The Rundown- October/November ’17

Secret series by Pseudonymous Bosch (new read)

imageThe “Secret” series is five books about a group of kids in middle school, starting with Cass and Max Ernest. They get involved with a secret society that tries to keep a huge secret from a group of alchemists up to no good. As you can imagine, lots of excitement and adventure ensues. There are lots of twists and turns: some I saw coming, and some I didn’t. That was all part of the fun!

The books each revolve around one of the senses, and I think the names are so enticing to readers:

The Name of this Book is Secret

If You’re Reading this Book, It’s Too Late

This Book is Not Good for You

This Isn’t What It Looks LIke

You Have to Stop This

My favorites were the first, third and fifth. Which brings me to a point– I don’t know if five books was really necessary. I was somewhat fatigued by the time I got to the last one!

The style of this series reminds me of A Series of Unfortunate Events, so if you like the way those are written, I think you’ll like these too. They also had several unique features for young readers, such as a TON of footnotes, and an Appendix in every one full of interesting ways for the reader to expand their experience. There was also a good bit of history and mythology, so young adults might even learn something (I sure did!).

VERDICT: The Secret series was enjoyable and unique. Guys and gals alike will find the subject matter intriguing and absolutely want to know what happens next. For those and the aforementioned reasons, I completely agree with these books’ inclusion on the list!

**You can find Ashley’s review of the first book HERE**

 

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The Rundown- September ’17

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (new read)

ThieflordbookcoverWhat a lovely book!

Brothers Prosper and Bo run away to Venice after their parents die. They meet a group of street children, who quickly take them in to their home at an abandoned movie theater. Their leader is a boy named Scipio, also known as “The Thief Lord.” He steals items and gives them to the other children to sell to a sketchy shopkeeper named Barbarossa.

In the meantime, Prosper and Bo’s aunt and uncle have hired a detective named Victor to find their nephews. However, they only want Bo, which was the reason the boys ran away in the first place.

I wish I could tell you more about it, but I don’t want to spoil anything. This story is wonderful. It’s full of twists and turns! The Venetian setting gives it a different kind of feel than the typical American novel… almost magical. There are many subplots, but they never take away from the main narrative. What an adventure!

VERDICT: I highly recommend this book. It’s full of mystery and suspense, and I think would appeal to a wide cross-section of readers!

The Rundown- August ’17

I really got spoiled by my August books. They were some good ones!

 

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (new read)

8563789This book was a pleasant surprise. I was not familiar with it, but have come to find out it was widely praised upon its release… and I get it!

Cullen is a teenager in a small Arkansas town that gets turned upside down when a visitor claims to have seen a species of woodpecker believed to be extinct. As you would expect, media, tourists and birdwatchers descend upon the town all summer. During this time period, Cullen’s younger brother disappears without  a trace.

Parallel to this, we also read the story of a young missionary in Africa losing his way. Don’t think they go together? Neither did I, but boy did Whaley do a fabulous job of tying the two together! The ending was unexpected and thrilling.

I thought this was a really well written book, both in the prose itself, and in the structure. It sucked me in quickly and held me to the end. I think lots of young adults would relate to the themes of this book and see parts of themselves within each of the characters.

VERDICT: This gets a definite recommendation from me. It doesn’t take too long to read either, so you should pick it up when you have a few days!

 

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (new read)

18935484This was another great one! It’s based upon the real life murder of Grace Brown in 1906, which was also chronicled in an adult novel called An American Tragedy. 

Mattie Gokey is the oldest of four girls, whose older brother left home and mother has passed. She helps her father run their farm in upstate New York, but dreams of going away to college and becoming a writer. She is finally able to get a job at The Glenmore hotel for the summer to help raise money for her family and her studies. She soon gets mixed up in a couple’s tumultuous relationship, which ends with the death of the woman. Mattie begins to read the letters that the young woman asked her to dispose of and becomes interested in solving her death.

In general, I enjoyed this book and was eager to solve the mystery too. The only downfall was the back and forth of the chapters. They flipped between the present and flashbacks, but it was difficult at times to determine the timeline of some events. But that is honestly a small quibble.

