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.

Review: Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

fuzzy by tom angleberger and paul dellinger

When Max—Maxine Zealster—befriends her new robot classmate Fuzzy, part of Vanguard One Middle School’s new Robot Integration Program, she helps him learn everything he needs to know about surviving middle school—the good, the bad, and the really, really, ugly. Little do they know that surviving sixth grade is going to become a true matter of life and death, because Vanguard has an evil presence at its heart: a digital student evaluation system named BARBARA that might be taking its mission to shape the perfect student to extremes!

Description taken from Goodreads.


I’m not a Tom Angleberger fan, but that might just have to change if he continues to come out with books like Fuzzy!

The only thing I didn’t like about the story (and didn’t like is a strong phrase) is that it had a slow beginning. I wasn’t drawn in from the very first page, but maybe that’s too much to ask. It’s enough that the rest of book is superb.

Despite my pacing problems in the beginning, I quickly fell in love with Fuzzy. There were a few different reasons for that, most notably because of the world-building and plot.

Fuzzy takes place in the near-future, and it almost has a dystopia-type feel. Dystopia is much harder to come by in middle-grade lit than young-adult lit, to the point where I wasn’t sure what it would even look like. Tom Angleberger did an amazing job of answering that question for me. No, not everything felt natural. There were a few weak spots where I felt like he was over-describing, but I think that’ll do a good job of introducing the subject material to younger students and people unaffiliated with code and technology.

When it really comes down to it, I was completely in love with the world-building of Fuzzy. The entire book did feel a little immature, so it was a bit awkward. I didn’t love the world for its writing or the way it was described, but because of its ideas. For the most part, Angleberger brought together his world spectacularly. I loved the way he (subtly) pointed out the flaws in where we’re heading with education, and his vision of technology-driven schools was fascinating.

As for the plot, it brought the story together. This may seem like a no-brainer, but beyond the obvious, the plot made the book. What I mean by that is it gave life the characters. It provided the world of Fuzzy a home. Not every book does that, and I was impressed by the chain of events in the book.

All in all, I loved Fuzzy. It had a relatively weak beginning, but it gained speed (and a place in my heart). The world was one I could dive into, and the storytelling was refreshing. I’ll be recommending this one! Hopefully, I can make some young STEM-lit fans :D 4 stars.

Tweens Read August Day 9: M.G. Leonard & Beetle Boy

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 ninth day of Tweens Read August, and M.G. Leonard is here to share her top ten writing tips with us!

Here’s a little bit about her debut, Beetle Boy:

beetle boy by m.g. leonard

Series: The Battle of the Beetles #1

Release Date: February 23rd, 2016

Add to Goodreads

The glorious start to a middle-grade trilogy about a brilliant boy, his loyal friends, and some amazingly intelligent beetles that brings together adventure, humor, and real science!

Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain–the mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Top Ten Writing Tips

I love writing Top Tens. When Eli invited me to write a top ten, I considered telling you ten reasons to love my book Beetle Boy, but readers like to make up their own minds about what is good about a story, so I decided against it. Next, I considered writing about my top ten beetles, but I couldn’t reduce 350,000 species to a top ten. I’ve included thirty types of beetle in Beetle Boy and even then I felt bad for leaving out some super awesome ones.

Eventually, I decided to tell you my top ten writing tips, because people who love reading stories often go on to writing them. That is how I started. So here they are:

1) READ EVERYTHING

I know that sounds obvious, but you can only learn what you do and don’t like in stories by reading every book you can get your hands on. This can get expensive, so use your local library. If something is dreadful you have my permission not to finish it, but think about why it sucks.

2) DAYDREAM

Imagining is an important part of writing that is unique to all of us. Give yourself permission to stare out the window and imagine wild and crazy people and places.

3) EXPERIENCE DIFFERENT FORMS OF STORY

A book is not the only way to tell a story. Notice the different ways to tell a story, look at art, graphic novels, music, plays, dance, opera, films, animation and poems to see how they tell stories. Are you sure you want to write a book? Perhaps you want to write a film.

