Friday, April 24, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 The Curious Cat Spy Club


I'm not a cat lover, but I do like mysteries, so it sort of balanced out in this case. The CCSC (Curious Cat Spy Club), is founded when three schoolmates rescue some kittens that have been tossed in a dumpster. Finding the kittens brings the kids together, even though they are very different. Leo is an only child and doesn't seem to have many social skills, but he is very smart and likes to build gadgets like drones and robots. Becca lives at the Wild Oaks Animal Sanctuary with her mother and is part of the most popular group of girls at school. Kelsey shares an apartment with her 3 siblings and her parents; she likes to observe people and wishes she could be a spy. Together they decide to take care of the kittens and find out how they wound up in the dumpster.

I like the way the story not only includes the mystery of the kittens, but also shows the everyday lives of the characters. They have their club, but there is still school, chores, and family life, too. And the differences in the home-life of each kid are very typical in the real world. Becca's parents are divorced. Kelsey's father lost his job and is searching for another one. Leo's parents work long hours and are never around. Details of how much care the kittens need and what a commitment it is to care for them also add realism to the story. It sounds fun and adventurous to rescue animals, but then you have to feed them and empty the litter box and pay for the cat food and litter - there's a lot of responsibility involved.

Fun realistic fiction with a bit of sleuthing and danger mixed in. A good read for middle grade animal lovers, especially those who enjoy a series where they can encounter the same characters in each book.

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

Spring Reading 2015 Safety Stars: Players Who Fought to Make the Hard-Hitting Game of Professional Hockey Safer


I've only been to one hockey game, so I am not an expert on the sport, but I think this book was a well-written account of how safety has been improved over the years. The information is presented in chronological order, but uses the stories of key players to illustrate when and why each improvement was made. Most people think of hockey as a very rough, macho sport and it seems that perception is what made the teams reluctant to use protective gear. But as advances were made in the materials and design of safety gear, and as more was learned about the long-term effects of injuries such as concussions (Traumatic Brain Injuries), changes did slowly take place.

The players' injuries that were discussed were everything from a broken thumb, to losing sight in an eye, to heart problems. Each time someone very popular with fans and teammates suffered from one of these problems, it gave the necessary push to move the safety gear and regulations forward, including the formation of the Department of Player Safety. Reading about how hard these players trained and worked to get back in the game after each setback, you can really appreciate their dedication. The sheer number of stitches, bruises, and broken bones would scare most people away from the ice.

For readers who enjoy sports stories and sports information, this book combines the two by using real-life happenings to showcase the dangers of the sport and how they have been addressed. This is interesting and easy to read nonfiction, not just a dry account of league rules and equipment specifications.

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Monster Motors


With a hairstyle that would make Elvis Presley's pompadour weep in envy, Vic Frankenstein rolls into Transylvania, KY ready to take possession of the junkyard he purchased online. Little does he know that the wall surrounding his new property is there to keep something very dangerous inside...Cadillacula. That's right - a car that sucks the gas and life out of other vehicles, leaving them as lifeless, rusted shells. The vampire car even kills Vic's truck, the one he had made by hand from all sorts of pieces and parts. How will Vic protect the town and stop this monster motor?

A wonderfully funny take on the monster movies of yesteryear. Cadillacula, Wheel Wolf, Lagoon Buggy, Minivan Helsing, and Frankenride are just some of the monsters rolling through the pages. I love Vic's interactive garage operations robot, or I.G.O.R. In the opening scene as Vic rolls into Transylvania, what looks like a horned figure on a tombstone stands in the darkness, but turns out to be a billboard with a guy wearing a cowboy hat. That is the sort of "gotcha" moments that pop up throughout the book. I love the 1980s references mixed in, such as IGOR declaring "There can be only one!" or "It's Hammer Time!" And I laughed until I cried when Lagoon Buggy started singing the theme song from Flash Gordon, "He'll save every one of us. He'll save every man, every woman, every child..."

For those who enjoy some humor mixed in with their monster stories, and who don't mind that the monsters are actually vehicles of various sorts, this is a great match-up of all sorts of classic monsters. It will be interesting to see if the good guys are able to defeat Cadillacula's Carmy of Darkness. (Yes, they had to go there. Hooray for Bruce Campbell!)

Highly recommended for graphic novel and horror-comedy fans.

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

Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Seriously Wicked

What could be tougher than surviving high school? How about trying to make it through high school while keeping it a secret that you live with a witch? Camellia tries hard to balance all the demands in her life. She has to go to school, do her homework, then her chores, and keep everyone from finding out that the "aunt" she lives with is actually a witch who plans to gain control of the entire city. Of course, her chores tend to be things like mucking out the dragon poop in the garage, walking the werewolf puppy, and picking up ingredients for the witch's spells. The witch even gives her spells to learn, although Cam has sworn never to be anything like her guardian. But when she learns that the witch is planning to summon a demon and use its power to take over the town, Cam decides she may have to give in and learn some spells, just so she can stop the evil plans. 

