Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Trouble in Me Review

The Trouble in Me

Book talk: Jack is sick of life. He's sick of moving. He's sick of being bullied by his classmates and father. He's sick of feeling weak and powerless. Then his new neighbor gets back from his second stint at juvie. Gary Pagoda is everything that Jack isn't: tough, cool, openly rebellious, and utterly fearless. Jack doesn't care where Gary leads him, as long as it means getting as far away from his old life as possible. Soon Gary has Jack lying to a parole officer, performing stupidly dangerous stunts, and feeding his inner pyromaniac. It will be a summer Jack will never forget, if he survives it.

Rave: This novel is based on events in the author's past and certainly provides a different perspective than your average YA novel. Reading about Gantos's exploits was horrifying and fascinating. It explores a crossroads in his life and the path he chose would eventually lead him to a federal prison. The events are rough, but the prose is beautiful and there are many poignant and sensitive moments in the novel, "I’d slink back to my room and curl up on the bed like a fish-hook and cry until I was rusty." That image hit me like a punch in the gut. This novel at the right time with the right teen could really change their life.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 7th and up looking for a misfit story with edge. It's a quick read with a powerful punch.

Topics and Trends: criminals, pyromania, memoir

Source: school library

The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos

Friday, December 15, 2017

Brief Reviews Fall 2015 part 2

Fuzzy Mud This eco-thriller about genetically-engineered material that gets loose and infects a town is a fun read. I think it would be perfect for struggling readers because it's high interest, fast-paced, and short. It wasn't my cup of tea. It didn't spend enough time on the characters and the plot resolved too quickly for my tastes. It could have easily been a much longer novel without any filler and I found the glimpses of something more frustrating. There aren't enough good high-interest, low reading level books out there though so I appreciate it for what it is. Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar: buy it or check it out today!

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)
One of the benefits of being behind in my book reviews is that the distance gives me the chance to see which books really stayed with me. I remember enjoying this book, and I gave it four stars on Good Reads but I honestly could not remember a single thing about it. After reading other reviews, some things have come back, but not much. This is a good romance with a classic Pride & Prejudice plot. They misjudge each other & spend much of the story hating each other and trading barbs until they fall madly in love with each other. I don't remember there being anything specific that I disliked about the book. It's nothing ground-breaking or particularly memorable though. These Broken Stars by Amy Kaufman and Meagan Spooner: buy it or check it out today!

You and Me and HimI like the premise of this book, but I did not like the execution. All the characters were just so petty and mean-spirited. It makes me wonder why they were friends to begin with when they're so quick to throw each other away. In the end, I didn't like any of them and so I didn't really care what happened to them. You and Me and Him by Kris Dinnison: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ice Breaker Review

Ice Breaker (The Hidden, #1)

Book talk: The Oyster has been sailing for 300 years without any contact from the outside world. If they had a purpose once, no one can remember it. The ship has broken down into three warring factions with parents passing their prejudices onto their children for generations. Petrel is the only one without a faction or a family. Her parents committed a great crime and were thrown overboard. She survives by knowing the ship and all its hiding places better than anyone else. She sneaks down secret passageways and steals to survive. Everything changes when they find a half-frozen boy abandoned on an iceberg. How he got out there is a mystery, but he will surely die if they don't take him aboard. Still, many want to leave this outsider to freeze. But not Petrel. She knows how it feels to be abandoned and alone, and she's determined to save him. If anyone knows how to survive and evade capture on the ship, it's her. This mysterious boy will put all her talents and her courage to the test.

Rave: I liked the hints at the dystopian world and how it came to be instead of a lengthy exposition that explains everything. The world of the ship is fascinating and has a gritty sense of something that's carried on long past its time and is hanging on by sheer force of will. The boy's inner conflict is well-portrayed and Petrel is an endearing character reminiscent of a scrappy, Dickensian street urchin. I love sailing stories and the ship is a great background for the twisting plot. There's a lot of meaty themes explored from identity to friendship to faith. The story takes a bit of time to really get going, but I'm looking forward to how it will unfold in the sequel.

