ARC Review: The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match

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Release Date: September 12, 2017

The first book in this series meets its match as its sequel shines.

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match by Elizabeth Eulberg picks up shortly after the first book with a new case for Watson and Shelby. With a new school year afoot, there’s also new classes, new friends, and new mysteries waiting to be solved. This time, a new teacher’s watch disappears and Watson and Shelby are on the case! However, Shelby’s skills are soon questioned after she makes a mistake that comprises the case.

I read an eARC of the first book in this series last year, and I enjoyed it despite a few issues, so I was excited when the second book appeared on NetGalley (see my review of the first book here). In the first book, I really liked the main character in this series, Watson, and the book’s unique take on a mystery frequent in middle grade novels. However, I didn’t like how difficult the clues were for younger readers and Shelby’s almost cartoonish personality. I was happy that the sequel contained elements I enjoyed from the first book, but also worked on areas that needed improvement from the first book.

I think the highlight of this series definitely remains within the main character. Watson is a great character who not only grows as a character throughout the novel, but serves as a great role model for readers. Sometimes in books, authors treat mental illnesses or medical conditions as a “quirk” instead of an issue that the character struggles with everyday. However, Elizabeth Eulberg doesn’t do this with Watson’s diabetes. Readers get a good picture of what it’s like to live with diabetes since it greatly affects the plot line. Additionally, Watson is an all-around good guy. After an incident in the novel, Shelby starts a rumor that Watson is the hero, not her, because she’s afraid it will hurt his ego. Watson, however, not only declares this untrue, but proceeds to tell everyone the truth that Shelby is the real hero. I like how Watson is confident in who he is as a person and doesn’t conform to traditional male stereotypes.

I also enjoyed Shelby’s character more in this novel. In the first novel, all of her behavior felt too cartoonish and there weren’t enough moments to see her as a multi-dimensional, real character. However, Shelby’s character grows tremendously throughout this novel since everything she believes about herself is questioned. Shelby learns that even though she is intelligent, she can still make mistakes. Additionally, she starts to rely more on other people for help which further develops her friendship with Watson and helps her express herself more emotionally. I liked how Shelby’s character grew throughout this novel because it showed she can be strong through her intelligence, but through her emotions as well.

As for the case in this novel, I have mixed feelings. One aspect of this case that I liked was there were more details that younger readers could point out so they would feel more involved in the case. Since Watson is learning to pick up clues better, younger readers have the opportunity to do this as well. On the other hand, this case didn’t seem as well though out as the case in the first novel and the mystery is solved about halfway through the novel. Since the case isn’t the main focus, however, readers see a lot more character development from the two main characters. Therefore, if you’re looking for a more intricate mystery, I’d look towards the first book. If you’re looking for more complex characters, I’d look towards the second book.

Overall, The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match is an enjoyable read with likable characters and a decent mystery. I would recommend this book for any fan of the first book or anyone looking for a cute middle grade mystery. I give The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match four out of five stars.

 

***I received this eARC via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Red Thread Sisters Review

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Red Thread Sisters is a middle grade book that will definitely pull at your heartstrings.

Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock follows Wen, a Chinese orphan adopted by a family in America. Wen’s new life in America is drastically different than the life in her orphanage and she struggles to adjust to her new life. Then, Wen discovers that her best friend from China, Shu Ling will not be adoptable in a few weeks due to laws in China. If Wen does not find a family for Shu Ling, and quick, then Shu Ling’s hopes of finding a family and Wen’s hopes to reunite with her best friend will be lost forever.

