Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

Sage is one of four orphan boys plucked from orphanages by a nobleman named Conner. Their kingdom of Carthya is in chaos since the death of the royal family, and Conner plans to present one of the ophans as the long-lost Prince Jaron, the rightful heir to the throne. Sage looks like Jaron, but his defiant attitude and rough ways make it hard to believe anyone could turn him into an acceptable prince. This is the story of those boys and the web of lies surrounding them. You will definitely root for Sage to be selected, even though he doesn't seem to want to be chosen. This was adventurous and fun, and will definitely appeal to fantasy fans. Recommended especially for 4th-7th graders who like fantasy and action books.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

Adults will remember the movie Schindler's List, but I'm guessing kids probably haven't heard of Oskar Schindler. Fortunately, this book brings Schindler to a new generation with the true story of the youngest Jew on Schindler's list. Leon Leyson was a young boy when Germany invaded Poland. His family was forced to live in a ghetto, then in a work camp. Leon's father had a job in a factory run by Oskar Schindler, and no one knew it at the time, but it was a factory that would save 1,100 people's lives. Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party and a German, but for some reason he made it his life's work to hire Jews in his factory and to keep them from being killed by the Nazis. There were many times in Leon's life when he escaped death by a sheer stroke of luck. He was starving and mistreated and worked almost to death. But when Schindler added him to his list of factory workers (along with Leon's father, mother, brother and sister), it was his only hope to survive World War II. As you can imagine, it's a great story of courage as well as heartbreak. This book is well-written and accessible and highly recommended for readers as young as fourth or fifth grade.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

Travis Coates has come back from the dead. He passed away five years ago and opted to have his head frozen. Scientists miraculously figured out how to bring frozen heads back to life in the intervening years, and now Travis is alive again but he feels like he just died yesterday. The problem is that five years have passed for everyone else—five difficult years in which his closest friends grieved and adjusted to life without him. His best friend is in college, his girlfriend is engaged to someone else, his parents are keeping a secret from him, and Travis is stuck back at age 16 in his old high school. This book is bittersweet and funny and really quite moving at times. You will sometimes cringe at his behavior, but you will also sympathize with Travis as he deals with adjusting to being a scientific wonder. Recommended for high school readers who want something a little different.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender

On a modern-day school trip to Paris, Colette sees the ghost of Marie Antoinette. It takes her a while to realize that the long-dead queen is beheading modern day people, and that thanks to her family name, Colette may be next. Much of the plot revolves around Colette's horrible "mean girl" friends and  a couple of intriguing French boys. This escapist story was a fun read—I admit that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Recommended for readers who are fans of the Clique series or even fans of French history. Fun for 7th grade-up.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Yes, this is a popular TV show, but it originated as this book, which is the true story of one woman's year in a women's prison. Piper Kerman was a Smith College graduate who spent her first year after college traveling around the world with drug mules. Piper didn't mastermind anything or actually transport drugs, but she did knowingly transport drug money. She soon left that life and settled into a more normal existence, but ten years later her former "friends" turned her in and her past caught up with her. She was sentenced to 13 months in a women's detention center, and at age 35 she served her time. The book provides a really fascinating look at a place that most of us will never see, and it also gives a sympathetic view of the women who are incarcerated. Many lack an education and access to good attorneys, and the prison system does nothing to educate, rehabilitate, or otherwise help them be productive citizens. This is definitely worth reading. Recommended for high school on up.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

