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Friday, August 30, 2013

Where Did You Go Mrs. Yusko?

Well, I figured it would happen at some point, but radiation treatments caught up with me these past couple of weeks. I have been getting radiation every day since the last part of July (and the treatments will continue until mid-September). Tiredness was definitely an expected side-effect (along with a few other "fun" ones), so it really wasn't a shock when I really started dragging this week. Napping has become the norm.

To top it all off, I caught the plague...or at least something that feels like the plague. It's been almost two weeks now and I'm just starting to shake it off. 


Needless to say, I just haven't been up to writing reviews. I've barely been reading. 

I'm hoping now that I've turned the corner on the plague, I will be able to get back to posting reviews here. 

Only a few more days until school starts...aaaah! How can that be possible?! I still won't be in the building until October because of my continued treatments and obviously compromised immune system, but I will keep you updated here with all things book and reading related! Stay tuned!

And, as always, if you want to keep up-to-date on how I'm doing, check out My Angry Cancer blog here. Thanks for your continued support, prayers, and good wishes!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trailer Tuesday

LOVED this picture book! So fun! And this trailer is just as cute. Got little kids in your life? Quick, go check this book out!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Series Saturday: Review: Crash (McMann)

Title: Crash
Author: McMann
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Supernatural, Family
Pages: 233
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: 7th-10th grades

We were so lucky to host this author (along with Jennifer A. Nielsen) at Evergreen this past March. You can read all about the AMAZING experience here. Since I am also a huge fan of both of these authors, I was especially excited for the event. It definitely did not disappoint.

The "Wake" trilogy is a popular series in my library, and Cryer's Cross (previously reviewed here) is also the perfect creepy tale. And this year I will be promoting her new "Unwanteds" series. Because she obviously doesn't have enough to do, this series starter was also published this year. 

From the Publisher: 
If what you see is what you get, Jules is in serious trouble. Jules lives with her family above their restaurant, which means she smells like pizza most of the time and drives their double-meatball-shaped food truck to school. It’s not a recipe for popularity, but she can handle that.
What she can’t handle is the recurring vision that haunts her. Over and over, Jules sees a careening truck hit a building and explode...and nine body bags in the snow.
The vision is everywhere—on billboards, television screens, windows—and she’s the only one who sees it. And the more she sees it, the more she sees. The vision is giving her clues, and soon Jules knows what she has to do. Because now she can see the face in one of the body bags, and it’s someone she knows. Someone she has been in love with for as long as she can remember.

As soon as I read this book, I knew just the student who would enjoy it. And I was right! I'm including her review below, but wanted to add my two cents first. This book has mystery, suspense, and romance. It is a page-turner that is hard to put it down because you desperately want to find out if Jules is able to save the day. I really liked Jules and her narration is spot on. The supporting cast is also well-defined. This is definitely an exciting series starter (there are supposed to be 4 books in this series; the 2nd book, "Bang" comes out this fall), and one that we will have on the shelves for the fall.

Jenni's review:
Loved Crash! It kind of reminded me of Romeo and Juliet- but still really original seeing as how there was resistance from Sawyer's part. I liked how different Jules is from me because as I've said before I usually subconsciously (now I'm actually aware of it though *laughs) try to identify with the protagonist of the books. I found myself cringing a lot when Jules would do something like approach Sawyer or even tell him she loves him. Yeah, this chick is way more ballsy than I ever will be. But I liked seeing how her actions played out in the end. 

Sawyer was frustrating too. The story in general was frustrating because like Romeo and Juliet I find it completely idiotic for parents and kids to allow feuds to be passed down and to live by them. I liked how Jules, although she kind of abided by that old fight, basically said, "I don't give a damn, I'm gonna try to save these people." 

The ending was satisfying because it made sense, but as all good authors do, it didn't leave me too satisfied since I felt like there is still more to be said of Jules and Sawyer's story. All in all, I can't wait for the next book to come out!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday 5

Okay, I've decided to take a break from reviews today (mainly because radiation is dragging me down and I desperately need a nap). Since I still want to give you some sort of reading suggestion for the day, I decided to make it a "Friday 5" day and include the 5 books I am currently reading. Yes, I really do have 5 books started right now (actually, probably a few more than that, but admitting to having eight or ten started at once scares me).

