Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling Ridge

April 14, 2021 Reviews 4

Today I’ve got some bite-sized reviews of some of my recent reads: Two MG contemps, a MG contemporary fantasy, and two YA contemps. I hope these bite-sized reviews are enough to feed your fiction addiction!


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling RidgeThe Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker, Stacy Davidowitz
Published by Amulet Books on April 13, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Pages: 288
Source: NetGalley
My rating:
4.5 Stars

A heartfelt middle-grade novel about a theater-loving girl who uses a wheelchair for mobility and her quest to defy expectations—and gravity—from Tony award–winning actress Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Thirteen-year-old Nat Beacon loves a lot of things: her dog Warbucks, her best friend Chloe, and competing on her wheelchair racing team, the Zoomers, to name a few. But there’s one thing she’s absolutely OBSESSED with: MUSICALS! From Hamilton to Les Mis, there’s not a cast album she hasn’t memorized and belted along to. She’s never actually been in a musical though, or even seen an actor who uses a wheelchair for mobility on stage. Would someone like Nat ever get cast?

But when Nat’s family moves from California to New Jersey, Nat stumbles upon auditions for a kids’ production of Wicked, one of her favorite musicals ever! And she gets into the ensemble! The other cast members are super cool and inclusive (well, most of them)— especially Malik, the male lead and cutest boy Nat’s ever seen. But when things go awry a week before opening night, will Nat be able to cast her fears and insecurities aside and “Defy Gravity” in every sense of the song title?

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An utterly empowering book for anyone with a disability, The Chance to Fly follows Nat, a young girl with a spectacular singing voice who has always wanted her chance to shine in the spotlight. The only problem? She’s in a wheelchair, and her overprotective but well-meaning parents don’t want her to get her hopes up (and then dashed in the process). She sneaks away and auditions for the musical of her dreams, and she gets a part! But there are many obstacles to overcome, and Nat sometimes questions if her parents may have been right after all.

The book is co-written by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz. Some of you might recognize the first name—Ali was recently the first person in a wheelchair to win a Tony award (and, not long before that, the first person in a wheelchair to appear on Broadway). Not surprisingly, the story is semi-autobiographical; while the actual plotline is fictional, the experiences that Nat has, the challenges she faces, and the emotions she goes through are very obviously based on Ali’s own, making the story feel very authentic. Since Stacy has also been long involved in the theatre, she understands that side of the story as well and is able to help the reader feel like they’re a part of this close-knit cast. While the story definitely focuses on ableism and Nat’s day-to-day experiences as a person in a wheelchair, those aren’t the only themes explored. Nat has just moved and is dealing with the unknowns and frustrations of leaving her best friend and starting over in a whole new town. She develops a crush on a boy in the show and wonders if he feels the same. She deals with broken friendships and rivalries. All of these are things that every kid can relate to—and it’s important to remind the “average” middle-grader that kids with disabilities have all of the same hopes, fears, dreams, and disappointments that they do. In the end, Nat’s story (and Ali’s) is utterly inspirational!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling RidgeYou Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Published by Scholastic Audio on June 2, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Narrator: Alaska Jackson
Length: 7 hours and 18 minutes
Source: Library
My content rating: YA: Nothing more than kissing
My rating:
4.5 Stars

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed Midwestern town. But it’s okay - Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down...until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams...or make them come true?

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This book is perfect for anyone who craves a sweet, heartfelt romance that doesn’t feel like fluff. And, don’t get me wrong, I love a light, fluffy YA romance now and again—sometimes that escape is just what I’m looking for. But this book gave me all those same feels with a side of heavier themes like racial bias and homophobia. Liz has spent her whole school career working toward attending her late mother’s alma mater to achieve her dream of becoming a doctor and being able to help others who have sickle cell anemia. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get the scholarship she was hoping for and suddenly she’s left scrambling to find the money to fund her dream. The solution: compete for prom queen—and the massive scholarship that goes along with it in her small town. Of course, the competition comes with a whole set of rules (both written and unwritten) that make Liz feel like winning is nearly impossible. And the most important unwritten rule is not to let anyone know you’re gay, which is harder than it seems when Liz finds herself crushing on a fellow competitor.

