Friday, August 31, 2018

Bridge of Clay

Image result for bridge clay coverBridge of Clay
Markus Zusak
Knopf, October, 2018 522 pages
Grades 11-Up
Literary Fiction

Alternating stories tell the tales of two different generations of the same family. In the past, Penny leaves her communist homeland at age eighteen for a new start in Australia, where she slowly gets her education, meets and falls in love with Michael Dunbar, and has a family of five boys. Now, Michael Dunbar has returned to a house of young men, who call him the Murderer. What happened to this family? Zusak slowly reveals the long progression of cancer through Penny's body, her death, and the tragic aftermath of the family. Michael becomes distracted and can't face the grief, growing increasingly distant, finally leaving home all together. The oldest son and narrator, Matthew, is left holding the bag and raising his brothers, forced to leave school and work fulltime in the process. All of the boys grieve in a different way with the fourth son, Clay, seemingly hit the hardest. He was the closest to his mother and is the keeper of her tales and secrets. Clay develops a romantic relationship with a young female jockey from the neighborhood, who becomes his lifeline. Upon the return of Michael, Clay accepts his estranged father's invitation and joins him in the country constructing a bridge, connecting the past to the present and bringing the family peace and healing.

This is Zusak's first book in ten years following his critically acclaimed best seller and book group darling The Book Thief. Zusak is considered a teen writer, and so this book is labeled "teen", but it really is more of an adult book featuring primarily, though not exclusively, young characters. The writing is intense and dense. Every word of the 522 pages is meant to be there and it reads like poetry. There is much in the way of symbolism that went right over my head and will probably also miss the intended audience. Bridge of Clay will certainly win awards and all the libraries will buy it, yet I don't think it will be enjoyed by teen readers. Zusak maintains the dark mood and setting effectively throughout the book. The story is very sad and almost hopeless, though it ends on somewhat of a healing note. Adult book groups and lovers of literary fiction will find much to delve into and appreciate. I started reading this book at the end of June and finally finished it this morning. I did make it through, but found it to be a bit of a slog. Being more of a family saga, the action meanders back and forth through time and, really, not much happens. There was one big plot surprise towards the end that made me jump, which was cool, although maybe not worth the time invested over all, although, I did make it through, so I must have enjoyed it on some level. Bridge of Clay is a carefully crafted and beautifully worded piece of literature that travels the reader to a very specific time and place. It will be loved and appreciated by adults and probably unread by teens.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Endling: The Last

Image result for endling last coverEndling: The Last
Katherine Applegate
Harper, 2018 381 pages
Grades 4-7
Endling series #1

When her pack is attacked and Byx is the only survivor, she becomes an endling, the last of her species of darines, dog-like creatures who can talk, glide almost like flying and sense dishonesty in others. She sets off on a quest to hopefully find more of her kind and meets fellow travelers along the way in Wizard of Oz fashion: one at a time. The first is Tobble, a small creature of the wobbyk species, which is thought to be insignificant. Next is Khara, a human girl who poses as a male poacher and harbors other secrets about her true identity. They end up picking up a few other travelers who join their band, including Gambler, a cat-like creature known as a felivet and two different human young men. It is hard to know who to trust, even with Byx being able to decipher lies, and mistakes are made. The dangers are many and the crew of friends must more than once fight for their lives. The power-hungry ruling humans are looking to eliminate darines, as well as other species that may threaten their control. Byx is not only the last known darine, but is in grave danger of being hunted down. This unlikely band of allies learns to trust each other, overcome past hurts, and become a family, all while escaping the bad guys and following the trail to where other darines are rumored to exist. The moving island of the darines is in view as the story ends, leading the reader to the next installment, yet to be released.

Applegate leaves the world of realistic fiction, where she has been living the past few years of her successful career, back to a place closer to where she got her start when writing the Animorphs series. Certainly of a higher quality than the Animorphs, Applegate has nevertheless created a really cool world with interesting and original creatures, who must survive dangerous circumstances. The action never stops and the plot offers surprises and twists. Adventure lovers will appreciate the many battle scenes, while fantasy lovers will enjoy the truly original new creatures. The book opens with a map, signaling to readers that they need to fasten their seat-belts, a high quality, epic adventure awaits. The plot can get intense at times and there are parts of the story that are truly tragic and sad, yet Applegate manages to infuse humor within the story. All of the main characters are likable and enduring and will surely appeal to readers. The book is a bit long for some readers, but kids who appreciate a nice juicy story will get sucked right in and keep turning pages. Perfect for fans of the Warriors series and anything Rick Riordan, the Endling series will most likely join the cannon of high quality children's fantasy that stands the test of time.

