Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tru & Nelle

Tru & Nelle (Tru & Nelle, #1)

Book talk: Nelle has lived in Monroeville, Alabama her whole life, so she knows how people there expect her to behave. But she's never felt comfortable in the frills and dresses other girls wear and would much rather climb trees or play with her slingshot than stay clean indoors. Tru is staying with relatives when he comes to town. With his fancy, big city fashions and high voice he is instantly marked as an outsider. The impeccably dressed boy and tom-boy find something in common in their love of Sherlock Holmes. Before long their pretend game of Sherlock and Watson turns into a real investigation when someone is falsely accused of a crime.

Rave: This book, based on the real-life friendship of Truman Capote and Harper Lee, contains so many gems that it's hard for a brief description to do it justice. Tru and Nelle (as they were called as children) instantly bond over their outsider status. They investigate cases while pretending to be Sherlock and Watson, hang out at the court house, write stories, and put on a memorable Halloween party. The book doesn't gloss over anything and racial prejudices, the Klan, depression, and abuse are all mentioned in a matter-of-fact way but they're not really focused on. I could see this confusing some kids but it would make an excellent read-aloud and discussion starter. These details help create an authentic sense of place. The book takes its structure from Capote and consists of a novel with a set of related short stories afterwards. Even those unfamiliar with Capote and Lee will be drawn into this story and find them easy to relate to as outsiders.

Every book its reader:
I'd give this to fans of historical fiction and outsider tales 4th grade and up.

Topics and trends: biographies, historical fiction, mysteries, gender


Source: school library

Tru & Nelle by G. Neri: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Midnight Thief

Midnight Thief (Midnight Thief, #1)

Book talk: Stealing is a way of life for Kyra, and she doesn't have much pity for the corrupt, rich people that she steals from. So when she gets a job offer that will pull one over on them, she takes it. But when she discovers the hidden motivations behind the job, she starts to question everything. Tristam is a loyal knight who is willing to sacrifice himself for the realm. He's always had faith in the palace and the unwavering moral rightness of his cause. But when he witnesses the brutal death of his best friend, it sets him on a path to discover the hidden corruption and brutality at court. A thief and a knight may make a strange pair, but in a world that no longer makes sense unlikely alliances may be the only answer.

Rave: I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I thought it was going to be another cliched fantasy thief story but it consistently defied this expectation. There were plenty of characters to root for and, refreshingly, there were psychological consequences to the violence they witness. I'm so used to reading books filled with violence where it's glorified and people just shrug it off that I really appreciated seeing characters responding to it in a realistic way. There are multiple groups playing against each other and none of them is entirely good or evil and some individuals in a group may be honorable while others are corrupt. I found this refreshingly realistic too. Blackburne does a wonderful job painting a portrait of a complex world where there aren't a lot of clearly good choices. Characters make mistakes and allegiances change as first impressions turn out to be wrong. I'd highly recommend it to fans of fantasy.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of high fantasy 7th & up.

Topics and trends: fantasy, medieval times, thieves, knights, werecreatures

Source: School library

Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne: buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Brief Reviews Spring 2016

The Stockholm OctavoI really enjoyed the setting of this novel in late 19th century Sweden. There were aspects of the plot that probably had more tension for me than intended because I have very little knowledge of Swedish history. The plot was intricate with plenty of political intrigue and many characters to follow. If you like plot-focused books I think this would appeal to you. Unfortunately I'm more of a character-focused reader and there weren't any characters that I felt particularly attached to. Still, it was a fun read and I found the tarot and fan aspects fascinating. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on women's roles behind the scenes during that era. The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

Pride and Predator (Ben Reese, #2)This was a great countryside mystery. The detective is an academic from America who happens to be in Scotland doing some appraising work on an old estate when a murder is committed. The characters were all drawn very well and the setting was a lot of fun. I enjoyed traveling back to Scotland via book. The mystery itself was engaging to piece together (although I figured it out pretty early on). I really enjoyed spending time with the characters and I'll be interested in reading the rest of the series. A fun, light vacation read. Pride and Predator by Sally Wright

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect ScienceI'm not usually a big fan of memoir but I found this account of a resident surgeon's life fascinating. He focuses on different issues facing medicine and provides insight in an approachable way. Gawande's writing style is clear and eloquent and I learned a lot. Far from the stereotype of the arrogant surgeon he's surprisingly willing to admit both his own shortcomings and those of the profession in general. I'll be reading his other works and I'd recommend it to those interested in the subject. Complications by Atul Gawande

Return to Augie Hobble** spoiler alert ** I definitely enjoyed parts of this novel and it had me chuckling quite a bit. With its short chapters, lovely illustrations, and sense of humor I think it would be particularly good for struggling readers. I didn't personally enjoy the novel as a whole as much as I thought I would though. It starts as a humorous realistic story about a kid whose dad owns an amusement park. Then it flirts with the supernatural as there's a possible werewolf. Then it suddenly turns into a tear jerker as Augie's best friend unexpectedly dies. That is hardly dealt with before the supernatural angle comes back on strong. The werewolf plot is finally tied up when his friend comes back from the dead as a ghost and hijinks ensue. The whole book was scattered and I couldn't get settled into it. Very little time was spent on character development and I sometimes even had difficulty keeping all the characters straight because they blended together. I'm sure the way the plot jumps around will be engaging for some readers, but it wasn't my thing. Return to Auggie Hobble by Lane Smith

