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Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea 

by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet. (Synopsis from Goodreads.)

Review: 5/5 ★★★★★

Wow. Has ever a more clever, original, lighthearted, hilarious novel been written? This book gave me such Lemony Snicket vibes and it was so much fun to read. I couldn’t stop once I started. I gawked, I laughed, I gasped, aaaand I want to reread it right now!


Content:  4.5/5  Amos, Ella’s dad, leaves a note for Ella’s mom saying he is leaving and he did not want to bother her because she was in the bath. He mentions how in a past time he might have barged in but he felt she wanted privacy. She later writes him a note back teasing that if she took a bath again later maybe he would follow through on his earlier idea to barge in. Suicide is briefly mentioned. Characters mention a side character who goes insane, paints all over herself with led paint, gets committed to the hospital, and passes away.


Our setting of Nollop Island was fantastic, and its origins—it was founded by the man who created the sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”—were thorough and detailed. Our characters were so much fun. I have had trouble with epistolary novels—novels written entirely in letters—in the past, because it can be hard to connect with characters. No such problem in Ella Minnow Pea! Though at the beginning I confused our two main characters, cousins Ella and Tassie, soon it worked itself out. I loved that so many other names and faces found their way in! And never once did it feel scattered; rather, they all worked together to tell the story, leaving me feeling like there was of course no other possible way to tell the story except through letters.

As the letters disappear from the page, I found the characters’ ability to adapt to being without a letter amazing; comparatively, though, what I found most amazing was the author’s incredible ease with the English language to communicate so clearly using so few letters. Also, I loved how the name of the days and months kept changing on the top of every letter (because slowly, losing letters that made former names possible)—I am not very observant, so I completely cracked up halfway through when I noticed instead of “Thursday” the date was indeed “Topsy Turvy.” 

All in all, the English nerd in me could NOT get enough of this book. Whoa. I was giggling like a fool, espeically at the end as the characters try their hand at their own sentences. (I won’t say any more to save spoilers!) But…wow. If you like books and words and English, this is a MUST read! The language was beautiful, and stayed that way even as letters dropped out. The front of my copy says, “There’s a whiff of a classic about Ella Minnow Pea,” but I would disagree—there’s much more than a whiff!

Now excuse me while I go attempt to write my own pangram. 😂




Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen by Millie Florence

Title: Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen

Author: Millie Florence

Published By: Sprouting Pen Press (2019)


Lydia Green never had reason to worry much before.

She lived in a timeless Glen on the edge of the Valleylands with her mismatched family of fairies, philosophers, and two troublemakers known as the Zs.

But now, at age eleven, her world is turned upside down when rumors reach Mulberry Glen about a mysterious Darkness that dwells in the forest Tenebrae.

Lydia knows it is nothing to be trifled with, but, fiery and headstrong, the Zs have other ideas. A foolish choice puts their lives in danger, and although she is no hero, Lydia realizes that family is something she is willing to fight for.

But among the shifting library shelves and lonely stone towers of her quest, Lydia is chased with more questions than answers. The Darkness of the forest lurks within her own mind, and how can you fight something which is all in your head?

In her second novel, Millie Florence weaves a tapestry of passion, heart, and magic. Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen is a pure, hopeful fantasy for both parents and children alike. (Taken from Goodreads)

My Review:

Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen is such a heartfelt and inspiring novel, from the creative storytelling, to the lovable characters, to the powerful thematics. Millie’s tangible writing style draws you in like a cup of warm tea, and her lovable characters wrap their arms around your heart. The story is uniquely told, with many instances of, “Dear reader,” which made for a tale feeling much like a fairytale. The storyline weaves intricately, telling a careful tale of a young girl resisting change, and the themes that unravel are ones that readers young and old will resonate with.

The story follows young Lydia, who has never left the Glen, her treasured and well-loved home, but times are changing, and she is about to be apprenticed. Dreading this change with every fiber of her being, she suddenly finds herself leaving of her own accord when the Zs, who are family to her, disappear on a fruitless mission and Lydia knows she must stop them. Along the way we are met with a traverse band of characters—spunky, logical Prehna; sweet Coran; sly Cole; and many others. As Lydia journeys, we also watch as she takes an inward journey, too: a journey of character, strength, determination, and loyalty. 

At certain times scenes droned for a bit longer than I felt necessary, but outside of that, the story was excellently structured. I was absolutely blown away by how the thematics of light vs darkness manifested in this novel. Lydia’s character arc was also incredible. Every character was so carefully crafted and brought the story together through all their different personalities, and I absolutely loved it. The story demonstrates incredible talent and I can’t wait to see what Millie comes out with next!

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended To: All ages!