I picked up Red Thread Sisters on a whim at my library’s local book sale last summer. With an interesting plot, diverse characters, and middle grade status, it seemed like a book that would have a good message and lots of heart. After finishing this book, I can say that my instincts were correct. Red Thread Sisters possesses a solid story line and great insight on adopting a child from a different country.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the author’s personal connection to the topic. In the author’s note, Carol Antoinette Peacock explains that she adopted her daughters from China and wanted to write a novel that accurately captured the adoption process and adapting to life in America. As a result, Peacock managed to inform readers of the challenges and heartbreak of children adopted from China, but also delivered an authentic and interesting story line. Furthermore, Peacock’s provided very detailed descriptions of life in the orphanage that I could picture in my head. Even though readers may come in with their ideas of what it looks like, it’s very heartbreaking and eye-opening to see what daily life is like for the children who live there.

Another aspect that I enjoyed about Red Thread Sisters was Wen’s character development. Wen was a complex and well-developed character clearly impacted by her life at the orphanage. At first, Wen is completely rigid and only wants to please her family in order not to be sent back to the orphanage. When Wen arrives in America, she is completely overwhelmed by the large houses, schools, and choices in clothing that she often exhibits socially awkward behavior. Wen authentically dealt with the new experiences that she faced. I also appreciated how the author developed Wen’s relationship with a new friend at school and a new sister. Since Wen’s best friend, who she considered a sister, still lives at the orphanage, Wen feels guilty and struggles to form new relationships. Nothing came extremely easy for Wen which resulted in a very character-driven book.

I also appreciated how the author incorporated Shing-Lu’s story. While it was heartbreaking, it really opened my eyes to a lot of issues in the adoption system. Shing-Lu is an older orphan with a physical disability which means she is often not featured on adoption websites along with thousands of other children deemed “unadoptable.” Even when Shing-Lu is featured on a website, the description isn’t incredibly detailed and fails to really humanize her. The book also informs readers of many laws without descriptions that would confuse young readers. Once Shing-Lu reached a certain age, she was legally considered “unadoptable” and would be removed from the orphanage completely. When Wen’s brother was born, she was sent to the orphanage when her family moved to the city with stricter birthing laws. I think reading this book will reveal a new point of view to readers and encourage them to advocate for other children like Wen does for Shing-Lu.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with Red Thread Sisters and definitely would recommend it to readers looking for an authentic book featuring diverse characters and a perspective on both American and Chinese cultures. This book made me smile, broke my heart, and made me want to learn more. I give Red Thread Sisters five out of five stars.

Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track Review

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Just like your favorite pop song, this book is up beat and fun, but not extremely unique.

Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track by Harmony Jones follows middle schooler Lark, who moved to Los Angeles from Nashville after her parents divorced and her mother started a new record label. With only one successful artists on the label, Lark’s mother looks across the pond for some fresh voices. She discovers Abbey Road, a British boy band comprised of three unruly teenagers and invites them to stay at Lark’s house as their career begins. Even though most teenage girls would dream of Lark’s situation, Lark finds herself living in a nightmare after the group steals one of her songs.

When I started Girl vs. Boy Band, I was impressed with the easy and quick writing style paired with a promising plot. While I enjoyed many aspects of this book, I was disappointed with the direction it followed. When I saw the book’s title and description, I expected a little more drama, especially concerning the stolen song. While this book started off strong, it slowly turned into a more predictable contemporary book.

I think my largest problem with this book would be its title in description. While Lark and the boys don’t get along, I expected a little more drama with a title “Girl vs. Boyband.” Additionally, the description of this book really capitalizes on the stolen song, however the majority of this book didn’t revolve around this conflict. When this part of the plot arose in the book, I was disappointed that this entire part of the plot unfolded and was neatly resolved in literally a few pages. Instead, the majority of the story focused on Lark’s stage fright. Even though this part of the story line will be more relatable to the audience, this is a plot line frequently used in middle grade novels and this book didn’t provide an original take.

One aspect of Girl vs. Boyband that I enjoyed was the depth added some of the characters. While some characters, such as Lark’s best friend, school crush, and the “bad boy” of the group clung to certain stereotypes, there were several stand out characters within this book. One of the boy band members, Max isn’t that musically talented and struggles with being away from his family. However, Max is also very approachable and a great dancer. I think Max was the most developed character out of the boy band, so I liked him the most out of the group. I think Lark’s mother was also well characterized. Lark’s mother struggles between her country roots and maintaining her new pop appearance. I liked how there were good and bad moments between Lark and her mother because it made the story more realistic.

