Willodeen by Katherine Applegate

5 stars Children’s Fantasy

I enjoyed this fantasy world with Willodeen.  Not under the best of circumstances, I liked how Willodeen discovered a problem and was persistent as she worked to solve it. A strong, determined character, she was compassionate to others and I felt that although she alone, she knew she wasn’t lonely. 

After a fire claimed the lives of her parents and a sibling, Willodeen lives with 2 older women who were healers. Willodeen is a quiet girl who prefers to spend her time in the great outdoors; observing nature and taking notes.  Willodeen likes to search for Screechers.  Although, they’re not the adorable hummingbears (small bear with wings) that the villagers all loved, to Willodeen, they were her favorite. Her father had taught her to love all things including unlovable things which to some individuals included the Screechers.  Yes, these Screechers produced a loud screech but they also were grumpy, smelly creatures that were definitely unwelcomed by the villagers. 

The villagers are aware of Willodeen’s passion for the Screechers and I couldn’t believe how cruel and immature some of them were towards her.  She was an 11-year-old girl for cripes sake!  I was glad when Connor was introduced to Willodeen. Connor and Willodeen are both reserved and smart individuals and they both also needed a friend.  I enjoyed reading how their friendship evolved. 

As the Autumn Faire date approaches, the village starts to plan the annual celebration.  This year though, it isn’t looking good financially for the town.  As the village’s huge moneymaker, the hummingbears haven’t made their annual return yet.  They know, if they don’t return, neither will the tourists.  The villagers need this revenue to survive.  What can they do to get them back?  Why have they suddenly stopped coming?  Where are they?  Lots of questions are hanging in the air and there seems to be only one person who has all the answers.  One person with a notebook full of notes.  Another great read by Katherine Applegate.  5 stars

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

5+ stars Fiction

Once I inside the doors of Big Angel’s house, I didn’t want to leave. I knew exactly how this story would end as I was told that in the beginning pages of this book, yet I grew fond of each individual in Big Angel’s life and my admiration for him soared.  I laughed, cried and flipped my way through these pages until I realized that I was holding just a few unread pages in my right hand.  This was it, I had to finish what I had started.  I eased my pace for I would only be able to hold onto these dear individuals for just a while longer.  My new family knew that change was inevitable but to what decree, was undetermined.

Big Angel had been planning his last birthday party but now mother/grandma would need to be laid to rest before the celebration.  Big Angel knew that this would be his last hurrah, as he gathers his clan together in the family’s home.  As the patriarch, he was actually much more than that to his family and friends throughout the years.  This story of about hope, survival, family, about making a difference, and about being yourself was fantastic and I’m so glad bookclub choose it. 

Big Angel, the family’s leader, feels that he has now been reduced to a child.  This man, that his siblings used to see as a father figure, the punctual, computer-genius he once was, is now using a wheelchair and needs help with most of his daily functions.  As a Mexican immigrant, Big Angel and his family have had some interesting and amazing adventures throughout their lifetime.  As family and friends gather to celebrate Big Angel birthday, their adventures are far from over.  For on this one day, some see Big Angel for who he really is.  

As I listened to all the different individuals in the story, I enjoyed their interactions and how they all fed into the maze of each other’s lives.  As the author blended in all the different time periods, I liked seeing and hearing exactly what had transpired during this time and their account of the event.  Big Angel is a proud man yet he’s also humble.  As he writes in his mole-skinned notebooks, it’s the honesty and the thought that he puts into each entry that makes these books so special.  He’s a man who has accepted what life has given to him and now, he’s appreciating it all.  Speaking from the heart, his comments led me to cry and to laugh, sometimes all within a few pages of each other.  There are tons of great moments in this book, moments that make me smile just thinking about them.  After borrowing this book from the library to read, I realize that I need this book in my collection so I can reread it in the near future. It is definitely a keeper and one that I highly recommend.  5+ stars

“At the end of the day, all he really knew was that he was a Mexican father. And Mexican fathers made speeches. He wanted to leave her with a blessing, with beautiful words to sum up a life, but there were no words sufficient to this day.  But still, he tried.  “All we do, mija,” he said, “is love. Love is the answer.  Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.”

