Friday, January 30, 2015

Stealing the Game

Abdul-Jabbar and Obstfeld, Raymond. Stealing the Game 
1 February 2015, Disney Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

In this sequel to Sasquatch in the Paint,  Chris being dragged out of class and questioned by the police. We then find out information slowly-- his brother Jax has flunked out of Stanford Law School and seems to be in trouble with local hoodlum, Rand. Jax even arranges for Chris's basketball team to play another, better team-- and there seems to be money riding on the game. At the same time, Chris's parents start pushing HIM to up his game for college; they are high powered lawyers, and want Chris to have a passion that he wants to pursue. He does, but it's not one he has told anyone but Jax; he draws comics, and his main character is Master Thief. Chris has never stolen anything, so when cute girl Brooke runs into him outside a comic book store and the two get to talking, he agrees to go with her to her family's business and try to shoplift something. He's set up, but turns the tables cleverly on Brooke. Chris is very afraid that Jax is into something really bad, and when his brother asks him to help rob a pawn shop, Chris puts his Master Thief research to good use. There's a lot more going on than Chris suspects. There's a lot of good basketball descriptions, but also some interesting mystery going on.
Strengths: The cover and author will appeal to boys who want books about basketball, and there's enough to keep them interested, but the focus of the story is really the mystery. It's well done and enjoyable, but a bit of a departure from the first book, which was more of a problem novel. I'd love to see a third book that also includes a mystery.
Weaknesses: The scenes in Chris's classroom (They are reading Catcher in the Rye in middle school? Sigh.) really slow down the plot and could have been cut. I liked this more than I liked the first book, though. Chris ends up being really clever.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Party Games (Fear Street #52)

19286536Stine, R.L. Party Games (Fear Street #52)
September 30th 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin

So, some spoilers ahead, so just skip if you really think R.L. Stine books are scary and you don't want to know what happens. This is a decent choice for middle school libraries, nothing inappropriate. Just don't read on if spoilers bother you.

Rachel's family is struggling to make ends meet, so she waitresses at the local diner. When the wealthy and enigmatic Brendan Fear invites her to his birthday party, she is excited to go, even when her ex boyfriend, Mac, warns her not to go. She assumes it is the disgruntled Mac who puts a dead rat in her bed, but when she and some other girls are on the Fear's creepy island on their way to the party, she finds out that the other girls had various dead animals in their beds, too... and Brendan tells them that the creepy Victoria Fear was a taxidermist and often would warn people away from the house with dead animals! Sure enough, it's creepy on the island, but it gets even worse when people get injured... and then killed. One by one, the guests die in horrific ways, but then they come back. It turns out that the deaths were all staged by Brendan Fear. Ha, ha. Very funny. Then, creepy guys show up and are going to kidnap Brendan. Real, or fake? Real threat, but the bad guys are taken down by policemen that Brendan hired to perform some other role in the huge charade. There is an appearance by Victoria Fear, but instead of a ghost, it turns out to be Brendan's cousin Karen. Of course, when Rachel goes back into the house to get her jacket, how can she explain seeing the ghost then?
Strengths: Stine is the master of the bait-and-switch thriller. People are threatened. Nyah, it's a hoax. Wait! Now they are dead! No they're not. This makes the books scary but not too scary for middle school students. It's nice to have a new R.L. Stine in hardcover and not in a 25+ year old prebind with pages crumbling to dust.
Weaknesses: #52? Really? Does this mean that 1-51 will be available again in something that won't become a pile of dust in a year? Didn't think so. Plus, I'm not entirely sure I haven't read this book before. Not that any of it matters. Put Stine on the shelf, and someone will read it no matter what the content or condition.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday

It's great that we are starting to see more diversity in children's publishing. Now, we need to get to the point where the books with diversity are not all DEPRESSING AS ALL GET OUT!

Books about kids with cancer. We need more, sure. And we need them not to be about noble kids fighting a good fight, but about regular kids. Add a dog, some adventure, and this sounds really good in theory.

