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ARC Review: Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

Publication Date: March 28, 2023


This smoldering enemies-to-lovers novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu puts a superstar global phenomenon and a hotshot young spy on a collision course with danger – and Cupid’s arrow – in an electric new series perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon and Ally Carter.

Meet Winter Young – International pop sensation, with a voice like velvet and looks that could kill. His star power has smashed records, selling out stadiums from LA to London. His rabid fans would move heaven and earth for even a glimpse of him – just imagine what they’d do to become his latest fling.

Meet Sydney Cossette – Part of an elite covert ops group, Sydney joined their ranks as their youngest spy with plans to become the best agent they’ve ever had. An ice queen with moves as dangerous as her comebacks, Sydney picks up languages just as quickly as she breaks hearts. She’s fiery, no-nonsense, and has zero time for romance – especially with a shameless flirt more used to serving sass than taking orders.

When a major crime boss gifts his daughter a private concert with Winter for her birthday, Sydney and Winter’s lives suddenly collide. Tasked with infiltrating the crime organization’s inner circle, Sydney is assigned as Winter’s bodyguard with Winter tapped to join her on the mission of a lifetime as a new spy recruit. Sydney may be the only person alive impervious to Winter’s charms, but as their mission brings them closer, she’s forced to admit that there’s more to Winter Young than just a handsome face . . .

Romance and danger abound in this “brilliant, breathtaking ride that will leave you clamoring for the sequel.” —Tahereh Mafi, #1 internationally bestselling author of Shatter Me .

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like if your favorite BTS member (as if there is such a thing as a ‘favorite’ BTS member) were recruited to a secret spy organization? Now’s your chance to find out…

This was so much fun! It was fast-paced and full of excitement and danger and thrilling spy action. It was also full of popstar concert vibes. I found myself thinking ‘BTS’ over and over again and having to convince myself that, no, Winter Young is not modeled on BTS. And then lo and behold I find in the author’s note that Marie Lu is ARMY too and was thinking of BTS after all. Ha! I knew Winter’s extreme charisma and humbleness and ability to connect with people and pick up choreography and training immediately were familiar.

I loved Winter Young as a character. Yes, his resemblance to the various BTS members made me love him more, but he was charismatic and a sympathetic character in his own right and easy to root for.

Sydney was cold and hard and buried her vulnerabilities deep behind her walls, but Winter was able to bring them out and make her a more relatable and sympathetic character. They made a fabulous team and I can’t wait to see them team up again.

I did guess the big bad pretty early on, but it was fun seeing how it all played out. That sort of thing doesn’t bother me as I’m there for the overall experience of the story, but for people who want to be surprised by the twists it might be frustrating. Then again, Marie Lu did hide it pretty well.

I was glued to the pages the whole time I was reading and there was never a moment where I was bored or frustrated with the story. It all flowed really well and was so fast-paced I never got a chance to breathe and get drawn away from it. I’ll definitely be picking up the next one.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Bookishfirst, and Macmillan Children’s for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Winter reminded her too much of everything. Of her awful, short-lived second marriage. Of the second husband she loathed. But worst of all, of the fact that her beloved firstborn son was forever gone, and that only Winter, her afterthought, remained.

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

He could command the attention of ninety thousand people in an arena, could attract screaming throngs whenever he stepped out any door, could be on the covers of every magazine in the world. And yet he could never convince his mother to stay.

Stars and Smoke by Marie Lu

ARC Review: Kids’ Nonfiction Read in March 2023

Nomads: Life on the Move by Kinchoi Lam

Publication Date: May 2, 2023


A beguiling look at seven contemporary nomadic cultures around the world, offering a timely insight into alternative ways of life that connect us to our ancestral roots.

A fascinating and beautiful survey of seven nomadic societies spread across the continents. With delicately beautiful illustrations bringing the material to life, we learn about the Sama Bajau, fishing nomads from the Philippines who spend months at sea without ever touching land. We discover the Yanomami peoples of the Amazon rainforest whose connection to their environment informs every aspect of their lives. The Nenet nomads of Siberia follow their reindeer through blasting winds to the very edge of the Arctic Circle.

All these cultures face common pressures and problems. Governments want them to settle down and assimilate; local populations view them with suspicion; subsistence farming or herding is not viable in a cut-throat globalised world.