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Title: Shelter of the Most High (Cities of Refuge, #2)

Author: Connilyn Cossette

Published By: Bethany House Publishers (2018)


The daughter of a pagan high priest, Sofea finds solace from her troubles in the freedom of the ocean. But when marauders attack her village on the island of Sicily, she and her cousin are taken across the sea to the shores of Canaan.

Eitan has lived in Kedesh, a City of Refuge, for the last eleven years, haunted by a tragedy in his childhood and chafing at the boundaries placed on him. He is immediately captivated by Sofea, but revealing his most guarded secret could mean drawing her into the danger of his past.

As threats from outside the walls loom and traitors are uncovered within, Sofea and Eitan are plunged into the midst of a murder plot. Will they break free from the shackles of the past in time to uncover the betrayal and save their lives and the lives of those they love? (Taken from Goodreads)

My Review:

As the author herself said, pirates in Biblical fiction? What? Who’d have thought? But IT WORKED. I loved this book SO MUCH. I mean, it also ripped my heart out. But it’s fine.


Sofea. Sofea’s story (not that it’s a happy story—it’s just told SO WELL.) Sofea and Prezi…talk about inspiring.

Seriously, though: the intricate way this tied to the previous book, while retaining its own identity. The gentle character arcs of each individual and the way they intertwined together. The detailed Biblical setting and the creative ways the author chose to portray it, making it come alive. It was a great length—honestly, though, I could have kept reading this for much, much longer. 


The only thing I kind of hated is towards the end when Prezi is missing, but after they’ve found Sofea. Prezi’s still out there—Prezi, who Sofea has put her life on the line for multiple times; Prezi, who’s her sister at heart and who she’d do anything for; precious Prezi, but while Prezi is in captivity and they’re waiting around, Sofea and Eitan have a super sweet romantic moment and kiss. I did not like this at all—it was insulting to Prezi, and it felt completely contradictory to Sofea’s character.


The tale is told skillfully, and beautifully. I did feel like Eitan was introduced too soon—compared to Sofea’s story, his felt dull, even though in reality it really wasn’t. Sofea and Prezi’s relationship was gorgeous and had me in sweet tears. The arc of the characters along with the story is phenomenal, showing us themes of love, loyalty, forgiveness, and acceptance. It was easy to keep the characters straight and enjoyable to follow them around; specifically, being able to see the same story unfold from both Sofea and Eitan’s points of view was so cool and so creative. I inhaled this story; it held me fast to its pages and left me with an emotional pull to these carefully constructed characters. Cossette gets better with each book she writes, and I can hardly wait for the third book to be released!

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: 14 & up




ROMANOV by Nadine Brandes

Title: Romanov

Author: Nadine Brandes

Published By: Thomas Nelson (2019)


The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her . . .

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other. (Taken from Goodreads)


**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**


Just when you thought Nadine couldn’t write anything better…. Romanov appears.


Nastya and Maria’s friendship was so heartwarming. Maria was a little hard to get to know in the beginning, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with her character. Maria and Ivan’s relationship was the most precious and sweet thing in the world. Nastya’s father was one of the strongest characters I’ve read about in a long time. The setting was detailed, thorough, and compelling. Brandes nailed the little descriptions, scenes, and what seemed to be insignificant details so perfectly that together, they shaped a bigger and beautiful story.


All the Russian names, though they added significant setting detail to the story, made it harder to keep track of those specific characters. The layout of the Ipatiev House felt difficult at times to picture. In the beginning of the story, I couldn’t figure out how old Alexei was; I first pictured him as a teenager, so then I was thrown off when he started playing with toy soldiers. 

A few confusions: Nastya throwing the message out the window felt very counterintuitive and unrealistic; she says, “I couldn’t allow myself to think of the repercussions. Not with something as important as the lives of my family at stake”—but if they catch her throwing the stone, won’t they most definitely kill her family? Her thought process was such a heroic one, yet it confused me; the action risked her family more than anything else so far, yet her family was the very thing she was risking everything trying to protect. Additionally: the scene where Nastya retrieves the doll from Yurcsky’s satchel was difficult to picture and understand.


The arc of the story was phenomenal. Every scene was significant in its own way, building an intricate tale of family, strength, faith, and never giving up. Brandes gently paints a beautiful picture of Christlike love in the hardest of circumstances, all while ripping your heart out and stomping on it. Nastya is a Brandes character through and through—mischievous, smart, and impulsive, but deeply caring and sensitive underneath—so of course I loved her. Her family was sometimes hard to keep track of, mostly because Olga and Tatiana really never got any development, but other than that, the characters were fairly easy to keep straight.