(1) Audible app: Abandon by Meg Cabot (the first in a series). I only skimmed this one when it first came out and now I really wanted to take some time with it. Yep, it really is as good as I thought. I'm almost done, and now fear I'm addicted to the series. 

(2) Actual book: Discovering Wes Moore. Autobiography based on his adult title "The Other Wes Moore." I purchased this for our library this summer and since it was sitting in a box in my family room, I figured I should read it before school starts. LOVE it!

(3) Kindle app: Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne. This has been the summer for me to reclaim my childhood by reading teen/tween books that remind me of my favorite books growing up. Reminiscent of "From the Mixed-Up Files..." as well as titles by Blue Balliett, with a little National Treasure thrown in. Really fun read so far.

(4) Bluefire app: Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young. Publishers are starting to do egalleys now (sad for my students since I can't share them), but I do still get to read them and don't have to pack them around with me. I can't wait to tell you all about this one. This is the one that I've been staying up late reading the past two nights.

(5) Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin. This galley (actually one that is not electronic) is always in my purse and I take it with me to radiation every day. Unfortunately, the radiation technicians are so on-time that I usually only have a minute or two to read it, which means that I am only a few chapters in. This has been getting lots of advance love and praise, so I'm hoping to finish it soon.

Those are my Friday reads...what are you reading???

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (Quick)

Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Quick
Genre: Fiction, High School, Suicide
Pages: 273
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: High school

This book hit library and store shelves this week, so I can finally share my review of it with you. I have had a copy of it for months, and I have passed it around to several high schoolers (and adult friends) this summer. Everyone returns it RAVING about it, and this book is also receiving much love and praise from librarians and reviewers alike.

I do want it noted that I was a fan of the author's teen titles LONG before most of you were falling in love with The Silver Linings Playbook. In fact, I've reviewed them here and booktalked them in my conference presentations and webinars. (Click for review: Sorta Like a Rock Star. Turns out Boy21 was only included in my presentations and not here on the blog. But I really liked'll have to trust me).

From the Publisher:
In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I'm sorry I couldn't be more than I was--that I couldn't stick around--and that what's going to happen today isn't their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock's birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather's P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart--obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school's class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

This book takes place over the course of just one day, but we learn so much about Leonard's life. And, like most of Quick's characters, that life has been marred by tragic events. Leonard finds himself on his 18th birthday feeling like there is no hope, and no options except ending all the pain. As he takes you to meet his four friends and hand them their final gifts, readers are hoping that one of these unique people will be able to recognize what is going on and help Leonard, talking him out of his mission and getting him the help that he needs. 

Leonard's narration shows humor, self-loathing, and desperation. I think that his story will resonate with teens, especially those that also find themselves stuck in a place that they don't want to be in. Interspersed throughout the narration are Leonard's footnotes to his own story, as well as fictional letters from the future (a class assignment given by Herr Silverman). Quite honestly, it took me some time to get into the flow of the book because of these things, but I think that is because my chemo brain does not do well with distractions these days. But these do enhance the story, especially the letters which offer the hope that if you can just look beyond the pain of now, it will get better.

This is not necessarily a book for everyone, and because of it's themes, it will not be in our library in the fall. But I really think this is a book that should be read, by a wide audience of teens and adults.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (Grabenstein)

Title: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
Author: Grabenstein
Genre: Fiction, Games, Libraries, Reading, Friendship, Mysteries
Pages: 291
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ages: 4th-8th grades (and fans of children's literature of any age)

If you've been keeping up here on the blog, you know that my reading the past couple of weeks have fallen into two categories: (1) books not-yet-published which I LOVE but don't want to review until you can get your hands on a copy also; or (2) books already published that I feel are "meh" and don't feel excited enough about to review. 

Finally, I have found a book that is already published AND that I liked...a lot.

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.