Monday, August 27, 2018

News from me, Lucy McGee

Image result for news from me lucy mcgee coverNews from me, Lucy McGee
Mary Amato
Holiday House, October, 2018 129 pages
Grades 2-5
Realistic Fiction
Lucy McGee series #1

Creative soul, Lucy McGee, has a dilemma. Her father has signed her up for classmate Phillip's Songwriting Club in the school library after school, but popular girl, Scarlett, has invited her to join her new Craft Club. Lucy would love to hang out with the popular girls, so she lies to her father, blows off the Songwriting Club, and goes to Scarlett's house after school. Scarlett tricks Lucy into cleaning the shed that is intended to be the new clubhouse. The next week after repeating the same sneaky behavior Scarlett tricks Lucy into painting the shed. After Scarlett gets in trouble with her parents and blames Lucy she decides that Scarlett is not nice and tells Phillip that she will for sure be at the Songwriting Club, only another invitation arrives from Scarlett, offering her a deal she can't refuse. Once at the Craft Club with the other girls it is not as fun as Lucy imagines, especially after Scarlett has another nasty trick up her sleeve. What should Lucy do? Is it too late to get back in Phillip's good graces and how can she get her family to trust her again? Lucy comes up with a diabolical revenge plan for Scarlett and her pals, but does she have the courage and spite to go through with it?

No stranger to writing chapter books for newly independent readers; Mary Amato pens a brand new series with a lovable and quirky protagonist for fans of Junie B. Jones, Ivy and Bean, and Clementine. Lucy has a tendency to find trouble and a personality that will make readers giggle as she gets the situation just a little bit wrong. The conflict is one that all too many kids can relate to, trying to fit in with the popular crowd and learning how to deal with the class mean girl. Amato resolves the main conflict in a satisfying, yet gentle, way, demonstrating to readers how to handle tricky situations in their own lives. Lucy admits to her transgressions, makes amends, and moves forward in a positive way. Her family is both supportive and hilarious, as her two younger sibs teach her to howl like a wolf when upset. Lucy's little brother is right; it DOES make you feel better. Black and white cartoon illustrations, contributed by Jessica Meserve, add to the humor and make the book that much more approachable to the target audience. Back matter includes the lyrics to the songs that Lucy and her pals compose on their ukuleles. Amato offers a website address containing the songs being performed, karaoke tracks, and ukulele tips and chords, inspiring future musicians. A creative new series sure to kick start some home song writing. The second in the series, Sing with me, Lucy McGee is set for an April, 2019 release.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Louisiana's Way Home

Image result for louisiana's way home coverLouisiana's Way Home
Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick, October, 2018 227 pages
Grades 4-7
Realistic Fiction

Louisiana finds herself dragged out of her bed in the middle of the night by her eccentric grandmother who states, "The day of reckoning has arrived. The hour is close at hand. We must leave immediately." Louisiana, use to her grandmother's crazy midnight rantings, obediently hops in the car and the two explorers take to the road. Granny is hoping to break the family curse, but her plans are derailed once she is stricken by a terrible toothache. The pain becomes so intense that she must pull over in rural Georgia and twelve year old Louisiana takes the wheel and slowly finds the nearest dentist. Granny must have all of her teeth removed and recuperation must commence before continuing the quest. The duo finds shelter at the Good Night, Sleep Tight Motel, where Louisiana barters for their stay by agreeing to sing at a funeral. As Granny rests, Louisiana meets a boy with a crow who helps her obtain food and offers friendship. Life with Granny becomes even more complicated when she disappears and leaves a note completely rocking Louisiana's world. It is up to Louisiana to separate the fact from the fiction in her life, discover who to trust, and to try to figure out the best path to continue her course.

