Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Longbow Girl

Merry Owen and her family live on a farm in the Welsh mountains where they raise ponies and train on the longbow.  Almost 700 years ago, an Owen ancestor came to the aid of the king with longbow skill.  He was granted the land in exchange for a promise that each generation of the family would have a longbow man ready should the king call on his services.

It is a proud tradition for the Owen family, and Merry in particular, who will be the first longbow girl to serve, but it is a sore spot for the neighbors.  The lands belonged to the Earl de Courcy until they were granted to the Owens.  Even now, 700 years later, the current Earl is searching for a way to get the farm back.

He may just get his wish.  The Owens are in financial distress with little hope until Merry discovers an ancient book that could be worth enough to pay of the mortgage.  The book appears to be a lost tome of folklore that leads Merry on a path to a great treasure.

As she follows the clues, she is shocked to discover a passageway to the past to the time of King Henry VIII when the Owen farm was once again in danger.  The tales in Merry's book tell of a female warrior, and she soon realizes it is up to Merry to save the farm in the past and in the present.

Linda Davies's book is a lush tale that transports the reader to the mountains of Wales where the magic of the folklore seems entirely possible.  I loved this book!  It's got plenty of adventure and a strong female protagonist who has overcome a longbow accident that took her eye in the past to become better than anyone else.  She also has a refreshingly platonic (at least for the action of the story) relationship with her best friend James de Courcy.  It is rare in YA for a boy and girl to have a loving and supportive relationship without longing glances and dramatic sighs.  Highly recommended!  I think it's fine for sixth grade and up as long as you don't mind some blood.

One note, I listened to the audio on this one, and the reader's accent is super intense and overdone for the first twenty minutes, but it's fine after that, so don't be deterred!

The Girl I Used to Be

When Olivia was three years old, her father murdered her mother, dropped her off at a Wal-Mart, and disappeared.  Now she's seventeen and accustomed to being independent.  She left that little girl named Ariel Benson behind a long time ago, so it comes as a shock when two police detectives show up at her apartment.

There has been a new discovery after fourteen years.  Her father's jawbone was discovered in the same forest where her mother was murdered.  The investigation has been reopened.  Maybe her father isn't the killer she thought he was.

Now she's back in her hometown where no one knows who Olivia is, and the past and the present are colliding and dredging up old memories.  As she investigates the past and all the little grudges and jealousies she was too young to remember, she comes ever closer to the truth and her parents' killer.

This is another solid mystery from April Henry.  It's not my favorite of her books; it takes too long to really get going for such a short book, but it is a solid escapist suspense story.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Wolf by Wolf

It's 1956, and the Third Reich and Japan are about to celebrate their victory with the Axis Tour, a grueling motorcycle race across the territories of the empire.

Yael is one of the many victims of the holocaust that destroyed not just the Jews but any political enemies of the Fuhrer.  She is different in one important way.  She was chosen for the experiments that made her sick and sloughed off her skin. They changed her from a Jewish girl to the blonde haired, blue-eyed vision of Aryan perfection.  They did something else, too.  All those chemicals gave her the ability to skin shift.  She can alter her appearance to look like anyone.  The only thing that doesn't change is the tattoo on her arm.  Those numbers are always there.

Now she is going to take the place of the most famous racer in the history of the tour.  Adele Wolfe was the first female victor.  She raced under her twin brother's name and became the first woman to enter and win.  Yael will become Adele, win the race, and kill the Fuhrer for herself and for all the people he's taken from her.

Ryan Graudin's alternate history thriller is compelling and fast-paced.  Highly recommended for grades 8 and up.

Zero Day

When Addie Webster was kidnapped eight years ago, her father was a governor.  Now he's the president, and Addie is back.  When your father is president, and you've been missing for eight years, you can't just go home immediately.  There is questioning, and detaining, and DNA testing, but she finally gets to go home.

While Addie is returning to her family, domestic terrorists strike at a Republican fundraiser.  These events don't seem at all connected, just two major news stories.

Addie's childhood best friend is still around, too, and Darrow is both happy to see Addie and guilty that he was close by when she was kidnapped.

One of the investigators doesn't believe Addie's story, and he won't stop digging.  He even blackmails Darrow into spying for him.

It's clear that Addie is lying about where she's been.  Could she be willingly involved with a terrorist group?  Is there more going on than even she knows?

Jan Gangsei's first novel is a fast-paced political thriller with the welcome addition of two biracial principle characters.  Recommended for grades 8 and up.

Friday, December 16, 2016


Ghost, AKA Castle Cranshaw, is a runner--not a track runner, just a run-for-your-life runner.  It all started the night an argument between his parents turned into something more, and his dad tried to shoot Ghost and his mom.

Now his dad is in jail, his mom is working two jobs, and Ghost spends a lot of time on his own.  There is no extra money to spare, so he spends his time walking around the neighborhood.  That's how he finds the track team.  He didn't even know people ran as a sport, but he stops to watch.

He gets an accidental try out that leads to a spot on the team but only if he stays out of trouble.  No mistakes.  Ghost isn't sure he can be perfect with worrying about money, living in a bad neighborhood, the lingering fear of his father and the gun, and bullies at school, but he's willing to try.  Now that he knows what it feels like to be on a team, he doesn't want to lose it.

Jason Reynolds's foray into middle grades fiction is a delight.  Ghost's voice is perfect while still being clean enough for middle grades.  He's funny, angry, and confused--like most middle schoolers.  Reynolds is particularly successful when he writes about Ghost's underlying anger as being full of scream.  Highly recommended!

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Creeping Shadow

SPOILER ALERT!  If you haven't read the first three books in this series, stop now and go find them.  Seriously.  I. Love. This. Series.  You are doing yourself a disservice if you miss out on this awesomeness!  Moving on...

Lucy Carlisle is working as a freelancer when our story begins.  She is making decent money, but she misses the camaraderie of her old dependable team at Lockwood and Co.  She's also a bit lonely even if she won't admit it to herself.

When Lockwood shows up asking her to consult on a job, she cautiously accepts.  After all, she is still worried that her gifts will bring disaster to her two closest friends.

Soon the team, including Quill Kipps, is off on another dangerous expedition to investigate an intense haunting in a small town in the middle of nowhere.  What they uncover there is shocking and revelatory.

As always, the pacing and story-telling are perfect in this series.  The characters feel like old friends, and the banter is fun.  There are plenty of creepy ghosts, explosions, and insidious bad guys to around, and there is a huge revelation at the very end which hints to the very heart of the ghost problem.  Could our team finally be on track to discover the origins of the problem?

The Creeping Shadow is an excellent addition to an excellent series.  Kudos to Jonathan Stroud.  Highly recommended!


