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The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Things haven’t really been the same for Lucy Everhart and her dad since her mom died five years ago.  A renowned biologist, Lucy’s mom was on a boat tracking great white sharks off the north Atlantic coast when she died.  Lucy’s dad is a police detective in their small coastal Massachusetts town and a rescue diver who works all up and down the coast, which means he isn’t home too much, but her neighbors are always there – old Mr. Patterson on one side, hanging out on his porch listening to his police scanner, and the Kellys on the other, including Fred Kelly, Lucy’s best friend, and his two sisters.  Mrs. Kelly took care of Lucy after her mom died, when things were really bad, and Lucy feels almost like part of the Kelly family.

It’s summer, and Lucy and Fred are hard at work on their summer project, a field guide to Cape Ann wildlife (Fred writes the descriptions, while Lucy illustrates), when local fisherman Sookie catches a great white in one of his nets and hauls it to shore.  The two head to the dock to get a good look at the shark, and that night, while trying to get the illustrations right, Lucy catches some old footage on the news of her mom talking about great whites moving into the north Atlantic.  Footage she’s never seen before – which sets her down a path of discovery about her mom’s work with sharks, Fred by her side.  As the two dive deep into shark research, Lucy starts to feel like she’s getting to know her mom the biologist, not just her mom the mom.

But when another tragedy rips a new hole in Lucy’s heart, this time with serrated edges, she has to fight hard to hold on.  Her mom’s research feels like a life line, and finding answers her mom didn’t get a chance to investigate feels like a way for Lucy to keep swimming, even in the dark waters of grief.  With the field guide and her pencils in hand, her mom’s unanswered questions forming the path ahead, and help from more than a few unexpected places, Lucy slowly begins to find her way forward.

Shark Week is still a month away, but you can get a jump start with this fabulous debut novel by Minnesota author Kate Allen!  The Line Tender is an exploration of family, friendship, love, loss, and chock full of the science of sharks.  A great summer read (although maaaybe not for a trip to an ocean…), there are tons of shark and other marine biology facts in this novel that were super fascinating, and Lucy’s shark illustrations fill the space between each chapter.  With a mystery or two, quirky neighbors, good friends, a road trip, and lots of sharks, this is definitely one to add to your summer stack!

Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Giant pumpkins, Bach and his cello suites, musicals, kintsugi, tap dancing, Charlotte’s Web, and the Minnesota State Fair.  What do all these things have in common?  You’ll find them all in the pages of Minnesota author Melanie Heuiser Hill’s debut novel, Giant Pumpkin Suite!

Rose and Thomas are twins, but you’d never guess it.  At twelve years old, Rose is 17 inches taller than her twin.  She loves reading, most especially Charlotte’s Web, and is a math whiz, taking classes at the university.  Thomas is good at figuring out how things go together, hates reading, and never passed his multiplication tables.  Rose prefers to stay inside, while Thomas is always running and jumping from place to place.  They’re not even in the same grade at school – Thomas was held back a year, and Rose skipped ahead.

Rose is also an incredibly gifted cellist.  Fiercely focused, she has her heart set on winning the Bach Cello Suites Competition in a few weeks.  The prize?  The winner will be awarded a fellowship with Maestro Harris Waldenstein, a renowned Bach scholar and cellist.  Rose loves Bach – the order, the complexity, the math jokes and puzzles hidden in his music, the loveliness and the cleverness of it all – and she just knows she is meant to win the cello suites competition.

But when Rose and Thomas’s next door neighbor Mr. Pickering has an accident that leaves them temporarily in charge of a giant pumpkin seed, Rose’s summer begins to change.  As Thomas helps Mr. Pickering with his pumpkin project, the borders of their lives begin to expand just like the fast-growing leaves of the giant pumpkin in their neighbor’s back yard.  At first, Rose isn’t too sure how she feels about all this extra pumpkin stuff going on, especially since it isn’t long before the whole neighborhood seems to be trooping through Rose’s life just as aggressively as the the pumpkin is vining.  But when another accident changes everything for Rose, it might just be the pumpkin project that helps her grow into who she’s meant to be.

Books and music are my two most favorite things in the world, and this novel has everything that makes my heart hum with happiness.  Family, friends, and neighbors all come together to make Rose’s journey not just a solo story, but a whole symphony of voices telling a tale sure to make you smile, laugh, cry, and, when you’re done, hug the book and download some Bach to play to your plants.  Don’t miss it!

Lemons by Melissa Savage

The first thing Lemonade Liberty Witt sees when her social worker drives her into Willow Creek, California, is a kid with a safari hat striped tight under his chin running across the road.  Which is weird, but everything about Lem’s life is weird right now.

Lem has just lost her mom, and she’s being dropped off to live (temporarily, maybe) with a grandfather she hardly knows.  A grandfather who eats bran for breakfast, not Life cereal, has no Twinkies in the cupboard, and can’t seem to figure out Lem doesn’t like tomatoes in her egg salad.  There’s no fluffy rainbow comforter on her bed, no favorite teacher, Miss Cotton, no old friends, and no stars on the ceiling.  Everything is wrong.

So when Tobin Sky, owner of the above-mentioned safari hat and founder of Bigfoot Detectives, Inc., decides that Lem should be his new assistant Bigfoot detective, Lem agrees only for something to do until she gets to go home.  Which is how she gets involved in what has the potential to be the greatest scientific discovery of the 20th century – actual, concrete proof of the Bigfoot’s existence.  And suddenly, a summer of waiting to go home turns into a summer of camping expeditions, footprint castings, vegetable thievery, a lot of cookies, a few Twinkies, a little serendipity, and maybe, just maybe, a new place to call home.

Full of heart, humor, healing, and maybe a Bigfoot or two (keep your eyes open and your Polaroid ready), Minnesota author Melissa Savage’s debut novel was a marvelous story of family, friendship, and making lemonade when things get tough.  I loved Lem’s growing relationship with her grandpa Charlie, and neighbors and fellow Bigfoot enthusiasts Mrs. Dickerson and Mr. Harold will make you cheer for awesome adults (sometimes hard to find in kids’ books!).  Tobin definitely hits my top 5 of great sidekicks (although he would argue that Lem is his sidekick, thank you very much!) and his mom’s love for her son and his friends sparkles through the pages.  Joining the ranks of Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech, and Holly Goldberg Sloan, Lemons is for anyone who loves a good summer story that’ll make you thrum with happiness.  Add it to your beach bag soon!