This book offers a timely window on a simpler way of life, and on human traditions and cultures that connect us to our distant ancestors. Elegantly and respectfully written and illustrated, this book is a captivating contribution to the growing literature on nomadic societies, and will appeal to both the education and the gift markets.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (8) and I loved this! It’s not information we’ve encountered anywhere else and it’s fascinating to see how differently people can live. His review: “It was really great!” We read it as a bedtime story over two nights and he was completely engrossed and kept asking me to read more. If he’d had his way we’d have read the whole thing in one night.

The writing is informative and engaging and the forward, introduction, and conclusion offer further insight into nomadic culture as a whole and the challenges faced. I definitely don’t recommend skipping them.

The information about each of the seven featured nomadic cultures is broken down into easily digestible chunks and beautifully illustrated – a good thing for sure since their ways of life are so very different than ours.

I like how the names of each item and concept are included from each culture, as well as an explanation. The one thing I missed having included is a pronunciation guide for each of the unfamiliar cultural terms. I was reading aloud to my kiddo and I always hate when I know I’m butchering the pronunciation of unfamiliar words from other cultures. At least he was reading along with me and could see the spelling of the terms.

This book offers a fascinating look into each of the seven cultures and ways of life, everything from the structure of their shelters to their food and clothing and religion. Kiddo was occasionally grossed out by the food, and also by the way the Nenets use every part of their reindeer to make everything they need. The fact that their reindeer hide clothing is stitched with reindeer sinew was one thing too many for him and he had to spend some time making faces and kicking his feet in the air before we could continue.

We learned a ton and gained a deeper appreciation for how differently people can live than us.

I definitely recommend this to elementary age students as a way to broaden their worldview and knowledge of other cultures. Nomadic peoples are not a topic I ever learned about in school, so I appreciated the chance to learn about them. I imagine they aren’t taught in a lot of schools and so many children (and adults) would benefit from this clear, concise, and intriguing book.

Kiddo asked for this one again a few weeks later instead of a new book and enjoyed it just as much the second time. He soaks up facts and information like a sponge, and who am I to deny him the books he enjoys.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Cicada Books for providing an early copy for review.

The Who, What, Why of Zoology: The Incredible Science of the Animal Kingdom by Jules Howard

Publication Date: April 4, 2023


What’s your favorite animal fact? Have you ever wondered who discovered it in the first place? Chances are, it was a zoologist!

Join the scientists uncovering the secrets of the animal kingdom in this funny, fact-packed introduction to zoology. The Who, What, Why of Zoology is an exciting first book on this fascinating field of science. From the deepest oceans to Himalayan valleys, zoologists explore far and wide to better understand the worlds of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and nearly anything else that can walk, fly, or swim!

Not only is this book filled with up-to-the-minute facts about your favorite animals, but it also goes behind the scenes and out in the field to show how real zoologists find out more about the creatures we know, and even discover new ones.

Each chapter dives into a different real-world environment to observe the animals that live there, then fills the scene with zoologists to explore how this exciting science actually works. Then, turn the page to learn about the modern mysteries to which scientists are still searching for answers. Every page is bursting with facts you’ve never heard before, as well as plenty of funny detail to keep you searching for hours.

With chapters including:
Tropical Reefs
Arctic Tundra
Deep Oceans
… and many more!

The Who, What, Why of Zoology  is the perfect introduction to an important STEM topic for readers aged 6-9, combining expertise from zoologist author Jules Howard with vibrant and humor-filled illustrations from Lucy Letherland. Bring science to life with this one-of-a-kind animal book!

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (8) loved this book about the many things zoologists do, the animals and environments they study. He’s into animals lately, and eternally into science books, so this one was a great fit for us. He listened intently and requested we read more whenever I stopped to breathe.

The layout of the book is very nice. It has a lot of illustrations with information bubbles scattered around the pages explaining what each scientist pictured is doing and studying. It also offers a lot of information about the biomes that each animal is found in — that’s how the book is divided, by biome rather than by chapter. The text is readable and broken into bite-sized chunks that are easy for elementary-school readers to digest.

We both learned a lot and were kept invested throughout. Definitely recommend for elementary school science classrooms and libraries, and any kids who are interested in science and/or animals.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – Wide Eyed Editions for providing an early copy for review.

