Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Valor is both relieved and happy when she is arrested for the attempted assassination of Prince Anatol.  She didn't actually want to kill him, so her plan hinged on her accuracy with a bow.  She just wants to go to prison.

Valor's twin sister Sasha is already in the notorious prison, Tyur'ma, for stealing a valuable music box from the palace that should have been a pivotal piece in an alliance with another country.  Now the alliance is off, and Sasha, once an advisor to Princess Anastasia is now locked away in a harsh and frozen prison.  Valor is going to break her out.

Tyur'ma is a prison for children, but Valor's days are full of hard work and punishment.  She has a plan to escape, and she promised herself she wouldn't form any attachments.  That gets harder as the days go by, and she learns to care for some of the other inmates.  Should Valor bring them into her plan?  Can she really trust them?

Aside from the formidable task of escaping an inescapable prison, Valor knows that finding the real thief and restoring the music box is the only way she and Sasha will ever be truly safe.

Ruth Lauren's new book is a fast-paced action adventure with plenty of twists and turns.  There's no hint of romance, just friendship, and a great sister relationship.  Lauren wraps up the story nicely but still sets up book two for her eager readers.  This is perfect for the middle-grade reader.  Highly recommended!

My only complaint is the cover art.  The cover is beautiful, but Lauren describes Valor as having bronze skin and hair.  The girl on the cover is just a little too pink.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


It's Min's sixteenth birthday, and she knows what's going to happen.  The man in the black suit is coming to kill her.  Again.  Every two years since she was eight years old, the man appears and sends Min to a bloody and violent end.  Then she wakes up in a clearing hours later, alive and unharmed.

But now she's had enough.  She's kept the truth hidden since everyone tried to convince her she was crazy and sent her to Dr. Lowell, her psychiatrist.  Now, with the help of her best friend, Tack, she's looking for answers starting in Lowell's office.  It's there that she learns the words "Project Nemesis," and her investigation begins to heat up.

Noah spends most of his time alone in his father's big house on the mountain.  Every two years on his birthday he dreams he is murdered by a man in a black suit.  Then, he somehow sleepwalks and wakes up in a cave.  The only person he trusts is his psychiatrist, Dr. Lowell.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is waiting in an anxious fervor to find out if an asteroid is going to hit the earth and destroy all life.

Is Project Nemesis somehow connected to the asteroid?  What about the secret military base on the outskirts of town?  Most importantly, who are the other beta test subjects, and can Min trust them?

I think Brendan Reichs has created a world fans of Divergent and The Maze Runner will really enjoy.  The stories are quite different but tonally similar.  I definitely powered through to the end to find out what would happen next, but there were a couple of things that disappointed me.  Min's mother points out that her IQ is off the charts, but it still took her sixteen years to really start questioning things.  Also, if she' really so smart, she should have figured out the identity of one of the other betas almost immediately.  There are still lots of unanswered questions that I hope Reichs will get to in the next installment.  How do you kill and restore a regular human being within a few hours?  What were the blue pills really?

That being said, Reichs does a great job with character development.  None of the major character shifts seem out of the blue.  He plants plenty of clues along the way.

Recommended for 8th grade and up for violence and profanity.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Princess Anya of Trallonia has a problem.  Well, she has several problems, but they all seem to center around her stepstepfather, Duke Rikard the evil wizard.  Most recently he has transformed her older sister's "true" love into a frog.  With weeping and wailing, Morven makes Anya promise she will find Prince Denholm and return him to human form.

Nevermind the fact that Morven changes her mind every five minutes!  How is Anya supposed to accomplish this without true love's kiss?  With magic lip balm, of course!  The only problem is the ingredients are hard to come by.  Enter the royal dogs and their matriarch, Tanitha, who decide this is the perfect opportunity for Anya to go on a Quest!

So with few provisions, a transformed prince, and an overeager young dog named Ardent, Anya sets out.  It doesn't take long, however, before she meets other transformed individuals and learns that Rikard is just one of a gang of evil wizards bent on seizing complete control of all the kingdoms.

In a world where the Right Minded Sorcerers are evil and the League of Responsible Robbers in good, Anya must decide if her quest will end with simply freeing a few of the transformed or if she is up to the immense task of restoring rights to all the people of the land.

Garth Nix is one of my favorite authors, and Frogkisser! does not disappoint!  This is a tongue in cheek adventure, that will please the casual reader and the fairy tale fanatic alike.  Those who know their fairy tales will keep turning the pages and chuckling as they discover which fairy tale tropes and gender norms Nix will upend next!  Also refreshing, this is a fairy tale without a romance subplot.  Highly recommended!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bone Jack

Ash has been chosen to be the stag boy in a yearly race through Welsh mountains near his village.  The race is steeped in ancient tradition, and it is a great honor to be selected as the stag boy who will be pursued by the hound boys.

Ash is particularly happy to carry on in his father's footsteps.  His father was stag boy almost twenty years ago, and now he's been away from home in military service.  He returns shortly before the race, but something is different.  Ash's father is not the expert outdoorsman with the easy smile anymore.  He's sullen, moody, depressed, and locks himself away in the spare bedroom.  After such a long separation, Ash struggles to be sympathetic to his father's PTSD.

Something else strange is happening.  Ash discovers his former best friend, Mark, has been living in the wilderness since his father committed suicide.  Mark warns Ash to drop out of the stag race because this year the stag boy will have to die.  The land is sick with drought, and the sheep were all slaughtered after an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  The land requires a sacrifice.  Blood for blood.

Ash is horrified by what his friend has become, and he can't deny the strange things he's seen.  Bone Jack, an ancient myth with many names, has been haunting the mountains, and he has seen runners in another stag race from long ago.  Are they just echoes of the past?  They seem too real to be just ghosts.  Despite all this, Ash is determined to run.  He hopes that winning the stag race will somehow bring back his father.

Sara Crowe's debut novel is full of haunting echoes from the past and the horrors of one boy's slavish devotion to bringing back his dead father.  This is a horror story with personal growth that also touches on the real horrors of PTSD and agricultural disaster.  This was an engaging and disturbing story.  Recommended for grades 7 and up

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Girl from Everywhere

Nix has spent her life aboard her father's ship.  The small crew is her family, and she's pretty happy with that.  This is no ordinary crew and no ordinary ship.  With her father, Slate, as captain and navigator, The Temptation can sail across time and place.

How does it work?  They need a map.  It has to be a new to the crew map, authentic, perfectly accurate, and it must lead to a time in a place they've never been before.  Slate fell in love with Nix's mother in Honolulu of the late 1860's.  He left to make money to build a home, but by the time he returned, Lin was dead leaving an infant daughter.  Slate has spent the last 16 years trying to get back to the island early to save his beloved from the infection that killed her--regardless of what that might mean for Nix's very existence.

Once again they are on a quest to get back to the right time and place on the island with what they believe is an accurate map, but once they sail into port, Nix and Slate both know that they have landed in the 1880's--too late to save Lin.  But they soon become involved in a plot to steal money from the Hawaiian king's treasury in exchange for a new map, the one that will finally reunite Slate and Lin.

Heidi Heilig's debut novel promises swashbuckling time travel and romance, and it sometimes delivers.  I wanted more character development for ship's crew who come from diverse times and places.  I also kept waiting for the big explanation of how the conspirators knew the right hook to drag Slate into their plot.  Maybe I missed something?  This was a pretty good story, but I doubt I will take time on the sequel.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Labyrinth Lost

Alex has been fighting against her magic all her life.  After a terrifying experience as a child, she's tried to hide the truth from herself and from her family, all of whom are gifted brujas.  But now the truth is out, and she wants to find a way to get rid of her "gift" forever.

Her plan backfires, and instead of losing her magic, she loses every member of her family including her long-dead ancestors.  Her magical interference banished them to Los Lagos, a land of wondrous and strange creatures.

Now her family, along with many other spirits, have been imprisoned by the Devourer, a powerful creature of darkness who feeds on the magic of others.  The Devourer is destroying Los Lagos, and Alex may be the only person who can stop her.

With the help of Nova, a boy she's only known for a few days, Alex opens a portal to Los Lagos, and the two begin their journey through dangerous and corrupted lands to find Alex's family.

In Los Lagos, nothing is what it seems, and Alex will meet friends who look like enemies and enemies in the guise of friends.  She'll also get some unexpected help from her best friend, Rishi.  But it's not just Alex's family that is at stake, the Devourer is always hungry, and she's looking for a way into the human realm.

Zoraida Cordova's newest book is an interesting look at the hero's journey through the lens of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean cultures.  There were some pacing and characterization issues during the second quarter of the book, but the second half picks back up.  There are a couple of animal sacrifices in the book and references to others as a regular part of the religion.  This book was ok, but I would be more likely to recommend Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel

Stevie has lived her entire thirteen years cocooned in the circle of her parents' love in Taos, New Mexico.  When they are both killed in a sudden accident, her world is shattered.  Not only are her parents gone, but she has to leave her beloved farm to live with a grandfather she's never met.

Winston lives in Little Ethel, Texas, a tiny town outside of Dallas.  His home and his business are the Texas Sunrise Motel.  Winston doesn't talk much and never about Stevie's mother, the only topic she really wants to discuss.  Despite this, she makes friends with the other denizens of the motel.

There's Arlo, repairman and handyman for everything at the outdated Motel, and his son Roy, who is pretty cute and sweet.  There's Violet, the front desk clerk who seems stuck in the past with her 50's dresses and obsession with Turner Classic Movies.  Horace and Ida are permanent residents of the motel who are wheelchair bound.

Instead of sending her to regular school, Winston enrolls Stevie with the ancient and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump who is fiercely independent and also taught Stevie's mother.  The more people she meets in Little Esther, the more Stevie realizes there are a lot of things she doesn't know about her parents.

Kimberly Willis Holt's new novel is sweet, slow, and quiet.  There's nothing new here, but the story is told in Holt's wonderful style, and the beautiful cover will draw readers in.  It won't be for people who love fast-paced stories with lots of action, but kids who enjoy a quiet gentle story will be satisfied.

Bonus for me and all my East Texas friends, Stevie passes through Tyler and Longview briefly!

Monday, May 1, 2017


This book doesn't come out until September, but I was lucky enough to get the ARC at TLA.  After hearing the pitch and seeing the cover, I couldn't wait to get started, and I wasn't disappointed!  Invictus has everything:  time travel, plot twists, the fate of the universe up for grabs!  This is one of the best books I've read this year.  Seriously, pre-order it now, and wait anxiously for September's arrival.

Farway McCarthy was born out of time.  His mother was a recorder in the Corps, traveling throughout time to record the past for enlightenment and entertainment.  On a trip to ancient Rome, she got pregnant, and the baby, Far, was born on a time ship in the grid, the void outside of time.

The lack of a real birthday and the mystery of his parentage have always been a minor annoyance to Far but nothing more.  By the time Far is ready to take his own final exam sim to be a member of the Corps, his mother and her crew have been missing for years.  He doesn't just want to be a time traveler for adventure's sake.  He is hoping to find his mother.

When Far fails his exam under suspicious circumstances, he is bereft.  But then another opportunity arrives.  Far has the chance to be captain of his own ship with his own crew stealing artifacts from the past.  This kind of time travel is riskier, but the pay is much better, and he'll have plenty of chances to search for his mother.

Far is enjoying his rebel existence until a strange girl shows up to ruin a job and blackmail her way onto the crew.  Who is Elliot, and what game is she really playing?

Ryan Graudin's new book is a thrilling time travel adventure that will keep you guessing and missing sleep as you race toward the conclusion.  Highly recommended for grades 8 and up.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse

This biography begins with young Florence, who was intelligent, curious, and a natural nurse.  Her interest in nursing continued into her young womanhood when she felt called by God to be a nurse.  Her family did not support this desire.

There were no professional nurses at the time and no formal training.  Plus, ladies of Nightingale's social class were not expected to work at all, let alone in the dirty hospitals where Flo wanted to venture.

Eventually, they relented, and Florence received what minimal training was available at the time.  She then secured a position for herself at Scutari, the British military hospital serving the injured soldiers of the Crimean war.  This is when she gained fame as the Lady of the Lamp and instituted reforms to try and save the men who were attempting to recover in filthy and overcrowded conditions.

Though she contracted a painful illness during her time at Scutari, Nightingale used her newfound fame to reform hospital care and train a new breed of nurses.  Many of her reforms and practices had lasting effects on the British health care system.

Catherine Reef's biography is an engaging and well-rounded portrait of the famous nurse.  Recommended.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

Doreen Green is not like everyone else.  Aside from her unrelenting optimism, she has a five-foot squirrel tail and the comparative power of a squirrel.  Scale all that strength and agility up, and you have a pretty powerful hero.  But Doreen isn't quite a hero yet.  She just moved from California to New Jersey, and she has to keep her squirrel tail hidden inside her stretchy pants.

Her first--and maybe only--friend is Tippy Toe, a squirrel she meets soon after arriving.  She ties a large pink bow around the squirrel's neck cementing their friendship status.

Aside from trying to make new friends and keep up with her math homework, Doreen and her new sort-of friend, Ana Sofia, discuss an increase in crime around the community.  On her way home from babysitting one night, Doreen cleans up an act of vandalism and stops another with the help of her squirrel friends.

Now everyone is talking about Squirrel Girl, and it seems that a giant bushy tail is a pretty good disguise.  No one knows the truth except her parents who know she is awesome but are worried about her safety and Ana Sofia who is getting even more invested in this friendship idea.

Squirrel Scouts are popping up all over town, and Doreen thinks this she might actually be able to pull off the superhero thing, but her antics have also attracted the attention of a local super villain in training.  Now Doreen, her squirrels, the babies, and the whole town are in danger.  Is Squirrel Girl really unbeatable, or will she be out before she even begins?

This is a light and fun offering from Shannon Hale and Dean Hale.  I've read a couple of the comics in the new series by Ryan North, and this is definitely in that vein all the way down to the comedic footnotes sprinkled through the story.  This is a delightful and punny offering for those who like their heroes optimistic and wholesome.  There are humorous text message conversations with various characters from the Marvel universe including several Avengers.

Bonus, Ana Sofia, a super sleuth in her own right, is hearing impaired, and the authors consulted with Cece Bell to get this depiction right.

I have to confess I was predisposed to like this one.  I love Squirrel Girl's optimism and perseverance.  Highly recommended!


When Yeva's family loses their fortune in a risky venture, they must leave their home in town and return to the family hunting cottage deep in woods.  Yeva is sorry for the burdens created by this loss, but she is also secretly happy to be able to return to the forest where no one will scold her for hunting and wearing pants instead of dresses.

Her father, once a legendary hunter, becomes obsessed with a beast he has sensed in the forest and tracks the creature relentlessly.  Yeva and her sisters want to believe their father, but there is madness in eyes when he talks of the creature.

When he disappears, Yeva heads out into the heart of the forest to search for him, but she finds her father's terrible beast.  He is simultaneously a large and terrifying wolflike creature and all too human.

She becomes his prisoner in an ancient castle hidden deep in the forest.  Once the beast realizes no one is coming to rescue Yeva, he begins training her for a mission she does not understand, but the training helps her to see beyond the outer edges of the world and into the magic that lies just beneath the surface.

Meagan Spooner's new novel is a different version of Beauty and the Beast steeped in Russian folklore with a Beauty whose hunting skills make her almost as deadly as the beast.  While the ending of the story won't be a surprise to fans of the fairy tale, the journey to get to there is a thoughtful one that explores some previously ignored aspects of the story.  Highly recommended for ages 13 and up.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Julia refuses to use the "S" word.  She may be tiny compared to everyone else in her class, but she is tired of being called short.  When her mother decides Julia and her little brother Randy should audition for local community college production of The Wizard of Oz, Julia isn't thrilled.  She has plans for the summer, and signing up to be a Munchkin just seems to reinforce all the short stereotypes.

But Julia doesn't do things halfway, and she and Randy both win parts in the play.  At the first rehearsal Julia's perspective starts to change.  In addition to all the kids, there are also three little people playing Munchkins, and Julia is instantly star-struck by the short, but confident Olive.

It doesn't take long for Julia to fall in love with the entire idea of theater, and their director, Sean Barr, who's flown in specifically for the performance quickly becomes an inspiration.  His passion for the play is the first thing that has distracted her from the death of her beloved dog, Ramon.

Holly Goldberg Sloan has written another winner, but this one is surprisingly lighthearted.  Julia's desire to be with the adults in the performance becomes all consuming, and her observations about them are sometimes hilariously off-base and sometimes surprisingly accurate.  This is the summer when Julia realizes that people are more than they appear and that the world is a truly magical place.  Highly recommended!

Poison's Kiss

Marinda's life belongs to the raja.  As a visha kanya, she was dosed with snake venom as a small child until her body was so full of poison that her kiss became deadly.

Now she is an assassin.  She asks no questions.  She doesn't get to know her targets.  She just shows up at the prearranged meeting place and delivers a kiss.  Hours later, the victim will writhe in agony and then die.

She hates this life, and she would have run away years ago if it weren't for her little brother Mani.  Her handler has the medicine that will keep him alive, so Marinda continues to kill.

Everything changes when, for the first time, her target is someone she knows.  She's only met Deven a couple of times, but when the moment arrives, she can't go through with it.  This small act of defiance puts her and Mani in terrible danger.

In her efforts to save Deven and Mani, Marinda begins to unravel the lies that have controlled her since she was a toddler, and for the first time she discovers the strength to strike back.

I have mixed feelings about this book from first time author, Breeana Shields.  Despite a rough beginning, the book had great pacing with compelling action.  The relationship between Marinda and her counterpart, Iyla, has great tension and adds a nice layer to the story.  My main issue is the insta-love, and it truly is instant.  These two are embracing and comforting each other within five minutes of meeting, and it's difficult to believe Marinda would put her brother's life at risk for someone she barely knows.  Additionally, Shields lets her lovers take the easy way out on the issue of Deven's brother (I don't want to be too spoilery).  Fans of fantasy romance steeped in mythology will likely overlook the shortcomings and enjoy the book.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Last Day on Mars

Enemy alien agents, sabotage, and a ticking clock on total annihilation are all waiting for Liam in Last Day on Mars!

The sun is expanding, and by 2213 it has already engulfed the earth.  Humanity had to overcome their petty differences and find a way to live on Mars or die, but Mars won't be safe for much longer either.

After a few decades on Mars, scientists have discovered a potential new home, Aaru 5.  They will need to do some terraforming and atmosphere manipulation to make things really habitable, but it's the only option.  Almost everyone is already gone, headed out into the unknown in vast Starliners that can transport 100 million people.  They will be in stasis for most of the journey, so it will only feel like a few months even though it will be hundreds of years.

Liam and his family are on the last Starliner because his parents are part of the research team working on a cloud-seeding problem for Aaru, and they are working feverishly to complete the project before Red Line, the moment when increasing solar storms will make Mars uninhabitable.

Liam and his best friend Phoebe, whose parents are working on the same project have mixed feelings about leaving Mars.  They are excited about the new adventure, but they've never known life on earth.  Mars is home.

It's the last day on Mars, and Phoebe and Liam have the opportunity for a last minute adventure.  They make a startling discovery.  After all the research into finding a new home there has been no evidence of intelligent alien life, but now they have found exactly that and practically their own back yard!

Kevin Emerson's new book is thrilling science fiction perfect for middle school.  Full of adventure, danger, and shocking reveals, this is a great series opener, and I'm only disappointed that I have to wait for book two.  Highly recommended!

The Reader

Sefia and her Aunt Nin have been on the run since her father was murdered when she was a little girl.  Now, Nin has been kidnapped by the people who may be behind her father's murder, and Sefia will stop at nothing to save her.

All Sefia has to remember her parents is a strange object.  She's never seen anything like it, but she has been carrying it all these years without really examining it.  Now that Nin has been kidnapped, she risks pulling it out.  It is full of paper with strange markings.  Everyone in Kalanna is illiterate, so it takes Sefia a while to realize the symbols are letters that form words.

Along the way, she meets a similar group of men traveling with a crate marked with a symbol she remembers from her childhood.  Inside the crate is a boy who is a little older than Sefia and covered in filth, but he soon proves himself to be an extraordinary fighter, even if he doesn't seem to enjoy it.  He is unable or unwilling to speak, so Sefia names him Archer.

On their journey, they read from the book about a group of outlaws who sail the seas in search of adventure.  In a moment of desperation, the meet these characters in real life and realize there is more the book than they every could have imagined.

Traci Chee's series opener has received a lot of buzz, so I was excited to read it.  Maybe it was because it was so hyped that I found it a little disappointing.  It was a struggle at times to keep my focus.  It was good but not my favorite.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

When Nick finally runs away from his abusive uncle and bullying cousin, he nearly dies in the snow.  He is saved when he finds Evil Wizard Books and its proprietor, the Evil Wizard Smallbone.  Smallbone decides to take Nick on as an apprentice rather than leaving him to freeze to death.

Nick's apprenticeship consists mainly of cooking and cleaning, and when he doesn't perform adequately, he might get transformed into a spider.  The wizard believes Nick is illiterate, but the bookstore has a mind of its own and gives Nick books and spells he needs to perform his duties in his new home.

Meanwhile, Smallbone Cove is under threat of invading were-coyotes under the direction of the ancient and evil loup-garou, Fidelou.  The wards set up to protect the town hundreds of years ago are failing, and Smallbone and his apprentice will have to figure out how to restore them or see the village destroyed.

No one is quite what they seem in Delia Sherman's delightful story of magic and shape-shifting.  Nick will have to learn how to see the truth about the people in his new life and to recognize his own strengths, as well.

There is plenty to enjoy here for fantasy fans with multiple kinds of shape-shifting including the loup-garou and selkies.  Sherman's sense of wordplay also makes this a charming read.  I found myself longing for more "jeezly" dialogue from Smallbone to relish!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Best Man

Twelve-year-old Archer's story is bookended by two weddings.  He was six for the first one, and an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction keeps that day at the top of his list of most embarrassing moments, but it was also the day he met, Lynette.  She may or may not be his best friend, but she is definitely his bossiest friend.

When a new student teacher shows up at the end of fifth grade fresh from National Guard duty and in uniform, Archer's class, the town, and most of the midwest loses their collective minds.  Mr. McLeod is movie-star handsome, and he knows all kinds of amazing things.  He quickly becomes the star of the school and one of Archer's heroes.

Archer may be a little slower to pick up on details than other kids in his class, but the following summer he makes two discoveries; his Uncle Paul is gay, and he's dating Mr. McLeod!

Richard Peck's new book is hilarious.  I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so much while reading a book.  But it's also a story about male role models from Archer's grandfather, the once great architect whose been hindered by a stroke to his goofy and loving father to his Uncle Paul who is smooth and sophisticated with an awesome job and now Mr. McLeod.  Peck presents all this without getting too mushy and emotional.  This one is already a hit with my students!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Secret Keepers

Reuben's mom has been working two jobs to make ends meet in their run-down neighborhood.  It's summer, so Reuben spends his days exploring the often abandoned buildings in the neighborhood and avoiding The Directions.

The Directions are gangs of enforcers who roam the city collecting money and enforcing the will of their employer, The Smoke.  No one has ever seen him, but he rules New Umbra with an iron fist.

One day while Reuben is exploring, he climbs to a precarious location and makes a discovery that will change his life.  He finds an ancient watch with mysterious origins, and he hopes to sell it to help out his mom.

He soon discovers that the watch isn't just old, it also has the power to turn it's user invisible, and The Smoke wants the watch for himself.

With the help of an elderly watchmaker and some new friends, Reuben uncovers the truth about the watch's origins and sets out to keep it's incredible power of the hands The Smoke and his henchmen.

Trenton Lee Stewart's new book is an adventure much in the vein of The Mysterious Benedict Society series.  Fans will not be disappointed!

Love, Ish

Twelve year old Ish Love is obsessed with Mars.  She wants to be one of the first people to colonize.  It's going to happen. There's too much pollution on earth for us to live here forever.

Ish doesn't have many friends, mainly because she is so serious.  She really only has time to think about the environment, being healthy, and Mars.  She used to have a best friend, her next door neighbor Tig, until his family moved to Oregon.

Her world is shaken when she has a seizure during lunch on the first day of school.  She wakes up in the hospital with the news she has a brain tumor.  As Ish undergoes treatment, she dreams of her older self living on Mars.

Now that she is sick, all the lists of things she would miss about earth seem more important.

