ARC Alert! Smile and Wave: Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

Thanks to Netgalley and Charlesbridge for the advance copy of this book! Below is my honest review.

Charles, Tami. Like Vanessa. Charlesbridge, 2018. 284 pages. Hardcover $14.64, ISBN 978-1-58089-777-8

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes

Genre: Historical fiction

Part of a series? No

Book Summary:

Vanessa Martin watches the Miss America pageant each year with her Pop Pop and cousin TJ. It’s a ritual for them, and when they see Vanessa Williams crowned Miss America, Nessy finds herself wishing that she could be just like her. When a new music teacher announces that King Middle School will be hosting their own pageant, Nessy finds herself pressured (lovingly) into auditioning. Can Nessy use her beautiful voice and stellar academic record to win the crown, or will her missing mom and silent father hold her back from truly being herself and putting herself out there?

Reader’s Comments:

This is a wonderful book. It handles Nessy’s situation thoughtfully, and Nessy is such a compelling character to spend time with that readers will not be able to put this one down. Themes of friendship, puberty, and family secrets are familiar to middle grade books, but Charles’s novel is new and sweet. I am a little bit concerned with the details of Nessy’s weight loss and how her life improves as she slims down for the competition. She still refers to herself as big-boned, but there are repeated references to the inches of fabric that TJ needs to take in as she loses more and more weight. Other than that one detail, however, I really enjoyed this book and the voice it brings to middle grade books. The history is well-researched, and the beauty pageant rituals are described excellently. Highly recommend!

Grade Level: 5-8


Return to the Sweet Life: The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass

Mass, Wendy. The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase. Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 533 pages. Hardcover $16.29, ISBN 978-0-316-08919-7; PLB $13.06, ISBN 978-1-53791-619-4; TR $7.69, ISBN 978-0-316-08918-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Mystery

Part of a series? Yes — this is the sequel to The Candymakers

Plot Summary:

Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy can’t believe that after these few months, Harmonicandy is finally about to go into production. Each child also is grappling with issues in their personal lives — does Daisy have a brother? How can she balance being a spy with having normal friends? How can Miles find out more about his family without upsetting his father? How can Philip feel closer to his mother’s memory while continuing to build his own future? And how is Logan to deal with the sympathy from everyone who knows that he did not win the contest when Philip’s win was the only way to save the factory? Things go from tricky to bananas when — once the first Harmonicandies are made and shared at the Kick-Off — Logan realizes that they do not use the same chocolate from the original Harmonicandy batch in the contest, rendering their win moot. If they can’t reproduce those exact Harmonicandies, they are disqualified! How to find the winning chocolate, and what will everyone do if they can?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book is a wild ride. It feels more disjointed than the first Candymakers book, but our beloved narrators are just as unputdownable as ever. The team embarks on a road trip to find the mysterious chocolate (and Daisy’s family … and Miles’s family … and Philip’s family …), and characters from other Mass novels find their way into cameos here. It’s a fun read with good questions about stewardship and what’s right.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This still delivers as a solid mystery, and I’d also hand this to Mass fans for the cameos she provides.

Grade Level: 3-7

Awards and Starred Reviews:



ARC Alert! Elizabeth and Zenobia

Miller, Jessica. Elizabeth and Zenobia. Amulet Books. 208 pages, 2017. Hardcover $14.60, ISBN 978-1-41972-724-5

Elizabeth and ZenobiaTL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes

Anticipated Publication: September 2017

Genre: Horror

Part of a series? No

Plot Summary:

When her father decides it is time to move back to his childhood home, Elizabeth and her friend Zenobia have no other choice but to go along. (Father isn’t so pleased that Zenobia is coming along since she is, after all, imaginary — well, maybe not quite imaginary, but not quite real, either.) Elizabeth is afraid of everything — ghosts, the dark, gloves without hands in them — and Zenobia loves EVERYTHING creepy or disturbing. Poisons? Check. Ghosts — oh, excuse me, Spirit Presences? Check. Edgar Allan Poe? Check. Something is … off in Witheringe House, and to Zenobia’s delight, the conditions are PERFECT for a haunting. Add to that the fact that the East Wing of the house is forbidden to the girls, the eeriness increases the longer the girls are there. As more secrets are revealed, more seances are performed, and more bizarre midnight happenings occur, it becomes clear that something is truly and deeply wrong at Witheringe House. Will Elizabeth be brave enough to uncover the truth, and will she be strong enough to vanquish the evil that lurks in the house?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

The book’s description refers to it as “middle grade gothic horror,” and that is a perfect description. That creeping weirdness so critical in a good gothic novel is here in full force. Plants that seem a little too alive, a house with many secrets, silent and seemingly ubiquitous housekeepers, and a governess contending with mysterious forces all feature here. The book moves quickly, but it’s a page-turner, meaning that readers are going to enjoy this scary story enough not to want to put it down.

It’s a great read-alike for fans of Coraline, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. (Doll Bones is also similar with regards to creepy ghost factors!) Edgar Allan Poe is mentioned several times as he has the honor of being Zenobia’s favorite author. The book also draws upon gothic classics; Witheringe House of course reminds us of the title of Wuthering Heights; the governess plot smacks of Jane Eyre; the nursery’s walls are reminiscent of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” and the whole “don’t go in the East Wing” situation is VERY Bluebeard. There’s something here for every gothic fan!


Grade Level: 4-8