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 17, 2014

The Vault of Dreamers

The Vault of Dreamers
by Caragh M. O'Brien
From the publisher:
"From the author of the Birthmarked trilogy comes a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own.

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success:  every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the edges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there."


I'm pretty torn about this book. There were some aspects I loved, some that confused me, and some I just didn't like. The part I loved was the Forge School/reality TV show. Being a little bit of a reality TV lover myself, I was intrigued by the idea of a reality show in a boarding school for the arts. Very cool concept!. The thought of always being filmed, during every waking moment, is a little daunting, but our main character signs up to do it so she can have a better life. It is fascinating to see her character go through all the peaks and valleys of life constantly on the screen, and being ranked at the same time by viewers. This book could have been amazing if the author had just stayed on that track. Unfortunately, it veers off into a weird territory - a combination of science fiction and paranormal - that kind of lost me. And I have NO idea what was happening at the end. However, it was a fun book to read and it will be interesting to see what happens from here.

Areas of concern:
15 year old girl keeps sneaking out at night.
A handful of bad language.
Some teenage kissing.
An abusive stepfather at the very beginning.
Drug use on teenagers so they will sleep.


Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 8+
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Ability

The Ability
by M.M. Vaughan
From the publisher:
"Delve into the extraordinary abilities of the twelve-year-old mind in this thrilling start to a middle-grade series that expands the possibilities of power.

No one has any confidence in twelve-year-old Christopher Lane. His teachers discount him as a liar and a thief, and his mom doesn’t have the energy to deal with him. But a mysterious visit from the Ministry of Education indicates that Chris might have some potential after all: He is invited to attend the prestigious Myers Holt Academy.

When Christopher begins at his new school, he is astounded at what he can do. It seems that age twelve is a special time for the human brain, which is capable of remarkable feats—as also evidenced by Chris’s peers Ernest and Mortimer Genver, who, at the direction of their vengeful and manipulative mother, are testing the boundaries of the human mind.

But all this experimentation has consequences, and Chris soon finds himself forced to face them—or his new life will be over before it can begin."


I really liked this book, and I think middle-schoolers will LOVE it! It is a quick and exciting read. The characters are fun and diverse, the plot is original, and the whole time I was reading it I was thinking about what a fun movie this book would make. Picture Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi or Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill (without all the crudeness) as Ron and John. Awesome!

I really liked the main character and his loyalty and integrity. He is plucked from an incredibly dysfunctional home (I have hopes his mother may eventually improve) and put into an elite school. He was struggling in his old school, although the teacher and headmaster were a little (no a lot) over the top, but Chris excels at his new school, where his particular abilities are appreciated. There are a lot of topics in this book that could encourage good discussions. The Myers Holt Academy is a very skillfully drawn setting (again - great movie material), and it made me want to be a student there myself. There is action and suspense, and a reason at the end to be excited for the sequel, without an annoying cliff-hanger. It's just a really fun book. Read it and see who you picture in a movie version :) . Movie producers - take note.

Areas of concern:
A handful of the *d* word.
Creepy, evil twins.
An abusive home and school environment for the main character at the beginning.
The main character steals money for food, and then technically steals from cab drivers by not paying them. (I know I said he had integrity in my review, but you'll see what I mean when you read it.)


Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trial By Fire

Trial By Fire
by Josephine Angelini
From the publisher:
"This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected."


This is a hard book for me to review. The first 2 chapters involved all of the teenage behaviors that parents don't want to see, including drinking, smoking, partying, bullying, and sleeping around (with characters actually caught in flagantre). I almost stopped reading it. But in chapter 3 the "real" story begins, which is the worldwalking, and it was AMAZING! So original, imaginative and creative. A really, really unique premise and wonderful characters.
And THEN came a scene of extreme sexual tension that made me a little uncomfortable, followed by a scene of bacchanalian activity at a teenage club they called a "bonfire". Ugh.
Then came MORE amazing originality and excitement. Whew, I felt like I had been burning on a pyre before the whole thing was over (book reference there).
I am kind of clueless as to what to say about this book. Do I want a 6th or 7th grader reading this book? Definitely and resoundingly NO. Did I absolutely love and adore parts of this book? Yes! I ordered it for my middle school library because this author's other series, Starcrossed , is extremely popular, but I'm not feeling like this one is very appropriate for middle school. Parents will have to decide. As for me, I had big concerns about it but it was gripping, exciting and original.

Areas of concern:
There was some bad language, but not really that much. There wouldn't be any for chapters and chapters, and then suddenly the *b* word would appear twice on the same page.
The above-mentioned bad teenage behavior.
The above-mentioned sexual tension.
There is definitely violence. The main character starts out abhorring the violence, but by the end she is kind of craving the death of her enemies.


Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 8+
*Mrs. Duke says 8th grade at the VERY earliest, but preferably older.*

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Screaming Staircase

The Screaming Staircase
by Jonathan Stroud
From the publisher:
"
When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest, most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts. Your nights will never be the same again . . .
   "


Who ya gonna call? Lockwood & Co.! That is what was going through my mind the whole time I was reading this book. It is like Ghostbusters with children as the main characters. But is has scarier ghosts (no Stay Puft Marshmallow Man here), and ectoplasm that doesn't just slime you, it can kill you. I actually really liked this book. I don't usually read scary ghost stories, and as a middle-schooler this would have scared me to death, (I read Jane-Emily in Jr. High and still get creeped out just thinking about it), as an adult it just made me a little leery of dark, cold places.

