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!