Thursday, August 29, 2019

Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen



Summary from Goodreads:
A heartwarming story of friendship, loss, and finding your way home from debut author/illustrator Mai K. Nguyen!

Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods.

There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.

But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all.
Review:
This book was adorable. I can see many kids falling in love with the art. Everything is cute, including the monsters inside Willow who come out after she’s been suppressing her emotions for too long. The forest looks magical. And of course, Pilu seems magical too (she comes from a magnolia tree).
The book seriously reminds me of My Neighbor Totoro, and has a definite Miyazaki vibe (both in regards to nature and nature spirits, and to children dealing with loss). And like Miyazaki, Nguyen writes the story in a beautiful, empathetic way. You can’t help but love Willow and Pilu and want them both to succeed.
I loved the messages about taking charge of your emotions and letting yourself feel what you need to feel. I also loved the subplots about families and mothers. I like that Willow and Pilu found each other when they both really needed a friend, someone to listen and understand them.
This was a quick, sweet friendship story. In my opinion, this could have been a little bit darker. And I wish a few more things were tackled. I get why the author wanted to keep it lighter and friendlier though.
It’s my own personal pet peeve when a topic like bullying comes up, and then never gets resolved or mentioned again. It almost makes it feel like the book is saying bullying is normal and there’s nothing that can be done about it. I wish it was brought up to Willow’s sister at the end. That would have made me rate the book higher. I would have liked a tiny bit more resolution.
All in all, this book was adorable, friendly, and sweet. The art was magical. It had definite My Neighbor Totoro vibes (and I mean that as the highest compliment). The friendship story was great. The overall message was wonderful. I just wish a few more elements were resolved. I give it an 8/10.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer



Summary from Goodreads:
From two extraordinary authors comes a moving, exuberant, laugh-out-loud novel about friendship and family, told entirely in emails and letters.

Avery Bloom, who's bookish, intense, and afraid of many things, particularly deep water, lives in New York City. Bett Devlin, who's fearless, outgoing, and loves all animals as well as the ocean, lives in California. What they have in common is that they are both twelve years old, and are both being raised by single, gay dads.

When their dads fall in love, Bett and Avery are sent, against their will, to the same sleepaway camp. Their dads hope that they will find common ground and become friends--and possibly, one day, even sisters.

But things soon go off the rails for the girls (and for their dads too), and they find themselves on a summer adventure that neither of them could have predicted. Now that they can't imagine life without each other, will the two girls (who sometimes call themselves Night Owl and Dogfish) figure out a way to be a family?
Review:
I’ve had my eye on this one for a while. It was a local school Summer Reading pick this year. And I almost took it home at the beginning of the summer. I’ve read nothing but positive reviews for it, and then finally, a good friend of mine said it was great and she doesn’t read a lot of middle grade books. So, I took it home and planned on getting to it eventually. I decided to start it right away because it was just calling to me, and I’m glad I did. What a surprise gem of a book!
I’ve forgotten how much I enjoy reading epistolary books. Not a lot of people write letters any more. Though, most of the letters in this book were technically emails…, but still, people don’t send long emails to each other any more either. And it was so much fun to read in this way. It also meant that the book just zooms by. I read it in one day.
I also loved this book because I absolutely adored Bett and Avery. First off, I loved how different they are. I never got confused about whose perspective I was reading. Bett was brave, outspoken, and always talking about animals. And Avery had a lot of anxiety and fears, and was always working on something like pressing flowers or practing a musical instrument. I love how smart they both are. And I love how they stand up for what’s right and will not put up with anyone saying anything against their dads. I love how adults just love both of them too.
I also love the summer camp settings. I love the Parent Trap feel. I love that the girls’ story is messy. They get kicked out of one camp. They don’t always follow the rules. They get into fights. They go against their dads. And this is okay. They make their own way. They find love in unexpected places and characters. They make up and fight again. What a fantastic friendship.
I also love that the dads aren’t perfect. Their trip to China sounded quite terrible. And I found it realistic that their rushed relationship fell apart because of it. I also love that both dads would do anything for their girls. And this mutual love has a way of bringing everyone together, even when it looks like no happy endings are in sight.
This was a magical yet realistic story. I loved the setting. I love the letter format. I loved the side characters. I loved the theater element to the story. I loved the main characters in a way I don’t often do. And I highly recommend this one as a fun, sweet, addicting summer read. I’ll stop gushing now. I give it a 10/10.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

