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!



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Good Night, Mr. Tom

Good Night, Mr. Tom
by Michelle Magorian
From the publisher:
"London is poised on the brink of World War II. Timid, scrawny Willie Beech -- the abused child of a single mother -- is evacuated to the English countryside. At first, he is terrified of everything, of the country sounds and sights, even of Mr. Tom, the gruff, kindly old man who has taken him in. But gradually Willie forgets the hate and despair of his past. He learns to love a world he never knew existed, a world of friendship and affection in which harsh words and daily beatings have no place. Then a telegram comes. Willie must return to his mother in London. When weeks pass by with no word from Willie, Mr. Tom sets out for London to look for the young boy he has come to love as a son."

I discovered this book when I saw it listed in the BBC's 100 Favorite Books list.  It had been sitting on one of our school's library shelves for years and had rarely been checked out.  How sad that makes me now, because this book is beautiful.  I have so many students who read  A Child Called It  and ask for other books like it.  I try to get them to check out this one because it deals with a lot of the same issues, but in a more hopeful way.  Unfortunately the stigma of historical fiction and an older book always talks them out of it, because while this book is both heart-breaking and disturbing, it is also lovely and uplifting.  I highly recommend this book for middle school and up.  It's the kind of book that makes you feel truly grateful for the blessings in your own life, and you just want to hug the book when you finish it.

Areas of concern:  There are some very disturbing allusions to and scenes of abuse. 
Two boys have a frank (but pretty tasteful) discussion about sex.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reboot

Reboot
by Amy Tintera
From the publisher:
"Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders."


This book has a really interesting premise, a lot of action, fun characters and a uniqueness to it that sets it apart from other dystopian books. And yet, I didn't love it. I enjoyed reading it and it kept me entertained, but not enough to read a sequel. However, it does have the best book trailer EVER.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adUV6q.... In fact, rewatching the book trailer made me think that I liked the book better than I did :) . They'll probably make it into a movie that I'll love. And maybe the reason I didn't love it is because I just re-read The Hunger Games series, and let's face it, most dystopians are just trying for the greatness of that series (except Mockingjay of course).

Areas of concern:
The main character kills many people and it doesn't phase her.
There several sexual discussions, but the main character stops making out before anything happens because she is nervous.
The *s* word is used 3 times on the same page and then more than a handful of swear words are scattered throughout the rest of the book.


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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Champion (Legend #3)

Champion
by Marie Lu
From the publisher:
"The explosive finale to Marie Lu's New York Times bestselling LEGEND trilogy—perfect for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT!

He is a Legend.
She is a Prodigy.
Who will be Champion?

June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government's elite circles as Princeps Elect while Day has been assigned a high level military position. But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them once again. Just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic's border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country's defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything he has. With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu's bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion."


Finally, a last book in a trilogy that I loved! Thank you, Marie Lu, and get started writing the next trilogy, please. I read a lot of reviews that absolutely hated the ending of this book, but I thought it was perfect and really a brilliant way to handle everything. I could read the epilogue over and over. When I read Prodigy , I found it annoying in some ways because Day and June never seemed to trust each other and their attraction seemed purely physical. However, in this book they trust each other and even make great sacrifices for each other. It was also good to get to know Eden better and see his growth and eventual strength. I loved having Tess and Ollie back. It was so interesting to see Anden go through his struggles and try to be strong while not becoming his father. There was a lot of action and more looks into the world outside of the Republic. All very intriguing. Ahhhh, I will miss Day and June.

Areas of concern: 2 characters spend the night together and while it wasn't terribly graphic, it definitely wasn't "fade to black".
There are a handful of cuss words, and the slang word Day always uses for anything bad - "goddy". There is violence, but not on par with things like The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner (or else I'm just becoming de-sensitized to the violence in these dystopian books).


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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Heart on a Chain

Heart on a Chain
by Cindy C. Bennett
From the publisher:
"17-year-old Kate has lived her whole life in abject poverty, with an alcoholic father and drug-addicted mother, who severely abuses Kate. At school, her second-hand clothing marks her as a target. Her refusal to stand up for herself makes her the recipient of her classmates taunts and bullying. That is, until Henry returns.

Henry Jamison moved away six years earlier, just as he and Kate had begun an to develop feelings for one another. He returns to find the bright, funny, outgoing girl he had known now timidly hiding in corners, barely speaking to anyone around her, suspicious of even him.

Kate can’t figure out what game Henry is playing with her - for surely it is a game. What else would the gorgeous, popular boy from her past want with her?

Kate finally decides to trust Henry’s intentions, opening her heart to him. Just when it seems he might be genuine in his friendship, tragedy strikes, threatening everything Kate has worked so hard to gain. Can Henry help her to overcome this new devastation, or will it tear them apart forever?"


