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Miles Away from You
Author: A. B. Rutledge
Published: March 20, 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: It’s been three years since Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months since a suicide attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but knows it’s time to figure out how to say goodbye.

He books a solo trip to Iceland but then has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room. After a little push from Oskar, a local who is equal parts endearing and aloof, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. With each step he takes, Miles finds his heart healing–even as he must accept that Vivian, still in a coma, will never recover.

Told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, this quirky and completely fresh novel explores love, loss, and the drastic distances we sometimes have to travel in order to move on.

Kaari’s Review: I’d like to preface this blog post by saying that I do not identify as LGBTQ in any way, so I don’t have personal experiences to say whether or not this novel presents an accurate representation of what it is like to be an LGBTQ person. But, I think that this book does provide a compelling and interesting perspective that non-LGBTQ people can understand and connect with. I liked that the entire story was written in a messaging format. It placed an interesting lens over the story because, as readers, we always know that the story is being written to someone, even if they can’t respond. The format also lends itself to casual language, which makes it an entertaining and engaging read that students will love.

This book was certainly entertaining, and I loved reading it. I loved cheering for Miles and hurting for Miles when it was appropriate. I think that Miles’ approach to grief is also an approach that many teens can connect with, and maybe learn from as well. However, this book has a lot going on in it. The main character, Miles, is coping with the loss of his transgender girlfriend. His two lesbian moms are very supportive of the LGBTQ community, and even run a summer camp for LGBTQ kids. And, Miles himself is unsure of his sexuality, which he explores more as the novel goes on. Because there are so many LGBTQ elements the author tried to fit in, it feels a little bit contrived at times, and distracts from the overall messages of acceptance of personal identity, and also of the LGBTQ community, and dealing with the intricate and complicated loss of a loved one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think this book poses a lot of really interesting questions about suicide, grief, overcoming grief, acceptance, identity, potential abuse (between Oskar and his boyfriend), love, gender, and sexuality that could spark a lot of discussions for students. For these reasons, I think that this book should definitely be included in classroom libraries, and used as a literature circle book. However, if someone is looking to teach an lgbtq book to an entire classroom, I’d choose one that didn’t have quite as many lgbtq aspects, as I mentioned in the review, because it makes the book feel somewhat cluttered and contrived, and there are many other novels that would be better for teaching to a large classroom.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is identity explored in this novel?
  • How is discrimination portrayed in this novel?
  • What kinds of violence/abuse do we see in the novel?
  • How is death/dying portrayed?
  • How does Miles cope with grief? What ways are productive and what ways are unproductive?

We Flagged: “This is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly, slowly tearing apart. It sounds so destructive, doesn’t it? Like the world could just keep spreading and eventually it’ll just crack in half and bleed out into the universe. But the good news is that it doesn’t actually work like that. When the earth splits, lava rises and cools, creating new land where there wasn’t any before. It heals as it tears. I think humans do that, too. So, anyway, this is the tenth photo I’ve taken of Vivian’s boots, and it might be my last for a little while. I do want to keep connecting and keep exploring this new scar tissue.” -Advanced Reading Copy page 224

Read This If You Loved: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin; If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo; Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford

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  RickiSig

**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Bat and the Waiting Game
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Charles Santoso
Published March 27th, 2018 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: The second book in the irresistible and “quietly groundbreaking”* young middle grade series starring Bat, an unforgettable boy on the autism spectrum.

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life is pretty great. He’s the caretaker of the best baby skunk in the world—even Janie, his older sister, is warming up to Thor.

When Janie gets a part in the school play and can’t watch Bat after school, it means some pretty big changes. Someone else has to take care of the skunk kit in the afternoons.

