11 March 2023

Johanna Porter is Not Sorry - Book Review

Johanna Porter is Not Sorry by Sara Read
Publication date: March 7, 2023
Pages: 320 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: Johanna Porter has been trying hard not to be too much anymore. But that time may be over

I love Johanna Porter. She's been stuck in the mom lane for a long time, but an invite to an art installation reminds her of who she used to be, and why she changed so much.

Luckily, all the forces that tried to take her down only suppressed her creativity for a couple decades. She's still in there, if she's willing to finally take a chance and try again.

I found the characters to be realistically flawed and still very likable. It felt like they all recognized what may be their less-than-positive qualities, and the main characters were working on developing their weaknesses into possible strengths.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read and I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. I'd recommend it for those who enjoy family dramas and strong female characters. 

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my electronic copy of this fun book. Receiving the electronic copy of the book for free did not influence my review.

15 February 2023

Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club - Book Review

Sophie Go's Lonely Hearts Club by Roselle Lim
Publication date: August 16, 2022
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: The power of friendship is so amazing!

I found myself engaged with Sophie Go from the beginning. She was a plucky new matchmaker who truly wanted to help those around her make their intended love connections. Against the wishes of her overbearing mother and father, she attended matchmaking school in Shanghai and was set to replace the matchmaker who used to service their area of Toronto.

She gets a fancy apartment and embarks on single life, while knowing that being a 'good daughter' means she'll always be home for dinner when she's called. And despite following her own dream instead of continuing in the banking job her parents think is safe for her, she still wants to prove she's a good daughter.

What she doesn't expect is how close she quickly feels to her client group. She needs to prove her worth as a matchmaker in order to earn her accreditation, and once the Old Ducks social group in her building gets to know her, they can't help but love her. She makes lifelong friends in her first few months (heck, I haven't done that in 10 years in my new house!).

While I was engaged with Sophie's life from the beginning, about three-quarters through the book is when I couldn't  put it down til I found out how it all ended. I don't want to spoil it for you, but this book stayed on my mind after earning its 4 star rating. It's a book about multi-generational friends, romance, and a dash of Chinese family culture, with a side helping of family drama and coming-of-age independence. 

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my electronic copy of this book. Receiving the book for free did not influence my review.

13 February 2023

Swim Team - Book Review

Swim Team by Johnnie Christmas
Publication date: May 17, 2022
Pages: 256 page
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: Some enlightening history for Bree, along with useful life lessons.

This was another read for my son's fifth-grade Battle of the Books, and I'm so glad it was! 

It's a graphic novel that tells the story of Bree, who moves with her father to a school where swimming is suddenly a BIG DEAL. What new kid doesn't want to fit in? She's afraid to tell the people who have been nice to her so far at her new school that she can't swim.

Eventually, the older woman in her apartment complex (who watches her while her father works anyway) realizes the problem and offers to teach Bree. And teach her she does! They also teach readers along the way WHY the black community was forced to forget their history of swimming due to racism and segregation. But Ms. Etta is there to help Bree and her friends be an awesome team and get their swimming dynasty back.

I enjoyed this book with its subtle historical lesson. It felt delivered in a perfect tone to just explain an element of Bree's story, without feeling like a dry textbook lesson. I'm thrilled that this was part of my community's Battle of the Books list. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

02 February 2023

Vampire Weekend - Book Review

Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen
Publication date: January 31, 2023
Pages: 384 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: I really enjoyed this candid contemporary vampire experience.

Louise is used to being alone. As a vampire, she isn't allowed to share her story, which necessitates keeping people at a distance. For a while she made some great memories with her Aunt (whose house she then inherited), and then spent some good time with a new best friend who finally learned her secret. But when her best friend dies prematurely and she isn't sure if it's because he knew her secret, she decides not to let anyone else get that close again.

She works her midnights job, and laments the fact that real vampires don't have nearly as many fantastic powers as the legends promise. As a blood shortage sweeps the area (yes, the blood-drinking thing is real), she struggles with what may be a necessary evil - staying connected with the rest of the vampire community.

