Book Review: Thornwood (Book 1 of Sisters Ever After)

The Best Thing about this Book is the story it comes from, that of Sleeping Beauty.

Premise: You know the story: on her sixteenth birthday she’d fall under a curse by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. But did you know there was a sister? Briony is always in the shadows of her older sister, Rosalin, but now she’s telling the story and this one starts when the castle wakes after the curse set. What happened and why isn’t the curse fully broken? It’s up to Briony to put the pieces together and gain freedom from the murdering thornwood that is creeping ever-closer into the castle.

Rating: 2/5
Target: 3-7 grade

On the Rating: I am out of sync with many readers on this one, the reason for which I am unsure, but I can say I had to remind myself to read on in this book and keep the carrot of my to-read stack nearby. The voice bothered me as being particularly anachronistic (though it improved with more dialogue and less narration), which is to be expected, but was here annoying. Perhaps that’s it: I found Briony annoying, and she tells the story.

Main Character(s): Briony (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): danger, heroism, courage, myths

Great for…* (readers): who are young and enjoy Sleeping Beauty without holding tightly to the following of the original narrative.

Great for…* (teachers): who need to add to the classroom library.

Parental Warning(s): None

Interact: Which version do you prefer and why: the Disney film or this book by Leah Cypress?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: All You Knead is Love

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The Best Thing about this Book is the cast of characters, many of whom could be considered outcasts but are comfortable in their own skin.

Premise: Alba is sent to Barcelona to live with her abuela, a woman she hardly remembers because Mom has finally had it. She’s threatened many times before, but now, she’s following through on the promise to ship Alba to a place she says will be better.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: Alba finds herself helping at a nearby bakery. As she discovers a passion for breads, she also finds several friends and sense of, well, love.

Main Character(s): Abla (she/her) — she often gets mistaken for a boy and there is some gender play here

Motifs (not exhaustive): new beginnings, baking, physical abuse, trauma, family, community, business

Great for…* (readers): who enjoy baking or Spain or feel like an outsider or just want to be loved……so, everyone.

Great for…* (teachers): who want a Lit Circle book.

Parental Warning(s): It’s clear Alba’s father is physically abusive to her mother and emotionally/verbally abusive to Alba and her mother. The fact of it is mostly referenced through her mother’s bruises and Alba’s statements about how her dad doesn’t like her.

Interact: What bread would go well with this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: The Canyon’s Edge

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The Best Thing about this Book is the combination of the adventure genre with verse.

Premise: Nora blames herself for her mom’s death. If it hadn’t been her birthday or if she’d chosen a different restaurant, her mom would still be alive. Instead, one year later, she and her anxiety-ridden dad who no longer trusts people (except Nora) brings her to a canyon to hike and climb. When an unexpected natural event separates Nora and her father, Nora must survive in the desert and find her father before she loses two parents.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 5-8 grade

Title: Interspersed in the events of the narrative, Dusti Bowling inserts flashbacks as well as therapeutic moments and reflections. The symbolic meaning of both a canyon and an edge are played with here in terms of the wariness we have of falling and the necessity to climb up when we’ve been pushed in (see cover art), among other things.

Main Character(s): Nora (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief, PTSD, trauma, anxiety, survival, guilt, reflection, desert, solitude vs. loneliness

Great for…* (readers): who like Hatchet. Dare I say this is a newer, better adventure book rippling with figurative language?

Great for…* (teachers): who want to teach annotation and layers of reading. Good for incorporating poetry and different poetic forms. (Nora writes haikus regularly.)

Parental Warning(s): I mean, it’s there in the premise, isn’t it? Nora is dealing with the loss of her mother in an active shooter situation.

Interact: Which genre of nature’s beauty do you prefer and why: desert? coast? mountain?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: This is my Brain in Love

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The Best Thing About this Book is either the POV technique (you get to switch perspectives mid-scene sometimes) or the author’s knowledge of mental health.

Premise:  Jocelyn’s family runs a small Chinese restaurant that might be seeing its last days. Will’s future in journalism depends on his ability to get over his anxieties and interact with people face-to-face. When the two troubles collide over one summer, Jocelyn and Will must face their inner struggles and their feelings for one another as they attempt to save A-Plus Chinese from going under.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Title:  Every chapter of the book follows the structure of the book title: “This is my ____ on/in _____.” More than that, though, the title captures the duality of the plot in dealing with challenges in brain chemistry for the two main characters and their passions.

