Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech


Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.

It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself-and her vagabond, show-biz life-through new eyes.

If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose…and always wonder who she could have been.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!

Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello


Little Pig Saves the Ship by David Hyde Costello
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Pig is back in Little Pig Saves the Ship! When the sea-faring pigs go a-sailing! Intrepid Little Pig — still the littlest pig in the family — is too little to go to summer camp with his older brothers and sisters. He is left behind with Grandpa and Poppy. Little Pig and Poppy make and sail a toy ship all week, but on Saturday a gusty wind takes the ship into the current, and Little Pig has to use his newfound knot-tying skills to save the day.

A sweetly told intergenerational story about how even the littlest can make a big difference.

It’s never easy to be left behind.

Little Pig was such a sweet main character. I empathized with his dismay at not being old enough to join his siblings on their exciting trip. He wanted so badly to be included and would have done anything to go with them. Seeing how he chose to spend his time once they left made me smile. The adults in his life had clearly put some work into finding fun activities that he was currently big enough to do. These scenes made me wonder how he’d describe this part of his childhood when he grew up. He was having a wonderful time, but he was also in such a hurry to become big and independent like his sisters and brothers!

There are a lot of picture books out there about LGBTQ+ parents these days, but I haven’t seen as many about LGBTQ+ grandparents or other relatives. The subtle inclusion of Grandpa and Poppy made me smile. They clearly loved their grandchildren and had spent a lot of time developing a close relationship with them. I enjoyed watching them cheer Little Pig up with games and other diversions as he counted down the days until his older siblings would return home from summer camp.

As much as I enjoyed the beginning and middle of this tale, the ending was what convinced me that this was a five-star reading. It was exciting in some scenes and sentimental in others. I also appreciated the references it made to the first scene that described Little Pig’s disappointment. While I can’t say much else without giving away spoilers, seeing everything tied together so perfectly made this a must-read in my opinion.

Little Pig Saves the Ship was a heartwarming snapshot of family life in the summertime.

Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech


Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze by Benjamin Roech
Publisher: Deep Hearts YA
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.

It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself-and her vagabond, show-biz life-through new eyes.

If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose…and always wonder who she could have been.

One summer really can change everything.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that addressed Rainey’s summer romance. She and her love interest were both so young and still unsure of where they might land on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. It was interesting to see how they addressed their feelings as they both explored their identities and tried to figure out what they wanted out of life. I don’t want to give away any spoilers here, but this was nicely written and felt very realistic for their ages and for the era they lived in.

I also enjoyed the subplots about Rainey’s complex relationships with her parents. She was beginning to grow up, and her mother, Tracy, wasn’t always ready for all of the changes that was going to bring to their band and to their lives in general. While there were a few times when I shook my head at how much effort Tracy was putting into preserving traditions that were not necessarily working so well as her children asserted their independence, even these moments were genuine and necessary for what was to come. Adjusting to change isn’t easy, especially for parents who have given their children such unconventional upbringings so far.

The character development was handled beautifully. Every member of the Cobb family was three dimensional and well written, and this was especially true for Rainey. I found myself wishing that she were a real person so we could talk about poetry and make mixtapes for each other all summer long. It was delightful to see how she, her brother, and their parents all grew as individuals over the year that this novel covered. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d love to find out what happened to these characters next!

Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze was utterly perfect.

Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, non-fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts two ferocious insects. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling pair before finally discovering the winner!

This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

Yeah, this one wasn’t what I was anticipating, nor did I expect to learn a bunch of new facts about hornets and wasps – don’t call them bees. I know quite a bit about honeybees due to family interests, but I could never get it straight on the differences between a wasp and hornet. With the facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta, and the clear and vivid illustrations by Mr. Bolster, I have a much firmer understanding. Since this short story is a book geared towards 6-9 yr.-olds, I’m pretty sure kids get the picture and will probably retain the information far better because of the delivery.