The situations in this book felt so overdone and dramatic that I didn't really care that much. However, I have a feeling that my middle school kids who want more books like A Child Called It will love it. There were many things I didn't find believable, so it was hard to invest myself in Kate's problems. She huddles in a corner on the floor every lunch and no adult notices? She's beaten up several times (once actually in the school) and everyone just calmly accepts her falling or accident stories? It all felt very contrived - just a way to make the story more heartbreaking. And then at the end a certain character had a 180 degree turn around that was completely ludicrous. However, there was a sweet love story and a happy ending.

Areas of concern:
No bad language. Some kissing. Violent abuse perpetrated on the main character several times

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tom's Midnight Garden

Tom's Midnight Gardenby Philippa Pearce
From the publisher:
"
Tom was a cross and resentful boy when he was sent to stay with his uncle and aunt because his brother, Peter , had caught the measles. As soon as he joined his relatives in their small apartment, he knew he would be bored and lonely. He would miss Peter as well as the garden to explore, there was only a paved yard and a row of garbage cans outside the back door.

When the time came for Tom to go home, however, he did everything he could to prolong his visit. For he had made a strange and wonderful discovery--a discovery that he could share with no one, except Peter. And Peter believed it all, and even, for one brief moment, came to share in Tom's fantastic midnight adventure."


One night while staying with relatives, Tom hears the grandfather clock strike 13 times. He goes to investigate and is transported to a garden in Victorian times where he meets a girl named Hatty. Mysteriously, whenever Tom visits the garden, it is a different season and Hatty is a different age. The ending is beautiful and bittersweet. If you are tired of all the paranormal and dystopian offerings out there, take the time to read this little classic.
 
I tend to review new books that come out, but I'm also going to take the time to review some classics of children's literature.  I hope that these classics are still being read because there is something to be said for beautiful prose and good storytelling that has nothing to do with vampires, werewolves or the apocalypse (zombie or otherwise).  Tom's Midnight Garden won the Carnegie Award in 1958.  It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books as a child - Magic Elizabeth.  It also has the feel of The Secret Garden.  As much as I enjoyed it, however, for me it had neither the magical quality of Magic Elizabeth, nor the haunting quality of The Secret Garden.  Still, it is definitely worth reading.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Book of Three

The Book of ThreeLloyd Alexander
From the publisher:
"Since The Book of Three was first published in 1964, young readers have been enthralled by the adventures of Taran the Assistant Pig-keeper and his quest to become a hero. Taran is joined by an engaging cast of characters that includes Eilonwy, the strong-willed and sharp-tongued princess; Fflewddur Fflam, the hyperbole-prone bard; the ever-faithful Gurgi; and the curmudgeonly Doli--all of whom become involved in an epic struggle between good and evil that shapes the fate of the legendary land of Prydain.

Released over a period of five years, Lloyd Alexander's beautifully written tales not only captured children's imaginations but also garnered the highest critical praise. The Black Cauldron was a Newbery Honor Book, and the final volume in the chronicles, The High King, crowned the series by winning the Newbery Medal for "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."

In their more than thirty years in print, the Chronicles of Prydain have become the standard of excellence in fantasy literature for children."


When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher forced me to read this series because she wanted me to try different genres. I was so angry that I had to read something as stupid as fantasy, when all I really wanted to do was re-read the Little House books. However, I ended up loving this series and have thought on it with fondness all these years. I thought I would re-read it to see if it was as good as I thought when I was in fourth grade. While I enjoyed it this time, it was hard not to compare it to The Lord of the Rings because there are really so many similarities, and it was left wanting in that comparison. So I guess you could call it The Lord of the Rings -lite. 

I love the characters, and love the fact that there is a pronounciaton guide at the back of the book for their names. Kind of wish I would have discovered that sooner. There was excitement and adventure, good guys and evil guys, an interesting world, and growth in characters. I highly recommend this series to upper elementary/lower middle school students.   


Areas of concern:  Fantasy violence, some really evil characters.
 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Just Ella

Just Ellaby Annette K. Larsen
From the publisher:
"Ariella was only looking for a distraction, something to break up the monotony of palace life. What she found was a young man willing to overlook her title and show her a new and vibrant way of life. But when her growing feelings for Gavin spiral out of control and clash with the expectations of her station, she will discover that the consequences of her curiosity are far more severe than she'd imagined.

"I watched in helpless horror as two guards hauled Gavin to his feet and dragged him from the room. My voice was frozen, unable to protest as another guard took hold of my arm, leading me upstairs. From the confines of my room, I stared into the darkness beyond my window, hoping to catch one more glimpse of Gavin. He was gone, and I wondered if he would have been better off if he had never met me.""


I'm sure the girls in middle school will love this book. It has a heroine who has a mind of her own and tries to live her life the way she thinks is right, but still shows respect and deference to her family; it has a hero who helps our heroine to become a better person and is always there to protect her; it has a repulsive prince. The perfect formula for a fairy tale/princess type of story. I liked that the story spanned a couple of years so we could see the growth in the characters and their relationship. I LOVED that there was no bad language or inappropriate situations.