Every book its reader:
I'd give this to students 4th grade and up with the patience for an adventure story that's slow to heat up.

Topics and Trends: robots, religion, ships

Source: school library

Ice Breaker by Lian Tanner: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, December 11, 2017



Book talk: Lord Blackheart has been plotting the downfall of the self-righteous do-gooder Sir Goldenloin for years. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that he's a powerful and nefarious villain. Not the type to take a teenage girl under his wing. That's exactly why Nimona wants to become his sidekick. She only wants to work for the best, most evil, scientist and she's determined to land the job. She has a few tricks up her sleeves: her penchant for crime, her bantering skills, and oh yeah, she's a powerful shapeshifter. Together, they'll show the world who's really evil.

Rave: This comic had me laughing from the first page. Even the character names make me giggle. Ambrosious Goldenloin? Come on! Who wouldn't want to take him down a peg? Honestly I'd have been satisfied if it was just hilarious but it has a real heart underneath it all that makes me adore it. I can't recommend it enough.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 4th &; up looking for a funny take on the superhero/archenemy trope.

Extras: This is comes early on and I believe it's the precise moment I fell in love with this comic:

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Source: school library

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

River Runs Deep Review

River Runs Deep

Book talk: Elias is dying of consumption, which is why his parents agree to send him deep into Mammoth Cave. There's a doctor there who claims that the atmosphere of the cave could cure the disease, and sure enough Elias soon starts to feel plagued by boredom more than consumption. Until he discovers that there's more hiding in the caves than even the doctor knows. Soon he's sneaking off to explore and help the runaways hiding in its labyrinthine corridors.

Rave: The historical facts behind this novel are fascinating from the tuberculosis sanatorium in Mammoth Cave to Stephen Bishop, the enslaved explorer who guided tourists and scientists through the cave's passageways. I wish Stephen Bishop had been the main character, but I liked Elias and found his struggles and inner dialogue believable. The plot kept plenty of suspense and adventure in the story and prevented it from becoming a dry historical recounting of events.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 4th and up looking for a historical adventure.

Topics and Trends: historical fiction, enslaved people, #weneeddiversebooks, adventure, Mammoth Cave, explorers, consumption

Source: school library


River Runs Deep by Jennifer Bradbury: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish

Book talk: Suzy can't believe that her best friend has drowned. It just doesn't make any sense--she'd always been an excellent swimmer. How could something like this happen? Then she learns about jellyfish so small they're practically invisible and so venomous they could kill an adult. Sure they're usually found near Australia, but with climate change and sea temperatures rising, maybe their territory is expanding. Everyone keeps telling Suzy that she should move on, but she can't until she can prove the real reason her friend died isn't a simple case of drowning.

Rave: Benjamin has done such a beautiful job on this novel. The plot is emotional, the characters well drawn, and the prose is just gorgeous. The way she depicts the complicated, messy experience of grief and the images she draws form the scientific world are simply breath-taking.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 4th grade and up looking for an emotional story.

Extras: jellyfish, grief, tearjerkers, friendship

The publisher has put out a video and some quote images to promote the book:

Bonus Quotes:

“If people were silent, they could hear the noise of their own lives better. If people were silent, it would make what they did say, whenever they chose to say it, more important. If people were silent, they could read one another's signals, the way underwater creatures flash lights at one another, or turn their skin different colors.”

“It's peculiar how no-words can be better than words. Silence can say more than noise, in the same way that a person's absence can occupy even more space than their presence did.”

“There are so many things to be scared of in this world: blooms of jellies. A sixth extinction. A middle school dance. But maybe we can stop feeling so afraid. Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all the creatures on this Earth are made from stardust.
And we are the only ones who get to know it.
That's the thing about jellyfish: They'll never understand that. All they can do is drift along, unaware.
Humans may be newcomers to this planet. We may be plenty fragile. But we're also the only ones who can decide to change.”

“The more fragile the animal, the more it needs to protect itself. So the more venom a creature has, the more we should be able to forgive that animal. They're the ones that need it most. And, really, what is more fragile than a jellyfish, which doesn't even have any bones?”

