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


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.


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!