Thursday, March 31, 2016


Dawn of SpiesLane, Andrew. Dawn of Spies (A Crusoe Adventure)
March 29th 2016 by Adaptive Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Robinson Crusoe, who was shipwrecked at the tender age of 12, has been through a lot in his life. Luckily, he met Friday on his island, where SHE was trying to escape her evil pirate father, Red Tiberius. When the two are rescued and brought to London, they think it will be easy to survive, compared to what they have been through. Instead, the money they are given is stolen from them, and their prospects look bleak. Luckily, they meet Daniel Dafoe, who offers them money in exchange for their story. They are reluctant to tell it, deciding instead to try their luck at getting jobs on the dock and in a nearby pub. Since Friday is exotically dark, this is somewhat of a problem, so the two investigate Dafoe further. They find him living in strange quarters, surrounded by suspicious men who wear rings similar to the one Robin's father wore. It turns out that they are members of a secret government agency, Segment W. They look for threats to the king, and there turn out to be many of them. When the Countess of Litchfield is kidnapped by men who swoop down in a balloon, Robin and Friday know they are in for a penny as well as a pound. Soon, they are rubbing shoulders with Sir Isaac Newton and other luminaries of the time, and are plunged into one dangerous situation after another. When they are separated, the two realize that they have been great friends for many years, but may somehow mean more to each other than they imagine. When one adventure ends, we know that another will soon begin, because Red Tiberius is determined to find his daughter and make her part of the Circle of Thirteen. 
Strengths: Lane can write a page turner like nobody else! I'll still waiting for book 6 and 7 of his Sherlock series to be out. That series has a fair number of readers, since many students know a bit about Holmes, and there are some connections to US history made in the books. I apparently love this period of British history more than I am willing to admit to myself-- thanks to Elizabeth Kyle's Princess of Orange, I have the background necessary to understand some of the political situations, as well as life during this time. 
Weaknesses: My students don't have this background, and as action packed and interesting as this book is, I think they will struggle with many of the details. 
What I really think: This is a book that I wish my students would read, but which they probably won't. Too much history, too much prior knowledge of British history needed. 

23719387Bunting, Eve. Forbidden
December 1st 2015 by Clarion Books

In the early 1800s, Josie's parents both pass away after contracting influenza, and since she is only 16, she is sent from London to the windswept coast of Scotland to live with her uncle and aunt for two years. Her uncle is no longer an apothecary in town, but has moved out to a creepy house with his new wife and their vicious dog, Lamb. After being attacked by Lamb, Josie is trying to wash the wound with salt water when Eli comes upon her. Horrified that he might have seen her foot, she is even more distressed when he looks at the wound and demands to take her to see his grandmother, who is a healer. The grandmother helps, but warns Josie away from Eli. Something else odd is going on in the community of Brindle Point, and Josie soon uncovers creepy secrets about both her uncle's doings and Eli's involvement in them. 

Strengths: Returning to the style of The Presence, Bunting pens an effectively creepy, Gothic romance in the tradition of Phyllis Whitney and Mary Stewart. Creepy house, windswept shore full of danger, surprising twists-- this has it all. I love creepy old houses and historical settings, so I enjoyed this tremendously. 
Weaknesses: I just weeded The Presence because it hadn't been checked out in five years, and because the copy was really worn out, which might have attributed to it's staying on the shelf. The paranormal romances that my students favor now tend to be more modern, and have more action and fewer creepy houses. 
What I really think: Eve Bunting is 88 years old. She can write whatever she wants! 

26393353Warner, Penny. The Hunt for the Missing Spy (The Code Busters Club Case #5) 
January 1st 2016 by Darby Creek Publishing 
E ARC from Netgalley

The Code Busters club goes on a school trip to Washington, D.C. where they visit the Spy Museum and then take off on a scavenger hunt. The winner will get to meet an actual spy. The group is doing well on the clues until classmate Matt goes missing. They feel guilty, because they have suspected that they are being followed. Their teacher gives them reluctant permission to try to find Matt on their own, in the company of a parent chaperone. Of course, she soon breaks a leg, and the children find Matt on their own. He has been up to exactly what they thought he was up to, and is threatened with being sent home, but is kept on the trip because the teacher feels he will learn more that way. 
Strengths: This had lots and lots of different codes. I imagine there is a phase when children are really into codes, but it's not middle school. I did like how the details of the D.C. trip were realistic, although I'm pretty sure we would have put Matt on that plane back home without blinking.  
Weaknesses: Too much code, not enough story. 
What I really think: I'm still looking for mysteries with just the right balance of things; for some reason, Lewman's CSI Club mysteries have been really, really, popular, so I'll buy the rest of that series, but think I will pass on this one.   

