What I Read in 2019

Even though I am a little (read: A LOT) late on listing all of the books that I read last year, I always think it is fun to recap all of the books that I read in one year. Last year, I found myself in a bit of a reading slump, so I didn’t read as many books as I typically read in year. Additionally, I found myself not as invested in many of the books that I read in the last year. Fortunately for me, I’ve had a great start to the 2020 reading year and I hope it continues throughout February. Without further adieu, here are all the books that I read in 2019 (reviews will be linked to book titles):


What were your favorite books of 2020?


Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney Review

book review

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid wasn’t awful, but not as awesome as I expected.

Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinney follows Rowley Jefferson, a faDiary of an Awesome Friendly Kid by Jeff Kinneyn-favorite character from Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. In this installment (and potential spin-off series?) Rowley takes the reins and writes primarily about the history of his friendship with Greg.

I believe that I have read the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid a few years ago, but I did not pick up any additional books in the series, although I do hope to continue the series. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is well-loved by the age range of students that I teach and I enjoy reading books that motivate my students to read. While I have not read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, I have seen three out of the four movies and greatly enjoyed them. I particularly enjoyed the character of Rowley because he remained unapologetically himself regardless of whether other people may label him as cool or not.

One criticism of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series that I’ve heard is that the series rapidly goes downhill after the first couple of books. Additionally, I’ve heard many reviewers voice concerns over the main character in the series, Greg, specifically for his treatment of the main character in this book, Rowley. From reviews that I have read of this book, many readers were disappointed because they view this book as a take on Greg’s bullying, only from Rowley’s perspective (see Emily’s review on Goodreads). While I do think Rowley’s voice in this novel, I was disappointed, like many other readers, that this story mainly involved around Greg with a promise to focus more on Rowley in the next book in the series.

Let’s start with the positives. I think one positive aspect of this book in Rowley’s voice and character. Rowley stays very true to himself and the character presented in the original series. All of his choices seemed consistent with his character. While some may dismiss Rowley’s naive nature as unrealistic for a middle school student, I think it allows him to make some humorous observations of people and situations around him. Like I mentioned earlier, I enjoy that Rowley always stays true to himself and I think he serves as a great role model for younger readers.

As a result, it disappointed me that so much of this book focused on Greg instead of Rowley. In this book, Greg becomes annoyed that Rowley also keeps a diary. Greg insists that Rowley turn his diary into a biography about Greg to be published when he becomes rich and famous. As a result, the book in a disjointed mix of events surrounding Rowley and Greg’s friendship, and like many reviewers point out, Greg’s terrible treatment of Rowley. By the time Rowley takes back ownership of the diary, it is only a promise to focus more on himself in the next entry. If I wanted to learn more about Greg, I would have picked one of the numerous books published about him already. I think many readers will be disappointed by the focus on Greg because it is not consistent with the book’s marketing.

While there were a few laugh out loud scenes in this book (the studying part made me crack up!), I was disappointed that this book did not follow a clear end goal and focused mainly on Greg. I give this book three out of five stars.

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ARC Review: There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

book review

There’s something sweet(ie) about this book!

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon follows two athletic Indian-There's Something About SweetieAmerican teenagers who develop a romantic relationship despite cultural and societal expectations. Ashish Patel finds himself heartbroken after his first love cheats on him. Despite his reservations, he asks his parents to set him up with an Indian-American girl. Enter Sweetie Nair, a top-notch track star whose mom opposes the match since she believes her daughter weighs too much. As a result, Sweetie becomes determined to prove her mother wrong.

Sandhya Menon’s books have been hit-or-miss for me. While I enjoyed When Dimple Met Rishi, it lacked the spark to make it one of my favorite contemporaries. On the other hand, I did not enjoy From Twinkle, With Love at all due to unlikable characters and an overdramatic plot. Going into There’s Something About Sweetie, I was not sure what to expect. I’m happy to say this book exceeded my expectations and ranks as my favorite among this author’s books.

I loved both Sweetie and Ashish because their personalities greatly differed from the characters in Menon’s other stories. While I enjoyed Dimple’s headstrong personality and Rishi’s gentlemanly attitude, I found Twinkle and Sahil to be watered down versions of those two characters and less likable. Sweetie possesses the same strong beliefs as Dimple, but comes across a lot more reserved and intuitive to others’ feelings. Rishi completely differs from Rishi or Sahil as he is portrayed as more “popular” and “cool.” I dislike when I read books by the same author and all of the main characters and love interests across the stories read the same. I appreciated that Sweetie and Ashish were vastly different than Menon’s other characters to set them apart.

