Tweens Read August Day 8: Brooks Benjamin & My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the start of the second week of Tweens Read August, and today I’m interviewing Brooks Benjamin about his debut novel, the fabulous My Seventh Grade Life in Tights.

Here’s a little bit about it:

my seventh grade life in tights

Release Date: April 12th, 2016

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LIVE IT.

All Dillon wants is to be a real dancer. And if he wins a summer scholarship at Dance-Splosion, he’s on his way. The problem? His dad wants him to play football. And Dillon’s freestyle crew, the Dizzee Freekz, says that dance studios are for sellouts. His friends want Dillon to kill it at the audition—so he can turn around and tell the studio just how wrong their rules and creativity-strangling ways are.

WORK IT.

At first, Dillon’s willing to go along with his crew’s plan, even convincing one of the snobbiest girls at school to work with him on his technique. But as Dillon’s dancing improves, he wonders: what if studios aren’t the enemy? And what if he actually has a shot at winning the scholarship?

BRING IT.

Dillon’s life is about to get crazy . . . on and off the dance floor.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Interview with Brooks Benjamin, Author of My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

Is there anything you want readers to know before reading My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

I’d love for them to know that this book was written out of a deep love of dance. And it was written for those people who have a passion for something that others might laugh at. And just like dance, it’s an all-inclusive book that not only embraces friendships and commonalities, but all the wonderful differences that make us unique and wonderful.

What do you love most about Dillon? 

I love his honesty. He has a chance to hide some things from his friends, but he chooses not to.

Is Dillon’s story based on your own experiences? 

In part. I started my own dance crew back in middle school and I desperately wanted to learn how to dance. I was…not a good dancer back then. Like, at all.

You have a conversation with your favorite book character. Ever. How does it go? 

I’ve talked with them all! As a group and individually. And I get a lot of funny looks when I do because sometimes I’m out in public when it happens.

Is there any possibility of a sequel to My Seventh Grade Life in Tights

There is a possibility! I have an outline for it, ready to go. So keep those fingers crossed that Dillon and the Dizzee Freekz will be back, dancing their way onto the shelves again one day!

What’s your writing fuel?

Black coffee in my Ug Chug mug. And pizza. Lots and lots of pizza.

Who’s your favorite supporting character in My Seventh Grade Life in Tights?

Oh, that’d definitely be Carson. He’s so fun and full of life. He’d be the one I would’ve loved to hang out with in middle school because he’d always have something entertaining for us to do. And we’d probably get into trouble because of it. But we wouldn’t care. :)
What’s your favorite book that released/releases this year? 
GAH! That question is so hard to answer! There are so many amazing books this year. I could literally put every title into a hat and draw one and be okay with what I picked. But I won’t do that. That’s cheating. So I’ll pick…Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson. That book has all the heart of Bridge to Terabithia and just as many moments that made me laugh, smile, and cry.

About the Author

brooks benjamin

In sixth grade, Brooks Benjamin formed a New Kids on the Block tribute dance crew called the New Kidz. He wasn’t that good at dancing back then. But now he’s got a new crew—his wife and their dog. They live in Tennessee, where he teaches reading and writing and occasionally busts out a few dance moves. He’s still not that good at it. MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS (Delacorte/Random House) is his first novel.


Giveaway

Thanks to Brooks for taking part in Tweens Read August! I love dance too, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s portrayed in a middle-grade novel. If you think so too, add My Seventh Grade Life in Tights to Goodreads! The author being featured tomorrow is M.G. Leonard.

Tweens Read August Day 6: Bridget Hodder & The Rat Prince

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the sixth day of Tweens Read August, and Bridget Hodder is here to share ten ways that her debut, The Rat Prince, is different than the original Cinderella story (and why you’ll love it!).

Here’s a little bit about it:

the rat prince by bridget hodder

Release Date: August 23rd, 2016

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The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman by the Fairy Godmother on the night of the big ball. And he’s about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on his way to a most unexpected happy ending!

Description taken from Goodreads.

 

Top Ten Ways The Rat Prince is Different from the Original Cinderella

1) More Scenes Featuring Fresh, Crusty Bread.

2) Unlike the original “Cinderella”, beauty isn’t the point in THE RAT PRINCE. Brains, loyalty, courage, and inner strength are.

