Book Review: A Cemetery for Zooey by Ashe Woodward

Hollow City by Beth Connor

A YA Dystopia Novel published by FriesenPress (09/08/21)

First reviewed through Reedsy Discovery as an ARC

Summary:

“She too was a monument of sorts; the lurking Beast that roamed the cemetery at nights and was enough to keep any of the curious kids from wandering in.” Page 8.

Zooey, as a Beast, has a natural talent for digging graves. She lives at the cemetery, away from human prying eyes, safe though not glamorous work. She’s good at her job but when a slew of monsters need to be buried, Zooey can’t keep up with the digging. She will get swept up in the mystery of why all the monsters are suddenly dropping dead.

Keywords:

Middle Grade, Monsters, Cemetery, Death, Race, Class, Gender, Authentic Self, grave-digging

My Review:

I absolutely loved the idea behind this story and thought the execution was excellent. The main character is a grave-digging Beast. She lives at the cemetery because humans are scared of monsters and Zooey is a monster. Most monsters who live amongst humans cover their monster features with a cosmetic product such that humans don’t even know there are monsters living amongst them. There are different classes of monsters: Beasts, Ghosts, Ghouls, Scales, and Plasmas.

The cover is unusual and immediately grabbed my attention. It’s just as quirky and interesting as the novella itself. The author walked a tight balance of tone, not growing too dark while still telling a fascinating story of the main character’s quick self-discovery amidst a pandemic-esque setting. In this world, only the monsters living amongst the humans are dropping dead and nobody knows why. The yuck factor of the imaginative types of monsters was kept at bay with the lack of gore, which helped keep the tone lighter; however, lurking behind this fun story is a heavy allegory on class, race, and gender.

This book would be an amazing read for younger readers who want a good story and an even greater post-reading conversation. If you liked The Addams Family movies but wanted something with more depth then you’ll enjoy this novella. As an adult reader, much like the way Animal Farm is an allegory, this novella too has a lot to say about contemporary topics like skin whitening, living as your authentic self, accepting others and others who are different, critical race theory, and more. If you just want to read this as a fun story with monsters, you don’t have to read too much into the heavier underlying topics.

The ending, though, drives home the lessons to be learned, reminding me that the target audience is a younger one. Until the ending big speech and moral of the story moment, this story reads as a sophisticated novella. The last chapter was short and abrupt. I wanted just a little bit more about Zooey.

This novel was published by FriesenPress on 09/08/2021 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.75

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Book Review: The Dogs Who Play Baseball by Thomas Louis Carroll

The Dogs Who Play Baseball by Thomas Louis Carroll

A Humorous Middle-Grade Novel published by Almanor & Loraque Press (08/18/21)

First reviewed through Reedsy Discovery as an ARC

Summary:

“Something about Louie and Sally said baseball. Even without their hats and beat-up gloves, their Louisville Sluggers with marks on the bat for every home run, and the raggedy baseballs, people knew they were baseball kids.” (4% Kindle Edition).

Louie and the neighborhood kids just want to play baseball but after getting kicked out of their own field, they’ll come up with a way to challenge the older kids to win back the rights to the field. Teaching the dogs to play baseball won’t be too hard but it will be difficult to convince everyone that dogs can play against the best of them!

Keywords:

Middle Grade, Humor, Dogs, Animals, Sports, Baseball, Team, Disabled, Wheelchair, Yankees, Bronx, Unbelievable, Yankees Stadium

My Review:

If you love both dogs and baseball, you will get a kick out of this book. It goes from silly can’t-believe-it good-humored fun to serious on-the-edge-of-your-seat baseball action… with dogs of course. As this book goes on it does get more ridiculous (it’s funny how the adults can’t believe how ridiculous everything is). Throughout the hilarity, a love of everything baseball comes through clearly.

Even if you don’t love or completely understand the mechanics of baseball, you will enjoy this warm-hearted book full of great life lessons. Carroll does get into the mechanics and techniques that the kids use to get the dogs to play baseball, but not too in-depth. You will have to suspend your disbelief a little and get creative imagining dogs with bats and baskets attached to their tails. How do they run the bases with those bats attached? How does a dog slide through to home? It did seem a little too easy to get the dogs to play baseball but this just adds to the comedic element of the book.

The fun repeated refrains the author uses, like “You can say that again,” and “There’s no barking in baseball,” made me smile each time they repeated.

