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.