Monday, December 28, 2015

Book review - Crystal Cadets

Title: Crystal Cadets
Author: Anne Toole and Katie O’Neil
Genre: graphic novel/fantasy
Similar books: Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
                     Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Nicely done but not really my style
Summary (provided by publisher): Cadets Go! Join this team of darkness-fighting, world-saving, power-packed teen girls from all over the world on their first adventure!
Zoe has always felt out of place; her foster parents are great and all, but she’s long felt like something was missing. That is, of course, until she discovers a mysterious gem left to her by her birth mother and her whole universe gets flipped around! When the crystal grants Zoe mysterious powers of light she becomes the Diamond Cadet, and she’s not the only one; suddenly she’s meeting new friends who shoot flames and glowing green arrows. It’s all fun at first, but when The Darkness possesses Zoe’s foster parents her only choice is to join this wild group of action-hero girls, traveling the globe to defeat The Darkness and find a cure!

My opinion: This book is solidly plotted and well drawn. I’m all for girl power and teamwork. It is perhaps more girly, froo-froo, clear good and evil, hugs and kisses, sunshine and rainbows than I prefer but it would make a solid choice for mid to upper elementary school girls. Nothing overly violent or objectionable and no romance either.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book review - The Door by the Staircase

Title: The Door by the Staircase
Author: Katherine Marsh
Genre: retelling
Similar books: Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
                     Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

a nice change of pace
Summary (provided by publisher): Twelve-year-old Mary Hayes can't stand her orphanage for another night. But when an attempted escape through the stove pipe doesn't go quite as well as she'd hoped, Mary fears she'll be stuck in the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies forever.

The very next day, a mysterious woman named Madame Z appears at the orphanage requesting to adopt Mary, and the matron's all too happy to get the girl off her hands. Soon, Mary is fed a hearty meal, dressed in a clean, new nightgown and shown to a soft bed with blankets piled high. She can hardly believe she isn't dreaming!

But when Mary begins to explore the strange nearby town with the help of her new friend, Jacob, she learns a terrifying secret about Madame Z's true identity. If Mary's not careful, her new home might just turn into a nightmare.

Award-winning author Katherine Marsh draws from Russian fairytales in this darkly funny middle-grade fantasy novel

My opinion: Baba Yaga is truly an underappreciated folk character. Unlike European fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not all bad. Sure she’s a witch and she eats children. She also, occasionally, rescues them. She helps them out of desperate circumstances. In short, of all the fairy tales witches she is the most human. And that is the idea behind this novel. I suspected the true identity of Madame Z fairly early on but more in an anticipatory way than any real annoyance or impatience. Mary is a great character, a heroine with spirit and sturdiness yet with fears and weakness. Add in a town full of wonder in Iris and a delightful sense of atmosphere and this book is a joy to read. It is historical fiction but touches of magic will entice upper elementary readers. This is a great pick for kids who enjoy fairy tale retelling but are ready for something other than the standard princess tales.

More information: The Door by the Staircase releases January 5.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Mouse and Mole and the Christmas Walk by Doug Cushman

There is a lot to admire in this book. First of all, it encourages a holiday with a low ecological impact as Mouse and Mole make their own edible decorations which they put on a tree out in the forest (rather than cutting one down). It encourages experiences and the joys of sharing rather than the consumption. The illustrations are simple but charming. And the bottom of each page has brief, mostly scientific, facts about winter to sustain the interest of older readers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book review - The Runaways Gold

Title:  The Runaway’s Gold
Author: Emilie Christie Burack
Genre: historical fiction
Similar books:  Listen to the Moon by Michael Murpurgo
                      My Near Death Adventures by Alison DeCamp

Intriguing but perhaps overly convoluted
Summary (provided by publisher): In 1842, Christopher Robertson's family lives a difficult life as “crofters,” farmers and fishermen so in debt to the landowner that they have no hope of ever breaking free. To make matters worse, Christopher also lives under the thumb of his morally questionable father and devious brother. When his brother frames him for the theft of their father's secret bag of coins, Christopher must leave his home and embark on a journey across the island to return the coins and clear his name. It's a journey that takes twists and turns, including stops in prison, on a smuggler's ship, and at the house of a beautiful girl—and it ends with him escaping to a new life in America, which has dangers of its own.