I especially liked how the author gave the main character Louie a greater purpose for teaching the dogs to play baseball and to get them to play against real baseball teams and win. One of the minor characters, Louie’s mom Mimi, is in a wheelchair and can’t walk due to a car accident some years ago. It’s neat the author included the normalization of a character with this disability. I learned that there’s a special viewing location at Yankee Stadium for people in wheelchairs. I’ve never thought about accessibility at stadiums before.

I can imagine that this would be a really fun book to read out loud to your kids or to listen to as an audiobook on long drives with the family. If you’re a young reader (or have a kid who is reading middle-grade novels), then they could enjoy reading this one on their own as the target audience. They could really relate to this book if they are also participating in a Little League or have a Labrador, Collie, Bulldog, Whippet, Basset Hound, or a Scotty dog. Chester the Labrador, though, is the star (Most Valuable Dog) of the book.

This novel was published by Almanor & Loraque Press on 08/18/2021 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.25

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Thomas Louis Carroll’s Website

Book Review: Miss Cast and the Headhamster (Miss Cast! Book 1) by LJ Pickles

 

Miss Cast and the Headhamster (Miss Cast! Book 1) by LJ Pickles

A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel Independently published (05/25/21)

First reviewed through Reedsy Discovery as an ARC

Summary:

“I didn’t need a crystal ball to know that having a witch as a teacher could spell trouble for my innocent classmates” (Page 27).

There’s something odd about Gareth’s new schoolteacher but none of the other children seem to notice. Miss Cast must be a witch! Maybe Gareth can use this knowledge to his advantage unless Miss Cast accidentally or on purpose does something that can’t be reversed. Like, turn all the children into frogs!

Keywords:

Middle Grade, Humor, Sword & Sorcery, Fantasy, Witches, Class, Learning, Frogs, Magic, Spell, Revenge, Lessons, Transformation

My Review:

The tone of this middle-grade children’s book is light and humorous. The writing style reminds me of Roald Dahl or the Wayside School children’s books by Louis Sachar. Even after twenty years, I remember the delightfully funny humor of Dahl and Sachar, even if I’ve forgotten the books themselves. Miss Cast and the Headhamster will definitely leave an impression on the reader. Even the title is amusing if you look closely.

The very first chapter ends with some very exciting action and you won’t want to put the book down. The pacing kept me hooked, even though the beginning half was dialogue-heavy. Miss Cast talks a lot! She doesn’t know much about teaching, schools, or kids. She’s a witch in disguise but Gareth can’t be spelled. The way she talks will catch you off guard. Miss Cast says the funniest things in the funniest of ways. She doesn’t talk much like an adult – more like she’s a grown-up child – which is rather hilarious when you picture her as a pointy chinned, green-skinned, and warty witch with a bat in her hair and a wand up her sleeve.

If this was a book you were reading to your class or your own kid, you would be just as amused as your young one. Adult readers will be fascinated by the way the adults in the book continuously insult children as if it’s normal, calling them “squashed face” and “know-it-all” as if this story was written by a kid. The children in the book don’t seem to notice these insults. Gareth is much too preoccupied and obsessed with having been cheated by Brian in the egg-and-spoon race. He brings it up again and again!

I think it’s fun that Miss Cast, being over three hundred years old, is the witch in all the fairy tales – the wicked witch in Snow White and the wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel and the wicked witch in Ariel to name all the stories Miss Cast told during class.

My favorite parts were the turns of phrases like “brain of a hashed brown.” (Page 53) sprinkled throughout the book which really gave the book a whimsical and imaginative quality.

I loved the cute illustrations here and there throughout the book.

This novel was Independently published on 05/25/2021 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.75

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Book Review: Pip and Kitten and the End of the World by David Congreave

Pip and Kitten and the End of the World by David Congreave

A Middle Grade Dystopia Novel published by David Congreave (09/15/21)

First reviewed through Reedsy Discovery as an ARC

Summary:

Pip has never even been to the grocery store himself but when every other person suddenly vanishes he’ll have to figure out which direction the supermarket is along with solving a host of other new problems. At least he isn’t completely alone. His pet cat, Kitten, and all the other animals have survived this potentially global apocalypse. Pip loves this new freedom to eat what he wants and read all day, but when the water stops running and the lights don’t turn on anymore, he’ll have to figure out how to survive in this new world.

