Review: My Seventh Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin

my seventh grade life in tights by brooks benjamin

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.


My Seventh Grade Life in Tights had everything I wanted, and more. It was sassy and smart and heartfelt, and I was rooting for Dillon every step of the way. The structure was there, from the pacing to the premise to the world-building. From the start, I loved his voice and character, but what really made the story was the friendships.

love great supporting character friendships, so much so that it’s currently my pinned tweet, and My Seventh Grade Life in Tights delivered. I felt Dillon’s struggles with reconcile his dreams with his relationships with his friends, and it was a great representation of the collection of lows and highs that seventh grade is.

Also a plus on that count, there’s plenty of diversity in this story. Brooks smashed clichés and stereotypes throughout the book, and I loved seeing that.

Another thing that this book has going for it is Dillon, whose passion for dance is inspiring. He’s trying to enter into an adult world at a young age, and I respect that. He tries really hard at what he does, he doesn’t give up, and he’s genuine all at the same time. I enjoy seeing kids who are passionate about something represented in stories, and by the end of the book, I was ready to have more of Dillon! In particular, I would love to see who he becomes as a young adult, if that were ever an option :D

All in all, the book was superb. It hit all the right notes, and I’m even happier that I got the chance to work with Brooks during Tweens Read August. I had a ton of fun with the book, and I’ll be recommending it. 4.5 stars.

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Review: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

counting thyme by melanie conklin

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Counting Thyme is, without a doubt, one of the best middle-grade books I’ve read this year.

Personally, I think that grief like this is hard to write well in middle-grade, in a way that resonates with adults, young adults, and middle-graders. Part of the problem is that there are so many ‘disease books’ out there now, and often times, it can seem like it’s written only to follow a trend. I consider myself uneasily impressed by these kinds of books, but this debut was completely different.

There are so many different factors that came into play, but Melanie Conklin hit all the right notes with this book.

The writing was spot-on. I loved reading from Val’s point of view. Her explanations of New York City were fun to read about. She was precocious but also very much a middle-grader, and she was resilient in the quietest of ways. She’s sweet, but she’s also selfish. She wants her brother to get better, but she also wants to just live her life. In short, she was an incredible protagonist and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her and her family relationships.

One of the most surprising aspects of this was how Conklin used the relationships between the characters to make statements about stereotypes and clichés. I read a lot, and I’m tired of mean girls, of misunderstanding parents, of uncool adults, of unsupportive siblings.

Conklin takes a bite out of each of these things to shape Thyme’s perspective, but as the book goes on, she comes to learn that there are people under those stereotypes. Two of the people that come to be Thyme’s friends are labeled as popular girls, but they’re not the way Thyme initially thinks. Very little is as it appears to be in this book, and I was refreshed by the character development I found here.

Ooh, and the writing. It was relatively simple, for one thing. There aren’t a whole lot of frills on the way Conklin presents her story, though there are undeniably a few. For the most part, however, the writing was perfectly simple and sweet and sad, and I loved every word of it.

A note about the font and design of Counting Thyme is that when I read a novel, the lettering is important. It contributes to the voice of the novel, and in the small details, it actually changes the emotion of it. Kudos to whoever designed it, because from the very beginning, I loved the feeling it gave off.

And a little bit about plot: in the middle, there’s not a whole lot of it. There’s enough for the story to go on, but the pace drags a little toward the middle of the story. Something to keep in mind. I don’t think this the kind of realistic fiction that action/adventure people will be interested in.

Overall, this is completely my kind of middle-grade. I love Melanie Conklin’s writing, and I’ll definitely be following up with her books in the future. Counting Thyme was what I was looking for, and the complex characters, genuine voice, and sweet writing wrapped it all up into a book I’ll be recommending to anyone who loves middle-grade contemporary and realistic fiction. 4.5 stars.

ALSO. I’ll be having Melanie Conklin over on the blog for Tweens Read August, so stay tuned!

pg count for the hardback: 300

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

Throwback Review: The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney

the seven wonders of sassafras springs by betty g. birney

Life in Sassafras Springs has always been predictable, boring even, but one afternoon that changes when Eben McAllister’s pa challenges him to find Seven Wonders in Sassafras that rival the real Seven Wonders of the World. The reward? An adventure that Eben’s been craving — a trip to Colorado.

Even doesn’t think he’ll have any luck — he can’t think of one single thing that could be considered wondrous in Sassafras — but he’s willing to try. Little does he know that the Wonders he’ll discover among his neighbors, friends, relatives, and family will give him the adventure of a lifetime…without ever leaving his home.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Technically, this is fit for middle-grade and children’s lit, but I had to review this one. The whole point of throwback reviews is to talk about books that were really important to me as a kid and as a middle-grader, and The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs fits that criteria pretty well.