The main characters were really likeable and were at times brave, funny, and heart-wrenching. The whole premise of the book is that young children are more receptive to psychic experiences than adults, so when The Problem of hauntings arises, children are used to hunt the ghosts. In talking about her companions when she first entered "the business", main character Lucy says,
"I was close to them. We worked together. We had fun. We saved each other's lives a bit. Their names, if you're interested, were Paul, Norrie, Julie, Steph, and Alfie-Joe. They're all dead now."
There is a lot of talk of the death of children in this book.

I found it kind of strange that there was no mention of a screaming staircase until about the 60% mark of the book. However, there is action a-plenty from page one. If you like a creepy, spine-tingling ghost story, this one's for you!

Areas of concern:
The *d* word was used a handful of times.
The main characters are all children living together without any adult supervision - that is actually a main part of the storyline. I wish that there could have been at least one positive adult figure.
High spookiness factor - not for sensitive readers.
Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 11-13
School Library Journal - Grades 6-9

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rose

Rose
by Holly Webb
From the publisher:
"Rose isn't like the other orphans at St Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls. Instead of dreaming of getting adopted by loving, wealthy parents, Rose wants to get a job and be independent. She doesn't need anyone but herself. She finds her escape working as a maid for Mr. Fountain, an alchemist. Unable to ignore the magic that flows throughout the grand residence, Rose realizes that just maybe; she might have a little bit of magic in her too. This new series featuring magicians, witches, talking cats, mist-monsters, and friendships will have young readers in a trance!"

This is a little gem of a book. It is a short, quick read that is delightfully creative. I have read other reviews that said it is Downton Abbey meets Harry Potter , which is a total win-win for me. I was immediately drawn to pragmatic Rose, the main character. Surrounded in the orphanage by dreamers who are waiting for unknown parents to show up and claim them, Rose just wants to leave the orphanage and make her own way in the world. She is spunky but knows her place and doesn't bemoan her circumstances. She is hard-working, loyal, and just wants to do her job well. She didn't ask for her magic, and doesn't want her magic. It sets her apart from the other servants and makes her feel strange. In this book, magic is just for the rich, and the servants distrust it. Because of her magic, she is drawn into some very scary situations and realizes that she had better learn how to control it.

The secondary characters in the book are also very well drawn. I love how the author portrays Isabella as such a spoiled brat, but then lets us see who she could really be. Interaction with different characters are woven seamlessly into the story. This book draws you into it's magical world and holds you spellbound.

Areas of concern:
There is a very evil villain who does very evil things to little children.
There are a couple of mild cuss words.


Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 9-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Belle Teal

Belle Teal
by Ann M. Martin
From the publisher:
"Newbery Honor author Ann M. Martin's gripping, widely acclaimed novel of a girl confronting the perils of friendship and the conflicts of community.  Belle Teal's life isn't easy, but she gets by. She lives with her mother and grandmother far out in the country. They don't have much money, but Belle Teal feels rich with their love. As school begins, Belle Teal faces unexpected challenges. Her best friends are up against some big problems. And there are two new students in Belle Teal's class: a shy boy caught in the town's furor over desegregation, and a snob who has problems of her own. As her world falls apart, Belle Teal discovers the importance of sticking together."

This is another great book for our 7th grade Civil Rights unit. The setting is a little different from the others we have used ( The Lions of Little Rock , Warriors Don't Cry , The Help ...), in that it is set in the rural South instead of in a big city. The small town of Coker Creek, in an undetermined state in the South, is experiencing it's first year of integration in the elementary school. I really enjoyed this different look at that period of time. But this book is not just about integration, it is about family, friends, standing up for what you believe in, and taking care of those you love. When I first started reading the book, I was afraid that the mother in the story was going to be kind of a dead-beat, but I was wrong. She is hard-working, loving, supportive, and teaches her daughter important things. They are a strong family unit that takes care of each other. I really appreciated that. This was a good, uplifting book about a period of time when hate and anger were widespread, but there were good people who overcame those things and stayed true to themselves.

Areas of concern:
The *n* word is used a handful of times.
Child abuse is alluded to.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Blood Guard

The Blood Guard
by Carter Roy
From the publisher:
"When thirteen-year-old Ronan Truelove's seemingly ordinary mom snatches him from school, then sets off on a high speed car chase, Ronan is shocked. His quiet, nerdy dad has been kidnapped? And the kidnappers are after him, too? His mom, he quickly learns, is anything but ordinary. In fact, she's a member of an ancient order of knights, the Blood Guard, a sword-wielding secret society sworn to protect the Pure—thirty-six noble souls whose safety is crucial if the world as we know it is to survive. Now all those after-school activities—gymnastics, judo, survival training—she made him take, make sense. For suddenly Ronan is swept up in a sometimes funny, sometimes scary, but always thrilling adventure—dashing from one danger to the next, using his wits to escape the Bend Sinister, a posse of evil doers with strange powers. Falling in with two unlikely companions, Greta, a scrappy, strong-willed girl he's never much liked and Jack, a devil-may-care teenage pickpocket, Ronan is left with only his wits and his mom's last words of advice: Trust no one. That's a lot for an ordinary kid to deal with. But then again, maybe Ronan's not ordinary at all."