Keywords:

Dystopia, Middle Grade, Alone, Reading, Scavenging, Learning, Cat, Survival, 8-year-old, Humorous

My Review:

What I enjoyed above all else in this delightfully cheeky middle-grade novel was the tone. Though the subject matter could have been dark, foreboding, or scary the author approaches the story through a humorous lens. This humorous style was very similar to that of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I noticed some other delightful similarities between the two – very different – novels. Both are humorous and fun. They are both quick reads. Some of the dialogue will catch you off guard with its wittiness. Both feature the main hero and his unique sidekick. For Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the main characters are Arthur and the android Marvin. In Pip and Kitten and the End of the World, the only characters are Pip and his protective cat Kitten. The POV is written from a third-person point of view from that of a narrator. This ultimately makes these two books much funnier. The most obvious similarity between the two sci-fi novels is that the plot centers around the destruction of Earth and/or its inhabitants.

What makes Pip and Kitten and the End of the World unique is that the sole survivor of this global apocalypse is an 8-year-old boy (who has very little understanding of electricity or other everyday necessities/luxuries). Pip has never been to the grocery store himself – let alone built a fire or used a weapon. The stakes are huge for Pip even if he doesn’t realize them at first. If he gets hurt, there’s no one to drive him to the doctor. There is no doctor! Pip has to teach himself everything needed to survive. He even needs to learn what he needs to survive, which makes this such a great book. I would probably not be as helpless as Pip in this situation, but if the internet wasn’t available I’m not sure I’d be able to figure out electricity either. Pip is very relatable in that aspect. He is also caring and conscientious. He is the perfect underdog to rally around. Each time disaster strikes, I was anxious about Pip and whether he was going to make it!

The pacing was excellent in this book. The balance between action and moments of reflection and learning was great. I really appreciated the elevated language and think this characteristic makes the book appealing to all ages. For young readers, they can grow their vocabulary with the seamless use of more challenging vocabulary words. For older readers, the writing style was absorbing and paired with the humorous tone and third-person writing style, a fast and fun read.

This novel was published by David Congreave on 09/15/2021 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 5.00

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Book Review: The Triskaidek (Camp Fae Book 1) by Basil Sprig

The Triskaidek (Camp Fae Book 1) by Basil Sprig

A Coming of Age YA Fantasy Novel published by CreateSpace (06/13/10)

Summary:

“Fairy magic makes things work in predictable ways, but you can’t always find the line between what is magic and what is just nature.”

On the thirteenth day of the thirteenth month of her thirteenth year, Alley is swept up in the magic of her Thirteenth. Then a magical creature shows up on her doorstep. Then her mom finds her a camp to go to for the summer: Camp Fae. Coincidence or are they related to her Thirteenth?

Keywords:

Magic, Sunbird, Elements, Learning, Fairy, Fae, Summer Camp, Leader, Escape, Evil, Power, Time Travel, Mission, Friends, Friendship, Betrayal, Helping, Together, Crafts

My Review:

Triskaidek is a cute yet full-bodied story with complex characters, a rich magical world, and an overarching plot.

I loved how well-developed all the magic details were in this story. I liked the specificity for learning different types of magic, even though Alley didn’t always follow the recipes. I loved how there are two approaches to magic – through hard work and dedication to the recipes and history and knowledge and then the intuitive type. Some fairies are naturally talented (intuitive) for certain magic, like invisibility, and others have to work and work for years and years on a type of magic in order to learn it (flying). The magic is also quite organic and the fairies are left to learn on their own time in their own way to earn ‘badges.’ To earn a badge is to show proficiency in a specific type of magic (like Flying 1).

I enjoyed all the characters, especially Alley. She is clever but magically ‘clumsy’ since she is new to doing magic. She doesn’t always realize or know the consequences of using her magic prior to intuitively using her magic! This results in problems for Alley and the entire camp. Not only that, but Alley must earn badges even though following a recipe for doing magic doesn’t come naturally to her and she must figure out how to do the mission the Sunbird gave her before going to Camp Fae. I would have liked to see more of Alley’s flaws, but I really liked her point of view.

Anyone who read and loved the Harry Potter series, will definitely enjoy The Triskaidek.

This novel was published by CreateSpace  on 06/13/2010 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.75

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Book Review: The Pirate’s Booty (Inventor-in-Training #1) by D.M. Darroch

The Pirate’s Booty (Inventor-in-Training #1) by D.M. Darroch

A Middle Grade Action-Adventure-Time Travel Novel published by Sleepy Cat Press (04/19/15)

Summary:

“Angus Clark was an inventor in training. He had a business card to prove it.”