If you look at the books I tend to enjoy, it makes no sense why I love this book so much, but I do.

I guess it has this dated, comfortable feeling to it. From the beginning, Eben feels less like a book character and more like a friend. His feelings are relatable, and I enjoyed his journey from start to finish even though nothing really happens except character development. Be warned: it’s not dramatic character development.

This book is powerful in the quietest of ways, and I love it for that. The descriptions and the writing was spot-on for this story, and I was completely immersed in the world of Sassafras Springs. I wouldn’t say it’s like To Kill a Mockingbird, but it has a similar feel and character development.

In the story, Eben is forced to comfort his presumptions about his town and his own reasons for wanting to leave. By the end, he’s not entirely sure what he wants. Over the course of the story, he learns to open up his mind to the people and the stories all around him, and he even makes some good friends.

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs is, without a doubt, a slice-of-life kind of story. Not everyone will love it. It may actually be a hard sell for its target audience, but I enjoy its simple charm, and I wish that there were more books like it. If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea but you’re still interested in books like it, I would suggest reading Kate DiCamillo’s The Tiger Rising or Victoria Forester’s The Girl Who Could Fly, both of which are books I also really loved. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 236

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

I knew absolutely nothing about this book before reading it, but I’m so glad that I gave it a try.

In a word, this book is one of those books that is everything.

That all starts with the characters. The main character, Junior, is determined and trying to pave his own way to success in a world where everyone is trying to hold him back or thinks less of him. He didn’t let anything deter him even though he ends up having to go through some horrible things like bullying and the loss of his best friend. I sympathized with him every step of the way, and I related to his voice and his story.

Honestly, the highlight of this book is Junior. He makes the entire narrative, and his perceptions of occurrences and settings that people may think is everyday or ordinary are simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious. He restores your faith in humanity and takes it away several times throughout the novel.

This book is important. That’s all there is left to say.

The first time I approached this book in a school setting, my class was in middle school, which is why I’m posting this here instead of RealityLapse, but I probably wouldn’t recommend this one for most middle schoolers. High school might be more accurate, considering that this book touches upon a lot of sensitive subjects.

4.5 stars. A great book definitely worth a read.

pg count for the hardback: 230

Review: Amulet: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi

firelight by kazu kibuishi

Emily, Trellis, and Vigo visit Algos Island, where they can access and enter lost memories. They’re hoping to uncover the events of Trellis’s mysterious childhood — knowledge they can use against the Elf King. What they discover is a dark secret that changes everything. Meanwhile, the voice of Emily’s Amulet is getting stronger, and threatens to overtake her completely.

Description taken from Goodreads.


This is a middle-grade novel, but I’m posting it here because it deserves to be read by anyone who has enjoyed a graphic novel or comic of any kind (and many other people who have never even touched a graphic novel or comic before, but that’s beside the point).

The point is that this story is epic and far-reaching and will drive you crazy, utterly insane, waiting every year for the next book to come out.

Before I read Firelight, my favorite in the series was the third volume, The Cloud Searchers, for many assorted reasons but mostly because of the magic that was talked about and the characters, new and old, who were fleshed out.

It’s too soon to tell, but Firelight might be my new favorite for exactly those reasons. This one has brought together everything about the magic, and the world of these novels, and smushed it all together to create suspense and disbelief (the best kind) and this inexplicably fascinating plot and world. I was sucked into this series as all over again, Firelight reminded me why I loved it so much in the first place.

More than that though, this volume delves into the characters, specifically Emily. If there’s any true main character of this series, it’s Emily. From the beginning, the narrative has centered around her, and all the reasons why she had to be the main character are finally showing up. She’s threatened more than ever in this novel, and she comes to question everything about who she is, why she’s working with the resistance and if she’s strong enough to resist the power of her stone.

Another thing I really admired was how well the author explains the magic of the stones and why stonekeepers are the people that they are. This is also the first time in the series that I felt like I truly understood the series’ purpose and what the end might be like further than just overthrowing the Elf King.

A few minor details: why does Leon not make any kind of appearance? He’s one of my favorite characters. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I read the fourth and fifth volumes, so I’m not sure where exactly we left him, but I was watching out for him in this one and didn’t find him. I’m assuming he’s going to matter in later books? If something happened to him or there’s a reason why he’s gone, feel free to correct me.

