Saturday, August 01, 2015

Dear Opl

Sackier, Shelley. Dear Opl
August 2015, Sourcebooks
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Opl (her mother wants her to lose weight, so trimming 25% of the letters from her name is a start) is angry at her mother for harping about her weight, as well as for being so busy with her library job and the new bookstore she is trying to start. When her mother suggests that Opl start a blog, she does, only to find that her best friend tells so many people that eventually there are almost 4,000 followers to the blog in just two months. Opl is sad that her father died of cancer, and is irritated a bit by her younger brother, who wants to wear only Halloweed costumes meant for girls, and her grandfather, who has moved in with the family. She's angry at the school for changing the lunches and making them healthier, following the advice of a English television chef whom she at first detests, but then invites to her mother's store opening. There is also a homeless man who gets in Opl's way at first, but whom she hires to help fix up her mother's store. Opl does overcome some of her emotional issues and starts to realize that her mother is so concerned because Opl is pre-diabetic, and the family comes to a bit more of an understanding by the end of the book.
Strengths: This had some good moments, with the explanation of emotional eating, the portrayal of how different people handle grief without harping on it overly much, and the description of a healthier school cafeteria progam. Books featuring disordered eating are always popular in the middle school.
Weaknesses: Students today don't read blogs, much less write them-- it's all about Instagram and Snapchat at this second in time. (Writing this in April to appear in August... maybe they are on to the next thing already!) I have been blogging for 8 years and don't have 300 followers, so maybe I'm just bitter, but it seemed unrealistic, as did Opl employing the homeless man and giving him the key to her mother's store.
What I really think: I may end up buying this, but I wanted to slap Opl throughout most of the book. Hard. Whiny, nasty, unpleasant even to her friends, and not at all concerned about her weight in any kind of constructive way... wow. No, eating properly isn't necessarily fun, and yes, Oreos are much tastier than the high fiber protein cereal I eat for breakfast that my daughters say looks like hamster food, but staying thin and healthy helps prevent all manner of ill health, so is worth the effort. Fat shaming is rude, but I would have liked this to be a more helpful book.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Guy Friday- Out of Bounds

25359669Bowen, Fred. Out of Bounds
1 August 2015, Peachtree
ARC from Publisher

Nate and his soccer team, the Strikers, hope to be able to defeat the Monarchs, a talented team who bested them the previous year. Nate and his friend, Sergio, are good players, and practice hard because they want to be competitive. When Nate sees his aunt, a former college player who is in a women's league, kick the ball out of bounds rather than score when a player on the opposing team is down, Nate is surprised. His aunt says that not benefiting from the injury of another player is a long standing soccer tradition, even if it is not technically in the rules, and she is surprised that he has never heard of it. The two also make a bet-- the person to get fewer goals will have to make chocolate chip cookies for the one who scores more! As the game with the Monarchs approaches, both teams try to compete against each other, even comparing times in gym class sprints! At a crucial moment in the game, Nate decides to embrace his aunt's idea of good sportsmanship, but his teammates aren't happy with him. How can he convince them that winning is not the most important thing on the soccer field?

Like all Bowen sports titles, this book had lots of good descriptions of soccer playing, and even had schedules, scores, and times for readers who like statistics. Since I've never actually seen soccer being played, I'll have to assume that all the plays are accurate, but I know that they are written in an exciting way that makes the book read quickly.

Nate is a typical middle grade boy, who jokes with his friends at lunch, loves his soccer, and starts out thinking that beating the Monarchs is the only way that he can be happy. His aunt is a great character, and it is fun to see him go to her soccer games, as well as accompany her to games about which she is reporting. Sergio is a good foil, and he, too, eventually sees the benefit of being sportsmanlike.

Additional information, like a cookie recipe (and descriptions of Nate having to make them with his aunt!) and real life examples of good sportsmanship are a nice supplement. Younger readers, or older readers who struggle, will find this book is one that engages their interest and challenges their perceptions of how sports should be played.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Island of Dr. Libris

22856146Grabenstein, Chris. The Island of Dr. Libris.
March 24th 2015 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

N.B. While book related, this is NOT a sequel to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library! I somehow thought it was.

