Goodnight Zoom by Andy Ankowski

4.5 stars Humor

Many of you will be able to connect with this adult spin-off of the beloved Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, as we each try to manage the coronavirus in our own homes.  The room becomes command-center, hosting a variety of items the family needs now that they are stationed at home.  A mask, delivery boxes, and work stations for everyone in the home including one with Zoom online are just a few of the items that are scattered around the room. 

Some of the subject matter is not for younger readers but that’s my own opinion. It’s a creative, entertaining story with entertaining illustrations that’ll put a smile on your face. An enjoyable book for older readers. 4.5 stars

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

4.5 stars Graphic Novel

She could have eaten Good Dog but Snap was hoping that they’re wrong. The kids called her a witch but that didn’t scare Snap.  Snap threw open the door where she discovered her dog, lying down on the floor. It must have been that dark image that came in behind her that made her twitch. Or was it that question, which was thrown at her, for which Snap knew there was no good answer.  It was a reflex that had her, grabbing Good Dog and running like lightning off the porch and into the freedom of light.   

I found Snapdragon to be a spunky girl.  She did her own thing within limits. It was sad that she didn’t have any friends but I liked that she was okay with it.  She didn’t dwell on the fact that she’s not popular and she’s doesn’t worry about what others think. I hated it when she was bullied, besides all the obvious reasons, she had no one to talk to about it.  

Later, Snap ends up going back to the woman’s house as she needs her and they strike up a deal.  Snap and Jacks are now going to be helping each other.  Snap finally has a friend and she begins to learn more about the person that her peers think is a witch.  I liked how Jacks sparked issues and subjects inside of Snap.  Snap’s enthusiasm and energy soared when she was learning.

Snap has a close encounter with Louis and I enjoyed Louis’ innocence. He was the perfect friend for Snap.  I think they both benefited from their relationship. The scenes where they were watching the horror movie together were comical.

There were many relationships in this book, having great moments and moments that all true connections with another person have.  I enjoyed these relationships and I look forward to seeing where some of these will go in future books.  The only issue I had with this graphic novel was, I thought some of the transitions between the story lines were rough.  I had a hard time knowing where one story stopped and another one began.  I look forward to the next book in this series. 4.5 stars

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

5 stars Mystery

As a parent you promise to protect your child but it’s kinda impossible to protect them from what happened to Junie.  Like Evie, I think the guilt and the anger/revenge would be in a constant battle within me, until someone paid for what they did. Struggling with a past, Evie finds herself looking in a mirror and wondering who is looking back.  She had wanted change and attempted it, yet did she really see the whole picture? 

Junie and Izzy had become friends in first grade.  Junie spent a lot of time at Izzy’s and that might have been because they preferred it that way or was it because Junie didn’t want anyone at her house.  There was definitely a financial dividing line between Junie and Izzy, as Izzy’s parents never struggled to put food on the table or provide what Izzy needed.  

Why were they murdered?  With Junie’s uncle on the police force, Evie feels no one will be comfortable coming forward with information to the police so she begins her own investigation and her nice motherly attitude goes out the window.  Yep, no more Ms. Nice Mom.  She’s begins sounding like her mother, the woman with a drink in one hand, a cigarette in another, and a loud, sarcastic comment spewing from her lips. It’s like she has lost her identity with her daughter gone. 

Snooping in her daughter’s room, after the police did their initial investigation, she finds something! This I couldn’t believe.  I think The 3 Stooges came to do the initial search of the house.  Anyways, this is where the book shoots off and there is no turning back now folks!

After Evie makes her discovery, she’s on a mission and nothing will hold her back, not even her brother, the cop.  We see more of Evie’s mother and boy, is she a fun, entertaining character.  It’s a circus, if you add in the news reporters, who come into town. Using flashbacks, Evie makes connections to her past.  She’s starting to get to the bottom of what has happened to these two young teens. I wasn’t ready for the big moments in the book that blew me away, they really took me by surprise.