I read an article online called Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren't the Same Thing . Here is a quote from that article:

" Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards "non-linear" reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.

“They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.


What does this have to do with my review of The Blood Guard ? I read this on my Kindle, and I have found that I don't seem to enjoy the books I read on screen as much as "real" books. Even books that I originally rated very high, if I re-read them on the Kindle I tend to wonder why I rated them so highly. So I'm going to guess that if I had read the paper copy of this particular book, I think I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, I liked it, but I didn't find it as spectacular as others seem to. And that is weird because it did tick all the boxes of a great middle grade fantasy/adventure. There was a lot of action, lots of humor, a really interesting and creative plot, awesome characters, and evil villains. So I guess I'm saying, read it for yourself and hopefully you will love it. Unfortunately, the paper copy of this book disappeared from my library shelves right after I put it out. I sure hope it gets returned or found soon.


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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Defining Dulcie

Defining Dulcie
by Paul Acampora
From the publisher:
"From a debut author comes a story of finding oneself in a place all too familiar. After Dulcie Morrigan Jones's dad dies, her mom decides they need to find a new life in California. But Dulcie doesn't understand what?s wrong with her old life back in Newbury, Connecticut. So she heads across country and back home in her father's red 1968 Chevy pickup truck. When she arrives, she meets Roxanne, a girl whose home life makes Dulcie see that her own situation may not be all that bad after all. And as the summer comes to an end, Dulcie realizes that maybe it's necessary to leave a place in order to come back and find out who you really are."

First off, I didn't realize this was Paul Acampora's first book when I read it.  I had read and loved I Kill the Mockingbird , so I wanted to read some more by this author.  I enjoyed this little book. It was a quick, sweet read. The ending wasn't quite what I was wanting, but overall I liked the book. What I love about Paul Acampora are the little bits of wisdom he puts all over the place in his books. Here was one of my favorites:

"For the first time since Dad died, I felt a bright stab of unexpected happiness. Maybe it was the laughter. Maybe it was the fact that I was worried about somebody other than myself for a change."

I love that! When my kids left home to go to college and they would call and be sad or depressed or homesick, I would tell them to go out and find someone to serve. That always takes you out of yourself and helps you to see your own problems with another perspective. I love how this author puts little tidbits like that in his books, and I hope that the kids who read these books pick up on some of those things. So even though I didn't love this book quite like I loved I Kill the Mockingbird , I definitely recommend it as a good story with a good moral.


Areas of concern:
I don't remember any bad language. 
A teenager takes her mother's (well, her dead father's) truck and drives across country from California to Connecticut.  She won't call her mother and just sends her postcards every now and then from random places along the road. 

Suggested Ages:
School Library Journal - Grades 7-10

Friday, November 14, 2014

Doon

Doon
by Carey Corp &
Lorie Langdon
From the publisher:
"DOON…

Veronica doesn't think she's going crazy. But why can't anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes? When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months.

But the Scottish countryside holds other plans.

Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna's great aunt—and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica's daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they've longed for...or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.

DOON is loosely based on the premise of the musical Brigadoon, with permission from the Alan Jay Lerner Estate and the Frederick Loewe Foundation. Follow the journey at
http://www.DoonSeries.com

~Destiny awaits!"


I think this book may have the most beautiful cover of any book I have ever seen. And it is set in Scotland and based on a Broadway musical, so really, what's not to like? I had really high hopes for this one. In some part, those hopes were realized. There was a lot of action and adventure, romance, princes, a castle, a romantic village, beautiful dresses, bad villains... All the right pieces were there, but it was a little too cheesy and corny for me a lot of the time. There aren't many people in the world who love Broadway musicals as much as I do, but I don't go around saying things like, "Sacred Stephen Schwartz!", "Holy Hammerstein!", or "Sweet Baby Sondheim!". I found that hugely annoying. However, all the other musical references brought pretty awesome visuals to my mind: 

"Like doing a mash-up of Spring Awakening and Spamalot ."

"I always imagined I'd be like Betty Buckley, performing way into the sunset of my life."
 
But that's just me. I can't imagine there are very many teenagers who would understand those quotes, but maybe it would inspire them to research and become interested in The Great White Way and that business we call show (I totally could have written Makenna's chapters in this book!).

Another annoying thing was that the book was told from the POV of 2 best friends, and it seemed like every chapter one of the girls would be thinking or talking about how beautiful her bestie was and how she felt so plain next to her, and then the other one would say the exact same thing. So apparently they were both drop-dead gorgeous and didn't know it. But I read that the 2 authors voiced the different girls and I thought that was a good idea because you could definitely hear the different voice come through and there was no confusion as to which girl was talking.

Even though things annoyed me at times, once I got into it I had to keep reading. It was exciting and romantic, the setting was gorgeous, there was a lot of humor, the secondary characters were interesting, and the whole premise was very unique. I think the target audience will love this book. As for me - on to the sequel!



Areas of concern:
3 or 4 mild cuss words ("It hurts like hell"...)
Some pretty serious kissing going on, but stopped before anything else happened.

Suggested Ages:
School Library Journal - Grades 7-10
 

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
by Sheila Turnage
From the publisher:
"The eagerly anticipated follow-up to the Newbery honor winner and New York Times bestseller, Three Times Lucky

Small towns have rules. One is, you got to stay who you are – no matter how many murders you solve.

