‘Accidentally Me’ by Kim Karras Book Review

‘Accidentally Me’ by Kim Karras finds main character Sabrina desperate to find a way to leave home and go to college out west. The problem is that she feels there is no way her parents are going to let her go all the way to California. She considers herself an accident since she was born so long after her two other siblings, and since her sister and brother seem to take up much of her parents’ attention and money, she doesn’t think she stands a chance of getting out of her hometown unless she comes up with a reason why she must leave.

It stands to reason, at least in Sabrina’s mind, that the only escape is to hire a pretend stalker who will scare the wits out of her dad, who will in turn insist that she get as far away as possible from where they live so she can be away from said stalker. Her shenanigans, however, result in some uncertain feelings over the person she hires – a guy named Calvin with whom she went to high school. At first he seems kind of strange, but then he starts saying sweet things and spending time with Sabrina, prompting her to reconsider the whole stalker debacle and wonder if a real relationship might be in the works for her. Calvin is kind of a mystery wrapped in an enigma as the novel progresses. It is hard to make out what his intentions really are, and Sabrina’s feelings become a breeding ground for even more uncertainty about whether she should leave her home, whether she should be with Calvin, and whether her life really is the accident she’s always made it out to be.

Sabrina’s relationship with her sister develops nicely over the course of the novel, and her relationship with her parents is all too real for how parents might seem some of the time – especially when one thinks his or her opinions don’t really count, like Sabrina believes. The symbolism of Sabrina working in the zoo and talking about all of the animals that live in captivity there was also a nice addition to the novel, as Sabrina clearly feels that she is stuck in her hometown, much like an animal stuck in the zoo rather than roaming free.

Karras did a nice job in ‘Accidentally Me’ of showing how, despite one’s best intentions, things can go awry, yet life can still be full of surprises, despite the odds it may seem are stacked against a person.

You can find ‘Accidentally Me’ by Kim Karras here.

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‘Poet of the Wrong Generation’ by Lonnie Ostrow Book Review

‘Poet of the Wrong Generation’ by Lonnie Ostrow shines a light on the inner workings of the music world. From a dream of stardom to a life of success, Johnny Elias’ life deals with and attempts to conquer relationship troubles, deceit, bad press, and what, at times, seems certain defeat.

Johnny’s relationship with the girl he considers his true love, Meg, is the catalyst for much of what happens in the story. As irony would have it, without her domineering mother and Meg’s penchant for giving in to her mother’s wishes despite the knowledge that it is entirely the wrong choice, Johnny becomes the musical star of his generation. The fact that Katherine Price feels she had a hand in this leads to much of the conflict in the novel, as she feels his limited and inconsequential upbringing are not nearly good enough for her well-bred and upstanding daughter. Johnny’s indomitable nature help him move past the agony of losing Meg, as he pours his heart and soul into the lyrics that make up his bestselling, chart-topping hits. However, he never truly feels as though he has gotten over Meg, and she feels the same, despite getting into a relationship with another man, basically at her mother’s behest.

Katherine Price may mean well in her own self-serving way, but that is just what it is – self-serving. She never takes into account Meg’s feelings about losing Johnny to her (Katherine’s) own selfish whims, and even when Katherine tries to make it right, her own pride and ego keep her far away from taking the high road. It is not only Katherine’s determination to keep them apart that keeps the plot progressing, as Johnny and Meg find themselves in different places in their lives no matter when they try to reconnect – even as friends.

Even though parts of the novel were interesting and furthered the storyline, much of the writing seemed unnecessary, providing details about the lives of the characters that added more length than substance to the characters and their respective issues and dilemmas. The plot was interesting overall, and the twists and turns believable, but the length often overshadowed enjoyment of the story, as the novel seemed to take forever to read in its entirety.

‘Poet of the Wrong Generation’ teaches that nothing can ever be taken for granted, as everything has the potential for change, from stability, to relationships, to career, and so much more. Life is a constant struggle, and Lonnie Ostrow proves this time and again as Johnny, Meg, their friends, and their family all work to make their lives better while struggling to hold on to the comforts of the past.

You can find ‘Poet of the Wrong Generation’ by Lonnie Ostrow here.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

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‘A Crooked Kind of Perfect’ by Linda Urban Book Review

‘A Crooked Kind of Perfect’ by Linda Urban was a welcome escape into the life of a ten-year-old girl (going on eleven!) named Zoe who is entirely bent on living out her dream of being a famous piano player. Little does she know that her first foray into the world of music comes at the hands of her father, who, despite his infinite care and love for her, buys her an organ rather than her desired piano.

Zoe’s story is one that almost anyone can identify with, as she struggles to fit in while at the same time wanting to stand out. Her devotion to learning the piano sometimes wavers, especially after she is presented with her organ, but her ability to stand strong in the face of uncertainty about other aspects of her life makes her a character for whom any reader should clearly root.