Billy is forced to spend the summer at a lake, in a cabin with his mother, who is working on her doctoral dissertation, and thus does not have much time for him. His father, a freewheeling sort, is going back to the city; his parents have not been getting along. Billy notices that there is not a television in the cabin, and after he breaks his iPhone rescuing five-year-old neighbor Alyssa's doll from a tree, he figures the only way to entertain himself is to investigate Dr. Libris' very cool library, especially since bully Nick Farkas is there to berate him the minute he steps out the door of the cabin. Soon, Billy is reading the story of Hercules... and hearing Hercules! He finds out that on an island not far from the cabin, stories come to life! Alyssa's brother Walter (who has asthma and is also a victim of Farkas') is soon introduced, and the two boys bring all manner of stories to life, from Pollyanna, Robin Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk to Space Lizard and a wizarding card game. We see Dr. Libris' lab notes-- he is experimenting with brain waves and making things materialize on the island for later monetary gain. Soon, Billy thinks that he can solve all of his problems by using the magic of the island.
Strengths: Very fun FANTASY concept, and a very cool library. Billy and Walter are decent protagonists. Could do worse for a summer read. The notes at the back listing the different books included are helpful.
Weaknesses: The accents/speech patterns used by different characters seemed odd, and the inclusion of fake fictional characters (ones made up by Grabenstein just for this book) along with characters from books got a bit confusing.
What I really think: Meh. I can't get anyone to check out Lowry's The Willoughbys, so may pass on this one. I adored Mr. Lemoncello, and this just wasn't quite as good.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Finding Someplace

15377798Patrick, Denise Lewis. Finding Someplace
August 4th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from

Reesie is making plans for her thirteenth birthday party-- she's made a new outfit, her older brother has bought her matching shoes, and a neighbor, Ms. Martine, has made one of her famous coconut cakes. When bad weather closes in on New Orleans, however, the plans go awry. Her father, a policeman, refuses to leave town because he needs to go to work. Her mother, a nurse, gets stuck at work when other staff members don't show up, so Reesie ends up helping Ms. Martine and staying with her as the storm fills the Ninth Ward with water. She learns a lot about Ms. Martine's life, which is very interesting, since she was a writer in the 1930s, even having a film made out of one of her stories. Reesie's friend Orlando's brother, Dre, shows up with his new wife, Tree, and the four try to ride out the storm, ending up on the roof, where they are rescued. Because Reesie's father is a policeman, everyone is on the lookout for her, but she doesn't find her father until after she is mugged and the bag she took from the house with all of the important papers and pictures in it is taken from her. Since her mother is from New Jersey, Reesie and her mother move in with a cousin there while her father tries to rebuild the house. It's not an easy transition, especially since Reesie is worried that her parents will break up, and she misses Orlando. Will Reesie ever be able to return to New Orleans?
Strengths: It has been ten years since Katrina hit, so today's middle grade readers have no working memory of the event. This is a good overview of what the Ninth Ward was like before the storm, showcases nicely some of the people in the area, has Reesie's tale of survival AND addresses the aftermath of the storm in a way that most books I've read haven't. As an added bonus, Reesie does NOT have a dog. (I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005Zane and the Hurricane, Buddy, and  Saint Louis Armstrong Beach all involve dogs. Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere involves a birthday.
Weaknesses: The romance with Orlando is a bit of a stretch, especially when Reesie is in New Jersey. What I really want to read is a story with Ms. Martine in the 1930s!
What I really think: This is probably the most interesting, readable and complete book about Hurricane Katrina that I've read.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Princess Juniper of the Hourglass/The Dragonfly Effect

Paquette, Ammi-Joan. Princess Juniper of the Hourglass
July 21st 2015 by Philomel Books
ARC from Publisher

When her thirteenth nameday comes, Princess Juniper must decide what gift she would like. She decides that having her own kingdom, where she can make her own rules, would be a good idea. Luckily, her father the king is on board with the idea, mainly because he wants to get the princess out of Torr because of an attack of Monsians. Juniper only wants to take children under the age of 13 with her, with the exception of her chief adviser, Erick, who is a year older. What she doesn't count on is being rushed out of the country with her retinue and also the odious Cyril and his friends Jessamyn and Root. The group is well provisioned, and the king sends them to a hidden valley that is well supplied with caves on the mountainside in which the group can live. Juniper splits up duties so that there settlement will start to be established, but Cyril's group doesn't want to work. Things go fairly well, but the children get tired, and there isn't enough food because someone is sabotaging the cows and chickens. When Cyril tries to win over the children by promising less work and more parties, Juniper tries to counter his proposals, but feels that there is something sinister about his approach to the community. When there is word from Torr that the country has been attacked and the citizens of the newly formed Queen's Basin must stay put, Juniper must figure out how to stand up against Cyril and keep her new subjects safe.
Strengths: Children surviving on their own is always an excellent topic, and this had a very Boxcar Children feel, right down to washing dishes on the beach and keeping things cool in a stream! Juniper has some stereotypical princess qualities, like wearing pretty gowns and needing her own maid, but she was more egalitarian and hard working than most princesses.
Weaknesses: There were a few odd touches, such as the Beauty Chamber and the overly fawning maid Tippy that weren't strictly necessary. Cyril's presence in the group seemed a bit forced, but since he was the biggest obstacle to be faced, his inclusion makes more sense.
What I really think: I would have loved this in elementary school, and possibly even middle school, when I read O.T.Nelson's The Girl Who Owned the City and had an elaborate daydream involving all of the adults vanishing and a group of kids from my middle school living in the school... with me as the leader, of course! As an adult, it didn't resonate quite the same way, but I can see it being popular with readers of princess or medieval fantasy books.

