New Beginning Reader Book Reviews

the princess twins birthday

The Princess Twins and the Birthday Party

Written by Mona Hodgson

Illustrated by Julie Olson

Princesses Emma and Abby are the Princess twins and they are excited for their birthday party. They spend all day getting ready, picking out their dresses and crowns, and spending time with their parents, the King and Queen. The girls look beautiful, but the King reminds them, “You are even more beautiful inside”. The girls can hardly wait for their friends to arrive, but when one of their friends feels like she doesn’t belong, what will the twins do?

“The Princess Twins and the Birthday Party” written by Mona Hodgson and illustrated by Julie Olson is a new “I Can Read” title from Zonderkidz. The short sentences and simple story will boost beginning readers’ confidence and have them wanting to read more about the Princess twins. Parents will love the sweet message and kind-hearted characters. A great series for young readers.

Thank you BookLook Bloggers and Zonderkidz for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

sapphire trail

On the Sapphire’s Trail (Hotel Strange #2)

Written and Illustrated by Katherine and Florian Ferrier

The residents of Hotel Strange are preparing for a festival but Kiki wants no part in the festivities. In fact, Kiki wants to get away from it all. Unfortunately, a walk in the woods leads to an encounter with bandits! The bandits have been robbed and it’s up to Kiki and friends to find the missing Sapphire. What kind of bandit gets robbed? Where is the Sapphire? Will Kiki like the festival after all?

“On The Sapphire’s Trail” by Katherine and Florian Ferrier is the second book in the Hotel Strange series. This comic book style tale is bizarre and entertaining. Children will find the unique characters interesting and the plot fun, if slightly chaotic. The comic style will encourage children less interested in reading to try something new. This book can be read without having read the first book in the series, but there are many different characters and the first book may set up the series slightly better than this one.

I received an e-book copy from Net Galley and Lerner Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review.

Dreambender and Nora & Kettle

Two book reviews which also appeared in this week’s column in the newspaper. Dreambender is a middle grade dystopian novel and Nora & Kettle is a young adult historical fiction novel.

dreambender jpeg


Written by Ronald Kidd

Callie is a computer in the City. She works with numbers and she shouldn’t dare to dream of anything more, especially not singing…but she does.

Jeremy is a dreambender in the Meadow. He works in people’s dreams, changing them and, in turn, changing the dreamer. The dreambenders maintain order. They keep peace among the people and prevent dangerous dreams from taking hold. Dangerous dreams like singing.

Jeremy also asks a lot of questions. And soon he questions the very idea of dreambending. He has met the singer in her dreams and it doesn’t seem so dangerous to him. What would happen if no one patrolled the dreams? What would happen if Callie was allowed to sing?

“Dreambender” written by Ronald Kidd is a dystopian novel reminiscent of “The Giver”. The oppressive government (dreambenders) seek to control the City dwellers by manipulating dreams. While the concept is interesting and this world could be incredible, the story didn’t quite make it to that level.. Too much time is spent preaching about the morality of manipulating a person for the greater good, leaving the reader to feel as though they are being taught a lesson. Subtlety is not the strong point of this novel, and neither is character development or pacing. The characters feel flat and the story rushed. There are too many big ideas going on with none of them properly developed.

While some may enjoy this book, there are better dystopian novels available for middle-grade readers.

nora and kettle

Nora and Kettle

Written by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

Set in 1953, following World War II, Nora and Kettle live two vastly different lives that will intersect in a way they never imagined. Kettle, a Japanese American and an orphan, roams the streets following time spent in an internment camp. Nora, daughter of a high-profile civil rights lawyer, dreams of a life outside her brownstone walls. One poor, one rich, both struggling with the life they’re living, Kettle and Nora find themselves thrust together when each is at their breaking point. Nora wished to fly away. Will a boy named Kettle finally set her free?