Cat and Maya have just moved to a new town because of Maya's cystic fibrosis.  Maya is excited by all the new adventures the town has to offer, but Cat misses her friends, and all the talk of ghosts has her a little freaked out.

When the two girls actually meet some real ghosts who accidently make Maya sick, Cat's fear only intensifies.  She is determined to have nothing to do with the Dia de Los Muertos festival.

Is it a bad idea to invite ghosts in when Maya is so sick or will meeting these spirits help Maya understand the afterlife?  Cat isn't sure.  She just knows she afraid of the ghosts and afraid of what could happen to her little sister.

Raina Telgemeier's latest graphic novel is a nice piece of storytelling with beautiful art.  The connection between the world of the living and the dead as peaceful and loving is touching, and the depiction of the sister relationship is perfect.

As for all of the cultural appropriation talk out there...I'm not really sure.  It's not my culture, so I don't really have strong feelings about it.  I do know that I am rankled when outsiders write about my religious culture and get it wrong.  I believe Telgemeier was trying to be respectful of the culture, and the story skews fantasy.  My students love Raina Telgemeier, and in my largely Hispanic school, the kids were excited to learn that Dia de Los Muertos featured in the story.

No Such Person

Miranda and Lander are sisters who couldn't be more different.  Lander is driven to succeed and dismissive of anyone and anything that gets in her way or wastes her time, like her little sister.  Miranda, on the other hand, is happy to spend the summer being lazy at the family cabin on the river.  It doesn't seem to bother her that all her friends are hard at work on summer internships; she just wants to relax.

When Lander falls for a guy who was involved in a boating accident, Miranda is surprised and suspicious.  Everyone is calling it an accident, but Jason's actions didn't look accidental to Miranda.  Now his friend Darry is recovering in the hospital, and Jason and Lander are spending every moment together.

Now there has been a murder, and the police suspect Lander.  Miranda knows that no matter how cold and dismissive her sister can be, she isn't a murderer.  This has to have something to do with Jason who has since disappeared.

While Lander fights for her sanity and a way to understand what has happened in jail, Miranda is determined to uncover the truth no matter how dangerous the process.

Caroline B. Cooney's latest is a good mystery, but I just didn't like Lander at all.  It's hard to feel emotionally connected to the story when one of the characters is just awful.  Rather than having sympathy for her plight, I was a little glad to see her taken down a peg or two.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den

Simon has always lived with his uncle.  Sure, his mom shows up now and then, but it's really just Darryl and Simon.  He loves his uncle, but he's never told him about his ability to speak to animals.  Somehow, he just knows that should be a secret.

When a golden eagle shows up on the first day of 7th grade to warn him about grave danger, Simon isn't sure what to make of it.  Then his mom gets kidnapped, and Simon and Darryl are attacked by rats.

Now, Simon is racing to saving his mother, and he'll finally learn something about who he really is.  Simon is an animalgam, like his parents before him.  Animalgams have the ability to transform into animals.  Simon hasn't shifted yet, and no one is sure if he'll be a bird like his mother or a wolf like his father.

Simon doesn't know who he can trust in this new world.  No one seems to be telling the whole truth.  How can you win if you can't tell the difference between a friend and an enemy?

Aimee Carter's series opener is a fast-paced fantasy for those who like the "Chosen One" plot.  It has plenty of action, and kids will enjoy the animal shape-shifting aspect.  This is a good pick for upper elementary to 6th grade.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Wayne Kovak is having a hard year.  School is difficult for him anyway since he tends to freeze up in social situations.   He spouts facts to fill the silence and to steer away from uncomfortable topics.

When his uncle dies on active duty in the military, he is buried in Arlington cemetery.  On the way home from the funeral, Wayne and his mom are in a plane crash that leaves them both injured.  Wayne was struck in the neck by flying debris, and his vocal chords are so swollen, he can't talk or eat solid food.  He also has a large L-shaped scar on his face.  Great.  Now, he's branded a loser for real.

His uncle's burial flag is lost in the crash, and Wayne is determined to find it.  He knows if he can just get the right data, he can locate the lost flag.

His grandfather moves in to help take care of them, but Wayne soon realizes something is going on with him.  He's sick, but no one is talking about it.  Wayne has always struggled to connect with his drill sergeant grandfather, and now he can only communicate by paper, so that isn't helping.

There's also his father, AKA The Flee.  He always promises to show up and never follows through.  Wayne is beginning to wonder if his father cares about him at all.

There's also his sort-of-girlfriend, Sandy Showalter, the most beautiful girl in the 7th grade, and his new friend, Denny, who he met at speech therapy.  Denny has a stutter that goes away when he whispers or sings, so all of their conversations are interesting, to say the least.

Karen Harrington's new book is heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny by turns.  Highly recommended!

What Light

Jay Asher's new book is pretty much the complete opposite of 13 Reasons Why.  Where that one is dark, heavy, and powerful, this one is light and fluffy.  There's nothing wrong with fluff.  It was just a bit of a surprise.

Sierra's family owns and operates a Christmas tree farm in Oregon, but every year they spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in California selling trees on the family lot.  It isn't their main source of income, but it's a fun family tradition that makes them all feel personally connected to the work.  It also gives Sierra a whole other life that she lives once a year.

While she is sad to leave her best friends and all the winter holiday activities in Oregon behind, she is always excited to help run the tree lot and spend time with her California best friend, Heather.

This year Heather wants Sierra to find a holiday boyfriend so they can double date and take some of the pressure off Heather and her sweet but boring boyfriend.  At first, Sierra isn't into the idea.  She isn't the type of girl who is into flings, but then she meets Caleb.  He is handsome, funny, and kind, and Sierra can't stop thinking about him.

But Heather and the other kids in town raise the alarm.  When he was a kid, Caleb attacked his sister, or at least that's the rumor.  Is it true, and if it is, she that brand Caleb for life?

This was a sweet and fluffy book--a Hallmark Christmas movie for teens.  It was a little boring to me because it was so predictable, but I know plenty of people who would love it.  Plus, a clean romance is always hard to find, so it gets bonus points for that!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Connect the Stars

Audrey has a gift (or maybe it's a curse).  She can tell when people are lying.  It wasn't so bad when she was a little kid.  Most people told the truth most of the time, but now that she's in middle school, people lie all the time.  She feels frustrated and hurt when people lie to her, so she's decided to always tell the truth even if it means she won't have friends.  When her best friend lies and Audrey suffers, it is the ultimate betrayal.

Aaron is really good at remembering things.  If he's read it, seen it, or heard, it's in his head.  This makes him a natural for the star position in his school's quiz bowl team, but when the final question is one of intuition rather than information, he fails miserably.