Source: school library

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

You are not my friend, but I miss you

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Book talk: Dog used to be monkey's friend. They used to play together for hours. They used to have so much fun. Not anymore. Dog stole monkey's ball and monkey stole it back. Now monkey has his ball, but who will he toss it to?

This short story is full of emotion and describes a common childhood experience. Monkey gets upset at his friend, Dog, but after a while realizes he misses Dog. All is forgiven and they're back to happily playing a game of catch. The pictures vary from close-ups of monkey to action sequences with multiple scenes depicted on a page. The emotions are clearly visible on all the animals and the background colors further emphasize the emotions. There's happy pastels in the scenes with friends playing and brown, blue, and red on the close-ups of an upset Monkey. The animals all have a fabric texture that makes you want to cuddle them. This would be great for sparking a discussion about friendship and sharing with young kids.

Every book its reader: I'd read this with students pre-school to 1st grade.

Topics and Trends: picture books, sharing, friendship


Daniel Kirk has a website where he describes the inspiration behind the book and some of the process of making it: "I have long been interested in writing a book where the main character has feelings and points of view that to us, the reader, are clearly wrong." He also includes a great list of questions for discussion and things to do after reading the book, "Try writing an 'I’m sorry' letter to someone. If there’s anybody out there you owe an apology to, try telling them in a letter. Even if you choose not to send it, it will help to see your thoughts and feelings in writing."

Source: school library

You Are Not My Friend, But I Miss You by Daniel Kirk

Friday, September 22, 2017

Somos como las nubes

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Book talk: 
We Sing

Since we left home
we haven't stopped singing.
My father says
if we keep singing,
we'll scare away all the tiredness
and the fear
and become a song.

Rave: This collection of poems tells the story of migration from Central America to the United States. The author himself grew up in El Salvador and came to the United States in the 1980's, fleeing war in his home country. The poems range from the specific story of an individual to describing the migrant experience as a whole. They move in time chronologically starting in Central America and ending in the United States. Each poem has both a Spanish and English version and they're accompanied by beautiful, dreamy acrylic paintings. The poems are short, but their impact is big and could easily spark longer discussions and more research into the migrant experience.

Every book its reader: This is a great for those looking for bilingual books as well as classroom teachers and parents who want to introduce the topic of migration.

Source: school library

Somos como las nubes /We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta & Alfonso Ruano

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Grand Mosque of Paris

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Book talk: During the Nazi invasion of France, thousands of Jewish people found sanctuary in the Grand Mosque of Paris. This book describes how Muslims in Paris helped their Jewish brothers and sisters during World War II. They saved lives in a myriad of ways ranging from writing false papers identifying Jews as Muslims, to secreting Jewish people and resistance fighters through hidden tunnels and out of Paris in emptied wine barrels.

Rave: There are so many fascinating vignettes of courage and defiance in this book. The actions described were secretive by nature and never officially documented, but the authors have hunted down the scraps of information they could find to present these stories. Full-page oil paintings throughout illustrate the story. There's a glossary, bibliography, index and further information in the back.

Ever book its readers: This would be a great classroom share for grades 3rd - 5th.

Topics and Trends: World War II, religion, Islam, Judaism, the Holocaust, the Resistance


This travel video has some beautiful shots of the Grand Mosque of Paris for those interested.

Source: school library

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A story of how Muslims rescued Jews during the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix

Giant Squid

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Book talk: The giant squid is a tantalizing mystery. We have more close-ups photographs of Mars. We know more about dinosaur behavior. Much of what we do know about giant squids comes from pieces we have found and dissected--pieces often found in sperm whales. Despite how rarely giant squids are sighted by humans, sperm whales have been found with as many as 7,000 indigestible giant squid beaks in their stomachs. Get a glimpse into the life of these mysterious and beautiful creatures with Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann.

Rave: This book is beautiful and a bit terrifying, much like the creatures it describes. What little we know is described in a poetic language that creates a rich atmosphere. The pictures are gorgeous, showing parts of the squid to emphasize its size and the sense that it's lurking just out of sight. This would make a great read-aloud for budding science enthusiasts.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 1st-3rd with an interest in marine life who don't frighten easily.

