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!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone
by Leigh Bardugo
From the publisher:
"Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart."

I really had no desire to read this book, it looked pretty "high fantasy" to me, and I'm not a big fan of that. I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy AFTER I saw the movies, which goes against all my principles, but it was the only way I could get through them. Shadow and Bone has the look and feeling of a high fantasy novel. However, it was light enough to please me. I was surprised by how much I liked it. There is adventure, romance, mystery, intrigue and drama. The world building was amazing, however there is a lot to take in. I loved the friendship between the 2 main characters. The main character was spunky and feisty, even while physically weak. There are definitely things in this book that could irritate people who are students of Russian culture, or who love high fantasy, however, I overlooked those things and thoroughly enjoyed the story. I'm excited to see what happens in the next book, because yes, this is the start of yet another series.

Areas of concern: There was one pretty big, although interrupted-before-anything-major-happens make-out scene, and the teenage character of Mal is apparently sleeping around, although that is only implied. There are less than 5 swear words. Supernatural violence and an animal killing that could be upsetting. 

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

Friday, February 22, 2013

Prodigy (Legend #2)

by Marie Lu
From the publisher:
"June and Day arrive in Vegas just as the unthinkable happens: the Elector Primo dies, and his son Anden takes his place. With the Republic edging closer to chaos, the two join a group of Patriot rebels eager to help Day rescue his brother and offer passage to the Colonies. They have only one request—June and Day must assassinate the new Elector.

It’s their chance to change the nation, to give voice to a people silenced for too long.

But as June realizes this Elector is nothing like his father, she’s haunted by the choice ahead. What if Anden is a new beginning? What if revolution must be more than loss and vengeance, anger and blood—what if the Patriots are wrong?

In this highly-anticipated sequel, Lu delivers a breathtaking thriller with high stakes and cinematic action."

This series is for fans of Divergent, The Hunger Games...  It is a dystopian novel set in a world where the United States has been split into 2 warring factions of The Republic and The Colonies.  It is a really interesting world, and this book explains it even better than the first.  I really enjoyed the first book in the series, Legend, and I think I would have enjoyed this one more if I had re-read Legend before reading this one.  It literally takes place the minute Legend ends and the action takes off from there.  Since I didn't remember the first one all that well, it was hard for me to get into this one.  But it was very exciting and the middle-schoolers should love it.  (They'll probably remember the first one better than I did :) )

Areas of concern:  A handful of cuss words (not the big one), a couple crudities, and a slang term that is used constantly for something bad - "goddy".    There is some kissing.  There is, obviously, some violence - they are in a war zone - but nothing graphic.

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


by Kathleen Peacock
From the publisher:
"Mackenzie and Amy were best friends. Until Amy was brutally murdered.
Since then, Mac's life has been turned upside down. She is being haunted by Amy in her dreams, and an extremist group called the Trackers has come to Mac's hometown of Hemlock to hunt down Amy's killer:

A white werewolf.

Lupine syndrome—also known as the werewolf virus—is on the rise across the country. Many of the infected try to hide their symptoms, but bloodlust is not easy to control.

Wanting desperately to put an end to her nightmares, Mac decides to investigate Amy's murder herself. She discovers secrets lurking in the shadows of Hemlock, secrets about Amy's boyfriend, Jason, her good pal Kyle, and especially her late best friend. Mac is thrown into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal that puts her life at risk.

Kathleen Peacock's thrilling novel is the first in the Hemlock trilogy, a spellbinding urban fantasy series filled with provocative questions about prejudice, trust, lies, and love. "

This book is the first in a new trilogy about......... werewolves! As if there weren't enough werewolf books already out there. However, my 8th grade girls can not get enough of paranormal romances, so based on good reviews I ordered this one. What a surprise to find that it is well-written and takes a unique twist on the whole werewolf genre. I actually really enjoyed it, even though it had a couple of my pet peeves - a love triangle and lack of parental guidance/influence/support. However, it was exciting enough for me to read in one day, I loved the main character and felt sympathy for her sorrow and her actions, and enjoyed the mix of paranormal and dystopia in the world-building.

Areas of concern:  All in all a very clean read as far as romance (some kissing) and language (one "s" word) goes.  However, a girl's best friend was brutally murdered and the victim haunts her best friend in dreams.  There is brutality by police-approved "Trackers" (kind of a Neo-Nazi gang).  Talk of a date-rape type drug being used and other violence.