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

#WNDB Wednesday- Allie, First at Last

Cervantes, Angela. Allie, First and Last
March 29th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Allie has a high-powered brother and sisters--Ava does local commercials, Aidan is a star soccer player, and Adriana wins debates and has set up a tutoring program in their community. Even Allie's Bisabuelo (great-grandfather) is a decorated WWII veteran who is still going strong at 91. Allie has never done anything "first", and when the oppotunity arises to be the first winner of a contest from Sendak Elementary School, Allie decides to do a photo essay about her great-grandfather. Fifth grade has been a tough year for her, since her best friend Sara has abandoned her and hangs out with Hayley, who suffers from "lip gloss poisoning"! (I loved this description of what was "wrong" with Hayley!) Not only that, but Sara has won the science fair competition that Allie was determined to win and is composing a song about Allie's great-grandfather. 

Allie is fortunate that her parents are on her side and supportive, as is her older sister. She also makes a new friend in Victor, who is new to her school. Victor is a fascinating character-- I loved that Allie assumed that he was being tutored when in fact he was one of the tutors. Victor has ambitions just like Allie does, since his parents never got further than the 6th grade. He is trying very hard to get a scholarship to Bishop Creek Middle School so that he can do well academically, and Allie hopes that he can go there with her. 

Like Hurwitz's Calli Be Gold, Allie, First and Last is an engaging story about how much school, and doing well in school, can mean to some students. 

My only problem with this book was that I thought it might be a sequel to Gaby, Lost and Found, because it talked about a project that Allie did with an animal shelter. Still not entirely sure, but don't think it is! The covers were so similar, with the cats, that I guess I just wanted it to be!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Fantasy of All Kinds

22730720Northrop, Michael. The Final Kingdom (Tombquest #5)
March 29th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Alex wakes up in a jail, being watched over by the evil minions of the Order. Since he has just found his mother, he wants to make sure she's okay. Luckily, Ren is nearby and manages to break out of her cell. The two also find Luke and decide he is now trustworthy, so let him out. Once they have Dr. Todtman and Dr. Bauer, they have to find a way out of their prison tomb, especially when they come across Alex's father, who is now a Death Walker and who plans to use his army of the undead to attack New York. Clearly, the kids need to get the book of Lost Spells back from the Order, but that won't be easy, especially since armies of mummies keep popping up at the most inconvenient moments. Using their power as amulet keepers, Alex and Ren manage to get the book, but they still have to travel to the Metropolitan Museum in order to finally put the Order to rest... and not everyone in their group will survive. 

Strengths: Egyptian mythology, running around Cairo, lots of action, fun characters, tweens saving the world-- this has everything a perfect middle grade fantasy book needs. It even has great sound effects during the many fights: "Fuhhh-SHOOOOP!" is one of my favorites, and there was an especially brilliant one for the sound of glass breaking that I forgot to bookmark. Northrop does an excellent job on whatever he writes, so while I enjoyed this series, I'm excited to see what he comes up with next!

Twenty years ago, this would have been published as an 800 page young adult book, and only the most dedicated readers would have picked it up. Part of me would prefer that, but the packaging is rather brilliant. Middle grade stories under 200 pages do best, and these are available in inexpensive paper-over-board bindings that beg to be picked up at the grocery store or at a book fair for a gift for Groundhog's Day for an avid tween reader. The publishing schedule is also brilliant, with all of the books coming out within a year.

Weaknesses: Paper over boards. My biggest pet peeve. I tried taping some, but the tape peels at the edges and gets weird. There's just no way to keep these in good shape, which irritates me. If it's Wimpy Kid, it doesn't bother me, but when it's a series I would like to see have some longevity, I'm irked. 

What I really think: Buying and keeping until the series is a pile of dust on the shelves.

Book of the Dead
Amulet Keepers
Valley of the Kings
Stone Warriors 

10790018Schroeder, Lisa. The Girl in the Tower
March 29th 2016 by Henry Holt
E ARC from

I am REALLY conflicted about this book. I adore Schroeder's work, both her MG and YA stuff, but I was seriously creeped out by this. It seems like a book aimed at the 3-6 grade princess book readers, but I'm not sure what the message is supposed to be. Definitely take a look at this-- it's intriguing-- before purchasing. 