Modern Art for Kids: Hands-On Art and Craft Activities Inspired by the Masters by Stephanie Poon

Publication Date: April 25, 2023


Take a fun and engaging illustrated journey through modern art history, from Impressionism to Minimalism, to meet key artists and make crafts inspired by their work.

Modern Art for Kids, the debut book in the Art Stars series, is a charmingly illustrated hands-on guide packed with fun facts, amazing stories about the lives of artists, and arty-crafty activities for interactive learning. Filled with bite-sized summaries, the aim of this book is to inspire curious kids with interesting art topics and expose them to the freedom of creativity and the power of imagination.   

Explore these and more incredible artists and art movements:
Claude Monet (Impressionism) – Make your own serene Paper Pond Lilies.
Vincent van Gogh (Post-Impressionism) – Use expressive swirls to make a Salty Night.
Sonia Delaunay (Orphism) – Experiment with bright colors and shapes by making Colorful Lollipops.
Frida Kahlo (Surrealism) – Channel the artist and her work by making an upcycled Flower Crown.
Andy Warhol (Pop Art) – Set up your own “Factory” and make a Recycled Tray Print.

So journey through the ages, let your imagination run wild, and become an art star!
The Art Stars series introduces kids to the story of art through fun illustrated biographies of influential artists paired with simple hands-on activities inspired by their work. For thousands of years, people have been making and enjoying art. From miniature paintings to monumental sculptures, art is a universal language to express beliefs and feelings. Over the course of history, art historians have tried to organize all the different styles and types of art into movements. You don’t need to know anything about art to enjoy it, but learning the fascinating stories of artists and art movements will help you enjoy it even more.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a very good and accessible introduction to the various movements of art within the modern art period. Each movement gets a brief overview and then an example artist or two, each of which also gets a brief overview. For example, Impressionism features Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.

Each artist is then followed by a project for kids to complete. Some make more sense than others, but most are interesting and look like fun. Some of the suggested projects are a bit strange, however. The project for surrealism under Rene Magritte is to have a grownup take a photo of you (the kid) in a suit jacket and bowler hat and biting an apple, and then to paste the photo onto a background of the sky. Which… obviously connects to Magritte’s famous painting, but I feel like there is a better project out there to teach about surrealism. Also how many kids have suit jackets and bowler hats?

The layout of the book is easy to follow and full of vibrant colors and interesting compositions. The text is readily understandable while conveying a lot of information.

Overall this has a lot of good information about modern art and projects that look like they will be fun for kids to complete. I would recommend it to elementary-school classrooms and families.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group – Quarry Books for providing an early copy for review.

Glaciers Are Alive by Debbie S. Miller

Publication Date: May 9, 2023


This environmental picture book introduces young science and nature lovers to the wonders of glaciers, the wildlife that call them home, and how important they are to the health of our planet.

A glacier may look forbidding and empty, but it supports abundant life. Follow a glacier as it flows from mountain to ocean, providing a home for ice worms, birds, bears, and more. Where the glacier meets the sea, it creates a rich environment for marine life such as seals, otters, and whales.

As glaciers melt at a rapid rate due to climate change, their disappearance impacts not only the wildlife that calls them home, but also all life on earth. Glaciers are alive, and they need our protection!

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (8) and I very much enjoyed this look into how glaciers form and the many species of animals they provide habitat and food for.

The text is simple and provides lots of information about various animal species and how they depend on glaciers. It ends with a warning about climate change without getting too doomsday about it. There is an author’s note at the back with more information, which kiddo also enjoyed.

The paintings are lovely and the animals very cute. Kiddo especially enjoyed the cute animals.

I would definitely recommend this for elementary school science education. It is accessible and informative all wrapped up in a lovely package.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Charlesbridge for providing an early copy for review

ARC Review: Maple and Rosemary by Alison James

Publication Date: February 28, 2023


A touching story about a sugar maple tree who finds a lifelong friend when a young girl comes to seek comfort in its branches.

For the longest time, Maple was on her own, ignored by the cedars and the pines. All she wanted was a friend she could talk to. Then one day, Rosemary climbs into her branches, sad and searching for a friend of her own. Together they form a bond as real as roots.

Through the seasons and across a lifetime, Maple and Rosemary tells a story of true friendship, one in which the experiences we share become a part of who we are.

