Saturday, June 25, 2022

Parks for the People by Elizabeth Partridge and Becca Stadtlander - ADVISABLE

Parks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed America by Elizabeth Partridge, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. PICTURE BOOK. Viking (Penguin Random House), 2022. $18. 9781984835154

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS, HS – ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW

This picture book does a good job of highlighting Frederick Law Olmsted's contributions to the public areas and national parks movement in the United States in the late 1800s. Olmsted was one of the first “landscape architects” to intentionally design public spaces, like New York City’s Central Park and the U.S. Capitol Grounds, for everyone, not just the rich and famous. 

 I appreciated that the book mentioned the Black and Indigenous peoples that were forced out of the spaces that Olmstead eventually helped design, like Central Park in New York and Yosemite National Park in California. This picture book could be a nice addition to a US History collection as it covers much of the history in the 1800s in America, but I don’t foresee it being a popular topic for the average reader. Overall, it was a beautiful little book about a topic and person that I didn't know much about before. 

BookswithBeddes

The Blur by Minh Lê and Dan Santat - ESSENTIAL

 The Blur by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat. PICTURE BOOK. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random), 2022. $19. 9780593377468

BUYING ADVISORY: Pre-K, EL (K-3), MS, HS – ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

The Blur is the superhero alter-ego of our child protagonist. The picture book chronicles the growing pains and delights of raising a small child into adulthood, with time passing in a blur.

Perfect for the new empty nesters in your life, The Blur is both sweetly reminiscent of early childhood and humorously realistic of the ups-and-downs of raising a young child. The illustrations were heartfelt and a perfect companion to the sweet story. Dan Santat is a name to watch. I would pair this picture book with any coming of age story like The Graveyard Book or to serve as a mentor text for a personal narrative writing assignment for seniors about to graduate high school.

BookswithBeddes 

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland - HIGH

The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland
, 390 pages. Simon & Schuster, 2021. $20

Language: PG - 13 (38 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG - 13 (a couple instances of underage drinking - not to drunkenness, and references to bullying); Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Recently graduated Korean-American Jasmine Yap has dated Paul all through high school, despite the fact that her large, loud, noisy, meddlesome Filipino-Italian family haaaaates him. To be fair, he is NOT a catch. When her family catches Paul cheating on her after graduation, and when Paul asks for a break in their relationship to date other people, Jasmine's family secretly sets her up with three eligible bachelors à la The Bachelorette.

The big question is: will it end in true love or utter disaster? For the high school aged audience this book was written for, they will eat it up with a spoon. I mean, three eligible hot boys that treat her way better than her almost-kinda ex? Who wouldn’t love that? As an adult, it was more difficult to read a character that had such low self-esteem and who was so fixated on settling at such a young age. However, it was a treat to see her blossom over the course of the book. Overall, a fun, cute rom com about the value of making important life decisions out of passion rather than fear. An easy sell for fans of The Bachelor/Bachelorette tv series and My Big Fat Greek Wedding movie.

Reviewer: BookswithBeddes 

Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo - ESSENTIAL

 Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo, 256 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Scholastic, 2022. $13

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

15yo Sue just wants to spend a quiet summer reading and making comics with her friends. Instead, she ends up flying to Honduras to visit relatives who want to throw her a surprise quinceanera. Sue is adamant about not having a quince party because she doesn’t want to be the center of attention or wear a big puffy dress. Sue can’t even text her friends because her relatives are so far out in the country that there is no cell phone or internet. 

 The cover made this book seem childish to me and I wasn’t prepared to like it but I did. A lot. Sue has to come to terms with a big rambunctious family and traditions that bind people to their culture and each other. Sue has to find a balance between what she wants and what is important to those who love her. There are also themes of loss that work well here. The back of the book explains more about this particular tradition. I learned so much about quinces and the reasons behind them, while also loving Sue’s quirky character. 

