The Thing I’m Most Afraid Of by Kristin Levine

4.5 stars MIddle School

The cover doesn’t do this book any justice but since I’ve really loved a few of the authors other books (The Lions of Little Rock and The Paper Cowboy), I wanted to read a few of her other books.  Twelve-year old Becca is brilliant.  In my world, she’s gifted and Becca’s Doomsday Journals are a testament to this.  If you could ask her, she could pinpoint for you, exactly where she wrote down each anxiety that she has faced, in the numerous Doomsday Journals that she keeps.  And now, Becca is flying to Austria to spend the summer with her father.  Do you realize what this entails? I’m not sure Becca has enough new journals for this trip.

The characters inside this book were fantastic.  We have Becca, who needs to pack-up her anxiety, hop on a plane, and visit her father for the summer.  Wait, it gets even better because her father has a girlfriend with a son, Felix that’s about Becca’s age.  With the adults working during the day, they hired Sara to entertain the kids and take them on trips throughout the city.  I’m getting anxiety just thinking about this, so I can’t imagine what must be running through Becca’s head.  Becca’s mom is flying with her to Austria (thank you, mom) and then, mom’s taking a backpacking trip (I guess she won’t be easily available should Becca need her).  Wow, that’s a lot for Becca to process!

Becca doesn’t want anyone to know about her anxiety and she tries to hide it but obviously, she can’t.  As Sara tries to show them a good time, Becca’s hesitation and reluctancy shows.  When Becca comes clean, she realizes that she’s not alone but what’s next? Now that the three of them have come together, how can they move forward? 

I loved how they worked together and encouraged one another.  I enjoyed the inspiration, the motivation, and the friendship that they built.  Although they each felt alone with own challenges, they really had similar feelings that when they finally expressed them, they could worked together/help each other to find solutions.  Another great book. 4.5 stars

Shark Summer by Ira Marcks

4 stars Middle School graphic novel

What a great adventure! Gayle had led her team to the Championship but now, the star pitcher was nursing her wrist and reflecting back on that flyball that landed her in the emergency room.  With her mother’s dream on hold, Gayle’s shoulders felt heavy with guilty. Her mother would now have to seek employment at a hotel and the doors to the Black Cat Creamery would stay shut.  Gayle’s medical bills needed to be paid off before she could continue on with the store’s grand opening.

I liked how honest Gayle’s mother was, how responsible Gayle felt and how Gayle wanted to help remedy the situation.  Gayle being a teen, sees beyond herself while at the same time, she acts like a kid.  When Gayle comes across a flyer for a contest, she’s determined to win the cash prize, and she begins putting in motion, what she has to do to get that accomplished.  

To win this contest, it’s not as easy as it first seems.  In their effort to win, the small group discovers an old mystery which they attempt to solve……….

There’s a lot of activity in this graphic novel.  This being said, I think that they did a great job with the panels in this book.  They provided a variety of sizes to keep the story interesting and to keep the story flowing smoothly.  There’s just enough detail in the artwork and the color choice was on the darker side, which added to the mystery and drama of the story.  I enjoyed how this new group of friends worked together also.  

Alone by Megan Freeman

4.25 stars Middle School

I have to admire an author that can take me on a journey using verse.  The word selection, the sentence structure, the punctuation, everything about the story has to be carefully selected by the author so they can lead their reader on a magical journey.  Set in Colorado, Megan introduces us to 12-year-old Maddie, who thought she was going to pull a fast-one on her parents but unfortunately, in the long-run Maddie ends up paying the price for what she did.  Alone, is a fantastic book about a world in which Maddie finds herself alone in, which had plenty of emotions as Maddie tries to survive on her own. 

I think we all have done something like this before but now, it was Maddie’s turn to try it.  She was telling her mom that she was staying at her dad’s house and then, telling her dad that she was staying at her mom’s house. Her friends are telling similar lies. Goal: sleepover at Maddie’s grandparent’s empty apartment.  Sounds like a great time but her friends get caught lying.  Maddie is by herself at her grandparents’ empty house. There’s noise outside the apartment during the night, but she’s technically not there so she stays hidden. In the morning, with her phone charged, alerts and warnings pop up on her screen. Imminent threat? Alert? When no one picks up or returns her calls, Maddie races home.  What is happening? Why isn’t anyone picking up their phone or returning Maddie’s phone calls?

Dang! What Maddie found is not good! Cell phones abandoned and individual houses look like people left in a hurry?  What was so urgent?  Maddie found the neighbor’s dog George, so at least she has someone to talk to but everyone, and I mean everyone is gone.  Eventually, Maddie has to start looking for food and supplies.  Searching in other people’s houses Maddie finds other pets that were left behind, some alive and some dead, they have been trapped in their houses. The two of them seem to be making it but for how much longer?  When Maddie has a question, the internet is no longer an option nor can someone provide the answer for her so Maddie takes her questions to the library.  Maddie looks up her questions at the library and while she’s there, Maddie begins to bring back books with her to read.  I liked reading about her experiences with the library.

