Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter Reading 2015 A Plague of Bogles


Alfred Bunce has given up bogling and moved to another part of town, but it seems that bogling is not through with him. When Jem hears that someone is selling tickets to a show supposedly exhibiting Birdie and her ability to lure bogles, he heads straight over to tell Alfred all about it. Soon, it seems that there are bogles in every corner and under every drain. Mr. Bunce, Birdie, Miss Eames, Jem, and Ned are very disturbed by the "plague" of bogles, since it is extremely unusual for the monsters to have lairs so close together. Complaints are coming in from spots all over the area - a boys' school, a churchyard, a tavern, the sewer - and more keep being found. But at the same time, Jem is determined to find Sarah Pickles, who once sold him as bogle bait. While looking for clues to why the bogles are behaving so strangely, he is also questioning everyone he meets about Sarah. Between Birdie's rebellion against living quietly with Miss Eames and the manager of the bogle show, Mr. Lubbock, trying to cash in on Alfred's bogle hunts, there is never a a moment just to relax with some cider by the fire. How can one bogler and a few children possibly keep all of London safe?

Fans of How to Catch a Bogle will be delighted with the second book in the trilogy as we see all the characters we loved and meet some new ones, too.

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

Winter Reading 2015 We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March


This is an account that personalizes the events in Birmingham during 1963 by telling the story from the viewpoints of 4 different children/teens that were involved. By using 4 viewpoints, 2 male and 2 female, from various economic groups, the book shows the diversity within the protesters. When this topic is covered in social studies classes, many students come away with the feeling that all the participants were generic and interchangeable, as if they had no identity or life outside the protest. Levinson shows that the son of 2 professional parents living in a nice brick house with a pool was just as much a part of the movement as were the children of working class, less affluent families. The book also shows that many parents did not want their children to participate because they feared the kids would be injured or killed, or other consequences would fall upon the family. Looking back at those events, it seems amazing to many young readers today that authorities would use such brute force tactics against young, peaceful protesters, or that the state and federal government would sit back and do nothing for so long.

The use of historical photos and quotes from the participants helps to recreate the emotions that were prevalent at the time. Additional books and websites are recommended for those who want to learn more about this time period in our history. This would make an excellent source for research or background knowledge.

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

For more information you may visit the website the publisher has established for the book.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter Reading 2015 Alistair Grim's Odditorium


Fans of fantasy set in a Dickensian milieu will love the Odditorium. Grubb is a chimney sweep who hides in a trunk to escape some bullies and winds up inside Alistair Grim's Odditorium. The strangely shaped building is a mystery that has Londoners eager to get inside and explore. What has Grim been doing in there as it was built over the last 5 years? Why won't he allow anyone inside? And what is the reason for all the secretive trips he takes? It is during one of these trips that he gains a resident chimney sweep who turns out to be very handy.

There are tons of magical creatures and objects (odditoria) in the story: fairies, goblins, trolls, dragons, samurai, ninja, banshees, sirens, talking pocket watches, witches, and the sinister Prince Nightshade. The blend of magic and technology will appeal to fans of The RithmatistThe Glass Sentence, or steampunk/fantasy blends. You really need to give this book a try.

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

Fall Reading 2014: A Challenging Job


would be a good book to give a young reader who is fascinated with the ocean. Bob is determined to help ocean animals and preserve their habitat. He has ocean friends like Doc (a sea turtle), Kodi (a seal), and Earl (a clam). His constant companion is a hummingbird named Xena. With some supervision by his mentor, Miss Mary Marine, Bob helps with several problems around the island - getting a sea gull out of a fishing net, showing a young seal how to hunt for fish in deep water, and warning everyone of a coming storm are some of his assignments. 

I didn't rate it more highly for several reasons. This is not a story I would have chosen to read as a child. I preferred fantasy and science fiction, but I know that many children do enjoy stories with talking animals. It's a story told in rhyme, and I think I might have liked it better as prose. And that fact that his "guardian" is so negative and keeps telling him that he is going to fail is not a likable feature.

Those interested in oceanography, ocean animals, or conservation may find they like it quite well. They may enjoy the rhyming text. 

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

Fall Reading 2014: Maggie Malone Gets the Royal Treatment


Once again the MMBs (mostly magical boots) whisk Maggie off to spend a day in someone else's shoes. This time she becomes the darling of the world, Princess Mimi - and on the day when Mimi will be a bridesmaid in a royal wedding. She finds out that like as princess isn't always as picture perfect as everyone thinks, especially when your cousin is the odious Princess Penelope. But Maggie has her own problems to solve. There will be a royal court (like Homecoming Queen) at school and Maggie gets drafted along with two of her friends to serve as handmaidens for a princess-in-training. The would-be princess, Lucy, is demanding, bossy, full of negative comments and never says thank-you for anything that the girls do for her. It may take a little magic to fix this before it becomes a royal mess.

I really enjoy the Maggie Malone stories, because she always learns how much we really don't know about another person unless we are actually living their life. She always seems to make a positive change in the life she visits, and then finds out that the she can use similar tactics on a situation in her own life. They are fun to read and have a unique twist on making wishes come true. 

