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ARC Review: The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

Publication Date: February 28, 2023


Shannon Chakraborty, the bestselling author of The City of Brass, spins a new trilogy of magic and mayhem on the high seas in this tale of pirates and sorcerers, forbidden artifacts and ancient mysteries, in one woman’s determined quest to seize a final chance at glory—and write her own legend.

Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.

But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.

Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power…and the price might be your very soul.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was SO good. I LOVED Amina Al-Sirafi, badass pirate and adventurer and also a 40-something-year-old mom. She wanted to stay home with her daughter and keep her safe, but she also craved adventure, and she spent a lot of the book trying to reconcile the two desires.

The characters were wonderful. Amina, of course, but also her chaos demon ex and her group of friends and former shipmates (deadly and interesting in their own rights) and the mysterious Jamal who is chronicling the story.

The adventure was rollicking and fantastical and of course every solution led Amina and her friends further from their safe lives and deeper into trouble.

I LOVED seeing through the eyes of a middle-aged Muslim mother — who is also a pirate. It made everything new and fresh and enhanced the story so much. Because those aren’t just descriptors – Amina’s age and daughter and faith came into play in every decision she made. It’s part of what made her feel so fleshed-out and real as a character.

The story is thick with magic and eventually you don’t question it – you just go with it. I loved seeing all the magical creatures and beings and learning about them. One of my favorite things about reading diverse books is the exposure to legends and myths and magical creatures I am not familiar with.

I listened to the audiobook and it made everything even more magical and immersive. The narrators used different voices for each character and really made them come alive. I especially liked having one narrator for the story and one for the historical / chronicler sections.

I also really enjoyed how the narrator leaned away from the mic and muffled her voice when Amina was ‘arguing’ with Jamal about how the story should be told.

This is one I will definitely reread and I can’t wait for a sequel!

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

ARC Review: You & Your Amazing Brain by Clive Gifford

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


A fascinating book full of insights into how the brain controls your actions, reactions and emotions in ways you’ve never imagined. 

Get to know the grey matter that’s living in your head in this brilliant book, full of astounding facts and detailed illustrations , taking you on a complete tour of our own brains as well as brains throughout nature.

You & Your Strange Brain includes an unusual mix of surprising science, history, natural world examples , cultural amusement and astonishing stories all focused on brains , intelligence and learning in humans and other animals.

Discover why you can’t tickle yourself , why adults like foods they hated as children and how some sneaky creatures have the ability to take over the brains of other species.

Learn about the mechanics of the mind , the parts of the brain, memory, language, creativity and the role of sleep. Other topics covered include how the brain allows you to think , guess and make assumptions as well as how it copes with  problem-solving, fear, stress, phobias and even optical illusions.

This truly detailed book is the complete guide into the workings of the brain , perhaps the most intricate and powerful organ in the whole natural world!

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (9) and I really enjoyed this book of facts and information about the brain. He says he would give most of it 5 stars except the drilling holes in people’s heads part was gross and scary so he would give it a 4 overall. XD

There is a lot of information about what people have historically thought of the brain, contrasted with what we know now. There are diagrams of the brain showing each part and what they do. There are explanations of how the brain gets information and how it uses that information to make decisions and then how it affects the rest of the body in order to make those decisions happen. There is a lot of information about hormones and where they originate and what they do. Kiddo and I learned a lot. I have never encountered a better explanation of all the things the brain does, and I took high school- and college-level biology classes.

There were also a lot of ‘try this’ optical illusions and logic puzzles to solve and since we were reading it as a bedtime story those sections didn’t work as well. We have gone back the next day to try some of them, however, and will try more. I just think they would have worked better (for us) sectioned off into a “try this” section instead of scattered throughout the chapters. (Even though I understand the logic of placing them in the section where the theory is talked about.)

My kiddo is 9 and loved it but he also loves science in general, so I would put the target age a bit older for most kids — except for those who love science 8 or 9 is fine. I think having an adult reading along in that case helps to ease understanding because of the reading level of the text.

This would be a great addition to an upper elementary or middle school science classroom. The brain isn’t covered too often in such classes and it’s fascinating and useful to know about.

Kiddo has now asked to read it a second time less than a week later which says something about how interesting he finds it.

On our third (and fourth) read-through, I skipped a lot of the ‘try this’ puzzles because we’d already read them, and I actually found that I came away with a better impression of the book and the information it contained. I think the puzzles broke up the information just enough that it felt like less than is actually there. I have revised my previous thoughts because I don’t think I gave this enough credit before.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Quarto, and Words & Pictures for providing an early copy for review.

