Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017


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

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

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

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

Poison's Kiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Last Day on Mars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reader

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

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

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

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

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

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