3) More Sword Fights.

4) Cinderella isn’t angling for a rich guy in THE RAT PRINCE. We leave that to her wicked stepmother.

5) More Scenes Featuring Tasty Appetizers.

6) In the original, you never understand why Cinderella’s father would put up with her being abused by the stepmother and turned into a servant. In THE RAT PRINCE, it’s sad…but it makes sense.

7) More Daring Adventures.

8) In the original “Cinderella”, the Wicked Stepmother and her daughters are just stereotypes. In THE RAT PRINCE, they’re real characters, good and evil. You’ll uncover the mystery of the Stepmother’s first marriage..and find out what actually happens after the night of the big ball.

9) More Truly Happy Endings You Can Feel Good About.

10) Did we mention the food?

About the Author

bridget hodder
I’m a dreamer and a do-gooder. When I realized (around age 9) that my efforts to make this world a better place were falling pretty flat, I decided to make up entirely different, better worlds of my own, and ask readers to join me there.


Giveaway

Number 6 and number 8 especially caught my attention. I’m interested to see what The Rat Prince will be like! Ooh, and the food. To make sure you catch a copy of this great book when it releases later this month, be sure to add The Rat Prince to Goodreads. The author being featured tomorrow is James R. Hannibal!

Tweens Read August Day 5: Lee Gjertson Malone & The Last Boy & St. Edith’s

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the fifth day of Tweens Read August, and today you’ll get a great preview of Lee Gjertson Malone’s The Last Boy at St. Edith’s.

Here’s a little bit about it:

the last boy at st. edith's by lee gjertson malone

Release Date: February 23rd, 2016

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Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy.

Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He’s going to get expelled.

Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he’s willing to knock down on his way out the door.

Description taken from Goodreads.

 

Excerpt

IT WAS THE THIRD DAY of the ninth week of school when Jeremy Miner decided to get kicked out of seventh grade.

He’d been sitting on a school bus waiting to go to MacArthur Prep to cheer on his sister Rachel and the rest of the St. Edith’s championship volleyball team. He’d been late, one of the last people on the bus, which meant he had to sit up front behind Mr. Reynolds.

Jeremy probably should have liked Mr. Reynolds more than he did. Reynolds was the language arts teacher, and Jeremy loved to read, not to mention he was the only male teacher at the school and the faculty advisor of the Film Club, Jeremy’s favorite after-school activity.

But there was something irritating about Reynolds. Maybe it was the fussy way he laid his finger next to his mouth when he was listening to a student, or how he called Jeremy “Mr. Miner” with such overpronounced emphasis on the “Mr.” that the girls in the back of the class would titter.

The driver was starting to close the door when Claudia darted onto the bus and slid into the seat next to Jeremy, the yard of ball chain wrapped around her neck and wrists looking like armor in contrast to the shredded pink tights she wore under her plaid skirt.

“Did you hear?” she hissed.

Claudia Hoffmann was one of Jeremy’s best friends. She was a year older than everyone else in their grade because her mother was Italian and her father was German and they’d lived in London, New Zealand, and Hong Kong when she was little. Somewhere along the way she missed a year of school. Claudia sometimes took the extra year as permission to dominate everyone else. (Not that she actually needed permission to do what she wanted most of the time.)

“No, what?”

“Andrew Marks transferred to Hereford Country Day.”

Jeremy let out a long breath and slumped down in his seat. “Oh no.”

Jeremy hadn’t particularly liked Andrew—nobody did—he brushed his teeth only about once a week, for one, and he talked about the Boston Red Sox far more than any one person should ever talk about anything. Andrew was the kind of guy Jeremy’s mom always said he should “make an effort with” and “try to get to know better.” But Jeremy figured that probably meant spending more time with Andrew, and since the time they spent together as the sole members of the boys’ tennis team was already pretty tedious, he couldn’t see how hanging out even more would improve things.

But Andrew did have one redeeming quality—he was male.

Because Jeremy had a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them, including his older sister, Rachel, who was in the eighth grade, and his younger sister, Jane, who was in fourth. That’s how many girls went to St. Edith’s Academy.

