Little Elliott Fall Friends

4.5 stars Children’s

I’m in love with this little elephant and his mouse friend. This story is simple but their friendship warms my heart. Little Elliott and Mouse love living in the city but sometimes it gets to be too much, so the decide they need to get away. The two jump on a bus and head to the country where they can enjoy everything the country has to offer.

I liked how the two friends realized that they needed to get away and they chose somewhere, where they could just relax and enjoy themselves and each other. I loved how everyone accepted the two friends in the country and how the two friends fit right into the countryside. The illustrations were wonderful and bright and captured the energy of the book. 4.5 stars

Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks

3.75 Stars Suspense

Different.  With plenty of strong points, this book captured my attention, as the characters tried to protect their private lives, the only way that they knew how.  As the story kept building and building, something felt off as I read.   Perhaps it was me, perhaps it was my own expectations that were getting in the way but I felt that the tempo of this story was off.  Overall, I did enjoy the book, the story was captivating and I loved how all the twists worked and made my head spin.    

Secrets and lies, what a combination and one to keep you on your toes.  I enjoyed how the plot thicken as the story progressed.  The story starts off with a flashback and then, the narration progresses forward.  This short flashback is important as it sets the stage for one of the main characters.  Just when I thought the story couldn’t get any deeper, something else is thrown into the pot and more events unfolded.  I loved all the different reveals and how the author took the time to slowly introduce them.  The connection to events and items in the story was nicely done and like a puzzle, they all fit together.   I felt like at times, I was siding with one of the characters and then, I would learn something else and I would change my mind.  I just didn’t know which end was up sometimes. 

What I had a difficult time with while reading this novel, was the energy level in the book.  There were some excellent twists in this book and based on these developments, I was expecting this book to become more tense or more dramatic as time continued.  Some of these twists were pretty intense!  Yet, I didn’t feel that way as I read it.  I don’t know, perhaps I was expecting too much or again, it was just me. I did enjoy the book but I felt it was missing this intensity.   It’s like hearing that music from the Jaws movie and expecting something exciting or intense to occur.   The ending of the book, I didn’t really care for that part either. 

I think this was a good read, it contained lots of twists and interesting characters.   The story kept me on my toes and I look forward to reading more from this author.  3.75 stars

Subject matter: rape, death, alcoholism,

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing, Adele Parks, and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book to me in exchange for an honest opinion.

MonsterStreet: Camp of No Return by J.H. Reynolds

5 stars Middle School

Every time I read one of these MonsterStreet books, I swear it’s the best one that I have read. So, I will say it again, these books just keep getting better and better! I’m hooked on this series! Every time that I hear that a new one is coming out, I’m all over it, just waiting for release day and I’m over 50 years old. This book had it all. It had the creep factor, the suspense, the cliff hangers at the ends of some of the chapters and fantastic characters. Do you need to start at the beginning of this series to enjoy this? No, but I guarantee that you’ll be inhaling them, once you start reading them.

As you read books in this series, you’ll come across aspects in the mystery that you know or you feel that you know, are not as scary as they come across. What I like about this series is that the author, dismisses many of these aspects immediately, instead of letting them add up, and then dismissing them later in the book. An example: if a character in the book finds a cloth with red liquid on it. Instead of having the reader believe that this cloth is a bloody towel throughout the book, the author lets the characters uncover what the cloth might be immediately and dismisses it as a napkin with ketchup on it. I feel that helps put the important pieces of the mystery together in the book.

Riding to summer camp on the bus, a few of the kids, made friends. They each felt special, as they were amongst a selected group to be invited to Camp Moon Lake. It was said to be magical yet they have promised, like all previous campers before them, not to disclose what occurs while at camp.

When Brodie tells Harper and Darla the rumor that he heard about the camp, this summer camp just took on a chill. As a fog smothers the camp and a scream welcomes the campers, this week at camp will be one that everyone will remember.

I enjoyed the horror aspects of this for young readers. No blood or gore but I would know your audience before letting young elementary children read this. Some children might not be able to handle it, and I’d hate to hear about someone having a nightmare. If a child is able to distinguish reality from everything else, they should be okay reading this. I’m not going to go into what this book was about as I don’t want to spoil it. I really loved the book and the ending was amazing! I can’t wait for the next one!

Issues: bullying, friendship, family,

Last Couple Standing by Matthew Norman

4.5 stars Fiction

This was not the story that I had expected to read when I picked up this book.  I was expecting the story to be more humorous and reckless but it wasn’t.  The story didn’t make light of the situations that these individuals were in, these characters were realistic and natural. I found myself enjoying this book more than I thought I would.