All the Truth That's in Me by Julie Berry

This is an intriguing book about a young woman who has been abducted and later returned to her home. Instead of being welcomed back, she is treated with suspicion and loathing—partly because she returns with half of her tongue cut out. The story is set in an unnamed time and place, but it feels like pre-colonial days in New England. The village Judith comes from has a Puritan air about it, and is under attack from "homelanders" sailing from in from some unknown place. Judith's mother is especially ashamed of her daughter and doesn't allow Judith to express herself of explain her own disappearance or the related murder of another girl from the village. Judith pines for Lucas, the boy next door, who is now a young man ready to marry another village girl. The story is narrated by Judith as if she is speaking directly to Lucas, explaining her actions and revealing her secrets little by little. The writing is poetic and there are subtle revelations on almost every page, so pay attention. Spoilers ahead—stop reading here if you care. I did enjoy the book, but I had a few things about it that bothered me. I found the undefined setting to be distracting —I kept looking for actual historical details that weren't there. I thought the homelanders would come back or be revealed to have greater meaning. And while the cover is beautiful, Judith is specifically said to be plain looking, so I think the gorgeous, modern-looking model on the front doesn't really reflect the character of Judith.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl is the second book by Rainbow Rowell to come out in 2013. I am a huge fan of Eleanor & Park, so I was excited to finally read Fangirl as well. This is the story of Cathe and her first year at college. She is an introverted girl, and an identical twin. Her mother abandoned the family years ago and she has a lovely father who is a bit unstable. It's hard enough to leave him behind, but she's also facing life on her own for the first time because her twin sister, Wren, chose not to room with her at college. Cathe's passion is writing fan fiction about Simon Snow—it's what she has always done and she can't imagine life without that emotional and creative outlet. This book takes readers through Cathe's entire freshman year. She struggles with Wren, she worries about her dad, she finds a surprising friend in her surly roommate, and she meets Levi, a really nice guy who slowly wins her over. Rainbow Rowell knows how to slowly bring characters to life and she knows how they talk. You leave her books knowing exactly what these people are like and feeling like you have a new set of friends. This is a really satisfying book for readers who like to live deeply in someone else's life. Recommended for high school readers.    

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

I really enjoyed this book. I knew nothing about John Snow and his discovery that cholera was a water-borne disease, and now I know a lot. The story is set in London in 1854, and the main character is an orphan boy named Eel who is struggling to survive and support his little brother. Eel learns that people in his neighborhood are dying from the deadly disease that they call the "blue death." The theory of the day is that the disease is caused by "miasma," which meant it was carried in the foul-smelling air of London. Eel runs to alert Dr. John Snow, hoping that he could help save a man who was dying of the disease. John Snow doesn't help the sick man, but he does tell Eel that he thinks the disease, called cholera, is spread through contaminated water from the nearby Broad Street Pump. Dr. Snow hires Eel to help him prove his theory by interviewing neighbors and mapping the spread of the disease. It was obvious that the author incorporated a lot of historical facts into the story, but it never overwhelmed the story for me. I enjoyed the story and what I learned from it. This would be a perfect tie-in for a middle school science class. Recommended for 4th-6th grade readers.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

Tane and Rebecca, two teenagers from New Zealand, decode a cryptic computer message send through outer space, and discover winning lottery numbers. They also discover that the message came from themselves in the future, and that winning the lottery is just the beginning of what they need to do to save the world from complete devastation. They start on a quest to follow their own instructions that leads them to buy a mini-submarine, invade an island research lab, and try to save humanity from a bizarre cloud of destruction. I can't begin to explain the science behind all this—to me it was wildly implausible. But my middle school students love this book, and I will admit that it had me wanting to read to the end. Recommended for middle school kids who like science fiction, dystopia, and action.

Me, Him, Them and It by Caela Carter

Evelyn has some serious problems. In her efforts to annoy her distant and difficult parents, she starts to party and be a "bad girl." When she gets involved with a guy she doesn't care about and becomes pregnant she doesn't know where to turn. All she knows is that she can't possibly terminate her pregnancy. But who can she trust? Where can she go? The father of the baby has checked out. Her best friend is angry at her. Her parents idea of supporting her is to send her to live with an aunt in Chicago. Evelyn is mixed up and self-centered and smart, and her journey through adult decisions is both frustrating and fascinating. I kept wanting to read just to find out what (and when) she would finally decide to do. This is definitely a book for high school and up, and is recommended for readers of realistic fiction who like stories about emotional growth.