This is getting a ton of love. Five star reviews all over Goodreads. But really-- you want to hand this book to a middle school student? Your students are too happy? You want to depress the holy hell out of them and show them that in the face of adversity, the best path is to make horrible choices that endanger your dog and worry your best friend and parents?

This is the book you need, then. Personally, I'd rather dig out a copy of May I Cross Your Golden River or Sunshine and save myself some money.

22571259Gemeinhart, Dan. The Honest Truth.
January 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Mark is dying of cancer. He's been fighting it since he was a child, but it's back now, and he's tired of it. His grandfather had mentioned climbing Mt. Rainier, but his grandfather has passed away. Tired of treatments and always being the sick kid, Mark takes his dog Beau, boards a bus, and makes his way to the mountain. And a jolly time he has of it, getting rolled by street thugs who steal his money, spending quality time in dive diners, and riding on buses. When he gets fairly close to the park, the weather gets awful, and he is picked up by a man whose son died in Iraq. This man thinks it is a good idea to help Mark further endanger himself as well as his dog, so takes him to where he can begin to climb even after he has seen Mark's terrified parents on the news. Sure enough, poor Beau falls into a crevasse and is almost stuck there. Mark manages to get him out, but then collapses in the cold where he gets his wish and tries to die. Rescue workers follow the dog and find him. Add to the depression Marks lifelong friend, Jessie, who is worried about him as well.
Strengths: The dog is loyal and true, even when stuffed into a bag and carried on the bus. At least Beau gets bacon. There is some outdoor adventure.
Weaknesses: It's bad enough worrying his parents. Kids do that. But to worry his friend like that, and to expose the dog to the elements-- unspeakable. The author says in the notes that this is in honor of a friend who died of cancer and it's a book about living rather than dying. While I appreciate that this isn't the "kid facing cancer with noble courage" type of book, I don't know that choosing to end your life somewhat prematurely with a series of bad choices that worry and endanger others is a good idea, either. 


Running Out of NightLovejoy, Sharon. Running Out of Night
November 11th 2014 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Slavery not depressing enough for you? How about we throw in a girl whose mother died when she was born, whose father has always been abusive and unloving to the point of working her like a slave and starving her? Have her meet a runaway slave, Zenobia, and decide that helping her escape sounds better than staying where she is. Admittedly, there are some bright sides-- the girls raid the larder at Lark's house (she doesn't even have a name-- Zenobia gives her one), get taken in by some Quakers who help Zenobia and another slave get to Canada, and take Lark in. Because her father dies, and she's sad. Add to this the fact that the author has a love of dialect and uses it heavily in the whole book, and this might explain why I have picked this book up twice in six months and couldn't bring myself to review it.

Having filters hasn't helped me in nine years of blogging. Being politic and balancing the good and less good in books hasn't gotten me any more review copies, reviewing gigs, or readers. I'm absolutely fed up with sad books. 

The only reason I have decided to continue to be a middle school librarian this week is Dave Barry's new book, The Worst Class Trip Ever. Brilliant. BRILLIANT. Can't wait until 5 May. Oh, wait. I may be in Washington, D.C. then. At least I will know how to thwart terrorists!

23197599

All the Answers

22313641Messner, Kate. All the Answers
January 27th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Ava has been having troubles in math class, and has some test anxiety, but when she finds a pencil in these junk drawer at her house, she finds that when she writes a question, she hears an answer. This isn't the sort of thing that you share with everyone, but she tells her best friend, Sophie, who thinks that the girls could use the pencil to do any number of amusing things. There are a number of anxiety-provoking things going on in Ava's life. A large new superstore threatens to put her father's store out of business, so he spends a lot of time cooking noteworthy food like kale doughnuts, hoping to give the store a famous hook. Her grandfather is in a nursing home and being fairly uncommunicative; her grandmother passed away not long ago, and her mother and grandfather are at odds. Ava's other grandmother who lives with them hasn't been feeling well. Ava plays saxophone, but is anxious about trying out for the jazz band, and she also doesn't really want to participate in the class wilderness trip trip that includes zip lining.  With the pencil's help, Ava and Sophie try to arrange romances and social situations at school, but the pencil won't tell the future. It does, however, tell Ava that a person important to her is ill, and gives her time to get the person help. She manages to solve some mysteries about the pencils, as well as problems in her own life, and finally realizes that she doesn't need to count on the pencil for help.
Strengths: Ailing grandparents seem to be a new trend in MG fiction. And it is a timely topic. Messner is a popular author, and magical realism always does well, A magical pencil that answers questions is a great premise.
Weaknesses: The preponderance of problems in this one is a bit much, and the explanations tend toward the didactic. There was so much going on that it started to seem ridiculous. The drama with Sophie, school, and the family store would have been enough. I didn't believe that Ava would not have recognized the voice of the pencil, and the explanation of why it talked was not necessary. Not my favorite Messner.


