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!



Friday, May 11, 2018

Love, Life and the List

Love, Life and the List
by Kasie West
From the publisher,
"Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters."

I love this author (Kasie West) for middle school students who love romance and like to read up in age. The characters are always upper high school, but she avoids things like bad teenage behavior and graphic making out. They are fun and frothy to read, with romance, humor and heart. That being said, I have noticed that almost all of her contemporary books remind me of other author's books. This one reminded me of Morgan Matson's Since You've Been Gone, which I loved. Kasie and I have had a little slump lately, and although this one wasn't my favorite, it was definitely a step above some of her others that I have read lately. 
Things I liked:
*The main character was snarky and funny.
*A loving, supportive, albeit slightly dysfunctional family unit.
*Cooper and Abby and their friendship.
*The main character experienced a lot of growth throughout the book.
*Deep emotions towards the end that were written so well I felt every emotion right along with Abby.

Things I didn't like:
*Abby and Cooper were amazing as best friends, but I didn't feel any chemistry between them.
*Cooper could be a real jerk. 
*The list played an important role and then just sort of petered out.
*I didn't love the ending and was actually rooting for it to end a completely different way. 

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Caraval

Caraval
by Stephanie Garber
From the publisher:
"Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away."

The feelings I have for this book are quite similar to those I had after reading The Night Circus, and there are actual similarities in the stories as well. So I will use some of the exact sentences I used for that book. "My 4 star rating doesn't really mean "really liked it", it's actually more like "amazing on many levels, but not sure how I really feel about it". What imagination and creativity went into this!" 
For a lot of the book I was thinking, "What the heck is going on?!", yet it was mesmerizing and I couldn't stop reading (once I really got into the story). The writing is incredible, so beautiful and gripping. So many secrets! Who to trust? Who to like? The setting of Caraval is amazingly unique and magical. I would like to see what the director of The Greatest Showman would do with a movie of this. There is one part where the main character starts seeing only in black and white, unless it is something really important for her to notice, and I can imagine that being put on the big screen - it would be beautiful!
This book has action, adventure, heroes and villains (although you're not always clear which is which), romance, magic, character growth, and above all - sisterly love. And that sounds like I just described Frozen, but it is nothing like that :) . It was amazing, but do I recommend it for middle school students? Maybe 8th graders, but no younger.

Areas of concern:
*Serious abuse.
*Steamy romance - although it was kind of more a feeling of steamy than actual graphic steaminess, if that makes sense.
*Several disturbing murders - one off stage and 2 right in front of us.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 9-12
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum

The Great and Only Barnum...
by Candace Fleming
From the publisher:
"Discover the true story of P.T. Barnum, the man who created the world-famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, as featured in the movie The Greatest Showman! 

The award-winning author of The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and MaryAmelia Lost, and Our Eleanor brings us the larger-than-life biography of showman P. T. Barnum. Known far and wide for his jumbo elephants, midgets, and three-ring circuses, here's a complete and captivating look at the man behind the Greatest Show on Earth. Readers can visit Barnum's American Museum; meet Tom Thumb, the miniature man (only 39 inches tall) and his tinier bride (32 inches); experience the thrill Barnum must have felt when, at age 60, he joined the circus; and discover Barnum's legacy to the 19th century and beyond. Drawing on old circus posters, photographs, etchings, ticket stubs--and with incredible decorative art by Ray Fenwick--this book presents history as it's never been experienced before--a show-stopping event!"



I read this after seeing the movie The Greatest Showman , and I have to say I like Hugh Jackman a lot better than I liked P.T. Barnum after reading this book. It is interesting that the things I didn't admire about P.T. Barnum (his treatment of his family, his lies and "humbuggery"...) were not shown in the movie, but conversely, the things I DID admire about the real man (he insisted his employees acted circumspectly and dressed modestly, he was a huge philanthropist...) were not brought out in the movie, either. I watched the movie with the director's commentary and he said, "We didn't let the truth stand in the way of a good story" (or something like that). He said they made the movie P.T. would have wanted about himself, and I think that is probably true. Who wouldn't want to be portrayed by Hugh Jackman?

Enough about the movie - the book itself was very interesting and informative. I liked the format with the circus-y font emblazoned across a whole page for every new chapter and the boxes with interesting facts on almost every page. I learned a lot, and it was never boring. But then, how could a book about the stupendous P.T. Barnum be boring?

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 6+

Friday, March 30, 2018

Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands
by Alwyn Hamilton
From the publisher:
"Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Rebel of the Sands
 reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power."