Janie is having sleepovers with her new friends. Bat just wants everything to go back to normal. He just has to make it to the night of Janie’s performance…

*Kirkus Reviews

Critical Praise: 

“Delightful. This humorous follow-up is even stronger than its predecessor and will leave readers hoping for a third book featuring Bat and his family.” — School Library Journal

“A gentle tale of shared similarities rather than differences that divide and a fine read-aloud with a useful but not didactic message of acceptance.”  — Kirkus Reviews

A winsome blend of humor and heart, vibrant characters, and laugh-out-loud dialogue. Arnold’s narrative also gracefully explores life through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum.  The ever-lovable Bat is sure to resonate with readers of all ages. — Booklist Online

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold grew up in California, where she, like Bat, was lucky enough to have her own perfect pet — a gorgeous mare named Rainbow — and a family who let her read as many books as she wanted. She is the author of picture books, middle grade novels, and books for teens, including the National Book Award finalist title What Girls Are Made Of. Elana lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. She calls the “Bat” series for Walden Pond Press “books of her heart.” You can find her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

ReviewBat is one of my favorite characters ever. He is a flawed character but is also so perfect as who he is! What I love about Bat, other than his amazingly sweet personality, his brilliance when it comes to skunks, and his coping skills, is that he teaches us to treasure the little things. Also, the way that Elana write Bat, his story will help middle grade readers think about their classmates who may not think or act the way that they think is normal. We are all normal for who we are! Bat’s story shows about the good in life and teaches us what good humans are like.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In addition to an amazing read aloud opportunity, I can definitely see the text being part of lit circles. Bat himself is unique, but he and his story remind me of so many other characters who I love and I wish all students would read about: Auggie from Wonder; Melody from Out of my Mind; David from Rules; Candice from The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee; Rose from Rain, Reign; and Adam from How to Speak Dolphin. All of these texts are must reads! I picture all of these texts with their extraordinary characters being part of lit circles with a focus on disabilities/disorders and empathy. [From my review of A Boy Called Bat, 3/10/17]

Educators’ Resource Guide: 

Flagged Passages: “Maybe, Bat though, there was something better in the world than cradling a sleepy, just-fed baby skunk in your arms. But at this moment, it didn’t seem likely.

Bat was sitting in his beanbag chair, having just put down the tiny, nearly empty bottle of formula. In Bat’s hand, licking his fine soft whiskers with a tiny pink tongue and then yawning widely to reveal two rows of new white teeth, was a six-week-old skunk kit named Thor.” (p. 1-2)

“When Israel first handed [a skunk kit sculpture] to Bat last Monday at school, it had taken Bat a moment to figure out what exactly he was holding…

Bat had rubbed his thumb down the smooth shiny back of the clay ump. It didn’t look much like a skunk kit, but its pleasant weight felt good in his hand. And when he had flipped it over to find the words ‘From Israel’ on the bottom, a warm good feeling spread through his chest and up his neck.

A friend had given him a gift. And even if it didn’t look much like the real baby skunk now nestled in his hands, it definitely deserved a place on his bookshelf,a long with his other important things.” (p. 4-5)

Read This If You Love: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold, Any lit circle book listed under Teacher’s Tools

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Don’t miss out on the other blog tour stops!

3/12 For Those About to Mock, @abouttomock Sam Eddington

3/15 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook @knott_michele Michele Knott

3/15 @iowaamber Amber Kuehler

3/16 The Hiding Spot @thehidingspot Sara Grochowski

3/18 Educate*Empower*Inspire…Teach @guerette79 Melissa Guerrette

3/19 Maria’s Melange @mariaselke Maria Selke

3/20 Nerdy Book Club post by Elana

3/20 Writers Rumpus @kirsticall Kirsti Call

3/22 Bluestocking Thinking @bluesockgirl Nicole Levesque

3/28 Unleashing Readers @unleashreaders Kellee Moye

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for hosting the blog tour and providing a copy for review!!**

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
Illustrator: Kerascoët
Anticipated Publication: April 24, 2018 by Schwartz & Wade

Goodreads Summary: This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team—tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.

My Review: I was very fortunate to receive an F&G of this book at ALA Midwinter. Whew! I was told that this book was inspired by a true story of a large group of students who walked with a student who was being bullied. It’s really quite magical. This is the kind of book that will appeal to a wide assortment of readers at a wide range of ages. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book rakes in a few awards next year. The story is beautifully done. It inspired some great conversations with my four-year-old. We were able to point to each of the characters and talk about what they were doing in each situation. That said, if I had to place this book in one age group, I think it would make a great fit at the early elementary school level.  