Violet and her mother have been separated from Violet's minstrel father by the evil queen Bogdana. Bogdana just wants to be beautiful, and to fulfill a prophecy, she is keeping Violet until she is old enough to contribute a hair to a spell to make Bogdana beautiful. Violet's mother tries to make her time in captivity as amusing as possible, and is helped by the servants, Maggie and George, who make a special garden for Violet to spend time in so she gets fresh air and sunshine. Eventually, Bogdana finds out all of their secrets and makes her move-- she gives Violet a choice: leave her mother and be adopted as princess, and her mother will go free, or the two will spend their days in the dungeon. Violet makes the difficult decision, trying her best to get messages to her mother. In the end, things end happily for everyone but Bogdana, who turns out to have cast a large variety of evil spells in order to get her way. Luckily, she doesn't. 

On the bright side, this ends happily, and Violet is surrounded by a community of people who care about her. All of Schroeder's books are well written, and this has a very classic, fairy tale like feel to it. There was just something about it that made me uncomfortable. As I said, take a look at this one and decide for yourself!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Great interview with Beverly Cleary!

That's it. Need to start making plans for 12 April!

Interestingly, Ms. Cleary looks a lot like my mother!

#MMGM- Mahtab Narsimhan

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Narsimhan, Mahtab. Mission Mumbai
March 29th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dylan is thrilled to be in India with his best friend Rohit for a family wedding. He can take pictures and maybe come up with a winner for a photography contest, Mumbai is full of adventure and excitement, and the food is fantastic! Rohit is less than thrilled. He's been happy living in New York City and isn't enjoying being back in the filth of the city, nor does he like being with his relatives. His aunt, especially, is being demanding and pushy, telling his mother that Rohit will have to move back to India because she doesn't want to continue to pay for his school. Dylan thinks that if Rohit were more polite, his aunt would agree to fund his studies, but Rohit thinks that the ruder he is, the more his aunt will want him to stay in the US! As his cousin's wedding approaches, the family tensions increase, and Rohit's family decides to travel to Deolali to get an apartment the own their ready to sell. Dylan thinks this is an opportunity for more adventures, and he's right. Sometimes, however, adventures can be more dangerous than exciting. 

Rohit and Dylan's friendship is based on their shared love of fantasy books, especially The Lord of the Rings. They are at odds during this trip, since Rohit had hoped he could stay in NYC with Dylan's family. While Rohit's family problems are clearly visible to Dylan, he doesn't know that Dylan's parents are about to divorce. The boys' interchanges are very true to life, and it's refreshing to see a story with such a firm friendship, despite the difficulties the boys encounter. 

The best part of this book was the descriptions of Mumbai... and of food! I am so hungry for Indian food right now because of all the detailed discussion of samomas, jelabis and all manner of dinners, snacks and drinks. I found myself getting distracted looking up pictures of Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach! When I first picked up the book, I was disappointed that it was told from Dylan's point of view, but by the end I decided that seeing Mumbai through his unfamiliar eyes was the way to get the most vivid descriptions. 

There are so many excellent authors from the Indian sub, so readers who enjoy Varsha Bajaj, Narinder DhamiKavita Daswani, Uma Krishnaswami, Kashmira Sheth, N.H. Senzai,  Padma Venkatraman,  or even Chadda Sarwat's fantasy books will enjoy this trip to a bustling and hectic city with two friends who each have their difficulties to overcome. 

12308124Narsimhan, Mahtab. The Tiffin
 2011 by Dancing Cat Books
Digital Copy through Overdrive Media

Kunal was abandoned by his mother as a baby, and has lived and worked with the Seths, who run a restaurant. They are not particularly nice to him, and the customers also given him grief. He finds friendship with a dabbawalla (delivery man) who brings tiffins to the restaurant to be filled up before being delivered to office buildings. Vinayak has his own reasons for befriending Kunal, and after Kunal is beaten and runs away, he opens up his modest home to him. Kunal thinks that working as a dabbawalla would be much more interesting than the work he has been doing, especially once he comes up with the idea of finding his birth mother, who worked in the financial district, by putting notes in tiffins asking her to contact him. Being a dabbawalla is harder than Kunal thinks, and he runs into many problems and dangers along the way. In the end, he realizes that sometimes the family you need is already in place. 

Strengths: This was extremely interesting, and a fast paced, informative read. Narsimhan writing has a lot of dramatic tension with the fights and dangers that Kunal can't seem to avoid. I learned a lot about a topic which was completely unfamiliar to me!