Princesses Are Not …….. by Kate Lum

4 stars Children’s

I’m reviewing three different books about three princesses. These are children’s books and you don’t need to read them in any specific order but they do feature the same princesses in all the books. I found the books funny, cute, and I liked how they each had a different lesson(s) attached to them.

Princesses Are Not Perfect

Let me introduce the three princesses that are featured in this book series: Princess Allie, Princess Mellie, and Princess Libby.  Princess Allie has blond hair and she likes to bake.  Princess Libby has red/pink hair and she likes to build things.  Princess Libby has purple hair and she likes to garden.   With their own special talents, they think of nothing else but what they’re good at. 

Let me introduce the three princesses that are featured in this book series: Princess Allie, Princess Mellie, and Princess Libby.  Princess Allie has blond hair and she likes to bake.  Princess Libby has red/pink hair and she likes to build things.  Princess Libby has purple hair and she likes to garden.   With their own special talents, they think of nothing else but what they’re good at. 

Allie is the happiest when she’s baking and her cakes are delicious.  Mellie can make anything grow and like Allie, when she’s gardening, this is her happy place.  Princess Libby can build anything you ask her to and she loves doing it. 

Some children are coming for the Summer Party tomorrow at the palace and the princesses are now making plans.  Suddenly, Mellie decides that she’s had enough gardening and she wants to try baking.  What?!?  Mellie explains that “princesses are good at everything,” so she wants to do something different now.   Allie doesn’t know what to think about Mellie taking over her what she loves to do plus…….what was she supposed to do now?   Mellie explains to the other princesses that Allie can now build things and Libby will now do the gardening.  Everyone will do something different and it all be great. 

Informing their housekeeper of their new roles, the princesses inform the housekeeper that they’re excited about their new responsibilities and they get their first list of jobs.  Boy, what a list!!  It’s time to get working for the summer party is tomorrow! 

The princesses definitely worked.  They tried but the end result, looked nothing like the 100 small baskets of berries, the 100 little chairs, or the 100 cupcakes with pink roses that they needed for the party.  You need to sit in chairs, right?  As they get ready for dinner, the princesses aren’t their cheerful selves and after eating, they drag themselves to bed. 

In the morning, the princesses awoke, excited for the party.   At lunchtime, the children arrive and everything was perfect.  What?! From the treats, to the chairs, to the little baskets of fruit.  It was as if magic had occurred overnight and transformed the items the princesses had originally created.   The magic of love.

This was a cute story.  I liked how the princesses tried to do something different, for they at least tried.  They also didn’t brag or criticize each other during the process.   The princesses did what needed to be done and they moved on.   The illustrations are funny and complete this book.   5 stars

Princesses Are Not Just Pretty

I laughed when I read this book as it reminded me of some elementary students.  Some elementary students always seem to want to compare things: which one writes better, who is faster, who can jump higher, who is taller, who colors better?  In this children’s story, we again have the three princesses, Princess Mellie, Princess Libby, and Princess Allie from the previous book.  Each of them feel that they’re the prettiest.  They each have different attributes to claim the title and to me, I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for in a princess, to give her that title but in this story, they’re going to have a beauty contest to decide the winner.

Four clever girls get to judge the princesses and zoom, off the princesses go to get ready!  They prep and they pamper themselves getting ready and when they’re finally ready, each of them sets off for the contest.  As they make their way, they each discover someone that’s dealing with a crisis that needs their immediate help.  Not wasting a minute, each of the princesses jumps in and assists.  Mud, smoke, water, the princesses tackle them all.  Each emergency is a success but the princesses do not fare so well.   Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I say.  Arriving at the contest, the princesses take the stage.

In all, being pretty isn’t everything.   There are other qualities that should be admired and respected and the judges take that approach.  I enjoyed the last illustration as there are some of the individuals/animals that the princesses assisted in their cries for help with them on the stage.  I think that by showing this, it helps emphasize one of the books main ideas.    The illustrations in this book are super cute too.