Karen Rivers's new book was just ok for me.  Ish was just too negative to really want to spend so much time with her, and I understand that negative kids get sick, too.  There just didn't seem to be any real reason for her to be such a downer.

Loving vs. Virginia

Mildred Jeter, known to her family as String Bean, is the descendant of slaves and Native Americans.  She attends segregated schools by lives in a racially mixed community in rural Virginia.

The boys all race and work on cars together regardless of skin color, and everyone shows up for an impromptu picnic and square dance.

Richard Loving, a young man with fair skin and red hair, has always thought of Millie as a skinny little kid, but it is at one of these backyard parties that he notices how much she has grown up.

This is the beginning of what starts out as a teenage romance with some definite bumps along the way and becomes the marriage that led to the historic court case.

What is most impressive about the story, at least in this version, is how committed Millie and Richard are to each other and their family.  Many people in similar circumstances would have (and probably did) give up on the idea of being together as a family, but these two are dedicated to the idea they should be allowed to marry and live peacefully as a family.

Patricia Hruby Powell's novel is a personal look into the famous story with lovely illustrations by Shadra Strickland.  My only disappointment was the "documentary" part of the novel.  I was expecting a lot more, especially in the beginning.  The book would have benefited from either more documentary evidence or none at all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Deborah Hopkinson's newest book is about submarines and the men who called them home during WWII.  I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did, but Hopkinson does a great job of taking this vast subject that is part of an even more vast story and making it personal.

The book starts with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and quickly moves ahead to the beginning of submarine warfare.  She makes the story engaging by focusing on specific submarines and men, like Mush Morton who took command of the Wahoo after a skipper who had been trained the WWI reconnaissance style of submarining.  The new captain led his crew with gusto and bravado while sinking numerous Japanese ships.

Hopkinson also includes humanizing stories, like the stowaway dog and the importance of the ice cream machine.  She does such a great job that the reader feels the loss when some of the profiled men are lost in battle.

I would recommend this book for war buffs in particular but also to anyone who likes a good high stakes adventure!

The Warden's Daughter

Twelve-year-old Cammie O'Reilly lives in an apartment adjacent to the prison in Two Mills, Pennsylvania.  Her father is the warden, and she is known affectionately to the female inmates as Little Warden.

Cammie's mother died saving her daughter when Cammie was just a baby.  She doesn't remember her mother at all, but everyone in town knows who she is.  Cammie carries a well of anger over her lost mother that she doesn't quite understand.

It's the summer of 1959, and Cammie is determined to find someone to fill the mother void in her life, and she has settled on Eloda Pupko, the prison trustee granted the job of housekeeper and Cammie-sitter. Eloda is all business, but that doesn't deter Cammie.

Though Cammie is a tomboy, her best friend Reggie looks much older than she really is and has a longing for fame.  She has another friend in Boo Boo, a black inmate who adopts the sad little girl.

The summer will bring friendship, fights, fame, and a murderer, but will Cammie find a mother? Jerry Spinelli's new book was good but not great for me.  I'm trying to put my finger on the problem, and I think it's the plot device of Cammie telling the story as an adult.  I think it would have benefitted from a sense of immediacy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cloud and Wallfish

One day Noah's parents pick him up from school with a packed car and tell him they are going to East Germany on a trip.  Also, while they are gone, his name will be Jonah and his birthday will actually be six months earlier.  Noah is stumped by all of this.  It doesn't seem real until his dad burns his new Batman backpack in a trash can at a rest stop.

Before he knows it, Noah is living in an apartment in East Berlin in 1989.  His mother is there to study childhood speech disorders, like Noah's astounding stutter.  He is bored out of his mind because the East Germans are dragging their feet about whether or not he can go to school, and Noah always thought school was required!

Then he meets a girl named Claudia, his downstairs neighbor.  They become fast friends and invent a magical land over the border from East Berlin.  When word arrives that Claudia's parents are dead, she is devastated, but she can't quite bring herself to believe it.  Is it possible that her parents could be alive on the other side of the wall?

I have some mixed feelings about this book.  After an intriguing opening, it got bogged down, but I kept giving it one more day until the last half of the book, which is phenomenal.  I'm glad I read it, and I know I could market it to kids, but I think it would take a stalwart reader to make it through the first half of the book.

Give Anne Nesbet's book to kids who are interested in the Berlin Wall.  They study it in 6th grade here in Texas, and my kids love anything on the topic.


Twelve-year-old Alice Queensmeadow was born without color in a land where color is everything.  It's not just that the people of Ferenwood have lovely skin and bright hair.  Magic in Ferenwood comes from color, and Alice feels like an outsider.  Her father was the only person she truly felt connected to, but he disappeared five years ago.

When her former enemy, Oliver, shows up one day asking for her help, Alice would rather punch him, but Oliver has been tasked with finding her father, and he needs her help.  She reluctantly agrees, and they set off on an adventure in Furthermore, a land with strange rules and even stranger eating habits.