Angus Clark thinks of himself as an inventor-in-training. His newest creation is the Insect Incinerator. His first tests have zapped some cones out of existence. Excited for the implications of his invention, Angus races back to the garage (his lab), but drops his invention and accidentally zaps himself out of his own dimension. Now Angus has to figure out a way to fix the Incinerator and get back to his own house, but he’s out on the water aboard the pirate vessel The Fearsome Flea and everyone seems to think his name is BP. What happened and how did he get there? Also, why is Ivy (a goody goody from school) in this dimension with him? Angus will have to use his inventiveness, along with the help of new friends to solve the multi-dimension problem.

Keywords:

Time Travel, Alternate Dimension, Science, Technology, Invention, Messy, Pirate, Parrot, Problem Solving, Teamwork, Humor, Misadventure, Building, Boat, Motor, Ship

My Review:

This was one of the most exciting middle grade novels I have read in a while. Angus has created quite a problem for himself and must figure out a way to fix it, but along the way meets some interesting characters with their own problems. I really enjoyed how all their problems tied together so that the solution will help to solve all the problems.

I admired Angus and his ability to solve problems. He wasn’t able to fix everything the first time and he wasn’t able to fix everything by himself. This book dealt with problem solving and coming up with creative solutions, sometimes together. I adored the way Angus and the Captain played with toys to figure out the mechanics of a motor. They went about it very logically, tallying the results across several dimensions and using that research to make something else that was the best it could be. Angus isn’t an inventor-in-training, he is without a doubt, a real inventor. The whole time he is positive despite the potential direness of the situation.

I very much enjoyed the parallel story of BP, who Angus bumped out of the pirate ship and transported into his place among the suburbs. BP, a pirate, has to learn a few lessons of his own before Angus has figured out how to put everyone back in their rightful places. Except, in the end, not everyone is in their rightful place and the story must go on! I look forward to reading more adventures with Angus and Ivy.

This novel was published by Sleepy Cat Press on 04/19/2015 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 5.0

Links for more information:

D.M. Darroch’s Website

Goodreads

Book Review: Sammy and the Devil Dog by Susan Brown

Sammy and the Devil Dog by Susan Brown

A Middle Grade Novel published through Yellow Farmhouse Publications (9/21/17)

Summary:

Sammy can’t seem to get to school on time or stay away from trouble. She can’t let bullies go unanswered. When she finds an abused dog, without hesitation, she decides to save him. The dog is still a puppy, but has a lot to learn to be a nice and good dog. Sammy will go to great lengths to save him.

Keywords:

Dog, Puppy, Dog Training, Aggressive Dog, Animal Abuse, Bullying, Standing Up, Speaking Out, Family, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Friends, Friendship, School

My Review:

Sammy’s faults are her strengths. She doesn’t always fit into society the way she’s supposed to. She would rather save a helpless animal than be on time to school. She is misunderstood by those around her and yet she still sticks up for what she believes in. She is a person and a character that everyone will root for. Her moral code is so strong that she doesn’t think twice about helping someone else, but sometimes those actions can be quite selfish. She can’t help everyone and sometimes in the process of helping one person or animal, she is hurting someone else.

This book showed so many realistic characters and situations. I was right there with Sammy as she found Jack. I was still right there with her when she thought about her mother and what she wasn’t getting from her mother. I felt like I understood Sammy’s perspective so completely, and yet she is still a child with a lot of learning to do. As an adult reading this story I can also understood the mother’s point of view and sympathize with both mother and daughter.

This is a great read for kids and adults, especially if they’re reading it together. The characters showed a lot of growth.

This novel was published through Yellow Farmhouse Publications on 9/21/2017 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.75

Links for more information:

Susan Brown’s Website 

Book Review: Shy Ways by Susan Griner

Shy Ways by Susan Griner

A Middle Grade Novel published through Amazon Digital Services Inc. (08/28/17)

Summary:

“I wanted a day off from being part Japanese, part anything.” (Page 145).

Sarah doesn’t like her new home or her new school. The other kids call her mean names because she’s half-Japanese. She wishes she would stand up for herself and speak up, but every time she doesn’t say a word and sometimes cries instead. When the plant where her father and most of the town works has an accident with a chemical leak, it will affect Sarah’s entire family and the whole town. Sarah will forget all about the mean, ignorant comments at school when her mother falls into a deep depression. Taking charge, Sarah will have to find her voice and help her mother.