If you have read Menon’s other two books, they follow a fairly similar formula. Each character has their passion, which is mentioned, but never as integral to the story as it may seem. I would say this is only half true for this book. Based on the synopsis, Sweetie’s track and “Sassy Sweetie Project” is mentioned, but there is a large focus on the dates that she goes on with Ashish as well. I would say the book holds true to the synopsis in this case. While the largest focus is placed on the arranged dates for Sweetie and Ashish, there is a large focus on Sweetie and how her weight is viewed through Indian culture as well. I think this will satisfy readers who were put off by the inaccurate synopses for some of Menon’s other books.

There were several other aspects of this book that I really appreciated. In the author’s note at the beginning of the story, Menon mentioned how her weight has fluctuated through the years and she has had vastly different experiences based on her weight at the time. She also mentioned that Sweetie describes herself as “fat” in the book because it is only a negative word because of societal connotations. However, she also acknowledges that some people, especially those bullied using this specific word, may feel uncomfortable when they see this word in the story and they are entitled to that feeling. I always appreciate reading about an author’s connection to a story and I thought Menon’s note before the story was incredibly thoughtful to those who may be triggered by the discrimination that Sweetie faces, especially since it often comes from close family members within this story. Just a warning: While this book does have a prevailing message of loving your body that although authentically portrays Sweetie’s experience, it may be extremely uncomfortable for some readers who struggle with body image. Since there is a large amount of negative commentary regarding Sweetie’s weight, you may want to skip this book if this triggers you.

Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was learning more about Indian culture. Sweetie and Ashish go on arranged dates by Ashish’s parents that are described as “typically Indian.” It was interesting to learn more about Indian culture and its influence in Indian-Americans’ lives. I think the two main characters also provided other perspectives that we have not seen yet in Menon’s books. Prior to this story, Ashish only dated white girls. Sweetie does not fit the stereotypical mold of the “perfect” Indian girl. It was interesting to read the conversations surrounding these topics in the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed There’s Something About Sweetie. I really liked the main characters and learning about a culture different than my own. I give this book four out of five stars.


I received a copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 


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Books I Read in 2018


Whew! After reading a ton of books during Christmas time, I finished reading almost 70 books this year. I set my goal at 50 books, which I wasn’t sure I would complete due to my hectic schedule. However, I completed my goal I believe sometime in the fall and managed to squeeze in some more books as well. Here’s to some more great reading in the new year!

Below I’ve listed all the books that I read in 2018, in the order in which I read them. Any book with a review currently posted will have a link on the book’s title. Titles marked with a * appeared on one of my favorite lists (The Brittany Awards) in 2018 or, if it is a re-read, appeared in a favorites list of a previous year. Any title marked with a ^ means it was featured as one of my least favorite books of the year.

Children’s Book Reviews: Buddy, Ferdinand, How to Eat Fried Worms, and The Hope Chest

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Even though I primarily read and review young adult books on my blog, I do have a huge passion for children’s books. One of my favorite things to do as a teacher is to recommend books to students! Here are some recent children’s books that I picked up and my mini-reviews:

Buddy: The First Seeing Eye Dog

Buddy: The First Seeing Eye Dog tells the real life story of Buddy, the first American seeing eye dog brought by her owner Morris Frank to the United States. With small, easy to read chapters, this book covers the training, Buddy (formerly known as Kiss) received as well as the the obstacles Morris Frank faced learning to trust Buddy’s training and instincts. The book also includes a photograph of the real Buddy and Morris.

This book is perfect for young readers acclimating to chapter books for the first time. Each chapter is only comprised of a few paragraphs and pages which allows for great points to stop and check for understanding. I’ve also noticed a lot of younger readers gravitating towards non-fiction, so this story is perfect to capitalize on their interests and to accommodate their reading level. Buddy is a heart-warming story that readers of all ages can enjoy! I give Buddy: The First Seeing Eye Dog four out of five stars.

The Story of Ferdinand

The Story of Ferdinand is the classic story by Munro Leaf which follows a gentle bull who is chosen for the bull fights in Spain. Ferdinand loves to stop and smell the flowers, but when he is stung by a bee, he kicks around and is mistaken for an aggressive bull. When confronted in the area by people trying to provoke him, Ferdinand decides to stay true to himself.

