Book Review: Still Mine by Jayne Pillemer & Sheryl Murray

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Talking to young children about death when they lose someone they love—a family member, friend, or someone else—can seem impossible. Yet, children often need to talk to find comfort in tragic situations. A new picture book called Still Mine can help foster those conversations in an age-appropriate way.

Written by Jayne Pillemer and illustrated by Sheryl Murrary, Still Mine reassures young ones that even though they can no longer see or hug the person or pet who is gone, they can still love them.

The illustrations evoke comfort, with curving lines and soft edges and muted colors. The book is joyful at first, showing relationships between children and parents, grandparents, friends, and pets. Then it turns wistful with the lines:

still mine interior pages

Now you are gone and I can’t come along. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

Then questioning:

What will I do if I don’t have you?

Who will make your special treat?

Who will nuzzle noses?

Finally, the book shows how memories can bring comfort, and knowing that the lost loved one will stay forever in the heart. It’s a sweet and gentle concept that may bring comfort to grief.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Drawing Outside the Lines by Susan J. Austin

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Architect Julia Morgan overcame barriers and blazed the way for women in the profession. In the early 1900s, she was the first woman admitted to study architecture at the École de Beaux Arts in Paris and the first woman in California to be granted an architect’s license.

Author Susan J. Austin has imagined the life of a young Julia Morgan and how she persisted against the norms of society to pursue her dream in the novel, Drawing Outside the Lines. Julia’s real life family and friends also appear in the novel, some of whom were well known in their own right.

Austin brings that time in American history to life, revealing how women were routinely discouraged from choosing education and career over marriage, and the ways they had to excel to be taken seriously. Julia knows she is held to higher standards, but her desire to create is strong, and she is not willing to give in to expectations.

Drawing Outside the Lines is an inspirational read for anyone who dreams about following their hearts to achieve the unexpected. I recommend it for readers aged 10 to 13.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont by Nick Brooks

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Ethan Fairmont likes to invent things. His newest project is a robot to help his elderly neighbor clean her home. But when the robot goes haywire, he takes it to the abandoned, closed-down factory building where his dad used to work. He’s got a stash of odds and ends there to help him tinker. But Ethan is shocked to discover an alien and his crashed spaceship in the factory. Can he and his friends figure out how to help fix the ship before the authorities find it and their new friend Cheese?

Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont by Nick Brooks is a fun adventure story about new friends, old friends, visitors from far away and helping out those in need. Ethan has to confront his bully, repair his relationship with his old friend, and navigate issues at home. An undercurrent involves wariness among people with black and brown skin to interact with police and the authorities. It’s a fraught relationship with a long, troubled history.

Author Brooks handles deep issues with a light touch, making points about them without losing track of the story he’s telling. Ethan Fairmont is a compelling read that should appeal to boys and girls aged 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Grave Things Like Love by Sara Bennett Wealer

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Elaine is tired of being the responsible one, the one her parents call on to help out with their funeral home business whenever they need an extra hand. They even expect her to cancel other plans she has with her friends, something that doesn’t go over so well when others count on her. But when Xander arrives in town, she can’t stop thinking about his big brown eyes and sandy hair. And when those eyes are turned on her, she suddenly doesn’t want to be the responsible one, always at the beck and call of her parents, anymore.

Grave Things Like Love by Sara Bennett Wealer may take place in an unusual setting, a funeral home in an old mansion rumored to be haunted, but the issues it deals with are familiar to many teens. How do you balance being a good friend and meet the expectations of your parents at the same time? How do you find the path you want to pursue after high school when others are pushing you in a certain direction? When do you take risks to figure out who and what are important to you?

With Xander, a paranormal investigator, Elaine finds herself agreeing to things she never would have before. When that inevitably leads to trouble at home, she has to decide how to push past her comfort zone and assert her true feelings without sacrificing what and whom she truly loves.

I recommend Grave Things Like Love for mother-daughter book clubs and any reader aged 14 and up.