“Nora & Kettle” written by Lauren Nicolle Taylor explores the hidden lives of two teenagers, drawing inspiration from the tale of Peter Pan. Kettle, a resourceful, hard-working street kid, is often assumed to be a thief, and Nora, a troubled, abused girl, is assumed to be a spoiled rich kid. Written quite lyrically at times, the prose is a bit too vague to begin with as the author strives for suspense and instead leaves the reader grasping for details. Once major plot points are revealed, the story comes into focus and Nora and Kettle develop as more than just characters in a book. An engaging read reminding the reader that people are not always what they seem. Best for ages 13 and up, due to repeated descriptions of domestic violence.

Thank you to Net Galley for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Reviews PublishedProfessional Reader

Sunday Special

Happy Sunday Morning!

Only one book review today, but it’s a new Berenstain Bears book and they are always popular with children. This book is part of a new collection offered by Zonderkids which features Christian themed Berenstain Bears stories.

berenstain bears mothers day

The Berenstain Bears: Mother’s Day Blessings

By Mike Berenstain

Mother’s Day is fast approaching in Bear Country and the cubs want to do something special for Mama Bear. With Papa Bear’s help, the cubs decide to take Mama Bear and Grizzly Gran out for brunch on Mother’s Day, but they want to keep it a surprise. On Mother’s Day, Mama Bear points out all the other Mothers and cubs celebrating Mother’s Day in their own special ways. Lucky for her, the cubs have a special surprise for her too!

“The Berenstain Bears: Mother’s Day Blessings” by Mike Berenstain, based on the original characters created by Stan and Jan Berenstain, is a sweet tale for Mother’s Day. Though lacking in any real conflict or climatic point, the tale is still fun and a nice reminder for children to do something extra for their Mother on this special day. In Bear Country, as in real life, Mothers come in all shapes, sizes and occupations, and some even have to work on their special day. An easy, fun read for children and their Mothers anytime of the year, but especially fun to share on Mother’s Day.

Thank you to Book Look Bloggers and Zonderkids for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I review for BookLook Bloggers

The Serpent King

New young adult novel featured in my newspaper column this week.

serpent king

The Serpent King

Written by Jeff Zentner

Dill, Travis, and Lydia are best friends, outcasts, and seniors in rural Forrestville, TN. Dill, the son of a recently incarcerated evangelical preacher, faces ridicule daily about his father and his faith and turns to his friends and music to cope. Travis, the son of an abusive father, finds refuge in fantasy books and online forums. Lydia, the daughter of loving parents, is an outcast in her own way and seeks escape through her fashion blog “Dollywood”. Over the course of their senior year, their friendships will be tested, as they each contemplate life after high school and where it might take them. While Lydia tries to shake the boys out of their small town resignations, they in turn cling to life just as it is. The unknown is scary, but so are snake-handling and abusive fathers.

“The Serpent King” written by Jeff Zentner captures both the struggle of youth and challenges of rural living in a resounding tale of love, loss, hope and believing in oneself. The story is slow to build, but if the reader can stick with it, this coming of age tale gains momentum and eventually finds its rhythm. Characters, at first flat and predictable, gain authenticity as the story progresses, and they become whole and complex. The author weaves a gripping story of what it means to be a teen, lost and alone in a world too big and unfair to understand. Teens from all walks of life, but especially those living in their own Forrestville, will identify with Dill, Lydia, and Travis as they each struggle against a way of life that would crush their dreams. There are many themes and good things to be said about this book. “The Serpent King” is about rising above one’s situation and courageously following dreams despite difficulties. A poignant read for anyone holding a dream in their heart.

Thank you to Net Galley and Penguin Random House for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.

The Trouble with Time

I remember reading an analogy when I was little that compared a person’s day with a vase full of rocks.

If you pour the little rocks in first, the big rocks won’t fit. The little rocks will fill up the bottom of the vase and the big rocks will try to fit on top but there will be lots of gaps between them and they won’t all fit.

If you place the big rocks in the vase first then pour the little rocks in, the little rocks can fill in all the gaps between the big rocks and all the rocks fit in the vase.

