Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide


For everyone except zombies (walking dead, zed, zeke, dreadfuls, etc.), this book will have something to appreciate. If you are not a foodie, have no worries - you can simply amuse yourself reading the explanations of why you might need these recipes. If you are into DIY, then the oven hacks will be right up your alley. Vegan? No problem - you can make do with the sprouts, seaweed, and other herbivorous options. Lucky enough to stumble upon a cache of MREs? Then this will be much more useful than a vintage Julia Child collection.

Lauren Wilson has taken into consideration what life after zpoc will actually be like. No more trucks delivering fresh produce to the nearest Walmart Super Center, no kosher deli down the block, no more drive-thru or fast food delivery. So she has thoughtfully provided instructions on how to construct various ovens (without electricity), to sprout beans/ seeds/grains for some densely nutritious green shoots, and even how to roast crickets and season them. Warning! Don't eat the crickets if you are allergic to shellfish.

Having read the preview copy, I cannot wait to read the entire book. And I need to buy several copies to give as gifts, or stash in secure locations along with stockpiles of other survival gear (just in case).

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Check out the book's webpage for more information.

Spring Reading 2015 The Black Dog Mystery: Ellery Queen Jr. Mystery Stories #1


Readers who enjoy classic mystery stories such as Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or the Bobbsey Twins will enjoy this young detective and his spunky little dog. Djuna lives in a small town called Edenboro. He and his dog, Champ, are free to explore the woods and fields around town, fish in Lost Pond, and spend time with his friends Tommy and Mr. Boots. If he wants, he can even hang out with Clarabelle, Mr. Pindler's niece. Picture a sleepy little town, even quieter than Mayberry, and you might come close to envisioning Edenboro. But things don't stay quiet for long. Mr. Boots gets a letter in the mail and suddenly changes from pleasant and friendly to nervous and grumpy. When Tommy and Djuna get a ride into nearby Clinton to buy some fish hooks, they see a bank robbery and Champ is almost shot by the robbers for chasing their getaway car. Clarabelle hears a truck driving around town in the middle of the night when everyone should be in bed. Someone breaks into the shop where Mr. Boots keeps his carpentry and house-painting supplies and steals over a dozen cans of paint. What in the world has gotten into everyone? And why can't the police find the robbers when they have a description of their car and know they were headed up the highway to Canada? It's all very strange and Djuna's mind can't help turning the facts over and over, trying to make sense of everything.

If you know a young mystery lover who doesn't mind a story set in the 1940s, you should have them try out this first in the adventures of Djuna and his friends. And who wouldn't love a story where a trusty little Scottie grabs a bank robber by the ankle and chases him out of town? These stories were originally written over 60 years ago and are being introduced to a new generation of readers. (The cover above showing Djuna running away from the shack is the original cover; the one with the silhouettes is the newer one.)

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Do You Really Want to Visit a Temperate Forest?


This entire series is a wonderfully illustrated introduction to various biomes. In this volume, a little girl in a red jacket and hat sets off into the woods. Sound familiar? But the text is quick to point out that this is not a fairy tale, this is a real forest in the Pacific Northwest. Details about the climate and the location of the forest are worked in without bogging down the narrative. A landslide looks a little scary, but it does provide shelter from predators for smaller animals. Tree-climbing gear can take you to the canopy for a great view. Or, you could ride a zipline from tree to tree (after all, wolves can't climb). 

Overall, the book covers three different examples of temperate forest, shares interesting facts, and has some cool action with the ziplines and larger animals that are encountered. The tongue-in-cheek references to fairy tales are another way the text and illustrations keep the reader's attention. The back matter includes a map of temperate forests worldwide, a glossary, books and websites to check out for more information, and even some simple conservation ideas to help save the forests.

I received this book as a free sample from the publisher after participating in a webinar on new titles for children. I read it and immediately took it to show some of the teachers in my school, then ordered the entire series. This is a great set of books for younger students who are studying biomes, ecosystems, and habitats. I highly recommend it. (And I can't wait for the other books to arrive!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 The Friendship Riddle

This was such an enjoyable book. I loved the character of Ruth. In the story, Ruth is in sixth grade and is trying to adjust to life without her best friend, Charlotte. She still sees her at school, but Charlotte has become one of the popular crowd and has dropped Ruth as a friend. It doesn't help that her new best friend, Melinda, is mean and sneaky and constantly harasses Ruth. As I would have done at that age, Ruth spends most of her time reading nad hanging out in the library. (Books can be such faithful friends.) But when Ruth finds a mysterious riddle inside an old library book and begins trying to follow the trail of clues to the next riddle, she slowly begins to include other people in her quest. 