Okay, I’ll confess that, as a mom of a kid who’s currently figuring out her college plans, a teensy part of me felt like Liz’s desperation to go to one single school was sort of unreasonable. She auditioned for a scholarship and didn’t get it—which sometimes happens in life and we need to be resilient (and go with a plan B, which never felt like an option in this book). But, I put that one little issue aside, and loved everything else about the story. I was with Liz all the way as she fought to make her dream a reality without giving in and becoming someone she wasn’t in order to fit the prom-queen mold. With a sweet romance, wonderfully complicated friendships, strong family bonds, and a sense of empowerment most teens are striving for, this book was a win! 

NARRATION: Alaska Jackson pulled me into this story beautifully and made me want to keep listening!


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling RidgeSalty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas
Published by Blink on March 3, 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Brand Navigation
My content rating: YA: Nothing more than kissing
My rating:
4 Stars

“Happiness, like love, arrives through the kitchen. At least that’s what my abuela Lala used to say. I may not know much about love, but I definitely got the kitchen part down.”

Seventeen-year-old aspiring chef Isabella Fields’ family life has fallen apart after the death of her Cuban abuela and the divorce of her parents. She moves in with her dad and his new wife in France, where Isabella feels like an outsider in her father’s new life, studiously avoiding the awkward, “Why did you cheat on Mom?” conversation.

The upside of Isabella’s world being turned upside down? Her father’s house is located only 30 minutes away from the restaurant of world-famous Chef Pascal Grattard, who runs a prestigious and competitive international kitchen apprenticeship. The prize job at Chef Grattard’s renowned restaurant also represents a transformative opportunity for Isabella, who is desperate to get her life back in order.
But how can Isabella expect to hold it together when she’s at the bottom of her class at the apprenticeship, her new stepmom is pregnant, she misses her abuela dearly, and a mysterious new guy and his albino dog fall into her life?

Salty, Bitter, Sweet:- Is a YA contemporary #OwnVoices novel written by CNN producer Mayra Cuevas- Features a Latina main character who is trilingual- Is inspired by the author’s relationships with food and family- Explores complicated family dynamics and relatable themes of friendship, acceptance, and learning to care for yourself

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This book has a whole lot going for it: a Latina MC stuck between cultures, a cooking competition with life-altering consequences, a lifelong dream that just might get smashed, a hunky (sort of, kind of, almost) stepbrother—and don’t forget his adorable pup. Isa has her life all figured out. Inspired by her late-grandmother’s cooking, she wants to be a world-class chef. The best way to achieve that dream is by winning a competition for an internship with a local famous chef. The only problem is, the further Isa gets into the competition, the more she starts to realize that her dream life as a chef might not match reality. Isa has a lot going on in her life, with her parents’ recent divorce, her father’s remarriage and a baby on the way. The book deals a lot with her complicated feelings about this family dynamic (including the fact that she’s aware her dad cheated), and I liked the fact that there were no cut-and-dry answers about how she should feel. Then there’s Diego, her stepmom’s ultra-infuriating used-to-be stepson. Diego shakes Isa’s life up in ways she was never expecting, and he gets her to start questioning what she really wants for her future. This is such a common theme for teens at this age—trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your life is so hard, and sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to figure out if the lifestyle you want will match up with the career you choose. In Isa’s case, she discovers that she might have to give up to much of her own happiness to experience her dream career. Oh, and the book is read filled with delectable food references, so maybe don’t read while hungry!

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling RidgeThe Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia
Published by Aladdin on October 15, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Pages: 352
Source: Library
Cover Artist: Aveline Stokart
My content rating: MG: Deals with Alzheimers and the aftermath of death of a family member
My rating:
4.5 Stars

A story about long-buried secrets, the power of memory, and the bond between a girl and her gram.

All Lulu Carter wants is to be seen. But her parents are lost in their own worlds, and Lulu has learned the hard way that having something as rare as HSAM—the ability to remember almost every single moment in her life—won’t make you popular in school.
At least Lulu has Gram, who knows the truth about Lulu’s memory and loves her all the more for it. But Gram has started becoming absentminded, and the more lost she gets, the more she depends on Lulu…until Lulu realizes her memory holds the very key to fixing Gram’s forgetfulness. Once Lulu learns that trauma can cause amnesia, all she needs to do to cure Gram is hunt down that one painful moment in Gram’s life.

With her friends Olivia and Max, Lulu digs into Gram’s mysterious past. But they soon realize some secrets should stay buried, and Lulu wonders if she ever knew Gram at all. It’s up to Lulu to uncover the truth before the only person who truly sees her slips away.

