Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Ten-year-old Sophie’s life in Houston is full of adventures, such as encountering wild hogs in her yard and watching Mutton Bustin’ at the Houston Rodeo, and she already has plenty of schoolwork. So she has no interest in the school spelling bee—until her classmate, Know-It-All Nathan, claims he’ll win the competition in Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by author Tonya Duncan Ellis.

This middle grade series has been on my radar for some time, largely because of the wonderful illustrations of Sophie and her peers on the book covers. This easy read packs in a good bundle of events, some true-to-life issues, as well as humor that got a few chuckles out of me.

And, of course, the story does not neglect to mention the inspiring family flick Akeelah and the Bee!

However, technical polish is especially important in children’s books, where the target audience is still getting a grasp on proper grammar and punctuation. I ran into a moderate number of errors in this book, including where the dialogue is concerned, and while the story is narrated in present tense, the narration slips into past tense at times when it shouldn’t.

Even so, I appreciate the diversity and positive moments, and I’m interested in what Sophie’s ongoing story may have in store. I plan to check out at least a couple more books in the series.

 

The Hero Feat of Hannah Helstrom by J. Philip Horne

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Hero Feat of Hannah Helstrom: Guild of Sevens 2.5 by J. Philip Horne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Other superheroes in the Guild of Sevens have powers that fifteen-year-old Hannah doesn’t have. She considers herself to be the worst Seven of them all, but she’s stubborn as all get-out—and her moment to prove it arrives in The Hero Feat of Hannah Helstrom by author J. Philip Horne.

First off: WOW to this!

Now, I should probably say Hannah’s moment to “prove it” is her moment to “use it,” as this isn’t a “prove myself to everybody” story but a “use what I have when it’s needed” story.

It’s pretty amazing because even though it was no shock to find out what Hannah’s moment would be, her journey to get there and the way she navigates through it is still so compelling. Hannah’s training, mettle, heart, unselfishness, and quick thinking come into play in the face of an incredibly daunting task. Yet, she’s so down-to-earth (with a little edge of dry humor) that she keeps the story real instead of corny.

As this short, coming-of-age fantasy read is a standalone from the Guild of Sevens middle grade series, it makes me curious about the “WOW” that may be in the novels.

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Guild of Sevens Series

 

Violet by Renée Lichtenhan

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Violet by Renée Lichtenhan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Thirteen-year-old Violet is sure her busy and prominent senator-and-senator’s-wife parents will never approve if they find out Violet regularly sneaks off to ride her skateboard at a park in Harlem. So Violet lies to keep her skate park life a secret. But when her nonverbal artist brother mysteriously begins to reveal Violet’s secrets through artwork, it may be time for the truth to spill out in Violet by author Renée Lichtenhan.

This middle grade novel is quite an involved story with a diverse cast of characters and a touch of the supernatural. I found the read to be slow for a while, so it took me somewhat longer to get into it than I would have liked, but I eventually became engrossed as the plot uncovered its various moving parts.

I appreciate that the story addresses serious issues in the characters’ lives, including socioeconomic factors and the effects of violence, drugs, and family dysfunction. However, as the characters have a range of tough problems, the story goes about fixing too many of them in a way that feels pretty convenient. While I’m a fan of hopeful and satisfying endings, the several resolutions for the characters’ challenges seem quick in this case, making the story’s ending a little too perfect.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting how this contemporary novel mixes the down-to-earth and the unearthly, and plenty of ChristFic middle grade readers and fans should enjoy it.

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I Am Girl Series

 

Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for an honest review.

Broken Strings by Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Shirli doesn’t land the role she wants in her junior high school’s upcoming play, Fiddler on the Roof, but she does get to partner in the production with cute, popular Ben. While looking for props to use in the play, Shirli finds an old violin in her grandfather’s attic, not knowing the instrument’s connection to a tragic family secret in Broken Strings by authors Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer.

I had quite the experience with this middle grade read. It addresses a dark subject (evidenced by the barbed wire and Star of David on the cover) without having the depressing overall texture/mood of dry gloom that I find in other novels that go to such painful places. Yet, I wasn’t sure for a while if I’d finish this book. The style and phrasing had an unoriginal feel to me, and I wasn’t finding the heroine or her young peers to be particularly interesting.

But the unfolding of Shirli’s grandfather’s part in the story had me intrigued. His poignant role began to bring the story together and, effectively, to strengthen the other characters. The read became richer as I went along, taking history and the need to recognize the value of all humanity, weaving it with Shirli’s personal journey and heritage, and culminating in a beautiful, redemptive finish that tugged on my soul.

The plot held no big surprises for me, but it eventually pulled me in so well that I finished this novel in one sitting—something this reader doesn’t do every day.