22206705Stanely, Diane. The Chosen Prince
January 27th 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Prince Alexos of Arctos has to deal with his stern and disapproving father, King Ecktor, but at least can run quickly. He is entered in to the kingdom's festival race, and does fairly well, considering he almost dies because he has the summer sickness. He lives, but is crippled, so his father is pretty much done with him, especially since Alexos' young brother, Teo, who is supposed to be heir now that Alexos isn't fit, dies mysteriously. Since his father has to deal with the threat of Ferra and its criminal king, Pyratos, Alexos is left to his own devices. He decides to find Peles of Attaros, who won the race, and get his out of his father's auxiliary army and make him his private guard. He manages to do that, but when his father's camp is attacked by Pyratos, and his father is killed, Alexos knows there is little that any of them can do. Traveling on Pyratos' ship, the group comes across a magical island where the only three inhabitants are Claudio, Aria... and a young boy named Teo. What is their relationship to Pyratos and Alexos, and how will Athene decide to deal with them?
Strengths: There is a huge demand for books about ancient Greece and Rome... Michael Ford's Fire of Ares trilogy is one of my best circulators. This book (which I didn't realize was based on Shakespeare's The Tempest until I pulled it up on Goodreads) had lots of details about life in ancient times, intrigue and action, and military maneuvers as well.
Weaknesses: This was written in a weirdly stilted way, using a present tense. While there was a lot of fighting going on, the focus was more on Alexos, who couldn't participate in the fighting because of his disability. This was more philosophical than I would have wanted, and reads like a book for children written in the 1950s.

Monday, January 26, 2015

MMGM- I dig rock and roll music!

21467481Weil, Cynthia. I'm Glad I Did
January 27th 2015 by Soho Teen
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Justice Jeannette (JJ for short) doesn't want to be a lawyer like the rest of her high powered family in 1963; she's always wanted to be a songwriter. When she is told that she needs to get a summer job or help out at her mother's law office, she presents herself at Good Music in the Brill Building in New York City... and gets the job, even though she is only 16. Most of her duties involve filing, but she is also encouraged to write songs. JJ also runs into Luke Silver after the two mix up papers in the elevator. Never having known his mother, he is closing up his father's music business after his father's death. JJ writes a good song based on Luke's lyrics, and one evening while singing it, is heard by the cleaning lady, who turns out to be washed up blues singer Dulcie Brown. Encouraged, but still not willing to share her work with her boss, Dulcie meets with her uncle Bernie, who is a big wig in the business and has interesting insights. When Dulcie dies of an apparent (but suspicious) suicide, JJ and Luke both learn secrets about their families. Can they continue their work and be successful? Will they figure out what happened to Dulcie? A fascinating look into a particularly interesting period in music publishing, by someone who knows it well.
Strengths: Even with the mystery, this is cheerier than many books! The horrific news of the time is not ignored, but treated as background, as well it should be. The insights into the music business are something I have not seen in a book, and having JJ be a writer and not a singer was definitely new. The connection to even older music was welcome, and different elements, like Civil and Women's Rights, were woven into the story well.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more details about life in the 1960s in general. What did they wear, what did the offices look like, etc. I normally don't ask for details like that in books, but there is so little written about this time period, and the details are so fascinating, that it would have been nice. Would have also made the book longer, and at 272 pages, it was just about right.