For the first time ever Newbery winning author (and for my money the best author for children currently writing) Kate DiCamillo has written a sequel. Well, actually more of a companion novel, to 2016's Raymie NightingaleRaymie is not one of my favorite Kate DiCamillo books and, frankly, it didn't particularly stick with me. Louisiana, one of Raymie's friends is now getting her own story and I think it is more successful than the first. Told in a folksie first person narration, Louisiana's voice is clear and consistent all the way through. The reader will experience first-hand the disillusionment Louisiana experiences with Granny and her transition to independence and maturity. The writing is predictably stellar and every word counts, much like in Because of Winn Dixie. The southern setting is fully realized and the quirky characters become friends by the end. A quiet story, though full of plot and conflict, I enjoyed spending time in Louisiana's world during this pivotal time in her life. Louisiana often reference her favorite book Pinocchio in literal and figurative ways, perhaps leading kids to this classic children's book. The book is not long, has large print and reads quickly, making it a good choice for reluctant readers or as a read aloud. Another winner from a tried and true author.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Cardboard Kingdom

Image result for cardboard kingdom coverThe Cardboard Kingdom
Chad Sell
Knopf/Penguin, 2018 281 pages
Grades 4-6
Graphic Novel

Sell draws from his childhood, creating an idyllic neighborhood where kids run around loose all day creating a magical world. The young residents of the neighborhood are of different cultures, family situations, and ages, yet they all have one thing in common: a huge imagination. Each child takes on an imaginary personae and they spend a summer going on quests, fighting battles, and having adventures. We see a mixture of good guys and bad guys and even some kids who prefer to sell potions (lemonade) to the participants or draw the proceedings. Some teenage bullies almost ruin the fun, but the gang bans together to get rid of the haters. Every child has their own unique characteristics and challenges, but all are accepted in the cardboard kingdom and this group of children supports each other's differences, tastes, and abilities. Finally, summer winds to an end and the gang must report back to the reality of school, each a little stronger knowing that they take the magic of the Cardboard Kingdom with them to the outside world.

Loosely basing the story on growing up in a fun neighborhood in Wisconsin where the kids could run around playing imagination games, Sell creates a book that he says he would have enjoyed as a child. All children will be welcome to this party regardless of skin color, family structure, or gender identity. Sell breaks down typical gender roles in play, allowing boys to be sorceresses and girls to be wild banshees. He also illustrates how it is sometimes liberating to be "bad" and that all of us have a little hero and villain living inside ourselves. Motivation behind bullying is explored and the readers may gain some understanding watching the gang win over the neighborhood brute. The adults in the story are flawed, yet present and loving, and try their best to be supportive of their children, even if they initially handle a situation in a hurtful way. Some of the chapters are wordless, relying soling on the excellent full-color illustrations, and the meaning is conveyed expertly. Sell gets some character development help from his buddies, who are given credit, making for a diverse rainbow of children. Even though there are a lot of kids to keep straight, they are introduced slowly as to allow the reader to absorb them all. Sure to encourage creativity and tolerance in the audience, Sell has assembled a winner perfect for the fans of Smile, Invisible Emmie and Roller Girl.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The War Outside

Image result for war outside hesseThe War Outside
Monica Hesse
Little Brown, Sept. 2018 318 pages
Grades 8-Up
Historical Fiction

Alternating Points of view tell the story of two girls detained in an internment camp during World War II, who strike up an unlikely friendship. Haruko travels with her mother and sister to Crystal City, Texas to join father, who was picked-up by the FBI. One of the first girls Haruko meets is, Margot whose father is accused of being a Nazi. Although his father wishes to stay apart from the other Nazi detainees, he is feeling pressure to join their ranks. Meanwhile, Haruko worries about her brother, who is serving overseas with the American forces. The two girls develop a close friendship, sharing fears and secrets, that begins to turn into something more. Tragedy strikes when two young girls drown in the camp swimming pool and the fragile harmony within the camp threatens to explode. Both sets of parents make choices for their families impacting the girl's future and they must in turn make their own tough choices, possibly betraying those they care about the most.

Hesse turns away from the Holocaust towards an unexplored chapter of World War II history in her sophomore teen novel. An author's note at the end explains Hesse's interest in Crystal City and separates the fact from fiction. Much different than other internment camps in the US during the war, Crystal City housed what was considered families of war criminals and spies. Since exchanges were made with the enemy countries, these residents were treated marginally better than other detainees and this is the only internment camp of mixed Japanese and German families. Hesse has certainly done her research and crafts and interesting story around the facts. The setting is fully realized and readers can almost feel the heat and dryness of the Texas sun. Though quiet in nature, there is enough action to keep readers turning pages. Much as in Girl in the Blue Coat, the plot gets really interesting in the end and Hesse is not afraid to surprise the reader. The romance is mostly inferred and not really acted upon, making readers guess if it is really happening, much as the characters themselves are questioning the status of the relationship. The adults are realistically flawed, as are the young people. Mistakes are made, feelings are hurt, and there are no easy answers or happy endings, yet the reader is left with a feeling of hope and satisfaction. Monica Hesse is a talent to continue to watch and her books will certainly find a readership with sensitive lovers of historical fiction.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tales of Sasha