It’s Colorado and the days are getting shorter.  Oh, I hate winter and just thinking about Maddie and winter, gave me the chills.  There’s also no electricity so Maddie has this to consider.  Would she be better off just packing some stuff and traveling to another city?  A year has passed and Maddie still wonders “when” they will be coming back for her.  I wonder, “if” they will be coming back.

I thought Maddie’s actions were typical for someone her age and I was happy to see that she didn’t get depressed or angry about her situation.  She addressed it a few times but she knew that she couldn’t just sit around and wait for someone to come rescue her.  She had to actively try to get food and supplies for herself and her dog so they could stay alive till someone came.  For more than 3 years, Maddie fought the elements, from the weather, to food, to emotional, and onto physical factors.  From snow and horrible rain storms, to fighting for food and hunting for it, to anger and being scared, and also enduring physical pain and exhaustion.  I still had some questions at the end of the book about the whole emergency situation, why Maddie was left alone so long and I really felt that the ending was rushed but I really enjoyed this book and the author use of verse to do so.  4.25 stars.

“If a birthday falls in the forest

but there’s no one there to celebrate

do we still get older?”

“Loneliness and insanity

are twin houseguests

and

it’s hard to entertain one

without inviting the other in

as well”

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

4 stars Middle School

I listened to this book on audio and I really enjoyed the voices. I don’t know why I picked up this book, it must have been the title and the synopsis that lured me in.  I enjoy Star Wars but I can’t say that I’m a huge fan but I can say that I’ve known my share of students in school who stood out as being “different.” 

I thought Dwight was rather creative.  As the voice of Yoda, what advice does he actually give to those who call upon him?  What stake does Yoda have in the lives of the individuals around him? What a creative way for Dwight to find his way into the lives of his peers.  I thought the book was rather interesting and said a lot about Dwight.  Not having any illustrations to look at, I think that I processed this book differently than someone who actually read and looked at the illustrations.  Fun, entertaining, and short story. I highly recommend the audio. 4 stars

Kate the Chemist: Dragons vs. Unicorns by Dr. Kate Biberdorf

4 stars Middle School

I was impressed how this middle school fiction story mixed in as much science as it did, without the story sounding ridiculous or too nerdy.  You mix in too much information and you lose too many readers, you provide minor information and you lose readers, you do this and you lose readers, I feel that there’s this fine line of what information you can include in these types of books to be successful.  I’ve read a couple of the author’s science experiment books so I thought it was only fitting that I try one of her fiction stories.  My advice: if you’re thinking about this book, do it!  Dr. Biberdorf mixes in science terminology, knowledge, and excitement into a fictional story of a small group of fifth grade friends who find that their fall break camp has more drama than they signed up for.

I liked Kate’s excitement about science.  Her willingness to try and her great attitude even if things get out of control, she’s giving it everything that she has.  She really wants others to love science and experience it like she does. I loved how the author mixed in the science terminology within the story.  I found this book to be a fast read, containing short chapters with just a handful of important characters.  I hope that the author includes more male characters in this series as I feel both boys and girls would enjoy reading them.  This looks to be a great start to a fun, educational series!    

No Exit by Taylor Adams

5 stars Thriller

I’ve read this book almost 2 books ago and I still can’t get this book out of my head.  The ending of the book had more twists than a rollercoaster and boy, do I love rollercoasters.  Once the adrenaline rush came, it came crashing down on me again and again, as Darby struggled to outwit her opponents in a war where she mentally or physically she could not rest. 

I don’t like snow or driving in snow yet where I live the possibility of snow is about 40% to 50% of my entire year.  It’s the unpredictability of snow and how other individuals behave in the snow, that makes me not like to drive in it.  Sitting behind the wheel with Darby, the snow creating a lacey veil for the struggling car to stay onto the assigned path, I’m finding myself, holding my breath.  Darby was stressed before hitting the road and now, the weather just adds to her frustration.  Since receiving the news, Darby just wanted to see her mother but now, just finding somewhere to park her car for a bit, would be a great relief.  When the windshield wiper flew off her car, I knew she was in trouble and as she limped into the rest area parking lot, I thought if she could at least stay in her vehicle, she would be fine.  But, had she pack her car for winter driving? I had a feeling that she didn’t. 

Oh Darby!  Making her way into the rest area, Darby takes in her surroundings.  The individuals hanging around inside and the location of different parts of this rest area.  When she hears that they’ve closed some of the roads due to the blizzard, she immediately began assessing the situation.  I wish she would’ve been this detailed before hitting the road, for I think it might have helped her considerably.  Darby is now stuck at a rest area with some total strangers, with no cell service and with a phone that’s almost dead. They won’t be coming to clear the roads for quite some time and when Darby goes back outside, she notices someone caged in a van.  Yes, I said caged and this someone is a small girl. 

