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!