Peirce, Lincoln. Big Nate on a Roll.
Nate is back for his third novel (there are collections of the comic strip out as well), and he is once again in trouble. His skateboard has met a dreadful fate, but the Timber Scouts fundraiser gives him a chance to win a new one. All he has to do is sell more tacky wall decorations than the annoyingly perfect Artur, and the board is his. Knowing Nate, however, nothing goes smoothly. There is a lot of romantic entanglement,
Strengths: The students adore Nate, and he is so earnest and well-meaning that it is hard to object to his antics. Funny stuff. I always order two copies of these, and will definitely get Big Nate Goes for Broke when it comes out.
Weaknesses: The ending was a little too pat for me.
Pfeffer, Susan Beth. Blood Wounds.
Willa has a great life with her mother, stepfather and two stepsisters, even though her stepsisters' mother showers them with a lot of monetary advantages. This changes abruptly when Willa's biological father, whom she has never met, murders his wife and two daughters, and goes on the run with his remaining daughter... towards Willa's house. Luckily, the family is alerted in time and is not there when the father shows up and is killed by the police. Willa feels strongly that she should go to the funeral of the sisters she never met, and a family friend takes her to stay with an old friend of her mother's. Willa learns a lot about her past. Once she returns home, she finds everything in chaos; her stepsisters want to move out, her mother is continually upset, and the family finances are in shambles.
Strengths: The students are forever asking for murder mysteries, and will probably like this because of the suspense involved in the father's rampage. It is also a good problem novel that I can see Picky Reader liking. Pfeffer has been on a roll, too!
Weaknesses: I didn't like the gruesomeness of the murder, and the cover is...eh.
Margolis, Leslie. Everybody Bugs Out.
Annabelle and her friends are back to continue their 6th grade year. The Valentine's dance is coming up, and all of Annabelle's friends are determined to go with dates and dress up. Annabelle would like to go with her friend, Oliver, but then she finds out that her friend Claire wants to go with him. The science fair also has everyone "bugging out"-- science fairs can be really traumatic in middle school, and some students cope with the pressure by enlisting improper help. Annabelle has to figure out if she can find a way to go to the dance with Oliver without annoying Claire, who doesn't like Oliver as much as she likes the idea of going to the dance with him.
Strengths: Spot on 6th grade behavior. Every year, we have tiny girls in shiny dresses at the first dance, when the older girls are in jeans and t shirts. This series is perfect for middle school girls. The constant obsession with the opposite sex is also very, very true...
Weaknesses: ... and painful to read! Oh, I was going to scan a picture of me on my way to an 8th grade dance in 1978, pale green "silk" disco shirt and all. Would not relive that for the world!
Larson, Kirby. The Friendship Doll.
In 1927, the children of Japan sent beautiful dolls over to the American children in exchange for dolls that were sent to them. These dolls were displayed in museums over a period of years. This book follows one of the dolls, Miss Kanagawa, through her exploits in the US. Starting with he New York City debut, where she is introduced by the neice of Roosevelt, to the World's Fair in Chicago, to a private collector, and finally to a small museum. Along the way, she "speaks" to the various little girls who visit her, and makes them become better people by making the right choices. End notes include information on the whereabouts of the dolls today.
Strengths: Having loved Rumer Goden's The Story of Holly and Ivy, I was struck by how similar this was. The idea of dolls "speaking" to girls is not new, but has been long absent.
Weaknesses: Is this theme long absent because girls are not as fond of dolls? I had to buy this one anyway; the cover is fabulous and the story a strong one.
Greenwald, Lisa. Reel Life Starring Us.
Dina was popular at her old school, which was small and encouraged quirkiness, but is having trouble fitting into her new school. Chelsea is the queen bee here, and she is reluctant to get along with Dina, even when the two end up working on a project for the school's 50th anniversary. The two decide to make a film, and hunt down a famous former student to help with it. Along the way, Chelsea finds that Dina is not so bad, and Dina finds that Chelsea's life is not as easy as it looks.
Strengths: Another great realistic fiction book from the author of My Life in Pink and Green and Sweet Treats and Secret Crushes. I thought that the alternating chapters would make it hard to follow, but this is one of the few times that I thought it added to the book.
Weaknesses: Didn't buy that people would fill others' backpacks with potato chips, but it must happen somewhere. What a mess!
Karim, Sheba. Skunk Girl.
Nina is the only Asian girl in her high school in the 1990's, and she struggles with fitting in, although she has several good friends. When Asher moves to her school and the two develop a mutual attraction, she has to decide if she wants to go against the wishes of her family and date him. Adding to her struggles are her older sister, who is academically advanced, and her difficulties working through her ethnic differences. (The title comes from the fact that Nina has "extra" body hair, especially a swath on her back, and this embarrasses her.)
Strengths: An interesting take on another culture.
Weaknesses: This one was more of a high school book due to the philosophical nature of many of the problems. I also think the cover and title are not indicative of the contents.
Garretson, Dee. Wolf Storm.
Stefan, Jeremy and Raine are child actors working in the Carpathian Mountains on a post-apocalyptic sci fi film that includes wolves. When one of the wolves in injured and the crew rush it off to the distant vet, the children are left alone to survive an avalanche that partially destroys the hotel where they are staying. The lone adult, Cecil, is an elderly actor who is not much help, but the three use their wits to survive the bitter cold, the feral wolves in the area, and strong.
StrengthsFabulous survival fiction, great cover, and action-packed, wolf laden adventure in the snow. This will be hugely popular, just like Wildfire Run.
Weaknesses: I was a little worried for the miniature pug, but nothing happened to it. Whew!