Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee – REVIEW

5 out of 5 stars

This is an incredibly great middle grade fiction book about a young girl with her first stirrings of a crush on a girl and all the confusion that comes with that and trying to figure things out.

Book Cover: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee - purple background - two girls, one dressed as Romeo and the other as Juliet, dancing in the foreground

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Synopsis

Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.

 

Review

I thought this was an absolutely wonderful book and a delightful read! I read about this book on Facebook when the author posted something about being asked to tone down her presentation in a school in a conservative town. Immediately, I seeked the book out on Amazon and bought the Kindle version.

Our main character, Mattie, is a very complex character. She’s not liked by the “popular” crowd, but she doesn’t seem to mind too much. Instead, she has her friends Tessa and Lucy to hang out with and she’s okay with that. Until she meets Gemma at a costume party the “popular” crowd was having that she wasn’t actually invited to.

The settings in this book had great descriptions without going overboard. The plot line moves along at a steady pace. At no point did I think that it was moving too slowly or too fast.

Part of what I loved about this book is that at first, Mattie doesn’t even realize she has a crush on Gemma. When someone points it out to her, it still takes her awhile to work through her feelings and decide for herself. I like that the author showed us the fact that Mattie was struggling.

This is an incredibly great book for tweens and early teens who may be struggling with their sexuality and what all those feeling are inside. Yet, it’s not at all preachy or condescending. The author does a really great job keeping a balance between examining what Mattie’s feeling without the sole focus being on just her sexuality. There’s a good balance between other things in life too, her schoolwork, her play rehearsals, etc.

I highly, highly recommend this middle grade fiction for all ages really. It was incredibly well written and a wonderful, delightful read.

Strange Fruit – REVIEW

4.5 out of 5 stars

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio (author) and Charlotte Riley-Webb (Illustrator) is an absolutely wonderful picture book about Billie Holiday’s famous song with the same title.

*** UPDATE: I’m happy to report that I have since seen a copy of the physical book and the font used and the size of the words is much easier to read that way! Yay! ***

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday & the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio (author) and Charlotte Riley-Webb (illustrator) book cover - Brilliantly colored painting with Billie Holiday singing and being accompanied by musicians

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Line of music - 2/4 tempo with 1 flat and several accidentals in the music

Brief Synopsis

This picture book for older readers tells the story of how the racism protest song “Strange Fruit” came into being in 1939. This is also the story of two outsiders – Billie Holiday, a young black woman raised in poverty, and Abel Meeropol, the son of Jewish immigrants – whose combined talents created a truly unforgettable song. (Source: Goodreads)

Line of musical instruments including violin, trumpet, and flute

Review

The first thing you notice in this book are the illustrations. They are vibrant and seemingly leap from the pages. They’re sort of brash and crazy, but they’re absolutely beautiful and just right for this book. I’m not sure of the medium. They appear to be either oil paint or pastels. Perhaps even oil pastels. Whatever was used, the broad strokes and vibrant colors combine just perfectly.

The story line of the book is well told and moves along at a decent pace. The prose is well written and it’s definitely a story that deserves to be, even needs to be told. It’s not a real nice story as far as “happy ever after” and making you smile all the way through, but it’s a needed story and a well written one. It will make you think. It may cause difficult discussions between you and any children you read it with, but it’s an important story to tell and an important piece of history (and unfortunately, to a point, part of current events as well) that needs to be discussed.

The only reason this picture book did not get 5 stars from me is because I felt that at times, the text was difficult to read because of the vibrant illustrations and the small font used. Now, I did read this book as an eBook and not in print format. Perhaps it is easier to read the text in the print format. Other than that small issue, this book is phenomenal and I highly recommend it to everyone. Those who are fans of Billie Holiday will certainly appreciate it, but I believe that it’s a great book for everyone, not just those who are fans.

*** I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions and conclusions are my own. ***

Line of music - 2/4 tempo with 1 flat and several accidentals in the music

About the Author and Illustrator

Gary Golio is an artist and acclaimed picture book author. His Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow was a New York Times bestseller.