My opinion: Interesting. I have some fondness for tales of poverty and hidden treasure. This one is a little Dickensian, what with the plucky and virtuous young man in desperate circumstances, trying to find a way to clear his name and help his family in spite of dishonest rich men and greedy grasping acquaintances. Of the historical fiction I’ve read lately, though, this is the one I have the hardest time imagining recommending to young readers. Perhaps too complex for many. The focus of the novel switches back and forth between Christopher’s present, in New York, and the circumstances in Shetland that led him to run away. With situations that will have young readers crying out “unfair” and dialogue that leans heavily on Scottish terms and historical situations that are unfamiliar to the modern reader, this book is not likely to keep most readers engaged all the way to the end.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book review - Terror at Bottle Creek

Title:  Terror at Bottle Creek
Author: Watt Key
Genre: realistic fiction

Similar books:  Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick
                      Never Say Die by Will Hobbs
Summary (provided by publisher): In this gritty, realistic wilderness adventure, thirteen-year-old Cort is caught in a battle against a Gulf Coast hurricane. Cort's father is a local expert on hunting and swamp lore in lower Alabama who has been teaching his son everything he knows. But when a deadly Category 3 storm makes landfall, Cort must unexpectedly put his all skills-and bravery-to the test. One catastrophe seems to lead to another, leaving Cort and two neighbor girls to face the storm as best they can. Amid miles of storm-thrashed wetlands filled with dangerous, desperate wild animals, it's up to Cort to win-or lose-the fight for their lives. 

My opinion: I liked the information about swamp animals in this book. It gives a great deal of interesting facts without becoming overwhelming or too much like a text book. There is one passage where Cort and his father compare the nature of mammals and reptiles, how domesticated mammals can revert to a feral state without the influence of humans but no amount of human influence seems to fully domesticate a reptile. These are really cool concepts to consider. Apart from that its actually a fairly standard survival story. The parts about Cort’s issues with his parents are well integrated into the immediacy of the survival story. Over all, it is fairly well written and worth a read.

More information: Terror at Bottle Creek releases January 5.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Books on screen: Holiday edition

Eloise at Christmastime
Let's be frank: the book and movie here bear little plot resemblance. The book chronicles the everyday doings of an excitable, mischievous child at Christmas. She eats treats, decorates, sings, and exchanges gifts. The made for tv movie adds two dramatic plots: the romance between Bill and Rachel Peabody and Mrs. Thornton's pending eviction. The original illustrations supply the inspiration for at least the second of these plots (Eloise includes a drawing of a sour-faced woman with a poodle scowling at Eloise and Skipperdee). Most importantly, though, the movie truly captures the spirit of Eloise. Sofia Vassilieva not only resembles Eloise, she mimics her facial expressions and postures. And Julie Andrews is delightful as Nanny. This movie is a great one to add to your holiday rotation.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Susan B. Anderson's Kids Knitting Workshop

Susan B. Anderson’s Kids Knitting Workshop

For the most part, the instructions in this book are very clear. Anderson provides plenty of simple, clear steps. A kid could almost teach himself/herself to knit with this book alone. The single exception is the cast-on instructions which I, a somewhat experienced knitter, found needlessly complicated and terribly confusing . I struggled to make those instructions work. Once I moved beyond that point, though, I found the bulk of the instructions very helpful and I liked that most of the projects were useful, practical projects. With guidance from an experienced knitter, this is a very helpful guide for the young crafter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

Book review - Shadows of Sherwood

Title: Shadows of Sherwood
Author: Kekla Magoon
Genre: retelling/sci-fi
Similar books: Valiant by Sarah McGuire
                     Jack by Liesl Shurtliff

Fun, but not my favorite

Summary (provided by publisher): For fans of Percy Jackson comes a high-adventure retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale featuring a kick-butt heroine ... Robyn Hoodlum.