I really enjoyed the characters in the book.  I liked how each one of them was cut and created from their environment and I liked how they mixed with one another. I liked how the author present the mystery of the book, I thought it was laid out nicely.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

4 stars Mystery

It was their annual trip, situated on a secluded campground, for which the everyone was planning on attending.  She had ordered enough food for weeks, which was good as an unprecedent amount of snowfall fell while they were there. Then, they found the body.  It was finally discovered after hours of searching but the question on everyone’s mind was why and who?  Why would someone do this and who amongst them is the guilty party?  They are in a secluded area yet its size is massive enough to hide the likes of other unwanted guests. 

This year’s New Year’s mini-vacation was going to be a snapshot of all their previous years. They had been coming together since their days at Oxford but now their group was getting bigger. These few days gave the group, a chance to catch-up, a year of activity and to reminisce about their college years. I enjoyed the diversity amongst the group and how some of them had changed over the years.  It was entertaining how some individuals continued in the path they set in college and how some had matured and started to become adults.

As they arrived, the Gamekeeper (yes, that is what he was called) arrived to take them to the lodge and their cabins.  Doug was shifty guy, I thought, from the moment the author introduced him and I kept waiting for more information on him as I read.  The image I had of him was disturbing (and hysterical, if I thought about it) and I know he couldn’t have looked that way or no one would have gone near him.  The place was perfect, and secluded. Have I mentioned that? There is also a woman Heather, who runs the place who seems nice but as you read, you learn she has some secrets.  Oh, let’s not forget Iain.  Iain is the hired hand at the lodge and does odd jobs.  Yep, you don’t hear much about him but what I read, I definitely want to know more about him.

They discover that there’s another couple staying at a section of the lodge, who are more prepared for the elements of this secluded site than our large party but let’s not concern ourselves with these Icelandic individuals.

Oh, it’s a grand time at the lodge, partying and living the good life, well at least for some of the group.  There are those who are in the spotlight and those who are hugging the wall, just watching the scenes unfold. This was interesting how these individuals took to the group and how their lives had evolved over time.  Was there anyone who was watching the whole group?  There had to be a “fly on the wall,” taking in the group’s interactions and conversations, privately and openly. 

I’m not so sure I enjoyed all the flashing back that occurred in the book.  The chapters were set up in 3 Days Earlier, 2 Days Earlier and Now fashion and then, we would read about different characters views on that day.  I had to stop for a minute and tell myself where I was in the story as time shifted, for events that occurred really made a different in what day you were in.  I liked the mystery surrounding the death and how the author laid that out.  I was right about one part of it but I had many individuals who I thought could be the second half of it.  It was a fun book and I was glad that I read it. 4 stars.

Until Tomorrow, Mr. Marsworth by Sheila O’Connor

5 stars Middle School

Covers can be deceiving and this one truly was.  I thought the cover of this book looked dull yet the inside of the book was just the opposite.  Written in letter correspondence, I found myself on an incredible journey with Reen, as she tries to save her family.  What started out as a business correspondence between Reen and Mr. Marsworth turned into something more impressive than they both expected. 

Reen and her older two brothers have been living with their grandma, since their mother’s death. Since Reen has no other friends, she hangs out with her youngest brother Dare.

Mr. Marsworth was a customer on Reen’s paper route and she needed important information to do her job.  Known as a loner/recluse, Reen (11), takes to paper and pencil to get the answers she needs.  In his responsive letter, he’s right to the point but that’s not the end of this. Reen keeps the letters flying a few times back and forth. Reen is a talker but in this case, a writer, and so she does, to Mr. Marsworth.  Soon, it’s just Reen writing and waiting, waiting for a reply from her new friend.  I really got impatient and angry too, why wasn’t he responding to her and when she pleaded to him to respond, what was he doing?

Reen begins to pour out her heart to Mr. Marsworth in her letters. It’s not just the newspaper information she needs now but she needs a friend, someone she can talk to. I could feel the love, the anxiety and the desperation in her words as she wrote.  She wrote him about her day, her issues and she’d ask him some questions.  She found that there are some questions that Mr. Marsworth just couldn’t answer.  Those questions were too difficult and/or he just wasn’t ready to answer them for her.   How Reen handled this really said a lot about Reen, I thought.  What she had with Mr. Marsworth meant more to her than the answers.  Now, that is good stuff!

The story occurs in 1968 when the Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind including Reen’s. Her old brother, Billy’s future is on the line: college, sign up for the military, or be drafted?  For Reen, there is only one answer and she’s determined to make that happen.

