Middle school students have reading interests that run the gamut from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Twilight. Sometimes as a parent it is hard to know what is age appropriate for your child. Through this blog, I will try to help parents make informed decisions about what is available in our library. I am hoping that this blog will be a resource for our parents, and that we can all work together to make our students life-long readers!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Forgetting

The Forgetting
by Sharon Cameron
From the publisher:
"What isn't written, isn't remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person's memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn't written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her."

There I was, calmly reading what I thought was a normal, run-of-the-mill, YA dystopian novel, when all of a sudden a twist hit that I was totally unprepared for. What?! So, while I enjoyed the beginning, it wasn't anything that I hadn't read a hundred times. But then, BAM, and all my perceptions were changed. 
This book pretty much has it all. Corrupt government, evil rulers, intense situations, sweet romance (with some pretty steamy kissing), strong heroine and funny, handsome hero, strong supporting characters and a surprising twist in the plot. I read and loved this author's book Rook , but didn't ever finish The Dark Unwinding . I think you just have to have patience at the beginning of her books, because they all seem to start very slowly. But believe me, they pack a punch later on. The premise in this one is so interesting and has so many facets. I was worried when I heard that there was another book in the series because I wanted resolution and ANSWERS in this one. Luckily the next book is just a companion book and not a sequel, so you don't have to worry about a big cliff hanger. 

Areas of concern:
*A scene of torture which is intense but not graphic.
*A pretty gruesome stabbing.
*An attempted suicide.
*Talk of floggings and a war in the past.
*A character witnessed some horrible events in the past and tries to describe some of it.
*Attempted mass murder.
*The afore-mentioned steamy kissing.
(All of that together sounds pretty terrible, but it was nothing worse than many other dystopian/science fiction books out there. They can get pretty violent.)

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
From the publisher:
"Twelve-year-old Carley Connors can take a lot. Growing up in Las Vegas with her fun-loving mother, she's learned to be tough. But she never expected a betrayal that would land her in a foster care. When she's placed with the Murphys, a lively family with three boys, she's blindsided. Do happy families really exist? Carley knows she could never belong in their world, so she keeps her distance.

It's easy to stay suspicious of Daniel, the brother who is almost her age and is resentful she's there. But Mrs. Murphy makes her feel heard and seen for the first time, and the two younger boys seem determinded to work their way into her heart. Before she knows it, Carley is protected the boys from a neighbourhood bullly and even teaching Daniel how to play basketball. Then just when she's feeling like she could truly be one of the Murphys, news from her mother shakes her world."

I read this book in one sitting and really enjoyed most of it. Some things didn't ring true for me, but I am not familiar with the foster care system (unless you count TV shows), so maybe some of the things that bothered me really could happen. 
To begin with, this book is extremely popular in our middle school library, and believe me, I would rather have 6th - 8th graders reading this over A Child Called It . It is a kinder, gentler look at abuse and the foster care system. Middle school students do love reading these kinds of books. I hope it teaches them empathy and compassion for other students who might be in this situation. 
I thought the main character, Carley, was very believable in her feelings and the walls she had around herself. I cared about her immensely, and had teary eyes several times throughout the story. I was happy to see a foster family that was so functional and normal. I loved Mrs. Murphy and the whole family of Murphys. And I was thrilled to see a best friend who was a Musical Theatre Nerd! That was an un-looked for bonus. I loved the reference to track 18 on the WickedCD, which is the song For Good . However, I thought it would have been better to mention some of the words from it that make it so meaningful to Toni and Carley's situation. Practically every word in the lyrics fits their friendship.

The things that bothered me:
*The police officer who came to the house and pretty much bullied her. I have a feeling that would never happen in real life with an unrepresented minor - at least I hope so.
*The nearly absent social worker. Aren't they supposed to check up on them quite frequently? Especially right after being placed with a new family? 
*I definitely didn't like the ending and would have loved an epilogue 10+ years later.