The kids in the story all have such distinct personalities. There's Ruth, the quiet girl with her books, observing others but not interacting very often. Lena is the flamboyant girl with her own style and is not afraid to express her opinions and stand up for herself and others. The brainy guy, Lucas, who can't help but answer any question and spews facts. Coco (Christopher) is the all around good student; he gets good grades, gets along with everyone, and is genuinely nice. You get the idea - you've probably encountered people with similar traits. And the constant put-downs, physical harassment, and emotional manipulation of Melinda are also a familiar part of middle school.

This book would appeal to lots of different readers: those who like friendship stories will enjoy seeing Ruth move on and begin to let people in; those who like school stories will the classroom scenes and the spelling bee; those who enjoy mystery will like the riddles and the quest to solve them. I think it would make a wonderful book to read a chapter or two a day to a fifth grade class and let them imagine what they might do if their sixth grade year had some of the same situations in it.

Highly recommended for all middle grade readers. Fans of Chasing Vermeer and similar books will love this.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. For more details about the author, visit her website. Here is the information NetGalley provided about her:
MEGAN FRAZER BLAKEMORE is the author of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill and The Water Castle, which was listed as a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and as a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing. She is also the author of the young adult novel Secrets of Truth and Beauty which received a starred review inPublishers Weekly and was on the ALA Rainbow list. A former middle-school librarian, Megan lives in Maine with her family.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Burj Khalifa: The Tallest Tower in the World


This is a nonfiction book that will appeal to several types of readers - those who are interested in architecture, engineering, and world records will all be interested in the facts and figures inside. I enjoyed the way those facts were made more understandable by using comparisons. For instance, saying that all the rebar used when pouring the concrete would stretch a quarter of the way around the earth or comparing the horsepower of the concrete pumps to that of racecars makes the details easier to visualize. Adding the stories of BASE jumpers sneaking in to use the tower for a jump or how scenes from the movie "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" were filmed there gives the narrative some entertainment glamour. 

For those who are interested in nonfiction text features, this would be a great book to use in class to introduce captions, sidebars, graphs, etc. The full color photos and diagrams show the construction process from beginning to end and include details about testing the design in wind tunnels and how the air conditioning system works. Parts of the process that did not go as smoothly are not left out. Instead, the problems and their solutions are explained. Whether it is how they corrected bowing floors, or the economic problems caused by the Great Recession, it is noteworthy that the author addressed these issues rather than leaving them out.

There are several science standards in our state curriculum (and probably other states have them, too), that deal with engineering and technology. The standards specifically talk about how problems may lead to the invention of new technologies or techniques. This would be a good book to pull examples from, since new techniques were developed for pumping the concrete to the upper floors and to make the air conditioning work efficiently in such a large building and such a hot climate, to name just a couple of the engineering advances from the project.

I would highly recommend this book to be included in any elementary school library. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

For more information (including Teachers' Notes), visit the book's webpage.

Spring Reading 2015 Stand Tall! A Book about Integrity


Integrity is one of the life skills that many schools include in their character education or guidance programs. This is a great introduction to and explanation of the concept. As with all the books in Being the Best Me series, the illustrations show children in typical situations at home and at school. In this case, each one is a chance for the narrator to make the right choice, even if no one is watching. It is good to show that integrity is not about trying to earn recognition or praise, but it is about being true to yourself and doing the right thing. 

An activity guide for adults follows the story, making this easy to use for parents and teachers. It would do especially well for starting a class discussion about integrity and having students share other examples besides those shown in the book.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Additional information from NetGalley:

From the author of the popular Learning to Get Along® books comes a one-of-a-kind character-development series. Each of the first six books in the Being the Best Me! series helps children learn, understand, and develop attitudes and positive character traits that strengthen self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Each book focuses on a specific attitude or character trait—optimism, self-esteem, assertiveness, resilience, integrity, and forgiveness. Also included are discussion questions, games, activities, and additional information for adults. Filled with diversity, these social story books will be welcome in school, home, and childcare settings.

Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband, David, have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Elizabeth Allen is an artist and professional illustrator of children’s picture books as well as a former songwriter and jazz musician. She has exhibited her art in galleries in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Elizabeth lives on a river running through a forest near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Spring Reading 2015 Book Scavenger


I loved this book. Picture all the best treasure hunt, scavenger hunt, clue hunt stories you've read. This belongs in there with The Westing GameCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe 39 CluesEscape from Mr. Lemoncello's know the kinds of stories I mean. This has all the mystery, the clues, codes to unravel, locations to search, and each one leads you to the next. 

Mr. Griswold has already created one phenomenon, Book Scavenger (think Book Crossings, but with points and prizes), that has spanned the world and drawn in hundreds of thousands of players. But, on the day he is scheduled to announce a new game, he is mugged and the announcement is postponed. Emily and her family arrive in San Francisco the day of the mugging. Besides the worry of any fan over Mr. Griswold's condition, Emily has the added disappointment of not being able to begin the new game. Book Scavenger is her hobby, the thing that she can take with her when her family moves (at least once a year for as long as she can remember). She had resigned herself to this latest move because it was taking her to Mr. Griswold's hometown and she would be there when the new game was unveiled.

The high point of the move turns out to be the boy her age that lives in her building. She and James have a shared love of puzzles that unites them from the start, even though he has never played Book Scavenger. And when they discover an unusual book at the scene of the mugging, Emily is sure it is part of the new game. Unfortunately, it seems that others are also interested in the book. Can Emily and James figure out what is really going on?

The characters in this story are so well developed that it is easy to like, or dislike, them as if they were real. When you read that Emily's brother Matthew is into music and loves a band called Flush, you worry that he will be just like Rodrick from Diary of the Wimpy Kid. Emily and James don't have a picture perfect friendship, there are disagreements and tense moments. Her parents are great at relocating the family, but it turns out that they are terrible at getting everything unpacked and put away. Once you reach the end of the book, it seems as if the whole thing could really have happened. And all the sensory details in the descriptions capture the setting vividly.

This is like a middle grade version of Ready, Player One. A great read for book lovers and mystery lovers. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 The Doublecross: And Other Skills I Learned as a Superspy


A bit like "Spy Kids" meets A Series of Unfortunate EventsThe Doublecross is told from the viewpoint of Hale Jordan (Sounds very similar to Hal Jordan, doesn't it?), whose parents are agents for the Sub Rosa Society, or SRS. Actually, his parents are The Team, the best agents in the agency. But when they go missing on a mission, Hale decides he will find and rescue them. He's convinced The League has them, and sets out to infiltrate enemy headquarters and find where they are holding his parents. No one in the SRS would suspect him of doing such a thing, because he has never been able to pass the physical that would qualify him for duty as a junior agent. What they don't take into consideration is that he has done exceptionally well in all his other classes, and he puts that know-how to practical use. Along with his hyperkinetic sister, Kennedy, new acquaintances Ben and Beatrix, and their Uncle Clatterbuck, Hale will take on an entire evil agency to find out the truth and make it possible to get his parents back safely.

This book has elements of many classic types of stories - spy thriller (complete with nifty gadgets), orphaned or lost children searching for their parents, school story (since some of it does take place in those training classes), and the underdog. What's not to like? Readers who enjoy action, intrigue, and seeing the good guys trying to save the world will be clamoring for more of this series. A wonderful middle grade novel with characters a bit younger than those in the Alex Rider adventures.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Additional information about the author from NetGalley:

Jackson Pearce lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and a minor in Philosophy. She began writing when she got angry that the school librarian couldn’t tell her of a book that contained a smart girl, horses, baby animals, and magic. Her solution was to write the book herself when she was twelve.
Jackson is the author of a series of teen retold fairy-tales, including Sisters RedSweetly,Fathomless, and Cold Spell, as well as two stand-alones, As You Wish and Purity. As J. Nelle Patrick, she is the author of TsarinaThe Doublecross is her debut middle-grade.
You can also check her website.

Spring Reading 2015 How to Draw Batman, Superman, and Other DC Super Heroes and Villains


Let me just say, if I can follow the directions and make a recognizable image of Batman, then anyone can do it. I often joke with my students that even my stick-people are terrible looking. But I managed to make a sketch that can actually be identified as the Caped Crusader by following the steps in the book. For kids (and adults) who are actually decent artists, this book will enable them to create a "Whos' Who" of the DC Universe. It includes Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, Robin and NightWing, members of the Justice League and villains such as The Riddler, Lex Luthor, and Harley Quinn. You could spend days drawing epic battles and smack-downs between the good guys and the baddies.

