Genuine Sweet

by Faith Harkey
First sentence: “Genuine Sweet.”
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Review copy sent by the publisher.
Content: There’s a bit too much lovey-dovey stuff than I like for books this age (they kiss a bit and hold hands). Even so, it’s really a middle grade novel, so it’ll be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

I’m a sucker for small town Southern books. (Unlike Ms. Yingling, who loathes them.) I love the small community feel, the quirkyness, and you throw in a bit of magical realism and I’m sold.

Genuine Sweet has all of that. She lives in a small town in Alabama where everyone knows everyone’s business, so that means everyone knows that her daddy is a drunk. Genuine’s (pronounced gen-u-wine) grandma takes care of her, since her mother’s dead, and it turns out that a gift runs in the female side of the family: wish fetching. They don’t grant them, per se, they sing to the stars and fetch the star juice (for lack of a better word) and give it to people who need things. The one cardinal rule: they can’t grant any for themselves.

So, burdened with this knowledge, Genuine sets out to make life a little better for those in the town. But, even as she does so, things get worse at home. No money, no food, no electricity. And as word gets out about her wish fetching Genuine has more and more pressure to fill them ALL. Which takes a toll.

On the one hand, quirky Southern charm. It was very sweet and very Southern, and I liked the way the magic worked: nothing major, nothing huge, just small little helps that fit in with the mood of the book.

But, even with all the quirkyness and the Southerness and the magic, I didn’t absolutely love this book. Partially, because I thought the romance between Genuine and Travis was a bit, well, out of place in a book aimed toward the younger set. And the drunk dad was pretty unnecessary. As was the angry, bitter woman who opposed Geunine’s wish fetching. And all of that added up to make me like, but not thoroughly enjoy this one.

It was a good book, but I think it could have been so much better.

Miss Mayhem

by Rachel Hawkins
First sentence: “This is going to be a total disaster.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment
Others in the series: Rebel Belle
Content: There’s some violence and a bit of swearing — not as much as Rebel Belle in either case. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Rebel Belle. Just so you know.

It’s been a few months since Harper became a butt-kicking Paladin, sworn to protect her now-boyfriend David Stark, who’s the super-mystical Oracle. She’s working with her ex, Ryan (who’s now a Mage) to protect David, and for Harper — who is super controlly by any standard — that means limiting David’s visions to helping out Harper’s friends and family.

Unfortunately, that backfires: the Ephors find them, and while they give back Harper’s best friend Bee, who was kidnapped, they decide that Harper needs to go through a super-intense test to prove that she’s worthy to be the Oracle’s Paladin.

Of course, things aren’t as simple as that: David’s questioning his abilities, and things are on the rocks between him and Harper. Ryan’s having his own problems with girls, and Bee is finding re-entering society after being gone for several months isn’t as easy as they hoped. And then there’s the question of the spooky Ephor guy.What does he really want?

I really enjoyed Rebel Belle, and I was hoping for the same level of sillyness and fluff and fun from this one. But, alas, it’s the middle book in a trilogy, which means I got angst and unease and things unraveling to the point where it just wasn’t fun. It wasn’t bad — Hawkins knows how to write action, and Harper’s definitely grown on me even with all her Southernisms that drive me batty. But, it just wasn’t AS fun as Rebel Belle. Which made me a little sad. Then again, I can always hope for the next book to go back to being fun… at least by the end.

It’s a good series, overall, though.

Rebel Belle

by Rachel Hawkins

First sentence: “Looking back, none of this would have happened if I’d brought lip gloss the night of the Homecoming Dance.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, and some (somewhat oblique) references to sex. Plus some violence. None of which is enough to make it “objectionable”, so it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Harper Price is one of those annoyingly perfect people. She’s the president of everything, super involved in her school. Great grades, popular friends, the Perfect Boyfriend. She’s even going to be crowned Homecoming Queen. (Seriously: about 50 pages into the book. I’m thinking she’s the embodiment of everyone I loathed in high school.) So, the last thing she expected, when she went to the restroom the night of the homecoming dance to touch up her lip gloss, was to get superpowers. She inadvertently stumbled into a world with Mages and Paladins — who are protectors, and it’s the powers Harper ended up with — who have sworn to protect the Oracle. Who just happens to be the person Harper loathes most.

