Monday, March 31, 2014

MMGM-Hunt for the Hydra

Middle Grade Mania 

I don't know what I did, but late in the day on the most abysmal, sleet/rain/snow-ridden Saturday afternoon, I got a beautiful blue box filled with yellow tissue paper and six hardcover books from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kids!

I am very impressed by tissue paper. And cool boxes. 

It included Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson and Vernick's Screaming at the Ump, both of which I've read, and Wells' Eddie Redd, Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile, Alexander's The Crossover, Davies The Magic Trap and Samworth's Aviary Wonders, Inc., which I have not!

So very excited, especially since my TBR pile at the time included no library books, one paper ARC, and three digital titles. I was getting awfully close to having nothing to read! (I even have 64 more books coming from Baker and Taylor, but I've read all but about 5 of those!)

Anyway, what a great thing to find on my doorstep!

18090071Fry, Jason. Hunt for the Hydra (The Jupiter Pirates #1)
December 23rd 2013 by HarperCollins 

Tycho Hashoone lives on the Shadow Comet, a privateering spaceship run by his mother, Diocletia. His brother Carlo and sister Vesuvia know that only one of them will be able to take over the ship when their mother steps down, so they all take their work very seriously. After the secession of the moons of the outer solar system from Earth, these moons have formed the Jovian Union, which is at war with Earth. The Jovian Union has provided the Comet with permission to intercept freighters and claim their cargo, and that's how the Hashoones earn their living. However, when they pull over the Cephalx II, there is a "diplomat" aboard who claims the ship therefore has immunity. Unconvinced, the Comet hauls the Cephlax off to the seat of government on Ceres, a dwarf planet, and sit before the magistrate Threese Suud, who claims that while he will investigate, the diplomatic immunity will most likely stand. In the meantime, the Comet accepts a mission from the Jovian Defense Force to find out why so many Jovian merchant ships are missing. They track communications and ion emissions, which lead them to discover that the pirate Mox, long thought dead, is back. He is also in league with an unlikely ally. Can Tycho and his family prove their claim and route the evil from the intergalactic police force?
Strengths: There have been a lot more space adventure science fiction coming out, which is great. This reads a bit like Star Trek, with the feuding forces and adventure, and the technical details of space travel are fascinating. I'll be interested to see what the next book brings. Not surprisingly, Mr. Fry has done a large number of Star Wars related books.
Weaknesses: Since the three siblings are supposed to be at odds, I was hoping for a little bit more character development; perhaps that is coming in the following books. I also had an Artemis Fowl type problem with the book-- I'm not convinced that the Hashoones are the good guys, and that always makes it hard for me to root for the characters. I want to know why the Earth forces are evil, and what compelled the Jovian Union to be formed. Still buying a copy, though!

17365819 Waxman, Laura Hamilton. Fabulous Fashion Inventions
September 1st 2013 by Lerner Publications

This 32 page book offers very brief information about a few notable fashion inventions, such as Levis, bras, velcro and zippers. It also has a page on shoes, which doesn't seem like enough time to spend! While this is the kind of nonfiction that I normally like, what I really want is a 32 page book ALL about Levis, or fasteners, or underwear, or some other narrower topic that could be discussed in a more in depth fashion. There is a whole series of these, and  they are somewhat tempting, but they also cost $20 each. That said, I really want to see Brilliant Beauty Inventions, which includes the following topics:  Bathroom business -- Mirror -- Botox -- Deodorant -- Q-tips -- Bobby pins -- Lipstick -- Kleenex -- Nail polish -- Hair dryer -- Hair dye -- Razor -- Mascara. Recounts the stories behind the invention of some commonly used beauty products, such as Q-tips, kissproof lipstick, nail polish, hair dye, and more.

I think that one would ALWAYS be checked out!

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Being Sloane Jacobs.

16067180Morrill, Lauren. Being Sloane Jacobs.
January 7th 2014 by Delacorte
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.   

Sloane Emily Jacobs is the pampered daughter of a senator who is expected to really excel at figure skating. Sloane Devon Jacobs is a hockey player from a tough Philadelphia neighborhood who has some anger management issues. Both girls are sent to camps for their respective sports in Montreal. They have a hostile meeting in a hotel, their bags are switched, and they decide to switch places, mistakenly thinking that the others' sport is easier. They find out differently. Not only are both sports physically grueling, but there are mean girls in each, and a lot of competition. Both girls struggle with perfecting a new sport, meet cute boys, and deal with escalating family problems. Is the grass really greener on the other side of the ice?
Strengths: This was just the sort of book a lot of my 8th grade girls want. I enjoyed the fact that the girls had a lot of other interests other than the boys, but there was a bit of romance as well, and nothing inappropriate. Both girls get to show how difficult their sport is, and there are a ton of good details. For fans of Freitas' Gold Medal Winter, Messner's Sugar and Ice, and Davis' The Boyfriend Game.
Weaknesses: From the cover, I thought this would be a much sappier romance. A cover with a pair of figure skates and a pair of hockey skates would have been much better!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- The Sea Wolf

cid11London, Jack. The Sea Wolf
1 April 2014, Papercutz
Copy received from publisher

When the intellectual book reviewer Humphrey gets washed overboard, he ends up on the seal hunting vessel, Ghost, captained by Wolf Larsen. Life is extremely brutal, and Larsen refuses to let Humphrey off the boat, so he does the best he can to survive. After Humphrey's life is even more imperiled after a mutiny gone wrong, and when female reporter Maude Brewster also ends up on the boat, Humphrey knows that the two of them must escape in order to have any chance of survival. Once they do, however, they face even more harrowing odds than they did on the boat.
Strengths: This graphic novel version follows Jack London's novel very closely. The mood of the original is also well captured, with grimly dark, well done illustrations. Wolf Larsen is portrayed as someone to steer clear of! This might be a good way to get students interested in classic novels; Papercutz has a whole series of the Classics Illustrated books.
Weaknesses: This is almost too gruesome a tale for middle school. Lots of murder and mayhem.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Guy Friday--Across a War-Tossed Sea

Elliott, L.M. Across a War-Tossed Sea
1 April 2014, Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from (Also reviewed at YABC)

Wesley and Charles have been sent away from England during WWII because of the Blitz, and are living with a family on a farm in Tidewater, Virginia. Charles tries to fit in, going by Chuck and playing football, but he wants to go back to England to help with the war effort. Wesley is bedeviled by Ron, one of the boys in his family, who teases him mercilessly, and is also fascinated by Native Americans, have read books about the "wild west" back in England. The boys work hard on the farm, and the war intrudes on nearly every aspect of their lives. There are drives for scrap metal and rubber, rationed food and gas, German POWs in a camp nearby, and shipyards not far away in Newport News. Wes finally makes a friend in Freddy, another rather bookish boy who is living with his grandparents while his parents are working for the war effort, only to find out that he's "not allowed" to be friends with him because Freddy is African American. Charles is terribly upset by the presence of the Germans, whom he despises for bombing his country, until he meets Gunther, who shares some of Charles' interests and is being tortured by other POWs who fought in Africa and are die-hard Nazis. (And who have "SS" tattooed in their armpit so they got preferential medical treatment on the battlefield. Did not know that!) Even though the war is not being fought on American shores, the boys find that there are plenty of dangerous situations on the home front.
Strengths: This was a particularly good home front book, in that it addressed many of the issues involved with the fighting going on in Europe. Many homefront books are rather boring, but this had a lot of really exciting things happening PLUS a lot of interesting tidbits about the war that I didn't know. The social interactions between the English boys, African Americans, Native Americans, and the Germans were certainly an important part of the book, but Elliott manages to keep this from being slow paced by including some mystery and fighting. Very well done.
Weaknesses: This is a companion to Under a War-Torn Sky, but if there are characters in common, I completely missed it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Under the Egg

