Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hold Fast

I was such a fan of Terry Deary's Horrible Histories that I bought a box of Frosties on my trip to England so I could have the CD of The Rotten Romans. My children can still sing the songs. Notice I said WAS. Rita at Screwy Decimal posted about his anti-library rant that claims that libraries are a waste of money and no longer relevant.

He is free to say whatever he wants. I am free to never buy his books again. He doesn't want to support libraries monetarily; I choose not to support HIM monetarily. Consider doing the same. The smoke you see out of your window is pouring from my ears. So onto happier thoughts....

Hold FastBalliet, Blue. Hold Fast.
1 March 2013, Scholastic Press
ARC received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Early Pearl's parents Dash and Summer, are having a hard time of it-- Early was born when they were still in high school, they don't have Early's grandparents around to help, and Dash, the father, works hard at the Chicago Public library to make ends meet. The family lives in a small but cozy apartment, reading lots of books and playing together. One day, Dash is apparently hit by a truck and disappears. Summer knows that Dash isn't the kind of father to run off on his family, but all of the police and social workers look at the family's socioeconomic status and decide that he is. Things go from bad to worse without Dash's income, and after the family's apartment is trashed by masked robbers looking for something in the family's book, the Pearls end up in a homeless shelter. Early is especially upset by this (her brother Jubilation is too young to understand their plight fully) and is determined to find out what has happened to her father so the family can get back to their dream of owning their own home. She spends time at the library where her father worked, interviewing those who knew him and trying to figure out why he was selling books out of their apartment, and finds her father's former teacher, Mr. Waive, who has fallen on hard times himself but does all he can to assist Early. How are the books tied in to her father's disappearance? What does the largest diamond heist have to do with the masked robbers? Will Dash return to the family before things become even more dire?
Strengths: A strong sense of place, as well as excellent details about what it is like to be homeless, add a lot to this mystery. Lyrical language and the use of Langston Hughes' poetry will make this one teachers love to use as a class read aloud. The social aspects of Early's homelessness and her desire to help other families in her situation is a good touch as well. I found this a more intriguing read than Chasing Vermeer and the books in that series.
Weaknesses: A bit unsure about the student appeal, although the library helper to whom I gave it adored it.  The Danger Box is one that I can't get off the shelves, and even the Chasing Vermeer series is getting a bit dusty.

My new theory is that lyrical language sometimes goes over better in 4th and 5th grade. Students can read and appreciate the language, but aren't as busy as they are in 7th and 8th grade. Students become a bit impatient in middle school, maybe because they have so much homework, sports, and activities with friends, and this makes them want more action and straight forward language. This is a new thought that I'm rolling around in my brain-- any opinions?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

World Wednesday-- Out of Nowhere

 Out of NowherePadian, Maria. Out of Nowhere
12 February 2013, Knopf Books for Young Readers

Tom is the top of the heap in his small Maine town-- excellent soccer player, good student, golden boy with hot girlfriend.  He's hoping to get some scholarships so he can afford college. When he and long time stoner friend Donnie get into trouble for painting a rival schools rock, he has to perform 100 hours of community service at a Homework Helper organization. There, he meets Myla, a local college student working there, as well as Samira, the sister of a boy on his soccer team, Saeed. While Myla takes a liking to Tom, Samira wants nothing to do with him. Saeed is an excellent player, but struggles with English, and Tom slowly comes to learn the story of his coming to the United States. When the rival school questions the eligibility of several of the players, including Saeed, Tom becomes even more involved with the Somali community. Tensions run high in the small town, and when Donnie is gravely injured in an accident and Saeed goes missing for a few days, an innocent gesture is taken the wrong way, with devastating consequences for Saeed and Samira's family.
Strengths: This should be required reading in all high schools. It is a beautifully written account of how small towns struggle with waves of immigration, and how some citizens understand that most of us are from immigrant families and rise to the occasion to help others, while other citizens try to close ranks to keep their way of life intact. There are a ton of great scenes-- a discussion of how people in America might find goat meat distasteful, but how Somalis find pig even grosser, Tom's realization that his girlfriend is petty and narrow minded, a great sub plot with a young boy at the center who is struggling to learn the English alphabet. I like how Tom goes from having no real thought about the Somalis to understanding their plight and wanting to help. Even though I knew early on that this wasn't a middle grade book, I couldn't stop reading.
Weaknesses: Frequent f-bombs, drinking and drugs, as well as some mentions of sex make this a bit out of middle school range, which is too bad, because the story of immigrant families assimilating into a community is a good one.

Bonjour, Mr. Satie at The Saffron Tree 
Glory Be at Kiss the Book 
Goal at There's a Book for That.
The Great Migration at A Wrung Sponge
No God But God, The Origins and Evolution of Islam at Kiss the Book
Red Madrassa (and author interview) at Geo Librarian
Slam at Guys Lit Wire 
Something to Prove at Kiss the Book
Spirit Princess at Charlotte's Library 
Underground at Great Kid Books 
Various titles at Teacher Dance.
What Color is My World at Teach.Mentor.Texts

Author Spotlight on John Steptoe at The Pageturn
Author Interviews every day in February at The Brown Bookshelf

A nice list of more YA books for boys at YA? Why Not?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Fellowship for Alien Detection

The Fellowship for Alien DetectionEmerson, Kevin. The Fellowship for Alien Detection.
26 February 2013, Walden Pond Press
ARC Received from Publisher

Haley wants to be a newspaper reporter and is extremely interested in alien life forms, so when she gets a summer fellowship from the Gavin Kellar foundation, she's thrilled. She gets to investigate at her discretion, and her family gets a free cross country car trip as well! Haley is starting with the story of Suza Raines, who was reported missing after many towns in her area had problems with unnatural phenomena. Haley wants to check out this area and talk with Suza's sister. The other winner of a fellowship is Dodger, whose real estate selling father has fallen on hard times, so has no objection to a long car trip, either. Dodger has been plagued by visions of a town called Juliette-- he hears radio broadcasts in his brain from this town. In the beginning of his journey, Dodger finds out that he may have been abducted by aliens when he was two, which might explain some of his unusual brain activity.

When the foundation finds out about some of Haley's discoveries involving United Consolidated Amalgamates, Haley is told to come home because she is in danger. When she insists on continuing her journey, a strange guy named Alto is sent from the foundation to help her continue investigating without involving her parents. Eventually, they meet up with Dodger, who has been finding out many things on his own. Once the two converge, things start to get really hectic. It turns out that the disturbances Haley and Dodger have been investigating are because of the Paha'Ne who had to flee their planet after a supernova and who are well on their way to figuring out how to find a new home for the inhabitants... on earth!

