Sunny Makes a Splash by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Sunny Makes a Splash


Goodreads: Sunny Makes a Splash
Series: Sunny #4
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021


Summer is here and, to escape babysitter her younger brother, Sunny gets a job serving snacks at the local pool. Watching the older kids flirt is like witnessing a real-life soap opera, too! But Sunny’s mom is having trouble realizing that her child is growing up.

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Sunny Makes a Splash is my favorite Sunny yet. Our titular character returns for a delightful summer-themed story set at the local pool. The cute lifeguards, nostalgic snacks, and good old-fashioned fun all feel classic; this is what an American teen’s summer should look like (at least, according to the movies!). I adored the 1970s setting with its fashion, its food, and, yes, its dangerously high diving board. If only I could go on vacation with Sunny next year!

The 1970s setting is no doubt a good deal of the series’ charm, but the books go far beyond raising feelings of nostalgia. Though she is coming of age in another decade, Sunny feels completely relevant. She undergoes the same experiences as contemporary teens, trying to make her mother understand that she is growing up and feeling both interested in and baffled by flirting. Sunny’s easygoing nature is, however, what makes the books such a treat for me. Her unflappable attitude contrasts strongly in this installment with her mother’s worries, to great comedic affect.

Adding to the humor is an appearance by Sunny’s grandfather, who arrives unexpectedly for a visit when his home must undergo renovations. Sunny’s grandfather has always been delightful with his own positive approach to life. He really shines in this book, though, as he starts dating a woman and his daughter (Sunny’s mom) starts treating him like he is another teenager under her roof. Her attempts to send him to his room and impose curfews are hilarious, but her dad takes it all in stride.

Hints of romance also occur in this book for Sunny, which may please some of her readers. I found the potentially budding romance sweet, but was also pleased to see that, for now, Sunny and her love interest appear to be good friends. For what is a great romance built on, if not friendship? Perhaps future books will explore Sunny’s love life more in-depth. But I thought Sunny’s observations of the other workers at the pool–and their slightly convoluted flirting– were as entertaining as they were realistic.

Sunny Makes a Splash is a feel-good book that will transport readers to the ideal summer–an open pool, delicious food, good friends, and the possibility of romance. Absolutely wonderful.

4 stars

10 Interesting Posts You Might Have Missed in September 2021

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. Sammie shares her favorite audiobooks.
  2. Alison shares book box guesses for Oct. 2021.
  3. Amber reflects on how her major in history informs her writing.
  4. The Orangutan Librarian reviews The How and the Why.
  5. Michael discusses the return of Russell T. Davies to Doctor Who.
  6. Samantha critiques the commercialization of reading.
  7. Sienna writes about deciding how to unhaul books.
  8. Sabrina talks about discarding blog post ideas.
  9. Kim reflects on the grim, the dark, and the light of Middle-Earth.
  10. Alison lists series she thinks book boxes should make special editions for.

Highlights at Pages Unbound

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince


Goodreads: The False Prince
Series: Ascendance #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2012


Forcibly taken from his orphanage, Sage finds himself embroiled in a courtly intrigue. Conner, a regent of the realm, has a daring plan to prevent the kingdom from falling into civil war. He will train four orphan boys to present themselves as the long-lost prince. Only one boy can be chosen, however, and Sage will have to use all his wits to outmaneuver not only Conner, but also the other orphans.

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The False Prince is a gripping old-school YA fantasy, focused solely on the delights of watching an under-estimated orphan boy outwit those who would control him. Readers may believe that they can predict the outcome of the book, but Sage’s actions will keep them guessing. How much does he really know and control, and how much is simply chance? The plot kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I promptly put in a request for the sequel. I wish more YA books were written like this one.

Much of the appeal of The False Prince is its pure escapism. The story notes political worries and, of course, political intrigue forms the foundation of the story. Sage must outmaneuver those who would control him as a puppet prince, or even have him killed, because they have their own political aspirations, or because they wish to see the country go in a different direction than the direction the previous, weak monarch took. Even so, however, the book does not go into the gritty details of politics. It does not make everything seem ugly and dirty, or suggest that nothing can ever change, or make bold statements about how all monarchs are tyrants and must be replaced by more modern-day social structures. Rather, the book has an implicit faith that a ruler can be good, can create positive change. It is infused with a sense of hope, the belief that putting the right ruler on the throne is something worth fighting for.

That is not to say that the book does not go dark places, or that it does not depict morally grey characters. Characters are tortured and killed. Female characters face the constant threat of sexual assault. And nearly all of the characters have to make choices that put their lives and safety in conflict with their values. The story never suggests that there are only easy choices out there. But it does hold out the hope that people’s actions can be meaningful.

More contemporary YA fantasies seem to be delving darker and deeper, often with the effect that change seems out of reach and everything is grim. Choices are often between bad and worse. For many, these depictions constitute “realism.” The great joy of fiction, however, is that is enables us to conceive of alternate realities, ones where everything does not have to be terrible, and people do not have to be the impotent pawns of more powerful forces. The False Prince imagines a world where people matter, and where violence and evil are not countered with more violence and evil, but with selflessness and honesty. These are the kinds of stories that I miss.