It only takes about 10 pages to figure out why I love this book so much. Libraries, board games, contests, riddles, library lock-ins, a continual references to many of my favorite books. This is a no-brainer for me. However, I do think that this book is definitely deserving of all of it's "starred" reviews, and will likely be on several "Top 10" lists at the end of the year.

As the main character, Kyle is a clever, likeable guy with a good sense of humor. It is obvious that he has friends. But, he's also kind of a slacker and yet super-competitive when it comes to games (is it possible to be a slacker and super-competitive? I'm not sure that even makes sense, but it is what it is). I think he is a narrator that kids can relate to, and would probably want to be friends with. I like how he leads a group of kids to band together to solve the puzzle so that they can win as a group. Teamwork is everything.

Imagine that you took "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Night at the Museum," "The Westing Game," "From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," and a host of titles by Blue Balliett and put them in a box and shook vigorously. The result would be this terrific adventure from Grabenstein. Luigi Lemoncello is very much a modern-day Willy Wonka, who is determined to pay tribute to his favorite childhood librarian. But to credit all these works that have gone before would be to do a disservice to the inventive tale that the author has given us. 

Obviously the crowd for the book is supposed to be the tween/teen group, and I already purchased a copy for my library. However, with so many references (and groan-worthy puns) to some of the best that children's literature has to offer, this is one that grown-ups will also enjoy as it will remind them of their childhood. A fun read for the whole family!

P.S. If there really is a Mr. Lemoncello out there, have I got some ideas for how we could make the Evergreen Library even better! You and I could have a lot of fun putting our ideas into action.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trailer Tuesday

Also Known As by Robin Benway was one of my top picks this summer for my middle school (but it works great for high school as well). I am a fan of Benway and really enjoy her writing style, stories, and the characters that she creates.

I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and I'm anxiously looking forward to the next book in the series. Especially after watching this author interview. If you are a fan of the Heist Society series by Ally Carter (which is INCREDIBLE), you will truly enjoy this one. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review: Ball (Sullivan)

Title: Ball
Author: Sullivan
Genre: Picture Books, Fiction, Pets, Dogs
Pages: 32
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: Preschool-2nd grades, or anyone that has a pet dog.

From the Publisher: 
A dog with a ball is one of the most relentlessly hopeful creatures on Earth. After his best little-girl pal leaves for school, this dog hits up yoga mom, baby, and even the angry cat for a quick throw. No luck. Forced to go solo, the dog begins a hilarious one-sided game of fetch until naptime's wild, ball-centric dream sequence. The pictures speak a thousand words in this comic book-style ode to canine monomania. Ball? Ball.

There are so few words in this book that a review would really have more words than the book. This is just an enjoyable look at what it's like to be a dog on a mission. Anyone who has a dog, or wants a dog, will truly appreciate the fun!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review: House Held Up By Trees (Kooser)

Title: House Held Up By Trees
Author: Kooser
Genre: Fiction, Picture Books, Family, Nature
Pages: 32
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: Kindergarten-3rd grades

This is just a beautiful book. That's about all I can say. Simply beautiful.

I think that grown ups might appreciate the sentiment behind the book more than kids, but there is something here for everyone. 

From the Publisher: 
From Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Ted Kooser and rising talent Jon Klassen comes a poignant tale of loss, change, and nature's quiet triumph.

When the house was new, not a single tree remained on its perfect lawn to give shade from the sun. The children in the house trailed the scent of wild trees to neighboring lots, where thick bushes offered up secret places to play. When the children grew up and moved away, their father, alone in the house, continued his battle against blowing seeds, plucking out sprouting trees. Until one day the father, too, moved away, and as the empty house began its decline, the trees began their approach. At once wistful and exhilarating, this lovely, lyrical story evokes the inexorable passage of time — and the awe-inspiring power of nature to lift us up.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Series Saturday: Review: Breathe (Crossan)

Title: Breathe
Author: Crossan
Genre: Fiction, Dystopian, Series, Survival, Adventure
Pages: 373
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ages: 6th-10th grades

I was completely taken in by this series starter last year and talked it up to students all the time. Fans of the dystopian genre are always looking for something new to sink their teeth into and this one is a good one!