Charlotte Riley-Webb, a professional visual artist with a career that spans more than 40 years, resides in the Atlanta area.

Line of musical instruments including violin, trumpet, and flute

Be Light Like a Bird – REVIEW

Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder is a stand-alone novel meant for the middle grades and it’s pretty darn awesome!

Book Cover: Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder - Dark blue background with lighter blue trees and red birds on it

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Brief Synopsis

After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she’s ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don’t deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.

line of 5 birds' nests with 5 eggs inside each
© Graphic Garden

Review

What a wonderful book about dealing with loss, grief, and anger! I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Wren, her mother, Theo, and the rest of our cast of characters are well-rounded, complex characters who are believable and just jump off the page with their realism. Wren’s mother is running from her grief and anger and of course, Wren’s just along for the ride because she doesn’t have a choice, but she really does well with all the change considering that she’s grieving too.

Eventually, after a few stops along the way, they land in Pyramid, Michigan, a small town in the upper peninsula near the end of I-75. Wren decides she likes it there and wants to stay. She makes a new friend in Theo and together they fight against the draining of a wetland by a local landfill.

The whole time, there’s still a rift between Wren and her mother which is only increased by some terrible news her mother has to tell her about her father. Can they ever mend the rift between them?

I’m not going to provide the answer to that or to whether or not Wren and Theo win their fight against the landfill. You’ll just have to read this absolutely marvelous book to find out! I highly recommend this book. Even if you’re an adult, I believe you’ll enjoy it as well! Check it out!

** Special thanks to the author, Monika Schröder for providing me with a copy of the wonderful book. I was not compensated for this review All opinions and conclusions expressed in this review are my own. **

Graphic line of 2 bluebirds holding a bunch of stars on a string between them.
© Graphic Garden

Stay tuned for an interview with the author, Monika Schröder, coming later today (March 14)!!

A Tale of Two Mommies – REVIEW

4.5 out of 5 stars

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager (author) & Mike Blanc (illustrator) is a charming book about a young boy talking with another boy and girl about his two mommies, Mommy and Momma.

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager (author) and Mike Blanc (illustrator) book cover - beach background with two white women from the waist down in shorts and sandals. A young black boy is holding one hand of each and swinging legs

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Brief Synopsis

A Tale of Two Mommies is a beach conversation among three children. One boy asks another boy about having two mommies. A young girl listening in asks some questions too.
True to a child’s curiosity, practical questions follow. “Which mom is there when you want to go fishing? / Which mom helps out when Kitty goes missing?” To which he answers: “Mommy helps when I want to go fishing. / Both Mommies help when Kitty goes missing.”

line of blue & ivory seashells and sea stars
© Graphic Garden

Review

I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t give it five stars because I felt that it began and ended really abruptly. Perhaps that’s how the author intended it to be, but it felt awkward to me. Outside of that, I really enjoyed this book.

The illustrations are brightly colored, engaging, and delightful. There is a diversity in the characters. The two mothers appear to be caucasian, as is the little girl the young boy is talking to. The protagonist of the story is a little black boy and the other little boy is Asian. I appreciate that the author/illustrator took the time to make the characters diverse.

I also loved how the questions were very much kid-oriented. They’re great questions and answers as far as which Mom helps the child with various things.

I would definitely recommend this book as a good LGBTQ resource!

** Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions and conclusions are my own. **

Sea floor with kelp growing and fish swimming, including 3 clown fish, 2 seahorses, 2 angelfish and 1 trout
© Irene’s Graphics

Wish – REVIEW

5 out of 5 stars

Wish is a stand-alone children’s novel by Barbara O’Connor. It’s meant for the Middle Grades (4th-6th) and is wonderful, poignant, and is just all-around delightful.

Wish by Barbara O'Connor, Author of How to Steal a Dog - tagline: With a little luck you can get what you wish for. - Sunset background, young girl with long brown hair and short-sleeved green shirt kneeling in the grass with a beagle dog - fireflies flying in the background

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Brief Synopsis

Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets
Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

line of dog bones thrown in a heap
© Graphic Garden

Review

I’m pretty fond of children’s literature, but I have to say, this is one of the best children’s books I’ve read in a long time!  The story line is so realistic and believable, as are the characters in this book. It’s wonderful.

