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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Realistic

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine
Pla, Sally J.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Stanley is a whiz at comics trivia. Comics provide him with comfort when life becomes overwhelming and lately that's been all of the time! The principal at Peavey Middle School is obsessed with school safety and preparedness and this stresses Stanley out. He's able to escape from the school drills by spending them in a "safe room" where he creates a safety superhero, John Lockdown.

Stanley's best friend, Joon, wants to win VIP passes to Comic Fest by entering a Trivia Quest treasure hunt. While they begin as partners, Joon soon ditches him. Stanley decides to enter anyway to prove he can tackle his worries. As he faces the overwhelming and challenging day, he thinks, "What would John Lockdown do?"

Reviewer's Name: Carol
Genres:
Devos, Kelly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Cookie Vonn is fat. And while she doesn’t want her weight to rule her life, she’s interested in fashion design. And in fashion, size is everything. Her dreams of getting out of Scottsdale, attending Parsons, an elite fashion design school, and becoming a fashion designer for women of all sizes might not work out if she can’t lose the weight.

Fast forward two years. Thanks to insane self-control, and the power of NutriMin (a stand in for Weight Watchers) Cookie has lost the weight. And the opportunities do start to roll in. She’s offered the chance to meet her idol and cover his fashion show for NutriMin. Better yet, after a breakfast meeting with him, she gets an offer to design a special plus size line that will be released as a preview for his upcoming Winter/Spring Collection. But even as Cookie’s life seems to be exactly what she wanted, she finds being skinny isn’t a panacea, and that somewhere along the way, she might have lost not only the weight, but herself.

This is a great new adult coming of age novel that I ate right up. It’s not my normal fare – I typically don’t read YA romances unless the protagonist is a person of color. While Cookie is white, she is fat, and that is definitely an underrepresented group of people in most modern literature, so I decided to take a chance on this one, and I’m really glad I did. I think some overweight readers will balk at the idea of this being a Cinderella story, but that’s not what this is – a lot of the book really centers on Cookie realizing that while her weight might be part of her identity, its not what makes her Cookie, and that realization is what makes this a strong coming of age tale.

The book switches back and forth between past and present Cookie (fat and skinny), a literary device that worked well here. We know Cookie gets skinny, but we learn why and how in the “fat” chapters, and we get to learn how she reaps the fruits of her labor in the “skinny” chapters. I wanted to know what happened to both versions of Cookies, and I found myself staying up way too late one night reading this. Cookie herself is a smart, resourceful young woman, and while she makes some seriously stupid decisions, they all seem in character and are the sort of decisions an inexperienced young woman might make – especially when the adults around her were sometimes giving her awful advice. I hated both of her relationships, but they seemed pretty realistic, and hopefully young women can learn from Cookie’s mistakes. I wish she had cut both guys out of her life as they were both toxic (one of them gets off way too easily), but that is my really my only major complaint.

I really liked this one, and I think new adults and older teens who enjoy contemporary reads will as well. If you like Meg Cabot, Sophie Kinsella or Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, this book is definitely for you. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Teen for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. Fat Girl on a Plane is available for purchase now, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Agresti, Aimee
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Every four years, presidential candidates and their staffers travel the country searching for funding and votes. Campaign Widows follows five people who have been left behind by their partners as they work for electoral victory. But don't kid yourself - these "widows" have lives of their own. There is Cady, a newcomer to DC who is producing a show that is sagging in the ratings, Reagan, a speechwriter who is now doing freelance work as the recent mother to two twin girls, Birdie, a media mogul and DC taste-maker, Madison, whose husband Hank is in the running to be president, and Jay, whose partner Sky who got quickly upgraded from the "culture" section of the Queue (think Huffpost) to "politics" due to a staffing shortage. The book covers each of these dynamic characters as they live their own lives and effect the election in their own ways - with or without their partners' support.

This book is the perfect summer beach read, which is to say that its a light, fluffy read that would be great for any vacation (no beach necessary). The premise and setting were unique - I've not read a ton of women's fiction that is politically centered or even set in DC, and that really added to the title's value for me. All of the characters were well drawn and interesting in their own way. Often, when I read a book with multiple POVs, I find myself more invested in certain stories and then race through the chapters I don't much care for, but that was not the case here. Everyone was likable and engaging.

On the downside, I wanted more political satire than I got. While there definitely was some satire (Hank is a Trump stand-in, for example), and some dream scenarios (a three person dead heat race), I wanted more. Everyone's arcs were tied up a little too neatly for my taste, and it also made the book feel a bit less realistic.

Overall, I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys the genre and likes happy and easy reads. It reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians in tone and style, so if you liked that book, give this one a try! I hope it gets made into a TV show or movie, because it'd be excellent in either of those formats if the drama and comedy were both amped up a bit. If you are looking for a light summer read, look no farther. 4 stars - its a stand-out in its genre!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Graydon House through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. Campaign Widows became available for purchase on 22 May, and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
Sanchez, Erika L.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Julia was happy that her older sister Olga fulfilled the role of "perfect Mexican daughter." Prim and proper, Olga always did what she was told and followed the rules. During Julia's junior year in high school, Olga was run over by a semi-truck and killed. After Olga's death, Julia is surprised when she finds some scandalous items in Olga's off-limits room. As Julia tries to learn more about her dead sister, she finds herself learning more about her family, friends, and ultimately, herself.