Weaknesses: This might be hard for readers who haven't read as much fiction set in India as I have to understand. 

What I really think: I would love to see this edited slightly to explain some of the unfamiliar aspects to North American audiences. 

26154225Frith, Nicholas John. Hector and the Hummingbird
March 29th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Hector the bear and his constant companion Hummingbird investigate the wilds of Peru, eating breadfruit and scratching themselves on trees. Hummingbird, however, is a bit too high energy for Hector, and eventually wears on Hector's nerves. Hector tells Hummingbird to leave him alone, which Hummingbird does... mostly. He follows Hector as he goes through his day in peace and quiet, but never makes his presence known. Hector eventually gets lonely, but since Hummingbird has never been two far away, the two have a cheerful reunion. Hector tries to explain his need for quiet to his friend, and the two work out a way for them to be together but not drive wash other crazy. 

The illustrations are the very best part of this book. The colors are reminiscent of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, and something about the retro 1950s font and the colors just really made me happy. Hummingbird appears several times on each page, flitting about and driving Hector up a tree! The style is very original and singular, but Frith clearly has studied mid century illustrations and internalized the best features of it. 

The story has a good message about giving people space, and I can't think of many other picture books that have that message, although there should be a lot! While it's good that Hummingbird eventually learns his lesson, my own personal children would probably have taken this as a prescription to follow me around but be really quiet about it! There is a list at the back of the book of different jungle animals that can be found on the pages, and that adds another level to an already interesting story. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What You Always Wanted

23006006Rae, Kristin. What You Always Wanted.
March 29th 2016 by Bloomsbury
E ARC from

When Maddie's family moves into a small and decrepit house because they are having financial difficulties, Maddie hopes that she can make friends in her new high school, and possibly get a part in a school drama production. She gets an answer to both wishes when she meets neighbor Angela, whose mother is the drama coach... and whose brother, Jesse, is awfully cute. Maddie is very talented, but manages to make the current diva, Rica, angry. Rica sabotages Maddie's audition by telling her to take a double does of allergy medicine, but Maddie bears her shame with good grace, especially when she gets an even better part in a community production. She manages to make friends, get involved in school, and have several boys interested in her. She's a huge fan of tap dancer Gene Kelly, and is secretly looking for a boy who can measure up. When she realizes that Jesse is a very talented tap dancer who quit because his father considered dancing beneath Jesse's athletic capabilities, she is instantly smitten. Will he feel the same way?

Oh, wait. Of the BOOK? Okay. This is a great, clean romance. I adore, adore, adore this series and their age-appropriate swoony crushes that have small problems but work out in the end. The fact that Gene Kelly is mentioned frequently... how gorgeous was he?

Weaknesses: Gene Kelly died (2 Februrary 1996) before any of the teenagers who read this were born. It was kind of weird when I was very interested in his work in high school. I don't have any students who are well versed in classic movies. Also, I worried about Maddie's career path, because one of my daughter's friends was a talented Thespian... who is now working at a Panera Bread in L.A. 

What I really think: Will definitely buy a copy. Maybe my readers will look up Kelly on You Tube. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

All the picture books!

The bionic foot installation went fairly well, but recovery is not making me happy. It's tough to go from walking 10 miles a day to walking less than a mile. I haven't been reading as much, either, but did work my way through some awesome picture books from Young Adult Books Central. 

26031372Pourquie, Bernadette and Gambini, Cecile. Strange Trees and the Stories Behind Them. 
April 5th 2016 by Princeton Architectural Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This picture book, with it's lavishly illustrated two-page spreads, highlights over a dozen unusual trees from around the world. Each tree "tells" fanciful but true information about itself: where it grows, what is unusual about it, and where in the world it is located. Various uses that are made of the trees and their products are mentioned as well, giving some insight into the communities of which they are a part. 

While many of the trees are indigenous to other parts of the world, the Gingko tree is mentioned, and it was interesting to learn things about this resident of my neighborhood! This is one of those picture books that I really rather want to disassemble and turn into a bulletin board because the pictures are so lovely. The information about the trees is from the tree's own view point, and I can see this being a great read aloud in a classroom, setting the stage for more information about trees. 

Do have my concerns about the depiction of a Native American with the Giant Sequoia-- I'm not sure the headdress and tomahawk are culturally correct.