Alison James’s spare, eloquent text is accompanied by luminous illustrations that capture the shifting seasons in all their glory, by Jennifer K. Mann, creator of the much-acclaimed picture book, The Camping Trip.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (9) and I loved this sweet story of the friendship between a girl and a tree. It reminds me of the Giving Tree only better – instead of a relationship where the boy takes and takes, Rosemary and Maple’s friendship has both of them giving, both of them receiving the love they need to grow strong and to move past the loneliness they both share at the beginning of the book.

The illustrations are whimsical and have a childlike charm. Kiddo said they looked a bit like crayon drawings and they do have that air about them. They also have a lot of character and show Rosemary’s expressions really well.

Kiddo listened rapt through the whole story (with only one interruption to ask anxiously if Rosemary would ever come back) and was very thoughtful after we finished. He is at the age where he is beginning to want friends and recognize loneliness, and the story seemed to resonate with him, as both Maple and Rosemary begin the story struggling with that.

I love that it ends on a positive note. We never read the Giving Tree much, as it does not depict a healthy relationship and isn’t really a happy story. Maple and Rosemary, in contrast, ends with Maple and Rosemary realizing they have become a part of one another and neither will ever be lonely again. It does a great job illustrating what true friendship is like and softens the bittersweet knowledge that Maple will outlive Rosemary, because Maple will always have memories of her.

It would be a perfect read-aloud book for storytime and I am going to recommend it to my library as it is just the sort the children’s librarian there likes to choose.

*Thanks to Alison James and Neal Porter Books for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Publication Date: August 23, 2022


A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family–and a new love–changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was utterly delightful. I’m not generally one to go in for witchy books, but this one was so incredibly good. Mika has had a frankly terrible life and has responded by being aggressively sunny and cheerful. Jamie has responded to his terrible childhood by becoming aggressively grumpy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a grumpy/sunshine book I didn’t like.

Add in a cast of charming and wacky and heartwarming characters, a trio of young witches and troublemakers, a plot that isn’t what it seems, and you have the makings of an excellent story.

I loved this story so much. When Mika responds to her guardian’s stricture that all witches must live alone and with the least connection to other witches possible by playing a witch on the internet, when she shows up to Nowhere House with a dog and a car full of, among other things, a greenhouse and floating koi pond, when she befriends the girls and finds her way in to even Jamie’s heart… every moment was wonderful.

If you’re a fan of TJ Klune’s House in the Cerulean Sea, you’ll want to get this one immediately as it gives the same heartwarming vibes.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Publication Date: January 10, 2023


A curmudgeonly professor journeys to a small town in the far north to study faerie folklore and discovers dark fae magic, friendship, and love, in this heartwarming and enchanting fantasy.

Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world’s first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party–or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, Shadow, and the Fair Folk to other people.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily’s research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones–the most elusive of all faeries–lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she’ll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all–her own heart.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was absolutely delightful! I loved every second. One of my top reads of the year thus far and I suspect it will remain in the top 10 at least.

Emily Wilde is a gruff, curmudgeonly professor AND a woman of 30. She doesn’t know what to do with people or how to act around them (in fact, I am suspicious that she is autistic, because she displays a lot of the characteristics) and is constantly accidentally causing offense. However, she is a genius with faeries of all kinds and her expertise and ability to find the story that underlies a situation is unrivalled.

The book is written as her field notes, and her stubborn, perpetually annoyed (particularly at her colleague Bambleby, who attracts people as easily as she repels them) voice is so strong that it makes for incredibly enjoyable reading.

I am so glad there is going to be another book because I could not get enough of Emily and Bambleby. Their love story was so exactly the type I adore, full of exasperation and grudgingly fond insults and a deep, hidden loyalty.

I also adored how Emily found the people of Hrafnsvik (and especially her colleague Bambleby) sneaking into her heart and becoming her friends quite against her will. It perplexed her greatly throughout the story, because she is so determined to care only for her research, and she doesn’t know what to do with the affection she feels and is shown.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I managed to drag my trunk up the dock and through the village—few were about, being most likely in their fields or fishing boats, but those few stared at me as only rural villagers at the edge of the known world can stare at a stranger.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

“Intellectual curiosity. I am an explorer, Wendell. I might call myself a scientist, but that is the heart of it. I wish to know the unknowable. To see what no mortal has seen, to—how does Lebel put it? To peel back the carpeting of the world and tumble into the stars.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

He smiled again. “You are not so terrible, Em. You merely need friends who are dragons like you.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

It is an intuition I have come to trust, for if you spend enough time studying the Folk, you become aware of how their behaviour follows the ancient warp and weft of stories, and to feel the way that pattern is unfolding before you. The third question is always the most important one.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

I snorted. “One doesn’t need magic if one knows enough stories.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

He sighed. “Well, I don’t expect you to do anything with this information. I have grown rather used to pining, so it won’t put me out to keep at it, I suppose.”