Keywords:

Sisters, School, Mean Comments, Bullying, Japanese-American, Bi-Racial, New School, New Town, Small Town, PTSD, Racism, Chemical Pollution, Depression, Mothers, Family, Growing Up

My Review:

The story really picks up after the incident at the plant, but we see such a change in Sarah’s home life from before the accident to after. Sarah herself goes through quite a transformation from the beginning of the book to the end. She grows up a lot for a young girl and learns quite a few lessons – like standing up and saying something when someone says something ignorant and mean. She also learns to embrace her mother and her ethnicity, even though it isn’t a part of her life at all except for her heritage.

Both Sarah and her sister were so true to their ages that I could picture them clearly as the kids they were. The young one blurts out whatever’s on her mind and the older one tries to do what she thinks she’s supposed to or follow social norms.

This is a great example of a book of diversity – drawing on issues that kids face when they grow up as second generation Americans.

This novel was published through Amazon Digital Services Inc. on 08/28/2017 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.50

Links for more information:

Susan Griner’s Website

Goodreads

Twitter

Book Review: Purple Text Talk by C.Y. Robertson

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Purple Text Talk by C.Y. Robertson

A Middle Grade Novel published by Chizzy Press (2/12/16)

Summary:

Aria doesn’t want to make her family worry any more than they have to. She remains quiet and unobtrusive in the middle of her many siblings as they move mid-year. Leaving her best friend Lily behind shouldn’t be so bad because she can make new friends in her new school, right? Fitting in is hard and maybe not even worth it if Aria has to do and say things she’s not proud of, will she stick with it or stay true to herself?

Keywords:

Texting, New School, New Friends, Travel, Popularity, Best Friends, Talking, Phone Calls, New Town, New House, Bullies, Mean Girls

My Review:

This book felt scattered, just like a preteen. Not only was there text talk, there was text grammar and text style. It was difficult to read because details and transitions were not there, but you get the tone of the novel, the mood of the main character Aria and the big picture for the plot. I prefer books with more to them, but for pre-teenagers who text talk and text read and text love, they will totally get this.

The plot was more scattered than I would have liked, since it was more based on showing a slice of life than on a particular main character goal. I enjoyed the story with Luke even though it felt like a subplot that took over the story in the end. Luke and Aria were very fascinating characters, not the norm for pre-teens.

I wish I had more details on how old the characters were. Aria had too many siblings to keep straight!

This novel was published by Chizzy Press on February 12th, 2016 and is available on Amazon here.

TL;DR Star Rating: 3.25

Links for more information:

Goodreads

Book Review: Sara Supernatural-Half a World Away by Tiffany Belcher

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Sara Supernatural-Half a World Away by Tiffany Belcher

A Middle Grade/YA Fantasy Novel published by Tate Publishing (01/19/16)

 

Summary:

Sara is back! She has lots of plans for a summer full of fun with Chris, her magical partner from book one, but alas his family is moving him across the world. An intriguing set of twins Sara’s age moves into Chris’s house and they want to be friends with Sara, but there’s something altogether not right about these two girls. Chris told Sara not to use her magic while he’s away, but she can’t just sit on her butt and do nothing when the twins and Jessica gossip behind her back about her. She must get to the bottom of what is really going on.

 

Keywords:

Magic, wishing, powers, female main character, lessons learned, school, immaturity, selfishness, greed, fitting in, twins, mysterious neighbors, evil plot, friendship, invisibility

 

My Review:

The best part of this story was the mystery with the twins that was continued throughout the book. I wanted to understand what was going on and I was super ready for the big reveal at the end! The twins were dynamic and kept changing their tactics. They were odd, yet almost fit in most of the time. They were socially awkward until they did something exactly like a teenager would, like gossiping and spreading rumors about Sara’s friends.

I loved how Sara was uncertain about the twins. She didn’t just believe their intentions and words, but she didn’t completely disregard them as friends. She kept them at arms’ length the entire time, taking what they said with a grain of salt, just like the clever teen she showed us she was in book one. But Sara isn’t perfect and her fault lies in trying to solve all her problems herself, getting deeper and deeper into trouble.

Sara’s two friends were also well written. The story had less of Chris than book one, but I didn’t mind because I was caught up in the mysterious twins and Sara’s rapidly growing problems.

I was surprised at the amount of dropped and missing words in this book. More than a handful of articles were missing from sentences, but the writing was still very readable, despite these typos.

This novel was published by Tate Publishing on January 19th, 2016 and is available on Amazon here.

 

TL;DR Star Rating: 4.25

 

Links for more information:

Tiffany Belcher’s Website