My Nana’s Garden by Dawn Casey

5 stars Childrens

With tears in my eyes, I write.  Reluctant to stay with her Nana, she soon realizes how special her Nana really is.  As the little girl spends time with her Nana in her garden, she begins to understand that the overgrown garden is actually an exceptional place.  A place where Nana lets things happen. Where the wildflowers grow for the insects and the critters can run freely, where the apple tree brings forth fruit for harvesting, and that old tree is called home to some animal friends.  The garden is also a special place where Nana and the little girl can spend some quality time together, enjoying each other’s company while appreciating the world around them.  It isn’t long before she starts to enjoy visiting her Nana and tending to the garden space alongside her.   

The book progresses quickly and Nana has moved into a wheelchair.  It is my assumption that this little girl is her granddaughter and she has also grown up quickly.  The daughter now accompanies her granddaughter on the visits to Nana’s.  The three of them now visit the garden together, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.

“In my nana’s garden,

I curl up and cry.

The sun doesn’t shine

in the winter sky.” 

The tone of the book changes after this quote and my mood does also for, I feel that life has changed for this family.  The garden is cold and bare all winter long as the granddaughter looks out the window remembering her Nana.  Come spring, the daughter and granddaughter get to work in Nana’s garden tending to it, just like Nana did. The garden springs to life and there is energy within the book again.  The daughter is changing too and as I flip the page, there are now 3 individuals surrounding the tree in Nana’s garden, “We think of Nana by the trees.”

What a sweet book.  I loved looking at the illustrations and seeing how they changed without any mention of it in the text. I felt the author did an excellent job addressing the relationship of the little girl and her Nana, Nana’s passing, and how they honored Nana by caring for her garden.  With a rhyming text, the words did not feel forced but were smooth and flowing.  This Nana truly enjoyed this book.  5 stars

Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome

4 stars Middle School

He’s a person, can’t anyone see this!  This book states that it takes places in the 1940’s but the story is all too familiar.  Living with his grandparents, Lymon has the stability, connections and the ability to express himself but that quickly vanishes.  When they’re no longer able to care for him, other family members step in and accept Lymon into their home but not everyone in the household is thrilled about having him there.

The only person who Lymon was wanting and needing was, the one individual who would just pop into his life, whenever they felt the need to.  You can feel the desperation in his voice and in his actions as they made their appearance and when they walked out, Lymon was again looking, looking for them everywhere.  Lymon has lots of questions but no one was honest with him. They liked to dance around the questions that he asked of them.   

When Lymon lived with his grandparents, his grandfather taught him how to play the guitar and this love united them.  This was a connection that he also had with his father, for his father did gigs and he always had another show.  I enjoyed this music connection and how the author used this throughout the story. 

This was a fantastic story and it was an emotional one for me.  Lymon needed some stability and he needed someone to be there for him but would he ever find it and who would that person be?  I think the ending was too perfect for me considering how the story was progressing and the characters. 4 stars   This is a sequel to Finding Langston.

“Daddy, when am I gonna see you again? Feel like I have been asking this question my whole life and never getting the answer I want. But I keep asking hoping for the answer I want to hear.”

Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

5 stars Middle School

Sigh. As Langston made his way into the library, I felt that I could breathe again as he had finally found a place where he was safe.  The father-son duo left behind their slow-paced life in Alabama for the hustle and bustle of Chicago, searching for a better life. As father works, Langston attends school where his peers constantly bully him.  From his clothes, his shoes, and even his accent, the students wouldn’t leave Langston alone as he tried to adjust to his new surroundings.  I got emotional as I read this section as the students physically and vocally abused him.  His own classroom teacher even got in on the action, when they drew attention to his accent.    

I felt for the two of them as living in Chicago was so different from their previous life in Alabama.  When Langston discovers the public library, I was hoping this would provide some relief.  Would he find a room that he could study in, could he make friends with a librarian so he’d have an adult he could talk with, or might he meet someone new there?  In reality, Langston found much more there.  Langston’s first discovery was that this public library was different than the one back in Alabama. Langston was actually allowed to walk through the front door. This library allowed everyone, regardless of color to use its facilities.  It’s what’s inside the library that really changes him.  As he walks inside, up on the walls, so that everyone can see them, are famous black individuals.  Langston can’t believe he’s seeing them, on the walls. 