On the other hand, I thought that Max’s absence and the continuity of the plot after his death was very well-handled.

Moving on, I’ve never had a problem with Kibuishi’s minor characters before, but there was one specific deviation from the main plot that I didn’t understand. No spoilers, but Navin and crew end up working part-time jobs in order to obtain transportation. I can guess a few reasons for this. It introduces some potentially important supporting cast members, alerts the reader to the idea of the Elf King’s advances on Navin and crew, etc., but it felt out of place to me. Almost like it was nothing more than a drawn-out transition. It also slowed the pace of the story.

Nevertheless, I loved this book, and I’ll be going back through the series to find out exactly what’s happened with everyone so far. Firelight is gorgeous, Kibuishi’s art always is, but this one contributed the most to the plot, the series and our understandings of the characters. Beautiful novel, and I’m dying for the next book. I can’t say I don’t have my own assumptions about what will happen now that the book ended the way it did, and it if goes the way I think it will I’ll probably be disappointed, but I trust Kibuishi will surprise yet again. 4.5 stars.

This review was originally posted on my YA book blog, The Silver Words.

pg count for the paperback: 224

Series: Amulet Volume 7

 

Review: Flight Volume 1 by Kazu Kibuishi

flight volume 1 by kazu kibushi

Flight Volume One features stories by professionals and non-professionals alike, all playing on the theme of flight in its many incarnations. From the maiden voyage of a home-built plane to the adventures of a young courier and his flying whale to a handful of stories about coming of age and letting things go, this first volume of Flight is full of memorable tales that will both amaze and inspire.

Description taken from Goodreads.


First of all, the above blurb is a terrible blurb and FLIGHT deserves a better one.

Second of all, as you might have noticed, Kabu Kibuishi is not the only author of this book, but I gave him credit because he put the book together.

Third of all, these books were formative to my love of comics.

Most of them are very PG, and many of them have deep lessons and themes despite being only a few pages long. If you want to get kids into graphic novels, then I would suggest handing them one of the volumes of FLIGHT. All the authors have different styles, and some of the stories span over the course of all of the books, so you may want to start with Volume 1, but if you don’t it doesn’t really matter.

One of the things I really love about FLIGHT is the fact that so many of the heroes are not cape-wearing, spandex-sporting people. The heroes are just ordinary people, many of which are Asian-American. In these aspects, I really related to these novels and FLIGHT sparked the idea that maybe there were books about kids just like me.

Some novels made me literally laugh out loud and cry, and some are just action-packed awesomeness. All in all, I enjoy most of the drawing styles and stories that I come across, and all the stories are understandable for a middle-grade or YA reader.

I admit, I am a Marvel and DC Comics lover, but there’s a graphic novel movement spreading through middle-grade and YA literature right now, and while we’re here I wanted to talk about some of my favorite comics of all time. To see more, you can head over to my graphic novels section on The Silver Words, but FLIGHT 1 in particular remains a classic that I go back to all the time. 4.8 stars.

pg count for the paperback: 207 (don’t be deceived; these books are big and pretty heavy)

Series: Flight

ARC Review: I Am Drums by Mike Grosso

i am drums by Mike Grosse

While other kids dream about cars, sports, and fashion, all twelve-year-old Samantha Morris dreams about is playing the drums. But it’s hard to make her dreams come true when her parents are against it, she bangs on dictionaries because she can’t afford a real kit, and her school is about to cut its music program.

Sam’s only hope to accomplish her dream is to find a private music teacher and pay for lessons herself, no matter what it takes.

I Am Drums is a debut middle-grade novel by Mike Grosso. The novel was pitched as “an anthem for band kids everywhere,” and tells of 12-year-old Samantha, whose dreams of playing the drums run up against the hard reality of school budget cuts, leading her to improvise.

Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.


I was so sad when Egmont USA shut down, but I’m glad that this book found a new pub home. For those of you wondering, this book will be published in September of 2016, not 2015, but I’ve been waiting on this post for awhile, so I decided to publish it now.

I AM DRUMS, for the record, is worth the wait. I loved this book, more than I’ve ever loved a book about band. I AM DRUMS is heartwarming and realistic. I would recommend it for boys and girls, and for anyone who loves the arts–especially kids who want to grow up to be artists.

I think one of my favorite things about this book was Sam. She really makes the story, even if I didn’t like her because of what happened in the ending. Sam is smart and passionate. She’s a great heroine and role model for middle-grade kids to read about, and I loved her personality. She’s not pushy or arrogant or tough, but she’s just… Sam. She works hard to achieve her goals and doesn’t stop pushing until she’s achieved them. There’s a lot to be learned from that mindset. It’s been awhile since I read about a character like this in middle-grade, and I loved getting to know her.

