Monday, December 31, 2018

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart - ESSENTIAL

Grace and Fury (Grace and Fury, #1) by Tracy Banghart, 312 pages.  Little Brown and Company, 2018  $10.  

Content: Language: G; Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG-13 (arena fighting).  



Two sisters, Serina and Nomi, have been raised for two different purposes.  Serina has been taught all the mannerisms to become a Grace, which is a high honor position as the arm candy of the prince.  Nomi has been Serina’s attendant and knows how to work hard.  While in the castle trying to catch the eye of the prince, Nomi is noticed instead of Serina and picked to become a Grace.  Both girls are horrified, but the switch becomes even worse when Serina is caught with a book (women aren’t supposed to know how to read) which Nomi stole.  As a punishment, Serina is banished to a cruel island that is run by corrupt guards and gangs.  Nomi tries to play the game at court, so she can find her sister and Serina tries to stay alive fighting on the island, but neither of them could have predicted the surprises that come their way.  

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.  The story switches back and forth between Serina and Nomi and I cared equally about what happened in each story.  Adventure, romance and mystery this book had me entertained.  The violence is PG-13 because of arena fighting. I can’t wait to read more in the next book.  

C. Peterson         

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson - ADVISABLE

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin, 525 pages.  Candlewick Press, 2018.  $25.  

Content: Language: G; Mature Content: G; Violence: PG-13.  



The kingdom of the elves, in an attempt to get inside intel on the goblins’ kingdom, fling historian Brangwain Spurge and the gift of an ancient artifact over the mountain range and into the goblin city of Tenebrion.  The goblin historian, Werfel, has been preparing for Spurge and is excited to patch things up between the two kingdoms by sharing information.  Although the goblins and elves have a harried past, involving war and death, Werfel is open-minded.  However, it becomes quickly evident that Spurge is critical of the goblin’s way of life and that Spurge is sending negative information back to his elf kingdom.  When Spurge’s bad manners get him in trouble, Werfel the hospitable host, tries to protect Spurge and himself as their kingdoms’ intentions become evident.  

I was interested in this book because it looked like a Brian Selznick book with a mixture of pictures and text, but as I got into the story the pictures are actually telling Spurge’s judgmental perspective and the text is telling Werfel’s pure intentions.  I ended up loving this book because of the message that sometimes other’s cultures are misunderstood, and we need to be open-minded.  I loved the character Werfel.  That said, I’m not sure elementary kids would be patient enough with this story to keep reading and there are pictures and explanations of decapitated bodies and body parts-not overly descriptive, but still.  

C. Peterson                  

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Buried Lives by Carla Killough McClafferty - ADVISABLE



Using meticulous research, McClafferty pieces together the lives of a few of the slaves owned by the Washington family at their Mount Vernon estate.  The last part of the book documents the efforts to find the sites of the graves in the Mount Vernon slave cemetery.  Whether they will ever be able to identify the actual person within the grave remains to be seen.

McClafferty’s book is an important addition for a school library.  It is an excellent look at authentic historical research – the kind of research that requires more than a Google search.  It also places the lives of African American slaves within their historical context as property – showing why we know so little about their lives.  And it also recreates the painstaking work that goes into an archaeological dig – not just for dinosaur bones!  Fascinating to me – and fascinating to students in the right hands.

Cindy, Middle School Librarian, MLS

Friday, December 28, 2018

Answering the Cry for Freedom by Gretchen Woelfle - ESSENTIAL



When the Revolutionary War was being fought on America’s soil, the 500,000 enslaved African Americans were left out of the idea of freedom for all.  That didn’t mean they didn’t think about freedom, however. 

Woelfle explores the stories of 13 of these men and women who also dreamed of freedom.  Some names might be familiar; others will be completely new.  Any student who has read Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson should be directed here for a non-fiction pairing and more depth to this chapter in our history.  While kids may not gravitate to it on their own, I can’t imagine not having it in my collection.  How did I miss this two years ago?