Reen also has been corresponding with a soldier in the war.  She received his name from her teacher as part of a project. Reen now knows first-hand what war is all about.  I loved how she takes this project seriously and how much time she devotes to it.  

That ending was fabulous!  I had suspected something an ending like that but nothing as involved as that.  I had to get out the tissues as the tears were flowing and I couldn’t stop them.  What an awesome book!!  Good heavens!! Can someone erase my brain so I can read it over again??  I loved it!

Together We Grow by Susan Vaught

5 stars Picture Book

The illustrations in this book are fantastic.  I like how the animals are realistically draw and their facial expressions are fun.  What wonderful messages this book expresses.

There is a large barn where a variety of animals are safely tucked away during a rain storm.  Snuggled inside, all the animals feel safe and secure.  As the lightening scatters overhead and the rain pours down, a family of foxes is left outside.  Discovering a light in the barn, the adult fox glances into the broken barn window as the barn animals stare up at her, their eyes wide.  A fox!  Some of the animals feel threaten by this predator and the message they send, is not friendly.    

As the fox moves away from the window and returns to the family, the barn door is opened. Why?  Good question.  Who exactly opened the door, that is another great feature that I liked about this book.  A beautiful illustration awaits me as I turned the next page.

The other animals watch from afar, as the brave animal approaches the fox.  There is a line that separates them, a line that can be crossed if they are brave enough and ready to cross. 

I really enjoyed the illustrations in this book.  It’s a beautiful book!  There were some strong messages in this book which could be applied to many situations in our own daily lives.  The text and language that the author uses, was dynamic.  Short, simple sentences composed of familiar words mixed with some more challenging words (dapple, prevails, gash, asunder).  I’m going to have to pick up a copy of this one, I think my grandchildren will enjoy it.

I’m Sticking With You by Smriti Prasadam-Halls

5 stars Picture Book

This is a cute story about a friendship between a squirrel and a bear.  They do everything together and the two of them seem to think that size doesn’t matter until one day it does.  Squirrel has had enough!  After bear has sunk the boat, thrown him off the seesaw, blown his house apart, and squashed him too many times, Squirrel needs his space.  He tells Bear, “I think I need to be on my own. If you don’t mind?”…….There’s bearly any room.”

I liked the way Squirrel approached Bear on this matter and the look that Bear gave his friend, it made me smile.  Squirrel thinks he’ll be happier without Bear and he is, for just a short while and then, he isn’t.  But what can Squirrel do now?

It’s a super sweet book and it reminds you that not every relationship is perfect. That you have to work through things in a friendship.  A great book to give, one to share with your children, or even one to add to your library.  The illustrations are adorable, the text bright and easy to read.  An all-around great book.

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Rauf

5 stars Middle School

Loved, loved, loved this book!  Why?  It’s about three boys who have “adopted” a new student in their classroom.  I loved how they just took him under their wings and how they all matured and grew throughout the book.  The book addresses bullying, friendship, family issues, and cultural differences.

I’ve been singing high praises for his book since I finished it. I didn’t think I would love this book so much but after every page, I loved London so much!

London has three best friends.  When the school year starts, there is one empty chair in the classroom.  That chair is right next to Clarissa, the girl who hates boys, for boys are stupid and smelly. They’ve been in a school almost a month, when Ahmet joins their classroom.  Looking sad and scared, Ahmet sits in that empty chair while London watches.  Later, London talks to his friends and he asks them to take on the promise that he has made: to be Ahmet friend.

I found myself smiling and enjoying this read as the boys get to know one another.  It’s a difficult task with a language barrier (Ahmet speaks Kurdish)and with time constraints at school but they try different tactics including fuzzy-coated lemon drops, fruit, and listening to other people’s conversations.  

I especially loved chapter five.  The emotions just poured out of this chapter. London talks about his mother and his love and respect for her.  He speaks about his father and his feeling about him.  London discusses his admiration for his Uncle Lenny. London has a heart-to-heart conversation with his mother, he then asks, “What is a refugee kid?” and she explains this to him.  London makes a list of questions that he wants to ask Ahmet, this list is so cute. 

