Book Review – GEORGE by Alex Gino – a TGNA post




After a nice long break from participating in the The Great Noveling Adventure blog, I’ve decided to join the group again. I just missed it too much. I’ll only be posting once a month, which will be much easier on me and will allow me to pursue my other goals without becoming a burden.

Today is my day for July, and I’m posting a book review of that fantastic Middle Grade novel GEORGE by Alex Gino.

Here’s a preview:

Book Review George

Hello Adventurers! It’s wonderful to be back after a much needed break. I’ve kept busy on my own blog and have managed to do a fair amount of reading while I’ve been away. One of my favorite reads so far this year has been this slim, unassuming book with the simple design that packs quite an emotional punch. Leave it to a Middle Grade author to tackle such a huge topic like transgender and to get it so right. This is an important book that needs to be shared – with young and old alike.

On to the review!

To read the full post, click here.

We are also putting together TGNA’s second anthology, FALL FRIVOLITY, and you can be a part of it! To be considered, simply submit a short story of 1000 words or less with a fall theme to We’re accepting submissions through August 1st. For full submissions guidelines, click here!

Book Review – MY FRIEND MAGGIE by Hannah E. Harrison

My Friend Maggie cover

Hannah Harrison picHannah Harrison is such a delightful person and a familiar face on this blog. She gave an interview a few years ago, right before EXTRAORDINARY JANE was published. (My son still carries his now very battered copy of JANE around with him everywhere he goes. My copy is on the very top of my office bookshelf – please don’t tell my son.)

I also reviewed her second book about a crabby cat having a very bad day at a birthday party called BERNIE GETS CARRIED AWAY, which you can read about here.

Hannah pic
Me with Hannah at the spring SCBWI Oklahoma conference.

(Have I mentioned how much I love being a part of SCBWI Oklahoma? So many generous and talented people in this group!)

I received an advanced copy of Hannah’s newest book, MY FRIEND MAGGIE from her when I saw her this past spring at our SCBWI OK conference in April. There may have been some actual jumping up and down when she gave it to me.  I get excited when I receive free books from people, especially when they’re as talented as Hannah.

I’m so honored to be able to review this book before it releases in August. Be sure to pre-order your copy today!


My Friend Maggie coverMY FRIEND MAGGIE by Hannah E. Harrison

Published by: Dial Books

Release Date: August 9, 2016

Genres: Children’s, Picture Books




Plot Summary:

Paula and Maggie have been friends forever. Paula thinks Maggie is the best—until mean girl Veronica says otherwise. Suddenly, Paula starts to notice that Maggie is big and clumsy, and her clothes are sort of snuggish. Rather than sticking up for Maggie, Paula ignores her old friend and plays with Veronica instead. Luckily, when Veronica turns on Paula, Maggie’s true colors shine through.

This moving friendship story has all the heart and emotion of The Giving Tree and Kevin Henkes’s Chrysanthemum. The gorgeous artwork and important message make this a book to treasure. It’s truly a classic in the making. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

This book has already received some high praise:

Publisher’s Weekly STAR Review

“Harrison tells her story with touching and expert restraint, and her acrylic illustrations have a lovely old-fashioned feel that readers of her previous books will recognize…Harrison shows a deeply sympathetic understanding of the simultaneously fragile and powerful emotions of children.”

Kirkus Review

“Harrison’s brightly colored acrylic paintings amplify the emotions…(her) straightforward, first-person text, while understated, also conveys a wealth of emotion.”



Maggie 4


This is such a fantastic story about friendship, and what happens when that friendship gets put to the test.

Before I even get into the fantastic artwork, can I talk about the inner nerd girl/weird girl/picked-on-by-the-mean-girl little part of each of us hidden way deep down inside that can’t help but tear up at the lunch room scene?

Maggie 2


Maggie 3







I’ve lived that scene. It felt just that awful.

Talk about nailing the emotions. Pow!

As always, Hannah is a master at using vibrant color, white space, and perspective in her artwork to enhance the emotional impact of the story.

She ties it all together to bring this thoughtful tale to a very satisfying conclusion.

I fell in love with this book. And with Maggie. Everyone could use a friend like her.


Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.

Follow Hannah on Facebook here.

As a special treat, you can view this clever video Hannah made for her Artist’s Studio Tour.


