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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fledgling (Jason Steed, #1)

(Jason Steed, #1)
by Mark A. Cooper
From the publisher:
"Tormented by his mother's death...
Taken for granted by his father...
Trained in deadly martial arts...

Jason Steed is looking for a place to call home. He finds what he's looking for in the Sea Cadets-an elite group of British youngsters being groomed for lifelong service in the military. But when a routine training exercise goes awry, Jason finds himself in the middle of a secret mission. The future of the world hangs in the balance...and Jason might be the only one who can save it."

The writing in this book was kind of atrocious, the plot was incredibly unbelievable, and it was completely corny and cheesy. However, middle school students seem to love it, and I even found a few parts mildly enjoyable. There is quite a bit of set-up to this book, so I'm assuming that the next books will all start out with a bigger bang. There is PLENTY of action at the end of this book. Ridiculous, implausible, violent action, but action nonetheless. Once again - right up a middle grade boy's alley. (I read somewhere that this was Prince William's favorite book. Really?)

Is it worth listing all the things that irritated me about this book?

*A ten year old boy dancing with a girl, kissing a girl and wanting to be with her all the time? Has the author ever met any 10 year old boys?
*The Queen of England began a sentence with, "You have showed great bravery..." Is that a British vs. American thing? Because that is not proper grammar where I come from, and you would think the Queen could manage to speak The Queen's English.
*The 10 and 11 year old kids were speaking like 70 year olds.
*I couldn't stand Jason's father. I kept thinking he would redeem himself, but not so much. Even at the end, when his little boy is having nightmares because of the horrible things he has experienced, he just tells him that those memories will fade as he replaces them with better ones. Wow, very healthy. And I'm sure PTSD patients everywhere appreciate knowing that as well. Once again, is this a cultural thing? All of the British "stiff upper lip" business? I wouldn't have believed it was possible for a book to be too British for me, but this one might be.

I could go on and on, but it doesn't really matter what I think, it is a middle school student's fantasy. An 11 year old takes on scary enemies with his superhero-like abilities and saves the adults who couldn't save themselves.

Areas of concern:
There are a few instances of profanity along with cussing. (The *d* word and *h* word for the Yanks out there, coupled with 2 words that are much more offensive for Brits than for Yanks.)
I was very concerned about the sexualizing of 10 and 11 year olds. Kissing on the lips, along with mention of a form-fitting dress and parents being upset because they slept in the same room one night.
The main character is put in tremendously stressful and dangerous conditions and experiences killing, being shot and the death of friends. 

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 5-7

Monday, April 27, 2015

Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes
by Sara Raasch
From the publisher:
"A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own."

I loved this book!  It sucked me in immediately and kept my attention throughout. Whew! I feel like I was on a roller coaster ride of excitement. I'm very impressed by the imagination the author used to come up with the plot - it was very cool! I loved the characters, I loved the Seasons and the Rhythms, I loved the action, and I loved the fight against evil. Several reviewers mentioned that they guessed what was going to happen from the very beginning and that they didn't like that. I have no problem with foreshadowing, and even though the author leads us in a certain direction, there is no way anyone could figure out how it was all going to play out. This is an author to watch, I have already pre-ordered the second book in the series for our library even though it doesn't come out until October. 
Highly recommend for an exciting fantasy read.

Areas of concern:
I only noticed one *d* word.
There is a lot of violence and fighting, and a couple of really seriously scary/evil characters.
A couple of kissing scenes.

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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life (Citizens of Logan Pond, #1)

(Citizens of Logans Pond)
by Rebecca Belliston
From the publisher:
"Her home. Her parents. Her freedom. Gone. 
His dreams. His sister. Himself. Lost.
Two people.
One future.

The economy crashed, the country is floundering, and Carrie Ashworth struggles to keep her siblings alive. She has two jobs in her newly-formed, newly-outlawed clan: grow crops to feed thirty-six people, and maintain contact with Oliver Simmons, their local patrolman. Carrie’s life is almost content when Greg Pierce shows up. A man with the ambition to help them survive. A man determined to hate her.

Greg sets to work devising systems to protect the clan from the new regime, but it doesn't take long to realize the true reason for their safety. Patrolman Simmons has fallen for Carrie. When a government raid nearly wipes out their clan, Greg takes it upon himself to give the socially-awkward patrolman what he wants. Only Carrie doesn’t like Greg throwing her in Simmons' path, especially when Greg’s brusque exterior melts and she catches a glimpse of the real man underneath. Carrie is forced to choose: follow her heart or save her clan.

Life won't let her choose both."