VERDICT: This is another book I think deserves a place on the list. I love when an author is able to write about a historical event with a more personal (even if fictional) touch!

 

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (new read)

51fRL1sEdJL._SY346_This was a completely different kind of read. It is a collection of science fiction short stories. And it is weird.

There were some very unsettling stories in this collection. The creepiest ones had to do with children turning on their parents. However, they were also some really interesting ones, including “The Other Foot,” in which Mars has been settled by black people who escaped the horrors of the Jim Crow south. Keep in mind this was written in 1951, well before the Civil Rights Act! Another one has to do with a space crew chasing (who they believe to be) Jesus from planet to planet, trying to finally see him for themselves.

I liked some of the stories, but some were boring or, as previously stated, disturbing. My biggest qualm though is how this is considered “young adult.” The stories were clearly written about and for adults, although I’m pretty sure I was required to read one or two of these in high school.

VERDICT: I’m going to vote no on this one, as I don’t see it in the young adult realm, and the stories are too hit or miss.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (reread)

41bz6juMwiL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I don’t really remember my initial reaction to this book when I read it a few years ago, but I think I liked it pretty well. Upon the rereading, I probably enjoyed it a bit less.

Christopher is a teenager that the reader assumes is on the autism spectrum (although it’s never stated in the book.) He is upset that his neighbor’s dog Wellington has been killed and is determined to find the person who did it. We see the story through his eyes, as he is writing it as his own novel. That means unconventional things like prime numbers as the chapter numbers and entire sections about math problems.

I liked the overarching story, but it got boring at times when Christopher went off on a tangent that went too long. Most of the time they weren’t too distracting, but the lengthy asides didn’t move the story along enough.

VERDICT: This one is somewhat of  a toss up, but I do think it’s an important book in the fact that we get to hear from a voice that is not commonly heard. Any kid that feels like they’re not “normal” in some way, probably relates to Christopher as someone that doesn’t always fit in. That’s crucial to be able to find that relationship.

 

**I also read Boxers this month, but will wait until I read the companion volume Saints, to write the review.

The Rundown- July ’17

As I finished this blog, I just realized that all three protagonists in these stories are orphans. How appropro for the month of July 😦  They’re also all classified as “children’s” or “juvenile” fiction, which is interesting.

 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (new read)

51V2oJ1tNTLThis is one of those books that I’d heard of at a young age, but never knew anything about. The introduction was written by an author who first read it as an adult and said she wished she had done so as young girl because it would have been life changing for her. I didn’t have such a strong reaction, but I can understand the sentiment.

16 year old Kit arrives to her aunt and uncle’s house in Connecticut after leaving Barbados when her Grandfather dies. Their 17th century Puritan community is much different than the freewheeling lifestyle she left behind and her uncle doesn’t approve of the influence she has on her teenage cousins. She also befriends Hannah, who is declared a “witch” by most of the town, but Kit feels she is just misunderstood.

Kit has a lot of fire and passion, and wants to do her own thing. That could definitely be inspiring to young girls making their way through the perils of teenagedom.

VERDICT: This was a departure from many of the books I’ve read lately. The time period of the story is underrepresented in general and it’s rare to see a heroine with such a mind of her own from then as well. For those reasons, I’d keep this book on the list.

 

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay (new read)

Saffys_AngelThe first word that pops into my mind after reading this book is “heartwarming.” I never heard of the story or its author before, but I’m glad I did!

Saffy is a member of the Casson family, with three other siblings: Caddy, Indigo and Rose. Her parents are both artists, with her father working mostly out of town in London. One day, Saffy (short for Saffron) realizes her name is the only one not on the paint chart hanging in their kitchen. She then discovers that she had actually been adopted by her aunt and uncle after her parents died.  Soon after, her grandfather passes away and leaves her an “angel,” whose identity is unknown. We then see Saffy on her journey of self-discovery as she searches for her angel.

I think a lot of kids (and adults) would be able to relate to this story in some way. Even if you’re not adopted, wondering how you fit into any type of group is a common issue we all deal with at some point of our lives.