Both kids find themselves at a wilderness camp in the West Texas desert.  Their parents are hoping this experience will help them gain confidence and see the world in different ways.  Along with their teammates, they will learn to survive in the desert.  Kate is very sensitive and good at empathizing with others.  Louis is hypersensitive to any stimulation.  They will have to deal with a couple of bullies plus an overbearing guide, but el Viaje a la Confianza may be just what these kids need, especially when one of the kids runs away, and they have to race against the unforgiving desert to save her.

This new book by Marisa de los Santos and David Teague is engaging and enjoyable.  Parts of the story are a little far-fetched, but I think kids, especially sensitive kids will enjoy it.

The Magic Mirror

OK, first I have to say the cover art is not doing this book any favors.  It seems to be marketed toward the upper elementary crowd based on the cover, but I think it will appeal more to 7th-9th graders.  This is a mystery of the publishing world I will probably never understand.  I will just have to work harder to get my older kids to read this one because Susan Hill Long's medieval fantasy is definitely worth the effort!

Margaret is an orphan with a twisted leg.  The local bullies tease her mercilessly and sometimes call her Maggot.  One day she meets a peddler who saves her from the bullies and shows her a magic mirror.  Instead of her own face, Margaret sees a red-haired man working feverishly.  She feels this man has something to do with her destiny.  When her caretaker announces that Margaret will marry the local hunchback, Maggie decides to run away.

Thus begins her journey through the countryside and many adventures.  By the end of the book, Margaret will discover that there are no chance meetings or coincidences.  All the characters and events will meet together to tie up nicely in the end when Margaret learns the truth about her identity and her destiny.

I have to admit I'm a sucker for this kind of intricate plotting where everything is a clue, and everyone is important.  Hand this to fairy tale fans who enjoy a good mysterious plot.


Sierra's summer plans are put on hold when because her grandfather wants her to finish painting a mural on an abandoned building.  Sierra loves creating art, but she's never done anything this big before.

Then some creepy guy interrupts her date.  He looks strange, and his voice is even stranger.  He is a corpuscle, a dead body that's been reanimated to do someone else's will.  And that's just the beginning.

Sierra learns that her grandfather and his friends were once Shadowshaper.  They had the power to create art and send spirits into that art to make it come alive.  The only person who seems willing to help her is Robbie, a fellow artist who Sierra's had a crush on for a while.

As Sierra uncovers more about the Shadowshapers and the coming danger, she begins to understand why her bedridden grandfather was so desperate for her to finish the mural.  She has an enemy with far more experience, and he won't stop until the power of shadowshaping consumes him and everyone else who gets in the way.

This is a pitch-perfect urban fantasy from Daniel Jose Older.  The pacing and atmosphere are spot on--Cassandra Clare fans will love it!  Older's neighborhoods full of Haitian and Puerto Rican immigrants are colorful and lively, and the underlying messages about preserving culture and embracing your appearance and ancestry are wonderful.  This is what diversity should look like in literature!  Also, that cover...amazing!  Highly recommended for grades 8 and up!

Code of Honor

Kamran Smith's life is pretty good.  He's just been crowned homecoming king, he has a great girlfriend, he's a star football player, and he's all set to go to West Point after graduation.  He wants to follow in his older brother's footsteps.  Darius, a West Point graduate and Army Ranger, is Kamran's real life superhero.

Everything changes when a video of an al-Qaeda attack shows up online.  Darius is in the video--not fighting against al-Qaeda but fighting with them.  It's easy for people to believe the one time hero would turn enemy because Darius and Kamran are half Iranian.  They were born in America, but their mother is from Iran.  Kamran's friends quickly distance themselves from him, and reporters are camped out on the front lawn day and night.  Everyone believes Darius must have joined al-Qaeda, but Kamran knows it can't be true.  Darius would never betray his family and his home.

When it seems like no one is willing to listen, Kamran begins his own investigation and notices something strange about Darius's videos.  Could Darius be trying to send his brother a message?  When he is kidnapped by the federal government and interrogated for days on end, even Kamran begins to have doubts.  Is Darius really a terrorist?

Alan Gratz's new book is a thrill ride with lots of action, suspense, and covert ops.  It is also a particularly timely story with its themes of racism and loyalty.  Readers will love this one!  Highly recommended.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Sticks and Stones

Elyse has a rare genetic disorder that makes the words and names people call her appear on her skin.  The bad ones are itchy, and the nice ones feel pleasant.  When she was little, her doctor would come to school and do a presentation about CAV.  At first, everyone thought it was cool, but then they would just forget about it and see Elyse.

Now that she's in middle school, she just wants to be normal, so instead of making a big deal about CAV, she wears long sleeve shirts and jeans.  There has been another development in her CAV.  It's not just the names other people call her aloud that appear on her skin.  Now, the words she thinks about herself are showing up, too.

Her greatest wish is to become the Explorer Leader for the annual 6th grade trip.  This person gets to be in charge of the planning, and everyone always says nice things about the Explorer Leader.  Elyse knows if she could get the job, all those nice words could keep her going for a long time.

But Elyse has not really made much of an impression in middle school.  She's been keeping to herself, and she hasn't really met any new people.  Her former best friend has been hanging out with the popular girls leaving Elyse on her own.  That's when she starts getting notes written on blue paper encouraging her make new friends and step out of her comfort zone.  Who is sending the mysterious notes?  Will the sender's advice help Elyse become Explorer Leader and get all those positive words?

This is Abby Cooper's first novel, and there is a lot to like here.  The cover art is great, very eye-catching, so kudos to the design team.  Also, I really like the concept of the book, and the fact that Elyse's self-talk is more important than what others say.  The book starts out great, but it gets a little preachy in the end.  Also, I really wanted someone to tell the mom to back off.  Her smothering is a big part of Elyse's issues.

Overall, I would recommend this book.  The message is important, and kids will like it.  Give this one to fans of Wonder.

23 Minutes

The bank robbery is a disaster.  The robber shoots the nicest guy in the bank right in front of Zoe.  His blood is everywhere.  She has the chance to change things, but should she do it?  Can she make things right?  Zoe crosses her arms and says, "Replay."

Zoe has a gift.  She can relive the last 23 minutes of her life up to ten times to try to get things right.  It usually doesn't help, but she can't just watch a man die and do nothing.

Each time she plays back her life, she learns more about what will and won't work and clues to the identity of the robber.  The problem is she's the only one who remembers.

She also learns that maybe seeing one man die in front of her isn't the worst possible outcome of the situation.

She only has ten chances to get right.

Vivian Vande Velde's new book is full of suspense, and the thoughtful reader will be trying to puzzle out a solution right along with Zoe.  This is a quick read perfect for mystery and sci-fi readers as well as reluctant readers.  Recommended for grades 7 and up for a few instances of mild profanity.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

When Denmark gave in to the German occupation with very little resistance in 1940, Knud Pedersen was furious.  Why didn't the Danish government fight back like Norway?  Knud, along with his brother and some of his friends quickly formed the RAF Club to sabotage the German army.