High school as a normal teen was hard enough. I can't imagine how sleep-deprived I would have been if I had to catch pixies or round up goat's blood on top of regular chores and homework. Cam's commentary on her dilemma and the ways she tries to thwart the witch's schemes are very funny, as are some of the results of her attempts. (I now know that if you are going to stick a phoenix feather in your back pocket to make sure the cute boy at the bus stop doesn't see it, you should make sure it is no longer on fire first.) Cam's character is feisty, frazzled, and understandably snarky at times. I really enjoyed her friend Jenah, her math tutor Kelvin reminds me of Dwight from the Origami Yoda books, and the boy at the bus stop is rather adorable. Altogether a fresh take on YA urban fantasy and highly recommended.

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Fight Back

This is one of the Lorimer SideStreets, fast-paced novels with real world stories and believable characters. Fight Back tells the story of Tyler, a boy who grew up in an abusive home with alcoholic parents. Social services finally steps in after his mother leaves with his younger sister and Tyler shows up in school bruised, again, and tells the truth about his father's abuse. But Tyler has been beaten down and told he was useless all his life. Will he be able to overcome the way he has been conditioned to think of himself? Can he learn that there are caring adults and people he can trust? How will he channel all the anger that has built up inside of him over the years?

The SideStreets books are filled with action and young people dealing with situations in contemporary settings. For readers who prefer realistic fiction, quick reads, and stories with plenty of tense moments, this is a series they should try.

I appreciate the way the author shows that Tyler's change in circumstances and attitude is not a magical/overnight transformation. He has times that he slides back into old habits and moments when the rage breaks free. But it also shows that, with support, those patterns of behavior can be changed.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. For more information on this and other SideStreets books, visit the series webpage

Spring Reading 2015 Nobody!


Using a fictional setting, the author of Nobody! shows how bullying can rob a child's life of happiness and contentment. When Kyle bullies Thomas and makes ugly remarks about his hobbies and abilities, Thomas has trouble concentrating on anything except the way Kyle makes him feel. Because the bullying is always on his mind, Thomas can't even enjoy the things he is good at. But when Thomas decides that he is happy with the ways he is different (since differences are what make us all individuals), he reacts to Kyle's taunts in a way that takes the power out of them. It also helps that friends and classmates also tell Kyle that they like the glasses Thomas wears or the kite he makes, showing Kyle that they don't appreciate his behavior. 

The situations in the story are very realistic. It seems that bullies are very good at finding those times when an adult is not watching to do their teasing. As Thomas says, "I wish some people would look a little closer." And often the bullied child has frustration and anger that he or she takes out on others, just as Thomas yells at his family to leave him alone. There are often bystanders - and how they choose to act can make a difference. If they simply stay silent, or say that they didn't see what happened, the problem will just continue. Thomas has figured out that the other kids just don't want Kyle to be mad at them, it's not that they agree with Kyle or approve of what he's doing, they are afraid of being his next target.

The activities at the end of the book are very helpful for parents and teachers who would like to use the story with their own children or students. There are discussion questions, tips on finding someone to talk to if you are having a similar problem, and tips for helping fell good about yourself.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You may visit the author's website for information about this and her other books.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Walking Home to Rosie Lee


I haven't encountered many picture books that deal with the aftermath of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, especially something told from a child's point of view. Walking Home to Rosie Lee helps to fill that gap. The narrator, Gabe, tells of his search to find his mother and be reunited with her. He explains that he hasn't seen her since "Master Turner sold her away," but he still remembers how she smelled like jasmine. While others talks about their plans for their futures, he is tracking down rumors of women named Rosie, only to be disappointed again and again. Will he ever find the right Rosie Lee?

As the author's note explains, some of those who searched for family members after the war only found them after months or even years of searching, and others never were found at all. This book just tells what one such search might have been like. It shows some of the situations that may have occurred, such as being snarled at by the cook at the Carter's place, or hearing dogs barking and climbing into a tree for fear of being attacked by them. But it also shows some of the kindness - hugs and meals from strangers, or the offer of a place to spend the night. It strikes a balance to get across the difficulty of the search, but without making it too frightening or dismal for young readers.

The repetitive phrase, "singing songs, telling stories and dream-talking of the lives they're gonna live," adds to the feeling of the search being endless, going through the same motions over and over. The dialect is noticeable without being overly exaggerated or too difficult to understand. Other details of the era such as the Freedman's Bureau or schools for African Americans popping up are worked into the narrative as things that Gabe encounters during his search, while the place names show how far he roamed - Mobile, Chattanooga, Jasper, and Cleveland. 

This would make a good addition to any Civil War/Reconstruction unit in elementary school. It could be used as a read-aloud to introduce a lesson or serve as a mentor text for students writing their own historical fiction pieces from what they have learned during the unit. Classes from East Tennessee would be especially interested due to the locations mentioned towards the end of Gabe's search. They could plot some of his journey on a map and see how close he came to their hometowns. However it is used - either in direct instruction or for self-selected reading, it will be a good addition to the classroom or library resources already on hand.

You may visit the  McBookWords site to read an interview with the book's creators.

The author provided a (PDF) copy of the book so that I could read and review it.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for young adults. Starting again May 7th 2015, SYNC will give away two complete audiobook downloads a week - a current young adult title along with a thematically paired classic or required summer reading title. Sign up for email or text alerts and be first to know when new titles are available to download at