18060008Fitzgerald, Laura Mary. Under the Egg
March 18th 2014 by Dial
E ARC from

When Theo Tenpenny's elderly grandmother is killed by a car in New York City, she is bereft for many reasons. He was not only her link to the outside world, but also the only person supporting her and her (possibly autism spectrum) mother financially, apparently with a veteran's benefit, which is odd because Theo didn't think he served in WWII. Before he died, Jack did say that Theo should look "under the egg" and "for a treasure". In Jack's studio, there has always been a picture of an egg, and when Theo is looking all around it, she manages to spill rubbing alcohol on the painting, which removes a layer of paint to reveal an older painting of a Madonna and child. Theo sets off to investigate the painting with the help of new neighbor Bodhi, being careful because she thinks Jack may have stolen the painting from an art museum where he worked as a guard. With the help of a hipster librarian, Episcopal priest, and various others, Theo uncovers an even bigger mystery, which she ultimately solves so that she and her mother can stay in the family home and not be destitute.
Strengths: This had a huge amount of research into several areas, such as the paintings of Raphael, as well as the artwork taken by the Nazis, ala The Monuments Men. Bodhi and Theo work well together, and enlist the support of the right people. There were lots of twists in this that I didn't see coming.
Weaknesses: Theo's family circumstances were unnecessarily dire. Her grandfather would have been about 90, so didn't need to be hit by a cab and leave a bloodstain on the pavement, and she could have had a mother who was at least trying to make ends meet. All I could think was "Where are social services?" My biggest problem with this, and the reason I'm not entirely sure I'm going to buy this, is that it is very slow paced. Not a lot of action, and a lot of details about the paintings that are interesting but which make the story drag a bit. Still, a good mystery, so I am debating.

I can see this being a very strong Newbery contender because other teachers and librarians really, really like it. I did, too, but the number one complaint about middle grade books from my students is always "Nothing happened!" This almost always means that there was little action.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Wednesday- The Ukraine

18404397Kerr, Philip. The Winter Horses
March 25th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Tayloe

During World War II, Kalinka's entire family and village have been destroyed by the Nazis, and she has run far from that location and ended up on the steppe, where she is befriended by several horses. Max is the caretaker of a animal refuge that had been founded by a German man, but which has fallen on hard times. Nazis are now billetted at the refuge, and Max is in the good graces of the commander, who loves horses. However, he has orders to destroy all of the Przewalski's horses. They are endangered, and Max has worked hard to keep their numbers up, but the Nazis think that they are wild Gypsy horses and need to be exterminated. It doesn't hurt that they can also be used for food, which is hard to come by. After the Germans kill most of the horses, Max is bereft but still wants to stay alive, since he had been imprisoned during the Bolshevik Revolution and was badly injured. However, when Kalinka shows up with two of the horses, he tries to help her recuperate from her deprivations and make plans to get herself and the horses to safety just as the war is coming to a close. 
Strengths: This was a fantastic story of a very unusual facet of the war! The Przewalski's horses were actually listed as extinct for several years; there is an interesting article about them here. Kalinka's story of survival is heart rending, but her encounters are not all terrible. This is an exciting addition to Holocaust stories because it can also be enjoyed by readers who like horse stories and outdoor survival tales. 
Weaknesses:I didn't know that Philip Kerr also wrote as P.B. Kerr! I love the Children of the Lamp series, and it was interesting to see him take a turn at historical fiction. What a great start! (Okay, not a weakness.)

Saving Baby DoeVigilante, Danette. Saving Baby Doe.
March 20th 2014 by Putnam Juvenile

I really, really want to like this one. The cover is awesome, and I love that it has Latino characters, but the whole concept of two teens finding a baby fell flat for me, and the description of the blood (from a cut) running down Anisa's legs and making the police think she had given birth to the baby was uncomfortable. When Lionel's mother is concerned lest he actually get into trouble by getting a girl pregnant, she gives him a birth control talk that includes a condom and a banana.

As long as you know that these scenes are in the book, you can choose whether or not it is something that you are comfortable handing to students. I'm not seeing enough interest for the story in my library to overcome that in my case. I did really like this author's The Trouble with Half a Moon.

From Lionel and Anisa are the best of friends and have seen each other through some pretty tough times--Anisa's dad died and Lionel's dad  left, which is like a death for Lionel. They stick together no matter what. So when Lionel suggests a detour through a local construction site on their way home, Anisa doesn't say no.

And that's where Lionel and Anisa make a startling discovery--a baby abandoned in a port-o-potty. Anisa and Lionel spring into action. And in saving Baby Doe, they end up saving so much more.

Danette Vigilante crafts an accessible, heartfelt and much needed story for the middle grade market featuring Latino characters.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Battle of the Beasts

18090029Columbus, Chris. Battle of the Beasts (House of Secrets #2)
March 25th 2014 by Balzer & Bray/Harperteen 
E ARC from

The Walker children are back in the Kristoff house after their adventure in House of Secrets, but all is not well. Their father is gambling away the money Eleanor wished for, school is difficult for Brendan, and Cordelia is cold all of the time and her teeth are falling out. Before you know it, they are whisked off (along with Will, who has sent some time in jail) to another adventure. It turns out that the Wind Witch was living inside Cordelia, and in trying to escape, the children end up in another Kristoff story, this time set in ancient Rome. In a panic, Eleanor wishes that the Book of Doom and Desire would disappear, not thinking that this might also trap them and the house in Rome. Brendan feels right at home and is willing to stay and train to be a gladiator, but when the Nazis attack, Will, the girls, and a gladiator named Felix set off to head them off and end up in the Himalayas. They find more books by Kristoff as well as his wife's diary, which uncovers a very big secret about the Wind Witch. They also battle cyborg Nazis. . Not willing to leave Brendan behind, Cordelia heads back to Rome to get Brendan while Eleanor stays behind to fight off the frost monsters with the monks. Eventually the three unite and try to return home through the Door of Ways, which shows each of them both a good and a terrible vision of their future. When they finally return home, the children fear that the bad versions will come true, since the family has indeed lost the Kristoff house because of their father's gambling.
Strengths: This has lots of action and adventure, and the locations to which the children travel are fun. There is a tiny bit of romance with Cordelia and Will, but it doesn't come to anything. This is great fantasy adventure for elementary and middle school students. I can think of about ten right now who will enjoy this.
Weaknesses: Cliff hanger ending is a bit annoying to me, since I weary of series, but my students will like it.

Baldacci, David. The Finisher
4 March 2014, Scholastic Press
E ARC from

This is a dystopian adventure for middle school and up. It weighs in at 512 pages, and Baldacci says in a preface that he's really, really pleased with it.

I'm not sure how I feel. I'm not a dystopia fan, and this had an odd tone. In the first couple of chapters, gobsmacked, gormless and one other odd Britishism were thrown in, as were made up words for time (slivers for minutes and sessions for years). Combine that with odd names like The Quag and Wugs, and this was hard going. There's also room for many, many sequels. There's more at Publisher's Weekly.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? Doesn't help that this is the time of year when I have no money to spend but huge lists of books to buy. Makes me overly critical some times, but I can't buy every book. Interested to see what people say.

In The Finisher, a 14-year-old girl named Vega Jane lives in a village called Wormwood where the citizens have been told that the forest surrounding them is full of monsters. When Vega's mentor disappears, leaving behind a secret message, she begins to realize that Wormwood is a village built on dangerous lies.

Monday, March 24, 2014

MMGM- Hidden Like Anne Frank

18371572 Prins, Marcel and Peter Henk Steenhuis. Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 True Stories of Survival.
 March 25th 2014 by Arthur A. Levine Books
EARC from

Mr. Prins mother was hidden as a very young girl, and he was always enthralled with her stories. After he interviewed her, he collected the stories of 13 other people, mainly from Amsterdam, who were hidden during this time. The variety of the stories is compelling, and all are told in a gripping, realistic and yet not horrifying way. Most middle school students are familiar with Anne Frank's story, but this book points out that there were many other children who were hidden. Definitely purchasing a copy of this one for use in the Holocaust unit. There is a web site as well,, that would be great for teachers to use in the classroom if there is an LCD projector. The pictures and brief nonfiction text would be a good addition to the lessons.

16074515Dixon, Franklin W. The Vanishing Game (Hardy Boys Adventures #3)
June 4th 2013 by Aladdin

Joe is dating Daisy, whose father has bought the Funspot, an older amusement park in Bayport. In order to get more attention, Daisy's father Hector has hired the Piperato Brothers to design the G-Force ride. However, since buying the park, Daisy's mother has lost her high paying job and the family has fallen on hard times, causing Daisy not to be able to go to a private school and therefore breaking up with Luke, who does. When the G-Force ride premieres, a girl named Kelly disappears from it. She can't be found, and news swirls all around the event. Of course, Frank and Joe start their own investigation. The Piperato brothers show up and are a bit bizarre, creating their own viral videos about the "death ride". When Luke also goes missing from the ride, the Hardy boys know that something is going on and find out some dark and dirty secrets about Daisy's family.
Strengths: Lots of good things going on here. Amusement parks, light romance, romantic rivalry, criminal pasts, and an awesome roller coaster. The Hardy Boys books are like graham crackers-- not the most healthy thing you can eat, but not too bad for you, and they make a yummy snack!
Weaknesses: I wish that this new series didn't go back and forth between Joe and Frank's view points. They are so similar that it's just confusing and unnecessary. This book seemed to end on a cliff hanger, which is too bad. The thing I like best about these books is that they don't need to be read in order. Have to find book #4 to see what the deal is.

1733415618048926Into Thin Air (Hardy Boys Adventures #4)
October 22nd 2013 by Aladdin 

Peril at Granite Peak (Hardy Boys Adventures #4)
February 4th 2014 by Aladdin

As I suspected, book #4 needs to be read in order to find out what happens in book #3.  This is too bad, because the fact that most of these books stand alone was a big selling point to me. Not a huge deal, and good to be aware that students can read these in any order with the exception of #3 and #4 being read together.

Peril at Granite Peak was exceptionally good, and one of the few books I've ever read that deals with skiing. That, and Gilman's Ice Claw. Since winter was so cold and snowy, I had a lot of students asking for books about skiing, and didn't have much to hand them!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

DANGER: Infectious Nanobots

18289718Wooding, Chris. Silver
March 25th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from

Paul arrives at Mortingham Boarding Academy, reeling from the deaths of his parents but not wanting anyone to know about this fact. There's a complicated cast of characters at the school, including Adam, who is a bully, and Erika (whom Paul likes) and Caitlyn (who likes Paul). None of that really matters, however, when silver beetles are discovered on the school grounds. These beetles turn out to be the precursors of bigger, nastier nanobot/cyborg/zombie creatures, so the students bitten by the beetles start turning into creatures like them and attacking everyone else, turning them into violent zombie cyborgs, too. Paul, some students, and a teacher hole up in the school, but it's just never going to end well. The school is too remote, and the "infection" too terrible. Not only do more and more people fall victim and become evil machines, but the machines evolve to be stronger and more gruesome. 
Strengths: It's hard to review this without giving a lot away, so be patient. The cover is a good indication of what this book is like. Bloody and violent. It reminded me of Alexander Gordon Smith's Escape from Furnace series, or perhaps Higson's The Enemy, but with cyborg monsters. The vast majority of the violence is monster related, which makes it seem a little better to me. Very British, even though there is no time for tea drinking.
Weaknesses: Lots of characters die. Never my favorite thing. This seemed short on character development and explanation to me. Of course, when students want horror books, those are probably the last two criteria on their mind. Will probably buy this one and worry about the children to whom I hand it.  

8585924 Hale, Shannon. Dangerous
4 March 2014, Bloomsbury US
ARC from Baker and Taylor 

Maisie is thrilled when she wins a place in Dr. Howell's space camp, since she has been enthralled with the idea of being an astronaut ever since her father told her that she could wear velcro fastening on her clothes to be like them. Even though she needed the velcro because she is missing a hand since birth, she's glad to escape her close and loving parents and get to know other kids. When she arrives, she gets assigned to a "fireteam" that includes Jacques, Ruth, and Mi-Sun, and gets sent on a trip to space with her team as well as Wilder, the son of a famous scientist, on whom she has a rather big crush. Things go well on the trip until the children touch alien artifacts and are infected by nanites that endow them with a variety of dangerous skills.  The worst off is Ruth, who is suddenly ravenously hungry and prone to violent outbursts. When she kills a man, she runs away. Maisie tries to help, but all she can do is to try to bring Ruth back when she is dying. Instead, the nanites from Ruth go into Maisie. Afraid of what will happen to her if she stays with the program, she goes home, but can't hide for long. Wilder finds her, and while she still likes him, she is afraid of what his father will do. Eventually, Maisie ends up with all of the alien tokens and abilities, which Dr. Howell tells her are to be used to fight the aliens. Can Maisie save the world... and herself?
Strengths: This had a lot of interesting technology, and the ensemble cast was well described enough that I could keep them all straight, no small task. The touch of dangerous romance is nice, especially contrasted with how Maisie feels about her best friend, Luther. I also appreciated that this seems to be a science fiction/dystopian book that is NOT in a series. Need a lot more of those.
Weaknesses: This got to be rather complicated and bogged down in the middle. Also, there was enough human on human violence, as well as a scene (nicely played, granted) in which Wilder tries to get Maisie to sleep with him, that I will have to consider this long and hard before purchasing for a middle school. Not horrible, but right on that line. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Landry Park

17350916Hagen, Bethany. Landry Park
February 4th 2014 by Dial 

Madeline Landry is the heir to one of the best estates in a futuristic dystopia about 200 years in the future. The rich are in power, the unmonied are servants and working class, and the "Rootless" are the bottom caste of society. They live in poverty and work at jobs that involve dealing with the radiation that the rich use to power their lavish, quasi-Victorian lifestyles. Apparently, the US was attacked and partially conquered by powers from the east, and then cities fought among themselves, mainly over energy sources. Madeline's forbearer invented the radiation capsules that now are used. As the heir, it is incumbent upon her to marry young and produce an heir, but she would rather go to the university and study. When dashing and rich David Dana comes to town, Madeline's mother would like to secure him as Madeline's fiance, but he aligns himself with her rival, the snotty Cara Westoff. David turns out to be more than just rich and attractive-- he visits the Rootless stomping grounds, and Madeline is enthralled. She eventually becomes betrothed to a colleague of his from the army, Jude, but things are not good in the society, and the lifestyle of the rich is on tenuous ground. A sequel may come out in 2015.
Strengths: This is blurbed as "Downton Abbey meets The Selection", and I can sort of see that. It would appeal to readers who like a lot of romance in their dystopia. The ball gowns, the arranged marriages, the girl drama with Cara-- I can see it being really well liked by readers fond of Matched.
Weaknesses: Something just didn't gel with me personally. There was not really a reason for the English manor lifestyle and debuts-- weak world building, I guess. Still will buy a copy, as the book kept me reading.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Guy Friday- Just Jake