1275397Mak, Kam. My Chinatown
January 5th 2016 by HarperCollins (First Published 2001)
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

A young boy adjusts to life in America, comparing the sorts of activities he did in his native Hong Kong with the new sights and sounds of his Chinatown neighborhood. Some of the things are familiar, like the kumquats, but different enough to make him think of how things were back home. The story is told in poems, so we don't get all of the details, but the emotional links are very vivid. As the year progresses, the boy learns to appreciate the things about his new situation that make him happy. 

The descriptions of life in Chinatown are very vivid; the author mentions not only the sights and sounds, but the smells of "hot oil, chicken sizzling". The accompanying pictures also have a lot of detail in them, and this would be a good book to use to introduce Chinese culture in the US before reading a chapter book like In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson or to introduce some of the holidays that are mentioned in the book. 

This is also an interesting study of how difficult it is to be new to a country, and I loved how the author made connections between the new environment and "back home". This is a good way for children who have moved to make sense of their new home. 

This book seems dated, even though it is only 15 years old. Styles change. 

Pearson, Peter and Catusanu, Mircea. How to Eat an Airplane (The Bad Idea Book Club #1)
May 24th 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Children host a party where they both ride on and eat a jet while brushing up on their party etiquette and table manners. Inspired by a person who managed to eat an entire small plane during the course of two years, this book offers a wing-in-cheek look at how one might go about replicating this process. Of course, when setting the table for a eating a jet, forklifts are more important than forks, although goblets are perfect for jet fuel. Interspersed between tidbits of information about planes (the breaks take 45 minutes to cook down) are tips on being a polite party guest. (Tell jokes, make late guests comfortable.) The end of the book lists a lot of interesting facts about airplanes. 

The pictures in this book are fresh and colorful, and very detailed, with some cut-and-paste effect on some of the equipment. The final panel, where the children are having an ice cream truck for dessert, shows the truck disassembled and children in a variety of bright clothing consuming various portions of the equipment. 

This was reminiscent of a favorite from my children's past-- Betsy Everitt's 1994 TV Dinner, where "Daisy Lee ate the t.v.", and also put me in mind of Marjorie Priceman's How to Make an Apple Pie and see the World, from the same year. While children will hopefully know NOT to actually eat an airplane, there is a disclaimer about how difficult it would be. Children love goofy books, and I'm curious to see what other "bad ideas" are offered up for this book club! I think that "How to Fold the Sun" could be very interesting!

This one bothered me a bit-- instructing children to eat bowls of motor oil or drink glasses of jet fuel seemed a bit much. I thought I was overreacting, but my daughter, the Daisy Lee fan, was downright appalled at this. Just didn't go with our sense of humor. 


Sauer, Tammi and Rozelaar, Angie. I Love Cake!: Starring

Rabbit, Porcupine, and Moose 

May 3rd 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Best friends Rabbit, Porcupine and Moose have great fun frolicking about Sweet Valley Woods. When Rabbit's birthday rolls around, she invites her friends to a party. They have a lot of fun playing games, but when it comes time for the cake, they find it is gone. Moose has been acting suspiciously, and after initially denying having eaten the cake, confesses to doing so. He feels bad, and Rabbit and Porcupine are angry with him. He goes home to think about what he has done, and decides to bake another cake to share with his friends. They forgive him, and everyone enjoys the cake. 

Like a modern day Frog and Toad, I Love Cake teaches a gentle lesson about being tempted to do the wrong thing, and how to make things right if you have. In typical three-year-old fashion, Moose denies having eaten the cake even though he is covered in crumbs and lets out a huge, cake scented burp. This reminded me of Ainslie Pryor's 1989 Baby Blue Cat and the Whole Batch of Cookies-- Baby Blue Cat and Moose would get along really well, although there would always be a critical shortage of baked goods!

The illustrations are exuberant and full of motion. The bright colors add to the happy atmosphere of friends playing together, and I liked how each of them got to say something on almost every page. This would be a great feature to have a child in charge of reading. What does Moose say on this page? What does Rabbit say? The story also makes a great springboard for discussion about how important it is to wait for things and to share them with friends. 

Somehow, Moose's personality alarmed me a little. Was he really sorry about eating the cake, or was he just sorry his friends got mad? 

27159416DeDonato, Rick and Bishop, Tracy. Pipsie, Nature Detective: The Lunchnapper
April 12th 2016 by Two Lions
Copy Provided by Young Adult Books Central

Pipsie goes on a nature hike with her school, and each group is given a list of seven things they are supposed to find, including something crawling, flying, and swimming. Armed with notebooks and cameras, the groups take off. Pipsie is partnered with Alfred, her talking turtle, and the other students make fun of her because turtles are slow. Alfred, however, has a scooter and is able to find many things on the list. He's also very hungry, but someone has stolen Pipsie and Alfred's lunch. Can they find all of the scavenger hunt items AND the lunch stealing culprit before Alfred starves? 