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The Memory Keeper is an exploration of the power and shortfalls of memory. Lulu has the rare ability to remember every minute of her life in detail, a fact that she’s hidden from most people because she doesn’t want to seem strange. She remembers her sister’s death and the happy life her family lived before the tragedy—and she also remembers each time they turned away from her in the aftermath of their grief. Lulu’s grandmother has been a constant in her life, taking on a motherly role when Lulu’s mom couldn’t function. But now Gram seems to be losing her own memory—she often experiences periods of fuzziness and confusion. When Lulu discovers that Gram suffered some trauma when she was younger that she has possibly blocked out, she becomes sure that the key to restoring Gram’s memory is by helping her get past that block. Of course, she can’t come right out and tell Gram that’s what she’s doing, so things get complicated fast as Lulu unravels a secret past.

I love how this book juxtaposed Lulu’s perfect memory with Gram’s fading one. Each chapter starts with a passage about the brain and how memories are processed, which I also found fascinating (especially since I’ve done quite a bit of research myself on the subject for a draft of a manuscript I wrote a couple of years ago). The mystery of Gram’s past will be sure to keep kids turning the pages, and they’ll also learn some fascinating facts (both positive and negative) about what it would be like to live with HSAM and remember every detail of your life!


Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling RidgeThe Stars of Whistling Ridge by Cindy Baldwin
Published by Quill Tree Books on June 15, 2021
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 400
Source: NetGalley
Cover Artist: Julie McLaughlin
My content rating: MG: Deals with death of a loved one
My rating:
4 Stars

In this new novel from the Indies Introduce author of Where the Watermelons Grow and Beginners Welcome, an almost-thirteen-year-old with an almost-complete sentence for a name embraces her destiny to search for a forever home.

Ivy Mae Bloom, whose name is one letter away from a complete sentence, has lived her entire life on the road. Her mama is a fallen star who travels near and far to tend to the magic that underpins our world. When Ivy steals Mama's entire supply of wish jars in the hopes of finding a forever home, a series of disasters strands the Blooms in Whistling Ridge, North Carolina, with Mama's two star sisters. Ivy knows her wish has been granted and that Whistling Ridge is her forever home—she just needs to convince her parents to stay.
But something is draining the magic from Whistling Ridge, and the star sisters can't stop it. With help from some new friends, Ivy stumbles across a clue in the town's history that might explain the mysterious force threatening Whistling Ridge . . . but if the town's magic is healed, Mama will want to move on. Ivy must choose: Can she help her mama and aunts lift Whistling Ridge's curse—even if it means losing the only place she's ever called home?

From award-winning author Cindy Baldwin comes an enchanting story about magic, family, and the meaning of home.

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This book explores the complicated business of wishing. Sometimes the things we think we want are not the things we actually need, and sometimes the answers to our problems are unexpected. Ivy’s family has always lived on the road in an RV. Her mother is a star—no she’s not famous; she is an actual fallen star who travels the country granting wishes and helping the world to stay in balance. But Ivy wants a true home; she’s tired of her nomadic life where she can’t form relationships that last. So, she uses her mother’s wishes, knowing full-well that her plan could go very awry. They end up with her aunts in Whistling Ridge, and Ivy starts to feel like she might actually belong there—that this might be her forever home. But when Whistling Ridge starts to die, sickening her aunt along with it, Ivy wonders if it all might be her fault and if the cost of her dreams might be too high. Ivy learns to deal with loss and finds that her definition of a forever home might have been missing some key ingredients.

A note about narration: I listened to this book via NetGalley with a computerized voice, meant just for review purposes. I was interested to find that I didn’t mind the fact that the computer wasn’t perfect about inflection. I thought the “voice” that they chose for the book fit extremely well, so it worked for me. I’d definitely try listening to another of these review audiobook galleys.

***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think? I wanna know!

 

4 Responses to “Bite-Sized Reviews of The Chance to Fly; You Should See Me In a Crown; Salty, Bitter, Sweet; The Memory Keeper; and The Stars of Whistling Ridge”

  1. Afoma

    So fun! I’ve read and reviewed The Chance to Fly and The Memory Keeper as well and I loved both. I also recently listened to one of those computerized voice galleys and thought it wasn’t too bad. It’s amazing how flexible our brains can be with these things. Great post, Nicole 🙂

  2. Sam@wlabb

    I loved the way Diego busted into Isa’s life. She needed something to help her move forward. I liked that she had such strong female mentors as well, especially in a field like cooking where men still dominate

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