The night her parents disappear, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley must learn to fend for herself. Her home, Nott City, has been taken over by a harsh governor, Ignomus Crown. After fleeing for her life, Robyn has no choice but to join a band of strangers-misfit kids, each with their own special talent for mischief. Setting out to right the wrongs of Crown's merciless government, they take their outlaw status in stride. But Robyn can't rest until she finds her parents. As she pieces together clues from the night they disappeared, Robyn learns that her destiny is tied to the future of Nott City in ways she never expected.

Kicking off a new series with an unforgettable heroine, readers will be treated to feats of courage and daring deeds as Robyn and her band find their way in this cruel, new world.

My opinion: On one hand, I liked the idea of this: a quasi modern gender bent Robin Hood. And I do mean quasi modern. They might have mopeds, holograms, and fully wireless tech, but the feel was more medieval. I kept expecting horses, armor, and cook fires. And while the base concept was sound, the execution has so much prophecy, near magic, and moon religion that it didn’t feel as much like Robin Hood. Clearly the first in series and not one I’d bother to continue reading.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review - Not If I See You First

Title: Not If I See You First
Author: Eric Lindstrom
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books:  Painless by S.A. Harazin
                      Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson
Summary (provided by publisher): Everyone has secrets. Everyone is a secret.
Parker Grant is a junior in high school who loves to run, has great friends, and isn't afraid to speak her mind--especially when it comes to how stupid some people can be around a blind person like her. The only topic to avoid is how Parker feels about the boy who broke her heart in eighth grade... who has just transferred to her school. And as long as she can keep giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago, she'll be just fine. Right?
Combining a fiercely engaging voice with true heart, debut author Eric Lindstrom's Not If I See You First sheds light on the metaphorical blind spots that are a part of life, whether you're visually impaired or not. 

My opinion: Some Excellent stuff here. Seriously, excellent. So first of all we have Parker, a head-strong protagonist caught up in her grief and her own view of the world. We have the boy who wronged her and years of hurt between them. You have friends who keep secrets and are more than we or Parker suspect. The ending won’t suit everyone but it’s realistic and right up my alley. This is different than some of the teen fiction you’ll read this year but its certainly worth a look.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight - Brain Camp

Brain Camp by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

This is a very atmospheric book. The muted color palate suits the story’s tone, as does Faith Erin Hicks’ illustration style. Make no bones about it, this is an odd story, something along the lines of mild horror. It is a bit graphic in a few scenes with mild blood, but not terribly so. It’s solidly plotted and characterized with a nice, slightly open ending.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book review - Doctor Who trio

Titles: Doctor Who System Wipe
          Doctor Who Death Riders
          Doctor Who Heart of Stone
Authors: Oli Smith
             Justin Richards
             Trevor Baxendale
Genre: sci-fi
Similar books: The Creeps by Chris Schweizer

                     Rust by Royden Lepp
a great choice for fans
Summaries (provided by publisher): System Wipe - The Eleventh Doctor finds himself trapped in the virtual world of Parallife. As he tries to save the inhabitants from being destroyed by a deadly virus, Amy and Rory must fight to keep the Doctor's body in the real world safe from the mysterious entity known as Legacy. 
Heart of Stone -  The Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory are surprised to discover lumps of moon rock scattered around a farm. But things get even stranger when they find out where the moon rock is coming from - a Rock Man is turning everything he touches to stone! Can the Doctor and his friends find out what the creature wants before it's too late? 
Death Riders -  The Galactic Fair has arrived on the mining asteroid of Stanalan and anticipation is building around the construction of the fair's most popular attraction - the Death Ride! But there is something sinister going on behind all the fun of the fair; people are mysteriously dying in the Off-Limits tunnels. Join the Eleventh Doctor, Amy and Rory as they investigate . . . 