Overall, Girl vs. Boyband is a cute book and I liked reading it. However, I’m not sure if I’ll be interested in the story that the book is going read, so my investment in this series will depend on the summary of the next book. I give Girl vs. Boyband three out of five stars.

ARC Review: Junior Lifeguards

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Summer fun? Best friends? A cool summer job? The Test: Junior Lifeguard by Elizabeth Doyle Carey passes the fun summer read test.

Jenna Bowers is a competitive swimmer slowly losing her top spot on the team. This summer, Jenna wants to hop out of the pool and dive into the ocean as a junior lifeguard with her three best friends. Becoming a junior lifeguard, however, may be more difficult than winning the gold.

I’ve read a few other books by Elizabeth Doyle Carey in her middle grade series, The Cupcake Diaries, as Coco Simon. Even though I really liked the author’s writing style and characterization, I thought the books moved too slow and the stories were wrapped up too easily. Luckily, I didn’t find these problems with The Test: Junior Lifeguards and hope to continue the series.

After reading this book, I think it is perfect for reading starting to outgrow middle grade, but aren’t ready to venture into grittier young adult books. The Test: Junior Lifeguards does a great job of balancing friends, family, crushes, and more serious topics in an appropriate way for younger readers. One of the best aspects of this book is Jenna’s friend group. The dynamics of her friend group are very authentic for girls in middle school to early high school, so I think a lot of readers in the target audience could relate to Jenna and her story.

I also liked that this book had a clear ending, but left a lot of room for a sequel featuring any one of Jenna’s friends. Each of Jenna’s friends have the potential to have an interesting story line featuring one of the many mysteries set up in the first book. Out of all of Jenna’s friends, I think I would be the most excited to read about Selena. Out of the group, she was the most interesting character with the most promising story line. I think I would be least excited to read Ziggy’s story because she slightly annoyed me with her immaturity, tardiness, and careless attitude.

One of my complaints with this story was how much of the girls’ conversation centered around guys. Considering the characters’ ages, it makes sense that the girls are a little boy crazy. However, it seemed like any time a male character popped up in the book, they all gushed about his attractiveness. This happened with literally any male character, even if they only appeared a few seconds, like the “manny” to the famous girls in town for the summer.

My other complaint with this story would be some of the girl drama. Like with the boy craziness, it is expected at this age. However, sometimes it got a little too much. If one of Jenna’s friends just made a reference to the boy she liked, she quickly assumed they wanted to steal them away or thought they were cute too. This especially happened when Jenna interacted with Selena, who Jenna constantly remarked was beautiful enough to steal any guy away from her. It seemed like whenever another girl one-upped Jenna she got extremely jealous. While competitiveness is part of Jenna’s personality, it sometimes was a little too much for me.

The Test Junior Lifeguards is the perfect summer read for young girls in the stage between middle grade and young adult. This would be a great book to bring on a beach vacation! I give The Test: Junior Lifeguards four out of five stars.

I received The Test: Junior Lifeguards by Elizabeth Doyle Carey from the publisher for free in exchange for an honest review. 

Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Stage Fright Review

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Lights, camera… action! Allie Finkle takes the stage in the fourth book of the Rules for Girls series.

In Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Stage Fright, Meg Cabot’s middle grade heroine auditions for a role in her class play about recycling. Every girl in the class covets the main role, Princess Penelope, who wanders through the recycling forest while hiding from the evil queen. Much to Allie’s dismay, Mrs. Hunter casts her as the evil queen.

Last read, I read the first Allie Finkle book. I expected a cute book with a nice message for young readers. I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud at Allie’s crazy antics. Even though I didn’t like the fourth book as much as the first book, Stage Fright offers a lot of laughs and good messages for younger readers.