Book Review – SUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

I received a copy of SUNSETS AND HAIKU from Una Belle herself, one of our most resilient and thoughtful SCBWI Oklahoma members, when she read about the reading challenges I am attempting this year. She saw that I could use a collection of poems to complete the Reading Bingo Challenge and sent me one of hers – so sweet!

Una Belle has published several picture books with Pelican Publishing Company, including GRADY’S IN THE SILO, for which she won the Oklahoma Book Award. This is her first book of poetry and her first book with Doodle and Peck Publishing, a new local publishing company right here in Oklahoma.

Sunsets and Haiku coverSUNSETS AND HAIKU by Una Belle Townsend

Published by: Doodle and Peck

Release Date: October 15, 2015

Genres: Poetry, Photography




Plot Summary:

Ever-changing. Exotic. Thought-provoking.
In this exquisite photography collection, Una Belle Townsend, author and photographer, captures nature at its most elusive–when the sun, earth, clouds and atmosphere collide to create stunning tableaus from firecracker red prairies to picture-perfect pastel skies.  Famous worldwide, Oklahoma sunsets explode in a kaleidoscope of colors as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Paired with her stunning photos is a Japanese poetry form, haiku, which traditionally calls to mind nature and its seasons. (Plot summary from publisher’s website.)

The gorgeous photographs, taken by Una Belle herself, are paired well with inspiring, and sometimes playful, poetry. I loved the variety of sunsets and the vivid colors and how familiar all the landscapes felt to me. What a challenge to select one subject of nature to pay homage to, and yet Una Belle takes it on with such deftness of skill.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:


Vivid papaya

Luscious orange and melon clouds

Fruit for hungry eyes


This book is a lovely treat for the soul.

It left me feeling relaxed and content, and maybe wishing for a little more.


Learn more about Una Belle Townsend here.

Follow Una Belle on Facebook here.

Book Review – KIKI AND JACQUES by Susan Ross

Kiki and Jacques

I received a copy of KIKI AND JACQUES from the publisher, Holiday House. This is a debut novel for author Susan Ross that was featured in their Fall catalog.

Kiki and JacquesKIKI AND JACQUES by Susan Ross

Published by: Holiday House

Release Date: August 17, 2015

Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction



Plot Summary:

Twelve-year-old Jacques’s mother has passed away, his father is jobless and drinking again and his grandmother’s bridal store is on the verge of going out of business. Plus he’s under pressure from an older boy to join in some illegal activities. At least Jacques can look forward to the soccer season. After all, he’s a shoe-in for captain.

But the arrival of Somali refugees shakes up nearly everything in Jacques’s Maine town, including the soccer team. So Jacques is surprised to find himself becoming friends with Kiki, a cheerful and strong-minded Somali immigrant. Despite their many differences they are able to help one another triumph over problems with friends, family and growing up.


While the description above sounds intriguing, and I actually began reading the book with high hopes, I was left disappointed on many counts.

I wanted to like Jacques, the POV main character, but I never really got to know him. Even when he made references to missing his dead mom, I didn’t feel the emotional connection. There was something lacking for me.

The story was entertaining enough, but fairly predictable and nothing too extraordinary happened. I didn’t feel the characters struggling. The big question of “What’s at stake?” didn’t feel big enough or maybe I just didn’t connect with the characters enough.

With a title containing two character names, you would expect this relationship to be pivotal to the plot of the story, but it’s not exactly the main focus, which I found disappointing.

Most of the problems resolved too quickly, and many not by Jacques himself taking decisive action. The shake up of the town with the arrival of the refugees, which wasn’t really shown, resolved with one social event at the church.

Overall, there were too many missed opportunities that would have made this tale exceptional. Instead, for me it was just okay.


Learn more about Susan Ross here.

Follow Susan on Twitter here.

Follow Susan on Facebook here.

2015 TBR Challenge – UNDER THE NEVER SKY Review


2015tbrbuttonMy twelfth and final review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ve read this year.)

I picked up this book during an SCBWI LA Summer Conference a few years ago after hearing Ms. Rossi speak. I loved her talk on high concept. It really helped me understand what that means and how to focus my own ideas down to the important story elements. I had a chance to meet her later and get her to sign my copy for me during the autograph party. She was an absolute sweetheart.

On to the review!

under-the-never-sky-veronica-rossi_book1UNDER THE NEVER SKY (Under The Never Sky #1) by Veronica Rossi

Published by: HarperCollins

Release Date: December 1, 2011

Genres: YA, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia

Plot Summary:

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland—known as The Death Shop—are slim. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild—a savage—and her only hope of staying alive. A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile—everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption.