It's hard to review this book because I was so immersed in it that I felt like I was living it. I was scared, I was heartbroken, I was cold when it snowed, I was in pain when the main character was hurting, I missed my parents; but I also loved my neighbors, felt joy at new growth, and loved the sunshine. To me that means that this was an amazing book. At one point while reading, I actually stood up to put my light jacket on and go to work when I said to myself, "Oh this isn't a warm enough coat when it is snowing outside". It was 60 degrees at the time, but it was snowing in the book. That's how in thrall I was while reading.
I loved the main character, Carrie. She was so good, loving, loyal, innocent and giving. I wish I was more like her. It made me wonder how I would react given the same circumstances. I will say that I'm still not sold on the main love interest - he is such a jerk at the beginning. I understand that he has gone through horrors in his life, but he is very cold-hearted at the beginning and I had a hard time getting over that.
I found the whole premise of the book a little scary because it felt like something that could really happen. A lot of the dystopian/post-apocalyptic books I have read have dealt with things like a pandemic, nuclear holocaust, alien invasion... This one simply had the dollar fail. There was a run on the banks - the banks failed. The government took over in a drastic way. Yikes! Maybe that was one of the reasons it was so engrossing, because it felt like something that could really happen to me and my family. Anyway, this was a great book and I highly recommend it. Now we wait for book 2, entitled Liberty , and it is being released on the 4th of July. Pretty cool. And I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the final book in the trilogy will be called, The Pursuit of Happiness .

Areas of concern:
When I bought this book for our library, I thought it was a Young Adult novel. The book does begin with the main character being 17 years old, but then it fast-forwards 5 years, so it is actually not a YA book. However, it kind of had a YA feel to it, and it was very clean, so I am not concerned about having it in the library. In fact, several students have read it and really liked it.
There is no bad language.
There is some talk of girls needing to sell themselves to keep their families safe, but it is done in as non-offensive a way as possible.
There are intense situations where characters fear for their lives.
There are corrupt and very scary government officials.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


by Karen Akins
From the publisher:
"At a school where Quantum Paradox 101 is a required course and history field trips are literal, sixteen year-old time traveler Bree Bennis excels... at screwing up.

After Bree botches a solo midterm to the 21st century by accidentally taking a boy hostage (a teensy snafu), she stands to lose her scholarship. But when Bree sneaks back to talk the kid into keeping his yap shut, she doesn't go back far enough. The boy, Finn, now three years older and hot as a solar flare, is convinced he’s in love with Bree, or rather, a future version of her that doesn't think he’s a complete pain in the arse. To make matters worse, she inadvertently transports him back to the 23rd century with her.

Once home, Bree discovers that a recent rash of accidents at her school are anything but accidental. Someone is attacking time travelers. As Bree and her temporal tag-along uncover seemingly unconnected clues—a broken bracelet, a missing data file, the art heist of the millennium—that lead to the person responsible, she alone has the knowledge to piece the puzzle together. Knowledge only one other person has. Her future self.

But when those closest to her become the next victims, Bree realizes the attacker is willing to do anything to stop her. In the past, present, or future. "

It took me almost a month to finish this one, and that is usually a very bad sign. It wasn't all bad, and I mildly enjoyed it, but I definitely could have lived without it. I found the time-travel element with all of the "Future Me" and "Past Me" references very convoluted and confusing. If some tiny thing in the past gets changed, wouldn't that have incredibly far-reaching consequences? Gordon B. Hinckley told the story of a passenger train that started out in Oakland, CA headed to Newark, NJ. When the train reached Newark, it was discovered that the baggage car wasn't there. When the officials looked for the baggage car, they found that it had made it to St. Louis correctly, but a switchman in St. Louis carelessly moved a piece of steel 3 inches and then pulled a lever to uncouple the car. A baggage car that belonged in Newark, NJ, actually ended up in New Orleans, LA, 1500 miles away, just because of 3 inches. Isn't it the same concept for time travel? Any tiny change in the past would have huge ramifications hundreds of years later. A small change would become a great gap and things would end up far differently, so I found all the visits in time to fix things very distracting. I know the author discusses the Doctrine of Inevitability, but then doesn't really seem to stick to it very well. And I do know that you have to suspend belief a little bit when reading time travel books, but this one just seemed a lot more awkward than others I have read. Maybe that is the consequence of having read it so slowly.

However, the book was fun and exciting with a snarky heroine fighting against all odds. I thought the author did a good job of building the future world - the Pentagon was fun :) . From what I understand this is a duology, so I will probably go ahead and get the second book for the library and hope the kids will not be as befuddled by it all as I was.

Areas of concern:
I don't remember any bad language, in fact the main character always substitutes the word "blark" or "blarking".
A couple of mild kisses.
Mildly intense action sequences.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+
*Mrs. Duke says, "I'm not sure why the ages are so high on this one.  It seemed like a very clean read to me".*

Monday, April 20, 2015

Always Emily

Always Emily
by Michaela MacColl
From the publisher:
"Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle—before someone else gets killed."