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly:  14+
School Library Journal:  Grades 9+
*I'm not sure why the suggested ages are so high on this one when it was such a clean read, probably the violence.  In comparison to other werewolf books and suggested ages, I would put it on par with Twilight, and definitely cleaner than the Mercy Falls series."

Friday, February 15, 2013


by Ilsa J. Bick
From the publisher:
"It could happen tomorrow . . .

An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.
Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom—a young soldier—and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP.

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it’s now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Author Ilsa J. Bick crafts a terrifying and thrilling novel about a world that could be ours at any moment, where those left standing must learn what it means not just to survive, but to live amidst the devastation."

I really liked the first half of the book, and I felt like it could have been so much more. I almost quit several times after I got halfway through. The first part was very gripping and intense, I cared greatly for the characters and what happened to them, and then it just got disgusting.  I do have this disclaimer - I am NOT a zombie fan, so if you are you might have a completely different opinion on this book.  And zombies do seem to be the "it" thing right now.  This book was highly recommended by several reviewers, which is why I purchased it for our library. 
Usually 1st-in-a-series books leave you wanting more, this one left me wondering why I had wasted my time, and gave absolutely no closure and no answers.  Obviously setting up for a sequel, but I won't be wasting my time with that.   

Areas of concern:  This book was incredibly violent and had lots of bad language.

Suggested ages:  (all over the map, so I'll list all I could find)
Booklist:  Grades 7-10
Kirkus Reviews:  Ages 12-15
Publisher's Weekly:  Ages 14+
School Library Journal:  Grades 10+

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Archived

The Archived
by Victoria Schwab
From the publisher:
Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often—violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

This book started out very slowly for me. The plot has a very unique approach to the afterlife, and it's one I'm very glad I don't buy into because it is kind of disturbing. I never really understood everything about the Archive and the Narrows... The writing was very good, but I had a difficult time connecting with the characters, probably because the main characters have to lie constantly to everyone in their lives. That doesn't really endear them to you, even though it is necessary for their work. But it redeemed itself in the end by some great twists and quite a bit of excitement. 

Areas of concern:  6 or 7 instances of mild cussing.  Some kissing.  Deaths of family members.  Several unsolved murders from the past.  Violence involving being stabbed with glass and several fights. 

Suggested ages:
Kirkus reviews:  Ages 12+

Monday, February 11, 2013


by Sherry Gammon
From the publisher:
"Seventeen year-old Maggie Brown is the poster child for Heroin Chic, complete with jutting bones and dark-ringed eyes. But drugs are not Maggie's problem; her mother is.  Maggie's struggling with her growing feelings for the new guy at school, Seth Prescott, and fears he is just another person who will let her down, like everyone in her life has done so far.  Seth Prescott is an undercover cop assigned to Port Fare High, and despite his job, he's developed strong feelings for Maggie. While Seth's working tirelessly to flush out the sadistic drug peddlers that have invaded the small town of Port Fare, New York, Maggie's fighting to stay alive as the fight turns deadly."

While I enjoyed reading this and found parts gripping, there were other things that really irritated me. The good:
I cared about the characters. Maggie's life is just heart-breaking. Seth was the kind of hero that can do no wrong. Booker was the quirky and funny best friend. The plot was gripping in parts.
The irritating:
Maggie does incredibly stupid things (how often did she have to be told not to undo the security systems?!). Having a 21 year old being an undercover agent in a high school is kind of creepy. Seth was a little too perfect to be believable. Parents are either non-functioning or dead. High school stereotypes abound.

All that being said, several of my eighth-graders have loved this book.

Areas of concern: It had a definite "creepy" factor. Different points of view are heard in the book, mostly just Maggie and Seth, but a couple of chapters are from the points of view of 2 grisly murderers. I don't remember any cussing. There is plenty of kissing, but Seth declares his intent to "wait until marriage", so otherwise it was a very clean romance.

Suggested ages:
I couldn't find any reviews that listed suggested ages.  Because of the concerns named above, I would say 8th grade and older. 

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Miss Spitfire
by Sarah Miller
From the publisher:
"Annie Sullivan was little more than a half-blind orphan with a fiery tongue when she arrived at Ivy Green in 1887. Desperate for work, she'd taken on a seemingly impossible job -- teaching a child who was deaf, blind, and as ferocious as any wild animal. But Helen Keller needed more than a teacher. She needed someone daring enough to work a miracle. And if anyone was a match for Helen, it was the girl they used to call Miss Spitfire. For Annie, reaching Helen's mind meant losing teeth as raging fists flew. It meant standing up when everyone else had given up. It meant shedding tears at the frustrations and at the triumphs. By telling this inspiring story from Annie Sullivan's point of view, Sarah Miller's debut novel brings an amazing figure to sharp new life. Annie's past, her brazen determination, and her connection to the girl who would call her Teacher have never been clearer."