Topics and Trends: nonfiction, giant squids, marine biology, narrative nonfiction, picture books


The AP has raw footage of one of these creatures making a rare appearance at the surface of the ocean. There's no voice-over, just the gentle bubbling of the diver's oxygen tank, which lends it a rather hypnotizing air.

Source: school library

Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann


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Book talk: A lone wolf strikes out from his pack and heads south to California. His radio collar allows scientists and animal lovers to follow his progress. Abby watches with excitement as he heads closer to where she lives, but she's also worried. Some people don't want the wolves to come back to their land. Will this one survive?

Rave: Journey alternates between the perspectives of the wolf and a young girl following his progress. The young girl's story provides context and adds tension as she worries over the fate of the wolf. She even participates in a contest to name him. The wolf is from Oregon and the girl lives in Northern California. Even the girl's grandparents as far away as Mexico follow the wolf's progress. This is based on real events and there's a lot of great back matter including the real Journey's path, a timeline of wolf conservation efforts, and questions and activities for a classroom.

Every book its reader: This would be great as a part of a science unit in a classroom, but it's also an excellent story for young wildlife enthusiasts at bedtime. 1st - 3rd grade.

Topics and Trends: wildlife conservation, wolves, picture books

Brain scoop did an excellent episode talking about wolf conservation that gets into wolf and coyote cross breeding and goes further into other topics mentioned in passing in this book. There are scenes in the video that show animal carcasses that are graphic, so preview it before sharing it.

Source: school library

Journey: Based on the true story of OR7 the most famous wolf in the west by Emma Bland Smith; illustrated by Robin James

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Handful of Stars

A Handful of Stars

Book talk: Lily loves life in her small town and she's looking forward to summer and the annual Blueberry Queen Pageant. Then her blind dog slips away and runs off into the blueberry field. Salma, the daughter of one of the migrant workers, sacrifices her lunch to lure the dog back to safety. It's the beginning of a new friendship that will change both their lives. But will their friendship survive when they both enter the Pageant?

Rave: This sweet story of friendship is everything I've come to expect from Cynthia Lord. It's touching without being overly saccharine. It teaches lessons without being preachy. It's filled with a gentle humor and well-drawn characters. It's perfect for summer reading, and who can resist a book with a dog on the cover?

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 3rd & up looking for a sweet tale of friendship.

Topics & Trends: Friendship, #weneeddiversebooks, migrant workers, Maine, dogs, pageants


Here's an interview with the author about the book:

And here's a picture of an adorable panda enjoying the book:
(from The Nerdy Panda blog-- Check it out!)

Source: school library

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Willow and the Wedding

Book talk: Willow loves weddings, so she is excited Uncle Ash is getting married to David, and even more so when she finds out that she gets to be the flower girl. Their wedding will be on the beach and dessert will be her favorite: donuts with sprinkles. Everything will be perfect--if only she can convince her uncle to put his childhood fears behind him and dance. 

Rave: This sweet story is a lesson in empathy. Willow learns that her uncle used to love dancing until he was in the school musical and got teased for his affinity for dance. Willow sets out to help him reclaim his love of dance to great success. Her care for others is on display at the wedding as she helps relatives: providing a blanket for an aunt who gets cold and a cool drink for an overheated uncle. Adults will appreciate this diverse but not didactic offering and kids will enjoy imagining they're at this fantastic beach and donuts wedding.

Every book its reader: Hand this book to aspiring dancers and flower girls in grades k-2.

Extras: Don't miss the end papers and this delightful dino:

Source: school library

Willow and the Wedding by Denise Brennan-Nelson; illustrated by Cyd Moore: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Circus Mirandus

Circus Mirandus

Book talk: Micah Tuttle loves listening to his grandpa's stories of the magical Circus Mirandus with its invisible tiger, flying birdwoman, and a powerful magician known as the Lightbender. People think they're just stories, but Grandpa insists that they're true and Micah believes him. Now Grandpa is dying and the only thing that can save him is a miracle. Luckily, the Lightbender owes his grandpa just that. But is the circus real? Will Micah be able to convince the Lightbender to pay his debt? It's hard to believe in magic in a world of cynics, but Micah would do anything to give his grandpa another chance.