Michelle in the Middle 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Mapmakers and the Lost Magic by Cameron Chittock and Amanda Castillo - HIGH

 Mapmakers and the Lost Magic by Cameron Chittock, illustrated by Amanda Castillo, 256 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Random House Graphic, 2022. $13

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Set in an alternative universe, young Alidade wants to leave the Valley and explore, but the Night Coats, who control the Valley don’t let anyone leave. After breaking yet another rule, Alidade is on the run from the Night Coats when she discovers a magical hideaway. Alidade discovers a map of her home made by the ancient Mapmakers, who have disappeared. With the help of unexpected allies and a magical creature she brings to life, Alidade has to decide whether to leave the Valley and follow her dreams of exploration or become a Mapmaker and save her home.

This is the first book in a planned series, so the ending sets up the next book. The premise that magic comes from understanding the world around you works and doesn’t get preachy about the environment. Alidade is spunky and seemingly fearless. Themes deal with the environment, tyranny, and friendship.

Michelle in the Middle 

Doom’s Day Camp by Joshua Hauke - HIGH

 Doom’s Day Camp by Joshua Hauke, 208 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2022. $13

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Doom Thorax is painfully ordinary, despite having the fiercest apocalyptic warrior ever for a dad. In a world where the remaining humans (using the term loosely) all have extraordinary abilities; the only thing Doom has going for him is that he is the only person in their pack who can read. Doom is left in charge of the camp while the adults march off to face apocalyptic danger and he feels woefully inadequate.

Fun and humorous story with super bizarre characters, readers will be enticed by the bright and colorful art. Themes of friendship, misfits, and power struggles make it a delightful read. The plot is fairly predictable, but is relatable to anyone who has ever been in charge of leading a group of people that feels like herding cats. Doom grows on you!

Michelle in the Middle h

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Shirley & Jamila’s Big Fall by Gillian Goerz - HIGH

 Shirley & Jamila’s Big Fall by Gillian Goerz, 236 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), 2021. $13

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Shirley and Jamila are back for a second adventure. Jamila is finding a new friend as she makes the basketball team and has after-school basketball practice. Shirley has a new mystery to solve: her old enemy is blackmailing students at school. Shirley is approached by desperate students and involves Jamila as they hatch a plan to set things right.

Though this is a second book, these books don’t need to be read in order. Shirley is an intense Sherlock Holmes type and Jamila her Watson. The characters are engaging and the plot works as they tackle themes of friendship, bullying, and intimidation. I found myself cheering for Shirley’s quirky character who is strong and independent despite being so different from her peers.

Michelle in the Middle 

Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu and Teny Issakhanian - HIGH

 Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Teny Issakhanian, 204 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Quill Tree Books (Harper Collins), 2022. $13

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Zuli is a young girl raised by mystical bird spirits among the branches of the Great Tree, which houses dead bird spirits until they can be reborn back into the world. She loves it there until one day the bird spirits quit arriving. Together with her guardian owl, Frowly, Zuli sets out to find what is going wrong. Zuli soon finds that life outside the tree is fraught with danger as she encounters sinister magic and discovers her true identity. 

The art is amazing and will lure you into the story. Zuli’s quest turns dangerous almost from the get go and you will wonder along with Zuli who you can trust. This is the first in a series, and the ending will leave you wanting more. Zuli is an intriguing character and her allies and enemies come from a wide variety of species, which make the interplay more interesting. The magic and the politics of her world mesh well together.

Michelle in the Middle 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Hazard by Frances O’Roark Dowell - ESSENTIAL

Hazard by Frances O’Roark Dowell
, 154 pages. Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2022. $18

Language: PG (9 swears); Mature Content PG; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - ESSENTIAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Hazard is in junior high and also in counseling with a psychologist. If he doesn’t complete his sessions, he can’t return to playing football, which he is passionate about. Hazard is pretty ticked about his coach requiring counseling, but it turns out there are things Hazard needs to address.

