Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Invisible Emmie

Emmie is so shy she would rather blend into the background.  She doesn't want people to notice her.  Her brother and sister are both in college, and her parents work a lot which means she spends most of her time alone.  This suits her just fine because she can devote her free time to drawing.  School is a stress zone for Emmie because there are too many people and too much noise.  Plus, she only has homeroom and lunch with her best friend.

Katie is popular and outgoing.  She has tons of friends and everything always seems to work out her way.  Her parents are perfect, and she even gets the boy she wants.  But Katie's not so wrapped up in herself that she can't see another girl in trouble.

One day Emmie writes a pretend love letter to her crush.  She never meant for him to see it, but it fell out of her notebook, and now everyone knows about it.  This feels like the worst thing that could possibly happen!

People always tell Emmie should speak up for herself.  It's not that hard.  But for Emmie it is hard.  Can Emmie break out of her invisible shell now that the worst has happened?

This is a cute graphic novel using alternating styles for the two girls.  Terri Libenson takes her readers into the world of those quiet kids who mind their own business but who are maybe longing to break free.  There is a fun twist at the end.


Miles Morales

What?!  A Spider-Man book by Jason Reynolds!  I was excited to see what one of my favorite YA authors would do with this source material, and I was not disappointed!

Miles is just a kid from the poor side of town trying to make his parents proud.  Of course, he also has superpowers because he was bitten by a genetically engineered radioactive spider so that sometimes puts a damper on things.  The only people who know his secret are his father and his best friend and roommate, Ganke.

Miles and Ganke attend a private school called Brooklyn Vision Academy.  Miles is a sko-low (scholarship) kid; Ganke isn't, but that doesn't keep them from being practically brothers. Miles does his best to keep his grades up, but his history teacher, Mr. Chamberlain, doesn't make it easy.  He's always talking about how slavery was good for America and the true vision of the south.

Miles also has a serious crush on Alicia who is beautiful, seriously into poetry, and is basically old Harlem royalty, but he doesn't have the courage to do much about it.

Miles has been trying to ignore his spidey-sense lately since it seems to be way off and has gotten him in serious trouble.  It always goes crazy in Chamberlain's class where nothing other than crazy old guy seems to be wrong.  He's also having bad dreams, and when Mr. Chamberlain shows up in those dreams, he begins to wonder if maybe his spidey-sense isn't so crazy after all.

This book gives young readers a super-hero for today.  Miles is fighting bad guys and the momentum of his family's past.  His father turned his life around, but his uncle didn't, and Miles wonders if he is destined for prison.  There is plenty of regular fighting action, like when Miles goes after a street thug who is stealing kids' sneakers, but the real story here is about the dangers of institutionalized racism.  This book is successful in taking down a social issue personified as its villain, but also because it is clear that you always have a choice in how you react to life's challenged no matter how undeserved they are.  Reynolds takes Spider-Man beyond the realm of comic book action and into the present where he also must fight against prejudice and racism.  In this story real heroes don't just fight bad guys on the ground; they speak up against injustice.

Also, I love that Reynolds has created strong male characters who are comfortable with their emotions.  The friendship between Ganke and Miles is beautiful and real.  They aren't afraid to be real with each other even if that means sharing heartbreak.


Genius: The Game

Rex is the son of illegal immigrants living in the US where he is secretly a coding genius.  He has a wide following online, but no one in his real life knows the extent of his abilities.  He's also been focusing a lot of his time and energy writing a program to find his brother who disappeared telling Rex not to come looking for him.

Tunde and Rex are best friends even though they've never met in real life.  Tunde is the resident junk engineer and child genius in a small Nigerian village.  He can fix anything or build anything with scavenged tech.

Painted Wolf is the third member of their group.  She's an activist and blogger whose identity must remain secret since she spends her time uncovering corruption in Chinese business and government.

These three teens are invited to participate in a game by a global tech visionary.  The winners will get money and prestige, but there is more at stake for our heroes.  Tunde's family is being held hostage by a corrupt general who demands that Tunde win the game and build him a machine that will give him incredible power.  Rex needs a quantum computer to run the program that will find his brother, and there just happens to be one at the site of the competition.