The librarian Mrs. Cook is a nice woman who helps Lanston discover what the library holds and what Langston has within him.  I felt this relief, a restoration working within Langston as he visited/thought about the library, for now with Mrs. Cook’s assistance, he had something bigger, a desire.  I really enjoyed this book.     

In a Flash by Donna Jo Napoli

4.5 stars Middle School

Once I got onboard with the story, I enjoyed the journey that these two sisters took. I was having a hard time understanding some of the choices that their father made but I wasn’t walking in his shoes so perhaps I didn’t know the complete story.  I knew that he was trying to provide the best life for his daughters and money was key to this success but still, money can’t always be your driving force.  His daughters were wonderful and considering everything that they endured, their relationship emerged stronger than before. 

Papa accepts a new position in Tokyo, Japan, leaving his mother-in-law and the grandma to his two small children behind in Italy.  With a bump in salary, a 1–2-year commitment in Italy (that Papa feels will be sufficient), and other benefits for his children, Papa feels this is a great opportunity.  Enrolling 8-year-old Simona in public school, was a great financial decision until he realizes how important the private schools are, for helping foreign children learn the Japanese language.  Little Carolina is brought to work with him each day as she will have someone there, about the same age as her, that she can play with. 

It’s not all perfect in the beginning but over time, things change and the girls begin to love Japan.  It’s hard to believe but time passes so quickly and although Papa’s “sufficient time period” is over, Papa and the girls aren’t ready to go back home to Italy. I’m wondering now, should Papa stick with his 1–2-year time period?  Just because his children are not ready to return home, does that matter? Papa wasn’t doing anything fantastic besides what he was doing from Day #1 so basically life was just going on smoothly and the girls were settling in. Do you stay based on their opinion or go back?  Time to do more reading.

There had been talk of war but now, the realities of it were hitting home.  Papa is worried about Italy; will it be taken over? What will happen to their family and friends back home?  Pearl Harbor has been attacked by the Japanese and tension is mounting, elsewhere.  Hostility against foreigners is intensifying as the officials begin to gather them for relocation.  As Papa and his girls are rounded up, the girls get separated from their father. Now what?  They’re too young to be by themselves and I visualize Papa digging ditches or I don’t want to think where else Papa could end up at.  The girls never give up hope of being reunited with their Papa as they take on different roles to survive as the world, enters WWII.

Wow, I really enjoyed this book but I thought it was sad.  I liked how the sisters kept trying to find their father and how they accepted life.  I liked how they took on a variety of identities to survive and they didn’t let their emotions control their lives.  Their curiosity, bravery and support from each other helped them get through another day.  A very eventful book that gave me a different view of this time period.

How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle

4 stars Historical Fiction

So, how does one really become a ghost? I can’t imagine that everyone that leaves this earth, is sent in this direction.  Does Isaac come back as a helpful ghost or a ghost that has unfinished business to attend to?  A casualty of the Trail of Tears, Isaac narrates for us, how he became a ghost in 1830, while living in the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi, which I found entertaining and interesting.

Isaac begins his story as a 10-year-old child living with his family. His best friend is his dog which he does everything with.  Treaty Talk. When Isaac overhears his parents talking about the subject, he remembers that Treaty Talk and Nahullos go hand-in-hand, a serious situation for the Choctaw Nation.  Mother leads Isaac on a series of walks that day as he witnesses important events that are being held by his community.  Gracious!   What Isaac witnesses with his very own eyes is totally different from what his own mother sees, who is standing right beside him. Good heavens, Isaac is a young child and he sees this!?!  I’m with Isaac when he questions his mother about what he’s seeing, yet her response is not what I’d expect from his very own mother.  This Treaty Talk has a shattering effect on their town and the individuals inside it. 

I had a few questions as I read this book, perhaps it was because I analyzed what was happening too much instead of just going with the flow.  Why were some individuals shape shifters, some ghosts, some……?  Did that have to do with lineage?  Didn’t Isaac think it was strange as a child to hear a dog talk? Didn’t he once read in a book that dog’s go, bark, bark? Did he realize when he was little, that he was unique?  I liked learning about the Choctaw traditions and practices.  I enjoyed the relationships that Isaac built in the book and how he accepted his fate and assisted others.  There’s an engaging story inside this short book. 