24000720Korman, Gordon. The Dragonfly Effect (The Hypnotists #3)
28 July 2015, Scholastic
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

With Mako in prison, Jax and the other Hypnotists are under Army protection, living at a secure base and undergoing tests for the Hypnotic Warfare Research Department (HoWaRD), where Captain Brassmeyer and Captain Pedroia are trying to figure out how to best use their powers. Several people from the Sandman's Guild are there, as is the horrible bully Wilson, but the group is also joined by eight year old Stanley, an orphan whose powers rival Jax's. In addition to seeing in Jax can break into a secure military information facility, HoWaRD is working on Operation Aurora, which includes building an entire town so that they can see if Jax's hypnotic suggestions can be piped in to all 750+ residents at once. In the meantime, Mako escapes from prison, and Jax knows that it won't end well if he isn't recaptured, especially since he begins to realize that there are hypnotic suggestions in a game his father is playing, FreeForAll. When Stanley is "adopted" by a relative, Jax is worried enough that he takes off for New York and looks up his friend Tommy to help him. In trying to locate the Sentia headquarters, the two run into Kira, who agrees to help them. Their research leads them to a posh suburb where they locate Stanley and realize that Mako's plans include highjacking a speech being broadcast from the United Nations to a wide audience. Even if Jax knows how to reverse the hypnosis, will he and his group be able to do so in time?

As always, Korman delivers a humorous, rollicking book. The idea of children who can hypnotize people is a fresh one, and Jax struggles with his feelings about his abilities: on the one hand, it is wonderful to be able to bend anyone to his will, but on the other, he knows that he has a great responsibility to use his power for good. While we don't see quite as much of the other hypnotists in this book, we do get a good feel for Jax's parents, the army personnel, and the intriguing new character of Stanley. It was good to see Jax reunited with his good friend, Tommy, as well.

I loved the variety of situations in which Jax found himself. He is appalled when he thinks the army has made him force a pilot to crash his plane, easy-going about breaking into a high security facility, and matter-of-fact about having to leave the army base to make things right with Mako. In all of these situations, the dangers are made clear, and Jax and his friends manage to use their abilities and knowledge to make them come out successfully. After a short rest, we are flung back into the next situation, so this book was a quick read-- I had to know what would happen next!

While this is a worthy sequel to The Hypnotists and Memory Maze, and a great book on its own, I'd be just as happy if it's the end of the series. Three is a great length, and I'm curious to see what happens in Masterminds, as well as what Korman's brilliant middle grade mind will come up with next! He never disappoints!

Monday, July 27, 2015

MMGM- My Brother's Secret

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.


Smith, Dan. My Brother's Secret
July 28th 2015 by Chicken House (first published May 1st 2014)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Karl Friedman is active in the Deutsches Jungvolk, reveling in winning badges and in participating in the paramilitary exercises. When another boy's father is killed, and the other boys give him a hard time for crying rather than being proud that his father died for Hitler, Karl does feel bad for him, but still defends the Jungvolk to his older brother, Stefan. Stefan is a troublemaker-- he quit school so he wouldn't have to join the Hitler Youth, and seems to be hanging around with a group that will get him in trouble. When Karl's father is killed, his mother collapses, but his Oma and Opa swoop in, taking the family to their small town to live. They don't want Karl to leave the yard even though he yearns to go back to school and group activities; Karl suspects his grandparents, like his brother, don't support Hitler. He defies them, taking his bike out into town, and manages to get into an accident-- hitting the local Gestapo commander Wolff's car. Since Karl is still in his uniform, complete with his medal, Wolff doesn't arrest him, but he keeps his eye on Karl. Karl meets Lisa, the girl next door, and she is not overly fond of the Nazis as well, since they took her father away when he opined that all fighting was wrong. Karl begins to suspect that Stefan is involved in a resistance group, and he is proven right. Unfortunately, when Wolff comes to investigate suspicious activity involving delivering propagandistic flyers, he finds one in Karl's room, even though Wolff really wants to arrest Stefan. The depth of the town's involvement with various the Edelweiss groups becomes clear as Karl and Lisa investigate and try to find a way to free Stefan. Will their investigation free Stefan, or imperil the rest of their families?