YA contemporary fiction is not really my thing - I went on a reading spree of this genre recently as I was reviewing my Goodreads "read" list from 2018 and realized that I have read zero books in this genre. Because I need to read it for work, I decided to go with award winning books and/or authors from a different background than myself. This book, a National Book Award finalist about the daughter of Mexican immigrants living in the US, met that metric and appealed to me on the diversity front. I gave it a go, and was quite pleasantly surprised.

Julia is an extremely sympathetic character, and not just because she does fairly well in the face of a lot of adversity. Her voice is at times raw and honest and at other times snarky and hilarious, which really worked for me. Even though we don't have a lot in common, I was able to connect with Julia and I really cared about her and her story.

There's a lot of character development as Julia slowly learns more about her family members and their pasts, and there's just enough intrigue to keep the pages turning.

In addition to being a good coming of age story, this book covers some really important topics. Obviously, there's a lot about grief and how we grieve differently. Julia is suffering from depression, and the book is not shy about discussing her mental illness. The end of the book is followed by a section entitled "Mental Health Resources." Moreover, I learned a bit about some aspects of Mexican culture, and I got to take a peak into the lives of folks who had recently immigrated into the US from Mexico.

Considering this wasn't really my thing in the first place, I quite enjoyed it! Readers of contemporary YA will like this one - its got a touch of romance, a likable protagonist, and loads of substance. 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Every Note Played
Genova, Lisa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

As with all of this authors' novels, this book was beautifully written. I honestly didn't like either of the main characters in the beginning, but as they came to accept the changes in their lives and atone for wrongs they committed to each other I felt more and more empathy for what they went through. This disease is absolutely awful and it is painful to read about its progression, but I'm glad Ms. Genova continues to shed light on illnesses such as this in a way that is accessible. Highly recommended (unless you are feeling blue, then you might want to try something a little lighter!).

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Genres:
Book Review: The Higher Power of Lucky
Patron, Susan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very good book. I listened to it on audio and the narrator was fantastic. The climax of the book takes place during a dust storm, which is a classic case of the natural elements reflecting the story line. A bit contrived, yes, but good for young readers. The conclusion was textbook, but also okay for younger readers. If you'd like to read a good story with no surprises, this book is for you.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: A Man Called Ove
Backman, Fredrik
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book starts of slow and then continues a leisurely pace throughout. It was a bit hard for me to get through the first half of the novel as it mainly dealt with the thought process of a suicidal curmudgeon. But as the novel unfolds, Ove is unwrapped to show a man with quiet strength who is mourning the loss of his wife and his job. As the novel continues, we meet people who insert themselves into his life, showing him kindness and giving him purpose. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quiet, leisurely novel about the power of friendship.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Book Review: Where the Red Fern Grows
Rawls, Wilson
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is so well written that it didn't matter that I had nothing in common with the narrator and no interest in hunting. In fact, I felt sorry for the coons. This is a story of love and devotion that had me enthralled, especially in the second half. The ending, while a bit contrived, was still beautiful.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ward, Jesmyn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Jo Jo and his mother Leonie have been living on a farm in rural Missisippi for their entire lives. Jo Jo's father, Michael, has been in jail for drug related crimes, and thus most of Jo Jo and his sister Kayla's upbringing has been done by their grandparents: the gruff but ultimately loving Pop and the cancer-ridden matriarch, Mam. Everyone's world is about to be upended, though, as time grows near for Michael to get out of prison.

Writing any sort of synopsis for this book was particularly challenging, as there's not much in the way of plot. I don't mean that in a bad way. I sometimes love books that focus solely character development, and that is absolutely what this is. The writing is insanely gorgeous and it's obvious from the gruesome beginning scene as to why this won the National Book Award.

Ward manages to make almost all of the characters relatable or lovable even as they do and say and think terrible things. She absolutely captures some of the wonderfully horrible aspects of the human condition, and here is a lot to love in this book.

That being said, I did not much care for certain aspects of the audiobook. First, by the time I got the book, I had forgotten what it was actually about. I did not remember that ghosts were a part of the story and was really confused for the first part of the book (are these flashbacks? how is that character here? I thought he was dead?), but I eventually figured it out. For me, the ghosts detracted from the story and I could have done without that element, even though magical realism is often my jam. The biggest problem for me, however, was Rutina Wesley's performance (which, hilariously enough, is why I went for this in audiobook format - I liked her in the few seasons I watched of True Blood). It was over enunciated especially given that Leonie is from Mississippi, and I found her parts to be melodramatic as there were a lot of weird pauses and words said breathlessly. It just didn't work for me, and I wanted to skip all of Leonie's parts.