Taking on serious themes of the psychological, physical, and emotional effects of war on soldiers and their families, this is a must read. The story is told in texts and writing assignments given to Hazard from his psychologist. It is well researched, short and powerful. The story rings true and Hazard’s story sheds light on moral injury. This is a timely story that was hard to put down.

Michelle in the Middle 

Best Friends for Never by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue - HIGH

 Best Friends for Never (Kate the Catsitter #2) by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue, 218 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Penguin Random House. 2022. $21

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

12yo Katie is back and getting ready for school to start. Unfortunately, she is on the outs with both her best friend Beth and her new friends. Sidekick training is super boring and Katie is frustrated that the Mousetress is not clearing her name. Katie wants to fix a lot of things in her life but isn’t sure how to go about it.

Don't read book #2 before you read book #1. Though at first glance this looks like a realistically based graphic novel, the reader will need to buy into a world populated by a plethora of bizarre super heroes and sidekicks. The story is fun, but works best when exploring Katie’s relationship issues, which adds a dose of commonality and relatability. The pictures are bright and engaging, and if you don’t mind your world being saved by 217 genius cats, then this is your book.

Michelle in the Middle 

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Devil's Music by Nathan Page and Drew Shannon - HIGH

The Devil's Music (The Montague Twins #2) by Nathan Page & Drew Shannon
, 320 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL. Penguin Random House, 2022. $26

Language: R (48 swears, 6 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13 (multiple minor character suicides/attempted suicide, teenage drinking and smoking); Violence: PG (referenced past domestic abuse, minor fantasy violence)

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Twins Alastair and Pete Montague, along with their stepsister Charlie and BFF Rachel, aren’t just magical teen detectives, but are also budding rock stars in their post-WWII New England coastal suburb. The day they play their first concert at a local music store, they meet Gideon Drake, a real musician with a dark past. Gideon’s arrival in town brings a whole host of questions and suspicions, and it is up to the twins to figure out what is really happening.

Pgge and Shannon write an engaging Hardy Boys-style story with well-developed characters. Despite jumping into this series with the second book, I had no trouble following. I was pleased to see that although the twins were at the heart of the story, they were each their own person and had their own flaws to handle. The art style isn't my favorite, but the story was engaging enough that it didn't bother me much. I loved the non-traditional family (no wicked stepfamily here!) and the gay romance subplot. It was handled well, considering the 1950s setting. I would recommend this series to anyone who is a fan of graphic novels, urban fantasy, and mysteries.

Reviewer: BookswithBeddes 

The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch - ADVISABLE

The Sky Blues by Robbie Couch
, 325 pages. Simon & Schuster, 2021. $20

Language: PG-13 (94 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13 (repeated references to teenage boy sexuality, blatant homophobia and racism); Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Sky Baker is a white, openly gay senior, who is just trying to survive his Midwestern small town. Sky's plans to fly under the radar go by the wayside when a bully hacks a schoolwide email newsletter targeting Sky and the boy he is crushing on. Rather than fading into the background, Sky is determined to take a stand and be visible, not only for himself, but for anyone else who feels marginalized and isolated. His stance gains popularity, but not without some setbacks. Is Sky tough enough to overcome the growing attention?

Oomph, this book pulls at the heartstrings. I felt so deeply Sky's internal trauma from his familial relationships, the bullying he experienced at school, and his emotional growing pains. I even teared up! The book has excellent LGBTQ representation, not only in Sky, as the main character, but in the supporting characters too. This book perfectly illustrates the chosen family concept so important to so many within LGBTQ communities. The author authentically captures growing up differently in a small, homogenous community, and finding your place in the world, despite the bullies and the haters.