Areas of concern:
*This is a book about a girl placed in a foster home because of violent abuse at home, so there is talk of the abuse and the damage it has had on the main character.
*Bullying at school.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Shadow Bright and Burning

A Shadow Bright 
and Burning
by Jessica Cluess
From the publisher:
"I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she is brought to London to train with Her Majesty's sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she's the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?"

Well, here's an exciting book for you.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I love the relationship that we see right away between Henrietta and Rook, although more is revealed later on, it is nice to see their practically symbiotic relationship. They need each other. But it is also fun to see Henrietta have new experiences. I loved all of the characters! "The boys" are awesome, but I felt like it was Magnus, Blackwood, and then all the others that we didn't get to know as well until quite a bit farther into it. I'm sure they will all have major roles in the next book. On the description from the publisher it says, "One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her." I really thought I knew which one it was that was going to betray her, so I was nervous throughout because I really like the one I suspected, but so far, so good on that head. Ugh, it is so hard to write reviews without spoilers!! But regardless, the characters were all so important in their different ways, from sorcerers to magicians to we-thought-you-were-dead people. And everyone's backstories were also very crucial to the story as a whole.
The setting of Victorian England almost put me off of this book because I hate steampunk, but there was no steampunk here, just magic. It was so interesting to see the alternate, magical, warding-off-demons Victorian London and the queen herself. 
All in all, I was very impressed with this book. I believe it is a debut novel by a new author and I very much look forward to what she brings in the future. There is action, magic, horror, fear, possible romance (from several different places), humor and all sorts of twists. I think I see where several things are going in the next book, but I have no idea how we're going to get there. All of that was done in a way that still kept it appropriate for a middle school audience. Well done, Jessica Cluess, you are on my radar.

Areas of concern:
*I only noticed one use of the *d* word and no other bad language.
*Terrifying monsters that attack. 
*Intense situations
*Mild sexual harassment at the very beginning of the book, but the character escapes from that environment.
*There is one quite big make-out scene and mention is made of a hand going up a leg, but that is as far as it goes.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Monday, September 11, 2017

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the
Black Cloak
by Robert Beatty
From the publisher:
"“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past."

I'm just going to start this by putting it out there that this book is quite scary and eerie. It starts out with a lot of discussion about rats. I have (luckily) never had a run-in with a rat, but since I am scared witless by mice, I was very disturbed by all of the rat talk. But that is just me, there is a lot more than rats here to terrify middle schoolers. I have a couple of students who LOVE the Lockwood and Co. books, and to tide them over between those books I think I'll steer them towards Serafina. There is definitely no lack of action and atmospheric creepiness. A black-cloaked, zombie-like monster who steals children, a creepy forest with an abandoned village and a mysterious and scary cemetery. Who can you trust? There are many people who could be suspect. 
The setting of the Biltmore estate was a fun part, and now I want to go visit it.... but NOT live in the rat-infested basement. 
I like the character of Serafina, she is brave and good and strong, but let's face it, sometimes pretty foolish. I felt sorry for her poor pa, who loved her and was always worried about her as she went off and left without telling him. I also liked Braeden and had a lot of compassion for his story. While I figured out some things quite easily, the way the author got around to explaining them was gripping. I really enjoyed this book, but it is not for the faint of heart. 

Areas of concern:
*Children disappearing in a very scary way.
*Atmospheric tension
*Blood and gore play a small part.
*Animal attacks
*Very little parental supervision
*Rats! Creeping, crawling, being caught, being killed.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12 (Wow!  8 years old?  Really?  Way too young, in my opinion.)
School Library Journal - Grades 5-7

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Six

The Six
by Mark Alpert
From the publisher:
Adam's muscular dystrophy has stolen his mobility, his friends, and in a few short years, it will take his life. Virtual reality games are Adam's only escape from his wheelchair. In his alternate world, he can defeat anyone. Running, jumping, scoring touchdowns: Adam is always the hero.