This book had a lot of interesting information on a facet of World War II that is not covered very often-- the Hitler Youth. Seeing the movement through Karl's eyes is enlightening. If a similar movement were started at a middle school today, most of the well behaved, obedient children would join, especially if everything in the news was telling them that it was what they were supposed to do. Watching Karl's opinions change is also fascinating, since early teens often struggle with this very dilemma-- what is the difference between what I am supposed to do and what is right. The fact that Stefan, who is actually more morally correct, is seen as the "wild" brother gives Karl more reason to stick to the Nazi ideals. When his grandparents challenge the Nazis, and he is grieving for his father (of whose death he should be "proud"), Karl finally starts to realize that Hitler's policies and actions are not what he has been led to believe.

While the philosophical changes were interesting to me, I know that middle school readers want things to HAPPEN, and they do. There are chase scenes aplenty, as well as the resistance putting sugar in gas tanks, spray painting walls, and generally bedeviling the Nazis. While most readers interested in WWII demand tales of the battle field, there is enough action in this book to keep them satisfied.

Karl is a fascinating character, but I loved the supporting characters as well. Wolff is slimy but aftershave-scented, and has no sympathetic qualities at all. Stefan is very quiet, but manages to express his beliefs to his brother without tearing Karl's down. The mother was a bit annoying-- during WWII, I imagine that people were much stronger when faced with death, so her retreat from the world, and her sons, is not as believable. The grandparents typify the sort of Germans whom I believe comprised the vast majority of the population; concerned citizens who didn't agree with Hitler, so walked a fine line between disobedience and survival. Lisa is a great foil for Karl, since she is a bit braver and more daring than he tends to be.

Readers who enjoyed Bartoletti Campbell's The Boy Who Dared or want something similar to Hoose's (nonfiction) The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club will find that My Brother's Secret delivers: it will enthrall them with action and adventure but make them think about what side of the fight they would have been on had they been teens in Hitler's Germany.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Backyard Witch #1: Sadie's Story

23460956Heppermann, Christine and Koertge, Ron. Backyard Witch #1: Sadie's Story
July 21st 2015 by Greenwillow Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Sadie is understandably upset when Jess and Maya, her two best friends, go off for a week at the lake with Jess's grandparents, leaving Sadie at home with her yoga instructor mother and aspiring author father. When she sees  a suspicious cloud of smoke over her playhouse in the back yard, she investigates and discovers a witch, Ms. M. stirring up some soup! Ms. M. has also lost her two best friends. Ethel had a spell go awry and was turned into a bird, and when Onyx the cat attacked the bird, Ms. M. got angry and kicked him out. Sadie offers to help find the friends, and the two have lots of wonderful adventures in the park, mainly watching birds. They also manage to use magic to avoid having the playhouse sold in a garage sale, and Sadie is occupied until her friends come back from the lake.
Strengths: Magical realism appeals to readers of all ages. The rereleased Ruth Chew books have been a HUGE success with my readers, and this is sort of an updated version of those. Sadie has parents who are supportive and alive, if a little clueless, and gets to have adventures with a witch.
Weaknesses: Very little magic is involved for a book with a witch. Much more birdwatching, which is less appealing to read about. The pictures were okay, but not my favorite.
What I really think: This would be a good choice for an elementary library where students like books about magic, but this seemed too young for my middle school.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Kicks- Hat Trick/ Anna Banana and the Monkey in the Middle

25089603Morgan, Alex. Hat Trick (The Kicks #4)
June 2nd 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Devin is unhappy that soccer season is over, but she and several of her teammates discover that there are try outs for winter soccer. Emma doesn't make the team, and Frida is off making a movie with teen hottie Brady McCoy. Jessi makes the Griffons with Devin, although Zoe is on the Gators. Also on the Griffons-- the mean Mirabelle, with whom Devin has made a sort of peace, but also the even more evil Jamie. To top it off, Coach Darby encourages aggressive play, which leads to bruises for Jessi and a first ever yellow card for Devin. It could be worse, though-- Devin's younger sister Maisie isn't playing soccer at all, because the school funding for her team has been cut. The girls from the Kicks, as well as some from the Griffons, band together to have a big fundraiser so that the elementary team can stay in place and have everything from an eco-friendly carwash to a bake sale to a skills camp for younger players. A surprise guest makes the day and raises enough money to save the team.
Strengths: It's great to see a book where characters have passions that drive them to do things. Devin's "hat trick" refers to the three things she wants to accomplish. It's a happy book with supportive parents but small problems that are dealt with in a constructive fashion. Plus, there's lots of soccer action!
Weaknesses: Frida being a movie actress seemed a bit far fetched, and I'm not sure that a fund raiser could really save a school soccer team.
What I really think: This is a great series that my soccer playing girls adore. They are quick, have bright, appealing covers, a celebrity author who really knows her sport, and are just fun!

