The Belles

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

 teen girl with updo and ball gown on a book cover

BIBLIO: 2018,Freeform. Ages 12-17.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1484728499

Camellia is a Belle. A treasure among the people of Orleans, a Belle is a woman that has been blessed by the Goddess of Beauty and has arcane abilities. The people of Orleans, the Gris, are born with gray skin, red eyes, and ratty hair, while the Belles are born beautiful and can shape the Gris in their image.

Trained all her life to be a Belle with her six sisters, Camellia yearns to be the favorite Belle of Orleans and to serve the royal family. Once the sisters have presented their abilities they are placed in teahouses throughout the kingdom to serve their patrons and make the people of Orleans beautiful time and time again, as the results are only temporary.

Once the Belles begin fulfilling their duties they begin to uncover dark and revolutionary secrets. The royal family is not as perfect as they seem either. Camellia must perform her duties, play the dangerous game of politics, and fight for her life and everything she’s ever known.

This book is written to entertain through its fantastic descriptions and impeccable world building. With themes of bullying, self-esteem, and typical teenage struggles, this book is a great way to connect these important topics to everyday life. I personally loved this book and would highly recommend it. The book is reminiscent of The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. This book is best suited for young adults 12-17.


Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

boy under tree next to truck book cover

BIBLIO: 2016,Calkins Creek an Imprint of Highlights, Ages 9 to 13.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 9781629796734

Times were tough in the year 1941, the United States faced the looming possibility of entering the second world war. That year was even harder for Axel Bledscoe Junior. In July of that year his Pop dies and leaves him man of the house, only beginning ninth grade. Junior must help his mother with his elderly grandfather Hammer, who had moved in just prior to his father’s passing.

Junior struggles in school and with his family life. He realizes as he talks to Pop’s old friends and family in Brookford, that his father was much more than the drunk he had become and gets a fuller sense of the childhood his Pop grew up with, especially Granddaddy’s rearing.

Struggling to find his identity, and how his father’s qualities plays into it,Junior gets into all sorts of trouble with his new friend Dudley. Junior wants to be handy,loving, and neighborly like his father in his fondest memories but keeps falling short. With the support of his neighbors and his mother, he learns to face the consequences of his actions and vows to earn the respect he desires for himself and his family. This is a truly touching coming-of-age story and flawlessly reflects the historical aspects of life on the cusp of World War II.

I would recommend this book for boys from the ages of 9-13. The plot and language is simple and the text easy to read. While basic on the surface this book can foster introspective growth. A great read for the summer.

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Honestly Ben

Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg

love triangle book cover

BIBLIO: 2017, Arthur A. Levine Books an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., Ages 13 and up.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult
ISBN: 9780545858267

Honestly Ben is a very realistic and thought provoking read. The main character Ben Carver is a typical all-american overachiever. He attends Nattick Boarding school for boys and he loves history and baseball and is set up to accept the Peter Pappas award. The award basically being a stamp of approval in all aspects of life- sports, studies, extracurriculars, and being well liked by the student body.

It would seem that Ben is invincible, but there is one major snafu in his life, and that is his romantic entanglements.Ben is struggling with his sexual orientation and throughout the book he loves both the earnest,lovely Hannah and his lively,sensitive best friend Rafe. Ben must decide who matters more to him and all the consequences that go with his decisions.

Ben has more conflicting feelings than that in his life as he struggles to figure out who he is sexually, as a teammate, as a student, and as part of the Carver family. Many tough situations arise and Ben grows as a person by learning many life lessons about family, vulnerability, courage, and most of all honesty, because what is there to life if your reality isn’t the truth?

This book is relatable, the conversations and interactions feel they’ve happened in real life already. I would suggest this book for teens in high school. There are some allusions to sex and some bad language. With the complicated themes of the novel I wouldn’t advise giving it to anyone younger than thirteen.

I personally am pretty neutral on this book. It was very well written and it is one of very few fiction pieces that have changed my way of thinking. It hurt my brain to read this book, but in a good way because it was expanding my mind. It is also the first book I’ve encountered that has a bisexual character. I read this book independently, not realizing it was part of a series. If I had more backstory I think I would have liked it infinitely more. Definitely worth the read.