Main Character(s): Jocelyn (she/her) and Will (he/him), high school sophomores

Motifs (not exhaustive): mental health, love, independence, entrepreneurship, family, business, tradition, anxiety, depression, film, photography, journalism

Great for…* (readers): who enjoy a love story without wanting to read a love story. (I know, that sounds off, but it’s true. The love plot between the characters takes a back seat in this one even though it’s not forgotten.)

Great for…* (teachers): who are capitalizing on POV. Both Will and Jocelyn tell this story from their different vantage points, and the reader sometimes switches whose head they’re in mid-scene. Also good for mental health discussions.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing (minimal given today’s YA culture)

Interact: What do you remember about telling (or asking permission from) your parents for a first date ever?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Show Me a Sign

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The Best Thing about this Book is the sign language communication.

Premise: An early American living in 1805 on Martha’s Vineyard, Mary lives among many people who, like her, are deaf. Her mom is hearing, but her dad is not. Life has gotten more difficult since her brother’s death, which Mary feels responsible for, earlier in the year. So when a young scientist arrives and looks a lot like her brother, Mary is unsure of how to react to him, especially when he behaves rudely to the deaf people on the island. But he needs a “live specimen” to prove his theories about deafness on the island. Could Mary be just who he’s looking for?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-9 grade

Title: Although Mary does not use modern-day ASL, show me a sign most obviously refers to sign-based communication. However, the modern idiom comes into play as well in a number of ways for you, the reader, to interpret.

Main Character(s): Mary, 11 y.o. (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): grief, communication, deafness, isolation, community, otherness, native peoples, kidnapping, OWN voices

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a page-turner (but can wait a good chunk to get to the page-turning part) or who love historical fiction.

Great for…* (teachers): exploring different languages and cultures. Some languages and cultures shown in this book include those on Martha’s Vineyard, the mainland (Boston, namely), and the Wampanoag people.

Parental Warning(s): SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!! DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Mary is kidnapped and held against her will, at times as a slave and at times as a medical specimen.

Interact: This book has won so many awards, it’s hard to pick just one thing to ask about, so I’ll leave it to you. What’s your favorite thing about this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Violets Are Blue

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The Best Thing about this Book is either the mystery of the mother or the role of Wicked (the musical, yes). As is often the case with Barbara Dee novels, I love that this book is about normal, run-of-the-mill characters.

Premise: Wren used to be called Renata, but that name just doesn’t feel right anymore. Not since her parents got divorced, her dad got remarried, his new wife is pregnant, and Wren and her mother moved towns after some less-than-successful relationships. But when not much changes in the new town, Mom is acting strange, and Wren spends all her free time watching and practicing online make-up tutorials, something has to change. Will Wren be able to create successful relationships that celebrate her uniqueness? And what in the world is going on with Mom?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: Before picking up this book, I assumed Violet was the protagonist’s name. Then, when it wasn’t, someone else important in the book. I was wrong. There is no character called Violet in this book, but names are important in it, so the choice of the title from an otherwise blip of a moment requires the reader to take a closer look at the moment it appears and its meaning. I won’t get into it too much so you can discover it for yourself, but they are talking about flowers when the line appears in the book. At least, on a literal level.

Main Character(s): Wren, 12 y.o. (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, secrets, starting over, divorce, make-up, weirdness, other, theater, mother daughter relationship, substance abuse, blended family

Great for…* (readers): who feel as though they don’t belong.

Great for…* (teachers): analyzing symbolic actions, especially Wren’s love of make-up and where she stores the make-up her step-mother sends her as well as her mother’s sudden need to lock doors.

Parental Warning(s): None.

Interact: If you could learn how to do the makeup for any character (book, film, comic, theater, etc.), which would you choose and why?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Jackpot

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The Best Thing About this Book is how well Nic Stone captures the voice of the modern teenager.

Premise:  High school senior Rico has no plans for college. She can’t afford to dream of a future like that. She needs to keep working at the local gas station in order to help her mom with the bills and her brother. She doesn’t have time for anything else and prefers to live her high school life as invisible. No friends. No connections. Until the events of Christmas Eve lead her on a chase to find the winner of the Mega-Million lotto, a ticket she sold, requires assistance from the most beautiful and richest boy at school.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 8th grade and up

Title:  The literal rendition of the title refers to the lottery and the premise of the book, a book which delves into economic status on just about every page. I won’t add the figurative meaning other than to say, it may not be about money.

Main Character(s): Rico 17 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): love, friendship, money, belonging, choices, luck, poverty, wealth, responsibility

Great for…* (readers): who want something fun while still opening up discussion of money/wealth/poverty.

