Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

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BLOOMING AT THE TEXAS SUNRISE MOTEL
Written by Kimberly Willis Holt
(Henry Holt and Company BYR/A Christy Ottaviano Book;
$16.99, Ages 8-14)

cover image for Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

 

In Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motelwhen thirteen-year-old Stevie’s parents are killed in an accident, she’s uprooted from her New Mexico home and sent to live in the Texas Sunrise Motel with a grandfather she doesn’t remember. Though grandfather Winston is standoffish, Stevie quickly connects with the motel’s eclectic group of people, including a cute boy her age named Roy.

Living in the same room where her mother grew up sparks Stevie’s curiosity about her parents’ kept-quiet past; grandfather Winston coolly avoids personal topics. Instead of enrolling Stevie in public school, she’s sent to the same woman who homeschooled her mother—the ancient and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump. Here, Stevie finally begins to piece together the puzzle about what her mother was like as a girl.

In this moving middle grade novel, Stevie struggles to cope with choices that are being made without her consent. Just as she’s settling into Texas, an unknown aunt invites Stevie to Louisiana. Now it’s up to her to decide between living with fun and loud cousins or returning to her seemingly detached grandfather and the motel’s motley cast of characters. Stevie’s comfortable world has ended; she’s adrift in new beginnings and explorations.

Kimberly Willis Holt‘s effective use of plant imagery throughout will not be lost on readers. Stevie parents ran a fruit and flower stand, her Louisiana cousins are in the nursery business—digging in the dirt is in Stevie’s genes. Discovering where Stevie puts down roots is the heart of this gentle, character-driven, and finely crafted story.

Click here to see Holt’s book tour schedule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe

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BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS
(ACCORDING TO WREN JO BYRD)
Written by Julie Bowe
(Kathy Dawson Books; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

Big & Little Questions book cover image

 

Find out about this fab new middle grade novel, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) in Christine Van Zandt’s glowing review. Good Reads With Ronna also wishes author Julie Bowe a very Happy Book Birthday today!

Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.

At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.

Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.

Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”

Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


Reluctant Readers Love Timmy Failure and Tom Gates Series

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TIMMY FAILURE & TOM GATES
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR RELUCTANT READERS

Huzzah and hooray! A world class detective and a passionate doodler are back in the continuing series of two popular Candlewick Press middle grade books.

If you’re not familiar with either either Timmy Failure or Tom Gates, please take a look at earlier reviews of previous titles right here at Good Reads with Ronna (see below). Both series are a hit with fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and employ a diary or journal style novel filled with pen and ink illustrations. The illustrations not only add to both series’ humor, but, as one of my students, a reluctant reader (and now big fan) told me: the illustrations increase his understanding and enjoyment. Both are recommended for ages 8-12.
So check out more hilarious adventures– and misadventures– of Timmy Failure and Tom Gates.

Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection (#4)Timmy Failure Sanitized For Your Protection book cover
Written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis
Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

The young “ … founder, president, and CEO of Failure, Inc, the greatest detective agency in the nation …” is forced to go on a road trip to Chicago to help his mom’s boyfriend move, instead of working on his latest case: the theft of money from a school fundraiser. Extremely put out, Timmy endures miles of cornfields and country-western music with his mother, Doorman Bob, his polar bear ex-partner, Total, arch-enemy and “criminal mastermind,” Molly, and her family. Like the Pink Panther’s clueless Inspector Clouseau, the equally clueless Timmy accuses everyone but the actual thief and tries to elicit confessions from the innocent while advising them on their “Carmen Miranda” rights. Can Timmy solve the case while far away in Chicago? Can he trust Molly, one of his many suspects, to help him find the crook? Be prepared for “greatness!” Visit Candlewick Press for information on the books and see Pastis’ wonderful Timmy Failure website for more information on the series, the characters, trailers for each book, and activities.

Read Good Reads with Ronna’s past reviews of the Timmy Failure series here.
Tom Gates Everything's Amazing (Sort of) book coverTom Gates: Everything’s Amazing (Sort of) (#3) 
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Tom has a lot on his mind and some big problems. Not his usual problems: an irritating older sister, an obnoxious classmate who is always trying to get him in trouble, school, teachers, and math homework. Actually, any homework.

No, he’s got much bigger worries than that. His birthday is coming up and no one seems to notice the wish list he’s conveniently posted on the refrigerator door. His weird, but sweet grandmother has promised to whip him up a special birthday cake. Not so good … she’s been known to mix jello and peas together. His parents have promised to take him and four of his friends to Dino Village for his birthday (where his father works). Four friends? No problem, he’ll invite best “mate” Derek, Norman, and two others. Things quickly go awry, when Amy, the girl he has a crush on, sees the invitations and asks if she can come … and bring a friend. He agrees before realizing the numbers (there’s that pesky math again) don’t add up to four.

His band, Dog Zombies, which includes Derek and Norman, has been “volunteered” by Principal Keen to perform at the school dance. The inexperienced trio, with only one previous engagement under their belts, is going to need a lot of practice. A lot! Even worse, Tom’s father, a loveable and delightfully quirky man, has been hired to be the DJ at the school dance. He plans to wear his dinosaur costume from Dino Village … and silver disco boots. Positively cringe-worthy.