“Choctaws never say “good-bye.” There is no word for it. We say “chi pisa la chike, which means, “I will see you again, in the future.””

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

5 stars Fiction

I highly recommend you listen to this audio as its wonderful.  Words can’t express how I felt as I listened to Gifty walk through her days.  The burden that she carried on her shoulder was heavy and at times, I wondered how she was going to make it through her day.  I felt as if she was just waiting for something miraculous to happen, for something to rip the baggage from her shoulders and set her free!   

Every day, Gifty works with her mice, trying to understand their behavior.  This is her constant, the thing that keeps her moving.  Nana, her talented, gifted brother, is partly responsible for Gifty’s desire to become a neuroscientist. Their mother is the other reason Gifty is going to school.  It all started when her star-athlete brother got injured while at practice.  The pain killers that he took, eventually led to his death.  Now, with her favorite child gone, their mother slips into depression and Gifty is left trying to pick up the pieces. 

It was a difficult move and the family struggles as they tried to adjust to life in Alabama.  Mother wanted the Chin Chin Man to come and when he finally did, I don’t think he really wanted to live in Alabama. I think he struggled to fit in and when he returned to Ghana to visit, I knew he wasn’t planning on returning to the States. Mother’s grief had consumed her after Nana’s death and it was now consuming Gifty as well. Gifty didn’t know what to do, so she went to work, watching her mice.  I liked the honesty that Gifty showed, her frustration felt real.  A great emotional read. 5 stars

Mirrorland by Carole Johnstone

4 stars Mystery

This book really wasn’t a thriller to me. I would classify it as a dramatic mystery.  I picked it up based on the thriller genre and that the fantastic cover and although, the genre didn’t fit for me, I really enjoyed the book.  I listened it on audio and it kept me engaged and I couldn’t wait to get back to it when I had to shut it off.  The relationships, a few unknowns, and a few twists, had me talking to myself, as I went about my day.

The story centers around identical twins, El and Cat, who grew up in an older house in Scotland with their mother and their grandfather.  It is now 10+ years later and Cat has moved to California and El is now married to Ross, residing in the girl’s childhood home. I thought at first that the idea of them buying this house was sweet but the more that I read, I quickly changed my mind.  El has now vanished and they feel that she has died but Cat thinks otherwise.  Although, it has been years since the girls have talked, they are twins and Cat returns to Scotland to help find her.   

There is a lot of time shifting as you read this book, from when the girls were younger to the current time period, especially in the beginning of this book.  I found at times it was confusing at the beginning of the book and I didn’t understand where it would come into play or if it really mattered but in the second half of the book, I was consumed by the book. I really enjoyed the twists and the breakthrough moments that the author spread throughout the book. When they were children, the girls had created a world in the house called Mirrorland.  This fantasy world consisted of bizarre and absurd things that children could envision and it is in this world, that El tries to find her sister. 

There were times as I read this book that I didn’t know what was the truth and what wasn’t. I liked the idea of Mirrorland and how the girls used it to escape their current life when they were children.  Cat was so certain that she knew her sister even though, they hadn’t spoken to each other in years.  Coming back to Scotland was hard for Cat.  She had left her childhood behind and now, she has to face it again and also see what El’s life has been like.  Although it was confusing at times for me, I thought it was a great book.  

No Vacancy by Tziporah Cohen

4.5 stars Middle School

This book had a lot of themes going through it but it worked. Miriam, an 11-year-old girl is the protagonist in the story as her family moves into a rundown motel, in the hopes of creating a new future for themselves and the business. They had only planned this to be a short-term plan, hoping to save some money and then move on. Moving into a small community was different than New York City and the longer I read, the more I realized what this family was hiding internally.

As the family moves into The Jewel Motor Inn, the two children live in one of the rooms and the parents’ take-up residence in an adjoining room. As an 11-year-old, I thought that would be fun but I could understand the novelty wearing off. Maria, continues to work at the Inn, taking care of the housekeeping issues and helping the family become familiar with the motel. I loved how she helped Miriam learn Spanish and I felt that Maria was a very kind and tolerant individual. As her parents start the clean-up process, Miriam pitches in. On an errand to the diner next door, she meets Kate. Kate’s grandmother owns the diner and eventually, Miriam ends up helping out at the diner making pies.