Rave: This is a beautifully-told, heart-breaking story of the connection between a boy and his grandfather. The circus is delightful and the magical elements fantastic, but when you boil it down this relationship is the core of the story. It suffuses the whole book with emotion and a deep meaning about the difficulty of letting go. On top of all that it's a great magical quest/adventure story.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of magical adventures and tear-jerkers. It has a classic feel like Peter Pan and would make a great family read-aloud. 3rd & up.

Topics and Trends: Grandfathers, grief, circuses, magic, tearjerkers


The Texas Bluebonnet Awards made a great trailer:

There's a lot of great quote images made to promote this book:

Bonus Quote:

“Grandpa Ephraim was always saying things that sounded so important Micah wanted to wrap them up in boxes and keep them forever.”

Source: School Library

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Lost in the Sun

Lost in the Sun

Book talk: Playing sports always brought Trent joy. Everyone in town knew him as the golden kid who could excel at any type of game, and he took pride in his reputation. Until the day a pick-up hockey game changed his life forever. One slapshot to the chest combined with an un-diagnosed heart condition made Trent a killer. Now it's a new school year and a new baseball season. It should be a fresh start, but Trent can't leave the past behind. He's changed into someone his friends and family don't recognize and he's not sure if he can ever go back, or if he even wants to. Will he ever play sports again? Who will he be without them?

Rave: The characters in this story are simply fantastic. It would take a very cold heart not to sympathize with Trent as he recovers from the grief and guilt of accidentally killing another kid. The adults around him seem to think that just telling him it's not his fault should be enough for him to get over it, which sadly reflects the lack of knowledge around mental health in our society. I appreciate the way Trent's struggle is depicted, but I think kids will just enjoy the compelling story. Those who enjoy sports will be especially impacted by the loss Trent feels at his inability to play the way he did before. Misfits and sports neophytes, on the other hand, will relate to the other main character Fallon, who helps Trent adjust to his new life. A little something for everyone.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students looking for a moving novel, especially sports enthusiasts. 4th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: mental health, grief, guilt, sports, baseball,


There's a fan-made book trailer

Source: public library

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Shutter Review


Book talk: Fighting vampires is in Micheline's blood. It's been the family business ever since Van Helsing fought Dracula, and her bloodline gives her a distinct advantage: the ability to see the aura of the undead. For her, exorcising ghosts and shooting vampires is just another day in the office. Micheline and her crew respond to emergency calls armed to the teeth with weapons both mundane and specialized, including a modified camera that can capture the spiritual energy of ghosts. But for Micheline a bad day at the office doesn't mean a paper jam. It results in her and her crew getting infected with a soulchain that will kill them in a week or less, unless they can exorcise the ghost that cursed them. With new purpose and higher stakes than ever before, Micheline does what her family has been doing for centuries: she hunts.

Rave: This is a fantastic horror story. It pays homage to Dracula while creating its own world. The explanations of the science behind the supernatural elements is satisfyingly detailed instead of the typical hand-waving and explanation of "because magic".  The horror elements are truly terrifying and the plot fast-paced, except for a few passages of backstory. I particularly enjoyed that it's set in the SF Bay Area.

Rant: The narrative got a bit overly dramatic at times and there were some cliched elements, but that's to be expected in a horror story.

Every book its reader: The book is pretty intense, but it should be perfect for horror fans and I don't know why someone who doesn't like horror would read it anyway. 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: SF Bay Area, Horror, Vampires, Ghosts, Supernatural,

The wonderful Naiomi Bates has made a trailer for the book:

I found this great image with a quote:

Bonus Quotes:
“Bloodlines and last names didn't make a man extraordinary — the extraordinary existed in what we did in life, not in who we were.”