18114126Marcinonette, Jake. Just Jake.
February 4th 2014 by Grosset & Dunlap

Jake is not happy to move from Florida to Maryland because of his father's job change, but he feels that his new school will go well because he is such an AWESOME kid and he had lots of friends at his old school. He does have an annoying older sister, Alexis, who doesn't help the settling in process when she yells at neighborhood kids who are commenting on the family's possessions as they are moved in to the new house. Things go even more poorly at school, where Jake goes to a 2nd grade classroom by mistake and can only manage to make friends with the "misfit toys". At least he has friends, though, and an interest in drawing that leads him to create a series of "Kid Cards" that take the school by storm.
Strengths: This is a notebook novel with good illustrations, and the clip art photos add an interesting touch that I have only seen in a few books. It has its humorous moments, and the author is to be applauded for attempting to make up for the dearth of funny books for boys. The cover alone will make it a book that students will readily pick up.
Weaknesses: This was written by an actual 12 year old, which I didn't know until I finished the book but which did explain the characteristically slim plot online. I should remember that Gordon Korman wrote his first book at an early age and went on to become one of the best middle grade authors around. Perhaps Mr. Marchionette's writing style will mature as well.

Our spring break starts today! We are going all out-- the girls and I are cranking the heat to 65 degrees, having a trial membership of both Amazon Prime AND Netflix, and we may even get take out one night if we can stand the absolute crazy. I'm just looking forward to a lot of extra sleep! To celebrate, here's the sixth Crush book by Angela Darling.

18048896 Darling, Angela. Isabella's Spring Break Crush
March 4th 2014 by Simon Spotlight

Isabella is distraught that all of her friends are doing cool things over spring break, but since her father is an accountant busy with taxes and her doctor mother is busy with people who have the flu, they never go anywhere, saving instead for a nice summer vacation. With her older brother David at college, her parents still don't want to go anywhere, but agree to send Isabella and her twin brother Jake to Florida to visit her grandma Miriam. Since grandma won't let the kids eat sugar, go out in the sun, or watch television during the day, this is bound to be boring... until cute boy Ryan shows up visiting his grandmother, and there is the added drama of twins Ashley and Andrew showing up as well. In the end, Isabella has a great time with her grandma and is excited about coming back during the summer... when Ryan will also be visiting again!
Strengths: I know that these are kind of cheesy, but really, Darling has excellent, fluid prose, great details about supportive families, and pitch perfect 11-year-old details of "romance". The fact that this series also has a wide range of ethnicities on the cover, and that the ethnicities are addressed but are not the center of the stories, is nothing short of brilliant. Definitely comfort reads for some of my struggling readers who don't come from supportive families. I like to think that these give them a model for appropriate, healthy  relationships.
Weaknesses: Thought the romance was a little weak on this... no swoony first kiss on the beach, which is usually the highlight of these books. Nice to know that Ryan DOES like Isabella enough to want to see her over the summer, though!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

18104749Boyne, John. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave
March 25th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
E ARC from

Alfie is content with his life-- he has a good friend nearby whose father owns a sweet shop, his father drives the milk truck, his grandmother lives across the street, and he knows all of the neighbors in his close knit community. On his fifth birthday, however, World War I breaks out, and everything changes. His father, Georgie, joins up and leaves. Money becomes tight. His mother becomes a nurse, and he only goes to school two days a week so he can shine shoes at Kings Cross Station the rest of the time. There's little food, but lots of anxiety. As the war goes on, Alfie begins to fear that his father has been killed and his mother is hiding this information from him. A chance encounter with a doctor informs him that his father is actually in hospital, so Alfie saves his money to travel there, only to find out that his father is severely shell shocked. Since the conditions in the hospital are deplorable, Alfie comes up with a plan to bring his father home, with mixed results.
Strengths: This was quite a good depiction of every day life in London during the Great War. While there wasn't a lot of action, there were a lot of interesting things happening, and I enjoyed it a lot. I was surprised because I haven't been a huge fan of Boyne's work,  The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket was one of those odd, overly quirky British books that made me shake my head, and I could never quite believe The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I will buy this one for use in our historical fiction unit. Now, I just need to find "historical fiction" from the 1960s and 1970s-- otherwise known as "my life"!
Weaknesses: This does not have a great cover-- the Oliver Jeffers' lettering doesn't go over too well in the US (at least in my school). Most boys want descriptions of battles when they read war books, and this doesn't have very many. This will take a bit of selling, but I think will be well received by many students.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

World Wednesday-- I Lived on Butterfly Hill

18048909Agosin, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill
March 4th 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Celeste lives in Valparaiso, Chile after1967. Her parents are doctors, and her Viennese grandmother, who survived the Holocaust, lives with them. Family retainer Delfina does the cooking and cleaning, but is part of the family as well. When the harbor is filled with warships and President Alarcon is assasinated, things start to change. Fewer and fewer students go to school, girls have to wear skirts and put their hair up in buns, and Celeste's parents fear for the family's safety. They knew Alarcon and supported his initiatives to help the poor, so they go into hiding and send Celeste to live with her aunt Graciela in Maine. It's hard for her to get used to the isolated life in the cold, but she makes friend with Kim, a Korean refugee, and eventually gets used to life with her aunt, even though she misses her parents and fears for their safety. When the General/dictator who has taken over Chile is killed, Celeste goes back to her grandmother. Her parents are still missing, and with the help of her friend Cristobal, she goes looking for them so that she can settle back into her old life.
Strengths: I can't think of any other middle grade novels set in Chile, so it's great to have this one based on the author's childhood. There are lots of good details about daily life, many involving food. The feeling of not fitting in to her school in Maine may resonate with many children. The Lee White illustrations are absolutely brilliant, since they mimic so perfectly the style of the 1960s.
Weaknesses: Stylistically, this is rather long (450 pages) and slow paced for middle school readers, but I would buy it. However, I really wanted some historical notes on this. Even though specific names are given for the leaders, I couldn't find enough information to pin this down to a particular year. Since the Beatles' Strawberry Fields is mentioned as playing, I know it's after 1967. In the book, there is a president Alarcon who is assassinated, and a Monica Espinoza who is elected after Celeste comes back, but I can't find these people mentioned in the encyclopedia, so I'm very confused. There is a Eduardo Frei Montalva who sounds like Alarcon, and the dictator sounds like Pinochet, but he would have been in power for a longer time.

Are these made up leaders? Why can't I find information about them? I also didn't have any luck finding contact information for the author or editor, so I am very confused. Will wait to purchase until I can confirm historical events.

18079564Schindler, Holly. The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky
February 6th 2014 by Dial 

August Walter (or Augie) is being raised by HER grandfather, since her mother abandoned her as an infant. Her grandfather is a trash hauler, making money by selling people's castoffs to the junk year, a career which Augie thinks is pretty cool until her school is closed and she and her friends are transferred to a spiffy, newer school. Snotty Victoria gives Augie a hard time AND steals her best friend. Not only that, but Victoria's father is on the town council, which is determined to condemn Augie's neighborhood, Serendipity Place, in order to tear it down and built a rec center. When the neighbors are served with notices that they need to improve their properties, they do so with gusto. Augie and her grandfather decorate their property with vibrant sculptures made out of old toasters and other cast offs, and paint the house all sorts of different colors, and then are surprised when the town council thinks that this has made the property worse. However, the son of one of the residents is an art dealer who thinks the sculptures are folk art and arranges to have people buy them in order to raise money to repair the neighborhood church and the city council fines.
Strengths: This is one of those quirky books that teachers love and which I just don't. If you liked Hound Dog True or One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, definitely pick this up. Heck, this has a good chance of winning a Newbery.
Weaknesses: I could not stop thinking that if Augie and her grandfather lived across the street from me, this would be a BAD THING. This could be because I once had neighbors somewhat like this, and I ended up moving rather than watching them construct things in their yard. I found myself rooting for Victoria, her father, and the evil town council. A rec center sounds better than a blighted neighborhood. The woman with the warped porch that looked like a smile-- putting up awnings that look  like eybrows does not make your porch safer! So, admittedly, I got really stuck on this aspect of the book and it interfered with my enjoyment.

This was fairly new when I wrote this, so there weren't a ton of other reviews posted, but here were some more positive ones.

Innocence Walker
Paperback Treasures
Word Spelunking

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Water Castle

14289259Blakemore, Megan Frazier. The Water Castle
January 8th 2013 by Walker Childrens 

Ephraim and his family move to a small town in Maine to take over a long neglected family home. His father, an artist, has had a debilitating stroke and his mother, a doctor, thinks that the house (once the site of a sanitorium utilizing the water, which seems to have healing properties) will make him better, and there is also a doctor nearby who specializes in this sort of problem. Ephraim manages to get settled in and makes friends with Mallory, whose mother's family were caretakers of the house for years. Since her mother has left, her father has stepped in to take care of it. He also befriends Will, whose family wants nothing to do with Ephraim's. The three learn some secrets of the house while preparing their explorers research project from school, and Ephraim hopes that he can uncover the secret to the fountain of youth and use it to cure his father.
Strengths: There is a lot going on in this book. There's science, there are racial issues, there are family issues, there's some more science. It  has a nice ensemble cast and and features boys and girls AND a character of color.
Weaknesses: This just didn't grab me. The cover was blah, and the whole book had an older vibe, like I Capture the Castle meets Miracles on Maple Hill. I should have liked it, but I felt really bad that Ephraim thought the water would cure his father. I was also a bit confused about whether or not this was fantasy.

At any rate, most people liked it FAR more than I did, so check their reviews before deciding.

Betsy Bird
Charlotte's Library
Dorine White
The Book Smugglers
Sunlit Pages
TMC Guys Read

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nonfiction Thoughts

 Here's the thing-- I like nonfiction. I like to pair things like Bartoletti's  Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 with Giff's Nory Ryan's Song or I'll Pass for Your Comrade with My Last Skirt. I learn more about the world that way. Common Core doesn't freak me out.

However, a lot of my students wrinkle up their noses at nonfiction. I've had more luck with it this year, especially (and I hate to say this) thanks to Accelerated Reader. Some teachers require students to have two points of nonfiction for their AR goal (out of ten, usually). Students have started to pick up half point books and rather enjoy them. Still, it's hard to find just the right combination of elements that will appeal to reluctant nonfiction readers. Since nonfiction books can run $25 each, I hate it when I purchase something that stays on the shelf. Here are some thoughts.

3770790Rossi, Ann. Created Equal: Women Campaign for the Right to Vote 1840 - 1920 February 1st 2005 by National Geographic Children's Books

This had 40 pages, and the text was interspersed with pictures and side bars in an attractive way. The book followed the women's suffrage movement very linearly, and included primary sources. It had a lot of human interest in that it profiled prominent leaders and explained their experiences. I really liked this. I could get a copy for $11.60, but there are two things stopping me: this isn't really a topic in our curriculum, and the book does not have an AR test. Argh. If other books in this series do have tests and go with our curriculum, I will buy.
Unfortunately, it would just sit on the shelf.

16231062 Marcovitz, Hal. The 1960s. 
December 1st 2012 by Referencepoint Press

This came in at 90 pages and had huge blocks of uninterrupted text, which was oddly heavy and small. It covered a wide range of topics briefly, including a chapter on "The Pursuit of American Exceptionalism". There are pictures and maps, but I found the text to be rather dry. This had lots of good information and would be used for research, but I didn't find it to be engaging. I have a class doing readings on this era as background to The Outsiders, but I don't think they would pick this up. What I would like instead would be a 40 page book just on space exploration, or the Cold War, or home front feelings about the Vietnam Conflict.Well illustrated and fun. That, the students would read.

17782844Woog, Adam. The Roman Colosseum.
August 1st 2013 by Referencepoint Press

This is done in the same style as The 1960s. The difference is that I do have students doing research papers on the Colosseum, and this has a lot of in depth information just about one structure. It wouldn't be as good for pleasure reading, but I was impressed that it even included "plants of the Colosseum". I've seen a lot of overviews of Ancient Rome that don't give enough information, but this was very complete. I think ideally I would like a book just on the Colosseum done in the National Geographic style-- something that could be used for both research and pleasure reading, but I may buy this for research purposes.

The search continues. I do try to get the most use out of taxpayer dollars. Thankfully, I was able to check all three of these books out of the Westerville Public Library. They also let me have old encyclopedias, which we use A LOT!!!

MMGM- The Blood Guard

18706036Roy, Carter. The Blood Guard
March 4th 2014 by Two Lions
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Evelyn Ronan Truelove (don't call him Evelyn) has a quirky mother who has insisted he learn all sorts of useless skills like fencing and gymnastics,but he's still surprised when she picks him up from school and takes off in their van at breakneck speeding, telling him that his father has been kidnapped and she has to get Ronan to safety. She is also, by the way, a member of something called the Blood Guard, who are trying to protect 36 "pure souls" from an organization called the Bend Sinister that is trying to suck their souls out and cause the world as we know it to end. Alrighty, then! She drops him off at the train station with a backpack and instructions, but strange people start chasing him. When he finally gets away, he's in the company of Dawkins, who is also a member of the Guard, but also Greta, a girl who used to go to his school and whose father is in the FBI. The three take off to Roanoke, but the strange people keep after them. Dawkins gets killed, and Greta and Ronan end up hitching a ride with a boy their age, Sammy, and his pleasant guardians. Who turn out, of course, to be in thrall to the Bend Sinister. More chasing occurs, and the group eventually makes it to Greta's father, who is ALSO a member of the Guard. From there, lots of secrets are revealed, setting up a lot of issues to be confronted in book two of this trilogy.
Strengths: This book is a perfect example of how important engaging characters and well-paced action are. I was sucked in after the first two pages, because Ronan made me chuckle, and I wanted to know what would happen next. Mr. Roy has clearly been paying attention when he has "edited hundreds of books for major publishers". The intricacies of the Blood Guard are explained in between all of the action scenes, I liked all of the good characters tremendously, to the point where I actually looked at the back of the book to see if Dawkins came back from the dead because I was crushed that he was, well, crushed. Very funny writing, too. My new phrase is "super corn nuts crazypants".
Weaknesses: This deserves a MUCH better cover. I was expecting to see more character development for Ronan, because he deserves it. We know who his mother has made him, but who is he really? There is a problem with his mother and father, and I'm curious to see which side he ends up on in this instance. I'm not one to ask for character development OR more plot, but this also seemed to sacrifice plot development to car chases as well. I'm hoping that the next two books will address both of these issues, and students will read avidly after this book has sucked them right in!