Strengths: Finally, some science fiction that is not of the futuristic/dystopian variety. I liked how this was set up in three distinct sections: Haley's journey, Dodger's journey, and then when they work together and are able to tie together all of the different bits of information. There is a LOT of action and adventure, chasing around in the south west, as well as evil aliens. I didn't see the ending coming, so it was hard to describe the book without giving too much away. I also really enjoyed the characters of Haley and Dodger.
Weaknesses: The length. At 428 pages, this might be a tough sell. If it were a medieval fantasy, that would be a perfectly acceptable length, but my space alien readers tend to like books that are a bit shorter. While the family interactions were amusing, I might have cut those out to make the book move more quickly.

Personality leakage for the day: I've had a lot of books come to grief lately. It's making me cranky. I spent about fifteen minutes of my study hall flat ironing the edges of a book because it was returned damp. A mini flat iron is a great thing to have about the library-- as long as a book isn't very wet, and the moisture is just at the edges, a flat iron, carefully wielded, can do a good job drying out a book. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nonfiction Monday-- War

The Vietnam War (Profiles Series #5)Polansky, Dan. The Vietnam War (Profiles #5)
1 February 2013, Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC provided by Netgalley.com

This Profiles series by Scholastic is fascinating. I had never heard of Ngo Dinh Diem, for example, and this book gives an overview of his life and leadership, up to his assassination. This also included Kennedy (whom I never really connected with Vietnam), Ho Chi Minh, Lyndon B. Johnson, William Westmoreland, and Henry Kissinger. Each person gets about 20 pages, describing not only his life, but his involvement with Vietnam. Each person got a different border color, and the layout and pictures were very attractive. It struck me that this would be an excellent book for Common Core purposes. Easily digestible bits on nonfiction that could go along with, for example, Chris Lynch's Vietnam series. The pages fit perfectly on the iPad and didn't have the slow loading time that some books have had. My one objection is that this series is published in paperback and there doesn't even seem to be a prebind available. Very frustrating, especially since the other books in this series are appealing as well.


Profiles #1: The Civil War - Library EditionWorld War II Along with The Civil War and World War II, there are also the books Tech Titans, Peace Warriors and Civil Champions. 

I did have one former boy tell me that while he would read just about anything on any military conflict, biographies were not high on the list, lacking as they tend to be in depictions of violence and bloodshed. While this might still be true of my young war mongers, I'm betting that most of mine will read any book with the name of the war on it so prominently.





http://bookzandbitz.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/heart.pngSherman, M. Zachary. Bloodlines: Heart of War
1 February 2013
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Good news for fans of this series! Instead of buying all seven pricey books (which are super short), you can get them all in one volume! This would make a great present for boys who love to read about war, and is fantastic in libraries because the stories are in order.

From the Publisher: This compilation of seven previously published works, edited to form a single narrative, follows the Donovans through four generations of American wars, from World War II to the War in Afghanistan.



It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Shelf-Employed.

Secrets

Odette's Secrets MacDonald, Maryann. Odette's Secrets.
26 February 2013, Bloomsbury USA
Copy provided by Raab Associates

Odette and her parents live in Paris, and don't really think much about their Polish/Jewish heritage until Paris is invaded. Odette's father goes off to fight in the war but is soon captured, and the kindly land lady, Madame Marie, and her husband, Henri, make sure that Odette and her mother have enough food. The mother works for the Resistance for a while, and sends Odette to the country to live with the Raffins for a while. Odette enjoys the country, and doesn't mind learning to be "Christian". Eventually, her mother joins her, and the two wait out the war in a small village. Going back to Paris after the war is difficult, but Madame Marie has kept their apartment for them, and they are slowly able to rebuild their lives. Based on the true story of Odette Meyers.
Strengths: This is a gentler Holocaust book for more sensitive students-- there are some scary moments, but not as much of the sheer brutality found in other books. If you have entire classes who are assigned to read books set during this period, this is an excellent choice to have on hand for students who do not want to read more harrowing tales set in concentration camps. I love the cover. The concerns of a child in this situation are realistically portrayed, and the book is well researched.
Weaknesses: I started reading this in E ARC format, and didn't realize until I got the actual book that it was in verse. Students won't mind, because it makes the book shorter, but the format did not add anything to the narrative.

Also Known AsBenway, Robin. Also Known As.
13 February 2013, Bloomsbury

Maggie has traveled the globe with her parents, spies who work for the Collective, an shadowy organization that works hard at making sure that things... go right. Not much more is said. Maggie is a fantastic safe cracker, so has helped out wherever they are, most recently Iceland, but the family gets a new assignment which involves Maggie in a much bigger role than safe cracking. The family moves to Manhattan, and Maggie is enrolled in high school for the first time. Her job? To get to know Jesse Oliver, the son of publishers Armand Oliver, who may be working on an article that will blow the lid off the collective... and also Maggie's life. High school is harder than safe cracking, but with the help of her new friend, Roux, as well as long time family friend and forger Angelo, Maggie manages to survive high school, get Jesse interested in her, and keep her family's cover from being completely blown.

Strengths: Just the thing for readers who are anxiously awaiting the next Gallagher Girls book. Like Annabel Monaghan's A Girl Named Digit, there's a great mix of New York City setting, romance, and spy action and adventure. Such, such fun! Glad to see there will be a sequel to this one, as well as a sequel to Monaghan's book, Double Digit, in the fall of 2013. Spies!!!
Weaknesses: I was a little disappointed in her spying abilities, but I guess she is just a teenager. Of course, the fact that she is a teenager is the real weakness-- I want a book from her mother's perspective. I could be a spy. No one would suspect me!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Lost Heir