From her father who means well, to her mother who never seems to be around when Zoe truly needs or wants her, to friends lost and gained, Zoe proves that keeping up appearances is sometimes just that – the need to save face in front of others while letting one’s true self shine through in more important ways. While her best friend, Emma, decides to branch out, Zoe unknowingly does the same, finding herself crushing on a boy while at the same time hanging out with one with whom she never would have thought she’d be seen. Her relationships, from parents to friends to that which she has with herself, are sometimes tested, but she always finds a way to be courageous and keep her head held high.

A truly quick and thoroughly enjoyable read, ‘A Crooked Kind of Perfect’ will make any reader crave more of Linda Urban’s writing.

You can find ‘A Crooked Kind of Perfect’ by Linda Urban here.

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‘Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters’ by Mark Dunn Book Review

‘Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters’ by Mark Dunn is an interesting exploration of the English language. The town of Nollop serves as the backdrop for Dunn’s tale. The characters struggle to survive under the hardships that occur when a statue that contains town native son Nevin Nollop’s sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” begins to literally crumble and fall. The council that leads the town decides that the falling of the letters off of the statue that contains all 26 letters (either singularly or in multiples) portends a unique fate for the inhabitants of the town. According to the council, each letter that is absent from the statue must in turn be absent from daily usage in either spoken or written form by any resident of the town, with punishments arising if anyone goes against this edict. There are those, however, who disagree, feeling that as the letters drop, it is Nollop’s way of saying the letters are not being used enough, and the language is suffering from not enough usage. The only caveat to the new rule is for those ages seven and younger. Their being exempt from the new statute is the only saving grace for the town as those who are against the new determination seek to find a way to resolve the issue.

The language used in the story seemed somewhat more complex than necessary at times. More simplistic language might have served the story better, but with the loss of each respective letter that fell from the statue, the English language does indeed become progressively more frustrating. Therefore, it is understandable that the language used was not always so easy to follow.

An area that was not quite as easy to follow were the characters who were writing the letters that made up the story. Any reader should be able to tell that some of the characters were related, some were just trying to help the cause, and others were against it, but the connections were not always so clear. This wasn’t absolutely necessary, though, as the story worked well anyway, but it would have been better to have the characters’ relationships clearly focused as the story progressed.

Any lover of the English language will be intrigued by this story. It may remind some of the concept used in ‘Flowers for Algernon,’ when the main character could not speak so clearly, prompting the story to be written in that way, until that same character found a way to make his voice clearer so readers didn’t have any trouble following his line of thinking. ‘Ella Minnow Pea’ provides a strong reality check, showcasing how sometimes the people in charge use their power poorly, while the masses try to make sense of why their interpretations fail to count.

You can find ‘Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters’ by Mark Dunn here.

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‘Just Another Girl’ by Elizabeth Eulberg Book Review

‘Just Another Girl’ by Elizabeth Eulberg is a terrifically realistic read about how assumptions can undermine one’s ability to really know another person. There are times when readers will truly feel for one of the girls – Hope or Parker – over the other as they explain their circumstances, desires, and perceptions of how life should be versus how life really is.

Hope, for her part, has been in love with her best guy friend, Brady, for as long as she can remember. All she wants it to be with him, but standing in her way is picture perfect Parker, or so she seems. Hope knows she can’t compete with Parker based on how everything seems to go so smoothly for Brady’s girlfriend. From the moment Parker came into the picture, at Hope’s pre-high school party, no less, she has seemingly stolen his heart and kept him away from the relationship Hope feels she was supposed to have with him.

Then there’s Parker. As Brady’s girlfriend, she doesn’t get along with Hope so well, and that’s pretty much okay with both girls. What they each don’t know about the other is how threatened they both feel by each other. Their relationships with Brady, while different, are more similar than they could ever know. It’s not until author Elizabeth Eulberg brings Brady’s perspective into the mix that we learn how he really feels about the love triangle he has gotten himself mixed up in over the years.

The way that Eulberg switched between Hope’s and Parker’s perspectives over the course of the novel was truly fascinating. People take it far too much for granted that what they see on the outside is truly indicative of the way someone is. Little do we know how these people may actually be having troubles all their own that we would never wish upon anyone. The truthful and surprisingly fragile nature of some people’s lives can often become unraveled. Knowing who one’s true friends are, even if they didn’t seem to be friends before, can prove to be the one antidote that will not necessarily solve all of one’s problems, but make them at least slightly more manageable.

One area that could have used more development, without giving too much away, is in the area of Parker’s life and what happened with her and her sister, Hayley. It would have been nice to find out the results of her parents’ issues to bring some resolution to that plot point.

