‘Stray’ by Joni Johnson Book Review

‘Stray’ by Joni Johnson has an interesting premise. When Lila finds out that her father is about to kick her out of the house on the eve of her last day of high school, she isn’t quite sure how to react. Despite her father’s lack of care of sensitivity toward her, she doesn’t know anything other than the world in which she has lived for the last seven years since her mother left. Rather than despair, she tries to figure out what she might do to leave on her own, but before that becomes a possibility, her father decides to ship her off to a grandmother she doesn’t even know. The only problem with these occurrences is that they are mostly known from the description of the book, and it makes everything leading up to it seem not quite as important.

When Lila finds herself stranded on the cross-country road trip to her grandmother’s, there are many questions to ask, including whether her father meant to leave her. Even though this question is never fully answered, there are subtle hints to make readers believe that maybe he didn’t. Yet the fact remains that Lila finds herself all alone, stranded at a gas station in the middle of who-knows-where, and the only person who comes to her aid is Vance, the gas station attendant and all around country boy who will most certainly find a way into Lila’s heart.

Despite the predictability of all of these happenings, the story is still quite thought-provoking. As readers wonder what they would do if faced with a similar situation, they discover more of Lila’s doubts about letting others in and sharing more than just half-truths, namely in terms of Vance and his mother, Vicki. Their kindness and loyalty to her after knowing her for less than 24 hours is admirable, even if it seems too good to be true. Yet it is nice to consider that truly good people do exist in this world and would help in just the way that Vance and Vicki do. Lila and Vance’s attraction to each other, and lead up to their romantic entanglements, also forms a large part of the engagement factor with this novel.

Trouble looms ahead, though, in the form of Vance’s former (and current) nemesis, Jimmy, along with Vance’s ex-girlfriend, Mandy. Lila’s dad, whether present or not, remains an antagonist throughout the novel as well, and Lila and Vance’s similarly questioning natures even make them turn on themselves and each other from time to time.

Even though there were some grammatical issues throughout and a bit too much description at times that could have been cut short to get to more of the action, Lila’s story will pull at readers’ heartstrings and compel them to find ways to be more compassionate in their own lives by helping others who are struggling. The ending was also not quite what was expected, but kept with the sense of reality that Joni Johnson worked hard to portray throughout her writing. This is a story about courage in the face of adversity and how trust can be earned even if one believes it remains an impossibility.

You can find ‘Stray’ by Joni Johnson here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘The Digger and the Flower’ by Joseph Kuefler Book Review

‘The Digger and the Flower’ by Joseph Kuefler shows the power of goodness when everything else seems to be overtaking what one knows and loves.

While the other construction equipment works hard to create buildings and other components of the city skyline, Digger comes upon a flower. Sympathy overpowers him, and he knows that he needs to protect it from the encroaching construction work. He does what he can to keep it safe, shielding it from the wind and visiting with it, but alas, the time eventually comes to build on the land on which it sits. The other vehicles pay it no mind, but Digger’s special bond with it makes his ensuing workload that much harder to bear. He knows it will have to go away, but he isn’t quite prepared for how it happens.

Yet, despite the loss he feels, he finds a way to allow his love of the earth and care for the flower to flourish. Through skillful and insightful illustrations that show how any character – even a construction vehicle – can be personified, Joseph Kuefler creates a stirring sense of both sympathy by Digger and empathy by readers who can share Digger’s concerns. Kuefler also shows how, even though construction and nature seem like two entirely exclusive ideas, they can find common ground (literally, even). There is always something someone can have in common with someone else, despite differences, and that is a powerful lesson that this book subtly professes to its readers.

You can find ‘The Digger and the Flower’ by Joseph Kuefler here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘You’re Weird’ by Kate Peterson Book Review

‘You’re Weird: A Creative Journal for Misfits, Oddballs, and Anyone Else Who’s Uniquely Awesome’ by Kate Peterson will allow anyone looking for ideas to stumble upon something great. All people, no matter how normal they think they are, can be classified as weird in some way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because everyone has unique traits that allow for the differences that make the world great.

Whether the person reading through this journal is a kid, a teen, or an adult, there is something that will resonate with each and every type of person. Kids can think about what they might be like as adults, while adults can think back to their childhoods. It can help people consider who they are and how they fit into the grand scheme of how the world works, and it can help writers create more satisfying and surprisingly creative characters who boil over with depth and intricacy.

This journal will help further define individual purpose and keep the mind hard at work thinking of how being unique often requires some extra thought and the motivation to focus on that uniqueness.