The author provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Graveyard Girls by Lisi Harrison and Daniel Kraus

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Whisper, Frannie, Sophie and Gemma bond over their love of creepy stories. Every month they get together for sleepovers and scary tales. They also experience frights of the every-day kind, like bullies at school and troubles at home. As their community of Misery Falls, Oregon, gets ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the execution of the town’s most famous criminal, the foursome welcomes a new member to their group, popular kid Zuzu. Together they face their scariest adventure ever.

Graveyard Girls: 1-2-3-4, I Declare a Thumb War by Lisi Harrison and Daniel Kraus is delightfully creepy and mysterious. The girls wonder if the ghost of Silas Hoke, the long-ago criminal, is out to get them. They even brave the cemetery where he is buried and the abandoned prison where he was executed to find out more. At the same time, they deal with issues familiar with many a middle schooler. The back and forth between the two story lines is fun to follow. And the story-within-a-story, Whisper’s horror tale of detached thumbs, is an interesting play on modern technology.

This first in a series is sure to delight readers aged 9 to 12 who like their stories just a little bit scary and creepy.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Meet the Moon by Kerry L. Malawista

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At 13, Jody Moran wants what most girls her age want: pierced ears, getting a bra, kissing a boy. But when her mom dies suddenly in an accident that severely injures her younger brother, her whole world is upended. Suddenly she and her older sister are caring for three younger siblings and helping out more around the house while their dad adjusts to being a single parent. Plus Jody wonders: If she had been a better daughter would this tragedy have happened?

Meet the Moon by Kerry L. Malawista is a coming of age tale that explores family relationships, especially through grief. Jody has a lot of questions about her changing body, pushes the limits of what her dad allows her do, and thinks her grandma moving in with them will make life feel more normal. When things don’t turn out the way she expects, she turns to books for answers about deep concepts, like love, marriage and death. But reading without talking about the issues can sometimes be confusing. Ultimately, she gets through the uncertainty with the help of her family and friends.

With its references to the culture of 1970 (when the story takes place), its humor, its questions about the endurance of family in the face of tragedy, and the way it matter-of-factly addresses questions many young teens may have, Meet the Moon makes a great book for discussion in a mother-daughter book club or as individual reading for ages 10 to 14.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold by Mark Leiknes

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Quest Kids and the Dragon Pants of Gold follows the adventures of Ned and his rag-tag team of would-be questers in search of their first successful challenge. There’s Ned, who just wants his parents to understand what he’s good at, Terra, an elf kid who’s left elfdom behind, Gil, a wizard in training, Boulder, the rock troll who likes to cook, and Ash, a sorta pig, sorta dog, who has flatulence issues.

The team creates a problem for a village by trying to pants a dragon. When the dragon threatens to burn down the village in retaliation unless he gets a sweater made from the fur of a golden beast, the quintet sets off to make things right. When they inevitably run into trouble along the way, they will each need to use their unique set of skills to keep the quest going.

Author Mark Leiknes spins the tale with humor and wit. The graphics along with the narrative keep the story moving along briskly. Reluctant and avid readers alike will find something to love in this first in a series. I recommend it for readers aged 8 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean

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At 35, Mika Suzuki is still waiting for her life to start. An incident in college, a young pregnancy, a daughter given up for adoption, all events that derailed who she thought she would be one day, and she’s never truly gotten over them. When she gets a call out of the blue from Penny, the daughter she gave up 16 years before, she suddenly wants to be more, both for herself and for the daughter she hasn’t known. But what lengths will she go to in order to win Penny’s love and the respect of her adopted dad?

Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean delves into mother-daughter issues from two perspectives: that of Mika and her daughter and also the relationship she had with her mother. Mika and her mother were never close, and she never felt she lived up to the expectations Hiromi had for her. And since she’s meeting Penny as a teen, she’s not sure what role she can play in her daughter’s life or how to form a close bond with her. Mika finds herself embellishing her reality, and then getting caught in the lies. It’s a rocky start.

But when Mika and Penny’s dad, Thomas, start to deepen their relationship, Mika has to figure out how to balance her growing feelings for him with her desire to know her daughter. The emotions are complicated, and Jean makes Mika relatable and sympathetic. The book touches on several issues worth exploring: sexual abuse, adoption, parental expectations vs. their children’s preferences in life, and more. Mika in Real Life should provide great discussions in book clubs, and issues to ponder for individual readers.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

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