At home it was just his mom and his sisters. Jeremy’s dad was off saving the oceans in his solar-powered research boat. And now the only other boy in school had thrown in the towel, a day Jeremy had dreaded for two whole years.

About the Author

lee gjertson malone
Lee Gjertsen Malone is a Massachusetts transplant via Long Island, Brooklyn, and Ithaca, New York. As a journalist she’s written about everything from wedding planning to the banking crisis to how to build your own homemade camera satellite. Her interests include amateur cheese making, traveling, associating with animals, shushing people in movie theaters, kickboxing and blinking very rapidly for no reason. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband, daughter and a rotating cast of pets.


Giveaway

Thanks to Lee for being a part of Tweens Read August and sharing an excerpt with us! To read more, add I Am Drums to Goodreads and buy or borrow it from your local bookstore or library! The author being featured tomorrow is Bridget Hodder.

Tweens Read August Day 3: Mike Grosso & I am Drums

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the third day of Tweens Read August, and Mike Grosso is here to share a story prompt top ten! Mike is the author of I Am Drums, which I read an ARC of and LOVED.

Here’s a little bit about it:

I am drums by mike grosso

Release Date: September 6th, 2016

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Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people.

But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?

Description taken from Goodreads.

 

Top Ten Story Prompts

1. Describe the type of restaurant you’d open on the moon.

2. Write a story about an imaginary person with your name who’s the opposite of you in every way.

3. Write a scene where Rock Em Sock Em Robots attempt to work together to accomplish a simple task (sweeping the floor, laundry, taking out the garbage, etc.).

4. Stand on your head next to a laptop and type out a story with your feet. If you are a fan of writing longhand (or is that longfeet?), swap out the laptop for a pad of paper and wedge a pen between your toes.

5. Explore your house and find three interesting objects. Write about a character that uses those objects to escape a fortress.

6. Write a scene featuring two characters you’d never expect to get along but are somehow best friends.

7. Imagine someone who’d be terrible at fighting dragons. Write a story where they fight a dragon AND WIN. (NOTE: Feel free to swap dragons for another difficult obstacle. The key here is that your main character is expected to lose.)

8. Make a horrifying face long enough to find out if it can actually “freeze that way”. Write about the character whose face you’ve made.

9. Draw a picture with your eyes closed. It can be either a person or a scene. Open your eyes and write a story to accompany your (likely odd) drawing.

10. Write about a person who gets something very odd in the mail.

About the Author

mike grosso
Mike Grosso is a musician and a fourth-grade teacher who always keeps a guitar in his classroom. His father gave him his first lesson, and his mom taught him how to keep a steady rhythm. Mike continues to write and record music at his home in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, son, and a drum set he plays much too loud. I AM DRUMS is his first novel.


Giveaway

Thanks to Mike for being a part of Tweens Read August and coming up with this great list! Enter the giveaway above to enter the ARC edition of the HMH version of I Am Drums, and be sure to add I Am Drums to Goodreads and pick it up when it hits shelves on September 6th, 2016. The author being featured tomorrow is Claire Fayers!

Tweens Read August Day 2: Victoria J. Coe & Fenway and Hattie

Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!

It’s the second day of Tweens Read August, and today I’m hosting Victoria J. Coe! Victoria is the author of some amazing novels about an adorable little dog named Fenway and his human best friend, Hattie.

Here’s a little bit about the first book in the series, Fenway & Hattie:

fenway & hattie

“This perky, pet-centered tale takes readers inside the head of Fenway, an energetic and perpetually hopeful Jack Russell terrier with a deep love for food, intense hatred of squirrels, and undying adoration of his “small human,” Hattie. . . A fun, fresh frolic that animal-loving kids are sure to enjoy.” — Publishers Weekly

Release Date: February 9th, 2016

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Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie.

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right.

And he’s going to prove it!

Get a dog’s-eye view of the world in this heartwarming, enthusiastic “tail” about two best friends.

Interview with Victoria Coe, Author of the Fenway and Hattie Series

What’s your favorite thing about Fenway and Hattie?

First off, thanks for hosting me on the blog, Eli! I’m very excited to be here!

My favorite thing about Fenway and Hattie is that it’s told strictly from Fenway’s point of view. And since he’s a dog, you only get his take on things. It’s up to the reader to figure out what’s really going on!