22729478Rissi, Anica Mrose. Anna Banana and the Monkey in the Middle (#2)
July 7th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Anna is back after Anna Banana and the Friendship Split. She has mended things with Sadie, and the two girls are now fast friends with Isabel. When their third grade class is taking a trip to the zoo, Anna feels pulled between the two. Only two girls can sit in one bus seat, so Anna has to agree to sit with one girl going to the zoo and the other coming back. Luckily, at the zoo, they are allowed to be in a group of three. They have to decide what animal to do a report on when they return to school-- Anna would like to do pandas, but the group decides to do crocodiles so there are no favorites. This stresses Anna out, and when she gets home, her father suggests she write each of her friends a letter saying why they are each her "favorite Sadie" or "favorite Isabel", and invite them both over for a sleepover. Anna's brother is a little stressed about his math test as well, but their parents (a stay-at-home romance novelist father and high powered corporate executive mother) are supportive and catch up with them during their family dinners.
Strengths: This was spot-on with third grade friend drama, and addressed it in a very productive way. I also liked that the class went to the zoo and was doing an animal report, since that is something that most third or fourth graders actually do. Banana is adorable, the family dynamics are good; I really enjoy these. Liked this one even better than the first, since Sadie was unaccountably evil in the first one!
Weaknesses: Love the diversity on the cover, but still wish I knew a little more about the ethnicity of the characters. In the E ARC, the pictures don't show it as clearly. Glad that the story isn't about the ethnicity, since it will appeal to all manner of elementary school readers.
What I really think: I want one just like this but set in middle school, with middle school problems!

23496645Book three comes out in September, and book four, Anna Banana and the Puppy Parade, comes out in January.

Like Anne Warren Smith's Turkey Monster Thanksgiving series, these have adorable covers and are such fun, but I have to stop reading them! You can tell that when I was in third grade, this would have been exactly the sort of book that I would have read!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Guy Friday- Old Wolf

23309695Avi and Floca, Brian. Old Wolf
August 4th 2015 by Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Casey's 13th birthday is exciting-- he gets a book on bow hunting from his parents, and a special dinner is planned for that night, but his father is detained because of the spring snow. At the same time, things are rough for the leader of a wolf pack, Nashoba. He is challenged by a younger wolf, who bites his paw after Nashoba cannot find food for the pack. Nashoba manages to make friends with a Raven, Merla, who brings Nashoba food in exchange for a favor: there is a herd of elk without the bulls, and Merla would like the wolf pack to take down a couple and leave the flock some leftovers. Nashoba finds the herd and returns to tell the pack, but when the pack attacks, things go wrong and Nashoba is gravely injured. The next day, Casey goes out with his new bow and attempts to reenact the bow shooting video game that he has. He shoots and kills something and feels bad about it, but he also finds Nashoba and tries to help the wolf, getting himself attacked after putting ointment on the wolf's paw. Nashoba escapes, and Casey never plays his video game again.
Strengths: Wolves are one animal that students frequently want to read about, and there are not too many books. This is a short book, with plentiful illustrations, and so might be good for elementary schools or reluctant middle school readers who want an adventure story with hunting. Both parents are alive, and very supportive. The video game tie-in might appeal to some readers.
Weaknesses: This does have some violence, both between the animals, and with Casey shooting, and there didn't seem to be much of a plot.
What I really think: Not sure what the purpose of this one was. Avi is really hit or miss for me. Enjoyed Catch You Later, Traitor, and one of my older daughter's favorite books is The Good Dog, but I got to the end of this and wasn't quite sure what was supposed to have been conveyed.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pool Party Puzzler (Nancy Drew Clue Book #1)/ Ruby on the Outside

23309668Keene, Carolyn. Pool Party Puzzler (Nancy Drew Clue Book #1)
July 7th 2015 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Nancy, George and Bess are helping out George's mother, who is catering a Sweet Half 16 party for the 8-year-old diva, Deidre. Not only is the event catered, but there is real white sand by the pool, topiary bushes sculpted by Taffy, and a lavender scooter as a present. Everyone has been invited to the party but Shelby. The party goes well until Marissa the mermaid shows up to do a swim show, but there is a snake at the bottom of the pool! The snake turns out to be a fake, and even Deidre tells Nancy not to worry about investigating who put it there, but the Clue Crew is not to be dissuaded. They investigate everyone from the waiters from a local restaurant who were serving, to Taffy, to Shelby, who had attended the party in a costume but was discovered by Nancy because of her pink nail polish. After visiting the joke shop where the snakes were purchased, Nancy figures out who put the snake in the pool... and why.
Strengths: This was a simple, fun mystery for beginning readers that had an Encyclopedia Brown type question at the end-- can you guess the mystery? (Yes, I could.)
Weaknesses: Deidre was over the top, and made the story a bit unbelievable.
What I really think: I am ridiculously enamored with these short series with pretty, bright covers (think Sew Zooey!, Hirandani's Cooking Club, The Year of the Book), but this one wasn't anything particularly fresh. The second book in this series, Last Lemonade Standing, sounds freakishly like the
1997 The Lemonade Raid (Nancy Drew: Notebooks, #19). For middle school, I prefer the Nancy Drew Diaries.