Will this doodler and homework dodger get what he wants for his birthday? Will he figure out how to include Amy and his four friends at Dino Village? Will the Dog Zombies go up in flames at the school dance? And then there’s his father … and his grandmother’s special birthday cake. Read the book and be prepared for a laugh-out-loud experience!

Oh, in case you don’t speak British (“choon” means an excellent tune), Pichon has included a British to American glossary. Don’t forget to check out the recipe for Tom’s “Doodle Toast” at the end of the story.

Visit Pichon’s and Candlewick’s websites for more information on the author and the series as well as fun activities.

Check out Good Reads with Ronna’s earlier reviews of previous titles in the Tom Gates series:

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (#1)

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff) (#2)

  • Reviewed by Dornel CerroVisit Dornel’s blog, Mile High Books, here.

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

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THE PRINCESS IN BLACK
AND THE HUNGRY BUNNY HORDE 
Written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde

 

Shannon Hale and Dean Hale’s third book in The Princess in Black seriesThe Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, was released on February 9, 2016. This middle-grade illustrated novel continues Princess Magnolia’s masked superhero capers.

In The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, the princess and her trusty sidekick, Frimplepants the unicorn, skip breakfast in anticipation of a tasty brunch with Princess Sneezewort. On the way there, Princess Magnolia’s glitter-stone ring alerts them of trouble in Monster Land. After a quick change, the Princess in Black and her faithful pony, Blacky, find that the “worst monster invasion ever” is only some cute little bunnies. Well, LOTS of cute little bunnies.

The princess’s friend, Duff the goat herder, can’t understand why she is petting these monsters and making kissy faces. He wants her to bust out her ninja moves because they threaten his goats.

As the story develops, the princess discovers that the rapidly multiplying, eating-everything-it-sight bunnies aren’t as harmless as she first thought. When they start to chew on Blacky’s tail and annihilate entire trees, she takes action only to discover that her typical fighting techniques are ineffective.

Finally, Blacky steps in when the bunnies consider snacking on the princess herself! You’ll be devouring pages, eager to discover whether these ravenous little monsters are returned to Monster Land, and whether the hungry princess and her pony finally connect with Princess Sneezewort for some long-awaited goodies.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.write-for-success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales


The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

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The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
(Roaring Brook Press, $15.99, Ages 10-14)

 

Scandalous-Sisterhood-cvr.jpgThey say to never judge a book by its cover. Never! That said, go ahead and soak in the deliciously dark and clever art design on Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The artwork perfectly captures the mood of this caper: a rich, Victorian-era romp led by a cast of seven unforgettable students, topped with dashes of suspense and dark humor. Dark, because the caper revolves around the young ladies of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls discovering their irritable headmistress and her brother, murdered. Darker still, because for these girls, the thought of being sent away from school and each other is worse than the alternative: covering up a murder. 

Therein lies the heart of the story—the sisterhood. These seven spirited girls, living in 19th ,century England, have been made to feel like misfits. It’s why they were sent to boarding school. It’s why each of them was given their own demeaning moniker: Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Dear Roberta, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. While at school they found comfort in friendship, and strength in their alleged weaknesses. So keeping their sisterhood intact is worth a few morbid shenanigans.

“I suppose they’ll find other schools for us eventually,” Pocked Louise said. “New mistresses, new nasty girls to make us miserable.”

“We have gotten along so beautifully here.” Dear Roberta sighed. “It’s something of a miracle, really. We aren’t simply boarding school mates. We’re like a family.”

“We’re better than family,” Disgraceful Mary Jane corrected. “Families are full of aunts and brothers and parents. We’re sisters.”

But author Julie Berry does not make the cover-up easy on the girls. There are bodies to bury. Nosy neighbors to placate. Financials to attend to. And let’s not forget: their headmistress was murdered, so somewhere, someone is waiting for a sign the poison found its mark. The litany of challenges set before the girls is enough make the book a page turner, but it’s a rewarding read on other merits, too.

Berry does an amazing job with the Victorian period. The school setting, character mannerisms, attitudes, clothing, and dry (yet distinctly biting) humor all wrapped around the who-done-it plotline make it delightful for the senses, too.

The glue that holds this fast-paced romp together is the bond between the girls. They all have different personalities, and at times, have disagreements. As a reader you begin to feel like an unofficial member of the sisterhood, standing quietly by, privy to these high-stakes discussions. You understand the level of loyalty and respect they feel for each other.

For readers who crave a little romance, there are a few moments. There’s the neighboring farm boy, a broad-shouldered constable, and a mysterious newcomer.

But really, this story is about the sisterhood. That, and gasping every few pages, wondering how in the world they’re going to get themselves out of this. I really enjoyed tagging along with this Scandalous Sisterhood.