Audio ARC Review: Darkhearts by James L. Sutter

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


Perfect for fans of Red, White, & Royal Blue and Perks of Being a Wallflower, Darkhearts is a hilarious, heartfelt novel about fame, romance, and what happens when the two collide.

When David quit his band, he missed his shot at fame. For the past two years, he’s been trapped in an ordinary Seattle high school life, working summers for his dad’s construction business while his former best friends Chance and Eli became the hottest teen pop act in America.

Then Eli dies. Suddenly David and Chance are thrown back into contact, forcing David to rediscover all the little things that once made the two of them so close, even as he continues to despise the singer’s posturing and attention-hogging. As old wounds break open, an unexpected kiss leads the boys to trade frenemy status for a confusing, tentative romance—one Chance is desperate to keep out of the spotlight. Though hurt by Chance’s refusal to acknowledge him publicly, David decides their new relationship presents a perfect opportunity for him to rejoin the band and claim the celebrity he’s been denied. But Chance is all too familiar with people trying to use him.

As the mixture of business and pleasure becomes a powder keg, David will have to choose: Is this his second chance at glory? Or his second chance at Chance?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Darkhearts is a beautiful book about love and second chances and learning to forgive others (and yourself) for missed chances. It’s about figuring out who you are and what you really want, and letting the rest go. It’s messy and painful and beautiful and full of second-hand embarassment and sheer joy. I loved it.

Watching David and Chance figure out what they can do, what they can’t do, what they should do, and what they want to do was a lot of fun. It was very much an end-of-highschool coming-of-age story, with the added complications of fame and missed chances at fame. I loved being along for the ride.

The audiobook is performed beautifully and the narrator really brings the characters to life. I’m glad I listened to it because I think it adds to the story and makes it easier to get swept up in it.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and Macmillan Audio for providing an early copy and early audio copy for review.

Blog Tour & Arc Review: The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

Welcome to the Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)


A high society amateur detective at the heart of Regency London uses her wits and invisibility as an ‘old maid’ to protect other women in a new and fiercely feminist historical mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman.

Lady Augusta Colebrook, “Gus,” is determinedly unmarried, bored by society life, and tired of being dismissed at the age of forty-two. She and her twin sister, Julia, who is grieving her dead betrothed, need a distraction. One soon presents to rescue their friend’s goddaughter, Caroline, from her violent husband.
The sisters set out to Caroline’s country estate with a plan, but their carriage is accosted by a highwayman. In the scuffle, Gus accidentally shoots and injures the ruffian, only to discover he is Lord Evan Belford, an acquaintance from their past who was charged with murder and exiled to Australia twenty years ago. What follows is a high adventure full of danger, clever improvisation, heart-racing near misses, and a little help from a revived and rather charming Lord Evan.

Back in London, Gus can’t stop thinking about her unlikely (not to mention handsome) comrade-in-arms. She is convinced Lord Evan was falsely accused of murder, and she is going to prove it. She persuades Julia to join her in a quest to help Lord Evan, and others in need—society be damned! And so begins the beguiling secret life and adventures of the Colebrook twins.

Author Bio:

Alison Goodman is the New York Times bestselling author of Eon and Eona and The Dark Days Club series. Learn more online at

Author photo credit: Tania Jovanovic

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was utterly delightful. I love a good regency adventure, especially with a feminist bent and a woman who defies societal norms to solve crimes and right wrongs. What I did not realize I was missing, however, was for said society-norm-defying-women to be a pair of 42-year-old spinster sisters. It was delicious.

I was immediately struck, upon starting, with how familiar the storytelling felt and how appropriate it seemed for someone setting out to solve mysteries. It reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes stories with the first-person narration of Dr. Watson. In this case we have the first-person narration of Lady Augusta Colebrook, using a similar dry and slightly amused tone. It also reminds me of the narration of the Enola Holmes novels (which are likely based on those about Sherlock).

I like that the mysteries Lady Augusta elects to solve and the crimes she seeks to address all involve women being wronged, from the initial retrieval of a packet of incriminating letters to the final adventure of rescuing the inhabitants of a brutal madhouse. Each is a step farther along the path and take her a step away from the ‘neither seen nor heard’ proper lady her brother wishes to force her to be.