And now, I just want to do a masters thesis on the many incarnations of Nancy Drew!

23309730Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Ruby on the Outside
June 16th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

Ruby lives in a condo complex with her aunt, whom she calls Matoo (ma, too). Her mother has been in jail since Ruby was five, and Ruby hasn't told any of her friends at school, fearing repercussions. It is the summer after fifth grade, and things are rather dull. Kristin, the only girl her age in the complex, leaves for camp, but luckily a new girl, Margalit, moves in, and the two quickly become friends. They write stories, play games, and get along very well... until Ruby discovers a secret that she thinks will tear the two apart. Ruby and her aunt visit her mother every weekend, but this secret interferes with these visits as well. Eventually, Ruby rediscovers the entire truth about why her mother is in prison, feels comfortable sharing this with her friends, and is ready to start middle school as a more understanding and developed person.
Strengths: There are very few books that address parents in prison, and it's certainly something that even middle class, suburban students deal with from time to time. The only book on the topic that I have is Calvert's Glennis, Before and After, from 1996. The circumstances seem realistic, and the details of prison and the workings of the judicial system seem well-researched. Baskin has an intriguing style. Her Anything But Typical is brilliant.
Weaknesses: Ruby does seem to think about her mother more than I would think she would after five years of living with her aunt, and the coincidence of names seemed a bit far fetched.
What I really think: I don't think this will do well with middle school students. The way the girls play in the summer, as well as the general social dynamic, seems much more elementary school. Certainly an excellent choice for elementary libraries.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

River Runs Deep

23309804Bradbury, Jennifer. River Runs Deep
July 21st 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In 1842, young Elias is sent to Dr. Croghan in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, where the doctor's innovative treatments are supposed to cure his consumption. Since his father died of the ailment, Elias' mother is desperate enough to send him all the way from Virginia to live there. In small huts within the cave, the patients are kept quiet and fed restrictive diets in hope that the damp air and underground spring might effect a cure. Elias isn't happy with inactivity, and soon makes friends or a variety of patients, as well as some of the Negroes working for Dr. Croghan. Elias receives an injured carrier pigeon from Pennyrile, a mysterious patient who is not allowed to talk, and raises it. In his wanderings with Stephen, who works for Dr. Croghan, he finds that there is more going on in the caves than recuperation and the odd tourist visit.
Strengths: Interesting historical time and place to write about, interesting tie-in with other parts of history, and good descriptions of tuberculosis treatment at the time. Definitely one to pair with Invincible Microbe, and a bit more exciting than most tuberculosis stories. (And there are more of those than one would think!)
Weaknesses: Elias' immediate friendship with the Negro boys is a bit of a stretch, and readers who aren't well-versed in the history of tuberculosis treatment might need more background in order to understand this.
What I really think: I adored Bradbury's Shift, Wrapped, and A Moment Comes, but didn't connect with this one quite as much.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stone Rider/ Thor's Serpents

18655355Hofmeyr, David. Stone Rider
July 14th 2015 by Delacorte Press
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In a horrible, arid futuristic dystopia where the only choices seem to be working in the mines or riding in treacherous byke races, Adam Stone tries to survive. His parents are dead, and only his older brother Frank is around to help him. Frank is missing a leg, and Adam has a tendency to black out, but when Adam meets fellow rider Kane, who seems to need help, the two offer Kane shelter and some of their meager food supplies. But Adam has angered the wrong people, and soon his only option is to enter the Blackwater race and hope to win passage to the Sky-Base, where living conditions are not quite so bad. He befriends a very young rider, Nate, and finds that two of the children, Sadie and Wyatt,of a tyrannical commander who is charge of the race are also on the course. Adam thinks that the only way to survive is to be by himself, but quickly comes to rely on the help of Kane, as well as Sadie. When surprising information about his fellow racers is revealed, will this help or hurt his efforts in the race?
Strengths: This has a LOT of action and adventure, and is a great choice for readers who enjoy Earth based dystopias. The byke racing is full of pulse pounding twists and turns, and there are evil characters aplenty that made me root for Adam's survival.
Weakneses: The lack of world building moved teh story along quickly for me at first because I wanted to find out WHY there were limited choices, what had happened to the environment, who built Sky-Base, etc. Then, in the middle of the race, Adam and Sadie take a break, have a little fling, and I lost interest. This is really more YA. There are several rather gruesome deaths, the fling, and a lot of person-on-person violence. While there is nothing immediately objectionable that would keep it out of middle school, I can see younger readers being upset by it.
What I really think: Fantastic book... for high school. Think I will pass on purchase, but definitely will pass on my ARC to a freshman I know!