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3) I really enjoyed this book and I like the way it concluded the trilogy, which is important to me because I've become so invested in these characters over the course of the series. But I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first two. The plot wasn't as intricate and there weren't as many meaty moral conundrums. The first two books I read in a sitting staying up late because I simply couldn't put them down. This book I enjoyed but read it over the course of several days and didn't have trouble stopping when it grew late. Still, if you've read the first two books you'll definitely want to finish up the series with this installment. The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)This is a fun fantasy series if you want some light reading but it doesn't really stand out from the pack and the plot doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. The writing is full of cliches and hard to pronounce made-up names for people and places. The world and the characters never felt authentic to me. First off, the whole premise of the book that the king would give that much power to a champion chosen from a group of people with such questionable backgrounds and loyalty is odd to me. Even the idea of the castle made of glass seems absurdly ill-advised. Secondly the characters don't seem to have authentic responses to their situations. The main character is a highly trained assassin who was orphaned at a young age, suffered abuse at the hands of her adopted father figure, and spent a year being brutalized in what is described in the book as a 'death camp.' And yet not long after being released from it her main concern is whether or not she can attend a ball? There are some references to the trauma she's suffered but overall she seems to have recovered incredibly quickly and well. Don't even get me started on the people telling her that she looks prettier when she smiles. (Because,you know, after all she's been through it's her responsibility to make the people at this corrupt court feel better when they look at her and as an assassin looking pretty should be her main priority.) In fact a large proportion of the narrative is devoted to her looks and how pretty she is and how handsome the prince and oh my goodness no one can resist them on account of their beauty! I'm also not sure how the captain of the guards for such a cruel king seems so inexperienced at killing people and just generally naive. How did he get that position? None of the characters are particularly nuanced. The main driving force of the plot is the love triangle and just as much time is spent on flirting as the tests for the champion. If you're looking for a light fantasy romance series, this will do the trick but if you're looking for an adventure about an assassin I'd look elsewhere. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass

Silver in the BloodThis is a frothy, light-hearted historical romance with some shape shifters and a coup plot thrown in for good measure. The story revolves around two New York socialite cousins at the end of the 19th century. They're sent to Romania to meet their mothers' family. One is outgoing and leaves a series of scandals in her wake while the other is more reserved. When they finally make it to the old family estate they discover a secret that their proper upbringing in no way prepared them for. It's a bit predictable and some of the characters are pretty one-note but that's in fitting with the light tone of the novel. There's excerpts of the girls' diaries and letters woven throughout the text and the relationship between them is my favorite part of the book. They have romantic subplots but the most important relationship in the plot is the friendship between them, which is refreshing. I particularly enjoyed how they both handle the news of their family secret differently and the more reserved cousin gets a chance to find her inner strength and thrive. Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

One This touching novel in verse is told from the perspective of conjoined twins. Grace and Tippi (named for Hitchcock actresses) have been sheltered and home-schooled their whole life, but a change in the family's fortune means that they have to attend school for the first time. They're understandably nervous about how the other kids will treat them, and are relieved to find two good friends. But just when they finally get settled into their new routine, things take a turn for the worse. This novel is a quick and emotional read and I loved getting to know Grace and Tippi. I wish the novel had a broader focus though. At the beginning it's revealed that their father is an alcoholic, their sister is anorexic, and Grace develops a crush on a boy at school. I thought the book would explore these sub-plots more but instead the second half focuses almost exclusively on medical issues around being conjoined. Especially considering how much Grace laments in the text of the novel how people see them as nothing more than conjoined twins I was disappointed at how much of the novel focused exclusively on this aspect of their lives. I wish the fact that they were conjoined was just one of many aspects about who they are that was explored in the novel instead of the main focus. All the other subplots I previously mentioned just get dropped once the medical issues arise and are never really resolved. I'd be interested to read a sequel that fleshes out the characters further. Still it is a moving novel with memorable characters and a very quick read if you'd like to try it.  One by Sarah Crossan

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4) This was mostly satisfying as a conclusion to the series, but I didn't like it as much as the other books. There were a lot of strange plot threads and characters to tie up. This meant that the focus was more on the plot than in the previous books where we got to spend a lot of time just getting to know the characters and exploring their relationships. One thing that was consistent across the books was the gorgeous language. There were so many striking passages that I gave up keeping track of them. There were a few things left vague at the end and I would have preferred more explanation, but overall I was happy with it. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Friday, June 8, 2018

Six of Crows

Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)

Book talk: The Barrel is the part of town controlled by warring gangs. The part people avoid if they can afford to, unless they have illegal tastes and nefarious intentions. Kaz came to the barrel as a broken child, but now he practically rules it. His path to the top wasn't pretty and he's done a lot to earn his reputation as a monster. When a richly rewarding job is offered to him, he sees the possibility not just to become wealthy enough to leave the barrel behind, but to slake his long-nursed thirst for revenge. The job is impossible, of course, so if he has any chance of succeeding and surviving he'll need a crew that's the best of the worst: “A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.” “Six people, but a thousand ways this insane plan could go wrong.”