However, ‘Just Another Girl’ remains a scintillating look into how perceptions – right or wrong – can govern one’s life. Readers will enjoy the back and forth narrative, as Eulberg does a great job of showing how impressions matter – but sometimes it takes more than the first one to make a mark.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

You can find ‘Just Another Girl’ by Elizabeth Eulberg here.

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‘When Penny Met POTUS’ by Rachel Ruiz Book Review

‘When Penny Met POTUS’ by Rachel Ruiz, and illustrated by Melissa Manwill, is a terrifically imaginative read about a young girl spending the day at work with her mom. Her mom works at the White House and has a boss who Penny has never met. All she knows is that the boss goes by the name POTUS, so she pictures a large creature who happily takes her around its home, sharing its work with her, having tea parties, and learning about where it eats and where it likes to travel. Little does she know that POTUS is a more elusive creature than she would have hoped. As she asks around about where she might find POTUS, the workers she finds around the house are not of much help. POTUS always seems to be someplace else. As Penny searches her imagination and then literally searches the house for more information about who and what POTUS is, she discovers that even though the imagination can be fantastically creative, all isn’t necessarily as it seems.

It is a sweet story that shows how children should never stop thinking, dreaming, and showing interest in solving any and all of life’s mysteries, no matter how large or small. The illustrations bring the story even more to life, with bright colors that capture the beauty of Penny’s instincts about how cool it is that her mother works for such an awesomely interesting boss, at least from Penny’s perspective.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

You can find ‘When Penny Met POTUS’ by Rachel Ruiz here.

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‘The Hard Count’ by Ginger Scott Book Review

‘The Hard Count’ by Ginger Scott is an engaging novel. It impresses upon readers the highs and lows of high school football and the people who are a part of it. Anyone who has watched Friday Night Lights or anything like it can identify with the characteristics that Ginger Scott so honestly and interestingly relates in her writing. From hardships to privilege, envy to selflessness, disrespect to kindness, Scott highlights the divisiveness of a sport that is meant to bring people together – to make them work as a team.

Nico and Reagan live on opposite sides of town. While Nico’s home is on the “wrong side of the tracks,” Reagan is the daughter of their private high school’s football coach, where he leads the storied “Tradition” football team. The politics that make up the school are mind-boggling, based at least initially on the fact that they take in scholarship students like Nico who are smart and athletic, but then refuse to let them live up to their potential since they don’t come from the “right” side of town. Nico’s West End address has marked him as at-risk, and has caused him to be seen by many as nothing more than a charity case that the school has been kind enough to take in as a student.

Scott has a way with words that shed spectacular light on the racism that runs rampant even though no one will speak directly to it. The disapproval that stems from this racism – that causes students like Reagan to feel unable to speak out – is captured in truthful nature. Everyone knows how they feel when they are alone, but as soon as it comes time to speak out in front of the masses, many lose the nerve they thought they had. This causes hurt feelings and bitterness that they weren’t as strong as they thought they could be. This was handled with care, as Reagan found her footing as the novel progressed, possibly strengthened by the debating tools Ginger Scott had her gaining in the English class scenes that were interspersed throughout the novel.

Even though her way with words can truly make one feel they are a part of the action – of the football games, of the relationships, of the laughter and tears that readers will certainly enjoy as they read – they sometimes felt a bit much. The first half of the novel took forever to get through, and even though the writing is good, and the story interesting, the details sometimes were too much. Even though this was true for the first half, the second half read much more quickly and was even more engaging.

If you are looking for a story that captures a spectrum of emotions, that struggles with issues that are prevalent in society to this day, that includes a love story as well as a story of family, hard times, acceptance, and finding the courage to stand tall, ‘The Hard Count’ will be that book for you.

You can find ‘The Hard Count’ by Ginger Scott here.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

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‘This is a Serious Book’ by Jodie Parachini Book Review

‘This is a Serious Book’ by Jodie Parachini and illustrated by Daniel Rieley is a cute children’s book. From the inside cover, you are transported into the book by being made aware of its rules. They are all serious, as per the title, including how you must behave, stay quiet, restrain yourself from laughing, and be sure to learn, among others. Even though these rules are the first items a reader sees, it doesn’t deter from continuing on in the book and seeing paw prints lining the title page.

The book is reminiscent of ‘The Book with No Pictures” by B.J. Novak (which was published two years prior). Some might find themselves partial to that one, but ‘This is a Serious Book’ had illustrations, lightening the mood almost immediately. That is not to say that Novak’s book didn’t serve its purpose. It does a great job and comes highly recommended as well, but this one’s use of pictures is less of a read-aloud and more of one that kids can read and laugh along with, likely without even having to have an adult present while they turn the pages.

