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. 

Best Friends by Shannon Hale

5 stars Graphic Novel Middle School

Are your actions and feeling based on how you actually feel or are they based upon how you’re supposed to feel?  It was all so confusing and to Shannon, it seemed that the rules keep changing. 

It’s their last year in elementary school and Shannon thought this year would be great yet it’s not starting out that way. She thought that she fit in with her girlfriends but now, she just doesn’t.  Why is it that there’s a difference between what Shannon thinks and what her girlfriends think now? How had they become so different? Shannon starts to second guess everything about herself and it’s painful to see how much she’s working at this. I had to wonder why Shannon was the only one who was excluded in this bunch of girls and why?  The girls, I thought, were mean sometimes to Shannon, yet she didn’t want to be excluded from this group so she worked harder to try to fit in.

I didn’t read the first book in this series but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this graphic novel. I could totally understand how Shannon felt in this book although, I’m not the targeted audience.  I believe many individuals understand this frustration.  It’s only when you start feeling comfortable and accept who you are, do you start doing your own thing and you don’t worry so much about fitting in. I’ve even met older women who still worry about what others think too much. 

Shannon tries to be cool like her friends, she tries to figure out the correct way to act and feel yet, just when she thinks she has it figured out, the rules change!  One minute it’s one way, another minute it’s another way – Shannon just can’t keep up!

It’s a terrific graphic novel with wonderful, colorful text boxes. The flow of the story was easy to follow also.  This graphic novel is definitely one that’s worth reading.   

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess

3 stars Fiction

I liked how the author’s writes but I didn’t like how this book developed. The author had some great points in this book but her main character, I thought, was a mess.  The longer I read this book, the more irritated I became with her and I wanted to slap her.

Eve considered herself a writer, yet all her accomplishments amounted to, were a few small pieces that she’d written many years ago.  For years, Eve struggled to finish anything that she’d started to write. I’m thinking that she really needs to do is to talk to a few people about writing or move on, what is really going on here? Eve also worked as an editorial assistant for The New Yorker Magazine.  Growing up, Eve had wanted to become a writer and it’s as if, she can’t let go of this dream. 

Eve doesn’t get the promotion at The New Yorker but she hears about the possibility of a job back in her hometown.  If she heads back home, Eve realizes this position will not a step-up but it just might be what she’s looking for. 

Eve starts to fall in-and-out of love with just about everyone after she went back home. Perhaps she had relationships before then, I don’t know, but she flies through them now.  Her last love affair though pushed me over the edge.  Perhaps, she’s insecure or it’s some other issue but I just didn’t understand why her last guy?  Come on!

There were a few interesting reveals in the story and I did enjoy them. When Eve moves back home to start her new job, we learned about her family and her relationship with them. They had a great impact on her. 

Overall, it was an okay read, I just think that Eve’s social life needed to take a different direction. 

I want to thank MacMillan for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Cook’s Herb Garden by Jeff Cox

5 stars Reference

What more can I say than then, I checked this book out from the library and after looking through it and reading a lot of it, I ended up buying a copy of it today. As I was reading it, I was amazed at how much I was enjoying it and then, I flipped the book over and saw DK on the back cover, and no wonder I loved it so much. DK Books are fantastic!

This book is a great reference book if you like to work with herbs. I like to plant a variety of herbs in pots outside in the summer and try to keep them alive in the winter, inside my home. Living in the Midwest, this is tricky and sometimes, I am successful and sometimes I fail. I love the smell and taste of fresh herbs and I’m hoping this book will help me be more successful.

What I love about this book is that it lists a variety of different fresh herbs, the varieties of them (if there are any), how to grow them successfully, how to use them, and there are some nice colorful, realistic pictures of the herbs. An example is Basil: there is a two page spread on basil. The author mentions how to grow basil, how to harvest and cook it. It also states that his herb prefers sun and is a hardy herb (frost wise). On the two pages, there are eight different varieties of basil mentioned with 8 different pictures and details describing theses varieties. I usually plant the Sweet Basil which is strongly scented with large, bright,green leaves. The description lists how the plant usually grows including size (in. and cm) and also how you can cook with the herb. I grew Greek Basil last year as it looked different and I have seen Lemon Basil being sold but the cinnamon basil looks interesting., now if I can find that.

The herbs are listed from A to Z and not all herbs have varieties with them. There is also a small section that I am going to try this year which is about planting a herb pot/basket. It’s a “culinary-themed window box” that produces a “whole store cupboard of flavors in one pot.” They have a few examples of herbs placed together in a pot and they labeled these pots based on what they contain: Everyday Essentials, Salad Herbs, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Hardy Herbs, and Herbal Teas. They explain with each pot why each herb was selected, how to water and harvest instructions. Now, how fun is that!

There is also information in this book about growing herbs from seeds vs. plants, controlling weeds, getting the best harvest and what to do with your herbs, as they grow. We have in the past frozen the herbs in bags but I have now purchased plastic trays so I can try freezing some in liquid. The book continues with information on preparing your herbs for cooking and actual recipes. There is a ton of great information in here! I can’t wait to get my copy to start adding some post-its to the pages.

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline

4.5 stars Thriller

I enjoyed this book even though I thought I knew what was going on.  Thinking about this book, what I believe enticed me were the characters and the book’s timeline. I really needed to know the “why” behind the threads of this story, what was the motive?  

When Allie hurt her leg during cross-county tryouts, Sasha came back to help her.  Sasha had never said much to Allie before then, which to me was a red flag.  Sasha points out the two boys, Julian and David, who were in the distance, and wouldn’t you know it, they ended up talking to them.