As the shortest of these three stories (and the only picture book), this book is definitely suited to younger readers. However, it does provide a powerful message that all readers can understand. Ferdinand is a likable and relatable character and the setting of this book could bring in a lot of conversations and non-fiction-related books to discuss Spain and its culture. I give this story five out of five stars.

How to Eat Fried Worms

How to Eat Fried Worms is a humorous story by Thomas Rockwell  that I originally knew due to the movie loosely based on the book. How to Eat Fried Worms follows Billy, a boy who loves dares, who accepts the challenge to eat fifteen worms in fifteen days in exchange for $50. When he displays no trouble eating the worms, his friends start to pull some tricks to get him to back out of the bet.

I remember really enjoying the movie How to Eat Fried Worms as a child because I thought it was hilarious. While How to Eat Fried Worms does have its funny moments, since it was written quite a few years ago, the humor didn’t really grab me as much as the movie. As a result, the book also contained some dated language and expressions that may be lost on younger readers. I have read this book with younger readers, and while they enjoyed the story, they did mention they liked the movie better because it was easier to understand and contained more fun characters, which I also find to be true. I give this book three out of five stars.

The Hope Chest

The Hope Chest by Karen Schwabach follows eleven-year-old Violet as she sets off to find her older sister Chloe who left home a few years ago. When Violet finds Chloe, she discovers that she is involved with the women’s suffrage movement against her parents’ approval. Despite her parents feeling towards the cause, Violet finds a lot of different individual who open her eyes to many injustices within the nation.

I love the premise of The Hope Chest and how it tries to provide probably the first look at women’s suffrage that many young readers would experience. Additionally, The Hope Chest also points out a lot of other problems occurring in the United States, such as the treatment of African Americans. While I appreciate that The Hope Chest pointed out these injustices, the overall story fell flat for me. For me, the story itself was very dry and felt like more of an information dump than something enjoyable which I feel might not draw in its intended audience. I give The Hope Chest three out of five stars.


What children’s books have you read recently?

Fish in a Tree Review

book review

In Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullally Hunt, Ally Nickerson tries to hide her inability to read through ridiculous comments and actions in class. Her secret becomes more difficult to hide when a substitute teacher tries to look past Ally’s antics. As Ally’s confidence grows, she befriends two unique friends that show her that different does not mean the same thing as bad or wrong.

When I read the description for Fish in a Tree, I couldn’t contain my excitement. As a fourth grade special education teacher, I was excited to read a book that featured a character with a learning disability. Even though learning disabilities, like Allie’s dyslexia in this book, can be common among elementary school students, I haven’t read many books that feature a student with a learning disability as the main character. While there were aspects of this book that I believe could be improved, overall, it has a good message for younger readers.

I think the strongest aspect of this book is the main character, Ally. The author did a great job of portraying a student with a learning disability and how some students with learning disabilities will sometimes create outlandish diversions to distract from their learning challenges. Ally, along with her friends, are are likable and relatable characters for younger readers.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the overall message in this book. Similar to another middle grade book, Wonder, this book explains that all people have differences, but that’s okay. While some people may try to pull people down for their differences, they cannot stand against a group of people fighting for what is right. This is such a powerful message for younger readers, so it always makes me smile when this theme appears in a middle grade book.

On the other hand, there several issues I had with this book. I felt like this book sometimes over-relied on quotes or stereotypes. For example, this book is named Fish in a Tree after the famous Albert Einstein quote. Additionally, there are other famous quotes or proverbial lines littered throughout the text. This wouldn’t bother me as much if they weren’t coming from the stereotypical smart, but socially awkward characters. For me, it just happened a little to frequently in the text.

As a special education teacher, I also noticed several inaccuracies with how the special education process was conveyed in this book. Ally’s substitute teacher, who not yet even obtained a special education license, tells Ally that she has dyslexia before any testing is done. Evaluating a student for special education is a very complicated process, and any teacher (whether they have a special education license or not) would know that 1.) You NEVER tell a parent or student they qualify for a disability category when you haven’t gone through the special education process 2.) It takes A LOT of testing and to determine if a student qualifies under a disability category, and 3.) The student’s teacher does not make the call what disability the student does or does not have. I’m not sure if they had a teacher read this book before it was published, but there were many glaring errors that cause the special education process not to be accurately represented.