If you would like to read a gorgeously written character study/family drama with a compelling setting, then this is a great bet. Just read it, don't listen to it. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Small Great Things
Picoult, Jodi
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Here's the problem I have with Jodi Picoult. She always does some left field plot twist at the end of her books. I find it very annoying. This book is no exception. Something completely weird happens toward the end. Otherwise I enjoyed this book. Especially the Turk chapters. Fascinating and disturbing. Some of the book was heavy handed, but it's hard for a white woman to write about race, so she has my sympathy.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Genres:
Handle With Care
Picoult, Jodi
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors, as her stories always involve a complex moral dilemma her well-developed characters are grappling with. This story in particular tugs at the heart strings of mothers who would do anything to protect their suffering child. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the deeper, melancholy moments of life.

Reviewer's Name: Bethany P.
Three Pennies
Crowder, Melanie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Marin was abandoned at 4 years of age by her mother. On her journey through the foster care system she keeps her ambition to find her biological mother alive as she encounters disappointment, loneliness, turmoil about her abandonment, and finally the perplexing new feelings of real family love. Three Pennies, by Melanie Crowder, is a lovingly written and thoughtful book for ages 9 - 14.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Sweetbitter
Danler, Stephanie
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Some really beautiful thoughts and quotes stuck in between such vulgar language. Too many drug and sex scenes that were unnecessary.

Reviewer's Name: Lisa
Genres:
Little House in the Big Woods
Wilder, Laura Ingalls
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lovely book. It moves slowly and gently and paints a dream-like portrait of life in the woods in the 1870s. Nothing really exciting happens, but that's the beauty of it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Book Review: Save Me a Seat
Weeks, Sarah
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is a really good quick read about two 5th grade boys that are bullied and the beginning of a friendship. It's told from the perspective of each boy, Joe and Ravi. Ravi is from India, Joe has special needs. Smart and engaging, this book gets 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Genres:
Book Review: Between Shades of Gray
Sepetys, Ruta
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is an amazing book. So stark and unforgiving, written exactly like Siberia and the arctic circle. This isn't an autobiography but it sounds like it could be. I have no doubt that Lina's circumstances happened to thousands during Stalin's reign. The writing was so realistic I could feel the wind and the cold and every terrible thing that came with it.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Ghost
Reynolds, Jason
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jason Reynolds (author) + Guy Lockhard* (narrator) = Magic

Castle Cranshaw, aka Ghost, has been running from things his whole life: his violent father, the consequences of altercations at school with a bully, and most of all, the anger that's been building up inside him. So Ghost has a ton of natural talent, which he puts to use when he inadvertently impresses the coach of a local track team. After the coach begs him to join, and Ghost reluctantly agrees, he begins to see that he might be happier if he runs towards something instead of away from everything.

I listened to this audiobook, and it was excellent. I really struggle with middle grade fiction, as I oftentimes have trouble identifying with the characters (I mean, middle school was a loooooooong time ago), but Reynolds took me right back to the thick of it. In a good way. The day-making/ruining things your classmates would say, interactions with adults in positions of authority, and not really being sure about who you are and what you want in life - Reynolds nails it all. Moreover, Ghost is just a straight up likable character, even as he makes poor decision after poor decision. We really get to see him grow over the course of the novel, and even as he does the wrong thing, his heart is usually in the right place. I loved his relationship with his mother, and later, with Coach. There aren't always positive adult relationships in fiction for young people, and so it was nice that Ghost had so many adults that he could turn to. The secondary characters were just as dynamic, and also had very serious problems of their own to deal with. I'd read a book about any of them. Shoot, I wanted to adopt most of them. As a runner myself (although I'm not competitive and do longer distances), I really liked that the book was about track as it's not a sport we read or hear a lot about. There's a bit about fartleks that was pretty hilarious, and I think runners (Land Sharks, anyone?) will find a lot to love here.

If you are looking for a book to listen to or read with your kids, this is a great one. There are loads of teachable moments, and it is ultimately a heartwarming tale of self-discovery. I couldn't get enough of it - 5 stars.

*Shout out to Guy Lockhard - he narrated the other Jason Reynolds book that I've listened to (All American Boys), and he is a fantastic narrator. It seems like Reynolds thinks so as well, because it looks like Lockhard will be narrating Reynolds' recently released book about Spiderman Miles Morales. I may have just put that on hold...

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: After You
Moyes, Jojo
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

See, here's the problem: I wasn't that enamored with the first book in this series (Me Before You). It just didn't wow me. So with that book as a jumping-off point, this book didn't stand a chance at getting above 3 stars. Still, it was pretty good. The ending was super cheesy, though, which tempts me to give it 2 stars. But hey, I'm feeling generous, so 3 stars it is.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Book Review: Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Cleary, Beverly
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is a sweet book. It's not so mind-blowing as to warrant an in-depth review, so I'll just leave it at that.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Save Me a Seat
Weeks, Sarah
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Even though Save Me A Seat is a Children's book, I ABSOLUTELY loved it. A really wonderful story told by Joe and Ravi. Both boys are "different". Joe has a sensitivity to noise (auditory processing disorder), while Ravi is the new kid in school as his family has moved from India. Both Joe and Ravi have challenges in the classroom, with their classmates, and even at home. But they both work at facing their challenges and in the end become friends. A really great story and read, no matter what age you are!

Reviewer's Name: Melissa Mitchell
Awards:

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