Who is this girl?  Which one of the individuals inside the rest area owns the van?  Oh, the questions just start coming as nothing about what has just transpired is good.  Darby can’t keep still as she needs to do something to correct the situation but where does she begin? 

Thank goodness that Darby has an almost dead cell phone and no, my friends she hadn’t packed her car for winter driving nor had she prepared herself for any type of an emergency before she left.  She’s surrounded by a blizzard, alone, confronted with a nightmare which she has to put an end to tonight. 

This was a fantastic, high-energy book. It definitely got my adrenaline going and it still gets me pumped up when I think about it.  I would recommend it but with a warning, you might not get any sleep once you start it.   

Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee

3 stars Children’s

While this book has fantastic illustrations and the stories that the father tells his young son are sweet and emotional, I felt disconnected from the characters in the story.  I loved the idea behind this story but it felt as if the characters were telling the story, not actually living out the story on the pages. 

While mother writes in the living room, father does the dishes in the kitchen and their young son plays with his toys on the kitchen floor.  Suddenly, the young boy is tugging on his dad’s shirt and dad immediately knows that his son wants to see his tattoos because “you always want to see my tattoos.”   I didn’t understand the next illustration as now, the young boy is hanging off the back of his father as he looks at the tattoo on his father’s shoulder.   Did he climb up the back of his father?   If his father picked him up, why didn’t he just hold him to let him see it?  It looks as if the young boy is holding onto his father’s bare shoulder as he explains the tattoo.  Doesn’t that hurt and is the son that strong to hold on that long?  The text on the next page annoyed me also as it feels like I’m only hearing part of the conversation: “Did she read it to me over and over and over?     She sure did.”  So, we don’t hear the young boy speak.   

As father explains each tattoo to his young son, I enjoyed the stories that accompanied the tattoos but I didn’t like just hearing the father talk.  I wanted to actually hear what the son had to say, I wanted to feel his reactions.  Throughout the whole text, the young son doesn’t say anything in the text, yet somehow the father hears him and answers his questions in the text.  This annoyed me.

With wonderful illustrations and great stories that explain the father’s tattoos, this book did frustrate me when not all the main characters were given a voice in the text.     3 stars.

Playing Nice by J.P. Delaney

5 stars Fiction

Does biology trump love?  As I listened to this book, I kept wondering what I would do if I were placed in such a predicament.  After caring for a young child for 2 years, do you think you could relinquish control because someone made a mistake?  Was it a mistake or was it done on purpose?  It’s not like you got the wrong car, or the wrong dog (although this would be hard too), this is a small child who has depended on you, someone that you have cared for, protected, loved and bonded with for over 700 days. How could you walk away from that?  My mind couldn’t fantom how anyone was going to win in this situation. 

So many questions had to be answered after they proved that an error had occurred, and it began with who?  Who would commit such an act?  What did they have to gain from it?  I should have slowed the speed of the audio down as I felt that the book was speeding out of control or was it just the intensity of the situation.  I had my suspects but I didn’t feel that their motives were solid enough.  I felt an emotional connection to the children, how would they feel now and again, later in the future, knowing what happened to them?  Would this mess them up, could they bounce back, or would they need counseling to figure out why they now had another mommy and daddy?  Trying to correct the situation, I found myself arguing out loud, as each set of parents had their own idea on what they felt was the best plan.  Miles wanted to run the show, he thinks that he has everything under control and it frustrated me how he tries to take charge.  As I learned more about the children, the motive of why become clearer and the suspect list dropped to just a few individuals.  It was such a great book to listen to and one that completely took over my morning.  I highly recommend it.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

3 stars Fiction

I listened to this book on audio one weekend as I did projects around the house. I was hoping for something along the lines of a thriller, for that’s what the synopsis promised me but I found that, the book was more dramatic and historical in nature. Returning to Brooklyn, Sydney finds the neighborhood that she once called home changing. Although some change is expected, this modification becomes more like a revolution as the issues become deep and connected.

Sydney was trying to make a difference in her old neighborhood when she moves back to Brooklyn. Conducting research for a new job that she’s creating; she discovers what’s truly happening right before her very own eyes. I liked Sydney’s initiative and eagerness to move forward in her own life when she returns home and I liked how she steps up and starts to care for the garden area which was her grandmothers. The neighborhood of her childhood, which was once predominantly Black, is now being uprooted. The individuals behind this and why they’re allowed such behavior is what Sydney needs to uncover. She never expected to find gentrification or racism on her neighborhood block but what can she do about it? I wish I could leave the book like this but then, the ending came. I clearly was not a fan on how things came together in the final pages. I’m glad that I read the book as it deals with some of the current issues that some individuals face. 3 stars

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?”