Fish in a Tree wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it at least provides a positive message to younger readers. As I keep thinking about this book, however, I keep remembering many issues and inconsistencies with Ally’s edication which made the story less enjoyable for me personally. I give Fish in a Tree three out of five stars.

Guitar Notes Review


Unfortunately, this book didn’t hit all of the right notes.

Guitar Notes by Mary Amato follows two drastically different high school students as they bond through a shared music room. Lyla is a remarkable cellist destined for greatness, but questions her future after discovering a love of guitar and writing music. Tripp, on the other hand, constantly bickers with his mother who took away his guitar after his grades started slipping.

I picked up Guitar Notes on a whim at my local library because the plot sounded similar to P.S. I Like You by Kasie West which I really enjoyed. Even though I knew this would be slightly different since it sounded like younger YA, I thought it could be a cute and quick read. However, it took a lot for me to finish this book and I found several aspects of this book that I didn’t enjoy.

One aspect of this book that I did enjoy were the two main characters. I think the author did a great job characterizing Tripp and Lyla. While like several other characters in young adult fiction, they did seem realistic and all of their actions were consistent with their characters. As the book suggests in this description, this book is more focused on a friendship than a relationship. While the characters do crush on each other a little, this book is targeted towards younger YA, so the relationship never extends beyond that. I think the book is successful in this aspect, however, readers may be disappointed if they go into this book with different expectations.

I think my largest problem with this book is that many of the plot points were recycled throughout which made the book less interesting and boring as my time went on reading it. For example, the plot focusing on Lyla’s jealous and overbearing best friend or Tripp bickering with his mom about the guitar occurred quite a bit and it grew a tad repetitive. Even though this book is only a little over two hundred pages, it took me almost a week to read. I think I actually read another book in between reading this one because I constantly found myself drifting off and thinking about other things while reading.

My least favorite part about this book would have to be the ending. In the last fifty pages of this book, the plot drastically picks up due to a surprising event. However, this event didn’t really work for me. I felt like the ending didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the book. Additionally, this book was very character-driven, but the ending was completely plot-driven. In the end, I felt disappointed that the problem wasn’t be solved by the main characters’ actions, but a random event. This made the entire book weaker for me.

Overall, Guitar Notes wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but I didn’t enjoy it either. Between the slow-moving plot and the random ending, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. I give Guitar Notes a two out of five stars.

The Kindness Club: Designed by Lucy ARC Review

book review

The second installment of The Kindness Club needed a make it work moment to really shine.

The Kindness Club: Designed by Lucy is the second book in The Kindness Club by Courtney Shienmel. In this novel, fashion forward club member Lucy Tanaka is determined to stick to the club’s goal, completing three acts of kindness a day. When a classmate’s mother passes away, Lucy sees this as the perfect opportunity. Her classmate, Serena, loves birthday parties, so Lucy wants to throw her the perfect party at her family’s bowling alley. However, unforeseen circumstances threaten Lucy’s plans.

I read Sincerely, a two-in-one book, by Courtney Shienmel and absoutely loved it for its realistic characters and situations. When I received an ARC of The Kindness Club last year, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my favorite work by this author. When I saw the second installment of The Kindness Club on NetGalley, I requested it right away. Unfortunately, out of all the books that I’ve read by this author, this book is my least favorite.

I think one of my biggest issues was with the characters, especially the main character Lucy. While I appreciated the characterization of The Kindness Club in the first book, it was a little overkill in this book. The group’s personalities and conversations felt so unnatural and it felt like they walked on eggshells around each other in fear they would say something that would accidentally offend someone.

Out of all the characters, Lucy especially annoyed me because she refused to listen to anyone’s advice. After devising the plan for Serena’s birthday, even after numerous warnings from friends and family members that it wasn’t her place to do this and tat she should find another way to show Serena that she cared because her plan would make Serena uncomfortable, Lucy never stopped. Especially since Lucy also lost her mother, it would make more sense if she understood Serena’s need for privacy at this time. I felt myself cringing throughout the entire book at her actions. I felt like so many characters tiptoed around Lucy because they didn’t want to hurt her feelings, instead I think they needed to be more frank about how some of Lucy’s ideas weren’t the correct way to handle specific situations.

While there were several aspects that I didn’t enjoy about this book, there were a few things that I did enjoy. Even though I think the book focused too much on the party idea, I do think it resolved that particular story line fairly well. I think Lucy’s fashion talents were used in a creative way beyond making clothes. I also think Lucy’s relationship with her father and grandmother were portrayed realistically and appreciated how much they were involved in the story.