The Lost Heir (Wings of Fire, #2)Sutherland, Tui T. Wings of Fire (The Lost Heir #2)
1 January 2013, Scholastic Press
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Tsunami has escaped from the control of the Talons of Peace with the other dragonets of the prophecy. She is tired of the neverending war between the different dragon factions and wants to finally meet her mother, Queen Coral of the SeaWings, since Tsunami was stolen from the royal nursery as an egg by Webs, who was merely trying to keep the dragonets safe. When Tsunami and the other dragons approach the SeaWing kingdom, Riptide rushes to attack them! Eventually, the misunderstanding is cleared up, and he takes the group to the Summer Palace. Queen Coral and her young daughter Anemone are pleased to see Tsunami but afraid of the other dragonets, who are placed under guard for their own safety. Tsunami finds that things are not going well in the SeaWing kingdom either-- the dragon eggs are being killed far too often. Tsunami is able to figure out what is happening, and prevents her mother from killing Webs when he returns to collect the dragonets so that they can continue to help with the war. The Hidden Kingdom, book three, comes out 1 June and centers on the RainWing kingdom.
Strengths: Here's the kicker-- Sutherland has written three of the highly addictive Erin Hunter books. I can't explain why reluctant readers like these books SO much, but they do! There is something about the different types of animals, the different factions, the territorial disputes and the general soap opera-ish feel of these that keeps young readers waiting breathlessly for the next installment. The same is true here, but it's even better than cats, polar bears or feral dogs-- it's dragons! The book is complete with maps of the dragon kingdoms as well as pictures of the different types as well as descriptions and explanations of which kind of dragon is aligned with which.
Weaknesses: I had a copy of the first book in the series and couldn't get into it at all, so I gave it to a 6th grader who liked it so much that he bought the second. He also loaned the first to several friends, so now I have to buy the series. Nothing I personally dislike more than the Warriors series, and this is also about dragons and involves maps. Just not my cup of tea. More my cup of brussel sprout/beet juice. Wrinkling your nose? That's just how I feel. How I suffer for my students!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Guy Friday: Notebook Novels From Cartoonists

Awesome fun here in Ohio! "Winter Storm Q" is just messing with our heads-- a "wintery mix" was supposed to start at 2 am., so the students made plans to flush ice cubes and/or throw them in the street, put spoons under their pillows, tape scissors to the window (this is new to me), and wear their pajamas inside out and backwards. I waited an hour to come in to work; of course we have a two hour delay now.

No, wait. School is closed. Back on with the boots for the walk back home. Hope your day is not this... interesting.

And the scissor thing apparently works. Who knew?

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were MadePastis, Stephan. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
26 February 2012, Candlewick
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Timmy lives with his mother and his polar bear, Total, and is obsessed with his budding detective agency, Total Failure. (His last name is Failure.) He hopes to grow his business so that it makes a lot of money so that his mother can stop stressing about bills, but he is not getting many jobs since the evil Corinna Corinna is undercutting his business, aided by her father's vast wealth.  Timmy has some helpful people in his life, like the playground aide, Dondi, his mother, and his friends Rollo and Molly, even though he doesn't like them. At least they are better than Mr. Crocus, his evil old teacher, Crispin Flavius, his mother's boyfriend, and even Total, who cause enough destruction that he is sent to a zoo. Timmy doesn't do well in school because he is more interested in his agency, his mother's hours are cut and they have to move to an apartment, and his mother's Segway has gone missing.
Strengths: I love Pearls Before Swine and was definitely looking forward to this. The illustrations are great, and I think students will be quick to pick it up. Fabulous beginning: "It's harder to drive a polar bear into somebody's living room that you'd think."
Weaknesses: This was one that I just did NOT understand. Maybe it was too far on the elementary side of the Pilkey line, but I couldn't suspend disbelief long enough to deal with the polar bear, and I didn't particularly like Timmy. I will still buy it, but I wish I could be really gung ho so that the publisher would send me a Timmy Failure watch or Post It notes! (Reading the marketing information on the back of ARCs can be really interesting. A Timmy Failure iPhone case? Why?)

The Odd Squad: Bully BaitFry, Michael. Bully Bait: The Odd Squad #1
12 Feburary 2013, Hyperion
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Nick is tired of being shoved into his locker by Roy, who relentlessly bullies everyone at Emily Dickinson Middle School, but know that as the shortest 7th grader EVER, he is unlikely to break free of Roy's tyranny. When the school psychologist decides that Nick would be safer if he had a peer group, Nick doesn't protest too much when he gets put on the Safety Patrol with the lone member of said patrol, Warren, as well as Molly, a tall girl whose shoelaces are frequently tied together. With the help of hippie dude custodian, Mr. Dupree, (whose philosophy in warding off bullies is "bring the crazy", a philosophy which I have heard extolled by professionals in the anti-bullying movement!), they decide to bring Roy down by finding the one thing that means the most to him and seizing it. This plot takes some time, but the group perseveres, learning not only about what makes bullies tick, but about how they can each survive middle school.
Strengths: Have to admit here-- I wanted to loathe this intensely.  Bullying, kids being put in lockers, Unrealistic school shenanigans AND a Wimpy Kid-style notebook novel? Everything I hate. And yet, I rather enjoyed this. The drawings reminded me strongly of Bloom County, and I really liked the characters. Nick is willing to control his own destiny, and even Karl, with his strange habit of losing his pants (Really, in 15 years in the middle school, I've only heard of one kid losing his pants, and that was because someone pulled down the kid's gym shorts. Punches were exchanged. It was ugly.), had a certain likeability. The conflict between Roy and Nick was fairly realistically portrayed. So why do I feel like giving this to my library patrons is roughly akin to giving my children cookies to eat for breakfast?
 Weaknesses: The only person to have ever been put into a locker in my middle school is Surly Teen Boy, and even then it was because he asked someone to put him in one of the oversized ones. And yet this is still a fear that 6th graders have. So no, I don't believe that Nick gets put in lockers that frequently.

If your students are interested in seeing a notebook novel in progress, they should check out David Tiefenthaler's OK is Great at http://okisgreat.blogspot.com/?view=sidebar .There are five chapters so far. As a bonus, the main character, O.K., occasionally runs!

Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman have a middle grade notebook style Zits novel entitled Chillax, and I'm hoping to get my hands on an ARC. Jeremy is very much like my own Surly Teen Boy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hideout, The Different Girl

I've been cranky all week. Part of it is a cold with a lovely reverberating cough, but part of it is that there are not enough computers to go around my school. I have 15 total in the library; we keep two for catalogs and Accelerated Reader tests, so that makes 13 (on a good day) for classes. My school has four labs; two with 30 computers and two with 20. Most classrooms have just one teacher computer. There are two mobile labs of 20 netbooks each. There is such pressure on the teachers to incorporate technology and research, but we have about 150 computers for 750 students. And soon state testing will all be done on computer? And it seems to be requiring some computer skills-- and we no longer have a technology class, so many students don't even have keyboard skills? We're even looking into a fundraiser where students sell things to fund more computers. This makes my head hurt even more than whatever incipient crud is attacking my sinuses!