This little book doesn’t confine itself to the insect world per se. The author shows how wasps have inspired humans in all sorts of unexpected ways, both whimsical and practical. Until it was explained in a condensed and focused presentation, I was clueless. Kids have an incredible resource with the Who Would Win? Series. Parents will be as fascinated as their kids as they share this reading adventure into the hows and whys of hornets and wasps.

The author was thorough in his research, from nests, to food, to air battles, to the difference in stingers – I didn’t know that! – and how they compare with other insects that we see every day. The author even shared his misadventures with the stinging critters. The climax of the story is the battle between hornet and wasp. Who won? You’ll have to check it out.

My head is a buzz with all I learned, and I’m an adult! I am glad there are books like this out there. It’s just the right number of pages, information and visual stimulation in a well-presented format for young kids with maturing attention spans. Whether you use the print book or an eBook, the colors and illustrations pop. This is a must read. I mean, who hasn’t seen a bee/hornet/wasp by the age of 6, right? Hornet vs. Wasp has information that’s a must for inquisitive kids. Yes, bees are furry, but hornets and wasps can actually bite! I didn’t know that!

Enemy’s Keeper: Forbidden Ties by Kyrie Wang


Enemy’s Keeper: Forbidden Ties by Kyrie Wang
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Genre: Historical, Young Adult
Rated: 3 stars
Review by Rose

1075 A.D. England Nine years after the Norman Conquest

Orphaned during a rebellion against William the Conqueror, Heather’s life is just settling down when her childhood sweetheart disappears to save the son of a murdered Norman knight.

This quarrelsome son, Matthew, is determined to destroy the English rebels who decimated his household. Heather stays out of it—until she is accidentally entangled with a young rebel leader named Toby.

As she is whisked off through the forests of medieval England, inhabited by a dangerous but misunderstood tribal society, Heather is forced to take a side. Her decisions will put into peril everything she holds dear.

This book is full of non-stop action. There’s not a lot of setup in the story itself…reading this is rather like being thrown into the pool and told to swim. That’s not always a bad thing, because it definitely draws you into the story quickly.

Because it is action-based though, you don’t really get to know the characters very well. We get to see things mainly from the main character, Heather, who has the experience of trying to reconcile what she has been taught about different groups of people with their actual actions – not a bad lesson for young people to learn. Some older people would do well to learn the same lesson.

My major complaint about the book, even knowing it was the first book in the series, is that is just ended. Not really on a cliffhanger, but more like it was the end of a chapter. It did not leave me with the overwhelming urge to know what was coming next. Also, the action was there but the overall plot has not yet revealed itself. It almost feels like it was part of a larger work that was divided into smaller works…it would have been nice if this book had more of a plot arc leading to the next book.

That said, I did enjoy the writing and I still plan on reading the next book in the series because I want to see who Heather ends up with… because there are at least two possible characters that might turn out to be a love interest.. and I’m all about the love interests. 🙂

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Brutus Finds a Friend by Tif E. Boots


Brutus Finds a Friend by Tif E. Boots
Publisher: Sheltering Tree . Earth
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Brutus is a puppy in need of help. He can’t find his new ball.
Scrump is a bunny that was told to stay away from puppies.
Will Scrump help Brutus? Will Brutus find his ball? What adventure awaits?
Will a friendship be found? Open the book to discover what is waiting for Brutus and Scrump.

Friendship is a gift.

One of the most memorable scenes happened early on when a frightened Scrump ran away from Brutus. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover why Scrump made this decision, but his reasoning made me curious to learn more. It was also interesting to see these characters get to know each other as Scrump calmed down and explained why he was scared. Talking things out is such an important skill for people of all ages, and I liked the way it was shown here.

I would have preferred to see more descriptions included in this book, especially when it came to the setting. Farms are filled with so many different things to experience. There was plenty of material for the author to dig into. I simply didn’t see quite enough development here for me to go with a full five-star review even though I enjoyed everything else about it.

