Monday, June 22, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Gotham Academy Volume 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy

This has the school story appeal of Harry Potter, plus the gritty setting of Gotham, and appearances by Batman and some of the city's criminals. Olive Silverlock is an intriguing character with her amnesia of the summer's events when she returns to school in the fall. It makes readers wonder if the memory loss has something to do with the closing off of North Hall on the school's campus, since they both happened over the summer break. She needs a little space, but distancing herself from her boyfriend proves hard when Olive is assigned to mentor his little sister, Maps, as she begins her first year at the Academy. With reports of ghosts loose in the girl's dorm, caped figures seen heading into the cemetery at night, even the sound of footsteps and chains clinking from behind the walls, tension is running high among the students. And the mysterious notes scribbled in the historical journal that Olive and her partner are assigned to do a report on for class just add more layers to the puzzle. 
For readers who enjoy superhero stories, but don't mind the superhero taking a minor role in the mystery, Gotham Academy offers a unique view of Batman's city.

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

Summer Reading 2015 Trollhunters


Ever been the underdog? The one who is picked last for teams, or not picked at all? The short, skinny kid who gets stuffed into a locker? The chubby kid who is bullied? Then you may understand how Jim and his friend, Toby (a.k.a. Tub), feel every day. They are picked on and bullied, forced to hand over their lunch money, never make it up the rope climb in gym class, and have pathetic home lives. Jims' father is super paranoid because his older brother disappeared when they were just kids in what was called "The Milk Carton Epidemic". He has alarm systems, steel shutters, and multiple locks to keep the house secure. Jim isn't allowed to walk to school, stay out after dark, or take part in any dangerous activity. Tub lives with his grandmother and her incredibly large collection of cats; there are so many that he has given up on keeping their names straight and just calls them "Cat #2" or "Cat #46."

But things are about to change. It seems that "The Milk Carton Epidemic" may be returning. Children have begun to go missing in the town of San Bernadino where the boys live. And Jim thinks he has seen something inside his house after his dad has secured it for the night. He's right. Trolls are coming to the surface in search of children to snatch. What can two misfits do to protect not only themselves, but others?

The degree to which the troll world (or underworld) is described is mind-boggling. All the different types of trolls with their various appearances, weaknesses, and methods of attack must have taken forever to imagine and then write down. The theory of why trolls are associated with bridges makes perfect sense once it is explained. And the role of television in the story is brilliant and subversive. The action is written with enough gore and gross details to satisfy the most bloodthirsty reader, and it is balanced with the possibility of romance between Jim and the fair Claire (however much it is a long-shot).

Readers who enjoy swashbuckling, heroes fighting monsters, and urban fantasy will enjoy this fast paced epic. And they will be longing for a sequel when they reach the end.

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

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Your Kids: Cooking!


The students at my school love cookbooks, so I am always interested when I see one written especially for kids. Your Kids Cooking! is not just a recipe book, but an entire program to teach young people the terms and skills needed to be successful in the kitchen. The program consists of the book, a DVD, and a website. The book contains 10 recipe lessons that build upon each other, so that kids learn 100 cooking skills, techniques, and terms by the end of the program. Within each lesson is the main recipe, an additional recipe of a similar dish for further practice, and a recipe for a sweet treat or snack to reward the chef for all the hard work. The DVD goes through a demonstration of the recipe step-by-step, and the website has 10 more recipes to accompany each lesson.

Within the book, each lesson is written up with kid-friendly directions and photos of the ingredients, utensils, and the steps of the recipe. Information includes how many the recipe will serve, the amount of prep time needed, suggestions for completing the meal (side dishes), "Easy-Fix Options" (such as buying frozen meatballs instead of making them from scratch), a shopping list and shopping tips, a breakdown of the nutrition for the dish and extra nutritional info (like the difference between regular and wholegrain pasta), and even interesting food facts from around the world. The beginning of the book includes a list of the utensils needed for each recipe and there is a buyer's guide on the website. The book also contains tips on kitchen safety, covering "sharp stuff, hot stuff, and germy stuff." The DVD has a segment on knife safety.