I was impressed at how well McKay was able to flesh out so many characters in such a short novel. Each of the children have distinct personalities that shine through, even though the main focus is on Saffy. I saw that there are several other books featuring this family, so that might be part of the reason.

VERDICT: I don’t know if this is one of the best books of all time, but it was definitely a sweet and enjoyable story. It’s a toss up for me!

 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (new read)

61lEzC6Sz3L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_This next read came with a lot of hype. I remember when it won the Caldecott Medal and how shocking it was, since most winners are short picture books and this novel clocks in at over 500 pages!

I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a unique mix of text and illustration. The story itself was interesting. It contains a real historical figure, that of filmmaker Georges Melies, and many of the details are true, although the other characters are fictional. It takes place in Paris in the 1930s. Most of the action is in a train station, where Hugo lives and takes care of the clocks after his father passes away. It’s categorized as a “historical fiction steampunk” novel.

I really don’t want to say too much more about the plot because part of the fun for me was knowing very little about it before reading and being intrigued at every turn. This is a widely lauded story for good reason– any age would appreciate it!

VERDICT: I thoroughly enjoyed this story and agree with its inclusion as one of the best. It was an enjoyable and suspenseful read.

**I watched the movie this morning and was underwhelmed. Some of the action went by really fast in the movie, that would take pages of illustrations in the book. The reader can control the pace. It also appears that a couple of characters were completely eliminated. I think they could have done more. You can skip this one!**

The Rundown- June ’17

0-439-02348-3The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins (reread)

I started out my summer rereading this dystopian trilogy. I read it for the first time six years ago (around this time actually!) and it immediately dropped into my favorites category. Here’s what I said then:

These books were by far the most exciting {I read this summer.}There was hardly ever a dull moment (except maybe in the third one). Perfect summer reads in my opinion. I flew through these books, hardly able to put each down once I started it. Definitely recommended!

I still agree. For the uninformed, here is the gist: in the future, North America is condensed to a nation named Panem, with the all powerful Capitol in the middle, surrounded by twelve districts. Each year, to remind the districts of their power, the Capitol sends two kids from each one into an event called The Hunger Games. There, they fight to the death until one victor is left standing…. did I mention the entire nation watches this live on television? The books follow 16 year old Katniss Everdeen, who becomes one of the tributes (the contestants) after volunteering for her younger sister, whose name is picked.

As I previously stated, these books are jam packed. The world Collins has created is intriguing and, at times, scary. She does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters and settings, creating extremely vivid images. Katniss is a great protagonist and role model, even through her flaws. To me, this is a trilogy that spans age, gender, culture, and genre. Anyone can get into this and relate to something. Especially in these times!

VERDICT: There is no doubt in my mind that this series deserves a place among the best of all time! “Catching Fire” is my favorite of the trilogy, but they’re all great 🙂

**You can find Ashley’s review HERE**

**After reading, I watched all four of the movies this weekend. Watching them so closely after reading, I basically consider them the Cliff Notes of the books. There is SO MUCH that is left out, especially in “Mockingjay.” You may want to watch a movie or two to see if you’re interested in the story, but then definitely read the books because they are such a better experience! After I saw the first movie when it came out, I wrote a little piece about the differences, which you can read here.

 

The Wall by Peter Sis (new read)

thewallThe full title of this book is The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain. Seeing the full title immediately had me intrigued. Second surprise: it’s a picture book! Thus, I was able to read this while I was at school last week opening the library for summer checkout.

Peter Sis’ memoir tells of his life growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The story is told mostly through drawings and panels. Some pages contain several of his journal excerpts to show the passage of time. He aligns the rise of Communism with what he’s allowed to create and listen to throughout the years.

I think this is a great way to introduce young adults to this difficult topic. It simplifies it and also makes it personal. His drawings are in black and white, with uses of red (and sometimes other colors) for emphasis. The illustrations are focused and specific, and draw out quite a bit of emotion. They’re great conversation starters.