But this is more than just a game, and our teenage heroes will have to find a way to win the game and uncover a terrorist plot.

Leopoldo Gout's series opener seems like the kind of book I would love--an international cast, plenty of intrigue, high tech, and high stakes.  But this just didn't grab me like I thought it would.  It reads more like a script than a novel, so that makes it difficult to immerse myself in the world.  Plus, it just didn't make a whole lot of sense.  All of these kid geniuses from all over the world are invited to a competition that seems to be mostly about coding and engineering.  I'm not sure what the art, biology, chemistry, etc. kids were supposed to get out of it or how they could possibly win.  It's a good idea.  It just wasn't developed enough.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Under Locker and Key

Jeremy Wilderson has a bit of a reputation at his school.  It's one he's cultivated to secure his legacy.  He's not a thief.  He's a retrieval specialist.  If someone steals something that belongs to you, Jeremy will get it back.

This makes him a bit of an underground hero to the kids at Scottsville Middle School, but not to Becca Mills, favorite of the school staff and future FBI agent.  Becca's always watching trying to catch Jeremy in the act of thieving.

When an older student tricks Jeremy into retrieving something that doesn't really belong to him, Jeremy knows he has to make it right.  What did he take?  The master key to all the lockers in the school.  But how can he retrieve something when the mark knows he's a target?

Becca is already on the case of the missing key, and Jeremy convinces her to team up with him for what could be his last job ever.

Allison K. Hymas's debut book is a cute middle school caper with lots of wordplay.  Recommended for fans of The Fourth Stall and The Great Green Heist.

Refugee

Josef is a Jewish boy living in Germany in the 1930's.  On Kristallnacht, his father is one of several men rounded up and taken to a concentration camp.  Josef's family isn't sure what will happen to their home, but they know it is time to escape.  They board a ship headed to the other side of the world, seeking refuge in a new country with a new language.

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994.  There are riots in the street protesting Fidel Castro, and the police are watching her father.  When Castro announces that anyone wishes to leave should do so, Isabel sees her family's chance for escape.  She and her family board a homemade boat with her best friend's family headed for Miami.  They will face many dangers on the ocean as they seek a new home where they will not be persecuted and where they can find food and opportunities.

Mahmoud loves his home in Syria, but by 2015 the country is torn apart by violence.  When his family's apartment building is bombed, they know it is time to escape.  Germany is their best hope, but they will have to travel far through dangerous territory with criminals and thieves on every side.  Why can't people understand Mahmoud just wants his family to be safe?

Alan Gratz's newest book is his best yet.  He has a massive following among middle schoolers, and they will devour this title, as well.  As I read this book, I thought of one of my favorite quotes by Madeline L'Engle, "You have to write the book that wants to be written, and if the book will be too difficult for grown ups, then you write it for children."  Refugee should be required reading for every child, teen, and adult.  Gratz excels at humanizing the refugees in his story and gently reminds his readers that no one wants to be a refugee.  Highly recommended!


Friday, September 8, 2017

Wild Bird

Wren is awakened from an alcohol and drug induced stupor and forced from her California home to the Utah desert.  Her parents can't take her wild behavior anymore, and they are sending her to a wilderness program to get clean.

Wren is enraged.  She feels like her family just wants to get rid of her so they don't have to deal with her anymore.  When she does the math and realizes she will be stuck in the desert for most of the rest of the school year and her birthday, she is furious.  It seems like her parents are trying to get revenge.

As she sits isolated in her tent for the first few days, she can only think about how miserable and abused she is.  Wren is stubborn and slow to make any progress.  She can't help wondering what her friends are doing back home while she is dirty and dehydrated in the desert.  Meadow has been her best and only friend since the 7th grade.  They used to cut class and hide in the bathroom to smoke weed.  Nico is the cute older boy who provides alcohol and weed in exchange for Wren making deliveries.  They would think this whole camp is a joke.

It's not until Wren has a personal wrestle with her own mortality that her heart starts to change.  Her willfulness has always been a negative to other people, but out in the desert, that stubbornness can be put to good use.  It may be the only thing that can help her survive the wilderness and her own addictions.