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Reading 2014 Reindeer Dust


This is an amusing story of a Christmas Eve beset with problems meteorological and nutritional. What would happen if Santa were too busy to feed the reindeer and then they also got caught in a fog bank? I love the idea of Santa being as hurried and frazzled right before Christmas as the rest of the world. The expressions on the reindeer faces when they see he hasn't filled their food trough are so sad (but the reindeer wearing leg warmers is hilarious). Then it's William to the rescue as he studies the weather and comes up with a plan. Kids will enjoy the whimsical illustrations and rhyming text. This could be the beginning of a new holiday tradition. Read the story of excellent problem-solving by a really smart kid, then have your own kids mix up some reindeer dust of their own. Families who enjoy having the Elf on the Shelf visit for the holidays will probably want to use this recipe to show the reindeer some love.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.  You may also visit the book's website.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 How to Outswim a Shark without a Snorkel


I really enjoyed this book. Fans of Ana's first adventure will be glad to see her in action again. They may not be so pleased to hear that her arch-enemy, Ashley, will be spending the summer as a volunteer at the zoo and Ana gets stuck working with her. It almost seems unfair. Ana had finally faced down her fears about public speaking and garnered some fame for her presentation about reptiles, even having the good luck of a baby alligator urinating on Ashley in front of the audience. And then, just when we're relaxing and thinking Ana has it made for the summer, here is Ashley to ruin it all. 

There are some positive aspects to the situation. The first one is Logan - the college student working in the new exhibit where the girls are volunteers. (Did I mention that Logan is cute?) Also, Ana's friend (boyfriend?) Kevin is around for the summer. Her new friend Bella is filling the void in Ana's life that was caused by her best friend Liv's family moving out of the country. And her brother Daz even seems to be acting semi-human for a change.

But when things start to go wrong around the exhibit, Ana is sure that Ashley is doing it all to sabotage her. Fed up with being blamed for something she didn't do and determined to pay Ashley back, Ana talks Daz into helping her with a revenge plan. Will she go through with it? And will she fulfill the "kissing pact" she made with Liv and get her first kiss from Kevin before school starts? No pressure or anything, right? 

If you haven't read How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied, you'll want to get it, too. These books are funny, honest portrayals of what life can be like when you are a 13-year-old girl trying to survive middle school. What makes this book especially cool is that my school participated in the blog tour for the first book and one of the interview questions that my students asked Jess was, "Did you ever consider having the setting be someplace besides a zoo? Like maybe an aquarium or something?" And Jess said, "Wait until you see the next book."

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

Fall Reading 2014 Zippy the Runner


Zippy is a zebra who loves to run. He runs all the time and constantly enters races, but he never wins. At first his friends are very supportive, but after he loses the hundredth race, they ask him why he doesn't just give up. His answer is a wonderful one for young readers. He explains that he runs because he loves it and because there is always a next time when he will have a chance to win. Children need to hear that it is alright to do something they enjoy, even if they don't earn trophies or award for it. Zippy also helps a friend train for a race and the friend thanks him for his support. Zippy may not cross the finish line ahead of everyone else, but his perseverance gives everyone else hope.

This would be perfect to read with a child who is having difficulty learning a new skill, or who is feeling discouraged about not being the winner in every activity. It could be used in a classroom or guidance lesson on life skills such as perseverance, too.

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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The Young World


If a virus did wipe out everyone but teenagers and I were one of the survivors, I would want to be part of the Washington Square group. They aren't hiding in the old subway tunnels and living in the darkness like the Moles. They aren't a pseudo-military bunch of misogynistic jerks like the Uptowners. They aren't trying to survive a race war like the kids in Harlem. Washington Square isn't perfect, but it works pretty well for the kids living there. Everyone pulls their weight - scavenging for supplies, gardening, standing guard duty, giving what medical aid is available, keeping the tech working (what they still have, anyway). The group is led by Washington until he turns 18 and the virus takes him. His younger brother Jefferson is selected by popular acclaim to take over in his place. Jeff and the resident genius, Brainbox, decide to visit the research facility that they suspect was the source of the outbreak and see if they can find a cure. A few other members leave the Square with them and set out across the city on their quest. Along the way they face many dangers, including - cannibals, cage fights, psychos with guns, and animals that have escaped from the Central Park Zoo.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Jeff and his best friend Donna as the group goes from one tense situation to the next. The main characters are well-developed and believable. The minor characters are fleshed-out as befits their importance to the story and their amount of time onstage. The internal logic of the story holds together well and makes it easy to get caught up in the narrative. With the alternating POV of the narrators, you get both a male and female perspective on things as well as bits of back story. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic settings or action/adventure with YA protagonists.

I read an e-book provided by the publishers through NetGalley. The novel was published July 29, 2014.

Publishers Weekly has a podcast in which the author discusses his book. There is also a website with quotes from the story and you can submit your own fan art.