20344522Leonard, Candy. Beatleness: How the Beatles and Their Fans Remade the World.
August 26th 2014 by Arcade Publishing
ARC from Netgalley.com

Need a book for all of the students using the Beatles as a starting point for a National History Day Project on the Beatles as Turning Point/Leaders and Legacy/Frontiers/Taking a Stand? This is it. Interviews with lots of first generation fans are set between deeply introspective delving into What the Beatles Meant during their time. I'm pretty well versed in the Beatles (the reason they joke about Paul's gradfather being "clean" is that the actor was Wilfred Bramble, known for playing Steptoe in Steptoe and Son, where the joke was that he was a "dirty old man"), but even I learned some things about the Beatles and their influence. (Some of the hatred of Yoko Ono was because she was of Japanese descent. Hadn't thought of that. And the Monkees were aimed at disenchanted, younger Beatles fans!) Really, just about everything is covered, especially a light overview of history during this time. That said, it's a very, very dense read. Still, if you have students desperately trying to prove that the Beatles were leaders in the antiwar protest movement of the 1960s, this is your book, since it deals with the effect of the Beatles on people and society and is not another rehasing of their personal lives. The digital ARC I had didn't seem to have any pictures, which can certainly be obtained in other books.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Truth About Twinkie Pie

20839543Yeh, Kat. The Truth About Twinkie Pie
 January 27th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
EARC from Edelweiss, paper ARC from Baker and Taylor

Sisters Delta Dawn (Didi) and Galileo Gallilei (Gigi) move from their home in the South to the East Coast after (nine years older) Didi wins a million dollars in a cooking contest. She continues to work as a hairdresser, and the two live in a small apartment above her place of employment because Didi claims a million dollars isn't a lot, and is spending it all to enroll Gigi in an exclusive private school, so that she can be educated and not have the kind of life that Didi has had so far. Gigi decides to go by Leia, since people in her old school made jokes about the sisters' names being bra sizes. Things go fairly well, with Leia making friends with a boy in her class named Trip, although she still longs for her deceased mother. The sisters have their mother's cookbook, which is full of ... interesting Southern recipes of disputable nutritive value, like the eponymous Twinkie Pie, and E-Z Cheez and Potato Chip sandwiches. The only other bit of information that Leia seems to know about her mother (who was also named Delta Dawn and worked as a hairdresser) is that she liked the sometimes defunct Revlon lipstick color, Cherries in the Snow.  When trying to order some lipstick for her sister, Leia realizes something about a family secret, and takes off with Trip to try to figure out the mystery.
Strengths: This has a great cover, and a fairly intriguing story about a girl finding herself out of her element and trying to fit in. Trip seems like a genuinely nice guy, and the little bit of romance is charming.
Weaknesses: A bit too quirky/Southern for my taste, and the mystery wasn't all that earthshaking. It might have been twenty years ago, but since it drove the whole book, it fell flat for me.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Ellie McDoodle

20613463Barshaw, Ruth McNally. Ellie for President (Ellie McDoodle #6)
September 23rd 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Copy provided by the publisher for Cybils review

Ellie's family thinks she is such a good drawer that her cousins all take lessons from her, and her school mates suggest that she put together a blog so that it's easy to share her information with everyone. With her parents' permission, she sets up a blog, and starts posting funny cartoons about things going on at school. Soon, she is approached by the principal to edit a school newspaper, and since her friends are on board with this, they start putting together a paper. Soon, however, Ellie finds out that there are student elections taking place, and she signs up to run against Jake, Shane, and Kyra. Because also being the editor of the newspaper would give her an unfair advantage, she is made to step down, but she throws herself into campaigning. Jake is nice to her when she runs into problems, and soon they start to "go out", which is a difficult proposition in late elementary school. Will Ellie be able to continue with the newspaper and her drawing after the election? Will she and Jake stay an item?
Strengths: As far as notebook novels go, this is a more positive series than The Dork Diaries or Wimpy Kid books. While there is some bad behavior (Shane takes Ellie's notebook at one point), it isn't condoned, and better examples are given. (Jake tells him to give the notebook back.) This story moved along well and was fairly interesting, even with the horribly trite plots of BOTH a school newspaper and school election.
Weaknesses: No more, people. No more elections, no more school papers, and no more bullying! Perhaps the papers and elections were a thing back in the day, but they aren't any more. The blog is even outdates-- Ellie would be a presence on Instagram if she really wanted to reach her classmates. Still, I have some struggling readers who really like this series.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Guy Friday- War Books