I think the best aspect of this book is Allie Finkle’s attitude. Unlike many novels featuring characters of the same age, Allie does not disrespect her parents or incite petty drama between her friends. Allie acts extremely mature and supports her friends even when one of her friends gets the part she wanted in the school play and acts mean towards her. Many of her rules are extremely relatable and useful for readers. She also provides many witty observations about the other students in her class.

Another aspect I enjoyed about this book were Allie’s rules. A lot of books for this age range also utilize rules within their books. However, I think Allie’s rules stand out from the other similar books. All of Allie’s rules, which are listed at the end of the book, are extremely useful and relatable for readers. I especially liked the rules in this book because they encouraged readers to be nice to others, do the best with what you are given, and to support your friends.

Overall, Stage Fright is a nice addition to the Allie Finkle series. While the beginning was a little slow for me, it really picked up in the middle and end. I rate Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Stage Fright as four out of five stars.

Kill Me Softly Review

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Bre is a fashion and lifestyle blogger at The Queen Bre. She is a girl from the North with a heart for Lilly Pulitzer, shopping, and anything pink. She is also my twin sister.

 

Once upon a time, I read one of the worst books that I’ve ever read.

Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross follows 15-year-old Mirabelle, who runs away from home to her birthplace, Beau Rivage, one week before her sixteenth birthday. Years ago, her parents died in a fire at her christening, and Mirabelle feels determined to find their graves, so that she can get closure. However, in Beau Rivage, Mirabelle enters a new world hidden from the public eye, where everyone receives a fairytale curse that they will eventually re-enact in real life. Mirabelle struggles between following her destiny, or defying her fate, as a Sleeping Beauty curse in a world where not every story gets a happily-ever-after.

Although the plot on the inside cover of the novel peaked my interest, the actual story fell short and disappointed me. I absolutely love fairy tale retellings, and Kill Me Softly promised a mixture of my favorite fairy tales with a delightful twist. However, the plot dragged at times, and many aspects of the plot felt unrealistic, even in a book about fairy tales! For example, Mirabelle waltzes around a casino at her leisure, even though she is underage.

Additionally, some parts of the novel just felt a little silly, like the author consciously tried to make the novel more ‘PG-13 rated’ and scandalous, but ultimately failed, and it just came across as cringe-worthy. For instance, the characters play strip poker…but they wear crazy costumes and none of their clothes actually come off. The game just came across as awkward and not funny, especially since it served no actual purpose in the novel, except to make it feel more ‘scandalous’ for its intended audience of teenage girls.

I also highly disliked Mirabelle’s character. Considering that she is only fifteen-years-old, I could, under normal circumstances, forgive her for being selfish and stupid in love. However, her godmothers reveal that she had gifts bestowed on her at her christening, which include kindness and intellect. Mirabelle exhibits neither throughout the novel. She treats the ‘prince’ that will eventually save her life so terribly that he falls into a depression, lashes out at those who try to warn her about the villian, and stays with the said villan even after she knows that his curse could kill her.

Unfortunately, Mirabelle’s love interests aren’t much better.

First, Mirabelle falls in insta-love with Felix, who is a 21-year-old casino owner. Let me reiterate that. She is 15-years-old, and he is 21-years-old. The age difference alone disturbs me, but the author takes the inappropriateness even further. The characters sleep in the same bed, and even almost hook up. Mirabelle even buys lingerie to wear for him. Though Felix eventually turns into the villian of the novel, I hated how the novel made a relationship between a 15-year-old and a 21-year-old seem appropriate, and even exhilarating and fun. Considering the intended audience of the novel, I felt disappointed that the author chose to encourage a relationship like this.

I didn’t really like Mirabelle’s other love interest, Blue, much either. He just acted as the run-of-the-mill bad boy love interest to contrast with his brother, Felix. Sarcastic, not traditionally good looking, and somewhat annoying, I felt like I read his character a million times before in other young adult novels. Yawn.