From the Publisher: 
The world has no air. If you want to survive, you pay to breathe. But what if you can't? And what if you think everything could be different? Ever since the Switch, when the oxygen levels plummeted and most of humanity died, the survivors have been protected in glass domes full of manufactured air. Protected . . . or trapped? Or controlled? Alina's a revolutionary who believes we can save the environment. Quinn's a Premium who's never had to worry about having enough air. His best friend, Bea, is an Auxiliary who's never worried about anything but having enough air. When the three cross paths, they will change everything.

Unlike some books in the genre, this one felt "real" to it could really happen. I can see how our world would get to a place where corporations and/or governments are selling oxygen. I enjoyed that this story alternates from all three teen's perspectives in short, cliff-hanger chapters. You become invested in each character. Fans of the Team Gale/Team Peeta debate will appreciate the elements of romance in this one. But there is also something for sci-fi fans that like adventure and/or the environment. 

Summer is a terrific time to read this book as the 2nd book in the series, Resist, comes out in October. (I've already read this one...can't wait to tell you more about it).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday: Review: Bones Never Lie (MacLeod)

Title: Bones Never Lie
Author: MacLeod
Genre: Non-fiction, Anthropology, Science, Forensics, Law, Crime

Pages: 156
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ages: 5th grade and up

Don't tell anyone, but I'm not an English major. Seriously, I'm really not.

I am a SCIENCE MAJOR through and through! Therefore, I love all books science-related; and if it's historical science and/or crime related, all the better. This might explain why I am a huge fan of the TV show Bones (as well as the books that Kathy Reichs, who the character "Bones" is based on, writes). In my next life I desperately want to be Indiana Jones.

So, when I come across a non-fiction title for teens about forensic anthropology, you know it is on the top of my "to read" list.

From the Publisher:
How did King Tut really die?
The mystery of the young pharaoh's death is only one of the puzzles that modern science has helped solve. Thanks to forensics -- the scientific way of examining physical evidence -- we now know what killed Napoleon and whether Anastasia survived the massacre of the Russian royal family.
Seven intriguing stories about historical royal figures whose demise was suspicious, and hard scientific facts about crime-solving techniques make each event seem like an episode of CSI rather than a history lesson.
Kids will be fascinated to find out how scientists used autopsy results (and the waist measurement of his pants!) to prove that Napoleon died not of arsenic poisoning as suspected, but of stomach cancer; and how DNA testing revealed that King Tut died of malaria.
Other stories include:
Who was the Man in the Iron Mask?
What was the fate of Marie-Antoinette's son?
Who killed an entire Maya royal family?
Who knows what really happened to Thailand's young King Rama?
At times a gripping "whodunit," at others a guide to deductive reasoning, this book will be hard to put down for any kids who love mysteries, murder, and suspense.

There's really not much more to say. I was very excited to discover this title as I think it is a good introduction to the topic for teens. There is plenty of illustrative material, and each chapter discusses an historical "case," keeping even reluctant readers engaged. A little history, a little science, a little whodunit...perfect!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Pay it Forward (Hyde)

Title: Pay it Forward
Author: Hyde
Genre: Fiction, School, Kindness, Conduct, Family, Friends
Pages: 311
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Ages: 7th grade and up (adults, too!)

I picked this week's "Throwback" title because I was watching the movie based on this book over the weekend. And it doesn't matter how many times I watch the movie, I still love it. Probably because I have always been in love with this title.

From the Publisher: 
Catherine Ryan Hyde's international sensation, Pay It Forward, is the moving story of Trevor McKinney, a twelve-year-old boy who accepts his social studies teacher's challenge to come up with a plan to change the world.

Trevor's idea is simple: Do a good deed for three people and ask them to "pay it forward" to three others who need help. He envisions a vast movement of kindness and goodwill spreading beyond his small California town and across the world. However, when Jerry, a bum to whom Trevor gave his allowance, returns to a life of dissolution, the project seems valuable only as a lesson on the dark side of human nature. But ultimately Trevor is vindicated. At first people don't know how to explain the odd dip in crime rates across the nation, but a journalist with a story of his own tracks down the source of the epidemic of random acts of kindness and makes Trevor a celebrity. 