You can find ‘You’re Weird’ by Kate Peterson here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ by Stephanie Kate Strohm Book Review

‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ by Stephanie Kate Strohm provides a unique and somewhat irregular look into the dynamics of breakups. Main character Avery decides to do one of her final senior projects from a historical viewpoint, but not in a way that has ever been done before, at least not in Ms. Segerson’s classroom. She figures that, after getting dumped within a week before prom, that the best way to figure out why she can’t sustain a relationship is to interview each and every one of her past boyfriends. From a boy who is way too close to his mother to a real cowboy to a TV star, a tennis player, and a whole slew of others, one might wonder when Avery has time to do anything other than be in a relationship. Yet she maintains good grades, hangs out with her best friend, Coco, and works rigorously on science reports with her lab partner, Hutch.

Even though it was interesting to read about all of the different types of people with whom Avery spent time, it became a bit too much after a while. Not that it’s not believable for a senior in high school to have gone through one to two, or sometimes more, relationships in a given school year, but if several of her boyfriends had been cut from the book, it still would have read well and not taken away from the point that was trying to be made. Avery likes being with someone. It doesn’t affect who she is, but she still needed to try to form a hypothesis as to why she couldn’t keep a boyfriend. Often she broke up with them, or it just fizzled out, but there was always some underlying issue that made Avery realize each person just was not right for her.

There was some predictability to how the novel ended, but even though it was expected, it was also appreciated. Avery’s strongest relationships were often the ones she didn’t think too hard about, and this shows how sometimes what you take for granted is often some of the best of what someone has, and he or she just needs to learn to realize that and take note of it more often. By doing so, people like Avery can no longer wonder about the past because they will be more steadfast about their present and future.

You can find ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ by Stephanie Kate Strohm here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’ by Julia Donaldson Book Review

‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’ is another great story by Julia Donaldson, and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. The two have their share of books written and illustrated together, including ‘The Gruffalo’ and ‘Room on the Broom,’ two adorable and poetic stories about interesting creatures. In this tale, Zog, a dragon-ambulance, shuttles two doctors, known as Gadabout the Great and Princess Pearl, all over in the name of medicine. They work on a variety of creatures, from mermaids to lions to unicorns, spreading goodness through their ability to make everyone feel better. However, when Princess Pearl’s uncle, also known as the king, discovers that she has traded her princess duties for those of a doctor, he banishes her to his palace, making her focus on doing things only meant for princesses. Desperate to escape this fate, Pearl works with Gadabout and Zog to help cure her uncle from an illness, hoping that he’ll eventually see the error of his ways.

Donaldson does a fine job with her rhyming verses, capturing the troubles and triumph that shape Pearl’s life, and by extension, that of Gadabout and Zog. She shows that girls and boys alike can do anything they want if they set their mind to it, and they should be proud to stand up to anyone who stands in their way, even if those people are family members. Pearl’s goodness and work ethic shine through as the story goes on, and her companions help her remain true to who she knows she truly is and is meant to be. Additionally, Axel Scheffler’s illustrations help further showcase Donaldson’s poetic prowess and her ability to tell a compelling and seemingly realistic story even though magical creatures populate the pages. The fact that the story is set in historical times is also a plus.

In ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors,’ Donaldson and Scheffler have crafted a sweet, historical, engaging story that is hard to not embrace, especially after reading some of their other tales that stem from the same spirit.

You can find ‘Zog and the Flying Doctors’ by Julia Donaldson here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘Swing It, Sunny’ by Jennifer L. Holm Book Review

‘Swing It, Sunny’ by Jennifer L. Holm is a graphic novel about middle school student, Sunny, and her strained relationship with her older brother, Dale. While Dale is away, Sunny finds it hard to be at home without him. Most everything she does reminds her of him, and when he comes home to visit, she worries about him all the more. He doesn’t act like she remembers, and it seems that he desperately wants to be anywhere else but home. While Sunny tries to keep her emotions in check and deal with them in her own way, everyone else in her life seems to be having issues, too. Her parents are trying to make sense of what they need to do about Dale, all while trying to take care of Sunny and her little brother. Sunny’s grandpa calls and visits, and he seems to be the only one she can really talk to, since he seems to empathize with feeling separated from others, living in Florida and apart from his family himself.

Sunny spends time hanging out with her best friend, and as time goes on, she also makes friends with a new neighbor. Despite being a bit older than Sunny, the new girl takes Sunny under her wing, giving her a sense of purpose that helps her see that, given patience, life can sometimes change for the better.

Jennifer L. Holm shows in ‘Swing It, Sunny’ that everyone who tries hard enough can find a way to “swing it” and shape their lives the way they want them to be. It is up to each individual person to help themselves and not rely on outside people or forces to help their lives find meaning. Sunny’s desire to have Dale as part of her life is definitely important, but when she realizes that he just needs to find himself again, it helps her find her own meaning, too. Through vivid and colorful illustrations, Matthew Holm helps readers to understand the deeper emotions that Sunny is experiencing.