Read this book first!
checklist emoji book cover

Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

girl with wings book cover

BIBLIO: 2007,New York: Warner Vision Books, Ages 12 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0316067959

Maximum Ride is a series written by the highly popular (at every age) James Patterson. It follows the story of six genetically mutated humans, Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel. The genes used? Avian, so they all sport a set of wings. Of course being such valuable experiments The School, the mad scientists that created them, are seeking to regain these young teenagers. At their bidding they have other genetically modified humans, Erasers, on the hunt with their werewolf-ish features. Scared, without their adopted father Jeb to guide them, the Flock flee from place to place. This thrilling beginning leads the reader to a world of growing up, emotions, and what family really means. I would recommend this series to 7th grade- 10th grade girls and boys, I would even lean toward encouraging boys to read this for the action and witty dialogue, all with minimal romantic themes.

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Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

BIBLIO: 1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux., ages 10 and up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-374-33664-6

Joey Pigza is a little boy that any kid can relate to. He is hyper and jittery and plays the class clown. But unlike most kids, he has ADHD. Joey tries really hard to act like the good kid he is but… he has to “get back to you on that”. With an illness controlled by poorly administered meds, Joey frequently gets caught up in wild antics like shouting out, sticking Band-Aids everywhere, swallowing a key, eating a whole shoofly pie, and cutting off Maria’s nose!
Unable to handle Joey’s wild behavior the school sends him to the Lancaster County Special Education Center. There he meets Special Ed (Mr. Ed Vanness) to get reevaluated for meds and change his outlook on life. After six weeks at the center he returns to school well –adjusted and with a renewed hope for his academic success, and with a new puppy, Pablo, who was an incentive to get better.
He realizes that everyone had been rooting for him all along and that he actually made a difference in people’s lives. Among them Mrs. Maxy, Mrs.Jarzab, Mrs.Howard, and Nurse Holyfield from public school who worry about his safety and only want to see him learn; not forgetting Charlie and Howard, the special needs students he befriended, showing that he, Joey Pigza, really could make a positive change in the world.
Jack Gantos uses this book as a way to describe to the reader how it feels to be hyperactive and attention deficit. Using descriptive language such as “wired” and “spring” and describing the blurring of the surrounding world bouncing everywhere except into Joey’s brain. Subtly the author also brings in themes of a troubled home-life. Starting with the abusive grandmother and nonexistent dad, and moves along to the devoted previously absentee mother who has a messy past with alcohol. This very real book brings some perspective to how a mentally challenged student might feel about themselves and how they understand what society thinks about them.

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Stanley the Mailman

Stanley the Mailman by William Bee

hamster on motor bike

BIBLIO: 2016, Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 3 to 6, $14.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Picture book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-867-7.

Bee has produced another charming installation about Stanley the Hamster. Stanley acts as the town’s postman and delivers mail to all of his friends. Stanley’s day starts before dawn as he rides his scooter. Each friend opens up their mail which come as whimsical fun gifts or unfortunate truths like Hattie’s ticket. The book shows a lot of movement through the pages and actively engages the reader. The sentences flow and are very simple grammatically ideal for young readers. The digitally designed pictures are well thought out. The drawings are colorful, cute, and clean lines, along with a lot of sweet details. The cover of my particular book is pillow-y and perfect for tiny hands. I would recommend this book as a read-a-long book and for very beginning readers. This book is great as part of a career-themed Storytime and Stanley the Hamster as a series works perfectly as a quick grab for toddlers.

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Some Kind of Magic

Some Kind of Magic by Adrian Fogelin

shadows, book cover

BIBLIO: 2015,Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, Ages 10 to 14, $15.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 978-1-56145-820-2

Part crime-solving part coming of age, this novel features the four friends Justin, Cass, Jemmie, and Ben along with Ben’s kid brother Cody on their adventures as their last summer before high school kicks off to a boring start. Set in Tallahassee within a week countdown to Cody’s birthday, the story centers around the “magic hat” Cody finds that leads them to an abandoned shed on the site of a house fire that serves as their new secret hangout. A subplot of the novel is finding out what happened to the brothers’ Uncle Paul. It doesn’t take long for them to find out how the house fire, Uncle Paul, and the hat all connect. In the end Ben has an accident and Justin proves to be a hero as everything resolves. Teenage drama runs throughout the story with romance, family troubles, obesity, interracial friendships, and the uncertainty of a new school all being relatable to the reader. The novel does become very unrelatable when the “magic” is brought in. As this novel is designed for middle schoolers, the youngest will say they’ve outgrown it and the oldest really have. While the hat’s magical powers are symbolic of imagination and confidence, the characters’ expressed belief and the title can be deterring to potential readers. This is great for teachers to use to reassure students going to high school or for the kid sibling always tagging along. Some real issues and learning lessons are presented and can be effectively used for discussions in the classroom. For more adventures with these characters look for Fogelin’s novels, Crossing Jordan, The Big Nothing, and My Brother’s Hero.

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