Yet Trevor has problems closer to home: he wants his pretty, hardworking mother to see the softer side of his beloved teacher, Reuben St. Clair, a scarred Vietnam veteran who seems to come alive only when he's in front of his class.

Anyone who has ever despaired of one person's ability to effect change will rejoice in Trevor's courage and his determination to see the good in everyone.

This book came out when my now-16-year-old was just a little guy, so it is possible that you have come across it. And the author has written many other titles since then (all of which I LOVE, BTW. Seriously, just check out every book you can find by her and you won't be disappointed). In fact, you have probably even seen this movie (starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey...and Jim Caviezel...bonus!). If not, you must rent it. No, wait! read the book first and then go rent the movie.

Did this book spark the "Pay it Forward" movement or did she simply make it popular?  I'm not sure, but I do know that this book is so powerful that it's impact has stayed with me all these years later. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: Enchanted (Kontis)

Title: Enchanted
Author: Kontis
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Princesses, Magic
Pages: 308
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: 6th grade and up

From the Publisher: 
It isn't easy being the rather overlooked and unhappy youngest sibling to sisters named for the other six days of the week. Sunday's only comfort is writing stories, although what she writes has a terrible tendency to come true. When Sunday meets an enchanted frog who asks about her stories, the two become friends. Soon that friendship deepens into something magical. One night Sunday kisses her frog goodbye and leaves, not realizing that her love has transformed him back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland—and a man Sunday's family despises. The prince returns to his castle, intent on making Sunday fall in love with him as the man he is, not the frog he was. But Sunday is not so easy to woo. How can she feel such a strange, strong attraction for this prince she barely knows? And what twisted secrets lie hidden in his past—and hers?

I'm highlighting this title today for several reasons:
(1) It's awesome!
(2) It's this week's Sync free audiobook download. Click here for details.(And it's paired with "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There" so a good week for audiobooks from Sync).
(3) It was on almost everyone's Top 10 books of 2012. (Teen books, Best books, Best audio, etc.)
(4) It's awesome!

Please do NOT do what I did and say, "Meh, girl in dress on cover...fractured fairy tale spinoff...been there, done that." I let entirely too much time go by until I finally read this book (and honestly, I cannot say ENOUGH good things about this on audio. The narrator is incredible and the production was time well spent). 

There is so much going on here. Sunday is an incredible mix of all that is great about fairy tale heroines. The world-building is outstanding, and the incorporation of traditional and "fractured" fairy tales in unique and unusual ways is so very clever. I promise, you will enjoy this!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Trailer Tuesday

I really enjoyed Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt. And that's not really surprising because I am a fan of all of the author's previous books.

Such a fun book! I give 4 out of 5 stars to it. And I think that it's great for 6th grade and up.

From the Publisher: 
When Mallory discovers that her boyfriend, Jeremy, is cheating on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off boys. She also swears off modern technology. Inspired by a list of goals her grandmother made in 1962, Mallory decides to "go vintage" and return to a simpler time (when boyfriends couldnt cheat on you "online"). She sets out to complete grandmas list: run for pep club secretary, host a dinner party, sew a homecoming dress, find a steady, do something dangerous. But the list is trickier than it looks. And obviously finding a steady is out . . . no matter how good Oliver (Jeremys cousin) smells. But with the help of her sister, shell get it done. Somehow. Lindsey Leavitt perfectly pairs heartfelt family moments, laugh-out-loud humor, and a little bit of romance in this delightful contemporary novel.

I thought this author video was a fun little segment to get you in the mood for reading the book. Enjoy!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Must Read Monday

Every year I create Summer Reading lists for all ages, Kindergarten through High School. You can find them by clicking here. Friends and family usually start asking for this list around the 1st of May, and typically I finish/publish it the first week of June. For each grade level, I try and "star" some of my absolute favorites, ones that I think either have wide appeal, are outstanding books not to be missed, or simply ones that left such a remarkable impact on me that I can't imagine not sharing them with you.

All summer long, my own friends have been asking for reading suggestions, so I thought that I would highlight the titles that I have been recommending to them. Plus, I thought it better that I highlight these titles all in one post rather than consecutive posts that all said the same things...