The vase is all the hours of a day and the rocks are daily tasks. Big rocks = big, important, or time-consuming tasks. Little rocks = small, less important or quick tasks.

For some reason this analogy has always stuck with me.

What color is this vase? Irrelevant, you say? Fair enough.

There are so many distractions around us with the internet constantly clamoring for attention. How many times have I wasted an hour on Facebook when it felt like fifteen minutes?

Or felt like I needed something to pass the time, so I pulled out my phone to play a mindless matching game.

Oooh! I unlocked a new level!

Growing up I don’t remember feeling this desire to be doing something constantly. I remember enjoying quiet moments. Times when I could sit and think and make up stories.

I loved to watch TV and play Nintendo, of course, but I was reaching for a book instead of my phone before bed. I could take a walk in the woods and not be connected to anyone.

I only purchased a smart phone two years ago. Before that I hated the idea of a smartphone. I didn’t want to be connected to everyone all the time. I liked feeling disconnected. I liked living in the quiet spaces of my mind without the constant buzz of data humming in my ear.

But oh how addicting that smart phone is!

It’s a strange sensation now to go anywhere without my phone. I was on call 24/7 while I worked with the circus, so that helped form this attachment, but then it simply became a habit to take my phone everywhere.

Check emails. Check Facebook. Check my blog. Check twitter.

So many things to look at!

So many distractions!

So many small rocks!

Dear Google, What is the composition of these rocks?

My phone, and the constant checking of emails, social media, etc. was chipping away at all the hours in my day.

My phone time was a bunch of small rocks. Small rocks filling up the bottom of my vase and leaving me with less time and focus to fit in all the big rocks.

I wasn’t giving myself moments of quiet. I wasn’t sleeping with a book next to the bed. I wasn’t daydreaming.

I’ve been focusing on big rocks lately. There are still a few big rocks that involve the internet or my phone. Big rocks like my blog and book reviews, but there are also a lot of little rocks like Facebook and Twitter that need to wait their turn.

Writing is a big rock and it’s amazing how much I can get done in the same amount of time I might have spent on Facebook.

Leaving my phone at home is an easy way to eliminate lots of pesky little rocks from a day I’d like to fill with big rocks.

Little rocks are sneaky, they slip into the vase and before you know it all the big rocks are spilling off the top and another vase is full.

Another day is done.

Excuse me, I’d like a bigger vase.

Contest Time!


As you may have seen in this week’s paper, a new writing contest has started!

This contest is only open to residents in the Cabool, Missouri area/subscribers to The Cabool Enterprise. The contest will also be open to subscribers of any other newspaper my column appears in, but for the moment in only appears in The Cabool Enterprise.

Below you will find the complete rules and information to enter the contest as was printed in the paper.

The contest is free to enter but remember the deadline for entries is April 15th by 5:00pm 

Please read the rules carefully and email me or comment below if you have any questions.

I look forward to many wonderful, creative, exciting, hilarious, sweet, sad, heart-warming, frightening, fantastical, works of prose from children of all ages.

Good luck and Happy Writing!

Contest Rules and Submission Process

Write a response to the following prompt.

If I had three wishes…

To Enter: This contest is open to children in the following age categories:

  • Under 8 years old
  • 9-12 years old
  • 13-18 years old

Please include the following information with your entry:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Hometown
  • Phone Number/Email Address.

Submit Entries: Attach entry in Word or PDF format, or type into the body of the email, and email to

Please put “Contest Entry” in subject line. Entries may also be submitted in person at The Cabool Enterprise or Missouri Gun Co LLC, both located in Cabool, Mo.

Rules: Entries must be previously unpublished. Entries must be 500 words or less and must be the original work of the submitter. Entrants must fall within one of the age categories to be eligible to enter. Entries must be received on or before the deadline. By entering, you agree to allow your work to be published in the newspaper and online.