Image result for tales sasha secret coverTales of Sasha: The Big Secret
Alexa Pearl
Paco Sordo, Illustrator
Little Bee, 2017 98 pages
Grades 2-4

Sasha is not like the other horses. She has way too much energy and, although she desperately wants to follow the rules, tends to veer way off course. Sasha doesn't even fit in with her two sisters, who are so much like each, yet so different from Sasha. At least her best friend, Wyatt accepts and likes her for who she really is, even though he too is different than Sasha. One day a sparkly spot appears on Sasha's small white patch on her back and she is feeling more itchy than usual. Finally after getting in trouble, yet again, in school Sasha's parents confess a secret: Sasha is not their biological offspring, although they love her as though she was born to them. This revelation makes sense to Sasha as she tries to decide whether or not to share her secret. The decision is made for her when one day while hiking with Wyatt the itchy, sparkly feeling returns and Sasha discovers wings sprouting from her back. She has the power to fly! Wyatt pledges to keep her secret and Sasha is determined to find other flying horses just like her.

First released in January, 2017, the Tales of Sasha series is coming out quickly. The ninth installment is set to be released later in the month with number ten slated for December. This is perfect for emerging chapter book readers, who find comfort and skill building in series reading. This new series is perfect for the intended audience. The print is large, the vocabulary low, the interest is high and margins are wide. Cartoon-like illustrations can be found on every page, further welcoming the unconfident reader. Horse lovers will especially appreciate this story, as well as kids who enjoy light fantasy and magical creatures, which has been a recent trend. Children who also march to the beat of a different drummer will relate to Sasha and be reassured that traits that may set them apart from their peers may actually turn out to be an asset. Who knows? Maybe what makes us different will lead to the power of flight. A sweet, gentle fantasy that will amuse newly emerging readers and help their imaginations take flight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Image result for caraval book coverCaraval
Stephanie Garber
Flatiron, 2017 416 pages
Grades 8-Up

Scarlett has always dreamed that the magical traveling Caraval would visit her remote island as a diversion and escape from her abusive father. After a tragedy strikes the show, the mysterious proprietor, Legend, has stopped traveling, choosing instead to host an interactive magical game yearly by invitation only. Scarlett is thrilled to receive an invitation, only weeks away from her arranged wedding to a gentleman she has never met, which includes a ticket for her beloved sister, Tella. Complications arise as Tella disappears and Scarlett enters the game with a mysterious and handsome sailor, Julian, who poses as her fiancĂ©. The goal of the game is revealed to be a challenge to locate the missing Tella and all of the contestants are racing to claim the prize. For Scarlett the stakes are higher than simply winning the grand-prize of a wish. She is devoted to her sister and determines to find her and release her from the clutches of Legend. Only the world of Caraval is not what it seems. No one is to be trusted, time works differently, and the world shifts and changes before your very eyes. To further complicate matters, Scarlett is reluctantly working with Julien, but is he the ally he claims to be? A new young man, Dante, enters the scene, further adding romantic intrigue, but Scarlett is not here to fall in love. She is here to rescue her sister and to enjoy one last adventure before she enters a life of domesticity and security away from her controlling father, only she must first beat the master showman at his own game.

Debut author, Garber's entry into teen fiction is a real winner. Though similar in theme and mood to The Night CircusCaraval is a fresh world all of its own. Atmospheric and mystically dark, readers will almost feel as if they are experiencing this crazy game right along with Scarlett. The plot offers a lot of fresh surprises and twists. The reader is never really sure if Julian is a good guy or a bad guy, and feels the same attraction and confusion to the charismatic young man as does our protagonist. Garber, luckily enough, does not leave us dangling, but satisfactorily wraps-up Scarlett's story line, though leaving a teaser about Tella, leading the reader to the next installment, featuring the other sister. Even though this is a work of fantasy, the story is believable and readers will be swept into its world. The romance is also believable and is less love triangle driven than most teen books I have read in recent years. Readers will identify with cautious and timid Scarlett and cheer as she gains confidence. An interesting note is that Scarlett has a condition known as 
synesthesia, and thus sees color in emotions. This adds a dimension to the story and may alert and educate readers about this ability. The sisterly bound of Frozen proportions is the first theme of the book and readers will either relate or wish they had a sibling that they are just as close with. Tella is very different than Scarlett and, though I don't read sequels, I am very interested in reading the second installment, Legendary, which was released this past May and hints at maybe being even better than the first.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Hey, Kiddo