Pancake lovers know that you can order a short stack, if you aren't very hungry, or get the full stack. In this program, STACK stands for "Skills, Terms, and Cooking Know-How." By the time future chefs have completed Your Kids Cooking! they will have the tall STACK, for sure.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. You can visit the website to see a sample lesson. You can also see what others are saying about the program by visiting the FaceBook page.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Spring Reading 2015 Batgirl Volume 1: The Batgirl of Burnside

Batgirl is back in action after recovering from a crippling attack. She's moved to the hippest area in Gotham, Burnside. Her roommate Frankie is a computer nerd working for a dating site called Hooq. Babs has been accepted for a PhD program with her thesis proposal of an intelligent algorithm that can actually analyze social movements and connections and predict crime before it happens. (Anybody having flashbacks to "Minority Report"?) 

But everything is not coming up roses. Dinah's place is  burned to the ground. Frankie's been putting in a lot of overtime trying to flush a virus out of the Hooq servers. Someone has been stealing personal electronics and selling them to Riot Black, who releases the privileged information for the world to see. Babs actually gets matched up to someone through her Hooq profile, but her date thinks Batgirl is a criminal vigilante. And someone is posing as Batgirl and actually committing crimes and posting selfies about it. Sigh... Being a superhero used to be so simple. Whatever happened to the good old days?

There are plenty of twists, turns,and surprises to keep readers hanging on the edge and waiting for the next page. The storyline does a nice job of balancing the real world problems of paying bills, meeting with your thesis adviser and trying to find someone to date with the superhero details of where to get new gear, how to protect your secret identity, and dealing with public perception and police suspicion.

An entertaining new addition to the Batgirl legend.

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

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 The Trotters of Tweeville: Zavis DaMavis


Other than the protagonist's name, I really didn't think this story was in the style of Dr. Seuss, as the blurb stated. It is written in rhyme, but it doesn't have all the whimsical Seussian nonsense words or the same style of illustrations. The book does a good job of showing situations in which the Golden Rule is being followed by Zavis. I can see it being used by parents and teachers to start a discussion about treating others kindly and taking the initiative to help when you see a need. Since all the examples take place around the school day, it would work well in an elementary school setting, but could also be used at home or in preschools and day-cares. 

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

Summer Reading 2015 Artie's Party: Featuring the Vita-Men


This is an interesting and fun way to help explain how the body works. The body is a village and all the organs live there and work together. Artie Heart is the main character in this story. He is busy doing his job of delivering oxygen and nutrients to all the residents of the body and he begins to notice that everyone is feeling tired. Artie visits Raymond Brain and they decide to invite the Vita-Men band to come for a visit. The band's performance perks everyone right up.

The illustrations are colorful and eye-catching. The job that each organ performs is described, not in a medically precise way, but so that young readers can understand. Raymond Brain, for example, sits in a control center with lots of switches and knobs, while Artie Heart pushes around a cart full of oxygen and nutrient packages. (We all know the heart doesn't actually travel through the body, but it does pump those necessary elements around.)

The companion website has activities, videos (including a music video by The Vita-Men), parent information and even a weekly challenge. Offering the online tie-in makes the characters more appealing to youngsters who enjoy multimedia presentations of information. And the book makes the point that vitamins are necessary for proper functioning of the body without being preachy in getting the message across.

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

Summer Reading 2015 The Jinni on the Roof

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story

It can sometimes be hard to find children's books that depict cultural diversity but offer enough commonalities that readers can identify with the characters. This story does that easily by showing a boy who decides to play a trick on his family. At some point or other most of us have probably craved a particular food or been so hungry that we didn't want to wait until meal time to eat. That is Raza's situation; he wants the "hot, flaky parathas" and doesn't want to go to school and miss out on the breakfast being served at home. So he decides to make the cook think there is a hungry jinni on the roof who wants her to leave some parathas for him. 

Young readers will laugh at Uncle Hassan snoring and waking Raza up, and at Raza's clever impersonation of a jinni to trick Amina the cook. They will also be able to identify with a house full of relatives gathered for the holidays. The humor and the things they relate to will help the unfamiliar parts of the story not seem too strange. There is a glossary of terms in the back to define words such as iftar, chai, and lassi. The author's note explains about the tradition of Ramadan and the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. 