My opinion: While these are separate stories by separate authors they are worth talking about together. I’ve read a number of novels that were extensions of tv shows over the years with varying degrees of entertainment value. These three are all solid choices for Whovians. Funny, clever, and just the right levels of tension and absurdity. All three books read like an episode of the show. System Wipe takes us into outer space for a technological adventures. Death Riders is a more standard alien adventure. Heart of Stone takes place on earth and is also a good choice for those less familiar with the show. Not something I’d give to just any sci-fi fan but a great choice for a Whovian.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a note to let you know I won't be posting this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Hope you and those you care about have a fantastic week.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Book review - Hello?

Title: Hello?
Author: Liza Wiemer
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books:  Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

                      Love Letters to the Dead by Lauren Myracle
a decent read
Summary (provided by publisher):Tricia: A girl struggling to find her way after her beloved grandma's death.
Emerson: A guy who lives his life to fulfill promises, real and hypothetical.
Angie: A girl with secrets she can only express through poetry.
Brenda: An actress and screenplay writer afraid to confront her past.
Brian: A potter who sets aside his life for Tricia, to the detriment of both.
Linked and transformed by one phone call, Hello? weaves together these five Wisconsin teens' stories into a compelling narrative of friendship and family, loss and love, heartbreak and healing, serendipity, and ultimately hope.

My opinion: I wasn’t sure about this one at first. It is kind of a slow start and I didn’t connect with the  characters very quickly. It gets stronger as you go, though, and becomes a solidly entertaining read. The various format styles helped considerably, keeping the character perspectives clear. It wa
s interesting how their various traumas came to light and affected their choices. Somewhat predictable but still worth a read.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pick 6: Sports stories

While I’m not a fan of most things athletic myself, I must admit sports have great natural drama for stories. Competition reads well on the page and can provide other natural lessons on teamwork and fair play. Here are six sports themed books published in the last six months.

6 New Sports Stories
1. March Grand Prix by Kean Soo
2. A Whole New Ballgame by Phil Bildner
3. Breakaway by Kat Spears
4. First & Then by Emma Mills
5. Losers Take All by David Klass
6. The Edge by Roland Smith

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Book review - The Anatomical Shape of a Heart

Title: The Anatomical Shape of a Heart
Author: Jenn Bennett
Genre: romance
Similar books: Has to Be Love by Jolene Perry

                     Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn
A quick, fun read
Summary (provided by publisher): Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she's spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci's footsteps, she's ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital's Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco's most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is-and tries to uncover what he's hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix's own family's closet tear them apart?

My opinion: Bex and Jack are a great leading couple. Strong willed, fun loving, and flawed. While their relationship happens a little too easily and doesn’t enough bumps and trials to be realistic, the characters themselves are so likeable that it sort of makes up for the unbelievable love story. I like that the parents’ stories weren’t simple either. Their conflicts are complex and require understanding.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, November 13, 2015

Book review - Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan

Title: Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan
Author: Sheila Agnew
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books:  Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter

                       Boy's Best Friend by Kate Banks
funny, informative, and heartwarming
Summary (provided by publisher): New York City. Evie Brooks has seen it on the TV, but she never imagined herself living there. But when her mother dies, Evie finds herself leaving her home in Dublin and moving to Manhattan to visit with her American uncle for the summer. Never having owned a pet more substantial than a goldfish, twelve-year-old Evie is intrigued by Uncle Scott s veterinary practice, and before long is working as an assistant in the clinic. Soon she finds herself immersed in dogs galore, parrots, reptiles, and an assortment of other creatures and their eccentric owners. And she loves it. Manhattan would be just about perfect if it weren t for Uncle Scott s lawyer girlfriend, who has plans for him that do not involve Evie. Before the summer is over, Evie has an important decision to make: stay in New York and confront the problem of Scott s girlfriend or return to Ireland to live with her godmother."