When Miss Lana makes an Accidental Bid at the Tupelo auction and winds up the mortified owner of an old inn, she doesn't realize there's a ghost in the fine print. Naturally, Desperado Detective Agency (aka Mo and Dale) opens a paranormal division to solve the mystery of the ghost's identity. They've got to figure out who the ghost is so they can interview it for their history assignment (extra credit). But Mo and Dale start to realize that the Inn isn't the only haunted place in Tupelo Landing. People can also be haunted by their own past. As Mo and Dale handily track down the truth about the ghost (with some help from the new kid in town), they discover the truth about a great many other people, too.

A laugh out loud, ghostly, Southern mystery that can be enjoyed by readers visiting Tupelo Landing for the first time, as well as those who are old friends of Mo and Dale."


How I love Miss Mo LoBeau and her companion in all things, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III! This is the second book about the charming, quirky town of Tupelo Landing, the first being the Newbery Honor book, Three Times Lucky .   If the author doesn't continue writing books about Tupelo Landing, my one request is that she at least fast-forward 7 years so we can see what happens when Mo can finally date her beloved Lavender (if Lavender hasn't been snatched up by one of the big-haired twins or Miss Retzyl's sister!).

I have decided that all that is really necessary in a review of a Sheila Turnage book is to put in quotes from the book. How can you not want to read a book with these quotes?!

"If I'm not mistaken, Buddha's a family name," Miss Lana said in a voice shaved from ice. It was quasi-true.  Bubba is a family name. Buddha's mama is dyslexic.

"I'm Jake Exum," he said. "This is my brother Jimmy. Until now we been homeschooled."
"Mama expelled us," Jimmy added.

"Stress focuses you right up until it sucks your brain dry. Standardized testing taught me that."

"It's Friday," I reminded her. "We prefer our homework to age over the weekend, making it tender."

"Nice posture. I'm more of a slumpist myself."

Is there a more quotable author than Sheila Turnage? I doubt it. I just know I will continue to read whatever books she writes and hope they live up to the Tupelo Landing books.


Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6
*Once again, Ms. Turnage has written a book that is for everyone!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Illusive

Illusive
by Emily Lloyd-Jones
From the publisher:
"The X-Men meets Ocean's Eleven in this edge-of-your-seat sci-fi adventure about a band of "super" criminals.

When the MK virus swept across the planet, a vaccine was created to stop the epidemic, but it came with some unexpected side effects. A small percentage of the population developed superhero-like powers. Seventeen-year-old Ciere Giba has the handy ability to change her appearance at will. She's what's known as an illusionist...She's also a thief.

After a robbery goes awry, Ciere must team up with a group of fellow super-powered criminals on another job that most would consider too reckless. The formula for the vaccine that gave them their abilities was supposedly destroyed years ago. But what if it wasn't?

The lines between good and bad, us and them, and freedom and entrapment are blurred as Ciere and the rest of her crew become embroiled in a deadly race against the government that could cost them their lives."


I'm really conflicted about this book. There were some things I disliked intensely, but other things were enjoyable.

Things I disliked:
~ The main characters name - Ciere Giba. Personally, I like to be able to pronounce the names of the characters I'm reading about, so I found that name incredibly annoying. We find out later the name has some sort of meaning that totally confused me and it is pronounced like Sierra without the a on the end.
~ The book starts out with an incredibly hung-over teenager naked in a hotel bed with a boy passed out on the floor next to her clutching a bottle of tequila.
~ Bad language with the *f* word jarringly thrown in 5 or more times. I say "jarringly" because there really wasn't any bad language at all until suddenly the *f* word pops out of a character's mouth. Later in the book there was a handful of uses of the *s* and the *a* words.
~ The main character did incredibly stupid things over and over again that affected all the people around her. I like my heroines to have a little bit of commonsense.
~ One of the main crew members is a male prostitute. That fact is referenced several times and not explained.
~ The author mixed tenses in the same paragraph several times. Now, I tend to do that all the time, but I expect better in published authors.

Things I liked:
~ I thought it was a really unique premise.
~ It was exciting
~ There was a twist at the end that completely surprised me

Bad things outweigh good things for me on this one and I very much doubt I will read a sequel.  
 


Areas of concern:
I addressed a lot of concerns above.  One other major concern is massive law-breaking, including murder.   Quite a bit of violence, as well.


Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 7-10
*Mrs. Duke disagrees and thinks this should be for older readers.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Absolutely Almost

Absolutely Almost
by Lisa Graff
From the publisher:
"From the author of the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love.

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules."


I mildly enjoyed this book. I didn't find it spectacular, but I didn't hate it. Which means it will probably win the Newbery Award this year. Some reviewers were comparing it to Wonder , but I vehemently disagree with them. It didn't come anywhere near having the emotional impact on me that that book did. I agree more with the reviewer who said, "This is an absolutely almost good book". But hopefully it will speak to middle grade students who have struggled. 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6 

 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities
by Shannon Messenger
From the publisher:
"Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She’s a Telepath—someone who hears the thoughts of everyone around her. It’s a talent she’s never known how to explain.

Everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s a place she does belong, and that staying with her family will place her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from anything she has ever known.

Sophie has new rules to learn and new skills to master, and not everyone is thrilled that she has come “home.”
There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory—secrets about who she really is and why she was hidden among humans—that other people desperately want. Would even kill for.

In this page-turning debut, Shannon Messenger creates a riveting story where one girl must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world, before the wrong person finds the answer first."