Why did you choose for Fenway to be a Jack Russell Terrier? 

I first imagined him as a dog whose family was moving and he was afraid of being left behind. Then I began to wonder what kind of dog he was, his personality, what was his family like, etc. And right as I started doing that—poof! He was a Jack Russell.

I didn’t question it at the time, but as I wrote the story and I poured a lot of my own personality into Fenway it seemed to click. I guess I’m a lot like a Jack Russell myself!

Do you think you’ll ever write about other animals? 

It’s funny. I always admired authors who wrote animal books and I thought to myself, “I could never pull that off.” And here I am!

Now I’m excited to continue writing more Fenway and Hattie stories – from Fenway’s point of view, of course. Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang will be out on January 24, 2017.

As far as books featuring other animals, who knows?

I love the cover of Fenway and Hattie! Do you know the terrier on the cover? 

Thanks! I love it, too. And I actually get asked that question a lot.

My publisher worked with Dave Kreutz, an amazing animal photographer. They held a casting call for Jack Russells and narrowed it down to the adorable dog you see on the book jacket. He was a magnificent choice for Fenway!

What’s been the hardest part of debut year? 

Without a doubt, the hardest part is WAITING. It was two full years between “the offer” and the date Fenway and Hattiehit bookstore shelves. Waiting 24 months would be hard for anyone. But for someone as impatient as Fenway—I mean, me!—that’s even harder!

Of course now that I see the book everywhere and I hear reactions from readers, it was totally worth the wait!

About the Author

victoria j. coe

Victoria J. Coe is a voracious reader, writing teacher, and Jack Russell terrier impersonator. She lives with her family on the outskirts of Boston, where she and her dog are always ready to track down evil.

Find Victoria: Website Ξ Instagram Ξ Twitter


Giveaway

 

Thanks to Victoria for taking part in Tweens Read August! Check out the synopsis and cover of the second Fenway and Hattie book (to be released January 24th, 2017) and the announcement of the third book in the series (to be released Winter 2018) down below. Be sure to add Fenway & Hattie to Goodreads as well. The author being featured tomorrow is Mike Grosso, whose debut I read and loved!

evil bunny gang cover

When evil bunnies invade the Dog Park, Fenway’s hot on their trail. Hattie seems understandably alarmed, though she clearly doesn’t appreciate his efforts. She shoos him out of the garden and fills in holes as fast as he can dig them!

Fenway wonders if his beloved Hattie could be working against him, until she brings home a cage with a bunny inside. He can hardly control his excitement – she captured one of the intruders! But when Fenway realizes Hattie actually likes the bunny, he’s crushed. Is his heart big enough to accept that Hattie can love another pet, too?

In this sequel to Fenway and Hattie, these two best buddies learn that making the right choice can be tough, but being a real friend is the greatest choice of all.

Review: Fenway & Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

fenway & hattie by victoria j. coe

Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie.

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right. And he’s going to prove it!

Description taken from Goodreads.


I mentioned in the Tweens Read August announcement post that Victoria J. Coe would be among the authors participating in the event, and in the effort to get some of these amazing books read, I picked up her debut, Fenway & Hattie. That was also why I read Counting Thyme, but unfortunately, I didn’t love Fenway & Hattie as much as I loved Counting Thyme.

Fenway & Hattie was cute, but it wasn’t particularly intriguing besides that. I love dog stories, from A Dog’s Purpose to One Good Dog, but this book didn’t bring anything new to the table. It felt cliché and spazzy. While I can understand the spazzy because of the nature of the POV being by a Jack Russell Terrier, I wasn’t particularly interested past the first few pages.

I continued reading, thinking maybe younger MG readers (or elementary school students) will like this one, and it turned out to be a good thing. I enjoyed the plot that came later on and the trials Fenway faced with the challenges of moving. It was also interesting to try and figure out what was going on from a dog’s perspective.

he plot isn’t bad, but most of the book feels meaningless because there’s just not a lot going on even over the span of 176 pages. The characters were fun to get to know, especially Hattie, and I loved her relationship with Fenway, but the writing was generally all over the place.