HideoutKorman, Gordon. Hideout (Swindle #5)
1 January 2013, Scholastic
EARC from Netgalley.com

When the nasty Wendell Palomino, aka Swindle, appears at Savannah's house with a paper saying that Luthor is really his, and he plans to take him back, since Luthor came to national attention in the last book and Swindle suspects he is a very valuable dog. The kids decide to hide Luthor, but since all six of them are off to summer camp, this is a problem. Why not bring a giant dog with them to the woods and hide him at camp? Griffin takes him first, but when he's in danger of being found out, the group manages to finagle delivery trucks to head over to Camp TaDa! where Logan and Melissa are studying theater. It's not easy to hide a dog there, but between Logan's acting and Melissa's technical skill, they manage. Eventually, Luthor has to be sent on to Ben and Pitch, and that's when Swindle and his hired lackeys close in on the group. When all of the kids disappear from their respective camps so that they can keep Luthor sout of his clutches, all of the parents end up coming to the rescue while just trying to make sure their children are safe.
Strengths: This was a wild and completely unrealistic romp-- but not so totally out of the realm of possibility! Savannah calming Luthor down via iPod, hiding a giant dog in a theater, even getting rides on the various delivery trucks are all things that particularly clever kids could pull off. There is nonstop action and humor in these books, and Korman is an expert at weaving middle grade stories.
Weaknesses: While a wide variety of my students likes these books, this series is not my favorite work by Korman. He does stand alones so well.

The Different GirlDahlquist, Gordon. The Different Girl
21 February 2013, Dutton Juvenile
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Veronika lives on an island under the care of Robbert and Irene, along with Caroline, Eleanor and Isobel. They differ only in the color of their hair-- even their thoughts are strictly regimented. When another girl, May, washes up on the shore, it makes them all question their existence. What was May's life like? Why was she under the care of her Uncle Will and his friend Kat on a boat? From whom are they hiding? What's different about her? What is the deal with Veronika and her companions? Why do they have off switches hidden behind their ears? Are they androids? When May shows up, why do Robbert and Irene run off?
Strengths: This was a compelling read that kept me turning the pages. So many questions!
Weaknesses: We never find out any of the answers! Argh! I have no patience for that! Is there a sequel? What's going on?

Charlotte, at Charlotte's Library, has a much better review of this. I was just so confused.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

World Wednesday-- Never Say Die

Never Say DieHobbs, Will. Never Say Die.
29 January 2013, HarperCollins

Nick enjoys his life in the small Canadian Arctic Inuit village of Aklavik, but things are changing. His grandfather, Jonas, is dying of cancer, the herds of caribou are decreasing rapidly with the warming weather, and Nick is attacked by a strange and ferocious bear that is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly. When his half brother, Ryan, wants Nick to go on a wildlife photo shoot with him, Nick isn't sure he wants to go. Jonas convinces him that he can hang on long enough, and that he would like to hear about Nick's adventures in the wilderness. Ryan has done a lot of wilderness traveling for his job as a photographer, and this latest trip is for an article about the changing climate in the Arctic and how it is affecting the wildlife. Nick is definitely interested in this, and appreciates how sensitive Ryan is to the difficult issues in his life. The two set off for a remote area only to have their raft overturn a few miles into their journey. They manage to survive the freezing water, horrific mosquitoes, and lack of supplies and find their raft, only to have to battle grizzlies, the "grolar" bear, and the worst storm the area has seen in years. This is certainly the trip of a lifetime, and Ryan and Nick not only bond, but find out alarming facts about the affect that climate change is having on this area of the world.


The housing unit fire took place Thursday night in Aklavik, N.W.T., located about 60 kilometres west of Inuvik.
http://www.cbc.ca
Strengths: Like all of Will Hobbs' books, this was exceedingly well researched, set in a real place, and discussed in just enough detail problems that exist in the area. I like how Hobbs manages to advocate for the protection of the wilderness while being entertaining rather than preachy. There is lots of action and adventure in this one, and is a great additional to any list of survival stories. Nice inclusion of Inuit lifestyle-- there's a part of the world not often covered in literature!
Weaknesses: This starts with the grolar bear attack, but then spends a little too much time discussing the grandfather's illness and the half brother before heading out on the trip. I found it interesting, but my adventure lovers might skip a few parts.

For news from another part of the world, I was very saddened to here that Maeve Binchy, noted Irish author, passed away back in July. I read few adult novels and purchase even fewer, but I own just about everything she has written.

Thanks for joining us for World Wednesday. If you have a post about a middle grade book set in another part of the world or with great multicultural characters, please tell us about it in the comments.

Great Basin Indians at Provo Library Children's Book Reviews
Greenhorn at The Fourth Musketeer
Harlem's Little Blackbird at Sharpread and Watch.Connect. Read.
Home Court at A Wrung Sponge
Lions of Little Rock at Middle Grade Mafioso
A President from Hawaii at Teach Mentor Texts

Interviews all month at The Brown Bookshelf

Surely I'm missing something. This can't be all the books reviewed in the past week with global characters!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Zombies!

Case File 13: Zombie KidSavage, J. Scott. Case File 13: Zombie Kid
26 December 2012, HarperCollins

Nick is devastated when he and friends Carter and Angelo can't go trick or treating in their awesome zombie costumes because a great aunt that Nick has never heard of has died. Nick has to travel to his aunt's creepy old house near New Orleans instead, because his parents claim that his aunt had some "connection" to him. Nick suspects that his aunt might have been involved in some voodoo because of items he finds in her basement, and after he passes out in a crypt while in possession on a mysterious amulet, he begins to wonder if he has turned in to a zombie. Being a middle grade boy, of course, this is great news, especially when he can use his new found abilities to hold his breath and play dead to scare off the school bully. Despite the encroaching stench and occasional "brain farts" that are endemic to zombie-dom, Nick and his friends are rather enjoying the experience, until Nick starts losing body parts (Warning: pinkies in mashed potatoes are less than appetizing). When an attempt to return the amulet and reverse the zombification process fails, Nicks starts to panic. He and his friends will have to deal with more forces of evil than expected, but aided by the knowledge of a cool librarian and by the spirit of his aunt, the three manage to survive to rot another day.
Strengths: Since there are not enough zombie books to satisfy all my students, I am always glad to find a book that is just gross enough to make them happy and not so violent that I don't want it on my shelves. Like Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers, the cartoon cover belies the fairly serious zombie issues inside. I particularly liked how this brought in voodoo, how it realistically portrayed how the average middle school boy would feel about being a zombie, and how the friends worked together. Lots of nice touches make this my second favorite zombie book after Higson's The Enemy.
Weaknesses: There were no zombie parents eating brains, so this will not be violent enough for some of my boys. Actually, the only weakness is that I don't have a copy RIGHT NOW to give my readers.