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a phenomenal book to talk about the bystanders. It would pair beautifully with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. When I read this with my son, we spent a lot of time point out several of the students on the pages. We talked about what each of them were doing and in some cases, what they weren’t doing. This book is a must-read.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the illustrator team chose to make the book wordless? How does this make the book more or less powerful for you?; What emotions do you see in the characters? Why are they feeling the way that they feel?; Do bystanders have a responsibility?

Flagged Passage: 

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Read This If You Loved: My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Kellee’s Review | Ricki’s Review); Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

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Astronaut Annie
Author: Suzanne Slade; Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Published March 6, 2018 by Tilbury House Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Career Day is approaching, and Annie can’t wait to show her family what she’s planning to be when she grows up. But, she must keep it a secret until Friday! So curious family members each ask Annie for a clue. Convinced that she’ll be a news reporter like he once was, Grandpop gives her his old camera and notebook to use for her presentation. Grandma is sure Annie wants to be a champion baker like her, so she offers a mixing bowl and oven mitts to Annie. Hopeful she’ll become the mountain climber he aspired to be, Dad gives Annie an old backpack. Mom presents Annie with a pair of high-top sneakers to pursue Mom’s favorite sport in high school — basketball.

Grateful for each gift, Annie cleverly finds a way to use them all to create her Career Day costume. When the big day arrives, Annie finally reveals her out-of-this-world dream to everyone.

ReviewThis book served as a gentle reminder to me, as a parent! As Annie prepares for career day, all of her family members think she’d be great at their jobs. Annie honors their suggestions by creating a costume that incorporates all of their ideas, and just in case readers doubt her ability to be a female astronaut, the back matter (which features four famous women in space) would prove them wrong. This is a great story about a girl who sets her heart firmly on her dreams and is determined to pursue her passion. I particularly appreciated the ending, in which all of her family members are supportive of her dreams. I got emotional as I read it! I adored this book and feel lucky to have it in my library.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I was very inspired by the school’s Career Day setup! Each child dresses like the career they want to be. Our local school districts does a lot of neat things, and this is the kind of idea that they would adopt. Perhaps teachers could read this book and then set up a Career Day that allows kids to dress up to represent a career that interests them. What a great, inspiring school day this would be!

Discussion Questions: How does Annie react to her family members’ suggestions? How does she honor their suggestions at the end of the story?; Are her family member supportive of her dreams?; What do you want to be when you grow up? What famous people have held this career? How could you learn more about this career?

We Flagged: “And Annie jumped high off her chair, explored far-off places and soared through the air.”

Read This If You Loved: Books about space, books that feature strong females(!), books that feature family

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Nicole for providing a copy for review**

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There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Published: September 26, 2017 by Dutton

Guest Review by Kaari von Bernuth

Goodreads Summary: One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

My Review: This book was gripping from the first page. I found myself getting sucked into it, trying to figure out the mystery of who the killer was, but also of what Makani’s past entailed. The author, Stephanie Perkins, did an amazing job of planting foreshadowing and clues that hinted toward the answers to the multiple mysteries that kept my brain working the entire time that I was reading.

I also loved the emphasis on friendship groups, feeling like an outsider, and bullying/hazing as many adolescents face these topics every day. The way that these topics were portrayed in Makani’s friend group, and the way that the friends help Makani to deal with her hazing trials were something that I appreciated. However, there were two things that I wish were approached differently in this book. 1. Even though this is a small point, one of the characters was a stereotypical, loud Christian character who tried to force his beliefs on everyone else, including a mention of how he managed to get rid of any mention of evolution in his school textbooks. He was characterized as a Lutheran. While this probably wouldn’t mean much to other people, I am a Lutheran, and all of the Lutherans I know believe and support evolution, and don’t at all act like this negative christian stereotype character does. But, this book makes it look like all Lutherans act this way. I wish that there had been no mention of the character’s denomination.  2. I wish that more emphasis had been placed on dealing with the deaths that occurred in the books, as well as the motivations of the killer, as those were both just glanced over. This is problematic as it leaves a huge hole in understanding of the novel, and makes it harder to talk about some of the prominent events in the story. Overall though, it was a very entertaining novel.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to have in a classroom library for kids to enjoy. Given the graphic, violent nature of some of the scenes, I wouldn’t recommend teaching to an entire class. However, it will appeal to students who enjoy the horror genre. This book also has great potential in literature circles. Perkins does a great job of foreshadowing and giving hints not only as to what is going to happen, but to stories that have already happened that the readers don’t know about yet. As I was reading, I loved being able to piece together the clues that were given to try to guess what had happened and also what was going to happen. A literature circle could have a lot of fun trying to piece those clues together as a group. This book also touches on other important topics such as bullying/hazing and family struggles which could be discussed in a literature circle, as well as the elements of forgiving oneself/dealing with guilt (which Makani experiences as a result of the hazing incident). The one thing that I found this book lacking was any form of dealing/acknowledging grief and death, as well as an acknowledgement of mental health issues (which the killer would have to have). These failings in the book could also be discussed in relation as to how to acknowledge those topics in a healthy way.

