Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Real Friends

Shannon is shy and awkward in elementary school until the day she meets Adrienne.  The two girls are inseparable until Adrienne moves away. This leaves a friendship void until her best friend returns, but things are different now.  There's a new girl named Jenn, and a group of popular girls forms around her.  Shannon really wants to be accepted by the group, but it doesn't seem destined to be.

Jenn's best friend is a girl named Jenny.  Jenny, in particular, seems determined to keep Shannon out of the group.  She goes beyond just being covertly mean to lying about Shannon to turn the other girls against her.

She isn't happy at home either, her older sister seems like a moody bear who is ready to rip Shannon to shreds at the slightest provocation.

Will Shannon be able to join the group or find happiness elsewhere?

I've been excited about this new graphic memoir from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham since I picked up some promotional posters at TLA for all of my 6th grade ELAR teachers.  The poster is a flow chart of questions to help you determine if your friends are actually friends.  I absolutely loved this book.  Many readers will see themselves in Shannon's shoes, feeling like the outcast, and for those who may be bullies, perhaps this story will help them empathize with their victims.

This is a memoir, and I love that Hale doesn't shy away from her own flaws, and the times she may have unintentionally hurt another girl.  I also really like that she is able to push away from the bully no matter how awkward the situation may be.  This can be challenging, especially for girls who like to keep things polite and nice.  Read the author's note at the end, please.  Recommended for everyone!


See You in the Cosmos

Alex Petroski loves space and rockets.  He's built his own rocket with the hope of launching it into space at a major rocket festival.  His hero, Carl Sagan, launched a gold record with recordings and information from earth into space, and Alex wants to do the same.  He has a golden iPod he's using to record his experiences on the way to SHARF where he hopes to send it into space with his rocket.

There are a couple of issues.  His older brother who lives in LA seems to be financing the family, but Rockdale, CO, and LA are far apart.  Alex lives with his mother, but she has her quiet days which are happening more often. Alex is on his own a lot, and when he sets off on his own to the New Mexico desert, he cooks food for his mom to eat while he's gone.

Things don't go exactly as planned for Alex and his dog, Carl Sagan, but they always seem to work out.  He meets a variety of kind adults who help him along the way and who make the journey possible.

Alex's dad died when he was little, but an alert from his Ancestry.com account shows another man with the same age and exact birthday living in Las Vegas.  It could be a coincidence, but it would be a pretty big coincidence.

Will Alex launch his golden iPod into space, discover the truth about his father, and figure out how to put his family back together?  Read the book to find out!

Jack Cheng has created an endearing narrator in Alex.  He is brilliant, clueless, and seems to have several guardian angels waiting to care for him.  Alex is searching for alien life in the universe, but he will discover that life here on earth complicated, messy, and pretty great.  This one is perfect for upper elementary and middle school readers, especially those who are enamored by space.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Haunt Me

Following a particularly bad year, Erin's family moves to a new town by the ocean for a fresh start.  It doesn't take long before Erin realizes she isn't the only occupant of her new bedroom.  Joe, the boy who lived there before he died is still there.  Rather than being scared, Erin feels a strong affinity for Joe.  They both struggle with social anxiety and making friends, and they both use poetry to deal with their feelings.

The more time they spent together, the more real Joe is to Erin.  It isn't long before they can touch as well as talk, and soon they are falling in love.

Things get even more complicated when Erin meets Joe's older brother at school.  She can't tell him the truth about Joe which is problem enough, but she enjoys spending time with him more and more.

As things build to a head at school and romantically, Erin walks a thin line between life and death.

This British import from Liz Kessler is an emo romance/after school special.  I really struggled to make it through this one--not for me.

Impyrium

Hazel is the youngest member of the Faeregine Dynasty which has ruled Impyrium for over 3,000.  As the third triplet and an albino, she has always been a bit of a specter to the rest of the court.  She has no desire to rule and would rather continue studying magic with her guardian and teacher who hales from a race of humanoid wolves.  She may not want to rule, but her destiny is intricately woven with the fate of the nation.