“I always sit in the chair next to the fridge because I like being able to open the fridge door without getting up.  It’s like looking into an extra room in the house – but one that’s filled with food.”

I enjoyed listening to Ahmet tell his own story to the class, about his life in Syria and his journey. The book included a variety of reactions that show the positive and the negative views that individuals (children and adults) have about refugees in our society today.  I think it’s good that children see this difference in opinion, so they can understand and learn how to handle the diverse opinions.   

I had many goosebump moments, many yes! moments and I did shed some tears while reading this book.  I can’t believe that this is the author’s debut novel.  I’ve got you on my radar now, Orjali Rauf.  You are a rock star!  I absolutely adored this book from start to finish. This book was an absolute joy to read.

“Sometimes words hung around longer than people, even when you don’t want them to.”

“words can hurt more than punches, because when you get a bruise or a bump after being punched, it disappears after a while and you can forget all about it. But words can stick around for a long time, and the meanest words stick around the longest. “

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson

5 stars Graphic Novel

I loved this graphic novel.  I could feel the dedication and love throughout this book.  I still get teary-eyed thinking about this graphic novel and the situations that these young boys went through.  It is such a fantastic book; I cannot say enough about it but I highly recommend that you read it.  Read it yourself, read it to your children, buy a copy for your classroom and even buy a copy and donate it to someone as this story needs to be told.

They used to live in Somalia.  Now, they live in Kenya, in a refugee camp called Dadaab.  Individuals who want to live come here from Sudan, Ethiopia, and other African area, this is home.  Dadaab is a huge camp, so large that they divided it into 3 separate camps.  Omar came here with his little brother, Hassan.  They’ve been there for seven years.  Yes, I said seven years!

Where’s their parents? Good question and one the boys want to know.  Who is taking care of them? Omar is taking care of Hassan as best as he can for a young brother.  He’s been missing out on school to take care of his brother. They’ve also been assigned a woman (like a foster mother) Fatuma, to help them. This woman was amazing too, she truly cared for these boys like they were her own.  Inside the camp, the boys have their own tent across the way from Fatuma.  Many days, the boys were hungry.  Hassan only says one word yet the brothers communicate. 

When Omar finally gets the chance to go to school, he is torn.  Leaving his brother behind, Omar worries for his brother yet he knows this opportunity for him will open doors for their future.  The boys still question their parent’s whereabouts and their village.  They wonder about returning home yet Omar knows the danger that lies outside the camp.

With bright, colorful illustrations and easy-to-read font, I was emerged into the brother’s story.  It was captivating, interesting, and powerful.  Omar fought for a better life, there were wonderful successes and moments of frustration and struggles yet he continued on. 

Fantastic graphic novel.  Definitely read the afterword that is located at the back of the book. I went through many emotions reading this book and I highly recommend it.    

Her Pretty Face by Robyn Harding

4.5 stars Mystery

This, this was like, amazingly good.  I loved how the two stories connected and then wow!  To me, the story led me down some dark streets as the characters were dealing with some pretty heavy issues.  Disturbing issues.  These are the books that have my eyes glued to the pages, every word is engrained in my head, and I can’t stop thinking about these individuals, that have consumed me, no matter how loud my life has become.

When her son Marcus gets accepted into the Academy, Frances thought her life was now headed into the right direction. Boy, she was wrong.  Not fitting the Academy image, Frances finds that she’s not even close to the holding the ticket. After an incident, she slides further down the ladder until she meets Kate.

Hello Kate! Kate was also a new mother at the Academy.  Kate, was one individual that you loved and you also hated. You hated her because she’s so perfect and you loved her because she’s so perfect.  Kate has a son named Charles and teenage daughter, Daisy.  Charles becomes friends with Marcus and is a huge help to him. As I was reading, I kept wondering when would Charles’ moment be? When would he turn on Marcus?  Was he really as nice as he seemed to be?  Daisy was a teenager with loose strings, she seemed to be running wild yet looking at Kate, you would think she would have this child under her wings.  

As the families come together, their friendships build, the trust between them becomes dependable.  With talk of their past and the secrets that they have kept hidden, it’s no wonder their current lives are in the shape that they are in.  I enjoyed the book’s twists and I highly recommend this book.  4.5 stars