While Furthermore may look delightful, it is the most dangerous place Alice has ever been.  She and Oliver will have to overcome their past and truly learn to trust each other or the quest will end in disaster.

Tahereh Mafi's newest book is filled with characters and adventures in an all new wonderland for her Alice.  There are sunshowers, living origami foxes, and cannibals.  All this sounds great, but the story really got bogged down in the details and an overabundance of whimsy.  Still, I think there are plenty of kids who would enjoy it, especially fans of the original Alice's adventures.

Friday, March 3, 2017


It's Evie Messenger's fifteenth birthday, and like all the Messengers, she's about to get her gift.  It's something different for everyone.  Her Aunt Odie has the gift of cooking, and she presides over a small empire of baking mixes with Evie as her assistant.

Evie and her mother have recently moved in her with her stepfather, JimDaddy.  The move put them in a nicer neighborhood and a better house, but it's on the other side of her Florida hometown which means she has to switch to a new high school without her best friend.  It's not all bad, though, she loves JimDaddy and her new baby sister.  Aunt Odie immediately bought a house in the neighborhood to be close by, and then there's Buddy.  Evie isn't sure if he's boyfriend material or just a lot of trouble, but he sure is good to look at.

When it turns out that her gift might be no gift at all (maybe it skips a generation?), Evie isn't sure how to feel.  The gift is part of being a Messenger, but it comes with responsibility.  You have to use your gift to make other people's lives better, and sometimes it's hard to find the boundary between the gift and your own personal life--especially when your new stepfather and almost boyfriend are still mired in grief over a tragic accident.

Carol Lynch Williams's newest book is a gentle story about family and grief with paranormal and romance elements to spice things up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dragons Vs. Drones

Marcus has been living with his dad's best friend since the night his CIA agent dad disappeared and was branded a traitor by the US government.  He has spent the time since then looking for a way to find his father and building his own drone to assist in the search.

Dree is the poor daughter of a former dragon rider who never passes a day without feeling guilty about the fire that killed her little brother.  She works in a blacksmith shop, and she's really good even though she is small.  No one knows the secret of her work is the burning magical heat that lives inside her.

One night Marcus rides into an intense storm that he believes will lead him to his father.  What he finds is a gateway to another world.  But a couple of drones follow him through the gateway and begin attacking Dracone.  Now Marcus and Dree will have to work together to save Dracone and its inhabitants--the humans and the dragons.

I have mixed feelings about this new book by Wesley King.  I think it will definitely appeal to a large number of kinds, and the concept is interesting, but there are several flaws that really hampered my enjoyment of the story.  First, Marcus must have magical batteries for his cell phone and laptop because they keep working for days of steady use before he even considers trying to find a way to charge them.  Second, it is difficult to believe that a normal 12-year-old can just hack into a drone and reprogram it.  Yes, he does have to keep reworking it, but I know a lot of 12-year-olds, and most of them wouldn't even know where to start.  Also, the real villain doesn't appear until the last ten pages of the book, and he is about as well developed as a cartoon character with a mustache to twirl.

That said, I still think kids will read this book and look forward to the sequel.  It has plenty of action, including some death-defying drops, lots of explosions, and both protagonists have secrets they are determined to keep.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


In the future, humanity has cured death.  Nothing is fatal anymore--not aging, disease, or even freak accidents.  But if no one ever dies, and we continue having children, the population grows exponentially.  Thus the order of Scythes is born.  Every country in the world has scythes, and it is their duty to determine who will die and the method of the death.  If you are gleaned by a scythe, you are truly dead.  There will recovery.

Citra and Rowan have been chosen to train as apprentices.  The idea spending an eternity as a killer is distasteful to both of them, but their families will be granted immunity from gleaning during the apprenticeship, and that is a large inducement.

As they set out to learn the killing arts from Scythe Faraday, they learn his method of gleaning using statistics and compassion, but as they enter the world of the Scythedom, they also find a world of politics and machinations.  It's a dangerous world they've entered, and it seems unlikely that they can both survive.

This is another masterfully told story by one of my favorite authors.  In the hands of Neal Shusterman, what could have just been a gory power play becomes a nuanced story about corruption, mortality, and the meaning of life.  I can't wait for the next book!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Zeke has always been a sci-fi fan.  He knows Captain Kirk from Han Solo, and a browncoat from a stormtrooper, so he is more than excited when aliens show up and ask him to be part of the delegation that will spend a year trying to win a place for earth in the Confederation--think the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek.

The only problem is the fact that his father is dead, and his mother has cancer.  He can't leave his mom alone to suffer through her illness and possible die while he is out having adventures in space, but when the aliens promise that all disease will be cured if earth wins a spot in the Confederation, Zeke is in!

It isn't long before he realizes that as a random, he won't win many friends in the earth delegation.  The other kids are super geniuses, and they decide the best way to win is to ignore Zeke. Zeke finds his own friends among the crew of the ship that is ferrying them to the Confederation.  When the ship comes under attack from aggressive aliens, Zeke steps up to save everyone.  This only puts him in a more difficult position with the peace-loving Confederation.  It seems like they would rather die than defend themselves.