Cindy, Middle School Librarian, MLS

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Rule of One by Ashley and Leslie Saunders - OPTIONAL

The Rule of One by Ashley Saunders and Leslie Saunders, 258 pages.  Skyscape, 2018.  $17.

Language: R (49 swears, 2 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG-13 (assault); Violence: PG-13(deaths)



For 18 years twins Ava and Mira have shared a single life, trading off a day at a time.  When their secret is exposed, they must run for their lives to the border, leaving their father behind.  If they can escape the Rule of One they have a chance at a life. And while they just want to live, they also may be that needed spark.

Students who love post-apocalyptic books will totally go for this.  The second book will have a weightier burden to bear, as this one was all action and danger – but now the work of the rebellion will begin.

Cindy, Middle School Librarian, MLS

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart - ESSENTIAL

In Your Shoes by Donna Gephart, 310 pages. Delacorte Press (Random House), 2018. $17. 

Language: G; Mature Content: G; Violence: G.



Miles loves bowling. His grandpop owns the town bowling alley. He and his friend Randall hit the lanes every day before school. He’s been hustling kids for years, saving up money to send his grandpop to the Bowling Hall of Fame. Amy is new in town. Her mom died of cancer recently so she’s living with her uncle in his funeral home while her dad is away taking classes. On Amy’s first day of school Miles’ bowling shoe hits her in the head. It can only be a sign that these two are meant to be.

At its core, this is a story about the power of friendship. Miles and Amy are great kids, but each is dealing with the loss of a loved one. Miles’ relationship with both his grandparents is poignant. I love that Amy gains the strength to help Miles despite her sadness. The bowling element adds something new to this sweet middle grade romance.

Valerie McEnroe, Media Specialist

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch - OPTIONAL

These Rebel Waves by Sara Raasch, 480 pages.  Balzer + Bray (Harper), 2018.  $18.  

Language: R (100+ swears, 1 ‘f’); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG-13 (fighting, assassinations, some blood)



Lu, Vex, and Ben are young people caught up in the machinations of a small island nation versus a giant military theocracy.  While each of them thought they knew their place in the struggle, each of them will have to rethink their assumptions, trust each other, and find a dream to hold on to in order to survive.

Raasch builds so much new world so quickly, I was overwhelmed by what I had to learn in order to make sense of her world.  Luckily the three main characters were intriguing enough to keep me going.  It isn’t until the last third of the book that the thrill of the action catches up with the love for the protagonists.

Cindy, Middle School Librarian, MLS

Monday, December 24, 2018

Island War by Patricia Reilly Giff - ADVISABLE

Island War by Patricia Reilly Giff, 208 pages, Holiday House. 2018. $17.00. 

Language: G (0 swears, 0 'f') Mature Content: G; Violence: G. 



11yo Izzy has come to the island of Attu, off the coast of Alaska, with her mother who is studying birds. 14yo Matt has come to the island with his father, who is secretly working for the US Government. The two get off to a very bad start, but when Japanese soldiers invade the island, capturing the whole village, somehow Matt and Izzy are left behind, and they have to learn to get along in order to survive. 

I was not familiar with this aspect of WWII - a territory of the US was invaded by the Japanese! Patricia Reilly Giff has written a gripping story full of suspense, danger and bird watching. The children are likable - Matt seems to be angry all the time, and Izzy struggles both with reading and self confidence, but there's a dog which is always a plus. 

Lisa Librarian

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi - OPTIONAL

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, 320 pages. Viking, 2018. $18

Language: R (4 swears); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG.



Scott has Iranian parents who expect a lot out of him and are disappointed when he fails to stick with anything. Scott himself is frustrated with his lack of grit and when his parents are in Iran, Scot heads to D.C. to meet with a professor researching grit. While in D.C., Scott makes friends, has some adventures, and learns a lot about himself. 