Her relationship with her sister was wonderful (despite the less-than-likely entire conversations held entirely in gestures — alongside the multi-sentence exchanges those gestures are purported to represent). Lady Julia is suffering from breast cancer (a disease which killed their mother and aunt) and is much more concerned with propriety than her sister, but she gamely shows up for Gus again and again, lending her skills to their rescue attempts and occasionally threatening the villains at gunpoint. The love and trust between the sisters really shines.

The disgraced Lord Evan – escaped convict, horse thief, and charming rogue – makes a wonderful partner in crime for Gus and it quickly becomes clear that he is her perfect match. I loved seeing them work together from the beginning and how their schemes grew more complicated each time but often relied on standing together and winging it moment to moment.

The villains in this are truly villainous and the misogyny and brutality against women of all ages and statuses are hard to stomach. From brothel to madhouse, the many, many ways that men have invented to be cruel to women are on display. It is hard to read in places and each encounter stokes Gus’ (and the reader’s) righteous fury.

Things worked out just a little too easily in some of the later more complicated schemes, but never enough that it took me out of the story.

I’m glad that Julia gets a love interest by the end and doesn’t have to sink back into mourning for her deceased fiance forever, and greatly enjoyed how that happened and how Julia seems much more in control of the situation.

I can’t wait for more of Gus and Julia and Lord Evan and Kent. It’s clear by the end of this that their story is only beginning which makes me very happy what with how much I enjoyed this one.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“Is he truly senseless? Can we be sure?” It occurred to me that I had been checking people’s vitals far too often in the past few hours.

The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

“So, finis,” I said as the front door closed.

“Not at all,” Julia said. “He will be back.”

“What makes you think that?”

She smiled. “Because he did not need to come this time.”

The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman

Non-Exclusive Excerpt:

“We should have worn half boots,” I said. “I can feel every pebble through my slippers.”

“One cannot wear half boots with full dress,” Julia said firmly. “Even in circumstances of duress.”

I stifled a smile. My sister’s sense of style and occasion was always impeccable, and rather too easy to poke.

Julia glanced sideways at me. “Oh, very funny. Next you’ll be suggesting we wear unmentionables.”

“If only we could,” I said. “Breeches would be far more convenient than silk gowns.”

“How would you know?” Julia demanded. “Heavens, Gus, you haven’t actually donned Father’s clothing, have you?”

She knew I had kept some of our father’s clothes after his death; he and I had been much the same height and wiry build. By all rights, the clothes belonged to our brother on his succession to the title-as all our father’s property did-but I had taken them, anyway. A connection to him and a memento mori of sorts.

“Of course not. I am only surmising.”

Julia settled back against my arm. “To even try them would be ghoulish.” She nudged me gently and angled her sweet smile up at me. “Even so, you would look rather dashing in, say, a hussars uniform. You have the commanding height for it, and the gold trim would match your hair.”

I snorted. Julia was, as ever, being too loyal. My brown hair did not even approach gold-in fact, it now had streaks of silver-and my five foot nine inches had so far in my life proved to be more awkward than commanding. She, on the other hand, had been blessed with the Colebrook chestnut hair, as yet untouched by age, and stood at a more dainty five foot two inches.

When we were children I had once cried because we were not identical. Our father had taken me aside and told me that he found such duplications unsettling and he was well satisfied with his two mismatched girls. He had been a good father and a better man. Yet in the eyes of society, his sordid death atop a rookery whore five years ago had become the sum of him.

It had nearly tainted my sister and me, too, for I had recklessly gone to the hovel to retrieve my father-I could not bear to think of his body gawped at by the masses, or as a source of their sport. As fate would have it, I was seen at the brothel. An unmarried woman of breeding should not even know about such places, let alone debase herself by entering one and speaking to the inhabitants. I became the latest on-dit and it was only the staunch support of our most influential friends that silenced the scandalmongers and returned us to the invitation lists.

A small group of middlings-the women with shawls clasped over dimity gowns and the men in belcher neckerchiefs and sober wools-clustered around a singer at the side of the path. The woman’s plaintive ballad turned Julia’s head as we passed.

“‘The Fairy Song,'” she said. “One of Robert’s favorites.”

I quickened our pace past the memory; fate seemed to be conspiring against me.

We attracted a few glances as we walked toward the gloomy entrance to the Dark Walk, mainly from women on the arms of their spouses, their thoughts in the tight pinch of their mouths.

