From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks Review

From the desk of Brittany, I give this book five out of five stars.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington follows Zoe Washington, a middle student and aspiring baker, who receives a letter from her father in prison on her twelfth birthday. Zoe’s never communicated with her father, so in secret, Zoe starts sending him letters. When Zoe’s father tells her he is innocent in a letter, Zoe becomes determined to find evidence that will overturn the guilty verdict.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

As I mentioned in my Front Desk review earlier this month, I love middle grade that perfectly balances tough topics with a lot of heart. Like with Front Desk, From the Desk of Zoe Washington also presented readers with difficult, relevant issues, with a spunky protagonist who stands up for other people.

One aspect of this book that I think this author nailed was how she discussed the prison system in this country and how many innocent people are imprisoned every year due to factors outside of their control. For example, Zoe’s father couldn’t afford a lawyer when he was convicted, so the state appointed him one. Consequently, the lawyer wasn’t invested in Zoe’s case, to the point where he wouldn’t track down a witness to confirm her father’s alibi. As a result, her father was wrongfully convicted of murder. Marks exposes readers of all ages to a relevant issue in our country, which can generate conversations surrounding this topic for readers of all ages.

Another aspect of middle grade that I enjoy is a spunky protagonist with a lot of heart, which is the perfect description of Zoe. Although Zoe has experienced racism, she never knew that it extended into the prison system in our country. Once Zoe learns about this issue, she will do whatever it takes to stand up for what is right. Additionally, Zoe wants to be a famous baker. She puts in hard work to achieve her dream by helping out at a local bakery. I think many readers will admire Zoe’s determination to reach her dreams and her persistence help other people.

Overall, From the Desk of Zoe Washington was another great middle grade book that I’ve read this year. I give this book five out of five stars.


Front Desk by Kelly Yang Review

Check in to this heartfelt and relevant middle grade novel.

Front Desk by Kelly Yang follows Mia Tang after she immigrates to the United States from China with her parents. When Mia’s parents are offered to be managers at a hotel, Mia’s family thinks they will finally live the American Dream. However, many roadblocks stand in the way between Mia’s family and their dreams, like a mean hotel manager who constantly changes the rules.

Front Desk (Front Desk, #1)

I have heard a lot of positive reviews surrounding Front Desk, and after reading the synopsis, I knew this was a book that I wanted to pick up. I always love reading middle grade because I think middle grade books perfectly balance exploring tougher issues but also containing a lot of heart. Front Desk perfectly balances those two elements and is an extremely relevant book for readers of all ages.

Although this book is based off the writer’s experiences from when she was a child, all of the issues presented in this book are still relevant today. This book covers a lot of topics, such as immigration and racism, through a young girl’s eyes. Mia, the main character, isn’t afraid to confront other characters in the book when they are discriminatory to other people, and when people are discriminatory towards Mia, she refuses to let go of her dreams. Mia acts as a great role model, from readers in and out of the target audience. Additionally, this book can open many readers to discussions about important topics.

Even though I’m someone who does enjoy middle grade books, they aren’t my go-to when looking at my TBR. Front Desk prompted me to research more middle grade books and read them immediately after finishing this one. I give Front Desk five out of five stars.

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Jessica Darling’s It List #2 Review

In Manda and Sara’s word, this book isn’t a Hot, but it’s not a Not either.

Jessica Darling’s It List #2: The (Totally Not) Guide to Friends, Foes, and Faux Friends by Megan McCafferty focuses on Jessica’s changing friendships during her first year of middle school. In this installment of the series, Jessica struggles to balance her old friends with her new friends which may lead to disastrous results.

Jessica Darling's It List 2: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes & Faux Friends

I read the first book in the It List series a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I think the first It List book contained all the successful elements of a middle grade novel: humor with a lot of heart. Jessica Darling was a laugh-out-loud protagonist and the book offered a lot of great advice to the target audience. For me, this installment of the series wasn’t as fun as the first novel, but it was still solid and offered encouragement to readers in a similar situation as Jessica.