When the family moved to Aalborg, the brothers formed a new club with more members.  They called themselves the Churchill Club for the British Prime Minister.  The boys set continued their acts of sabotage and eventually moved on to stealing weapons.

This is an intense and thrilling adventure, but I have to admit it was difficult to read as an adult.  The boys acted with the reckless abandon of youth and stepped into extremely dangerous situations with little thought of getting caught.  It was thrilling and nerve-wracking!

I recommend Phillip Hoose's book to World War II aficionados and action adventure fans.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

This Kid Can Fly

Aaron Philip is a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy.  This book is the story about what he has accomplished despite having a severe disability.  He chronicles his family's struggles for money and the separation with one parent living in their native Antigua and one in the United States.  The struggles of the caregiver are evident in this book, and Aaron is quick to point out all the sacrifices people have made for him.

The book comes from a blog he started on Tumblr called The Aaronverse where he talks about what it's like to be a kid with CP. Readers will come away with empathy and understanding for Aaron's situation and maybe some empathy for those who are similar situations they may meet in real life.

I was expecting a focus more on Aaron's accomplishments, but the book often feels like a chronology.  For example, he mentions several times how important art is to him, but there are only three of his pieces in the book, and they are at the very end.  It definitely feels like a kid wrote this book (which is a good thing).  This is a good option for kids to try to understand what it's like to live in a world that isn't built for you.  Readers will also find that they have a lot in common with Aaron; he is just a normal kid who happens to have CP.

Monday, October 31, 2016


When Reena's family moves from the hustle and bustle of the city to rural Maine, her life is completely upturned.  Soon after arriving, Reena's parents volunteer her and her 7-year-old brother, Luke, to help an older lady named Mrs. Falala.  This lady is strange, rude, and a little scary.  Plus, there are all kinds of animals running around her yard.

Reena and Luke soon discover they will mostly be taking care of a stubborn cow named Zora.  Neither one of the city kids knows anything about working on a farm, let alone tending to a hulking mass of cow!

This is not my favorite Sharon Creech book, but it is a cute and fun read.  It is definitely worth your time especially considering how short it is; it is a mix of verse and prose.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale

This book is a delightful surprise from Adam Gidwitz who is very popular in my library for the Grimm books which are based on fairy tales.  This book is still in the vein of the traditional storytelling, but it takes us back to the middle ages.

Jeanne is a peasant girl who has fits and visions.  When she was a baby, the family dog, Gwenforte, saved her life.  Her parents mistakenly believe Gwenforte killed the baby instead of a deadly snake, and they kill the dog.  When they realize their mistake, they bury the dog in a grove, and Gwenforte is venerated by the people of the village for her courage and bravery.  Now Gwenforte has somehow reappeared, and Jeanne and the dog are on the run from a group of knights sent to squash out heresy in the land.

William is an unusual young man.  He is an oblate, a boy in training to become a monk.  Even though he is still a boy, he is incredibly large and strong.  He has never met his parents, a French nobleman and the Muslim woman he met on a crusade in Africa.  William is clever and motivated, but he always feels left out.  After an outburst one day, he is sent on a mission to deliver some books to another monk.

Jacob is a young Jewish boy whose entire village is burned one day by young Christians.  When his comes across a man injured from the fire, he heals the man's wounds in record time.  His parents tell him to run to the home of a family friend.  He hopes his parents are still alive, but he may be they are lost.

These three magical children and the holy dog are first simply on the run, but they are soon involved in a war with the great King Louis IX of France.  How can three children and a dog be such great enemies that a king would wage war on them?  Read the book to find out!

I absolutely loved this book!  It is steeped in the religion and mystery of the dark ages when magic and miracles are almost interchangeable.  The tale is told from multiple perspectives which is reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, and it has Gidwitz's perfect blend of humor, blood, and depth, and the illustrations will transport readers to the days of illuminated manuscripts when a book was the work of a lifetime.

Though this book is set in the middle ages, kids will see parallels to the modern world.  Readers will easily see the connections between the religious tensions of the middle ages and those of today.  Complex characters are sometimes good and sometimes display extreme prejudice, and no one in the story is who they first appear to be.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Cameron Boxer has spent years developing his lifestyle.  He's a gamer and a slacker.  He puts no effort into anything other than gaming.  That all changes one day when his house almost burns down around him while he is gaming in the basement.  His parents issue an ultimatum:  Join something or else.

Thus is born, the P.A.G, Positive Action Group.  With the help of his friend Pavel, Cameron sets up a fake page for the group on the school's website.  It's perfect.  He'll get credit for founding and presiding over a club that doesn't actually exist.

There's just one problem, the worst busy-body in school see's the website and gets the guidance counselor involved.  Now Cameron's perfect scam is taking over the whole school.  This is a serious threat to his lifestyle!

Fans of humor and Gordon Korman will enjoy his newest book, and the cover art is great.  It's already drawing my kids in.  I think the kids will really like this one, but I had a hard time getting through it.  I think Cameron's gamer lifestyle was just too much for me, but I am not the intended audience, and there are plenty of middle schoolers who will buy into Cameron's philosophy.

My Lady Jane

I decided to read this one because of all the buzz even though the reviews had it pegged as high school, and I am so glad I did.  I adored this book!  It's a delightful combination of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Princess Bride with shape-shifting magic thrown in.  Also, I will purchase it for my middle school library.  I think it's fine for 8th grade and up.

If you think you know all there is to know about Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, you are so wrong!  Jane is the friend and cousin of King Edward, who is dying.  He doesn't want to leave the kingdom to his sister Mary, a religious fanatic who will kill all those in the kingdom with the ability to take animal form.  He's also not too sure about his sister, Bess.  Would she make a good ruler?  She is a woman after all, and everyone knows rulers should be men.

The solution, according to Edward's trusted advisor, Lord Dudley, is to leave the kingdom to Jane who will marry Dudley's son and produce a male heir who will then become the king as soon as he comes of age.  But, of course, nothing goes as planned.

My Lady Jane is clever, funny, romantic, and full of references and clues.  I won't write much about the plot because I think it's better to discover it as you go along.  The story is told from multiple perspectives which only adds to the humor and dramatic irony.  More sophisticated readers will enjoy getting all the in-jokes.  Others will just enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Black Dragon

Twelve-year-old Danny is still struggling with the recent death of both his parents.  His father was the owner of the Mysterium, a modern day circus filled with illusion and the fantastic.  His mother was an acrobat, and the Mysterium was Danny's home.