Areas of concern: Mild violence during a kidnapping; some kissing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Keturah and Lord Death

Keturah and Lord Death
by Martine Leavitt
From the publisher:
"I will tell you a story of magic and love, of daring and death, and one to comfort your heart. It will be the truest story I have ever told. Now listen, and tell me if it is not so.

Keturah follows a legendary hart deep into the forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near--and learns then that death is a young lord, melancholy and stern. Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and gain a reprieve--but he grants her only a day, and within that day she must find true love. Martine Leavitt offers a spellbinding story, interweaving elements of classic fantasy and romance."


This was a beautiful, haunting book, but for some reason it didn't reach out and grab me. I still have to go with Chime as my favorite in the beautiful, haunting category. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, it felt kind of forced and I wasn't really getting "true love" out of it. But it was a quick, entertaining read and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

Areas of concern:  A clean read.

Time Between Us

Time Between Us
by Tamara Ireland Stone
From the publisher:
"Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett has the unique ability to travel through time and space, which brings him into Anna’s life, and with him a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, the two face the reality that time may knock Bennett back to where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate, what consequences they can bear in order to stay together, and whether their love can stand the test of time.

Fresh, exciting, and deeply romantic, Time Between Us is a stunning, spellbinding debut from an extraordinary new voice in YA fiction."


I finished this 2 days ago and am not sure I remember it enough to really review it. That's probably a bad sign. I know that it has gotten rave reviews, and I know that I liked it, but it was in no way life-changing for me. One of the best things I remember about it is that it had a strong family unit with loving parents who were there and very protective. That is unfortunately not the norm for YA books. I quite liked the characters. I loved that Anna was obsessed with travel books and music, and that she was a good and loyal friend. The secondary characters were fun and important to the story. I think teenagers will really enjoy this book.

Areas of concern: I don't remember much cussing at all. There was one part where the teenage couple were spending the day together walking along the beach... and then it says something like, ".. and then we spent the night together". It is never mentioned again. There is a robbery where a character is held at knife-point, and a bad car accident which leaves a character in a coma.


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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Holders

The Holders
by Juliana Scott
From the publisher:
"17-year-old Becca spent her whole life protecting her brother from, well, everything. The abandonment of their father, the so called 'experts' who insist that voices in his head are unnatural and must be dealt with, and the constant threat of being taken away to some hospital and studied like an animal. When two representatives appear claiming to have the answers to Ryland's perceived problem, Becca doesn't buy it for one second. That is until they seem to know things about Ryland and about Becca and Ryland's family, that forces Becca to concede that there may be more to these people than meets the eye. Though still highly skeptical, Becca agrees to do what's best for Ryland.


What they find at St. Brigid's is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together the information of their family's heritage, their estranged Father, and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they've been waiting for. However, they are all--especially Becca--in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

She meets Alex, a Holder who is fiercely loyal to their race, and for some reason, Becca and Ryland. There's an attraction between Becca and Alex that can't be denied, but her true nature seems destined to keep them apart. However, certain destinies may not be as clear cut as everyone has always believed them to be.

Becca is lost, but found at the same time. Can she bring herself to leave Ryland now that he's settled and can clearly see his future? Will she be able to put the the feelings she has for Alex aside and head back to the US? And can Becca and Ryland ever forgive their father for what he's done?"

This book sat on my NetGalley shelf for quite a while before I read it, and I'm ashamed to admit that it is because the cover didn't do too much for me. Well, that teaches me a lesson because this book was ... yes, I'm going to say it... awesome! I loved the characters, the plot and the setting (gorgeous Ireland!). The writing kept me glued to the page, and although I figured out some plot points, others were a delicious surprise. This was a unique YA paranormal romance book.

I loved the heroine, Becca, for many different reasons - her love for her little brother, her tough and cynical outlook on life, her snarkiness, her need to keep Alex at arm's length until she knows him better, her acceptance of Chloe's overzealous efforts to be friends, and her courage and desire to protect her loved ones. I thought Alex was almost as perfect as a Julianne Donaldson hero. He wasn't a crazed stalker, he didn't pressure Becca at all, he cared about her feelings and didn't try to prove her wrong when he didn't agree, and he took such good care of her little brother. Ryland was adorable, I even appreciated how he wanted to spend time with his new friends instead of his big sister, because it was so nice that he was turning into a normal boy instead of the freak he thought he was. Chloe was so endearing, I wanted to be her friend too. The dueling professors were hysterical, and it was nice to have a grandmotherly presence in Min. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between Becca and her father plays out. I hope they can come together in the next book. The author definitely created interesting characters that you both believe in and like. 

I definitely recommend this one and have ordered 2 copies for my middle school library. Bring on book 2!

Areas of concern: There is quite a bit of cussing (no f-bombs) and some serious kissing in one part. There is some violence and a kidnapping.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pawn

Pawnby Aimee Carter
From the publisher:
" YOU CAN BE A VII. IF YOU GIVE UP EVERYTHING.
For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There's only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that's not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she's only beginning to understand."


