A Good Neighborhood by Therese Fowler

3 stars Fiction

This was one of those books where it was over before I knew it.  I listened to this audio in the car and then, time flew!  The drama built slowly, the romance had snuck itself in, and then I found myself disappointed that the whole book was over.  I could have sworn, I just put the second CD in.

Valerie and her son Xavier live in Oak Knoll, a peaceful, quiet neighborhood.  Xavier is a talented musician and Valerie loves nature and her surroundings.  When a local celebrity buys a nearby plot of land, new construction disturbs the quiet community as they begin building an upscale mansion and the family moves in.

Valerie had watched, as they destroyed the area to accommodate this new family, the destruction of natural resources was devastating to her.  Now, as the new family moves in, Xavier gets mistaken for hired help.  It’s an awkward beginning for these two families. 

As I listened to Brad, he started to get under my skin.  His superior thinking made me cringe but I liked the way this book was setting things up.  Valerie was up for the challenge but in the background, I was watching out for Xavier and Juniper. 

This is an entertaining book and one that I enjoyed.  

For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama Lockington

4.5 stars Middle School

It’s hard walking in Makeda’s shoes.  The body that occupies those shoes, misses her best friend that she had to leave behind, when she moved with her family this summer.  That same body, is stared at and harassed by her peers when she begins 6th grade at her new school.  That same body, feels that no one understands exactly what she goes through, not her mother nor her sister, even though they think they do.  That same body, doesn’t know who she is or where she belongs. The battles that Makeda faces are real, they’re typical of what’s happening in our world today and that’s important.  It’s looking at these conflicts through the eyes of Makeda, that makes this book significant.   

Makeda, is an 11-year-old African American girl who was adopted by a white family. Before they moved, Makeda had a best friend named Lena, who was also adopted. This connection, linked the two girls and they became very close to one another.  Now, Makeda feels as if she’s connected to no one and her connections with Lena are now long-distance.  It’s hard being a teen and moving into a new neighborhood but for Makeda, the situation becomes even more difficult when she’s questioned about her parents on the that first day of school.

Adoption.  Moving.  Racial tension.  Teen and school issues. Mental illness (suicide attempt).  How much more can an 11-year handle?

No one can walk in Makeda’s shoes.  Her situation is her own.  She’s unique and special but she doesn’t see it that way. She feels alone, isolated and hurt. 

This is an important book to read and I highly recommend it.    

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

4 stars Fiction

I liked how this book had an eerie feeling to it as I read it. When I finish reading a novel, I always take a few minutes to look at the novel’s cover to see if what I had just read, matches what the outside looks like.  When I looked at this book’s cover, I realized that this cover described this book perfectly.  It was everything: from that deer, to the variety of texts, to the use of shadowing and the dark colors chosen on the cover, this was the novel.  I thought this novel had a taunting, shadowy feeling which I really enjoyed.  I never knew what would happen when I turned the next page. 

The novel is about what happened when four Native American guys were out hunting one day.  It was the last time these four guys would be together hunting.  Cass was driving, the weather was getting bad, but they couldn’t stop now, they wanted to end their season on a high note.  They were hunting elk and they went into an area that was off-limits to them.  Yeah, I was thinking all kinds of problems now but nothing like what was coming. 

It’s been ten years since that day that the boys went hunting. Out hunting that day, Cass told his friends that he would take the heat for whatever happened that day but it doesn’t work that way because every single one of them was involved and they’ll all pay a price. 

I like how Jones lets us get to know the characters. Jones has a unique style of writing.  I love the times when I get so involved in my reading that I yearn to be inside the book and get the full effect. With Jones’ writing, I wanted to jump inside his book and witness first-hand what was transpiring.  I wanted to see the characters faces, see exactly everything that they’re seeing and witness the events.  This was an entertaining read for me.

Thank you to BookishFirst for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

4.5 Stars Historical Fiction

This wasn’t the path they had planned to be on, yet here they were.  Edith and Vera had been best friends forever, living across from one another their whole lives but now, the war changed that. Creating a plan, scrunched together in the dark cattle car, these women’s lives would never be the same. 

Waiting in the grass, watching for movement, watching for any signs of life, they left disappointed.  They knew what they needed to do now and they moved quickly. Soon the world would be theirs, the war would be officially over and they could make their mark upon it. It was an impressive journey as the girls begin experiencing life on their own.

I enjoyed how the girls looked out for one another.  Vera was the hard-working one, who immediately was concerned about money and tries to find employment so they can survive. Vera’s concerned about paying for rent, buying food, and taking care of her friend, Edith.  She tries not to let her emotions get in the way.  Believing that her boyfriend Stefan has died, Edith can’t get herself together.  Her grief has led her to become very promiscuous, causing Vera to keep her eyes on her when men are around.