This is another great book from Wendelin Van Draanen.  The author deftly illustrates how easily a normal kid can get caught up in drug and alcohol abuse and how addiction changes a person.  She also hints that cell phone addiction and our culture of convenience and waste feed into those behaviors.  Perhaps one of Wren's greatest realizations is when she finally admits to herself that Meadow was never really her friend.

I love that this book is not about shocking the reader with horrifying scenes.  It's about Wren's personal journey to accepting responsibility for her actions and to understanding herself.  Highly recommended!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Goldfish

Lou's life is swimming, and as she starts her race in the Olympic Time Trials, so feels amazing.  This is her day.  She and her best friend, Hannah, will qualify, and they will both get to transfer to a High Performance Training Camp where it will be all swimming, all the time...with brief moments of school in between.

But...Lou doesn't just lose; she comes in last.  She is not training for the Olympics, she's off the swim team, and she has no friends. Hannah is her only friend, and Hannah qualified.  Lou wants to be supportive, but her heart is broken.

As she returns to school feeling completely out of place.  Her efforts to make new friends are falling flat.  When she sneaks into the pool one afternoon for a comfort swim, she meets three older, cooler guys who are amazed by her underwater skills.  Gabe, Roman, and Pete want to get famous on Britain's Hidden Talent, but they need a novel talent.

That's how a six-foot gangly girl who is clumsy out of the water and who has no friends ends up as...acquaintances?...with three cool guys.  As they work on creating underwater dancing, Hannah is getting more and more stressed out at Training Camp, and Lou isn't sure how to help her.

Nat Luurtsema's novel is a hilarious journey through new beginnings and new friends. My only concern is the quick resolution of Hannah's anxiety and eating disorder.  It's not the main point of the plot, and there is a lot her to enjoy dispite this flaw.  Recommended for grades 8 and up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

Zomorod is the new girl once again for the fourth time.  It's not easy when you are starting middle school, and you're Persian, and your name is Zomorod.  That's why she's taking inspiration from The Brady Bunch; she will begin life in Newport Beach, California, as Cindy.

She's determined to real living friends and not just books, but she gets off to a rough start.  After a couple of missteps, she meets Carolyn who is interested in learning about Iran, a loyal friend, and a fellow bookworm.

Things are looking up until political unrest in Iran eventually leads to the Iranian militants taking a group of Americans hostage.  Suddenly it seems like all of America is against Cindy and her family.

Despite the anti-Iranian sentiment in America, California feels like home, but Cindy also really misses her family in Iran.  With the new regime in power, many freedoms have been stripped from women in particular.  This is not the Iran she loves.  Lucky for her, Cindy finally has some real friends who will stand by her.

Firoozeh Dumas's newest book is a semi-autobiographical look at life in the late 1970's.  This book is honest, heartfelt, and full of humor.  It's great to read a story with such loyal friends and then to discover they are real people.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Van Gogh Deception

One cold December afternoon a boy sits alonce in the National Gallery.  He can't remember who he is or how he got there.  The name written in his jacket is Arthur, so that's what his foster mother and her daughter, Camille, decide to call him.

The following day, they decide to go back to the National Gallery to see if anything jogs his memory.  He doesn't remember anything personal, but he does discover he is some kind of art expert with knowledge far beyond your average twelve-year-old.

While they are investigating his identity at the museum, Art and Camille soon realize they have become targets of kidnappers. They still aren't sure why, but they know they need to escape.  Are the police in on the plot?  Who is behind the kidnapping?  Does it have anything to do with Art's amnesia?

Now they are in a race across Washington, D.C. to uncover the truth before their enemies stop them for good.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery is in the process of purchasing a long lost Van Gogh painting.  Could this have anything to do with the people who are after Art and Camille?

This new mystery by Deron Hicks is a fast paced adventure with QR codes to link the reader to images to the works of art discussed in the story.  This book is sure to please mystery and art fans alike!