Sheinkin, Steve. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights 
January 21st 2014 by Roaring Brook Press 

Sheinkin has a good eye for picking interesting topics for nonfiction, and his research is tireless. The primary source documents and photos bring this story of segregation and prejudice during World War II a startling immediacy. Background information about the role of black soldiers in conflicts before and after WWII puts this in perspective, as do the late life updates about some of the individuals involved. That said, this struck me (as much of Sheinkin's work does) as almost too complete for middle schools. There is so much information about the intricacies of the trial and the back and forth of details that I got a bit weary of it. I love to get my students interested in nonfiction, and I have one boy in particular who loves to read about Civil Rights issues, but I don't see him getting through this entire book. I will buy it anyway, because it is a good addition to my collection, but I am afraid it will be used more for research than for pleasure reading. High school students probably would understand this better and be able to read the entire book.

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Super Villains

17286896Thomson, Jamie. Dark Lord: School's Out (Fiend in Need in the UK)
4 February 2014, Walker Children's
E ARC from

In the wake of Dark Lord: The Early Years,  Dirk is dismayed to find that he hasn't been sent back to the Darklands, but Sooz has! He is stuck with Christopher back at the Purejoie's house, under the care of the malevolent nanny, Dumpsy Deary, aka The White Witch. While Dirk makes his plans to travel back home, reconfiguring a cell phone so he can communicate with Sooz, Sooz is doing her best to stay firm with all of Dirk's loyal minions. At first, they think she is just a little girl and are ready to destroy her, but when she shows them the ring that Dirk gave her, they figure she is his betrothed and make her the Moon Queen. She manages to have the Iron Tower repainted, and makes allies of everyone from Orcs to Paladins. She even advocates getting rid of slavery and paying humans to do work! Things go well until Hasdruban attacks and captures her; luckily, Dirk and Chris manage to make it back to the Darklands. Will Dirk revert to his evil ways? Will Sooz and Chris stay in the Darklands? More importantly, does Orc snot ever stain the floor?
Strengths: Lines like this "a big breakfast of bacon, pancakes, and maple syrup. Or as Dirk called it: "The crispy flesh of his slain enemies with pancakes made from the Dough of Doom, and covered in the sweet succulent syrupy blood of angels." (pages384-85, E ARC) Once again, this was a funny, convincing story of a typical fantasy Dark Lord sucked into our world, and a human sucked into a fantasy one. While not video gamed based at all, this would be a great read for students who have played too much Runescape.
Weaknesses: This got a little long, although it never became so complicated that I couldn't follow the story, for which I was grateful.

Kraatz, Jeremy. Villains Rising (The Cloak Society #2) 
October 1st 2013 by HarperCollins

In this sequel to The Cloak Society, Alex and the remainder of the Junior Rangers are hiding out at Amp's house, but of course they are imperiled. They take in another kid with superpowers, Bug, and infiltrate the underground base of the Cloak society.

Then I lost the rest of the notes I took on the book, and by that time the book was already checked out again. The students really like this series, and I appreciate the gray area in which it exists. Not overly wild about the new cover (Ghost looks a bit odd), but this is a great series to add if your readers like Anderson's Sidekicked, Cody's Super, or books with a lot of action, adventure, and random super powers.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Families in Difficulty

17323654Strasser, Todd. No Place. 
January 28th 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 

Dan has everything going for him-- he's a baseball star with promises of scholarships for college, he has a great girlfriend, and he is popular in school. Things are a bit tight at home because his mother has been out of work for four years, but when his father loses his job working with disadvantaged youth, the family loses their home and has to move in with an uncle. Things don't go well there, because the uncle thinks the father is a loser who's not trying hard enough to support his family, and soon the family moves into a tent in Dignityville, a shanty town set up by the city government. Dan had previous met a girl at school, Meg, who is in the town because her father has cancer and his bills have crippled the family. Her brotherAubrey helps with the administration of the tent city and also works in a restaurant. Dan's family settles in better than he does. Dan has to shower at school, get free lunch, and worry that college is not even a good choice. His mother wants to start a community garden and his father is off acting mysterious. To make matters worse, the uncle is advocating that the tent city be dismantled because it is bringing down property values. When Aubrey is badly beaten, Dan starts to suspect his father might be somehow involved, and things come to a head when a protest does indeed cause all of the residents to move out and no longer gather in one place.
Strengths: This is a timely story of a family on hard times. Luckily, Strasser has reigned himself in and it is also middle grade appropriate, even though the main character is older. This will be well received by readers who like Can't Get There from Here and If I Grow Up. Read alikes would include Bauer's Almost Home and Cooley's Shelter.
Weaknesses: This started with the beating up of Aubrey and then flashed back, which was just a bit confusing.It also would have been helpful to have a page or two of real life tent cities at the back.

Osborne, Jill. Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek
January 28th 2014 by Zonderkidz
E ARC from

Riley Mae's father is in advertising, and one of his clients is developing a line of athletic shoes for girls. When Riley is asked to try some on, the company is impressed with her and wants her to be their spokesperson. Her mother, a policewoman, is unsure whether this is a good idea, but the family prays about it and decides to let Riley do it. The whole line of shoes bears Riley's name, and there so many photo shoots that Riley is not able to play as much softball as she would like, and she is resigned to being a "floater" on the team. Her friend T.J. isn't happy, especially when Riley's replacement, Rusty, doesn't do a great job. Riley finds out why-- Rusty's father has been out of work for a year. There's no money for shoes, and sometimes no money for food. Riley tries to help out, getting a pair of pricey shoes from her company in Rusty's size and even going to WalMart and buying food for Rusty with her own money. Riley enjoys being a spokesperson, but it's a lot of hard work. Flip, the photographer, and Fawn, the make up girl and personal assistant, make it fun, and Riley becomes close with both of them. When the company wants to do a photo shoot at the Half Dome, Flip, Fawn, her father, and a magazine reporter all accompany her, but the hike turns treacherous, especially since Flip and Fawn are not quite the people they appear to be.
Strengths: This had some good moments. I liked how Riley had to struggle with time management to get everything done and to hang out with her friends. I liked how she wanted to help Rusty. The gender roles in this were good; having her mother be a police officer was a nice touch. The mystery.thriller at the end was well done, too.
Weaknesses: This could have been two books; one concerned with Rusty's family, and one with the mystery of Flip and Fawn. Having both in this book seemed rushed. And, while I know that Zondervan is a Christian press, this had a lot of rather boring details about church and the family praying, and even got into some rather rude territory. Riley asks her mother what she would say to someone who doesn't believe Jesus died for her, and the mother replies basically that such a person is just crazy. Rather offensive, especially since I have a fair number of readers in my school who are not Christian.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Guy Friday-- New Kid

18085478Green, Tim. New Kid.
March 4th 2014 by Harper Childrens

Tommy Rust is doing well in his baseball game when his father appears, orders him to come, and drives off to a new life where Tommy becomes Brock Nickerson. This has happened before, but Brock is getting sick of it, and when loser Nigel picks a fight with him, Brock wallops him. Of course, Brock's father is furious that Brock has brought attention on himself, but Nigel now thinks that Brock is cool and invites him to smash the windows of the gym teacher/coach who broke up the fight and ripped their shirts. Coach Hudgens is an unorganized alcoholic who is reeling from the death of his son in an auto accident 16 years before, and his travel baseball team hasn't had a winning season since Barrett Malone, who now plays pro ball. Brock is such a good ball player that even though Coach caught him and Nigel throwing rocks at his house, he wants Brock to be on the team. Brock's father doesn't want him to travel because people want him dead-- the same people who killed Brock's mother. Things go well with the ball season, although there are ups and downs, but before long the past catches up with the Nickersons. What is more important to Brock-- having a life, or staying with his father and all his mystery and danger?
Strengths: Green can write a compelling story with all sorts of good elements: strong characters, bit of mystery, lots of sports details. My favorite part of his writing is always the great girl characters. In this, we have Bella, the coach's niece.
Weaknesses: These err a bit on the cheesy/over the top side for me personally, but the students don't think so. The coach is flawed right down to his yellowed teeth, and we're never exactly clear on what Brock's father has done to lead to their life on the lam. Still, I always buy a copy of these when they come out, and buy two if they are about football.