Then an artificial intelligence program, Sigma, hacks into Adam's game. Created by Adam's computer-genius father, Sigma has gone rogue, threatening Adam's life-and world domination. Their one chance to stop Sigma is using technology Adam's dad developed to digitally preserve the mind of his dying son.

Along with a select group of other terminally ill teens, Adam becomes one of the Six who have forfeited their bodies to inhabit weaponized robots. But with time running short, the Six must learn to manipulate their new mechanical forms and work together to train for epic combat...before Sigma destroys humanity."

Sometimes science fiction books are chilling and un-nerving because they show things that could actually happen in our world. I felt like that with this book. Technology is increasing so quickly, and who knows what things are being worked on that we know nothing about? I'm pretty sure there is a lot of work going on in the Artificial Intelligence area that I am unaware of. This book is science fiction in the truest sense of the genre. It isn't dystopian, it isn't time travel, it is science. I loved that it made you think of all the ethical questions that would arise in these circumstances. 
Aside from all of the science, this was a gripping, exciting book. There is a ton of action and conflict. 
I cared about the characters - robot or not - and the plot was believable and intriguing. As a parent, I can only imagine the roads I would be willing to go to save my child, so I definitely had a lot of empathy for Adam's dad. I am ordering books 2 and 3 for our library.

Areas of concern:
*The whole premise of the book is that the teenagers all have terminal diseases and will die in 6 months or less.
*The moral and ethical questions that arise from the decisions that need to be made.
*There is fighting and violence.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-16
School Library Journal - Grades 8+

Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus
by Cassie Beasley
From the publisher:
Fans of Big FishPeter Pan, and Roald Dahl will fall in love with Circus Mirandus, which celebrates the power of seeing magic in world.Do you believe in magic? Micah Tuttle does.Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn't want to keep his promise. And now it's up to Micah to get the miracle he came for."

After all the hype and the good ratings for this book, I was definitely disappointed. It took me over half of the book to really get into it, and believe me, middle schoolers will not keep reading that long to get into a story. I was expecting a more magical feel, but it just wasn't working for me. It was a sweet, sad story and by the end I enjoyed it, although I felt like it left too many things up in the air. It would probably work better as a read-aloud for middle grade. I think there are probably students who would like this book, but so far it has just spent a lot of time sitting face-out on the shelf in our library. This may be one of those books that adults like better than kids like.
There are no real areas of concern, except for the death of a character and a very mean relative.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 4-7
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9-12

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands
From the publisher:
"“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart."

Wow! This was a never-ending thrill ride of a read. I was almost late for work one day because I started reading and lost track of time. Another reviewer described it as a cross between The Da Vinci Code andThe Alchemyst and I definitely agree about The Da Vinci Code . Codes and secret caverns and Knight's Templar..... oh so good! I'm so glad I purchased this for our library because I almost missed it. I also have the 2nd one and will definitely get the 3rd one when it comes out in September. Sometimes I get a little jaded when it comes to middle grade/YA books, so I took quite a break over the summer and this was a perfect one to start back with. It IS intense and there are some gruesome murders going on which happen kind of off screen. I wouldn't suggest it to the sensitive reader. But, wow, it was exciting. And I loved that it had an ending and resolution.
I was very drawn to the characters. There is nothing as good as an incredibly loyal sidekick. The London descriptions of the 1600's were really interesting. It is kind of genre-bending because it FEELS like a fantasy, but isn't really. I won't give too much away, because I was very surprised at some things. But I will be recommending this to my 7th and 8th graders for sure.

Areas of concern:
*Gruesome murders involving torture being committed. (It didn't feel like very graphic descriptions.)
*A torture scene with the main character.
*Intense situations
*Abusive father
*Death of a loved one
*All of the above sounds pretty gruesome, but it didn't really seem that bad. Like I said, I would not steer sensitive students towards it, but others will LOVE it!!

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6
(*Mrs. Duke seriously disagrees with School Library Journal.  The main character is 14 and the book has some very intense parts.  7th and 8th grade for sure, possibly 6th grade, but 4th?!  Disagree.)