Image result for hey kiddo krosoczka coverHey, Kiddo
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Graphix/Scholastic, Oct., 2018 320 pages
Grades 7-Up
Graphic Memoir

Krosoczka offers an honest and unflinching account of his childhood from his early days living with a drug addicted mother through his school days living with his grandparents. Jarrett's grandparents were heavy drinkers and smokers, who often communicate by yelling, yet managed to give him a stable and happy childhood. We see through Jarrett's eyes the love and hurt he has for his mother as she spends time in prison, is released, tries to get her life on track, and falls back into drugs. Throughout it all, she is kind, yet flawed. He has natural resentment towards her, yet delevopes understanding and peace by book's end. Krosoczka highlights the love and support gleaned from his extended family, friendships, and, eventually, finds his estranged father and half-siblings. By book's end Jarrett has learned two important truths in life: our family is what we make it and does not have to be defined by blood and that art can be a life-line. An author's note at the end tells us a little more of the story, what the future holds for the characters, and reassurance that out hero turns out okay, despite being raised in the shadow of addiction.

A complete departure from Krosoczka's usual work (Lunch Lady series/Jedi Academy) and for an older audience, the veteran cartoonist turns to his own past to deliver a powerful memoir from his own childhood. Perfect for the graduates of Smile or Sunny Side Up, Krosoczka's account is personal, honest, and heart-felt. I related to the story, having also been affected by addiction, and found myself getting very emotional, especially during the author's note at the end. Readers will certainly also relate to Krosoczka's story, whether or not they live with addiction, and will empathize with his experience. The story isn't all sad. There are funny bits, regular growing up moments, and coming of age experiences. I love how Krosoczka delivers the message about the importance of art in his life, which will also be relatable to many. The illustrations are striking and looser than his usual work. Krosoczka uses orange as an accent color, which he explains is the color of his grandfather's pocket handkerchief. I love the pineapple wallpaper that is used as chapter pages and was created from collaging from the original in his grandparent’s house. This is a book with a lot of heart that becomes obvious to the reader comes from a very personal place. It will show young readers that their stories are not alone and that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. And most of all: find your passion and your healthy people and surround yourself with that which is good. Most of all, families are messy, but that doesn't mean we stop loving them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Mac B. Kid Spy: Mac Undercover

Image result for mac b kid spy  undercoverMac B. Kid Spy: Mac Undercover
Mac Barnett
Mike Lowery, Illustrator
Orchard, 2018 160 pages
Grades 2-5
Adventure/Humor/Graphic Hybrid

Children's literature's funnyman, Mac Barnett, turns to "real" stories from his 1980's childhood, when he worked as a spy for the queen of England. An introduction puts the story in a historical context, explaining what the KGB is and how Russian spies were a dangerous threat at that time. We then see young Mac getting the life-changing call and flying over to England for a briefing from the Queen. The coronation spoon has been stolen from the tower of London and it is up to Mac to retrieve it. The queen arms him with one of her Corgis, a secret identity kit, some dried out biscuits (cookies) and a written excuse for his teacher. He is led to France, where he witnesses an art heist and meets the country’s president and, finally, to Russia for a big showdown. A trade is made, a truce is called, and the day is saved, although a cliff-hanging ending suggests another adventure isn't far behind.

Perfect for readers just cracking into chapter books, Barnett offers a fun and exciting story perfect for fans of Captain Underpants. Certainly of high interest, this new series is silly and punny, yet does not rely on potty humor or poor grammar. Readers may even learn something along the way as Mac jumps headfirst into adventure and unravels the clues with his Corgi sidekick. Boys, especially, will be attracted to this volume and will eagerly await the next installment. The cartoon-like illustrations are plentiful and use two bonus colors: yellow and blue, which made matters confusing when the queen mentions her purple dress. I read an advanced reader's copy and hopefully this will be corrected by the finished product. The story reads quickly, the action never flags and at times the writing is down-right clever, making this new series a welcome addition to a crowded genre.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Faithful Spy

Image result for faithful spy book coverThe Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
John Hendrix
Amulet, September, 2018 175 pages
Ages 10-Up