Zombie DogHutton, Clare. Zombie Dog (Rotten Apple #2)
1 August 2012, Scholastic.

**Some spoilers.**
Becky isn't happy that she moved away from her friend Charlotte and now lives on Tulip Street next to the super creepy McNally house. The upside is that she has room for her much beloved dog, Bear. She had wanted a dog for years and was allowed to get Bear only because she promised to take care of him, but something in the McNally house is making the dog afraid. There's also a horrible stench emitting from the house. There's also a creepy chihuahua with glowing green eyes menacing both her and Bear! When she has to have a partner for a school project, Becky ends up with Nate, a boy who also lives on her street. They do some research, and even visit Mrs. McNally in the nursing home, where they find out that Mrs. McNally had two dogs. One, Chichi, she had stuffed and lives with her at the home, but they other dog was the subject of her husband's experiments and was turned into a zombie. Eager to put her pet back to rest, Mrs. McNally gives the children Chichi's toy, since Mimi's toy being dug up is what precipitated the Rise of Mimi.
Strengths: This series belongs to the Goosebumps School O' Creepy-- somewhat frightening, but nothing that will ever really happen. This and the Poison Apple series are hugely popular at my school.
Weaknesses: It's going to be hard to tell a student that this is about a zombie chihuahua without snickering. Now, zombie dachshunds-- that would be scary! (Sorry. Some days Middle Grade Lit is "too much with me" and I feel like I should read something like War and Peace. Then I get a good night's sleep, see the error of my ways and read another book involving farting or football. Preferably both.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Middle Grade Monday-- Athletics

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Wrapped in Foil.


 Athlete vs. Mathlete Mack, W.C. Athlete Vs. Mathlete
19 February 2013, Bloomsbury USA
ARC From Netgalley.com

Owen and his friends are really annoyed because the new basketball coach is requiring them to try out for the team even though they were on it last year. Not only that, but when the coach sees Owen's twin brother, mathlete Russell, he asks Russell to try out for the team because he's tall. Unfortunately, Russell is uncoordinated and prefers to spend his time working on a Masters of the Mind team. When the twins' father finds out that Russell might finally be interested in a sport, he gets so excited that he takes Russell to buy athletic gear. Russell enjoys his father's enthusiasm, and feels uncharacteristically cool in the gear. He puts in some effort to train for tryouts, and actually makes the team. Owen isn't thrilled, but Russell has even more problems. Basketball practice conflicts with his Masters of the Mind ones, and gives him very little time to do homework. When Russell finds that he has more basketball abilities than he thought, Owen feels threatened. His performance on the team is clouded by his anger at his brother, and the boys no longer get along. Russell backs off from the team a bit, but is that really the answer?
Strengths: It's official-- I'm turning into a 12-year-old boy, reading-wise. I had to chose between this book and one about Emily Dickinson and read this! I really liked it because I think my students will. Russell and Owen are both successful in their own circles, but not as successful in other areas. The tension between the boys is realistic, and neither are overly stereotypical. Not enough middle grade books touch on time management and exploring other activities. What I liked best was Russell's struggle with personal identity. He was perfectly happy with who he was, but would he be even happier including basketball? This is going to be a series, and I hope some romance is on the way!
Weaknesses: A little cliche. I didn't like the new rich kid who tries to buy his way on to the Masters of the Mind team. Supporting characters lacked a bit of depth. Still, very excited about this one! Adore the cover. I swear those are Surly Teen Boy's ankles in the Chuck Taylors!

A Girl's Guide to Fitting in Fitness Whitehead, Erin and Walters, Jennipher. A Girl's Guide to Fitting in Fitness.
26 March 2013, Zest Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

It's amazing how life much the world has changed since I was a preteen. I can't imagine Seventeen magazine telling me in 1977 that I should eat well and exercise not because it would make me thin and able to attract boys, but by telling me that exercise would make me feel more confident, so I could even ask out that cute senior. This book is very practical and gives lots of good advice about nutrition and various forms of exercise, all leading to the fact that taking care of one's body is about feeling good and strong, not looking good in a bikini. This book is fairly short, with the good book design I have come to expect from Zest, although I could have done with a little more color than just the lavender (but hey, it wasn't pink). The drawings will age well, but there were a few colloquial phrases that would have been better dropped-- a reference to Justin Bieber will be obsolete in ten years. There are some web sites mentioned; hopefully those will stay around for a while.  Still, this is a very good and practical book for girls who want to take care of themselves better. Since I grew up thinking (with parental permission) that two chocolate chip cookies for breakfast was fine as long as I didn't gain weight, perhaps I need to read this again more closely!

The Friday Society

The Friday SocietyKress, Adrienne. The Friday Society.
6 December 2012, Dial
Book from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In early 1900s London, Cora is the lab assistant to the opium addicted Lord White, who has taken her off the streets and raised her to be his helper, only to ignore her contributions to his inventions when he hires Andrew Harris as his assistant. Nellie is the assistant to The Great Raheem, a magician, and Michiko works for the nasty Callum, who trains Londoners in Japanese martial arts. The three meet up when all of them are at a ball. On the way home, Nellie and Cora happen upon an injured Michiko... and the dead body of a scientist who had also performed at the ball. The three find themselves again and again in situations where there are dead bodies... to the confusion of Officer Murphy, who takes a shine to Nellie. Cora continues inventing and starts regularly making out with Andrew even though she resents his presence; Michiko, whose grasp of English is rather weak, trains a young Japanese man to be a samurai; and Nellie finds herself kidnapped! The dead bodies continue to mount, and when St. Paul's cathedral is blown up, the girls decide they must use their skills to try to uncover who is behind all of the destruction... and why. At the end of the book, they decide that they did such a good job at this that they will form a business as The Friday Society (since they are all "gal Fridays", ensuring that another book is to come. 
Strengths: Lots of adventure and a Jack the Ripper, Edwardian era vibe. Steampunk gadgets (cavorite-- which glows and makes objects impervious to gravity!), martial arts, kick butt heroines, mad scientists, and some steamy kisses make this lots of fun.
Weaknesses: If you suspend all thought that this is a historical novel, it will go down better. This was the suggestion of Charlotte's Library, and it did help. While there was a general air of historical fiction, there were frequent lapses in language that struck me as really awkward. (Page 68 "But the fact was, she did look charming. She looked smokin'.) This won't bother the target demographic, but it did make me enjoy the book a bit less.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who's on First-- Blogiversary

Who's on First?Abbott and Costello. Ilustrated by John Martz. Who's on First. 
19 February 2013, Quirk Books
Book received from the publisher.

