesn’t have one of those?

~ I enjoyed the history and inter-generational relationships.

~ The problem-solving and hidden secrets really upped the story intrigue.

~ Excellent writing and story telling.

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Amazon Blurb:

Fish in a Tree meets The Thing About Jellyfish in this heartfelt middle grade debut about long-buried secrets, the power of memory, and the bond between a girl and her gram.

All Lulu Carter wants is to be seen. But her parents are lost in their own worlds, and Lulu has learned the hard way that having something as rare as HSAM—the ability to remember almost every single moment in her life—won’t make you popular in school.

At least Lulu has Gram, who knows the truth about Lulu’s memory and loves her all the more for it. But Gram has started becoming absentminded, and the more lost she gets, the more she depends on Lulu…until Lulu realizes her memory holds the very key to fixing Gram’s forgetfulness. Once Lulu learns that trauma can cause amnesia, all she needs to do to cure Gram is hunt down that one painful moment in Gram’s life.

With her friends Olivia and Max, Lulu digs into Gram’s mysterious past. But they soon realize some secrets should stay buried, and Lulu wonders if she ever knew Gram at all. It’s up to Lulu to uncover the truth before the only person who truly sees her slips away.

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I hope you enjoy The Memory Keeper. Great read!

 

 

 


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Book Report: The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

The Bridge Home

Written by Padma Venkatraman

Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2019

 

I read about The Bridge Home at KidLit411.  After commenting, I won a classroom Skype visit with Padma Venkatraman. I rushed to the library to borrow this book so I could read it before arranging the Skype visit.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Bridge Home. Tough topics are explored in this story, and those bits were difficult to read. Homelessness, abuse, extreme poverty, gangs, starvation, death. But there were also the important topics of family, friendship, dreams, and hope. This book is perfect for opening discussions about difficult situations faced by children, be it here or in international locations.

What I loved about The Bridge Home:

~ The characters! Each child had such personality, unique and interesting. I love the way the four main characters relied on each other and became a family unit. Four children, living on their own, a family. Think about that for a few moments.

~ Inclusion. Viji’s sister, Rukku, is differently-abled. I love how this younger sister is loved and accepted as she is by the other two members of the new family, Muthi and Arul.

~ Determination. These four friends are determined to make it work, whether living on the bridge over the river beneath tarps or heading to a new location after a scary incident (don’t want to ruin the details here).

~ The descriptions. Just imagine scrounging through huge garbage mountains. GARBAGE. Ick.

~ The writing. Clean, well stated, and easy to follow. This story is a winner.

Thank you, Padma, for showing us new windows on the world.

You can read Padma’s KidLit411 interview here.

Amazon Blurb:

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter–and friendship–on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.


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Calling all writers of picture books and chapter books. SCBWI has a new award out in memory of Kate Dopirak. What a wonderful way to remember such a special person!

Check it out. This year the focus and award is for writers of picture books. Go for it!

via Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award


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Book Report: The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

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The Virtue of Sin

Written by Shannon Schuren

Philomel Books

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2019

 

Much thanks to Shannon Schuren, Literary Rambles,  and Natalie Aguirre for sending me this beautiful copy of The Virtue of Sin.

I don’t know what I expected when I read The Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren, but this was not it. I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued to find out this debut YA is a tale of young love but also how that love goes awry in the midst of a secluded group.

Daniel, the group leader and mouth of God, has established New Jerusalem to provide members a safe and untouched by the outside world haven. Strict rules have been set in place regarding social interactions, life careers, even Matrimony.

Miriam is very excited for the Matrimony, as she is certain Caleb will name her as his wife. But when that does not happen and Miriam’s name is called by Aaron, a newcomer, Miriam’s life plan falls apart. And she begins to question and allow her voice to be heard.

There are sooo many unexpected twists in The Virtue of Sin. I really want to name a few, but I’m going to let you discover them on your own. Two thumbs up.

What I loved about this book:

~ The characters were rich! Mystery, emotions, hidden agendas, evil motivations, forbidden love.

~ I enjoyed Shannon’s portrayal of the group, leadership control, and member dynamics. Ok, not enjoyed, as I so wanted to speak out to Miriam and other characters. But I was totally engaged in the problems of the day.

~ The setting. Great descriptions that made me feel like I was right there in the book.

~ The plot line was fascinating. Like I mentioned above, so many unexpected twists. As I was reading, my side brain was constantly exploring the whats and whys and possible nexts. Loved it!

~ Great writing!

 

Amazon Blurb:

A compelling novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free — perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Tara Westover’s Educated.

Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together.

But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs.

Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.

A compelling debut novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.

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Book Report: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

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Spin the Dawn

The Blood of Stars, Book 1

Written by Elizabeth Lim

Alfred A. Knopf, 2019

 

Spin the Dawn was a fantastic read! A special thanks to KidLit411, Sylvia, Elaine, and Elizabeth Lim for this beautiful copy of Spin the Dawn! You can read the interview about Elizabeth Lim and her new book here.