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Did you know that the U.S. Secret Service started out as a group of men who were working to stop counterfeiters from producing fake money? Back in the 1800s is was relatively easy to create counterfeit money, but it was difficult to actually make really good counterfeit bills. A man named Benjamin Boyd was very good at making fake money, and he made a lot of money at it. But he ended up in prison, and that's when a group of Chicago men came up with a plan to get Boyd out of prison. Strangely enough, that plan included stealing the dead body of President Abraham Lincoln and holding it for ransom. This book tells the story of the grave robbing plot as well as the story of the Secret Service agent whose job it was to stop the robbery. The book is a quick read that includes photographs of the people and places involved. I learned a lot from this book, and enjoyed adding to my knowledge of United States history. There are many characters, both good guys and bad guys in this story, and the hardest thing about this book was keeping track of who was who. Recommended for 6th grade and up.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Heaven is Paved with Oreos by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Fourteen-year-old Sarah Zorn and her best friend Curtis tell people they are dating just to get them to stop wondering. The truth is they are best friends and they do science projects together (like reconstructing the skeleton of a dead calf). Things change when Sarah's hippie grandmother takes her on a pilgrimage to Rome and Curtis decides he wants to stop pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend. This book is Sarah's journal of her trip and her changing feelings for Curtis. It's also the story of family secrets that her grandmother brings to light on the Spanish Steps in Rome. It's a sweet story about travel, family and romance that would be great for middle school girls. BONUS: It's also the companion book to Dairy Queen, which is one of my all-time favorite young adult novels. Curtis is D.J. Schwenk's quiet younger brother and D.J. and Sarah get to be friends in this book. Hopefully this will become a gateway book for middle schoolers to move on to Dairy Queen.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

In the not-so-distant future, a mosquito-bourne disease has killed off most of humankind. A small group of immune people survive and they have the technology to travel back in time. A group of "travelers" head back to 2014 to try to head off the disastrous future that they know is coming. The day they travel to 2014, a "time native" named Ethan sees a naked girl appear by the river where he is fishing. He notices a number written on her arm. He gives her a sweatshirt and she wanders away, but he never forgets her or her number. A couple of years later she shows up in one of his high school classes. Prenna lives by the rules of her people—she can never tell where she is from, never interfere with history, and never be intimate with anyone outside of her community. She tries to stay away from Ethan but they have a strong connection and when a homeless man tells them the meaning of the number that was on her arm, they learn that they need to take some action together. I enjoyed this book a lot—it's got romance, action, and time travel, and characters that you end up caring a lot about. Recommended for 7th grade and up. (My copy was an advance copy from the publisher. The book will be published in April 2014. Galloway students can borrow my copy until then.)

Reboot by Amy Tintera

Imagine a world where people die and come back to life. It seemed like a good thing in this future society where there was a fear that the human race was dying off. However, people came to fear the "reboots" and humans decided to enslave them and use them to fight battles too dangerous for people to fight. Reboots are known by a number—the number of minutes they were dead before they rebooted. The main character of this book is 178. It's a scary-high number, because it's common knowledge that the higher the number the less human a reboot can be. 178 doesn't is an excellent fighter (and killer) and doesn't feel very human herself until she becomes the trainer for 22, an unusual reboot who hasn't yet learned to give up his humanity. When they find out there may be humans and reboots who want to rebel against the system they find the courage to leave their prison and head off to the slums of Texas.  And yes, they also find some romance along the way. This book was strong on action, especially in the last half of the book. The problem for me was that I didn't fully get invested in the characters. I thought it was a pretty good book but it borrowed a lot from other dystopian books and didn't rise to the level of The Hunger Games or Starters or Unwind, or The 5th Wave, which are some of my favorites. Still recommended for dystopia fans, though. Probably best for 8th grade and up.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland


From the cover this looks like a breezy summer romance book, which it is in a way, but I didn’t find it quite as satisfying as I thought I might. The main character, named Cricket, spends much of her time with her best friend, Jules, and her family, partially to avoid her own divorced parents. When Jules’ mother dies unexpectedly, Cricket finds herself rejected by her best friend, uninvited to stay at their Nantucket home for the summer, and on her own to find a summer job on the island. It’s not the romantic summer she was expecting, but it has its surprises and an unlikely romance (and Cricket’s first sexual encounter). I was moderately interested in this story but I found that I didn’t really like Cricket or Jules, and there was too much going on for me to get very attached to their story (a dead senator, an adopted stepbrother from Russia, a long-lost tell-all diary of Cricket’s mom). This one was just so-so. For a truly breezy romance I recommend This is What Happy Looks Like byJennifer E. Smith