This is the first of a new dystopian series by the author of The Goddess Test books, which are very popular in my middle school library (I have not read them). It is a pretty formulaic dystopian that ticks all the boxes with an evil government, oppressed people, and teenagers trying to change the world and stay alive. However, there were many original ideas throughout and twists that surprised me. I found the characters interesting, although some of their decisions were ludicrous. The MC was incredibly naive and trusting when she obviously shouldn't have been considering what the ruling family had done to her. There was plenty of action and excitement, and I think the dystopian YA crowd will eat this up. I enjoyed it and read it quickly. I was extremely happy not to have a love triangle, although I'm not sure that will hold true for the rest of the series, I could see something possibly happening with one of the other characters. Don't look for closure at the end.

Areas of concern:  There is a lot of violence and some of it was very disturbing and directed at important characters. At the beginning of the book the MC tried to solve her problems by turning to prostitution. Nothing happened, but it was quite uncomfortable to read. There was a little bit of cussing, but it was minimal. Some kissing.


Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews:  Ages 12+

*I received this as an ARC from NetGalley. The book will be released on November 26, 2013.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Countdown

Countdown
by Michelle Rowen
From the publisher:
"3 seconds left to live. Once the countdown starts, it cannot be stopped.

2 pawns thrown into a brutal underground reality game.

Kira Jordan survived her family's murder and months on plague-devastated city streets with hard-won savvy and a low-level psi ability. She figures she can handle anything. Until she wakes up in a barren room, chained next to the notorious Rogan Ellis.

1 reason Kira will never, ever trust Rogan. Even though both their lives depend on it.

Their every move is controlled and televised for a vicious exclusive audience. And as Kira's psi skill unexpectedly grows and Rogan's secrets prove evermore deadly, Kira's only chance of survival is to risk trusting him as much as her instincts. Even if that means running head-on into the one trap she can't escape.

GAME 0VER."


I'm a little bit on the fence with this book. I would call it Hunger Games-lite, except that it wasn't light it was very heavy. Possibly a mix between the concept of The Hunger Games and the edginess of Divergent . It was gripping and action-packed, however I never really connected with the main character and was a little lost as to the world building. The Plague was never really explained very well, and the psychic abilities after the plague were a little confusing as well. And it seemed like the author would introduce a new character, use them, then decide they weren't necessary to the plot anymore and kill them off. But all in all it was an exciting ride and I think dystopian fans will love it. And it had an ENDING! Imagine that! 

Areas of concern:
Quite a bit of cussing. It started out pretty bad, then tapered off a little. No use of the *f* word.
Heavy violence and disturbing memories of murder.
Romance with a pretty hefty make-out scene.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin Teen for an ARC of this book.*

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Cypher

The Cypher
(Guardians Inc. #1)

ny Julian Rosado-Machain
From the publisher:
"GUARDIANS INC.: THE CYPHER is two stories in one. A glimpse into a multinational company that is in reality the oldest of secret societies, one that spans close to seven thousand years of existence, weaving in and out of history, guiding and protecting humanity from creatures and forces that most of us believe are only mythology and fairy tales.

The other is the story of Thomas Byrne, a young man thrust into secrets he shouldn’t be aware of and dangers he shouldn’t face but, that he ultimately will, for he is a Cypher. The only one who can steer humanity’s future.

The ultimate conspiracy theory is that Magic is real. Kept in check by technology but, every five hundred years the balance can shift and, if it does, technology will fail and those creatures we’ve driven into myth will come back with a vengeance.

To protect the present, Guardians Incorporated needs to know the future."


This book was moderately enjoyable for me, but I'm pretty sure that middle school kids who love Rick Riordan or Artemis Fowl (also only moderately enjoyable for me), will love it.  The series has great potential, so I think it will only get better.  I did find it a little weird that the main character was 16, yet the book felt more like a middle grade read to me.  However, there was a lot of action with magical creatures, and the descriptions of the mansion were awesome.  I want to live there!  Imagine needing to go somewhere, anywhere in the world, and walking out your front gate to find yourself only 2 1/2 blocks from it.  Very cool. I also loved that the main character worked in a library and all of the literary references.  How amazing would it be to have access to hidden treasures from the great authors that no one even knows about?  This book is a quick (quite a small book), mildly fun book with a lot of potential.  Read it and then look forward to book 2.

Areas of concern:  A couple of uses of the *d* word.  Violence with magical creatures.  All parental figures (parents and grandpa) have disappeared. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Life With a Superhero: Raising Michael Who Has Down Syndrome

Life With a Superhero:
Raising Michael Who
Has Down Syndrome

by Kathryn U. Hulings
From the publisher:
"Over twenty years ago, in a small Israeli town, a desperate mother told a remarkable lie. She told her friends and family that her newborn child had died. That lie became the catalyst for the unfolding truth of the adoption of that same baby—Michael —who is, in fact, very much alive and now twenty-two years old. He also has Down syndrome.