Must Read!
Could not put it down!
In LOVE with this book!

I was seriously worried about sounding like a broken record and/or gushing like a school girl.

It goes without saying that I always recommend "Code Name Verity" and "The Fault in our Stars" with the caveat that you can no longer be my friend if you haven't read those. However, these were books that I highlighted on last summer's lists, so you should already know that they are "Must Reads."

This summer's "you must read these if you still want to be my friend" titles include:

"The Moon & More" by Sarah Dessen. No really, I would be gushing like a school girl over this book (and every title by Ms. Dessen. Okay, let's be honest, I've been known to gush like a school girl in her presence. Don't believe me? Ask any of my library friends...there are pictures to prove it). There is just something about the way that she writes that draws you in and makes you feel so much a part of what is going on. The entire experience is so real and authentic. As one review put it best, "it's just not summer without Dessen." AMEN! What I most love about these books is that I share a love of the author with my now 24 year old niece. Oh no, "teen books" are not just for teens.

"This is What Happy Looks Like" by Jennifer E. Smith. Last summer it was the author's "The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight." This year, it is this perfect summer read. The set-up for this book draws you in, and the characters keep you reading. The sense of place is also very strong and will make you feel like you are there.

"Winger" by Andrew Smith. Wow! is about all I can say about this book. Seriously, I don't even know how to describe it. Other than to say that I couldn't put it down, and at 438 pages, that is saying something. This is not a light summer beach read, but it also feels like just the right story to read. It's reminiscent of Dead Poet's Society, but also in a league of it's own. Humor, and heart, and a story that will stay with you long after you read it. I dare you not to fall in love with Ryan Dean West by the end. (A good title for boys or girls).

"Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. I am seriously in LOVE with these characters. If you were looking for a new book to take the place of TFIOS (not that anything could), this is the book that you want. But it is so much more than just a "if you like this, read that" kind of book. I can't even describe it other than to say that my heart still feels the emotional ride I was on with this book. Unforgettable.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review: Grasshopper Magic (Jonell)

Title: Grasshopper Magic
Author: Jonell
Genre: Fiction, Magic, Siblings, Parades
Pages: 102
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Ages: 1st-3rd grades

This is a fun addition to the author's "Magical Mixups" series. I received an advance copy of the first book in the series, "Hamster Magic," years ago and it was one of my daughter's favorite books that year (I think it was 2nd grade? Maybe beginning of 3rd grade?). I was asked to review this latest book by the publisher and have included my "booktalk" below. This is a fun title, as are all the books in the series. Perfect chapter books for younger readers who are ready to tackle the next level of books. 

Abner agreed to dress up as a town historical figure and lead the annual parade. And then he realized he was going to have to give a speech. Abner is afraid of speaking in public and surely does not want to talk in front of the whole town. His little sister comes to the rescue by suggesting bravery lessons. The first task? Eat a toasted grasshopper! Actually, this doesn’t sound so bad to Abner and he ends up eating almost an entire bowl of the “snacks.” The problem? He forgot that the grasshoppers hatched from eggs underground…the ground that has magical powers. After eating all those magical bugs, Abner can suddenly hop like a giant grasshopper, all the way up to the rooftop. And then the siblings remember that someone took home a batch of the toasted grasshoppers to share with her two-year-old son. What is going to happen when a toddler starts jumping around like a grasshopper? It’s up to Abner and his brother and sisters to “hop to it” and rescue the boy before anything bad can happen.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Series Saturday: Review: Death Cloud (Lane)

Title: Death Cloud
Author: Lane
Genre: Fiction, Series, Mystery, Adventure, Classics, Murder, England

Pages: 311
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: 6th-9th grades

This series starter is a good one, especially for readers looking for a good mystery. 

From the Publisher:
It is the summer of 1868, and Sherlock Holmes is fourteen. On break from boarding school, he is staying with eccentric strangers—his uncle and aunt—in their vast house in Hampshire. When two local people die from symptoms that resemble the plague, Holmes begins to investigate what really killed them, helped by his new tutor, an American named Amyus Crowe. So begins Sherlock's true education in detection, as he discovers the dastardly crimes of a brilliantly sinister villain of exquisitely malign intent.