All her life Charlie’s made a wish every day. She has a whole list of ways that one can make wishes, 11:11 on the clock, first star, crossing the state line (clapping 3 times), bird singing at night, etc. We never know what this wish is until the very end of the book because after all, if you tell someone what your wish is for, it won’t come true. In the end, Charlie gets her wish even though it’s a little different looking than what she thought it would be.

Charlie goes through a lot of character growth throughout the book. When we meet her, her world has just been turned upside down. Her father’s been sent to jail, her mother’s too sick to get out of bed and take care of her, and she’s being sent to live with an aunt and uncle she’s never met before. She’s scared. She’s mad at the world for changing. She’s mad that her sister, Jackie, isn’t coming with her. She’s not really a very nice little girl to be around. She gets into fights at school and at Vacation Bible School, she says mean things in the heat of the moment, etc.. Bertha and Gus, her aunt and uncle seem to take it all in stride. They don’t yell at her, they don’t punish her, they simply love her. Little by little that’s all it takes for her to start changing.

line of canning jars on a shelf - cans of fruit like strawberries, blueberries, and apples. Vegetable jars like peas and squash.
© Graphic Garden

The supporting characters in this story – Bertha, Gus, Howard, his brothers & parents, and Charlie’s sister, Jackie are just wonderful. They all teach Charlie something about life and love and family. Jackie’s afraid that Charlie will hate her because she can’t take care of her, but Charlie doesn’t hate her. She maybe doesn’t completely understand, but by that point in the book she’s starting to settle in and get comfortable at Bertha & Gus’s place. She’s feeling a little more secure so she takes it in stride.

The settings, the story line, everything about this book is just delightful and fantastic. It’s seriously one of the best children’s Middle Grade books I’ve ever read. I can see I’ll probably be enjoying it more than once!

All in all this is a WONDERFUL book for Middle Grade kids and I HIGHLY recommend it!

** I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions and conclusions expressed are my own. **

About the Author

Barbara O'Connor, Author - Older white woman with short grey hair and glasses wearing a white shirt with a red cardigan

Barbara O’Connor’s awards include the Parents Choice Gold and Silver Award, American Library Association Notable Books, IRA Notable Books for a Global Society, School Library Journal Best Books, and Kirkus Best Books. Her books have been nominated for children’s choice awards in 38 states and voted as a state favorite by children in South Carolina, Indiana, Kansas, and South Dakota.

Barbara was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina. She draws on her Southern roots to write award-winning books for children in grades 3 to 6.

She currently lives in Asheville, NC.

The Doorway and the Deep – REVIEW

4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Doorway and the Deep is the second installment in The Water and the Wild series by K.E. Ormsbee. It’s a fantastic sequel to The Water and the Wild and even ends on a cliff-hanger to leave you wanting for more! I really enjoyed it!

The Doorway and the Deep by K.E. Ormsbee cover - young girl with long blond hair in a sailboat. Her hair is blown back from the wind.

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Brief Synopsis

Lottie and Eliot are back in Limn with their friends. They plan to head home to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with Eliot’s father, but events happen and circumstances change. War is coming to Limn and this turn of events send Lottie and her friends north in search of answers, both about things that are happening in the land and about Lottie’s parents. However, peril is never far behind them and may even be dealt by ones they trust!

Line of rope with metal anchor tied to right end
© Graphic Garden

Review

As we return to the land of Limn, we find that Lottie, Eliot, Adelaide, Oliver, their father, and Fife residing in the land of the will-o-wisps. The land of the will-o-wisps is such a fabulous, imaginative place! It’s one of my favorite locales in Limn. I want to sleep in the trees and explore the area and its beauty right along with the children! Similarly, I’d love to visit the Northerly Court area and explore the caves and passageways.

