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. 

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.

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. 

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

4 stars Fiction

I love a great cover and I feel that this one definitely has one. This novel sounded interesting yet when I first started to read it, I was a bit confused.  With alternating time periods and a variety of characters, it took a bit for me to get everything straightened around.  As the story began to take shape, I soared through the pages.  

Meeting Jonathan, I thought he was one of those individuals who was too-big-for-his-britches (I think I’m beginning to sound like my grandmother now).  He came off as being too sophisticated and suave and he was using that to his advantage.  I know some people like these types of people but me, I run the other way.  Anyways, Jonathan owns the Hotel Caiette which is a 5-star hotel and I thought he basically, used this hotel as bait.

Jonathan, claiming to produce high results in the finance world, begins to climb up the ladder and build-up his clientele with his former bartender, Vincent on his arm.  Afterall, he needs to keep up his image, when dealing with high-end clients. 

As Vincent places the ring on her finger, she’s ready to step into some new shoes and get out from behind the bar at Hotel Caiette.  The commitments that they made to each other had me shaking my head. It made me wonder if I would do what she did, was it really worth it?

I don’t know much about Ponzi schemes but Jonathan sure is a smooth operator as he works the players.  He has quite a few individuals working beside him, making everything run smoothly and it made me wonder who knew what he had up his sleeve.

From making drinks to wearing elegant evening gowns, Vincent’s jump in social class is quite an adjustment for her and one that I’m not sure she enjoyed every day. I enjoyed it when she was able to be herself.

As I get further into the book, each page that I turned, I wonder if and when, things would go sour.  I was just waiting for the ball to drop.

I want to thank Knopf Books and Goodreads for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

5 stars Historical Fiction

This was an excellent audio to listen to. I couldn’t understand why I was able to get the audio right off the shelf at the library while the list to obtain the physical book was miles long. Although there were a lot of discs, the novel went quickly. Before reading this novel, I wondered if this book was going to be like The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek that I had previously read and loved, since they sounded similar in nature. What I found after I read this book was, although they were similar, it was the women in each story that made the two books different.  

I really enjoyed Margery in this story.  This woman had some spit fire in her. I loved her spunk from the minute I heard her speak. I wondered if somewhere, down the road in my listening of these discs, if something would backfire and she would pay for her outspoken personality.  Afterall, considering where she was, this time in history, and her being a woman, she really was an outstanding individual. Margery was her own person; she wasn’t concerned about what others thought or said.  Margery did what she thought needed to done.  I loved how Margery encouraged the women who supported the library and how she brought all the women together.

As the women brought the books to their patrons who lived out on the mountains, they were bringing more than just books to them.  I could feel the love, compassion, and companionship that their visits provided as I listened to the author’s words.  

As the women gathered for their “library meetings,” a big grin came across my face as I wondered exactly what they would be discussing today. No topic was dismissed as their meetings became more personal and entertaining each time they met.  Was it actually an official meeting or a girl’s night out, back at the meeting house as they met and chatted?  

I was delighted as to how much these women had grown during these 11 discs.  When they first came together, they thought of this as only a job but as I put in each disc, what this position became, was much more.  This became one of those books where I didn’t want it to end.

This book wasn’t all about women either.  Relationships both sweet and sour entered the picture from the sounds coming from the next room, to crushes, to the way individuals began to soften around the edges when certain others were around.  Some men also voiced their opinion about the library and about the women working in it.  You can imagine how that went down.

It was an entertaining and fast novel to listen to and I highly recommend it.

Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay For Dinner by Finn Buckley

5 stars Children’s

This is a cute book and I liked how the book was written, by a father and son team when the son was seven.  How cute is that? The story is written with two different endings and the reader gets to decide which ending they want to read. I liked the simplicity of the book yet, if you know nothing about eating lobster, I think you will have a hard time understanding the book.  It’s a fun story and I enjoyed it.

The story is about a lobster named Lenny who is thrilled to be invited to a dinner party.  Lenny, makes the perfect dinner guest, as when dressing for the party, he gets all snazzy and he brings gifts for everyone he thinks might be attending.

Arriving at the party, everyone is excited to see Lenny, perhaps too excited (you have to see the illustrations- they were hilarious!). They even offered Lenny a gift, which he was not expecting. At this point, Lenny should be questioning exacting what kind of party this is.  His gift can actually take on different meanings. Is Lenny optimistic or doesn’t he understand?  This begins the twist in the story. 

Before you go any further in Lenny’s story, you have to decide whether Lenny should stay or leave the dinner party.  Should he stay for the rest of the evening or should he turn around and walk out the door?

I, my friends, had Lenny walking out the door!  These people do not look very friendly towards poor Lenny, and he was really looking for a good time at this party.  To have Lenny leave the party, I had to move forward in the book to a different page.  How fun is this?  If I had chosen to have Lenny stay at the party, I would have just continued reading.

I liked how this book all came together.  It was a fun read and I really enjoyed the illustrations.  I thought the language was entertaining and children will enjoy it.  I like how there were only two options and I can see how this book would give children the idea of creating their own books based n this idea.  I think children who understand about lobsters will enjoy this book.

Instructions by Neil Gaiman

4 stars Children’s

I had to read this book twice to fully appreciate it. The first time through, I think I got half the messages that this book wanted me to get. It also a book that I couldn’t rush through but I had to stop and fully absorb what I read on each page. The illustrations stopped me in my tracks a few times, as I thought they really didn’t match what I thought should go with the words on the page nevertheless, I enjoyed what I read. This book to me was a words-of-wisdom book as each page(s) was about making your way in the world.

The illustrations were just as great as the words in this book. They were fun to look at as they contained a lot of detail and there was the fantasy aspect of them. How can you go wrong with trolls, cats, and beasts? Written by Neil Gaiman, this is what brought me to pick up this one.