Pet Peeve/Rant of the Day: 
Death is not amusing. Not amusing to have to deal with, and not amusing to read about. I'm tired of reading about characters dealing with death, mainly because they seem to deal with it so poorly. Over the past weekend I read On the Road to Find Out, where the girl is devastated by the death of a pet, and The Chapel Wars where the boy is grieving his father and the girl her grandfather. Hung Up had a missing sister and a brother trying to hurt himself. In A Horse Called Hero we have a dead mother, and the foster father/reverend dies. That's just my reading during the past week.(And last night-- Wish You Were Italian, where older teen dealing poorly with death of father. I left off where grandmother was in coma, so I hope she survives, at least!)

Can we PLEASE let some middle grade parents live?

But, if you want super depressing and young adult (a couple of f-bombs), there's There Will Come a Time coming out in May that deals with a boy whose twin sister has died, and he's having trouble moving on.

People move on. It's the only thing that can be done. That the coach in New Kid dealt so poorly with the loss of his son that 16 years later he is still alcoholic-- it's not a good message. It's like reading Judy Blume's Deenie when she goes nuts and cuts off her hair when she gets a back brace. I didn't do that when I got my back brace. If we've got to have people die in middle grade literature-- and I think that it's been done enough that we can call a moratorium on it for a while-- let's at least have people dealing with it in a constructive and helpful fashion.

Of course, where's the drama in that?

I Get to be the EVIL Twin

Apparently, I was on Jeopardy.

No, I wasn't, but ANOTHER middle school librarian was. All I can say is that she has awesome fashion sense.

We all have a doppelganger somewhere!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Binge Reading Phoebe Rivers!

Well. We are having quite the love affair with Saranormal in my library. I have a group of about ten girls who  are all working their way through the first books in the series. I've stopped reshelving the books because they are always on reserve for someone, and it's absolutely crucial I take the book to the next person in line immediately! These weigh in at about 150 pages each, need to be read in order, and take the girls about one day to read.

We had a snow day on 5 February, and we had just gotten most of the rest of the series in (still missing book 10! Wah!). I had bought book 6 with an Amazon gift credit because it was twice backordered by Baker and Taylor. I spent the morning reading the rest of these, which took me about 20-30 minutes each. So! Whew! Here's my brief description of each.

Read the review of Ghost Town (#1) HERE.
Read reviews of #2 and #3 HERE

13547394Rivers, Phoebe. Spirits of the Season (Saranormal #4)
October 2nd 2012 by Simon Spotlight 

For twelve days around Christmas, the spirits can get closer to Sara than is comfortable. She does meet the ghost of Franklin, Lady Azura's first love, and has to help solve his problem. Sara's dad is dating Janelle, but her daughters Chloe and Dina want Sara to help break the two up. Sara is concerned about what to buy for Jayden's Christmas present, and finds out the really big family secret that I already knew, having read book #5 already. This is why the books kind of need to be read in order. Nice holiday feel to this one.

15801378Rivers, Phoebe. Giving Up the Ghost (Saranormal #5)
October 2nd 2012 by Simon Spotlight

There's a lot of negative energy surrounding Sara and Azura, and accidents keep happening around the house. Sara begins to realize that she can hear people's thoughts! This is a problem, especially since her birthday is coming up and she can't have a party because one is being held for Jayden's going away. Sara keeps having bad dreams, and a former client of Lady Azura's keeps showing up-- Nina Oliver, who was a lawyer who could hear people's thoughts. She won lots of cases, but alienated all her friends and family. She's given the power to Sara, who must get rid of it. (Even though the power is not strong enough to hear what people are really thinking about Jayden's party. Hmmm.)

Read reviews of  #5 and #8 HERE.

15801391Rivers, Phoebe. The Secrets Within (Saranormal #7)
Published April 16th 2013 by Simon Spotlight

Lily's mom is doing a fund raiser for the school-- a huge flea market along the boardwalk-- but Lady Azura refuses to donate any of her possessions, although she's willing to write a check. Lily soon finds out why: she can get vibes from things she touches, and they give her visions of the person who had them before. This makes wearing vintage jewelry impossible. (This would make my thrift store wardrobe VERY complicated!) A lost dog shows up at Lily's, and Lily really wants to keep him, but Sara knows she could find the owners, one of whom may be a super cute boy! One of Lady Azura's former clients comes back to haunt Lily and wants her to help find out who stole her jewelry, using her new found power of psychometry. Due to a convoluted series of events, Sara manages to find the pearls and the owners of the dog AND meet the cute boy, so everything works out perfectly.

16074945Rivers, Phoebe. Playing With Fire (Saranormal #9)
Published August 6th 2013 by Simon Spotlight 

Mason and Sara have been texting, but she hasn't told Lily about this, even though they are mainly just friends. When Lily's family invites Sara to spend time at the Helliman House hotel, the girls set off to have a good time, meeting cute boys Owen and Wyatt, along with their friend Kayla. Things are bad at Helliman House, so the owner has brought in Laura, who can't see ghosts but does a decent job at dispatching them. Sara can tell that Laura is effective, but she can also tell that one of the ghosts is targeting Lily and wants to harm her. There was a fire in the 1920s that killed the family, and the daughter, Belinda, has her mind set on Lily. Sara is able to stop anything bad from happening, but Lily is slightly peeved that Sara has been keeping secrets from her. At least now Lily knows that Sara can see ghosts!

19470681Rivers, Phoebe. A Perfect Storm (Saranormal #10)
October 15th 2013 by Simon Spotlight 

Even if I wanted to walk through eight inches of snow to get to the library, they are closed until noon AND they don't have this series. RATS!!! Must obtain.

From Goodreads: A hurricane hits the New Jersey shore, and while Sara’s hometown of Stellamar is spared from any major damage, things will still never be the same. At home, a spirit reveals to Sara that he has a secret about her mother...but then the spirit is spooked by the storm and leaves before Sara can find out more. Sara enlists the help of her best friend, Lily, and together they try to find out what other secrets might be hidden away in the old house.

At school, there are some new faces as kids from a neighboring town start attending Stellamar Middle School since their own school was damaged in the storm. One of the new kids is Mason, Sara’s summer crush. Will sparks continue to fly between Sara and Mason?

19300704Rivers, Phoebe. Yesterday and Today (Saranormal #11) 
December 3rd 2013 by Simon Spotlight  

Lily and Sara have found a diary that Sara's mom Natalie wrote, and Sara starts to read it. Of course, her psychometry means that she sees scenes of her mother as she is reading, so she has a very vivid feel for what things were like for her mother in 1984, complete with flashdance outfits (But no mall hair? Come on!) Sara also starts seeing young men on the boardwalk who warn her that she has to prevent a tragedy, which turns out to be involved with the shady business deal Lily's dad is getting involved in. Luckily, the girls are able to employ research skills and present copies of old newspaper articles in order to avoid a costly tragedy, and they don't have to tell that they got the information from ghosts. On the Mason front, he is trying to ignore his own powers, so things don't work out with him and Sara. Sara also finds out a lot about her mother, who at one point had powers but wished them away. A convergence of events leads Sara to believe that she, too, can have a wish, but her wish is to meet her mother. 