My feelings about this book are kind of a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Usually when books are billed as being "the next Harry Potter" I end up hating them because they are nothing like Harry Potter and I get mad that someone made me think it was. But this book is very much like Harry Potter, and for some reason that kind of annoyed me at times. Yet that was just a fleeting feeling every now and then, because otherwise I loved this book! There is action, adventure, impressive world building, suspense, and there are some pretty amazing characters. Quite frankly, I loved having a main character who was considered fascinating because she had brown eyes. That has definitely never happened to me. But who to trust?! I kind of wished that there was one authority figure that I completely trusted (like Dumbledore, of course), but I didn't have complete trust in any of them. There are many, many secrets being held onto by all the adults in this book, but in a way that added to the intrigue. I know there are at least 4 books planned in this series, but if the author does one book for every year of the character's school life, then there should be even more coming. I can't wait to get my hands on the next one. I did love how it actually had an ending, although you know there is much more to come, we had a nice resolution for now (again like Harry Potter).  This isn't checked out very much in my library so I need to start talking it up because the kids will love it! If you or your student loved Harry Potter, I think you will both love Sophie, Fitz, Dex and Keene. I know I did.

Areas of concern:
There is suspense and sadness, but not really much violence.


Suggested Ages:
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8

Friday, October 3, 2014

Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
From the publisher:
"Newbery honor winner, New York Times bestseller, Edgar Award Finalist, and E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor book.

A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee."


It is no secret that the 2013 Newbery Selection Committee and I didn't see eye to eye. The One and Only Ivan wins and Wonder doesn't even get an Honor? Seriously?! However, they did get it right (well, sort of... this definitely should have won over The One and Only Ivan !) with Three Times Lucky . Oh, how I loved this book! The beginning made me want to go out and rent the movie Fried Green Tomatoes . It just has that pure southern feeling to it, and the main character's foster-parents own a café. And then there's a murder. I fully expected some special barbeque to start cooking out back :) .

Miss Moses Lobeau - rising sixth grader - and her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III (no, his daddy and granddaddy aren't named that too, the III stands for Dale Earnhardt's car number) set out to solve the murder of a crotchety neighbor by forming the "Desparado Detective Agency". Their attempts are hilarious, yet actually quite helpful. One of my favorite quotes from the book is Mo talking to the fancy detective from the city:

“They found Mr. Jesse in a boat?" I asked. "I'm wondering if maybe he just up and died. Maybe there ain't no murder. Like the fish weren't biting and he died of boredom. It happens. Boredom kills. I've had close brushes myself, during math.”

I love Mo's voice and laughed out loud over and over again while reading some of her comments. But let's not leave out Dale. What a great supporting character! We learn more about him from Mo's observances than anything. Two of my favorites:

1. Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks.

2. He peeked around the door. "You through barfing?"
Dale can't tolerate other people throwing up. He gets what's known as the Synchronized Heaves. Lavender says if they ever make it an Olympic sport, Dale's an automatic for the gold.


And yes, Lavender is the name of Dale's older brother, who Mo plans on dating in 7 years when she is 18. Her observances on the different girls Lavender dates are also well worth reading.

This is a book I could read over and over again. It is full of quirky characters, down-home southern wisdom, exciting events, and laugh out loud humor. A great children's book should be able to be enjoyed by children and adults, and Three Times Lucky is great!

Areas of concern:
*The murder of a character well known to the reader and the characters.
*It is mentioned that Dale started swearing last year. I haven't started yet, but the way things are going, I could at any moment.
*The relationship between the foster-parents is a little unusual, but is explained (not fully) towards the end of the book.
*There is a scary scene where a husband threatens and hits his wife with 2 children watching and in danger as well.  


Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bigger Than a Bread Box

Bigger Than a Bread Box
by Laurel Snyder
From the publisher:
"A magical breadbox that delivers whatever you wish for—as long as it fits inside? It's too good to be true! Twelve-year-old Rebecca is struggling with her parents' separation, as well as a sudden move to her Gran's house in another state. For a while, the magic bread box, discovered in the attic, makes life away from home a little easier. Then suddenly it starts to make things much, much more difficult, and Rebecca is forced to decide not just where, but who she really wants to be. Laurel Snyder's most thought-provoking book yet."

This was a mildly enjoyable book for me. I didn't really feel the magic that I was expecting to, and it never really pulled me in, but I did like it. I liked the characters and the settings and thought the author did a fantastic job of making you feel like you were in Baltimore and Atlanta. I guess my main problem with it was that it felt too much like realistic fiction to have magic involved. I kept waiting to hear that the bread box was symbolic and that Rebecca really was stealing everything because of the mess her parents made of her life. And the ending was a little strange and felt at the same time too open-ended and too neatly tied-up. I'm not sure how that is possible, but that is how I felt while reading it. However, there are probably many middle school students who can totally relate to the character of Rebecca. She stays real through the whole book even though she makes some bad decisions. And I appreciated the love she showed to her little brother. However, at one point she has an argument with her mother and tells her mom how selfish she is and how everything is about her mom and she didn't think about anyone else when making certain decisions, but I felt like Rebecca shared in that selfishness and was poor me-ing through most of the book.
All in all, I liked this book and will recommend it to my middle schoolers.

Areas of concern:
Parents fighting and them mom taking children and leaving.
12 year old puts herself in a very dangerous situation.
A lot of lying.


Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 6-8
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6

Friday, September 26, 2014

I Kill the Mockingbird

I Kill the Mockingbird
by Paul Acampora
From the publisher:
"When Lucy, Elena, and Michael receive their summer reading list, they are excited to see To Kill A Mockingbird included. But not everyone in their class shares the same enthusiasm. So they hatch a plot to get the entire town talking about the well-known Harper Lee classic. They plan controversial ways to get people to read the book, including re-shelving copies of the book in bookstores so that people think they are missing and starting a website committed to “destroying the mockingbird.” Their efforts are successful when all of the hullabaloo starts to direct more people to the book. But soon, their exploits start to spin out of control and they unwittingly start a mini revolution in the name of books."


I'm not gonna lie - I'm having quite a love affair with middle grade books lately. And this one did not disappoint, I loved it. There is no insta-love, no mythical creatures, no hormonal angst, no partying, drinking, or other inappropriate behaviors; just good, normal kids from loving homes who do something a little crazy that changes the world. It was wonderfully refreshing. One of the quotes I love from the book:

"If you're a teacher, you dream about having students who will try to change the world someday because of something you do or say in the classroom."

There are so many things to love about this book, one reviewer called it a "book-lover's book" and in an online article the author called it his "love-letter to books". Another favorite quote:

"A book connects you to the universe like a cell phone connects you to the Internet." ..... "But it only works if your battery's not dead."

Now, there are several books lately that could have been called "book-lovers books", but this one is definitely my favorite. And although the main character loves the book that the title comes from ( To Kill a Mockingbird ) , one of the other major characters doesn't like it, he loves Dickens. So it shows that different books speak to different people, and I think that is an important concept to know. You could argue that these almost-9th-grade-book-nerds are too well read, but I know kids like them and it's wonderful to see that kind of student celebrated. Maybe that is why I felt such a connection with the characters, or maybe it is because they were described so well.

As I mentioned before, each of the 3 main characters come from good, loving homes. Not homes that are perfect and without problems, because each character has their own different set of problems, but loving homes where they are taught good behavior and good values. In a conversation with his daughter about her mother's cancer, Lucy's dad tells her:

“Life is a gift. Going to church is like sending a thank-you card.”

Lucy's mother was also full of wisdom. When Lucy was treating her mother with kid gloves and worrying constantly about her health, her mother told her:

 “I'm not one of those people who think that cancer is some kind of jousting match. People live or die based on good medicine, good luck, and the grace of God. The people that die from it did not fail. The people who live will die another day.”

Oh gosh, there are so many amazing quotes from this book. Just check out the quotes page on GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/26123583-i-kill-the-mockingbird).
I loved, loved, loved this book, it would make a great classroom or family read-aloud, or a quick, fun individual read. Let me finish with this one last quote from the WWW.KILLaMOCKINGBIRD.com manifesto:

“We support all actions that lead to the joy, the fun, the reward, the challenge, and the adventure of reading.”

Read this book for all those reasons.  And yes, I have ordered more books by this author for our library :) . 

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10-14
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8
*Mrs. Duke says "Everyone!"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse
by Marie Rutkoski
From the publisher
"Winning what you want may cost you everything you love". 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart."


This is the last of my summer forgot-to-blog-at-the-time books.  I remember that it took me forever to read this one, and that is usually not a good sign, especially since I read several others at the same time. Maybe it would have been better if I had read it straight through, but I was pretty bored during most of it. I ended up enjoying it, but it definitely didn't bowl me over.   However, it was clean and it has a GoodReads rating of 4.07, so I'm obviously in the minority.  I think teenagers will really like it.    

Areas of concern:
The whole plot deals with conquering neighboring countries and enslaving them. 
I don't remember any bad language or sexual situations.

Suggested ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12-18
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+             

The Geography of You and me

The Geography of You
and Me
by Jennifer E. Smith
From the publisher:
"Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they're rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen's relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and -- finally -- a reunion in the city where they first met.

A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith's new novel shows that the center of the world isn't necessarily a place. It can be a person, too."


Once again this is a make-up review from the summer.  I do remember that I was disappointed in this one. I loved the author's This Is What Happy Looks Like , and was very excited for this one to be released, but it wasn't as good as I was expecting. It was nice, it was interesting, but I wasn't that invested in the characters and the love story was pretty weak.  However, it was fun to read, it was clean, and I mildly enjoyed it.

Areas of concern:
A clean romance.  One little note is that the characters start out the story as 16 and 17 years old, but the story takes time so the characters end up older than I like for middle school.

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

Steelheart

Steelheart
by Brandon Sanderson
From the publisher:
"Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge."


Here I am playing catch-up on books I read over the summer but never blogged about. 
I waited way too long to review this, so I'll just touch on some of my feelings while reading. This is definitely not a book I would normally read, but I wanted to find some more books to recommend to my middle school boys. I'm very glad I read it, because it was really unique and clever. What if superheroes used their powers for bad and not for good? What an exciting concept for a book. I really liked it, and I think middle school boys will love it.  And after 3 or 4 months, I still find it a fascinating concept and think of it whenever I watch a superhero movie.   Well done, Brandon Sanderson!

Areas of concern:
Once again, hard to do this after so much time has elapsed since I read it.  I don't remember any bad language.  No sexual situations.  There is a great deal of violence (obviously), and a young boy witnesses his father's murder.