Hendrix tells the story of a Lutheran minister turned spy in Nazi Germany in an unexpected graphic format. Bonhoeffer was a theologian from a young age and studied religion in both his native Germany and New York City, where he made international acquaintances. After Hitler came to power Bonhoeffer considered fleeing, but returned to try to save his homeland from the lunatic that was Adolf Hitler. Struggling with God between the commandment to "not kill" and Jesus calling us to "love one another" and standing by while Hitler murders thousands of Innocent people, Bonhoeffer finally came to the conclusion that it was his divine duty to help take down the Fuehrer. Several assassination plots are illustrated all within the context of Bonhoeffer's part in them and the overall bloody machine that was Nazi Germany. It does not go well for Bonhoeffer or his friends in the end, but they all had the courage to stand up for what was right at the risk of their own lives and happiness and live within the dictate of their morals and religious beliefs.

This was a different take on Nazi Germany. Often we read stories either of the war itself or from the point of view of a Holocaust victim. This is the story of a German who could have slipped under the radar, but chose instead to fight back despite great personal danger and his faith challenging him to live a life of peace. Hendrix presents Bonhoeffer's story within the context of a brief history of Nazi Germany for those readers unfamiliar with the background. He acknowledges at the end of the volume that it is a very limited history, but includes an extensive bibliography, as well as documented source notes and an index for researchers. The factual information is sound, yet is presented in an interesting and appealing format. More text heavy than most graphic novels, each page contains a fair amount of background information in a graphic font, while using minimal speech balloons for dialog. The information and illustrations are realistically harsh, staying true to actual events, yet remain appropriate to a mature older elementary audience. Reluctant readers will snatch this volume up and devour it, learning a bit about WWII history along the way. Because of the nature of Bonhoeffer being a theologian, The Faithful Spy incorporates Christian teachings and principals, which may make it sensitive for classroom use, although certainly it belongs in a public library where readers can chose to select it; or not. Bonhoeffer's story has a lot to say to today's youth. What will you stand up for, even at the risk of your own personal security and happiness?

Friday, August 3, 2018


Image result for pride zoboi coverPride
Ibi Zoboi
Harper Collins, 2018 289 pages
Grades 8-Up
Realistic Fiction/Romance

Coming off of a National Book Award finalist honor and much critical acclaim for 2017's American Street, Zoboi uncovers her lighter side with a reboot of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Zuri has lived in her Bushwick/Brooklyn neighborhood in a small apartment with her four sisters her entire life. Bushwick is changing; Hipsters are moving in, traditional businesses are vanishing, and prices are rising. The house across the street undergoes a swank remodel and in moves two hot and rich Darcy boys. From here the plot points follow the classic story with Zuri following the basic trajectory of Elizabeth and all of her sisters playing their respective roles. Time passes, romance blooms, fizzles, and is mourned. When Zuri's landlord and mentor dies leaving the apartment building to her nephew Colin (Mr. Collins), who has predictably started dating Zuri's best friend. Colin sells the building to developers and Zuri's family are priced out of their beloved neighborhood. What is the next step for this family? Will Zuri and older sister Janae land their Darcy boys? Most of all, will Zuri follow her dreams of breaking out of poverty and going to college?

I loved American Street so much. In fact, it was my favorite teen book of 2017 and I am still thinking about it. Zoboi leaves the intensity of her inaugural novel to write a homage to the beloved classic novel Pride and Prejudice. Expecting the high quality of both story and writing found in American Street, I was a bit disappointed, yet teen readers will probably enjoy this lighter story better. The title is a bit confusing. I was expecting a LGBTQ story, maybe from having acquired the ARC during Pride Month, which couldn't be farther from what it turned out to be. I liked the Bushwick setting and found it to be fully realized and integral to the story. I also liked that Zoboi went beyond a simple romance to add a message about displacement brought on by gentrification. I found the romance to be a bit lacking. I didn't believe it for either couple and actually found the two main characters unlikable. Then again, I am not the target audience and teenagers may buy it hook, line, and sinker. I saw the sequel to Mama Mia last week and found it super cheesy and funny for all the wrong reasons. My teenage daughter and her friends were brought to tears over the film (from emotion not agony), which goes to show that I'm becoming cynical and crotchety in my old age. I will say this, like Mama Mia the action in Pride doesn't stop, it is a lot of fun, and I never got bored. Pride is a perfect choice for reluctant readers, especially girls and especially during the summer, and no prior knowledge of the original book is required.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Image result for winterhouse coverWinterhouse
Ben Guterson
Holt, 2018 369 pages
Grades 4-8