Discussion Questions: Where do you see foreshadowing in the early parts of the books?; How does Perkins create suspense in her novel?; What is Makani’s relationship with her parents like?; What was Makani’s experience with hazing like? Have you experienced something similar?; How does blame and justice appear in this book? Is it always fair?

We Flagged: “Sharing her story now, however, had opened a valve of tremendous internal pressure. Her secret- this self-inflicted burden- had finally been released.” (page 207 of Advanced Reading Copy)

Read This If You Loved: The Merciless by Danielle Vega; Dead by Morning by Kayla Krantz; The Forest Dweller by Deborah McClatchey; Confessions: The Private School Murders by James Patterson

Recommended For:

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  RickiSig

**Thank you to Kaari for reviewing this book!**

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Ellie Engineer
Author: Jackson Pearce
Published January 16th, 2018 by Bloomsbury USA

Summary: Ellie loves to build. She’s always engineering new creations with the help of her imagination and her best friend Kit. Unfortunately, with Kit’s birthday just around the corner, the French-braiding machine Ellie built turns out to be more of a hair-knotting machine. What’s Ellie going to do? Luckily, the girls overhear Kit’s mom talking about Kit’s surprise – it must be the dog she’s always wanted! Ellie is struck with inspiration: she’ll build Kit the best doghouse ever! The project quickly becomes more than just a present for Kit – it builds a bridge between Ellie and those bothersome neighbor boys, as well as the other handy girls in her class.

Designed to look like Ellie’s notepad, with pencil-on-graph-paper illustrations of her projects interspersed throughout the book, Ellie, Engineer inspires creative and crafty girls to get hands-on with their imagination. Ellie’s projects range from the simple (using a glass against a wall to amplify sounds), to the practical (the doghouse), to the fantastical (a bedroom security system featuring spikes) – encouraging readers to start small but think big. Ellie’s parents support her engineering experiments, with important safety tips sprinkled throughout, and her relationship with Kit is a glowing example of positive female friendship. They share their hobbies – Ellie likes to get her hands dirty, while Kit prefers ballet – reminding readers that there’s no wrong way to be a girl. Ellie’s hand-drawn tool guide at the end explains basic tools in accessible terms, rounding out this fun and funny adventure, and giving girls everything they need to be their own Ellie!

About the Author: Jackson Pearce lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of a series of teen retold fairy-tales, including Sisters RedSweetlyFathomless, and Cold Spell, as well as two stand-alones, As You Wish and Purity. As J. Nelle Patrick, she is the author of Tsarina. In addition to The Doublecross and The Inside Job, her middle grade novels include Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures, co-written with Maggie Stiefvater. Visit her at www.jacksonpearce.com and @JacksonPearce (Twitter and Instagram).

ReviewI so often hear stories from women my age that share that they loved science or nature or math when they were younger but that they were steered away from that those interests in little ways that they don’t even remember, but they do remember just not loving science anymore. This is exactly the scenario that has raised awareness in the need for STEM or STEAM books, programs, and role models for young girls. Ellie Bell is a perfect girl for this mission! Ellie wants to be an engineer when she grows up and even has her own workshop where her parents give her free reign to work on projects (with the safer tools–power tools require supervision). Pearce has even set up Ellie Engineer to include drawings and plans for Ellie’s projects to show readers how Ellie goes from an idea to a project. And Ellie’s story is one that all readers will connect with as well, so it is a win-win in narrative and STEM!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Books like Ellie need to first be found more in classrooms and libraries. That is step one! After that, I think that using Ellie’s process for keeping track of her projects and how she brainstorms and plans could be an amazing exemplar for a classroom of students who are embarking on project-based learning.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Which of Ellie’s projects would you build?
  • How has the way Ellie’s parents parented helped Ellie become the engineer she is?
  • How did Ellie’s assumptions about the boys in her neighborhood stop her from seeing their real personalities?
  • What does Toby teach us in the story? The Presidents? Kit?
  • Compare and contrast Kit’s mom and Ellie’s mom.

Flagged Passages: 

Ellie’s plan for building her friend a dog house:

Read This If You Love: Ellie Ultra by Gina Bellisario; Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina; Bea Garcia by Deborah Zemke; Cody and the Fountain of Happiness and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe by Tricia Springstubb; Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins; The Trouble With Ants by Claudia Mills;Lola series by Christine Pakkala; Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Here’s Hank series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver; Bramble and Maggie series by Jessie HaasFlora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo; Eleanor series by Julie Sternberg

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters and to Bloomsbury for providing a copy for review!**

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Things That Surprise You
Author: Jennifer Maschari
Published August 22nd, 2017 by Balzer + Bray

Summary: Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited… though not nearly as much as her best friend Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel could just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at The Slice.

But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister Mina has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have her back, but anxious about her sister getting sick again.

Hazel is changing too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and have crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong thing. She want to be the perfect new Emily. But who is that really?

Things That Surprise You is a beautifully layered novel about navigating the often shifting bonds of family and friendship, and learning how to put the pieces back together when things fall apart.

About the Author: Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE and THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, visit http://jenmaschari.com/.

Review: Things that Surprise You is a perfect starting middle school book because it really shows the truth of how that transition is a turning point in kids’ lives. As a middle school teacher, I see students all start coming into their own or getting pushed by peer pressure to be something they’re not. It is such a tough time in a kids’ life; a book like this will surely make them feel less alone during the turbulent time.

There are other two minor plot lines/characters that I felt were really well done. First, I think the inclusion of Emily’s sister’s eating disorder was done tastefully and was not added in just to make the book an issues book. Although this story didn’t take center stage, it was dealt with in a way that was respectful yet also brought light to anorexia. The struggles that Emily’s sister, family, and Emily face during this time is realistic because so many middle schoolers are facing adversity at home and when starting middle school.  I also really enjoyed Emily’s teacher. I think her ability to make students feel like her classroom is a home for them and that she is there for them was honorable, and I hope that I can be just a tiny bit like her.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: curriculum guide has been created by the publisher that includes discussion questions and activities that meet Common Core standards.

Discussion Questions: What do you think surprised Emily the most about middle school and was the most impactful?; What is the theme of this book? What is the author trying to tell us about middle school?; Do you have a book series that you love as much as Emily loves her unicorn books? What series is it? Why do you love it?; What do you think was the hardest for Emily in middle school?; Hazel changed a lot throughout the book. How would you compare/contrast Hazel from the beginning to the end of the book?; Mina’s eating disorder is one of the main conflicts of the book. Do you feel hopeful about Mina going forward?

Flagged Passages: “While Hazel and I wait, we bench dance to the music from the jukebox. It’s a lot like car dancing but a little more restrained since you’re in public and everything. She does the squid, a move she made up where you wiggle your arms on either side of your body. I do the turtle, where you bob your head forward and backward. Hazel’s snort-laughing and I practically have tears coming out of my eyes, when I hear a noise behind me. Hazel stops dancing. I turn my head to look, but not so fast that I miss Hazel taking the purple horn off her head and hiding it below the table. I blink once and then again Confused.

‘Hazel!’ the voice cried but it sound like ‘Heyyyyzel’ the way she draws it out.

Three girls wearing the same field hockey shirt Hazel was before crowd around the booth.” (p. 18-19)

Read This If You Love: The Real Us by Tommy GreenwaldHundred Percent by Karen Romano YoungTruth or Dare by Barbara DeeStill a Work in Progress by Jo KnowlesThe Secret Hum of Daisy by Tracy HolczerGeorgia Rules by Nanci Turner Stevenson, Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

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One lucky winner will receive a copy of THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU (U.S. addresses).

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**Thank you Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!!**

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