I am always very leary about reading books that are remakes of my favorites, or about people I love, so I started this with a little trepidation. That stayed with me for quite some time, and I was disappointed to read of the antagonism between the sisters. I always pictured the Bronte sisters like Little Women , plus a ne'er-do-well brother. I'll have to do more research on that, but this author really seemed to do her research, so I'm not going to argue that point until I learn more. Eventually, however, the characters in the book took on a life of their own and I enjoyed the rest. It was interesting to read the chapter headings and see how they applied to the story. I was a little disturbed by the description of the Free Masons, as I know they were a much respected group that a lot of our founding fathers were a part of, but the Author's Note at the end of the book cleared that up. In fact, the Author's Note was almost my favorite part of the book. What a family those Bronte's were! Each one probably deserves their own book, the Rev. Bronte most particularly. I think any book that creates a desire to read and learn more is a success.

Areas of Concern:
Scary situations several times.
A kissing scene.

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


by A.G. Howard
From the publisher:
"This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence.

Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own."

What an imaginative, beautifully told story! It wasn't perfect, but it held me enthralled through a good deal of it. The cover is gorgeous and so perfect for the story. Splintered started out so strongly that I couldn't put it down. It sang to me, it enchanted me...clear up until about the half-way point, then it sort of slowed down. The descriptions of all the different landscapes and creatures in Wonderland were necessary, but kind of confusing and distracting from the plot. I would love to see this as a movie so I didn't have to struggle so hard to imagine them in my head. I'm still not sure I completely understood what went on in Wonderland. The end picked up and was very exciting.

The plot was fascinating and full of a dream-like quality. Alyssa was a wonderful main character. She was strong and loyal, funny and loving, yet she could also make stupid decisions and be kind of annoying. I don't like my main characters to be perfect little angels, I like them to have a bit of snark. Her parents and their situation were amazingly interesting, in fact the first part and all the set-up were my favorite part of the book. I also shared Alyssa's feelings about Morpheus - I hated him - I loved him - I hated him - I loved him. Jeb I just loved. He was so sweet and protective of her. I'm a little nervous to see where the author is going to take the three of them. I also loved the plot twists. Did. Not. See. Them. Coming.

For me, the first and last lines of the book perfectly show the mystical enchantment of Splintered .

First line of the book:

 "I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers."

Last line of the book:

"I smile, then give him a kiss he’ll never forget, to replace all the ones he'll never remember."

Now, does this belong in the hands of a 6th grader? This is one of those books that I would like to have in a section that was inaccessible to the 6th graders. Unfortunately we don't have a section like that. I know some 6th graders who will read it and love it, but I don't necessarily agree with them reading it. Kind of in line the The Mortal Instruments series. However, I really liked it.

Areas of concern:
Not much bad language at all. I remember one *a* word.
A lot of violence.
Intense situations where loved ones are in grave danger.
Very intense kissing with 2 different boys/men.
Suggested Ages:
Library Media Connection - Grades 7-12
School Library Journal - Grades 8+
**Appended on April 14, 2015.  Yikes, I just read the review for the 3rd book of this trilogy and it said, "more gory than Gorey--and filled with unsettling sadism and borderline erotica".   I ordered it for the library before I read that because you can't have the first 2 books in a trilogy and not have the 3rd, but be careful about letting your middle schooler start this series! ***

Thursday, April 2, 2015


by William Ritter
From the publisher:
"“Miss Rook, I am not an occultist,” Jackaby said. “I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world’s a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain.”

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre."

It is hard not to enjoy a supernatural-hunting Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC Sherlock Holmes), which is what the main character of Jackaby reminded me of. He and his Watson (Miss Abigail Rook) make a perfect pair of detectives. Jackaby notices things that nobody else can, and Abigail notices the ordinary things. This is a charming book with excitement, great characters, humor and a tiny hint of romance. By page two I was already hooked with the writing.

"A young woman across the dock pulled her winter coat tightly around herself and ducked her chin down as the crowd of sailors passed. Her shoulders might have shaken, just a little, but she kept to her path without letting the men’s boisterous laughter keep her from her course. In her I saw myself , a fellow lost girl, headstrong and headed anywhere but home."

There are several amazing quotes, I'll put in just a few of my favorites.

“That reminds me,” he said, pausing. “There’s a jar in my office marked ‘Bail.’ If you don’t hear from me by tonight, just bring it down to the Mason Street station, would you? I’m usually in the first or second cell . There’s a good girl. See you in a bit!”

“Jackaby hesitated, and when he spoke, his answer had a soft earnestness to it. “Hatun sees a different world than you or I, a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are.”

"I excused myself to go see a duck about a dress."

I loved the story of why Jackaby had the 2 pictures next to each other on his wall. One a picture of St. George slaying the dragon, the other of Manu and the fish. And then this quote:

“This world is full of dragon-slayers. What we need are a few more people who aren't too proud to listen to a few fish.”

Just writing this review makes me want to read  Jackaby again. As you can tell, humor is interspersed with wisdom throughout the book. Make time to read this one.

Areas of concern:
A handful of the *d* and *h* words.
Very violent, bloody (or weirdly non-bloody) murders are being investigated by the main characters.
Several tension filled (and sometimes life-threatening) situations for the main character who is a teenage girl.
Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+
*That suggested age must be due to the violence, but it didn't seem all that graphic to me.  However, it is about a serial killer, so definitely not for sensitive readers.*