My opinion: I’m a big fan of this one. Evie is a great protagonist - sweet, conflicted, sassy, and realistic. She skews a little young but not overly so. Agnew blends information about animals and veterinary medicine nicely with a plot about grief and unexpected family. The Leela storyline is a little over the top but the rest of the book and what it accomplishes balance that unreality out. A great book for young girls.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Picture books for everyone

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers has this great knack for taking everyday, mundane situations and turning them into something absurd. In this case, a boy accidentally licks a book which leads him to eat it. Henry then goes on to eat a number of books. Kids will enjoy the sheer ridiculous in this book. Visually, this book is done in almost an altered book style. Illustrations are a combination of collage and original drawings. Even the text that shows through on each page has some bearing in the events therein. Cute, clever, and likely to be met with cries of "again." Cries which most parents won't mind.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Book review - The Peddler's Road

Title: The Peddler’s Road
Author: Matthew Cody
Genre: fantasy/retelling
Similar books: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
                       A Tale Dark and Grimms by Adam Gidwitz

Summary (provided by publisher): Drawn from the Pied Piper tale, this exciting new trilogy by the author of Powerless is brimming with adventure, mystery, and rats!

It is said that in the thirteenth century, in a village called Hamelin, a piper lured all of the children away with his magical flute, and none of them were ever seen again.

Today tough, pink-haired Max and her little brother, Carter, are stuck in modern-day Hamelin with their father . . . until they are also led away by the Piper to a place called the Summer Isle. There they meet the original stolen children, who haven't aged a day and who have formed their own village, vigilantly guarded from the many nightmarish beings that roam the land.
No one knows why the Piper stole them, but Max and Carter's appearance may be the key to returning the lost children of Hamelin—and to going home themselves. But to discover the secrets of the Piper, Max and Carter will have to set out on a mysterious quest down the dangerous Peddler's Road.

My opinion: Lots of cool stuff going on here. This is an excellent retelling, taking the bare bones of a familiar story and respinning it with new details and motivations. I’ve often wondered where the Piper took all of the children, what he gained by those actions. This book give him motivation in spades. A great cast of characters: Max, Carter, and the other children not to mention the magical creatures and the housekeeper, all of whom are fully-fleshed and each with his own motivation. A great sense of adventure, plenty of action. One could argue that it gets a little overly descriptive at times but those moments pass quickly. An exciting story on it’s own with at least one sequel to come.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, November 6, 2015

Book review - Placebo Junkies

Title: Placebo Junkies
Author: J C Carleson
Genre: surrealism
Similar books: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

                       Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson
interesting but odd
Summary (provided by publisher): Meet Audie: Professional lab rat. Guinea pig. Serial human test subject. For Audie and her friends, “volunteering” for pharmaceutical drug trials means a quick fix and easy cash.
Sure, there's the occasional nasty side effect, but Audie's got things under control. If Monday's pill causes a rash, Tuesday's ointment usually clears it right up. Wednesday's injection soothes the sting from Tuesday's “cure,” and Thursday's procedure makes her forget all about Wednesday's headache. By the time Friday rolls around, there's plenty of cash in hand and perhaps even a slot in a government-funded psilocybin study, because WEEKEND!

But the best fix of all is her boyfriend, Dylan, whose terminal illness just makes them even more compatible. He's turning eighteen soon, so Audie is saving up to make it an unforgettable birthday. That means more drug trials than ever before, but Dylan is worth it.
No pain, no gain, Audie tells herself as the pills wear away at her body and mind. No pain, no gain, she repeats as her grip on reality starts to slide. . . .

Raw and irreverent, Placebo Junkies will captivate readers until the very end, when author J. C. Carleson leans in for a final twist of the knife.

My opinion: My first impression of this book was simply how strange it was. Audie’s role is so far from the norm, so “other”, that she’s hard to relate to. It wasn’t until she began hallucinating  that I realized that we couldn’t really trust anything she’d said or seen. As always with first person narration, we’re experiencing the story through one person’s lens and when that lens is clouded it is hard to know what to believe. For those who enjoy and atypical reading experience, this can be a lot of fun. Others will find it too difficult to follow.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Books on screen

If I Stay
I never read this book when it was initially popular. It just didn't' seem like my sort of book. I listened to the audio book recently and it just blew me away. The gentle simplicity of the narration is sharply at odds with the grim nature of the story. It is deeply and viscerally emotional. We loose some of that in the film version, largely because we're no longer entirely in Mia's head. While events don't adhere strictly to those of the book, the intent remains the same. Solidly done, but I believe the book is much better.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Book review - The Adventures of Miss Petitfour

Title: The Adventures of Miss Petitfour
Author: Anne Michaels
Genre: humor/easy reader
Similar books: the Claude series by Alex T. Smith
                     Three ring rascals series by Kate Klise

Summary (provided by publisher): Miss Petitfour is an expert at baking and eating little cakes. She also has the most marvelous, everyday adventures. Her favorite mode of travel is by tablecloth, and on windy days she always takes her sixteen cats out for an airing.
Join Miss Petitfour and her feline companions as they embark on five magical outings, including a quest for “birthday cheddar” and a visit to the village’s annual Festooning Festival.
And if you prefer books in which nothing ever happens, books in which people (and cats) sit by the fire with buttery shortbread biscuits and steaming mugs of cocoa, books full of interesting facts that will never come in useful, and books with digressions and meanwhiles and long words and lists, then you will find plenty of that here too.
So fetch a tablecloth and turn to the first page of this book. “Sometimes, all you must do is reach out your hand for something wonderful to happen . . . ”

My opinion: While older readers prefer high adventure and complicated plots, this is not always the case with those just beginning to read independently. That’s when books like this one come into play. Low in drama but with plenty of silly fun, this book will appeal to youngster and their parents alike. To aid young readers, long and unusual words are printed in a different color and explained in the story’s text.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book review - The League of Unexceptional Children

Title: The League of Unexceptional Children
Author: Gitty Daneshvari
Genre: humor
Similar books: NERDS by Michael Buckley
                     The Double-Cross by Jackson Pearce

Silly fun
Summary (provided by publisher): Are you average? Normal? Forgettable? If so, the League of Unexceptional Children is for you! This first book in a hilarious new adventure series is for anyone who's struggled to be noticed in a sea of above-average overachievers.
What is the League of Unexceptional Children? I'm glad you asked. You didn't ask? Well, you would have eventually and I hate to waste time. The League of Unexceptional Children is a covert network that uses the nation's most average, normal, and utterly unexceptional children as spies. Why the average kids? Why not the brainiacs? Or the beauty queens? Or the jocks? It's simple: People remember them. But not the unexceptionals. They are the forgotten ones. Until now! 

My opinion: This book is going to connect with kids at two points: feeling invisible and the desire to be something fantastic. While the concept and execution of this book is rather ridiculous, it is somewhat rooted in reality. The ability to blend in is valuable for a spy. And that level of ridiculous is more fun and entertaining than annoying. It’s a cute read that is likely to entertain upper elementary readers.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Graphic Novel Spotlight: El Deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo is Bell's story of growing up deaf in a traditional public school. More than that, its a story of feeling fundamentally different at an age when one longs for nothing more than to belong. That makes it a universally relatable story. Plus, the illustrations are delightful, cartoony, and expressive. This is a great choice for fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Non-fiction book review - Be a Survivor

Be a Survivor by Chris Oxlade

Many kids go through a phase where they become fascinated with survival, usually around the fifth or sixth grades (often after reading a book like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain) so it’s helpful to have good survival books available that are aimed at young readers. This book has a number of rather practical tips: making shelter, collecting water, making fire, and getting found. I do have some complaints:
1. After describing how to make a simple shelter with a tree it describes how to build an A-frame, should no appropriate tree be available. Just the A-frame, not how to use the frame to create a shelter. While one could perhaps figure it out given the previous instructions, I find explicit instructions far easier for kids to understand.
2. The section on igloos explains how to make snow bricks with a plastic box. While that is useful, I’d have liked to have seen a side note on making bricks when you don’t have such a box.
3. While a list of edible plants is helpful, this book provides no way to identify said plants. If I don’t know what a blueberry bush looks like, knowing that it is edible does me no good.
Most importantly:
4. The knife safety rules aren’t included until after the tips that use a knife. A kid isn’t likely  to flip ahead in a book to read safety tips before jumping into a project. Personally, I’d have preferred to see those safety rules right at the front of the book along with some fire safety rules.
This book does have good information. The section on collecting water, in particular, is surprisingly thorough. I wouldn’t give it to a kid without proper supervision, though. 