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

“You’ve done nothing but talk at me since I told you I loved you.”

“Is that a problem?” For he hadn’t said it as if it were.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

ARC Review: Kids’ Nonfiction for April 2023 – Our Changing World Edition

Evolution Under Pressure: How We Change Nature and How Nature Changes Us by Yolanda Ridge

Publication Date: April 25, 2023


Immersive non-fiction with STEM and social justice themes that proves that the future of the environment is in our hands–and helps pave the way forward.

Evolution isn’t just a thing of the past. It is happening right now, in every species across the world–and our influence on the future of the plants and animals around us is much bigger than we might think. A closer look at the science behind evolution shows how human behaviors like hunting, farming, and urban development have contributed to major physical changes in everything from rhinos to pigs to lizards. And these changes impact us in turn–triggering environmental shifts and contributing to climate change. The good news is there’s hope: by learning to see how everything is connected, we can weigh the consequences of our choices and help shape a world that works for plants, animals, and humans alike.

Making connections across anthropology, biology, and ecology, award-winning author Yolanda Ridge takes an intersectional approach to a challenging topic–examining the factors that influence human behavior while looking forward to explain the changes we can make and the ethics of those choices. Profiles of young activists and innovators highlight the ways readers can contribute to restoring ecological balance, while vibrant illustrations by Dane Thibeault evoke the energy and beauty of the natural world we are working to preserve.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an excellent introduction for kids age 8 and up to evolution and the way humans impact it and the planet. There is a lot of very good information here, and it is presented in a clear and easy-to-understand way. All of the information presented is vital to understanding our world and our place in it and very important for kids and teens to know. It provides specific examples of ways humans have altered the world and animals around us, predictions of what will happen if we continue to do so without thought for the consequences, and ideas for ways to mitigate the damage. It also provides just enough of the relevant science to give a deeper understanding of each point.

It runs the risk of being very depressing, but I think there is enough of a message of hope at the end to alleviate most of that. Definitely something to be aware of though, if your kid is sensitive (like mine). I will be reading it with him and helping to provide context, more information, and reassurance as we read.

Topics tackled include urbanization, poaching, the rise of agriculture and industry, climate change, genetic modification and gene editing, and, of course, evolution and natural selection.

This would be great as an introduction to the topics for elementary students (especially those who are interested in science) and a refresher for older students or to be taught alongside more in-depth material on the subject matter. It would also be great as an introduction for adults who are not well-versed in science.

I just finished reading this to kiddo (8) as a break from the series we’ve been binge-re-reading at bedtime and he was VERY into it. We read it over the course of three nights. He listened, engrossed, each night and then chattered about what he had learned from it to me and his dad the next day. He has always been very into nonfiction, especially science books, and he loves animals, but I suspect many kids his age and a bit older would really enjoy this.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Annick Press for providing an early copy for review.

Climate Warriors: Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet by Laura Gehl

Publication Date: April 4, 2023


Who do you think of when you imagine a climate scientist? Maybe a biologist? Or a chemist? But economists study the climate too!

Meet fourteen different scientists who are working to solve the climate crisis and the surprising ways they are doing it. Along with explanations of different areas of science and the many ways scientists are working to save the climate, readers will find tips for how they too can work for change. Climate Warriors informs young readers and gives them the tools they need to make a difference.

Author and neuroscientist Laura Gehl introduces readers to these incredible scientists, the projects they are working on, and what inspired them to choose their fields of study. From ecology to civil engineering, computer modeling to food science, we have lots of ways to combat climate change. Along with explanations of different areas of science and climate solutions, find out what you can do to make a difference.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo listened, engrossed, as we read this at bedtime. Whenever I paused to see if he was ready to put the book down and sleep he would say “Why are you hesitating? Read another one.” Which, to me, says he was definitely enjoying it.

It was great to read about what scientists from different disciplines are doing about climate change. There were many that you don’t usually hear about, like economists. The text was written at a level my third grader could understand with minimal explanations and he definitely found it interesting.