 The Young World is the debut YA novel by Chris Weitz, director of The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Golden Compass.  Share your feedback on Twitter using #TheYoungWorld. And if you tag @ChrisWeitz, he may tweet you back!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 Waistcoats and Weaponry

Sophronia just keeps getting better. As her time at finishing school continues, she matures and gains more intelligencer (i.e. spy) skills. Although Vieve has donned a false mustache and now attends Bunson's school for boys, Sophronia still has her other friends and her beau, Lord Felix Mersey. This semester finds the whole group caught up in an intrigue involving the Picklemen (like Felix's father) and the supernaturals, especially the Westminster Hive of vampires. Fallout from the clash includes a wrecked train, two smashed dirigibles, two gunshot wounds (I'm not saying which characters suffer from them), and Dimity's gown from the masked ball. At the same time there is trouble with the werewolf pack of Sideagh's grandfather. Add to that an engagement party for Sophronia's brother, sabotage of the domestic mechanicals around Oxford, a vampire professor suffering a breakdown, and Sophronia's mother trying to force her into an engagement with Dimity's younger brother. It's a recipe for disasters of all shapes and sizes, although there are a few high points - such as defeating the evil Monique once again.

For those who have not read the previous two books, here's a brief outline description. The series is set in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. The British Empire owes much of its success to the inclusion of supernaturals in society. Werewolves serve in the military where their aggression, rapid healing, and loyalty come in very handy. Vampires spend more time in fashionable pursuits and coordinating their wardrobes, but also have political influence. Sophronia attends finishing school aboard a dirigible which floats above the moor unless circumstances call for a more specific location. To the world, it is a regular school for young ladies who will soon debut in society. In actuality it is an academy to train intelligence operatives that are highly sought after once they graduate. Sophronia excels at organizing her friends for missions and they all have useful skills such as tinkering with mechanical inventions, knowledge of werewolves, practical experience with airships and boilers, etc. Their past exploits have earned them some attention from possible future patrons and enemies. One professor even wonders if they have done too god a job of teaching Sophronia.

I disagree. They have trained her wonderfully and we are the lucky ones who get to see her in action. If you enjoy steampunk, paranormal/urban fiction, and daring female protagonists - best get your tea and nibbly bits ready for a nice long reading session.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be published on November 4, 2014.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The Secret Hum of a Daisy


I think this may need a whole new shelf in Goodreads - "Books that made me cry so hard I couldn't see the words." It's one of those stories that should be listed under "heart wrenching" in the dictionary as an example. The story of Grace trying to figure out life after losing her mother is so poignant and bittersweet, and yes, I know those words are very cliche - but they are cliches for a reason. Every time she begins to feel as if she's fitting in, guilt and doubt swirl up around her and pull her back into her grief. She feels angry at the grandmother she has never known, whom she now lives with in her mother's childhood home. She feels angry at her mother for leaving her by dying. She feels angry at herself for having even the slightest feelings of affection toward her grandmother or belonging in her home, the home her mother had left and never gone back to during Grace's life. More than anything, she wants to find a way to stay in the "Before" time when her mother was still alive, and to avoid anything that grounds her in the "After" where her mother is gone. As we read, we see her struggling to keep out all the well-meaning new people in her life - classmates, teachers, neighbors, and especially her grandmother. We become an audience of cheerleaders, rooting for her to pick up the pieces and make a new life for herself, just the way her mother chose pieces of discarded items and created sculptures. Grace's life could become a beautiful work of art if she will only let it.

The characters come to such vibrant life in this story - the grieving and wounded girl who tries to push everyone away; the girl who tries to befriend her, but can only get a little way inside before Grace shuts her out; the prickly grandmother who drove her daughter away and isn't sure how to reconnect to her granddaughter; they all seem so very real. It is a very special kind of writing that takes us into the story and wraps us in it until we believe it is real and we feel a bit confused when we look up from the page and we're not in Auburn Valley, but we're sitting in our own living room instead. I highly recommend it, but please have lots of tissues handy when you read it. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published on May 1, 2014.

For more about the author, check out her website. The author explains her inspiration for the story here at the Nerdy Book Club. And she explains how she became a writer here at Unleashing Readers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 Villain School: Hero in Disguise


I haven't read the first of the Villain School books yet, so I don't know all the details of how Rune meets Princess Ileana, or how he formed an alliance with Wolf and Jezebel. But the second book was a fun read all on it own. Rune Drexler attends a school for villains in training. The school's leader is Master Dreadthorn, who also happens to be Rune's father (but that doesn't get Rune any special treatment). His allies (villains aren't supposed to have friends), are Wolf - son of the Big Bad Wolf, Jezebel - daughter of Count Dracula, and now Princess Ileana, whom he met when he went out on a plot last year (like a quest for villains). A new student is assigned as Rune's roommate, and he has to show the the new kid how things work at the school. The newbie, Dodge VonDoe, has transferred from a rival villain school run by the sorceress Morgana. Rune and his allies are caught up in an intricate plot involving dragons, crystal balls, old prophecies, the principal of the school for heroes, magical handcuffs, henchmen, and lots of other neat stuff.

It reminds me of the humor in How to Grow Up and Rule the World by Vordak the Incomprehensible. If you like adventures that combine friends (I mean allies), humor, danger, magic, superpowers, all taking place in a school setting (but not at all like Hogwarts), then you should give Villain School a try.

We just added a copy of this book to the library.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The 13-Story Treehouse

For readers of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and other zany stories - now there is a new series beginning with The 13-Story Treehouse. Andy and Terry live in a treehouse with, you guessed it, 13 stories. They have everything boys living in a treehouse could want - a live shark tank, a bowling alley, a lemonade fountain, a machine that shoots marshmallows into your mouth when you are hungry...it's a great place. The problem is that they are having so much fun, they have forgotten to write the book that their editor is waiting on - and now they only have a day to finish it up. You know how things go when you are under a deadline, suddenly anything that can go wrong, does. In this case, that means the treehouse will be attacked by a giant gorilla, a sea monster will try to eat them, monkeys will break the marshmallow machine, and they will also invent the "catnary" (a flying yellow cat). Those are just a few of the highlights of their day - the day that should have been spent quietly working on their book. 