They call themselves the Core Four. From college graduation, to attending each other weddings, to moving out to the suburbs together, these four individuals have been together through it all. It’s like one big extended family, as all the spouses and kids all get along.  It seems like a perfect world for these individuals until one of the couples decides that their marriage is over.  The “d” word has shattered this image. 

This news shakes the group and I immediately start thinking, “the grass always looks greener on the other side.”  I know that others in their group will start to follow them soon but many questions run through my head.  Will they all divorce?  Will they turn on one another? They’ve been together a long time as a group, will they stay together?  What if “the grass is not greener?”  What is dating like now? They won’t start dating each other, will they?

It wasn’t long before, three out of the four couples divorced or had started the process of divorcing and only one couple remained with their wedding rings still on. Whew! One couple made it!! But wait, it’s not over yet.  The couple has started contemplating their position now.  Do they really want to be married?  Do they really love each other?  Divorce is such an extreme option but what other choice do they have?  

This book was a reality check. I liked how the group stayed together and how they tried to help each other when events in their life changed.  Being unmarried and single seemed like a great idea, yet they didn’t really see the whole picture. As they projected their positive image to others, what was really going on inside? The options available to them as an uncommitted adult looked wonderful and exciting, until they lived it. The married couple and the choice that they made; I kept wondering how long it was going to last.  I could feel this couple’s emotions as they tried to carry through with their plans but there were other things they were contending with. 

I really enjoyed how realistic this book felt. Nothing was over-the-top and the characters each had their own identity.  I laughed and smiled as the characters moved through their life, trying to make the best of their choices and their situations. A great story with interesting characters.  

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.

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. “

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

All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

5 stars YA

The teens each arrived to their destination, following the details of the invitation that they each received.  They were looking forward to a fun-filled evening.  After all the years of studying, staying up late, and doing countless problems, they were finally getting their reward. Yet, as the teens looked around the room and did the math, they realized the numbers weren’t adding up. Then, someone noticed the something strange in the room and the note.  What kind of a reward were they getting tonight?  And who, just shut the door?

As they read the note, a more serious mood replaces the relaxed atmosphere that once inhabited the room. They had just one hour, one hour to pick someone to die.  Was this a joke?  Who would do something like this? Now what?

I liked the premise of this book as it sounded like something that I could really get into. In a book like this, I always wonder what I would do as I read what the characters were actually doing. It was interesting how the author chose such a variety of individuals to lock inside this room together but in the end, it all made sense.

The novel continues to switch from present to past tense throughout the book, to tell the whole story.  I wondered sometimes if it would have been a better story if just one of the characters told us the story from the past instead of having us readers switch back and forth.  I know some readers hate (I know hate is a powerful word) books that have the back-and-forth reading.  I felt in this book, that I was doing A LOT of switching back and forth, almost too much for me.  Did I like any of the characters?  Not really. There were quite a few of them to keep track of and I thought a few of them were self-centered.

I enjoyed the book and the twists that came with it.  After I finished reading it, I got to thinking, wow, this all happened in one hour!  They only had a one-hour time limit.  That sure was a ton of stuff to happen and think about in one hour.  The book addresses depression, suicide, and bullying.

We Dream of Space by Erin Kelly

5 stars Middle School

They lived under the same roof but they’re all living separate lives. Three siblings and their parents, coexisting at the same address.  Cash walked with a dark cloud over his head, as he was failing 7th grade for the second time.  He also worrying about his bench seat on the basketball team.  His brother, Fitch is an arcade wizard, who begins to get a temper when he’s harassed by his peers. Oh, why did you have to get involved with the girls, Fitch?

Then, there is Bird.  She writes instructional manuals, a job that she takes very seriously.  She’s a wonderful student, has great self-esteem: Bird’s life is good. One visit to a friend’s house changes all of this for Bird. 

The parents should be the connecting element with these siblings but they don’t connect.  The parents sit in their own corners; one reading and one watching the television.  We’re told there is a lot of verbal fighting between the two of them, with some of it escalating to items being thrown.  It’s sad that their children don’t get much support from them but I had to smile while reading, as the sibling created ways to work around this.

What I enjoyed about this book was the moments that were eye-opening experiences or experiences that made the siblings grow.  At the beginning of the book, the siblings were acting alone, they were their own island. As the book progressed, they began to see each other.  There were actual other individuals in their own home.  Worthy individuals!   

Linking the dramatics in the family and the excitement of the Challenger launch that occurred on January 28, 1986, you’ve got an excellent book.  Hopes, dreams, struggles, successes, and trying to find your way, it’s all inside here.