Source: public library

Shutter by Courtney Alameda

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Review

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

Book talk: What would you do if your family didn't have enough to eat? If they didn't have access to running water or electricity? What if you had no money to fix any of it? If you're anything like William, then you'd head to the library! In this true story, William describes how he combined knowledge gained from studying library books with scrap metal and junk to make a windmill that changed his life forever.

Rave: This book is absolutely fascinating. Of course as a librarian I'm a sucker for any story about the transformative powers of libraries. William is remarkable and hearing his story in his own words was incredibly moving. Added morals about STEM, recycling, and life in Africa make this an ideal fit for classroom reading. It's an engaging read for students on their own too.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students 4th grade and up looking for an inspiring and gripping true story.

Topics & Trends: STEM, #weneeddiversebooks, Africa, Malawi, libraries, recycling, memoirs, drought, famine


I made this image from the cover of the book and a great quote in it:

Bonus Quote:

"No matter how foreign and lonely the world was outside, the books always reminded me of home, sitting under the mango tree.”

Source: school library

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Book talk: Simon has a major crush, the only problem is he doesn't know who he's crushing on. After a pseudonymous post about not being openly gay in his high school, he met Blue. Blue and Simon have been messaging ever since, and Simon can't get enough of him. When another student discovers their e-mail conversations, everything is put in jeopardy. Simon is blackmailed with the threat of having not only his secrets revealed, but Blue's as well. How will he keep their secrets safe while staying true to himself? How far will the blackmail go? And most importantly, who is Blue?

Rave: I was a goner the moment I read the exchange ending in "I think you're cute and grammatical, too." I didn't know I could be so invested in a fictional relationship with a mystery crush. All the characters are fleshed out from the kid blackmailing Simon to his embarrassing but loving parents. The play brought me back to my own high school theatre days and the ending was simply perfect.

Every book its reader: I can't recommend this book enough. I've given it as a present and shoved my library's copies into plenty of hands. Great for those looking for a high school romance 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: LGBTQ, romance, school stories, high school theatre, secret admirers


I'm not surprised this book has inspired a lot of people to make fan art & tributes, including this trailer:

The publishers made these two quote images to promote the book:

Bonus Quotes:

“He talked about the ocean between people. And how the whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to.”

“Really, though, there are only two kinds of weather: hoodie weather and weather where you wear a hoodie anyway.”

Source: public library

Simon vs. the Homo Spaiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Brief Reviews Fall 2015 Part 1

Heap House (Iremonger, #1) On the one hand, I liked just how weird and unlike anything else this book is. On the other hand, this book is really weird! The story it most reminds me of is Gormenghast with the Gothic atmosphere and the family dynasty clinging to odd traditions despite their world crumbling around them. But add to that talking objects that form a bond with a person, a healthy dose of cousin marriage, and a world seemingly based on the junk lady from Labyrinth. In the end it just didn't work for me. The internal logic of the world fell apart and while the world-building was detailed, the characters never went beyond archetypes. The characters were what drew me into the world of Gormenghast and these characters were not as engaging. It was refreshing just to read something different, and I can understand its appeal but it's not my cup of tea. Heap House by Edward Carey: buy it or check it out today!

A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of PoetryWhat I liked about this poetry collection was that the poets represented a variety of countries and Milosz's commentary on why he selected them. Getting into the mind of a man who is a great poet in himself to see what he likes when he reads poetry was an interesting experience, even if I didn't always like the same poems he did. A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Milosz: buy it or check it out today!

Belzhar I naturally liked the premise of this novel: an English class that changes the lives of a group of troubled teens. I absolutely hated the conclusion and the lesson it imparts though. This is a completely irresponsible depiction of recovery from mental illness. Coping with mental illness is a long road that requires a lot of work and often many tries to get the right combination of therapy, medication, and life changes. Throwing a bunch of teenagers with serious mental health issues together then having them all end up in relationships with each other is not a happy ending--it is a recipe for disaster. There are no magical quick fixes when it comes to mental health and starting a new relationship before coping with your own issues is not usually a good idea--especially when the person you're in a relationship has unresolved issues of their own. It's not really about the power of literature in the end either, just the power of magical notebooks. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer: buy it or check it out today!

Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle (Gabriel Finley #1)I really enjoyed the puzzle/adventure aspect of this novel. The ravens and their riddles were clever and fun to read about. The mythology of the book is appealing, especially Gabriel's discovery that is family has a special bond with ravens. The characters are a mess though. They're all paper-thin stereotypes. The most troubling aspect is that at the end a character with an abusive father decides to return to him to try and fix things and the adults in the book seem to think this is a good idea. What? They need to be calling child protective services and figuring out the best way to help this family. Not sending a kid back to a verbally and physically abusive father and just hoping it will all work out. I would not recommend this. There are plenty of good fantasy novels for children out there that don't imply that children can fix their abusive parents on their own. Gabriel Finley & the Raven's Riddle by George Hagen

Undertow (Undertow #1)A lot of my students love mermaids. A lot of my students love dystopias. I'm not sure how much those circles intersect though. This is the mash-up nobody asked for. I loved the main character and I would have enjoyed reading a book about her and her life without the evil mermaids, but the evil mermaids refused to go away. I still liked the book well enough until it got to the deus-ex-machina ending, at which point I was over it. I love this author, and I wanted to like this book, but it didn't work for me. Perhaps there's someone looking for a gritty mermaid story who will be delighted to find this book. I'm not that person though. Undertow by Michael Buckley: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, June 9, 2017

Dumplin' Review

Dumplin' (Dumplin', #1)

Book talk: “I hate seeing fat girls on TV or in movies, because the only way the world seems to be okay with putting a fat person on camera is if they’re miserable with themselves or if they’re the jolly best friend. Well, I’m neither of those things.” Willowdean goes by Will to her friends and Dumplin' to her ex-beauty queen mother. She is unafraid to wear her swimsuit and if people stare, then that's their issue, not hers. But when she enters a beauty pageant with some other unlikely contenders, her mother is horrified. First kisses, broken friendships, Dolly Parton, drag queens, beauty pageants, and self-discovery. This is one year Dumplin' will never forget.

Rave: I cannot get enough of Will's bold and sassy voice and her defiant attitude. She is a character worth rooting for, even when she makes mistakes along the way. It was refreshing to read about body image issues that are prevalent in society but rarely discussed--especially in such a nuanced and honest way. Those aren't the only issues that receive such a frank treatment either. Evolving friendships, romantic relationships, grief, and mother-daughter relationships all get the same funny and insightful treatment. Plus there's Dolly Parton. What more could I ask for?

Every book its reader: I'd give this to teens looking for a funny, realistic book 8th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: body image, beauty pageants, drag queens, romance, friendship, mother-daughter relationships, grief, the South


Check out these great images from the publisher:

You can find more quotes in this video:

Bonus Quotes:

“There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.”

“All my life I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on.”

Source: public library

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Half a World Away Review

Half a World Away

Book talk: Jaden's parents wanted a baby, but by the time they brought him home he was already a toddler. The orphanage he was in often didn't give him enough food to eat let alone care and attention. Now he's eleven, but he can't stop hoarding food or lighting fires. He know's he's not what his parents wanted, which is why they're going to Kazakhstan to finally adopt a baby. When they get there though, the baby they'd thought they were adopting is already gone. They have to stay there and choose a new one. Meanwhile Jaden gets to know some of the toddlers there and forms a special bond with one.

Rave: This book breaks your heart then stitches it back together again. It is such a honest portrayal of the lingering effects of trauma and some of the possible complications of international adoption. I loved reading about all this from Jaden's perspective, and watching as he formed a bond with a toddler at the orphanage. There's a lot of harsh truths, but through it all there's good people who may make mistakes but are nevertheless trying hard to do the right thing. It's a quiet but important novel.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to kids looking for a tear-jerker 4th grade and up.

Topics and Trends: international adoption, mental health, pyromania, orphanages,


I made this image from one of my favorite quotes from the novel and a cool model of a heart I saw in a museum.