If you enjoy unending silliness, lots of dumb jokes, and general goofiness - then this is a series you will really like. It is written in a style similar to Captain Underpants. I don't mean the potty humor, but the way the main characters address the readers directly and tell us about their ridiculously crazy adventures.

We just added a copy of this title to the library.

Fall Reading 2014 Beyond the Laughing Sky


I've noticed a trend lately in children's literature, or maybe just in the kid-lit that I've been reading. Birds and nests seem to be very en vogue right now. There's Nest by Esther Ehrlich, Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen and Scott Bakal, Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Loftin, Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald, and now Beyond the Laughing Sky. But they're each very different stories, with unique characters and plots, although the tone of Beyond the Laughing Sky reminds me of Nightingale's Nest.

Nashville is a boy who hatched from an egg. He has feathers instead of hair and a beak instead of a human mouth. But he has been raised by human parents and has a human little sister named Junebug. The story tells us about Nashville's unusual origins, then takes us into the events as he begins middle school. Entering middle school can be rough for any child, especially when the kids are coming together from several different elementary schools and trying to get used to a new building and new classmates after five or six years of being in the same familiar place. In Nashville's case, the other kids have gotten used to him over their years together, but now he will be facing new kids and teachers who will all react to his differences.

Middle school is also a time when kids are moving from being tweens to being teenagers, looking at their lives and questioning their identity and their future. Nashville wonders why he can't fly. He has feathers and a beak, why not wings? Junebug helps him collect spare feathers for a project at school, while his parents continue to support him as he deals with bullies and overly curious classmates. As they reach the end of the year, it seems that Nashville may find some of the answers he is looking for.

I loved the house perched in the tree, the family sitting on swings around the kitchen table, Nashville scrubbing his feathers in an oversize bird bath... It was such a quirky, loving home that his parents had created, but even in the most perfect home - kids eventually have to leave the nest. (Pun intended.) When Nashville finds what he's looking for, will he leave, too? 

If you've read Nightingale's Nest and enjoyed it, I would recommend Beyond the Laughing Sky. It's also a great read for those who don't mind a little fantasy mixed into stories that also deal with real issues like belonging, family, and being true to yourself.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.  It was published October 2, 2014.

For more information, visit the author's website. Here is a photo of her doing some falconry.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 When Fairies Go Bad (Dragonbreath, #7)


Dragonbreath is a popular series in our school library. Some of the kids like it because of the illustrations, others like it for the humor. In this adventure, Danny's mother is kidnapped by fairies and Danny and his friends set out to rescue her. Wendell and Christiana come along to help bring Mrs. Dragonbreath home, even though Christiana is certain that there are no such things as fairies. With some advice from Danny's great-grandfather, they pack up supplies (spoons, pudding cups, a script of what to say to the king of faerie) and catch the bus to fairyland. They run into all sorts of creatures along the way and have a hard time sticking to the trail as Great-Granddad advised. There are vicious-looking boars, birds wearing masks, a talking fox, a fairy wearing a fez, and odd animated stick people (yes, made from sticks). Will they be able to bargain for the release of Danny's mother and make it safely out of Faerie? And will Christiana believe any of it really happened? You'll have to read it to find out.

We just added this to our library.

Fall Reading 2014 Get Happy


Minerva Watson is so full of creativity that she writes songs the way other people keep a journal or update their Facebook status. Having a bad day dealing with Mom? Write a song. Feeling silly with friends? Write a song. And what she most wants is a ukulele to play her songs on - but her mother buys her a cardigan for her birthday instead. (I'm sure we all know the disappointment an unwanted gift can cause, especially when we don't get the gift our hearts are set on.) Minerva doesn't let it stop her dreams of playing a uke. She and her friend Fin audition to work for a company that provides themed characters for children's birthday parties - Get Happy. Minerva is also trying to decide if she wants to connect with her father, who left when she was 2 and she hasn't heard from him or seen him since. However, this year a birthday gift and card from her dad arrive, along with a note saying he has moved back to the area. Should she track him down?

I love Minerva's character. She and Fin are such a funny pair when they are together. They laugh together, sing songs, make funny stop-action videos with Peeps, and support each other in all sorts of ways. The author has done a great job of creating a teenage girl with real emotions and reactions to what's going on in her life. The song lyrics that Minerva writes help to tie the narrative together and add depth to it. Although I am not a ukulele fan, I would go to open mic night to hear Minerva perform.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published October 28 , 2014. For more information, you may visit the author's website.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 I Survived True Stories: Five Epic Disasters

I've read several of the "I Survived" series (which are historical fiction), so I was very interested in what a companion volume of nonfiction stories would be like. One of the main attractions for readers of the "I Survived" books is that they follow a young person through the disaster. Would the nonfiction book be boring in comparison? No, definitely not. The author has managed to do a reconstruction of an actual survivor from each of the 5 events and track them through the time before, during, and after the disaster. Whether you are fascinated by the Titanic or tornadoes, you will feel as if the figures are coming to life again in front of you. The files that share facts and photos at the end of each story are handy for history enthusiasts, as are the recommendations for further reading. My favorite of the stories is the one about the Great Boston Molasses Flood.

This would be a good introduction to how to do research, since Tarshis talks frankly about how many sources she used to put together the stories - books, magazine and newspaper articles, interviews, photos, etc. The shorter length of the stories will also please readers who want to read about these famous events, but don't want to deal with a full-length book about one of them. I would recommend this to anyone who has enjoyed the fiction series or has an interest in disasters.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published September 30, 2014.

Update: We just added this book to the library through our spring book fair.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The Missing Pieces of Me

The Missing Pieces of Me
The book was very well written and it was very easy to care for the main character. Unfortunately I cared too much, and the book made me cry several times. Weezie is a child in a situation that happens all too often in real life - her mother has had some hard luck and resents Weezie's father, so it seems to be taken out on Weezie. She has a younger sister, Ruth Ann, that her mom lavishes attention on - taking her to the beauty shop to have her hair done and play with makeup, talking about entering her in beauty pageants, etc. Weezie never gets that sort of attention. If she decides to pick flowers for her mom and Ruth Ann helps a little, Ruth Ann gets thanked and hugged and then Weezie gets fussed at for something or ignored. Her little brother Jackson also gets attention and Weezie has to babysit them both while her mom is at work in the evenings. When she decides to track down the father she has never met, she finds out some surprising things about him, about her mom, about family in general.

It is a good book, but it just made me so sad and frustrated for all those kids out there living that kind of life. It was almost like reading an Oprah's Book Club pick for kids. Crying over the story reminded me of why I prefer fantasy rather than realistic fiction.

If you enjoy realism and want to see a young girl learning to stand up for herself, then you should read this story (but keep the tissues close by, just in case).

I read an e-galley provided by Amazon for review purposes.

Fall Reading 2014 Superstars of History: The Good, the Bad, and the Brainy


I enjoy Basher' s style of illustration. his characters have recognizable features so that we can identify them, but also look enough alike that they form an iconic group like Lego mini figures. The book covers the Ancient World, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Revolution and the Enlightenment, and the Modern Era. Famous figures from each time period are along a timeline so that it is easy compare where they fall in history. Then each individual is shown in a full-page illustration and a full-page infographic. The illustrations are full of symbols that relate to the character - knives in the back for Julius Caesar, the Mona Lisa behind DaVinci, etc. (I can imagine having a class of world history students analyzing each illustration and seeing how many of the elements they could identify.) The information on the facing page includes a brief biographical write-up,  a timeline of major dates and events, names of contemporary rivals or friends, a description of their legacy to the world, and a major question associated with them or their era. A glossary and index are also included.

This would be a wonderful coffee table book (not in the sense that it is a glossy artsy book). Family and friends could flip through it and learn interesting facts about the history celebrities that catch their fancy. It would be equally at home in a library or classroom for students to browse. Perhaps they will find someone that captures their imagination and makes them want to know more. At the very least they will come away from this book knowing that history is not dull and boring!

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published August 26, 2014. We have now added a copy to the library.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 Kinda Like Brothers


Jarrett has plenty of things to deal with in his life. He is the son of a single mother. He's never even met his father. His mom is a foster mother and they are always being awakened in the middle of the night to take in another child that needs a temporary placement. He struggles with school and is attending the summer school session in the hope of passing the standardized test to move from 6th grade up to 7th. If he doesn't pass the test, he will have to repeat 6th grade while all his friends move on without him. His best friend is out of town for three weeks. That should be enough for any kid to handle - especially a kid growing up in a slightly rough area of Newark.

But then his mother gets two new foster kids - a small girl named Treasure and her older brother Kevon. Jarrett is used to his mother taking in babies and toddlers, but Kevon is actually older than Jarrett. He has to share a room with this stranger, giving up the lower half of his bunk bed. Then he has to watch as Kevon does everything better than he does - basketball, stepping (like the show "Stomp"), and being popular with the girls. How can he concentrate on summer school, or the movie trailer that he and his friend Ennis are filming, when he has Kevon in his space all the time? And what really happened that caused the kids to be in foster care? Where is their father? What is Kevon hiding?

If you've never experienced the foster care system with its home visits, paperwork, and sad stories, then this could be an eye-opener for you. Jarrett's mom is one of the foster parents that genuinely wants to help the kids she takes in to her home - and it's tough to let them go back to their families and worry about their safety. Plus, it illustrates the tension of balancing the care of the foster kids with caring for one's own child. The story also gives you a sense of what it is like to be a young African American male reaching his teenage years in a big city. The author's time working with families and children has given her plenty of details that she can work into the story for a very realistic effect. You can hear the author, Coe Booth on NPR or find out more author info on the Scholastic website.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. Calvin Powell has donated a copy of the book to our library.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet


Cryptids seem to be taking over the bookstores lately. There are the Roland Smith books like ChupacabraThe Crypto Keepers,The Abominables, and now The Yeti Files. Luckily for the yetis in question, the "scientist" who is trying to prove their existence isn't very bright. He can't keep up with anything or read a map and he has his dog, Noodles, drive the van. Blizz Richards is our yeti narrator and he explains that the main point of being a cryptid is to "keep magic and mystery in the minds of humans" - they are not supposed to allow themselves to be photographed or give any other proof of their existence. His cousin Brian was unfortunate enough to be caught on film by George Vanquist (the goofy scientist) and soon his photo was everywhere. Brian was so embarrassed that he disappeared and the family hasn't heard from him. Blizz decides it is time to track down Brian and bring him home for a big family reunion. But Vanquist is still out to prove that the yetis are real and he is determined to get more photos and evidence. Can the yeti clan pull off their reunion without becoming an Internet sensation? 