– Reviewed by Rina Heisel


The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond

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The Water’s Fine:
The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 8-12) by David Almond, is reviewed by Hilary Taber.

cover-image-piranhas.jpg

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers, Candlewick Press

I knew that when I saw the cover of this book that I would love it. After all, with Oliver Jeffers of The Day the Crayons Quit fame (among many others) how can you go wrong with the illustrations? Yet, this book was so much more than just fantastic illustrations. David Almond has written a wonderful story about families, dreams of greatness, gypsies, and so much more. When Stanley Potts decides that enough is enough when it comes to his financially struggling Uncle Ernie putting his beloved goldfish in a can to sell, he sets out on a course of adventure that will change his life forever.

He decides to join a traveling fair, and he becomes quite attached to the fair’s “Hook-a-duck” proprietor, Mr. Dostoyevsky. All of the people who work at the fair take on Stanley as a sort of second son, but none more than Mr. Dostoyevsky who puts Stanley in change of all goldfish related rewards for winning his booth prizes. Little does Stanley know that his true fate is ready to meet him in the form of Pancho Pirelli, the man who can swim with piranhas! Is Stanley ready to embrace this new path that he feels is right up his alley, or will his aunt and uncle find him at the fair before he is able to decide for himself what his choice will be?

This book was funny, and poignant all at the same time. I found myself charmed by the life of freedom at the fair, and was as pleased as punch when Stanley decides for himself what his life will be. As an added bonus, the villains of the piece are the dastardly DAFT (“Departmint for the Abolishun of Fishy Things”) organization that operates to abolish all things they deem to be suspect. How can Stanley, his uncle, his aunt, Mr. Dostoyevsky, and the Great Pancho Pirelli himself avoid such comically ignorant baddies especially concerned with fish? What really makes these bad guys so very funny is that, of course, their inherent evil nature is caused by ignorance which always leads to poor spelling. I think we all knew that was true, but it’s nice to be reminded to be on your guard when dealing with such folks. Beware the ignorant souls who take justice into their own hands while butchering the English language in the most comical way possible!

What I liked most about David Almond’s writing is that it is full of wonder, imagination and humor. However, Almond never shies away from Stanley’s dilemma of being torn between his family and his extraordinary life at the fair. Family and forgiveness are at the heart of this quirky middle grade novel. This book is perfect for Roald Dahl fans, fans of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch. Also, anyone who enjoys a book about the love of pets, particularly fish (I know you’re out there) will deeply identify with Stanley, goldfish aficionado! David Almond’s fantastic book earned starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist. And now, ditto from me.

 


Ava and Pip by Carol Weston

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Ava and Pip by Carol Weston is reviewed today by Rita Zobayan.

Enter the giveaway, too! Tomorrow we’ll be sharing a guest post by Carol Weston.

Ava-and-Pip.jpg

Ava and Pip by Carol Weston, Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, © 2014.

Ava and Pip(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $15.99; ages 8-12), is a book rich with characters, storylines, and themes. It is simultaneously a word nerd’s vocabulary haven, a parent’s guide to sibling dynamics, and a cautionary (and ultimately uplifting) tale about the power of words.

Enter to win a copy of the book by clicking here. Please include your name and address and write Ava and Pip in the subject line. Giveaway ends at midnight PST, on March 13, 2014. Entrants from US and Canada only. Winner selected and notified on March 14th. Please like us on Facebook for an extra entry. Good luck!

Ava Wren is an outgoing ten-year old whose world is full of words. Her father is a playwright, and the whole family constantly plays palindrome and homonym word games. She even has a special souvenir pen that her father brought from Ireland. As full as Ava’s life is, all is not well. Ava loves her older sister, Pip, but is frustrated by Pip’s introverted nature and the resulting attention Pip receives from their parents. When a new girl, Bea, throws a party on the same night that Pip does, Ava decides to “help” her sister by submitting a story about a mean new girl who steals other people’s friends. What Ava doesn’t realize is that people aren’t always what they may seem and that her story is about to have bigger consequences than she imagined. Carol Weston does a wonderful job of seeing the world from a young female’s perspective. That’s no surprise, as Ms. Weston is an advice columnist for Girl’s Life. This insight allows her to present the situations, feelings, and vernacular of both the adults and adolescents authentically.

“Fine,” I said. But it wasn’t fine. Sometimes it seems as if Mom cares more about Pip than about me. Pip, her precious firstborn. Here are three pieces of evidence:

1. Mom always buys Pip her favorite snacks (like pretzels and mangoes), but doesn’t buy me mine (like grapes and cheddar cheese).

2. Mom gives Pip an allowance, but I have to take the garbage out for nothing.

3. Mom praises Pip’s sketches more than my writing—not that I ever show her my writing, but still.

I didn’t even tell Mom that I got another 100 in spelling (or that I got a 79 on the math quiz).

Told in a diary form, Ava and Pip explores many dynamics: parent-child, siblings, friends, enemies, and even first crushes. Even words have a life of their own, which is what Ava discovers when her story gets more attention and not in a positive manner. This is an excellent book for children to read by themselves or for parents to read along with their children. Teachers and counselors can use the book as a discussion builder on the power of words and of misinterpretation. I give a Y-A-Y for Ava and Pip.

AVA AND PIP by Carol Weston – YouTube