Book Review: Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart

About a week ago, I was browsing the children’s book category on Bookshare and I came across the realistic middle grade novel Abby, Tried and True by Donna Gephart. Gephart was a new to me author even though she’s had eight middle grade novels published so far.

I was already reading four different books at the same time, but needed something, uhm, lighter? Not that the subject matter of this book is light, but I did expect it to be more easy to read than the adult novels I was reading. I raced through the first 80% of this book, then let it sit there because the #AtoZChallenge got in the way. I eventually decided to finish the book last night. Let me share my thoughts.

Summary

When Abby Braverman’s best friend, Cat, moves to Israel, she’s sure it’s the worst thing that could happen. But then her older brother, Paul, is diagnosed with cancer, and life upends again. Now it’s up to Abby to find a way to navigate seventh grade without her best friend, help keep her brother’s spirits up during difficult treatments, and figure out her surprising new feelings for the boy next door.

My Review

First, let me share that this book is really good with respect to its representation of diverse characters. Abby and her family are Jewish, which in a way shouldn’t be surprising, but it was to me. Abby has two Moms and nowhere is there a mention of a biological father. Abby just corrects people who assume she must have a Mom and a Dad.

Second, Abby is a truly great character. At first, she seems a bit dorky, but her sense of humor is apparent pretty quickly. I really loved the word jokes in this book. One of them, about Mom Rachel’s cooking YouTube, I didn’t even get until I’d finished the book.

Despite the tough subject matter of Paul’s cancer, this is a really lighthearted read. I don’t mean that the hard parts are sugarcoated – they aren’t. I mean, Paul truly experiences grief and sadness and this is made very clear. However, through Abby’s strength, I keep feeling that everything will be okay in the end.

The side characters are also very well-developed. I totally rooted for Conrad, the boy next door Abby has feelings for. However, there are also more negative characters out there. That makes this story believable and yet positive at the same time.

Overall, I loved this story. I gave it a solid five stars on Goodreads.

Book Details

Title: Abby, Tried and True
Author: Donna Gephart
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 9, 2021

#IWSG: Favorite Genres to Read

IWSG

Welcome to another installment in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (#IWSG) meeting. This past month, I’d set my expectations pretty high and, as such, was disappointed. I participated in #Write28Days with the aim of writing each day. Not surprisingly, that didn’t work out. I wrote 23 posts over the month of February. I also didn’t really broaden my horizons with respect to writing. That is, most of my posts were securely within my comfort zone. I really hope to be doing better this month.

Now on to the March 3 question: Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

Let me begin by saying my writing comfort zone is pretty narrow. I mostly write personal essays, if that’s even what my blog posts can be called. I would really like to write a memoir at some point, but I’ve been telling myself and others that for many years and yet never got down to actually doing it.

When I do write creatively, it’s usually poetry or very short pieces of flash fiction. I used to write some short stories and even have a young adult novel that I started writing as a teen yet never finished and that’s incredibly unimaginative I think.

My reading preferences do partly match my writing preferences, in that my favorite genre to read is memoir. Next to that comes young adult fiction about real problems, like the aforementioned work in progress also is.

I also read books that I couldn’t possibly be writing myself. Oh wait, I can’t really write a book at all, but oh well. I mean, I’ve recently developed an interest in science fiction and the like. I also occasionally read romance novels.

I rarely if ever read traditionally published poetry. That being said, I do love to read poems published on other people’s blogs. Same for personal essays and flash fiction. I mean, I’ve read a few books that were basically anthologies of personal essays, but I prefer to check out blogs for those.

With respect to what motivates my reading choice, I’m a true mood reader. I read a pretty wide variety of books, but they have to suit my mood at that time. I usually choose books based on the blurb. I can’t see the covers, obviously and I rarely read reviews on Amazon or Apple Books. When I do read reviews, it’s on other people’s blogs.

What about you? What motivates your reading choice?

Book Review: Hatch by Kenneth Oppel

Yay, I finally finished Hatch by Kenneth Oppel. I had read Bloom, the first book in the trilogy, last summer and reviewed it here in August. Hatch came out on December 1 I think (although Goodreads says it came out on September 15). I got it off Bookshare the next day. Today I’m finally able to review it.