In alternating chapters told in Aria’s and Perry’s voices, Under the Never Sky subtly and powerfully captures the evolving relationship between these characters and sweeps readers away to a harsh but often beautiful world. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

I loved the alternating POV setup of the chapters. Rossi did an excellent job balancing out these two dynamic characters to the point that I was equally torn between both sides. I also loved how she weaved this unusual world so seamlessly into the story. I especially enjoyed discovering the special abilities of the Outsiders, and how Perry was able to sense temperaments – that added so much interesting tension to many of his intimate scenes with Aria. Ahh! I’d love to share, but don’t want to spoil anything for future readers.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

“Come on, Paisley. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Aria meant it as a joke, but her voice sounded too high so she tacked on a laugh. That came out sounding mildly hysterical.

“What could happen in a damaged dome?” Paisley counted on her slender fingers. “Our skin could rot off. We could get locked out. An Aether storm could turn us into human bacon. Then cannibals could eat us for breakfast.”

“It’s just another part of Reverie,” Aria said.

“An off-limits part.”

“Pais, you don’t have to go.”

“Neither do you,” Paisley said, but she was wrong.

For the past five days, Aria had worried constantly about her mother. Wy hadn’t she been in touch? Lumina had never missed one of their daily visits, no matter how engrossed she was in her medical research. If Aria wanted answers, she needed to get into that dome.

“For the hundredth–wait, thousandth–time, Ag 6 is safe,” Soren said without turning from the control board. “You think I want to die tonight?”

He had a point. Soren loved himself too much to risk his own life. Aria’s gaze rested on his muscled back. Soren was the son of Reverie’s Director of Security. He had the kind of flesh that only came with privilege. He even had a tan, a ridiculous upgrade considering none of them had ever seen the sun. He was also a genius at cracking codes.

Bane and Echo watched at his side. The brothers followed Soren everywhere. He usually had hundreds of followers, but that was in the Realms. Tonight just five of them shared the cramped airlock chamber. Just five of them breaking the law.

Soren straightened, flashing a cocky smile. “I’m going to have a talk to my father about his security protocols.”

“You did it?” Aria asked.

Soren shrugged. “Was there ever a doubt? Now for the best part. Time to turn off.”

“Wait,” Paisley said. “I thought you were just going to jam our Smarteyes.”

“I’ve been jamming them but that won’t give us enough time. We need to turn off.”

Aria brushed a finger over her Smarteye. She had always worn the clear device over her left eye and it was always on. The Eye took them to the Realms, the virtual spaces where they spent most of their time…

Soren shifted his thick shoulders like a boxer stepping into a ring. “Here we go, Glitches. Hold on to your pants. We’re shutting off in three, two–“

Aria startled at a shrill ringing that came from deep within her ears. A red wall crashed over her field of vision. Hot needles of pain stabbed into her left eye and then spread over her scalp. They gathered at the base of her skull and then shot down her spine, exploding through her limbs. She heard one of the boys swear stiffly with relief. The red wall vanished as quickly as it had come.

She blinked a few times, disoriented. The icons for her favorite Realms had disappeared. The messages in the queue and the news crawl in the lower part of her Smartscreen were gone as well, leaving only the airlock door, which appeared dull, filtered through a soft film. She looked down at her gray boots. Middle Gray. A shade that covered nearly every surface in Reverie. How could gray seem less vibrant?

A sense of loneliness crept over her despite being in the crowded little chamber. She couldn’t believe people lived this way once, with nothing but the real. Savages on the outside still lived this way.

“It worked,” Soren said. “We’re off! We’re strictly meat!”

Bane hopped up and down. “We’re like the Savages!”

“We’re Savages!” Echo yelled. “We’re Outsiders!”

Soren spun the manual release bar on the door. The chamber depressurized with a quick hiss and a rush of cool air. Aria looked down, stunned to see Paisley’s hand clasped to hers. She had only a second to absorb the fact that she hadn’t touched anyone in months, since her mother left, before Soren slid the door open.

What a great beginning! And this is even before you meet Perry. This makes me want to start the book all over again.

I loved, loved, loved this book! I think this has been my favorite dystopian story since THE HUNGER GAMES. Rossi has really created a rich, fantastical world filled with fascinating and complex characters. I enjoyed getting to know them and following their story through to the end.

