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, May 28, 2015

The Burning Sky

The Burning Sky
by Sherry Thomas
From the publisher:
"It all began with a ruined elixir and a bolt of lightning.

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.

Guided by his mother's visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life.

The Burning Sky—the first book in the Elemental Trilogy—is an electrifying and unforgettable novel of intrigue and adventure."

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this book. Some parts felt very slow, but then there were also very exciting parts. I didn't feel like I had any kind of a relationship with the characters for quite some time, but I ended up really liking them. So, while I didn't get sucked into this, or couldn't put it down, I did quite like it. And I think I will actually read the next book in the series before I forget what happened. 

Will middle school students like it? Two of my biggest readers had very differing views on it. A 7th grader is quite obsessed by them, but a 6th grader returned it unfinished because she couldn't get into it. I think if they stick with it they will really like it. There are some really cool plot devices, like a book that the characters can actually go into and learn how to use and control their magic by being thrust into fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty. There is the She's the Man vibe that is very fun - having a girl dressing as a boy and attending a boy's school. There are cool magical creatures and awesome, powerful magic that is used. There is a handsome prince, a powerful girl who doesn't even know her power, and an evil villain. There is a love/hate/love relationship that is a sweet romance. All these things add up to greatness, so why didn't I want to hug this book when I finished? I'm really not that sure. But read it for yourself, because it may add up to greatness for you.

Areas of concern:
The main character uses a word that I'm assuming is a cuss word for her world, but isn't one for us.
There are some "wand" jokes and innuendos.
Since the main character is dressed up as a boy and has a very close relationship with the handsome prince, some bullies at the school refer to her as "Bumboy". 
Some mild kissing.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 8-11
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 12+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Wish Girl

Wish Girl
by Nikki Loftin
From the publisher:
"A dying girl gives a boy the strength to live in this lyrical novel that will break your heart and lift your spirit 

Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name. When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think.

There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl; she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.

Annie and Peter hatch a plan to escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. And sometimes wishes come true in ways they would never expect.

This book has some wonderful moments. I really liked both of the main characters - they are what is best in this story. They have a lot of conflict, pain and heartbreak to deal with. I enjoyed the time they spent together and the relationship they had. However, I didn't care for any of the secondary characters. I wanted to punch Peter's family and arrest the bullies, so I felt like the ending was either very unrealistic, or a lot was left unresolved. What happens when school starts in the fall? Won't Peter and the bullies be going to the same school? 
Anyway, I do think this one would make a good read-aloud or book group book because it deals with some issues that could lead to important discussions. Terminal illness, bullying, dysfunctional families, running away, suicidal thoughts... 
Bottom line - I liked it but I didn't love it.

Areas of concern:
The above mentioned issues.

Suggested Ages:
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 4-7

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


by Anne Eliot
From the publisher:
"At a freshman party she doesn't remember, Jess Jordan was almost raped.

...Almost. Very nearly. Not quite. Three years later, Jess has managed to make everyone believe she's better. Over it. Because she is.

...Almost. Very nearly. Not quite.

Unfortunately, until Jess proves she's back to normal activities, her parents won't discuss college. So, she lands a summer internship and strikes a deal with hockey jock, Gray Porter: He gets $8,000. She gets a fake boyfriend and a social life.

Jess has no idea Gray signed on for reasons other than money. She also never expects to fall in love. But Gray’s amazingly hot, holds her hand all the time, and makes her forget that he’s simply doing his job. It’s like having a real boyfriend.

...Almost. Very nearly. Not quite.

Gray Porter is hiding secrets of his own. About Jess Jordan. About why he’s driven to protect her, why he won't cash her checks, or deny her anything she asks.

I think this could be a powerful book for some teenagers, perhaps those who love reading things like A Child Called "It". Would I have let my daughters read this in middle school? Emphatically no. 
Despite the plot of an "almost" rape, in some ways the book seemed almost immature. However, talk of the love interest having too much blood flow to certain parts of his anatomy definitely put it into the mature category for me, along with the memories of the "almost" rape. Add to that the bad language on almost every page of the book (profanity, cussing, vulgarities), and I would be very careful about letting your tweens to early teens read it. It does touch on some important issues, and that is why I think it could be powerful for the right reader. As far as the plot and characters go, there were some plot points and characters I really enjoyed, and some that drove me crazy. I don't think teenagers will care that much about the deficiencies, though. So, although I don't recommend this book to all readers, I think there are some that would really like it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Fill-In Boyfriend

The Fill-In Boyfriend
by Kasie West
From the publisher:
"When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend— two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party — three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship."

Well, I can't rate this one as highly as I rated the author's other books, but I still enjoyed it. I will read anything Kasie West writes because she is an amazing storyteller. It doesn't matter if I didn't love the main character, or if I felt the Mean Girls vibe through the whole book, it still had me hooked from page 1 and kept me reading and interested. And it also made me a little introspective. How much validation do need from social media? I think we could all sit back and ponder on that. So, if a book keeps me very interested and makes me think, I'd say that is a book I would recommend. I liked it, I didn't love it.

As with all Kasie West books, it was very clean (I loved the sober grad night!). However, here are some things that might be of some concern to parents:
A lot of lying goes on in this book. However, there are repercussions and consequences that the liar has to face and try to make good on.
There is a dysfunctional family masked as a perfect family, and reasons are never really fleshed out.
Mean girls.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 8-11
School Library Journal - Grades 7+

Friday, May 8, 2015

Red Queen

Red Queen
by Victoria Aveyard
From the publisher:
"The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?"