I recommend this for readers who are making their way into chapter books, but don't want something overwhelming. The characters are funny. The illustrations show everything from cool tree forts to caves to crazy maps. And there's a pretty good chance that the good guys (or good yetis) will win.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. We just added this title to the library through our Scholastic Book Fair.

Fall Reading 2014 Zac and Mia


Where was Zac when I was in high school? Okay, so he's a fictional character, and he lives on the other side of the planet, but still... He's funny, sweet, cares about others, athletic (when he's not having chemo or radiation treatments), works with wood to build furniture, and plays Clue with his mom. What's not to love? I loved the part of the book where he realizes a cute girl is in the hospital room next door and he sends his mom out to buy him a hat, so he can hide his bald, puffy head (treatments caused hair loss, plus steroids caused swelling). He tells her to get a cool hat like something Ryan Reynolds would wear. She comes back with a weird hat and says the guy at the store told her it was something Burt Reynolds would wear. Total generation gap miscommunication - and I could picture the horrified look on his face when he saw that weird hat. The contrast between Zac and Mia is impossible to miss. He's a laid back country fellow, happy to hang out with his mates and help around the family olive grove/petting farm. Mia is rebellious, beautiful, angry, playing loud music and screaming at her mother to go away. She's used to being a "hot" girl with a cool boyfriend (who wears cool hats), shopping and clubbing with her friends, and refuses to see that her cancer treatment is more important than the spring formal.

Over the course of the story you see how Zac and Mia influence each other and how they and their friendship change over time. This is a book for fans of Nicholas Sparks and John Green, or other writers whose books have you going through a box of tissues as you read - because you are alternating with laughing out loud and crying so hard that you can't see the pages. It shows the very true way that teens with cancer react to their situations and cope, or not, with everything that results from their diagnosis. But it also shows how you can find friends in even the most dismal circumstances of your life.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published September 2, 2014.

Fall Reading 2014 Little Red Quacking Hood


Princess Pink returns to the Land of Fake-Believe for another fractured fairy tale adventure. This time she meets Little Red Quacking Hood. That's right, Hood is a duck in this story. And not just any duck, but a thieving duck! She has been stealing pies from the bakery of Scaredy-Pants Wolf. Wolf has asked Moldylocks for help in stopping the robberies, so Princess Pink joins her friend in trying to trap and confront the devious duck. Princess is surprised to learn the reason why Little Red Quacking Hood is stealing the pies - and readers will probably be just as shocked. Never fear, Princess and Moldylocks are on the case and they won't let their friend down, even if he is a big crybaby.

This second book in the Fake-Believe series brings back some of the characters from <i>Moldylocks and the Three Beards</i>, and introduces more of the land's inhabitants. I think that Princess Pink will be visiting the Land of Fake-Believe much more often now that she has her magical refrigerator magnet (you'll see what I mean), and we will be hearing about even more adventures.

If you enjoy stories that add a new twist to old classics, then you should try out Princess Pink and her friends.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published August 26, 2014.

Fall Reading 2014 Tales from High Hallack, Volume 3


I first encountered Andre Norton's work when I was in middle school. A friend read one of her books and then passed it on to me. I have been a fan ever since. This collection of short stories covers a wide range of material. You may find Guinevere and Nimue in twentieth century England, explorers searching on alien planets for signs of the Forerunners and other ancient races, traders crossing space to find and deliver cargo, and even Herne the Hunter. Whatever the topic, each story is told in Norton's classic style. No swearing. No lewd behavior. Danger is faced and often overcome with strength of will rather than weapons. The lowly or seemingly helpless are given aid and evil is defeated by good; darkness falls to the light. There is something comforting about each story even though the characters may have been threatened or suffered a loss.

For readers who enjoy classic science fiction and fantasy, this is a wonderful anthology to relax with in your favorite chair.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published October 14, 2014.

Fall Reading 2014 Humpty Dumpty Flip-Side Rhymes


Fractured fairy tales have become very popular in recent years. This new series looks at traditional nursery rhymes from another point of view. In this case, Humpty Dumpty's story is also told from the viewpoint of the king's men. On the last page of the original rhyme, the men are carrying away all of the pieces. But once we flip the book over, we see the king's men valiantly trying to reassemble Humpty using an enormous syringe of glue. The process causes "fits" and the horses wander off. Then the king's men find an original (and logical) solution to the problem.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. They remind me of the style used in animated shows such as SpongeBob Square Pants, which should make them attractive to children. The flip-side rhyme is funny and will probably inspire young readers to create their own flip-sides for other favorite rhymes. I would recommend this book and series to anyone studying nursery rhymes or point of view in language arts lessons.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. The book will be published March 5, 2015.