The “main character” is a donkey whose facial expressions and activities make him stand out as quite the funny one. Eventually he brings into the story a zebra, snake, penguins, and monkeys who proceed to make a mess of the book. When he gives in at the end and decides to declare that the book is actually not so serious, readers can feel satisfied that they knew that all along. At this point, they will have shared in the donkey’s adventures. He tried to impress upon his animal friends seriousness that never actually existed, from the moment he smiled and listed the things one is not allowed to do in this book. All the while, he gave examples of what he meant. His mischievous grin from the first few pages of the book proves that he wasn’t so intent on keeping his promise of a “not so serious” book.

You can find ‘This is a Serious Book’ by Jodie Parachini here.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com

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‘Outward Blonde’ by Trish Cook Book Review

‘Outward Blonde’ by Trish Cook was a fun read. Main character Lizzie, while believing she is fiercely independent and able to stand on her own two feet no matter the circumstances, finds herself thrown headfirst into trouble of her own making, which only becomes worse when her parents decide they’ve had enough of her immaturity and proceed to send her to a wilderness camp as a means of helping her “find herself.”

As the novel progresses, Lizzie realizes, even though she does everything in her power to avoid coming to terms with it, that her life in New York is not all it is cracked up to be. Living in a penthouse apartment and getting ready for dates with A-list celebrities makes her think she’s got it made, but when she meets Director Willis at Camp Smiley, everything is turned on its head. Fun and games is a thing of the past, and discovering truths about herself that she never knew existed becomes a fairly regular pastime.

Along the way, she discovers who her true friends are (and aren’t), from Jem, her high society best friend, to Chandra, Sam, Ari, and Jack, who have encountered their own struggles, from vandalism to addictions to bullying that brought them to Camp Smiley. A variety of issues are touched upon in this novel that teaches how courage sometimes appears when it is least expected.

Even though places like Camp Smiley surely exist, where one has to dig their own toilet, start their own fires, and take care of themselves in a variety of ways to assert real independence, some of what happened along the way seemed a bit farfetched. Director Willis’ strong handed nature at the beginning of their trek to Camp Smiley differed far too much from the kinder ways in which Scarlet and Jed, Lizzie’s trail counselors, handled the issues the five “campers” were dealing with along the way. That, coupled with Lizzie’s attempts, bungled and not, to escape Camp Smiley, made Director Willis’ reactions to her from beginning to end not as believable as they could have been. However, the way that Camp Smiley provided Lizzie much needed introspection served its purpose as she genuinely grew as a character throughout the novel.

Trish Cook has written an enjoyable story in ‘Outward Blonde’ – one that captures the essence of what it means to be oneself, and how those you surround yourself with can make or break who you are as a person.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

You can find ‘Outward Blonde’ (available for pre-order, with a release date of April 18, 2017) here.

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‘Duck on a Tractor’ by David Shannon Book Review

‘Duck on a Tractor,’ written and illustrated by David Shannon, encourages readers to suspend disbelief, if only to create a magic in its readers’ eyes that they wouldn’t have otherwise. It is not often that one sees a duck driving a tractor, so finding a way to make sense of what one thinks they saw while knowing deep down that they are setting aside the truth in order to fit in with the masses is an underlying theme that is quite important to understand. After all, no one wants to seem crazy enough to say they saw a duck on a tractor, but maybe, just maybe, that suspension of disbelief will be the key to creating an open and honest conversation about how life is full of funny occurrences and coincidences, but we just have to open up our eyes to see them.

The friendships that stem from the duck being on the tractor and inviting all of his animal friends, to the people around town watching it happen in disbelief are another strongly thematic part of the story. The duck, unbeknownst to him when he decided to sit on the tractor in the first place, brought together a whole town – both of animals and people – through his one mischievous act. Even though they are all sure they must have seen things, one boy, Edison, is seen looking back through his camera on the other side of the tractor when all is said and done. He seems content in that moment to keep his certainty that it happened to himself and not share the pictures he has taken, leaving the rest of the townsfolk to their own certainty that they must be seeing things.

It was also enjoyable to see how David Shannon incorporated how not only do people see one thing and yet react in a different way to it, but they also might say one thing out loud but think another. People tend to do this, sometimes to save someone’s feelings, sometimes to save face, and for a variety of other reasons. Yet Shannon also found a way to incorporate how there tends to be someone who says it like it is, as Manny the Cook does in this book. It’s important to know that just as Edison knew that he alone truly believed he saw all of the animals on the tractor, Manny the Cook knew he was being completely truthful with anyone he spoke to, always saying exactly what he thought.

The illustrations captured the chaos of the tractor and the befuddlement of the townsfolk. Every character, both animal and human, had eyes that were especially telling of their feelings and interest in the goings-on.

David Shannon has created a story whose themes resonate from children to adults. From being mischievous to not believing one’s eyes, everyone can find a way to connect with the characters in ‘Duck on a Tractor.’

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

You can find ‘Duck on a Tractor’ by David Shannon here.

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