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

The One Safe Place

The One Safe Place
by Tania Unsworth
From the publisher:
"In this near-future dystopia with echoes of "The Giver" and "Among the Hidden," Tania Unsworth has created an unsettling page-turner fast-paced, smooth, filled with dread that s wholly satisfying and startlingly original.

Devin doesn't remember life before the world got hot; he has grown up farming the scorched earth with his grandfather in their remote valley. When his grandfather dies, Devin heads for the city. Once there, among the stark glass buildings, he finds scores of children, just like him, living alone on the streets. They tell him rumors of a place for abandoned children, with unlimited food and toys and the hope of finding a new family. But only the luckiest get there.

An act of kindness earns Devin an invitation to the home, but it s soon clear that it s no paradise. As Devin investigates the intimidating administrator and the zombie-like sickness that afflicts some children, he discovers the home s horrific true mission. The only real hope is escape, but the place is as secure as a fortress.

Fans of dystopian fiction and spine-chilling adventure will devour "The One Safe Place"; its haunting themes will resonate long after readers have turned the final page."


I am often horrified to hear of 4th and 5th grade teachers who have used The Hunger Games as a read-aloud in their classrooms. There are dystopians that are much more appropriate for middle graders than things like The Hunger Games and Divergent . I don't care how many movies get made from those series, they are too dark and twisty for elementary students, or even lower middle school students.   However, The One Safe Place can join the likes of Among the Hidden and The City of Ember  series as dystopian books that those ages (and over) can enjoy. Not that this book isn't dark, and it definitely has twisty people, but it is not the blood and gore that is thrown in your face constantly in the others. I really enjoyed this book. It had great world-building, the writing was good, the plot was intense and creepy, the main characters were love-able and the secondary characters were one of my favorite parts. My only problem with it was the ending, I prefer my endings nicely wrapped up, but this one felt more like The Giver - a little too up-in-the-air for me. But it WAS an ending, I would just like to know what happens from there. Is there going to be a sequel? I haven't heard of one. However, that was a very small little complaint in an otherwise great book. It is a quick and exciting read and I highly recommend it.

Areas of concern:
Children are harmed and put in dangerous and unhealthy situations.
Was there any bad language? I don't remember, so it must not have been too obvious because I do tend to notice that :) .


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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Because of Mr. Terupt

Because of Mr. Terupt
by Rob Buyea
From the publisher:
"Features seven narrators, each with a unique story, and each with a different perspective on what makes their teacher so special.It’s the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School. There’s . . . Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who’s having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all. He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn’t let them get away with much . . . until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything—and everyone."



 Because of Mr. Terupt is a perfect family or classroom read-aloud.   It will lead to some really good discussions on a myriad of different topics. It is a story told through the eyes of 7 students. Each different voice is very distinguishable, and each different student has their own set of problems. It is inspiring to see their growth throughout their 5th grade school year. I did have one issue with how much the teacher let the kids get away with, but that was addressed later in the book so I felt better. I also had a hard time buying into the idea that people today would be so prejudiced against a 5th grade girl whose mother had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, but it adds to the story. I'm sad I'm just discovering this book - it was published in 2010. However, I think it is my favorite children's fiction book since I read Wonder in 2012.  I definitely recommend this one.

Areas of concern:
A few crudities were used by the students.
There are several issues brought up that may need discussion - unwed pregnancy, divorce, death of a sibling, bullying, calling special needs kids "retard"... That sounds like a lot of dark stuff, but it is dealt with very beautifully.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-6

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Here and now

The Here and Now
by Ann Brashares
From the publisher:
"An unforgettable epic romantic thriller about a girl from the future who might be able to save the world . . . if she lets go of the one thing she’s found to hold on to.

Follow the rules. Remember what happened. Never fall in love.

This is the story of seventeen-year-old Prenna James, who immigrated to New York when she was twelve. Except Prenna didn’t come from a different country. She came from a different time—a future where a mosquito-borne illness has mutated into a pandemic, killing millions and leaving the world in ruins.

Prenna and the others who escaped to the present day must follow a strict set of rules: never reveal where they’re from, never interfere with history, and never, ever be intimate with anyone outside their community. Prenna does as she’s told, believing she can help prevent the plague that will one day ravage the earth.

But everything changes when Prenna falls for Ethan Jarves.

From Ann Brashares, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now is thrilling, exhilarating, haunting, and heartbreaking—and a must-read novel of the year."


I am definitely not a fan of this author's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, so I shouldn't be surprised that I didn't love this one. The premise was good, the time-traveling was interesting, the characters were pretty likeable and the writing was good.  I guess the biggest problem that I had with the book is that these 2 teenagers know that they are the last hope for the world and yet they spend most of the time talking about whether or not they should have sex. They know the exact date that they need to save the world and they waste the 2 days before that laying on the beach or sitting on swings. Seriously? They couldn't have done anything beforehand to try and change the outcome of what was approaching? And the ending was really disappointing. I will be taking a pass on the rest of the series.

Areas of concern:
I don't really remember much bad language. If there was any, it was just a handful, and no major words.
Teenagers constantly talking about sex.
A society where children can be taken away from their families or killed for breaking rules.


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

Friday, May 23, 2014

Mila 2.0

Mila 2.0
by Debra Driza
From the publisher:
"Mila 2.0 is the first book in an electrifying sci-fi thriller series about a teenage girl who discovers that she is an experiment in artificial intelligence.

Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do.

Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.

Mila 2.0 is Debra Driza’s bold debut and the first book in a Bourne Identity-style trilogy that combines heart-pounding action with a riveting exploration of what it really means to be human. Fans of I Am Number Four will love Mila for who she is and what she longs to be—and a cliffhanger ending will leave them breathlessly awaiting the sequel."


This was a welcome relief after going through several duds in the YA category. I really enjoyed it and found it refreshingly unique. It was my first android book (I haven't read Cinder yet), but the main character felt more human than some of the supporting characters. It had a lot of action, a little romance, and a very interesting plot. I really liked the main character and loved how hard she tried to keep a hold on her humanity. However, I didn't feel like I made a connection with any of the secondary characters, aside from her mom. I didn't like the insta-love at the beginning, and quite frankly I have no feelings for the guy except quite a bit of distrust. The best friend went from best friend to psycho in about a minute. I was also left with a lot of questions (Sarah?! - Why didn't her mom TELL her anything?!). I'm sure those will be answered in the next book/books, but I would have liked to have a little to go on. That all being said, I really liked it and am interested to see what happens in the next one.

Areas of concern: A handful of cuss words.
A lot of violence towards the main character and loved one. The main character is forced to use violence, but hates that she has to and tries to control herself to do the least amount of damage when it is necessary.

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Paperboy

Paperboy
by Vince Vawter
From the publisher:
"An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend's paper route for the month of July, he knows he'll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.

The paper route poses challenges, but it's a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble--and puts the boy's life, as well as that of his family's devoted housekeeper, in danger."


Oh Newbery, I'll never understand you. I just checked and I have to go clear back to 1997 to find a Newbery winner or honor book that I really LOVED ( Belle Prater's Boy ) . I haven't read them all, by any means, but the ones I have read have been kind of blah. This one was good, but I didn't find anything outstanding about it. It felt like it was trying to be too many things. A book about a child with a disability. A book about sports (although that was hardly mentioned - just that the main character loved baseball and had quite an arm). A book about race relations. A book about growing up in the 60's... Now if all of those things had meshed, it would have added up to a really good story, but it was like the author all of a sudden said, "Oh, I'd better put something about race relations in here now", instead of it being seamlessly woven into the story. I enjoyed parts of this book, and it was inspiring that it had a lot to do with the author's real life, but I'm not sure how much it will get checked out in our middle school library.

Areas of concern: A handful of swear words. Scary violence towards the main character and one of his loved ones. A woman who drinks excessively and has a man other than her husband come to her house, and then she gets hit by him.  A character finds out that his father isn't his biological father.


Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 10+
School Library Journal - Grades 6-9

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Loop

The Loop
by Shandy Lawson
From the publisher:
"Ben and Maggie have met, fallen in love, and died together countless times. Over the course of two pivotal days—both the best and worst of their lives—they struggle again and again to resist the pull of fate and the force of time itself. With each failure, they return to the beginning of their end, a wild road trip that brings them to the scene of their own murders and into the hands of the man destined to kill them.

As time circles back on itself, events become more deeply ingrained, more inescapable for the two kids trapped inside the loop. The closer they come to breaking out, the tighter fate’s clutches seem to grip them. They devise a desperate plan to break free and survive the days ahead, but what if Ben and Maggie’s only shot at not dying is surviving apart?"


I chose to read this book because of the synopsis in the front cover. It sounded like it could be similar to All Our Yesterdays , by Cristin Terrill, which was mind-blowingly awesome. Sadly, this one didn't even come close to the imaginative world-building and intensity of plot that was the hallmark of All Our Yesterdays . The loop was never explained fully, the characters weren't fleshed out very well,and although there was non-stop action, a lot of it was accompanied with question marks on my part. So while it wasn't terrible, it just wasn't as good as I was expecting, and I didn't really care too much about what happened to the characters. But it will probably appeal to middle school students because of the action and the brevity of the book (only 198 pages).

Areas of concern:
A handful of the *s* word and at least one of the *a* word. A couple of mild kisses. One character accidentally sees the other naked in the hospital. There is quite a bit of violence, since the whole premise of the book is that these 2 teenagers stuck in a loop where they get murdered at the end. In trying to get out of the loop, the teenagers did some illegal things like stealing a car.


Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-10
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library

Escape from
Mr. Lemoncello's Library

by Chris Grabenstein
From the publisher:
"Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

In this cross between Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and A Night in the Museum, Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience."


I enjoyed some things in this book, and I was annoyed by some things in this book. I loved all the literary references, but they felt kind of forced and show-y, and the target audience won't understand most of them. Although since this book is technically a love letter to librarians, maybe that is really the target audience and not middle schoolers. (Audience is not the word I'm looking for, but I can't think what it is. Target readers?) And I found it a little disturbing that a book about libraries didn't really have much to do with the love of reading. The love of gaming was more apparent. There was one character who loved to read, but it was made to sound like she read because she had no friends and once she made friends she stopped having her nose in a book all the time. Those are my feelings, but I'm hoping middle schoolers who love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will love this. It has the same kind of stereotypical mean, rich kid; the same kind of know-it-all kid; the same good, honest, loyal-to-friends kid... And maybe it will cause some readers to look into the books that are mentioned (and mentioned, and mentioned).

Suggested ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 9-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7