5 stars Childrens

Princesses Are Not Quittes!

Once again, we’re in the huge silver palace with Princess Mellie, Princess Libby, and Princess Allie. I like that in this book, we actually get to see on the beginning pages, just how huge their palace is. I don’t think huge accurately describe it, I would use words like enormous or gigantic.

Eating their breakfast in the garden, one of the princesses mentions how boring being a princess really is. As a group of girls now moved past the princesses, the princesses notice that these girls were again having all the fun! They were out in the fresh air and they were again doing something interesting. It just wasn’t fair! Calling these girls over, the princesses tell the girls that they’re going to switch places with them. They immediately, exchange clothing.

When the housekeeper hears of this switch, she questions the princesses but they’re determined to keep their new roles. From now on, the princesses will be the servants and the servants will be princesses. How funny!! The princesses can’t wait to get to work but by lunch time, they’re already behind schedule and I’m exhausted even thinking of them doing everything on the list the housekeeper gave them. I liked how the princesses kept going even though they were exhausted and I loved the amount of work that was included on the list. The illustrations were cute and entertaining too. There were some good points in the book and I liked how they were presented.

This is a fun series and I like how there are ideas/lessons in each of the stories. I thought the ending of the book was excellent and I really enjoyed this book.

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

5 stars Historical Fiction

This novel covered only three days yet those days felt longer than the typical 24-hours.  I enjoyed the diversity among the characters in this novel, as they balanced each other out.  Inside this makeshift maternity ward, the mothers are facing a lot of uncertainty.  Although one might have experience working with expectant mothers, the Spanish Flu was a variant that no one had experience with.  As Julia dives into her new position, Bridie walks into her life.  Bridie, her honest and accommodating spirit, I loved everything about her. 

When I first met Bridie, I had a tender spot for her.  There was this warmth and grace about her, it was just something that I felt as I read the book. Julia and Bridie build this great relationship in the book as they work with each other and their patients. Even though one had more experience, they balanced each other as Bridie kept Julia grounded.  They nurtured each other.  I liked the uncertainty of the situations that they were facings, the characters, and the relationships that transpired. I thought this was an excellent audio as I listened to it on a Playaway (an audio).   

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

I am the Storm by Jane Yolen

5 stars Children’s

Mother Nature throws at us some fierce storms, whether that be hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, or blizzards but as humans we are fierce too. Jane Yolan does an excellent job showing that although we have no control over Mother Nature, we can control how we react to what happens in our area.  Each of these situations are unpredictable, yet in this children’s book we find comfort and strength to weather any storm that should come our way.

The illustrations inside this book are just wonderful. From the purple-orange swirl of the tornado to the burning marshmallow, for each of these little details brings this book to life.  I enjoyed the diversity as each of the families as they dealt with their disaster.  Although their situations weren’t as devasting as we witness on the news, there was still work to be done and emotions that need to be addressed, after their event had passed.  Yolan text is soothing and instills with her readers that the disaster will eventually end and they too, will survive.  Things might look different outside for them but “It’s okay to be scared” for they are “strong and powerful” and each of them have characteristics of the storms within them.  In the back of the book, Yolan gives a brief description about each type of storm. 5 stars

“And when the storm passes,

as it always does,

I am the calm, too.”

Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey

4 stars Mystery

This was dark.  I felt as I was reading this novel that I was being led down different paths, roads that never really connected to one another till later in the book. I knew immediately when Emma left Abigail at the party that she had made the wrong choice.  The beer is flowing freely, the bonfire is hot and the guests are ready to party.  Abigail leaves Emma behind as she walks off into the woods with the boy.  Abi tells her friend that she’ll be fine and that, she’ll find a ride home later.  Abigail never made it home that night.

So, where is Abi?  To answer that question, we’ll need to time travel and return to “Then” and get some history on our characters. Throughout this book, you’ll be rotating time periods from “then” and “now”, so don’t lose track of where you are. 