Hob grew up poor in the frozen countryside, but he is quickly recruited by a covert group that wants to undermine the Faeregines and give more political power to the people.  They tell him his father was a member of the group and that his death was in service to the cause.

His assignment is to go undercover as a servant in the palace and spy on the strange young Hazel, but nothing goes as planned.  Hob expects to feel nothing but contempt for the pampered princess, but instead, he finds himself sympathetic to her.  And Hazel, who has never had many friends her own age, quickly befriends her servant.

But there are plots and machinations going on behind the scenes that neither of them knows about yet, and they will play a larger role in the drama than they could ever imagine.

Henry Neff has written an engrossing fantasy for those who like to well-plotted and complex stories.  Readers will love immersing themselves in Impyrium.  Kids will already be primed for this companion series to the Tapestry series.  Highly recommended!


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Addie Bell's Shortcut for Growing Up

Addie just wants to grow up and be taken seriously.  It's her twelfth birthday, but she's still under five feet and has a pink princess bedroom.  She and Grace have been best friends forever, but lately, it seems like Addie is ready to grow up, but Grace still wants to do childish things.

When the two girls have a big fight, Addie decides to use a gift from her crazy neighbor.  Mrs. Toodles says it's a magic box that grants wishes.  Addie doesn't really believe it, but what can it hurt to make the wish?  Her older sister Rory seems to have a perfect life:  makeup, clothes, a car, friends, a series of cute boyfriends.  So, Addie makes her wish; she wants to be sixteen.

When she wakes up the next morning, her wish has come true!  But the only problem is she doesn't have the experiences of the past four years.  She's a twelve-year-old in her sixteen-year-old life.

It seems perfect on the surface:  a beautiful new bedroom, a cell phone, a car, a glamorous new best friend, and popularity at school.  But she quickly begins to realize her new life isn't so perfect.  First of all, she and Grace are no longer friends at all.  How can this be possible?!  Graddie forever, right?  Plus, being popular is a lot of hard work, and her new "best" friend doesn't seem so friendly after all.

Jessica Brody's new novel is 13 Going on 30 for the middle school crowd--full of humor, awkwardness, and 12-year-old dreams.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Empress of a Thousand Skies

Rhee is the only surviving heir to the Kalusian dynasty.  Her parents and older sister died in an assassination when she was a little kid.  As the only heir, she has been protected and groomed to take her place as ruler of an empire that stretches across planets.

On the cusp of her sixteenth birthday, she is preparing to assume the throne when an attempt on her life goes wrong.  Now she is on the run with an unknown boy from an enemy alien world.

Rhee thinks she knows who is behind the plot, but all of her assumptions will be turned upside down, and spending time out in the real worlds without her sheltering protectors, Rhee begins to see the truth about past wars and present circumstances.  How is it that she never saw the racism and hatred running like a poison through the empire?

Aly is a former refugee and current military grunt and reality TV star.  His dark skin and refugee status have made it difficult for him to get ahead, but he has the companionship of his best friend and shipmate, Vin.  When news that Princess Rhiannon has been murdered hits the airwaves, Aly is stunned.  The hope of her ascension has been keeping an uneasy peace won by her father's treaty at the end of the war.  But that's not all.  Aly is accused of her murder.

People are quick to believe Aly is a killer.  He's a Raitan refugee, and violence fits right in with the interplanetary stereotype.  Now Aly is on the run with the robot he programmed.  He is desperate to prove his innocence, and he knows if he can just upload his memories from his cube, a personal computer in your brain that stores all your memories and accesses information, everyone will know the truth.

Rhoda Belleza's debut novel may not be perfect, but it is a great ride with a multicultural cast and timely issues.  There are refugees, racism, clashes over religion, and all of the young people in the story are dealing with the consequences of interplanetary war that happened before they were born. The novel also explores the dangers of relying too heavily on technology. Top it off with a reality TV/entertainment news reporter who wants to take control of the government, and Belleza has written a sci-fi novel that provides what all the best sci-fi novels do--a great story with a reflection of current issues and problems.  Recommended for grades 7 and up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Well, That Was Awkward

Gracie is happy with how things are with her group of friends.  She and Sienna have been best friends forever, and Emmott and AJ round out their inner circle.  Emmott has lived downstairs for years, and even though he's a guy, Gracie considers him one of her closest friends.