Let me put a plug in for KidLit411. The blog posts, interviews, advice articles, and collection of writerly information is spot on with what writers for children need to know. Through their posts, I am able to keep up with what’s happening in the KidLit world. New releases, author and illustrator interviews, and opportunities to interact, discuss, and encourage other kitlit writers are all a part of KidLit411. And I’ll let you in on a little tidbit: Many authors offer the chance to win a copy of their work. You can find KidLit411 on Facebook or Twitter.

What I Loved About Spin the Dawn:

~ I really enjoyed the characters, especially the main character, Maia. I loved her determination to help her family despite cultural expectations and rules.

~ I enjoyed the Mulan meets Project Runway story. Girls (and women) can do and be anything they want. Maia’s story will inspire young girls to stick to what they want to do.

~ The adventures! I love adventure stories, and this tale took some very surprising turns.

~ The relationships were well developed and interesting to follow.

~ I loved the mystery, danger, and intrigue. Throw in some fantasy, and an engaging tale is ready and begging to be read.

 

Amazon Blurb:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.
Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.
And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.

 


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Book Report: Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

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Caterpillar Summer

Written by Gillian McDunn

Illustrations by Alisa Colburn

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019

 

It’s summer, and Caterpillar Summer is the perfect read! Thank you to Gillian McDunn and Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles for this lovely copy. If you look just close enough in the above photo, you will see a friendly butterfly snacking while I consider this perfect summer read. A nod to the main character and her name of Cat(erpillar).

Amazon Blurb:

Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.

But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.

Why I Love This Book:

~ The names! Cat and Chicken? Fun and interesting.

~ The unique way Gillian created a mother who is an author that writes stories about her children, aka, Caterpillar and Chicken. Each section opens with an illustrated page from a story written by Cat’s mother and several other Caterpillar and Chicken illustrations are interspersed throughout the book. Stories upon stories.

~ The characters are great. I love how Cat is a caring, responsible older sister who is just finishing 5th grade. I love the uniqueness of Chicken and how Cat knows how to take care of him. The harried, busy mom, the newly met grandparents, old friends and new friends, the bad guys-the characters are fun to get to know.

~ The setting is fabulous! Who wouldn’t want to spend a summer in a huge house at the beach? On an island? I would. Cat gets to stay in her mother’s old bedroom. I love the small town community where Cat’s grandparents live.

~ The intrigue. Why has Cat never met these grandparents? What happened to Dad? Why does life have to have so many changes? How can Cat take care of Chicken but also still be a kid and enjoy life? How can Cat get her mother and grandfather to talk?

~ Fishing. This is a big hook (!) for Cat’s hopes of getting her family to reconcile.

~ Friendship, forgiveness, and family.

~ Great writing! I found Caterpillar Summer easy to read and very enjoyable. I think upper elementary and early middle grade readers will love this summer tale.

Two thumbs up for Caterpillar Summer.

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Book Report: The Disasters by M. K. England

The Disasters

The Disasters

By M. K. England

Harper Teen, 2018

 

I won a copy of an ARC of The Disasters by M. K. England through Literary Rambles, an ‘everything literature’ blog by Natalie Aguirre. SPOILER ALERT

Blurb From Goodreads:

Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours.

But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.

On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.

They may not be “Academy material,” and they may not get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.

Book Report

I truly enjoyed reading The Disasters. Nax is a mix of Captain Kirk and Han Solo-rebellious, risk-taking, and flying by the seat of his pants. Oh, and don’t forget skilled and able to creatively solve problems. The rest of the cast was just as interesting and unique. These failures who were kicked out of Ellis Station Academy formed a team capable of trying to figure out what to do to help, well, the Universe.

What I loved: I enjoyed the characters and the setting of post now. I found it intriguing that once humans left the area, they were unable to ever visit Earth again. I loved the mystery and thrill of bad things happening, evil plans, and plot twists. The living in outer space setting was fun and I might have learned a few new things.

I found the writing to be smooth, engaging, and page-turning. I think I finished the book over 2-3 evenings. Just couldn’t put it down.

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Thanks to M. K. England, Literary Rambles, and Natalie Aguirre. Great read!

You can read the interview over at Literary Rambles here.


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Book Report: BRIGHTLY BURNING by Alexa Donne

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Brightly Burning

By Alexa Donne

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

 

Excerpt from book jacket:

“Stella Ainsley leaves poverty behind when she quits her engineering job aboard the Stalwart to become a governess on a private ship…But no one warned Stella that the ship seems to be haunted, nor that it may be involved in a conspiracy that could topple the entire interstellar fleet.”

Add to that nineteen-year-old Captain Hugo (aka love interest/person of interest), murder attempts, possible marriage, and personal risk for Stella, and you have an excellent mystery adventure set in space. Post ice age space, where all humans have jettisoned from Planet Earth to live in spaceships above the frozen landscape.

I was hooked from the beginning chapter to the final words. Brightly Burning is a fast read. At least I read it quickly! Memorable characters, mysteries and escalating tension, and a unique setting kept me glued to the pages. Though Brightly Burning is written for teens, readers of all ages will enjoy the captivating world created by Alexa Donne.

I received a copy of Brightly Burning from Alexa Donne, through Literary Rambles  and Natalie Aguirre. Thank you both very much for a great read!