When Kathryn Hulings adopted Michael as an infant, she could not have known that he would save her life when she became gravely ill and was left forever physically compromised. Her story delights in how Michael’s life and hers, while both marked by difference and challenge, are forever intertwined in celebration and laughter. With candor and a sense of humor, Life With a Superhero wraps itself around the raucous joy of Michael’s existence with his four older siblings who play hard and love big; how Kathryn and her husband, Jim, utilize unconventional techniques in raising kids; the romance between Michael and his fiancĂ©e, Casey; the power of dance in Michael’s life as an equalizing and enthralling force; the staggering potential and creativity of those who are differently-abled; and the mind-blowing politics of how Kathryn navigated school systems and societal attitudes that at times fought to keep Michael excluded from the lives of kids deemed “normal.”

No other books about the parenting experience outline what to do when, say, a child runs across the roof of a tri-level house pretending he can fly, or shows up in a 7th grade social studies class dressed like Spiderman, or calls 911 when his girlfriend breaks his heart. But, as Michael’s mom, Kathryn has been trying to figure how to be a mother in just such circumstances—sometimes with success, sometimes with dismal failure—for over two decades."


This book is at times laugh out loud funny, heartwarming, thought-provoking and uplifting.  Setting aside Kathryn's potty-mouth, I loved this book!  There is something so wonderful about people with Trisomy 21 and the love and exuberance they have for life.  I learned things about love, inclusion, motherhood and joy from reading this.  Although I know Kathryn and her family and work at Michael's junior high (now a middle school), there is no reason someone unknown to their family can't absolutely enjoy reading this. In fact, getting to know their family through this book would be a treat.  I recommend it to anyone who loves a funny, heartwarming story about a normal family in occasionally extraordinary circumstances.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All Our Yesterdays

All Our Yesterdays
by Cristin Terrill
From the publisher:
""You have to kill him." Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend James since the day he moved next door when they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles apart, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Now someone is trying to kill him. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it. At least not as the girl she once was.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice."


This book is unbelievably mind-boggling and intense. As I was reading it I kept thinking, "Who comes UP with this kind of plot?!" Kudos to Cristin Terrill for having such an impressive imagination. I was drawn in from the first page and was so wrapped up in the action that I dreamt about it one night. Reading this book is kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together... slowly, piece by piece. Not that the plot is slow (definitely NOT!), but slowly you begin to piece things together in your mind as you make your way through the breath-taking action. The characters were believable and well thought out, and you have complete sympathy and compassion for them. I don't want to say too much about the characters for fear of giving something away, but it is so interesting (and at times heartbreaking) to see the growth and difference in their personalities as the book progresses. I found this a remarkable debut novel by an author that I will be watching in the future.

Areas of concern: The *b* word, the *a* word and the *s* word were all used around 3 or 4 times each. The *f* word appeared 3 times. While I never condone use of bad language, I will say that the *f* word was not used gratuitously in this book, it was used in moments of extreme emotional or physical distress. So while I wish it wouldn't have been used at all, it didn't bother me as much as it does in books where teenagers are just using it as a part of speech. 
There is a lot of violence, as you can tell from the publisher's synopsis. A young woman needs to kill her best friend. Aside from that, there are scenes of torture (not too graphic) in the prison.
There are a couple of kisses. 


Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews:  Ages 12+
(Since this was an Advanced Reader Copy, there was only one review posted that had age recommendations.  Please see the "Areas of Concern" to determine appropriateness for your child.)

Many thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this book!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sky Jumpers

Sky Jumpers
by Peggy Eddleman
From the publisher:
"What happens when you can't do the one thing that matters most? Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb's Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year's batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that's run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends—Aaron and Brock—might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb's Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. Inventing won't help her make it through alive, but with Aaron and Brock's help, the daring and recklessness that usually gets her into trouble might just save them all."

This is an AMAZING middle grade book! And not just middle grade, but teens and adults will enjoy it as well. It has tons of action, characters that you will love and care about, a very intriguing world, and a plot that leaves you breathless (and not just from the Bomb's Breath :)). But I think the thing I loved the most was that it had depth. Yes, the action was intense and the plot was amazing, but watching the growth that Hope made through the book was what put this above and beyond so many of the middle grade books. I also appreciated that although this is the start of a series or trilogy, it had closure and was complete in and of itself. I will definitely read the next book, not because I'm being driven crazy by what is coming next, but because it was so good. I have pre-ordered 2 copies of this book for my library, but I'm afraid that may not be enough. Many thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this book.

Areas of concern: Bandits take a whole town hostage. There are scary action sequences, but good prevails. No bad language or sexual situations.


Suggested ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 9-13
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
*Mrs. Duke says that all ages would love this book!*

Monday, August 26, 2013

Seeds of Discovery

Seeds of Discovery
by Breeana Puttroff
From the publisher:
"Quinn Robbins' life was everything she thought a teenager's should be. She has good friends, a family that she loves, good grades, and an after-school job she enjoys. And, she's just been asked out by Zander Cunningham, a popular football player and great guy. But one day when driving home after picking up her little sister from the baby-sitter's, she nearly hits a boy who, after running blindly into the street, mysteriously disappears.