When an explosion at his boarding school cuts the semester short, Aunt Laura shows up to take Danny to Hong Kong.  She says it's a story she's working on, but Danny thinks she's hiding something.  It doesn't really matter because he's always wanted to visit his mother's hometown.  He will also get to spend the trip with Major Zamora, a dwarf strongman, a daredevil, and one of Danny's closest friends from the Mysterium.

When Aunt Laura is kidnapped by triads, Danny and Zamora aren't sure who to trust.  Detective Lo of the police seems shifty, and a guy in a white suit has been following them since their plane landed.  Can they trust Sing Sing?  She's connected to the gangs somehow, but Danny is also drawn to her.

As Danny and Zamora race against gangsters and crooked cops to uncover clues and save Aunt Laura, Danny is also hoping to find answers about his parents' deaths.

Julian Sedgwick's series opener is a fast-paced adventure through Hong-Kong's underbelly.  It's got enough danger and mystery to keep kids interested without veering too YA.  There is also plenty here for the kids who like magic tricks and escape artists.  Give this to fans of spy novels, Indiana Jones, or even Houdini.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Girl in the Blue Coat

It's 1943 in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, and Hanneka is a black market supplier.  She knows how to find pretty much anything. One day when she arrives to make a delivery to an elderly lady, she finds Mrs. Janssen waiting for her with a request.  It's not coffee or cigarettes.  It's a Jewish girl.

Miriam is the only surviving member of her family, and Mrs. Janssen has been hiding the girl.  The problem now is that Miriam has disappeared.  How did she leave without anyone noticing, and why would she give up safety?

At first, Hanneka wants nothing to do with this.  She finds black market goods.  It's all about profits and supporting her family, but she can't stop thinking about this lost girl in a city of enemies, and almost without realizing it, she begins to think about how she would go about finding Miriam.

There aren't many clues to what happened or even to Miriam's personality, but with each new bit of information, Hanneka creates an image in her mind.  It doesn't take long before she feels a personal connection to the girl and becomes desperate to find her.  The search brings her in contact with a world even more dangerous than the black market, the resistance movement.   How much of her own comfort and security is Hanneka willing to risk to find the girl?

Monica Hesse's new book is pretty much perfect.  It's a well-crafted mystery with plenty of twists and a breadcrumb trail of clues.  Plus, it's a well-written tale of the Holocaust for any reader.  Hanneka's growing awareness of the true evil of the Nazi agenda will resonate with readers and draw them along with her.  Highly recommended!  There is nothing too graphic here, but it might appeal more to older kids.

The Jumbies

Corinne lives on the island with her father, and her life is pretty good.  Her mother died when she was small, but her father gives her daily reminders of how Nicole looked and acted.

The other islanders are afraid to go into the woods because of the jumbies, but Pierre has taught Corinne to be rational.  Yes, she should be afraid of the woods because wild animals live there not monsters.

When Corinne goes into the woods one day to retrieve a gift from her mother, she thinks she sees a pair of yellow eyes watching her. Unknown to Corinne, something follows her out of the woods that day.  It smells something it hasn't for a long time.

The next day, a strange and beautiful woman shows up at the market.  The island is small, and Severine says she lives close by, but no one knows her.  Corinne's friends think she might be a jumbie.  Corinne says there's no such thing.  Could there be more happening on her island than she imagined?

This book gets off to a good start with a scene of creepy suspense, but the suspense is a bit uneven after that.  It is, however, a good introduction to a different variety of traditional literature.  Author Tracey Baptiste includes information in the back about which jumbies are taken from her Trinidadian roots and which she created for the story.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Battle of Darcy Lane

When new girl, Alyssa, moves to Darcy Lane, Julia fears the end of her friendship with best friend, Taylor.  Alyssa is assertive, and right from the start, Julia can feel Taylor pulling away.

At first, Julia wants to win Alyssa over, but when it becomes clear that isn't going to happen, she focuses on trying to win Taylor back.  Peter, another neighbor, and Julia's crush, doesn't see what the big deal is.  He seems to see right through Alyssa from the start.  As does Julia's mother, who doesn't seem too fond of Taylor either.

In an effort to try to fit in, Julia tries to play Russia, a ball bouncing game that Alyssa introduces to the girls.  Before she knows it, Julia has challenged Alyssa to an ultimate Russia battle where the stakes feel high.

Tara Altebrando does an excellent job of portraying the life of a 12 year old girl.  It's all there--the conflict of trying to grow up while your parents are trying to keep you young, the friends who seem simultaneously more mature and more horrible than they've ever been, and the mean girls in all their incarnations.

Darcy Lane could have easily become a simplistic and serviceable story, but it's so much more than that.  The characters, even some of the adults, are complex and complicated, and the metaphor of the long anticipated arrival of the cicadas is thoughtful.  Highly recommended, especially for those who are in the 12 year old girl trenches!

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius

Arthur A. Bean is a genius.  He is going to become a famous novelist and make millions of dollars.  That's why this short story contest is so perfect for him.  Plus, he's been paired with his crush, Kennedy, for the contest.  He will write an amazing story, win $200, get published, and make Kennedy fall in love with him.

Arthur is quick to express his distaste for the stupidity of his fellow classmates including his arch nemesis, Robbie Zach.  That guy is just a big, dumb bully, and now Arthur has to meet with him every week for tutoring.

Arthur has a tough exterior, but the entries he writes in his reading journal, RJ, reveal his real struggles with his mother's death the previous year and his father's continued depression.

Told through emails, notes, writing assignments, and journal entries, Stacy Matson's new book is a humorous and touching peek into the life of a seventh grader who loves knitting and sarcasm.

I really enjoyed this book, but I wish there had been a better sense of closure at the end.

We Will Not Be Silent

A new book by Russell Freedman?  Yes, please!  Freedman is one of my favorite authors, and this is a fascinating topic.

This is the story of how a group of ordinary students decided to stand up to Hitler and his regime of fear.  Sophie and Hans Scholl grew up in a home that encouraged free thinking, and this allowed them to question Hitler and the Nazis.

As college students, they formed a secret group called The White Rose to write and distribute anti-Nazi pamphlets.  Freedman describes the danger they faced and the extreme measures they took to keep their activities secret using letters and interviews from people who participated in the movement.

Sophie and Hans Scholl and their friends in The White Rose are ordinary students who became heroes.  Freedman does an excellent job of making Sophie and Hans real.  The chapter on their arrest is particularly engaging with eyewitness accounts and photographs.

This is a great pick for students who are interested in WWII and the holocaust.  When we talk about this time period in school, students always want to know why people didn't stand up to Hitler.  We Will Not Be Silent will show them the dangers of opposing Hitler as well as the importance and lasting impact of defying evil.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Claire's next door neighbors are not exactly upstanding members of the community.  The Stewarts have a junky yard and a reputation for violence, so when Claire sees the dog chained up in the yard, she begins to worry.