There seemed to be quite a bit of trauma and drama in the lives of these four teens before they even got together.  Between the four of them, they had a recent divorce, a close family death, one teen already living alone as the parents were never home and one teen who, I thought, was too controlling. These teens become an instant four-some as they hung out together.  I started to dislike a few of them, their attitude and concern for others turned me off.  Looking into the lives of these individuals and their families, I got a good understanding of them and their situations.  I appreciated how the author included this information in the text. 

When Kyle moves into the area, Sasha invites him to hang-out with them.  Imagine that! Oh, did I mention that Kyle is nice to look at. I feel that adding him to the mix isn’t going to be good but I didn’t anticipate what actually occurred.  I have to give credit to Kyle though, he acted smart when he was first approached by the group.  They offered to let him become a member of their gang and Kyle was hesitant. I thought they were all getting along okay but I could feel some tension was building.  Three boys and two girls, that just doesn’t sound like a good combination especially when you add in their personalities. 

They don’t know what went wrong.  At least, that is what they are saying.  The four who fled the area that night, all take that same position.  The one who was left, they don’t even know what happened.  Was this a game or murder? 

We time travel in this book, as the author takes us forward in time.  One of the individuals from that night has now passed away and individuals are gathering for the funeral.  Friends are gathering and reacquainting themselves with one another. Will the three others who were in attendance that night gather and discuss what happened 20 years ago?  Will I learn anything different than what I already know?  The book is not over my friends, it’s only just beginning. 4.5 stars

Thank you, G.P. Putnam’s Sons for sending me an ARC of this book for an honest review. 

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

5 Stars Thriller

The deeper I got into this book, the more intense and captivated I became in finding out the truth behind this sisterhood. As the pages turned, the more my curiosity and adrenaline rose.

I loved the connection that these “sisters” had but the more that I read about them, the more removed I became to their alliance. Oh, I totally understand how they felt and the reasoning behind it BUT, there is line that they had crossed.  

When Shay witnesses a suicide on the subway, it changes her life.  Spying a piece of jewelry nearby, Shay is now connected to Amanda’s “sisters,” as Shay picks up the jewelry and takes it with her.  Shay needs to find out more about the suicide victim meanwhile, the “sisters” can’t believe that Amanda would commit suicide.  On a collusion course, Shay ends up meeting the “sisters” and to her, this is destiny. 

Shay feels a connection with the “sisters” and her life finally starts to turn around.  The “sisters” are there for Shay and take Shay under their wings.  Shay loves how everything is working out for her but dang, if only Shay knew the truth. The pages aren’t turning fast enough but I don’t want to miss a word on the pages.  

Slowly, the author reveals the details of the sisterhood and how each member became involved. It’s crazy good but it’s wicked at the same time. There’s time travel involved as we hear each member’s story but that’s important as I needed to know when these events took place.

Wow, that was an excellent, invigorating story that had me hooked from the beginning.  I have enjoyed all the books that Hendricks and Pekkanen have written together and I hope that they continue to write together! Breathe……

This book is now available and I highly recommend it.  Thank you, St. Martin’s Press and Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, for sending me an ARC of this book for an honest review. #YouAreNotAloneBook

Last Things by Jacqueline West

5 stars Fantasy

I really enjoyed the author’s use of language in this book.  I liked how they slowly explained the events occurring, without revealing too much, letting me become totally immersed into the drama.  I could feel the intensity and the energy of this book which I didn’t put down until I had finished it. 

I also liked that there weren’t many individuals to keep track of in this book.  Reading this on vacation, I didn’t want to have to resort to keeping a lot of notes on it while reading it.  I found that, I got so involved in reading it, I forgot to write down anything about it except for the first few pages.

The book centers around a girl named Thea who moved to Greenwood and lives with her Aunt Mae.  Aunt Mae has a reputation around town as being witch, or perhaps a lunatic.  Yeah, not a good one to have.  Some think it’s because she’s a drunk and when she’s like that, she likes to talk.  Her talking is not pleasant either.  Aunt Mae tries to warn individuals about things that she has seen, things that haven’t yet occurred and that doesn’t settle too well with some individuals.  Aunt Mae doesn’t move much from the couch, she keeps her bottle close to her and Thea makes sure that her aunt has a fresh supply.  

When we meet Thea, it’s Friday night and she’s headed off to the Crow’s Nest to hear the band, Last Things.  It’ll be a mixed crowd of high school kids to heavy metal fans.  Last Things is a local band and they’re becoming quite popular.  Anders started the group and when he plays, he gets lost in his music just like their fans get lost when he plays on stage. They put on quite the show and lately, the place has been packed.  

Thea stays off to the side when she watches the group perform, she hasn’t missed a show, since she got in town. Back at Aunt Mae’s, Thea has been stockpiling items outside, taking great care to secure these items, hidden from sight.  Why she’s doing this, I have no idea but the idea that she doing this to “lock them out,” intrigues me. Thea attends high school, where she doesn’t really fit in but she watches and she’s aware of her surroundings.  She keeps an eye on Anders, he’s different than the guy who everyone loves on stage on the weekends. Is this a crush or it is something else?  Does Anders even know about Thea?  I was beginning to wonder what their connection was.

Thea doesn’t spend much time at home but when she does, she talks with her aunt.  Thea and her aunt have a bond with “them.” Thea feels that “they” are becoming bolder and closer and Aunt Mae understands this.  What they are talking about and how this all ties in with Anders was getting quite interesting as Thea’s behavior was getting stranger. I was all in and I couldn’t put this book down.   

Thank you to Harper Collins and Epic Reads Insiders   for supplying a copy of this book to me for an honest review.