Whew, what a roller coaster of an ending! I am completely mentally exhausted. This was an awesome book. I have read several reviews that have been critical because it was too similar to another book called Red Rising . I have never read that book, but I was reading Snow Like Ashes at the same time as I was reading The Red Queen , and there were definite similarities there. However, I really liked them both. This one had flavors of a bunch of different books, including Steelheart , but why does that matter? I read somewhere that every romance book ever written is somehow a knock-off of a Jane Austen book because she covered every plot device possible in a romance. And, quite frankly, I'm one that likes to stick to what I like anyway. So if you enjoy a good fantasy/dystopian/superpowers/light romance, who cares if it is similar to another book? 

Things I liked:
*Romance was there, but it wasn't like other YA books where the couple become so involved with each other that they don't care that the world is ending, or whatever. This romance takes a back seat to the drama of the world they are living in and the causes they are fighting for. 
*The heroine is very conflicted about the violence of the revolution she is fighting for. She believes in the cause, but isn't fanatical about it and realizes the cost. The people who are dying on both sides are sons, daughters, fathers and mothers. 
*Loved the superpowers! These people aren't just ninjas or good warriors, they can summon fire, water, control metal, control minds, freeze things (even the blood inside of someone's body)... How do you defeat that? 
*The world building was fabulous. Glass/diamond walls? Bowl of Bones? A city built all on stilts? A sort of secret, homemade subway system? I could go on and on, it was fascinating. Is there going to be a movie? I need one!
*The twists! Oh my goodness, the twists!

I definitely recommend this one, with the following concerns:

Areas of concern:
As with all dystopians, there is quite a bit of violence. 
Disturbing torture.
Disturbing deaths and murders.
There was a handful of cuss words.
A few mild kisses.

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 13+
School Library Journal - Grades 9+
*Mrs. Duke thinks that the violence in this book isn't any worse than The Hunger Games, so if your child has read that, this one should be okay.*

Thursday, May 7, 2015

In The After

In The After
by Demitria Lunetta
From the publisher:
"They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you've ever seen.
And They won't stop chasing you...until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.

Rebellious, courageous, and tender, this unforgettable duo will have you on the edge of your seat as you tear through the pulse-pounding narrow escapes and horrifying twists of fate in this thrilling debut from author Demitria Lunetta."

Let me start by saying that I don't usually like alien invasion/zombie infestation books.  I could name off several that other people loved and I did not:  The 5th WaveThe Forest of Hands and Teeth, Ashes, and so on.  So it came as a great surprise to me that I really liked this book. Maybe it was because I never felt completely hopeless.  In all of the others, I lost all hope for the puny humans and knew that however the books were resolved (I never finished the series), it would be completely unrealistic.  Okay, I realize there is nothing realistic about any alien invasion/zombie apocalypse book, but somehow In the After made it feel possible. 

The book is divided into 2, possibly 3 parts.  There is explanation of the character's life in The Before (a very short part in the beginning and then told through flashbacks and memories), then there is her survival and finding of Baby in The After, and then comes the part in New Hope.  I found all three parts fascinating.  Amy is a heroine to root for, she is smart, sassy, loyal and just keeps on ticking no matter the horrors that keep coming at her.  I loved Baby and the silent, yet completely dependant and trusting relationship they formed.  At times while reading this, I would become very aware of the noise I was making while walking through the house or doing dishes or whatever.  How hard would it be to live in complete silence?  I found it interesting how the author portrayed that through Amy and Baby's interaction with Amber. 
New Hope was intriguing, and I for one didn't see what was coming (although several other reviewers said they did).  This was an exciting, fast, and breathtaking read.  I was invested in the characters and cared about what happened to them.  I understand this is just a duology, so we should get questions answered and have resolution after just one more book.

Areas of concern:
Very few cuss words.
Attempted rape.
Disgusting and violent alien/zombie creatures.
Evil dictator.

Suggested Ages:
Booklist - Grades 7-12
Kirkus Reviews - Ages 13+

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #1)

The Mysterious Howling
by Maryrose Wood
From the publisher:
"Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?"

The 5th book of this series just came out, and I finally got around to reading the first one.  I really enjoyed it; it is smart, funny, engaging and quirky.  With a lexile level of 1000 and an AR level of 6.8, this is a great book for those middle grade students who need a higher reading level without some of the YA content.  It contains many pearls of wisdom from the inimitable Agatha Swanburne, not to mention our young governess-heroine Penelope.  There are quotes from literature, and even some Latin phrases thrown in for good measure.   With that being said, you might assume this is one of those books that adults love but middle graders don't like.  However, I have several students who love this series.  This would be a good family read-aloud, or a road trip book.  I understand the narrarator is fabulous on the audiobook.  There are a lot of mysteries left unexplained, so be ready to start the next one quickly.  

Areas of concern:
Children appear to be in mortal danger

Suggested Ages:
Publisher's Weekly - Ages 8-12
School Library Journal - Grades 5-8
*Mrs. Duke thinks that older middle grade and upper grade will appreciate and understand the book more than elementary students.  It would be sad to miss a lot of the funny parts because you were too young to understand or catch them.*