4) GET A NOTEBOOK

Scribble everything down. There is no right or wrong way to do this. It can be doodles, a line of dialogue you heard on the bus or a paragraph describing a city in the clouds. Your notebooks contain the ingredients for future stories. Mine are full of messy drawings, post-it notes, instructions, character descriptions, questions in capital letters and inspiring things other people have said. You cannot make a cake until you have all the ingredients; it’s the same with a book.

5) IGNORE OTHER PEOPLE’S ADVICE

Teachers said my handwriting, grammar, punctuation and attitude towards writing was bad through-out school. I have been beset by people helpfully advising me to give up, telling me how hard it is to write a book and how no one ever gets published. I ignored them and did it anyway. If you have stories to tell then you should go ahead and tell them.

6) TALENT IS ANOTHER WORD FOR HARD WORK

I thought you had to have a natural talent to do anything, but I have discovered that talent really means working hard. You will only have a talent for something you truly love because you will want to work hard at it. I love telling stories. I live for it. I love working hard and getting better at it. Working hard at something you love is rewarding.

7) DON’T GET IT RIGHT, GET IT WRITTEN

If you try and make each sentence perfect as you write it, you’ll never get to the end of your story. Write your story as fast as you can, without thinking about it too much. Get to the end. Then put it down and go and do something else. Come back to it later and read it, noting down all the things you need to do to make it better. It’s much easier to improve a story until it’s perfect than to write a perfect one first go.

8) READ YOUR WORDS OUT LOUD

When you read your writing out loud you notice words you have missed out, when your sentences are so long you run out of breath, when you use the same word three times in a sentence. If you are brave enough to read it to someone, then you’ll also notice if they get bored. All useful to help you improve your work.

9) LISTEN

When you are happy with something you’ve written, give it to someone you trust to be honest and ask them to read it and give you honest feedback. Be prepared to want to cry and shout at them, but don’t, instead, listen. This is what an editor at a publishing company does for an author, and we want to cry and shout, but instead we listen and see if we can address the problems they point out. This always makes the writing better.

10) LEARN

I have learned so much from all the mistakes I made writing Beetle Boy. I’m editing my second book Beetle Queen right now. It’s much easier because I have learnt from my mistakes, but I am making a whole host of new ones. I think Beetle Queen will be an even better book than Beetle Boy, but I know I’ll always be learning.

About the Author

m.g. leonard
M.G. Leonard is Senior Digital Media Producer at the National Theatre of Great Britain, where she creates podcasts and documentaries about making theater. Beetle Boy is her debut novel and the first book in The Beetle Trilogy. She lives in Brighton, England with her family. You can visit her online at http://www.mgleonard.com. Follow her on Twitter @MGLnrd.


Giveaway

Thanks to M.G. for being a part of Tweens Read August and coming up with this list of tips! Be sure to add Beetle Boy to Goodreads and enter the giveaway above. The author being featured tomorrow is Monica Tesler!

ARC Review: The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson

the flip side by shawn johnson

From gold medalist and reality TV star Shawn Johnson comes a debut YA novel inspired by her own experiences as an elite teenage gymnast—just in time for the Summer 2016 Olympic games.

Charlie Ryland has a secret.

She may seem like your average high school sophomore—but she’s just really good at pretending.

Because outside of school Charlie spends all her waking hours training to become one of the best gymnasts in the world. And it’s not easy flying under the radar when you’re aiming for Olympic gold…especially when an irresistible guy comes along and threatens to throw your whole world off balance.

Inspired by her own experiences as a fifteen-year-old Olympic gymnast, gold medalist Shawn Johnson writes a delightfully entertaining novel about chasing big dreams and falling in love, all while trying to keep it real.

Description taken from Goodreads.