Perfect for any school library - especially if you have students that are always asking for more drawing books and for anything about superheroes. It would also make a great gift for any DC fans with an artistic flair.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You can visit the Capstone website for more information. They use Google Preview, so you can see the interior of the book.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Forgive and Let Go! A Book about Forgiveness


Forgive and Let Go
 is another installment in the Being the Best Me series. This one gives everyday examples of reasons why a child might get angry, hurt, or frustrated with someone. Perhaps there is an argument over a toy, or a block structure that was carefully built is knocked down; there are so many things that happen in a typical day that could make a child upset. But the book also talks about how to forgive and let the situation and negative feelings go. I like the fact that the child narrator is honest enough to admit sometimes he is the one at fault, and to tell how he might apologize or make up for it. 

As with all the books in the series, this one also has several pages of ideas for parents and caregivers to help reinforce the concepts in the book - discussion questions, games and activities. This would be a handy book for preschools, elementary schools, and families.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Additonal information provided through the NetGalley site:
From the author of the popular Learning to Get Along® books comes a one-of-a-kind character-development series. Each of the first six books in the Being the Best Me! series helps children learn, understand, and develop attitudes and positive character traits that strengthen self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Each book focuses on a specific attitude or character trait—optimism, self-esteem, assertiveness, resilience, integrity, and forgiveness. Also included are discussion questions, games, activities, and additional information for adults. Filled with diversity, these social story books will be welcome in school, home, and childcare settings.

Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., has her master’s degree in elementary education and gifted education. A former first-grade teacher, she has taught education classes at Utah State University and has supervised student teachers. Cheri and her husband, David, have six children and enjoy the company of their lively grandchildren. They live in Laurel, Maryland.

Elizabeth Allen is an artist and professional illustrator of children’s picture books as well as a former songwriter and jazz musician. She has exhibited her art in galleries in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Elizabeth lives on a river running through a forest near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Spring Reading 2015 When Whales Cross the Sea


Easy to read nonfiction on animal migrations is great for school libraries or classroom collections. This whole set would be a wonderful addition to either space. The narrative begins with how a gray whale prepares for the migration south and ends with the whale and her baby heading north as the seasons change. Illustrations (done with acrylics), wrap the reader in cool blue tones that crate the sense of being in the water with the whales. My favorite is a view looking from underneath the whale and back up toward the ocean's surface. The whale's form is outlined against the sunlight filtering through the water. The map of the migration route, table of gray whale facts, glossary, index, and list of more books to read on the subject are all very helpful features. The facts themselves are presented smoothly through the narrative and there are only a few on each page, which keeps it from being boring or overwhelming. The reader's eyes will be drawn to the two-page spreads that give the illustrator plenty of room to show details of the whale's appearance. 

I would recommend this book to any elementary school or children's library, as well as to any young whale enthusiasts. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

I think it would be fun to show someone just the top part of the cover and ask them to guess what the book is about. I'm sure many people would say, "an elephant," because of the color and texture of the skin around the eye. That could lead into a comparing/contrasting activity of those two mammals - elephants and whales.

Spring Reading 2015 Raindrops Fall All Around


A charming look at a rainy day. Rhyming text takes the reader through scenes in nature and in the city. Ducks paddle on a lake. Water flows into a storm drain. One of my favorite illustrations is that of the two puppies shaking off the raindrops. The picture captures the motion of the flapping ears and the water flying through the air as it is shaken off. As a dog owner, I know that look very well. I also enjoyed the way the illustrations focused on animals rather than humans. Young readers will enjoy the puppies, bunnies, and other critters.

This would make a good read-aloud for primary grade students. It could be used to introduce the topic of weather, or contrasting the city versus the country setting. The bright colors keep it from being a gloomy, dark rainy day. I can imagine readers wanting to go out and play in the rain after finishing the book. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. 

Some readers may recognize the author's name from his other rhyming stories, such as Mice Are Nice.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Oddly Normal: Book 1


Oddly is a half-witch. Her mother comes from Fignation (a figment of imagination) and her father is a human from our world. Her parents never seem to clue in to the fact that she has no friends because she is so different - pointy ears, green hair. When she gets frustrated with everything and makes a wish on her birthday candles, suddenly she's on her own. Her auntie comes and takes her to Fignation, where Oddly thinks she will finally be able to fit in. While her aunt tries to figure out what exactly that wish did, she sends Oddly to school to keep up a normal routine. Her classes at Menagerie Middle School have kids that are zombies, werewolves, vampires, and she even sees a character from a comic book. The teachers are equally bizarre. Will she finally be able to make some friends and enjoy herself?