It was really interesting to read the progress of events from someone who was there. I learned several new things myself! For instance, in 1968 a new leader took over the country and they were on the way to making progress away from Communism. However, Russia got wind of it and came in and took back over, which set them all the way back.

VERDICT: Even though I had never heard of it previously, I think this book deserves its place on the list. The story is one that needs to be told. The way Sis constructed this book is purposeful and accessible. A must read historical text!

 

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (new read)

johnny tremainThis was one of the books I wasn’t looking forward to reading from this list, so I figured I’d power through after getting to read some of my favorites!

In the introduction to this book, the backstory to this Newbery winner was told. Forbes wrote this story immediately after winning a Pulitzer Prize! for a book about Paul Revere. She decided to use all the research she had done for that book to write a children’s story. That is amazing to me. To write for two wildly different audiences about the same topic (and win awards doing both!), is impressive.

The story takes place on the eve of the American Revolution in Boston. Johnny Tremain is an apprentice in a silversmith shop. While working on an important order for John Hancock, Johnny sustains an injury and the course of his life is altered. We see Johnny’s journey over the next two years, with the story ending just after the beginning of the war.

Because of Forbes’ research, the story is extremely detailed and specific. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes I got bogged down in it. I enjoyed the first third of the book, but the more I read, the less interested I became. It, of course, turned into a story of politics and war, which I don’t typically care to read about. However, I think it was well written and historically accurate to my knowledge.

VERDICT: Good historical fiction, especially for young adults, is lacking in general. Since my aversion to this book is purely based on preference, I think it should be included on the list. It’s a great teaching tool, and I think it would appeal to many students.

 

The Rundown- May ’17

imageThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (reread)

I first read this book in fifth grade, after browsing my elementary school library shelves for something I hadn’t read yet. (Yep, I literally started in the “As” and just pulled new books to read!) I don’t completely remember how I felt about the book back then, but I think I read a couple of the sequels afterwards, so I must have liked it enough to continue the story.

I started the book this time by reading it to one of my fifth grade Book Clubs. We ran out of time to finish it, so I hope they read the rest of it themselves! It didn’t make the best read aloud in my opinion, but I know lots of teachers who love to read it with their class, so to each their own.

Anyway, once I started reading it by myself, it went much more quickly. The thing that struck me then and now is how different it is from the movie. Most of the events are the same, but the movie has completely rearranged the order of what happens. That threw me off at first. I had to separate what I thought I knew about the story and concentrate on what was happening in the book.

This really is a great fantasy story and the characters Baum has created are unforgettable. Try not to think about the movie and you will enjoy it much more!

VERDICT: This is a classic that deserves its place on the list. I do think the movie did a lot to cement its legacy, but the book has lots to offer in its own right. The world Baum has created is fantastical and enjoyable!

 

**Check out Ashley’s review HERE**

The Rundown- March/April ’17

It took me a loooong time to get through this first book, hence the doubled-up post.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (reread) Huckleberry_Finn_book

There were two things I remembered about this book: the majority of the book is written in dialect and the rampant use of the “n-word.” The combination of those two made it a difficult book to get through, not to mention it’s just plain LONG.

This book is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but there’s no need to have read that in order to be able to follow this. There’s a succinct recap in the first chapter that gives all the pertinent information.

Huck Finn runs away when his father shows up back in his life without the best of intentions. He runs across a neighbor’s slave, Jim, who is trying to escape his life as well. They decide to help each other on the way to freedom.

It’s a journey story with a lot of stops along the way. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, which becomes more difficult when they are referred to with multiple monikers. As they go through different territories along the Mississippi, the dialect changes with each new place and Twain uses it all. I had to slow down a lot and hear the voice in my head to be able to understand what they were saying!

VERDICT: In general, it’s a decent story. It has a good premise and there are some important themes. It wasn’t my favorite book, but I can’t think of a good enough reason not to keep it on the list, so… let’s keep it.

**Check out Ashley’s review of it HERE**

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (new read) 

91DRp5i5J-LThis is another of those books I’ve heard of my whole life, but had no idea what it was about. Now that I’ve read it, I wish I had know the premise, because my elementary-aged self would have LOVED it. As it is now, I still think it’s a fun book!

Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse who has four children to take care of. It’s the time of year when the family has to move their house for planting season, but her youngest son, Timothy, is ill. She finds her way to a group of creatures called the rats of NIMH, who help her come up with a plan.

When I first started reading, I got bored pretty quickly. As the problem begins to unfold though, it quickly became more interesting. One of the best parts of the book was finding out about the rats of NIMH– who they were, what they did, and how they came to be there. I can’t give any of that away though!

VERDICT: Once again, I don’t know if this is really a “young adult” book– I mean, can any Newbery winner be considered one? However, I really enjoyed it as a unique fantasy adventure. Definitely recommended!

The Rundown-February ’17

99d907a82a51c2a3a7d24634879c753cAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (reread)

I first read this book back when I was in elementary school, but I really just remembered more of the characters, than the story itself.

In the introduction to this edition of the book, it’s mentioned that Carroll actually told the original version of this story to a friend’s daughters one afternoon on a boat ride. He later wrote it down for them, and then expanded upon it before it was published.

Reading it as an adult, I could feel the stream-of-consciousness. Alice basically just wanders from character to character, having strange conversations. It got “curioser” and “curioser,” for sure. A caterpillar smoking a hookah? A Mad Hatter drinking “tea?” It has all that and more. I generally am a big fan of fantasy, but the plot is lacking, in my opinion.

VERDICT: Even though the characters are fun, I don’t think the story is engaging enough to be included on this list. I’d rather go watch the old Disney cartoon!

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson (new read) images

I was really interested to read this, based on the title. I thought it would be nonfiction, or historical fiction. What I got instead was a collection of sonnets woven together into a picture book.

How did a picture book end up on a list of best young adult novels? Good question.

The book is ambitious. It includes an introduction about how the author chose to write in this style, sonnet notes, an artist’s note, and a one page summary of information about Emmett Till and his death. I appreciated the different take, but at the same time, wanted more. It felt like a book written almost specifically to be taught and analyzed, rather than one to pick up and read for enjoyment.

VERDICT: It’s hard for me to make a judgment on this one. The subject is important, so I’ll let you make up your own mind.

dannychampionoftheworldDanny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (new read)

This was one of the few Dahl books I hadn’t read. It’s not the typical fantasy he is known for, but it still has some of the same stylistic features.

Danny and his father live in a small caravan behind the filling station and garage that they run. They have a close relationship, due to the fact that Danny’s mother passed away when he was a baby. His father tells him wonderfully fantastical stories every night, including the first appearance of “The BFG!” When Danny is nine years old, he discovers his father has a secret liking of poaching peasants. The action takes off from there.

As I said, it’s not what we normally expect from Dahl, but he has crafted a story that is equally humorous and heartwarming. The bond between Danny and his dad is uplifting, and there were lots of laugh out loud moments.

VERDICT: This book has a wide appeal, and is one of the few showcasing a single dad. I give it a thumbs up as a great addition to the list!

The Rundown-January ’17

areyoutheregodAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (reread)

This is what I wrote about the book the first time I read it:

“So I finally read this book for the first time, as a 22 year old. I must say, it didn’t really knock me off of my socks the way I thought it might. I mean, this is probably one of the most talked about and controversial books for pre-teens… and I thought it was just alright. Maybe if I had read it as an adolescent, it would have resonated more with me, but as an adult, it’s just another book. Now, if you wanna read it just to say you have, then go for it. It’s quick and easy, and not a horrible read.”

My most recent take was not super far off from my original thoughts. However, I did have some new insights as someone now more than twice as old as the protagonist. For one thing, it had more of a nostalgic feel. It took me back to my teenage days, when things were much simpler!

I was also able to pay more attention to the religious aspects of the story this time. Margaret has not been raised in any particular religion and is searching for her beliefs. She talks to God frequently and seems lost without having had any guidance in this area. It definitely makes a good conversation starter.