All in all, Fenway & Hattie is a fun read that I would probably only recommend to kids who read younger MG. Even though I didn’t truly enjoy this one, I might still pick up the next book because I’m interested to see where the plot goes. 2 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 176

Series: Fenway & Hattie #1

Review: The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow

the mighty odds by amy ignatow

Publication Date: September 13th, 2016

When a sweet nerd, an artsy cartoonist, a social outcast, and the most popular girl in school are involved in a mysterious bus accident, this seemingly random group of kids starts to notice some very strange abilities they did not have before. Artsy Martina can change her eye color. Nerdy Nick can teleport . . . four inches to the left. Outcast Farshad develops super strength, but only in his thumbs. And Cookie, the It Girl of school’s most popular clique, has suddenly developed the ability to read minds . . . when those minds are thinking about directions. They are oddly mighty—especially together.

This group—who would never hang out under normal circumstances—must now combine all of their strengths to figure out what happened during the bus accident. With alternating narratives from each of the heroes, including illustrated pieces from Martina.

Description taken from Goodreads.


I can only describe this as the Breakfast Club for today’s middle-graders.

There were some not-so-great things about this book, but for the most part, I liked it. I love stories where unlikely characters come together, and The Mighty Odds did it right. I loved getting to know each character, and I enjoyed how Ignatow handled the cultural differences shown over the course of the novel. Everyone was distinct and unique, and I loved their individual journeys as well as the main one.

Also notable are the backstories of each character, which slowed down the pace but made them more nuanced.

My problem was with the writing. It was a little too immature. I think this would best fit kids who read mature children’s lit, or maybe low middle-grade. Some of the jokes are hilarious, but the dialogue was unnatural and it made the kids feel like book characters and not real people in the beginning.

Another thing is the format. If you’re looking for Popularity Papers format for boys, I would suggest taking a look at The Mighty Odds. The cartoons were very not my style. It looked crude and misshapen, as much as I wanted to love it.

Other than that, there were a lot of things about this book that I liked. I wasn’t expecting many of its elements, such as the emphasis on mystery and bullying. This is where the backstories become important, and it was great to see that develop. The synopsis isn’t too clear on the plot, but I enjoyed it and the ending left me wanting more.

3 stars.

Series: Mighty Odds #1

ARC Review: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

full of beans by jennifer l. holm review

Newbery Honor Book Turtle in Paradise is beloved by readers, and now they can return to this wonderful world through the eyes of Turtle’s cousin Beans.

Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

Description taken from Goodreads.


What an adorable book.

If you loved Turtle in Paradise, and even if you didn’t (I didn’t), I would suggest reading Full of Beans. It’s been a long time since I read a Jennifer Holm book, and despite the fact that I disliked TiP a lot when I first read it, this book makes me want to give it another chance.

Full of Beans centers around Turtle’s cousin, Beans, who acts like he’s a bad guy but is actually a good kid who makes some mistakes. Throughout the book, he has good intentions but loses his values in pursuit of his goals. In the end, he realizes that he was wrong and makes a comeback to the point he’s at when we meet him in Turtle in Paradise. I didn’t expect to love his journey as much as I did, but I got sucked into his personality and the setting of Key West.

I normally am not a fan of middle-grade historical fiction, but Jennifer L. Holm is almost always an exception to that. She provides some background about Key West during the Great Depression in the back of the book, and the way that she managed to layer that world with history was everything.

Nothing about the story felt forced or contrived. There were a few ridiculous exclamations in the book, and there were some weird names, but it all fit together perfectly. All I can say is, once again I’m thoroughly impressed with Holm’s writing and I’m so glad that I got the chance to pick this one up at BEA.

This one is releasing on August 30th, 2016, and you won’t want to miss it. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the ARC: 195 (with extras)

Series: Turtle in Paradise companion

Review: The Dirt Diary by Anna Staniszewski

the dirt diary by anna staniszewski

WANTED: Maid for the most popular kids in 8th grade.

Cleaning up after the in-crowd gets Rachel all the best dirt.

Rachel can’t believe she has to give up her Saturdays to scrubbing other people’s toilets. So. Gross. But she kinda, sorta stole $287.22 from her college fund that she’s got to pay back ASAP or her mom will ground her for life. Which is even worse than working for her mother’s new cleaning business. Maybe. After all, becoming a maid is definitely not going to help her already loserish reputation.