This would be an excellent book to include in units about holidays or families. A class could even use the recipe at the back of the book to make their own parathas and find out why Raza enjoys them so much.

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

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Arivaca


It seems as though teens and young adults being chosen or fated to be some sort of warriors defending mankind from evil has become a new hot topic. (Think of the Legion books by Kami Garcia, for instance.) In this case, Jesse Ballard is a young man with incredible athletic prowess who winds up with the wrong group of acquaintances just when they decide to rob a convenience store. He gets sentenced to a year on a ranch that is a reform program for troubled boys, Arivaca. But one of the ranch hands tells him that this has all been destined, and he is actually a Protector, chosen by God to keep the Breastplate of Aaron out of Satan's hands. You can imagine how well that goes over. Eventually Jesse does come to believe what Paco has been trying to tell him and he begins to use his amazing physical abilities to fight the evil ones trying to steal the breastplate.

The idea of a reform ranch and using horses as a therapeutic tool to break through all the defenses and prickly barriers that troubled teens use to keep others at a distance makes sense. And there are other real world issues that crop up in the story, along with the spiritual ones. The Border Patrol, illegal immigrants, mule trains, and even the Mexican Mafia, are mixed in with the typical belligerence and rebellion of nearly 50 teenage boys. And if the testosterone drama and looming danger aren't enough to keep your attention, there is also some romance mixed in, too.

If you enjoy action and suspense with some romantic possibilities sprinkled in and a touch of history and legend to explain all the strange coincidences and unusual abilities, this is a good series for you.

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Scarlett Undercover


This is a great story for readers who enjoy a good mystery and like the idea of a young, female detective. This is not one of your mother's Nancy Drew stories. Scarlett is an early high school graduate who has started her own detective agency. Her backstory (which really needs to be its own book, soon), has the police detective who investigated her father's murder take her under his wing and teach her surveillance and other skills. He also signs her up for Muay Thai martial arts lessons. Scarlett, or Lettie, takes a case looking into the suicide of a local teen. Her client is Gemma, the younger sister of one of the dead boy's friends. Lettie thinks she will just be providing Gemma with some closure, but stumbles upon a dangerous secret that has been guarded for thousands of years and a cult of followers that will kill to get the treasure the secret protects.

Filled with ancient legends, the mystique of King Solomon, cults, assassins, tattoos, mysterious philanthropists, blackmail, and basic detective work, this is a story with a resourceful protagonist that will leave readers eager for more of her adventures. And with all the discussion lately about needing more diversity in books for young readers, it doesn't hurt that Scarlett is a Muslim teen, albeit one who follows contemporary American habits rather than the traditional customs that her sister Reem does. Altogether a good, fast-paced, mystery with interesting characters and unique plot twists.

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

Summer Reading 2015 From a Distant Star


"Starman" meets "The Fifth Wave" is what captures the feel of the story for me, although there is no alien invasion like in the Wave. Lucas is in a coma, dying from cancer when an object from space crashes on his family farm. His dog Mack is sniffing around the object before coming back into the house to snuggle next to Lucas. What no one realizes is that an extraterrestrial entity was present in the pod and it has hitched a ride on Mack and then entered the body of Lucas to protect itself. What they do see is Lucas making an incredible return to health.

Emma, Lucas's girlfriend, thinks that the potion she bought from the local magic practitioner, believes that she is responsible for the miraculous recovery her boyfriend makes that night. But Mrs. Kokesh, the potion maker, had warned that the Lucas she got back might not be the same boy she had loved before the cancer. At first Emma thinks that is why Lucas seems to have trouble speaking without unless he repeats what someone else says, and other oddities in his behavior. But at last Emma and Lucas's brother Eric figure out what has happened, and then the three teens have to solve the problem of how to get the real Lucas back and the visitor in his body back where he belongs.

Along the way there are sneaky government agents, conspiracy nuts, square dancers, SETI, and a major road trip. There are very realistic details portraying how a family with a teen dying of cancer would be dealing with the situation, but then the quest to get "Scout" (the alien visitor) home becomes a "Smoky and the Bandit" chase across the miles from the farm to where the radio equipment they need is located. We can see Emma's and Eric's love and concern for Lucas in the lengths they go to for his sake, and we root for a happy ending for Emma and Lucas's family, as well as for Scout.