This is a story that shows no matter who you are or where you are, there are always people who will pick on you for being a bit different. Of course, the main point is to be careful what you wish for. But readers will have to stick with the series to see what Oddly and her auntie do next.

If you enjoy "The Munsters" or "The Addam's Family", some of the scenery may seem a bit familiar to you. And if you enjoy books with plenty of imagination, this one should keep you entertained.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. (This collects issues #1-5.)

Winter Reading 2015 The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Rome and Juliet

I love the director's notes to himself at the end of the play. It shows his brainstorming list for settings - 1920s Chicago (nope, gunfire would be heard by the zookeeper), dragonriders (no, balls of flame would be noticed too easily), rival marching bands (too noisy) - oh, a petting zoo is quiet! And so, another adaptation of the Bard is begun. Romeo is a rooster in a petting zoo and Juliet is a bear in the woods; petter and wilder can never be friends. But they do meet and become best friends. When Tibbs comes to the zoo to find the chickens who crashed the masquerade party, he plucks Mercutio (who dies of embarrassment). Tempers flare, it gets ugly. The wise owl comes up with a plan for Juliet and Romeo to be together, but the messenger is a squirrel easily distracted by, we have a sad ending.

Continuing jokes from the first book (MacBeth) show up - like the elephants arriving late to the play and blocking everyone's view of Romeo's duel with Tibbs. There is a young monkey complaining about being there, who then decides he loves tragedies and want to be an actor. What about vendors selling "greasy, grimy gopher guts" to the crowd? For a tragedy, there are plenty of laughs. And the creators even sneak in a little Shakespearean history by including it in the director's "Notes to Cast and Crew."

This would be fun to read with a class studying Shakespeare. The comparisons and contrasts would make a very lively discussion. But any graphic novel fans would have a great time with all the jokes (verbal and visual).

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2015 Voices Are Not for Yelling


All the books in the Best Behavior series have many similarities, like the illustrations that include culturally diverse characters. They generally start off with positive examples, then show when a certain behavior or choice is not appropriate, and finally show better alternatives and reiterate the positive message. In this case, we see people using their voices to talk, laugh, sing, and joke. In some cases the characters use quiet inside voices, and in others they use louder voices outside. But the book also explains that using a loud voice and yelling hurts everyone's ears and their feelings. It is better to use a quieter voice so that listeners pay attention to the words, rather than how loudly they are said.

Each book in the series also contains tips for parents and teachers on how to use the book with children and activities (in this case - to help them practice the different kinds of voices and when to use them).

A complete set of all the books would be good for teachers of younger children, guidance counselors, and other caregivers.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Additional information provided on NetGalley:

The Best Behavior series uses simple words and delightful full-color illustrations to guide children to choose peaceful, positive behaviors. Select titles are available in two versions: a durable board book for ages baby–preschool, and a longer, more in-depth paperback for ages 4–7. Kids, parents, and teachers love these award-winning books. All include helpful tips and ideas for parents and caregivers.

Elizabeth Verdick is the author of more than 40 highly acclaimed books for children and teens, including books in the Best Behavior series for young children, the Happy Healthy Baby™ and Toddler Tools board book series, and the Laugh & Learn™ series for preteens. Her most recent titles include Noses Are Not for PickingPlay (Happy Healthy Baby), On-the-Go Time (Toddler Tools), Stand Up to Bullying! (Laugh & Learn), and The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (And Their Parents). She lives with her husband, two children, and five pets near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Marieka Heinlen received her BFA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and also studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. She launched her career as an award-winning children’s book illustrator with Hands Are Not for Hitting and has illustrated all of the books in the Best Behavior and Toddler Tools series. Marieka focuses her work on books and other materials for children, teens, parents, and teachers. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband, son, and daughter.

Winter Reading 2015 The Classroom Zone


Joke books are some of the most popular checkouts in the library. This is a fun collection of school jokes. They are grouped by topic - such as students, lunchtime, homework, and rules. Here are a couple of examples, "Why can't you whisper in school? It's not aloud."
or "Why didn't the flower go to school on its bike? The petalswere broken." Kids will be memorizing these to share them with each other and their families. Watch out - there may be milk spewing everywhere at lunchtime.