Reviewer: BookswithBeddes 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - HIGH

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
, 160 pages. GRAPHIC NOVEL Philomel Books: Penguin Random House, 2021. $13

Language: PG (1 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: R (war crimes, implied prostitution, hunger & starvation, death & disease); Violence: PG-13 (on-page punishment of prisoners)

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

In the middle of the night, in June 1941, 15 year old Lithuanian Lina Vilkas and her mother and younger brother are forced from their home by the Russian secret police and sent to Siberia under horrific and relentless conditions. Lina tries to send messages to her father in another prison camp while keeping her family alive.

To be honest, I cried through most of reading this book. I knew it wasn't going to be a light read by any stretch of the imagination, but I was so moved by this little known part of WWII history about Lithuanians who were deported by the NKVD. A powerful story of the horrors of war and what people will go through to survive. This book would be a good addition to a high school library with the caveat that it deals frankly with prisoners of war and their treatment, so be prepared for the brutal nature of the story. There is also the fact that it is a graphic novel and the artist rendering of Sepetys original text is unflinching.

Reviewer: BookswithBeddes 

Gone Dark by Amanda Panitch - OPTIONAL

Gone Dark by Amanda Panitch
, 432 pages. Margaret K. McElderderry Books (Simon and Schuster), 2022. $18

Language: G (0 swears, 0‘f’); Mature Content: PG (suggestive comments); Violence: PG-13 (themes of blood, fear, death throughout)

BUYING ADVISORY: MS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Most of Zara's life she had been living in the woods, training to survive in the wilderness. Just her mom, her father and the sound of peaceful nature. But that peace is shattered when Zara's father pushes her past the breaking point in her survival training. Forced to leave, Zara and her mom go to the city- mysteriously with her father. You can take the girl out of the woods but you can't take the woods out of the girl- and this rings true as Zara attempts to adjust to urban life. During this jarring transition, the world slowly becomes a place of fear and of doomsday, and only Zara, with her extensive training, can help.

Gone Dark was alright, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't something special either. It was just your average end of the world teen novel, with a traumatized main character and few forgettable side characters. The book as a whole had a rather predictable plot and often led to boring chapters full of fluff.

Kenzie Hoehne, Student Reviewer 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

To Capture His Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen - ADVISABLE

To Capture His Heart by Nancy Campbell Allen
, 288 pages. Shadow Mountain, 2022. $16

Language: G (0 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG (mild romantic tension); Violence: PG (explosions, slight violence)

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Eva, an independent photographer and headstrong lady in 19th century England, is convinced that she doesn't have time for romance. But when her friend Nathaniel, invites her to his mother's house party- the lines between friendship and courting become blurry. On top of their budding romance, a dangerous criminal lurks in the shadows...making all the guests uneasy. Caught between mystery and intrigue Eva will have to discover what she really wants.

I really like the author, Nancy Campbell Allen- she is very good at writing light, clean romances that I appreciate. This Proper Romance book is a nice, easy read, perfect for summer on a beach. I like that I can read this book and take it as it is. Does it have an amazing plot and characters? No, it does not. But it is a dessert book, a book you indulge in every once and a while, to give your brain a break.

Kenzie Hoehne, Student Reviewer 

Oceanarium by Loveday Trinick and Teagan White - HIGH

 Oceanarium by Loveday Trinick, illustrated by Teagan White, 95 pages. NON-FICTION PICTURE BOOK. Big Picture Press, 2022. $38. 9781536223811

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS, HS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Marine biologist Loveday Trinick takes us on a stroll through her aquarium in a book, and we discover the majesty the ocean holds. We learn about extraordinary creatures that normally lie hidden beneath the waves and live in the ocean’s sunlit shallows down to its darkest depths. We travel the world’s oceans from the frozen Arctic to shimmering coral reefs, and learn why it is so important that we protect our oceans.

Oceanarium is a stunning museum quality book. The beautifully detailed illustrations and graphics will persuade you to spend time in its pages. It is not a quick reference book, but one to settle in a comfortable chair and enjoy the majesty of the ocean. Small children will enjoy the illustrations, while older readers will explore the books knowledge.