I admire and respect Shawn Johnson as an Olympian, a gymnast and a representative of the United States, but she’s no YA writer. If anything, this book is middle-grade lit based on how it reads, what age the characters feel like they’re at and the chasteness of the romance.

This is a cute book, and I’ll definitely be recommending it to middle-grade kids who like more YA-oriented stuff, but this probably won’t be satisfactory for people who read mainly YA lit. If you’re looking for a YA about gymnastics, I’d direct you to Diana Gallagher’s Lessons in Falling.

Judged as middle-grade, this is a great story. It has a sweet romance, and I’m a sucker for books about kids actively pursuing their passions. Despite being somewhat immature, Charlie is driven and motivated to achieve her goals and still have a regular life. I felt like she would be a great friend to have, and her struggles with her friends were realistic and very important to the MG scene.

The writing in here wasn’t the best, to be completely honest. Once we got into the story, things eased up a bit, but in the beginning, it felt very contrived and forced. Much of it ended up being telling us repeatedly about Charlie’s life or how gymnastics works, and that wasn’t too exciting.

I was a little disappointed that Shawn’s coach, Liang Chow, wasn’t portrayed in this story, but I did appreciate all of the details about Charlie that correlated with Shawn. And this book attempts and does a reasonable job of incorporating diversity elsewhere, so that’s always a plus.

Overall, not a bad book, and one that I will be revisiting. While it had awkward or unnecessary moments, for the most part it was good, and it had great elements like Charlie’s family and her relationships. Would recommend to the right audience. 2.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 420

Review: Far From Fair by Elana K. Arnold

far from fair by elana k. arnold

Odette has a list: Things That Aren’t Fair. At the top of the list is her parents’ decision to take the family on the road in an ugly RV they’ve nicknamed the Coach. There’s nothing fair about leaving California and living in the Coach with her par­ents and exasperating brother. And there’s definitely nothing fair about Grandma Sissy’s failing health, and the painful realities and difficult decisions that come with it. Most days it seems as if everything in Odette’s life is far from fair but does it have to be?

With warmth and sensitivity Elana Arnold makes difficult topics such as terminal illness and the right to die accessible to young readers and apt for discussion.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Family tragedy sucks.

And it happens every single day, without anyone outside of the situation even caring. All the same, people have to move on and grow from the situation, hopefully positively. And that’s exactly what Odette does through this book.

Odette started out as a very hard character for me to like. I sympathized with all the changes in her life and on the outside, I understood that she was going through a really difficult time for anyone, not just a middle schooler, but on the inside I didn’t really feel it. I thought she was irritating.

Again, I was trying to understand her situation.

Most of my lack of sympathy came from her lack of understanding the situation, which she can’t truly be blamed for. She didn’t put into consideration the hardships on anyone around her, and most of her narrative felt like whining. At the same time, as I made my way through the book, I began to understand her situation more and felt like I was the one who was being insensitive.

You could say that reading this book was a bit of a struggle in the beginning. Slowly, Odette and I came to terms with our struggles. I was amazed by the character growth within this book, and I came to really like Odette’s character. There are many really sad moments over the course of the novel, but I thought that the author handled things really well and showed the way it affects Odette’s family in a healthy way.

Overall, I thought this was a great book about grief, coming of age, family and reality in all of its miseries and joys. The actual themes are a bit intense, but the execution of the book was perfect. Will be highly recommending. 4 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 240

Review: Summerlost by Ally Condie

summerlost by ally condie

It’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

Description taken from Goodreads.


Leo saved this book. When I wrote the sneak peek review for Summerlost, I was pretty wishy-washy as to how I felt because most of me was skeptical but part of me still wanted to love it. Besides, I didn’t get to see most of the book anyway, so I still wanted to keep an open mind.

When Leo comes into the picture in this book, he brightens everything up and brings Cedar out of her shell. The plot also gains speed as it approaches the middle. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the theater where Leo and Cedar come to work, and how Cedar finds her place there as she tries to grieve over lost family members.