Jokes and riddles are a great way to get young readers interested in language and word play. You can't really get the humor without understanding what the words mean, recognizing homophones, and other conventions of language. I can imagine that teachers might have their students create class books with jokes and riddles of their own. A welcome edition for any school library. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

For more details, check out the series webpage at the publisher's website.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 The Dragon Lantern


In the proud tradition of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," (although without the racier bits), comes The League of Seven. There have been various leagues throughout history, as far back as Atlantis. Archie, Hachi, and Fergus are believed to be the first three members of a new league. With guidance from the Septemberist Society, a group dedicated to remembering the leagues and watching for signs that they were needed again, these young people are attempting to find and bring back an artifact known as the Dragon Lantern. The leader of the society believes that the lantern is extremely powerful and also will provide answers to some of the mysteries puzzling the league and society members. Each of the kids has some sort of incredible power that helps them in their endeavors. Archie is nearly indestructible and very strong (picture the Fantastic Four's Thing, but in human form). Hachi is a Seminole girl with incredible athletic powers. Fergus MacFerguson, complete with kilt, is a brilliant inventor and maker of gadgets - I picture a very young, steampunk version of Star Trek's Scottie. 

Their world is an alternative version of the 1870s, with the Transcontinental railroad not yet completed, and many steam-driven machines like robotic butlers and even giant steam men armed with heavy artillery and carrying troops inside. Famous people from our world are present in their alternate personas. George Custer commands one of the steam men. Edison is around. So is Robert E. Lee. You get the idea. In their world, terribly dangerous creatures known as the Mangleborn must be defeated and imprisoned to prevent them from enslaving all of humanity. The league's members come from all over the world with their skills to track down and capture Manglespawn.

For fans of steampunk, ensemble hero stories, and fantasy/action adventures, the League of Seven is a wonderful recipe for fun. Recommended for readers of The Glass Sentence or The Rithmatist.

I read a preview excerpt (8 chapters), provided by the publisher through NetGalley. And now I have to go back and read the first book in the series so that I will be ready when this second installment comes out in June.

Winter Reading 2015 The Maloney's Magical Weatherbox


Have you seen the movie, "The Avengers"? Not the Marvel superheroes movie, the other one - based on the 1960s TV series. There's a scene where John Steed and Emma Peele visit a place called Wonderland Weather. It is the latest thing in custom meteorology; you simply request the weather you wish to purchase and it is delivered to you through your phone line. 

The magical weatherbox in the title reminds me of that scene. Liz, Neil, and Owen live with their parents in a house that has a vintage callbox in the front yard. Although from the cover illustration, it looks as if the box has come from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" or perhaps a "Dr. Who" episode, it actually is the way in which each season is welcomed in by their father, the Weatherman. Unfortunately, someone else wants his job and has been scheming for years to get it. Everything from embezzlement, fraudulent investments, kidnapping, and cut phone lines are used to bring about this change in power. 

Neil has been trained his whole life to take his father's place, and Liz has trained to be his Shieldsman and protector. But no one is prepared for what happens when Autumn doesn't arrive and Summer seems stuck permanently. Throw in a bog beast, several witches, some eco-terrorists, and a tourist in a large lorry, and you've got quite a story.

Readers who enjoy fantasy, action, and mystery all swirled together (like a super-storm), will enjoy this book. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 The Darkest Part of the Forest


I first encountered the writing of Holly Black in the Spiderwick ChroniclesDoll Bones, and then The Iron Trial. Each of her books has a unique setting and characters, but they are all stories that deal with the unusual in one way or another. In The Darkest Part of the Forest, the unusual is considered daily life in the town of Fairfold. Residents of the town know that there are "fair folk" in the woods and that is better to set out a bowl of milk and carry iron in your pockets. Tourists who come through the area may be carried off or have vicious tricks played on them by magical beings, but that's the way it has always been. Until now. Suddenly a strange sleeping sickness is spreading through town, then a monster stalks the halls of the high school, and people begin to panic. It seems that the Alderking and his subjects have decided that the townsfolk are fair game. Hazel, her brother Ben, and their friend Jack seem to be the only ones trying to solve the problem, rather than just running away or blaming others. But what can three teenagers do against an ancient faerie king and his entire court?