She can hear Wally's chain rattling from her bedroom.  She can hear him whimpering.  New Hampshire winters are so cold, and Wally is just left in the yard with no escape from the weather.  She wants to help him, but her fear of Elwood Stewart is greater than her compassion for the dog.

One day, she can't stand it anymore and goes over to ask if she can walk the dog.  The walk is a disaster, but it starts something.  Danny Stewart is a couple of years older than Claire, and when he sees her interest in the dog, he starts to change his attitude toward Wally.

With the help of a dog training book written by a priest, the two begin to train Wally together.  While the task seemed impossible at first, Wally soon impresses his friends with how quickly and easily he picks up the training.  Danny starts to change, too.  It's like all the love and affection he's missed in his life gets poured into the dog.  The more time they spend together, the more confused Claire is about their relationship.  Are the friends?  Boyfriend and girlfriend?  Does she even want that with Danny Stewart?

Joseph Monninger's new book is a beautiful exploration of the effects of love on those who have been abused and abandoned.  Monninger's language is philosophical and draws the reader into a greater contemplation that just what is happening in the story.  This is a great dog story up until the turning point where it becomes so much more.  This book left me in tears and stayed with me for days as I contemplated love and sacrifice.  Highly recommended for grades 8 and up.

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye

Warren the 13th is the latest in a long line of Warrens to own and operate The Warren Hotel.  Well, Warren mostly dreams of operating the hotel since he is just a kid and his Uncle Rupert is running things until Warren is 18.

In just five years Uncle Rupert and his horrible wife, Aunt Annaconda have run the hotel into the ground.  Rupert spends most of his time napping, and Annaconda is destroying the hotel in a search for something called The All-Seeing Eye.

Warren is left to do the best he can to take care of the hotel on his own.  He doesn't believe in the All-Seeing Eye, but one day he accidently finds a clue that will change his mind.  He also discovers that Annaconda is actually a witch who believes the eye will give her incredible power.

Now he is in a desperate race with Annaconda to find the treasure.  Will Warren and his friends triumph, or will Annaconda and her minions destroy the hotel in their quest for power?  Read this new book written by Tania Del Rio and illustrated by Will Staehle to find out!

This is a fun tongue in cheek mystery for fans of Lemony Snicket.  The story is fast-paced, and the characters are delightfully bizarre.  Staehle's woodcut style illustrations add nicely to the overall effect of the book. With sequels to follow, this will be a must read for fans of quirky mysteries.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Forbidden Wish

Zahra's lamp was hidden and lost for 500 years, but now she has been found and freed by a thief.  She is bound to him by the ancient magic binds the jinn of the lamp.  She will grant his three wishes, but she has a mission of her own.  The jinni prince, son of the great Shaitan himself, has been imprisoned.  If she can set him free, Zahra will gain her freedom.  After 4,000 years of slavery, what will she do to get her own fondest wish?

Aladdin is a thief.  He was contracted to steal a ring, but once he possessed it, he could feel the ring drawing him out to the desert to some unknown fate.  When he discovers the jinni, he realizes this is his chance to get revenge.  His city is ruled by an ineffectual king and his brother, the vizier.  The vizier is a cruel and treacherous leader who causes pain and chaos all around him.  He executed Aladdin's parents, and now Aladdin will have his revenge.

What neither of them saw coming was love.  Zahra believed she would never love a human again.  500 years ago she dared to love Queen Roshana, to call her sister, but the Shaitan forbids love between human and jinn, and the consequences are destruction.  She can't let this happen again, but love may be the only force greater than revenge or freedom.

There are so many things to love about Jessica Khoury's book.  I love the strong female characters.  Though Roshana is long dead when the story begins, she is a strong presence and a reminder that the now week kingdom was once powerful under the rule of a strong and independent woman. Caspida and her watch maidens are intelligent and physically strong.  Though other male characters buy into the patriarchy, Aladdin admires Caspida for her strength.  Khoury's worldbuilding is excellent and her descriptions lush.  It was the romance between Aladdin and Zahra that fell a little flat for me. It verges on insta-love.  I prefer to read about characters who build a relationship in a more realistic way; however, I do think kids will read and enjoy this book.  Fans of rich fantasy, jinn stories, and romance will love it.  Grades 8 and up.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Cedar's family is still struggling with grief after the car accident that killed her father and brother a year ago.  On a whim, Cedar's mother buys a house in the small college town where she grew up.  The family will live there in the summer and rent it out to college students during the year.  While her mother devotes herself to fixing up the house, Cedar is left on her own to think about the turn her life has taken.

One day she sees a boy riding his bike down the street dressed in strange clothes.  He does this every day, and Cedar eventually decides to follow him.  The boy, who turns out to be Leo, is heading to his job at the summer Shakespeare festival associated with the college.  The two kids strike up a quick friendship, and before she knows what's happening, Cedar has a job at the festival, too.

As their friendship develops, Cedar contemplates her brother.  Ben was autistic and difficult to know which complicates Cedar's feelings about his death.

A secondary plot about a famous actress who died at the festival years ago gives Cedar and the reader more room to think about the nature of loss.

One of the best things about this book is the friendship between Leo and Cedar.  It is realistic, natural, necessary, and happily, escapes turning into puppy love.  Toward the end of the book, each refers to the other as "my person."

This book is something completely different for Ally Condie, and I hope she writes more in this vein.  Summerlost is a beautifully written story about friendship and grief set against a Shakespearean backdrop.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ten Days a Madwoman

Nellie Bly came to New York in 1887 determined to make her mark as a reporter.  She had some fame from her work in Pittsburgh, but that didn't get her far in New York.  She struggled to find employment in journalism which was largely a man's world.  Even when women could get jobs, it was only to write about fashion, children, and social events.
Nellie Bly refused to give up, and she finally got her big break to go undercover as a patient in a New York insane asylum.  It was a risky gambit.  She had to trust that her editors, men she barely knew, would be able to free her at some point.  Her descriptions of life inside the asylum are harrowing, and these stories put her on the national stage.

Author Deborah Noyes goes on to discuss other major stories like Bly's Around the World pieces where the author races to complete an around the world trip in fewer than 80 days.

I really enjoyed the layout of this book with short chapters, larger type, and sidebars with information about Bly's childhood.  It's not too challenging for more reluctant readers, and the title and premise should be enticing for everyone!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Court of Fives

Jes is the mixed race daughter of a powerful Patron general and a beautiful Efean mother.  Because marriages between Efeans and Patrons are illegal, she and her sisters are technically illegitimate. Because of their precarious social position, they must be cautious in observance of law and social customs.