Compared to the first book in this series, this book was off to a slow start. I enjoyed the first chapter, which was a summary of the first book, because I think it will help younger readers remember what the It List is and how it as affected Jessica’s relationships with those around her. However, I found the items on the new It-List introduced in this book not as exciting or as interesting as the first book. There are definitely less landmark events in this read, which makes the first half move slowly. That being said, the book definitely picks up and offers more of that laugh-out-loud humor that I enjoyed in the second half.

One of my favorite aspects of the It List books is how it offers practical advice to the target audience without being blatantly obvious. There are things that Jessica thinks and feels that brought me back to that time in my life where friendships were constantly growing, changing, or completely disappearing. I think a lot of readers, young and old, will relate to Jessica’s situation and I appreciated how the author conveyed that what the reader may be experiencing in this own life is completely real and normal.

While this book didn’t completely wow me like the first book in this series, it was still a solid read and I continue reading the next book in this series. I give this book three out of five stars.

Blogmas Day #14: The Brittany Awards Part 2 (Middle Grade)


Welcome to The Brittany Awards!

The Brittany Awards are my annual end-of-the-year lists to celebrate my favorite books of this year. Today, I will discuss my favorite middle grade books of the year. For each category, I select between 3 and 5 favorites, possibly with some honorable mentions. Here are my choices:

  • Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes (Holes, #1)

I read Holes over the summer. I’ve always enjoyed the movie, but I can’t remember reading the book, even though it seems to be a staple in elementary school classrooms. I enjoyed the movie and was happy to see how well it was adapted from the book after reading it this summer.

  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Real Friends (Real Friends, #1)

Real Friends is a great graphic novel. It can easily be relatable for the book’s target audience, but take older readers back to that time in their lives where friendships were constantly changing.

  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s

It took me awhile to get into this book, but once I did, I was completely invested in the characters and rooting for them until the very end. Counting by 7s brings so many different people together and they make kind of their own family, which was lovely to see.

What were the best middle grade books that you read this year?

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Just Jaime by Terri Libenson Review


Unfortunately, Just Jaime was just average for me.

Just Jaime by Terri Libenson is a middle-grade graphic novel that follows Jaime and Maya, two friends at odds before summer vacation. Ever since Jaime and Maya befriended two new girls at the start of middle school, Jaime notices her best friend get pulled further and further away by the leader of the pack who frequently puts down Jaime. Maya wants the popularity that her new friends offer, however, she struggles to determine if that popularity is more important than her friend Jaime.

I saw Just Jaime available within my library’s e-books. I read Real Friends by Shannon Hale earlier this year and the plot of this book sounded extremely similar despite taking place in different time periods (Real Friends is a memoir of Hale’s experience in middle school and Just Jaime is a fiction story that takes place in the present). Since these stories were so similar, I constantly found myself comparing the two graphic novels. Sadly for Just Jaime, I enjoyed the other story a little bit more.

One aspect of Just Jaime that I enjoyed were the two perspectives, which was not present in Real Friends. In Just Jaime, you get to see the story from Jaime and Maya. I think this helped stray away from the typical mean girl trope often present in children’s books targeted towards girls because readers get to see the peer pressure that Maya faces. While Maya’s actions may not be the best, readers can sympathize more with her character.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was its reflection of real life. I think many readers will relate to Jaime and Maya. Many of the situations presented in this book, like ending friendships through text, would be very relatable to the target audience of this book. While I think Real Friends captured my attention and captivated the emotions surrounding friend breakups better, I think the modern setting would be more relatable to the book’s target audience.

While there were several aspects of this book that I enjoyed, there were several places where this book fell flat for me. Even though the events in this book were relatable, they were not fleshed out enough for me to really feel the emotions of the main characters. While the character’s actions did play a large role in the book, I mostly remember a string of events than the characters themselves. Additionally, I felt like the problems in this book were resolved too quickly. Also, I was not the biggest fan of this particular art style, however, that is more of personal preference.