I also really liked the “what you can do” sections at the end of each chapter, with suggestions for what individuals and children can do to help with fighting climate change. The whole book felt very empowering. It was very much “yes, this is a major problem and an urgent one, but there is still a chance to change things”

Kiddo says “I liked everything about it.”

I would definitely recommend this to all upper-elementary school students. Maybe 3rd grade and up. And younger students who are interested in science and have the vocabulary and background to understand the text.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Millbrook Press for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly

Publication Date: March 7, 2023


From the author of Love & Other Disasters comes a sparkling grumpy-meets-sunshine romance featuring two men’s sweeping journey across the Western wilderness.

Alexei Lebedev’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail begins with a single snake. And it is angling for the hot stranger who seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Lex is prepared for rattlesnakes, blisters, and months of solitude. What he isn’t prepared for is Ben Caravalho. But somehow—on a 2,500-mile trail—Alexei keeps running into the outgoing and charismatic hiker with golden-brown eyes, again and again. It might be coincidence. Then again, maybe there’s a reason the trail keeps bringing them together . . .

Ben has made his fair share of bad decisions, and almost all of them involved beautiful men. And yet there’s something about the gorgeous and quietly nerdy Alexei that Ben can’t just walk away from. Surely a bad decision can’t be this cute and smart. And there are worse things than falling in love during the biggest adventure of your life. But when their plans for the future are turned upside down, Ben and Alexei begin to wonder if it’s possible to hold on to something this wild and wonderful.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a warm, cozy hug of a book. Alexei and Ben were such warm characters. Well, Alexei took a bit of warming up to people, but he was earnest and friendly. Ben befriended everyone he met and just exuded friendliness and warmth. They had such an easy, peaceful companionship that they fell into as they walked the Pacific Crest Trail. It was so nice to read.

The descriptions of the trail and the hiking were so beautiful and so appealing. It made me feel like I was there with them and made me want to attempt the hike myself. There’s no way I could actually do it, but imagining it feels nice.

The difficult parts were not so much conflict between the two (aside from a few misunderstandings) but rather things each was struggling with internally. For Ben it was the loss of a close relative to Alzheimers and his past abusive relationships. For Alexei it was being cut off by his parents after coming out as gay. These were things each had to wrestle with on their own, and I really like that they weren’t swept under the rug when they got together. They took the time and space they needed and came to terms with them, allowing them to build a stronger future together.

It was wonderful to see Alexei being welcomed into Ben’s family and friend group, and it was wonderful to see Alexei and Ben’s close relationships with their little sisters.

There is a section toward the end where it becomes an epistolary novel for a bit, the sort where most of the letters are unsent. Those are always heartbreaking, and this was no exception. I really, really, like the way it was written. Having the letters be unsent halves of conversations made them so much more impactful.

Most of all, this is a book emphasizing the wonders of queer companionship. As a queer person myself, who values that sort of companionship very highly indeed, this book hit all the right notes for me.

The audiobook performance was beautiful and the narrator imbued the characters with so much personality. I loved listening to it and definitely recommend it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Forever, and Hachette Audio for providing an early copy of the ebook and audiobook for review.

ARC Review: Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Publication Date: February 28, 2023


In a dazzling new fantasy world full of whispered secrets and political intrigue, the magic of women is outlawed but four girls with unusual powers have the ability to change it all.

The Nightbirds are Simta’s best kept secret. Teenage girls from the Great Houses with magic coursing through their veins, the Nightbirds have the unique ability to gift their magic to others with a kiss. Magic—especially the magic of women—is outlawed and the city’s religious sects would see them burned if discovered. But protected by the Great Houses, the Nightbirds are safe well-guarded treasures.

As this Season’s Nightbirds, Matilde, Aesa, and Sayer spend their nights bestowing their unique brands of magic to well-paying clients. Once their Season is through, they’re each meant to marry a Great House lord and become mothers to the next generation of Nightbirds before their powers fade away. But Matilde, Aesa, and Sayer have other plans. They know their lives as Nightbirds aren’t just temporary, but a complete lie and yearn for something more.