This book had a lot of appealing elements - first generation American young adult male with high expectations placed on him going on an epic coming of age adventure - but it never added up to much. None of the characters felt fully fleshed out and the adventure felt unbelievable. The use of crosswords as a symbol and vehicle for the theme was a lovely element that did work well. 

Jen Wecker, HS English Teacher

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg - ADVISABLE

House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Morstad, 339 pages.  Candlewick Press, 2018.  $18.  

Content: Language: PG (3 swears); Mature Content: PG; Violence: G.  



Maud loses her mother when she is only two years old, and her father sends her to live with her grandparents.  Maud’s grandparents are strict, but she enjoys escaping into her imagination.  As Maud gets older she yearns for an education and independence, but as a woman in the late 1800’s with not much money, she has to work hard for all that she has.  This story goes on to tell of Maud’s successes as the author of the Anne of Green Gables series and other delightful writings, as well as her marriage and motherhood.  

I adore the Anne of Green Gables series and have since I was a child, so I loved reading about Maud.  This biography is well done and has sweet illustrations at the beginning of every chapter.  There were parts of Maud’s life that were surprising and sad.  I loved this book and put it as advisable, but I know I’m biased because of my love of Maud’s books and I think that if you are going to read this book you will appreciate it more if you have already read a L.M. Montgomery book.  

C. Peterson

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes - ESSENTIAL

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes, 275 pages. Random House, 2018. $17
Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.



June has very conservative parents who are alarmed when June comes home from school with a book they think is too scary. They immediately jump to action and have the school librarian dismissed and begin the process of removing all books with anything questionable from the shelves. June then has to navigate her desire to please her parents with her compulsion to read and on top of that she is having relationship drama with her best friend and a boy. 

This is a very fast paced book at an easy to read reading level. While exaggerated (think Footloose, the movie), the topics brought up in this book are fun and compelling to think about. Is censorship okay? Why do we read? Why do we want to do things we aren’t allowed to do? This book would be a great book for an adult/youth bookclub. 

Jen Wecker, HS English Teacher

When the Crickets Stopped Singing by Marilyn Cram Donahue - OPTIONAL

When the Crickets Stopped Singing by Marilyn Cram Donahue. Calkins Creek (Highlights), 2018. $19. 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG.



It is the summer of 1939 and a group of three 12yo girls decide that they will follow the advice of the local preacher and pick some people from their small town to love. They start by befriending another girl their age who doesn’t bathe as often as they would like and a real friendship grows from this. They also try to befriend a man who has returned to his wife after being away, but they end up learning that some people are not to be trusted. This man preys on their newly acquired friend and they all gather to protect her. 

The first thing that should be acknowledged is that this book could be triggering for some readers because of the sexual predator. That said, it also may serve as a warning as to the signs of a predator and the responsibility of a community to speak out and not just shuffle the problem to a new town, in this case. There is also an insightful layer in which this story is paralleled with the worlds inaction against Hitler at the start of the war. I would recommend this book only with great caution.  

Jen Wecker, HS English Teacher

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw - OPTIONAL

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw, 310 pages.  Simon Pulse, 2018.  $18. 

Content: Language: R (20 swears; 14 “f”); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13.  



Penny lives with her mother on an island that's a part of the town of Sparrow.  The curse of Sparrow is that every summer for the past 200 years, three boys die in the water.  The curse started when three sisters were drowned as witches and the belief is that the three sisters return every year to claim their revenge.  Penny hates the curse, especially because she has a secret-she can see the sisters when they overtake bodies of local girls for the summer.  This summer though she especially hates it because she if falling for a new boy in town named Carter, who has come to investigate the mysterious suicide of his brother from the year before, but Penny is afraid he will fall victim to the sisters.   

The cover of this book is captivating, and the summary was intriguing, but as I started reading, I felt like the story had frustrating plot points that weren’t logical, but there were interesting twists.  The characters kept tempting fate and Penny was hard to like.  The content includes off page sex, a heavy make out session and dead bodies. 

