Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Tag: March 2021

Book Review: Talking To Alaska

Talking To Alaska – Anna Woltz, Translated by Laura Watkinson – Oneworld Publications – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

It only takes one day at their new school for Parker and Sven to become mortal enemies. Parker’s had a terrible summer and just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make an impression and be known as anything other than “that boy with epilepsy.”

When Parker discovers her beloved dog Alaska – who she had to give away last year – now belongs to Sven, she’s determined to steal Alaska back. Of course, that’s easier said than done…

My thoughts

I know first hand just how special Golden Retrievers are so I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story about two young people brought together by a very special dog

Day one of the new school year. For Parker and Sven, this is a massive first day and both have plans to make a positive impact on their classmates. Parker plans to stay stay under the radar and Sven wants to make a big impression, but, within just the first few hours both have made a slightly different impact than they were imagining. Parker is upset with Sven for making her introduction a big deal and for making fun of her and Sven is upset that everyone already knows him as “the boy with epilepsy.” When Parker learns that her beloved dog Alaska, who she has to give away last year, now belongs to a Sven, she declares war and decides to return Alaska to her rightful home.

Talking To Alaska is such an important middle grade novel. It talks about things that so many young people face – starting at new schools, the transition to middle school, making friends, and dealing with unkind comments from others. It also addresses other important topics that is so refreshing to see in middle grade fiction, including recovering from trauma and invisible disabilities.

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Book Review: Once Upon A Dragon’s Fire

Once Upon A Dragon’s Fire – Beatrice Blue – Clarion Books – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

How did dragons get their fire? It all began once upon a magical kingdom, where a fearsome dragon stalked the land. The dragon was mean and scary and evil, or so the stories said. One day, two brave children set out to stop him for good. But when they finally met the monster, he wasn’t quite what they expected . . .

Find out how two kids’ determination to save their village led to a friendship that will warm the hearts of dragon lovers everywhere in this gorgeously illustrated celebration of the magic of kindness.

My thoughts

A beautiful picture book about bravery and friendship, about the power of story and how changing the stories can change how we see and accept others.

Two children live in a cold village. Everyone in their town knows that the evil dragon is the reason for the cold. All the books tell the same story. When a particularly bad storm starts to build, Freya and Sylas set off to find the dragon and save their village. What they find is a surprise and their kindness and bravery might be what really saves their town.

This book has such a beautiful underpinning story of acceptance, but also of rewriting the story of acceptance and friendship. It points to the way so many of our stories and book spread the stories of evil, difference and strangeness. The two children in this book show that through kindness, bravery and being open to new stories, that we can learn the truth about others and become a far more accepting world.

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Book Review: Build Great Teams

Build Great Teams: How To Harness, Create and Be Part of a Powerful Team – American Library Association and Catherine Hakala-Ausperk – Simple Truths – Published 30 March 2021

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Synopsis

Teamwork matters. But how do you A) enlist a powerhouse team; B) develop successful teamwork skills; and C) turn a troubled team around?

In just one year (or 52-weeks), you can achieve your personal dream team through Catherine Hakala-Ausperk’s proven program. Organized into 52 modules—designed to cover a year of weekly sessions, but easily adaptable for any pace—Build Great Teams covers major management issues such as: success with recruiting, setting teammates up for success, good organizational communication skills, establishing an innovative team, and more!

My thoughts

Build Great Teams appears to be a re-release of the 2012 title Build a Great Team: One Year to Success. While I haven’t read that book, looking at the summary and contents page, the two seem to have very similar content and layout, with just a few updates and changes.

Build Great Teams is a very approachable book. It is set out as a guide you could use over a year to improve your team leading skills. Each week’s content is extremely short (most just a page and a half long, with very large text and a large stock image taking up most of the space). The text is also very readable. No research, stats or other details, this book is like a friend giving you a few tips to try out each week. I had read a whole month’s worth before realising that it was a month’s worth and not just one week.

While this book is something I could certainly see having time in my week to fit in, it didn’t have the depth of content I was looking for. Each week’s content is more a general suggestion of how a team might work best together or an example from another company. The learning is implied.

I think to get the most out of this book, I would need to use each chapter as merely a starting point and do some reflection or find some related activities to go with each chapter’s topic.  The marketing materials do mention the possibility of accompanying workbooks or resources, which I think would make this a far more practical resource.  Continue reading

Book Review: Escape at 10,000 Feet

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing Money – Tom Sullivan – Unsolved Case Files #1 – Balzer+Bray – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

CASE NO. 001: NORJAK
NOVEMBER 24, 1971
PORTLAND, OREGON

2:00 P.M.
A man in his mid-forties, wearing a suit and overcoat, buys a ticket for Northwest Orient Airlines flight 305 bound for Seattle.

3:07 P.M.
The man presents his demands: $200,000 in cash and four parachutes. If the demands are not met, he threatens to detonate the explosive device in his briefcase.

So begins the astonishing true story of the man known as D.B. Cooper, and the only unsolved airplane hijacking case in the United States.

My thoughts

Can you solve the case? That is the premise for this new series. Escape at 10,000 Feet is a non-fiction graphic novel, that entices the reader to try their hand at solving a case that has stumped FBI investigators for years. It also introduces an interesting time in history and air travel.

This is perfect for budding young detectives. Those that love mystery novels or books on spies will love this true story about a heist at 10,000 feet and the man who got away with $200,000.

This is not a graphic novel in the traditional sense – no call outs, just panels that illustrate the story along with factual documents, FBI files, diagrams and information to help the reader piece together the facts. The graphics are bright and dramatic and the storytelling powerful through the use of the narration and carefully placed illustrations.

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Book Review: The Stolen Kingdom

The Stolen Kingdom – Jillian Boehme – Tor Teen – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings.

Maralyth Graylaern, a cacao farmer’s daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne.

Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.

When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love.

My thoughts

I love stand-alone fantasy novels and The Stolen Kingdom is a fantastic example. It has everything you need from a complete trilogy or series: the intrigue and political scheming; romance which moves from enemies to reluctant allies to someone the other can wholly depend on; and there is also magic.

Maralyth Graylaern is the daughter of a renown vintners. She has a head for business and a heart for making a difference to others. Ever since her mother died, Maralyth has been confined to the kitchen, except for when she can make a quiet trip to the vines and use her secret magic to help them flourish.

Alac is a spare. His brother is set to inherit the thrown and Alac will only inherit should something happen to his brother. Alac wants no part in ruling the kingdom or the dark magic that forever changed him, but his father seems determined to teach Alac the ways of the dark magic and Alac is surprised by the pull it has on him.

Maralyth and Alac are both heirs in their own way. Yet, neither are prepared for taking over the kingdom nor did either dream they ever would. Maralyth has dreams of being a business woman and making conditions better for small wineries. Alac dreams of becoming a vineyard owner and finally escaping the shadow of his father, the memories of who his father was before being consumed by the magic and the darkness that seems to pervade the castle. When Maralyth is unwilling drawn into a plot to overthrow the king, she has to choose to step up to her destiny and equally Alac must decide how much the crown really means to him.

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Book Review: Things That Grow

Things That Grow – Meredith Goldstein – HMH Books for Young Readers – Published 9 March 2021

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Synopsis

When Lori’s Dorothy Parker–loving grandmother dies, Lori’s world is turned upside down. Grandma Sheryl was everything to Lori—and not just because Sheryl raised Lori when Lori’s mom got a job out of town. Now Lori’s mom is insisting on moving her away from her beloved Boston right before senior year. Desperate to stay for as long as possible, Lori insists on honoring her grandmother’s last request before she moves: to scatter Sheryl’s ashes near things that grow.

Along with her uncle Seth and Chris, best friend and love-of-her-life crush, Lori sets off on a road trip to visit her grandmother’s favorite gardens. Dodging forest bathers, scandalized volunteers, and angry homeowners, they come to terms with the shape of life after Grandma Sheryl. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, but Lori might just find a way to move forward surrounded by the people she loves.

My thoughts

Things That Grow is a novel about family and grief, about growing up, falling in love with your best friend but not wanting to risk the relationship and staying quiet about your feeling. It’s also got quite a few gardens in it (I love fiction that includes gardens, not sure why but they always make a story more beautiful) and you could almost call it a road tip novel, as the characters venture on their journey, which doesn’t span too many miles, but still forces them to consider their relationships with each other.

Lori has lived with her Grandma for a few years. She was happy for the stability after living with her mother who would move them regularly, changing jobs and locations as often as she changed boyfriends. So when Grandma Sheryl dies, Lori is reeling from both the loss of her home and the woman who felt more like a mother than her mother ever did. Lori’s mother demands Lori move back with her, despite it meaning Lori will have to change schools right at the start of her senior year and leave behind her best friend, Chris. Lori stalls by insisting they honour her grandmother’s last wish – to have her ashes scattered in four gardens.

Anyone who has had to deal with the aftermath of losing a loved one will relate to Lori’s feelings. This book explores grief in an honest way. Lori isn’t sure how to deal with her feelings and often uses humour to cope with the situations she finds herself in – like trying to find a cremation service for a Jewish woman. So yes, while this book is about death, funerals (they don’t really have one), spreading of ashes and grief, it’s actually a funny, realistic, ‘oh my gosh, no don’t do that’, hopeful novel.

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Book Review: The Secret Recipe for Moving On

The Secret Recipe for Moving On – Karen Bischer – Swoon Reads – Published 23 March 2021

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Synopsis

Home economics is supposed to be an easy A for Ellie Agresti, but, much like an imperfect souffle, her plans collapse epically when she’s dumped by her boyfriend, Hunter. Now Ellie has to mend her broken heart while watching Hunter fawn all over his new girlfriend, Brynn, in class. To make matters worse, Ellie is partnered with four of the biggest misfit guys in school: Jeremy, the loudmouth with temper issues; Isaiah, the solemn, silent horse racing obsessive; Andrew, who can’t take rejection; and Luke, the giant, tattooed stunt biker.

Over the course of a semester, Ellie works to overcome her feelings for Hunter, as well as deeper insecurities that have plagued her since middle school. As the weeks go by, she’s surprised to find friendships in unexpected places… and sparks flying with the last guy she’d expect.

My thoughts

From that beautiful, pastel cover to the romance and teen drama, this is a sugar-sweet YA novel about, well, life as a teenager.

This book was just a whole heap of fun. Yes, there is drama. Lots of drama. From high school gossip blogs to breakups in the worst of circumstances. Crying, losing tempers, showdowns and attacking classmates in the middle of class. There are also so many moments that just made me grin or happy dance. I adored the time Ellie spends with her Home Ec teammates. As they learn to work together and slowly learn more about each other, as they go on team excursions, they become a great group and it was this dynamic that I really loved about this book. You could have doubled these interactions in the book and I would have loved every minute spent with them.

Ellie is our narrator and she is a teenager who is struggling to find her place in the high school world. She was bullied in middle school and starting at a new high school was daunting. Finding a boyfriend so quickly and falling in with his friends seemed the perfect way to both fly under the radar but also not be invisible. Just when Ellie is ready to take the next, big step with Hunter, she finds him distant. It’s pretty obvious to the reader what is going to happen, but when he dumps her, Ellie is devastated. From my reader perspective, it was good riddance, but to Ellie, her heart and trust has been broken. Enter her new Home Ec class. She has to share it with her ex and his new girlfriend, and she is forced to join a team of – in here eyes – losers. But, those losers turn out to be great guys, and together they vow to beat the other teams. Ellie also finds herself romantically drawn to one of her teammates, Luke. But he is in a relationship and the last thing she wants to do is be on the other side of a messy breakup.

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Book Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter

Firekeeper’s Daughter – Angeline Boulley – Henry, Holt and Co – Published 16 March 2021

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Synopsis

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

My thoughts

Firekeeper’s Daughter is going to be one of THE books of 2021. If this isn’t on your radar yet, put it on there RIGHT NOW. #OwnVoices #DiverseBooks this book ticks all the boxes but it is so much more than just a book that is timely and Important (with a capital I). It is addictive and so powerful. I was hooked right from the start.

Daunis makes a great narrator. She is torn between two worlds – one her mother’s, old money and white, and her late father’s Firekeeper family from the Ojibwe reservation. When she meets the new player on her half-brother’s ice hockey team, Jamie, she is drawn to him but knows he has to remain off limits. She never wants to be ‘that’ girl. But when tragedy strikes, Daunis is shattered and her beliefs about her community rocked. Jamie is there for her and seems to understand exactly what is going on – more than can be explained. When Daunis is asked to go undercover to expose the horror that is destroying her community, she learns far more than she could have expected.

I love mystery novels. Love, love them and I also love contemporary novels that focus on family and relationships. This book is the perfect mix of both. This book reminds me of a book I read years ago and after reading it I searched desperately for something similar, something that mixed mystery and investigating with romance and and complex relationships. Years on, I have finally found the book I didn’t know I needed and it is even better than I could have imagined.

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