When they discover that there are other girls like them and that their magic is more than they were ever told, they see the carefully crafted Nightbird system for what it is: a way to keep them in their place, first as daughters and then as wives. Now they must make a choice—to stay in their gilded cage or to remake the city that put them there in the first place.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a lot twistier and heavier than I was expecting. It’s full of secrets and lies and betrayals and political machinations, and centers on four incredibly strong young women. I found myself just along for the ride as I was breathlessly hurtled through the twists and turns of the plot, never knowing who to trust or where danger might spring from next.

The magic is darker than I expected but also quite beautiful. There are moments of light throughout the novel but it is a heavy read and a very dense one. The writing is gorgeous and I highlighted several passages that I found beautifully written and very profound.

Sometimes you find a story that is a cracking good story but also gets at an underlying truth. This is one of those stories.

Also the sheer feminist rage I felt whilst reading this was something else. These four women are incredibly strong and resilient and so, so angry at being torn down and persecuted and caged by the men in their lives.

The book leaves off on not-quite-a-cliffhanger, but certainly nothing is settled. The four women are finding themselves and their inner strength but there is still a long way to go before they, and the other magical girls of Simta, can be safe.

I absolutely cannot wait for the next book.

*Thanks to Bookishfirst and Penguin Teen for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes

Matilde slips on her Goldfinch mask. It’s like a second skin: her truest face and best lie.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Sit tight, be quiet, stay secret: It’s all they seem to hear lately. Fold your wings and close your pretty eyes.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Fenlin tips back her mask, revealing a sharp jaw, a green eyepatch, and a devastating mouth. A kissable one, if you like a dash of lethal with your trysts.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

It isn’t posed as a question, but an answer, writing over any she might give. He sounds like Enis when he said they were meant for each other, like the man in Leta’s ballroom when he commanded her to dance. All different men, but their words served the same purpose. To tell her who she is, what she is for. To drown her voice.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

Her grandda always said she had a sheldar singing through her. Just listen for her tune and have the courage to answer. Perhaps courage is a thing you choose, like friendship. It’s choosing to have faith in the voice within.

Nightbirds by Kate J. Armstrong

ARC Review: Kids’ Nonfiction for April 2023 – Trees Edition

The Forest Keeper– The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Rina Singh

Publication Date: April 18, 2023


Trees don’t grow on sandbars . . . but a boy from India grew a forest.

What can one person do in the face of global environmental degradation? Indian Jadav Payeng has proven that each and every one of us can make a difference. As a boy, he began planting trees on a sandbank in the state of Assam. Nobody believed that he would succeed in doing so. But since 1979, a forest the size of Central Park has emerged, offering a home to countless animals and plants. It was not until 2007 that a photographer accidentally discovered the forest and made Payeng known to the world beyond India.

Rina Singh has sensitively retraced the story of young Jadav. In Ishita Jain’s picture book debut as illustrator, readers feel immersed in the spectacular habitat whose existence borders on a miracle come true.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo and I have read a few books about Jadav Payeng now but this is one of my favorites. The story is very well-written and flows beautifully even though there really aren’t that many words per page. The watercolor illustrations of the plants and animals and people are absolutely gorgeous and definitely elevate the book. The text and images work together to tell the story, as the best picture books should do.

The story of Jadav Payeng is inspiring and a great way to encourage kids to persevere and dream and not give up. And to care for the environment – and that it is possible to effect positive change in the environment.

Highly recommend to read to any kids who will sit and listen. Age 4-10?

*Thanks to NetGalley and NorthSouth Books for providing an early copy for review.

Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Publication Date: April 4, 2023


Trees are the tallest living things on Earth. But how do they grow to be so tall? Science writer Rebecca E. Hirsch presents a poetic introduction to the tree life cycle in Rise to the Sky. Accompanied by Mia Posada’s detailed collage illustrations, this book features the tallest tree species from around the world, including the coast redwood, the Sitka spruce, and the giant sequoia.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a very cute book about how tall trees grow. It is perfect for young kids. The text is simple but inspirational, and there is more information on the biology of trees and how one measures trees in the back. Not every kid will enjoy such additions (that’s why it’s in the back) but my kid loves that sort of thing.

The illustrations are what make this book really stand out. They’re detailed and realistic and it took me a few pages to realize that they’re not paintings but collage! Incredibly intricate and realistic collage. I’m very impressed. There is a lot of texture in the paper used for the collage and it really makes the illustrations unique.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Millbrook Press for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: Kids’ Nonfiction Read in February 2023: Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls: Animal Allies

Publication Date: April 4, 2023



Meet 25 brave, compassionate scientists, veterinarians, activists, and others who fight for animal rights and conservation. Animal Allies takes readers all around the world—to the tops of trees and the bottom of oceans, deep into the jungle and high into the mountains.

Swim with the sharks alongside Eugenie Clark, build bat houses with Amanda Lear, nurse a baby hippo to health with Christina Gorsuch, and protect endangered seahorses with Amanda Vincent and Heather Koldewey.

With a foreword by zoologist Lucy King and activities curated by conservationist Bindi Irwin, this book is sure to inspire animal lovers everywhere. Plus, scannable codes let you listen to longer stories on the Rebel Girls App!

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (8) and I really enjoyed this one! There are many inspiring stories about girls and women who are helping and caring for animals. There are also ideas about ways for you to help animals.

Kiddo is very very into cute animals at the moment (The number of stuffed animals he sleeps with just keeps growing) and though he protested reading anything over Christmas break, he was happy to curl up with me and listen to the stories once I cajoled him into listening to “just one.” In fact, every time I stopped for a minute to rest my voice he immediately flipped to the next page himself.

We enjoyed the beautiful illustrations that go with each one page story (there were many exclamations of “It’s so cute!” about the various animals pictured) and the quotes from each featured girl and woman.

The reading level is a bit higher than kiddo’s (3rd grade) just because of how dense the text is on the page. It makes a great read-aloud for kids age 6-9 however, and a slightly older kid could read it on their own. I found it was also helpful to read aloud because of some science words and names of animals kiddo was unfamiliar with that I could explain when he asked as we went along.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Rebel Girls for providing an early copy for review.

Dr. Wangari Maathai Plants a Forest

Publication Date: February 7, 2023


From the world of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls comes the historical novel based on the life of Dr. Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist from Kenya.

Wangari lives in a magical place in rural Kenya where the soil is rich for planting, the trees abundant, and the nearby pond full of mysterious creatures. She drinks from cool, clean streams and plays beneath her favorite fig tree under her mother’s watchful gaze.

Then Wangari grows up and goes away to school, and things start changing at home. Farmers chop down the trees. Landslides bury the stream. The pond dries up. The soil becomes overworked, dry, and unusable for planting. And people go hungry. Dr. Wangari Maathai has a simple solution to all of these problems: plant trees.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was an incredibly moving and inspiring account of the life of Dr. Wangari Maathai, from when she was a young girl all the way through her life and her fight for the environment and the ordinary people of Kenya. I had somehow never heard of her, and I learned so much while reading this.

Her thirst for knowledge and her love of the natural world were clear from the very beginning, so it is fitting that she studied so long and worked tirelessly to plant forests and protect nature.

I will be sharing this with my 3rd grader – it’s just the sort of story he likes and there are a lot of important lessons in here.

It’s very well-written, in such a way that it immediately draws you in and makes you want to know more. The illustrations are cute and colorful and add to the story.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Rebel Girls for providing an early copy for review.

Rebel Girls Rock: 25 Tales of Women in Music

Publication Date: March 7, 2023


TRUE STORIES OF WOMEN WHO RAISE THE ROOF! This collection features 25 stories of extraordinary women in music–women who have moved hearts and minds with their lyrics, uplifted other musicians, and gotten people to jump, dance, and sing along with their music. Belt out pop anthems with Lizzo, bang on the drums with Nandi Bushell, and write country hits with Dolly Parton. The women in this book come from all around the world. They play different instruments, experiment with new sounds, and stand out in their genres. But one thing is true of them all: They rock! With a foreword by iconic rocker Joan Jett and activities curated by Gibson Guitars, this book will have readers everywhere jamming out! Plus, scannable codes let you listen to more stories on the Rebel Girls app.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this installment of the Rebel Girls series. I recognized many of the artists featured, but not all, and I learned many new things about them. I came away feeling inspired by the energy and creativity and determination to be oneself that shone from the pages. This is a fabulous book for young girls who love music to inspire them to reach for their dreams and live their life unapologetically.

The illustrations are bright and colorful and fierce and full of the personality of each artist being featured. They add a lot of emotion and impact to the stories.

I would recommend this to all elementary, middle, and high school girls (and boys too, because it’s not just girls who need to see that girls can do anything they set their minds to), especially those who love music.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Rebel Girls for providing an early copy for review.