When the wealthy general who sponsors her father dies in disgrace, her life is thrown into disarray.  Lord Gargaron, another wealthy noble, is on a quest for ultimate power, and he needs Jes's father to accomplish his goals.  Gargaron forces the general to abandon his wife and children and join his household.

But Jes has a secret, and somehow Lord Gargaron knows it.  She has been secretly training to run the Fives, a challenging obstacle course where agility and prowess win fame.  Instead of sending Jes away with her sisters, he wants her in his stable where she can train in the open.  She knows this cruel and powerful man must have an agenda, but she is also thrilled that her dream is coming true.

Could Gargaron's ulterior motive be related to his nephew Kalliarkos?  Kal also wants to run the Fives, but his royal family want him to join the military.  Jes and Kal quickly become friends and allies.  Jes helps Kal see that he is not as down to earth as he thought, and she admires his loyalty and dedication.  As she realizes the true horror of Gargaron's plans for her mother and sisters, Kal is the only one she can turn to for help.

Kate Elliott's series opener is packed with action, political intrigue, the camaraderie of athletes, and budding romance. It also harkens back to ancient Greece and Egypt which is an added bonus.  Recommended for fantasy fans who like their books with rich world building and political machinations.  Grades 8 and up.


Nick and his best friend Coby are obsessed with soccer, but Nick is also an undercover vocabulary genius.  It's not his choice.  His father wrote a dictionary, and he forces Nick to memorize vocabulary words.

The boys are excited when they find out their club soccer teams have been invited to a prestigious soccer tournament in Dallas.  Plus, Nick's crush, April, has actually spoken to him twice.  Life is looking pretty good.

Everything changes when Nick's mom tells him she is leaving to go back to Kentucky to train a race horse.  Nick is devastated.  His mom is the one plays sports sports with him, jokes around, and cooks awesome food.

To make matters worse, he has to miss the big soccer tournament because of appendicitis.

Enter his exuberant former rapper school librarian, Mr. Mac.  Mr. Mac is determined to make Nick a reader, and he just might succeed!

Kwame Alexander's new book is fun ride which will appeal to soccer fans, book lovers, and verse novel aficionados.

All American Boys

Two boys are instantly linked when Quinn witnesses an a police officer beating Rashad.

It is a normal Friday afternoon for Rashad.  He stops at the corner store for a bag of chips before heading to meet his friends at party.  That's when everything goes wrong.

A misunderstanding, a judgemental cashier, a police officer who assumes he is a criminal because of the color of his skin.

The officer hauls Rashad out of the store, cuffs him, and beats him.

Quinn is coming up the alley when he hears a commotion.  As he turns the corner, he sees the older brother of his best friend, a guy who helped raise Quinn after his father died, screaming and beating a kid he recognizes from school.  What could possibly justify such violence?

This event sets off a chain reaction through the school and community.  Officer Galluzzo's family quickly rallies their family and friends to support Paul who was just doing his job to protect the community.  This includes Quinn, but he just can't shake the image of the beating.

Meanwhile, Rashad is in the hospital trying to recover physically and mentally from the attack.  It's challenging for him to see nonstop coverage in the news and they way everyone seems to be taking ownership of a personal and terrifying experience.

This timely and compelling book by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely should be required reading for teens and adults alike.  There are no pat answers and simplified conclusions here.  The only real change comes in the hearts and minds of individuals.  Grades 8 and up.  Warning:  This book contains prolific profanity.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Great War

In this collection of short stories, popular authors like Michael Morpugo, John Boyne, and David Almond describe the ware experience from a variety of perspectives.  Each author used a different artifact from the WWI era as inspiration, and this leads to a wonderful and compelling variety of stories.

This collection takes the reader on a journey from the battlefront to the home front and beyond with an emphasis on the painful and sometimes unintentional consequences of war.

The book also has evocative illustrations by Jim Kay, illustrator of A Monster Calls, and an appendix with photographs and information about the objects used as inspiration for the stories.

This is a great pick for readers who want a different perspective on WWI, and inspire them to further research.

The Worst Class Trip Ever

Wyatt's 8th grade class in going on a week long field trip to Washington D.C.  Wyatt just wants to have a nice normal vacation where he can hang out with his best friend, Matt, and maybe find an opportunity to talk to his crush, Suzana.

It doesn't take long for Matt, who is known for being a little strange, causes problem.  He is convinced that the guys behind them on the plane are terrorists.  Wyatt doesn't believe him at first, but when explains his evidence, including the fact that the guys are looking at aerial photographs of the White House, Wyatt starts to get a little nervous.  Plus, the guys have this bag that they don't want to stow.  In fact they get in a big fight with the flight attendant about it.

After they get off the plane, Matt confesses he stole something out of the bag.  Now the weird guys are following the boys around, and before they know it, Matt has been kidnapped.  Now Wyatt and a handful of friends have to try to get their friend back and save the White House all without letting their parents or the police know what's happening.

I am of two minds about Dave Barry's new book.  Sometimes it was fun, and it was definitely exciting, but idea of a potential terror plot as humor just struck me as odd.

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl

Sunshine gets an unwelcome gift for her 16th birthday.  She and her mother are moving from their home in sunny and warm Texas to the Pacific northwest where the sun seems like a myth.  To make matters worse, strange things start happening in her creepy new house almost immediately.

Her mom thinks it's just the house settling, but Sunshine feels that something else is going on.  Starting a new school is never easy, and Sunshine struggles to fit in with her new classmates until she meets Nolan in her art class.  The class itself is a disappointment, but Nolan is cute and interested.  Sunshine is interested too, so why does she feel physically ill when she and Nolan get too close?

The strange happenings at home worsen, and Sunshine soon becomes convinced she is living with a ghost.  Her mother goes from laughing disbelief to harsh and angry criticism.  She is no longer the happy and easy going woman Sunshine has always known.

Nolan is the only one who seems to believe her claims, and the two begin to investigate the strange happenings in her house, but will they be able to discover the truth before it's too late for Sunshine and her mother?

Paige McKenzie's first book is fun and creepy ghost story that will keep you turning the pages.  The book is based on a web series that originally aired on YouTube.

The Key to Extraordinary

The women in Emma's family have a gift.  They each have a destiny dream that guides them on their path in life.  Each woman records the destiny dream in a journal that Emma now owns.  Her mother died before she could fulfill her destiny dream, and Granny Blue no longer believes in the power of the dreams.  In fact, she ripped her pages out of the journal.

Emma lives with her older brother and the tattooed former boxer Granny Blue in The Boneyard Cafe, their family bakery that just happens to be adjacent to a cemetery.  Every morning people line up outside the cemetery waiting for Emma to show up and give tours with all the juicy details about the former residents of their town.

It is in the cemetery that Emma hears the legend of the Conductor and his buried treasure.  Everyone warns her to ignore the legend.  People have given their lives to searching for it, but Emma can't help but think the treasure could solve all her problems.  The whole community is having financial difficulties, and a big developer wants to buy up everything and bulldoze it.