In Another Life by C.C. Hunter



Summary from Goodreads:
Chloe was three years old when she became Chloe Holden, but her adoption didn’t scar her, and she’s had a great life. Now, fourteen years later, her loving parents’ marriage has fallen apart and her mom has moved them to Joyful, Texas. Starting twelfth grade as the new kid at school, everything Chloe loved about her life is gone. And feelings of déjà vu from her early childhood start haunting her.

When Chloe meets Cash Colton she feels drawn to him, as though they're kindred spirits. Until Cash tells her the real reason he sought her out: Chloe looks exactly like the daughter his foster parents lost years ago, and he’s determined to figure out the truth.

As Chloe and Cash delve deeper into her adoption, the more things don’t add up, and the more strange things start happening. Why is Chloe’s adoption a secret that people would kill for?
Review:
I guess I don’t like Hunter’s contemporary books as much as her paranormal ones. I loved the Shadow Falls series, and I was really looking forward to this one. I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t love it either. I read it really quickly. And I still enjoyed the romance. There were just a few other things I did not enjoy at all.
For starters, there were a few chapters in the point of view of a kidnapper/murderer. The rest of the book is in Chloe’s and Cash’s point of views. I guess the bad guy point of view always felt so strange. Why just include a tiny bit of it? And also, if there will be any of it, I’d like to see something redeeming. There wasn’t. The bad guy was just a bad guy, with no redeeming qualities. In fact, he was a pervert, a racist, and an overall terrible human. Why include his point of view at all?
I liked Chloe and Cash. I felt for Cash, though I found his reaction to a possible scam a little too strong…I get it. I get that he was protecting his foster parents. But, it felt like there needed to be more motivation for him to react as strongly as he did. Also, I felt for Chloe. I thought her adoptive parents were pretty awful.
I was supposed to not love the dad because he cheated on his wife and was living with a much younger woman, but I weirdly ended up liking the dad more than the mom. The mom was terrible. She was a cancer survivor, so I get that there was a lot going on, but…she was terrible to Chloe. She was depressed, angry, hostile, and neglectful. Throughout the book, Chloe thought of herself as the mom. There was a possible suicide scare that Chloe lies to her dad about. And I honestly felt like Chloe wasn’t safe living there in such a toxic environment.
I also had trouble believing the whole kidnapping/adopting element to the story. Some things really didn’t add up for what happened. Like adoption does not work that quickly! I know this is YA fiction, but I feel like more research should have been done about the adoption process.
I did like the two main characters, and I certainly felt sorry for them. I read the book super quickly. And I enjoyed the romance. I enjoyed the suspense of it all, particularly in the last quarter of the book. There were just a few too many things that did not add up. I was confused by the short bits of perspective from the bad guy. And I hated the main character’s adoptive parents. I give this one a 6/10.