Source: public library

Half a World Away by Cynthia Kadohata

Monday, June 5, 2017

If I Ever Get Out of Here Review

If I Ever Get Out of Here

Book talk: There's a lot that Lewis loves about his life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation: the games of fire ball, his friends and family, and the ease and familiarity that comes from being with your own people. Life outside of the reservation isn't always easy. He's the only kid from the reservation in his advanced class at school, and the other kids never let him forget it. He's never had a friend in his class until George moves to the nearby military base with his family. They hit it off right away and connect over their love of music. But the base and the reservation are very different worlds. Lewis doesn't think George will understand and George can tell Lewis is keeping secrets. Maybe will a little help from his friends, Lewis will learn to let it be.

Rave: This book, set in 1975, has a lot of great musical references that fans of The Beatles and Wings will definitely appreciate. Most of the book feels like it could easily happen today though. Native Americans still face discrimination, vets still have difficulty getting the help they need, military families still move a lot, poverty is still widespread. All this means that even though the novel is set in the past, it has a lot to say about current events and issues.

The characters in this novel are well fleshed out. They are a mix of good traits and bad, they make mistakes while trying to do the right thing, and they help each other out when they're down. I grew to care for all of them and became completely absorbed in their lives even though there's not a fast-paced plot.

Every book its reader: Highly recommended for 8th grade and up looking for a realistic fiction story with strong characterization.

Topics & Trends: the Tuscarora Indians, the 70's, music, The Beatles, poverty, military families, bullying, friendship, #ownvoices, #weneeddiversebooks

This is the song that inspired the title:

Source: school library

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Phoebe and Her Unicorn Review

Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Heavenly Nostrils, #1)

Book talk: If a unicorn granted you one wish, what would you ask for? Phoebe wishes for infinity wishes, then infinity dollars, then super powers. When the unicorn refuses to grant her any of those, she aims for something more realistic: for the unicorn to become her best friend. But becoming friends with a unicorn is more  than Phoebe bargained for. The unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is incredibly vain and clearly not used to close contact with humans. But on the other hand, she's a freakin' unicorn! Having a magical creature as your best friend can't be all bad...

Rave: This comic reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes, and I don't make that comparison lightly. The "Shield of Boringness" means that most of Phoebe's classmates can't see her unicorn. That doesn't stop them from having hilarious adventures on their own though. The sweeping imagination and spot-on humor mixed with the daily trials and tribulations of childhood make this comic a delight for all ages. I eagerly read each new volume as it arrives then pass it on to a colleague of mine who loves them too. The students make sure they rarely stay on the shelf for long.

Every book its reader: I wasn't kidding when I said all ages. The appeal and humor of this comic are universal.

Topics & Trends: humor, unicorns, comics


Source: school library

Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Clover's Luck Review

The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, Book 1: Clover's Luck

Book talk: When Clover's friends get accepted into a horse camp and leave her behind, she knows she's fallen victim to her bad luck yet again. Then she stumbles upon a magical animal adoption agency in the woods by her house. She learns how to take care of fairy horses, unicorns left behind by spoiled princesses, and even a baby dragon. It seems her luck is turning around, until the owner of the agency disappears on a trip and leaves her to take care of the animals by herself. Will she be up to the challenge? Is there more bad luck lurking around the corner? Clover's summer is going to be either the best or worst of her life, but it certainly won't be boring!

Rave: I would have been all over this when I was a kid! Employee at a magical animal adoption agency would have immediately become my dream job, and I would have spent hours playing imaginary games where I was Clover. Even as an adult I couldn't resist the charm of this novel as Clover slowly gained confidence and learned how to take care of herself by taking care of others. Plus, fairy horses! They're tiny horses for fairies! Why has no one told me about these before?

Every book its reader: I'd give this to animal lovers and fans of fantasy looking for a sweet early chapter book. The reading level is 2nd & up but there's nothing in it that younger kids couldn't handle as a read aloud or if they're strong readers themselves.

Topics and trends: mythical animals, unicorns, dragons, pets, animal rescue


Source: school library

Magical Animal Adoption Agency: Clover's Luck by Kallie George, Illustrated by Alexandra Bolger: buy it or check it out today!