There’s a lot more going on in this novel, including boyfriend drama and a Cotillion, but that’s basically the gist of it.  Harper, the annoyingly perfect girl, gets powers and becomes awesome.

I was in the mood a while back for something completely fluffy, something that was fun, but not taxing, so I turned to an author who I knew would deliver. And Hawkins did. Yeah, there’s probably some inconsistencies in the book and it’s definitely really white. (Then again, it’s Alabama.) No, it’s not as good as Hex Hall. However, it IS fun. It’s got that delightfully quirky Southern feel to it (I loved Harper’s great-aunts), and the magic is clever and different. But mostly, it was just FUN. Which is all I really wanted out of this book.

I even enjoyed it enough to pick up the second one. 

Boys of Blur

by N. D. Wilson

First sentence: “When the sugarcane’s burning and the rabbits are running, look for the boys who are quicker than flame.”
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Content: There are some intense moments, some violence, and some reference to abuse. It’s pretty intense, so while it’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, I’d hesitate giving it to the younger part of that age range.
There’s so much going on in this slim book, that it’s difficult for me to know where to start. 
There’s Charlie Reynolds, who had an abusive father, but whose mother was strong enough to leave and who found Mack, a former professional football player from a small town in Florida, to help keep her and Charlie safe. They got married and had an adorable little girl, Molly.
There’s Cotton Mack, the homeschooled son of one of Mack’s cousins, whom Charlie meets when he’s in Florida to attend the funeral of Mack’s former football coach.
It’s after that funeral that things start getting weird for Charlie and Cotton. Like ancient mythical men on mounds wielding swords weird. Like panthers that are tame and the zombie-like Stank (aka Gren) who feed off of envy and greed. And somehow it falls to Charlie and Cotton (well, mostly Charlie) to stop the Gren from rising and destroying their town.
In many ways, this one is reminiscent of The Dark is Rising: an ancient force pitted against a boy, who didn’t know he had it in him to face that ancient force. The difference is that this one is very southern, and is liberally scattered with African Americans. Which brings me to my one problem: why did the white kid have to be the one to save the world, in the end? Why did Cotton have to be taken out of commission? Although I really liked the book, with its mix of football and mythology and family, I was disappointed by this.
I don’t know how much that affected my enjoyment in the end, because Wilson does know how to pace a book, and he’s incredibly tight in his timing, and he knows how engage a reader. So, overall, I’d consider this one a win. 

Stella By Starlight

by Sharon M. Draper
First sentence: “Nine robed figures dressed all in white.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some pretty intense stuff going on in this book, by Draper never lets it get too dark. She knows her audience and (rightly) assumes they can handle anything that is thrown at them. Be prepared, however, for some discussion. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) at the bookstore.

It’s 1932, North Carolina. The whole country is in the throes of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt is running for office. For Stella and her family, this doesn’t really matter. They’re more concerned about making ends meet. And avoiding the local Klu Klux Klan.

And they’re doing a pretty good job until Stella’s dad, pastor, and a family friend decide to exercise their constitutional right and vote. Then, all hell breaks loose.

There’s actually a lot more going on than that: Draper knows her history, and paints a picture of what life was like for African Americans struggling to get ahead in the 1930s. The one-room school, with a teacher who handles all grades next to the white school where they get new books. The small houses and hand-me-over clothes. Having to enter in the back door of shops. Or, most tellingly, a white doctor who won’t come help Stella’s mother after she’d been bitten by a rattler.

And Stella is such an engaging character to go through all this with. She’s an observant, smart girl, but one who also struggles with writing in school. She’s trying to figure out her place in life, how to navigate the injustices of her situation, and still come out ahead. She’s got fantastic parents, and a supportive community. There’s so much that I found admirable about the way she deals with her situation. And so much to discuss (I know; I ended up talking to my family) when you’re done.


by David Arnold
First sentence: “I am Mary Iris Malone, and I am not okay.”
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Release date: March 3, 2015
Review copy handed to me by the publisher rep.
Content: There’s a whole lot of language, both mild and strong. There’s some creepy characters, including a serial rapist, but nothing is graphic. It’ll be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Mary Iris Malone, Mim to everyone but her mother, is not happy. Her father, in a whirlwind, divorced her mother — who then disappeared — married the waitress at the local Denny’s, then relocated the three of them — Mim had no choice — to the middle of nowhere, Mississippi.