The Kindness Club: Designed by Lucy wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but I still liked some aspects of the story and the overall message this series strives to send. I give The Kindness Club: Designed by Lucy three out of five stars.

ARC Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street


Release date: October 3, 2017

The Vanderbeekers may live on 141st Street, but I’m only giving this book three stars.

In Karina Yan Glaser’s debut novel The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, a group of five siblings strive to save their family’s apartment after their grumpy landlord refuses to renew their lease. Since it’s right around Christmas and the family must leave before the new year, the siblings only have about five days to change their landlord’s mind. However, their plans start to go awry.

I haven’t heard a lot about this book, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I went in reading it. From the book’s description, I knew it took place around Christmas time, so I expected a heartwarming family story perfect for the holidays. This book is uplifting and family friendly, which I enjoyed, but some minor issues held me back from giving this book five stars.

In this book, I mostly enjoyed the characters but had a few minor problems with their characterization. I appreciated that each sibling had their own personality, even the twin siblings. Since the book follows the perspectives of all the siblings, the author did a great job of differentiating the characters and their voices. However, I felt like some of the actions of the characters didn’t match the age of their characters. Sometimes, the youngest child (four and a half years old, I believe) acted her age by pretending to be a panda in a black and white sweatshirt, but sometimes they way she talked and acted seemed much older. Sometimes I confused her behavior with her older siblings. However, I still overall enjoyed the characters and their unique voices in this novel.

Another aspect of this book that I had mixed feelings towards was the plot. Sometimes, this book moved extremely slow and it took awhile in the book for the children to actually start putting their plan into action. Additionally, I found many of the “plot twists” to be fairly standard for similar holiday stories, especially the landlord’s background story. I also thought the “romance” plot in the book had a lot of plot holes which didn’t make me quite believe the characters’ reactions to that part of the story line. That being said, I still think the plot offers a cute, heartwarming story that a lot of reader will enjoy reading around Christmas.

Overall, The Vanderbeekers of 141st is a great family friendly book that I think a lot of families would enjoy reading together around Christmas time. However, I do think there were several areas of this novel that needed improvement in order for me to completely love it. I give this book three out of five stars.


I received this ARC free from the publisher via the Shelf Awareness Pro newsletter.

Captain Underpants Review

captain underpants

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a review of Captain Underpants!

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey follows two elementary school best friends who love to cause trouble and school and draw comics. After a prank at a football game lands them in major trouble, the two boys decide to hypnotize their principal in order to avoid punishment. Inadvertently, the turn their principal into their comic book creation, Captain Underpants.

Over the summer, I saw a full-length feature film of Captain Underpants was being released. Seeing the trailer brought me back to second grade where I devoured the Nancy Drew, Dear America, and Babysitter’s Club series. I distinctly remember seeing many of the boys in my class reading a series completely different than my own–The Captain Underpants series. With underwear and toilets slapped on the covers, my first though upon seeing a Captain Underpants book was ew, gross, or any unflattering word that a second grader could imagine.

Now, much older, I decided to give The Adventures of Captain Underpants a shot. Just from reading this series, I can tell you that I won’t be for everyone, especially parents put off by potty humor and boys that weasel their way out of trouble. However, after reading the first book in this series, I actually enjoyed the first book and can see how many younger readers would do the same.

I think the biggest aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the author’s personal connection. In the author’s biography at the end of the book, Dav Pilkey remembers how his story mirrors the characters in the book. Like the boys in Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey also played practical jokes, created comics books, and caused his teacher’s strife who told him “to straighten up because he could never make a living creating silly books.” Additionally, Pilkey actually created the character Captain Underpants in second grade. I enjoyed learning more about the series’ creation and it made me appreciate this book even more.

Another aspects of this book that I really enjoyed was its interactive features. At one point in the book, you flip the pages really fast to “animate” the book. I can imagine young readers really enjoying this part of the book. I also enjoyed how the book also incorporated comics that the main characters made. As an adult, it was funny to see how they spelled certain words, the pictures that they drew, and the story lines that they created.

While Captain Underpants isn’t my favorite early chapter book, I have a greater appreciation for this book than I did in the second grade. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but it is a quick read with a lot of enjoyable features. I give The Adventures of Captain Underpants four out of five stars.