Pipsie and Alfred have a good journey into the woods and find lots of good details about nature. They pick up on lots of nature clues-- they find a bird by listening to it pecking on a tree, find a porcupine quill but state that the animal is nocturnal so can't be the thief, and approach both of their tasks with methodical precision. The drama with the other classmates will make this book interesting even for somewhat older students, and readers who are fans of Dora the Explorer or Judy Moody and Stink will find Pipsie and her outdoor adventure interesting. 

The illustrations include a lot of details on every page, and are rendered in a pleasant, pastel chalk fashion. There are "fun facts" listed at the end of the book, with information about various animals, as well as a chart of "Woodland Tracks".

I wish that Alfred Z. Turtle were not involved, and was a little disappointed that Pipsie's hiking outfit was pink and purple. Sigh. Is this 1984?

Cartoon Saturday- Geronimo Stilton: Attack of the Dragons

26154246Stilton, Geronimo. Attack of the Dragons
March 29th 2016 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this new series, we find Geronimo in an ancient Norse-type setting among the micekings. When the cook in the village is laid low with a bad cold, Geronimo sets off to find the wild mint that will cure her, so that she can continue to make her delicious stew. Also, once he has completed a quest, he can win his mouseking helmet. The journey is fraught with peril, from mouse eating dragons to perilous weather. Thanks to the help from his friend and sister, Trap and Thea, Geronimo is able to make it home victorious, and can prepare for his next adventureThe Famouse Fjord Race (August 2016).

Like the other Geronimo Stilton series, where he is a reporter, a space mouse, and has various other adventures, this book has full color illustrations on almost every page, and even the words in the text use different colors and fonts. This makes the pages very bright and full of interesting things to look at. Readers who have trouble interpreting graphic novels would do well to start with these books, since the text is laid out in an easier to follow fashion, but the pictures surrounding the text add information that is useful to the story. 

Geronimo is a rather dramatic mouse, given to lots of drama. The snow is super cold, the journey is impossibly hard, and the dragons apt to eat him right this minute. Thea is more practical and even tempered and saves the day on many occasions, but Trap has very little patience and tries to get Geronimo to be sensible. Geronimo tends to obsess on one topic-- in this case, his helmet-- and take any chance necessary to achieve his goal, no matter the cost. 

Lovers of goofy stories like Gutman's My Weird School, Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta, and Babymouse's hallucinatory escapades will follow Geronimo's adventures avidly, and there are a great many books, all translated from the original Italian, to keep them reading. 

My struggling readers LOVE Geronimo, and the books tend to hold together better than many of the heavily illustrated graphic novels, especially when purchased in prebound formats. That said, I found this one to be a bit odd in it's handling of pseudo-Norse stereotypes. Perhaps the Italians aren't as politically correct and/or sensitive about these things as we are in the US. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Guy Friday- The Last Kids on Earth

24611765Braillier, Max. The Last Kids on Earth
October 13th 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Copy from public library

Jack Sullivan's life as a foster child could be tough, but it was nothing compared to his life after the monster/zombie apocalypse. He's taken over a tree house and fortified it as best he can against the zombified humans as well as the violent monsters. He feels that he might as well make the best of a bad situation, and has a series of goals for himself. One is to find his best friend, Quint, so that the two can fight zombies together. Quint loves inventions and is very creative, so once Jack does find him, they make improvements to the tree house and also have a vehicle to use. Jack also wants to find and rescue his crush, June. There are monsters to fight, as well as the tame monster, Rover, who serves as back up transportation and turns out to be useful at fighting other monsters as well. The friends don't plan on adding Dirk, the school bully, to their group, but he's not a bad addition either. When Jack finally finds June hanging out in their school, she makes it quite clear that she does not need to be rescued, but eventually joins their band of monster fighters. I can't wait for August 2016 to find out how their adventures continue in The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade! 

Since The Walking Dead is still a graphic novel and show that middle grade readers know about, this is an excellent, more age-appropriate alternative to that violent franchise. Yes, monsters are killed, and zombies are targets of tennis ball throwing, but the vast majority of it is done in the name of keeping the main (non zombie!) characters safe. I love how they work together to develop weapons, have a safe home base, and obtain food, even if their diet is largely junk food. It's the zombie apocalypse-- why eat broccoli?