This does not sit well with Mim, who just wants her mother back, her old life back, her home back. So, when she’s called to the principal’s office and overhears her dad and Kathy talking about Mim’s mom with the principal, she snaps. She takes off from school, packs a backpack, grab’s Kathy’s coffee can stash of money, and heads to the Greyhound bus station. She’s headed back to Ohio this Labor Day weekend to see her mother, come hell or high water.

It’s not as easy as it sounds; there’s perils in them thar woods, and Mim is in for one of those life-changing adventures. There are some creepy people on the road, but she makes friends, both causal and the best-friend-types. And she discovers that maybe humanity — and Kathy — aren’t as bad as she’s always made them out to be.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Seriously. It started out slow and kind of awkward; Mim is a tough shell to crack and a prickly one at the beginning. But the more time I spent with her, the more I grew to love her. The more she revealed about her family and her life, the more I enjoyed spending time with her. And her adventures were fantastic. The people she met were fascinating and quirky, and I wanted to go on more adventures with them. I was almost sad when the book ended because I wouldn’t be spending more time with Mim and her friends.

I’m not sure this is a book for everyone. But for those who love good road trip adventures, and quirky characters, it’s a gem.


by Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “Everybody likes sugar.”
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Bought and signed by the author at KidLitCon 2014
Content: This one would be appropriate (and probably okay, difficulty-wise) for kids third grade and up. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

It’s 1871, and slavery is supposed to be over. However, for ten-year-old Sugar, on a sugar plantation in Louisiana, it doesn’t feel like it. Sure, the former slaves are free to go if they can, but they’re paid so little that it’s almost impossible for them to leave. And then the plantation owner, Mr. Wills, decides that he needs more workers, so he hires some Chinese to come and supplement the former slaves.

For Sugar, her life revolves around sneaking out to play with Billy, the owner’s son, and trying not to get under Mrs. Beale’s feet. And planting and cutting sugar cane. Once the Chinese arrive, however, Sugar’s world is expanded: one of them speaks English and she befriends them. In fact, she is the bridge that gets the whole working community to work together rather in competition. There’s a passage about halfway through that pretty much sums up what I think Rhodes was getting at in this book:

“How come I ca’t decide who I can see? How come I can’t decide my friends?”
“We don’t trust these men, Sugar.”
“I like Chinamen. Reverend, don’t you preach ‘Treat folks like you want to be treated’?”
“Well, now,” says Reverend, not looking at me, twiddling his thumbs.
“Sugar,” says Mister Beale, “folks get along best with folks like them. Always been that way.”
“Seems cowardly.”

Of course, things aren’t easy for Sugar and her friends: it is 1871 in the South, and white people — especially the former Overseer — are reluctant to change and adapt. There is some tragedy in this book, but it is a middle grade book, after all, and the tragedy is kept simple and appropriate.

It’s the overall message of friendship and inclusion that made this slim historical fiction book worth reading.

Brown Girl Dreaming

by Jacqueline Woodson
First sentence: “I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital Columbus, Ohio, USA — a country caught between Black and White.”
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Content: There’s nothing objectionable. And it’s even an easy-ish read. Sure, it’s poetry, but it’s not difficult. Hand it to anyone with an interest in writing, kids, and history. It’s in our middle grade biography section at the bookstore.

I’m not quite sure where to start on this one. It seems We’ve (the collective we, here) been inundated by memoirs and biographies of celebrities, People of Note, and at first glance Jacqueline Woodson’s new book just falls into that pit of “celebrity” (of a sort) biographies.

Except, it’s not so much a biography or memoir as it is a reflection upon a childhood. Woodson makes her childhood an Everyperson experience, something that the reader can readily identify with, even if they didn’t have her exact same experiences.

Her childhood begins in Ohio, but mostly it’s spent in South Carolina, with her grandparents, and in Brooklyn, where her mother finally settled with Jacqueline and her brothers and sister. I kept trying to figure out the timeline (if she was born in 1963, then it must be…) but eventually, I just gave up and let myself get absorbed in the story.