The ending was perfect. It made me nod in appreciation as this is not always an easy accomplishment when writing for this age group. It left plenty of space for future stories about Scrump and Brutus if Ms. Boots decides to write one while also making it perfectly clear that this particular adventure was finished. That’s exactly the sort of clear writing I like to see for kids who are just beginning to read on their own and who are not quite ready yet for more subtle hints.

Brutus Finds a Friend was a heartwarming tale.

Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different jungle animals battle it out in an epic fight! Who will be the champion?

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious jungle creatures. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

You’re never too old to learn, or to enjoy reading to your kids only to find out you’re just as fascinated as they are. I mean, I’ve watched enough National Geographic over the years to be aware of some of the facts in this story/picture book, but there were quite a few I had no idea about. My eyes bugged a few times, as in, “I didn’t know that!!!”, throw in a couple of “Whoa!” and “Yikes” and I can safely say that I am impressed with Ultimate Jungle Rumble.

Once again there are 16 unlikely combatants that are thrown together to see which of their natural protections and instinctual behaviors put them on the top of the jungle kingdom. My favorite was during round one with a gorilla. I’m not sure how 7-yr. olds would respond, it’s been a while, but mentally, I totally cheered and gave a thumbs up to a very effective strategy. Yeah, I could get behind that one. Then there was the defense technique of a capybara. Okay, that one got a snort and a chortle out of me. The illustration from Mr. Bolster that accompanied that battle ending might prod a giggle or two from the younger reading set for sure. I mean, I’m looking at it as I type this and I’m snickering. I showed the illustration to my eldest and my husband and they both gave it a chuckle and grin.

The green anaconda was a creepy contender. I don’t know what age Ophidiophobia starts in humans or why, but just in case – parents – there be snakes.

Accompanying the great illustrations are many amazing facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta. From how many types of bears there are in the whole world – I didn’t know that – to the difference between horns and antlers, which I seem to remember but am admittedly foggy on, well, that was until I read this book, and why a sun bear is called a sun bear. I remember seeing a documentary about the sun bears and they and humans don’t get along so well. This little book gave me information about sun bears that the ‘adult’ show did not. Very cool.

How it ends and which jungle animal ends up being king was what I hoped for, but it was a close one! Then again, I watch a lot of those sci-fi monster movies so you might say I’m a bit biased. I can see why this series is so beloved and popular. It’s fun while learning cool facts about the animals we share the planet with, and if parents haven’t tried this book or this series with their kids, I recommend giving it a look-see. My youngest gave it a thumbs-up, I suspect yours will too.

Neither by Airlie Anderson


Neither by Airlie Anderson
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this colorful and touching story that celebrates what makes each of us unique, a little creature that’s not quite a bird and not quite a bunny–it’s “neither”–searches for a place to fit in.

In the Land of This and That, there are only two kinds: blue bunnies and yellow birds. But one day a funny green egg hatches, and a little creature that’s not quite a bird and not quite a bunny pops out. It’s neither!

Neither tries hard to fit in, but its bird legs aren’t good for jumping like the other bunnies, and its fluffy tail isn’t good for flapping like the other birds. It sets out to find a new home and discovers a very different place, one with endless colors and shapes and creatures of all kinds. But when a blue bunny and a yellow bird with some hidden differences of their own arrive, it’s up to Neither to decide if they are welcome in the Land of All.

This colorful, simple, and touching story promotes diversity and offers a valuable lesson to the youngest of audiences: it is our differences that unite us.

Some things in life need a little bit more explanation.

One of the biggest strengths of this picture book in my opinion was how open-ended the storyline was. While it was originally written to help explain people who are gender non-conforming to kids, the message in it could easily be used to talk about race, disability, or any other number of differences that little ones might notice in others. To paraphrase certain key elements in the plot, not everyone can be easily categorized into this box or that one.

From a storytelling perspective, I found my wishing that the narrator had spent more time explaining why the rabbits and birds had never thought to explore places beyond their homeland or even to wonder what they were like. There didn’t seem to be any barriers between their land and what lay beyond it, so I was a little surprised to learn that they knew nothing about the geography of the world they lived in other than the little piece of it they were born on. It would have been nice to be given some logical reason for them to be unaware of such things.