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Good Week in Books (208)



I’m prepping a few posts for this week. After that, I will be MIA for a while. I get married in 12 days! And I’m going to be super busy. And after the small wedding, I’ll be in Paris for the honeymoon….I’m not sure when exactly I’ll be back to my blog, but maybe not until October. I do plan on bringing some books with me to Paris. It’s a dream of mine to sit outside at a café with Nick and a couple of good books, in Paris. I’m so excited! So, I will definitely have a lot of catching up to do here in the fall.
This week, I received 1 new book for review. Thank you, Feiwel and Friends. And I also got a new book from someone who came back from a library conference. Both look super good. I also finished reading 3 books this week (1 YA, 1 middle grade, and 1 graphic novel).
The new books:

Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
My Box-shaped Heart by Rachael Lucas
I have a few book reviews to post this week, but after that I’m off for a little while. Au revoir!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Hummingbird Dagger by Cindy Anstey



Summary from Goodreads:

1833. After young Lord James Ellerby witnesses a near-fatal carriage accident on the outskirts of his estate, he doesn't think twice about bringing the young woman injured in the wreck to his family's manor to recuperate. But then she finally regains consciousness only to find that she has no memory of who she is or where she belongs.

Beth, as she takes to calling herself, is an enigma even to herself. She has the rough hands of a servant, but the bearing and apparent education of a lady. Her only clue to her identity is a gruesome recurring nightmare about a hummingbird dripping blood from its steel beak.

With the help of James and his sister, Caroline, Beth slowly begins to unravel the mystery behind her identity and the sinister circumstances that brought her to their door. But the dangerous secrets they discover in doing so could have deadly ramifications reaching the highest tiers of London society.
Reivew:
This was not my favorite Cindy Anstey book. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. I enjoyed the characters, and the setting. But the story was very slow. The book felt too long, and it took me too long to read it all.
The beginning starts off with a carriage accident, deathly nightmares, and a girl with amnesia, so it had a promising start. But, then close to nothing happens for most of the book, as the girl’s rescuers try to figure out what happened and who the girl really is. Things pick up again toward the end, but I feel like a lot of things could have happened more quickly.
I get that there needed to be time for Beth and James to fall in love. This author likes her period romances. And I usually do too. But, besides this needing to happen, the middle of the book felt redundant and slow. And the romance felt almost too simple. There was nothing standing in the way of the romance except not knowing if Beth was engaged (pre-memory loss). And the other side characters had no romantic attachments at all. It felt like their soul purpose was to encourage Beth and James together…yet simultaneously, be weirdly more into the mystery of Beth than she even seemed to be…
I did like how dark things turned here. It was unexpectedly dark. And except for a few very obvious red herrings, I was surprised by the turn of events. Beth’s real family and background was fascinating for me. And I did not call it in advance. I also enjoyed the writing style Anstey knows how to write stories in this time period well. She knows her stuff. I just wish more things happened plot-wise to keep the story more interesting. I give this one a 7/10.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Bookish Boyfriends: The Boy Next Story by Tiffany Schmidt



Summary from Goodreads:
The second book in a series where your favorite literary characters come to life, inspired by the timeless classic, Little Women!

There’s no one better than the boy next door. At least not according to Aurora Campbell, fourteen, who has been in love with Tobias May since their very first sandbox kiss. The problem is, he’s in love with her older sister, Merrilee. And Merri is already dating one of his best friends.

Rory is learning all about pining as her class reads The Great Gatsby, a book she doesn’t find “great” at all. Also not great—her GPA, something she needs to fix, quickly, if she’d like to apply for the chance to spend a week studying art with her hero in New York City over winter break. But when Ms. Gregoire assigns her to read Little Women for extra credit, Rory discovers more than she expected—both about herself and Toby. Maybe she wasn’t in love with the boy next door. . . but the boy next story.