Great for…* (teachers): looking to add to classroom libraries, literature circles, and recommended reading lists. I don’t think this is one to teach.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, sexual references

Interact: What would you do if you won the over $200 million in the lottery?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen!

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The Best Thing about this Book is the format. It’s epistolary.

Premise: Vivy loves baseball, but she’s not allowed to play. Not only because she is a girl but because she is a girl with Autism and her mom thinks it just might be too much for Vivy to handle. But when a local coach sees her pitching at the park with her brother, he offers her a spot and, somehow, Vivy gets her mom to permit her. Only, that’s just the start of her problems.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 4-8 grade

Title: “Get a grip” is a play on the main pastime of the book: baseball. Vivy pitches. She identifies herself as a knuckle-baller, a rarity in the sport. However, the title may take on the idiomatic meaning as well.

Main Character(s): Vivy, 11 y.o. with autism (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): autism, other, sports, bullying, professional sports, family, sexuality, independence, choice, control

Great for…* (readers): who love baseball or knuckleballs or pitching.

Great for…* (teachers): exploring structure. The book is written as a series of letters.

Parental Warning(s): None. I mean, it is a Schneider Family Book Award Honor recipient for 2020.

Interact: This is a rare book where I may not be the target audience. I want to hear from those of you who are baseball fans (which I am not). What did YOU think of this book?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

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The Best Thing about this Book is the authenticity of doubt in Mila’s voice.

Premise: Time to celebrate a birthday with a circle of friends in a group hug. But when a group of basketball boys insert themselves in the hug and continue to hug or touch Mila in the coming days, is it all in her head or does their snickering mean more?

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: When harassment occurs, everyone has a different take on it. It was just a joke. It’s flirting. Maybe he’s just likes you. The title of this book tackles the questioning and doubt around harassment head-on — and asks the reader to consider what approach he/she/they want to take as a bystander.

Main Character(s): Mila, 7th grade (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, doubt, strength, bullying, harassment, trust, courage, truth, listening, support, music, self defense

Great for…* (readers): period. As a mother of two sons, I’m making sure they read this book. Barbara Dee herself (the author) dedicates the book to her son. Unfortunately, each kid is likely to experience or witness something similar to what Mila experiences. This book will help prepare a kid or help a kid who is trying to sort through it (though the latter should be done with additional assistance).

Great for…* (teachers): This would be a great book club book. Or a book to track the changes in perspective Mila has about a variety of things. What’s her tipping point?

Parental Warning(s): None that aren’t implied by the subject of the book.

Interact: This book made me so angry. That emotion stems for sorrow and hurt. What is the primary emotion you feel when you read a book like this or hear a true story about harassment?

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend

Vlog Review: What Girls are Made of

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****************NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST****************

The Best Thing About this Book is either what Bekah does for Nina in a time of need or the art works referenced and explored.

Premise:  Nina loves her boyfriend Seth. She’ll do anything for him. She’ll worship him. But something about that doesn’t settle in to her experiences with her mom, who tells Nina there’s no such thing as unconditional love, and takes her to Italy to visit iconic sculptures of women.

Rating: 5/5
Target: 16 and up (technically YA, but I wouldn’t bookend it there)

Title:  Make sure you know this nursery rhyme (called “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”) to be able to fully analyze this title. Elana K. Arnold adds assistance to understanding the title in the Author’s Note at the book’s end. Highly Recommend It. I’ll just give you this little teaser: “I now see that the stuff of girls is meant to be consumed — sugar and spice and everything nice — yummy sweet treats that melt in your mouth. And it reads to me now as a warning […]”

Main Character(s): Nina 16 y/o (she/him) with flashbacks to 14 y/o

Motifs (not exhaustive): womanhood, body, consumables, identity, sexuality, sex, reproduction, excrement, love, male gaze, worship, motherhood

Great for…* (readers): who want to think deeply about female gender roles and latent messaging in art and society.

Great for…* (teachers): I wouldn’t use this one in a classroom unless it’s past high school. However, selections could be used to study the female role in society and/or the nature of flashbacks and structure compounding overall meaning.

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, holds nothing back in description of bodily functions, doctor visits, sexuality alluded to and pictured

Interact: What is your memory of nursery rhymes as a kid? (especially if you grew up with “What Are Little Boys Made Of”)

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*The “Great for” category is not exhaustive and does not intend to neglect the multitude of readers/teachers who could learn from this book in any number of ways.

RATINGS GUIDE

٭ = DNF, would not recommend
٭٭ = would not recommend
٭٭٭ = enjoyable, would recommend
٭٭٭٭ = very good, would recommend
٭٭٭٭٭ = amazing, would definitely recommend