I, however, felt most disappointed in the message that the novel sent to young readers. (Warning: Spoilers Ahead!) 

The end of the novel reveals that Felix and Blue possess the Bluebeard curse, so if anyone enters their sacred room in the casino, then that person must die. When Mirabelle enters Felix’s room, he must kill her by kissing her. If the author stopped her, then maybe I could try to understand the author’s perspective, despite the age difference in the characters. However, the author takes the curse too far. Felix forcibly throws Mirabelle onto a bed, and she starts to lose consciousness. As he forcibly kisses her in her unconscious state, Mirabelle thinks, “It’s okay because he’s not touching me anywhere else” (not verbatim, but the general idea of the line). That thought took the curse too far for me, as it tells young, impressionable readers that it is okay for someone to forcefully kiss you when you’re unconscious, especially if he (or she) isn’t touching you anywhere else. What an incredibly disappointing way to discuss consent.

Overall, I would give Kill Me Softly 2 out of 5 stars. Although I liked the basic premise of the novel, the author executes it poorly.

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ARC Review: Good Morning, Superman!

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Is that a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a boy getting ready for school!

In Good Morning, Superman! written by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Omar Lozano, a young boy wakes up for the day to get ready for school. Like his favorite superhero, Superman, the boy must get his strength by eating breakfast, changing into his super uniform, and battle the toothpaste.

First of all, I love the idea of this book. Many children can be very unwilling to do many tasks associated with getting ready for the day, even though many of these tasks greatly impact their hygiene. I think pairing a typically boring activity with one of the most iconic superheroes is a great way to motivate and excite children about getting ready.

I also really appreciated the illustrations. All of the illustrations and fonts used in the book give a nod to traditional comic books, but also are colorful and easy to read for younger readers. I thought it was really clever that sometimes on the same page Superman and the boy were completing parallel activities. This really reinforced the superhero theme and will motivate students more than if the cartoon only featured Superman or the boy wearing a Superman shirt.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed was the checklist in the back. While I was reading the book, I thought it would be great idea to make a step-by-step chart featuring the pictures of this book for students learning to get ready independently. I’m not sure if this checklist would be easily detachable or if the book will feature a cardboard page where you can punch the activities out, but I think that would be a great addition to the book.

While I enjoyed many aspects of this book, there was one part I think that could be improved. In the story, Superman has a female sidekick. In the main story, this correlates to the young boy’s sister, who is about the same age. In the Superman story, the female sidekick wears knee-high boots, a mini skirt, and a crop top. There’s nothing wrong with wearing an outfit like this, but I found it slightly inappropriate in this scenario because it represented a young girl, probably around the age of 4-6.

Overall, I think Good Morning, Superman! is an enjoyable book that colorfully illustrates a monotonous subject. While I do think this is a great children’s books, I think some additional features, like pop-out pictures of the tasks would enhance a student’s learning experience. I give this book four out of five stars.

 

There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Turkey Review

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Gobble, gobble. Gobble, gobble. (That’s turkey for “not my favorite book!”).

In There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Turkey by Lucille Colandro, the infamous Old Lady from the There was an Old Lady series is at it again. This time, she’s somehow digesting everything from a turkey to a float that would fit in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Compared to some of the other books in this series, this book was not my favorite. One of the main reasons is that I felt the rhythm of the book was slightly off and the ending went slightly off track from the traditional formula, but not in the most effective way. A major reason why these books are so successful is because the words just roll of the tongue. Saying the list of things that the old lady ate as quickly as possible makes the book even funnier. In this book, however, some of the phrases were slightly awkward and flowed less smoothly. The ending also didn’t follow the same scheme, which also threw me off.

Some of the items also do not relate as directly to the book’s Thanksgiving theme. Even though it all makes sense in the end, readers may be confused since some of the other holiday inspired books stay more on theme. For example, the old lady swallows a boat and tires. Even though this relates to the float at the end, there are many more theme-related objects that could have been put in their places.