Whew, what a ride! This book is a piece of great storytelling and it sucked me in from page one. It has an incredibly original plot - other people have described it as a cross between a western and Arabian Nights - and characters that you will care deeply about. There is great sorrow and hardship for our heroine, and great growth and strength. It ends with quite a bit of closure, but enough still to come to make you want to get your hands on book 2 immediately. I really loved this one, however sometimes some of the First Beings seemed out of place of what was happening. I'm not sure why we needed the Nightmares or the Skinwalkers when the rest of the story was so gripping (were they First Beings? I'm actually not sure about that.). Maybe they will play a more important and necessary role in the coming books. There was enough of a romance in the book to keep it interesting, but it was in no way the main focus of the story. I really enjoyed the world that was created for this story, and that is saying something because I hate the desert. Seriously hate it. But reading this filled you with the mystique and romance of riding a flying carpet through the desert sky (yes, A Whole New World is now going through my head). As much as I would hate to have desert sand all over me - I don't even like having beach sand all over me - I could feel the love Amani had for her desert home. Well done, Alwyn Hamilton, I heartily recommend this one.

Areas of concern:
*There were upwards of about 20 combined swear words.
*A couple of pretty disturbing deaths.
*A very mild romance with a couple of kisses.

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Thief

The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner
From the publisher:
"The king's scholar, the magus, believes he knows the site of an ancient treasure. To attain it for his king, he needs a skillful thief, and he selects Gen from the king's prison. The magus is interested only in the thief's abilities. 

What Gen is interested in is anyone's guess. Their journey toward the treasure is both dangerous and difficult, lightened only imperceptibly by the tales they tell of the old gods and goddesses."

I've been in a YA reading slump lately. It's been a long time since something has reached out and grabbed me enough to keep me reading until I finish. We have a winner! I really liked this book and found it interesting, exciting, surprising, and full of fun. It is with horror that I have realized I don't have the second book of the series in my library. I will be remedying that oversight. This isn't a series that gets checked out a lot, so I will need to start pointing it out to students I know will love it. 

Gen was an interesting main character. There were times when he was obnoxiously cocky, but somehow you still love him. The other characters were a slow burn, but you learn to love them as well. I'm still surprised by a couple of things that come out in the end. Did not see those coming.

The world-building was very cool. I felt like I was actually seeing the dystopia (glad the author explained that) and the river ebbing and flowing, not to mention trying to come down a mountain on loose shale. I found the different countries' governments a little confusing, but I think that will all be explained more fully in the rest of the series. 

I actually liked the stories of the gods. Sometimes those kind of things slow the book down for me, but I felt like it really set things up for the story and helped me understand things better. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it.

Areas of concern:
*The religion in this book consists of several gods, and the term Oh Gods, or gods-damn it is used several times.
*Some violence - nothing graphic.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+

Monday, March 5, 2018

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Dark Breaks the Dawn
by Sara B. Larson
From the publisher:
"On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price."

I liked this book, but didn't love it. People kept referring to it as a retelling of Swan Lake, and I was trying throughout the book to figure out how it was. After I finished I discovered it was like a prequel to Swan Lake, so the next book will probably be more like the story of the ballet. 
I found the world that was created very intriguing, although there was a lot I didn't understand. I enjoyed the characters, and liked reading from the points of view of several of them. It took me quite a while to get into the story, but once I did I liked it. But it was weird because most of the book is leading up to one big event, and then that event is over incredibly quickly. This was no The Two Towers where the battle scene lasts forever. It's hard to say too much about it without giving anything away, but I was very sad at the end and I want to know what happens in the next one, although some things can't be fixed. So, do I recommend it? Sure, I think there are a lot of people who will really love it.

Areas of concern:
*Violence and death.
*Talk of the queen needing to "bind" with someone and procreate quickly to save the kingdom.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dividing Eden

Dividing Eden
by Joelle Charbonneau
From the publisher:
"Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?
 "

I have really enjoyed Joelle Charbonneau's other books, so I was looking forward to this one. I was very disappointed and almost didn't even finish it. I really hate it when I don't like the main characters. Why keep reading if I don't care what happens to these two stupid people? However, I soldiered on and did mildly enjoy the story and action, and did end up caring about one of the main characters when something was explained. 
I found the world building confusing and have no idea what the Xhelosi (I have no idea if I spelled that correctly, and I don't really care) were, or why or how they exist. I didn't understand how the kingdom and ruling family came to be, or how the kingdom interacts with other kingdoms. So many confusing things! 
I didn't hate this book like I thought I was going to for about 1/2 of it, but I definitely didn't love it. 

Areas of concern:
*A 17 year old main character who will sleep with anything in a skirt.
*Drug addiction in a character. 
*Some violence.
*Horribly dysfunctional family dynamic.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+
School Library Journal - Grades 7+