Love is complicated, and it’s all about to get even trickier for Rory at Reginald R. Hero Prep . . . where with the help of one quirky English teacher, students’ fantasies come true, often with surprising consequences.
Review:
I wasn’t expecting to love this one as much as I did, or I guess as much as I loved book 1. Book 1 was Pride and Prejudice (and also technically Romeo and Juliet), and Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite books. This one was based off of Little Women, not my favorite book by a long shot. And then I learned it was also going to involve The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite books from high school. And I guess it’s not easy to see how one might combine Little Women and The Great Gatsby…
Weirdly though, this combo worked for me. I definitely found myself relating to Rory right away. She’s the awkward sister who always feels like a third, fourth, or fifth wheel. She feels left out, misunderstood, and alone. She’s also the artist of the family, and I loved all the scenes that involved her creating something. I also loved that this what connects her so strongly to her crush: their shared love of creativity. He’s into music (technically, the musical scores of movies), and she’s into painting. And I love that her longing isn’t just based off of looks and artificial things, but instead it stems from a real connection.
I also have to own up to the fact that I absolutely hated Amy in Little Women, and when I learned that Rory was the current day Amy…I was hesitant to read this. I’m so glad I read it any way. I actually feel like I have more empathy now for Amy…and sort of want to re-read the classic with new eyes. This Amy is stronger, more unique and definitely more caring. There’s a moment that compares to the moment when Amy burns a book in Little Women, but it was way tamer here, and I’m glad. Because, I’m not sure if I’d forgive Rory for what Amy did (if that makes sense).
I cried at parts of this story, both when her sisters left Rory behind in something important, and when she was bullied at school. I felt for her. And then when she almost gives up on her dream to help her parents? I lost it. There’s some definite similarities between the closeness of the family member in both books.
I enjoyed getting to know Toby more. He wasn’t really a main character in the first book. And I enjoyed seeing other characters from Rory’s point of view. It was very different from book 1. The crushing/longing/slow burn romance was insane in this book. So if the wait is hard for you, stay away. The wait kept me into the story more. I kept waiting/needing/wanting Rory and Toby to get together. Watching their friendship grow though was kind of magical too.
If you can’t tell, I loved this. I like it more than book 1 (which is crazy because Little Women isn’t even on the same scale as Pride and Prejudice for me). I loved the characters, particularly Rory. I loved the slow burn romance. I love the friendships. I love the art and creativity. I love the family relationships. I give this a 10/10.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo



Summary from Goodreads:
Revisiting once again the world of Raymie Nightingale, two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo turns her focus to the tough-talking, inescapably tenderhearted Beverly.

Beverly put her foot down on the gas. They went faster still.
This was what Beverly wanted — what she always wanted. To get away. To get away as fast as she could. To stay away.

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. In a touching, funny, and fearless conclusion to her sequence of novels about the beloved Three Rancheros, #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo tells the story of a character who will break your heart and put it back together again.
Review:
Kate DiCamillo is just the best. Reading her books feels like staying up late to finish a book, under the covers, with a flashlight. Her ability to understand how a young brain works is just nuts. Her characters are living, breathing people who I feel like I know. And I can’t stop thinking about her words, long after finishing reading them.
Raymie Nightingale was a masterpiece. And Louisiana’s Way Home was magical. I wasn’t sure where the author was going to take Beverly, by far the least interesting of the Three Rancheros. But, I should have known better than to think Beverly was not interesting. I loved getting to see the world as she sees it. She feels things so strongly. She sees a line of poetry written in a phone booth and can’t escape the words. She sees a mom being snotty to her child, and saves the day for the child. She builds sand castles to be nice. She hears stories of bullying and feels so intensely what her new friend was feeling.
In other words, I love Beverly. I feel things strongly too. And she felt like a soul sister, who was lost and so desperately needed love. I loved her relationship with Iola, a woman who also so badly needed love. I love all the people who meet Beverly and who understand her. They also feel so strongly about things like a certain shade of blue, or the line of a childhood poem, or a cat who decides to like you.
The writing style is magical. It reads almost like a fairytale with the heroine going on a journey. But, it’s also realistic. Beverly has a terrible mother. And her dog (her only loving family member) died. I couldn’t help but care about her and want her to do well.
This is a book about making your own family. It’s about finding people who understand and love you for who you are. And it’s about growing up and realizing that it’s okay to rely on other people sometimes, and you don’t have to always do everything alone. I smiled, laughed, cried, and eventually clutched this book in a hug. I loved it. I give it a 10/10.