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

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.

Mud Show Monday

Happy Mud Show Monday!

I know you need something to brighten your Monday…so here are some new book reviews! And these books are hot off the press 🙂

I hope you enjoy these Mud Show Memos, and let me know in the comments if you (or your children) have read any of these fabulous books.

May all your (Mon)days be circus days!


too many carrots

To: Rabbit

From: A Concerned Forest Citizen

Subject: You have a problem

I don’t know how to tell you this, but… you have a problem. I think Katy Hudson hit the nail on the head when she titled your exploits “Too Many Carrots”.

Look, it’s nice to collect things, but there comes a point in every rabbit’s life when enough is enough! At this rate you’ll end up on Hoarders.

I’ll admit, I did chuckle quite a bit at your plight. But it must be your lucky rabbit feet that you are blessed with so many wonderful friends. I do hope they help you reach a solution, or maybe you’ll think of something on your own.

Either way, I’ll give you 5 carrots stars because children of all ages will delight in your clever tale and beautifully detailed illustrations.


gator goes by bike

To: Gator

From: An Animal Lover

Subject: Where were you?

I just finished the account of your workday in “Gator Goes by Bike” by Keenan Hopson. He captured you and all the other animals brilliantly with his illustrations but I must say I was a bit disappointed by the end.

Where were you?

You were on the cover of the book. This book was supposedly about you…and you weren’t in it. What a conundrum!

Did you get lost on your way to work? Fall off your bike? Visit a friend? All perfectly reasonable excuses and exciting adventures, but that wasn’t in the book either.

It was a sweet story about animals making their way to work (and what a clever workplace it is!), but overall I missed seeing you dear Gator.

I do hope Keenan Hopson writes another tale of your adventures and you are actually in it because I do so enjoy his magnificent way of illustrating you and your friends.

I’ll give you 4 stars for appearing on the cover, and for having such lovely friends. I think children 3 to 5 years old would also find you charming.

shasha and wally watson

To: The Faker

From: Neighborhood Watch

Subject: We’re watching you!

Hey you Faker! I was going to tell you the neighborhood watch is keeping all their eyes on you, but you’re actually pretty crafty and good at hiding. So, even though we can’t keep our eyes on you, those Watson kids can!

We’ve been following Wally’s wild romp as recounted by Ted Kelsey in “Shasha and Wally Watson VS. The Faker” and you better watch out, that Wally Watson is a smart kid!

Little Wally can remember anything. So if you’re wearing a shirt with 6 buttons today and 15 buttons tomorrow…he’ll remember! You can’t fool him!

And if you think that sounds like useless information, well…it is. But that’s where his sister comes in! Those two are like two pieces of a two-piece puzzle. If Wally gets distracted with worries of imminent death or disappearing, well Shasha…errr Sasha, steps right in and straightens everything out.

So you better watch your backs, and your fronts, because those Watson kids are watching and remembering and putting this mess of a puzzle together faster than you can throw away the pieces.

We’re giving Wally 5 stars for making us laugh out loud, bite our nails and squeal with fright. We know Wally would rather have 3 stars or 6 stars but hopefully he’ll be OK with 5 stars with 5 points each.

the girl from everywhere

To: Nix

From: A Young Cartographer

Subject: Take me with you!

I am still dreaming of your life after reading Heidi Heilig’s account in “The Girl From Everywhere”. You really are from everywhere! Traveling through time like you do, I don’t know how you keep everything straight. You truly are a superb navigator. The crew is lucky to have you, even if the Captain doesn’t always show his appreciation.

I was spellbound by the fantastical descriptions and amazing locations. The Temptation sounds like one cool (and maybe a little terrifying) ship. You’re lucky to have such a great crew to travel with. Speaking of the crew…I’d like to join you!

I am a cartographer by trade, and I believe my map making skills might be useful to you on your journeys. I’m familiar with geography and history of many different places so I can produce maps of exacting accuracy for a multitude of places…and times…that’s the key right?

Give it some thought, in the mean time I’ll be waiting for Heidi Heilig’s second account of your journey and telling everyone I know about you and your incredible adventures.

Some might be concerned with the topic of drug use which recurs throughout your tale, but it is not portrayed as an admirable or desirable addiction. Thanks for limiting the romance too! I’m not too much into that mushy gushy stuff.

If I give you 5 stars will you stow them with your other treasures?

Gator Goes by Bike” and “Shasha and Wally Watson VS The Faker” provided for free by Story Cartel in exchange for my honest review.

Too Many Carrots” and “The Girl From Everywhere” provided for free by Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

Are you an author or publisher? Have a book you’d like me to review? If my reviewing style appeals to you, head on over to my Book Review Submissions page and send me your query (or book). New book reviews every Monday!

Professional Reader
I review for BookLook Bloggers

Mud Show Monday

Welcome to the First Ever Mud Show Monday!

What is a Mud Show? 

A Mud Show is a circus show in tents. Many shows perform in arenas now, but mud shows still put up tents at fairgrounds and perform in…you guessed it…the mud. Of course it’s a bit of an exaggeration…unless it rains. Then it really lives up to its name.