Prizes will be awarded to the top three places in each age category. First place stories will be published in the newspaper, all other winning stories will appear online.

Writing contest and prizes proudly sponsored by these local businesses:

Missouri Gun Co. LLC of Cabool, Missouri

The Cabool Enterprise of Cabool, Missouri

A team of three judges will determine the winners in each category.


Sunday Special

Changed my clocks and forgot what day it was! I almost forgot to put up my Sunday book reviews.

Two fun Christian books today. One great for early readers, especially boy readers, the other a sweet Christmas story.

elijah the prophet

Adventure Bible: Elijah, God’s Mighty Prophet

Adventure Bible Series

Pictures by David Miles

Meet Elijah, a faithful servant of God. Elijah was a prophet and told the people of Israel that God was not happy with them but they did not listen. A drought plagued the land because they turned away from God. Elijah listens to God and wants to help the people of Israel, but what can he do? Can Elijah help the people of Israel hear God’s word?

Part of the “Adventure Bible, I Can Read” series, “Elijah, God’s Mighty Prophet” illustrated by David Miles retells the biblical story of Elijah the prophet. The story is engaging and well told, and the pictures are exciting and interesting. Elijah comes to life through the words and pictures, in a way children will understand. As part of a series, this is a great way to introduce children to the Bible. Early independent readers, especially boys, will love this exciting lesson from the Bible. An excellent addition to any home or church library.

if he had not come

If He Had Not Come

Originally written by Nan F. Weeks

Reintroduced by David Nicholson

Illustrated by Charles Jaskiewicz

Bobby is excited to go to bed because when he wakes up it will be Christmas! He’s excited to see what’s in the presents under the tree, but he’s also thinking about the story his Dad read to him. It was the story of Jesus and now, despite his excitement for Christmas and presents, he can’t get Jesus’s words out of his head. “If I had not come” Bobby thinks about this verse over and over. He falls asleep thinking about it and when he awakens, the world is a different place. In this world where Jesus did not come, there is no Christmas. It isn’t just the lack of a holiday that makes the world different. People are angry and rude. Bobby doesn’t like this world. Is this what the world would have been like if Jesus had not come?

“If He Had Not Come” intertwines the celebration of Christmas with the story of Jesus, drawing inspiration from John 15:22, “If I had not come”. The story explores a world in which Jesus did not exist. Jesus was never born so there is no Christmas, but what else would be different? The reader, and Bobby will discover that these five words make a profound statement on how different life could have been. Children may not be drawn in by the cover illustration, but this sweet, touching read perfect for Christmas or anytime of the year.

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers and Harper Collins Christian Publishing for copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.
I review for BookLook Bloggers

Write, Now

I have so many writings in progress, it’s getting a bit ridiculous. It’s not that I don’t want to finish these projects (I do!), it’s just that it feels like I have all the time in the world.

What’s the rush? Now isn’t the perfect time. I’ll have peace and quiet tomorrow.

I can get to that later….right?

Recently, the theme of living in the moment has been hitting me over the head, both in the books I’ve read and in real life.

When I worked at the circus, it was easy to take things for granted. I saw elephants everyday. I could get up close with a tiger almost anytime I wanted. Cuddling with camels? Absolutely! Snakes, poodles, cockatoos, horses and one fickle donkey…so many animals to love and so little all the time I needed.


But then I left the circus.

No more crazy animal cuddles.

But, wait! There was always time to visit. I could go back anytime I wanted. My friends would be there. The animals would be there. It would be just like old times, but better! No work and all play….right?

Sure, unless the animals are taken away.

As many now know, the elephants will be retired from the show much earlier than expected.

They will live out their lives well cared for and loved, but when I visited Cincinnati last week, that was likely the last time I will see those specific elephants and possibly the last time I get that close to an elephant ever again.


Me and Asia

The abrupt departure of elephants from my life, along with all my favorite circus people, got me to thinking about what I love most.