And because one major change isn't enough to deal with after a few quiet decades, a few distant family members end up on her doorstep. Of course, since Louise has stopped aging, they don't really recognize her, but she has to decide whether her solitude or her actual family is a greater priority.

Overall, I enjoyed the presentation of a new kind of vampire lore. Louise, her dog Lola, the local vampire community leader Eric, and Louise's distant nephew Ian must slowly learn where they stand with each other, and what that might mean for each of them. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars as a fun, quirky fantasy-ish story in a contemporary and realistic setting.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for my electronic copy of this book. Receiving the book for free did not influence my review.

29 January 2023

From the Desk of Zoe Washington - Book Review

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks
Publication date: January 14, 2020
Pages: 291 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: Zoe is a charming and precocious 12-year-old, with her share of kid problems and adult problems.

On her twelfth birthday, Zoe receives an interesting letter in the mail. It's from her biological dad, who has been in prison her whole life. Her mom never even wants to talk about him, so Zoe is pretty sure she's on her own if she decides to try and write back to him.

Around the same time, she notices that her favorite kids' cooking show is casting for another season! She wants to be famous, like her idol from the last season, and recognized as a great baker. Being on the show her idol was on could be the first step, if she can get her mom to agree.

And she's struggling with it all alone, as she overheard a conversation between her best friend and some of his new friends, which helped her to decide that she never wants anything to do with him again.

Zoe is, in some ways, just a typical kid. But she's got a few atypical challenges to deal with, like her dad's situation. This book does a great job with what is certainly an awkward situation in real life. They also do a thoughtful job of talking about the Innocence Project, initially from a skeptical point of view. The compassion and different perspectives of the characters in the book could be a great discussion point for kids around the same age with their families or educators.

Overall, I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it not only as a touch of mystery, but a great story with social justice conversation points and some explorations of harmful stereotypes.

This is another book I read for our local district's fifth grade battle of the books. Two winners out of the two books I've read so far!

25 January 2023

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary - Book Review

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan
Publication: April 2, 2016
Pages: 272 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: What will happen to Emerson Elementary, and can 18 fifth graders change it?

I have to admit, this poetry-collection style is not what I usually pick to read, but this was part of our school district's fifth-grade battle of the books, and I really want to read all 10 books.

While it started out a little choppy for me, soon I was trying to trace consistency between the poems written by each of the 18 students, and matching up their poems with the illustrations of each of them on the cover. Yeah, I was hooked.

By the end, I felt like I knew each of the kids, and the class as a whole, a bit better. I'd give the book 4 out of 5 stars, and I'm excited to hear from the author at our battle's victory celebration in March. 

22 January 2023

The Bandit Queens - Book Review

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
Publication: January 3, 2023
Pages: 342 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars ☆☆☆☆
Sweet Spark: A reputation, true or not, can be a blessing or a curse....or both.

So fun, but in a setting I don't usually read - I enjoyed it!

Geeta has been assumed a widow for a while, so her name is 'mixed with dirt.' She has removed her nose ring, and the children all run from her, describing her as a monster known as a churel. Instead of being offended by the ostracism, Geeta decided she likes herself, and her solitary time. She makes her jewelry and minds her own business, except for the womens' loan group she belongs too. 

Unfortunately, the women begin to rely on her for more and more - making up their missing payments that their drunk husbands spend, to start with. Soon, some group members figure if she already killed her own husband, maybe she can kill theirs too?

A series of humorous misunderstandings and attempts at fulfilling any obligations and continuing an independent life ensue. And the more that Geeta interacts with the group members outside of their regular scheduled meetings, the more she realizes maybe her loneliness has been her own as much as being shunned by those in her community. It turns out many of her assumptions about the community and it's members in recent years may have been very wrong. 

I really liked the relationships and their evolutions in this story. Geeta and her lifelong friend got to know each other all over again, and Geeta became a part of her community once again. I gave this story 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend it to those who enjoy stories about communities different from their own (unless the reader is in a small village in India...), and stories with independent female characters.

Thank  you to the publisher and Netgalley for my electronic copy of this book. Receiving the book for free did not influence my review.