Really, the book recommends itself: "He flings four razor Frisbees through the air, then unloads with the explosive football launcher." (page 216) This is the perfect blend of goofy and explosive, and it's so hard to find things like this for middle grade readers! Holgate's illustrations are perfect, and it's nice to see diversity of characters on the cover. 

While very different from Kloepfer's Zombie Chasers, this is an essential book for fans of that series! Heavily illustrated, with lots of zombie gore and more of a dystopian feel, readers who were sad to see the zombie apocalypse concluded will be glad to see that there is another problem-- and this time, there are monsters! 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

YA Mystery and Romance

25517283Albright, Emily. The Heir and the Spare
January 18th 2016 by Merit Press
Copy from public library

Evie is very excited to be able to study at Oxford University, following the footsteps of her parents. She is especially glad because her mother died when she was young, and had written letters for her every year on her birthday. There's a letter waiting in England, and many more clues to her mother's past to be revealed. There is also the insanely hot Edmund, who looks familiar, but whom she can't place. Since she immediately makes a group of friends with whom she is able to socialize, she quickly figures out that the boy on whom she has a crush is actually PRINCE Edmund, although he is the younger brother. He likes her, too, and they manage to find enough time away from their studies to travel to places her mother recommends, avoiding the paparazzi most of the time, but not enough. Jax, who has her cap set for Edmund with both family's best wishes, is very annoyed by Evie, especially since she is an American. Things become complicated when the secrets Evie is just finding out about her lineage come to light. 

Studying at Oxford? Dating a prince? Finding out that your family is more important to British history than you previously thought? Sigh. I adored this one. Anything set in England, especially when it is filled with trips to famous sites and references to British geek culture (Dr. Who, anyone?) is fascinating to me. My only question is this: if Prince William is over 30 and a balding father, and Prince George is a chubby toddler, will teenage girls still want to read about falling in love with a prince, or will it be a few years?

I was so close to buying this, but at the very, very end of the book there is a scene where Edmund and Evie get much closer than I would like them to. It's delicately enough done for high school, but I think I will pass on middle school. 

While I fully supported Princess Diana, like many women my age, I fully believe that I would have made a much better princess for Charles! Not that anyone of us gave this much thought back in the 1980s...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fortune Falls/The Inn Between

These were both perfectly fine books, but I won't be buying either of them. Why do so many people have to die in middle grade books? No fathers or mothers, and apparently now siblings and friends, are safe. I wish I could do a complete boycott of middle grade books where all of the important people in the main character's lives are alive, but I would only be able to buy about three books a year. 

More happy, people!!!! More happy. 

25679785Goebel, Jenny. Fortune Falls
January 5th 2016 by Scholastic Press

ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there. 

Fortune Falls is a great place to live if you're a Lucky, but Sadie Bleeker is probably not. She hasn't turned 12 yet, so she is still Undetermined, but since she has so many bad things happening to her, she doesn't hold out a lot of hope for the Luck Test. Her best friend, Cooper, will probably be Lucky, and they would then go to different schools. Sadie wants to marshal all of her resources and wishes to use to pass the test, but when her dog, Wink, runs into a graveyard and can't be found, she doesn't want her brother Petey to miss him. Sadie's family has had a run of bad luck ever since her father died in an accident a year ago, so Sadie is very protective of Petey. It doesn't help when Cooper gives her a telescope for her birthday, and she manages to break the mirror inside of it. In Fortune Falls, that means seven years of bad luck... if you survive that long! Sadie and Cooper venture into the magical store, Lucky Charm Z, in order to perhaps find some way to turn Sadie's luck around. Can they do that before it's too late? 

Fortune Falls is an interesting place, and there are lots of good descriptions about the way of life that depends of magic being real. Many of the mothers are wearing halo collars because their hapless children have stepped on cracks and broken their backs, the street outside the grave yard is littered with cars because people don't hold their breath going past it and get into accidents, and there are few black cats or rabbits around because the latter are exterminated as being bad luck and the former are killed for their feet! This is a fun way to take superstitions and bring them to life. 

It's nice to see that Sadie and Cooper get along so well even though their lives are likely to take different paths. It's also clever how they work together to try to get their entire class to pass the Spring Luck test despite the meddling and meanness of the evil Felicia. 