Another one of my favorite things about I AM DRUMS was Pete, Sam’s drum teacher. The relationship between him and Sam was realistic and funny, and the two of them together were perfect.

There were so many other things about this book that I really appreciated. The writing, the band descriptions, the fire, all of it was great. The ending wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I was okay with it in the end. Overall, I thought that I AM DRUMS was really entertaining. Definitely a book that I will be recommending. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 256

Review: Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

Pip Barlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce

From bestselling authors Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce comes an exciting new series full of magical creatures, whimsical adventures, and quirky illustrations.

Pip is a girl who can talk to magical creatures. Her aunt is a vet for magical creatures. And her new friend Tomas is allergic to most magical creatures. When things go amok—and they often go amok—Pip consults Jeffrey Higgleston’s Guide to Magical Creatures, a reference work that Pip finds herself constantly amending. Because dealing with magical creatures like unicorns, griffins, and fuzzles doesn’t just require book knowledge—it requires hands-on experience and thinking on your feet. For example, when fuzzles (which have an awful habit of bursting into flame when they’re agitated) invade your town, it’s not enough to know what the fuzzles are—Pip and Tomas also must trace the fuzzles’ agitation to its source, and in doing so, save the whole town.

Description taken from Goodreads.


In two words, I would say this book is cute and hilarious. It is utterly and completely how I imagined a crossover between Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater would go. I love both of these authors deeply for their YA works, and I’m so glad they partnered to make this book.

PIP BARTLETT is accessible for both kids a little younger than standard middle-grade level and above middle-grade. This isn’t just middle-grade, juvenile humor, it’s a wacky and kind of ridiculous sort of humor that I ended up throughly enjoying. All in all, this book is just very well crafted. I really liked the way it was laid out and the feel of the writing style. I ended up learning a lot about magical creatures, and I came to fall in love with the idea of magical creatures in our world today.

Then there were Pip and Tomas, the main characters. I so loved these kids. While Tomas struck me from the drawing as some kind of droopy-eyed, pathetic looking kid, he was actually really funny and entertaining. His general panic at everything and calm rationale at certain rare points was perfect to match Pip’s weirdness. Every character in this book is different form one another, but all of them are lovable and realistic.

PIP BARTLETT had just enough plot to make this a perfect debut novel for this series. I am so glad that there are going to be more books after this, and that these two fantastic ladies are being introduced to younger audiences (i.e. making minions at any early age). Great read. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 192

Series: Pip Bartlett #1

Shug by Jenny Han

shug by jenny han

Shug is clever and brave and true (on the inside, anyway). And she’s about to become your new best friend.

Annemarie Wilcox, or Shug as her family calls her, is beginning to think there’s nothing worse than being twelve. She’s too tall, too freckled, and way too flat-chested. Shug is sure that there’s not one good or amazing thing about her. And now she has to start junior high, where the friends she counts most dear aren’t acting so dear anymore — especially Mark, the boy she’s known her whole life through. Life is growing up all around her, and all Shug wants is for things to be like they used to be. How is a person supposed to prepare for what happens tomorrow when there’s just no figuring out today?

Description taken from Goodreads.


SHUG is a book that isn’t give nearly enough attention. This is one of my favorite middle-grade novels that is simply a slice of life kind of story, nothing more, nothing less. SHUG is about Annemarie growing up and knowing that things aren’t really perfect, but that’s okay. It’s about family, and loving people despite how difficult it is sometimes. I’m sure this all sounds very trite for middle-grade lit, but SHUG is worth a shot.

I think I fell in love with Annemarie and this story first because of how it focuses so much on family in a completely different way than a lot of MG and YA lit. Annemarie knows from the start that her family is kind of skewed. She knows her family is different, and her mother especially has some issues, but she loves them all anyway. Annemarie isn’t one to let a fact of life get her down, and she tries to make the best of things in every part of this story. She knows that what she’s going through sucks, but she keeps on persevering.

The second time around when I read SHUG, I realized how funny this story really is. Littered with humor, the deadpan kind and the bittersweet kind. The dramatic nature of Annemarie’s character really contributes to the humor as well. I thought that the narrative was perfectly matched to Annemarie’s voice as a character and this story in general.

SHUG is a book I would recommend to just about any girl 12 to 14. It’s perfect for middle-grade, but great for YA readers as well. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 248