Thursday, May 31, 2018

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

Book talk: A city of millions cut off from the rest of the world and left to starve. People killing for ration cards, which provide a mere 125 grams of bread made with sawdust mixed in to the flour. Desperate people resorting to cannibalizing the plentiful corpses lining the street. It sounds like the premise for a YA dystopian novel, but it really happened. In 1941 Nazi forces blockaded the city of Leningrad in a siege that would last two and a half years and result in the deaths of over a million people. One of the people trapped in the city was composer Dmitri Shostakovitch. When he escaped the city, he wrote a symphony that would commemorate those lost and give hope to those still trapped. This is his true story.

Rave: This thick, nonfiction tome should have taken me ages to slog through, but instead I tore through it like it was the latest sci-fi thriller. I don't have any particular interest in WWII or classical music and I'd never even heard of Dmitri Shostakovitch, but I love M.T. Anderson so I picked the book up anyway and I'm so glad I did. The story is at turns moving, disturbing, and triumphant. The prose is as beautiful as I expect from this author. It is a prime example of the power of narrative nonfiction.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to those interested in WWII 8th grade and up.

Topics and trends: WWII, composers, biographies, classical music, narrative nonfiction, history


Bonus Quotes:

“Gradually, like the emigration of an insidious, phantom population, Leningrad belonged more to the dead than to the living. The dead watched over streets and sat in snow-swamped buses. Whole apartment buildings were tenanted by them, where in broken rooms, dead families sat waiting at tables. Their dominion spread room by room, like lights going out in evening.”

Source: School library

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018



Book talk: The harmonica is a humble instrument, but in the right hands its music can uplift the spirit and connect people. This harmonica more so than most. It all starts with Otto who gets lost in the woods and meets three magical sisters who prophesy "Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed." This magical instrument travels through the ages connecting people suffering through their darkest moments: a disfigured boy in Nazi Germany, an orphan during the Great Depression, and a farmer's child during World War II. Open your heart to their stories, and the harmonica will connect you to them too.

Rave: This is a well-written novel that reveals the patterns of history and breaks your heart only to stitch it back together and leave it warm and hopeful. It tackles some big issues, at a level that is accessible and engaging for middle schoolers. It would make a great classroom read.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to historical fiction fans 5th and up.

Topics and Trends:
WWII, the Great Depression, musical instruments, harmonicas, diversity


There's lots of extras on the author's site:

Source: school library

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club

Book talk: When Hitler invaded Denmark, the adults reluctantly accepted the occupation, too terrified of the overwhelming Nazi forces to fight back. But teenagers rose up to spark a resistance. Knud Pedersen founded the Churchill club with other students and together they started to sabotage the occupying Nazi forces. When the members were finally caught and it was revealed that the brave resistance fighters were teens, it sparked the Dutch resistance among adults. Read the history of the Churchill Club in their own words in this thrilling nonfiction account.

Rave: This inspiring true story of teenagers organizing themselves in a fight against overwhelming evil belongs on the shelves of every middle and high school library. The Dutch resistance is not particularly well covered in American schools, so it should contain a lot of new information on a high-interest topic. The book is meticulously researched and quotes extensively from interviews the author conducted. A great choice for narrative nonfiction.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students with an interest in WWII or looking for an engaging narrative nonfiction.

Topics and Trends: WWII, resistance fighters, changemakers, narrative nonfiction, history


Source: school library

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchilll Club by Phillip Hoose: buy it or check it out today!

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)

Book talk: “Lila Bard knew in her bones that she was meant to be a pirate.” Regency London is a hard, dirty place for an orphan, but Delilah Bard is harder and dirtier. She knows what it takes to survive, and she knows that she'd rather die on an adventure than live in safety. So when a mysterious man appears who can turn blood and whispers into weapons and preens about in his magical coat, she knows that following him will finally lead her to the adventure she's always wanted. She doesn't have much to miss about London when she travels with this strange man into another dimension where the water glows red with magic. Delilah is a woman with nothing to lose but her life, and several worlds of possibilities to gain.

Rave: I was so absorbed in this book that I almost missed my flight even though I was seated at the gate. Luckily I looked up during the last call and made it on. This is one of my favorite fantasy series and I read a lot of fantasy, so that's saying something. Delilah and Kell are all I could ask for in protagonists and the sharp writing, witty dialogue, and immersive world building kept me completely engaged. Highly recommended!