“Maybe we should have brought Samuel and Albert,” Julia whispered. She had seen the matronly judgment too.

“Charlotte does not want our footmen knowing her business,” I said. “Besides, we are not quivering girls in our first season. We do not need to be chaperoned all the time.”

“Do you remember the code we girls made up to warn each other about the men in our circle?” Julia asked. “The code based on these gardens.”

“Vaguely.” I searched my memory. “Let me see: a Grand Walk was a pompous bore, a Supper Box was a fortune hunter . . .”

“And a Dark Walk was the reddest of red flags,” Julia said. “Totally untrustworthy, never be alone with him. It was based on all those awful attacks that happened in the Dark Walk at the time. Do you recall?”

I did-respectable young girls pulled off the path and assaulted in the worst way.

“That was more than twenty years ago, my dear. We are women of forty-two now, well able to look after ourselves.”

“That is not what Duffy would say.”

Indeed, our brother, the Earl of Duffield, would be horrified to know we had gone to Vauxhall Gardens on our own, let alone braved the lewd reputation of the Dark Walk.

“Duffy would have us forever hunched over embroidery or taking tea with every mama who saw her daughter as the new Lady Duffield.”

“True,” Julia said, “but you are so vehement only because you know this is beyond the pale. Not to mention dangerous.”

I did not meet her eye. My sister knew me too well.

“Well, we are here, anyway,” I said, indicating the Dark Walk to our right.

Huge gnarly oaks lined either side of the path, their overhanging branches almost meeting in the middle to make a shadowy tunnel of foliage. One lamp lit the entrance but I could see no other light farther along the path. Nor any other person.

“It lives up to its name,” Julia said.

We both considered its impenetrable depths.

“Should we do as Duffy would want and turn back?” I asked.

“I’d rather wear dimity to the opera,” Julia said and pulled me onward.

I knew my sister just as well as she knew me.

Excerpted from The Benevolent Society of Ill-Mannered Ladies by Alison Goodman Copyright © 2023 by Alison Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Blog Tour & Arc Review: That Summer Feeling by Bridget Morrissey

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

Welcome to the That Summer Feeling book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.


Turns out you’re never too old for a summer camp romance. Or a change of heart. When a divorced woman attends a sleepaway camp for adults only, she reconnects with a man from her past–only to catch feelings for his sister instead.

Garland Moore used to believe in magic, the power of optimism, and signs from the universe. Then her husband surprised her with divorce papers over Valentine’s Day dinner. Now Garland isn’t sure what to believe anymore, except that she’s clearly never meant to love again. When new friends invite her to spend a week at their reopened sleepaway camp, she and her sister decide it’s an opportunity to enjoy the kind of summer getaway they never had as kids. If Garland still believed in signs, this would sure seem like one. Summer camp is a chance to let go of her past and start fresh.

Nestled into the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Camp Carl Cove provides the exact escape Garland always dreamed of, until she runs into Mason–the man she had a premonition about after one brief meeting years ago. No matter how she tries to run, the universe appears determined to bring love back into Garland’s life. She even ends up rooming with Mason’s sister Stevie, a vibrant former park ranger who is as charming as she is competitive. The more time Garland spends with Stevie, the more the signs confuse her. The stars are aligning in a way Garland never could have predicted.

Amid camp tournaments and moonlit dances, Garland continues to be pulled toward the beautiful blonde outdoorswoman who makes her laugh and swoon. Summer camp doesn’t last forever, but if Garland can learn to trust her heart, the love she finds there just might.

Author Bio:

Bridget Morrissey lives in Los Angeles, California, but hails from Oak Forest, Illinois. When she’s not writing, she can be found coaching gymnastics or headlining concerts in her living room. Her website can be found here.

Her upcoming adult novel, THAT SUMMER FEELING, releases on May 30, 2023. Her last two adult romances, A THOUSAND MILES and LOVE SCENES, as well as her first two YA novels, WHAT YOU LEFT ME and WHEN THE LIGHT WENT OUT, are all available now.

She is represented by Taylor Haggerty of Root Literary.

Image credit: Goodreads

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this cute summer romance. The characters were fun and quirky and believable, and who doesn’t want to read about thirty-somethings falling in love at their first experience of summer camp?