The mystery only deepens as she figures out who the boy is; William Rose, a reclusive, awkward boy from school who always has his nose in a pile of books.

As she becomes more aware of his behavior it becomes more obvious how out of the ordinary William is and how hard he deliberately tries to blend into the background. This only intrigues her more and she finds herself working to find out more about him, and exactly where he keeps disappearing to.

On a whim one night she follows him and suddenly finds herself in a new world. One where William is a prince, literally, and she is treated like a princess. She also discovers that she is stuck; the gate back to her own world isn't always open.

Quinn finds herself smack in the middle of a modern-day fairy tale, on a course that will change her life forever."

Not earth-shattering, but pretty enjoyable. This is the start of quite a long series - I think there are 4 books and then some sort of spin-off series. My daughter recommended it to me and it was a fun and easy read. I found it a little strange to have characters such as Abby, Zander, Annie and Owen introduced at the beginning and then not heard from again. I'm sure it was set-up for the next books, and they will be seen much more in the coming books. There was an over abundance of characters throughout the book, and there were times when I wasn't sure who they even were. However, I did like Quinn and I loved Thomas and the rest of the royal family. I think young teens will really enjoy this book.

Areas of concern: A man tries (unsuccessfully) to force a girl towards his bedroom. Children are sick and dying from a mysterious disease, but the mystery is mostly solved. All in all, a very clean read.

The Colossus Rises

The Colossus Rises
by Peter Lerangis
From the publisher:
"Percy Jackson meets Indiana Jones in the New York Times bestselling epic adventure.  Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises is the first book in a seven-book series. This first installment chronicles the story of Jack McKinley, an ordinary kid with an extraordinary problem. In a few months, he's going to die--unless he finds seven magic Loculi that have been hidden in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Rick Riordan calls Seven Wonders 'a high-octane mix of modern adventure and ancient secrets. The Colossus Rises is Lerangis's most gripping work yet. Young readers will love this story. I can't wait to see what's next in the Seven Wonders series.'"

This book didn't really do much for me, but I do think middle schoolers will love it. A lot of people have compared it with Percy Jackson, and since I didn't really like The Lightning Thief , I guess they probably are similar. So if you like Percy Jackson, you will probably like this. It never really grabbed me, and it took me a long time to read it.  The pacing was very slow for most of the book.  I understand that there needed to be a lot of set-up for the series, and it did pick up in the end. I appreciated the use of the ancient Wonders of the World, and it had exciting elements throughout. I enjoyed the characters of the 4 children, although I found it very annoying to read the backwards words that Cass uses. 

Areas of concern: Children are kidnapped, taken away from their families, held prisoner and operated on. I don't remember any bad language. 


Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 6-9

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pivot Point

Pivot Point
by Kasie West
From the publisher:
"Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier . . .

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without."

I LOVED this book!  What a unique plot with 2 very compelling stories.  I loved the main character, Addie; I loved Trevor; and Laila and Duke had me going back and forth until the very end.  And the ending!  What a horrible decision to have to make! I can't wait for the sequel to come out next February.   

This book is a little bit paranormal and a little bit dystopian, but not too much of either.  So if you don't like paranormal or dystopian books, don't let that stop you from reading this one.  It felt more like a contemporary YA book than anything else.  I appreciated that the teenagers were snarky, sarcastic, believable teenagers without displaying obnoxious behaviour or language.  I highly recommend this one!

Areas of concern:  I think the worst word that was used was "prick", and the main character made a point of saying she was surprised that the other person used that word.  There is some general talk of a couple of murders, and a girl being traumatized because a guy was trying to go too far with her, but she knee-ed him and ran off.   There is some sweet kissing between boyfriend and girlfriend.

Suggested ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 13+
*Mrs. Duke can never figure out where these ratings come from.  Kirkus Reviews says that The Hunger Games is recommended for ages 11+, and it has all sorts of horrible violence in it.  So why this one says 13 and up when it is a very clean read, I'm not sure. *

Friday, August 9, 2013

Die For Me

From the publisher:
Die For Me
by Amy Plum
"In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity.

When Kate Mercier's parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life--and memories--behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate's guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he's a revenant--an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again."

I thought this book started out really well, I loved the twist of "revenants" instead of the usual paranormal book. I loved the Paris setting, I can just imagine myself sitting at an outdoor cafe and reading. Ahhhhh. I appreciated that the main character was really close to her sister and grandparents and was a big reader and loved museums. The main character and her love interest take their time getting to know each other, and that was refreshing. There are obvious Twilight comparisons, but I enjoyed the unique twists. However, the middle of the book really dragged for me. It did pick up at the end, though. 

Areas of concern:  I read this on my Kindle so I couldn't mark places with inappropriate things like cussing and vulgarities. I don't remember anything too offensive, though. All in all, I enjoyed it and I think 8th graders will love it.