Things change when one day Gracie looks at AJ and her heart flips.  What is going on?  It's just AJ, her friend.  Why has she suddenly turned into a studdering idiot?  Then Riley, the resident mean girl, asks Gracie for a favor.  She wants Gracie to ask Emmott to ask AJ who he likes.  The answer stirs up life for everyone.  AJ doesn't like Riley, he likes Sienna, Gracie's best friend!

Gracie vows to put her crush aside and help her two most beautiful friends get together.  The only problem?  Sienna is too nervous to talk to AJ by herself, so Gracie ends up first telling Sienna what to text and finally texting him herself.  AJ is so different in texts.  He's never as funny in person.

Rachel Vail's hilarious middle school update of Cyrano de Bergerac will keep kids reading and laughing.  Bonus!  It's a totally sweet and appropriate middle school love story.  A side plot about Gracie's older sister who died adds depth to the story and keeps her parents and Gracie's relationship with them from being one-dimensional.  Highly recommended.


Amina's Voice

Amina has a beautiful singing voice and perfect pitch, but she is painfully shy and too scared to ever sing a solo.  She'd rather blend in with the rest of the choir.

Amina feels like she lives two lives, one at home with her Pakistani culture and one at school.  Her best friend, Soojin, is Korean-American, and it's always just been the two of them.  Now that they are in middle school, things are changing.  Emily, who's always been in the mean girl crowd, is suddenly trying to hang out with Amina and Soojin, and Amina is worried Soojin will drop her for a new best friend.

On the weekends, Amina's family spends time at the Muslim community center where she spends time with her Muslim friends and learns Arabic.  When tragedy strikes at the center, the entire community feels the blow.

Hena Khan's novel is a sweet middle school story about friendship and fitting in with the added bonus of cultural exploration.  This book is a great pick for middle school because it can serve as a much-needed mirror for Muslim youth and a window for those who don't know much about the culture.

Panda-monium

Teddy Fitzroy is back with another FunJungle adventure.  FunJungle, Texas, and all of America is excited for the arrival Li Ping.  The exact arrival date was supposed to be a surprise, but word got out, and a whole herd of pandamaniacs is gathered outside the gates in full panda regalia.

But when the truck carrying Li Ping arrives empty, FunJungle is in an uproar.  This is no ordinary animal mystery.  A missing panda is a potential international disaster, so the FBI shows up to run the case led by Molly O'Malley, older sister of Marge.  While Marge is loud and incompetent, Molly is a beautiful, intelligent bully.

The FBI has ordered Teddy to stay out of the way, and he tries to oblige, but a blackmail plot and his reputation conspire to put him in the middle of things once again.

Will the FBI (or Teddy) be able to find Li Ping before it's too late?

Stuart Gibbs's latest FunJungle mystery is another delightful romp.  As always, readers get a good mystery, plenty of animal facts, and big helping of humor.  A side plot involving a dolphin who steals swimsuits is particularly entertaining.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Apprentice Witch

Arianwyn's greatest fear is failing her witch's assessment, so when that happens in front of all her classmates and an auditorium full of people, she is mortified.  Because her grandmother is an important witch, she is allowed to continue as an apprentice witch and given a post in the remote village of Lull.  It may be close to the great forest, but the tiny village should be a quiet place for Arianwyn to hone her abilities before she is reassessed.

But she hasn't even made it into the town yet when her bus is attacked by a dangerous creature of dark magic.  It seems that Lull is not as peaceful as its name would suggest!

Arianwyn makes mistakes, but she comes to like the village and its residents, and she does a satisfactory job of keeping them safe.  Her confidence is shaken though when the mayor's daughter comes to town for an extended visit and turns out to be none other than Gimma, Arianwyn's main tormenter from her school days.

Arianwyn wants to trust Gimma, but she's not sure she should.  Meanwhile, a dark magic is growing in the forest and seeping into the village, and Arianwyn doesn't feel powerful enough to protect them.  To make matters worse, a powerful magical symbol that has haunted Arianwyn her entire life comes into her mind to distract her at the worst possible moments.  Could this glyph be connected to the growing darkness?  Will she have the courage to do what needs to be done?

James Nicol's debut novel is a wonderful foray into a magical world that feels both new and familiar.  This is one of the best magic books I've read in a while!  While Nicol wraps this story up by the end, there are plenty of questions left for sequels.  Highly recommended for magic and fantasy fans!


Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Ethan I Was Before

Before the incident, Ethan and Kacey were best friends.  They were born just days apart and grew up in the same neighborhood.  It seemed like Ethan was always happy because Kacey always made everything an adventure.

Now, Ethan and his family have moved to Palm Knot, Georgia, his mother's hometown, and no one is particularly happy about it.  His older brother Roddie had to leave his girlfriend, his baseball team, and his chances at a scholarship behind in Boston.  Their parents are always fighting, and moving in with his grandfather feels strange since they never really knew him before.  Ethan's mother and her father have never been close, and living together again is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Ethan knows this is all his fault.  His parents say Grandpa Ike needed the help, but Ethan knows the move was because of the incident and the times he tried to run away.

Meanwhile, Ethan is in a fog, barely speaking to anyone.  Mustering the energy to interact with people is just too much until the day Coralee shows up at school.  Ethan can tell from how the other kids react, that Coralee is not exactly popular, but there is something about her that draws Ethan out.  It doesn't hurt that she never pressures him to share secrets he isn't ready to discuss.  But Coralee has secrets, too, and certain events make Ethan question his trust in her.

As a disaster approaches, Ethan will have to confront his feelings about Kacey and make a decision about whether he wants Coralee as a friend.

Ali Standish's debut novel is a beautiful story about friendship, family, and confronting the guilt of the past.  Secondary characters are well developed, and there is a nicely interwoven subplot about endangered red wolves.  Highly recommended.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Gauntlet

Farah Mirza loves games just like everyone else in her family.  But she gets more than she bargained for on her twelfth birthday.  When she mistakenly opens a package she thinks is her birthday present, she finds The Gauntlet, a game she's never heard of before.

Her excitement soon turns to horror when her impulsive younger brother disappears into the game.  Now she and her best friends, Alex and Essie, must enter the game, find Ahmad, and beat the challenges of the game.

The stakes are high because if they can't win the Architect's challenges, they will be trapped in the game forever.  But this is no ordinary game.  There are dangerous creatures, changing landscapes, and the game cheats.

Farah desperately wants to find Ahmad, but she has to stay focused on the game or all will be lost.  Can Farah and her friends defeat the mysterious Architect, or will they lose their freedom and be trapped with the other denizens of The Gauntlet.

Karuna Riazi's debut novel is a fun middle grade fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Jumanji.  Not only does Riazi take readers into a fantasy world, but she takes them into Farah's world which is firmly set in New York City with a strong anchor in her Bangladeshi roots.  Recommended!

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Plot to Kill Hitler

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and a pacifist whose worldview was shaped by WWI and its outcome.  Even as a child, he was preoccupied with spiritual matters and a life beyond this earth.  As Hitler rose to power, he had a serious internal struggle about how to react.

Bonhoeffer was one of the first to get word of Hitler's atrocities to the world at large, but he soon realized spying would not be enough.  The thought of killing another person was horrifying to him, but he could not in good conscience allow Hitler to move forward with his plans for genocide.

I absolutely loved Patricia McCormick's tale of a man searching for spiritual enlightenment in one of the darkest times in our history.  To understand Bonhoeffer's conflict, you have to understand how he came to his religious convictions, and I am, unfortunately, afraid this may be a deterrent to some young readers, but for those who will invest in the story, this is truly a winner.  Highly recommended!