When I was in graduate school, one of my classmates, David Ball, used to try to talk other students into doing this skit with him. I was always amazed at how many (usually) men were able to do this skit from memory, since I had never heard it, but then, I knew a lot of graduate students who could recite whole Monty Python films, if given the chance.

This picture book does a great job of introducing the work of Abbott and Costello, the only nonbaseball players to be included in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, to young readers. The crisp, bright drawings make the story less confusing, with diagrams and the dialogue broken down visually in ways that make things more clear. I love the color palette of the front cover (as my daughter pointed out, baseball's is "America's game", so the red, white and blue make sense), and inside the addition of avocado and orange backgrounds make the bear and bunny really pop. Different fonts and sizes also help the dialogue along. A brief history of the skit is included at the back. I can see this being a really popular read-aloud for second graders, who will no doubt giggle a LOT.

Sadly, David passed away last year.  At his memorial service, I found out that he was a member of the Scholars for American Baseball Research, and had contributed many articles to various publications. Few of us who were in the Classics department with him knew this about him. I am glad that Quirk sent me this book; I will be donating it to my local elementary school in David's memory.



 Since it's Saturday, I can be a little self indulgent with posting about my seventh blogiversary. Looking back at my original posts is rather embarrassing, but I think I have improved.

During this past year, I feel like I made some significant strides. Baker and Taylor sends me review boxes, and publicists and authors occasionally contact me. I became a Young Adult Books Central reviewer in April, and that has been a good learning experience. Serving as an organizer for the Cybils Awards was also vastly interesting and helpful in so many ways. As much as I would like to review for School Library Journal or to be a Newbery Award panelist, I'm not sure that I'm that good yet, or have the kind of stature that would cause me to be chosen.

I have settled into a somewhat discernible pattern in reviews-- Monday is realistic middle grade and nonfiction, Tuesday is fantasy, Wednesday is multicultural books, Thursday tends towards mysteries, Fridays are Guy books. The weekends are reserved for blathering, picture books, girl books, and anything else I can't fit in to other days. I do post in advance, and right now have a TBR that consists of books coming out in April and later, so I feel pleasantly organized.

When I started this, my children were 7, 10 and 12. Now, my youngest is in high school, my son comes back from his year in the Philippines in a couple of months, and my daughter has survived college. I have managed to hold on to my job in a school library, and have started coaching cross country. I finished reading all of the books in the school library two years ago, and manage to keep up with new orders. Common Core will be a challenge for the future, and I will just continue to improve. I try to keep personality leakage to a minimum so readers can get to the review-a-day quickly and not have to slog through my personal life!

Occasionally, fun things happen because of my blog, like Betsy Bird calling one of my posts "required reading" for the day. Ego boosts-- isn't that why we blog?

Wish I could send all of my loyal readers some cake. If I were a more organized person who could manage to get to the post office, I would do more giveaways and perhaps have more than 220 followers, but I hope that those of you who read this blog find my reviews helpful to you!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Guy Friday: Play Makers

Game Changers Book 2: Play MakersLupica, Mike. Play Makers (Game Changers #2)
5 February 2012

Ben and his teammates have just finished a successful football season (in Game Changers) and are heading right into a basketball scrimmage with their biggest rival. New to that school is Chase Braggs, who is an even better player than Ben but is cocky and mean as well. Not only that, but Ben's friend (and crush) Lily hangs out with some friends of Chase's and thinks he's okay. When the basketball season gets progressively worse instead of better, Ben's playing goes downhill as well. He's not having any fun. In one extra angst-fueled practice session, his friend Sam sprains his ankle and is out for a while. Coop and Shawn try to rally, and MJ, who has never made the team before, gets a chance to finally play, but the team can't pull it together. Ben starts acting out on the court, and comes to blows with Lily over her friendship with Chase and Ben's actions on and off the court. Can Ben bring himself out of the funk before the end of the basketball season?
Strengths: Like the first book, the emotions in this surprised me but then rang very true. Students get very invested in sports, and their performance on the field can affect their school work, and vice versa. I liked Lily a lot (although we are still told repeatedly that she's cool "for a girl"), and the parents have brief and understandable appearances. Excellent basketball action-- or it must be, because there were a lot of games described and I really didn't quite understand! I even like the name of Ben's nemesis-- it's a name that could really exist and not overly goofy. Chase Braggs. Good stuff.
Weaknesses: I would have liked to hear more about Shawn, and seen Ben at school a little more. I know this was busy with games, home life, and hanging out, but school is such an integral part of the middle grade experience that I would have liked to see how Ben acted there.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Terry with SohoIce DogsFor a REAL Valentine, none of us can look any further than our furry ones, so I'm excited about another great looking dog book! Terry Lynn Johnson is revealing her cover for Ice Dogs today! The book will be published one year for today, and I can't wait. What a gorgeous cover!

Here's the publisher's description: "A 15-year old dogsled racer and sled dog owner loses her way on a routine daytime outing with her dogs; with food gone and temperatures dropping, her survival and that of her dogs and the mysterious boy she meets in the woods, is up to her."




 
A Song for BijouFarrar, Josh. A Song for Bijou
12 February 2013, Walker Children's
EARC from Netgalley.com

Alex goes to an all boys' school in New York City, so he is intrigued by girls and yet utterly clueless about them. When he sees a new girl who is attending the neighborhood sister school, he is inexplicably smitten with Bijou Doucet and uses his network of friends to find out about her. Bijou has moved to NY from Haiti to live with an aunt, uncle, and older brother. She finds the girls and the school confusing enough-- she doesn't really want anything at all to do with Alex, especially since her uncle is very strict about such interactions. Alex, however, is fairly intense in his pursuit of her-- he talks to her friends, hangs out in her neighborhood, even befriends her brother and starts playing Haitian drums in an effort to connect with the object of his affection. He's not gross and insulting like some of the boys in his school-- he's truly smitten and just wants to be with Bijou. For her part, Bijou finds Alex truly likeable, even if the situation is difficult for her. Also adding to her problems adjusting to American culture is Bijou's past experiences in Haiti, which are not fully explained until the end. Any romance is difficult, and Alex and Bijou are trying to figure out romance while they are still trying to figure out themselves.
Strengths: This is a romance book FOR BOYS!! While chapters are told from both Bijou and Alex's viewpoints, the story really does center on Alex. Hooray! How many books like this are there out there? The description of Haitian culture in New York was really interesting, and I liked how Bijou's background does have an impact on her relationship with Alex but is not the entire focus of the book. I also appreciated that she was from a fairly well-to-do family in Haiti, and how a few characters from the Dominican Republic are also included.Very well balanced.
Weaknesses: Will boys pick this up? The cover is really cute, and not overly girly-- it's perfect for the story, really-- just wondering about the appeal.