Welcome to Whistling Ridge, a small community, where not-even the preacher was honorable.  It seemed as if every citizen has a secret side of themselves, a side that only a few others see.  That hidden side can hold many different attributes and, in this town, it holds a great number.  From prejudices, abuse, phobias, anger and lying, these are just some of the issues that you’ll find on their city blocks.  I really find it interesting how all these individuals can live together in one small community and they can actually exist with one another. With everything that is dividing our country now, how can such a small town have such a high number of issues and still function as a community?  The history of these individual play a major role as they investigate where Abi went.

I, myself have never lived in a small town but my grandparents did when I was growing up and I visited there quite frequently. My grandfather owned the general store in town and we’d see lots of folks stop in.  I don’t remember hearing or hearing my grandparents talk negatively about their neighbors.  Perhaps, it depends on where you live and perhaps, they kept that information away from my ears.  I seem to gravitate towards dark stories and this one definitely checked that box, while also keeping me engaged and energized.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

The Therapist by B.A. Paris

4.5 stars Mystery

Wakey, wakey!! I wondered as I read this book if Alice was even awake.  Did someone give her something or what’s up?  Every time a new event presented itself in this book, I’d get squeamish and wonder if this was the event that would give Alice the kick that she needed.  The nudge to finally pack those bags of hers and start looking at things from the outside. 

When Alice first found out about the incident at the new house which had been kept from her, I’d be doing some serious thinking.  I couldn’t believe that Alice was buying into her boyfriend’s explanation of his behavior.  Why exactly does he love that house so much?  What is this connection that he feels towards it?  Then, let’s induce that party crasher that you had.  This ends up not just being a typical party crasher whose coming for free drinks and food.  Nope.  He’s looking alright but he’ll be back, as he really thinks you have something he needs. 

Hello…..get packing Alice!  Why are you still staying in that house? I love a good mystery but not while I’m a part of it.  I felt that all the issues just kept adding up and I was wondering if Alice was even keeping up with all the drama.  Then, when Alice mentions her sister presence, yeah.  Well, Alice perhaps you need that house as much as your boyfriend does.

This was an entertaining read by one of my favorite authors.  She just kept on giving me reasons to question the characters and unwrap the story.  4.5 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.”

What! Cried Granny an Almost Bedtime Story by Kate Lum

5 + stars Children’s

This book is hilarious!  Granny is amazing and Patrick innocence is charming.   I didn’t like the illustrations when I first read the book but after looking at them, they fit the book.  The illustrations are quirky and different.  It most definitely should be read at bedtime and then, read it anytime!

Patrick is spending the night at his Granny’s house for the very first time.  It’s getting dark so Patrick is asked to get ready for bed.   But there is a problem.  Remember, this is Patrick’s first time staying over with his Granny, so he doesn’t have a bed.  Big problem?  Nope!  Granny runs out the door, chops down one of the tall trees growing in the yard, takes it to her workroom and creates Patrick a bed with her tools.  Wowza!  She did all that while carrying her purse on her arm.  Granny now has blue paint splattered on her apron from painting the bed but with the red mattress on it, Patrick is ready! 

But wait, Granny mentions a pillow and Patrick doesn’t have one.  WHAT?   Yep, Granny to the rescue!  Granny does have some chickens, some cloth, thread and a needle.  A little later, Patrick has a pillow!    Do you see how this book is set up?  It’s so comical.  Granny is running around getting things ready so Patrick can go to sleep and Patrick, well he’s playing with a variety of toys and watching TV., waiting for Granny. Now, that Patrick has a pillow, Granny tells Patrick to climb into his bed (has that now), lay his head on his pillow (got that now), pull the blanket up (WHAT, no blanket yet), AND ……. (off we go again)

This is a hoot!  Granny is amazing, she can do almost anything!  Patrick is so lucky to have her.  I’m going to have to find a copy of this book.  It’s a keeper. 

To listen to the story: