Book Review #96: “Lea Dives In”

American Girl books are great pick-me-ups! Whenever I’m in a reading slump or struggling to pick the next book, an American Girl book usually sets me right. I found Lea Dives In at my local library.

Lea was the Girl of the Year for 2016. I remember falling in love with the doll and her collection. And the books sounded magical – Traveling and seeing a new country? Yes, please!

Lea’s brother, Zac, is studying abroad in Brazil. Lea and her parents are going to spend a week there! Lea is excited, but also nervous and a bit sad. She’s grieving the recent loss of a dear family member, and she knows she’s changed since Zac left for college a few years earlier. It’s great how this book addresses multiple real-world challenges in less than 100 pages.

I loved Lea as a character, she reminded me of me around her age. I love the richness of the culture, too, and how the author paid attention to detail with mixing English and Portuguese, one of the languages spoken in Brazil. I’ve always appreciated that about American Girl in general – Both the historical and modern stories try really hard to educate readers on different cultures and time periods. There’s even a glossary in the back of the book with pronunciations!

I’m excited to read book 2 – Lea Leads The Way. There’s also a third book, Lea and Camila.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #95: “Camp”

I fell in love with this book within the first few pages. I was enveloped into the world of Camp Outland, and I felt so sad when it ended and I had to say goodbye to Camp and the characters in it.

The way Rosen crafts his characters is amazing. They all have names, and personalities, and interests, but they could also be people that you know in your own life. That’s how real he makes them. I found myself coming up for air in my hammock on my porch a few weekends ago, not realizing I’d read 200 pages already.

The story of Del and his adventures at Camp are fun, silly, and amazing. The friends he’s met, and the one that he’s determined to fall in love with, are all unique and precious. I love the counselors, too, and their stories. To go along with Del on his quest is a wonderful journey with so many emotions wrapped up together. I laughed, I cried, and just adored this book.

I can’t wait to read it again. This will stay on my bookshelf forever. It’s marketed toward ages 14 and up, but I believe that everyone should read this book. There are so many real-life lessons that are wrapped up in this adorable love story, told at an amazing place that I think a lot of people wishes had existed many, many years ago in the real world.

Thanks to Mike Holtzclaw for another excellent recommendation.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #94: “Courtney: Friendship Superhero”

I wasn’t surprised at all when I powered through Courtney’s second book on Monday night before bed.

This book opens in the last few days of school of the 1985-1986 school year. The Hands Across America event is held, raising money for hunger and homelessness.

Courtney goes to the arcade, and continuing to work on her Crystal Starshooter character and levels of her video game. She meets a new friend, Isaac. He’s an even better video game player. Courtney eventually learns he’s also a talented artist.

As she navigates the waters of family and friendship, Courtney learns that Issac has an illness called HIV. Requests for privacy turn into anger about keeping secrets. Courtney feels like her friendship with Sarah, her best friend, is falling apart.

This book expertly navigated the fears of HIV and AIDS in 1986. I immediately drew parallels between Isaac and Ryan White, a teenager in Indiana who contracted HIV in 1984 through contaminated clotting factor that he received for hemophilia.

Courtney learns several lessons about true friendship along the way, even though she gets entrenched in the fight over Isaac and the local residents wanting to keep him out of school. How awful that these families and children faced such horrible discrimination, just like Ryan White and his family did.

The fun part of the story is when Courtney discovers the first Pleasant Company catalog, and falls in love with Molly McIntire!

I’m not sure if there will be more Courtney books, because American Girl revamped their book line several years ago. They changed the original six-book format to two longer books. This one covers the summer, fall, and winter of 1986.

However, I’m inspired to re-read Ryan White’s autobiography, Ryan White: My Own Story, and learn more about the 1980s. I was born in 1988, so I’ve always been intrigued by events that happened around the time I was born, and things that happened before I started forming core memories.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #93: “Courtney Changes The Game”

I don’t normally order items from American Girl directly, but they were offering a pretty sweet deal for the Valentine’s Day / President’s Day weekend – 3X the rewards points!

The newest historical character is Courtney Moore, who lives in Orange Valley, California in 1986. I’ve always been fascinated with 20th century history, so I knew I wanted to get her books! Courtney’s character was released in September 2020.

I ended getting the doll practically brand-new from the amazing American Girl Obsessed BST group on Facebook, and I also bought a few outfits and accessories with this purchase!


The AG historical books are typically shorter, as they are designed for readers 8+. Courtney Changes The Game rounds out at 120 pages. I was not surprised that I powered through the entire book on Saturday night before bed.

Courtney loves video games, especially PAC-MAN. She’s also adjusting to being part of a blended family – Her mom remarried Mike, and Tina is her 13-year-old stepsister. They also share a younger half-brother, two-year-old Rafi. Her dad just took a new job, and is moving several hours away. There’s a lot of personal upheaval in Courtney’s life, especially because Tina has quite the on/off switch. Sometimes, she’s happy and dances with Courtney to MTV, and other times, she’s really angry and sad.

The other big news is that her mom has decided to run for mayor!

As Courtney ponders her school project, creating her own video game, her class and school are all abuzz because of the upcoming launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger, and the first-ever Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe!

This was a great opening book. It had me hooked the whole time – I couldn’t put it down, even when I started feeling tired during Chapter 5.

Up next, her second book – Courtney: Friendship Superhero. If this book is nearly as good as the first, expect that Book Review to be here on the blog by the end of the week!

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #92: “Loved By The Beast: A Historical Retelling of Beauty and the Beast”

I received my copy of this book for free from the author. I’m excited to read more from her!

This is Elliott’s debut novel, but you wouldn’t know it. She immerses you in early 18th century France instantly. The hardest part for me was not picturing the movies!

I loved Lea and Audric. I also appreciated Elliott weaving in their families, and their elaborate histories. It was so charming and special, like I was dropped into an actual history book and enveloped in a warm embrace the entire time. I had a really hard time putting it down. It took me a long time to finish it, but every single chapter kept me wanting to read the next one.

Even better, Loved by the Beast is the first in a trilogy called The Beast’s Legacy. I’m looking forward to reading Book 2, Service and Slumber: A Historical Tale Inspired by Sleeping Beauty very soon. The third book, A Gentle Pursuit, is slated to be published soon.


Have you read any historical retellings?

Do you enjoy fairy tales?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #91: “Just Mercy”

I was fortunate enough to find my copy through a friend’s store on eBay. I’d heard about the book for a good while, and knew I wanted to see the movie. But, I’m the type of person that likes to read the book before seeing the movie.

Bryan Stevenson is an incredible man. This book is not only a memoir, but a history lesson.

Stevenson graduated from Harvard Law School, moved to Atlanta, and then heard about a man on death row named Walter McMillan. He moved to Alabama to run the Southern Center for Human Rights operation in Montgomery. He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). As of August 2016, EJI has saved 125 men from death.

It took me a lot longer than usual to finish this book. I wanted to take my time with it. Ever since the murder of George Floyd in May, I’ve wanted to learn as much as I can about people of color. This book is no exception – Stevenson writes about the appalling history of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, disproportionate arrests and heavy sentences, and the struggle of getting relief and overturned convictions for significant sentences, along with wrongfully imprisoned people.

Stevenson’s stories of these people on death row in multiple states, mostly men, but also a few women, were heartbreaking. Some were sentenced to death for crimes that were committed when they were children. Others were prosecuted to the maximum, when the laws that should have shielded them were blatantly ignored. There are more than a few people with physical and intellectual disabilities on death row in the United States.

This is a book that I think everyone should read. Even though it was published in 2014, it is definitely still relevant today.

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation soon.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #90: “Soulflow” (Audiobook)

Kristen Martin is amazing!

This book went on my Amazon wishlist within hours of her announcing its release date on her podcast, That Smart Hustle.

Then, in March 2020, Kristen made an amazing decision. In part due to the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic, she recorded every chapter of Soulflow, and released one per day from March 20 through April 5. At first, I wasn’t sure if listening to the book would work for me. It’s been YEARS since I’d listened to a book. Think back to books on tape and books on CD from the library. Yeah, that long ago.

But, I dove in. And I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. I got a late start in listening to it, so all the chapters had been released by the time I started the Introduction in early May. I found myself listening to multiple chapters per day while working from home. I love Kristen’s voice!

Between May and August, I’ve listened to the entire book twice. I plan to listen to it a third time before the end of 2020.

I know, personal development books get a lot of flack. Trust me, I’ve read a lot of them over the years. But, I feel like Kristen’s book is different. It is personal development, but it also has a lot of her memories and experiences. To me, it’s relatable. This may be in part because she and I are virtually the same age, but I keep coming back to it.

I love Kristen’s energy through this book. I was planning to read some of her fiction work first, but I’m glad I listened to this one first. I’m even more excited now to read her fiction. If her second personal development book is this inspiring and influential to me, I can only imagine what worlds she’s created with her fiction.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #89: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity”

When I did a recent Tag post, I picked this book as “An intimidating book on your TBR.”

I wrote: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton. I know the backstory behind this book, Betz-Hamilton’s memoir, from the Criminal podcast. (Make sure you listen to Episode 51 first, then Episode 125). I want it to be as amazing as I think it is, based on the podcast episodes that were so masterfully produced.”


As soon as I heard about Betz-Hamilton’s book on Episode 125 of the Criminal podcast, I added it to my wish list. I was so thrilled when I opened it as part of my Christmas gift from Al at the end of 2019.

It took me nearly six months to get to it, but I knew I was avoiding it. I had so many high hopes for this book, and I did not want to be disappointed.

Thankfully, this was not disappointing.


It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away certain things. But, I will say that I hope Betz-Hamilton writes more books. She did an incredible job with this. It’s such a personal story, and she truly turned it into action. She has done incredible work with helping identity theft victims for many years, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of identity theft in her own family.

If you’ve wanted to learn about identity theft, and its interesting history, this is a great book to read. Betz-Hamilton started her investigation with hardly any resources, and little law enforcement involvement. Times have certainly changed, and she helped educate many people along the way. Without her work, I don’t think identity theft would be as widely known or investigated now.

I related to this book in a few ways. Axton and I were both only children. I struggled with my relationship with my mom, especially as I became a teenager. But, I realize how good I had it. Axton lived in a version of hell under her mother’s roof until she went to college. I recognized so many signs of abuse, sadly.


The chapters were the perfect length. I flew through multiple chapters every night, and struggled with putting the book down.

It was so interesting to read about her life. This book spanned from before she was born up through the early 2010s. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, mixed in with academia and identity theft history. I’ve found myself searching for presentations she’s given. I’m hoping she’ll offer a course on identity theft. I want to learn more from her.

This is currently my favorite book of 2020. I’m already planning to re-read it next year.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #88: “Thank You, Mr. Falker”

My mom asked me to buy five copies of this book from Amazon toward the end of 2019.

I said, “Sure. Absolutely, I’m happy to help.”

I read many of Patricia Polacco’s books as a kid, but I hadn’t heard of this one. I first learned about her through LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow.


My mom let me read one of the copies I purchased soon after they arrived. At the end of the 37 pages, I was crying. The story is so special and heartwarming.

It shows that teachers truly make a difference. Mr. Falker made a huge difference in the little girl’s life, especially when there weren’t nearly as many male teachers back in the 1940s.

It’s hard to talk about this book because I don’t want to spoil anything. What I will say is this book is based on true events and real people.


This is one of the best children’s books I’ve read. I plan to buy a copy for several teacher friends for their classroom libraries. If you haven’t read Polacco before, I highly recommend it. Her writing is beautiful, and she also illustrates them.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #87: “Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear”

This was one of FIVE books that Al bought me for Christmas!

This book, along with Kristen Martin’s Soulflow (Review coming soon!), felt like divine guidance when I needed it most. I was in such a slump with blogging and writing until the beginning of May. Then, it felt like a switch was flipped in my head. I felt inspired again. And both these books were big contributors.


I’m planning to read more from Gilbert down the line. But, this book is just what I needed at this particular moment. It’s part memoir, part self-help, part inspiration.

Although not pleased with how choppy everything felt at the beginning, I liked how she structured the book. It was like listening to a wise friend or relative tell stories over the course of a summer afternoon. And there was something for me to remember or ponder over with every chapter. She placed good reminders in my hear and heart.


It’s hard to describe Big Magic! But I felt comforted the entire time. It was a breezy read, perfect as the weather here has gone up and down and sideways. Until yesterday, it felt like September!

As someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and struggle most days with imposter syndrome, this book allayed my fears. It’s shown me to stare my fear(s) straight in the face, and proclaim, “You don’t own me. You don’t control me. I do. So step aside and let me finish the work I was called to create. Thanks!”

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