So, if you are looking for a YA fantasy that combines thrilling intrigue with a sense of hope, look no farther. The False Prince is escapism at its finest–the kind of escapism that dares readers to dream of change.

4 stars

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay


Goodreads: Picnic at Hanging Rock
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 1967

Official Summary

(From the Penguin Classics edition)

It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. . . .

Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock is billed as a haunting classic, a story about three teens who disappeared in the Australian Bush while on a school picnic, under mysterious circumstances the other characters — and the readers — struggle to explain. While I did finish the book quickly, in a vague sense of wanting to know what was happening, I unfortunately did not find the story as intriguing as I’d hoped. I can see how the story is sad, young girls with lots of potential wandering off and assumed to be dead with no real closure for their friends or family, but I don’t think the effect is really as mysterious or gripping for the outside reader as the author probably hoped.

I don’t want to spoil the book in any sense, but I have to say that, just from reading the summary, my guess at why three people died in the wilderness is . . . they probably just got lost and died of exposure? So the author had a challenge from the start in trying to make this any sort of compelling mystery. Now, there is the question of how three whole people might have gotten lost, and the book adds in some thought-provoking details to have one ponder what might have happened, from other characters being tangentially involved to things the girls saw on their way up the rock, etc. In the end, however, I just don’t think the book is overly mysterious, and I think publishers might have more success trying to market it as something else.

Arguably, the real story is about what happens in the lives of the other characters, the ones left behind to wonder what happened, to wish they could help, to ponder if they could have stopped this — and to live with the consequences that three girls have gone missing from what was previously a well-respected school. The headmistress has a lot to deal with in this vein, in terms of communicating with parents, trying to keep students enrolled in the school if parents will think it’s unsafe, etc. This is all interesting, and my only real gripe is that the author ruins the effect by MULTIPLE TIMES interjecting with a narrative voice that explicitly says things like, “And so we see how the ripples of this event affected people around the girls, even tangential characters not initially involved.” I got that point without the author saying it, and she certainly didn’t need to say it at least four times.

I do think parts of this book will stick in my mind for a while, which is definitely a sing it made some kind of impact on me. Yet if I had to describe it, I’d say I found it slightly dull, and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to anyone else to read. It was fine, and I’m glad to have read a classic I’ve never read before, but it just wasn’t a standout for me.

3 Stars

10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in August 2021

Post Round-Up

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  1. Aria lists 12 books she will always recommend.
  2. The Orangutan Librarian explains why libraries matter.
  3. Hadeer lists 35 books for spooky season.
  4. The Midnight Book Blog lists things to hate (and love) about Goodreads.
  5. Bookish Brews shares most anticipated diverse reads for Sept. 2021.
  6. Doing Dewey reviews Shirley and Villette by Charlotte Bronte.
  7. Erin lists 12 books by Muslim or Middle Eastern authors.
  8. Alex recommends 6 SFF books under 200 pages.
  9. Evelyn discusses why teens might not be interested in reading YA.
  10. Yesha lists 10 favorite tropes.
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Highlights at Pages Unbound

I Am Not Starfire by Mariko Tamaki, Yoshi Yoshitani

I am Not Starfire


Goodreads: I Am Not Starfire
Series: None
July 2021


Mandy is tired of the expectations that come with being the daughter of Starfire. Everything thinks that she has superpowers, which she doesn’t, and, worse, everyone thinks that they can use her to get to her mother. Mandy just wants to get through high school–preferably without her mom learning that she walked out of her SATs and has no desire to go to college. Then an old enemy appears to target Starfire. Is Mandy strong enough to save her mom?

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I have never read a Starfire comic and I know nothing of the Teen Titans, so I went into I Am Not Starfire with few expectations. I assumed I would be reading a coming-of-age story focused on Mandy, Starfire’s daughter, and what it means to be related to somebody famous, when you feel like you are just average. Because I did not expect a Starfire comic and because I have no clue what Starfire is like in any of her other appearances, I enjoyed I Am Not Starfire for what it is: a look at one teen’s search for identity while trying to come out from the shadow of her mother’s reputation.

Even if one accepts that I Am Not Starfire is not a Titans story, but rather Mandy’s story, I think that the comic may be admittedly difficult for some to enjoy. Mandy is almost a stereotypically angsty teen, angry at everyone and mean for no reason. Readers who prefer their protagonists to be likable may struggle with Mandy’s attitude and the way in which she shuts everyone out. Her struggle to accept herself is real, of course, and will gain her some sympathy. But not every teen searching for themselves is rude and hurtful. Mandy’s projection of her self-loathing onto others is difficult to watch.

The plot probably will not capture readers, however, if they fail to connect with Mandy. It is a rather standard affair, with Mandy trying to get through high school, deal with crushes, and figure out what her future will look like. The fact that her mom is famous is pretty much the biggest spin given to an age-old storyline. Refreshingly, the superheroes do not come into play much until the very end, when an old nemesis of Starfire’s appears for a showdown. This moment proves a weak point in the story, however, since a gladiator-style fight in front of Mandy’s high school seems both out of place and ridiculous. The day is then saved by a deus ex machina, which essentially destroys the idea that Mandy can be average and still valuable and accepting of herself.