Garland was a great main character and I really sympathized with her. She had banked on a happy-ever-after only to find out it wasn’t and end up living with her sister and driving for a ride-share program and not knowing what to do with her life. Her sister Dara was also great and I would read more about her for sure. They were both grappling with their childhood dreams of love not turning out like they’d expected and learning to embrace their choices.

I loved Stevie and her brothers. They were vibrant and boisterous and they obviously loved each other very much. They swept Garland up into the family dynamic she’d always needed and it was really sweet.

The love story was adorable and a great way to allow Garland to let go of her past expectations and embrace what she truly wanted. I was 100% there for it and I’m so happy with how it turned out. I also love the way the experience of finally getting to go to summer camp helped the sisters embrace their quirks and become more confident in themselves.

Reading this made me want to go to summer camp too. It all felt very real, and the next best thing to going myself.

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

Favorite Quotes:

She wore athletic apparel with conviction. It looked like a carefully considered ensemble on her, not something you tossed on to exercise.

“This is even better than I anticipated, and I anticipated a lot.”

She could do a great impression of me. It made me feel understood in a different way than I’d ever felt before. Most people picked up on my optimism. Stevie captured my vulnerability. The worries I hid behind the hope I projected.

She still smelled like a cherished memory. Like I’d known her all my life, but somehow I’d forgotten her until today.

My heart ached harder. As if little construction workers lived in there and they’d started building something new without a permit.

I enjoyed being liked, but I wanted a more accurate version of me to be seen, and I wasn’t the person I’d packed into this luggage.

She made me afraid to blink, because to miss even a single second was to miss something revelatory.

I would dance with her until the music stopped. Even then, if she wanted to keep going, I’d create music for us.

“You can be a different you tomorrow. You can also own the person you are today. You don’t have to hide away because you might one day change.”

ARC Review: Liar City by Allie Therin

Publication Date: February 28, 2023


A murder has Seattle on edge, and it falls to a pacifist empath—and a notorious empath hunter—to find the killer before it’s too late

It’s the middle of the night when part-time police consultant and full-time empath Reece gets an anonymous call warning him that his detective sister needs his help. At an out-of-the-way Seattle marina, he discovers that three people have been butchered—including the author of the country’s strictest anti-empathy bill, which is just days from being passed into law.

Soon, Reece’s caller a shadowy government agent known as The Dead Man, who is rumored to deal exclusively in cases involving empathy. He immediately takes over the investigation, locking out both local PD and the FBI, but, strangely, keeps Reece by his side. 

As the two track an ever-growing trail of violence and destruction across Seattle, Reece must navigate a scared and angry city, an irritating attraction to his mysterious agent companion, and a rising fear that perhaps empaths like him aren’t all flight and no fight after all…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I don’t usually read murder mysteries, but I really enjoyed this one. Allie Therin knows how to write great characters and a compelling, twisty plot of empaths and danger. I was kept guessing as the story progressed, and kept on the edge of my seat the whole time.

I love the hints of slow-burn future romance, sown in a relationship of slowly growing trust. Reece is prickly and difficult and full to the brim with sarcasm (that constantly gets him and his sister in trouble). Evan Grayson – the Dead Man – is mysterious and brooding and competently takes charge of any situation and intimidates everyone into doing what he says. They make a wonderful combination (and argue constantly).

Jamie is the best sister and detective and I’m so glad she has Liam to anchor her.

I will absolutely be picking up the next book as soon as it is available. Highly recommend.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“Pacifist and polite aren’t actually synonyms,” he said weakly.

Liar City by Allie Therin

“Do you practice being an enigma? Look at me, the mysterious Dead Man; I speak in riddles and have weird elevator manners, fear me empaths?”

Liar City by Allie Therin

ARC Review: Kids’ Books for June 2023

What if I’m Not a Cat? by Kari-Lynn Winters

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


A sweet, playful story about identity – and what it means to belong.

Why, of course Donkey’s a cat. He spends all his time with the other cats on the farm. He licks his fur and pounces, just like they do. He even cuddles with them at nap time. Though, he must admit, sometimes he does feel … a little off. So, when Farmer says to him, “Donkey, you’re acting like a cat!” it gets him thinking. What if he’s not a cat? And if not, then what is he? Will going off on his own help Donkey figure out what he is and where he belongs?