C. Peterson      

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt - ESSENTIAL

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt, 293 pages. Candlewick Press, 2018, $17.

Language: G (1 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence PG



Jimmy, 13yo, has major anxiety.  He also has little used dress pants that used to fit him a year ago but are now so tight he fears a wardrobe malfunction and even worse, and he is informed by his mother he will be giving a eulogy at his cousin, Patrick’s wake.  Jimmy could maybe even make it past his fear of public speaking if it wasn’t for the fact that he cannot think of anything nice to say about his cousin.  Patrick always ruined everything of Jimmy’s.  Throughout the wake, Jimmy racks his brains about what to say, while revealing more of the backstory between himself and Patrick.  

This story is amazing. I couldn’t put it down.  What a unique premise for a book!  The story line is wrought with flawed but interesting characters.  There is some violence, as Patrick is unpredictable. It is left to the reader to draw conclusions about Patrick’s life and death, and we, like Jimmy learn, through this well-written prose, to listen more than we speak.  
Michelle in the Middle – Teacher

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas - OPTIONAL

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas, 372 pages.  Delacorte Press, 2018. $18.  

Content: Language: R (115 swears; 16 ‘f’); Mature Content: PG-13; Violence: PG-13.  



Monica lost her cheerleading sister, Jen, five years ago to suicide, but what draws Monica back to Jen’s death is that four other cheerleaders died that same week.  Monica delves into the details of the other deaths in the hopes of discovering what really happened to her sister.  At the same time, Monica is dealing with the fact that she slept with a 23yo lifeguard at her summer job, even though she is only 15yo, and now that same lifeguard is coaching track at her school.  As the facts start to come together, Monica uncovers new truths and tries to get closure.  

The way the mystery unfolded was interesting and I was kept guessing until the end.  Monica isn’t a likable character, but there isn’t a ton of character development in this book as a whole-it’s more about the mystery.  The content includes assault, statutory rape, reference to getting an abortion and murders. 

C. Peterson

That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger - HIGH

That’s Not What Happened by Kody Keplinger, 325 pages. Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.), 2018. $18.99

Language: R (68 swears, 0 “f”); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG



The school shooting that changed Virgil County was three years ago, but a day like that is not easily forgotten—especially for those who were in the line of fire and survived. Leanne, Denny, Miles, Eden, and Ashley rally around each other to deal with the pain and anxiety only they truly understand. This year, the parents of one of the victims of the shooting are preparing to publish a biography of their late daughter. As the shooting becomes a hot topic again, Leanne feels compelled to finally set the record straight about what happened that day, knowing that people will be just as hurt by the truth as some were hurt by the lies spread.

I am still blown away by the story I read and how much it impacted me. The story that Keplinger unravels is powerful because it highlights the impact our choices have on those around us—our actions and inaction, our words and silence, our kindness and rudeness—and because it forces us to consider that our version of the truth might not be the full story. My recommendation for this book would be “advisable” except for the swear count; everything else about this book is fabulous, and I want to tell everyone to read it.

Reviewer: Carolina Herdegen

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero - ADVISABLE

My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, 251 pages. NON-FICTION. Henry Holt (Macmillan), 2018. $19. Language: G; Mature Content: G; Violence: G.



Diane Guerrero is an American citizen. Her parents are not. Diane was born in America when her parents decided to overstay their 90-day visa. For 15 years her parents evaded law enforcement, but the ever-present fear was a heavy burden on Diane. Her parents tried to apply for permanent residency through attorneys who turned out to be scammers. When her parents were finally caught and deported, Diane had to remain strong so she could finish out high school in America.

This is a nonfiction narrative. It reads like a story. It tackles the moral dilemma foreign families face when the channels to a better life in America are closed to them. I wish the author had taken more time to go deep into some of the impactful moments of her childhood. It glosses over the years in a generalized way that’s not particularly interesting. However, the connection to current events and easy narrative style make this a recommended book for the nonfiction collection.

Valerie McEnroe, Media Specialist