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of fantasy adventure.

Topics and trends: fantasy, adventure, strong characterization,


Clearly I'm not the only one obsessed with this series. You can find a whole wiki here and someone wrote a great song inspired by Lila Bard

Image result for a darker shade of magicImage result for a darker shade of magic
Bonus Quotes:

“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

“I apologize for shooting you in the leg.” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.”

“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”

“Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”

“He’s … charming and spoiled, generous and fickle and hedonistic. He would flirt with a nicely upholstered chair, and he never takes anything seriously.”

Source: Powell's Books

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Challenger Deep

Challenger Deep

Book talk: Caden is a brilliant student. He is well-liked by his peers and part of a loving family. But Caden is increasingly convinced that he is on a dangerous trip to the Marianas Trench with a crew that's threatening to mutiny. He is struggling to keep track of reality, but the choppy waters of his illness keep pulling him under. When he makes it to the surface, he gets glimpses of failed medication and looks of shame, pity, and disappointment. When he sinks into his delusions he's at the center of a conflict between the captain and crew as he documents their journey through his art. He is conflicted and fighting and exhausted, but giving up would mean losing everything.

Rave: An excellent book on schizophrenia. The way the narrative switches between reality and life on the ship keeps the reader off balance and provides a glimpse into the mind of someone who has schizophrenia. This is a book that really stays with you. For those who suffer from any mental illness there's many things to identify with from the struggle to find an effective treatment to the puzzle in the hospital missing a dang piece.  For those who have never had a mental illness, it's an illuminating glimpse into that experience that will foster empathy. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Every book its reader: It's certainly not a fast-paced action thriller, but for those who enjoy character studies and those who suffer from mental illness themselves, this book is an unforgettable experience.

Topics and Trends: Schizophrenia, mental illness, character-focused, building empathy


 Image result for challenger deep shustermanImage result for challenger deep shusterman
Bonus quotes:

“And when the abyss looks into you - and it will - may you look back unflinching.”

“You see demons in the eyes of the world, and the world sees a bottomless pit in yours.”

“They all think medicine should be magic, and they become mad at me when it's not.”

“Don Quixote - the famous literary madman - fought windmills. People think he saw giants when he looked at them, but those of us who've been there know the truth. He saw windmills, just like everyone else - but he believed they were giants. The scariest thing of all is never knowing what you're suddenly going to believe.”

“I feel her wave of worry like a patio heater - faint and ineffective, but constant.”

Source: public library

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, May 21, 2018


Book talk: “The heavy blade hung high above the prisoners, glinting against the stars, and then the Razor came down, a wedge of falling darkness cutting through the torchlight. One solid thump, and four more heads had been shaved from their bodies.” In a post-technological age where the past is all but forgotten, a rebellion is stirring. The nobility are being captured and executed. Their only hope is the mysterious red rook who keeps sneaking into prisons and freeing people, leaving a red-tipped feather behind. 

Rave: I adored this re-imagining of The Scarlet Pimpernel! The dystopian setting provides a perfect background and gender-swapping the main character creates a more modern feeling. There's the perfect mix of action, world-building, and romance. 

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of swash-buckling adventure stories and characters like Robin Hood. 8th & up

Topics and trends: adventure, romance, french revolution, re-tellings, dystopian, gender-swapping


Sharon Cameron has tons of cool extras on her site about everything from the science behind her extrapolations to create her future world to the art of swordplay.

Check out the trailer:

Bonus Quotes:

“He thought she was someone who could break the pattern of history. And he was offering to break it with her.” 

“She was clever, and beautiful, and hard as burnished bronze.” 

Source: school library

Rook by Sharon Cameron: buy it or check it out today!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Brief Reviews Winter 2015-16

The MiniaturistI enjoyed getting lost in the world of seventeenth century Amsterdam and the touch of magical realism. The miniaturist is a unique and mysterious character that drew me under a spell. It's a great escapist read for a vacation and makes me want to go back to Amsterdam. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: buy it or check it out today!

This book actually changed the way I see the world. The science behind how stereotypes really do affect all of us is simply astounding. As well as the toll that trying to fight those stereotypes can take on the body. Steel's writing is very accessible and intersperses personal anecdotes with the science so it's entertaining and easy for everyone to read. And everyone should read it. I can't recommend it enough. Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude M. Steele: buy it or check it out today!