This quick and understated read sheds a light on coping with troubles that seem hard to handle, but are not so far out of reach to fix, if one takes the time and effort to work on them.

You can find ‘Swing It, Sunny’ by Jennifer L. Holm here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘The Law of Tall Girls’ by Joanne Macgregor Book Review

‘The Law of Tall Girls’ by Joanne Macgregor is a lighthearted and enjoyable read about Peyton Lane and all of the insecurities that she fights to hide behind her tall exterior. After all, Peyton is tall – very tall – and what she considers her freakish height gets in the way of anyone seeing her for more than that, or so she thinks. It also eats away at other parts of her life, including simple tasks like shopping, in which she can never find anything that fits her just right – or even close to just right. Her best friend, Chloe, is truly supportive, helping Peyton cope with all of the troubles that add stress to her life. It often seems that the stress is even more exacerbated by her mother, with whom Peyton has an extremely strained relationship. It isn’t until at least halfway through the book that we learn the source of this tension, and how Peyton’s issues are just the tip of the iceberg if you consider everything she has to deal with that isn’t obvious to the outside observer.

When Peyton meets Jay Young, she is thrown for a loop. She’s never been the shorter girl, looking up longingly into a cute boy’s eyes. All of that changes when she meets Jay, but the fact that their meeting stems from a bet starts off a string of lies and troubles that Peyton doesn’t know quite how to escape without losing everything she holds dear.

The storyline is realistic and sweet, as Peyton struggles to fit in even though her height makes it so that she always sticks out. Her attempts to keep her home life behind closed doors, coupled with her searching for her own truth about who she wants to be in life through her college applications, makes her a character definitely worth rooting for. Through friends and family, she learns over time that she has to accept herself for who she is, and maybe if she does, she will learn to accept others, too, and to let them be a part of her life in a way that she hasn’t found possible in a long time.

Macgregor has written a story that will hit at the heart of those who desire to be accepted. Everyone has some sort of issue of self-esteem or self-consciousness, and Peyton, Jay, and the cast of characters Macgregor has crafted are no different. The story strikes at the core of self-acceptance and self-motivation to make a change. A satisfying and relatable read.

You can find ‘The Law of Tall Girls’ by Joanne Macgregor here.

*Review originally posted at YABooksCentral.com*

‘Choices’ by J.E. Laufer Book Review

‘Choices: The True Story of One Family’s Daring Escape to Freedom’ by J.E. Laufer is a short, yet instantly compelling story. A little more than a decade after the horrific acts of the Holocaust have ravaged innocent families, young mother Kati and her husband, Adolf, come to the conclusion that in order to give their children the life they deserve, free of Communism, they must face their fears and leave the country they call home. As they make plans to escape Budapest, Hungary, they struggle with the very real dilemma of leaving those they love, unsure of whether they will ever see them again. This issue is coupled with their worry about whether or not they should give away the last of their money to a stranger whom they have no choice but to trust with their escape.

The author is the real-life daughter of the main characters. Having been only two years old at the time the book is set, she can only recount the stories she has heard about their harrowing journey to a new life. With the help of family and some kind people who set the trip in motion, Kati and Adolf, along with their children, Judit and Gyorgy, find that there are always those who want to help, despite the terrible discovery only a decade prior that there are plenty of people who would rather do anything but save others from harm.

With the Holocaust eating away at Kati, she determines that life will not end up the same way it did before, when she lost her entire family in the concentration camps. Chock full of emotion and searing memories that are made all the stronger knowing they are true, ‘Choices’ allows readers to share in the escape and feel as though they are there right alongside the family, hoping, wishing, wanting, and longing for what tomorrow will bring.

You can find ‘Choices’ by J.E. Laufer here.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*

YA Scavenger Hunt

Welcome to the YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! While on this hunt, you will not only get access to exclusive content from each author, but you will also get a clue so you can continue the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt who is on my team (I’m on the PINK TEAM)! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 120 hours (5 days)! Oh, and don’t forget to enter my personal book raffle!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are eight contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! Again, I am a part of the PINK TEAM–but there is also a red team, an orange team, a gold team, a green team, a red team, a blue team, and a purple team for a chance to win completely different sets of books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Directions: Later on in this post, you’ll notice that I’ve hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the PINK TEAM, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by OCTOBER 8, 2017, at noon Pacific Time (3pm Eastern Time). Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

SCAVENGER HUNT POST

Today, I am hosting the awesome Ginger Scott on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! Ginger is a former journalist and the author of several young and new adult novels, including the award-winning Wild Reckless and the critically acclaimed The Hard Count, a high school love story about seeing people for who they are, not the address they come from or the color of their skin. She lives in Peoria, Arizona with her husband, son, and family of fur babies.