Award-winning author Kari-Lynn Winters’s delightful story of self-discovery uses kid-perfect hilarity to deliver the message that every individual has something unique to offer to their community. The contrast between Donkey and his cat friends makes for laugh-out-loud silliness in Kelly Collier’s endearing and amusing art (ever seen a Donkey perch on a fence post?). Pages are filled with spot illustrations, speech bubbles and action words that keep the visual appeal high. Sure to be a story-time crowd-pleaser, this picture book could easily spark discussions about identity, fitting in and belonging. It also works well for character education lessons on adaptability, inclusiveness, initiative and caring.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a sweet and very funny story about a donkey who thinks he’s a cat and what happens when he has a bit of an existential crisis. The commentary by the cats is hilarious, as are the illustrations. The expressions on the various animals’ faces are especially funny. Kiddo (8) and I laughed a lot as we read this.

I would definitely recommend it to kids age toddler to elementary school. It would be a great pick for a read-aloud storytime at a classroom or library.

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

The Van Buren Sisters vs. the Pants Police by J.F. Fox

Publication Date: May 2, 2023


A true story about two sisters, four wheels and hordes of angry fashion police!

Addie and Gussie Van Buren were raised by their father to be confident, competitive and not much concerned with stuffy opinions about what women can and can’t do. So, when World War I broke out in Europe, the sisters believed women should be able to join the fight. To prove that women would make excellent battlefield messengers, they decided to drive their motorbikes across the country, dressed sensibly in leather coats and pants. Only, this was 1916, and women didn’t ride motorbikes. And women certainly did not wear pants! Despite being stopped repeatedly for wearing “men’s” clothing, the Van Buren sisters showed that “woman can, if she will”!

Part of the Head-to-Head History series, this irreverently told, inspiring story by J. F. Fox showcases one of the many battles in the history of the women’s movement. This thrilling story continues to delight people today, including the descendants of the Van Buren sisters who commemorate their accomplishments by re-creating the iconic ride with dozens of other women bikers. This highly readable book adds historical context with notes at the back of the book, and a glossary and bibliography expand the content and help promote inquiry-based learning. Historical details are incorporated into Anna Kwan’s illustrations, which use comic-style speech bubbles and plenty of humor to keep the tone fun and lively.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a fun and funny book about the Van Buren sisters, who had their own ideas of what was ‘ladylike’ and refused to bend to society’s wishes.

The story is told in a breezy and amusing way, and the illustrations are very expressive and emphasize the amusing parts. At the same time, it emphasizes how ridiculous the old ideas are and how capable women are, no matter what people say.

Kiddo (8) enjoyed it immensely – especially the pants police part.

The information at the back elaborates on how women were supposed to behave and how the Van Buren sisters broke those rules. I had no idea pants weren’t widely accepted as women’s wear until the 1960s – that’s just bizarre.

This is a fun book for kids to read to supplement lessons about how women and men have not always been treated equally.

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

Why Are We Afraid? by Fran Pintadera

Publication Date: June 6, 2023


From the creators of the highly acclaimed Why Do We Cry? comes this poignant, evocative exploration of the many reasons we feel fear.

After a clap of thunder, the lights in Max’s house go out. Max’s father lights a candle, and Max asks, “Dad, have you ever been afraid?” His father says everyone is afraid sometimes. Then he slowly and carefully begins to describe the contours of fear. He explains how even small fears can seem to flood everything around us. He enumerates the many different things that can make us afraid: shadows, feeling lonely, losing what we love, not being able to control the future and fading away. And he reassures his young son that while our fears can stop us in our tracks, we must keep going.

Award-winning author Fran Pintadera’s poetic text together with Ana Sender’s stunning imagery make for an entrancing picture book about emotions. It makes clear that fear is a normal part of life and that when we can identify our fears, it’s easier to accept them and to move past them. A wonderful conversation starter, this book could be used to help young children understand and process their fears and, more generally, why we feel our feelings. It makes an excellent choice for lessons on social-emotional learning. Back matter includes informational content about the different types of fear, the purpose and usefulness of fear, and an activity to further explore some of the story’s key concepts.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kiddo (8) and I really enjoyed this. He was able to connect some of his own fears to the story and the discussion questions found at the end.

The story was very sweet – a young boy asks his father if he’s ever been afraid, and his father says yes, and then tells him about all the different types of fear.

The illustrations were my favorite part – they are gorgeous. The style is a little bit surreal, not bothering with proper proportions or accurate depictions, which gives the whole thing a dreamlike quality. They are painted – I think with goache – but kiddo remarked that they looked like a collage, which they do. The colors are the best part. They are rich and bold and darker than one usually gets in kids books, emphasizing the many different fears depicted.