One positive aspect of this book is that it is still as completely outrageous as the other books in this series. Children will laugh as the objects get bigger and bigger as the story moves along. In that sense, I really liked how the book stayed true to the rest of the series. Since many of my other points might not matter to the children actually reading the book, but this aspect does matter, I think staying true the outrageous quality of this series makes the book successful.

While I think this is a fun book to read with your family on Thanksgiving, it is definitely not my favorite in the series. I give this book three out of five stars.

Throwback Thursday: Happy Halloween, Biscuit! Review

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Woof, woof! (That’s Biscuit talk for “great book!”)

In Happy Halloween, Biscuit!, Biscuit and a little girl travels through various fall activities including a pumpkin patch, choosing their Halloween costumes, and Trick or Treating. Throughout the story, Biscuit interacts adorably within the environment, like knocking down a scarecrow and crawling in a sweater as his Halloween costume.

One of the best aspects of this book is the construction. The pages of the book are tougher than paper, but not as think as a board book. This is the perfect construction for the target age range because it is more mature than a board book, but sturdy enough to not easily be ripped. The flap are also a nice touch because it allows readers to predict what Biscuit is doing before opening the flap.

Another aspect of Biscuit books that I love is the repetitive aspect. By creating a sentence structure that repeats so frequently, readers quickly familiarize themselves with many words in the text. This allows the reader to read at a fast, but accurate pace because they can predict the sequence of words coming up in the sentence.

Biscuit is also one of the positives in this book–he is so cute! If a child has read other books in this series, they will be excited to see Biscuit and all the fun activities he completes throughout the story!

Overall, Biscuit is a fun and appropriate book for its target age range. While this consistency is great for younger readers, older readers might become bored with the predictable sentence structure and situations. I give Happy Halloween, Biscuit! four out of five stars.

ARC Review: The Kindness Club

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Release Date: November 1, 2016

They always say if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it all… luckily, I have many positive things to say about The Kindness Club by Courtney Shienmel.

The Kindness Club follows Chloe Silver, who despite her parents’ recent divorce and moving to a new school, stays determined to remain positive and find great new friends. Upon arriving at her new schools, Chloe catches the attention of the popular girls, also known as the “It Girls.” Before Chloe can call herself an It Girl, she must do whatever they want until they ask her to officially join the group. Their biggest request is for Chloe to be mean to her science project group.

I’ve read one other book by Courtney Shienmel (Sincerely) and one thing I really appreciate about her books is how realistically she portrays characters and relationships. Chloe struggles with many real life issues–she wants to be accepted, her dad is dating someone besides her mom–and reacts to the situations as you would an expect an 11-year-old to react. As a reader, you can feel Chloe’s pain and easily identify with many of her experiences.

I also love the dimensions that Shienmel adds to her characters. Monroe, the It Girls’ ringleader, isn’t just a stereotypical mean girl with blonde hair, pink wardrobe, and rich parents. With the glimpses you see into different characters’ lives, you can clearly see how their experiences impact their attitudes. That being said, I do think Lucy and Theo, the other Kindness Club members, could be fleshed out more because they came across as a little cartoonish. Since this is the first book in a series, I suspect readers will learn more about those two characters.

While I loved many aspects of this book, there were some aspects that could be improved. Some readers may find the book’s message as a little too overstated and juvenile. Having a popular girls club and Kindness Club seems a little too young for fifth grade, but since the target audience of this book is a little younger, it is not that big of an issue. I also think that their are many other books out right now dealing with the same subject. While Shienmel’s writing is definitely stand-out, the plot may not be exciting or new to readers.

I really appreciated the writing quality and realistic characters in The Kindness Club, but was slightly disappointed by the predictable and overused plot. I give The Kindness Club three out of five stars.

I recieved The Kindness Club from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.