Fall Reading 2014 Rise of the Earth Dragon


These new Branches books from Scholastic are short, have a good balance of text and illustrations, and a variety of stories from which to choose. The Dragon Masters series is perfect for students who are interested in fantasy and are gaining confidence in reading chapter books. In this first volume of the series, Drake is taken from his family's onion farm to serve in King Roland's castle. He learns that he will be a dragon master and work closely with the dragon assigned to him. There are already three other kids with dragons and they are all being rained by the magician Griffith. As they train, they all learn about the abilities each dragon has and begin to form bonds with their dragons. Drake's bond is with an earth dragon he names Worm. When there is trouble late one night and the students are trapped in a cave-in, Worm surprises them with his ability to shift rocks. But Drake is beginning to suspect that the king may not be as brave and admirable as everyone thinks. What exactly will the king expect from them? We will have to wait and see what happens as the dragon masters gain more knowledge and can communicate better with their dragons.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. We just added this title to our library through our Scholastic Book Fair.

Fall Reading 2014 I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, AD 79 (I Survived #10)


As with all of the I Survived series, this one follows the experiences of a young adult. Marcus is a young slave in the household of a rich man in Pompeii. He and his father had been the slaves of a kind owner named Linus, who was a scientist in Rome. Linus respected Tata (Marcus's father) and took him along on his research trips. But when Linus died, his nephew Festus inherited everything, including the slaves. He sold Tata off and took Marcus back to Pompeii. One day as Marcus is running errands he sees a procession coming through town and his father is in it. It seems that their reunion will be very brief since the volcano above the city is shaking the earth and venting deadly gases into the area. Even though Tata tries to warn everyone, they will not listen to a slave. Marcus and Tata will have to escape from their owners and the city if they want to live.

Tarshis does an excellent job of describing this ancient culture for modern readers. The details of the clothing, social classes, and even the foods (honey-baked stuffed mice) are accurate depictions of the Roman Empire in 79 A.D. The way in which slaves were treated as property and disregarded is also true to life. After learning of the customs of the times, you begin to feel that some of those who died in the eruption deserved their fate. For readers who want to learn more, there are answers to some of their questions in the back of the books as well as suggestions for further reading and learning.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. We just added this book to the library through our Scholastic Book Fair.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rose and the Magician's Mask Blog Tour

In Rose's third adventure, the evil sorcerer that tried to steal Princess Jane has managed to carry off a Venetian mask that was on display in the palace. Mr. Fountain is very worried, because the mask is a powerful magical artifact. When the king sends him off to Venice to investigate the theft, Rose, Freddie and Bella travel with him. Rose is thrilled with the chance to see the world since she has never been outside London, and the thought of the canals and gondolas seems like something from a fairy tale. But when she and Bella take a walk outside the British embassy and are attacked by a gang of ruffians, suddenly it doesn't seem like such a wonderful place. With the help of Gus and the faithful Bill, the children do their best to uncover what Gossamer and Venn are plotting and whether the Doge of Venice is involved or just another of the sorcerer's victims.

Rose's magical abilities and personality are revealed in more depth with each story in the series. Her humble beginnings at the orphanage keep her grounded and sensible in a way that the children born into the elite magical families are not. As she struggles to learn as Mr. Fountain's apprentice, she also tries to maintain her friendships with the other servants in the household (other than the odious Susan). Rose is such a lovable character that we can't help but cheer for her triumphs.

LEAVE A COMMENT TO BE ENTERED IN A DRAWING FOR A FREE COPY OF ROSE AND THE MAGICIAN'S MASK (by midnight September 18, 2014).  In the meantime, you can always read (or re-read) Rose's first two adventures. 


Rose, the orphaned ward and apprentice of magician Aloysius Fountain, is deep in trouble again. This time she has been assigned as a companion/bodyguard for the darling of the kingdom, Princess Jane. There has already been one magical attempt to kidnap the princess from the palace and the king wants Rose to help protect his daughter from further harm. The whole realm is under attack from some form of ice magic that is causing a bitterly cold winter, there are envoys from the emperor of Talish visiting the court, and Rose's fellow servants all look at her suspiciously now that they know she can do magic. Can things get any more complicated?

I enjoy the practical way Rose looks at life. It seems simple to her - she was taken from the orphanage to serve as a maid in Mr. Fountain's household and she was glad to be employed and able to earn wages and support herself. When her magical abilities were discovered, she looked on them as another set of skills she could use to earn a living. She doesn't have the spoiled outlook of wealthy children born into privilege or a family with a history of magic and isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Sensible, hard-working heroines are admirable and likable. I look forward to future adventures with Rose

This was a book with lots of good features. There is the basic story of an orphan being taken from the orphanage to serve as a maid in a wealthy household. The master of the house is an alchemist, so there is magic to make things exciting. Then there is the mystery of children disappearing from the neighborhood. And the character of Rose is a very likable girl. She works hard, has realistic plans for her life, and is loyal to her friends (old and new). Rose's relationships with other members of the household demonstrate her courage and generosity - whether she is saving the alchemist's apprentice, Freddie, from an experiment that's gone out of control, or helping her fellow servant, Bill, polish the chandelier - Rose always tries her best. She will need all her courage and determination to save the missing children before it is too late.