17287242K.L. Armstrong, M.A. Marr. Thor's Serpents (The Blackwell Pages #3)
May 19th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

In this third and final book following Loki's Wolves and Odin's Ravens, Matt and his compatriots have to figure out a number of details about Ragnarok. Fen is stuck with the Raiders, who think that the end of the world will be a good thing. Laurie is upset, since Fen is the other representative of their ancestor, Loki, and she doesn't like being on opposite sides on the conflict. Matt, Owen, Baldwin et al. go to Rapid City to consult the Norns. After battling the mara (nightmares) in a museum., the Norns tell Matt that when the mythical rooster Gullinkambi crows, they must go to the battlefield, and someone in his family knows where that will be. They travel back to Blackwell via a portal where the group gets in touch with various family memebers to try to figure things out, but then they are battleing a fire giant, Jotunn, who is determined to burn down the Corn Palace! Luckily, Matt has some skills that help. There are other problems, though, including one descendant who isn't quite who the group thought she was. Matt finally locates his long lost Uncle Pete, who is a help, but it's still up to Matt to figure out what to do. Participate in Ragnarok and hope for the best, or try to find a way to make it not happen?
Strengths: There are several twists, which I don't want to give away, and the ending is not as sewn up as it is in many books. I was glad that Laurie finally had magic portals through which to transport people; saves all that weary tromping around. The mythology is nicely tied in to today's world in an innovative way, and I liked how that local landmarks are brought into the conflict.
Weaknesses: Like many fantasy books, I had to take notes to keep everything straight!
What I really think: Good covers, short series, mythology and action. Very well done. Glad to have the whole series.

Monday, July 20, 2015

MMGM- The Villain Keeper/ Lost in the Sun

Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer, #1)McKay, Laurie. Villain Keeper (The Last Dragon Charmer #1)
February 3rd 2015 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by author

Caden, whose elder brothers have all gone on quests, is sent abruptly on one by his father, King Axel of Razzon. When he finds a dragon terrorizing a village, he is prepared to slay it, but is caught up with Brynne, a spellcaster whom he knows slightly, and is catapulted into Asheville, North Carolina! So much for achieving the status of Elite Paladin! Luckily, his gift is the gift of languages, so he is able to communicate, and Brynne's magic is helpful as well. After several days camping in the park with Caden's snow stallion, Sir Horace, the group is found by policemen. Caden tells them the truth about what he is doing in the park, and almost ends up under psychiatric care. Instead, he is sent to foster care with Rosa, and Brynne and Sir Horace escape. It's hard to transition from being a prince to being in foster care, but befriending Tito helps. What doesn't help is the fact that another foster child, Jane Chan, has gone missing, and the teachers at Caden's new school seem suspicious. The worst of the group is his math teacher, Mr. Rathis, who looks alarmingly like Rath Dunn, tyrant of the Greater Realm. He reveals himself to Caden, and Caden suspects he had something to do with Jane's disappearance. Ms. Primrose is also very odd, and Caden learns that she is really the one in charge of all of the teachers, all of whom have very dangerous ties to Razzon. Caden's quest was to slay a dragon, and he manages to find dragons to fight right in Asheville!

This was not quite the book I expected it to be, which was a very good thing. I was expecting something like Thomson's Dark Lord: The Early Years, and thought that Caden would bumble along in Asheville, make some friends, solve a mystery, and then go back to Razzon. Instead, I liked how Asheville was the "Land of Shadows" and Caden's school was housing villains from his kingdom! This gave the book a Harry Potter feeling without having any other elements of that book. The idea of a magical kingdom seeping into our world, instead of characters from our world going right into a magical kingdom, is a fresh one.

Caden manages to hold true to who he is while combating forces beyond his comprehension, but he isn't inflexible. He makes friends with Tito, and accepts that he has to be in a special education class because while he can speak many languages, he can't necessarily read them. His growing friendship with Brynne has a nice mixture of annoyance, especially when she blends in to their new setting better than he does. My favorite line was this one from Brynne (page 196) "The tech is the magic of Asheville, and I'm good at magic."