I love a book that imagines the teen years of a well-known fictional character (Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, etc), and this is one of the better ones I've read. It is also the first one to be endorsed by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

There is a good mystery here, and we get a glimpse at how young Sherlock gets his start. There is also quite a bit of adventure (and a little humor if you're paying attention) that will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are now 3 books in this series, with a 4th coming out in October.

And until the 7th, this audiobook is available for FREE download from Sync.  It is also paired with the classic Doyle namesake "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" so you can download one or both for free. A great deal for two terrific books!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Non-Fiction Friday: Becoming Ben Franklin (Freedman)

Title: Becoming Ben Franklin
Author: Freedman
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, History, American History
Pages: 86
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Ages: 5th grade and up

First of all, if you are a new reader of this blog, you might think that I only read and review fiction. You couldn't be more wrong. Non-Fiction is actually my favorite genre. So, why don't you see more non-fiction reviews here? Two main reasons: (1) there is (unfortunately) WAY more fiction published each year, at least for kids and teens; and (2) I tend to hold non-fiction to a MUCH higher standard because I know that it can be POWERFUL when it is done right.

Second, for anyone familiar with non-fiction authors, I don't even need to review this latest book by the MASTER of the genre, Russell Freedman. Seriously folks, go check out EVERY book he has written and you will be amazed. This latest biography of Benjamin Franklin does not disappoint.

From the Publisher:  This book follows Franklin from his childhood in Boston, where he was the son of a poor soap and candle maker with seventeen children, to his death, describing how Franklin became a self-made man who died a renowned statesman, scientist, printer, author, and inventor. An enthralling and lavishly designed biography of one of the most popular founding father's by distinguished Newbery Medal author Russell Freedman.

This title reads like a novel, and I found myself remarking about things I was learning for the first time about one of our nation's founding fathers. Freedman brings 17 year old Franklin to life in a way that draws readers in. All of the major stages in Franklin's life are illuminated using anecdotes, quotes, and well-chosen illustrative materials. I think that this will definitely appeal to the middle school crowd. Older fans of American History should also put this on their "to read" list, as well as any classroom teacher where the topic is studied. This is a terrific example of using primary sources to bring a person to life in the most engaging way.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Review: Notes From The Midnight Driver (Sonnenblick)

Title: Notes From the Midnight Driver
Author: Sonnenblick
Genre: Fiction, Music, High School, Getting in Trouble, Coming of Age

Pages: 265
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: High School

Okay, it should not be a surprise to readers of this blog that I am a big fan of this author. Much like "if you build it, he will come," if he writes it, I will read it. For this Throwback Thursday, I thought that I would review one of the author's first titles (because I don't want to review his upcoming novel until closer to when it's published).

From the Publisher: 
“Alex Peter Gregory, you are a moron!” Laurie slammed her palms down on my desk and stomped her foot. I get a lot of that. One car crash. One measly little car crash. And suddenly, I’m some kind of convicted felon. My parents are getting divorced, my dad is shacking up with my third-grade teacher. I might be in love with a girl who could kill me with one finger, and now I’m sentenced to baby-sit some insane old guy.What else could possibly go wrong? This is the story of Alex Gregory, his guitar, his best gal pal Laurie, and the friendship of a lifetime that he never would have expected.

When this book was published in 2006, it received many starred reviews and it is easy to see why. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love Alex Gregory. (He reminds me a little of my own teenage Alex). He is the perfect narrator and has a terrific sense of humor, which borders on witty sarcasm, my favorite kind. But he also seems like a typical teen with actual problems and emotions, who makes decisions that seem like a good idea to his teen brain at the time, but don't always turn out in his favor. His actions feel authentic, and readers root for him to figure it all out in the end. 

What puts this book over the top is that the supporting cast is just as strong. Sonnenblick has created memorable characters who contribute to the story and keep readers engaged.

Alex's tale of transformation and redemption is one that will definitely resonate with teen readers, male and female alike. I believe that this is a must read book for the high school crowd. 

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