Rave: I loved everything about this book from the rag-tag crew of misfits to the daring heist plot to the setting in the familiar world of the Grisha. The characters were fully developed and diverse including different races, sexual orientations, and physical abilities. An author's note at the end explains that she has to use a cane on occasion much like the character of Kaz and I really appreciated her thoughtfulness in the approach to all her characters. Most of them have gone through trauma and while that clearly affects them and isn't downplayed they still get the chance to change and grow and prove that they're survivors. The shifting perspective really allowed me to get a sense of each character and their struggles and made them feel very real and dear to me. It also helped create suspense because each character's knowledge was incomplete so seeing who knew what allowed me to piece together the plot in a way that was fun. Highly recommended, especially for fans of the Grisha trilogy (although you don't have to read that to understand this book.)

Every book its reader: I'd give this to fans of fantasy and heists. Think Ocean's Eleven crossed with Lord of the Rings. There's some pretty intense violence at times so I'd say 8th and up.

Topics and trends: Heists, fantasy, diversity, multiple perspectives, disability, LGBTQ

There's a strong fan community for this book, you can find its wiki here:

There's a lot of great fan art too, like this drawing of all the characters by Kevin Wada


“When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.”

“She wouldn't wish love on anyone. It was the guest you welcomed and then couldn't be rid of.”

“the only law that applied to her was gravity, and some days she defied that, too.”

“You wouldn't know a good time if it sidled up to you and stuck a lollipop in your mouth.”

“There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.”

Source: school library

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Weight of Feathers

The Weight of Feathers

Book talk: Two families of traveling performers, alike in dignity, meet in a small town. The Palomas have a mermaid act and the Corbeaus perform tight-rope acts up in tall trees. They put on costumes for the audience, but there's more truth to their acts than people realize. Both families have unique genetics that set them apart, and both are proud and insular and cling to tradition. One of those traditions is the feud that breeds a deep-seated hatred of the other family into their bones. When a son and daughter of these warring families fall in love, it threatens to tear both of their families apart.

Rave: A classic Romeo and Juliet with magical realism flair. The story revolves around two rival circus families each imbued with a special gift over air or water. The two families speak French or Spanish and a saying from each language opens every chapter to designate perspective. The language is beautiful and if the plot is a bit predictable it's still completely satisfying.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students looking for romance with a magical flair. 6th & up.

Topics and trends: Star-crossed lovers, magical realism, French, Spanish, circus performers, feuds, diversity

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Bonus Quote:
“He thought the feud was live ash a boot heel could stomp out. He didn't notice it burning down both their houses.”

Source: school library

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore: buy it or check it out today!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Detective Gordon

Detective Gordon: The First Case

Book talk: Detective Gordon is getting on in years but he's still the best detective around. When he discovers a young mouse who steals a single nut out of hunger, he decides that instead of arresting her, he should take her on as an apprentice. A case is calling, but first they must take care of the terribly important business of tea and cakes!

Rave: This book is full of wry humor and witty observations. Detective Gordon has a good heart and shows mercy as he metes out justice to the woodland creatures. There's a lot of cute childhood touches like how particular Gordon is with his stamp. It reminds me of how serious the kids take it when I let them stamp their library books. It's all rounded out with simple but beautiful illustrations.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to early chapter book readers who enjoy animals and mystery. It would also make a great class read aloud.

Topics and trends: early chapter books, mysteries, animals,

Source: school library

The First Case by Ulf Nilsson: buy it or check it out today!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things (Tiny Pretty Things, #1)

Book talk: Ballet is a delicate and graceful dance, but the dancers are strong, hard, and fiercely competitive. Nowhere is this more true than at the American Ballet Conservatory. The top ballet academy attracts dancers that are more concerned with being the best than being happy. They will push their bodies and their relationships to the limits to get the lead, and if they have to take someone else down to get to the top, so be it.

Rave: Make no mistake, this is a soap opera in novel form--high drama full of frenemies and betrayal. It is highly entertaining though, and the characters are well-rounded enough that I cared about their struggles even though they were far from perfect. I enjoyed taking some ballet for fun when I was younger, but I can't imagine what it must be like to have this kind of dedication and focus as a teenager. After reading this book, I'm glad I was a lazy dance student!

Every book its reader: I'd give this to students looking for female-centered drama 8th & up.

Topics and Trends: ballet, diversity, drama, queen bees


Source: school library

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton: buy it or check it out today!