If you like sci-fi/fantasy and don't mind some romance mixed in, or like romance and don't mind if some sci-fi/fantasy is mixed in - then read From a Distant Star.

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

For more information about the author and her other books, visit her website.

Summer Reading 2015 Serafina and the Black Cloak

Since I live in East Tennessee, Biltmore House in North Carolina is a nearby tourist destination. I have visited several times and marveled at the luxuries available for the family and their guests- including a bowling alley and indoor pool. I've also seen some of the servant's quarters and areas like the kitchen. But the areas Serafina and her father are most familiar with down in the basement and mechanical rooms, are places that I've never seen. Serafina's father helped to build Biltmore and then stayed to tend the machines that keep it running, like the dynamo that provides electricity for the lights and modern conveniences. Unlike the other workers with families, he has chosen to live down in the boiler room (without permission) and he has his daughter hidden away down there with him. He constantly warns her that she must stay hidden, not draw attention to herself, and stay out of the forest around the estate.


Serafina is most active at night, preferring to come out while everyone is asleep and hunt for rats. (She catches them and then carries them out and throws them into the forest.) But one night, she hears something strange and following the noise, she becomes the witness to an attack on a young girl by a figure in a black cloak. The sinister figure tries to catch Serafina, but she manages to escape using her knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the house. Although her father thinks this is one of her fanciful stories or a nightmare, they learn the next day that the daughter of a guest has disappeared. Serafina is determined to find someone who will believe her and help her learn the identity of the dark figure.

Eventually she meets the Vanderbilt's nephew, Braeden, and they become an unlikely pair of friends. They both witness the figure attacking a young groom named Nolan and Braeden tells her of another guest whose daughter disappeared from the gardens. As readers make their way through the story, they may begin to notice the clues that lead Serafina to identify the villain, and they may also put together the hints of Serafina's own origins. 

Although most of the action centers in the mansion itself, some scenes take place in the forest around the estate (including some spooky moments in an abandoned cemetery). There are plenty of details provided about the house and its furnishings, the clothing of the staff and guests, and even examples of the range of people who were invited there. For middle grade readers (or older) who enjoy the world of Downton Abbey, this would be a similar world.

I really enjoyed how the story wove history, period detail, local legends, and fantasy elements together. Serafina is an heroine full of life and courage, even when she is frightened for herself and others. I also liked the friendship the grew between her and Braeden, overcoming the class distinctions and showing the commonalities between individuals no matter what their background. My favorite quote from the book is, "Our character isn't defined by the battles we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to fight." Serafina is definitely a daring character.

If you enjoy historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, or combinations of those themes - you should give this book a try. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2015 Grayson Volume 1: Agents of Spyral

I haven't read any of the Nightwing saga (although my nieces have discussed it with me), so this was a bit of a chronological jump in my own reading from Robin to Grayson. The artwork really brings out the brooding guy with a mysterious past persona, as well as emphasizing the defined muscles from all his acrobatics and martial arts training. The organization of Spyral is even more mysterious and there are plenty of instances that make the reader say, "Hmmm, no wonder Batman wants them investigated." Their ulterior motives are not clear and neither are their morals. Then again, what do you expect from a group that exists to use mind erosion, brainwashing, and misdirection?

The action is fast-paced. The banter is funny. The plot is devious. And you feel as if you've stepped into a reality where Dick Grayson grew up and became James Bond. There are guns, gadgets, women, international intrigue, and a troubled past that makes our hero more determined to save the world. Fans of the Boy Wonder will enjoy seeing him in an adult role, out on his own.

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

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Aoleon The Martian Girl, Part 1: First Contact


I just finished Part 1 of Aoleon The Martian Girl. For those adults who worry that kids don't get enough high level vocabulary from the books they read, here is a story that would lay that worry to rest. Words such as pincers, trajectory, affirmative, vector, hemisphere and many others are used throughout the book. And there is no need to worry about whether this is a book for girls or boys, since the title character is female and the Terran she meets and befriends is male. The story itself is funny and fast-paced, with Aoleon and Gilbert being chased by F-22 Raptors and a top-secret Aurora Interceptor before they leave Earth and travel to Aoleon's home. Even though Gilbert lives on a farm in Nebraska, he has always had an interest in space and is very open-minded about meeting an alien. It seems that young people of all planets have things in common, since Aoleon's mother calls and tells her to get home for dinner. Of course, instead of just yelling out the back door, this mother has to contact her daughter's space capsule.