Overall, Just Jaime was an average read for me. Maybe if I hadn’t read Real Friends earlier in this year, which is extremely similar in plot and message, I would have enjoyed this one a little bit more. I give Just Jaime three out of five stars.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved with less than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads

top ten

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is books you loved with 2,000 or fewer ratings on Goodreads. Looking at my list, a lot of my books fall into younger age ranges, such as picture books, early chapter books, or middle grade books. This does not surprise me. These type of books are not really huge in the blogging area. Additionally, the targeted audience for these books are not Goodread’s largest base of users, so they would be less likely to rate and review a book online. Here is my list (any book with a review will be linked to the book’s title):

Zora and the Greyhounds

Zora and the Greyhounds was one of the first books that I received a copy of via NetGalley, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. This story was really cute, it followed a dog who wanted to race with much bigger dogs, and also gave an inspiring message to younger readers.


Rush by Sara Bennett Wealer follows three girls going through sorority recruitment. I was interested in this book because I was in a sorority in college and rush was always an exciting time. It saddened me that this book solely focused on negative sorority experiences. While those do exist, I felt like this book was extremely unrealistic and relied more on stereotypes than an actual story.

The Kindness Club: Designed by Lucy

I requested the second book in The Kindness Club after reading the first book in the series and enjoying it. Like the first book in the series, it was a cute book with a good message although a little forgettable.

  • The Test by Elizabeth Doyle Carey (32 reviews)

The Test

I would describe this book as late middle grade/early YA. I received this book as an eARC from the publisher. I enjoyed learning about junior lifeguards, which I didn’t know much about, but I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the characters.

A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids

This was another middle-grade book that I received via NetGalley. While I enjoyed some aspects of this book, I wasn’t a fan of the romance and found it unnecessary.

The Kindness Club (The Kindness Club, #1)

I was a huge fan of another Courtney Shienmel middle grade novel (Sincerely) and requested this when I saw it on NetGalley. The Kindness Club is definitely more commercial than Sincerely and contains a lot of tropes, but it was still a cute story with a fun message.

Buddy: The First Seeing Eye Dog

This is a non-fiction book was the first seeing eye dog in America. It’s an easy to read book that many children will read since it focuses on a dog.


Isabella: Girl in Charge is a great introduction to notorious women involved in politics and government in the United States. This is a picture book, so it is a great non-fiction pick for young readers.

  • All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey (126 reviews)

All I Want for Christmas Is You

All I Want for Christmas is You is such a cute Christmas picture book! It combines the popular Christmas song with illustrations that show a girl getting a dog for Christmas. There’s also a cute one-hour long movie that goes along with this book (but is not included with the book).

The Right Track (Girl vs. Boy Band #1)

I picked up this book at my library because it sounded really interesting. A young girl is forced to live with an aspiring boy band that her mom manages. I liked how this book showed the story from a different point of view (romance was not the driving part of the storyline), however, some aspects of the story fell a little flat for me.


What are some of your least rated, but most loved books?

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Every month on my blog, I typically post a to be read (TBR) list that I want to accomplish in the upcoming month. For this post, I decided to switch it up and only talk about books that are in my advanced reader copy (ARC) TBR list. Here are four books that I have received as digital ARCs from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review:

  • Judy Moody and the Right Royal Tea Party by Megan McDonald

Judy Moody and the Right Royal Tea Party (Judy Moody, #14)

Release Date: September 11, 2018

From Goodreads:

Jolly smashing! Could the Moodys really have royal blood? Judy brings her new look to a comical episode about the ups and downs of exploring a family tree.

Judy Moody is in a royal purple-mountain-majesties mood. Make that Majesty with a capital M! With Grandma Lou’s help, Judy has dug up proof that some old-timey Moodys (aka the brave Mudeyes) lived in merry olde England. In fact, if her grandpa’s notes are right, Judy might even be related to — royal fanfare, please — the Queen herself! Should Judy start packing her purple robe for a sleepover at Buckingham Palace? But then Judy’s family tree gets a few more shakes — thanks to her nemesis, Jessica “Fink” Finch — and some more surprises come tumbling out. Crikey! These new gems are not nearly as shiny or sparkly as the crown jewels. Now Judy has some right royal family secrets she’d like to keep hidden away in a dungeon somewhere — and especially away from Jessica, the princess in pink herself!