The Forgetting

Life in Canaan is orderly. Everyone has a job.  Everyone knows their place.  The most important rule in Canaan is to write in your book every day.  If it's not written down, it isn't real because every twelve years, everyone forgets.

Everyone except Nadia, that is.  She was just a little girl at the last forgetting, but for some reason, she remembers everything. She remembers the madness and chaos in the days leading up to the forgetting, and she remembers her father taking her book and replacing it with another one.  Now, her mother is a widow, she and her sisters don't have a father, and her father has a new family on the other side of town.

As the next forgetting draws near, there is unrest in Canaan.  There's a food shortage, and the council has imposed new rules and restrictions. Nadia isn't the only one upset by these changes, but she is the only one with the context of her memories to logically question them.

Along with Gray, the handsome glassblower's son, she begins to investigate seriously.  What causes the forgetting, and could there be a way to prevent it.  The more time she spends with Gray, the more she wants to stop the forgetting, and the closer they get to the startling truth, the more danger they find.

Sharon Cameron's series opener feels like a classic dystopia, but there is an interesting twist about halfway through.  Recommended for grades 7 and up for some making out one or two instances of profanity.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

One for Sorrow

Annie's life changes drastically when her family moves to Mount Pleasant and she begins at Pearce Academy for young girls.  She hopes to make new friends and try to fit in, but what she gets instead is Elsie.  Elsie is the school outcast, universally disliked, and she's decided to latch onto Annie before anyone else does.

Annie struggles to speak up when Elsie's friendship proves to be too much.  She is a jealous friend who won't let Annie talk to the other girls, and when Elsie invites herself over to Annie's house after school, her behavior is cruel and destructive.  All of the adults, including Annie's parents, see Elsie as the victim of circumstances.

It takes an illness and absence from school for Annie to break away from her new "friend."  While Elsie is gone, Annie makes friends with the most popular girls in school, and when Elsie returns, she joins in with the bullying.

As the Spanish flu rages through New England leaving mountains of bodies in its wake, the girls, led by Rosie, ramp up their bullying.  They are taken aback when they learn that Elsie has died from the Spanish flu.

But Elsie refuses to stay buried.  Annie rejected her in life, but in death, she can be anywhere and do anything she wants.  She can take control of Annie's body and words, and she's not leaving.  At first, Annie's parents are confused by her behavior, but they soon begin to wonder if she is mentally ill, and Annie is terrified they will lock her up in an asylum where she really will be trapped alone with Elsie forever.

Mary Downing Hahn's newest ghost story is a perfect blend of historical fiction and supernatural thriller.  Be aware that the bullying in this book is intense, and the girls on both sides are pretty awful.  Kids will come for the ghost story, but they will also be hooked by the relatable social dynamics and the real life horror of the Spanish flu epidemic.  Recommended!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rebel of the Sands

The desert kingdom of Miraji may be ruled by humans now, but there are still lingering traces of the djinn and other magical creatures who were once the only power in the land.  But Amani's hometown, Dustwalk, is anything but magical.  The small town on the edge of the kingdom is only still around because of the munitions factory there.

When she was young, Amani taught herself how to shoot, so no one would be able to take advantage of her.  She's been living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins since her mother's execution, but she's not exactly a welcome visitor.  When she overhears her uncle suggesting Amani should become his next wife, she knows she has to get out.

She enters a dangerous shooting competition where she meets a handsome foreigner named Jin.  She never imagined this stranger would be her ticket out of Dustwalk.  Now she's on the run from the murderous sultan's army with a traitor to the kingdom.

Amani thought she knew who she was and what she wanted, but there are new revelations, romance, and magic awaiting her on this whirlwind adventure through a desert country on the verge of revolution.

Alwyn Hamilton's series opener is full of adventure and romance.  Highly recommended for readers who enjoy their fantasy with a little romance.  Grades 7 and up for a few instances of profanity.