The emotion of the story was powerful and well-shaped, but lacked a little in fleshing out and follow through. Nastya reached her conclusions and revelations fairly quickly, without much time to really chew on different concepts, and while it didn’t feel cheesy, it did feel rushed and underdeveloped at times. For example, her attraction to Zash. While plotted carefully, it lacked the emotional component in the beginning, leaving me as the reader feeling like her attraction popped out of nowhere—even though Nastya claimed to have always liked him. However, considering this was an advance read, and looking at Brandes’ other books, I fully expect that all the emotion will be fleshed out much more fully in the finished product. And in the end, I was one hundred percent rooting for Nastya and Zash.

THE ENDING ACTUALLY KILLED ME. Again, Nastya’s emotions were not completely full and deep, but I actually found the story perfectly paced nonetheless; a harder, more complex emotional storyline at this moment in the plot would have distracted from the point of the story, which was tactfully and heartbreakingly delivered with passion and punch.


Brandes definitely knows how to make her characters and readers suffer. I was locked in these pages from the moment I began reading. It was a fulfilling, thought-provoking, captivating read full of lovable characters and a lot of heartbreak. I can’t wait to read the finished version!


4.5 / 5.0 stars

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Title: Girl in the Blue Coat

Author: Monica Hesse

Published By: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers


Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person – a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.

Beautifully written, intricately plotted, and meticulously researched, Girl in the Blue Coat is an extraordinary, gripping novel from a bright new voice. (Taken from Goodreads)


I thoroughly enjoyed this historical fiction novel! The thematics were unique and powerful, the characters strong and relatable, and overall I found it an original WWII story full of life.

Hanneke was such a fantastic character and from the first page she leapt alive. I was fascinated by her story, her black market smuggling, her quest to find Mirjam. Some of the other characters were hard to keep straight and lacked as much development compared to Hanneke, but it wasn’t impossible.

I didn’t see any of the twists coming and the themes they sent had me gaping in amazement. I was in awe of the talent of the writer to smash so much together into just one novel. It was authentic and alive.

Negative Content/Notes:

There few negative elements, but nothing that dominated the story. Characters swear once or twice. One character comes out as homosexual and there is a scene or two focused on Hanneke wishing for freedom for him; but it wasn’t overtly preachy in the way some books today are. It was a very small part of the story.

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 13+.

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

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Title: No One Ever Asked

Author: Katie Ganshert

Published By: WaterBrook (2018)


Challenging perceptions of discrimination and prejudice, this emotionally resonant drama for readers of Lisa Wingate and Jodi Picoult explores three different women navigating challenges in a changing school district–and in their lives.

When an impoverished school district loses its accreditation and the affluent community of Crystal Ridge has no choice but to open their school doors, the lives of three very different women converge: Camille Gray–the wife of an executive, mother of three, long-standing PTA chairwoman and champion fundraiser–faced with a shocking discovery that threatens to tear her picture-perfect world apart at the seams. Jen Covington, the career nurse whose long, painful journey to motherhood finally resulted in adoption but she is struggling with a happily-ever-after so much harder than she anticipated. Twenty-two-year-old Anaya Jones–the first woman in her family to graduate college and a brand new teacher at Crystal Ridge’s top elementary school, unprepared for the powder-keg situation she’s stepped into. Tensions rise within and without, culminating in an unforeseen event that impacts them all. This story explores the implicit biases impacting American society, and asks the ultimate question: What does it mean to be human? Why are we so quick to put labels on each other and categorize people as “this” or “that”, when such complexity exists in each person? (Taken from Goodreads)


Oh my goodness! It’s been a long time since I read a book this powerful and thought-provoking.

First of all, I loved the creativity of the story—how the author based it on real—but unfamiliar—events, and then took it and made it her own. I loved the characters and how real they were; Ganshert does such a magnificent job perfectly encompassing a realisitic mindset for characters in their positions and so many times I found myself relating to a character even though I have never been in any of their situations. 

There were many characters, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of all of them and who belonged to which story, but the important characters were distinct and easy to remember. They were so many different personalites and so much going on. It was definitely a book I had to read slowly, to make sure I caught everything, but it was soooooo worth it.

It covered some mature topics, but in a gentle and beautiful way. Each character was delicately woven, real and tangible, and distinct in their own unique ways, and through these characters we clearly see the heart behind each differing opinion in the story, making us stop and really consider everything being presented. I was blown away by the author’s ability to show so many differing mindsets and not condemn any one of them but instead offer evidence and leave it up to the reader to make the connection of what is right.

Negative Content/Notes:

I don’t recall any negative content. Some minor violence occurs toward the end, but nothing is glorified or presented in the wrong way. 

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 14+