Find out more information by checking out her website or find more about her books here!

You can also check out my (Beth Rodgers’) review of The Hard Count on my blog by clicking here! Additionally, I’ve been privileged enough to read Waiting on the Sidelines – another one of her novels – and you can find that review here!

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

Here is a short blurb about The Hard Count by Ginger Scott:

“Football and private school politics can break the toughest souls. I would know; I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, the perfect family.

Lies.

Nico Medina is the boy from West End. Our worlds are eleven miles apart, and where each is beautiful, the other is ugly.

In our twisted worlds, a boy from West End is the only shining light. And he owns my heart completely.”

Now for a letter from Nico to Reagan, written on the last page of Reagan’s yearbook), part of Ginger Scott’s exclusive content for readers!

____________________________________________________________

Reagan,

I read all of these notes from our classmates in your yearbook and I had to laugh. I wonder how many times, years from now, you’ll crack this thing open and look back fondly on Travis’s very profound “Don’t party too hard!” or Allie Colson’s epic entry: “Reagan, you always seemed so sweet. I wish we had known each other better.”

I don’t want this page to be one that’s easily forgotten. I don’t want you to look back on it and barely feel everything that I know we both feel right now. I want this page to be permanent. I want to be permanent.

You and I spent so many years trying to prove how wrong the other one was. I hate to admit this, or even put it in writing, but there were many times you were in fact…right. I argued anyway, because that’s us, isn’t it? But here, in this permanent page, bound by a permanent memory, from my heart, I would like to tell you about all of the times you weren’t wrong.

You weren’t wrong the day you sat there on the grass to watch me and my friends play a game of football in the dark. And you weren’t wrong to know deep down how badly I wanted someone—anyone—to see me, to think I could be something more, or to ask me if I wanted to be. You weren’t wrong to call me a coward when I was, and you weren’t wrong to convince me I was special. You weren’t wrong to believe in me, or wrong to trust me with your secrets, or to let me into your home and heart. You weren’t wrong to fall, and you weren’t wrong to let me love you so much that I feel it like a brand on the center of my chest whenever I lie awake and think of you. You weren’t wrong about your dreams, and knowing that you’ll be someone amazing. You weren’t wrong at all.

You, Reagan Marie Prescott, are the rightest thing I’ve ever known.

Love,

Nico

P.S.

Have a great summer 😉

____________________________________________________________

Hear the music that inspired The Hard Count here:
https://open.spotify.com/user/thegingerscott/playlist/4PWrShm6QhWHt1ZHsLaISO

And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a total of 20 great books by me, as well as Ginger Scott and so many more fantastic authors! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 25. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the PINK TEAM and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

CONTINUE THE HUNT

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next PINK TEAM author, Katy Upperman!

‘The Anchor Clankers’ by Renee Garrison Book Review

‘The Anchor Clankers’ by Renee Garrison has an interesting premise. The main character, Suzette, is shuttled around with her parents as her father moves from job to job. His current job placement is at a boys’ naval academy in Florida, outside of Orlando. Life is not necessarily easy for Suzette, but coupling her recent move with her time living among all boys as she starts her freshman year of high school is not making her life any simpler. Even though she goes to school off campus and has some friends of her own that she makes while there, she is still a part of the academy, as she joins the cheerleading team and befriends many of the boys.

The historical context adds depth to the plot, as the story is set around the time that Disneyworld was being built. This added a healthy dose of interest, as it showed how the issues that teens deal with nowadays were dealt with in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From drinking to worrying about the romantic implications of the drive-in to teen pregnancy, Renee Garrison touches on a variety of topics that are still relevant in teen life today. It helps today’s teens see that they are not alone, and that life occurred before them and will continue to do so once they become adults. It was also fun to learn that the author herself grew up in the same way as Suzette, moving every few years and living in the Sanford Naval Academy with her parents when her dad took a job there. This was a welcome addition, making the story unique.

The storylines would have been better told as a series of short stories, which is the way this book started off before it was published as a novel. There were a lot of separate storylines that did not seem to connect with each other as well as they could have. Learning about each individual character in more depth and detail would increase engagement with the plot. It was sometimes hard to follow who was who and why they mattered from plot point to plot point and character to character. Some of the storylines also felt a bit rushed, as though they came out of nowhere and then were not explained fully enough. Yet, the novel came together, and Suzette learned how friends, boys, parents, and life in general can often get in the way of having a few normal teenage years.

You can find ‘The Anchor Clankers’ by Renee Garrison here.

*Review originally posted on YABooksCentral.com*