The Star Thief

Honorine has spent her life as a servant in the Vidalia household.  It's not a bad life, but one night everything changes when she discovers two brutish sailors burglarizing the house.  That is the night when her entire life changes.

Now she is trapped in the middle of a battle between two factions.  One side is a magical steamship, and the other is a group of embodied constellations called Mordant.  The constellations are like muses in the mortal world inspiring humans.  The pirates want to capture them for their purposes.

Traveling with the Captain Olyphant and the pirates is Francis Vidalia, Honorine's childhood playmate and son of the long missing Lord Vidalia who spent his life studying and chasing Mordant.

Honorine has always been good with mechanical things and building. These skills come in surprisingly handy as she travels with the Mordant on their flying ship that is more like a magical floating island.

Lindsey Becker's debut novel is peopled by a spunky and mechanically minded girl and a new brand of magic that readers will love.  Some of the constellations are pretty one dimensional, but I'm hoping they will be fleshed out in the sequel.


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Unicorn in the Barn

One night Eric sees what he thinks is the fabled white stag that people have been hunting for years, but he quickly realizes this animal is something else.  Its fur is luminous like a pearl, and when it turns its head, he sees a single horn.  The animal is a unicorn.

This magical discovery leads him to the new veterinarian who recently bought his grandmother's farm.  The house has been converted to a normal veterinary clinic, but she secretly treats magical animals with the help of her daughter, Allegra.  They've been treating the unicorn for an infection in her foot, and now that Eric has discovered the truth, he gets to help out.

Moonpearl is not just a horse with a horn.  Like all unicorns, she has the power to heal, and she can understand many languages, and she communicates with the humans with the help of Timothy, the half invisible Cheshire cat.

Even though Moonpearl's foot is healing, she is pregnant with twins and due in the winter, so she decides to stick around to make sure everything goes well.

As Eric enjoys his newfound responsibilities and his relationship with Moonpearl, his grandmother's health is getting worse in a nursing home.  He struggles to communicate his feeling with his father and older brother, but when he is with his grandmother and Moonpearl, he feels calm and confident.  As Moonpearl's pregnancy progresses, Eric's grandmother's health begins to fail. Could it be possible for Moonpearl to heal his grandmother?

Jacqueline Ogburn's new book is a beautiful story of magical realism where fantasy creatures are perfectly at home in the mundane world, but it is also a gentle story about love, loss, and family.  Highly recommended, especially for grades 4-6.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Warcross

Emika Chen makes her meager living as a bounty hunter for the police catching small time criminals they don't have time to chase anymore, but she's at the end of her rope.  She's about to be evicted, and she only has $13 in the bank.

To take her mind off things, she puts on her glasses and logs into the virtual world of Warcross.  Ten years ago a kid named Hideo Tanaka changed the world by figuring out a way to trick your brain into creating the images that make virtual reality work instead of trying to create every detail through code.  The result is a virtual work that looks and feels like real life.  And the simple game created to teach users how to navigate that reality has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Warcross is simple--two teams each with an artifact.  The goal is to steal the other team's artifact.  What makes it fun is the obstacles and powerups along the way.

When Emika logs into the opening ceremonies, she makes a split-second decision designed to save her from eviction that only someone with her hacking abilities could accomplish.  The only problem is, she gets caught.  Instead of being arrested, she's invited to Tokyo by Hideo Tanaka himself to participate in the championships.

But she's not just there to compete.  She has a unique combination of hacking and hunting skills that make her perfect to find out the identity of a hacker called Zero who is trying to infiltrate Warcross and sabotage the system.  It's a dangerous game that will force her to lie to her new friends and make frequent visits to the Dark World, a virtual haven for criminals.

As Emika focuses in on her target, she finds herself unexpected falling for Hideo, and it seems like he may feel the same way.  Will this budding relationship cloud her judgment, or will she stop Zero in time?