Reader who enjoy the healthy dose of magical realism found in Pyron's Lucky Strike, Wendy Mass' Willow Falls books or Myracle's Willow Hills series, or even the everyday magic of Ruth Chew's books, will find Fortune Falls to be a somewhat scary but interesting place to be!

Cohen, Marina. The Inn Between
25667027March 22nd 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from

Quinn is having a tough time-- she was caught cheating on a test, and when she had to stay after school, her younger sister goes missing. Now, while her family is still grieving, her best friend Kara is going to move. Quinn accompanies Kara and her family to their new home, but the group stops in the middle of the desert at the Inn Between to rest. The next day, Kara's parents are missing, and Quinn thinks she sees Emma in the hallway. Creepy things pile up, and Quinn and Kara have to figure out the mystery of the inn before it is too late. 

Strengths: I loved the cover on this one, and the premise sounded very intriguing, not that your average 7th grader will understand the reference to "Hotel California" in the book's blurb! Readers who enjoyed The Thing About Jellyfish will love this. 

Weaknesses: Quinn's sister being kidnapped was far too real and sad for me. I liked the idea of a creepy hotel, but this just got sadder and sadder instead of scarier and creepier.

What I really think: I think my biggest problem with this was that I went in expecting one kind of book, and this ended up being something entirely different. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Secrets of Bearhaven/ The Girl Who Owned the City

25582786Rocha, K.E. Secrets of Bearhaven
January 5th 2016 by Scholastic Press
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there

Spencer Plain is well aware that his parents study bears and help to rescue ones that are being abused, but he had no idea of the extent of their involvement until they go missing... and he ends up in Bearhaven. Here, the bears are fitted with a voice translator and can communicate with humans! Spencer meets Professor Weaver, his wife Bunny, and their daughter, Kate, and has to work with the bears, as well as his uncle, to find out what has happened to his parents. In the meantime, they have to try to locate the bear Ro Ro and her cubs who have been kidnapped by the evil Margo to be used in the horrifying bear baiting at Grady's Grandstand. 

I'm not a fan of talking animals in books, but Secrets of Bearhaven drew me in with its fast-paced narrative, sympathetic characters, and enjoyable world building. No time is wasted in getting Spencer to Bearhaven-- the book even starts with his exciting entry and then goes back to lay more groundwork for us, which is a brilliant way to start a middle grade book. Spencer doesn't blink (at least not for long) when the bears can speak to him, and the readers are also able to easily suspend disbelief. 

The details of life in Bearhaven are delightful-- honey and berries for breakfast, salmon and green salads for dinner, cozy homes, and even Cadillacs adapted for the bears to travel in. The villains are deliciously evil, and the back story of Margo in particular is well done, since she is the villain behind Bearhaven being started. 

While Spencer's parents are missing, we do end the book with some hope of where they are, and I imagine that the series will continue until they are found. 

For readers who enjoyed Iserles The Taken, Hughes The Unnaturals, or Hunter's Seekers, Secrets of Bearhaven is an intriguing look at what skills are necessary to succeed in rescuing bears who fully conversant in English as well as Ragayo. Rolling boulders-- who knew it would be such a handy skill?

Nelson, O.T. and Jones, Joelle. The Girl Who Owned a City
13022967April 1st 2012 by Graphic Universe 

After a virus kills all of the adults in the world, Lisa and her younger brother Todd are trying to survive. Lisa has found supplies and travels around in a car to find more, but other children have turned to marauding hordes and are terrorizing the weaker children. Lisa gathers everyone in her neighborhood, and soon they have a thriving community-- until a gang burns it to the ground. The group then takes over a local high school and fortify it. When things start to go well, Lisa gathers more children, gives them all jobs, and generally keeps a tight hold on things. One small error is all it takes, though, and after she is shot by a rival gang, the entire city is in jeopardy. She recovers, but is then kidnapped by the gang, and manages to escape by sheer force of personality in standing up to its leader. 
Strengths: One of the original dystopian books for middle school students, and not a bad one. The graphic novel version will be gobbled up avidly; the illustrations are very nicely dark and New Millenium, even though there are some nice shout outs to the original publication date in the architecture and cars.
Weaknesses: Like any graphic novel, there is a ton of information missing. 

What I really think: I need to reread the novel; clearly, I read this in middle school, because I had an elaborate fantasy where I was in charge of a community at my own school. I got to live in the principal's office. Interestingly, there was still electricity in my fantasy, and the school was right across from a shopping mall, so supplies were not an issue. And there were no evil marauding hordes. I hadn't realized how much my own daydreams had been influenced by this book!