Adults will notice that several of the things Gilbert says refer to popular sci-fi movies. For instance, when they reach Mars and descend into the Olympus Mons, he blurts out, "That's no volcano - that's a space station!" And when a moog (a Martian pet) tries to lick him and gets its suction-cup tongue stuck to his helmet, he says, "I just hope nothing bursts out from my chest!" There are also distinct similarities between Farmer Johnson (who owns the field in which Aoleon chooses to create her crop circle), and Edgar from "Men in Black." 

The situation on Mars is tense, with the government controlling many aspects of life and trying to capture a prophet who wants to return Mars to democratic ways. We won't actually learn much about that until later in the story, but it gives the adventure some added depth. Rather than just two interplanetary friends on a joy ride, Aoleon and Gilbert are actually "chosen" to help prevent an invasion of Earth. I'm very interested to see how two kids are able to stop an evil dictator from seizing control of our planet.

The author was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book to review.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 Little Red Riding Hood: An Interactive Fairy Tale Adventure


In this choose-your-own-adventure version of Red Riding Hood, the reader has three scenarios to choose from. Will it be the modern day city where the evil fairy tale wolves have retired, but still hunt in the park at night? How about the wartime setting of children being smuggled through the woods to keep them safe from the wolfish soldiers? Or perhaps the future where everyone wears Focus Hoods and is under the mind control of the hoods, except for brave resistance fighters like Agent Granny would suit you better? Whichever setting you choose, there are also many choices within each story. Do you trust the wolf or run? Do you try to fight or freeze in terror? Does someone rescue you? Do you rescue yourself? Or do wind up becoming dessert for a hairy villain?

Eric Braun has chosen story lines that take the traditional elements of Red Riding Hood and turn them into brand new adventures full of twists and turns. I think many readers will wind up doing what I did - going back again and again to see what the consequences of each choice are and which leads to the best outcome. This would be excellent to include in a unit on fairy tales, or for lessons on cause and effect. Whether they are in a school library, on a classroom bookshelf, or part of a child's personal book collection, copies of this book will see a lot of use.

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Summer Reading 2015 The Secrets of Blueberries, Brothers, Moose, and Me


I finished this book earlier today, but I had to wait a bit before writing about it. The voice of Missy (the main character), sounded amazingly similar to my own at that age and it brought back memories and feelings from those times in my life that needed to settle a little. Missy is at that age where everything is changing - her brother is worried about going to high school, her father is getting remarried, her best friends have decided they are too old now to do some of the things they have always done together - nothing is the same. As most tweens and teens do, Missy fluctuates between anger, bewilderment, and laughter as she tries to come to terms with her life.

By the end of the story, Missy comes to the end of a long roller coaster of emotional upheaval and has a very mature thought as she watches her mother and father. " you turn those things off - close them like a book you once loved but couldn't possibly read again? And if so, are our lives made up of books like that? Entire collections of moments that make us who we are, but are impossible to keep open all at once?" As a librarian and book lover, I love the imagery and find it very true.

I don't want to give you the idea that this is a maudlin book, because it has plenty of bright moments, too. One of my favorite scenes is when Missy goes to her friend's house to help her pack for summer camp. Constance and Allie are going to camp, but Missy always helps on Packing Day. This year, Allie has decided she wants to be called Allison and both girls are worried about packing their bras (now that they wear them). Missy proclaims in a robot voice, "I-See-That-You-Two-AreVery-Grown-Up-Now-That-You-Go-to-Sleepaway-Campand-Also-Wear-Bras...Perhaps-We-Should-Also-Discuss-Marriage-And-Careers." Although sometimes the humor is the kind that is laughing to keep from crying, Missy is very funny.

For readers going through those transitional times in their own lives, whether it is going from tween to teen, from elementary school to middle school, or some other big adjustment, this story will resonate with you. Perfect for those who enjoy realistic fiction, coming-of-age stories, writers like Cynthia Rylant or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

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