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Clayton's hero is his grandfather, Cool Papa.  He taught Clayton how to play the blues harp, and often takes him to the park to play with his blues band.  At night, while Clayton's mother is at work, Cool Papa reading to Clayton from his favorite books.  Clayton wants nothing more than to be like Cool Papa and to play a solo with the band.

One night after a concert in the park, Cool Papa falls asleep and never wakes up.  Clayton is devastated.  His main father figure and best friend is gone.

His mother has resented her father for most of her life.  If he wasn't gone serving in the military, he was on the road playing the blues.  She barely tolerated him while he was alive, and now that he's gone, she wants to get rid of all traces he ever lived with them.

Clayton is so overwhelmed with anger and frustration he decides to run away.  Over the course of a day, he journeys through the city alone facing dangers and coming to terms with his feelings.

Rita Williams-Garcia's new novel is an honest exploration of grief and family relationships.  Recommended.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Outrun the Moon

Mercy Wong wants more for herself than the life prescribed by society as a Chinese American in 1906.  She graduated from the school in Chinatown, but it only goes to 8th grade.  Mercy knows if she is ever to be a successful business woman she needs more education.  Her dreams aren't just for herself; her younger brother has weak lungs, and Mercy knows he won't survive long if he has to work in her father's laundry.

Through trickery and business acumen, Mercy manages to secure a trial spot at St. Clair's, the most prestigious girls' school in San Francisco.  She is totally out of her element amidst her wealthy white peers, but she is determined to be successful.

Then, a devastating earthquake strikes on April 18 leveling most of the city in a single blow.  Mercy and her classmates end up living in a tent encampment in the park with other survivors.  Everyone has lost something, and some people have had lost the people they loved most.

Author Stacey Lee shares the story of the San Francisco earthquake from a different perspective giving the reader window into the terrible disaster with a dose of realism when it comes to the racism and division that was common at that time.  Mercy is a strong character with a powerful spirit.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Thornhill

In the present, Ella has just moved into a new home following her mother's death.  Her father is always at work, so Ella is left alone to explore her surroundings including a large dilapidated house nearby.  The house is boarded up, but Ella sees a light and a figure in the attic window.

In 1982, Mary is one of a handful of girls in foster care living in Thornhill.  The other girls seem to get along fairly well probably because they follow the whims of the resident bully.  Mary is the outcast.  Her shy and quiet ways coupled with her puppet making hobby make her the main target for physical and psychological bullying.

The two girls are connected by loneliness, living more than 30 years apart.

Amy Smy's book is told in two different time periods and formats.  Ella's story is told almost exclusively in illustrations-the only text coming from documents in the illustrations, and Mary's story is told through journal entries.  This book is an interesting mix of moods and emotions.  Mary's experiences in Thornhill are profoundly sad and, unfortunately, may mirror those of other children who fall through the cracks.  But this book is also a creepy ghost story that will leave readers with just the right amount of uneasiness.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Count All Her Bones

Me when a new April Henry book comes out:


via GIPHY

Me when I found out this was a sequel to Girl Stolen:


via GIPHY

If you haven't read Girl Stolen yet, just stop reading and do that first.  It won't take you long.  If you have read Girl Stolen, you are probably just as excited as I am!

Cheyenne survived a harrowing ordeal when she was kidnapped, and now her father and stepmother are more protective than ever.  She has her own live-in bodyguard and self-defense instructor, Jaydra, who goes pretty much everywhere with Cheyenne and takes every opportunity to test her self-defense skills.

Griffin is testifying against his father in the trial which doesn't sit too well with Roy and his half-brother Dwayne.  Griffin has been living with his mother's sister since the kidnapping, but it hasn't exactly been a perfect life.  He is still struggling in school because of his dyslexia, and his anxiety over the upcoming trial doesn't help.  He wants to talk to Cheyenne.  He misses her so much, but he wants to honor her wishes.

When Cheyenne told Griffin they couldn't be in contact, she thought it was for the best, but now she regrets that decision.  When he contacts her on Facebook, she is thrilled.

Meanwhile, Roy knows that if Griffin testifies, he will lose.  He and Dwayne devise a plot to get Griffin and Cheyenne out of the picture, maybe permanently.