Suggested ages:
Booklist - Grades 8-11
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-14

Friday, July 19, 2013

Born Wicked

Born Wicked
By Jessica Spotswood
From the publisher:
"Blessed with a gift...cursed with a secret.

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship - or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood - not even from each other.
"


This book ticks a lot of my pet-peeve boxes.  Insta-love, lack of parental influence, poor world building...  Not that it was all bad, there were just several things that bothered me.  Particularly the world building.  At the beginning of the book there are a couple of sentences about how the Arab girls have so much more freedom, and that the Spanish colonies to the south and the Indo-Chinese colonies to the west are impossible to get to because the borders are closed, but nothing is ever really explained.  And it was difficult to get a feel for what time period it was in.  It felt like a time back in the Salem Witch trials, but it kept mentioning 1780 being 180 years ago.  All of those things were very confusing 

One of the sentences the heroine says at the very end of the book is, "To protect the people I love, I would do it all over again."  But when push came to shove, she just stood there and the little sister was the one who saved them.  Hmmmm.  

Will middle schoolers like it?  It starts pretty slowly, but there is a sweet romance and some nail biting incidents.  I think there are some 8th grade girls who would like it. 

Areas of concern:  Several uses of the *d* word.  The "Brotherhood" are a group of men using religion to control women and the whole community, and they do some pretty disturbing things.  There is a same-sex kiss.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Of Poseidon

Of Poseidon
by Anna Banks
From the publisher:
"Galen is the prince of the Syrena, sent to land to find a girl he's heard can communicate with fish. Emma is on vacation at the beach. When she runs into Galen—literally, ouch!—both teens sense a connection. But it will take several encounters, including a deadly one with a shark, for Galen to be convinced of Emma's gifts. Now, if he can only convince Emma that she holds the key to his kingdom...

Told from both Emma and Galen's points of view, here is a fish-out-of-water story that sparkles with intrigue, humor, and waves of romance."


Reviews on this book seem to be very polarized.  People either love it or hate it and I can see both sides of the issue.  When I read it with my would-middle-schoolers-like-it-eyes, I find it fun and romantic.  When I read it with my mother-of-three-daughters-eyes, I find it kind of sick and creepy.  

Would-middle-schoolers-like-it-eyes:
It is very Twilight-y, except with Syrena (merpeople) instead of vampires.  Very romantic with a cute, funny and spunky heroine, and a hero who is gorgeous and wants to be with her all the time and protect her.  There is an amusing twin sister (with a cute guy also chasing her) who keeps messing things up for our main couple.  So yes, I believe middle-school girls will LOVE this book.

Mother-of-three-daughters-eyes:
The hero is a stalker who is described by the heroine as having "serial-killer eyes".  She realizes he is acting like an abuser, but still goes along with him.  He is completely controlling and insanely jealous and wishes that instead of falling in love with Emma he would have found a sweet-tempered Syrena "who would take care of him, who would do whatever he asked, who would never argue with him". Yikes! And yet, pretty much all of those things could have been said about  Twilight  as well.  For some reason I just found Galen a little creepier than Edward.  Perhaps because for most of the book, his intention was to turn Emma over to his brother to be his mate. 


So, is it a fun, romantic read?  Yes.  Would I ever want my daughter in any of the relationships portrayed in this book?  No.  

Areas of concern:
The *a* word is put on the end of other words (jack, mean, smart) around 7 times.  One use of the *h* word.  A couple of intense kisses.  Unhealthy relationships as discussed above.

Suggested ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Ruins of Gorlan

The Ruins of Gorlan
by John Flanagan
From the publisher:
"They have always scared him in the past—the Rangers, with their dark cloaks and shadowy ways. The villagers believe the Rangers practice magic that makes them invisible to ordinary people. And now 15-year-old Will, always small for his age, has been chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice. What he doesn’t yet realize is that the Rangers are the protectors of the kingdom. Highly trained in the skills of battle and surveillance, they fight the battles before the battles reach the people. And as Will is about to learn, there is a large battle brewing. The exiled Morgarath, Lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, is gathering his forces for an attack on the kingdom. This time, he will not be denied. . . ."

This is one of the top favorite series for my middle school boys. They can't get enough of Ranger's Apprentice books. So I decided to read it and see for myself what all the excitement was about. I really enjoyed it. There was naturally a lot of set-up at the beginning, which the succeeding books will not need, so I wouldn't be surprised to like some of the others even more. The characters were well-developed and it will be interesting to see where they all go from here. The character of Halt reminded me of someone, but I can't think who. It will come to me eventually. Not really Dumbledore-y or Gandalf-y because Halt never smiles and we all know that Dumbledore and Gandalf can have quite the twinkle in their eyes, but the relationship with Will was a lot the same. Or maybe Gibbs and DiNozzo :). There were so many important lessons to learn in this book alongside all the action. Loyalty, friendship, bullying, self-esteem and courage were all dealt with. I definitely recommend it. One thing that was kind of weird, though, was the medieval feel of the book, yet the characters kept talking about taking showers. I found that kind of distracting. 