This book will appeal to a wide range of fantasy readers who enjoy everything from Cornelia Funke to Rick Riordan to Jane Yolen. There's a touch of the medieval world mixed with the realities of foster care, so Caden has to wrestle with jeans that are too long as well as savage Elderdragons! And since he is not sent back to Razzon at the end of the book, we can only hope that there will be a sequel!

It's really irritating that some books receive huge amounts of publicity and aren't really that good, while well-crafted books like this don't even make my radar unless the author contacts me personally!

I have to say that I was prepared to HATE the following book. Dealing with grief? Not another one. (Eyes roll entirely back into head.) I was not a fan of Absolutely Almost, mostly because of the nanny (although apparently people have them on the East coast), and A Tangle of Knots was just...weird. The print was smaller than my students like. And, ugh, right there on the cover, it says "Author of the National Book Award Nominee".

But I was wrong. This was a good book, with an authentic, middle grade voice and a realistic and not overly sad portrayal of grief. Now my only objection will be how much everyone else loves it...

Graff, Lisa. Lost in the Sun.
May 26th 2015 by Philomel Books
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Trent is known is Cedar Lake as that kid... the kid who threw the hockey puck that killed Justin Richards. Not on purpose, but with an accidental blow that stopped his defective heart. Now, Trent is afraid to play baseball, afraid to participate in gym, alienated from his friends, and mad at his father. His father is a different issue, although Trent thinks his father only cares about himself after his comment to Trent after the accident is "Well, it happened, I guess. And there's nothing you can do about it now. No use thinking about it." (page 89. I want to have this embroidered on a pillow. The world would be a much better place if people embraced this philosophy.) He lives an hour away, but meets with Trent and his brothers Doug and Aaron for dinner, even though his new wife, Kari, is pregnant. Trent's mother is supportive, having him help at her kitchen store, checking up on him, making him get counseling in the wake of the accident. Trent even manages to make a new friend, Fallon, who is a bit Stargirl-quirky but fun to be around. Trent has supportive teachers, from Mr. Gorman in gym who doesn't make him participate but gives him other options, to the "wrinkled old crone" Ms. Emerson, who lets Trent water her plants every day and just is there for him.

Still, Trent can't pull it together. He is appalled that his brother Doug is friends with Justin's sister Annie. He manages to purposefully get a B- in every class. He's angry with his mother, won't see his father at all, and even beats up a boy who is taunting Fallon.

This is a mistake, because it makes Fallon afraid of him. Accidentally killing someone with a hockey puck is one thing; it makes Trent afraid of himself. But for Fallon to be afraid of him is unbearable.

Gently guided by the adults around him, Trent knows what he needs to do to regain her trust. He visits her father and offers to "water the plants" so that he trusts Trent. He tries to mend things with his mother, even seeking out her new boyfriend to help him with his baseball. And in a truly inspired literary moment, he sees how much his older brother, Aaron, is trying to help everyone around him, even though he is himself in danger of failing a class. All of these influences help Trent to get over his anger and frustration and begin to move on with his life.

The book is gently humorous, and has a lot of appealing scenes that move the plot forward at a good clip. Trent's obsession with baseball will attract a lot of readers to the story, if only for the list of baseball movies that he and Fallon watch. The conflict with his father is one that will resonate with middle grade readers, since issues with parents are part and parcel of middle school.

Fans of Palacio's Wonder, Buyea's Because of Mr. Terupt , Bauer's Almost Home and Jordan Sonnenblick's humorous but introspective work will feel Trent's frustration and breath a sigh of relief when he finally is able to look up and relocate everything he has Lost in the Sun.

Blather: Entering week three of four in orthopedic boot.

On the bright side, the problem the boot is solving is insignificant. Achilles tendonitis caused by overuse. When your doctor laughs when you say "But I HAVE been taking it easier!" and points out that you biked five miles to get to the office, it's a sure sign that you've just been overdoing. No long term problems, nothing serious at all.

So far, I've convinced people the injury was caused by sky diving, mountain climbing, participating in the X Games, the Tour de France and kickboxing. Much more fun to say "Mixed martial arts really IS a sport for the young" than to admit that your injury is caused by being fifty, running three miles a day, and having poor genetics.

I can drive, but my daughter got a job across town and has my car, so I get to sit at home and read all day! Might have to beg a ride to school to place a book order, but I think my principal will understand if I don't make it in. Members of staff have to swim out to the garden to tie up tomatoes for me, and doing laundry is a full day's work. Other people have to carry things up and down the stairs for me! Trying to look at this as a protracted vacation!

So why am I so grumpy today?
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