Cheyenne is an even stronger character in this book with her newly acquired martial arts skills and some cool tech designed to aid the blind, and April Henry fans will race through this sequel to discover her fate.  Recommended!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Flawed

Celestine tries to be the perfect girl in the perfect life.  She, like most other people in their society, looks down on the flawed.  These are people who have not committed a crime but who have transgressed social mores.  The punishment for these ethical transgressions is a brand to the temple, the tongue, the hand...the location that best represents the flaw.

The flawed are untouchable; it's against the rules to help a flawed person.  But one day Celestine is on the bus with her friends when she sees a situation she can't ignore.  There are two unflawed women sitting in the flawed seats ignoring a flawed man who is obviously in distress.

Celestine knows she shouldn't get involved, but something compels her to step forward.  That decision changes the course of her life.  Will she be imprisoned, flawed, branded?

Now Celestine is re-examining her perfect life and the perfect society in which she lives.

Cecelia Ahern's series starter begins like a generic dystopia, and Celestine's change of heart is a little abrupt.  I wasn't sure this one was going to do anything for me in the beginning, but once I got past the setup chapters, I really got engaged in the story and questions of morality and integrity.  Recommended for 8th grade and up for some language and scenes of violence.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wires and Nerve

Months have passed since the events in Winter that ended Queen Levana's rule on Luna.  Cinder is now the Lunar queen, Thorn and Cress are distributing the Letamosis cure all over earth, Scarlet and Wolf are revitalizing the family farm in France, Winter is the Lunar ambassador to earth, and Iko has found a new purpose.

Queen Levana's genetically modified wolf soldiers have gone rogue without her controlling influence, and someone has to bring them in.  Enter Iko, unsung hero of the revolution and loyal friend.

Iko's success rate is high, but there are always a few soldiers who escape.  They are unified under a charismatic leader, and they have a common enemy, Iko's best friend.

I am a huge fan of Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, but I was concerned about the graphic novel continuation of the story wouldn't live up to the originals.  I am pleased to say I was wrong.  I absolutely loved volume one of this planned series.  Iko is a classy and sassy hero, and the android protagonist allows the author to explore new ideas about humanity and equality.  Highly recommended!


Monday, July 31, 2017

The Metropolitans

Japan has just bombed Pearl Harbor, and four kids in New York City find themselves drawn to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  All four of them feel alone and guilty for different reasons.

Madge is living with her aunt since her mother's sudden death.  His wife's death was too much for her father who abandoned the family.  Her brothers are living in a group home, and Madge just tries to stay out of her aunt's way when the woman shows up anyway.  On December 7th, she is wandering aimlessly when she remembers that the museum is free.  Maybe the museum can help her while away some lonely hours.

Joe is a Mohawk Indian boy who ran away from a boarding school that tried to force him to forget his language and traditions.  He sees Madge leave her book behind in the park and follows her into the museum to try and return it.

Walt's parents sent him out of Germany to live with relatives at the beginning of the war.  They knew their Jewish family would not be safe in Hitler's Germany, but they thought they would be safe in Paris until they could rejoin Walt in New York.  Now, Germany has conquered France, and Walt hasn't heard from them in months.  He likes to spend time in the museum drawing to distract himself.

Kiku is a Japanese American who suddenly finds herself an enemy of her country after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Her father works in the museum as curator of the Japanese exhibits.  Her mother is in Japan caring for her ailing mother, but now Kiku fears she will never see her again.

The children meet Dr. Bean and Ms. Lake who are caring for a rare manuscript that contains a little known King Arthur story.  When a strange man named Mr. January shows up and kidnaps Kiku's father and steals the manuscript, the kids realize they are the only ones who can solve a series of clues and save the city.  But the more they read, the more they start to think they may be part of an ancient story tracing all the way back to King Arthur and Camelot.

Carol Goodman's new middle-grade novel is a serviceable fantasy, but it could do with some paring down.  About two-thirds of the way through, I was ready for it to be over.  There's a lot of promise here, but it just wasn't my favorite.

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.