Summary

Fans left desperate for more at the end of Bloom will dive into this second book of the Overthrow trilogy–where the danger mounts and alien creatures begin to hatch. First the rain brought seeds. Seeds that grew into alien plants that burrowed and strangled and fed. Seth, Anaya, and Petra are strangely immune to the plants’ toxins and found a way to combat them. But just as they have their first success, the rain begins again. This rain brings eggs. That hatch into insects. Not small insects. Bird-sized mosquitos that carry disease. Borer worms that can eat through the foundation of a house. Boat-sized water striders that carry away their prey. But our heroes aren’t able to help this time–they’ve been locked away in a government lab with other kids who are also immune. What is their secret? Could they be… part alien themselves? Whose side are they on? Kenneth Oppel expertly escalates the threats and ratchets up the tension in this can’t-read-it-fast-enough adventure with an alien twist. Readers will be gasping for the next book as soon as they turn the last page…

My Review

I truly loved the first half or so of the book. It shows how Anaya, Petra and Seth try to survive whilst being locked up in a government lab and cruelly experimented on by the military. I didn’t care that they were part alien themselves. In fact, just like while reading Bloom, I mostly just cared about the main characters’ wellbeing and was hardly touched by the rest of the world being harmed by the alien insects. I think that’s a true positive about this series, that it paints the characters so well that I truly empathize with them.

Then, around 65% into the book, it got a bit boring. I was convinced I’d neared the end of the story only to find out from my app that I was only at two-thirds or so. By around 80%, the story got more fast-paced again and I truly raced through those last pages.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I do need to say it was not what I’d expected. Though I do really want to know more, the ending of this book was a bit of a disappointment.

I ended up rating this book four out of five stars because of its not so fast-paced bits in the middle and its ending.

Book Details

Title: Hatch (The Overthrow, #2)
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication Date: December 1, 2020

Flash Fiction: ER

I look(1) at the patient and notice(1) she’s cyanosing(2). I check her pulse, which is very faint(5). I tell my colleague in a whispering)3) voice: “Please get the doc. I don’t know what happened, but she has to come through.” I lovingly(4) stroke her arm. Despite being a nurse, I can’t act. I can’t imagine my own daughter is in such a feeble(5) condition.


This piece of flash fiction was written for MindloveMisery’s Menagerie’s Saturday Mix for this week, which was Same Same But Different. The challenge is to write about the five words provided, but not use them. The words were: see, blue, soft, kind and weak.

I saw that many participants used synonyms for “blue” such as “sad” and “moody”. For me though, immediately, words that convey the color blue came to mind.

Obviously, this piece is entirely the product of my own imagination. I have absolutely no idea whether there’s any realism about this tale, but I loved trying to come up with it.

#IWSG: Turn-Offs in Other People’s Writing

IWSG

Yay, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and you know what that means? It’s the Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s (#IWSG) meeting day.

I did pretty well in the writing department over the month of December and early January. I in fact am feeling very motivated to write. That being said, I do feel disappointed about not having realized my bigger writing dream of 2020, which was to submit another piece for publication in an anthology. It’s probably due to fear of rejection. I mean, blogging is a relatively safe way of expressing one’s writing abilities, in that it doesn’t really come with rejection. I mean, if I start a blog and it’s a total failure, I just won’t attract any readers, but no-one is going to directly tell me.

For 2021, I once again aim to submit at least one piece for publication. I just can’t bear to say for another year that I’m a published author because of that one piece I had published in 2015. I can’t control editors’ selection criteria, but I’ll have to at least try one more time.

Now on to this month’s optional question. The question is what, as a writer, turns you away from other people’s books, makes you not finish a book or frustrates you about other people’s writing.

The first thing that came to mind, is not a style issue or a writing flaw, but factual errors in the story. For example, in Rules for 50/50 Chances by Kate McGovern, one of the characters’ mother and sisters have sickle cell disease and the characters keep talking about how this character didn’t inherit “the gene” and how another disease is recessive, as if sickle cell disease is inherited via a dominant gene. Well, I am no geneticist, but I am pretty sure it’s recessive.

It isn’t that such an error stops me from finishing a book altogether if it’s an otherwise good story. I think I even gave the aforementioned book four stars on Goodreads and I definitely did finish it. It was the thing that kept me from giving it a five-star rating though.

In a similar way, I am usually slightly annoyed when authors invent things into their otherwise-realistic stories. For example, I didn’t like the fact that John Green invented a cancer drug for the purpose of the story in The Fault in Our Stars. I did feel better because he admitted it at least.

The one thing that does stop me from finishing a story, is an unrealistic portrayal of certain settings in a story that’s supposed to be realistic. For example, I stopped reading The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork as soon as I read that the character got daily therapy sessions. That’s not happening in any psych hospital. That is, it might’ve happened in the times of psychoanalysis in the 1950s, but currently there’s no money for that.

I think I really need to get more flexible in my approach to fiction. It is, after all, fiction.

Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Hi all, how are you doing? It’s still really hot out here. So hot that I can’t go outside at all and I lie in bed a lot during the day. At night, when it’s slightly cooler, I sit at my desk reading.

I started reading Heroine by Mindy McGinnis already quite some months ago. On Thursday, I finally finished it, but I didn’t feel like writing a review yet. Now I am basically forcing myself to write a review, as otherwise I’ll never get to it.

Summary

An Amazon Best Book of the Month! A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

My Review

The prologue was very gripping and I was immediately sucked into the story. However, as the chapters progressed, I felt increasingly bored at first. That’s why I didn’t make it beyond 35% when first starting on this book. Other books just seemed far more interesting. When I finally forced myself to go beyond this point last week, the book did capture my attention again.

The story is told entirely from Mickey’s perspective. That’s why, despite knowing that she makes a ton of horribly irresponsible choices, I couldn’t keep from rooting for her. I always seemed to support her and hoped that nothing bad was going to happen to her. I even at some point hoped no-one would find out about Mickey’s addiction, because that’d mean the end to her softball career.

To be honest, I felt the other characters were a little flat. However, that only got me to see things more from Mickey’s point of view.

The writing style was a little cringe-worthy at times. I cannot quite put my finger to why. I think one reason is that there are a lot of long, complex sentences in the story that I found a little hard to follow.

Overall though, this book was definitely worth my read. I gave it a four-star rating on Goodreads.

Book Details

Title: Heroine
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: March 12, 2019

Read With Me

Reading Wrap-Up (June 10, 2020)

Good evening everyone! I’m in quite a good mood for reading lately, so I thought I’d share a reading wrap-up with you all today. I’m joining in with WWW Wednesday.

What I’m Currently Reading

Last week, I downloaded a couple of autism-related books off Bookshare. I started with Our Autistic Lives edited by Alex Radcliffe. This is a collection of personal accounts of life with autism, organized by author age.

Then I stumbled on Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders. This is a collection of colums by the author about strange medical cases. I’m 20% done with it now.

Lastly, today I picked up Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott again after a few weeks of not reading it. I’m not sure I’ll finish it, but we’ll see. I don’t think I like this book as much as I’d originally thought.

What I Recently Finished Reading

I spent all of last week-end reading Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett and finished it on Sunday. See my review, which I wrote on Monday.

What I Think I’ll Be Reading Next

I put a few other autism-related books on my virtual shelves this past week, including Spectrum Women by Barb Cook. I also downloaded a few more books in honor of #BlackLivesMatter, namely On the Come Up and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

However, I’m a true mood reader and I’ve had Clean by Juno Dawson on my radar for a while, so I may buy that one soon and read it first.

What have you been reading lately?

Book Review: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett

Last week, I was drawn to Anne of In Residence’s Black Lives Matter booklist. I am white and admittedly completely clueless about racism, certainly as it applies to Black people. I however immediately decided to download a few books off this list onto my phone. The first book I got to read, obviously, was one with a medical aspect to it, because that’s what I’m most interested in: Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett.

Summary

In a community that isn’t always understanding, an HIV-positive teen must navigate fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love–and lust–for the first time. Powerful and uplifting, Full Disclosure will speak to fans of Angie Thomas and Nicola Yoon.

Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.

Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on…

My Review

When I bought this book off Apple Books, I had next to no idea what this book was about other than the main character being Black and HIV-positive. Having an excuse to read a medical novel under the guise of supporting Black lives felt good though (yes, I know that makes me pretty oppressive). I had no idea this book was so good though.

Not only does it talk about HIV in much more depth than I ever was aware of. I mean, I almost immediately felt the shame come back to me from when we were presented with a problem case in college in which a fictional workplace was disrupted by stigma surrounding one worker’s HIV-positive status and I pretty quickly jumped to conclusions by saying the coworkers might want to be tested. My instructor immediately called me out that you don’t get HIV from drinking out of the same cups as someone who’s positive. I mean, I knew this much, but still objected that fear might guide the coworkers to get tested anyway and I’d understand that. How horrible!

It was totally liberating learning about not just HIV, but sex and sexuality in a broad perspective too. Several characters are openly queer. I loved learning about diversity like this.

Then there’s the race aspect. I didn’t learn too much about that from this book, as it assumes you already know a bit about Black culture, but I bet Black people can relate to some of the things being discussed.

The book is more plot-driven than character-driven, but I happen to love that. The characters are still really well-portrayed.

Overall, I totally loved this book and as such gave it five stars on Goodreads.