I also really liked the discussion points at the end, which elaborates on why we feel fear and the different types of fear and their uses.

I think this book could be very helpful to kids with big fears so they can see that they aren’t alone and see how their fears can be categorized into one of the types that many people have.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kids Can Press for providing an early copy for review.

Let’s Build a Dam! by Daniel Fehr

Publication Date: May 23, 2023


Hilarity ensues when siblings set out to build a simple dam in this charming picture book for young children.

Siblings May, Lily, and Noah build a dam. Stone by stone, their dam grows higher and higher, until their creation attracts the attention of fishermen, pirates, and even the King and his fleet. The sky’s the limit, until Noah wants his stone back . . . 

Each page builds upon the previous scene as the children’s imaginations also grow. Children will delight in pointing out the changing details on each page as they laugh along to this picture book about the boundlessness of imagination and sibling friendship.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is super cute. It’s whimsical and fun and imaginative, and encourages the reader to use their imagination and play outside.

Have you ever spent a summer day building a dam with your siblings? I have. Yeah, it was across a tiny stream but it didn’t feel like that while we were building it. It felt so much bigger – like in this story. We created a pool to splash about in and hunt crawdads in. It was amazing.

No, pirates and fishermen and kings and villages did not magically appear, but that’s where imagination comes in.

The story is simple, yes, but it does a fantastic job evoking that “summer dam building” feeling. It doesn’t *need* a complicated plot or a moral lesson. Just some kids and rocks and a stream and their imagination, and a mom to wrap them in blankets and give them hot cocoa after.

The art is gorgeous and humorous and adds a lot to the story. The colors used and the techniques and textures used in creating the landscape give it a ‘summer day in the imagination’ feeling that fits perfectly with the text.

I look forward to sharing this with my kiddo (8). He’s a little old for it, maybe, but I think he’ll really enjoy it. I would definitely recommend it for younger kids. It’s a book to take time with and investigate the changing details of the images as the story progresses.

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

Audio ARC Review: Right Girl, Wrong Side by Ginny Baird

Publication Date: March 28, 2023


Busy flower shop manager Evita Machado can’t wait to get to Nantucket. With a bad breakup behind her, relaxing at the shore with her folks and her brothers and their families sounds like the sure cure for heartache, and their vacation destination looks like an amazing place! But when they arrive at the quaint rose-covered cottage, another group has already put down stakes: the Hatfields.

Ryan Hatfield was Evita’s former crush from high school, but their business rival moms refused to let them date. Now history professor Ryan is here for a week with his parents, who won them this oceanfront rental in a society silent auction. Once it’s clear there’s been a double-booking due to a bidding mistake, Ryan’s mom digs in her heels, meaning to stay. When Evita’s mom won’t back down either, both sides tepidly agree to share the luxury accommodations by dividing the cozy space.

With the boisterous Machados livening things up and the strait-laced Hatfields tamping them down, can Evita and Ryan keep the peace between the warring factions while fostering a growing chemistry between the two of them?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was slow to warm up to this one. The premise was cute and amusing, but I found the writing in the first 20% or so lackluster. Then the characters really started to shine and made up for it. In the end, I loved it.

I really enjoyed how the romance itself almost took a backseat to the family drama. It’s clear that the whole impetus for reconciling the Hatfields and Machados is to make it possible for Evita and Ryan to be together. They crushed on each other in highschool, drifted apart because of their families’ long-standing feud, and then instantly fell for one another when the two families showed up for the same beach-house getaway due to a charity auction mixup. Even so, there were very few scenes of them being romantic, and the story mainly focused on the two of them as mediators in the family drama and scheming together over how to get everyone together.

All of the characters were so amusing and endearing and just felt real. There was such a contrast between the uptight, secretly unhappy Hatfields and the gregarious and loving extended family of the Machados. This created endless opportunity for humor and conflict.

I listened to the audiobook and thought it was great. I did end up speeding it up quite a bit, but the Spanish accents felt natural and believable and the characters’ voices were all easily distinguishable and pleasant. The kids’ voices were incredibly unnatural sounding which I found jarring, but it did add some humor. The narrator really brought the story to life and I think I enjoyed it a lot more than I would have otherwise.