The one thing that remained the same was Cedar’s mourning. The writing, while usually fluid, readable and poetic, felt forced and unnecessary during those segments. I get it, it was terrible for her to lose her father and her brother, but I didn’t feel any of the emotion that Cedar claimed to have. I sympathized with her, and yet it was like a robot was trying to explain grief to me.

All in all, not a bad book at all. It had a good ending, and I came to love many of the characters. There’s some growth, though not too much, and Cedar comes to terms with everything that’s happened. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but she truly finds herself and breaks out of this funk because of hew environment and the people around her that support her. In many ways, it resembles Leila Sales’ This Song Will Save Your Life.

While it wasn’t the best book about grief, I liked this one and will be recommending it. I was initially afraid to see another Ally Condie novel go down the drain (I was so not a fan of Atlantia) but I’d say this was a successful middle-grade debut. 3 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 272

Sneak Peek Review: Summerlost by Ally Condie

summerlost by allie condie

It’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

Description taken from Goodreads. I received a preview of this book, to be published  via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.


Ally Condie is back… except not with a dystopian novel, but a middle-grade debut. As of right now, I’m still debating whether or not the cover is the only thing about this book that’s pretty, but I think I need to see more to really make a judgement call. I’m interested, but part of me thinks that Condie is better off writing fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi lit.

I did enjoy the story, though there were many unnecessary bits of information everywhere. The main plot with all the tragedy is pretty cliché at this point in middle-grade contemporary, but maybe that’s because I haven’t seen what the mysterious boy (known as Leo in the blurb, known as “Nerd-on-a-Bike” in the story) will bring up yet. Condie’s writing is still engaging, but not nearly as much now that there’s less to describe. We know what sun and towns typically look like, and there’s a cap on how much time you can spend world-building if you’re doing realistic fiction.

It’s too soon to make a real call on this book, but while I did have several minor issues with it, it caught my attention, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Condie will come up with later in the story. Based on the beginning, I think I will end up recommending it, but we’ll see.

ARC Review: Wildlife by Fiona Wood

wildlife by fiona wood

During a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.

New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can’t help but be drawn back into the land of the living.

Fans of Melina Marchetta, Rainbow Rowell, and E. Lockhart will adore this endearing and poignant story of first love, true friendship, and going a little bit wild.

Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own. This book will be available on September 16th, 2014. It was first published on June 1st, 2013. 


First of all, if you buy this book–get the hardcover. As you can see ↵ the cover is beautifully done. Secondly, this is the second book in a series, which I didn’t know until about five minutes ago. It’s the second book in the SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS series, and the first book is one that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time but have not been able to get my hands on. However, I didn’t notice that anything was missing or unexplained and I didn’t feel anything was lacking even though this is the second book.

There were SO many things about WILDLIFE that I absolutely loved. Besides the fact that it is unique, heartfelt and downright hilarious, WILDLIFE is also poignant and real. The issues that the characters had to go through were perfectly revealed and the antics throughout this story (pranks, lessons, camping, ghosts) were fun to read about. The overall execution of the novel and all it’s twists and nuances was done perfectly and I felt like the timing was spot-on.

The best thing about WILDLIFE is probably how real it is, and the second would be how deep it is. It talks about many issues that are well done and throughly thought-out. This book is awkward and funny in the best possible way and the relationships between the characters are awesome. I would not recommend this book for middle-schoolers due to a few mature scenes but for teens 14+ and mature readers, I would definitely recommend this book. I loved so many things about this story and I will definitely be reading SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS as soon as possible. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 400

Series: Six Impossible Things #2

Review: Just One Wish by Janette Rallison

just one wish by janette rallison

Seventeen-year-old Annika Truman knows about the power of positive thinking. With a little brother who has cancer, it’s all she ever hears about. And in order to help Jeremy, she will go to the ends of the earth (or at least as far as Hollywood) to help him believe he can survive his upcoming surgery.