Now that Miriam has met a friend, the two girls start hanging out together. While talking about their small town, they come up with a plan that they think will benefit everyone in it. Now, if only they don’t get caught creating their plan! An innocent plan which when you think about it, was harmless. I thought the girls were rather clever. As guests arrived to the hotel, Miriam meets Anton. This child was a gem! Anton arrived with his mother and his wheelchair. Miriam saw the wheelchair. I really think she saw the wheelchair before she saw Anton until Anton met her in the swimming pool. After that, Miriam changed how she looked at him. Anton was not the only person who tried to help Miriam with her fear of water, Uncle Mordy tried his hand at that, too. Uncle Mordy arrived to help out the family so he decided to help Miriam. Slowly, he introduced her the water, letting the water touch her upper thighs, it was a start.

The girls felt guilty for what they did for the town but they didn’t want to admit to anyone what they did. Just as the family is enjoying their new home, they discover something painful and disturbing at the motel. This event has a snowball effect on the community which all began because of emotions and the lack of accountability. I cringed to see this happened to them and I had to hope that somehow, they found find strength to fight it.

And what do you see? Just one of many that are out there.

A middle school read that packs religion, faith, friendship, disabilities, and family all in one book. I found it to be a fast read and I really enjoyed it. 4.5 stars

” They stand with their arms around each other. The man points and traces somthing in the air. The woman nods and smiles and I see tears rolls down her cheeks. “
“Is what we did good or bad? Yes, we fooled people, but if it makes them happy and gives them hope and saves the motel and the diner, is that so bad?”

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

5 stars Children’s Book

This book is beautiful!  This book says it all.  If you were to buy one book to have in your library, this should be the one!  It’s almost brought tears to my eyes as the author explains how we are all unite on this one big planet. 

I really enjoyed the illustrations inside this book, from how much detail was included, to the color choice, to how much there was to look at, these illustrations were wonderfully done.  I was impressed with how the author used an assortment of each topic to get her point across.  When she addressed how individuals traveled:  she included a rowboat, tugboat, skateboard, taxi, tractor, airplane, hot air balloon, camper, police car, ambulance, race car, wheelchair, pickup, bus, etc.  The two pages were full.  The author covers a variety of subjects in this book including families, weather, food, what people do, feelings, etc.   There was this feeling of love and community that came over me as I read this book, that we all are together on this planet, breathing and hopefully working together. 

This is an oversized book (11.25 x9 approx.) with 74 pages.  This is not one book that will be read once and put away as the illustrations again, are interesting and many of them have lots of look at.  I think this one is a keeper.  I highly recommend this one and make sure you read the last page of the book as the author talks about how she arrived at writing this book. 

” There are lots of things we don’t know.  We don’t know where we were before we were born or where we go when we die.  But right this minute, we are here together on this beautiful planet.”

“We humans define ourselves be where we are born, where we live, what we believe, by the clothes we wear, and the languages we speak.  But there is no “typical” person.  We are all different.”

Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison

4 stars Mystery

Love makes some individuals blind and stupid.  Claire claims that she loves Jack and Jack feels that Claire is the one yet, let’s be real here.  Do they think that they can hide parts of their lives from each other, when they’re days away from tying the knot?  I wasn’t sure who was wearing the better disguise, Claire or Jack?  I do know that I enjoyed discovering how they each thought that they had the upper hand.    

I was in Claire’s corner as I learned how closed-lipped Jack was about parts of his life.  Was he just wanting to move on or was he trying to hide something? She knew that she wasn’t Jack’s #1 but I wasn’t prepared for how this really affected her. The longer I read the book, I thought perhaps they might just be right for each another, as Claire’s secrets were disclosed.  

Setting in motion the events leading up to their wedding ceremony, the parties arrive on the island and I was in awe. Talk about money! It’s an amazing place but dang, this wonderful day was turning into a nightmare.  A nightmare that I enjoyed but the individuals on the island, weren’t having so much fun. 

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The author did a great job disclosing their secrets and I enjoyed the implications that these had on the individuals involved. A time for celebration, the main characters were on edge while many of the guests were enjoying themselves on the island, I liked how there was this mix as it provided an element of uncertainty in the book.  This was a great mystery that I had a hard time putting down.

Thank you to HarperCollins and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion. #HerDarkLies #NetGalley