When she finally has her destiny dream, it makes almost no sense.  Could finding the Conductor's treasure be her destiny?

Natalie Lloyd's new book is stylistically similar to A Snicker of Magic.  It has the same magical realism with just the right touches of the fantastic and Lloyd's delightful vocabulary.  This is a sweet story that will touch your heart and make you believe that everyday is possible.  Highly recommended.

Monday, August 1, 2016


The people of the island are hurriedly preparing for Night.  Marin, her twin brother Kana, and their friend Line have never seen Night before.  On the island, Day lasts for 14 years, and then comes the 14 years of Night.  During Day, the villagers live their lives in the sun, but during Night, they leave for the desert lands.

What the children don't understand is the strict rules they must obey as they prepare to leave.  All homes and buildings must be left in pristine condition with no personal belongings left behind.

On the day the traders arrive to take the villagers away, orphaned Line is missing.  Marin has an idea about where he might be, and she and Kana go to collect him.  By the time they return, the ships are gone.

Aside from the prospect of 14 years alone in the frozen dark, strange things start happening.  It is soon clear that they are not alone on the island, and all the rules about how to leave their homes begin to make sense.  At Night, the island is inhabited by monstrous creatures who don't want three kids hanging around.

Now they must try to escape the creatures and find a way off the island before die.  But along the way, they will have to work out some personal issues such as Marin and Line's budding attraction to each other, and Kana's increasingly horrifying secret.

This suspenseful horror thriller by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski will keep you reading!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Salt to the Sea

Salt the the Sea is Ruta Sepetys's exquisite new novel about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff.  Soviet torpedoes sank the ship in the winter of 1945 while it was carrying more than 10,000 refugees.  9,400 of those people died in the icy Baltic Sea.  This tragedy is largely forgotten in the midst of all the losses of WWII.  Sepetys brings the sinking out of the forgotten past through the eyes of four characters with different political and personal points of view.

Joana is a Lithuanian nurse traveling with a group of refugees across Poland in the hopes of evacuating before the Soviet invasion.  Joana becomes a natural leader, and because of her medical experience, the others look to her.

Most of the refugees are German because no one else will be allowed on the evacuation ships, but one of the people traveling with the group is a Polish teenager named Emilia.  The other hide her because she is pregnant, alone, and traumatized.  She can only communicate with one other person because she doesn't speak German.

Florian is a former Nazi with a dangerous secret cargo.  He saved Emilia, and now she clings to him as a hero, but he is only concerned with carrying out his own mission.

Alfred is bottom rung Nazi stationed on the Wilhelm Gustloff with delusions about his own importance.

This book broke my heart.  Sepetys is a master of getting her readers emotionally invested in her characters and thus in events largely forgotten by history.  I highly recommend this story of sacrifice and heartbreak.  Grades 8 and up.


Solu is a new weight loss drug that will revolutionize the market, and Laurel and Viv are about to get the first trial.  Viv's wealthy parents have purchased their daughter and her best friend a room on the expensive and exclusive Solu Cruise to Lose.  The other passengers and the rich and the reality stars of the moment.  Viv's only there to support her friend, and she's doubtful that Solu will even work.  Unfortunately, she has terrible sea sickness, and she misses out on the first few doses of the sweetener/weight loss drug.  Besides, she's a little wary of Solu.

Tom is a former child star who's trying to turn his career around.  He's famous for playing an overweight bratty kid on a sitcom.  Now, he's taken stock of his life cut out the excess to lose weight, live healthier, and get rid of negative influences.  He's the official host of the cruise, and his job is to make sure the world sees shiny, happy people losing weight.  He refuses to eat anything with Solu because of his clean eating policy.

It's a good thing these two miss out on their Solu doses because what starts out as a miracle weight loss drug quickly turns to horror as the other passengers are driven by an intense addiction that leads to murder.  As two of the few people aboard who are not addicted, Tom and Laurel quickly form a relationship, but are they doomed on their ship of horrors.

Emmy Laybourne's new novel is a quick and engaging read, but it is pretty horrifying and reads like farce.  It pokes fun at modern "celebrity" and quick fix diets but relies heavily on stereotypes.  If you have a weak stomach, you should probably skip this one.  Grades 8 and up.

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie has a plan to get her father to come home.  He ran away with his dental hygienist girlfriend abandoning Raymie and her mother.  Raymie is bereft, but she knows that if she becomes 1975's Little Miss Central Florida Tire, he will see her picture in the paper and come home.

What's standing in her way?  She doesn't know how to twirl a baton, and everyone knows the surest way to win a beauty pageant is with a baton.

It is at twirling lessons that Raymie meets the no nonsense Beverly Tapinski and the fabulous Louisiana Elefante.  As the story unfolds, the three girls unite to help each other when the adults in their lives aren't available.

Kate DiCamillo's newest novel is a wonderland of characters and revelations that begs to be read aloud.  Read it, and share then share it with the young people in your life.

The Wild Robot

When a hurricane destroys a ship full of robots, one machine washes up on a remote island, and a group of curious otters accidentally press the power button and turn her on.  Now Roz is awake in a world she was not designed for.

At first Roz struggles to make sense of her new environment, and even moving around is difficult, but she decides to study the animal inhabitants of the island and mimic their behavior.  This makes her existence more comfortable, but she is still alone.

All the animals think Roz is a monster.  They have never seen anything like a robot before, and they stay away out of fear.  But when Roz adopts an orphaned gosling, they begin to see her in a new light.  The animals cautiously begin to offer advice and assistance until Roz is a valuable member of the community. And when danger comes for Roz, they are even willing to defend her.

Peter Brown's book is beautiful parable about acceptance and community.  Also, I listened to the audio of this book, and it is a wonderful production.  Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 30, 2016


On the day of his mother's funeral, Peter rescued a fox kit, and they've inseparable ever since.  But now war is looming, and his father has volunteered.  Peter must stay with his grandfather in the meantime, and he can't take Pax.  Peter's father forces him to abandon his friend on the side of the road.

It's not long after his arrival that Peter realizes he has betrayed his friend, and he sets out to find Pax.  Along the way, he will face dangers and learn some truths about himself.  When an accident threatens his plans, he meets a woman has a painful past of her own.

Meanwhile Pax is on his own for the first time with no idea how to live in the wild.  It will be a painful journey as tries to make new friends and learn how to survive.

There is also the looming threat of war over both Peter and Pax as the battle ground moves closer.

Sara Pennypacker's new novel is a beautiful and heartbreaking story about friendship, love, and the painful consequences of war.  Pet lovers especially will appreciate and understand the love between a boy and his pet.  Highly recommended.