The Awards Are Here!

CybilsLogo2012-Web-Large
Head over right now! You know you want to!

http://www.cybils.com/2013/02/the-2012-cybils-awards.html

The Middle Grade Fiction judges were all awesome, and we were all happy with the selection of R.J. Palacio's Wonder as the winner of the division. Congratulations to all of the winners! It's a tough competition, and you should be proud!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Common Core Question

Here's a good one. Our district is looking to purchase some class sets of books to support the seventh grade language arts curriculum.

The two books that are commonly used are Lowry's The Giver and Hinton's The Outsiders. We are looking for nonfiction to support those, and aside from Discovering Wes Moore and Myer's Bad Boy (for The Outsiders), I'm having trouble thinking of more interesting, literary nonfiction to support these titles.

Getting a list of other themes; I wish we could pick any nonfiction and use something like The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing.

All thoughts welcome!

World Wednesday-- Dominican Republic

Flowers in the Sky Joseph, Lynn. Flowers in the Sky
5 March 2013, HarperTeen

Nina is quite happy living in the Dominican Republic seaside town of Samana, but her mother thinks that Nina would be better of in the US, where she might be able to find a rich husband and send money back home. Nina's brother, Darrio, has been in the US a number of years, and when Nina's mother thinks Nina is becoming to forward with men, Nina is packed off to Washington Heights, New York City to go to high school and then college. Since Nina's favorite thing to do is to garden, her brother's barren, asphalt surrounded apartment is a grim place to be. The neighborhood is full of other Dominicans, and Nina finds a local barber, Luis, very attractive. Her brother doesn't approve of him, however, so Nina briefly dates a boy from her high school, Carlos, who wants to be a doctor. The owner of a local grocery, Senora Rivera, also loves gardens, and encourages Nina to grow orchids. Darrio, however, seems to have unhealthy business connections, and having observed drug deals going down in the neighborhood, Nina becomes concerned that he is involved with shady people and will come to grief. It's hard enough to adjust to life in a big city, and even harder when Darrio finally gets into trouble, but with the help of Luis and Senora Rivera, Nina will be able to prosper.
Strengths: This was a nice, short romance book with lots of interesting cultural touches. My students have little idea what life is like in NY City, much less in the Dominican Republic. I liked that Nina would rather be on the island, that she had issues with her mother, and that she had a particular interest(gardening) but still wanted to do well in school.
Weaknesses: The print seemed small on this one, and I preferred Carlos to Luis!

World Wednesday Round Up

Thanks for joining us for World Wednesday. If you have a post about a middle grade book set in another part of the world or with great multicultural characters, please tell us about it in the comments. Here are some titles I found this past week:

Reviews:
African American Poetry at 5 Minutes for Books
Arrival: The Phoenix Files at Jean Little Library
Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) at TMS Guys Read Book Club
Celebrating Chinese New Year at Great Kids Books.
The Deadly Royal Recipe at Saffron Tree
Eleanor and Park at Her Life with Books
A Game for Swallows at Kiss the Book
Gift Day at Sal's Fiction Addiction
Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow at Kiss the Book 
The Lost History of African-American Inventors. at A Wrung Sponge
A Voice of Her Own at Teach. Mentor. Texts. 
 
Lists:
Favorite Books for Black History Month at Ms. O. Reads Books

Interviews:
A new interview every day this month at The Brown Bookshelf. 
G. Neri at Middle Grade Ninja

Conversations:  
Debbie Reese asks libraries to consider what dated books they are including in their list of "best" titles in the 2/6 posting at American Indians in Children's Literature.

Mitali Perkins works with students to create multicultural picture books at Mitali's Fire Escape.

I feel like I must be missing a lot, and I didn't necessarily put all the lower than middle grade books on the list. Well, this is why I started a "global literature" list (I learned at a meeting that we aren't supposed to call it multicultural because...well, I forget why). Sometimes, it's hard to find middle grade stuff!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Magicalamity

MagicalamitySaunders, Kate. Magicalamity. 
11 December 2012, Delacorte
Book received from Young Adults Books Central and reviewed there.

Tom had no idea at all that he was a demisprite until he wakes up and finds that his father, Jonas, has been arrested by the fairies for the murder of Milly Falconer and taken back into the Realm. Tom's mother is being hidden in a jar of tomatoes, and one of Tom's fairy godmothers, Lorna, has come to take care of him. Lorna is bound and determined to help Tom get his father free, but she has to call his other two godmothers, Iris (who has been hypnotizing the girls in the school she runs to steal for her) and Dahlia (who has hypnotized twelve former husbands to be her slaves) in order to do this. Also on the scene is Pindar, Tom's cousin, whose father is the one who is ruling the Realm and who wants the land that Jonas owns. Acting on a dream about his mother, who tells him that Milly is "just like Snow White", Tom et al. travel into the realm to steal Milly in her glass coffin. When they come back to the mortal world, the coffin breaks-- and they find out that Milly is still alive! This puts Jonas' arrest in a whole new light, but innocence is not enough in a fairy world gone awry. Soon, it is clear to Tom that his newly discovered fairy heritage is in danger, and working with his motley crew of new friends, he tries to save both his father and the Realm.
Strengths: Very British fantasy romp that plunges right into an improbable world with no apologies but plenty of tea and beans on toast! I liked Tom and his willingness to believe his godmothers, and I especially liked his cousin Pindar, who was discarded by his evil family and just wants to help his new found cousin. I saved this one for a leisurely read on a snowy Friday evening, and it was great fun. I did adore Saunders' other book, Beswitched.
Weaknesses: I could have done without all of the nudity once the group gets to the Realm. The Nude Ball was bad enough, but then the lawyers in the trial are also nude. It's explained that this is a sign of status, and perhaps this played for laughs better in a country where people's bare backsides get shown on television, but it's a weird thing to include here in the states.