But Annika’s plan to convince Jeremy that a magic genie will grant him any wish throws her a curveball when he unexpectedly wishes that his television idol would visit him. Annika suddenly finds herself in the desperate predicament of getting access to a hunky star actor and convincing him to come home with her. Piece of cake, right?

Janette Rallison’s proven talent for laugh-out-loud humor, teen romance, and deep-hearted storytelling shines in a novel that will have readers laughing and crying at the same time.

Description taken from Goodreads. 


This book was such a nice, not-stressful, fluffy contemporary read for me. I loved the way the premise of the story and the execution of this book, a story about a girl trying to grant her little brother’s near impossible wish, was done very well.

One thing I really appreciated about this book that surprised me was how long it took to find Steve, meet him and get him to Jeremy. The realistic part to this book was wearing at times, but I did think that it was necessary and Annika’s antics were enough to keep me occupied during the slow parts to the story.

The best things about this story were probably the relationships–first, the relationship between Jeremy and Annika, and secondly the relationship between Steve and Annika.

Annika’s trying-to-do-the-impossible personality irritated me more than once over the course of JUST ONE WISH. At times she’s naive and childish, but only because of her desire to give Jeremy what he wants. I was conflicted with the issue of how to feel about Annika during these times because Rallison does an excellent job of showing off some of Annika’s best traits: her loyalty, ambition and determination. At the same time Annika doesn’t really take into consideration issues of the real world, including schedules, jobs, money and wasted time.

When it came down to it, it didn’t matter to me as much in the big picture. Annika’s short-sightedness and impulsiveness still damaged her character overall in my eyes, but in terms of relationships I loved the way she put herself out there for her brother and the sweet relationship romantically that comes up between her and Steve. Even the time leading up to the trek back home to her brother was fun and entertaining.

Overall, the plot of this story was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the story. I thought that Annika’s parent’s reaction and punishment to her leaving was too light to be realistic. I would love to see a sequel to this book, but left to the imagination–this story was fantastic and I would greatly recommend it to girls 12-15. 4 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 272

Review: Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord

touch blue by cynthia lord

The state of Maine plans to shut down her island’s schoolhouse, which would force Tess’s family to move to the mainland–and Tess to leave the only home she has ever known. Fortunately, the islanders have a plan too: increase the numbers of students by having several families take in foster children. So now Tess and her family are taking a chance on Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player who has been bounced from home to home. And Tess needs a plan of her own–and all the luck she can muster. Will Tess’s wish come true or will her luck run out?

 

Description taken from Goodreads.


I loved Cynthia Lord’s RULE, a story about a girl who has a brother with autism, and in TOUCH BLUE she has come with a story that is just as fun and real.

I loved the way that the world-building was especially focused on in this story and how the people who live on the island feel such a deep connection to it as their home. Through this relationship with the island and with each other, Lord was able to show just how hard a foster kid’s life can be and what they can go through. Another one of my favorite parts of the book was also to see how Aaron, Tess and Libby (Tess’s younger sister) get to grow and relate to Aaron.

There’s a lot of symbolism that unfolds over the course of the story and lessons that are learned in hard ways, but really show the reader how much themes like freedom can affect someone’s entire life.

“Stay because you want to be here. Stay because we would miss you. And stay because you can belong in more than one place, and one of your places is with us.”

The ending to this book wasn’t entirely satisfying to me. It wasn’t heartwarming and all happily ever after, but rather something that was more realistic and still left the characters feeling genuinely happy. It was a good ending, even if I wish it had ended another way. I appreciated the way Tess shows so much maturity at the end of the story and displays what she has learned during her time with Aaron.

Overall, I would recommend this for fans of Cynthia Lord’s RULES. It still has much of the same feel as RULES and the lessons, premise, plot and characters all come together very nicely over the course of the story. 3.8 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 186