And then it all ENDS!!! All of the other books have included a preview chapter, but there's NOTHING. NOTHING!!! Not that I'm ridiculously addicted or anything. I think it may be the END. (**Sobbing quietly into afghan.**) Okay. Here's the scoop.

Strengths: I like how the series builds on itself and does offer explanations for why Sara keeps getting new powers. Lady Azura is very helpful, although Sara's father is rather clueless. I like that Sara doesn't stay with Jayden, but moves around to other boys; that seems realistic, as does her friendship with Lily. Nice sense of place, and good mysteries. I can see why my readers are so fond of these. .
Weaknesses: Obviously, a lot of preoccupation with death in these. I do feel that there's too much palpable longing for Natalie. The father can't seem to move on, and Sara is just obsessed even though her mother died giving birth to her. I'm not sure this is healthy.

Also, in the flashbacks to 1984, Natalie talks about going to the mall with a friend, but in Spirits of the Season, Franklin can't find Lady Azura because of a mall built nearby in about 2003. Are there two malls this close together? Hmmm.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Susan Marcus Bends the Rules

18554639Cutler, Jane. Susan Marcus Bends the Rules
March 14th 2014 by Holiday House 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Susan and her family move from New York City to Missouri when the company he works for goes out of business in 1943. A small town in the South is a big change, and when Susan realizes that she won't be allowed to be friends with Loretta just because Lorretta is black, she is angry. Her friends Liz and Marlene think that this is fairly normal, just like the fact that black people can't go to the pool, movies or live in the same buildings as white people do. When Susan investigates, she finds out that the Jim Crow laws don't extend to the bus, and the four girls make plans to "bend the rules" and ride the bus together.
Strengths: The real appeal of this book are the details about daily life at this time. The war affects each family in different ways, form Loretta's mother wanting to move to California to work in a factory to the rationing that causes everyone difficulties. There is a Chinese restaurant in town that is attacked because people think the owners are Japanese, and there are also descriptions of writing letters, skating, and other bygone everyday activities. The Civil Rights plot line is fine.
Weaknesses: Holiday House's book formatting makes me not want to purchase their books again and again. 1980s style artwork, tiny font, and inadequate white space make these very unattractive. Really, clip art appeals more to students than drawings and paintings. The stories are not bad, but I can spot Holiday House cover art at fifty paces.

Something like this (maybe with some color, now that I think of it, a 1940s green, perhaps) would almost be better.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sky Raiders

18051172Mull, Brandon. Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms #1)
March 11th 2014 by Aladdin 
ARC from Baker and Taylor, along with nice t shirt I gave to student.

Cole is at a haunted house on Halloween with his friends from school when many of them are taken by creepy people through a portal... and he follows, trying to rescue them. He ends up in the Outskirts (which is made up of five kingdoms), and gets captured by the same slavers that have his friends. On the way to the main city, Cole is sold to the Sky Raiders who board floating castles and loot them before the buildings escape into the cloudwall. It's dangerous work, and Cole must complete 50 missions before he can do less dangerous chores. He meets Mira, who is a Shaper. The High King is after her, and when her protector dies in a castle raid, Cole and Mira make plans to escape. They later find out a secret about her background which explains why the Legionnaires are after them. Eventually Cole and Mira, along with Jace and Twitch, get through a bizarre place called Brady's Wilderness and head to Greta in Middlebranch, who will supposedly help them. Cole finds out that people from Earth have more Shaping powers, which is why so many of them are stolen as slaves, and he still plans to rescue his friends.
Strengths: Mull's books are very popular in my library, and he does some fun characters. There is also a lot of action adventure, and the Outskirts is an interesting place. I'll have to buy the series; already, students are drooling over the ARC I have.
Weaknesses: Frequent Readers know how I am with fantasy books. After a while, I just can't take any more. While I adored Fablehaven, I haven't vibrated to Mull's other series as well. I thought this one in particular was not solid on world building. The Outskirts is explained in bits and pieces, and is comprised of a random assortment of parts that is confusing. I would have liked this a lot better if things were explained more and (I hate to say this) if there were a map at the beginning of the book.

DearLuckyAgent2Head on over to Writer's Digest if you are an author and would like a shot at their contest.

Fun fact-- the only money I ever made from my writing was when WD paid me $40 for a poem in 1984!

Monday, March 10, 2014

MMGM-- World War II

Middle Grade March What better way to celebrate Middle Grade Monday than to head over to Middle Grade March  at Deb Marshall's blog, or perhaps hop over to read a lot of good book reviews at  Middle Shelf Magazine.

You can also check out the list of Middle Grade Bloggers on pages 52-53.

18381476Farrell, Marie Cronk. Pure Grit:How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp
March 1st 2014 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

There are so many facets of WWII that haven't been addressed as much in literature for children, and both the role of women and the Pacific theater are covered in this well formatted nonfiction title. Based on extensive research from first hand accounts, the lives of a group of Army nurses stationed in the Philippines is described in detail. From the country club atmosphere before the war to the extreme deprivations of being held captive by the Japanese, the struggles of daily life are depicted in a sensitive but unflinching way. There are lots of great pictures and copies of letters that add a lot. I certainly learned a lot, and the readers who want more information about anything related to WWII will find the accounts of  Corregidor and Bataan fascinating. The fact that the women not only survived he bombings, fighting and deprivations but then went on to live long and productive lives was inspiring.
Strengths: This was extremely readable, with interesting anecdotes well strung together. Again, the research and use of primary resources was great. The illustrations and format of this book were well done, even reading it on an e reader. I can't wait to get my hands on the print edition.
Weaknesses: This is a bit on the long side, and may take some selling to students, but it is a must have for any middle school and high school collection.

17364932Sax, Aline, Strzelecki, Caryl (Illustrations), Watkinson, Laura (translator). The War within These Walls  
October 16th 2013 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Misha is living in the Warsaw Ghetto with his family, and even though conditions are worsening for everyone, Misha thinks that his father's job as a doctor will keep them safe. For a while, this means a little bit of food and safety, but as the Nazis confine people more and more, even this disappears. Misha starts using the sewers to leave the Ghetto to find food, and his young sister follows him. This works well until the Nazis start to use flame throwers to clear out the sewers, and his sister never returns. When Misha finds that people are being sent to camps, he starts to work with the Resistance, who feel that if they are going to die anyway, they might as well die fighting. Many of them do, but Misha survives and manages to flee the Ghetto.
Strengths: This is not a graphic novel, but has lots of pictures that accompany the text. This will appeal to many readers. The descriptions of the deprivations and inhumanity are again unflinching. Our 8th grade studies the Holocaust, and this will be a good addition to the collection, but it is not for the faint of heart.
Weaknesses: Other reviewers have said that the narrow format represents the narrowing of prospects for the Jews, but it also caused the words to be rather small. The pictures didn't add much to the story for me, and the extensive use of blue ink is perhaps the reason for the odd smell of the book. This is also a paper-over-board hardcover without a dust jacket, which will not hold up well. I liked the story, and the translation was good, but I wasn't fond of the format of the book.

17076450Setterington, Ken. Branded by the Pink Triangle
April 15th 2013 by Second Story Press
Stonewall Children's and Young Adults' Literature Award, 2014

This is certainly a very well researched book about the plight of homosexual men during the Holocaust. Starting with an explanation of the accepting culture in Berlin from the late 1800s until after the first world war, this gives a very complete account of why and how the Nazis persecuted men who were perceived to be homosexual. The inclusion of information about individuals who have recounted their tales makes this especially poignant, and there is a chapter dedicated to the state of the homosexual movement after that time. Definitely deserving of its award.

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.