But Rachel picks up more than smelly socks on the job. As maid to some of the most popular kids in school, Rachel suddenly has all the dirt on the 8th grade in-crowd. Her formerly boring diary is now filled with juicy secrets. And when her crush offers to pay her to spy on his girlfriend, Rachel has to decide if she’s willing to get her hands dirty…

Description taken from Goodreads.


No less than two years ago, I did an awesome guest post with Anna Staniszewski on Tweens Read Too. FINALLY, I read this book, and I regretted not reading it earlier.

I’ll start off with the bad parts this time. All of them were minor things that irritated or irked me in the smallest of ways, but are still worth mentioning.

The first is the ridiculous curses. Stuff like “holy moly batman” and “what the banana” doesn’t fly with me. I don’t it flies with anyone, but that’s beside the point.

The second is the diversity thing. These days, I feel like diversity is becoming a mark on a checklist rather than something that actually matters. Sure, Rachel is half Korean. That’s great. Represent, you know. But her ethnicity has absolutely nothing to do with the story, from the food to the characters to the world. I love Anna Staniszewski, but by no means would I recommend reading this because the main character is “diverse”.

The third is Rachel’s rashness. I actually get this, so it wasn’t too much of a problem for me. It had to do more with the character and less to do with the writing of it all.

And the characters weren’t bad at all. I fell in love with many of them, especially Rachel. She’s impulsive and she swears with swears one should not be using beyond the age of 5, but she works hard and she takes responsibility for her mistakes. I sympathized with her, and I loved the fact that she’s a baker.

The other characters were, admittedly, a bit one-dimensional. I didn’t mind this too much. They had all defining traits, and it was easy to keep them straight. Staniszewski also does some character development toward the end of the novel, speaking the message that people aren’t always what they seem like they are. I appreciated that, and it was done in a pretty flowing way with the rest of the novel.

All in all, a great read. It gets to be a little too much at times, but the plot was great, and the characters won me over. I really enjoyed Rachel’s family dynamics and her narration as the MC. The ending was also pretty satisfactory. Will recommend and read the other books (more quickly this time!) 3.5 stars.

pg count for the paperback: 246

Series: The Dirt Diary #1

Review: The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd

the key to extraordinary by natalie lloyd

Everyone in Emma’s family is special. Her ancestors include Revolutionary War spies, brilliant scientists, and famous musicians–every single one of which learned of their extraordinary destiny through a dream.

For Emma, her own dream can’t come soon enough. Right before her mother died, Emma promised that she’d do whatever it took to fulfill her destiny, and she doesn’t want to let her mother down.

But when Emma’s dream finally arrives, it points her toward an impossible task–finding a legendary treasure hidden in her town’s cemetery. If Emma fails, she’ll let down generations of extraordinary ancestors . . . including her own mother. But how can she find something that’s been missing for centuries and might be protected by a mysterious singing ghost?

With her signature blend of lyrical writing, quirky humor, and unforgettable characters, Natalie Lloyd’s The Key to Extraordinary cements her status as one of the most original voices writing for children today.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Natalie Lloyd has found the key to extraordinary in this book.

Not many MG authors do whimsicality well, in my opinion. It just ends up sounding contrived and nonsensical and completely ridiculous. With Lloyd’s previous novel, A Snicker of Magic, the carefree nature of the book made me hate it. But not only has Lloyd managed to hook me into a type of writing I don’t usually enjoy reading, but she’s managed to make it adorable and refreshing.

The Key to Extraordinary has just about everything. It has characters I can identify with, a lovable and diverse cast, a world of wonders, and great writing.

I will admit, there were parts that reminded me of A Snicker of Magic. There were times when it just wasn’t in the right mood to read this. However, The Key to Extraordinary appealed to me overall and I know that people I recommend to will enjoy it. In her new novel, Lloyd has created something almost reminiscent of Ingrid Law’s writing. Of course, there was marked differences in style, but I would recommend this to people who liked Savvy and Scumble.

Another one of the reasons why I liked this more than its predecessor was the importance of its themes. I didn’t care too much for what A Snicker of Magic was trying to prove, but I enjoyed getting to know Emma as a person and see her pave her own way in her extraordinary family. Overall, a great read. 4 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 240