Living in the moment, being thankful for today and making the most of it, these aren’t new concepts, but sometimes it takes something big (like elephant big) to remind us of the uncertainty of life.

Someone dies or moves. New job or no job. New births, new pets, new friends.

Tragedies and triumphs, these moments are needed to remind us, nothing is forever on this earth.

So while I’m waiting for the perfect moment to start (or finish) a story, life is moving on all around me. There will never be a “perfect” time to do what I want to do. I am not guaranteed a tomorrow, let alone a perfect tomorrow where I have copious amounts of time for writing, visiting friends, starting new projects, etc.

I’m so thankful for the many wonderful memories I have from the circus and all the time I got to spend with the elephants.

I’m also thankful for the reminder that right now, this moment, is all I have.

So I need to write, now.


All those elephant feels 🙂

Under the Big Top Tales and Twisters

This is my new project and I’m so excited about it!


I have a newspaper column!

“Under the Big Top Tales and Twisters” appears weekly in “The Cabool Enterprise”.

I’m thrilled with the opportunity to write each week and bring content to young people in the area. I hope they enjoy the column and it inspires them to read, write, and reach for the stars.

Each week I review four books from children’s literature. These are generally new releases as I am becoming more active on the ARC scene, but occasionally I will feature an older, fabulous book. Two picture books, one middle-grade, and one young adult book will be reviewed each week, so there is a little something for all ages.

Then there’s the “Twister” section which features word games, puzzles, trivia and more centered around a new theme each week.

I’m so very thankful to The Cabool Enterprise, my parents, and loved ones, for listening to my crazy ideas and giving me the chance to spread the reading and writing love.

May all your days be circus days!



Mud Show Monday

I’ll be sharing a lot of exciting new books in the upcoming weeks and months. I also have some great authors scheduled to appear on the blog and I have some news about a new endeavor that I will be sharing later this week 🙂

Lots of exciting things happening, and I’m so thankful to all of you who read my blog and comment. You have no idea how much it means to know I have readers and friends who are excited about writing and reading children’s literature as much as I am.

Love to you all!

And now on with the show!


T0: Unicorn

From: Rabbit

Subject: You think you’re so great

Yeah, I’ve been talking to the Goat and Bob Shea. I read all about you in “Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great.”

Goat told me how great you are. He told me how you made it rain cupcakes and turned a bunch of stuff into gold. Well you know what I have to say about that?

So what!?

I’m just a Rabbit but I can do cool stuff too. I can dig tunnels. Can you dig tunnels? Also, you see these feet? They’re lucky. That’s right…lucky. You ever heard of a lucky Unicorn foot?

No. Didn’t think so.

Goat can do great stuff too, but everyone will just have to see how it turns out because Rabbits also don’t spoil things, like parties, or book endings.

We’re all pretty great, and so is this book. Five stars are pretty great too.


girl in the well

To: The Girl In The Well

From: A Concerned Bystander

Subject: Hello down there!

Wow! You are really stuck in a well.

Karen Rivers captures your plight beautifully in “The Girl in the Well is Me” and I just had to pop over and send down some encouraging words.

Words like:

“Conserve your oxygen”

“Why would you want to be friends with those mean girls?”

“Is there anything else in the well?”

Oops, probably shouldn’t have mentioned the last bit…I’m sure there’s absolutely no creepy crawlies in there with you. No need to panic. I’m sure your new “friends” are getting help as we speak. Seriously, don’t panic. Remember you need to conserve oxygen.

Everything will be fine. Right?

I mean, you are stuck in a well, but this sort of thing happens all the time…right?

You’ve been down there a long time…I would send down some food or water or a book, but all I have is these stars. I’ll give you all five of them. They’re bright and shiny, and might help you see down there.

Oh, your arms are stuck?

I’ll just leave them up here then. You can get them when you get out…you will get out, right?

Professional Reader

I received an e-book of “The Girl in the Well is Me” from Net Galley and Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for my honest review.