The story balances humor with danger and keeps pulling you along to see what will happen next. You find yourself admiring how Gustavus the cat has everyone treating him like royalty, or wondering what new tantrum the alchemist's daughter, Isabella, will pull. I had to laugh at how the matrons in the orphanage "were convinced that the orphans' morals would be forever destroyed if they so much as breathed the same air as a boy." If you like stories of magic and mystery, then you should give this one a try.


If Holly's name sounds familiar, it is probably because you have seen some of her other books.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fall Reading 2014 Maddy Kettle: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch


Maddy Kettle is one of those stories that starts off in medias res. Maddy is aboard a train speaking to her parents, but we notice in the fifth frame that her parents are mice. "Odd," we think to ourselves. "How can her parents be mice when she is a human girl?" Several pages later we see (in a flashback), that her parents were human until the Thimblewitch turned them into rodents. Eventually we learn the whole story as Maddy reminisces with her flying spadefoot toad, then explains her quest to some cloud cartographers she meets along the way to the Thimblewitch's home. As we piece together the story along with Maddy, we come to see that several events have intersected to cause her parents' transformation as well as bad luck for the witch and other inhabitants of the cloudscape.

Maddy is a resourceful heroine and she makes some interesting friends along the way - including a bear who is also a balloon pilot, a map-making raccoon, a talking bat, and her flying frog. She sees incredible sights like scarecrow guards, spider goblins, and cloud whales, but never loses track of her mission. 

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy fantasy adventures such as Coraline.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published September 30, 2014.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fall Reading Teen Titans: Earth One Volume 1


Teen Titans is a new title for me, although I have been a reader and collector of comics for years. (I'm more of an X-Men, Justice League, Avengers sort of girl). The story in volume 1 starts with the teenagers involved seeming to be just ordinary kids, although 3 out of the 4 seem to have very poor relationships with their parents. Then again, that's not unusual either. But then things begin to change and strange powers and abilities begin to reveal themselves. Just how much do their parents know about what is happening? Are they involved somehow? And who is the mysterious girl they all see in their minds? Where does the other teen from out west fit in?

This will probably appeal to those readers who enjoy stories featuring young adult characters with super powers. There is a mix of genders and racial backgrounds, a variety of abilities - mental and superhuman, and a range of personality types. This first book gives you just enough background to set up the story line for the ongoing series. You might even say that the plot centered around growing pains, with the manifestation of their powers forcing them to leave the nest and face the world. It will be interesting to see how all the characters come back together in the next adventure and whether or not they can form a cohesive unit. I would recommend this for readers 13+, due to some strong language and teen dating elements.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will be published November 25, 2014.

Fall Reading 2014 Bad Magic

Bad Magic

For those who have enjoyed the tales of Max-Ernest and Cass, here is a new story featuring his younger brother, Clay. When he is accused of painting graffiti on the wall of a classroom and suspended from school, Clay must attend summer "reform" camp to earn his way back to middle school. Once he arrives, everything about camp is strange. There are guard bees that sting anyone who passes beyond the Wall of Trust. Campers spend their time working the organic garden and eating veggies fresh from the garden for their meals. They also have llamas to care for. There's a volcano on the island where the camp is located and they do an overnight camp out near the volcano, and then "surf" down the side of the volcano back to camp. It's not your typical camp for troubled kids. Clay is curious about the abandoned mansion on the island and the ghost that everyone says haunts it. 

Things are mysterious and hard to understand from the very beginning. Why did Max-Ernest leave home? Why hasn't Clay heard from him? Who really did paint the graffiti on the wall at school? What is really going on at the camp? Does it have anything to do with Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest"? There seem to be a lot of similarities between the play and Clay's situation. Is it all coincidence? You'll just have to read along and find out the answers as Clay does.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It will go on sale September 16, 2014.

Fall Reading 2014 Dreamwood


If you enjoy historical fiction that has a bit of fantasy woven in, then this story is right up your alley. Lucy has run away from the boarding school her father enrolled her in, because she wants to help him in his job of "clearing ghosts." (Yes, he is an early sort of Ghostbuster. Of all the guys on the team, he would be most like Egon - he has a prominent nose, glasses, and is always making new gadgets to help with his work.) 

But when Lucy arrives at his last known location, he has gone off to try and solve the problem facing the townspeople and has not returned. Lucy packs up some supplies and heads off into the wilderness of the northwest to find him and bring back the remedy that the settlers in the area need. In this alternate history, the native tribes still control many areas along the Pacific coast and the white settlers are having problems with the lumber industry because the trees are rotting from something called Rust. They fear the First People of the Lupine tribe have hexed the trees, but the Lupines have the same problem. (Egon would be happy, Lucy's father has identified Rust as a type of fungus. He even took samples.)

Lucy has help on her quest from a couple of fellow teenagers, and some good advice from a few adults. But as in all adventures, there are perils, villains, and obstacles. It will take all of Lucy's experience with the world of spirits, her companion's wilderness skills, and even some help from the spirits to succeed. Along the way she learns that she can't always have all the answers, sometimes it's okay not to know everything, and it can even be good to admit when you have made a mistake.

This strong female protagonist reminds me of the characters from Karen Cushman's books like Catherine Called BirdyThe Midwife's Apprentice, and The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. It was published June 12, 2014. For more information, visit the author's website.