The characters in these books are just wonderful. They’re complex and well-rounded and yet, there’s a simplicity to them that is also refreshing. Maybe it’s that Ms. Ormsbee did so well in conveying the children’s point of view. I don’t know. It simply feels very authentic.

The adventures that we find in this book’s journeys kept me on the edge of my seat a lot of the time! In fact, I finished this book in just one night because I was riveted to the story and just didn’t want to put it down. It was MUCH better than the first installment of the series and seemed shorter (even though it wasn’t really) because it never seemed to bog down or get tedious.

This book ends on quite the cliff-hanger, so I’m really excited for the third book to be published. Unfortunately, the author’s website does not indicate when that will be. I hope it’s not too far away!

** I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review. All opinions and conclusions expressed are my own. **

Line of rope with metal anchor attached to left end
© Graphic Garden

About the Author

K.E. Ormsbee lives in Lexington, Kentucky. She grew up with a secret garden in her backyard and a spaceship in her basement. In her wild, early years, she taught English as a Foreign Language, interned with a film society, and did a lot of irresponsible road tripping. Nowadays, she teaches piano lessons, plays in a band you’ve never heard of, and run races she never wins. She likes clothes from the 60s, music from the 70s, and movies from the 80s. She is from the 90s.

Source: K.E. Ormsbee’s Author page on Amazon and the “About the Author” blurb on Amazon’s page for The Doorway and the Deep.

Photo of K.E. Ormsbee - young adult woman with red wavy hair, no glasses, wearing a grey sweater

The Water and the Wild – REVIEW

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee is the first book in “The Water and the Wild” series. It’s a delightful beginning to the series.

The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee book cover - Medium to large tree with large opening in trunk filled with bright light. Young girl with long blond hair and a periwinkle coat is standing poised to step into the opening.

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Brief Synopsis

A green apple tree grows in the heart of Thirsby Square, and tangled up in its magical roots is the story of Lottie Fiske. For as long as Lottie can remember, the only people who seem to care about her are her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things are happening on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless—until a door opens in the apple tree. Follow Lottie down through the roots to another world in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

Line of red delicious apples with stems and leaves
©Graphic Garden

Review

The beginning of this book was awesome. I loved hearing about Lottie and Eliot’s background and friendship. I loved hearing about the man who wrote Lottie letters/sent her gifts each year on her birthday. It was exciting, bright, and fun!

When we first got to Limn, I was still thoroughly enjoying this book. I found Adelaide annoying, but I could see her point of view as well as Lottie’s, so I tried to allow her a little extra compassion. After all, it’s her father that’s in danger. The fact that the guard burned the house and the mob turned on the family so quickly was saddening, but the beginning of the journey was filled with adventure and intrigue.

I also loved the descriptions that Ms. Ormsbee provided us about the land of Limn and it’s various regions. I could vividly see the world she has created and yet, there was still enough left to my imagination that I didn’t feel overtaxed with detail.

However, the further the children traveled in their journey, the more tedious the book seemed to me. The journey was just too long. Having read the second book as well, I realize now that a lot of what the children encounter in the journey will serve them in the future. Even still, it bogged down the story line of this book to the point where I actually skipped ahead a little because I was getting too bored.

Outside of that, it was a delightful book. It’s a very solid, good beginning to the series and I look forward to reading more from this author!

Line of red delicious apples with stems and leaves
©Graphic Garden

About the Author

K.E. Ormsbee lives in Lexington, Kentucky. She grew up with a secret garden in her backyard and a spaceship in her basement. In her wild, early years, she taught English as a Foreign Language, interned with a film society, and did a lot of irresponsible road tripping. Nowadays, she teaches piano lessons, plays in a band you’ve never heard of, and run races she never wins. She likes clothes from the 60s, music from the 70s, and movies from the 80s. She is from the 90s.

Source: K.E. Ormsbee’s Author page on Amazon and the “About the Author” blurb on Amazon’s page for The Doorway and the Deep.

Photo of K.E. Ormsbee - young adult woman with red wavy hair, no glasses, wearing a grey sweater

Author’s website: K.E. Ormsbee