Orphaned Elizabeth lives a miserable existence with a horrible aunt and uncle of Dursley proportions who don't appreciate books or creative thinking. Elizabeth is a bookworm and a puzzler, so it comes as a relief when she is sent solo for the school winter holidays to Winterhouse, a rural hotel with activities. The amazing facility makes Elizabeth instantly feels at home at Winterhosue with its eccentric proprietor, Norbridge Falls, and his quirky staff. She even makes her first friend, who also enjoys puzzles and word games. Only all is not idyllic as it seems. A mysterious and creepy couple keep behaving strangely around her and odd sounds and goings-on attract her attention. When a book from the hotel library presents itself to Elizabeth, she feels as if she must secretly remove it from the reference section and read it privately, only to discover that a secret message is slowly revealing itself. Elizabeth and her new friend must uncover the hidden truth behind Winterhouse, the strange couple, and the mysterious book, while also discovering interesting bits about themselves along the way.

Perfect for fans of Harry Potter, this new "orphan who discovers magical powers" book will spark the imagination of smart and creative kids, especially those who enjoy solving puzzles and scavenger hunts. The story leads to many little mysteries that all come together by the end. Readers will figure out Elizabeth's true identity before she will, but it comes with satisfaction and reassurance once Guterson finally gets there. The setting is comforting, mystical and fully realized, making the reader long for a winter escape, especially while being read in the middle of a hot summer. The story is a bit long, but the plot buzzes along and never flags. The intended audience of smart kids will not be put off by the length. Elizabeth and her friend Freddy will be instantly relatable to "bookish" readers who will see themselves reflected in characters pursuing science experiments and puzzles with no video games in sight. I would have liked to see a book list in the back of the volume of the titles read by Elizabeth during the course of the story to lead readers to some of these great titles.  The ending leaves the story open to a sequel, which is set for release at the end of the year. A fun title perfect for puzzlers, readers, and dreamers in need of a winter escape.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Belles

Image result for belles clayton coverThe Belles
Dhonielle Clayton
Freeform Books, 2018 434 pages
Grades 7-Up

Camellia Beauregard has trained her whole life to be a Belle, the elite group of ladies who possess the magical powers to transform a person's physical appearance. In a society that values beauty above all else, Camellia and her "sisters" are prized commodities. Upon graduation Camellia hopes to be "the favorite" and to be assigned to the palace as the royal court's personal Belle. She is extremely disappointed to garnish a lesser position, while her best friend/sister is honored with the coveted job. Work as a Belle is not what Camellia envisioned and she becomes exhausted and disillusioned. Correspondence with her sisters reveals that they feel the same way. Mysterious happenings, nighttime ramblings, and crying in the dark are reported by all of the Belles, but what could be causing it? Meanwhile, rumors of the current Favorite displeasing the royals begin to circulate. Could there still be a chance for Camellia to realize her dreams of becoming the favorite? Meanwhile, even though Belle's are not allowed to date, Camellia finds herself drawn to a charming sailor, as well as a budding friendship with her handsome, yet stolid, bodyguard. As the novel progresses we discover the darkness behind the kingdom of Orleans, as well as its secrets and dangers. What can Camellia do to stop the madness and corruption?

Sure to appeal to fans of the Matched Trilogy and the Selection series, Clayton offers a cautionary tale warning about society's emphasis on the importance of beauty. More alternative universe than dystopian, the author has created a fully realized, yet completely original world. The reader opens the book to a beautiful pink map, that tells us that this world will be one to fall right into, yet will be a bit more "girlie" than most books that start with a map. Camellia's story is attention-grabbing from the start and readers will find the book impossible to put down. Mysterious happenings are introduced and then satisfactorily solved and plot twists abound. A cliff-hanging ending will encourage readers to crack into the next installment of the series, yet to be released. The mandatory love triangle is introduced, yet one seems out of the running by book's end; or is he? Not the surgical procedure required in Westerfeld's Uglies, the beauty that the Belles offer comes organically through their spirit and can be procured only with lots of money. Clayton raises questions such as; to what end will people go to be beautiful? And what really is beauty? The characters are of various skin tones and sexual preferences, showing that no one race is more beautiful than another. An entertaining and thought provoking read.