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Book review - Losers Take All

Title: Losers Take All
Author: David Klass
Genre: realistic fiction
Similar books: Fat Boy Vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

                     Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan 
better than I expected
Summary (provided by publisher): At Jack Logan's sports-crazy New Jersey high school, the new rule is that all kids must play on a team. So Jack and a ragtag group of anti-athletic friends decide to get even. They are going to start a rebel JV soccer team whose mission is to avoid victory at any cost, setting out to secretly undermine the jock culture of the school. But as the team's losing formula becomes increasingly successful at attracting fans and attention, Jack and his teammates are winning in ways they never expected—and don't know how to handle. 

My opinion:  As Klass points out late in this novel, people love an underdog. That is part of the appeal of this novel. Our protagonists are poor athletes determined to stay as such. Most of the novel is rather humorous as the self proclaimed “losers” fumble through practices, games, and social interactions. It does take some serious turns and their efforts bring them at odds with not only their principal but most of the town. Klass takes a hard look at the oftentimes brutal culture of high school athletics. Rather than become an overly harsh spotlight, though, he then flips around and shows the positives, physical benefits, and sense of pride and loyalty sports can engender. Not only does he acknowledge that all issues have more than one side, he also points out how even a simple idea can quickly spiral out of control. While some of the side plots were a little unbelievable, it is an overall solid read which kept even this non-sports fan engaged.

Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book review - These Shallow Graves

Title: These Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Genre: historical fiction/ mystery
Similar books: The Diviners by Libba Bray
                    The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

very nice
Summary (provided by publisher):
Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

My opinion:  Many books are written about girls who don’t fit into societal expectations, particularly in an historical context. This books is more than just one of the crowd. At face value, Jo is much like any historical heroine. She wants more than just the simple life her parents have planned for her. She wants to know about the world around her, to understand  the poverty she sees and to explore her city at greater depth. She doesn’t just fight against society, though. She wants to fit in. She’d like to do what is expected of her but finds conforming difficult. That burgeoning feminism at war with conformity makes Jo both relatable and historically realistic. Donnelly paints an excellent picture of Turn of the century New York City, both the high society and the cesspools, particularly when it comes to the treatment of women. Historical fiction can be kind of a hard sell but this book has both mystery and romance elements that will broaden the appeal.

More Information: These Shallow Graves releases October 27.
Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pick 6: horror

Who doesn't love a good scare in October? It's almost required to prepare for Halloween by scaring yourself silly. Here are six horror books published in the last six months.

6 new horror novels

1. Monster Motors by Brian Lynch

2. Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

3. Alive by Chandler Baker

4. The Suffering by Rin Chupeco

5. After Dark by James Leck

6. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Picture books for everyone

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

At heart, this is a pretty basic story: a little girl wants to keep an animal she found as a pet. Any number of books and television shows have told this same story. What gives this book extra appeal is its subversion of the character roles. Our main character, Lucy, is a bear. The animal that she finds and names, Squeaker, is a human child. It is terribly silly but a great deal of fun. Lucy's voice is fantastic and Brown's illustrations are incredibly expressive. The first time I read this book to a group of kids, they demanded and immediate reread.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Books on screen

The True Meaning of Smekday/Home
I suspected this movie would be a significant departure from the source material from the moment I read the description on the Netflix envelope (though I've read many a Netflix description that was a far cry from the movie's reality). I wasn't wrong. From the very beginning, the movie's entire focus is different than that of the book. Rex's original story focuses on Tip - her reactions, thoughts, feelings, and motivations. While these things have a role in the movie, they are more there as a lens for Oh (who is a far more bumbling, friendly, positive character in the movie). Even the plot is different. From the moment Oh fixes the car, the plot is a far cry from the book. They head to a different destination with an entirely different purpose. It's a nice movie, fun funny and well animated. Just a very different creation than the book was.