His only friends on the space station where he will be living for a year are the randoms from the other alien delegations.  He really likes Steve, a terrifyingly reptilian guy who is actually pretty laid back and Tamret, who looks like a cat-girl from his manga dreams, but he still wishes the eath kids could accept him.

As the competition between the delegations and the randoms heats up, Zeke begins to realize there is more going on than a simple test.  There is a plot much bigger than the earth trying to get into the Confederation.  Zeke may have to save the earth and the lives of all humanity!

David Liss's series opener is a sci-fi lover's dream come true with references across the genre.  It's part Ender's Game and part Ready Player One for the middle school crowd.  Highly recommended!

Framed!: A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery

Florian Bates is once again the new kid in town.  This time the Bates family has moved to Washington D.C.  Florian has been dreading the first day of school.  He's a little too smart, socially awkward, and short.  But maybe things in D.C. will be different.  He neighbor, Margaret, doesn't think he's weird!

In fact, she thinks T.O.A.S.T. is cool and wants to learn about it.  T.O.A.S.T. is the Theory of All Small Things.  It's a system Florian uses to examine the details to figure out the big picture each time he moves.

At first, they are just using T.O.A.S.T. as a game to figure out everything they can about random people and houses, but when millions of dollars of art is stolen from the museum where Florian's parents work, they may be the only ones who can solve the crime.

I really hope the subtitle on this book means there will be more in the series because this was a fun and engaging mystery.  My kids already love James Ponti's Dead City series, and I'm sure my mystery fans will love this one, too.  A great pick for middle grade mystery fans!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Neal Shusterman Is Coming!

I am so excited my students will get the opportunity to meet Neal Shusterman in February!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 in Review

2016 has had it's ups and downs, but it was a great year for reading!  I love the year in review graphic that Goodreads generates at the end of the year.  I just wish they had an embed code for it.  Get on that, Goodreads team!  Anyway, click on this snip to link to the entire graphic if you are interested.

Here is the breakdown for the year:

5 stars: 32!  Wow!  Either I was super liberal in granting stars, or there were just a lot of great books this year.

4 stars:  35!  More great books!  I shall congratulate the authors for writing such great books and myself for selecting them to read. ;) 

3 stars:  41

2 stars:  6

1 star:  1

Abandoned:  1

Adventure:  9

Fantasy:  32

Historical Fiction:  12

Horror:  6

Humor:  4

Mystery:  19

Realistic Fiction:  18

Romance:  16

Sports:  2 (no big surprise there)

Here are my top 10 middle school fiction picks for the year in no particular order.  (These are books that I read in 2016, so some of them were published in 2015.) Click on the image to link to my original review.
(grades 8 and up)
(grades 7 and up)
(grades 6-8)
(grades 7 and up)
(grades 8 and up)
(grades 7 and up)
(grades 7 and up)
(grades 7 and up)
(grades 6-8)
(grades 6-8)

Now, here are my top nonfiction books for 2016!  

I hope your year of reading was as much fun as mine and that you have a great reading year in 2017, too!

Shadows of Sherwood

Robyn likes to sneak out at night and go on adventures, but one night while she is gone something terrible happens.  She returns to an empty house with only a pool of blood on the kitchen floor as a clue.  She soon discovered that her parents, along with other government officials and their families disappeared on the Night of Shadows when a man named Crown seized control of the government.

Now Robyn only has a message from her father and a couple of objects to guide her as she tries to figure out what to do next.  She and her friends begin stealing food to eat, but Robyn realizes there is a much bigger problem.  Many of the city's poor are starving because Crown has confiscated all the food and vendor licenses and blocked entry to the forest where people might scavenge for food.  They decide to steal the food and medical supplies back for the suffering people.

All along the way, she has clues from her father directing her to the Moon Lore.  She never really paid attention to this at home, but now it seems like it might play a vital role in finding her parents and saving the city from Crown.

This futuristic retelling of the Robin Hood legend from Kekla Magoon is fun and full of adventure, but the Moon Lore subplot didn't really work for me.  It just doesn't fit with the rest of the story.  Nevertheless, this is a fun read that kids will enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Love and Gelato

Lina felt like her world was over when her mother died.  It's always just been the two of them, but when Hadley got sick, she started telling her daughter all about Howard, a sweet and funny guy she knew in Italy.  After the funeral, Lina found out why.  Hadley wants Lina to go live in Italy with Howard, her father.

Lina doesn't want to go, but she doesn't have many options.
Despite herself, she starts to fall in love with Italy, and Howard isn't so bad even if he does live in a cemetery.

A diary from her mother's time in Italy serves as a guide for her adventures and for discovering the truth about her parents' relationship.  Her go-to guy for all these adventures is Ren, a sweet and cute boy who lives close by.

Jenna Evans Welch's book is a fun adventure in Italy full of love and gelato with the weight of Lina's grief to make it feel more substantial.  Sarah Dessen fans will enjoy this one.  Recommended for grades 8 and up.