I heard about this title in a webinar on "Myth Makers." This definitely has some seriously wicked mythical/magical elements, and there's a bit of the creepy in there, too. I would recommend it for ages 13+, due to some PG-13 content. Holly Black fans, readers of fantasy, and faithful viewers of shows like Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and Supernatural will enjoy this book.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

For more about the author and her books, visit her webpage.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Dino-Mike and the T.Rex Attack


Mike Evans is living a life other kids can only dream of. His father is a famous paleontologist and he has taken Mike with him on a dinosaur dig. As if that weren't enough, his father also had a cool jacket made for Mike. It has protective scales like a dinosaur's skin, the hood has headlights in the dinosaur eyes, and there are more special effects that Mike hasn't even discovered yet. While his dad and the other scientists are painstakingly brushing dirt off the bones they have uncovered, Mike does a little exploring on his own. He follows a mysterious red-haired girl into the woods and makes an important discovery of his own - a live T.Rex! How will Mike keep the hungry meat-eater from chowing down on the scientists and their big BBQ night?

Full of fast-paced action, nifty gadgets, mysterious strangers (and did I mention a live dinosaur?), this is a fun read for early chapter book readers and dinosaur enthusiasts. There are plenty of illustrations to keep things interesting, a glossary of dino terms in the back, and even some cool T.Rex facts. This is sure to create fans that will be waiting eagerly for Mike's next outing.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2015 Little Robot


I love Ben Hatke's books. In his latest, Little Robot, the story begins with wordless pages showing a truck crossing a bridge, a box bouncing out and falling into the water, and the box slowly floating downstream. Then there are a series of pages with a little girl slipping off to play on her own as older kids board a school bus. When the girl winds up at the riverbank and finds the box, our characters finally meet. As they get to know each other, the missing box is finally noticed and a large robot is sent out to find and retrieve it. Will the small girl and little robot be able to outwit the large, fierce looking robot?

I'm amazed at how much expression Hatke can show on a metal face and a little body language. Little Robot seems happy, surprised, angry - all with a few sounds like "Jonk" "Moorp" and "Zop." It's a bit like watching R2D2 act out scenes from "Short Circuit." And then there is the big, mean robot. We know it's mean because it has a big red eye, a red light on top of its head, and when it comes across a cat we see "Mrow!" and then "Chomp!" It's as if the garbage mashers on the detention level have become mobile and are controlled by SkyNet.

Whether you are a fan of Hatke, robots, or friendship stories, you will all enjoy Little Robot. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Winter Reading 2015 Wildlife

Two girls with not much in common, other than a 9-week term at a school's outdoor education campus, are the narrators of this book (told in alternating journal entries). Sibylla has always attended Crowthorne Academy and has known this experience at Mount Fairweather was coming. She hopes to be assigned to a cabin with her best friend, Holly, and wonders if a boy she kissed at a party before the trip will pay any attention to her during their time at Fairweather. Lou has been doing distance education from home all year and has now transferred to Crowthorne for the final term of the year. Sibylla's godmother had her model in a perfume ad campaign and it has made her into a celebrity with the in-crowd at school and she is trying to fit in. Lou is grieving the death of her friend, Fred. She is a bookish girl in "geek chic" glasses who doesn't care what anyone thinks of her.

Through their differing viewpoints, we watch as events play out over the nine weeks at camp. Some of it is silly - like the pranks played by the different cabins of campers on each other. Other things are more serious - like Sib's friend pushing her to get physical with Ben (the boy from the party). As one girl tries to reconnect with daily life as a normal teenager, the other worries over how she is perceived by others and who she really wants to be.

A well done reflection on the grief of losing young love and the pressures of teenage peers to fit in and do the popular thing. Best for ages 13+.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Fairy Tale Reform School: Flunked Blog Tour

Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School
By Jen Calonita
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
March 3, 2014
Advance Praise for Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School
“Charming fairy-tale fun.” –Sarah Mlynowski, author of the Whatever After series.
Flunked is spellbinding and wickedly clever. Gilly is smart, spunky, and a hilarious narrator!” –Leslie Margolis, author of theAnnabelle Unleashed and the Maggie Brooklyn mysteries.
Flunked is a fresh and funny take on the enchanted world. (And who hasn’t always wanted to know what happened to Cinderella’s stepmother?”)”  -Julie DeVillers, author of the Trading Faces identical twin series and Emma Emmets, Playground Matchmaker.
“A reform school where all the teachers are former villains.  Kinda writes itself, right?” -Betsy Bird’s Librarian Preview
Book Info:

Gilly wouldn’t call herself wicked exactly…but when you have five little brothers and sisters and live in a run- down boot, you have to get creative to make ends meet. Gilly’s a pretty good thief (if she does say so herself).
Until she gets caught.
Gilly’s sentenced to three months at Fairy Tale Reform School- where all of the teachers are former (super-scary) villains like the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, and Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother. Harsh. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its heroic mission. There’s a battle brewing and Gilly has to wonder: can a villain really change?
Amazon | B&N | BAM |!ndigo | IndieBound

Jen Calonita is the author of the Secrets of My Hollywood Life series and other books like Sleepaway Girls and Summer State of Mind, but Fairy Tale Reform School is her first middle grade series. She rules Long Island, New York with husband Mike, princes Tyler and Dylan, and Chihuahua Captain Jack Sparrow, but the only castle she’d ever want to live in is Cinderella’s at Disney World. She’d love for you to drop her a line at or keep the fairy tale going at
Excerpt from Flunked: Fairy Tale Reform School-
There’s a boy up there, standing on the crystal chandelier! He has slightly curly blond hair and is wearing a uniform—­a navy sweater vest over a white shirt with khaki pants—­but his boots are muddy. He’s stepping on priceless crystals with cruddy boots? Is he insane?
“Jax! What are you doing up there?” Kayla whispers heatedly.
“I’m cleaning the crystal for Flora,” Jax says and rolls his eyes. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m making a break for it.”
Kayla applauds. “Yay! This time I know you can do it.”
I shade my eyes from the light bursting through the stained-­glass window next to the chandelier Jax is perched on. “Busting out? Why?” I ask Kayla. “I thought you said this place was cool.”
Jax laughs loudly and looks at me. I feel slightly stunned. I’ve never seen violet eyes before. “FTRS was fun for a while, but strange things have started happening and I don’t want to be here when something bad goes down.”
Strange things? What kind of strange things? Why does Kayla suddenly look pale?
“He’s exaggerating,” Kayla tells me, but she doesn’t sound convincing.
Drip. Whatever Jax is holding is leaking. Kayla and I move out of the way so we don’t get wet. “Grease,” Jax explains to me. “It lubes the window.” He swings the chandelier, and as it nears the window, he uses a fork to try to pry the window open. “A few more tries and I’ll have it.”
“Then what are you going to do, genius?” I ask. “You’re two stories up.”
Jax’s eyes gleam. “I’ve jumped from higher spots before.”
“It’s true,” Kayla says to me. “Jax once jumped from the gym to the dining hall turret. That was three stories up. We call him the Escape Artist. One time he even managed to break into Azalea and Dahlia’s rooms and borrowed their keys to the indoor pool so the whole dorm could take a swim.”
“Impressive,” I tell him. “And I thought I was good at tricking obnoxious royals.”
“She stole a dragon’s tooth clip from one this morning,” Kayla fills him in.
“Nice,” Jax says. “Your first pull?”
“No, I’ve been doing it for a while,” I brag.
“Me too,” Jax says. “My father is a farmer. You can only get so far trading vegetables. I needed to kick things up a notch.”
For some reason, I don’t think any of us are going to make the transformation Headmistress Flora is looking for. “Why do you want to break out so bad?”
“I’ve got places to see, and Enchantasia isn’t one of them.” Jax swings the chandelier so hard the crystals clang together. The window latch pops open, and I watch Jax leap from the chandelier to the tiny window ledge. I’m in awe. Jax looks down at us smugly before pushing open the window. “Are you sure you two don’t want to join me?”
“There’s no time for us,” Kayla says. “Get out of here. Wait!” Her eyes widen. “You deactivated the alarm on the window, right?”
“There isn’t one,” Jax insists. “If there was, I wouldn’t be able to do this.” But when Jax lifts the window, we hear:
EEEEEE! EEEE! EEEE! Unauthorized exit! Unauthorized exit!
The shrieking sound is so intense that Kayla and I cover our ears. Within seconds, Flora is out of her office and running toward us.
I feel something brush past me and I whirl around. When I look up at Jax again, a large, muscular man with a long mane of hair is hanging on to the window ledge, his furry hands pulling Jax back by his shirt. How did the man get up there without a ladder?
“Mr. Jax,” the man says in a low growl, “we really must stop meeting like this.”

Fairy Tale Reform School Quiz Link: Fairy Tale Reform School Quiz

If you get sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School, it will help to have an ally. Take the quiz and find out who your mentor would be.
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