Marie Lu's new series opening is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure readers will love!  Emika and Hideo are flawed, likable, and anchored individually to painful pasts. I did not want to put this one down! Lu's fans will eat this up.  Plus, isn't that cover gorgeous!? Recommeded for grades 8 and up for sexual references and a small amount of profanity.

Beanstalker

This book was so much fun!  It's billed as a collection of short stories, but I think they are best read in order because of the connecting threads between them.

Don't forget everything you know about fairy tales...just push it to the side somewhere so you can laugh along and Kiersten White twists these classic tales into something new.

First of all, there's only one step-mother, and you should probably check your sources before you start calling her wicked.  Little Red Riding Hood, and the wolf, too, for that matter, gets way more than she bargained for when she strayed from the path.  Cinderella is named for cinders all right. And "The Princess and the...Pea?" gives a whole new meaning to poor accommodations.

Combine all this with White's sometimes snarky, sometimes horrified narrator, and you have a winning recipe for fairy tale fans and middle-grade readers.  It's the perfect mix of humor, horror, and just straight up gross to keep kids turning the pages!

Between Two Skies

Evangeline Riley loves Bayou Perdue, the small coastal community in Louisiana she calls home.  Her father is a fisherman, and her mother owns a diner.  She is closest to her grandmother, also named Evangeline.  The two share a deep connection to the bayou and its people.

One day while she's out on the water, she meets Tru.  He misjudged the water depth and stranded his boat.  With a little work, Evangeline helps him get free, and they spend a few hours together before heading back to the festivities at the local marina.
Evangeline doesn't have long to think about Tru because it's only a short time later that a hurricane forms out in the Atlantic.  At first, no one is any more concerned than usual, but overnight Katrina turns into a monster, and Evangeline and her family decide to evacuate.

That's how they end up in Georgia.  At first, everyone just wants to go home, but it doesn't take long before they realize that won't happen anytime soon.  Evangeline and her older sister Mandy enroll at the local high school, and that's where Evangeline runs into Tru again.  What are the chances that these two Katrina refugees would end up in the same place?

They form a fast friendship based on mutual love and longing for the Louisiana coast that quickly turns to love.  Evangeline has never been in love before, and she is happy for the distraction from her parents fighting about whether or not to return to Bayou Perdue.  When Tru's family disappears leaving no contact information behind, she is devastated.

Evangeline may be just a sixteen-year-old kid, but she knows how she feels about Tru and Bayou Perdue.  Can she find a way to be true to herself without causing further pain and upset to her family?

Joanne O'Sullivan's debut novel is a sweet love story and a beautiful love letter to the Louisiana Bayous and their residents.  Recommended for grades 8 and up for alcohol use.

Projekt 1065

Michael O'Shaunessey is an Irish boy living in Germany while his father serves as Irish ambassador.  The only reason Ireland still has an ambassador under the Nazi regime is Ireland's neutral status.  You wouldn't expect Michael to a Nazi sympathizer, an active member of Hitler Youth, but he is.  You also wouldn't expect a 13-year-old boy to be a spy for the allies, but he does that, too.

When Michael's Hitler Youth group is recruited to find and capture a British pilot, there's no time to tell his parents.  They usually do all the dirty work; Michael just gathers information. Michael decides to try and save the soldier himself.

That is just the beginning of Michael's most dangerous mission yet.  He has to steal the plans for a new German jet that could turn the tide of the war.  And if that weren't dangerous enough, he'll have to make friends with a fanatical Hitler Youth boy to do it.

Will Michael be able to complete his mission and give the allies a vital boost in the war effort, or will he fail?  The stakes are high with many lives at stake, including his own.

Fans of Alan Gratz's previous books will be drawn in once more with this tale of a boy who seems to be in over his head against a dangerous enemy.  My only real complaint about this book is Michael seems a little flippant in his attitude toward the Nazis in the beginning.  He never says anything out loud, but he also doesn't seem very nervous about them at the beginning of the book either.  That's just a small complaint, and kids will love the book!


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

Nemesis

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

Frogkisser!

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

Invictus

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!

Hunted

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

Short

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

Dive!

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.