Technically, the release date for this book has already passed. However, I still want to read and review this book. I love a good middle grade book and haven’t picked up when in quite some time. Hopefully, this will inspire me to read some more middle grade books next year! The Judy Moody series is always hit or miss for me now, although I LOVED it when I was younger. I’m crossing my fingers this new installment can become a new favorite.

  • The Geography of Lost Things by Jessica Brody

The Geography of Lost Things

Release Date: October 2, 2018

From Goodreads:

In this romantic road trip story perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson, a teen girl discovers the value of ordinary objects while learning to forgive her absent father.

After Ali’s father passes away, he leaves his one and only prized possession—a 1968 Firebird convertible—to his daughter. But Ali doesn’t plan on keeping it. Not when it reminds her too much of all her father’s unfulfilled promises. So when she finds a buyer three hundred miles up the Pacific coast willing to pay enough money for the car to save her childhood home, Ali can’t wait to get going. Except Ali has no idea how to drive a stick shift. But guess who does?

Ali’s ex-boyfriend, Nico. And Nico has other plans.

He persuades Ali that instead of selling the car, they should “trade up” the items they collect on their trip to eventually reach the monetary amount Ali needs. Agreeing with Nico’s crazy plan, Ali sets off on a unique adventure that is unlike anything she ever could have expected.

And it’s through Ali’s travels, through the strangers she meets and the things that they value—and why they value them—that Ali eventually comes to understand her father and how his life may not have been as easy and carefree as she previously thought. Because just like the seemingly insignificant objects Ali collects, not everything is exactly as it appears.

Like with Judy Moody and the Royal Right Tea Party, the release date for this book has already passed. However, I’m still excited to read and review it. Seeing two books on my ARC TBR with the release dates already passed makes me really want to focus on reading and reviewing ARCs in a timely manner in the new year to best support the authors of these books. This description, like the recommendation at the top mentions, gives me Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour vibes. Morgan Matson and Sarah Dessen are two of my favorite young adult contemporary authors, so I definitely have high hopes for this book.

  • Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

Famous in a Small Town

Release Date: January 15, 2019

From Goodreads:

For Sophie, small-town life has never felt small. She has the Yum Yum Shoppe, with its famous fourteen flavors of ice cream; her beloved marching band, the pride and joy of Acadia High (even if the football team disagrees); and her four best friends, loving and infuriating, wonderfully weird and all she could ever ask for.

Then August moves in next door. A quiet guy with a magnetic smile, August seems determined to keep everyone at arm’s length. Sophie in particular.

Country stars, revenge plots, and a few fake kisses (along with some excellent real ones) await Sophie in this hilarious, heartfelt story.

I’m always hesitant to read books that involve someone famous. However, I’ve heard great reviews for books by Emma Mills, so I’m excited to read my first book by this author. This release date is quickly approaching, so it’s one that I’ve already started reading.

  • You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn 

You'd Be Mine

Release Date: April 2, 2019

From Goodreads:

Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things.

But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic death, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen.

Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

This ARC has the furthest release date, so it is the last on my TBR. Once again, I’m always hesitant to read books involving famous people. However, I will still always pick them up to see if there is one that I really enjoy. This book’s description reminds me of Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. That book was only okay for me, but I still am hopeful that this one will work out for me.


What ARCs are on your TBR?

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.

Books I Read in 2017


This year, I set a goal to read 75 books. I was worried that I wouldn’t meet my goal, even though I read about 65 books last years. I completely surprised myself by reading 105 books in 2017! I was also so happy to find some new favorites and explore new genres. Here are all the books I read in 2017 (book reviews will be linked to book titles):


What books are at the top of your TBR for 2018?