And absorbed I was. Woodson wove historical elements into her story — sit-ins in the South; the way her grandmother felt about the way she was treated in stores by white people; music that was playing on the radio — all of which helped put her personal story in a larger framework. I could easily forget I was reading a memoir; it felt so much like a novel.

Part of that, too, was the form. Written in free verse, the memoir took on a lyrical quality. There were moments, especially toward the end, where I was moved by her insights not only in her life, but for Life in general.

One more thing: I appreciated her portrayal of religion. I get the sense she’s not a practicing Jehovah’s Witness anymore, but she portrayed the religion of her grandmother and her own childhood with respect. It was neither good nor bad; it was just a part of her life. And I found that refreshing.

Highly recommended.


by Laura Lane McNeal
First sentence: “There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed.”
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Content: One of the protagonists is a teenage girl, and there’s a lot of good historical information. There’s nothing truly objectionable, so even though this is in the Adult Fiction, I wouldn’t hesitate giving it to an avid teen reader who showed some interest.

I picked this one up because a couple of people at the bookstore have been raving about it. “It’s funny,” they said, “If you liked The Help, then you’ll love this one.”

I liked The Help well enough, and I figured it’s the South, set in New Orleans, during the whole Civil Rights movement. I like quirky characters. This one will surely be a good book.

Well… Not so much. Yes, it is set in New Orleans in 1964, when our main character, Ibby (short for Liberty) is dropped off at her grandmother’s house. Her father had recently died in a freak accident, and Ibby’s mother can’t handle being a single parent. Ibby’s grandmother, Fannie, is one of those eccentric Southern ladies, who believes in being proper and feisty and doesn’t trust anyone except her help, who are pretty much like family. (But heaven forbid if her granddaughter takes up with a colored man.)

This just didn’t do anything for me. Sure, it’s got those quirky Southern characters, but that’s about it. The plot was lacking, and I didn’t connect with the characters at all. Maybe I’ve been gone from the South for too long, but I wasn’t even entertained by the quirkiness. Or horrified by the racism. Mostly, I was just… bored.

I ended up skimming the second half of the book, just to find out what happens. Books like these make me wonder if I’ve been ruined for adult books after all.

A Snicker of Magic

by Natalie Lloyd
First sentence: “‘They say all the magic is gone up out of this place,’ said Mama.”
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Content: Because the main character collects words, some of the vocabulary might be more advanced for some of the younger readers. Also, there’s a bit of a romance(ish; they’re more just really good friends though the hint is there) but it’s pretty tame. Is in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

All Felicity Juniper Pickle wants is to stop moving. Sure, she’s used to her mother’s wandering ways — the longest they’ve ever stayed in one spot has been six months — but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t long for the comforts of a true home and the ability to make friends. So when the Pickled Jalapeño (that’s their car) rolls into Felicity’s mom’s hometown of Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, Felicity hopes that they will finally settle down and call this Home.

Of course, getting her mom to settle down isn’t all that simple. And the longer they stay in town the more secrets are revealed about the town’s history. About why the ice cream there is so good. About why Felicity can actually see words floating through the air. And, mostly, about why her mother is so keen on wandering, and how Felicity can get her to stop.

And it all involves… a snicker of magic.

It’s a very quiet book, this, with a quiet sort of magic. And as I was reading this charming little story, the thought that came to me the most was that this felt a lot like Ingrid Law’s Savvy. This one is more Southern and small-town-ish than Savvy is, but at its heart, they’re quite similar. Both have a strong female character at the core, one who is determined to not only keep their family together, but to figure out how she fits in with everything else. And the magic is similar as well. Felicity sees words and “catches” them, by writing them down. (Which leads to a lot of fun word play: in addition to making words up — like spindiddly — words have textures, shapes and colors. It’s pretty cool.) The Blackberry Sunrise ice cream makes you remember. Her uncle sees colors when he plays notes. Someone in town doesn’t show up in pictures. Nothing grand, nothing life-changing, but magic nonetheless.

But it was more the feel of the book, the discovery of finding a home, a place to fit in. And Felicity’s desire to help her mother move past her divorce (dad just walked out on them), and their realization that home can mean a lot of different things. Full of delightful characters and quirky magic, it’s a delight to read.