I loved the positive and hopeful ending. It fit the age group this tale was written for perfectly while still leaving space for more exploration for kids who had additional questions or who wanted to keep talking. It’s reassuring for little readers to know that there is a place in this world for everyone even if they feel out of place at the moment, so I was also pleased to see that idea included as well.

Neither was a good conversation starter.

Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster


Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different dinosaurs battle it out in an epic prehistoric fight! Who will be the champion?
This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious dinosaurs. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

I adored dinosaurs while growing up but exciting books about them were few and far between. I wish they had the Who Would Win? Series back then. I would have been learning a lot more while having fun.

This picture book had awesome illustrations and the battle wounds for the losing dinosaurs in the matches were tastefully done. It shows where the winner bites to defeat its opponent but there’s nothing gory or worrisome for parents. Some kids might find it really cool. It’s not always the teeth that gives consistent advantage, there were some surprises.

The picture book has the names of the contestants, has fun facts about the meaning of a particular dinosaur’s name, and lists the attributes of each dinosaur that nature gave them to defend themselves. A reader will start with 16 dinosaurs, but there will only be 1 winner. Who will it be?

Now, for parents who might read this book with their kids, which would be a good idea if only to help them out with pronunciations, I would like to share that there is one battle that caught me by surprise. I blurted out a very loud, HA! As in, laugh out loud funny. If you were a fan of the early years of Saturday Night Live, this scene might bring back memories. I showed that dinosaur battle with my not-so-young-anymore son who had never seen SNL and even he thought it was hilarious and in turn said, “You gotta show dad!”.

All in all, this was a delightful read that was brought to life with wonderful illustrations by Mr. Bolster, coupled with facts, like one dinosaur has feet like a chicken, and great battle descriptions by Mr. Pallotta. The most interesting thing for me was that the winner wasn’t the dinosaur I expected.

Even though the range for this book is ages 6-9, and this book is labeled as non-fiction, I think the battles portrayed are wonderful and pure, storytelling at its finest. It uses fiction to make the non-fiction interesting, engaging and entertaining. Could those battles have actually taken place, and used the fighting techniques described therein? Quite probably, but we’ll never really know, will we.

I think this is a wonderful book and I do believe both parents and kids will enjoy watching (reading) The Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble.

The Adventures of Honey & Leon by Alan Cumming


The Adventures of Honey & Leon by Alan Cumming
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Honey and Leon are rescue mutts who love their dads very much. But their dads often have to go away on glamorous and important business, which worries the dogs. Honey and Leon are done staying home and fretting—they’re off on a dad-protecting adventure! Careful to remain incognito, the two pups shadow their dads on a trip across the sea, keeping them out of danger at every turn! How did they survive without Honey and Leon’s protection for this long?!

Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer wrote this story as a tribute to their own dogs, based on their frequent conversations about what Honey and Leon get up to while they’re away.

Nobody likes being left home alone while their parents have an adventure.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the relationships between the dogs and the dads. Their family was a close and loving one, and it showed. I smiled as the narrator explained why Honey and Leon were so concerned about keeping their humans safe and how they planned to make sure everything was okay on their dads’ latest business trip.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on the world building. As much as I enjoyed the open-ended nature of certain topics that I will mention in a moment, there were other times when I couldn’t help but to wonder about what people in this universe expected from the dogs around them. Most of them seemed so relaxed and understanding of talking dogs taking a cab or flying in an airplane that it made me wonder if similar adventures were well known enough that this was somewhat ordinary in their world. If only there had been more information about this!

The thought of two dogs travelling alone tickled my imagination. I couldn’t help but to wonder how they would avoid drawing unwanted attention to themselves and whether they’d be successful in their mission. It was a great deal of fun to come up with my own theories about how this all would work. The author gave enough information about this for the plot to make sense, but he also left plenty of space for little readers to come up with their own creative interpretations as well.

The Adventures of Honey & Leon made me smile.