Areas of concern:  5-10 uses of the *d* word.  Severe bullying, violence against fantasy creatures. 

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 4-8

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nine Days

Nine Days
by Fred Hiatt
From the publisher:
"A fast-paced contemporary thriller in the vein of James Patterson and Anthony Horowitz set against the bustling backdrop of Hong Kong, Vietnam, and the border of China. This heart-pounding adventure takes place as two teens, an American teenage boy and his friend, a Chinese girl from his Washington, DC-area high school, must find her father who has been kidnapped—and they only have nine days. Although the characters in the novel are fictionalized, they are based on a real Chinese family who were part of the Chinese Democracy Movement and inspired this story."

This isn't the kind of book I generally read, and I'm not sure how much it will get checked out in my library, but I hope it does because it deals with some very important issues. We don't hear too much about political activists in China, or about human trafficking. Both of those issues are dealt with in this book in a way that makes it both exciting to read and also very informative. It made me want to educate myself more on the Chinese Cultural Revolution because I don't know much about it at all. Ethan and Ti-Anna are very likable characters (Ethan's constant need for food is endearing),and while some of the situations they get themselves involved in are a little implausible, it adds tension and interest to the story. I love that the author put the "real" Ti-Anna's story in at the end of the book. All in all I'm really glad I read it and I recommend it.

Areas of concern:  A teenager leaves home to go around the world on a dangerous quest without informing his parents .  He steals his parent's credit card to finance the trip.  However, that is dealt with at the end when the boy has to go to court and do community service and pay his parents back.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 11-16
School Library Journal - Grades 7+ 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Waiting For Normal

Waiting For Normal
by Leslie Connor
From the publisher:
"Addie is waiting for normal.
But Addie's mom has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, jubilation or gloom, her way or no way.

All or nothing never adds up to normal.

All or nothing can't bring you all to home, which is exactly where Addie longs to be, with her half sisters, every day.

In spite of life's twists and turns, Addie remains optimistic. Someday, maybe, she'll find normal.

Leslie Connor has created an inspiring novel about one girl's giant spirit. waiting for normal is a heartwarming gem."

I enjoyed this book, but I think middle schoolers will like it more than I did. It was a little too cliché for me, but kids should really relate to Addie. I liked that she was so good amidst all of her struggles. It was refreshing that she struggled in school, it seems that most books of this ilk tend to make the main character amazing in school, even with no support from home. I felt like this was a more realistic portrayal of what a 12 year old in her circumstances would go through. It was also refreshing to have a step-father be such a good person.

Areas of concern:  A 12 year old girl in a bad home, a mother with serious issues.  There is some uncomfortable talk about a young girl going through puberty.  A step-father living with another woman, a mother getting pregnant with a boyfriend her daughter has never even met.

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 6-8

Monday, May 13, 2013

Elemental

Elemental
By Antony John
From the publisher:
"A mysterious and powerful fantasy adventure from a Schneider Award winner

In the near future, most of the population of the United States has been destroyed by the plague. The few remaining survivors live in colonies on the barrier islands off the East Coast. In one colony near Cape Hatteras, almost all the members have elemental powers and can control wind, water, earth, and fire. All but sixteen-year-old Thomas. When the Guardians, the powerful adult leaders, are kidnapped by pirates seeking to take over their colony, it is up to Thomas and a small group of teens to save them and preserve the mysteries of the island.
Fast action, strategy, and mystery churn together into a bold and fresh fantasy from an award-winning author.."

Wow, what a great start to a new dystopian series! It grabs you from the very first, and I literally couldn't put it down until I finished it all in one day. It is very exciting, the plot was gripping, the characters were all really interesting and there were some electrifying plot twists. While I loved The Hunger Games and Divergent , I didn't give either one of them 5 stars because there were so many disturbing elements in those books. I didn't feel that way with this one (even though it was about elements :)). It was compelling without being disturbing. I appreciated that there was no bad language - occasionally it would state that a character cursed, but that was it. There was violence, but not the really intense kind that you usually find in dystopians. There was a hint of romance. I highly recommend this one. 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 6-10

Friday, May 10, 2013

Poison

Poison
by Bridget Zinn
From the publisher:
"Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she’s the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart . . . misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king’s army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she’s certainly no damsel-in-distress—she’s the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon."


This was a fun, enjoyable book. It is a little different from all the other YA books out there, which was nice. It had a strong start, then had some slow parts, but ended very well - if a little too easily. There were a couple of awesome twists at the end that were really fun. Once again, I love a spunky heroine, and who doesn't like a cute little pig? There were definitely flaws in the book, but overall it was very entertaining.

Areas of concern:  1 *h* word, 1 *d* word, a couple of sweet kisses.  Overall it was a very clean book.

Suggested ages:
Kirkus Reviews-  Ages 11-14
Publisher's Review-  Ages 12-18