I liked how the characters of Vera and Edith were alike and how they were different.  Vera is dependable, serious and her emotions are in-check. Edith is fun, to a point.  Don’t go too far, or she will lose it. If you looked inside her, she’s all-over-the-place.  They’re perfect for each other.  Vera is Edith’s landing spot whereas Edith gets Vera out of her comfort zone.  After the girls escaped out of the cattle car, they both realized that their parents weren’t so lucky and had died in Auschwitz.  This is a heavy burden for the girls to carry, as this event replays throughout their lives.

Romance plays a big role in this book as Edith and Vera find themselves falling in and out of love. Over time, they both seem to want it and find it, so differently.  I’m not one who enjoys a lot of romance but I did enjoy the twists and turns these two girls take when they start turning heads.  

It’s a great book about friendship. I enjoyed Vera’s and Edith’s relationship and how it changed over the years. As the world recovers from the war, the girls begin a life together out on their own.  Finding jobs, their life begins to take off and soon they’re meeting individuals and dating.  I found the book intriguing as they began navigating their new lives. 4.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for my honest opinion. 

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

4 stars Middle School

Everything her mother ever said about Zoe’s father was negative when she asked. Zoe knew where her father was but she didn’t know what he did, to end up in prison.  Now, on her 12th birthday as Zoe grabs the mail from their mailbox, she finds an envelope addressed to her with a return address from the Massachusetts State Penitentiary.  That envelope could only contain one thing, something from her father. 

This book had an excellent flow to it and the story was fun to read. I thought the author did a great job showing us the different emotions that Zoe experiences throughout the book and I liked how grandma tried to do the balancing act with the different characters.  I understood exactly why/how grandmother felt the way she did, as she maneuvered around the individuals in her life. Zoe’s friend Trevor, was good for her.  I was surprised how quickly he forgave her and how willing he went along with her suggestions.  I don’t think Zoe gave enough credit to Trevor. 

There were a few instances in the book that didn’t make sense to me.  These were based on the characters and our current time period.  I don’t want to spoil the book by mentioning them but Zoe is only twelve-years old and some of the things that she was doing just didn’t seem feasible for a person of that age.  But, if you let your imagination take you away, anything is possible.

In the book, Zoe begins to secretly write her father in prison, asking him a variety of questions.  Her father claims that he’ll be honest with her in his return letters but Zoe is torn between believing what her mother has said and the man, who she has never known.

Her grandmother accidently discovers Zoe’s secret and grandmother strikes up a deal with Zoe and now, who knows where this will all end.  I understand grandmother position in this mess but I also feel that there’s going to be fireworks, if and when Zoe’s mother finds out (and she will eventually find out, she has to, you just know she will).

If that’s not enough, Zoe told her parents that she would do a summer internship at her aunt’s bakery.  She needs to prove to them that she’s ready to enter a kid’s cooking competition on the Food Network. Did someone say cooking competition?  Zoe believed that this would be a great opportunity for her, yet when she arrives, it’s not what she expected.

It’s an eventful summer for Zoe with her internship and secretly corresponding with her father in prison.  It jumps into high speed when she learns some interesting information about her father and decides to explore it further it.  A conflict with her best friend Trevor, will need to be resolved quickly as she can’t do this alone.

Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington

Middle School 4.5 stars

Riley has always had a way with words, she uses them to get her point across.  In Riley’s school, The Red Club, has been meeting for years, but this year it’s under attack. This challenge was just the first of many that were revealed and challenged under the roof of Riley’s middle school.  Riley and her friends want an equal playing field, they have excellent points to back themselves up, so watch out Hawking Middle School, the battle has just begun.

I enjoyed how this middle school book addressed a variety of controversial and important issues.  The Red Club is a long-standing club at this school yet this year, it’s coming under fire.  The club is for girls who have started their menstrual cycle.  If you haven’t experienced “Aunt Flo,” you can’t be a member of the Red Club.  There are positives and negatives to being a member of the club and as the students respond to the club and its members, I learned what some of these reasons were.  The book centers around this club but the book also addresses bullying, double standards, dress-code, self-absorbed individuals, pressure, communication, family, and friendship. I know, it’s quite a list.

One day, Riley offered some female help to Julia.  Being new to the school, Riley then told Julia about the Red Club, who seemed excited about it.  Yet, Julia informed Riley later her mother didn’t like the idea of the club therefor she wouldn’t be attending the meetings.  What?  Why is that?

It isn’t long before the principal closes down the club which ticks off the members.  Some of the girls still decide to meet off-site (love this!).  Riley, an excellent investigative reporter for the school’s newspaper wants to investigate but, the newspaper is now shut down.  What!?  Riley is good at exposing the truth, her articles have raised a few eyebrows including the principals.  What can Riley do now? It’s time for the girls to unite. 