There is nothing really new here if you have read anything else about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, or watched any of The Miracle Worker movies. But it is such a remarkable story, that it bears review. I appreciated the glimpses into Annie's past - what a remarkable woman to come from such poverty and abuse. In this day and age of dystopian and paranormal books, I hope kids will take the time to read this and discover real heroes, whose courage and compassion are something to look up to and emulate.

Areas of concern:  The flashbacks to Annie's life with an abusive father and the wretchedness of life in the workhouse could be upsetting to the really sensitive. 

Suggested ages:
Kirkus Reviews:  Ages 9-14
School Library Journal:  Grades 5-9

Monday, February 4, 2013

Memories of Summer

Memories of Summerby Ruth White
From the publisher:
"It’s 1955 when 13-year-old Lyric moves with her father and older sister, Summer, from a small Virginia town to the big industrial city of Flint, Michigan. Summer has always been a little odd, but shortly after the move, things take a turn for the worse when she starts talking to imaginary people and having frightening episodes of paranoia. When she slips out of reality and into the depths of schizophrenia, the devoted Lyric can no longer reach her.

Lyric loves her sister but is torn between taking constant care of Summer and enjoying her own youth. Soon a decision will have to be made that will affect their lives forever."

This book was simply.....amazing! Did I like it? Can you like something that rips your heart out? That makes you cry so much you have to take your contacts out? This author really speaks to me. Her writing grips me. Her words stay with me. I am a better person for having read this. I don't think I will ever look at mental illness the same way again. Now I will think of the families in the background, struggling to hold on to that person they love, even though it's not the same person anymore. There is a part towards the end that is so powerful, where Lyric (the little sister who is the voice of the book) goes through so many emotions - embarrassment, humiliation, anger - before she remembers the love she has for this sister who took care of her and always loved her.  This book was by Newbery Honor Winner, Ruth White, and it is based on her real-life experiences with her own sister, so it feels very real.  I highly recommend this book to adults and teenagers, but I'm not sure about children because of the incredible sadness and the disturbing images of mental illness. 

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

Journey to the River Sea

Journey to the River Sea
by Eva Ibbotson
From the publisher:
"Sent in 1910 to live with distant relatives who own a rubber plantation along the Amazon River, English orphan Maia is excited. She believes she is in for brightly colored macaws, enormous butterflies, and "curtains of sweetly scented orchids trailing from the trees." Her British classmates warn her of man-eating alligators and wild, murderous Indians. Unfortunately, no one cautions Maia about her nasty, xenophobic cousins, who douse the house in bug spray and forbid her from venturing beyond their coiffed compound. Maia, however, is resourceful enough to find herself smack in the middle of more excitement than she ever imagined, from a mysterious "Indian" with an inheritance, to an itinerant actor dreading his impending adolescence, to a remarkable journey down the Amazon in search of the legendary giant sloth."

This wasn't a recent read, but we have it in our Blevins library and it remains one of my all-time favorite children's books.  It is slightly Dickensian in flavor, because the good people are very, very good, and the bad people are horrid.  It is set in the Amazon Rain Forest and has plenty of action and adventure.  The ending sees the good people rewarded and the bad ones getting what they deserved.  The writing is beautiful, the setting is gorgeous and exciting, the main character is strong and survives against all odds, and the plot is magical.  This would make a great family read.

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

The Sweetest Spell

The Sweetest Spell
by Suzanne Selfors
From the publisher:
"Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher's daughter, has escaped death twice-first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability-she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.

Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one-Owen Oak, a dairyman's son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains-no matter what the cost to Emmeline.

Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all."

This is apparently supposed to be a take on The Ugly Duckling, but I'm not too sure how that fits in to the story.  It was mildly entertaining.  One reviewer compared it to The Princess Bride, but in my estimation it doesn't even come close to that classic fairy tale/farce.   The premise is promising and the characters intriguing, but some of the situations need you to completely suspend belief.  However, I think teenagers will love it.

Areas of concern:  A boy talks about his mother finding him with a half-naked milkmaid when he was 15.  Someone is called a "rat bastard".  One use of the "d" word.

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