(I hardly need to say that I picked up the second book in this series immediately after finishing the final chapter of the first book, do I?)

Great story. Great characters.

Read this book!


Learn more about Veronica Rossi here.

Follow Veronica on Twitter here.

Follow Veronica on Facebook here.

Follow Veronica on Instagram here.


2015 TBR Challenge – DEVIANTS Review


2015tbrbuttonMy eleventh review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is DEVIANTS by Maureen McGowan.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

I won this book, along with the sequel, COMPLIANCE, during the Kidlit Cares for Oklahoma fundraiser a few years ago after that devastating tornado hit the Moore area and destroyed a school. Ms. McGowan was also kind enough to sign both books for me. Lovely woman.

On to the review!

Mcgowan-Deviants-500-268x400DEVIANTS (The Dust Chronicles #1) by Maureen McGowan

Published by: Amazon Childrens Publishing

Release Date: October 30, 2012

Genres: YA, Science Fiction, Dystopia

Plot Summary:

Glory, a sixteen-year-old orphan whose emotions can kill, lives in a domed city where her ability means Deviant—and dead. For generations, Earth has been buried in asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans. To survive, Glory must hide her Deviant ability—and her paraplegic brother—from the authorities. When her boyfriend joins the secret police, she must flee the dome and outrun the sadistic, scab-covered Shredders living outside in the dust. Can Glory trust a mysterious boy with a dangerous Deviance of his own? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

This is a fast-paced read, and such a fascinating story. I love Glory’s character. She has to be so strong to survive in this world. Everything she does is motivated by keeping her brother safe. If anyone finds out about him, they will both be killed. Glory also has to worry about constantly keeping her emotions under control, so she doesn’t harm anyone with her Deviant ability – not an easy task for even a Normal teenager. Throw in a couple of complicated love-interests and the stakes just increase exponetially.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter One:

“Who’s there?” My voice comes out higher than I’d like, and the rats echo with screeches.

A large shadow slides across the roof near an air vent, and I press myself down, gravel digging into my knees and palms. The shadow’s too huge to be cast by a person, but my pulse engulfs my senses, blurring my eyes, filling my ears, clouding my judgement.

I blink and the shadow’s gone; all that’s left is the undulating wave of rats over rats.

Shielding my nose to block the smell, I draw in long breaths. You’re okay. You’re safe. No one knows.

If the shadow was a Comp, he’d arrest me, not stalk from the shadows. And by living inside Haven, we’re safe from the Shredders that roam outside the dome.

I’m crazy to imagine danger around every corner, but this sense of being watched has haunted me for the three years since my brother Drake and I became orphans. Growing taller and nearing puberty, my brother’s become thin and needs more meat, so I return to my task.

Focusing on the scratch-scratch of rat claws, I home in on individual rodents – sense each body, each breath.

One skitters into a sliver of light and lifts its head to make eye contact.

Big mistake, Mr. Rat.

Held in my gaze, the rodent can’t look away. Emotions heighten my senses, and soon I can feel the rat’s rapidly beating heart, hear its blood coursing as adrenaline floods its veins. It’s as if my fingers are pressed to its pulse, my ear to its chest. But they’re not. The sensations build until the rat’s completely under my control.

Crushing my instinct to release the poor creature, I dig for more useful emotions than pity, emotions I’m certain can kill. I think of the person who hurt me most, who shattered my childhood, who betrayed my trust – who murdered my mother.

I think of my father. I think of the blank look on his face three years ago when the Compliance Officers, in their black masks and body armor, took him away.

Hate and anger crash through an inner door and sizzle like water hitting hot oil. Just the fuel I need. Locked on the rat’s glare, my eyes tingle and sting. My emotions build, and my curse sparks to life at the back of my eyes.

Focusing my power, I picture the rat’s heart, sense it compressing, and will my emotions to squeeze.

The rodent’s eyes widen, its whiskers glisten with humidity, and it opens its mouth to reveal needle-sharp teeth. A shudder traces through me but I can’t back down. I will do this. I must. Drake needs to eat.

What a brutal world, right?  Glory keeps everything in check and pushes forward, no matter what she’s faced with. She is a true survivor. Not that she is without feeling or compassion, she’s constantly struggling with her emotions throughout the story. She’s terrified she’ll turn into her father – a murderer. Better to push everyone away and keep them safe. I really enjoyed this book and raced through it in no time.