Even though I read this one slowly, I must have been tired and missed some things. Please look at Kiss The Book's review of this-- I totally missed the sexual innuendo, and was thinking the gun under the pillow was a magical one.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Middle Grade Monday-- Losing It by Erin Fry

Losing ItFry, Erin. Losing It. 
4 September 2012, Amazon Children's Publishing
E Book Provided by  Publisher

Bennett and his father have managed to carve out a peaceful existence after the death of Bennett's mother from cancer when he was five. They watch sports, and both eat too much unhealthy food and are overweight but happy. When Bennett's dad has a massive stroke, Bennett has to go live with his Aunt Laura's family. Laura thought that her sister's cancer was mismanaged, and has not spent much time with Bennett because she is at odds with his father, but hopes to help Bennett and his father through this difficult situation. Once school starts, Bennett begins to worry about his own health, and after several runs with his uncle, decides that he will join the cross country team. His friend P.G., who is also overweight, resents this and feels it is a dig against him. Other factors making life difficult are Luis and his gang, who constantly make fun of Bennett at lunch and in the locker room, and Taylor, a girl whom Bennett likes who starts to take an interest in him. Bennett's father's recuperation is complicated and taking longer than hoped, and the insurance money may run out and the family home may need to be sold. Cross country becomes something that motivates Bennett in many ways, and even though it is difficult, running makes Bennett feel that he is in control of something in his life.
Strengths: Pitch perfect middle grade novel. Bennett's concerns are all realistically portrayed, and well balanced. He loses weight, but there is no magical transformation. His friend is angry at him, but their reconciliation rings true. The bullying, which I normally hate in middle grade novels, is all done underneath the radar of adults, and is predominately emotional. The resolution to this is also understated. The cross country descriptions clearly show that Ms. Fry is not only a coach but a runner as well, and my own cross country runners are desperate for books on their sport. Add to this the main theme of the book, which is dealing with the severe illness of a remaining parent, and this is a great novel for language arts units on challenges. Definitely buying two copies of this!
Weaknesses: Title could have been less generic, and I would have put tennis shoes where the paper heart is. Also, I wish that Taylor would have been a stronger character. I thought that her relationship with Bennett was realistic, but I didn't quite buy that they had a lot in common. Small complaint for an excellent book!

Best thing about this-- it bears NO similarities to my own attempts at a cross country novel!

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. Even though I don't have a nonfiction review this week, remember that it's also Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week at Abby the Librarian.

Improving Speed Mason, Paul. Improving Speed.
15 January 2011, Power Kids Press.

Don't you love it when your library catalog gives you a one line summary? "Discusses speed in various sports, provides exercises to improve it, and profiles athletes known for their speed."

I think half of my cross country team has read this book. I don't know if it made them any faster, but it showed them that nonfiction can be relevant to their lives. There is also an Improving Strength and Power book that the wrestlers have been checking out.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

True Colors

True ColorsKinsey-Warnock, Natalie. True Colors.
13 November 2012, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Book received from Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there.

Blue was found by Hannah on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, wrapped in a quilt and stuffed in a kettle near Hannah's rural Vermont house.Blue is happy with her small town life- she has her haunts, like the newspaper office, and her friends, like the mentally challenged Raleigh and Mr. Gilpin, the newspaper editor. She even has a summer friend her own age, Nadine. Nadine comes to visit every summer, but this summer she is different. No longer interested in playing outside, Nadine prefers to talk about movie stars and hair styles, and indicates that Blue's life is really rather backwards. True is too busy to worry too much about what Nadine thinks-- she's writing the weekly gossip column for the newspaper, saving her cow from being slaughtered, trying to keep local bullies from giving Raleigh a hard time, and helping with preparations for the town's 150th anniversary. She is also intrigued about her mother and accompanies Hannah to her quilting group in hopes of finding clues to her identity. Hannah falls and is badly injured, and many events collide at the town's celebration. Can Hannah handle all of the things that are happening around her as well as uncomfortable information about her past?
Strengths: This was similar in some ways to The Moon Over Manifest, but I liked it better than that one. (Newspaper writing, family mystery, town goings on.) There is a very distinct feeling of time and place, but this adds to, rather than detracting from, Blue's search for identity.
Weaknesses: There are too many books with this title, which reminds people of a certain age of the Cindy Lauper song!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Dead and the Buried

The Dead and Buried Harrington, Kim. The Dead and The Buried
1 January 2013, Scholastic Point

Jade is glad that her father and stepmother have finally moved to a bigger town and into a larger, nicer house, even though it is her senior year. She makes friends with the quirky Alexa, and attracts the attention of both the attractive arty boy, Donovan, and the attractive athletic boy, Kane. Others act a bit oddly around her, however, and she soon finds out that her home was the scene of former Queen Bee Kayla Stone's death. What's worse, her younger brother Colby claims to see a girl in his room, and Jade soon feels the ghostly presence as well. Donovan was a suspect in the death, but was cleared and is now a persona non grata. As things heat up in Jade's social life, things get weirder and weirder at home, and she knows she has to find out who killed Kayla before the ghost will leave her and her brother alone.
Strengths: Harrington does a brilliant job writing YA books that are also appropriate for middle grade. The fact that this is a ghost AND a murder mystery makes this especially brilliant. The stepmother and busy father are a nice touch, as is the big new house that would be unaffordable if not for the murder.
Weaknesses: Don't like the cover. Too many covers with languid/dead looking girls on them.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Guy Friday-- If We Survive

If We SurviveKlavan, Andrew. If We Survive
6 November 2012, Thomas Nelson

Will is in a small, South American country helping to rebuild a school through a combined school/church group. Just as he and his coworkers are getting ready to leave, Mendoza, head of the local rebel group, bursts into the cantina where the group has met, and shoots the owner dead. Pastor Ron advises praying, Palmer (a former Marine and local pilot) seems to be about to abandon the group, Nikki screams annoyingly, Jim thinks that Mendoza is in the right, and Meredith is oddly quiet and controlled. When Pastor Ron is taken off and killed, the group realizes they have to escape. Palmer does first, and, surprisingly, comes back with a van to rescue the others. They can only take the van so far, and when they realize that Palmer's plane has been destroyed, they take to the woods and attempt to reach the border to escape. This isn't easy, and it's necessary to do things to survive that Will would not normally consider. However, his faith and his desire to see his parents again keep him strong, and he tries to learn from the members of his group how to survive in tense situations.
Strengths: Klavan's The Last Thing I Remember (Homelanders) series is very popular in my library, and for good reason. There is nonstop action, lots of suspense, and a teenage boy who is determined to do what's right.  I appreciated that Will was excited at first, but once he kills a man, he feels remorse.
Weaknesses: Thomas Nelson is a religiously affiliated publisher, and sometimes this makes parts of their books a bit of a slog. Doesn't matter what a student's religion is-- when an action book stops to philosophize about religion, it makes the book less popular. To Klavan's credit, he has a much lighter philosophic touch with this than he did in the Homelanders series, which did get rather bogged down with agenda. Will's religion and actions related to it are much more organic in this book.
 
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