I'm not a fan of reading about war, but the appeal of books set in areas of conflict have undeniable appeal to a huge number of middle school boys. Often, they want to read nothing else, so I am always on the lookout for such books. I was VERY pleased to hear that some John Wilson titles are being republished.

22164014Wilson, John. And in the Morning
October 17th 2014 by Heritage House Publishing Co. Ltd.
(first published November 8th 2002)
Paperback received from Lynn Duncan at Heritage House Publishing

I was very pleased to hear from this publisher that they are reissuing some of Wilson's work, and glad that there will be a whole Fields of Conflict series coming out, although I don't have any more information than that. I reviewed this title six years ago, and I know that my library copy is in tatters.

That would be my only complaint about Wilson's books-- they are frequently only available in Canada, and often in paperback. Heritage House is issuing e books, too, so if you have readers who would benefit from those, they can be obtained. Wilson's titles are so heavily used, though, that I really want dust jacketed hard backs!



18769917Wilson, John. Wings of War.
June 24th 2014 by Doubleday Canada

To taunt everyone further, this is a title I would love to have, but again, it's only available in paperback. All my war mongering boys would love this:

"Edward Simpson's uncle builds airplanes in his barn. In exchange for help, he teaches Edward to fly, but as the boy's passion for flight grows, the world is descending into the chaos and horror of the First World War.
Edward finds his dreams of becoming a pilot now impossible to ignore. Despite his mother's protests, he heads to England and joins the Royal Flying Corps.
Edward soon discovers that his love of lying is not enough as he battles for his life in the skies over France. As he learns how to survive, he finds his friendships and beliefs tested in ways he couldn't have imagined.
Timed to coincide with the centenary of World War One, this is a skillful and gripping story of one boy's coming of age in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
 " From Goodreads.com

Finally, one that will be available in the US, although most likely in paper-over-board.


22571258Lynch, Chris. Alive and Kicking (WWII Book #3)
January 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Theo comes homes on compassionate leave after the events of Dead in the Water, even though he doesn't believe that Hank is dead, just missing. He's grieving, his family is grieving, and he can't get back to his unit in Europe fast enough. He's a gunner in a B-24 aircraft that is sent on missions to blow up German train depots, factories and other key locations. The crew of The Batboy fly a lot of successful missions, but still sustain some casualties. Theo maintains that Hank is missing, and writes entries in his journal to his brother.
Strengths: Lots of details about different kinds of American planes and the German planes they are fighting, and details about what gunners where, what the inside of the planes are like, etc. Theo sees a lot of action. There is less baseball in this book, since he refuses to play until he can throw to Hank again.
Weaknesses: The book starts out really slowly, with all of the grieving in Theo's house. While I appreciate that Lynch is trying to show how horrible war is, and how much it devastates families, he shouldn't then put in this sort of thought from Theo : "I have to kill people. I have to try my hardest and kill as many of those people as I can manage. I understand, that they are aso trying to kill me. People I have never met want to kill me." Well, yes. But doesn't he make the connection that when he kills that German pilot, he's inflicting the same kind of grief on that pilot's family as has been inflicted on his own? Surviving, yes. Killing others? Maybe not.
What I really think: I really think that as long as we, as a country, participate actively in armed combat, we really don't value human life. And, as I say all the time, people die every day. It is unrealistic for people to spend so much time grieving, and it is certainly boring to read about. It's boring to LIVE with grief; no one needs to read about it as well.

 
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