Mini-Reviews: Clap When You Land, Time of Our Lives, & Ramona Blue

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Source: Borrowed

In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Elizabeth Acevedo is really good at writing books that pull a lot of emotions out of the reader. The Poet X hit me hard, and With the Fire On High was so good too. With Clap When You Land, she tackles a plane crash and its aftermath on two different girls.

While I did enjoy this book, I didn’t like it nearly as much as The Poet X. It’s written in verse and told in two different perspectives, and I had a lot of trouble distinguishing Yahaira’s chapters from Camino’s. Because of that, I don’t think I connected with either character as much as I’ve connected with her characters in the past.

But this book was still good. It tells an interesting, intense story about family dynamics, grief, and betrayal. It’s definitely worth the read and I look forward to reading whatever Acevedo publishes next.


Time of Our Lives by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
Source: Borrowed

A boy desperate to hold on, a girl ready to let go.

Fitz Holton waits in fear for the day his single mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s starts stealing her memory. He’s vowed to stay close to home to care for her in the years to come–never mind the ridiculous college tour she’s forcing him on to visit schools where he knows he’ll never go. Juniper Ramirez is counting down the days until she can leave home, a home crowded with five younger siblings and zero privacy. Against the wishes of her tight-knit family, Juniper plans her own college tour of the East Coast with one goal: get out.

When Fitz and Juniper cross paths on their first college tour in Boston, they’re at odds from the moment they meet– while Juniper’s dying to start a new life apart for her family, Fitz faces the sacrifices he must make for his. Their relationship sparks a deep connection–in each other’s eyes, they glimpse alternate possibilities regarding the first big decision of their adult lives.

Time of Our Lives is a story of home and away, of the wonder and weight of memory, of outgrowing fears and growing into the future.

These authors have been kind of a mixed bag for me. It’s clear that they can write a good story, but is that kind of story necessarily the kind of thing I want to read? Not always. While I loved If I’m Being Honest, I was really disappointed by how strongly cheating factored into Always Never Yours. I’d say that Time of Our Lives falls somewhere in the middle of that.

I’m really conflicted in my opinions about this book because, like I said, the writing was really good. But the plot? I’m just not sure. It felt really rushed to me, and just so unrealistic. I did like Fitz’s obsession with words, and as someone who majored in Linguistics in college, it made me really happy that he was considering it for himself!

All in all, this definitely wasn’t my favorite book by these authors, but I’ll still be reading whatever they publish next.


Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

I did not know that Ramona Blue caused such a stir until I started reading the reviews. My goodness, there’s some controversy. As a straight woman, I don’t think I’m really qualified to comment on the bisexual representation here, but I will say that I thought Julie Murphy wrote a very good book and I don’t think there was any malicious intent.

I really liked all of the characters, although Ramona could be a little… strong-willed at times. There’s not really a ton of plot here aside from the romance. Instead, we’re kind of just following Ramona and her family and friends around through their daily lives. What we do have is well-written, though, and it’s a little bit heartbreaking.

Ramona Blue hasn’t overtaken Dumplin‘ as my favorite book by Julie Murphy, but it was still really good!


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Dumplin’ & Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Source: Borrowed

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Because of the hype, I managed to avoid Dumplin‘ for a good four years. I’m always scared when I go on Goodreads and out of 38 friend reviews, the average is four stars. But after enjoying Julie Murphy’s middle-grade novel Dear Sweet Pea, I decided to suck it up and get on with it, and I’m so glad I did. Dumplin’ ended up being so much better than I’d expected!

I think, above all else, Dumplin’ is a really inspirational novel. Willowdean knows that she’s fat, and she knows that it doesn’t make her undesirable. She’s had it with society’s ideas that she should be ashamed of her body or try to hide. But that doesn’t mean that she never gets self-conscious. I felt like, while definite inspiration, Willowdean’s feelings about her body were also really realistic.

The romance I could honestly take or leave. The majority of the book is spent in this weird love triangle that I really could have done without. Still, the end relationship was very cute and I don’t really have any complaints about it, once it’s finally settled.

I ended up liking Dumplin’ so much more than I’d expected and now I just feel like I need to watch the adaptation.


Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 18, 2018
Source: Borrowed

It is a companion novel to Dumplin’, which follows supporting characters from the first book in the months after Willowdean’s star turn in the Clover City pageant.

Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing they might have more in common than they ever imagined. 

Shortly after finishing Dumplin’, I decided I might as well read its companion novel, Puddin’, which features one of Willowdean’s pageant buddies.

I was immediately skeptical of this book because of how much I disliked Callie from the beginning. She’s portrayed as a really self-centered person who feels like the rules shouldn’t apply to her. She’s brash, she’s blunt, and she’s flat-out rude a lot of the time. Luckily, the book focuses a lot on Callie’s personal growth, which made most of that awful behavior worth it. Millie, as always, was great. I really felt for her and wanted her to achieve her goals. The main conflict between Millie and Callie was a little drawn out, but that’s pretty much my only criticism with this book.

Honestly, both Dumplin‘ and Puddin‘ were unexpectedly great and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either one.


Have you read either of these books? Are they on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Dear Sweet Pea, Small Spaces, and The Lightning Thief

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”

This was my first book by Julie Murphy, and I really enjoyed it! I only picked it up because of a reading challenge but I ended up really enjoying it. I’d been a little skeptical of her books because of all the hype, but I’m definitely planning on trying out her YA novels now.

Sweet Pea was a really charming character and I liked all of the casual diversity — I think that’s so important in books, and books for younger kids in particular. It tackles some big topics like divorce and homophobia, but it does it in a really natural way. I did feel that some things were resolved a little too easily, but then again, this is middle grade and less than 300 pages, so all in all, it was pretty great.

#ps19: a book with a title that contains “salty,” “sweet,” “bitter,” or “spicy”


Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Source: Borrowed

New York Times bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. 

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver’s warning. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.” 

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

I hadn’t actually planned to read Small Spaces when I did, but it was available at the library, I had finished my other audiobooks, and I remembered Kristen recommending it, so I decided to go for it. It was really good! This is the kind of creepy, spooky story that would be perfect for Halloween.

Just like with Julie Murphy, this was my first book by Katherine Arden. Since I’m pretty picky about MG books, I’m taking it as a really good sign that I liked this! I’m excited to eventually read her YA series.


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 1, 2006
Source: Borrowed

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse – Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena – Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Over the years, so many people have told me to read the Percy Jackson books. Multiple children have told me that this is their favorite series, and I can understand why. This book is a lot of fun. It has a quest, it has betrayal, it has mythology. I can see how Percy would be easy to relate to.

The problem was that I just didn’t care.

I’m not really sure if this was a problem with me not typically loving middle grade stories or if it was more that the hype killed this book for me, but I don’t really feel like continuing on with it. I will, however, try out The Lost Hero.

#ps19: a book with at least 1,000,000 ratings on Goodreads


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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