Ryan and Evita were so sweet together, falling easily into their familiar highschool lab partners bond and enjoying one another’s company from the beginning despite their families’ antics. They were incredibly believable as the sort of couple who lasts. They were easily the most mature members of their families, and both had to have serious talks with their parents about respecting their boundaries and choices as adults. They also both were very good with the children.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for providing an early copy of the audiobook for review.

Audio ARC Review: Hotel of Secrets by Diana Biller

Publication Date: March 28, 2023


During ball season, anything can happen, even love.

It’s ball season in Vienna, and Maria Wallner only wants one thing: to restore her family’s hotel, the Hotel Wallner, to its former glory. She’s not going to let anything get in her way – not her parents’ three-decade-long affair; not seemingly-random attacks by masked assassins; and especially not the broad-shouldered American foreign agent who’s saved her life two times already. No matter how luscious his mouth is.

Eli Whittaker also only wants one thing: to find out who is selling American secret codes across Europe, arrest them, and go home to his sensible life in Washington, DC. He has one lead – a letter the culprit sent from a Viennese hotel. But when he arrives in Vienna, he is immediately swept up into a chaotic whirlwind of balls, spies, waltzes, and beautiful hotelkeepers who seem to constantly find themselves in danger. He disapproves of all of it! But his disapproval is tested as he slowly falls deeper into the chaos – and as his attraction to said hotelkeeper grows.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a delightful glimpse into the lives of a truly eclectic and charming cast of characters. I found myself drawn into their chaotic and turbulent lives and came to care for all of them over the course of the story.

The plot was chaotic as well, with quite a few twists in the spy/assassin/secrets threads, although the romance did tend to overshadow those most of the time. I didn’t mind though – it was a charming romance and I loved getting to know Maria and Eli. Watching Maria learn to trust and love her friends was so much fun, and especially so was watching Eli blossom from a closed-off and straight-laced investigator into someone who cared deeply for Maria and her various chaotic friends.

The French spy (I forget his name) was perhaps my favorite side character, always popping up unexpectedly all charming and unassuming and saying ‘well, I am a spy’ whenever his presence is questioned. The way he and Mac dragged Eli out of his grumpy “I don’t have friends” shell made me grin so wide.

Every person in the story was unique and just oozed so much life and character. I felt so warm and cozy as I was reading – I just wanted to immerse myself in the story and characters and wrap their chaotic love around me like a warm blanket.

It was slow to grab me, so if you are a fan of eclectic and well-rounded characters you might want to give it a little extra time to hook you.

The audiobook was wonderfully narrated. I ended up speeding it up to 2x speed because I think the narrator speaks slower than many, but it made the story even more immersive and made the characters seem even more real.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media for providing an early audio copy for review.

ARC Review: The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Manor by Elaine Dimopoulos

Publication Date: May 16, 2023


This timeless early middle-grade adventure about friendship and community will charm animal-loving fans of The Tale of Despereaux and Clarice the Brave.

“With the confidence of a maestro, Elaine Dimopoulos breathes vigor and beauty into a tale of a brave and thoughtful young rabbit . . . A chorus of woodland cheer for such a remarkable rescue.”
—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Cress Watercress

Butternut lives in the burrows of Milkweed Meadow with her nine rabbit brothers and sisters. Together they practice strategies for survival and tell stories. With disastrous scenarios blooming in her mind, Butternut embraces the lesson of her families’ stories: stick to your own rabbit-kind. But after befriending an incorrigible robin and a wounded deer, Butternut begins to question what she has been taught.

When the three friends discover other animals in crisis, Butternut must decide whether she can help, rally her friends and family, and be as brave as the heroes in the stories she tells.

Beautiful and arresting black-and-white illustrations bring the animals to life in this heartwarming story about friendship, community, and doing what is right

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a charming story about a warmhearted but overly anxious rabbit from a colony of storytellers who learns what it means to be brave and the power of friendship. I read the first quarter to kiddo (8) who loves rabbits, but the suspense was too much for him and so I read the rest alone.

I really enjoyed how Butternut (the rabbit) would break the fourth wall mid-story to give mini lessons about storytelling. It was clever and cute. Butternut makes a very engaging heroine and her adventures are just the right amount of exciting – and contain a surprising number of tips on how to tell an effective story.

I also really enjoyed how the rabbits had a daily schedule of lessons on storytelling as well as on other important subjects like plant identification.

The characters were wonderful and the story was well-told and kept me interested. I never much liked Watership Down, but in some ways this reminded me of that but much gentler and meant for a younger audience.

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