Book Details

Title: Full Disclosure
Author: Camryn Garrett
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: October 29, 2019

MamaMummyMum

Book Review: Wink by Rob Harrell

A few weeks ago, I was in the mood for middle grade books and googled something like middle grade books in 2020. One of the first results that popped up was Wink by Rob Harrell. I read the blurb and was immediately determined to read it.

First though, I had to finish Wonder. I finished that last week, so after that and after a short break for processing, I proceeded to this book.

Wink

Summary

A wrenching and hilarious story about embracing life’s weirdness and surviving an unthinkable diagnosis, based on the author’s own experience with a rare eye cancer.

Twelve-year-old Ross Maloy just wants to be normal. Not to have a rare eye cancer, not to lose his hair, not to have to wear a weird hat or have a goopy eye full of ointment. Just normal. But with a sudden and horrifying diagnosis, Ross can’t help standing out. His new life is medical treatments that feel straight out of a video game, vision loss in one eye, disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid,” cruel bullying, and ultimately, friendships new and old that rise above everything.

Just when Ross starts to feel like he’s losing his footing, he discovers how music, art, and true friends can change everything. Filled with Rob Harrell’s comic panels (Batpig for the win!) and spot art, this novel brings effortless humor and hope to an unforgettable, uplifting story of survival.

My Review

Well, I cannot see the illustrations, so this review is purely about the story. And let me tell you, it’s an amazing story! Harrell has created Ross to be so totally witty, I loved it! I mean, even in the darkest of times, while my heart went out to Ross, I also found the story humorous. Ross truly shows his determination. He may not (as he says) have some big epiphany in which he realizes life is a precious gift, but he does retain his sense of humor in spite of it all. That’s awesome. I mean, this book had me laugh out loud on several occasions.

What’s also important, is the development the characters go through. I liked how Harrell creates his characters to be as open to friendship as they were. I mean, I know this book is a middle grade novel and some kids that age are just so closed-minded. Harrell’s characters for the most part are not.

I loved that this book had just one viewpoint, that of Ross. It shows us what goes on inside a “cancer kid”‘s mind without the added baggage of family members or friends. Of course, they chime in on occasion, but that’s okay. Oh, and not just Ross, but many other characters are totally awesome.

I loved Harrell’s writing style, the dialogue and how quickly this book moved. All absolutely great.

In short, this wasn’t some inspirational story, and yet it was. It’s partly based on Harrell’s own experience, even though I assume Harrell was an adult when he got cancer. I think this book definitely provides some perspective to middle schoolers and yet puts a laugh on their faces.

Book Details

Title: Wink
Author: Rob Harrell
Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: March 31, 2020

Read With Me

Reading Wrap-Up (March 16, 2020)

Okay, so clearly I didn’t make a reading wrap-up a regular feature. In all honesty, I didn’t read much over the first two months of the year at all. Thankfully, I got back into the mood for reading just in time for the near-complete lockdown due to the coronavirus this week.

My day center is still open, but tomorrow will most likely be the last day for the duration of the lockdown. The staff and management need this day to be able to decide on staffing issues, as normally the homes aren’t staffed during the day. We’ll see where this goes.

I am linking up with #IMWAYR again, as well as Stacking the Shelves (hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and Reading Reality). Lastly I’m linking up with the Sunday Post.

What I’ve Been Reading

I started reading Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan in January, so it hasn’t made it into a reading wrap-up yet. I finally finished it on Friday and wrote a review on Saturday.

I finally moved along in Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. No, it’s not finished yet (no, still not!), but with the day center closing soon, I’ll have more time on my hands to read and should be able to finish the book this week.

I’ve also been reading Heroine by Mindy McGinnis, which so far I’m really enjoying.

Stacking the Shelves

Firstly, of course I’ve been stocking up on journaling books again lately. The ones I downloaded are free though. I’ve also been downloading a few books of quotations and Bible verses. Then come some handbooks on intellectual disability and autism that I only intend for reference.

With respect to fiction, I added two books to my shelves in the past week, both downloaded from Bookshare. The first is All the Water in the World by Karen Raney. I got interested in it looking for White Oleander by Janet Fitch, which I’ve been wanting to read ever since it came out some twenty years ago and was recently mentioned on another blogger’s reading list. I couldn’t find that one on Bookshare, so am considering buying it from Apple Books as either an audiobook or eBook. Then I saw All the Water in the World in the related books section.

The second is The Institute by Stephen King. I haven’t read any horror so far yet, but this title really intrigued me. I’m also still looking for horror stories about deadly viruses or pandemics or whatnot. I know, we’re living it now, but that’s exactly why I want to read some of this type of fiction. If anyone has any recommendations, please share them in the comments.

What have you been reading lately?