Overall, this book is definitely going to skew towards the female demographic. I doubt there are many adolescent males who want to read about bras and periods. Just saying.

VERDICT: I think this book is going to be another toss up. Based on my previous memory of the book, I would have considered it a definitive “no.” However, upon the rereading, I found more merit and can see more of the appeal.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (new read) 51taoalah7l-_sx334_bo1204203200_

This was another of those books that I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. I was pleasantly surprised!

Gaiman tells the tale of Nobody “Bod” Owens, whose family is murdered when he is an infant. He is raised by several supernatural beings in a graveyard near his house, as the killer continues to search for him. We see glimpses of his life every couple of years, up through his time as a teenager.

There are lots of supernatural elements of this story, which at first was a little bit of a turn off. However, those elements became essential to the understanding of what was happening and, ultimately, the climax. It kept my attention, and the last “short story,” was a real page turner.

VERDICT: It’s hard to argue with most Newbery Medal winners, and this one is no different. It’s a unique and well executed idea, with a broad appeal. Even if supernatural tales aren’t your thing, I think you’ll find enough to keep you entertained.

lotf-front-coverLord of the Flies by William Golding (reread)

I had to read this book in high school and hated it. For some reason, this felt like a good time in the history of the world to read it again. Guess what? I still hate it.

I really did try to go into it with an open mind, but I just can’t get with it. I know there are plenty of people who like this book. I know there are important messages to be gained through this book. But it is sooooo hard for me to read.

I don’t feel like I need to go much into the plot of this book because it is well known. Just as a refresher though, a plane full of schoolboys crashes into an uninhabited island. They battle over who should be in charge and their natural inclinations take over. You can imagine the rest.

On the back of the current edition, the author of The Hunger Games said this is a big influence on her work. That makes sense, but for some reason, THG is much more palatable for me than this. It also happens to be one of my favorites, which is even weirder.

VERDICT: I guess it depends on what the criteria is for whether this is one of the best young adult novels of all time. I did not enjoy reading it at all, but I will give it a place on the list based on the theme and message it is trying to convey. If you do like this book, you should also give Conrad’s Heart of Darkness a try. It deals with the same theme.

The Rundown- December ’16

Thank you winter break for giving me time to read both of my books this month 🙂

the-wind-in-the-willowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (new read)

Okay, this is, by no stretch of the imagination, a young adult book. It is absolutely a children’s book. In addition, I think a book that plenty of people have heard of, but I doubt many have read.

To be honest, you aren’t missing much. I’m glad I had plenty of time to plod through this narrative, which could be quite boring at times.

The book’s chapters don’t always seem to connect with one another, even though they contain the same characters: Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad. They act like people, but also retain traits of their animal selves, which is an interesting hybrid. The animal foursome has adventures, but some are of the “don’t try this at home variety.”

***SPOILER ALERT***

For example, Toad steals a car and when he is imprisoned for it, manages to escape by dressing like a woman and steals the same car again. What??!!

VERDICT: I don’t think this would appeal to any young adults that I know, and I really didn’t see the great appeal. Therefore, I would not include it on the list.

 

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (new read)Hobbit_cover

I have a confession: I was scared to read this book. When I think of Tolkien, I think of hundreds of made up names and places that I can’t pronounce or keep track of. I purposely read it during my break though so that I could have all the time I needed. I am happy to say that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought!

I actually really enjoyed this story of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit who accompanies a band of dwarves on their quest to reclaim treasure from the evil dragon Smaug. It chronicles their journey and all the challenges they face along the way. It even continues past the point where I thought it would end! Tolkien really has a way of pulling the reader into the story when it’s least expected.

If you enjoy fantasy, you will like this book. Not only is the story itself excellent, there are so many fantastical characters: hobbits, dwarves, dragons, goblins, trolls and even elves!

VERDICT: This was a perfect selection for the list. It’s a great book about self-discovery on top of everything else.

**If you’re worried like I was, you might want to try watching the first movie (it’s a trilogy) to see if you can follow it. I can’t wait to go back and watch the whole trilogy and see what they added!

*You can read Ashley’s review HERE*