This wasn’t a female vs. male book, rather it shows the perception of issues.  There were some males who understood what Riley’s and her friends were saying and stood with them as they faced their opponents.

It thought it was a great read and I only had one issue with the book. When Riley talks with her mom, I had an issue with that scene.  It’s definitely a terrific middle school read.    

Crossover: graphic novel by Kwame Alexander

5 stars Graphic Novel

This was fantastic!  You could really feel the energy and the emotions in this graphic novel which is an adaptation of the original novel with the same name.  I think kids will love this book.

This is not your typical graphic novel with text boxes, this graphic novel’s illustrations and text fill up the entire page.  Whether the page includes one illustration or four, it is the exact amount that is needed to get the point across.  With varying sizes of text, you will find yourself catching the rhythm of the book, as the story unravels. Using only shades of orange, black, and white, throughout the book, it’s amazing how captive you will become to Josh’s story.

You see, they were twins, Josh and Jordan.  Great basketball players who did a lot together.  Their father was a legend, on the court, many years ago.  Lately though, Jordan’s eyes have not been on the ball so much.  His eyes are on a girl and Josh feels ignored/left out/abandoned. Josh wants his father to intervene but his father won’t. Dad has some health issues that mom has been riding him on but dad says he’s fine.  I love the word play this couple speaks to one another. 

You can feel the energy soaring through the pages, the pain that’s growing inside of Josh, and witness the relationship that’s building between Jordan and his new friend.  The words were carefully chosen, they fit, they fit like a glove to make this graphic novel pulse.  

Then, he does it.  Josh unleashes his frustration and I hope that he feels better because everyone else doesn’t.  He’s done more harm then good and the repercussions of his anger, he’s paid a price for it. 

Excellent graphic novel!  Very powerful and is one that is definitely worth reading.   

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

3 stars Graphic Novel

Have you ever read a book and even though it stretches your imagination, you’re actually liking it, and then……bam, they’ve totally lost their minds and you wished, you could undo what you’ve just read?  That’s what I felt as I read Making Friends. This middle school graphic novel was dealing with some typical teen issues in a unique way when suddenly the main character cracked.

Dany’s Aunt Elma died, leaving the family to sort out her estate on their own.  Dany finds herself in the possession of one of her aunt’s sketchbooks, one of the few items the family didn’t fight over. Labeled, “handle with care,” Dany finds many of the pages empty and after a hard day at school, she begins to sketch in it.

Life was easier in elementary school when Dany had Joan and Leah at her side but now in middle school, it was getting more complicated.  Dany decides to draw Prince Neptune, yet she stopped after only drawing his head.  Neptune would protect her, if he was real.  Dany talks to her drawing as her pencil slides over the paper. Admiring her finished drawing, Dany is stunned when the image pops off the paper and becomes a living thing! Remember, she only drew his head so the Prince is now a talking head.

Prince Neptune is immediately head-over-heels in love with Dany and calls her Princess Dany and boy, how fun is this!? Dany is enchanted and scared at the same time.  What has just happened?  The prince is compassionate, caring, and supportive to Dany (even though, sometimes his ideas are a bit extreme) but you need to remember that he’s just a head, that was drawn to protect Dany and he doesn’t know that much about this world and then you’ll understand why he says what he does. 

Having the prince around does help Dany but it’s not like the prince can be out and around everyone else.  Dany wants other friends and she wants to fit in, but how? You guessed it!  She takes her pencil and she begins drawing in her aunt’s sketchbook. I see the dangers of this right away but Dany, she thinks it’s going to work out wonderfully.

Now, Dany is on a roll and she can’t stop now.  It’s as if someone has taken over this girl and she has become a different person, who is she? Dany is this loud, screaming individual who rants and yells. Her face takes up the whole text box.  Someone, please push her off button.  I was liking this book until Dany got greedy.

Overall, it was a fun book that I was enjoying until things got out of hand.  Why Dany had to go extreme, I have no idea but it was a turn-off for me. 

Sci Fi on Vacation

I don’t read that many Sci Fi books or movies but on vacation this vessel caught  my eye. It looked like something out of a science fiction book,  I was fascinated by it.  I could not for the life of me, take my eyes off it.  It looked like a hodge podge of miscellaneous items put together to make a boat.  I know, I get excited about strange things 🙂

I saw this while walking on the beach on vacation in Mexico and I had to stop and watch it.  We didn’t see anyone aboard it and I went back a couple times that day and it was still there.  It was actually there for the three days, I had to check.  I finally approached a man, who was walking up along a resort’s fenced-in area and he informed me that he didn’t speak English but I tried to ask him anyway, what that thing was in the water and what I could understand was, that it had something to do with the seaweed from the ocean.   They do have an issue with the seaweed in the ocean washing up on the beaches there.  I’ll have to do more investigating on that.