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: 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: 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: The Length of a String

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The Best Thing about this Book is how the two stories weave together.

Premise: Imani will soon turn thirteen, and her plan to ask her parents to help her find her birth parents isn’t going as planned. Her mother is so sweet and fragile, Imani never wants to hurt her or make her cry, so she can’t seem to bring it up. But she can’t live not knowing where she’s from, especially when it’s so clear to everyone from her black skin that she did not come from her white parents. When Imani finds her great-grandmother’s diary from 1941, when she was twelve also, she begins to read it and discover she might not be as alone as she thought.

Rating: 4/5
Target: 4-8

Title: “The length of a string” is a phrase from Anna’s journal that she uses in connection with her identical twin sister to describe the way they connect without speaking. The title and the book deal with a number of relationships that get broken by circumstance — whether the Nazi campaign in the 1940s or being adopted in the 21st century or even the strain of parent/child relationships that happens through the teen years for so many. How long is that string that connects? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

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

Motifs (not exhaustive): identity, family, friendship, siblings, history, World War II, Judaism, bat mitzvah, adoption

Great for…* (readers): who like mystery or realistic fiction or historical fiction. Also great for 8th-graders, who often read literature related to the Holocaust.

Great for…* (teachers): Setting is pivotal in each of the narratives and creates the conflict for much of the book. Studying how setting impacts other literary components/features seems as good a plan as any when reading this book.

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

Interact: This book made want to re-start my journal, which I’ve gotten very inconsistent with. Do you keep a journal? If so why and how often do you write in it? And if not, why not and have you ever considered it?

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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

Vlog Review: Roller Girl (a graphic novel)

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***********GRAPHIC NOVEL AND NEWBERY HONOR BOOK***********

The Best Thing about this Book is the world of roller derby, of course. So fun.

Premise: Astrid has always been best friends with Nicole, but as they age, their interests are parting ways. While Astrid wants to learn to roller skate and participate in roller derby, Nicole wants to spend her summer at dance camp. Astrid must figure out her way on skates, in derby, in friendships, and family over the course of the summer.

Rating: 3/5
Target: 2-8

Title: This one’s more-or-less what you see is what you get: Astrid wants to be a roller girl.

Main Character(s): Astrid, 6th grade (she/her), 12 yo

Motifs (not exhaustive): friendship, identity, truth, change, sport, strength, female strength

Great for…* (readers): who are reluctant readers. It’s a graphic novel after all and the artwork is great. Good for goofy girls or edgy ones as well as athletes and roller derby enthusiasts. There is a girl power sub-element to roller derby that comes through in this book with few male characters.

Great for…* (teachers): This is not a book I’d use in class or as an assignment unless it were specific to the study of the structure of a graphic novels (perhaps in comparison to a traditional one).

Parental Warning(s): N/A

Interact: Have you ever been to a roller derby bout? Or would you?

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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: Biggie

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The Best Thing About this Book is Biggie’s little brother, Maddux. The eleven-year-old displays the best character. He’s helpful and reliable if naive. However, his role is minor so not enough to win me over to the book itself.

Premise: Biggie is fat. It’s why no one calls him by his given name anymore. It’s also what propelled him to want to disappear from everyone else’s radar so they don’t make fun of him. For two years of high school, he got out of PE without his mom knowing it. Not anymore. And in his first PE class, he pitches a perfect game of wiffle ball. The girl of his dreams makes a comment that he should play for the school team, so he sets out to pitch a perfect game for the school. First, of course, he has to make the team in his ploy to win the girl.

Rating: 2/5
Target: 8th-12th grade

Title:  It’s his name and arguably his identity. The book begins with the story of how he got his nickname, so it’s fitting — and it is about him when you break it all down.

Main Character(s): Biggie aka Henry, 17 y/o (he/him)

Motifs (not exhaustive): obesity, dating, goals, high school relationships, cliques, bullying, teasing, baseball, perfection, anxiety, identity, athletics, broken families, step fathers, family dynamics, social media

Great for…* (readers): N/A

Great for…* (teachers): N/A

Parental Warning(s): Some cursing, crude reference to female body, sexual reference/innuendo

Interact: Does a negative review make you want to read a book more than a positive one?

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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: American Betiya (scbwi emerging voices winner)

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Premise: Rani’s Indian immigrant parents want her to focus on school and not get distracted by other things, especially not boys. So when Rani meets and falls for Oliver, a senior at her high school who has tattoos, she has to keep her American world with Oliver separate from her Indian world with her family. But how long can Rani keep Oliver a secret before her parents find out she’s sneaking around with him?

Rating: 3/5
Target: 10th-12th grade

Title:  The title of this book sets the conflict on the cover: two cultures that look separate must somehow become one in protagonist Rani (betiya is a Hindi word meaning daughter).

Main Character(s): Rani, 18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): Indian culture, family, romance, first love, friendship, racism, objectification, cultural awareness, cultural appropriation, privilege, expectations of others, art, photography, sexuality, tradition, identity

Great for…* (readers): who appreciate a conflict of cultures or are children of immigrants, kids who have high expectations for themselves or whose parents have high expectations for them, anyone trying to figure out what love is and looks like as a teen or young adult

Great for…* (teachers): foreshadow, internal/external conflict, and discussion around racial and cultural respect

Parental Warning(s): Regular cursing, sexual innuendo and descriptions of acts (not graphic)

Interact: Oliver is Rani’s first love. They meet at an art show but already go to school together. How did you meet your first love or what is your dream for meeting your first love?

If you like the culture conflict in this book or learning a little about Indian culture, try 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: Mazie

KZ enjoyed this book so much, she forgot it came with gifts in her subscription box.

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Premise: Graduating from high school in 1959 Nebraska means its time to be an adult: get married, take over the farm (if you’re male), have babies (if you’re female). Mazie Butterfield wants no part of that. She plans to leave her small town for NYC to chase her Broadway dreams. To do so, she’ll have to leave her love behind, breaking both their hearts simultaneously before arriving in a city that doesn’t care if she succeeds or not. Mazie has to figure out what parts of herself she’s willing to let go of and what different ways of thinking she’s willing to accept on the way.

Rating: 4/5, easy to read
Target: 8 & up

Title: The book is a character study. There’s plenty of fun historical content. The time, context add a lot, but boil it down and this book is all about Mazie: what she wants, who she is, where she’s going.

Main Character(s): Mazie Butterfield, 17-turns-18 y/o (she/her)

Motifs (not exhaustive): gender barriers, societal roles, societal expectations, LGBTQ friendly, grief, dreams, identity, theater/performance, independence, romance, loneliness, audacity, voice

Great for…* (readers): I want to be able to say anyone who feels boxed in and wants to break out will love this book, but I think the Broadway setting may act as a barrier for some. However, there are men and women who must deal with what is expected of them in this book, choosing to accept, push back, or reject it in figuring out their own identity. A classic YA trope, right?

Great for…* (teachers): setting (historical and regional), diction (though Crowder didn’t spell the accent in, the accent can be heard), allusion, character study, hopes/dreams project and planning

Parental Warnings: some cursing and unwanted sexual advances from the female perspective

Interact: If you could play in any film, show, production, who would you be and why?

If you like Stage Door (1937), you’ll like 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