What happens on a Mud Show Monday?

Book reviews!

My Mud Show Memos, as I like to call them, will cover a broad range of the latest and greatest children’s, middle grade, and young adult books on the market. Every Monday, I will post a conglomeration of reviews in one “muddy” post 😉

Hopefully my words aren’t muddied or muddled at all, but Mud Show Monday has such a nice ring to it, I couldn’t resist.

I hope you enjoy my Mud Show Memos every Mud Show Monday. Maybe enjoy a mud pie while you read!

To: The Crayons

From: A Concerned Crayon Enthusiast

Subject: The Terms of Your Strike

I was dismayed to read of your strike as recounted by Drew Daywalt in “The Day the Crayons Quit”. Poor Duncan! What’s a boy to do?

I do commend you for addressing your problems directly and succinctly. Now Duncan might have hope of rectifying the situation. I must also commend Oliver Jeffers for capturing your plight so magnificently with his illustrations.

I never imagined crayons could face such difficulties, but my eyes have been opened and I do hope the whole box of you, and Duncan, can reach an amicable resolution.

I admit I chuckled a bit (poor Peach!) but I am motivated to dig out my own box of crayons in the hopes they are not nearly as disgruntled. If they are, however, I can only hope their pleas are as eloquent and informative as yours.

I had these stars laying around, I’ll give you all 5 since you made me chuckle and I was quite surprised with your creativity. I’ll pass along your book to everyone I meet, your concerns are appropriate for children of all ages.


To: Super Heroes

From: A Citizen

Subject: Do You Have A Spare Bear?

Wow! I learned so much about what it means to be a super hero from Carmela LaVigna Coyle in “Do Super Heroes Have Teddy Bears?”. Now I’m trying to follow along with the illustrations by Mike Gordon and hoping I can become a super hero too.

I enjoyed the question and answer format. It really cleared up a lot of questions I had about super heroes and how to become one…but now I see that I may or may not need a teddy bear.

Just wanted to send you a quick memo asking if I need a specific type of teddy bear or if any old bear will do? I guess that will be my first super hero dilemma.

Speaking of dilemmas, I did expect a bit more in the villain department, but I was still amused with your super hero antics and clever illustrations. I think children ages 3 to 7 would enjoy your super story too.

Since super heroes are like super stars, here are 4 bright shiny stars for you. They’d look good on a cape…or a blankie.


To: Young Adults

From: A Fellow Reader

Subject: What would you do?

Cammie McGovern tackles tough issues with her novel “A Step Toward Falling”. Main characters, Emily, Lucas and Belinda are connected by a terrible event. Though they know little of each other at the time of the event, as the story unfolds they learn about themselves and each other as they each struggle with the consequences of their actions, or inaction, that night.

Told from both Emily and Belinda’s viewpoints, each girl reflects back on the night of the incident. They contemplate how one mistake, be it action or inaction, has grossly altered each of their lives. Courage in difficult situations is the plot’s driving force, but underlying themes of doing good, belonging, and overcoming adversity are also at the forefront.

Teens will likely connect with the characters of Emily and Lucas as they struggle to fit in with their peers while navigating the difficult and fast moving waters of high school. Guilt and the desire to do good, is a feeling readily understood, as many face regret from action, or inaction, in the face of conflict or difficult decisions.

The topics of sexual assault and people with disabilities are sensitive ones, and Cammie McGovern handles the topic with understanding and grace. Teens can gain perspective from the book’s portrayal of individuals with disabilities and may even be encouraged to seek out volunteer opportunities.

While I felt difficult topics were handled with care, I also felt some reactions by adults in the book were unbelievable. Without giving away too much of the plot, I’ll only say I feel Lucas and Emily were punished more severely and made to be more villainous than was warranted. Do I think their actions (or rather inaction) were right? No, absolutely not. But their inaction is what guides the whole plot. I think the point that bystanders must take action when witnessing a crime, could have been accomplished differently than by sentencing community service and villainizing them.

Overall, the book left me wanting more of a resolution. The initial, terrible event is eventually addressed, but there are so many other issues that the topic provides little satisfaction when it’s finally out in the open. The characters perpetually struggle internally and externally, with little headway ever being made. There is much to say about all the characters’ interpersonal relationships, but the most genuine and touching interaction between Emily and Lucas occurred in the book’s last two pages.

I do think “A Step Toward Falling” is worth a read and allows for personal reflection on how we interact with others, how others perceive us, and how we would react in a crisis. It’s a book that encourages personal growth and understanding of others, though the characters don’t always excel in these aspects.

Foul language is limited and sex is not discussed in detail. The plot has many fun elements and the alternating point of views between Belinda and Emily is an engaging story-telling format. Appropriate for teens of all ages.

3.5 stars overall

Are you an author or publisher? Have a book you’d like me to review? If my reviewing style appeals to you, head on over to my Book Review Submissions page and send me your query (or book). New book reviews every Monday!