Learn more about Maureen McGowan here.

Follow Maureen on Twitter here.

Follow Maureen on Facebook here.


2015 TBR Challenge – THAT SUMMER Review


2015tbrbuttonMy tenth review for the Official 2015 TBR Pile Challenge is THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen.

The goal of this challenge is “to finally read 12 books from your ‘to be read’ pile within twelve months”. To qualify for the challenge, books must be read and reviewed before the year is over, and all selections must have publishing dates from the year 2013 or older. (Here are the books I’ll be reading this year.)

There’s nothing like reading about summer just as the weather turns chilly, daylight is in short supply, and you’re all snuggled under a pile of fuzzy blankets. I’ve been following Sarah Dessen on Twitter for awhile, and I’ve had this book – her very first book – in my TBR pile for quite some time. I’m very happy I finally got the chance to read it.

On to the review!


that_summer-m8oyypmgrkb32gvgd9kpk04jrpf97hewrs72mnme80THAT SUMMER by Sarah Dessen

Published by: Speak (a Penguin Group Imprint)

Release Date: January 1, 1996

Genres: YA, Contemporary Fiction

Plot Summary:

The more things change…

As far as Haven is concerned, there’s just too much going on.

Everything is changing, and she’s not sure where she fits in.

Then her sister’s old boyfriend shows up, sparking memories of the summer when they were all happy and everything was perfect…

But along the way, Haven realizes that sometimes change is a good thing. (Plot summary from Goodreads website.)


This so much more than a breezy summer read. Haven’s world – from her body to the still-new structure of her split family – is changing faster than she can handle.  She wants nothing more than to go back to that one summer where everything was wonderful, where her sister liked spending time with her and her family had the best summer vacation at the beach.

But that’s not how life works. Haven has to learn how to become comfortable in her own skin and accept the changes that are happening.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter One:

The day my father got remarried, my mother was up at six A.M. defrosting the refrigerator. I woke to the sound of her hacking away and the occasional thud as a huge slab of ice crashed. My mother was an erratic defroster. When I came down into the kitchen, she was poised in front of the open freezer, wielding the ice pick, Barry Manilow crooning out at her from the tape player she kept on the kitchen table. Around Barry’s voice, stacked in dripping piles, were all of our perishables, sweating in the heat of another summer morning.

“Oh, good morning, Haven.” She turned when she saw me, wiping her brow with the ice pick still in hand, making my heart jump as I imagined it slipping just a bit and taking out her eye. I knew that nervous feeling so well, even at fifteen, that spilling uncontrollability that my mother brought out in me. It was as if I was attached to her with a tether, her every movement yanking at me, my own hands reaching to shield her from the dangers of her waving arms.

“Good morning.” I pulled out a chair and sat down next to a stack of packaged chicken. “Are you okay?”

“Me?” She was back on the job now, scraping. “I’m fine. Are you hungry?”

“Not really.” I pulled my legs up to my chest, pressing hard to fold myself into the smallest size possible. It seemed like every morning I woke up taller, my skin having stretched in the night while I slept. I had dreams of not being able to fit through doors, of becoming gigantic, towering over people and buildings like a monster, causing terror in the streets. I’d put on four inches since April, and showed no signs of letting up. I was already five-eleven, with only a few more little lines on the measuring stick before six feet.

“Haven.” My mother looked at me. “Please don’t sit that way. It;s not good for you and it makes me nervous.” She stood there staring at me until I let my legs drop. “That’s better.” Scrape, scrape. Barry sang on, about New England.


The characters are all wonderfully real and engaging, and their struggles to repair the fault lines caused by broken relationships rang true to what I’m going through this year in my own family. Many tears were shed while reading this book.

The interactions between all of the characters were just as complicated and fantastic as the one from this excerpt. I especially loved the relationship between the two sisters. Then, of course, there’s the most interesting character, the older sister’s former boyfriend, Sumner, who re-enters the picture. Sumner has a unique guidebook he lives by, and although he seems to be just what Haven needs in the beginning, she does have to find her own way in the end. This is a fantastic story about struggle and finding your self-confidence, your place in the world.


Learn more about Sarah Dessen here.

Follow Sarah on Twitter here.

Follow Sarah on Facebook here.

Follow Sarah on Tumblr here.