The illustrations may be the biggest strength of the book. I enjoyed Yoshi Yoshitani’s work in Zatanna and the House of Secrets, and was pleased to see the artist’s work once again here. Yoshitani tends to draw kind of cute illustrations with pleasing color palettes, which make the book a joy to read.

DC has released many great graphic novels for tween and teen readers lately. I Am Not Starfire is a solid offering, but not one of the best. The idea is good; the execution is only so-so.

3 Stars

4 Things That Make Me DNF a Book

I admit I rarely DNF books. I have about 30 books on my DNF list on Goodreads, which covers at least the last 10 years. Usually I think it won’t take me too long to finish a book, so I might as well just go for it. But when I do DNF a book, here are some of the reasons why.


The Voice/Prose Is Terrible

I seem alone on this issue, but sometimes the voice or writing of a book is so bad that I simply can’t stand reading. I don’t care how good the plot is or how interesting the characters are. If the writing is really choppy or awkward or otherwise painful to read, it’s a strong incentive for me to stop reading the book. (Though of course there are many I have finished reading that have awful writing, as well.)


The Book Is Boring

This is the most common reason I would stop reading a book. If the story and characters aren’t interesting, then the book needs to be majorly redeeming in some other way to keep me reading, like raising thoughtful questions or providing nuanced observations or society or something. Barring that . . . I am going to put the book down and move on.

The Book Thinks It’s Clever — But It’s Not

This is a major pet peeve of mine. If a protagonist is supposed to be brilliant/clever, or the book itself is positing that it’s clever in some way, then it had better be clever. It makes no sense to me when characters do things that are portrayed as genius or groundbreaking that are not at all, like when I read a book where the protagonist decided she was going to “disguise” herself by wearing colored contacts. Surely no one would recognize her if her eyes were a different color! It’s worse when the narrative voice and other characters praise this nonsense. I don’t need characters to be smart, but I don’t want to be told they’re smart when they’re not.


The Book Is Overly Preachy/Didactic

Making sure books, especially children’s and young adult books, send the “right” messages is very in right now, so obviously I don’t stop reading any book that has a moral message, but there’s a line where the messages are so repeatedly thrown in the reader’s face that I lose my interest in the story. I don’t need to narrator to point out on 20 occasions that a rich kid is privileged and should help the poorer kids; once or twice would be enough, if the author really thinks this needs to be stated explicitly instead of implied through the story itself.

What makes you DNF a book?


10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in July 2021

Post Round-Up

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  1. The Orangutan Librarian lists books you’ll need a box of tissues for.
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  3. Zezee shares 5 hyped books she won’t read.
  4. Aria discusses whether having a good messages makes a book good.
  5. Doing Dewey reviews Fulfillment, a book about Amazon.
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  7. Alison reflects on what she learned about herself from a Literati Book Subscription.
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  9. A Book Owl’s Corner lists 10 things she wishes writers would stop doing.
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Highlights at Pages Unbound

Thoughts on the First Two Episodes of “The Mysterious Benedict Society” on Disney+

Mysterious Benedict Society Show Review

I absolutely love Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society, but I also haven’t read the first book in the series since 2013, so I don’t have strong memories of it. Mostly I remember clever children, recruited by a quirky but kindly man who use their wits and their friendship to solve puzzles that are actually puzzling (not always true in middle grade books) and ultimately save the world.

Does the show deliver on that? So far, yes, though not exactly in the ways I might have imagined.

I think translating the quirkiness of the book from page to screen is a tricky task, and the writers have done an amazing job with the show. It could have been corny or over-the-top, but they have struck a good note. Some things are strange, but they’re not patently ridiculous. I also actually laughed a few times, which I was not expecting.

I also enjoy most of the actors. Constance Contraire is a bit older than she is in the book (because it would be hard to cast a precocious two year old), but it works, and the writers have also made her a bit annoying and mean without giving her so many lines and chances to insult the other characters that the viewer would want to throw her off the screen. Reynie is a bit uncertain of himself, but I’m awaiting his character arc as he grows into the leader of their little group. Sticky is scared of things but willing to go through with them when necessary. The actor who plays Kate has an inclination to yell her lines, I guess in an attempt to embody Kate’s quick, confident, and no-nonsense attitude, but overall it’s fine.

Mostly I’m stuck on Mr. Benedict himself. Tony Hale successfully plays him as eccentric while also kind, concerned about the children he has recruited for his mission. However, he simply doesn’t fit my image of Mr. Benedict from the novels. I certainly imagined someone much older, and so far I think there’s still room to portray Mr. Benedict as incredibly intelligent. He did figure out what The Emergency is, when no one else could, but his brief explanation doesn’t really highlight the fact the man is supposed to be a genius.

I admit I was a bit skeptical going into watching this adaptation. I also was surprised to even learn it existed, as I only began seeing some tweets from Disney+ a couple weeks before its release and saw no other marketing (and have seen no one discuss or review it since its premiere.) However, it’s really fun. It’s a pretty well-done adaptation so far, and I can’t wait to see more.