Reviewer: PGPowers 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Water: a Deep Dive of Discovery by Christy Mihaly and Mariona Cabassa - ADVISABLE

 Water: a Deep Dive of Discovery by Christy Mihaly, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa, 63 pages. NON FICTION PICTURE BOOK. Barefoot Books, 2021. $20. 9781646862801

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Mihaly introduces readers to the beauty, power and importance of water – not only through facts and information, but also through eight mythical stories from different cultures and countries. She gives the reader a deep understanding of how water works and how it sustains life on our planet. We learn about topics ranging from melting and freezing to the ways in which water literally shapes the Earth. We also learn how we can cherish and protect our water. 

I enjoyed this comprehensive yet accessible exploration of water. It was fun and easy to learn and retain interesting facts about water. Mihaly has created an engaging format including gatefolds and booklets with hands-on activity ideas for learning about and protecting water. The illustrations are delightful, colorful and inviting.

Reviewer: PGPowers 

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez - NO

Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez
, 361 pages. Delacorte Press (Random), 2021. $14.

Language: R (143 swears, 78 ‘f’); Mature Content: R (graphic sex, drugs) ; Violence: R (murder, blood, fire, fear) 

BUYING ADVISORY: HS - NOT RECOMMENDED 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

 All of Hannah's life she has grown up in Gap valley. She and her friends, Luke, Drummer, Violet and Mo have high hopes for the summer and believe it will be unforgettable. In many ways it was. When Hannah and her friends go up to Gap lake for an average summer day it becomes anything but average. Luke lights a pipe and accidentally starts a wildfire and forces Hannah and her friends into a downward spiral of lies, deception and heartbreak. 

Lies Like Wildfire was in many ways not what I expected. I was not expecting unnecessary explicit content, bland characters and a sideways plot line, but here we are. The amount of talk about sex, drugs and abuse is enough to make this book, not young adult plus the icing on top of it all is the fact it was written very poorly. 

 Student Reviewer: Kenzie Hoehne Reviewer 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

What Can I Say? by Catherine Newman - ADVISABLE


What Can I Say?
by Catherine Newman
, 160 pages. NONFICTION. Storey Publishing, 2020. $17.

Language: PG (3 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Words are hard, especially when you’re having a new kind of conversation. It’s okay to be nervous about talking with others, and Newman helps make it easier by giving suggestions of what to do in situations like meeting someone new, apologizing, asking someone out, talking about pronouns, and more.

Newman encourages readers to improve their communication starting from where they are. Not everything suggested here needs to be applied right now; the tips are here for when readers are ready to use them and work to improve their skills. While targeted to a younger audience, adults can even learn from this book. I loved being reminded how simple communication really is.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf - OPTIONAL


Queen of the Tiles
by Hanna Alkaf
, 304 pages. Salaam Reads (Simon & Schuster), 2022. $19.

Language: PG13 (22 swears, 1 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: MS, HS - OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Returning to the hotel one year after her best friend’s death in order to compete in the same tournament her friend died playing is almost too much for Najwa (16yo) – even if her therapist says it might give her closure. But Najwa loves Scrabble and the words that have never failed her, especially this past year. Now that she’s here, Najwa is determined to honor her friend by playing in the three-day Scrabble tournament and winning like her friend would have.

I was caught off guard in the first few chapters when foul play became suspected in Trina’s death; all of a sudden, a book I thought was about grief became a book about solving a mystery. The thoughts about Scrabble became my favorite part of the book. I had no idea Scrabble was so relatable and strategic, but I loved how Najwa sees and talks about the game. All the interesting words introduced through the book were pretty cool, but I can’t imagine myself realistically using any of them in conversation.

Najwa and her family are Malaysian and Muslim. With the story set in Malaysia, most of the characters are described as non-White and all of them are at least implied non-White. Alkaf also uses a lot of Malay in the characters’ dialogue. The mature content rating is for suspicious activity, and the violence rating is for death and discussions of murder.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen